Our first big combat happened last night. Three PCs (a Servant, a Thief, and a Vagabond) were in the sewers trying to clear their names by finding the real killer. They came upon a Skaven hive. One guard saw them and sounded the alarm, so they ended up fighting half a dozen common clanrats and a visiting dignitary assassin-poisoner.
The battle had several points of tactical interest—especially as I’m still trying to learn what makes for good play for tactical players.
First, a character’s chance to hit in WFRP is solely dependent on his skill. There are defenses—but they’re not rolled off against one another, as in Exalted. And there’s no AC, as in d20. An attacker rolls against his own Weapon Skill. If he succeeds, he hit. A single bit flies from attacker to defender. The defender may make a defense roll. This is only against his own Agility (if he has the Dodge Blow skill) or his own Weapon Skill (if Parrying). A single bit flies back to the attacker. Then a damage roll is made. This makes for tremendously fast gaming: you don’t have to ask the target what his AC is. You don’t have to tell him what your result is, and wait for him to compare. Running 7 opponents, I could play them very quickly, interacting fluidly with all the players.
One player commented today that this made the boss brutal: if you did anything overly aggressive near him, you’d die. He had a 60% chance to hit, two attacks per turn if he didn’t move, and did enough damage to kill quickly. So if you sacrificed your defense for a +10% chance to hit, you’d hurt him and then he’d probably kill you. In fact, if you didn’t have both Dodge and Parry (and only one character in this group has Dodge), you’d be in terrible danger from him. Even with just the one attack, he was exactly twice as likely to hit each PC as the clanrats with their 30% chances to hit. The PC with the 60% chance to dodge was half as likely to be hit by any given attack as the PC with the 20% chance to parry.
This independence makes statting up characters a breeze.
The players also got a nice introduction to shields, tunnel fighting, why you don’t want to be surrounded, how fighting in tight lines might be useful, and the difficulties of mixing ranged and hand-to-hand combat. I do think they’ll try much harder next time to ensure that the bowman and the slingers are back from the melee, able to keep and control their range.
I got to learn something about satisfying player desires, clarity of statements, and what happens when the PCs get surrounded. When a line of PCs met a line of rats in a tunnel, the players of the PCs at the back complained of boredom. If I’d left them that way, the PCs could have safely chewed threw the line of rats: the PC in the front outclassed each rat, and the PCs in back were better with bow and sling than the rats in back were with thrown rocks.
Since the player at the back complained, I let the rats run on walls to move into melee with him. I gave them some penalties for doing this, like saying it took one hand and both feet to hang on to the wall, so they could neither parry nor dodge. But it let the rats surround and out-number the PCs.
It felt for much of the fight like I might kill the PCs. I think I’m learning that most good fights will feel that way: putting pressure on early, but slackening as the mook NPCs fall down. Eventually, the PCs outnumber the big bad guy 3 to 1, and he goes down.