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Thematic groups - The mostly untapped potential of WFRP?


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#1 Ralzar

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Posted 23 September 2010 - 12:16 AM

Thematic groups - The mostly untapped potential of WFRP

 


Ok, Wall Of Text incoming :P I’ve written this partly just to get it off my chest, partly to get more ideas from the community and partly to give others ideas for their games.

In most fantasy RPG groups, no matter if it’s WFRP, D&D or any other fantasy setting, group composition and adventures tend to follow a pretty recognizable formula: Everyone makes their own character of a more or less random class/career, makes a background story and then tries to come up with a reason for this bunch of often completely unrelated characters to stick together while seeking fame, fortune, justice or what have you. The group might often consist of characters that make you wonder “Why the heck are these people sticking together?” Many groups just ignore this question, which for me just leaves it hanging there as a big inconsistency in the ongoing story of the campaign. Some might come up with an excuse that at least let you ignore the question, but isn’t always particularly believable.

Most adventures are written to accommodate this kind of group, having a story hook for the group where they more or less blunder into something and become the accidental heroes of the story, no matter what kind of characters the group is made up of. Which often leaves parts of the adventure sort of vague, in order to be usable for all kinds of groups.

This isn’t as much a problem in other games, because the classes (particularly in D&D) are often more or less generic “adventurer” types. So they often just fit naturally into going adventuring with fellow adventurers.

WFRP on the other hand has the career system which defines both what the character is and what he was. What social status he has, what kind of environment he probably grew up in and what kind of motivations he probably has. The careers give you much stricter lines to work within than the generic “fighter” and “wizard” of D&D, but at the same time connects the character to the rich setting of Warhammer in a way that generic classes do not.
The “weakness” of this system is that most careers are exactly that, a job the character already knows. He doesn’t really need to travel the Empire in search of some way to earn his keep. His career already defines a way for him to make money (well, it usually does at least). Instead of explaining why your characters are adventuring, the career usually contradicts the very concept of the character being an “adventurer”.
I’d say the career system is the single most distinct part of WFRP that sets it apart from other fantasy RPGs. But most games of WFRP seems to try to ignore this part of the game and instead try to run it like any other rpg with more generic classes, which I feel is a waste of potential. I feel we’re often fighting against the system by making up excuses for the careers and particularly career transitions in order to make WFRP work like a normal RPG instead of using the careers as a way to enhance the story.

What I’m hoping to see more off, is groups based around a concept. The party sheets sort of lean towards this idea, but are naturally pretty generic. What I’m talking about is making groups composed of character who’s careers mesh to make a party that fits as well into the Warhammer setting as the individual careers does. Groups that basically have something close to a job that they do, which fits them into a particular type of adventures, and defines the kind of adventure hooks that will hook them, what they can and can’t do based on their social standing, what motivates them and explains naturally why the group sticks together.
These kinds of groups can appear by accident, but are generally better produced by planning between the GM and the players. The selection of careers is much narrower now than it used to be, but by looking through the careers, there’s quite a few concepts I can think of.

Examples of what I’m talking about:

A Witch Hunter and his retinue: In the Empire, many Witch Hunters travel the land, looking for corruption to root out. Travel on the roads can be dangerous and dealing with any corruption found (not to mention angry mobs) can be even more dangerous. Any Witch Hunter who wants a shot at a long career would do well to have a few trusted helpers for his protection and to help in his holy work.
Party could be composed of:
Witch Hunter (either player controlled or GM controlled) and several helpers.
Someone big and burly who can work as your bodyguard as well as interrogator, prison guard and executer, for example a Thug, Mercenary, Pit Fighter or Mercenary.
Someone sneaky to help with the investigation and social interaction, like a Thief or Agent. Someone for tracking down heretics and for covert operations, like a Hunter or Scout.
Some religious fanatic who follows the Witch Hunter, glorying in doing the work of Sigmar. Like an Initiate, Zealot of Flaggelant.

A Traveling Judge and his retinue: Smaller communities do not have much in the way of official representatives of the law. While most disputes can be settled by the village major or similar, some cases demand the attention of someone more versed in Empire law and in judging right and wrong. This is where travelling judges come in, going from village to village, offering their services.
The party would be pretty similar to the Witch Hunter party, but led by a Bailiff instead and could also contain a scribe or student.

A Heist-group. To pull of the big jobs, most criminals need to work as a team. This group goes where there is a chance of getting their hands on large amounts of money trough illegal means. Robbing money transports, conning nobles, smuggling illicit goods, anything to get the big pay-off.
The party could consist off:
A Thief (duh), a smuggler, thug or gambler. Obviously, you could use other careers as well, depending on what kind of jobs you are planning on doing, but the ones listed are the most obvious for this kind of skulduggery.

The City Watch. A group of city watchmen run into all kinds of problems during their workday. Maybe there’s a serial killer they need to track down? Or a large robbery that needs solving? A drug ring that needs to be cracked down on? Watchmen might not move around the Empire like other adventuring groups, but on the other hand, people who have problems show up at their doorstep and dumps their troubles on the players.
The party would obviously consist of all Watchmen. However, in order to not have everyone be identical, have the players create characters as normal, then transition everyone to the Watchman career for free.

Academics. Mysteries may appear in the large Universities of Altdorf and Nuln. The administration might not want to get the authorities involved in order to avoid a scandal ruining the good name of the institution, or perhaps the administration are the culprits? Finding out what is happening, might be up to a group of nosy kids who see that something is amiss at their place of learning.
The party could consist of:
A student, an apprentice wizard, a dilettante, a scribe, a barber surgeon or servant.


These are just the party concepts I can think of at the moment. I’m sure there are many more that you can think of by looking through the available careers. And there will be even more once more careers are released by FFG.
I feel that making groups like these adds a deeper and more distinct flavour to the game than the regular adventure schtick that fantasy rpgs usually fall into. Obviously, it has to be a flavour that everyone in the group is interested in immersing themselves in, but once everyone is on the same page, it can be much easier to make the story flow, and often easier for the GM to direct the group in the right direction, as their motivations and MO is more easily predicted.

Anyone able to come up with some more group concepts? Or have anything else to add? Feel free to comment!
 



#2 Captain Fluffy

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Posted 23 September 2010 - 12:55 AM

In my experience this sort of group is fairly common in GM created campaigns.  However I think it is hard to do in published adventures.

My current campaign is called "The Last Stand of the Bogenhafen Irregulars"  and the group was themed in that every character had to be someone who could have been drafted into an emergency militia against their will.  The campaign then follows what happens to them after they are discharged and is influenced by shared experiences they had in the Bogenhafen Irregulars.  This basically limits the characters types to ordinary working low lives. It also provides them a reason to be adventuring in that once they had a live of danger thrust on to them they find it difficult to go back to an ordinary job.

In previous campaigns I have used a system where a single career is chosen at random and then every players need to come up with a convincing reason why the character they want to play would consort with the first character. This will tend to create a themed party whilst still retaining the randomness of the WFRP character creation that I rather like.  To add more control pick three careers. The players discuss the party they want, one of them chose to play one of the three randomly pciked careers the other have to pick a careers that can be thematically linked to it.

The problems with published adventures is that most people who run them want to be able to slot them into their own campaign. Therefore they need to be relatively open.  The alternative would be for FFG to create a campaign as long as The Gathering Storm but write it so it could only sensibly be played with a group of wizards, for example. I am not sure what impact this would have on the projected sales of such a focused product.  It would probably be a fairly bold move but I think I for one would certainly buy it.

The creation of a group is something that the players and the GM need to think about carefully.  Whilst the GM has the job of writing all of the adventures and keeping everyone entertained the least the players can do is make sure that 1) they create a character that make sense and has a reason to adventure, and 2) they come up with a party concept that explains why they are working together.  It little bit more thought at the beginning of a campaign will pay major dividends later on. The player that just creates what they want with no consideration for everyone else is just being selfish, and given that this is a group activity among friends then selfishness does not really have any place.


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#3 Ralzar

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Posted 23 September 2010 - 01:38 AM

Captain Fluffy said:

The problems with published adventures is that most people who run them want to be able to slot them into their own campaign. Therefore they need to be relatively open.  The alternative would be for FFG to create a campaign as long as The Gathering Storm but write it so it could only sensibly be played with a group of wizards, for example. I am not sure what impact this would have on the projected sales of such a focused product.  It would probably be a fairly bold move but I think I for one would certainly buy it.

The creation of a group is something that the players and the GM need to think about carefully.  Whilst the GM has the job of writing all of the adventures and keeping everyone entertained the least the players can do is make sure that 1) they create a character that make sense and has a reason to adventure, and 2) they come up with a party concept that explains why they are working together.  It little bit more thought at the beginning of a campaign will pay major dividends later on. The player that just creates what they want with no consideration for everyone else is just being selfish, and given that this is a group activity among friends then selfishness does not really have any place.

This is something I should have touched a bit more on in my OP. FFGs books only give instructions for how to create random characters. Not far from "rolling up characters" in D&D, which makes the kind of weird combinations of careers that often doesn't make a lot of sense unless the whole group works hard to make it fit. Unless I remember wrong, FFG barely mentions that you can choose a career instead of selecting one of three randomly drawn ones. Which I feel is a missed opertunity from their side to point out a potential for fun that isn't as readily available in many competing products.



#4 Emirikol

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Posted 23 September 2010 - 04:07 AM

This would go well with organization-style stuff.  They could be on a mission from a particular one at the time:

(e.g. Paval Tsarovitch Hunters, or Imperial Organizations of Note
Career Name & Reference
Apothcry Apothecary's Guild- CC14
Agitator Glorious Revolution of the People-SOE
Artisan Artisan's Guilds-CC18
Astrologer Order of Acillius Stargazer CC:21
Boatsmen Boatsmen's League of Tlabheim -TiT10
Bodyguard House of Haessler – CC:31
Cadet Diesdorf Military College cc:37
Coachman Coaching Houses CC:52
Coachmen Coachmen of Middenheim AOM22,28
Dillettante Bernloch Academy -CC:60
Embalmer Resurrection Men-CC64
Engineer Dwarfen Engineers Guild, Middenheim AOM25
Engineer Imperial School of Engineers - CC:66
Entertner Imperial Circuit-CC67
Exciseman Publican Union of Tlabheim – CC:71
Explorer League of Merchant Adventurers - CC:66
Fence Tagranden Merchant Consortium – CC76
Ferryman Sons of the River - CC:77
Ferryman Otto's Flats Ferrymen CC:77
Fieldwrdn Border Patrol of the Moot – CC:78
Foreman Stevedore's Guild-CC81
Friar Friars of St. Olga CC:84
Halfling The Commision (for demihuman Interests) -AoM17
Hedge Wizards Cunning Folk, Hedgefolk – SOE 55+
Merchnt Crafter, Bulder, Commerce, Labour Guilds - CC94
Hrnd Hntr Taals Chosen, -TiT9,CC105
Litigant Worshipful Guild of Legalists – AoM18
Mast.Vig Master Vigilant (PI for Magic Colleges)-NDM99,CC138
Marine Imperial Navy-SOE
Merchant Brothers of Handrich (Business Cult) –SOE16
Messenger Imperial Messengers Guild - CC:144
Militiamn Town Militia of Schweinfeld-CC145
Minstrel Minsterl School of Nuln-CC147
Minstrel Royal College of Music in Middenheim - AoM21
Navagator Imperial Graphic Society CC151
Navagator Navagator's Club-CC151
Navagator Guild of Explorers-CC151
News The Veracitor-CC152
Outlaw Outlaw Band of Heinz Gerber-CC156
Outrider The Satchel Boys-CC158
Physician Physician's Guild-CC162
Physician Middenheim Guild of Physicians – AoM17
Pistolier Pistol Korps CC:164
Pit Ftr The Secret Guild-CC165
Racketeer Karkhazof League CC:171
Raconteur Liars Guild CC:172
Roadward Roadwardens – SOE, ToC128,CC177
Riverwrdn Imperial River Patrol – ToC128
Runelord Dwarven runesmiths
Scolar Travelling School-CC181
Scholar Collegium Thelogicia,Ulric, Middenheim AOM34
Scribe Faithful Brotherhood of Scribes CC:184
Sewer jack Fauschlag Delvers CC:190
Slaver Dragon Fleet of Valbrand Fireblade-CC194
Soldier Imperial Military /Reiksguard /Imperial Guard – SH
Soldier Nuln Imperial Gunnery School – FoN
Stevedore Altdorf Dockers & Gangs (SOE)
Thug The Deadfish Gang of Nuln-CC210
Tradesmn Bowyers' Fraternity-CC213
Tradesmn Trusted Brotherhood of Brewers-CC213
Tradesmn Pussiant Fellowship of Skilled Cartographers-CC213
Valet August League – CC:216
Ver.Inv Verenean Investigator-SHp124(PI for Religions),CC218
Warlock Hartshorn Lodge – CC:223
Witch, Ice Kislev magic
Wizard Guild of Wizards & Alchemists in Middenheim AOM22
Wizard Light Order-Light (RoS)
Wizard Celestial Order-Heavens
Wizard Gold Order- Metal/Alchemy
Wizard Jade Order -Life
Wizard Amber Order-Beasts
Wizard Bright Order-Fire
Wizard Grey Order-Shadows and Illusions
Wizard Amethyst Order-Death
Zealot Brotherhood of St. Soeren of the Sword – CC:235
Zealot Wolf Kin, Zealots of Ulric – AoM9

Hunter Organizations
Agent of the Witch-Finder-General-CC230
Agent of Fellowship of the Shroud-NDM14,96,CC8 (Morr)
Andanti Vampire Hunter -NDM15
Cloaked Brother Chaos Hunter – ToC126,CC51
Dreamwalkers of Morr, Vampire Hunters– SOE28
Ordo Fidelis Witch Hunters (Sigmar)– AoM, ToC123+
Sigmarite Exorcists – ToC126
Tsaravich Pavel Society Vampire Hunters – NDM14
 



#5 Angelic Despot

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Posted 23 September 2010 - 05:30 AM

I'm a fan of themed groups, and in involving the players in creating the theme, but I think it's possible to retain quite a bit of flexibility.

For instance, any career that crosses paths with another is fine.   The theme could be 'the village', which would allow a thief, watchman and peasant all to come together.   They might not meet each other at work (hopefully not for the thief!), but they might all know each other from the one inn in the village.

Likewise, your 'academics' group could be expanded to include servants, other employees of the college / business etc.

To be clear, the players and GW should still come up with an explanation as to how (and how well) the characters all know each other, but I think you can get a lot of the advantages of themed groups without being too limiting.



#6 Emirikol

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Posted 16 February 2013 - 06:06 AM

THis looks like something that could be re-tooled as party sheets (which also need to be re-tooled with some component other than the PTM)  :)

 

jh

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#7 Teppe

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Posted 16 February 2013 - 12:11 PM

Hi there, 

The issue that I fear with thematic groups is that you enforce a role onto the players. The role of the GM is to make sure that the players are having fun, not to railroad them through an adventure. And if the players are forced into a specific career the risk of railroading (or the feeling of being railroaded) increases. 

In the game I am currently running I applied some of the ideas from the burning wheel to create party cohesion. I asked the players what kind of adventure they were looking for, pretending that I had almost anything lying around where the only thing I really had was a few loose ideas for a campaign. They wanted to go wandering through the wilderness and do something treasure-hunt like. 

I told them this could be arranged, and that they would be travelling through a dangerous part of the Border Princes, would have to fight off Orcs and would follow in the footsteps of the ancient templars that fought during the crusades. The path would take them from Barak Varr to Mad Dog Pass so there would be quite some travelling, some treasure hunting and orc fighting. The group could then start picking characters but I told them that they would have to:

- find a reason for them all working together on this quest. 

- pick out somebody that can read and be in the possession of a travellers log written up during the crusades. 

- define for themselves and share within the groups their beliefs and goals (from Burning Wheel). 

The final party consisted out of:

- A barber surgeon, the leader of the party, who acquired the travel log as an inheritance from an almost saved patient.  He sees the log as a sign of the gods that his chances in life are about to change and is off for adventure. 

- A tomb robber, a hoodlum without any moral sense. He supplied the barber surgeon with fresh "study material". He is part of a group that takes pride from wandering around in the most ancient and grand tombs that they can find. 

- A wizard that is looking for knowledge as all knowledge leads to power - something the wizard craves. He was part of the threesome with the barber surgeon and tomb robber that would ****** corpses from the Marienburger cemeteries. 

- A dwarven pit fighter that was healed by the barber surgeon after a fight gone awry. He swore an oath to save the barber surgeon's life and protect him until he could pay back this debt. 

- A dwarven shieldbreaker from barak varr and nephew of the pit fighter. I gave him a bit more insight into the adventure and told him that the "treasure" was related to a broken contract between humans and dwarfs. His goal is now to prove that humans are oathbreakers. He broke ties with his family and will only go back when he thinks he has deserved the necessary respect from his clan elders. 

- A priestess of Verena whom the party contacted in order to decypher the log and get to know somewhat more about historical events. The priestess sensed that there was a well hidden secret involved and decided she would uncover the truth for the honour and glory of verena. 

So this is not a thematic group. The players knew a few things about the main plot, collectively selected careers so they would have a good chance at survival and created the necessary party credibility themselves.  No in-fighting, no people asking themselves why on earth they are involved in this adventure. No meta-thinking needed - really love it.  

I feel that the Burning Wheel principles can be perfectly combined with the WFRP dice mechanic. I can purely improvise the sessions, guided by a cristallizing campaign concept, the beliefs the players gave me and the result of their dice rolls. I run the game that they want to play, maximally working on their own strengths and weaknesses. They see their own role in the story, shape it and work collaboratively with me and the other players to move the story forward. No NPCs are thrown at them because the adventure requires it - they only encounter the people they are actively looking for or accidentaly bumping into when another chaos star appears. For the first time in my GM career the sessions have become as creative for the GM as for the player. 



#8 valvorik

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Posted 17 February 2013 - 12:47 PM

I agree that the random assortment of bickering then trusting each other types as a group annoys me as a GM.  I plan to add misfortune dice for example to any action card with the teamwork trait to a pc if in fact they do not act like a team.  But it is not my job as gm to make them one or tell them how to be one.






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