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Friday, December 12, 2014

Magic in Warhammer

There's a lot of speculation about what the changes will be for the upcoming (imminent?) release of Warhammer's 9th edition. I've been trying to find the time (and work up the motivation) to write a lengthy post about what I'd like to see "fixed" in the new rulebook. I've heard opinions ranging from "6th is the best edition ever," to "8th is the best ever," and there are some people who think 8th edition is completely broken to the point of being unplayable.

I've been playing Warhammer since 5th edition and I think that, of all of these iterations, 6th was indeed the best, but there are a lot if things I like about the current edition, as well: The horde formations and extra ranks getting to fight; combats seem to have more back-and-forth interaction and last a little longer (maybe too long?); the way troop types and special rules are classified; and the overall core rules are pretty solid.

There are a handful of things I'd change, as well: bringing skirmishers back to the loose, 360-degree lone-of-sight formation; removing the Steadfast rule (part of the reason combats go on too long); rearranging the psychology rules so they have a little more of an impact (particularly Fear, which went from automatically breaking units to being a non-rule that gets forgotten most of the time); making war machines a little easier to kill with shooting; and– oh yeah– Magic.

I have what I think is a balanced, playable, and simple solution to the magic rules. If magic in 9th ends up being as broken as everyone fears, maybe I'll even push for my gaming group to use these rules instead. My take on magic is based on a combination of 6th edition and 8th edition, as each has some rules that I like.

Magic in 6th Edition Warhammer

This had the most elegant and simple set of magic rules. Most importantly, it was reliable, with a number of power dice based on the army you brought rather than a random roll to determine the strength of the winds of magic.

Power Dice Pool: 2 dice. Each casting Wizard adds +1 per level (ie: level 1 adds 1 die, level 4 adds for dice).
Dispel Dice Pool: 2 dice (4 dice for Dwarfs). Each dispelling Wizard of level 1 & 2 add 1 dice, level 3 & 4 Wizards each ass 2 dice.

Example: an army with a level 3 Wizard, a level 1, and a level 2 would consistently generate 8 power dice each turn, fewer if any Wizards get killed. The larger the army and the more Wizards it has, the more power dice it generates, allowing the amount of power dice in the casting and dispel pools to scale with the size of the game.

Casting: Wizards can roll a number of power dice up to their Wizard level +1 (ie: level 2 can roll up to 3 dice.) The roll needs to equal or exceed the casting value of the spell.
Dispelling: The dispelling Wizard can roll any number of dispel dice. The dispel attempt needs to equal or exceed the casting roll to dispel the spell.

Irresistible Force: If two 6s come up in the casting roll, the spell automatically succeeds and cannot be dispelled.
Miscasts: If two 1s come up in the casting roll, the spell is miscast and fails (regardless of the total).
Dispelling: Double sixes and double ones in the dispel roll count as automatic success or failure, respectively.

Spells: Spells are generated randomly and multiple wizards could potentially have the same spell. Each wizard could cast attempt to cast each of his spells once as long as he has enough power dice to do so.

Bound Spells: These are cast automatically without the expenditure of power dice at the power level of the item. (ie: a bound spell (5) would be cast at the difficulty 5 and that's also the difficulty to beat when dispelling.



Magic in 8th Edition Warhammer

8th Edition is all about the dice rolls. Dice rolls for everything: Random roll for charge distance, random roll for the winds of magic, random roll to see it any of your Wizards can add to the power pool...you get the idea. All those rolls slow the game down and, more often than not, don't amount to any appreciable effect.

Power Dice Pool: The number of power dice is the result of a 2D6 "winds of magic" roll. Each casting Wizard channels +1 dice on a D6 roll of 6 (regardless of level) up to a total limit of 12
Dispel Dice Pool: The number of dispel dice is equal to the higher dice in the winds of magic roll. Each dispelling Wizard channels +1 dice on a D6 roll of 6 (regardless of level).

So, right off the bat, this system requires a roll, and then another roll to determine the number of power dice. The average would be 7, but can range from 2 to 12, resulting in an overpowered magic phase or a completely ineffective one. Wizards have a 1-in-6 chance to add extra dice, which usually results in zero dice. This system doesn't scale at all; a 5000 point game with six Wizards per side still generates an average of 7 power dice +1 for the channeling roll. Not nearly enough for the amount of wizards in play.

Casting: A Wizard can roll up to 6 power dice and add his level to the roll. The total needs to equal or exceed the casting value of the spell.
Dispelling: The dispelling Wizard can roll any number of dispel dice and adds his level to the roll. The dispel attempt needs to equal or exceed the casting total to dispel the spell.

Irresistible Force/ Miscast: If two 6s come up in the casting roll, the spell automatically succeeds cannot be dispelled, and it is also miscast, requiring a roll on the miscast table once the spell's effects are resolved.
Dispelling: Double sixes in the dispel roll count as automatic success.

Spells: Spells are generated randomly but any given spell (other than signature spells) can only appear once in the army. Each wizard could cast attempt to cast each of his spells once as long as he has enough power dice to do so.


The rule about not having duplicate spells also doesn't scale well because in larger games with multiple wizards, you quickly run out of spells in your chosen lore.

Bound Spells: These require power dice to cast, and the level of the item is the casting difficulty.

In 6th edition, bound spell items were the ace up your sleeve, used to either draw out your opponent's dispel dice early in the phase, or saved until the end to surprise your opponent after he used all his dice. It was a nice tactic that's lost in 8th edition. Having to spend power dice on bound items means those dice are taken away from your other spells. As the dispelling player, you know that once your opponent is out of dice, he's got nothing left. There's no "unseen threat."

Minimum 3 to Cast/ Not Enough Power: In 6th edition, the dice roll needed to equal at least 3 (before any bonuses) for the spell to succeed. This was fine because the lowest casting value was about 5, so you would be rolling two dice anyway. Less than 3 on two dice is double ones, which is a miscast anyway. In 8th edition there's a holdover of this rule requiring the dice roll to be at least 3. The problem is that now Wizards add their level to the roll, so a level 4 Wizard casting a spell with a difficulty of 6 really only needs to throw one dice at it to make the total. It's just a way of eating up power dice in a already fickle magic phase.

Furthermore, if a Wizard fails an attempt to cast or dispel, his concentration is broken and he can't make another attempt that magic phase. So that's another rule encouraging you to throw more dice than necessary at a spell to ensure your Wizard doesn't become useless because of an unlucky roll.



Magic in the End Times

Warhammer: Khaine
added new rules that further complicate things with even more random rolls and radically alter the way the Magic phase functions. I've been involved in a lot of the discussion over on the VampireCounts.net forums, a regular haunt of mine. ("Haunt!" get it?) I don't believe I've seen anyone say a single positive thing about the new magic rules.

Power Dice Pool:
The number of power dice is the result of a 4D6 "winds of magic" roll.
Dispel Dice Pool: The number of dispel dice is equal to the highest 2 dice in the winds of magic roll.
Casting and dispelling Wizards channel the same: +1 dice on a D6 roll of 6.

That's more dice for the magic phase, which is good. Even a below average winds of magic roll will still allow you to do something.


Casting: After choosing the Wizard, his spell, and nominating the target, the wizard must roll a D6, the result of which is how many power dice he can roll.
Dispelling: Dispelling Wizards also roll a D6 to determine how many dispel dice they can use.

Irresistible Force/ Miscast: These function the same.
Broken Concentration:  Wizards can continue to cast spells if they fail a casting attempt.


Now we're adding two more rolls to the casting of each spell. (Literally, the casting Wizard rolls to see how many dice he can roll, then rolls those dice, and the dispelling Wizard rolls to see how many he can roll, and then he rolls his dice!) On top of that, you determine how many dice you get to roll after you've selected the spell to cast. This bit of randomness tones down the larger, unit-erasing spells because you can't just throw six dice at them hoping for irresistible force, but it makes it unreliable whether you'll have enough dice to roll for even a moderately difficult spell, or for your dispel attempt.

Spells: Spells are no longer generated randomly; Wizards know every spell in their chosen lore(s) and spells can be recast as long as a previous casting attempt wasn't failed and as long as the casting value isn't 15+ or greater. There are also "End Times" spells, which can only be cast once per phase and , if cast successfully, cannot be dispelled at all.

I haven't played a game with the End Times magic yet, and I do want to give it a try. I don't have high hopes because I already don't care for the randomness of the magic phase, and the End Times seems like it's even more random. People who have played say that the magic phase takes even longer, with all the rolls and wizards now having the entire library of spells to flip through when deciding what to cast. The general concern online is that these magic rules are a preview of what is to come in 9th edition. That's something I'm not looking forward to if it turns out to be the case.


 

My Ideal Magic Rules

Here's what I propose for a magic system that embraces the simplicity of 6th edition and addresses some of the power concerns. These rules are based on the 8th edition Warhammer core rules, spell lists and army books.

Power Dice Pool: 2 dice. Each casting Wizard adds +1 per level (ie: level 1 adds 1 die, level 4 adds for dice).
Dispel Dice Pool: 2 dice (4 dice for Dwarfs) Each dispelling Wizard of level 1 & 2 add 1 dice, level 3 & 4 Wizards each ass 2 dice. (Dwarfs have their own rules for generating extra dice, I believe. If the current system allows their Runesmiths to channel dice, I'd say roll that back to the Runesmiths generating dice like they did in 6th edition.)


The way 6th edition generated dice was fine. No random rolls to slow things down and it's consistent from turn to turn. I thought about making the base dice 1 per full 1000 points, It works out to be normal in a 2000-3000 point game, but it gets out of control at higher point values. having more wizards adding dice to the pool takes care of the scaling. The casting difficulties of the 8th edition spells are considerably higher, so loading up on wizards for more dice doesn't necessarily mean more spells will be cast, just that the amount of dice at your disposal will be consistent.  You'll still be rolling more dice per spell than you were in 6th.

Casting: A Wizard can roll a number of power dice up to his Wizard level +1 (ie: level 2 can roll up to 3 dice.) and add his level to the roll. The roll needs to equal or exceed the casting value of the spell.
Dispelling: The dispelling Wizard can roll any number of dispel dice and adds his level to the roll. The dispel attempt needs to equal or exceed the casting roll to dispel the spell.

The casting difficulty of all the 8th edition spells are rather high because they assume that the Wizard's level will be added to the casting attempt, so we need to keep that rule. The rules for Broken Concentration and Not Enough Power are gone, so high level Wizards can cast low-difficulty spells more easily, and without fear of sitting out the rest of the phase if they fail their casting attempt.

Irresistible Force: If two 6s come up in the casting roll, the spell automatically succeeds and cannot be dispelled.
Miscasts: If two 1s come up in the casting roll, the spell is miscast and fails (regardless of the total). 

Dispelling: Double sixes and double ones in the dispel roll count as automatic success or failure, respectively.

I preferred irresistible force and miscasting as two separate things, rather than a single "catastrophic success."

Spells: Spells are generated randomly and multiple wizards can potentially have the same spell. Each wizard can attempt to cast each of his spells once per magic phase as long as he has enough power dice to do so.

That's a nice balance, I think, allowing the same spell to occur more than once per magic phase, without it being cast over and over. Fewer spells in each Wizard's inventory means less time spent deciding what you are going to cast each turn.

Bound Spells: These are cast automatically without the expenditure of power dice at the power level of the item. The bound spell's level is also the difficulty to beat when dispelling.

That's a return to the way it was in 6th Edition. I know that the levels and points cost of the bound items probably reflects the fact that you're expected to use dice on them, but that's fine. It's equal across the armies and not such a difference that it would cause an imbalance.

So, what does everyone think? Let me know in the comments. I realize the 9th edition rules are probably in the can already (and GW doesn't "take notes" as far as I know) so it's not like this would change anything. I mainly wanted to get this down so I can reference it later if things do take a turn for the worst and we need to start house ruling things.

'Til next time!

14 comments:

  1. I like it. The 8th edition magic phase is what killed Warhammer for me.

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    1. Thanks! The magic isn't bad enough to *ruin* the game for me. It's just more cumbersome than it needs to be. And there are a lot of overpowered spells. In 6th you couldn't win the game in the magic phase– it was just a way to chip away at/ hinder enemy units or buff your own. Now you can absolutely win the game through the magic phase. Or not, because it's totally random and wacky!

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  2. I like it too! The 8th introduced too much of unnecessary randomness and unpredictability.

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  3. Interesting perspective. I've not played for ages (couple of games in 7th, I think) and my most recent experience is here: http://critfailure.blogspot.co.uk/2014/11/the-battle-of-nebelheim.html

    Playing undead I noticed that Fear had totally lost it's teeth and, although the magic was undeniably entertaining, you couldn't plan for that effect. In essence, the entire battle was decided on the outcome of a couple of random dice rolls made by one player. That's not good for a wargame, really.

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    1. I understand why fear was changed– In a combat where only one model had been killed, the enemy could be automatically routed if the undead outnumbered them by one model. Not a very exciting combat.

      Now it it only reduces the fearful unit to Weapon Skill 1. Not much of a difference, and it relies on the enemy failing it's Leadership test, which is usually boosted by the General and re-rollable with the Battle Standard (ie: not likely to be failed). On top of that, you have to remember to check at the start of every combat, every turn.

      I have a solution for Fear, that works like reverse instabillity:
      "If a unit loses a round of combat against a Fear-causing opponent with more ranks, the losing unit must take its break test with the usual modifiers. If the test is failed, the unit breaks as normal. If the test is passed, the unit holds and suffers a number of wounds equal to the difference in combat resolution scores, distributed as per shooting. No armor saves are allowed against these wounds."

      So that basically represents a few soldiers getting scared off by the overwhelming number of fear-causing enemies. I think that's a nice mix between the old and new.

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  4. Ok, so i am playing since 6 ed and IMO the best was 7th ed with army books from 6 edition ;)
    My thoughts about magic: I prefer 6 ed variant but it had also some disadvantages. The most problematic for me was building rooster. in games like 2,5 k it was necessary to have at least two mages with some dispelling equipment even when you wanted to concentrate on other phases. You had to have at least 4 DD and scroll. You said magic couldn't win game for you. That's right but it could lose it. There were some fixed points in rooster and there was nothing to do with it.
    8th ed magic is bad everybody know why. But it changed one thing. i can handle opponent worst spells with one mage. I dont often do that but i can. that is one advantage of 8th.
    That’s why i would like to see not upgraded 6th ed magic but new rule that would allow me not to begin rooster creation with mage lvl 1 scroll and mage lvl 1 +1DD. i would like to see something beteween 6th and 8th.
    but that's probably impossible :P

    Btw i wouldn't remove steadfast. I would change it to loose rule when youre being flanked

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    1. I skipped over 7th edition in my post because it's basically 6th Edition Light. I think the only real difference in the magic phase was requiring power dice generated by wizards to only be used by that wizard. Not really difficult to keep track of, but I prefer the simplicity of a single pool. It's easier to just have X number of dice and just cast.

      6th allowed you to take multiple dispel scrolls, so you could hold off the enemy with a single Wizard. & some scrolls. And the spells weren't as powerful as they are now. There are some spells you just can't let spells go in this edition. But even the dreaded Comet of Cassandora never concerned me that much.

      Honestly, if you don't bring any Wizards I don't think you SHOULD be able to handle dispelling most of the enemy's spells, but I see your point about not wanting to "have" to take Wizards in every list. I would never think of going into battle without some magical defense (especially with the lethality of spells these days). Even if it's just a single level 3 Wizard, that's 2 extra dispel dice and +3 to your dispel rolls.

      On Steadfast: Maybe having more ranks than your opponent shouldn't make you Stubborn, but rather just give you a +1 Combat Resolution like Outnumbering used to. It would still reward large units and give them that little bit of edge. The unmodified leadership thing is just too much. It makes it almost impossible for cavalry to break a unit of infantry, which is what cavalry is FOR. They're basically neutered.

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    2. I agree on magic. I just shared some thought about it. I like your vision of magic and i would like to see it in rulebook.

      Steadfast: I'm no sure if + 1CR would make infantry useless. My friend used to play Saurus oldblood on CO and BSB on CO. They ride safely to combat but charged alone without unit. They had CR over 9000 and easily breaking even great units. I think steadfast was thought to be a tool against something like that. I mean heroes should be powerful but no that much. (but that's my vision of warhammer ;) )
      on the other hand we got cavalery problem... :/
      maybe steadfast should be just harder to achive. for exemple: more ranks+ outnumber. + losing it when flanked.
      i don’t like steadfast now but i like idea. And extra CR would do the same thing as it has been done to Fear ;)

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  5. Your ideas on fear and magic are solid, as usual. Put me down for supporting you.

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  6. Good article!

    I played a match with the new End Times magic the other day, and I went in with the same worries you have. It wasn't nearly as bad as I expected, actually - the random element is irritating, true, and it does take longer which got me a little impatient sometimes. Mostly because my wizard died in the second turn and I had nothing much to do! All the same, it's more fun than I thought and not really that wildly different to the usual method.

    I like your alternative suggestions. Not sure I like the double 1 as an auto failure myself - the current version, where you get the spell and then something awful happens might be more random, but it strikes me as more fun too. Both players get a reward that way, at least.

    And if the current edition feels random at times, I don't mind that actually. It makes it a game of chance, but one akin to Poker, where you and your opponent bluff each other out with what you have to hand in an attempt to win advantage. The End Times rules lose that feel a little, sadly, although you gain on sheer volume of spell casting.

    We play a reasonable number of games over on our blog (The Woffboot Chronicles, look us up if you like), I'll see if one of my opponents fancies trying out your rules at some point. Let you know how it goes if it happens!

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    1. Awesome, thanks! I think what I have the most problem with is that the 8th edition and End Times spells are SO powerful, but whether or not you get to cast them is completely random (more so with End Times magic rules). That means the game (or at least a crucial unit or combat) is won or lost with the flip of a coin. If the designers want magic to be so wacky and unpredictable, then the powerful spells need to be toned down so they are not game breaking.

      You may as well write a scenario where meteors are hitting the battlefield. At the start of each player turn, roll 2D6 for each unit: On a double 1 it's removed from the game with no saves of any kind. That's wacky, random, and devastating. And much quicker than fumbling with magic. But it doesn't seem like it would be much fun.

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  7. I must admit, I am rather disenchanted with the excessive randomisation of the 8th edition - it was always a game of luck and judgement (just as war is), which was fine; but they seem to have eliminated the 'judgement' aspect almost entirely. If that was what I actually wanted, I would just play dice.
    Regarding your suggestions, though, I think that they make for a solid and quite workable alternative. I found it particularly interesting, because I had worked out my own alternatives, particularly for Magic, - there are similarities, and differences:
    I reverted to 6th/7th for many of the rules - I am indifferent on the miscast and irresistible force rules, but they rarely used to come up - I am experimenting with hybridising the two systems, but just as often playtest with 6th or 8th edition. Generating dice, however, is definitely a 6th edition method, with one exception - channelling.
    My wizards can channel their power with finesse and caution (adding their level to their casting / dispel totals), or reckless force (generating a pool of D3 dice that only they can use), can and choose at the start of each magic phase which they will do. When casting their spells, the wizard may use a number of dice from the main power / dispel pool equal to or less than their wizard level +1, but dice from the wizard's personal pool do NOT count against this limit. If the dice all come up as natural 1's, the spell fails (and possibly miscasts: otherwise this replaces the 'Power of Three' rule, adjusted for channeling)
    These two rules combine to fix the biggest gripe I had against the 6th edition Magic rules - that the more skilled and able a wizard was, the more likely he was to make a terrible mistake. Now, the humble apprentice can hope to challenge his master's might, but only by crudely channelling more power than he can really cope with (and the odds of a spectacular failure increase, the randomness being a token nod the the 8th edition's philosophy); whilst the cagey 'Masters' of magic, knowing full well that there are powers beyond their might, can wield their magic somewhat more reliably, if no more spectacularly. More background reasoning than mechanical, but I find myself happier for it.
    Dispelling works as in the 6th edition, but with the addition of the above channelling rules. In other news, bound spells revert entirely to the 6th edition ruleset, though I may later find a use for 'Level 0 Wizards'
    Appretice units, perhaps?

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  8. Am I not looking correctly, or where does it explain Bound Spells in the 6th edition rulebook? (I found on it page 121 of the 7th edition rulebook)

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    1. Bound Spells are covered in the magic item section, where it discusses items that are capable of casting spells.

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