Tabletop Review: Only War (beta)

Only War (Beta)
Publisher: Fantasy Flight Games
Page Count: 265
Release Date: 6/21/2012
Cost: $20.00 (PDF)
Get it (PDF)

‘Join the Imperial Guard’ they said…
“ËœSee the universe’ they said…

Fantasy Flight, those magnificent masters of game production, have put out a “beta test” set of rules for a game that is meant to be the spiritual successor to Games Workshop’s Rogue Trader, that classic tome that originally defined the world of Warhammer 40,000 for those who already knew and loved Warhammer Fantasy (at that time just called Warhammer). Did you know that licensing for RPG products related to Warhammer had been handed over to Fantasy Flight? I didn’t.

Only d10s
The game uses d10s exclusively, and will require both regular d10 rolls and d100 rolls (roll two d10s, one die represents tens, the other represents ones). For special effects like scatter rolls (where a grenade or some similar object hits the ground), a d10 is also rolled to determine the direction that it travels next, according to a diagram. Whatever needs to be decided with a die roll, d10s will be used.

The testing process is similar to many other games, like D&D for example: you take a base stat that corresponds to the action you are attempting, and add or subtract from that according to any modifiers that may apply. The GM can assign bonuses or penalties based on the conditions that the action is taking place in, like cover in a firefight granting defensive bonuses, etc. If you roll equal to or under the final number with a percentile roll, you have succeeded. The result of the test is further modified by the amount that you succeeded at or failed the test by, so that the GM can tell more precisely how the result of the test plays out in the game. There is also a handy table for the GM to consult that gives several levels of difficulty and their modifiers.

Taking a cue from more recent RPGs perhaps, a character will have “Fate” points, that are a sort of currency allowing them to do various things like re-roll or remove damage. This seems to be a standard addition to most games lately, and I can’t say I disagree with the decision. I do wish it had a different name because now I’m thinking about the FATE system and other sort of indie RPGs and I can’t help but think it’s a little cribbed. Whatever though, I look forward to more innovations in RPGs like meta-game currency.

Only Imperial Guard
You will be playing Imperial Guard. I expect that other armies will become available in the future but after a quick glance at the Fantasy Flight website I wasn’t able to confirm that. I did not delve into the forums however, where I’m sure such questions have been asked and possibly answered.

As an Imperial Guard, you have TONS of stuff to choose from. Just about any of the IG factions (as far as I know, I’m not as up on 40k as I used to be) are available: Catachan Jungle Fighters, Mordian Iron Guard, etc. The types of troops are available as classes: Medic, Priest, Heavy Weapons, Storm Trooper, Psyker, even Ratling and Ogryn are there to choose from. The only class I don’t understand is the Commissar. How is someone supposed to play the Commissar in a group? What if the group decides to retreat, does the Commissar shoot them? Well, check this out: if your character is close to death, the Commissar can shoot your Comrade to get you back in the game. That’s right. I think that’s cool, I just don’t understand how a player is supposed to be part of the group and behave like a Commissar. Read the class description yourself and see if you agree. At the very least it would take some creative players to pull it off.

Looking at the classes, a squad might begin to look like your typical D&D group: Fighter, wizard, priest, and rogue turn into Ogryn, Psyker, Ministorum Priest, and Ratling. What is kind of funny to me, is that there is no class for just a regular Guardsman. There are five standard classes, and then seven support classes, but not one of them is a regular Joe. Hm. I mean, the standard classes are supposed to cover skill sets belonging to basic “grunt” guardsmen, but it doesn’t cover the most basic!

Your character, once you’ve chosen a regiment and class, and a few other things, will be given various other attributes that may flesh him or her out as a character or give them special skills or bonuses. For instance, there is a large table (taking up two pages) of “Demeanours” that you will roll on to give your character some aspect of their personality or being that distinguishes them. You might roll “Psycho” or “Dreamer”, and then consult the brief description of the attribute and act accordingly. It’s a bit strange that a table is used to determine a character’s personality, but since I am a proponent of separating the character from the player I actually applaud this decision. It even adds a bit of old school flavor to character creation. Gotta love tables.

One of the most interesting things about character creation is the fact that you will generate a Comrade along with your character. This person is your buddy, and while not all classes get one, most do. After all, the I.G. is all about numbers isn’t it? Basically, a comrade is an NPC that performs various servile functions and may provide some nice backup or cannon fodder from time to time, depending on how a character uses him or her. I think it’s a really cool idea, my only worry is that it will clutter up play by forcing the player to think about what their comrade is doing or remembering in a certain scene where their comrade is etc. Imagine comrades as “red shirts” in the Warhammer world.

Character creation is going to take up some significant time, and it will probably be best if the group is together when it happens. Since the group is functioning as a regiment, or a squad, or whatever, then they will all belong to the same faction and have similar purposes in the course of the game. Players will also have to decide how many of them will be support classes and which will be standard classes, since it could easily happen that everyone wants to be a support class. I could see a cool scenario where everyone is a support class helping out different portions of a regiment in a large-scale battle, going wherever they are needed. However, mixes of regular Guardsmen and special classes might get difficult to work with. Another reason creation will likely be lengthy is because there are pages of things like Aptitudes, Traits, Demeanours, Skills, and Talents (not counting equipment) that will have to be decided on by a player or rolled on a chart. Most of it is decided by the player. I’m not excited about poring over lists of attributes and such things to “customize” my character, since I consider the mere fact that I am controlling my character to be enough to differentiate him or her from the other characters. However, those who prefer a bit of rules crunch will like it I suppose.

Only Gear
My word, is there a lot of gear to paw through. As I mentioned earlier, I am not quite up on my 40k so I don’t know if all of this is available in the miniatures game, but I recognize a lot of it. Las-weapons, various grenades, flamers, even down to bows and flintlock pistols, are all available. Pages and pages of stuff.

After the gear rules are sections on Psyker powers and vehicles, I’ll leave it up to the reader to pore over the stats contained therein.

Only Combat?
This is a serious question: is the game only combat? The answer, of course, lies with the people that play it. However, the game is based on a combat-only miniatures game, and is focused with that in mind, so you have to wonder. Certainly the bulk of the game would be expected to take place in combat conditions.

When in combat, characters have a wide variety of possible actions. You can aim, perform a wild melee attack, fire off a shot, fire off a spray of rounds, run, cover a position, jump…all kinds of stuff. What I love about this is that it takes the action of Warhammer and gives you a granular detail. Imagine that I.G. unit ducking, covering a line of fire, attacking some Ork stragglers, and at the same time tossing grenades over a low wall instead of just standing there on the table, frozen in some sort of action pose. This brings the action that is imagined in the miniatures game and brings it to life.

As described above, attacks will be determined by a d100 roll. If you hit somebody, you also determine the location of the hit, a nice little detail adding more granularity to the combat. At first glance, you might think this will slow down combat, but you don’t actually roll any more dice to determine the hit location on the table, you simply reverse the two numbers you rolled on your to-hit roll. For example, if you hit with a 35, your hit location would be 53 (a body hit). That’s pretty clever.

Did you say something about wanting more tables? Well, let me wet your whistle with this information: there are 8 pages of critical effects tables for doing damage to different parts of a character depending on what type of weapon is being used. Depending on the table roll, the effect will be underwhelming or spectacular and grisly. These effects only happen if a character is below 0 Wounds (the Hit Points of Only War), so if you find yourself in that situation take care, because the next frag grenade could deploy your leg to another front on the battlefield.

Only Rules
There is a lot more in this book, it would take pages and pages to cover it all. You’ve got everything from GM advice to vehicle movement, and combat rules to codexes of bad guys (Chaos, Dark Eldar, and Orks by the way). There is also a beginner adventure in the back, which is always the sign of good decisions being made in my book. The adventure is rather wordy and all of the facts appear to be buried in paragraphs upon paragraphs of text, however. As a GM I would be loathe to run this adventure as is, and would have to make several notes and summaries so that I didn’t have to read through chunks of text just to get some basic information or to try and get a grasp on the scene. The monotony of prose could really use some simple tables or charts or maps or something to stop the wall of text from being so imposing. Of course, this is the beta version and there is a lot of art missing from the book at this point, so it can probably be assumed that some nice art will be inserted somewhere in there.

Overall, I am quite impressed with what the designers have attempted here and how they have done it, to bring Warhammer 40,000 to life in the minds of players on a more individual level has obviously taken a lot of work and a lot of care to get it to where it is. I think it is going to prove an enjoyable game, especially for fans of the miniatures game who also happen to be interested in role-playing. The game is definitely combat-focused, but the RPG element now adds endless possibilities for stories, instead of just battle after battle with nothing in between.

To me this game is not ambiguous; the designers and players know that war is the focal point of everything, and the game does not pretend to be interested in anything else. This game is like an electric guitar plugged into a fuzz pedal and an amp turned up to 9 (11 is too loud): it’s destined for action.



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One response to “Tabletop Review: Only War (beta)”

  1. […] war. I don’t think there are many games where war is featured or focused on (well, except for Only War of course), and less where all aspects of war in the game get treatment in a comprehensive […]

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