Sunday, October 23, 2011

Mordheim: Initiative, Climbing and Jumping

In Mordheim, the Initiative stat is used for multiple actions. Spotting enemies that are hiding, who strikes first in close combat, climbing, and jumping. The jumping actions also come into play when initiating a diving charge or when you get knocked down close to an edge on an elevated platform. Today, we are going to focus on climbing and jumping and the issues it brings to Mordheim.

What's the Problem?
The advantages of climbing and jumping are underestimated by a lot of people who play Mordheim. One of the issues we've run into throughout the years are Warbands that have a really low Initiative are at a disadvantage and can get easily out manuevered. More than that though, they can't climb or jump across gaps at all and this could be detrimental depending on the scenery you are using and the scenario you are playing.

How do we fix it?
This is the tough part. Honestly, at this point I'm not so sure. The goal is we want Warbands like Undead and expansion Warbands like Dwarves and Lizardmen to be able to move more freely through the streets (or jungles) of the battlefield. At the same time, we don't want to take away the superior maneuverability of other Warbands and create a shift in power.

The way the rules are now, we run into situations where Skaven and Elves are so good at climbing and jumping that they hardly ever fail and Dwarves and Undead are so poor that they almost never succeed. I know some people are probably thinking, "Yeah, that's the point! Your comparing the most nimble warrior to the clumsiest and that's how it should be."

The problem I have with this approach is that no model should ever be so good that it never succeeds or so poor that it never fails. This kinda came up in my post on fixing parry where someone in the comments suggested we create a chart for parrying. The rational reason being that a warrior with a higher weapon skill should be able to more easily parry an attack from a warrior with a lesser weapon skill.

From a practical standpoint it makes a lot of sense, but when it comes down to feel and how it plays out in a game, it doesn't work because you are creating a gap where the lesser warrior always fails. That type of situation is great when you have the better warrior, but sucks when you don't. Sure, when the lowly warrior gets off a parry against a more skilled opponent or manages to cut him down, we feel great! That's why we play miniature games for moments like that, but Mordheim already has those moments and this isn't the best way to get more of that into the game.

I don't want to go on too much of a tangent, but I had a really long discussion with Jervis Johnson many years ago about Weapon Skill and why you only ever needed a 3, 4, or 5 to hit. In my impetuous youth I told him the system was broken. My reasoning being that a warrior with a Weapon Skill of 10 should be able to hit a warrior with a Weapon Skill of 1 on a 2+. The lowly warrior with a Weapon Skill of 1 would need a 6 to hit him back. Makes more sense right? I don't remember if he told me Warhammer used to be like that (I started with 4th Edition) or if they play tested it like that, but they came to an inevitable conclusion: it was a disaster. The power gap was too great and the game wasn't fun because playing out the battles was boring since you knew who was going to win.

Getting back to Mordheim, I'm all for good positioning and solid tactical gameplay, but when a low initiative Warband like Undead is in a position where they are on street level and Skaven or Elves are raining missiles down from on high, the outcome is a foregone conclusion and they are pretty much dead. Not only are they at a disadvantage to begin with, but attempting to climb or jump to get at their assailants is too much to risk. If they do somehow manage to get closer, they either suffer a diving charge or get knocked off the ledge and suffer failing damage which is going to hurt more than the missile fire!

Proposed Fix
So I'm not settled on a fix yet, but I do have a few ideas. Here they are:
  1. Models succeed on a climb or jump check if they roll a 3+. If they fail, they slip but can attempt to save themselves. To see if you save yourself, make an Initiative check. If the Initiative check is passed, the model succeeds as normal. We've been playtesting this for quite some time. It's okay, but doesn't seem like the long term solution. Pros: Gives lower initiative models a better chance to succeed. The mechanic is similar to what is already in the game and is easy to pick up. Cons: Gives higher Initiative models a better chance to succeed. Requires two rolls to resolve one action.
  2. Steal the climbing and jumping rules from Legends of the Old West. On a roll of 1, the model fails and falls. On a roll of 2–5,  the model is successful and his movement phase ends. On a roll of 6, the model is successful and can continue with any remaining movement. Pros: It's simple and quick to adjudicate. Cons: It might be too simple. It puts everyone on an even playing field which takes away the flavor that Elves are more nimble than Dwarves.
  3. Come up with a new system entirely. This is something I have been working on recently and what I have been leaning toward. The way the system will work is each model will have a climbing/jumping rating. This will be either a 3+, 4+, or 5+ and the model will need to make the roll to succeed. All of the races will be rated on a chart. The preliminary chart will have Elves/Skaven at a 3+, Humans at a 4+, and Dwarves/Undead at a 5+. A model attempting to climb or jump will need to roll that number or higher to succeed. Models wearing heavy armor and carrying a shield will suffer a -1 penalty. Pros: Requires 1 roll to perform the action. Is simple and keeps differences between nimble and clumsy warriors. Cons: Introduces a new mechanic and a chart. :( I don't like charts as they slow down game play. Needs to take into account skills, items, and special rules that use the climbing and jumping rules. Every model in the game would need a climbing/jumping rating including third party Warbands.
Settled on a Fix
I started on this post long before my post on Tweaking the Parry Rules and after letting this sit for a couple weeks in my queue and giving it additional thought, I've decided to go with option 3 above. The additional skills, items, and special rules can continue to work as is. The only issue will be creating the chart which shouldn't be too bad. Again, I don't like going with a chart, but I think this is the best way to go.

Not sure what is on tap for my next Mordheim discussion. I have a few things I have been tossing around as of late. Maybe I'll post a rewrite for one of the Lustria Warbands. The Lizardmen have always lacked in flavor and needed to be taken down a notch, so maybe I'll post the what I've been playtesting recently.

Till next time,
–The Harrower


  1. I just stumbled into your blog via blood of kittens. I'm a Mordheim enthusiast, and have really enjoyed reading your reflections. My recommendation for climbing, that my group has adopted is to borrow the climbing rules from Deathsquads (a 40k fan based skirimish game that borrows heavily from Mordheim/Necromundia and others...) They allow 'safe climbing' which lets any model move up one level (1/2 M) if they start in base to base with a wall. Normal Climbing allows movement beforehand and requires an I test. Reckless climbing allows movement before climbing and after, for up to double Movement, but requires an I test for each 2" climbed.

  2. Thanks for reading! That's an excellent suggestion and definitely something I'll consider. It's certainly more elegant than going with a chart.

  3. (I don't know if my previous comment was sent or not, so to sum it up : )
    "Initiative tests for climbing and jumping are always successful on a minimum of 4+"
    Initiative can obviously make it easier. What do you think of it ? One single roll. No change for high I characters. Giving back a little mobility to slow and clumsy warriors.

    It's possible to think of a 3+ minimum, but with a penalty of -1 for heavy armour (makes sense).

    Is Newheim dead ?

    1. Didn't get your previous comment. If it was long, it might have timed you out. Sorry. Not exactly sure what you mean. Are you saying going with a flat 3+ for everyone? Newheim isn't dead per se. Just on the back burner right now.

    2. Sorry if it was unclear, actually I quiet messed up my explanation. Initiative test require to make a roll UNDER your stat, and I was going with 4+, which does the opposite. Let's start over again.

      Every model succeed Initiative test for climbing and jumping on a result of 3 or less, higher Initiative value can make the roll easier. Initiative of 5 for example require a roll equal or under 5.

      Hope it's clear now ! It's a simple solution, one single roll, doesn't messed up the balance just makes things a little bit funnier for dwarves or undeads.

    3. That's how tests are done now isn't? I want to open up climbing options to Dwarves and other Warbands/Models that have a low initiative.