Monday 20 February 2012

Oldhammer: Universal Points System

OK, so I've done something on the philosophy of Oldhammer, and it's time for some crunch.  The Universal Point System is the key to achieving game balance and unlocking its creative potential. While more recent 'hammers have turned Point Values into an obfuscating mystery, Oldhammer gives you the tools you need to make the game your own.  So... let's do this!

OLDHAMMER: In Battle There is No Law

'One Profile to Rule them All' 
Standard Human
4 3 3 3 3 1 3 1 7 7 7 7 5

If the table above means absolutely nothing to you, then you'll have to go and dig out some old edition of Warhammer. 1st-3rd Warhammer Fantasy Battle or Warhammer 40,0000: Rogue Trader.  Later editions will also work, but you'll have to up-convert everything to the O:UPS.

If only Int, Cl and WP  look a bit unfamiliar - worry not - they are just used to test various psychological effects in Oldhammer and along with Ld are known as personal statistics, and I'll cover what they do in a later post. PV is, of course Point Value. these days you have to buy army books to know this number, but they used to be published in the main rulebook, along with everything else you need.

Oldhammer is a fundamentally humanocentric game. Not because humans are the top of the pile, but because everything else is described in relation to them. Here's how:

Starting with the Standard Human Point Value of 5 as our base,
  • For every attribute point above the Standard Human profile, add the appropriate modifier. 
  • For every attribute point below the Standard Human profile, deduct the appropriate modifier. 
 This gives the Profile Points Value, and the modifier for each attribute is given below:

0.25 0.5 0.25 1 1 4 0.25 4 0.25 0.25 0.25 0.25 -

Example: if we compare the Elf profile to the Standard Human profile we can apply these modifiers  to determine the final points value:

4 4 4 3 3 1 6 1 8 9 9 8 8
Modifier 5 - +0.5 +0.25 - - - +0.75 - +0.25 +0.5 +0.5 +0.25 =

However that's not the end of our calculations. If the Profile Points Value is greater than 10, we need to multiply it by something I call the Ugezod Factor.

To find the Ugezod Factor,
  1. If the Profile Points Value of the  is between 11-15, then the Ugezod Factor is 1.5
  2. If the Profile PV is 16 or larger take the PV,  drop a decimal place and round up to the nearest whole number.  
  3. Multiply the Profile PV by the Ugezod Factor for the final Points Value.
Example: the Ogre profile is worked out as below:

6 3 2 4 5 3 3 2 5 4 5 7 -
Modifier 5 +0.5 - -0.5 +1 +2 +8 - +4 +0.5 -0.75 -0.5 - 18.5 37

The profile points value of the Ogre is 18.5 which is over 15 so we drop a decimal place so it becomes 1.85 which is rounded up to give the Ugezod Factor of 2. The final Points Value of the Ogre is calculated as 18.5 * 2 = 37.

Of course it doesn't quite end there, equipment, magic and hero status can all effect the final PV of a unit, and we will cover these in a later post.

I've created a OpenOffice spreadsheet that does all those calculations for you, and put that here:


So, right now, you can design your own troops and monsters, or convert any published profile to the Oldhammer Universal Points System.

"Oh mighty, Zhu!" a great clamouring of voices yelled. "Tell us of great weapons, armour from the forge lands , the psychology of battle, mighty leaders, the powers of magic? Surely must these be accounted in the great Book of War."

Long after the echoes of these shouts  fell into black silence, a voice spoke. "Patience, seekers. Let us first reflect on the great powers you have attained so far. The Lord of Khs smiles, for battle is already upon us. Let the dice be thrown and let blood be spilled before the dawn! "
- Chronicles of the Dark Zhu. Ch. XIIV

Converting Chaos

The rules for generating Points Values above appear very much as they were written by Rick Priestly, Richard Halliwell and Bryan Ansell and are published in WFB 2nd Edition and WH40K:RT. The wording is completely new and only the mechanics have been reproduced. By using the system above you'll get the Points Values as published in those two editions - which is the black beating reanimated undead warp-fire powered core of Oldhammer.

You'll find that the points published for other editions are slightly variant. The designers started 'tinkering' with the final values to represent how useful they thought the troops were in 3rd - but the vast majority of profiles published for that edition are still based on this system. In fact the first instance of deviating from purely mechanical points values was in the 2e Ravening Hordes presentation of the Snotlings - which made them considerably cheaper than the original Citadel Journal incarnation.

If you want to convert from an edition that only contains Leadership and is missing the other Personal Profile statistics, choose one of the following methods:
  1. All the same as the given Ld.
  2. A reasonable number based on the type of creature.
  3. Equal that of the 2nd or 3rd edition version of the creature
  4. The human baseline: 7
  5. Make them zero.
It is worth noting that the modern (8e) profile by itself does not fully account for the published PV - and nor do the additional special rules or equipment. However if one or more of the above techniques are employed, the published points value can, most times, be reached. It's as if the personal profile values are often used  as "hidden" stats, used in calculating the points values but mysteriously missing from the profile.  It would appear this exact system is being used in the GW game design studio today - although they occasionally deviate for no apparent reason from a purely mathematical system.

Again, I'll cover the actual rules effected by the personal profile (Cool, Willpower, etc.) in another post but for now it's enough to fill them in - and note, setting them to zero is a really bad idea, so be prepared to pay a few extra points than you're used to for troops.

Creating Creatures

One advantage of having a public points system is that you can create your own creatures, and everyone can see how and why they cost what they did.

I did a conversion of the AD&D Bugbears to Oldhammer quite some time ago.  I also added in the weapon stats to the final PV - however I now realize that is a mistake. Specific profiles do not have to take specific weapons/armour combinations - these are always options - perhaps you want to use Citadel ADD Bugbears, alongside Otherworlds, or convert weapons. Model choices should not be defined by rules, rules should bend to choice of model. Nonetheless, despite its flaws you can download it and have a look.

Download Bugbear Army List [PDF]

These new creatures are (nearly) entirely balanced in accordance to the Oldhammer Points value system, and so are a fair choice for a given value. 500PV of Bugbear is equal to 500PV of Chaos Dwarves or 500PV of Night Elves. At least that's the theory.

So you can bring much more colour, variety and creativity to the tabletop - you're no longer restricted to "counts as" choices, but can design creatures from the ground up. In fact, introducing new creatures is some of the fun that a Gamesmaster can have, introducing them as surprise allies or fearsome wandering monsters to the armies that players bring to the table - why should the GW design studio have all the fun?


I'm not a mathematician, but the points system itself seems quite elegant - Strength and Toughness balance each other out (being either side of the same to-hit table) so have the same cost. Wounds and Attacks, are also symmetrically costed, being the capability of dealing or receiving damage. The numerical pattern of measuring everything out in quarters and numbers divisible by 4 (the Ugezod Factor kicks in at a profile value of 16+ and all distances also use inches, which are divided into 1/4s and 1/8th ...) gives Oldhammer a glossy coat of mathematical purity.

The points allocation of Weapon Skill being more costly than Ballistic Skill is an interesting choice - Oldhammer appears to value close combat ability over ranged ability. However, points for ranged weapons aren't included in the initial PV (a basic hand weapon is), so usable ranged units already have a higher cost (at least 0.5 PV). However, fast forward 40,000 years and the close-combat bias is still there, why else do Power Gloves make sense?

The Ugezod Factor
named after the infamous Eeza Ugezod

The Ugezod Factor has some interesting repercussions for creature design. As it rounds-up the PV, it means that often additional points of ability can be bought without effecting the points paid for the creature. However, the designers tend not to max out all creatures in this way. Instead the odd point has been given away here or there. Some of this may be to preserve compatibility with earlier editions, but more likely it's to add flavour and variety to the troop types - something to take note of I think.

Finally, I'd love to see what people make of the UPS. Feel free to create or convert any weird and wonderful creature and link to it in the comments!

Update: how to calculate armour values


  1. Very interesting stuff as a solid points system is always useful as a starting point in any game. Personally, I think you have to remain flexible though, as they'll always be instances (generally because of a narrative situation) where they totally break down. We saw this in a game of Rogue Trader recently, where one person brought a webber but the other didn't bring any web solvent. How much is a webber worth if the opponent can't get out of it (and needs to do so to win the game), or to put it another way, how much is web solvent worth if it isn't needed compared to if it is?

    On the subject of 8e points values - there's no system in place at all, just a lot of intuition and trial and error. Jervis once told me that the last time he used a solid PV system was on Epic 40,000 in the mid 90s, but he had to dump it as, true to the old saying, 'development breaks design'. PV systems are great if you never intend to develop your game, but can really hamstring creativity later on.

    1. Jervis? who he? :-) Mid 90's? This is Oldhammer!

      Of course, understanding the purpose and limitations of the PV system being used is critical in using it effectively as a tool - 'creativity loves constraints' as the saying goes.

      Unfortunately the alternative method of 'intuition and experience' is broken from day one - witness the eternal power-creep with every new release. Mystifying the PV process denies players any way of fixing the problem or even meaningfully discussing it.

      Try putting some 8e stats through the oldhammer PV calculator. You might be surprised at how systematic it actually is!

  2. In which case it proves they're doing it well, as I 100% promise you no formulas are being used :-)

    1. ha ha, they are doing it terribly :-) Seriously - stick the stats in the spreadsheet I created and you'll see for yourself where the formulas are adhered to and where (and how) they deviate from the norm.

      At the end of the day I'm more interested in ignoring the values GW publish, freeing gamers from the shackles of the army-books, and building a rational shared language to play a wider, more creative and open game.

  3. Fair enough :-) I have to say I'm very surprised an adventure into old school ttg like this is concerned with PVs at all!

  4. This is brilliant Zhu! Always meant to thrash out something like this and never got around to it.

    Is it possible to reverse engineer it do you think? Reason I ask, is that I was going to start a Mighty Empires campaign using 3E Warhammer rules (with bits borrowed from 2E and 4E), but a good friend has offered to run the Warhammer component himself (freeing me up to concentrate on the Mighty Empires campaign aspect). However, he prefers 6E, and since he's running the battles with his legions of figures, it's his call. Is Oldhammer subvertible so I can take cool stuff from 3E (Fimir, Zoats, etc) and plug and play with acceptable 6E points values?

    (And BTW, do you have any of this kicking around in .doc or .pdf you could email to me?)

    Again, awesome work!



  5. Hey Andy - if you down-convert everything to Oldhammer and use those PVs then it will be consistent.

    The system above doesn't account for equipment - so it's not complete (unless you're only arming troops with hand weapons!). A quick look at the 6E dwarf army-book shows me that Dwarf Crossbows cost 5pts - that's twice their value in 2E - so that's going to give very different model values to Oldhammer.

    Having said that the 8E Realm of Sorcery Fimir Balefiend and Zoat have exactly the same PVs as if they were calculated with the 2E method.

    The final document is aa long way off. All I have is an awe-inspiring OpenOffice calc document with most of the monsters and equipment from 1E, 2E, 3E, WH40KRT a bit of 4E and a bit of 8E.

    1. I meant Storm of Magic, not Realm of Sorcery, of course.

  6. A very interesting discussion and one I'm happy to follow in some detail. Though my preference leans toward early 3e...this insight into 2e is quite useful. Do the points values given in the 3e Armies book follow this formula religiously or do we start to see points creep even that early? I love that the 3e army book contains all the armies as well as mercs and allies in a single volume...but it is really the first book that constrains troop choices...which as I get back into this gaming world I don't really like that what if I want some +2 shock elite Gobos?...if I pay the points for them I should be able to have them right? Sadly, not according to the Armies book. Anyway...all very interesting...thanks for laying it out in such detail!

    1. I agree, if you want +2 shock elite Gobbos, you should be able to have them.

      The 3e Armies book PVs do not follow the 2e formula strictly at all. I haven't converted the whole book, but from what I see 8e is closer to 2e than 3e is.

      If you're after flexibility, then the 2e PV system is the way to go!

    2. So that would mean the original ravening hordes follows this system?
      I never bothered playing 2nd, I felt it wasn't made to handle the unit sizes I wanted but may be worth looking again.

      Oh and this is a very 80's thing to do you only have to look at all the maths in early WD to know that.

    3. Yes and Yes. The 2e Ravening hordes is 99% following the PV calculations - there are a few deviations (Halflings are too expensive, for example). But I'm opposed to the army structure the book imposes because it restricts choice to racial armies and core-troops selection.

      Your point about early WD is interesting - I wonder how much Don Turnbulls Monstermark system influenced the development of WFBs PV system. I've never understood the conflation between Old-School and rules-light - from AD&D on, games were much more math heavy than is currently popular. Doesn't mean games have to be ruled by the numbers, but mathcore is definitely a theme.

  7. Hi there. Oldhammer is an interesting idea but there is also another approach. Taking Rick Priestly's latest game design and converting it to fantasy. You can find more here

  8. I'm really split on this, I love taking whatever I like for an army, +2 Gobbos being an excellent example because I have used them. 3rd ed as it stands easily allows you to do this with or without points. However I love both the old army books and there is a certain pleasure in using them.

    I certainly don't mind heavy maths working in the background but I want the game to run smoothly when I get to play it. One reason I'm drifting more towards the 3rd ed lite of 4th, or perhaps 3.5 for me.

    I love black powder but haven't got round to getting hail Caeser yet, worth looking at I suppose.

  9. Well! The man does art AND maths. I little bit of science or literature and we'll have a full blown renaissance here.

    A very nicely written piece, Mr Zhu.

    I think the bit that gets weird about points is that its hard to see where features like 'Always strikes first' or 'Cause Fear' would fit. I've mentioned Always Strikes First because of that rule's implications for the High Elves (in later editions, that is. Lets not mention the fact that having the word 'Always' in a rule is fundamentally bad design). Is that rule accurately 'priced' in the context of points? I think this is the place where Andy is probably right - there isn't a formula now and these things are priced by gut feel. I'm not sure if High Elves are priced differently to Wood or Dark elves, or what 'compensating' rules there are for those other races.

    I like the fact that the formula is available, because it allows people to add things that fit your game world, and the formula is excellent in terms of providing the context to a human being - everything is relative to something we understand.

    Considering the 3rd ed Warhammer Armies or the 2nd ed Ravening Hordes books, I've always seen these an optional 'shapers' of forces. I'll stick to 3rd because I know that one better, but I think the army book gives enough of a view to influence the 'look' of the army as the designers saw it. The troop limits are not balanced to other armies, but rather appear to be ways of indicating how unusual that troop type is. The 3rd ed High Elf army list has an entry for 0-20 Guard, who are +1 elites and can heavy armour and halberds. On the other hand, they can have 0-50 Archers, who are +1 missile elite. This tells us that the vision (by the designers) of the high elf army is one that leans towards high quality troops, with a distinct bent towards missile combat.

    Not your view of the high elves? Fortunately, these early editions and open minded players would let you explore that. Why can't you have an elf hero who's managed to tame a jabberwock (or even a wockerjab, if you wanted to make one up)? Although 3rd didn't include the means of calculation, I'd like to believe that players of the era were still more interested in telling a story with miniatures than pounding each other into the floor.

    I believe the test to determine whether or not you should be allowed to use an army book is why you use it. If you use it to memorise other lists so that you can 'catch' other players and know the limits of their lists, you shouldn't be allowed it. If, however, you're using it to apply some challenging limits to your forces (by limiting the availability of equipment, for instance), and you like that challenge, then you're mature enough to use it.

    Page 81 of the 3rd ed rule book opens the Rules versus Ideas section thus: 'The typical gamer is of above average intelligence, willing to improvise and invent where necessary, and always keen to try out new ideas.'

    I guess those must have been 80's gamers, because thirty years on, that type of gamer is a bizarre and shunned oddity.

    1. HAHA...too true...just try to "invent" and "improvise" at a GW tournament these days! you'd be shot!

      This is another example of how having a GM is a wonderful resource. As demonstrated by the remote game that Gaj, Dreamfish, and I are participating in... GM (DF) who is interested in making the game fair, quick, well as telling a story (Gaj) makes the experience so much more fun...we have had to adapt on the fly quite a bit in this game and we are only 3 turns in!

  10. Thanks Gaj. Well yes, Andy is 100% correct - special rules, psychology and magic-effects aren't accounted for by the Warhammer points system at all. I'll make sure to outline the scope and limitations of the PV system adequately when I get around to writing it up properly. What 2e seems to say is "here's a rational points system, it is necessarily limited in scope, use it as a guide." where as other PV systems seem to say "here's a totally arbitrary system that you will obey or be excommunicated". I think those different approaches deeply influence peoples play-styles.

    The Ravening Hordes / Warhammer Armies lists do give shape to the specific armies they list, the shape of "The Warhammer World". If I want to recreate, for example, the battles from Moorcocks Corum stories, then those army lists simply aren't any use (I need a list that combines zombie cavalry, wolves and magic-using trolls), and nothing from GW from 3e onwards really encourages or provides a platform to develop a game in other worlds, wheras 2nd Edition does. Of course, we can choose to ignore the PV system altogether, but I think by doing so we miss out on some of the essential flavour of Warhammer. McDeath or Lichemaster don't lose flavour by totally ignoring the PV system, but they are strongly narrative based campaigns with a very tight focus in comparison to the wider vistas achievable through the core rules. There is a danger of falling into a narrativist/gamist trap in discussing points systems, but the core system should encompass both playstyles. In many ways Oldhammer is more deeply gamist than Newhammer, and through that encourages the emergence of narrative. To make an AD&D analogy - it's like comparing the original Dragonlance modules to the 1st Edition Players Handbook and Dungeon Masters Guide - the latter is a toolkit for building a game, the former is a narrative you can play through. The rules themselves don't encourage the Dragonlance playstyle or campaign world, they are supplementary.

    Ah the spirit of "intelligence, improvisation and invention" is something that desperately needs to be rekindled, but I fear it's a loosing battle. I highly recommend Lewis Pulsiphers blog for views and insights on this (and this post in particular) and for some reason it makes me think of Ian Livingstone and his campaign to overhaul computer education in the UK - they're is something fundamentally creative about being able to get 'under the bonnet' of a system and hack it rather than just consuming it as is...

  11. Good stuff!
    For me having a method for calculating PVs is an endorsement, by the designers, that it's OK for me to tinker and change things... to make the game my own. No sacred cows.
    I take something like the Warhammer Armies book as being more of a list of examples/suggestions than as something written in stone.
    When I get around to making my Bretonnian force I fully intend to have units of undead... because the Barony's court magician is a necromancer.
    None of my friends are likely to complain.

    1. Really playing with the systems fundamentals could be interesting - something as simple as switching the PV bias away from WS to BS could create an entirely different focus across the whole game.

      A necromancer in a pseudo-medieval cavalry army sounds perfectly sensible to me!

  12. I think that's the best reason to have them Mr Gobbler. Pretty much every early system I've ever seen includes a lot of chat about how imperfect it will inevitably be, in fact 2nd Warhammer goes to great lengths to say why even the system its presenting is flawed, but presenting what it calls 'The Extreme Creature' which could never be killed in melee but can't move, so would eventually be killed by cannon fire (but only if the enemy had cannons!).

    But as you say, providing a means for players to 'pop the hood' and monkey around with the innards is a good thing, regardless of balance.

  13. To my mind, That early editions take time to recognize and address the limitations of the system shows a significantly different attitude to the game, an attitude sadly lacking in Newhammer.

    The 'Extreme Creature' is of course held up by 2E as an example of bad creature design.

    Nonetheless, the EC can provide a good example of the asymmetrical OGRE type game. A scenario where players define forces that may be able to beat a single EC and then send them in combat against it could provide an entertaining evenings diversion. There are a number of solutions that immediately come to mind, canons are one and a troop of 20 Berserkers carrying Minor Death Runes of Chaos are another, and the spell 'Change Allegiance' might prove amusing. Could be a nice Oldhammer scenario in the making...

  14. The 'Extreme Creature' idea is interesting...
    I'm seeing some scenario where a Ragemuch Angerthong's Chaos warband runs into trouble when the Sturbo brothers spontaneously mutate into one enormous spawn... a mindless, multi-limbed monster (MMM) that the rest of its former comrades now need to put down... because it's blocking the mouth of the hideout or it's sitting on top of the leader's favorite dice... or something.

  15. Straight after WP and before PV I miss Fel, as Fellowship was part of the original way. Its function was to allow easier combination of the battle system along with the roleplaying system.

    Interesting article presented with quite some conviction. I don't mean to be rude, nor ungrateful, but I lived through decades of witnessing the falls and being felled's of designers and artists, too.

    Every time I fall-back on my old, precious hobby I am again reminded why that was a part of the way which had to end. Still dreams, longing, and even nostalgia are known as part of the human factor.

    Have Fun!

    1. Hey thanks Andre. Fellowship was added to WFRP quite late in its development. They changed from single digit to as well. Easy to convert back to WFB by dropping a decimal place.

      The past is just another place to visit today - go grab your old books and have fun with them!