ZWEIHÄNDER is a pastiche of many familiar themes found throughout low fantasy literature: the gritty portrayal of a society replete with clandestine conflict, political intrigues, vicious reprisals and terrifying supernatural elements. The Gamemaster (called a GM) will impose dramatic, tense situations upon players using intrigue, dangerous fights, the perils of the wilderness, heart-pumping chase scenes and more. These are the foundation of this book, as any one of them can prove lethal in very different ways. These challenges frame the drama of the adventure. As the GM calls upon you to mold the flow of events, you roll the dice to determine success or failure.
Most readers will already be familiar with tabletop role-playing games and how they work. For the uninitiated, a role-playing game is basically a story or adventure, otherwise an organized, cooperative game of pretend called a game session. In essence, you and and your friends share an interactive story where your choices drive the action, drama and suspense by taking on the role of someone else. You resolve actions during the game session using dice to determine whether choices were successful or not.
But a role-playing game is much more than just a series of arbitrations between numbers on a sheet of paper or a puzzle of arithmetic to be plotted out and solved. The lifeblood of your game will be expressed through role-playing, subtlety and complexity, for which dice alone are woefully inadequate. Personalities within the game will be comprised of moral strengths and flaws; in other styles of game, the rewards for success are based on successfully manipulating situations confronted towards the former and away from the latter. The strength of your game will not be in the overcoming of obstacles, but frequently in the act of simply facing them. Their spirit is as crucial as the dread they face; after all, the darkest recess is always found just outside the range of the flickering candle.
There are many dark themes you’ll find within these pages. The system and its game mechanics are written to describe a motif of brutal violence, political intrigue, profane sorcery and unimaginable horrors from beyond. Disease runs rampant throughout cities. Towering asylums upon the edge of civilization ring with the howls of the demented and damned. Tales of twisted monstrosities are whispered in firelight, talk of an all-consuming chaos that rests below the earth and beyond the stars. It slumbers until stirred by intrepid fools… or waits lurking in the deepening shadows of a nearby alley, biding its time. Villainy lies within the hearts of women and men, who engage in all manner of violence and deceit in the name of progress. It is a world where the upright perish, the unjust linger and grim attitudes rule. People live in a state of decay and paranoia, scrambling to keep what little has been afforded them by the higher social classes. The gods are petty and quick to anger; their fickle gifts bestowed upon a vexing few. Those who call themselves priests are often venal charlatans, consumed by the very sins they preach against. Far from the prying eyes of others, sorcerers risk their sanity and their souls to harness the mysterious power of cosmic disorder by striking Faustian bargains with gods, diabolical servants and other less palatable entities. All of these terrible things manifest into Corruption (both a thematic element and a game mechanic); a world-eating blackness that can utterly twist its victims both physically and spiritually.
These same elements are very portable, as any GM can easily integrate ZWEIHÄNDER’s rules into their own homebrewed world. They can use the rules to craft adventures set in a low fantasy version of the Thirty Years’ War, the politically-inspired intrigues of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire, the racial tensions of Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher, the criminal underworld of Scott Lynch’s Lies of Locke Lamora, war torn adventures set in Glen Cook’s The Black Company and other ‘grimdark’-inspired campaign settings.