Review: The Daily Empire from Tobcon 2017 on ZWEIHÄNDER

Reaad the ZWEIHANDER review from TobCon 2017 by Rangdo, original author of ‘A Bitter Harvest’ and new editor of The Daily Empire:

Last weekend was TobCon, successor to WimCon and, ultimately, TimCon. It’s a great little Warhammer con frequented by long-time WFRP fans, including those behind Warpstone and Liber Fanatica. You can read various people’s reactions to the games they ran and played in (including my games) in the thread here.

Anyway, I ran two games, both Zweihänder, and played two. I’ve talked about the games I played in over in the StS thread I just linked to. Here I’d like to offer some thoughts about the games I ran – the intentions I had, how I felt Zweihänder worked, and how I had to adjust on the fly.

As I said, I ran two games: Cleanse the Drakwald, in which a group of Laurelorn Elves in the wake of the Storm of Chaos go into the Drakwald to either free the spirit world or close it off forever, and La Bella Automa, a lighter, more swashbuckling game set in Tilea. The intention behind both was to ultimately supply material to support fan-made projects, Defenders of the Forest and Spears of the Maiden respectively. Although I hesitated to run the former game, at least, in Zweihänder, because I thought it would take too much conversion, in the end I went with it in both. Partly this was because Zweihänder just offered more mechanical options than WFRP2e, which was the other option, and partly because by ‘eyeballing’ the conversion, it was fairly easy to make up characters and translate concepts even from Defenders of the Forest into Zweihänder.

I’d written each adventure as four ‘scenes’, to last an hour each to fit nicely into the four-hour con slot. That didn’t work, mainly because the combats were fairly lengthy. In the second game, La Bella Automa, this wasn’t because of the system. In fact, the combat restarted twice(!) after it had the chance to stop because only one of the PCs, who actually did manage to get the opponents to stop fighting, actually wanted the fight to end.

The battle in Cleanse the Drakwald, on the other hand, was different. It was a battle I’d planned for, but wasn’t necessary to completing the mission. It was the Elf characters (all of whom had completed two careers, or the equivalent) against an equal number of Beastmen. After getting a good start, a series of unlucky rolls meant that the PCs were very hard pressed. The Beastmen were extremely tough (I used only slightly tougher versions of the Hircus stats from p.559 of the Zweihänder corebook). It’s possible I made mistakes in calculating the effects of damage: I found the damage thresholds unwieldy in comparison to a simple ablative system. I realise that ultimately there isn’t much difference between 1e/2e’s Wounds and Zwei’s Damage Track, but the addition of thresholds just seems to add an extra level of mathematics to things that utterly non-mathematical me struggles with (I have the same issue with Raises in Savage Worlds: I can never do the maths quickly enough).

What really, really worked, however, were the Initiative and Action Point systems, including the various stunts you could pull off. The combat may have been too long for my time-sensitive con game, but it wasn’t at all boring. It’s light years ahead of the tortuous 2e system, certainly. The combat lasted because there were a lot of interesting things happening and a lot of options for players to choose between, without there being any one obvious optimal option at any time (*cough*SwiftAttack*cough*). The players had to think and outcomes were uncertain.

Otherwise, I drew on the journey system, which I was familiar with because it is adapted from The One Ring, although that had to be abbreviated in order to get the players to the end. I tried using the social conflict system, but I’ve never been comfortable with these, especially the way they mechanise things I feel competent enough to run freeform, and I quickly jettisoned it. (It’s just an optional system in Zweihänder, anyway.)

Another system that didn’t get the use I planned for it was Corruption. Zweihänder has a interested Alignment and Corruption system that I wanted to adapt. Instead of rolling again Corruption at the end of the scenario to see if you slipped closer to Order or Chaos, I was going to do it every scene, with the ending affected by whether the group as a whole was more inclined to Chaos or Order. But because I had to abstract the second half of the scenario and also because the group were not remotely Chaotic at all, it didn’t really work.

With La Bella Automa, things were a bit different. I was able to use the social system in an interrogation scene and it worked rather well. I also used the chase mechanics, although I tried to sexy them up a bit by importing elements from the James Bond/Classified rpg. I’m not sure if it worked, though: the pursuing PCs rolled very badly until the escapee critically failed. It was all a bit Keystone Cops (which is fine, but not what I was going for!). As I said above, the combat lasted somewhat longer than expected because the PCs kept starting it again, but it was also a lot less dangerous than expected, in part because it turned into a kind of  pillow fight. This was something  that Zweihänder’s combat stunts and AP system allowed which never would have been possible in the 2e straitjacket.

What certainly worked in both games was the skill system: the PCs felt competent, but far from invulnerable. They had special abilities that were cool without being game-breaking or always useful: everyone had to act at some point outside their character’s comfort zone.

In summary, Zweihänder does what it does very well indeed and I will certainly be playing it again.

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