So I’ve played several sessions of Zweihander, the Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay retroclone. I like it, so far. And I’ve been reading its 690-page (!!!) rulebook a little closer, hopefully so I can run games. Thoughts! The good:
1) Percentile Dice!
RPG things that pull lots of information from one die roll = good idea. Die-drop tables! Mechanics that account for how far the dice fall from each other! etc.
Zweihander kinda does this. It’s basic roll is a d100, done with two d10s. So far, so classic WFRP.
But rolling doubles – ie: a “2” and a “2” – is a crit. (Whether crit success or crit failure depends on whether you roll over or under your stat.)
Also, some abilities / situations let you “flip to succeed / fail” – ie: a “2” and a “9” can be read as a 29 (usually good) or a 92 (usually shit). <- this is basically D&D5e’s advantage / disadvantage in a single roll.
A staple WFRP thing. Characters progress through professions – a Ratcatcher becomes a Pilgrim becomes a Preacher.
Zweihander makes this more class-like than previous iterations of WFRP (you can only ever have three professions; each profession has a unique special ability, along with the usual skill and talent advancements) but the essential flavour of the career system is still there.
And, while I’m really not hung up on balance, the professions seem more uniformly useful, mechanically – ie: the Beggar has neat stuff, just like the Squire.
I <3 the Warhammer setting, and any book that’s designed to give me that Warhammer-y (especially an Oldhammer-y) experience is something that I’ll be partial to.
The art by Dejan Mandic here is fucking on point. Fully illustrated careers make you want to roll up a character RIGHT NOW.
Zweihander’s action-point based combat system is pretty cool. Down-to-earth, nasty, muddy. Trips and chokes and an exhortations to smite Sigmar’s enemies!
This means non-warrior-type PCs still have a ton of shit you can do.
There’s damage and there’s “Peril” – which is a stress meter. It reduces your characters’ skill-levels the more they get into trouble. So shit can spiral. Which is good grimdark style.
5) Rules To Play Skaven And Lizardmen!
RULES TO PLAY SKAVEN AND LIZARDMEN!
The less great:
6) Maximalist Crunch.
Beyond a certain threshold of crunch, I get the impression that kind of game I aspire to run – open-ended, player-reactive – becomes kinda tough?
Statblocks too long; spontaneous events like travel and talking to peeps need to get mapped to specific wilderness and social-conflict subsystems; etc. (I’m a fuckin lazy GM, I’ll admit.)
Also: there’s such a wide breadth of tightly-wound, exception-to-the-rule design in Zweihander (the weapon qualities, for example). I just foresee loads of page-flipping at the table.
This can be offset by dedicated players, I guess. (But in any Zweihander I run – especially for local groups – I’ll probably be the only one with a physical copy. )
Speaking of which:
7) Goddamn Size Of The Goddamn Book.
Jesus. 688 pages. Zweihander’s taught me a new axiom: any book that I can’t read in bed is probably not ideal for gaming.
I’ll basically have to tab and bookmark extensively to make this remotely reference-able at the table. The PDF’s not hyperlinked, either. But just the weight makes things difficult to leaf through.
Zweihander is way wordy! But in a specific way?
WFRP1e’s rulebook is kinda wordy too, but there it’s a casual, intro-to-the-game conversational style? Which I enjoy.
Zweihander’s got a kind of make-sure-everything-is-explicitly-stated legalese – a kind of writing that I assume happens when RPG writers have to proof their books against “Rules As Written! Rules As Written!” gamer types.
(Layout note: I feel that more could’ve been done to bold keywords, so that the eye catches the useful bits of the text.)
It’s hard to pick out the info you need quickly.
9) Writing, Again.
Compared to a lot of the other RPG things I’ve bought recently, Zweihander’s … a bit bland.
I understand the bind. It’s a love-letter to Warhammer (which is awesome sheesh I don’t really know why I love Warhammer Fantasy so much), so it adheres closely to that milieu’s flavour; anything too “off-brand” might put core fans off.
But, because GW’s famously litigious, all the actual specificities are filed off. So “Orx” instead of Orcs. “the Nightfather” instead of “Ranald”.
Also the overt silliness of Warhammer feels toned way down, which makes things kinda stolid. I can’t help comparing it to the colour, say, of WFRP2e’s Old World Bestiary. But maybe that’s unfair?
All that said:
I don’t regret buying it, and I still really want to give it a run. It’s meant to be modular, so hopefully it stands up without the more extraneous subsystems – and I don’t see why not; it seems like a sleeker WFRP at the base level.