Review: Zweihänder has done the WFRP legacy proud (Jonathan Hicks)

Jonathan Hicks from Farsight Blogger has put up his review of Zweihänder Grim & Perilous RPG. He provides an excellent dissection of the system, and offers his verdict on whether he would run it with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, with a caveat. From ENWORLD.ORG:

…everything I expect to find in a Warhammer RPG is here – races (Human, Dwarf, Gnome, Halfling Ogre and Elf), archetypes (Academic, Commoner, Knave, Ranger, Socialite and Warrior), and then professions which I won’t list here because, like WFRP’s careers, there’s a lot of them. It’s all well balanced and characters are much more likely to be much more equal. In original WFRP, the career system gave some players better characters than others, sometimes by a long margin. I never really cared that much for game balance – it’s part of WFRP’s appeal for me – but this makes things much more balanced and will make players feel they’re much more competent within the group.

The main attributes are Combat, Brawn, Agility, Perception, Intelligence, Willpower and Fellowship, each represented by percentile scores. These scores reflect skills, which can be increased up to three ten percent increments, so up to 30% can be added to a skill as the character advances. Different professions open up different skill opportunities, and talents give characters special abilites they can pull out if needed. The skills have been tidied up and slightly reduced in number, so there’s a huge choice to be made but they’re fairly distributed between characters and professions.

All skills are percentile based – roll under to succeed – with modifications for difficulty and with different results representing different levels and effects of success or failure. Combat is fast and brutal, as it should be in a game like this, with lasting effects. You can contract diseases, go mad, and there’s a corruption scale that determines how you lean towards order or chaos, which is adjusted as play progresses and determined by what happens to the player, how they react to certain things and how they act. Leaning too far in either direction can result in disorders or benefits. The magic system is much better, a vast improvement on 1st Edition – but, to be fair, that wouldn’t be hard. The grimoire of spells is impressive with different schools of magic to choose from, and it’s easy and quick to use, although by the nature of the game the chances are that if anyone found out that you could cast spells you’d be strung up by the neck and everything you owned would be burned.

A huge section on game mastery helps with running games, but this is more of a set of extras to help with different situations, including overland travel, rewards for players, social intrigue and campaign ideas. There’s a large section on extra combat rules in here; I’m not sure why, they would have been better served in the combat section, even if they are optional. The huge bestiary is excellent and the adventure ‘A Bitter Harvest’ is a good introduction to the game as well as the dark fantasy genre as a whole. The appendix at the back is more than welcome, especially with a book this size.

As with Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 1st Edition, everything you need to run a dark fantasy game, in the Warhammer world or any other grim setting, is here. Whether you establish your own setting or use an existing one, these rules will have you covered with minimal adjustments to the rules. The magic section may need looking at depending on the setting, but otherwise it’s a solid system that will serve a dark game exceptionally well.

So – I’ve read the book, and I’ve run some players through an adventure of my own design, with ancient devils, broken pacts, serious political problems and some straight-forward in-your-face combat. How did I get on with it? More importantly, how did the game make me feel?

What hit me square in the face with the book is the writing; the book is almost 700 pages and the text dominates the pages. It’s well written and everything is fully explained. And when I say fully explained, I mean there’s a level of detail here that some might find a little annoying. You could say that it’s overwritten, with examples and explanations of sometimes obvious things that you may have done without. It does tell me that the writers were passionate about what they were doing, and that excitement is there on the page for everyone to see, but when you’re trying to pinpoint a rule or simply get to the point it takes time. If you’re in the middle of the game that can be a problem as it slows things down, so it’s best to make sure you’ve read the book cover to cover and highlighted the areas you’ll need regularly. As it’s such a big book, that can take a lot of time. This isn’t the sort of game that you can get into quickly; from cold, learning the rules and prepping for a game will take a lot of work.

Character creation was fun but I opted to allow my players to choose from the tables. Each part of character creation, from sex to skills, has a random table and you are able to roll randomly for pretty much everything. That can make for some fun characters if you’re playing on the edge, but my players wanted to make characters they could enjoy. There are a lot of choices for players to make during generation, and this alone took us an evening’s session. I don’t mnd that; it gives the group a chance to really think about their character and we can work out a group dynamic. Like I said earlier – this is the kind of game that requires a lot of time, mainly to digest the book and prep an adventure. You can’t really hand the book to the players and say ‘crack on’, and let them create characters off their own back because that’s an entire section of the book that will have to be read by every player individually. An evening of character creation is the best route to take, I feel.

The adventure I designed was easy to set up – I didn’t have to worry about scaling the threats or designing new stats, I could take the details I need straight from the book. I just marked the page number of the creature on my design and referred to it as game progressed, and I lifted NPCs from the introductory adventure. I have had plenty of experience in adventure design so this part was easy for me, and with the level of detail in the book it was even more of a doddle…

Read the rest of the review at EnWorld.Org


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