First, I’d like to introduce myself – my name is Daniel Fox, and I am a tabletop role-playing gamer just like you. I would like to finally show you ZWEIHÄNDER Grim & Perilous RPG, and ask for your help to bring this very personal project to Kickstarter.
ZWEIHÄNDER is a tabletop role-playing game, designed to support grim & perilous adventures. In short, it is a bloodier, grimmer and grittier version of classic tabletop RPGs you may already familiar with. The community calls this style of gaming the “pathetic aesthetic”, but I simply call it grim & perilous gaming.
ZWEIHÄNDER is a low fantasy, percentile-based system, used to create and run adventures set in grim & perilous campaign worlds. Characters will be comprised of both strengths and flaws, beginning gameplay in one of 72 truly unique Professions. As gameplay begins, the Gamemaster will impose the peril of the wilds, heart-pumping chase scenes, social intrigue and terrifying enemies against you and your fellow adventurers. Dice are rolled to arbitrate success, failure and everything else in between. Over the course of the campaign, your Character may succumb to their injuries, go insane, fall victim to mutation, make Faustian bargains in exchange for infernal might or even worse.
Survival has a more definitive impact than simply winning battles and slaying monsters. In a way, grim & perilous gaming is more akin to a story of survival horror with dark outcomes. As Characters step beyond the threshold of sanity and emerge to the other side, they’ll gain Reward Points. Reward Points can be spent to buy new abilities within your Character’s current Profession. Continued adventure leads to dramatic new developments across three levels of play, called Basic, Intermediate and Advanced Tiers. As they move into each Tier, they’ll gain a new Profession: either by selecting one of the original 72 Professions, or graduating into one of 24 Elite Professions. Over the course of their adventures, a Character will have 3 total Professions, illustrating their descent in a grim & perilous campaign world.
ZWEIHÄNDER is a love letter to everything I enjoy about literature and tabletop gaming – uncompromisingly grey morality, wanton violence, political conspiracy, weird horror and dark humor, all presented beneath a veneer of low fantasy. The system is built to be entirely “world agnostic”, meaning it’s adaptable for any number of home brewed or published worlds. Although the system implies a handful of thematic elements, the system is ideal for tabletop RPGs inspired by or emulating a survival horror version of dark age, medieval or Renaissance-inspired campaign worlds.
These same elements are very portable, as a Gamemaster can easily integrate ZWEIHÄNDER’s rules into their own campaign world. Gamemasters can even use the rules to craft adventures set in a low fantasy version of the Thirty Year 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.
OLD SCHOOL FEEL, NEW SCHOOL APPEAL
ZWEIHÄNDER is a collection 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 system and its game mechanics are written to describe a motif of stark realism, 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. Tales of twisted monstrosities are whispered into firelight, of evil that consumes the crumbling remnants of a past age, slumbering until stirred by intrepid fools… or lurking in the deepening shadows of a nearby alley, biding its time. Villainy lies within the hearts of men and women, who engage in all manner of violence and deceit in the name of progress. 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. And far from the prying eyes of others, sorcerers risk their sanity and their souls to harness the mysterious power of cosmic disorder.
However, this RPG is much more than just a series of arbitrations between numbers on a sheet of paper, or a puzzle of “min-max” character building to be plotted out and solved on a character sheet. The lifeblood of the game will be expressed through role-playing, subtlety and complexity, for which dice alone are woefully inadequate. Characters will be comprised of advantages and flaws; in other RPGs, the rewards for success are usually based on manipulating situations towards the former and away from the latter. Not so in ZWEIHÄNDER. The heart of this game is not in the overcoming of obstacles, but frequently in the act of simply facing them. A character’s 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.
Outside of normal traditions, good behavior in ZWEIHÄNDER may not match up with what most players are accustomed to with other RPGs. In those, successfully killing monsters, with a few add-on, often forgotten rules for rewarding heroic role-play, is the way to grow a Character with experience points. In this system, however, the chief focus is first on role-playing, then rolling dice. Reward Points are given to players by the Gamemaster to reflect a Character’s ongoing journey, a mix of both failure and success in their endeavors and how they psychologically overcame these challenges.
Finally, the system is written with modular gaming elements, so Gamemasters may cut, rearrange or remove wholesale rules that they don’t feel fits their play style. It affords a very flexible approach to fitting the rules into a Gamemaster’s campaign, which I believe you’ll enjoy.
The many adventures players will take part in are generally not about people who change the world. No; it is instead about a world that changes the people within it. And the world should present every terrible situation it can to lure adventurers towards utter chaos. The Characters’ struggle is unlike the archetypical hero of other tabletop RPGs. They are not a near god-like warriors who must save the village from an evil dragon. Instead, they are everyday, normal people fighting for their convictions while trying to retain their humanity. They may be riddled with angst and verge towards delirious idealism, but should be urged back towards order and balance. While the Characters are not “heroes” in a traditional fashion, they should be willing to make short term sacrifices for the greater good, redemption for the evils they committed and a better life that awaits them in the beyond. Whether these sacrifices are made in the name of a liege lord, a thundering god, a set of moral convictions or even their own sense of self-preservation, players should act – which means taking action!
This book is nearly five years in the making, adopted from pages and pages of personal notes, scribbles in sketchbooks, house rules and the private wiki I use around my gaming table. I started writing this book on a whim back in November 2011. A year and several months later in August 2013, I released an early version called Project Corehammer on Strike-To-Stun.net. However, it became clear that the project was evolving into a wholly unique game system. From there, I scrapped the title, as Corehammer just didn’t have the right ring to it. Thanks to a few enterprising folks over at Strike To Stun, I embraced the community-suggested title of ZWEIHÄNDER. It roughly translates into “big friggin’ sword” in German and “press tongue firmly into cheek” in English.
Following this, I brought a reliable group of playtesters onboard to help test and perfect the system. The watchwords were this – make it grim and gritty; make it perilous and challenging; make it a system that carries uncertain outcomes in an unforgiving world; make it world-agnostic, so it can be used with any gritty campaign world. I shortened this to simply “grim & perilous” gaming.
Following internal playtesting, I released the GRIMDARK Public Beta in December 2014. It proved to be wildly popular with OSR players. Shortly thereafter, the largest Spanish-speaking tabletop RPG forum IGAROL.org translated the GRIMDARK Public Beta into Spanish. This set ZWEIHÄNDER into motion.
Realizing that I could have something material to bring to market, I contracted Dejan Mandic to begin working on concept art. He helped envision what a grim & perilous RPG would look like through his lens of creativity. Jussi Alarauhio beautifully illustrated our cover image, and created the borders and logo for layout. Tanner Yea joined on as co-writer, reshaping the narrative of the game without inherently disrupting the system’s rules. Walter Fulbright’s role evolved from contributor to editor shortly thereafter. Finally, Milena Lakicevic took over layout, working alongside the team to bring our formatting and publication standards up to snuff. From there, we formed Grim & Perilous Studios: a little gaming company with big ideas and lots of initiative. And, after many years of hard work and playtesting, ZWEIHÄNDER became the product we present to you today.
ZWEIHÄNDER has been revised and rebuilt through three major iterations across 240 playtest sessions and countless hours of number-crunching, with invaluable feedback from our internal and private playtest groups. We feel confident in saying that there isn’t any other tabletop RPG on the market that comes near its slavish devotion to the original influences behind the system.