The subtitle for Zweihänder is “Grim & Perilous RPG” and honestly there’s no better way to describe it. It’s dense as treacle, dangerous as a raging fire and grimmer than a taxi queue at 3am, with a thoroughly old-school feel that will delight veteran gamers without driving away curious newcomers.
The game has actually been out in one form or another for some time now, but its creators have just released this revised and retooled version of the core book. If any fans of the series are worried that the new art or designs would take away from the monochrome, gungy aesthetics of the book they can rest easily – Zweihänder is just as dark as ever, and with a page count reaching almost 700 it can still be used as a potent bludgeon if required.
The game’s origins lie in a hacked-up version of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and, despite some significant changes, the darkly humorous tone of the older title bleeds through every page. Though it’s not set in any particular world, the tone draws from the same muddy late-medieval European vibe, where crossbows compete with flintlock pistols and rural farmers flock to squalid cities in search of a better life.
Yes, it’s a world of fantasy but the more mystical aspects are kept obscure and dangerous. There are elves in the forests, but any wanderers are much more likely to receive an arrow through the neck than any aid. Magic flows on the winds but it’s an untrustworthy and dangerous tool, and those who tap into its power risk death at the hands of a superstitious mob.
In fact, the risks inherent to growing power are a near-constant theme throughout Zweihänder, as greater strengths also bring more chances for characters to grow corrupt and decadent. The entire game deliberate distances itself from the traditional Dungeons & Dragons power fantasy, from its risky approach to spellcasting to the lethality of its combat system.
Even a high-powered character armed with the best weapons money can buy can fall to nameless brigands if they charge in without a plan or simply get unlucky…