[Core Rules] Zweihander (2017)
Daniel Fox & Tanner Yea (Grim & Perilous Studios)
It is no secret among manly men with giant beards and skull tattoos that Warhammer Fantasy kicks ass. Between its goofy and messily designed but flavorful 1st edition and its stripped down lean-and-mean-but-fuck-you-buy-the-bestiary 2nd edition (and an unnameable 3rd edition where conflict is resolved via playing cards or kissing competitions or something even less hetro-normative ask Von he knows) there exists a hypothetical vacuum which may be filled up by the cunning entrepreneur. Enter Daniel Fox.
Paradoxically the arch-nemesis of both 7chan and RPGPundit, the man known as Daniel Fox hit the rpg community like a gauntlet-wrapped fist to the face of a small, innocent child playing Bunnies and Burroughs or some other girlish pastime that men were forced to partake in before Daniel Fox rescued them with his Brobdingnagian ZWEIHANDER core rulebook. Clocking in at a jaw-dropping, face-melting and sanity-blasting 692 pages, ZWEIHANDER is
essentially a retroclone of Warhammer Fantasy if all of its expansions were simply folded into the core rulebook a dark fantasy game taking place in a low-fantasy renaissance-esque world and clearly inspired by works such as Solomon Kane, Game of Thrones, The Witcher, The Black Company and The Republic of Thieves series stolen from John Tarnowski when he concocted, nay begat, the wholly original and mindbogglingly innovative Dark Albion setting. Not so much a core rulebook as a semi-portable tank trap that also happens to contain rules for running a roleplaying game, Zweihander seeks to unify all editions of Warhammer into perfect, final edition. THAT. IS. GENDER. NEUTRAL.!
Since he has delivered the best of all possible games, it requires the best of all possible reviewers to review it. It should therefore come as no surprise that yours truly was personally contacted by Daniel Fox, after having first perused my review of Dark Albion at the annual Enemies-of-John-Tarnowski-Meetup (of which we happened to be the only two members). After we got talking, I quickly agreed to review his work in exchange for a free pdf version (and a hardcover version that has thus far not arrived, presumably because of the prohibitive fuel cost involved in its transportation), provided I gave it
nothing but praise and a 10 out of 10 an honest and entirely objective assessment. This marks my first commissioned review and therefore everyone should assume I am writing this not so much as a human being capable of volition and independent thought but as a soulless automaton more or less directly transcribing the words dictated by OUR BENEFACTOR. Horseshit posturing and nonsensical blathering aside, the disclaimer is genuine.
Without further ado, let us delve into Zweihander!
In the introduction, we are explained quite clearly both the vibe and the type of game Zweihander is meant to convey. Like WhF, it works best as a game of investigation, intrigue & horror alternated by swift, deadly episodes of brutal violence. It establishes the core themes of the game world (and consequently, that of Warhammer Fantasy) with a single page of fictional monologue by an ex-convict soldier.
1. You can’t earn anything in this world.
2. A Man will do anything to survive
3. Life is pain and death
Short and to the point. This is not a heroic tale of valiant heroes saving the world. This is a gruesome and blood-soaked tale of heroes being changed BY the world. That being said, it immediately strikes me how newbie-friendly Zweihander is. The book carefully goes into the roles of GM and player, discusses the 0th rule (or Golden Rule in this case) and even goes so far as to suggest several campaign ideas right from the get-go, ranging from the classic tale of isolated Empire settlements vs marauding bands of chaos warriors to a grim-dark republic of thieves game to a Grand Tour of the Craplands via Pilgrimage (I’d personally pull a Grimdark Canterbury Tales with a different PC regaling his tale at each campsite and one traitor in their midst or something).
The only thing I must sigh at with vague incredulity is the choice to use Gender Neutral Pronouns. I could go on at length about how appeasing Social Justice Warriors is not just pointless but impossible since they lack firmly fixed goal-posts and they inevitably poison and betray everything they touch but fuck it, a man’s gotta make some dough and I don’t know the demographics for Zweihander so who cares. It’s not like the rest of Zweihander is littered with ideological rubbish so this one concession is to be treated with scornful mockery but otherwise ignored.
Now that I have washed the oily residue of Karl Marx out of my mouth, it is time to go back to THE ACTUAL FUCKING GAME. The fundamentals remain unchanged. Conflict resolution involves a d100 which needs to be rolled under a certain attribute. This roll is modified by the difficulty class, as well as certain conditions (severe injuries can hamper your skill tests for example). Thus far same as the old one, though some mechanical innovation has taken place. Assisting someone with a skill now means you roll an extra d10 and you take the higher of either the primary player’s decimal digit or the assisting player’s. Opposed tests is where degrees of success come into play, which are calculated more cleanly, by simply adding up the decimal number of the dice and the attribute modifier (if all this sounds like gibberish to you, fuck you and go play Warhammer/CoC/Runequest/Dark Heresy), meaning it is harder to succeed against characters with high attributes even when one rolls well. Another great addition is the calculation of advantage with a minimum of extra dice rolls. If someone gains a special advantage, you simply flip the dice if the result would be more advantageous, whereas you flip it if it would be worse if someone is disadvantaged (see also 5e). A last major change from the old editions is the use of Fate Points (called Fortune Points in this game). They go in a fucking bowl. That’s right bitches. A fucking Fate point bowl.
The idea has a certain appeal. The group collectively gets 1+number of players of fate points, that you can use for the usual stuff (reroll a test, get an extra action point or roll an automatic 6 on d6 based rolls). Anyone can use them. Once you use a point the GM gets a Misfortune point in his Misfortune/Duyvis Tiger nuts Bowl, which he may use for any NPC. That idea is actually a pretty interesting way to balance out luck with misfortune, ensuring a volatility that might add to the game’s tension. As of yet, I am unsure how it plays out in the hands of an appropriately merciless GM.
Part I of far of many more to come. Join us next time as we delve into part II and take a look at character creation and different classes.