[Review] Zweihander (WFRP retroclone) Pt. III; A man needs an occupation

I remember vividly the first time I drank Lipton-ice tea. I was but a boy, and me, my parents and my brother had just finished a long walk through one of Holland’s few remaining natural forests. It was summer and quite hot. On the drive back we came past a promotional event, with some promoter guy handing us free whole cans of Lipton-Ice Tea. I was thirsty as I opened the can, beautifully decorated, its outer surface giving the illusion of transparency as it revealed the brown, fizzling beverage, ice and a beautifully illustrated lemon floating upon the surface. As the Ice-tea touched my tongue, assuaging my parched throat and detonating firecrackers of deliciousness within my infant brain, my father turned to me, frowned and said PRINCE WHAT ABOUT THE FUCKING CLASS SYSTEM IN ZWEIHANDER.

This post on Age of Dusk, soon to be renamed to Zweihander The Review: The Blog, if my extrapolation of the number of entries is even halfway accurate, shall cover the changes in class system between Zweihander and Warhammer Fantasy 2e. Let me begin by reassuring everyone that the profession system has not been radically altered and in OSR Warhammer you do not suddenly have to gain levels in a class nor has it adopted the degeneracy of a class-less system so popular among the vile adherents of Horror-creature: the Verb-ening and its loathsome spawn.

As in the previous games, all characters in Zweihander begin with a starting profession, with each starting profession having a number of attribute advances, available skills and Talents. In order to complete a career and choose a next one, all advances must be purchased. Like in the old games, the game differs between Basic and the (generally more powerful) Advanced Careers, which can only be entered after at least one career has been completed. Where it differs is in the Streamlining. In Zweihander you can only ever have 3 careers, the Basic, the Intermediate and the Advanced Tier.

In the previous installment, I explained that each profession belongs to one of several Archetypes. Once you complete your first profession (e.g you buy all the advances), you may then select either A) a profession from that same Archetype B) An Expert profession for which you meet the qualifications (generally one or two skills or either Divine or Arcane spellcasting capability) or C) any other profession provided the GM thinks it is okay. After you also complete this profession, you may select one final profession using the same guidelines as above (though there are some classes that can only be entered at this stage, since they require two ranks in a skill to qualify for them, such as the Archmage).

In order to give the game a decent longevity, it takes double the normal xp to buy advances at Intermediate level and Triple the Xp to buy them at Advanced level. Each profession has the SAME number of advances in skills (10), ability score advances (7) and talents (3). To give you an idea of the speed at which your character levels, a standard advance costs about 100 xp and you are expected to earn about 50-100 xp per session, depending on gay things like roleplaying your alignment, participation and character survival. Taking into account the 1000 starting xp, the standard cost for entering a profession (100 xp for your first one, 200 for intermediate, 300 etc.) and assuming you earn the maximum xp per session and you buy zero languages, unique advances, spells or foci (a focus is a skill specialization), that means it should take you exactly (21 + 42 + 63 – 10 = 116 sessions, or about 4.5 years assuming an almost impossible 1 game per 2 weeks average) to reach maximum level. One need not worry that one shall hit the max level too soon.

So what about the advances themselves. Can you say Streamlined?!? Skills are not that different from 2e. You buy it once, you are now a Novice and get a +10. Every time you buy it again (e.g in your next profession) you get another +10, to a maximum of +30. Simple. I should point out that in this game, some skills like Resolve or Simple melee weapons that would be handled as attributes in WFRP 2e can be advanced in this fashion. As Mr. Fox already pointed out in the commentary in part II, ranged and melee weapons are separate skills.

Attribute advances are similarly simple. Classes no longer have a +5 or a +10 on attribute A or B so as to indicate to what maximum they may be advanced. Instead each class simply has X number of attribute belonging to Y number of attributes (a single attribute can appear more then once, Say, the Scholar has two Intelligence advances). Where it becomes interesting and somewhat more elegant then its at times metastasizing future cousin Dark Heresy (a game that is my truest and onliest love) is that an advance does not actually INCREASE your attribute. It merely adds 1 to your attribute bonus. Thus, advances make your abilities more potent but they do not offer you additional success chance (which serves as an interesting counter-balance to the comparatively higher starting attributes of Zweihander vs WFRP). Talents are still…well, fucking talents.

On to the classes themselves. 2e had about 60 classes, whereas Zweihander has 72. Nevertheless, professions in Zweihander tend to be a bit more generic and less specific then their 2e counterparts. You will find classics like the Dwarven Troll-Slayer or the Estalian Diestro have been expanded to encompass all races and ethnicities, replaced with the Slayer and the Bravo respectively. Zweihander has pulled something of a DnD 3e in no longer letting race influence class, a decision which I have decidedly mixed feelings about. However, I shall admit that since the setting of Zweihander is a bit more generic and vague, the general approach makes sense. Virtually every class in 2e has been faithfully included along with several newcomers that fit seamlessly into any Grimdark Fantasy world (like the Pugilist, the Prostitute and the Antiquarian). At times the classes get so vague (like the Fop) they resemble archetypes more then professions but overall the feel of Warhammer Fantasy remains entirely intact.

Despite this section being only somewhat larger then that of Warhammer Fantasy 2e, it takes up almost double the page length (70-something pages for the basic professions alone!). This can be attributed to size of the entries, which take up about a page per profession to Warhammer 2e’s relatively sparse 2 per page.

But what about the classes themselves? One GREAT decision Zweihander made is to give each profession a single UNIQUE ability that sets it apart from all other classes. Where before character classes could feel at times like arbitrary data-points on a continuous topological map of skills, talents and attribute advances, almost every profession in Zweihander can do ONE thing that no other class can do (though there are some duplicates. The Demagogue and the Anarchist abilities are very similar, and more then one class has an ability to resist corruption). The Buccaneer can fire a pistol after making a successful melee attack. The Plague Doktor gradually builds immunity against all manner of horrible diseases. The Pelgrim can resist gaining corruption with a successful Resolve test.
Many classes get to use Fortune points in interesting ways, or to reroll or flip certain skills. In addition to these unique advantages, some classes also have drawbacks. The most obvious one is the Fury of the Abyss many spellcasters provoke on a 1 on their chaos dice but others include such penalties as automatically being consigned to Lowborn status for the Rake or -8% fellowship for the Executioner.

Flavourwise, each class is given about a paragraph of what they are about and what they do, with an additional paragraph explaining why they would choose the adventuring life and how Chaos can worm its way into their hearts and what hideous doom is likely to befall them. You can almost hear the Ancestor from Darkest Dungeon (incidentally, a fantastic videogame evocation of both Lovecraft and grimdark fantasy as a whole) narrating the paragraphs. Despite the gloom and doom and the sections vast length, almost none of the classes feel generic or misplaced, each having a definite place in a “Grim and Perilous” world. Shorn from the outward trappings and specificity of Warhammer Fantasy’s scattered and grimy majesty, Zweihander instead evokes the essence of each class. The art-work here, incidentally, is very good, and the game is not above some referential humor. The suspiciously Dreadlike Reeve and his I am The Law ability should clue one in, but a single glance at the Smuggler (Häns shot first), the art of the Explorer (a fucking Indiana Jones reference) and the Dungeoneer class (Gygaxian Naturalism allows the Dungeoneer to treat each 20% as a critical succes and to spend a fortune point to avoid suprise or traps) tips one off straight away.  Occasionally sufficient to raise an eyebrow, the ratio is not so high the class section feels like a functional joke nor so low what few pieces remain seem horribly out of place.

If the basic professions were solid, the Advanced ones manage to delight. While a few of the old advanced classes are regrettably absent (The Judicial Champion and the Sea Captain are the ones whose absence I found particularly noticeable) and the number of advanced classes has been reduced to 46, each class does feel more distinct and memorable. I feel this is partly due to the renewed Tier system, which has removed by necessity many of the intermediate steps like Sergeant, Knight or Giant Slayer and instead strives to make each single class distinct. At times, a single class like the Grail Knight is expected to handle different archetypes of Knights within the Old World, which I guess is a smart (and page-saving approach). Genuinely welcome additions are the Executioner, the Pledged Guard, the virtually unstoppable Archmage and the Bloodmonger (a fucking Kane the Bloody handed Priest class, this is where one of you disgusting nerds tells me they were originally introduced in supplement so and so btw).

Spellcasters have not been neglected. Whether arcane or divine, each class has multiple entry-level classes with access to Petty Magick of either the Arcane or Divine variety and I particularly enjoy the fact that all the faiths and winds of magic that we know and love are represented (in culturally white-washed form, presumably granting this puissant tome Protection from Law). Each path has representatives of both Order (say, priests of certain gods, a High Prelate, Wizards devoted to a certain lore) and fucking Damnation (you can select Cultists, Fallen Priests, Wizards utilizing the blackest of powers, Necromancers and Warlocks). It goes without saying that even the most righteous paths have a grim entry, reminding all of the hideous fate should they stray from the path of Order and succumb to the insidious influence of Chaos. The game admonishes you to select your profession based on the flow of the story, and not based on what gives you the highest bonuses, a suggestion utterly alien to me. Each priest and each wizard is given distinctive drawbacks and advantages, in addition to their different spells.

As far as classes are concerned, Zweihander nails it, innovating enough to warrant the unspeakably embarrassing faux-pas of publishing an OSR product whilst narrowly avoiding the Impostor/Usurper syndrome that games of this nature can all too easily fall prey too. Gamers are a deeply conservative species after all, and many a baby has been thrown out with the bathwater in the name of ‘streamlining.’

Jesus what else can I say. I can gripe about how you shouldn’t be able to make a Halfling Archmage (clearly based off the High Mage) or how the Vigilante borders on an honest to god superhero class complete with secret identity (if you are discovered you can’t use fortune points) or how the Targeteer isn’t there and the Engineer class is less interesting because the exotic blackpowder weapons are no longer a separate skill but these should be recognized for what they are, nitpicks that in no way diminish a greater whole.

Zweihander successfully (and sometimes loquaciously) refurbishes the old profession system while giving it both sufficient crunch and fluff to render the whole eminently useful. What few new classes are introduced are generally very suitable for grimdark environs (a detective class with a TRUE DETECTIVE power that allows him to gain cryptic hints from using drugs and honest to god medieval monks to name but a few) and Warhammer Fantasy in particular. The abilities are very appropriate, directly useful and sometimes aptly named. The accompanying flavor text manages to drive home the atmosphere and reinforce the feel, giving one ideas and rolepaying hints. Well done.

I suggest we call this one a day, move on to skills and talents and massively browbeat Daniel Fox into revealing to everyone’s satisfaction what he has done with the missing BS skill and when he intends to return it to us unharmed and in prime condition. Stick around for part IV, when we examine skills and talents!


16 thoughts on “[Review] Zweihander (WFRP retroclone) Pt. III; A man needs an occupation

  1. Some of the profession traits are unexpectedly badass. The halfling pugilist in my campaign managed to beat a cult magus to death after charging him with a stool – all this thanks to his Mortal Combat trait, which allows pummeling weapons to cause meaningful injuries.

    I also love how slayers are handled: you get a bonus damage dice against your favored foes if you don’t wear armor. The damage bonus is huge, but armor is a big fucking deal in ZH, and there is no “naked dwarf sysndrome” this time to save his ass. Our slayer is the reason why I have bookmark at Chapter 9: Hazards & Healing. The last time he was unharmed was when we began the campaign. After two sessions and only three battles he had broken ribs, infected wounds, and an instant death critical only intercepted by Fate Points.

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      1. The “naked dwarf syndrome” was an issue in WFRP1e, and to some degree in WFRP2e too. Dwarves could have such a huge Toughness that it was ridiculously hard to wound them with weapons, even when they weren’t wearing armor.

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  2. Your greatest opening Paragraph so far my Prince, I laughed out loud. Also I didn’t know you were so ancient that there were still natural forests around in the Netherlands in your youth.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had to check the internet but apparently we do have some natural reserves floating around somewhere. The Heide among them. No seriously check that shit out, complete with deer and boar n’ shit.

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    1. Ah las, no dueling shields to be found in the (otherwise complete and extensive) equipment section. Your desire to roleplay an ex-prostitute turned state-sanctioned executioner shall have to wait until Zak gets back to me about collaborating on Ass Eaters of Pyongyang (I just gave myself 3 extra vistors per day on search engine terms alone).

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  3. Thought For The Day: Clan/Tribe/Order/Guild/Whatever is to Whatsit: the Thingening as Character Class is to Dungeons and Dragons and Derivatives.

    As for Bloodmongers… well, there were Khainite cultists in Sold Down The River but I think the actual playability of one may have started in the MMO (remember that?) and migrated sideways. The Dark Elves had one. An alleged healer who healed you by brutally murdering other people and dousing you in their miscellaneous fluids, if memory serves.

    I will add only that “Bloodmonger” is a fucking stupid word and could have come from the current GW, whose increasing attention to game mechanics is matched only by their inability to call a Bloodhaft Soiltraumatiser a spade.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. [Otherkin: The glamourbombing]

      Yeah pretty much. My WoD is a bit rusty but I recall subsequent games adding additional modifiers such as wizard-fanclub for Mage: Do You Think That’s Air You Are Breathing Now? as well as school of magic but the analogy is close enough to be effective.

      [Bloodmongers]

      Full credit where it is due. Khaine is like a weird chinese-knockoff brand of evil religion for when your PCs have had their fill of fighting Chaos shit and you need to give their jaded palettes something different. Making them a playable class kicks ass and deserves merit.

      [Bloodhaft soil-traumatizer]

      Hahaha nailed it

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      1. [Subsequent hairsplitting in WoD]

        You might be thinking of nWoD’s covenants and such: the character architecture for vampires there was stats + clan + covenant, bit like forced multiclassing if you want to get strictly mechanistic about it.

        BRB getting teary-eyed over 1e Requiem.

        [Bloodmongers]

        When you want to introduce some variety to your played-out cultist hunting adventures, so here are some SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT CULTISTS?

        j/k I actually kinda like Khaine cults but only if they’re more urbane and low key than frothing Chaos loonies. Khaine is a god for assassins and schemers and that demands a certain level of civilisation for which ‘Bloodmonger’ evidences contempt.

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      2. [Slightly different cultists]

        What is Disciples of the Dark Gods, one of the strongest monstrous manuals of all time, but an entire booksworth of slightly different cultists? Disciples of the Dark Gods makes me sad that I never ponied up the 20 bucks for a Radical’s Handbook when the American Book Centre had an annual cleansing of the rpg-book shelf before stocking up on Iron Kingdoms and 4e.

        [WoD]

        I dunno man. I am still torn between ‘WoD’ is inherently terrible and ‘WoD is good but attracts the worst GM’s and all the good ones are playing something more appealing.’ But has anyone ever figured out whether Exalted is good or terrible?

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      3. [slightly different cultists]

        I’m fucking with you is all. Or rather, I’m fucking with the tedious “it’s not WFRP without CULTISTS” attitude and inviting you to join in if you fancy being in the right. 😉

        [WoD as melt magnet]

        WoD has never been sure what it wants to be. Atmospheric balls-deep personal horror experience or comic book/penny dreadful semierotic romp? Story-first expression vehicle or crunchy combat simulator? Couple that with the inherent probability problems of a dice pool system (I’m trying to make Incompetent Methuselah Syndrome catch on as a term) and the attractiveness of the game’s themes to skeevy power trippers and I can see why greatness always eludes its grasp.

        TL:DR WoD is a bad game but a decent group can have fun with it.

        [WoD and the Best Dungeon Masters, the greatest Dungeon Masters, the BEST Dungeon Masters…]

        All I can say in its (or my) defence is that I’ve never given a hoot whether I’m doing it ‘properly’ and I’ve usually ignored between half and nine tenths of the rules and that seems to result in fun vampire adventures that keep the goth girls interested.

        [Exalted]

        Exalted was a bag of farts even before creepy shit like the sex magic/demon rape book came along. Funny you should bring it up; one of the freelancers who worked on 2e Exalted has roasted it for being a game with 300 writers and no editorial control whatsoever. One of the goth girls likes it but I think she has a kink for apocalyptically powerful PCs.

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      4. [WFR]

        Man what? WFR has so much cool shit for you to murder that restricting yourself to cultists alone is a crying shame. This is exactly why I hate nerds. A 7-foot tall one-eyed crime boss named Marbo the Strangler, a fanatical Witch-hunter by the name of Ziegmunt von BrennenderTod and the numberless hordes of Skaven that gnash and slaver in the dark tunnels beneath the earth should be the least of the horrors encountered. Dare ye match blades with the accursed Von Bluttschwert, match spells with the corrupted pyromancer Aeda Feuersbrunst and match running away in pants-shitting terror from the numberless mutant hordes of Gorgath the Nine-horned, Chieftain of the Crimson Herd, Master of the Braying Legion and Bearer of the Inverted Heart of Tcharr BLOOD. BLOOD FOR THE BLOOD GOD. CHAOS RISES. DEAAAAATH. DEEEEAAAA *incomprehensible gibbering, accompanied by the clatter of d6s and the relentless, grinding arguing about situational modifiers and the potency of firearms*

        [can have fun]

        A no true GM fallacy ey? Truth be told I thought the concept behind their new OUT THERE shit like God Machine and Demon: the fallen had potential but it was so weird it probably made the barrier for entry too high. I think we discussed this once, that the reliance on classic gothic monster archetypes was EXACTLY what made WoD effective in the first place, and a departure therefrom might be better written but lacks the staying power and potency of its earlier incarnations.

        [doing it properly]

        I am waaaaaaay too autistic for that. I always read through all the books carefully and try to formulate to myself exactly the playstyle, mood, theme and atmosphere the creator would have envisioned and then run all my games as though my every utterance and GMing decision is carefully weighed by a tribunal of the author and his most humourless friends (this explains why my Lotfp games are fairly loose and contain lacklustre roleplaying). My stamp is going to shine through regardless (inevitable grimdarkness or general weirdness). I think that’s why I dislike many of the WoD games, since they require a lot of restraint in running, with careful build up, a reliance on characters and foreshadowing and so on and so forth. When are we getting to the katana fights on the rooftop is what I want to know?

        [Exalted]

        Exalted always came across the me as really fucking gay, and the type of Weeaboo’s likely to find the aesthetic and setting appealing are likely to be turned off by the God-Tier powergaming. Powergamers need something like ACKS to keep them warm, and nine thousand meticulously prepared curve-balls to keep them on their toes.

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  4. [Fucking Nerds]

    Fucking right. I’d play any of those.

    [Fun and God Machine]

    See, I thought God Machine was a cool concept when squinted at but it opened the door to the baked-in metaplot bullshit, White Wolf’s damning weakness and one that bubbles through the second editions of nWoD like farts through a sickly kitten.

    [Gothic Archetypes]

    I have thoughts about this, but I shall save them for my own blog. Nobody who came here for your Zweihander review wants to sit through a multi-paragraph exegesis of Mark Rein-Dot-Hagen’s media consumption habits.

    [Doin WoD Wrong]

    Katanas are for weeaboo shitwicks, but at my time of life, a session without chasing Tremere interlopers across the rooftops of Constantinople or driving a stolen petrol tanker into the bottom of the Prince’s tower block or something like that is a session wasted. I like the soap opera stuff but only if the game is running often enough that in between days are worth turning up for.

    [Weeaboo Shitwicks]

    You misunderstand the psyche of the target demographic, I fear. Exalted is for people who like JRPGs, a genre described by better men than me as “androgynous teenagers discover secret powers and kill God”. Exalted is pitched at the people who think Final Fantasy games are the highest form of digital art.

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    1. [Fucking Nerds]

      POP CULTURE REFERENCES TO COMPENSATE FOR OUR LACK OF EMOTIONAL AWARENESS BECAUSE MOTHER NEVER LOVED US

      [Metaplot]

      I was under the impression 1e was waaaaay more meta-plot heavy then 2e but I am an outsider and not very knowledgeable in the world of WoD because I have touched a woman without dyed hair once and it was great.

      [Goths]

      Yah. I hate the layout of your new blog btw. It’s hard to find shit.

      [WoD]

      Alan Moore’s WoD, a gothic-noir punk-rock supernatural murder mystery. Gehenna is neigh motherfucker (they had some sort of pretentious word for that, when all the Elders would wake up or some shit). Mohawks, trench-coats, finger-less gloves and sawed-off shotguns. Soundtrack to consist entirely of Sister’s of Mercy, Sin City and Black Sabbath.

      [Weeaboo]

      No one can understand the deep and poetic genius of Yoshihiro Togashi-sama like I do.

      Like

      1. [References]

        OH HILARIOUS

        I HAVE NO IDEA HOW TO CONDUCT MYSELF WITH GENUINE WIT BUT YOU HAVE NAMED A THING I RECOGNISE, SURELY THIS IS THE HEIGHT OF COMEDY

        [Metaplot]

        1e nWoD was a delightful “make your own fun” affair rejected by many Masquerade fanboys who were used to asking “what sourcebooks are we using” before every game. 2e nWoD… well, I’m told it centres the God-Machine more and invents a new kind of ugly horror vampire for our pretty paranormal romance vampires to be at war with (and unlike the Sabbat, the Strix are not presented as perversely attractive playable characters who get to have more fun).

        [Blog]

        Could you substantiate that? The new one has drop down menus for particular categories and a search bar, not to mention more articles displayed on the home page, all of which would (I’d have thought) make navigation easier. Do you want the tag cloud back? Are you confused by the lack of a monthly calendar? Do you cling to the delusion of linear chronology as the barnacle to the buttocks of a salty sailor man? ANSWER ME!

        [Alan Moore’s WoD]

        That *was* Gehenna. I don’t hate your creative vision though.

        [Weeaboo]

        I don’t know what that is but I bet it’s a child molester. Everyone is, these days.

        Like

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