[Review] Zweihänder (WFR OSR) Pt. VI; To fight the abyss, one must know it…

Welcome to another exciting installment of the epoch that is the Zweihänder review. This segment shall focus on Arcane Magick in Zweihänder (originally I set out to cover both divine, arcane and miscellaneous magic in one post but considering the length I have decided to split them up).

Spellcasting in Zweihänder most resembles sorcery in 2e, by which I mean spell-points can go fuck themselves and your sorcerous reserve is limitless but there is great risk in its utilization. The threshold number and magic ranks of the olden times have been cast aside. Utilizing magic is now a matter of a single skill roll (the Invocation skill, based on WhFR as usual) with a difficulty modified by type of Magick (Petty, Lesser and Greater). As a requirement for Lesser Magick, you need 2 ranks in Invocation and 3 ranks for Greater. So far so good. The option of adding a little extra juice to your spells is also added by way of the Channeling action. If you Channel you forgo the normal safety precautions and tap deep into the Abyss (that’s the Warp with the serial numbers filed off) for more power, increasing your chances of success and making your magic harder to resist at the cost of corruption points and a chance to trigger a Chaos Manifestation (similar to the Curse of Tzeentch) or Divine Displeasure if you are a Cleric. You can Channel at different degrees, a greater bonus on the roll means more corruption and increased the risk of a Chaos manifestation. I approve of this, and consider it a step up from the rather mundane spend half an action get a bonus on your rolls method of the old games.

An additional risk/reward factor is added, unique for each spell, which I appreciate actually. If you critically succeed at a spell, its effect is magnified accordingly, in case of a critical failure the effects are usually reversed or turned upon the caster. The price for critical failure can be, and often is, very harsh, with damage being directed towards the caster, healing magic inflicting injury or disease and in case of extremely powerful sorcery, downright devastating (In case of high level Pyromancy, expect casualties in the dozens if not hundreds), driving home the point that Magick, while not inherently corrupt, is never to be used lightly.

Both Priests and Wizards must learn their spells from various sources (pilfered scrolls, accursed grimoires, tricked or blackmailed from unwilling tutors etc. etc.), at great cost and always with a risk of failure. While the number of Petty, Lesser and Greater Magicks a magick wielder can know is limited by their intelligence bonus, the number of available advances and the fact that magick users must specialize in either a single type of magick (or Wind if you want to be anally retentive) or worship a single deity ensures that this will be significant for Petty Magick only. Learning spells costs XP (I mean reward points ahem), so Spellcasters do advance slower then normal characters, though they require nowhere near the massive amounts of xp as they did in the old games.

Material components have made their comeuppance but they are handled intelligently, mostly. The exorbitant material components (A PINT OF FUCKING DRAGON’S BLOOD ARE YOU SHITTING ME?!?) of the 1st edition are avoided yet the entirely optional bonus component system of the 2nd edition is bypassed also. Material components are a thing in Zweihänder, but they tend to be restricted to breaking a mirror on the floor, casting a silver arrowhead or a poppy seed or a tortoise shell or something similar. Objects that are by no means commonplace, but that do not require the equivalent of the Expedition to Find the Northwest Passage in order to cast a single Fireball spell.

The Petty Magick selection is identical for both wizards and clerics, combining spells from the arcane, divine, hedge and Lesser Magic sections in the 2nd edition. All Lesser and Greater Magicks in the game belong to a particular Wind or Deity, which also have their own unique Petty Magic sections. If you are familiar with any edition of Warhammer Fantasy (except for the thrice-damned unhallowed 3rd edition), most if not all of the available spells should be familiar. Magic projectiles, Sleep spells, Sanctuary, Wizard Locks, Sorcerous armor, various shitty spells that no one uses until THAT GUY finds a great use for them (Pull an animal from a hat, protect your clothing from rain), Pass without trace, Dispel magic, Cause silence etc. Essentially the top picks of levels 1-3 for DnD clerics and wizards, available to all. Forget the 7 years of famine before you get to the good stuff, Magick is GREAT from your first spell onwards.

The section on Arcane magick is pretty sweet. In order to avoid accusations of copyright infringement, Daniel Fox cleverly avoids using the Eight Pointed Star as a symbol for Arcane Sorcery (itself a symbol of Chaos used earlier in Elric of Melniboné by Michael Moorcock) and instead uses the Tree of Life from the Kaballah (with one of the 9 symbols being the Onyx Wind or Dhar from Warhammer Fantasy, a combination of winds to unleash Magick in its most base and corrupted form i.e Sorcery and Necromancy). All other Winds correspond to their counterparts in the Old World, with flavour text denoting their nature and the fate of their wielders in case they get corrupted by the Abyss (Chaos).

Each Wind provides access to 9 spells, divided into Petty, Lesser and Greater Magicks as previously mentioned. The spells are very similar to their Old World Counterparts, with more frequent nods to flavor and the odd new spell making its appearance. No Wind is ENTIRELY the same as its predecessor, but the similarities are broad enough to still retain the honorary title of Retroclone.
If you are at all familiar with WhF here are some additions; Animism allows you to turn someone into his evolutionary ancestor, Morticism allows you to temporarily stave off death from your buddies, Banishment now requires the True Name of the Daemon you intend to use it on. Minor but complementary additions. The largest changes are the Sorcery and Necromancy Lores. Animating the Dead now counts as Ritual that may be learned separately (and used by anyone, though the necromancer is unusually competent in its use) and as such the Necromancer has gained several new spells (blind people with gravedust, wail like a banshee and a really awesome one where you break the thigh bone of a good priest once per round and your opponent suffers increasingly serious injuries every time you do it). All of the necromancy material components are really metal things like the hand of a murderer in a bag, grave dust or the skin of a dead strongman.
Same with the Warlock (the Sorcery/Dhar guy), since Daemon summoning is now a ritual and may be attempted by anyone insane enough to want it (this includes non-spellcasters btw), they get a bunch of new powers, all of them metal as fuck. Sorcery was cool in 2e, but it needed a little extra, and the Lore of Sorcery in Zweihander delivers with ample bosoms and nubile young bottocks: You can bless people as before but you need to sacrifice a small animal first, spit acid blood on people to melt their Armour, conjure up green death mist, turn into a cloud of flies, control someone’s body with a cat’s cradle made of sinew etc. etc. I am immediately reminded of Mordecai (from the Solomon Kane movie), Khostra Khel or that evil Sorceress from Karl Edward Wagner’s Darkness Weaves. Fucking. Badass.

The dangers of Arcane Magic are correspondingly harsher. The curse of Tzeentch, now dubbed a Chaos Manifestation, has a 1 in 6 chance of occurring if you channel for a +10% bonus, with one extra dice for every extra +10% to a max of +30%. Unlike the wimpy and ridiculously unlikely serious or catastrophic manifestations of the Curse of Tzeentch (3 1’s on 3d10’s? Are you high?) and the minor effects for a single 1, the Strength of a Chaos manifestation is dependent on the strength of the spell you cast, with Petty magic’s effects being a nuisance (curdled milk and withered plants), Lesser magic a serious detriment (lose your voice for 6 hours, ability score temporarily reduced to 6%) and Greater magic is absolutely catastrophic (permanent injury or stat loss, death, disfigurement etc. etc.) or just plain terrifying (Your head separates from your body but you remain alive and can still spellcast for 9 hours after which it can be permanently reattached). Well fucking done on this one. Fox took the old Curse and gave it a shot of government heroin to get it ready for the fight, and that is what all of us would have done.
It goes without saying anyone using Dhar ahem I mean the Onyx winds is still fucked, since every time you get a Chaos Manifestation you also suffer a Malignancy, gradually turning you into a whithered inhuman monster that repels small children (i.e average gamer). As an additional fuck you, evil wizards have a much higher chance of triggering a Chaos manifestation, therefore probably consigning them to either NPCs or the mad.

So how do you protect yourself from these all-powerful walking holocausts? Occasional saving throws and almost nonexistent magic items notwithstanding (hint: get Resolve and Toughness skills), the best protection against Sorcery is… more Sorcery. All spellcasters can attempt to counterspell magick directed against them. Don’t bring a sword to a spellfight.

Arcane magick in Zweihander represents a sort of golden mean between the powerful, relatively safe but prohibitively difficult spellcasting of the old game and the overpowered living attack helicopters (or identifying as such) of 2e. The best analogy for wizards in Zweihander is a chain-smoker in thick silk pyjama’s dual-wielding flamethrowers (i.e extrapolated pre-Uruguayan RPGPundit); A powerful ally to have during a campus sit-in, but liable to immolate himself and his fellow students in a catastrophic blaze in the end. Ultimately the real question becomes: is magic worth it? Yes. A resounding motherfucking yes. Magic remains the awesome death dealing force that obliterates armies and rewrites reality at terrible risk to the caster. As god intended. Stay tuned for more shit on Divine magic, rituals and magic items in Zweihander.

2 thoughts on “[Review] Zweihänder (WFR OSR) Pt. VI; To fight the abyss, one must know it…

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