ZWEIHÄNDER Reforged: Talking With Daniel D. Fox (World of Game Design)

In 2018, ZWEIHÄNDER Grim & Perilous RPG won Gold Ennie Awards for Best Game and Product of the Year. Since then, the TTRPG moved between publishers, appearing in various forms including a Starter Kit. Charles Dunwoody interviewed Daniel D. Fox, the creator of ZWEIHÄNDER, in 2021. In 2023, I looked at Andrew McMeel Universal as it reduced its TTRPG presence, including the impact on Daniel D. Fox’s position. Flash forward to 2024, and ZWEIHÄNDER Reforged, the latest incarnation of the fantasy horror TTRPG, is kickstarting courtesy of Daniel and World of Game Design. In this interview, Daniel talks about the latest version of his TTRPG, its connection with earlier iterations, who he’s working with, and provides a short update on another project, Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal RPG.

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EGG EMBRY (EGG): Daniel, it has been an interesting road to get the newest version of your signature game. We’ll get into the game’s history in a bit, but before that can you share what fans can expect from the ZWEIHÄNDER Reforged Kickstarter?
DANIEL D. FOX (DANIEL)
: Thanks again for the opportunity, Egg. With ZWEIHÄNDER Reforged, we are taking in nearly six years of playtesting and gamer feedback to remaster ZWEIHÄNDER into a tighter package with expanded content. While some of this work is an editorial exercise, most of the writing has been around all-new content, with never-before-seen professions, ancestries, corruption mechanics, a new Scar system as an alternative to death mechanics, and more. Dejan Mandic marks his return as our interior artist and Yorgos Cotronis as our cover art. Eric Alsandor (Spider00x) is our graphic designer. The design team has also been expanded, with Anna Goldberg and Kate Bullock joining me, Adam J. Rose and Nick O’Hare. A number of other awesome writers have joined in from World of Game Design, too. We anticipate the book coming in at around 445 pages, focusing on usability at the game table. As a part of our Kickstarter, we are also working with adventure writers Stephen Radney-MacFarland (D&D/Pathfinder), Kate Bullock (Magpie Games), Khaldoun Khelil (Vampire/World of Darkness), Elizabeth Chaipraditkul (Magpie Games), Richard August (Steamforged), and other writers yet to be announced to produce a series of 12 one-shot adventures for ZWEIHÄNDER Reforged.

EGG: For those that don’t know, what is the core mechanic for ZWEIHÄNDER Reforged?
DANIEL
: The game uses a d100 skill-based system, where you only roll dice when the stakes are high. In ZWEIHÄNDER Reforged, you aren’t a hero. You instead build your character using a lifepath. They begin their story in session zero as an everyday, normal person (as normal as can be in a medieval fantasy horror game) who lived their life until facing a brush with death. This near-death experience left them with a Scar, one that may be spiritual, physical, or psychological. At the start of your first adventure, the character you created is called a survivor, and inevitably drawn to other survivors who have also faced an NDE. ZWEIHÄNDER Reforged pitches itself as a mild to medium “crunch” game, landing somewhere between D&D and Pathfinder. It revels in having over 100 different classes (what we call professions), with a three-tier leveling system where players unlock multiple classes over the course of their adventures. The fight scene mechanics are fun and tactical (think Final Fantasy Tactics or X-Com) and work with theater of the mind and with minis. Spells are bombastic, where failure to cast properly can quickly change the outcome of a battle. Our unified mechanics works across fight, chase, travel, and intrigue scenes. And when the dice don’t work the way you want them to? You can call upon Fortune to change the outcome, but as with all things in Reforged, it requires sacrifice. This meta-mechanic fuels a Fortune/Misfortune Pool that goes tit for tat between the players and GM.

EGG: What is the feel of ZWEIHÄNDER?
DANIEL
: Themes of survival against the odds and emphasizing ordinary people rather than destined heroes. It explores both human cultures and long-forgotten (but emergent) ancestries, positioning characters as survivors of near-death experiences. Every survivor bears Scars that mark them physically, emotionally, and spiritually, leading to adventures of introspection and epiphany. The game delves into societies dominated by superstition and social stratification. Magic is feared and misunderstood, often leading to accusations of heresy and occultism against those who wield it. Overall, ZWEIHÄNDER Reforged challenges the notion of heroism, presenting a TTRPG where the focus is not on changing the world but on how the world changes the survivors, pushing them to the brink of their morality. It emphasizes low fantasy elements and other dangers like disease, injuries, and the psychological impact of trauma. Compassion and resilience against societal decay become a survivor’s greatest strengths in the game. The narrative underscores the importance of Bonds between survivors, their shared struggles against the encroaching darkness, the personal stories of sacrifice, and the quest for meaning in a world fraught with moral complexities and existential threats. Ultimately, we see ZWEIHÄNDER Reforged as a vehicle for catharsis at the game table.

Chapter 1 Introduction.jpg

EGG: Do you see this as a new edition? A revision? Is it backwards compatible?
DANIEL
: Indeed, it is backward compatible. One of the initial Post-It Notes I put on my design board was “No Wasted Books.” Everything we created would be built for cross-compatibility while repaving mechanics that needed to be updated. The shift from AD&D 1e to AD&D 2e is a great example, as is Pathfinder Second Edition to Pathfinder Second Edition Remastered. While Reforged blazes its own trail apart from the original version, we provide conversion notes inside the book and as a downloadable PDF online to help fans transition their ZWEIHÄNDER characters into survivors for Reforged.

EGG: ZWEIHÄNDER is an award-winning TTRPG with a solid fanbase. Why create Reforged instead of sticking with the, let’s say, “proven formula”?
DANIEL
: Six years is a long time to have the same edition of a game. Keep in mind that the book people are using at their tables was initially written back in 2014, underwent layout in 2017, and published in 2018. As the game has grown, we’ve learned from the community about their experiences with ZWEIHÄNDER. We see where the game had mechanical wrinkles that needed to be ironed out. There are some really fun rules in the game that simply didn’t get the airtime they deserved because they’re so deeply buried in prose. There’s also a lot of heavy editorialization we needed to do, from content to sensitivity and highlighting what makes ZWEIHÄNDER so remarkably different from its inspirations. We also know there is fresh content we want to bring to the core experience. So, instead of creating an entirely different supplement, older ZWEIHÄNDER will not be reprinted by Andrews McMeel, so we can move forward with Reforged.

EGG: Who is working on ZWEIHÄNDER Reforged?
DANIEL
: As someone who solely developed over 95% of the original manuscript, I felt the game needed fresh perspectives to make Reforged better than its predecessor. One of our goals is to push for a better reading and gameplay experience around the table and that can only be achieved by a team of veteran and new writers, ones who bring different gaming and life experiences to the proverbial table.
NOTE: Daniel provided an extensive list of creators, but I'm going to call out the Designers - Daniel D. Fox (Lead), Adam J. Rose, Anna Goldberg, Kate Bullock, and Nick O’Hare - as well as the artists - Dejan Mandic (interiors), Eric Alsandor (layouts), and Yorgos Cotronis (cover artist).

Chapter 3 Character Creation.jpg

EGG: ZWEIHÄNDER has been compared to other games including Warhammer Fantasy RPG. Since Dungeons & Dragons pulled from Chainmail and other wargames to create this entire gaming category, TTRPGs have a rich tradition of enhancing concepts from earlier products which results in new games. When you reread the first draft of ZWEIHÄNDER, what game(s) most influenced it? While working on Reforged, do you still feel their influence?
DANIEL
: Without a doubt, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay was influential in the mechanics development of ZWEIHÄNDER. You can see it in its class-based system. But ZWEIHÄNDER shrugs off its dark “heroic fantasy” inspirations. ZWEIHÄNDER implies that it’s not a zero-to-hero game, but instead, it’s zero to one. This is where we drift from our game being a simple retroclone to becoming its own thing. For Reforged, we wrote up our own Appendix N: a series of lenses that all narrative and mechanics must pass muster for.
NOTE: Daniel shared a long list of inspirations of which I'm going to highlight a few examples like Kentaro Miura’s Berserk inspiring the dark fantasy elements, the Thirty Years' War offering historic accounts, and Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay influencing the profession-based system.

Chapter 6 Talents.jpg

EGG: To that end, ZWEIHÄNDER inspired other games. You’re offering an updated gaming open gaming license so third parties can create ZWEIHÄNDER content, correct?
DANIEL
: While Grim & Perilous Studios has maintained a community-based content library at DriveThruRPG for three years, we are opening up the licensing. In the wake of the OGL, this is the best approach for everyone. Akin to how MÖRK BORG and Dragonbane have done with their licensing, our third-party license is open and free. It takes zero dollars out of creators’ pockets, makes no claim to their creations, and allows them to monetize and distribute beyond DriveThruRPG.

EGG: ZWEIHÄNDER started life at your Grim & Perilous Studios before moving with you when you started working for Andrews McMeel Publishing. Who has the rights to publish the property now?
DANIEL
: While I was working at Andrews McMeel Publishing (AMP), I brought the game to them as an author, as they had the right to publish and license with my approval for other games (like Flames of Freedom, Fever Knights RPG, and the phenomenal Blackbirds The Extinguishing). When I left AMP, I took the rights with me. Given that ZWEIHÄNDER’s fandom is enthusiastic about the game, I knew I could not support the community alone. It had grown too big for one person to manage. Around that time, I met Zac Goins and Jared Nielsen. We had a long courtship as we got to know each other. We played some games, went to a few conventions, and got to know one another. We sealed the deal last year as I sold the rights to World of Game Design, and I now sit on the board of directors.

EGG: Congratulations on being able to exercise your rights. That’s great news. Why was World of Game Design a good fit for the latest version of ZWEIHÄNDER?
DANIEL
: World of Game Design works with creators from independent to mass, from Stockholm Kartell to Tuesday Knight Games, and Marvel to Modiphius. They operate in print, distribution, Kickstarter consultation, and conventioneering. ZWEIHÄNDER has found a home, and World of Game Design has bold plans for the IP. But most of all, they are passionate creators, love games, and deeply care about their people and partners. What else could a creator ask for?

EGG: Circling back to Grim & Perilous Studios, they're going through a transformation as reported in Geek Native's "Grim & Perilous Studios winds down and is replaced by Cannon Otter Studio". How will that impact ZWEIHANDER's community content?
DANIEL
: We have heard numerous times from our fans that the Grim & Perilous Library needs to be more closely aligned with ZWEIHANDER's core game so that creators can get the halo effect of the broader ZWEIHANDER audience. At Andrews McMeel Publishing, there just wasn't that opportunity due to the way the publisher structured the deal. This is why Grim & Perilous Studios became a separate entity owned by Adam Rose during ZWEIHANDER's publishing run with AMP. Once I sold the rights to ZWEIHANDER to World of Game Design, Adam and I had a discussion about how to best service fans and third-party creators with this new deal. We then made a strategic decision to bring the Grim & Perilous Library under the umbrella of the World of Game Design.
As a part of this migration, World of Game Design has opened the door for creators to fundraise and distribute their ZWEIHANDER products anywhere with a free third-party license program. Despite this pivot, Adam and Nick helped design ZWEIHANDER Reforged. Dejan Mandic has joined World of Game Design as a full-time illustrator. But best of all? I have the privilege of gaming with Adam and Nick in our weekly ZWEIHANDER game in Kansas City. We've known each other for over 15 years, they are both dear friends, and I am excited about their future with the new studio. In fact, they just released their first Kickstarter, called Teenage Oddessey, using the Mark of the Odd engine.

EGG: I'm glad to hear it works out for the fans and the creators. That's great news for Dejan Mandic!
Beyond this project, what else are you working on?
DANIEL
: Adam Rose and I are working hard on Gangs of Kahabro, a campaign setting I created during my AD&D days but have been playing for the last seven years using ZWEIHÄNDER. It’s a medieval urban gang warfare setting in the same vein as the film The Warriors, and we are finally bringing it to publication for Reforged in 2025. Zac Goins is also heading development on Dark Astral, a far-flung strange future analogous to the Old Testament. I just wrapped up editorial work on Bryan Fuller’s Hannibal RPG, designed by Zac Goins, Zack Goings (ShadowZack), Andrew Hindenberg, Andrew Bishkinskyi, and John Baltisberger. World of Game Design is publishing Hannibal RPG later this year. It’s dripping with investigative gore, inner darkness, and a 12-course game that’ll please every Fannibal’s palate.

EGG: Thanks for talking with me. Where can fans learn more about this project?
DANIEL
: While ZWEIHÄNDER Reforged is currently in prelaunch on Kickstarter, we encourage anyone curious about the game to head to our Discord. Our entire team is there and actively sharing out art and mechanics of Reforged ahead of release.

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ZWEIHÄNDER RPG Reforged Edition from ZWEIHÄNDER RPG
  • “The next evolution of the ENNIE award-winning dark fantasy tabletop RPG is here!”
Egg Embry participates in the OneBookShelf Affiliate Program, Noble Knight Games’ Affiliate Program, and is an Amazon Associate. These programs provide advertising fees by linking to DriveThruRPG, Noble Knight Games, and Amazon.
 
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Egg Embry

Egg Embry

Sure. I imagine quite a few people also share the sentiment that they wanted a change in attitude rather than phrasing.

And don't worry, I need no assurance that its good to favor honesty and accountability over carefully worded deflection and dishonesty. You'll have to pardon me, however, for not asserting that the reverse is true.
Oh, I was speaking specifically towards speaking carefully due to surrounding circumstances, which isnt the same as or opposite of honesty and accountability. Maybe you didnt catch that.

If you DID catch that, then it seems like you are implying that I am promoting being dishonest or unaccountable and that would be a stretch.
 
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Throwing this out there, but I see two issues with this

1. People used to be upset with how he spoke. He changed how he spoke. Now people are upset he words things carefully. This is a near impossible line to walk for anyone, I would say.

2. If I had a kickstarter going and knew people were going to immediately run forward to throw shade, I would word things carefully as well.

But that's just me
In general, fair points.

I seldom, if ever, care about what games designers have done before.

But the careful wording that bothers me, is the amount of breathless hype about how great Zwei is, followed by a few vague words about how this update will make it better, before going into races, spells, and professions added.

It leaves me wondering if this is not just another splatbook whose role is already filed by Main Gauche.

It reeks of 'buy this because it is NEW (and we need the money)'.
 

In general, fair points.

I seldom, if ever, care about what games designers have done before.

But the careful wording that bothers me, is the amount of breathless hype about how great Zwei is, followed by a few vague words about how this update will make it better, before going into races, spells, and professions added.

It leaves me wondering if this is not just another splatbook whose role is already filed by Main Gauche.

It reeks of 'buy this because it is NEW (and we need the money)'.
I can def understand that. I’ve seen that a lot.

As someone who has ONLY played Zweihander reforged or at least playtesting it for the past two years, I don’t know that I can say it changed enough to feel worth it to you. That’s definitely something to consider though, we don’t all have piles of cash to throw at things is we aren’t going to find joy in it.
 

I can def understand that. I’ve seen that a lot.

As someone who has ONLY played Zweihander reforged or at least playtesting it for the past two years, I don’t know that I can say it changed enough to feel worth it to you. That’s definitely something to consider though, we don’t all have piles of cash to throw at things is we aren’t going to find joy in it.
I hadn't caught that you were a playtester-that's impressive. (y)

I know you're bound by NDA, but I still have to ask: why the fanfare? Why not just Zwei Second Printing?

That's the point where it feels wrong to me: it is coming across as being the +errata and better editing version, instead of something improved.
 

I hadn't caught that you were a playtester-that's impressive. (y)

I know you're bound by NDA, but I still have to ask: why the fanfare? Why not just Zwei Second Printing?

That's the point where it feels wrong to me: it is coming across as being the +errata and better editing version, instead of something improved.
So I can’t speak for Daniel and the higher ups on this, but here’s my perspective on all of that in general

1. Errata is hard to pin down for me. Is errata rule clarifications / mistakes to the original game that are being fixed now? If so I don’t think any of us should have to pay for that. I made a video about this discussing Xanathars guide for fifth edition and how I personally feel that it and Tasha’s were basically playtests for one d&d as well as errata for original 5e and while there was some neat stuff in it, half of both of those books felt like I was paying for what should have been free fixes. SOME of the changes in Zweihander reforged would likely be categorized this way by some.

This stated: there’s errata and there’s net new. Many of the changes I have been a part of in Zweihander reforged are net new, designed to make the gameplay feel different than it did before. This is different than errata to me, as the game play is fundamentally different. Examples would be how supply works. That’s not a fix to previous, the old way works just fine. But supply works differently in reforged. It’s a different mechanic altogether.

2. Lots of ttrpgs do a “reforged” edition of sorts. Call of Cthulhu has remained much the same since the game first came out but every few years we get an edition that improves upon the last and incorporates a ton of errata, editing fixes, but ALSO includes content not seen before, and overall gameplay changes that aren’t covered by errata. I don’t feel CoC gets a lot of heat for that, but I’m not as tapped in to that overall community so I could be wrong.

3. I think there hits a point in any ttrpg lifecycle that any creator who has the ability to would update the game in some way. Sometimes it’s a case of lessons learned. Sometimes it’s a case of innovations overall in the ttrpg game space that you realize would have been awesome had they known about it when the original was created. Sometimes is about keeping income coming in. There’s a lot of reasons to do it and for me, sometimes hitting the reset button so you can build a towards a new future is what’s needed.

I’ve never really asked Daniel WHY a change in this way was his desire. What I do know is that he has a different vision for the game than what he had before. Zweihander was his first and most well known ttrpg and after 7 years of being in the industry, I really think he just wants to show the world and himself that it can be better and will be moving forward.

But not everyone needs or wants that and that’s ok too.

Anyway, That’s a long winded way for me to say “I dunno, never asked” 😅
 

Note: the familiar tone I take is because in playtesting, it was actually directly with him and others in the design team. I was on the actual play he made, alongside Nick and Adam (also credited designers) for about half the season as we worked through some of the ideas and then he comes over and runs a game at my house every Sunday (good lord it’s been a year and a half now) where we have been deep diving into targeting mechanics and seeing what does and doesn’t work.
 

DoctorPip

Explorer
Oh, I was speaking specifically towards speaking carefully due to surrounding circumstances, which isnt the same as or opposite of honesty and accountability. Maybe you didnt catch that.

If you DID catch that, then it seems like you are implying that I am promoting being dishonest or unaccountable and that would be a stretch.

Speaking to that makes little sense in the context of our conversation, which was about Daniel Fox and their friends using carefully chosen words to muddle past actions and skirt acknowledging them as well as being dishonest about their original intent, rather than being open and honest as I suggested.

You make a lot of assumptions. First about what I disagree with, and now twice about what "I caught." You don't seem to be here in good faith.
 

Speaking to that makes little sense in the context of our conversation, which was about Daniel Fox and their friends using carefully chosen words to muddle past actions and skirt acknowledging them as well as being dishonest about their original intent, rather than being open and honest as I suggested.

You make a lot of assumptions. First about what I disagree with, and now twice about what "I caught." You don't seem to be here in good faith.
Oh I’m def here for in good faith.

It makes perfect sense to bring it up in my view and here is why: it seems like you are making an assumption that the reason to choose careful words is to muddle and skirt acknowledgement. I am saying that’s an opinion and that you keep presenting that as a forgone conclusion. So I provided an alternative to why Daniel and his friends (I am one of those) would seem careful with their wording.

Basically: everything you say is based on your negative opinion of the man.

Me? I don’t believe I made too many assumptions, I believe I gave an alternative, clarified my wording when you pointed out people, and then watched as you seemed to twist my words by implying again that to disagree with your estimation of the reasoning behind careful is to be advocating deceit.

But I could be wrong. I often am.
 

DoctorPip

Explorer
Oh I’m def here for in good faith.

It makes perfect sense to bring it up in my view and here is why: it seems like you are making an assumption that the reason to choose careful words is to muddle and skirt acknowledgement. I am saying that’s an opinion and that you keep presenting that as a forgone conclusion. So I provided an alternative to why Daniel and his friends (I am one of those) would seem careful with their wording.

Basically: everything you say is based on your negative opinion of the man.

Me? I don’t believe I made too many assumptions, I believe I gave an alternative, clarified my wording when you pointed out people, and then watched as you seemed to twist my words by implying again that to disagree with your estimation of the reasoning behind careful is to be advocating deceit.

But I could be wrong. I often am.

I'm making an inference based off criteria I described earlier. I specifically asserted that I'm only speaking for myself. Prior to that, I agreed with another poster's feelings. At what point do you feel I presented this as more than my thoughts, and you needed to remind me that its my opinion?

You believe I have a negative opinion of the person, when really I have a negative opinion of his past actions. I do not know him and have never said anything about the man that isn't in direct reference to something he did. You'd rather imply a personal grudge than reasonable caution, which is a prime example of what I mean when I talked about unaccountability and muddling the past.

I specifically expressed disappointment that the behavior in this thread indicates lessons were not learned. Perhaps you assume there was no chance given and that I was always going to oppose Daniel.

That's an assumption you're making. And you're wrong, in case you didn't catch that.
 


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