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

Zehnseiter

Adventurer
Been there, done that ... (for more than 20 years). The 3d20 skill roll has been one of the holy sacraments of Das schwarze Auge since its 2nd edition. People have been complaining about its unwieldiness for ages, but by now, it seems to be the one core element of the DSA rules that Mustn't Be Changed.
I don't really know if I would recommend DSA to anyone, even though it still has a place in my heart.

I remember the split among DSA fans being about 30/70 or so. I started with DSA 1E. There you rolled your skills with 1d20. For me that is still the one true DSA way to this day...:)

But sadly I am among the minority.....and that 3d20 roll has been awfully persistent for four editions.....

Interestingly the most successful spin-off of DSA called "Die Schwarze Katze" (The black cat) uses a different skill resolution mechanic.
Ironicaly DSA itself gave birth to another game called Splittermond that was written by ex-DSA writers that where fed off with some rules in DSA. And you can guess it: they got rid off the 3d20 as well.....

So maybe the last word isten't spoken here when inevitably DSA 6E will be made.
 
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Swanosaurus

Adventurer
They’re published under license? I fail to see how you can equate a product published under a license to one that was deliberately released without a license to copy a rules system, style, tone and approach to tap into disgruntlement over an edition change.

If Paizo released pathfinder without a license I would feel the same way. But they didn’t, they used the OGL after working with the IP owner for half a decade. Fair play.

Maybe it’s the academic influences in my life but I have a natural abhorrence of anything that comes close to plagiarism.
I can see how the question of a license can be an important ethical concern ... but I really don't understand how it can have an impact on artistic merit. If someone produces a lazy copy of D&D3 under license, that's fine, maybe someone wants to buy it, but I'd still call it a knock-off. If someone creates an original work that is obviously based on another RPG, but that adds sufficient twists and changes and is well thought-through from the grounds up (I don't want to argue that ZH is just that, I'd really need to check how different it is from WH2), I would say that it has artistic legitimacy, license or not.

I'm not saying that the license question doesn't matter; but it's a separate question from artistic merit and something being a knock-off or an original creation.
 

Eyyyyyy I’ve been on the playtest for this for a while! This is a neat interview to read through.

It’s been a fun process overall. Watching the game churn and evolve and watching changes be made due to direct feedback our table has given (myself, my wife, my best friend, my good friend, and someone who I am pretty sure stole my name (kidding, he’s a friend) are Daniel’s “Sunday Crew”) has been both an enlightening experience as to art of playtesting in general and just a joy because I like the game.

To be honest, I don’t know that I have ever truly played “classic” Zweihander, all my experience has been with some level of Reforged in the workings, but I’ve liked what I have been privy to.

I spent a lot of time at Daniels table with Adam and Nick as well, and all three of these guys seem pretty keenly aware of the past issues with the former edition (mechanics and others) and have been pretty dedicated to making sure everyone who was apart of playtesting know that their mission wasn’t just to make a cleaner streamlined game, but a game that can facilitate a positive experience for anyone who gives it a try.

This is just my two cents.

Also I contributed to the book and I’m just excited to see it hit tables.

Also I consider these people friends, so I am pretty biased. But I can live with that.
 
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I'll support this. I have the Zweihander, Main Gauche, and Blackbirds books on my shelf, in addition to a mostly complete WHFRP 4e set of books as well. The two are different for me. If I want to play in the Olde World I'm reaching for WHFRP 4e. I really like that game and am currently running Death on the Reik. If I want something somewhat more generic in the same milieu I'll reach for Zweihander. If I wanted something a little more high powered in the same tone I'd reach for Shadow of the Demonlord, which also has alot of WHFRP 2e in it's DNA in terms of have classes/careers work. They all have merits and separate uses.

The Daniel Fox issue, to me is the artist vs. art argument. I don't approve of everything he's done, and I'm still bitter about one specific thing he has taken credit for, but it doesn't invalidate the game he wrote has a value at my table.
 

doctor_volcano

First Post
I've been a playtester for Gangs of Kahabro so the better part of a year now (at Dan's personal table on Wednesdays) and I gotta say once we transitioned into the Reforged rules, the whole thing really started to come together. You can really feel how much Dan and Adam and Nick really and truly love table top gaming in just about every aspect of the game. It's been really interesting being able to provide feedback to a game and watch it grow and change in real time as well.
It's been just a big ol' pile of fun from start to finish!

The combat mechanics are snappy, and the flow of Fortune Coins really adds a sense of tacticality to the fight scenes. There's this really neat Weapon Trick mechanism that allows the weapon you've grown comfortable with to gain uses and abilities that help keep it relevant at all tiers of gameplay, and I just really adore it specifically.
And man, watching everyone's professions really come to life as we play has been a friggan treat. We're all unique, and have these amazing life-path abilities that really make me feel distinct even though there are other martial characters in the party. As well, i feel like my in-game Bonds to my teammates really changed how I approach combat, because I desperately want those sweet sweet features to activate. Like, my Strapper character is becoming overly protective of our Cutsmith because we can tank damage for one another as Former Enemies. I'm literally trying to make up to him mechanically that I brought him to a near death experience in our shared past, and its just awesome.

Dan, Adam, Nick, and the rest of the designers have really outdone themselves with everything I've seen so far with Reforged, and I can't wait to see the full release!
 


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