Zweihander Revised Core Rulebook- a read-through

domesude

Explorer
CHAPTER 11: GAME MASTERY


The next 104 pages are a guide for Zweihander GMs. These pages cover, from a different perspective, much of the material that has already been discussed. And a bunch that hasn't.


First, it is explained that Zweihander "doesn't have an implied setting". I have heard others debate this, and I understand it. While this book gives us a pantheon of deities, a bestiary, and a pretty clear idea of the technology level our characters will be dealing with, there are no maps nor any named lands. However, there is certainly enough here to form a solid foundation upon which to build. It is perhaps a bit of an identity crisis born of the necessity to present a complete game, while at the same time keeping its distance from Games Workshop's IP. I've seen gamers adapt to this in one of three ways: run their own settings, run WFRP adventures, and just play the game as is without delving too much into the greater world. My own approach has been a combination of the latter two.


The game uses "Grim & Perilous Themes" to set a mood for whatever adventures the GM and their players wish to have. The beginning of this Chapter encourages those playing Zweihander to strike a balance between the Grim & Perilous world and playability. Keep it Grim & Perilous, but allow for hope , and maybe even the occasional positive outcome.


Zweihander is meant to be, well, almost like a dark fairytale. A game of low Magick and low fantasy. As stated in the previous Chapter, mages are neither plentiful nor particularly trusted. There is a bit about what is meant by "low fantasy" and any reader who doesn't yet understand why this game is different than, say, D&D, will understand once they have read it. There is also a bit about the creeping influence of Chaos, and the Corruption that infects so much of the game world.


Chapter 11 then proceeds to give instruction, clarification and additional information that can be used by GMs to manage and enhance their games. It goes over all of the pertinent rules from the previous Chapter, offering a deeper examination of how these rules work, and why they work the way they do. This is also the place where you will fond the "GMs only" information found in most RPGs.


There are helpful tips and tricks , such as "Determine Initiative Ladder" at the start of the game session, which I have adopted into my own games. Another helpful hint is to have the players use index cards to keep track of in-game info picked up by their characters.


Skill Tests and Combat Rules are explained in greater detail, and there are three tables (Moderate, Serious, and Grievous) for determining which Injuries Character suffer if they roll a "6" on the Chaos die after suffering Damage. There are also tables for determining what exactly happens if a foe is Slain!, separated by weapon type. These will give you something to say besides, "Welp, ya killed 'em!" at the conclusion of a fight.


Speaking of fighting, there is a page on how to fight Flying Creatures, and a list of creature Size classifications.


There are instructions for creating encounters, encompassing such elements as Risk Factor, a way of determining how big a threat is posed by a given creature so you can match them to your players' skill level.


There are some neat ideas for using weather, terrain and environmental effects to enhance the drama and Peril of your game.


Several pages of Alternative Combat Rules add optional systems for Weapon Damage, number of Attacks, Encumbrance, hit location and Armor. What I like about these is that they don't add a lot of bulk to the system. They act off of the same mechanics we have already learned at this point. I'm not using these in my current game, as we are still beginners. But, they seem like they could be grafted on seamlessly.


There is a system for Chase Scenes, which is a really nice touch. I really dug systems like this in the old James Bond 007 and Justice, Inc. games. What we have here is a system based off of the game's core mechanic, that gives you an option for chase scenes beyond "this is just a different kind of dungeon". or "Press X for fast travel". Similarly, there are over 10 pages of rules for Overland Travel, and the encounters on might have, in both mundane places, and locales that may have a strong presence of Magick.


Reward points, thier distribution and use get a bit of magnification here. As well as Reputation Points, a Fate point-like finite resource that enables a Character to trade on the glory of past deeds.


Other subjects covered include:


-determining the material strength (Hardness) of objects and/or breaking them


-Different types of Traps, their use and construction


-Chaos Manifestations (often the result of Arcane Magick use and very unpleasant)


-Divine Punishments that can be meted out to priests, shamans or cultists who fly too close to the sun or wield Divine power with carelesness. These are listed by diety, each being appropriate to the Divine being followed by the unfortunate player. Atonement is also discussed.


-Madick Items: though rare and dangerous, they exist


-NPCs: how to run them, how to interact with your players as them, and how to give them personality, including the use of their Alignments., as well as a table for determining NPC Motivations on the fly.


One of Zweihander's cooler features is next: a section on Social Intrigue. Bits like this, and the aforementioned Chase, Travel and Exploration rules, really offer a great variety of roleplaying opportunities. Want to fight Gladiator in the pit? Zweihander does that. Want to take your party on a Fellowship of the Ring style trek across a vast stretch of unfogiving terrain? Zweihander does that. Want to charm the gullible and blackmail the guilty? Zweihander does that.


The various types of Madness are covered (Stress, Fear and Terror). Each of these has different triggers (listed). These require a Resolve Test which, if failed will bring Peril and Corruption. Speaking of which, there is also a handy reference guide for how much Corruption a Character may earn for different offenses, ranging from morally dubious to downright evil.


If a Character does succumb to his or her baser nature, they are likely to be assigned a Disorder by the GM, of which there is an uncomfortably complete listing here. Anything from becoming a hopeless drunkard to an arsonist is possible. But there are also Mutations to fear. Zweihander's GM section has made an exhaustive study of the ways in which your Characters can suffer.


Character Advancement is discussed, as well as some Optional directions it can take, at the GMs discretion.


There are optional rules for playing some of the "bad guys", or monster races which would not normally be allowed. Aztlan (Lizard Men), Grendel (Beastmen), Orx, and Skrzzak (Zweihander's analog to WFRP's iconic Skaven). This reminds me of a less humorous version of the Monsters! Monsters! supplement for Tunnels & Trolls. These races are given Attribute Bonuses and Traits. Each has the option of starting the game with a Mutation (a large table of which is located in the Appendices at the rear of this book).


Since Zweihander doesn't have an implied setting, there is a bit on world building. This addresses such subjects as Humanocentrism (remember, humans are the default race, barring GM fiat).


Different types of Rulership are detailed, for those wishing to flesh out their Fantasy sandbox with governments and kingdoms.


The faiths of Demihumans are briefly discussed, for those wishing to use and expand upon fantasy races in their game, as well as 11 alternative faiths which you can use.


The last part of Chapter 11 presents four "Campaign Seeds', which you can use as a springboard for your own world building. Each has a brief description, followed by three possible catalysts for drama..


The Enemy Within: possibilities for a campaign driven by internal strife


The Enemy Without: possibilities for a campaign beset by outside enemies


The Enemy Beyond: possibilities for a campaign faced with a supernatural enemy or enemies


Each Campaign seed also lists three possible Adventure Ideas.


The four Campaign seeds are:


-The Thirty Years' War: Europe, 1630. Embroiled in conflict and treachery


-Goth Moran Divided: This seems to be a quasi-medieval setting with lost of iintrigue, a la Game of Thrones.


-Gangs of Kahabro: Also set on the continent of Goth Moran, this appears to be a Grim & Perilous mash-up of The Warriors and Gangs of New York.


-The Lost Colony of Roanoke: Jamestown, 1691.


That finishes Chapter 11. My final thoughts are that Chapter 11 is a lengthy, well-written wellspring of solid practical information for the GM. This has covered almost all of the bases you are likely to ever need covered. The only omission I can see is maybe no rules for waterborne travel/encounters, or vehicular combat. Not that I'm complaining, and to be honest, I wouldn't be likely to use either one. But in a game that seems to include absolutely everything, some things are conspicuous by their absence.


Despite that, no one could ever accuse the author of attempting anything less than crafting one of the most inclusive core rulebooks I have ever seen.


I hope this has given y'all a decent overview of Chapter 11. Only two more to go. Next up is CHAPTER 12: BESTIARY. After that, the sample adventure CHAPTER 13: A BITTER HARVEST. Then a few words about the various Appendices, and we should be done with the Core Rulebook. Thanks for hanging in there!
 

domesude

Explorer
CHAPTER 12: BESTIARY


Okay, second to last chapter. And one of the most important. In many ways, your Characters' glory is no greater than their foes' infamy. No bard sings ballads recounting the deeds of Cedrik the Gopher Slayer. No, a true hero needs a mighty foe, or, better yet, around 150 foes. That's what you get here, at a rough count.


There is a reminder here that the Bestiary is for the GM's eyes only. I really appreciate that. I get that players want to immerse themselves in the game world, but that's also a great way to remove the mystery from the game, and reduce everything to a dull mathematical calculation.


Creatures in Zweihander fall into one of six classifications: Abyssal, Animal, Beast, Humanoid, Mutant and Supernatural. These come into play as certain types of Traits, Spells or Weapons may affect certain types but not others: or some types differently. Again, here, we can see the beating mathematical heart of Zweihander peeking through its ribcage. Almost everything in this game exists to bring some kind of balance into play. This is evident even in the Social Intrigue rules I mentined in my post about Chapter 11.


Every Creature is presented according to the following format:


-Name & Description


-Creature Profile, itself broken down into the following parts:


-Creature Size: dictates how many Fury Dice the Creature uses ti determine Combat Damage

-Primary Attributes: same as PCs

-Secondary Attributes: Initiative, Movement, Damage and Peril Thresholds, Parry and Dodge

-Risk factor: discussed in the previous chapter, this is expressed as a Tier, and further categorized into Low, Moderate and High. So, "Intermediate (High) would pose great risk to an Intermediate Character, but should still be within the Character's capabilities, if only just.

-Skill Ranks: a list of skills posessed by the Creature

-Attack Profile: the extended values for the Creature in question. Broken down into Melee & Ranged Waeapons, Distance & Load, and Damage & Qualities


-Traits: many of these Creatures have several, and that can make for some insidious and deadly enemies...


-Trappings


Here, a sidebar again reminds us of the dramatic value of keeping the players ignorant, and the Creatures mysterious and fearsome.


The Bestiary proper begins here, those lists of creatures wild and dangerous we have all seen before in many games. This one is particularly nice. It is, of course, comprehensive. And every creature has an accompanying illustration. This is one of the most profusely illustrated games I've ever seen, and I can't help but wonder if pictures were used to imply a setting in order to sidestep the risk of wandering into someone else's IP. If that is the case, it works. The numerous and consistent drawings throughout really create a visual reference that quickly becomes a part of the theater of Zweihander. But, I digress.


First up, we have the Abyssal reatures, those formed by Chaos and dark Magick. In this section, there are descriptions of various Fomori (Ogres distorted by Chaos into even more brutal and miserable beasts), various kinds of Demons and diablolical Creatures. These entries are thorough. Different types of creatures are detailed according to their origins, history and tendencies. Where appropriate, their societal structures are described. Then, the different types and sometimes subtypes of Creatures are listed and statted. There is a wealth of information here. These are not merely rows of numbers. These are well detailed descriptions, each with distinct characteristics and abilities that really make these more than merely "monster of the week" entries. The illustrations in the Abyssal section are detailed, grotesque and disturbingly asymmetrical.


The Animals section is next. This includes creatures great and small, but also "Primevals", which include Attercap Spiders (giant arachnids, natch), Dire Rat, "Howlbears" (hmmm, that sounds familiar but I can't quite place it...), Wargs and the like.


Next are those Creatures classified as Beasts. These include a lot of your classic fantasy monsters, suvh as Basilisk, Gryphon and Cnimaera. In this section, you'll see new Creatures, old favorites, and new takes on old favorites.


Following the Beasts are the Humanoids. These include one of the "evil" Ancestries listed as possible Player choices in the previous chapter, the Aztlan, who get the same treatment as Demons here, having every pertinent facet of their lives and societies detailed. In fact, they are given more detail than the Demihuman PC Ancestries! I hope there are future supplements detailing the "fantasy races" of Zweihander. I know the game is meant to be a more grim & gritty, humanocentric one, but sometimes I want to play a morally ambiguous Dwarf, too. Also in this section are Bandits, Ogre Mercenaries and a general motley crew of bipedal threats.


Next, we have Mutants. This section includes the Skrzzak, rat-men of the sewers, and doers of evil deeds. This section also details deadly and/or sentient plant life, Kobolds and Grendel (Zweihander's non-IP infringing version of WFRP's Beastmen).I'm kind of confused as to why the Skrzzak are "Mutants" and the Aztlan are "Humanoids". It's possible that either I missed something while reading, or that there is some WFRP-descended lore I'm missing out on here. More likely is that it's a matter of balance, so that there are a certain number of creatures under each Classification. I've noticed a few things like that in the game, and while they might bother your more literal-minded players (as it has one of mine, albeit slightly), but it's an agreeable trade off in my mind. All that aside, it's easy to see why the ratmen have become such an iconic foe in that other game, they are cool as hell. I'm already looking for excuses to use them in my own games.


Lastly, we have the Supernatural Creatures. These range from Fey, to Spirits (several types), to Vampires (also several types). There is a really great mix of the new, the iconic and the familar not only here, but throughout this chapter. There are some very neat and unexpected entries, like the Rakshasa. If this were published on its own, as a slim supplement, it would still rock hard.


The Chapter continues with CUSTOM CREATURES, which tells you how to scale the creatures in the book. In this way, you can weaken them into Underlings, beef them up into Bosses, or give them Magickal abilities.There are helpful examples, along with some neat spell list suitable for use by adherents of the alternative faiths in the previous Chapter.


Closing Chapter 12 is LOOT & LUCRE, a look at what one might hope to gain from robbery and theft of various sorts. This section contains over a dozen tables for treasures of various types so that you can quantify your Characters' ill-gotten gains.


Chapter 12 was easily one of the best in an already impressive book. It really takes this from being a "Core Rulebook" to being a gaming toolkit, and basically just nudged Zweihander over the line from "Awesome" to "Indispensable".


Next entry should be my last bit of reading, but I will stick around to answer questions or discuss the thread. We will be taking a look at the starting adventure and Appendices.


coming up: CHAPTER 13: A BITTER HARVEST
 

domesude

Explorer
CHAPTER 13: A BITTER HARVEST


Zweihander's final Chapter is A Bitter Harvest, an introductory scenario. I have seen reviewers sidestep this Chapter altogether, so as to avoid spoilers. And while I understand that, ABH deserves a little more attention.


At 30 pages, ABH is a full-length adventure. While many games are content to give you a six- or eight-page mini-adventure, ABH is fully realized and detailed, so much so that, like Chapter 12, it could easily be sold on its own as a worthwhile stand-alone purchase.


It is also worth mentioning that ABH is specifically written to teach new players to use the various rules within the book as a whole. Chase Scenes, Combat, Social Intrigue and Wilderness Encounters all get time in the spotlight here.


This is yet another example of the careful design that is evident in nearly every facet of this game. Nothing here feels slapdash. There is no sense that the introductory adventure was included as a mere obligation, in order to satisfy the expectations of gamers. ABH is a well-written, versatile module (I will never stop loving that term) that can be combat heavy, or light, according to Player actions. It can accommodate a variety of play styles, and features plenty of investigation as well as Combat. It's a story in ten parts, with as many relevant NPCs. Multiple outcomes are available, some leading to glory, and others to death.


Based on the Baltic Crusades, ABH is very much a "Grim & Perilous" adventure. But be warned, its thematic adaptation of the atrocities of war may be uncomfortable for some players.


Throughout ABH, there are sidebars with playtest notes, giving insight into multiple playtests, and therefore the myriad possibilities that may arise, depending on Players' actions and decisions. And these actions and decisions matter.


There are also guidelines for awarding reward points and/or reputation Points.


Overall. ABH is an excellent taste of what the designer intended to convey with Zweihander.


After this, there are a series of Appendices (8 in all). These are GM aids, for tracking the PCs' Damage, as well as things like Chase Scenes, Taints of Chaos and Combat Actions.


there is also a Character Sheet, in plain black & white lines, rather than the sepia tones I have seen on the official Character Sheet. Plain, but printer-friendly. Other than the lack of sepia/shading, the sheets are exactly the same.


An index, followed by an advertisement for Main Gauche, Zweihander's Chaos Supplement, are the last things in the book.



FINAL THOUGHTS



I now feel about Zweihander pretty much the same way I did a couple of Chapters in. It's a great (and I can now say fun) game, and an outstanding product, the experience of which is somewhat marred by its numerous editorial issues. Let me be clear here: the good FAR outweighs the bad (in fact, I have converted one of my groups to this game and am working on the other). And again, I don't want to harp or be nit-picky. But, if I didn't point out what I so obvious and unnecessary, and what others have also noted, this would not be an objective read-through/review.


I'm a big fan of the old Golden Heroes RPG. It had an interesting approach to Player/GM info. Both books featured the same subjects, in the same chapter sequence. Players read their book, while GMs were instructed to read both, first reading a chapter in the Players' Book, then reading the corresponding and more detailed section in the Script Supervisor's (GM's) Book, then moving in to the next chapter in the Players' Book and repeating until finished. That' the best approach I've ever seen. and I'm surprised that more games don't do it. A game of such imposing size as Zweihander would have benefitted greatly from such an approach. As it is, information can sometimes be hard to find in the book. It doesn't make it unplayable by any means, but it's a bit more work than it should be at times. Especially when the system itself is as elegant, intuitive and ultimately simple as this one is. Add to this the typos, and I have to give Zweihander some low marks in an otherwise glowing appraisal. If it sounds like I'm being hard on Zweihander, I am. The book is big, not cheap, and is now in its 3rd printing. I understand that it costs money to revise a book's layout. But what works here (which is everything else) is so damn good that what doesn't work is painfully glaring. You wouldn't build Ferrari, only to let some dude paint it with a spray can and slap the medallions on haphazardly, then send it through inspection, where it gets dismissively waved through by a guy reading a paperback. That example is too extreme, but you get my point.


To be fair, the author is aware of and has owned these issues (and others) in interviews I have heard. And, as I said, it doesn't interfere with play. At all. What it does do is have me reading, re-reading, flipping back and forth and consulting the game's Discord community for clarification. But, this is a first effort by an author who was new to writing and game publishing when Zweihander first burst into the public consciousness. I am hopeful that future releases will remedy these issues. And besides, if poor editing were a bar to entry, there'd be no RPG hobby, let's face it.



When I started this read-through, I knew next to nothing about the game, or about WFRP. Now that I have finished, I know a lot more about Zweihander, and a little more about WFRP. I can now say that Zweihander is an excellent game, written by someone with an obvious love of roleplaying and fantasy, who went the extra mile in researching and crafting a solid and exquisitely balanced set of mechanics onto what began life as a retro-clone/fan update of WFRP 2e. And while many retro-clones/heartbreakers/whatever (I'm still not sure I understand what these terms mean) update or streamline their predecessor's mechanics, few have done it in such a complete and meaningful way. Everything about Zweihander feels deliberate and precise, like hefting a finely crafted two-handed sword (and it ain't much lighter, neither).


In play, it's a fast-moving game with meaningful consequences. Easy to learn, but with a surprising tactical depth, which manages to allow for an astounding number of player options without going over its Encumbrance Capacity (I have yet to try any of the Optional Combat rules, however). Remember that "sweet spot" I mentioned in my first post? This is pretty much it.


As for Zweihander's "lack of setting", it seems to me that the author has used descriptive text, TONS of illustrations (one of the most profusely illustrated games I've ever seen) and more than enough background to give me a very clear sense of the game "world", while allowing room for any GM to make it their own, or simply port the mechanics over to whatever "grimdark" setting they choose.


IN SUMMATION


What Zweihander is:

-fast and smooth in play

-flexible

-fun

-challenging, with a meaningful tactical foundation

-well-balanced

-extremely well-made (physical product)

-beautiful (presentation)

-grim, gritty and mature (for an elfgame lol)


What Zweihander isn't

-well-edited


Overall, I'mma have to put it solidly in the "win" column. Without question.


if you are interested in Zweihander, you can check out the official website for the game here:

 
Last edited:

Advertisement

Top