By Grim & Perilous Studios
Available at: Drivethrurpg $27.00 pdf
Zweihander is a lot of things. Big is one of them. It brings a lot to the table for people who are used to D&D and other OSR products. Most of which are a boon to the gaming experience.
Pros (or at least the cool stuff that caught my attention):
- An interactive combat system. You are not just hit or not. The attacker may hit and the defender has a chance to parry depending on if they held some of their actions.
- Racial malleability. The game has your standard fantasy races, however there is not a fixed template. You get to pick amongst several different facets of the racial stereotype, meaning a party of all elves would still have some differences.
- A solid theme. The mechanics support a very dangerous and gritty theme. Combat is deadly, healing is hard, magic is dangerous, and disease is rampant. The game has a massive amount of material but does not have a pre-defined "world". You could drop it into renaissance Earth, Warhammer's Olde Worlde, your own homebrew or even another campaign world of your choice like Forgotten Realms. Any of these and more will work, as long as you keep that grim & perilous theme.
- A straight forward rule system. The book is massive (You'll never stop hearing this!) But it contains everything you need to play, rules, character building, advice, world building, adventure hooks, bestiary. Because the rules are pretty clear you will find you will have to do very little referencing back as you play, but see the Cons list below for when you do.
- The writing is a little disjointed. It is a big book 700+ pages. At least three times it told me to ignore the rules if I didn't like them. It tells you alignment isn't a big deal when it is introduced and that picking the path of order or chaos isn't "good or evil" but then pins the corruption rule to it and tells you how important it is to keep that rule.
- Organization. There is a lot of material and as a result sometimes things are presented and you aren't really sure why. Have a disease, in the disease section it says you are hosed as there is no cure, oh wait, in another section there IS a cure, it just isn't common. Want to make the cure, that is in another seciton (which doesn't reference the others). The game is a love letter written to Warhammer 1st & 2nd ed. However sometimes that came a across as the author didn't know how to explain it to someone who had no point of reference to what they were saying. On the bright side, mark or print off the couple of tables you find you will need (like injuries) and the simple rules system helps smooth through these issues.
- Dark humor. Ok this isn't REALLY a con, but the book reads like an inside joke. It repeatedly pushes the grim & perilous nature to the game, the dark seriousness of it all. It makes a specific point to spell out how a combat heavy dungeon crawl like many RPGs focus on will result only in death an misery. Then it proceeds to break the fourth wall and include a dungeoneer class with plenty of references to Gary Gygax. It has Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying 3rd ed (WFRP 3e) in the equipment section for sale. It is fun and I smiled, but it is a mix of taking itself very seriously, and not seriously at all which is odd. but hey, it is a game and it makes reading it enjoyable.
But wait there's more!
I never played Warhammer roleplaying before. I add this little caveat because a lot of the reviews I've seen are from people who are already familiar with the genesis of this product. The great thing about Zweihander is that you don't have to know about Warhammer or even like Warhammer to enjoy this product.
I would most closely compare this game to Lamentations of the Flame Princess (LotFP) and Hackmaster. LotFP is more rules light than Zweihander and Hackmaster is more rules crunchy, but they all share a common theme of dark and gritty play with the "becoming a hero" the point of the game, not starting out as one and just adventuring along. These are games of being a common person with greatness thrust upon them. A story of the character's journey as much as the adventure/campaign itself.