Monday, 26 June 2017

[Review] ZWEIHÄNDER Grim and Perilous RPG Part II: Beauty is in the Eye of Terror

"I will build a great, great wall on our
 northern border, and I will make Chaos
pay for that wall!"
In the first part of the series I revealed my secret history with WFRP and ZWEIHÄNDER. This time the actual review begins. I'm going to look into the characteristics which define the first impressions about a book for most of us: art, layout, writing.

As years and editions went by Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay's setting, mood, and art direction changed dramatically. First edition's realistic low fantasy visuals mixed with drug-fueled heavy metal boschian nightmares were slowly left behind in favor of more colorful and epic style. While I prefer WFRP1e's art, I can't call any of them inherently bad, because each edition of WFRP looked stunning, and introduced exceptionally talented artists - John Blanche, Ian Miller, Tony Ackland, Geoff Taylor, Ralph Horsley, Adrian Smith, Daarken, et al. With such impressive hall of fame it's hard to please WFRP fans visually, and impossible to please all of them.

ZWEIHÄNDER's Kickstarter offered two covers to backers: Jussi Alarauhio's default cover, and Dejan Mandic exclusive cover. Chosing between the two was no easy task. Jussi's astonishingly detailed version breaks the tradition of WFRP covers, and instead of adventurers fighting monsters it shows a company of grim figures standing in front of a razed settlement. Dejan's version is more fantastic and traditional, with a group of ne'er-do-wells facing vile ratmen in the sewers. Our heroes are quite unlikely though: the elf slayer, the ogre wizard, and the dwarf surgeon pretty much go against the familiar Warhammer stereotypes. I love both covers, but in the end I chose the latter, for reasons I will explain later.

The black & white interior is all Dejan's work, who had to create a shitload of illustrations for the book. His art evokes the feel of WFRP1e, especially Tony Ackland's work: his people are mundane and believable figures, which stands in stark contrast to his often grotesque and unreal monsters. His work is full of pop culture references, easter eggs, and visual jokes - something that was core to WFRP1e, but was forgotten in later editions. I'm not sure if it's the result of following orders or artistic freedom, but he also massacred some sacred cows and added a few unique twists to some monsters - like turning fimirs into crustacean fomorians, making the horrors look like weird many-eyed insects. He wasn't afraid to draw some naughty bits either, but the most outrageous of those pictures were removed a few release candidates ago. He could practice animals a bit more, but let that be my biggest issue with his art. He did a damn fine job both in quantity and quality.

Dejan is the best at drawing Tickle Monsters.
Having said that, I do have two small gripes with his art direction. First, the above mentioned contrast between people and monsters could have been even more evident if there were more illustrations about these two worlds colliding. Alas there are only a few of them, one being Dejan's exclusive cover. Second, because of using a single artist the art style is very homogenous. I would have been happier if there were more illustrators with different approaches to the "grim & perilous" theme.

The layout was inspired by WFRP2e's. It improved a lot since the early versions, but it's still not as aesthetically pleasing as its predecessor. There are still orphan and widow lines, it's still not obvious at first glance in several places which paragraphs belong together thanks to the inconsistent use of whitespaces, and it still bothers me that the professions didn't get a half or full page of their own. The reasons for these are rather trivial: the layout fell victim to the intended size of the book.

There is a massive amount of content within the book, which combined with the wordiness of the author resulted in an almost 700 pages long monstrosity (with art, of course). I won't complain about the size, that would be hypocrisy from someone who runs a D&D campaign using a bunch of Wilderlands of High Fantasy supplements, and plans to dust off HackMaster in the near future. Nevertheless, I do believe there is a lot of redundant, even repeated text in the book that should have been thrown out. Another round with a fiercer editor would have helped a lot in making the book even more readable and easier to lay out.

Despite the above I enjoyed reading the book, mostly because the author didn't aim for a dry and neutral voice like most RPGs nowadays. Daniel has an amusingly pretentious style, and he isn't afraid to spice things up with humor and pop culture references. While he isn't as outrageous as Gygax, Kenzer, or Raggi, he is still an opinionated fellow, which you will either like or hate.

Fun fact: the phrase "grim & perilous" appears 102 times in the rulebook.

Part III coming soon...

Furry initiation rite in progress.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

[Review] ZWEIHÄNDER Grim and Perilous RPG Part I: My History With Hammers and Swords

What WFRP1e grognards will probably do to me
after reading the end of the first paragraph.
I have a confession to make. Some of you will find it shocking, even heresy. I am a huge fan of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, but I haven’t played or run the game for several years now. On top of that, I have never run The Enemy Within campaign.

I was thirteen when I read a review of the 1st edition in a torn RPG magazine from the late nineties. I fell in love with the game immediately: the heavy metal art, the mechanics, the setting, the dark humor all rang the right bells to me. However I soon had to realize that this love was just as platonic as one felt towards a cover girl. Being a dirt poor teenager in Hungary meant my only option was to visit the nearest RPG shop, where the owner bluntly told me he is unable to order the rulebook. Of course that was bullshit, he was simply unwilling to help if you wanted anything that wasn't on the shelves. I still don't understand why was it worth him to chase customers away.

My longing remained unsatisfied until the fateful day when Black Industries announced the 2nd edition. With hard work (which for a student meant eating and drinking less) I saved up enough cash to buy the core rulebook. It was a glorious full color book with an amazing smell it managed to keep even after ten years. I liked everything about it at that time. I spent my summer reading the book, running my first few playtest sessions, and devouring William King's Trollslayer, which was coincidentally released in Hungary around the same time. When I returned from vacation the best two years of high school began. We played WFRP almost every other day in the student hostel. We haven’t been so hooked on any rpg before. By the time I graduated I ran so many WFRP sessions I was burned out, and have given up on running RPGs for two years.

After I was recovered I started expanding my Warhammer library slowly again with the WFRP1e and WFRP2e books I couldn't afford earlier. I was initially enthusiastic about WFRP3e too, but as the final product began to take shape I found myself alienated from the game. I had several memorable one shots in the last five years with the first two editions, but the memory of my burnout, the lack of free time, and the shortage of grand ideas kept me from starting a new campaign up until a year ago. And just when I told my group that I'm planning to revisit the Old World, some punk announced the release of his WFRP clone...

ZWEIHÄNDER began its life on the Strike-to-Stun forums as Corehammer, a collection of WFRP rules by Daniel Fox, but over time it grew and mutated into a game of its own. I was familiar with the early previews and playtest docs, but after getting tired of the OSR and all the D&D clones I didn't have much faith in the game and forgot about it until the Kickstarter campaign was announced. I was impressed by how far they got, and since the game seemed to be what I was looking for I coughed up some money to support them.

That was almost a year ago. As expected, there were hiccups, some plans didn't work out as intended, and the print version was delayed several times. I'm not mad at them though, for two reasons. First, Daniel did an exemplary job in keeping us informed about the status quo - which is something even "professionals" often fail to achieve. Second, they have already delivered the complete digital edition. Thus I decided not to wait for the printers, and start writing my review, where you will learn whether Zweihänder is a good successor for WFRP or not, and why you should care about it in the looming shadow of Cubicle 7’s forthcoming Warhammer RPGs,

Part II: Beauty is in the Eye of Terror

Meanwhile in the shiny splendor of  the Old World's far future, there is only war. If this is what you want, then ZWEIHÄNDER isn't the game you are looking for.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Zweihänder Character Sheets

A WFRP which isn't WFRP?
Must be Malal's work!
Last week saw the arrival of the illustrated rulebook for Zweihänder, which I have already talked about when its KickStarter campaign launched. It might be six months late, but it's finally here, sitting on my hardrive in all its grim and perilous glory. I haven't been this excited for an rpg for years! I love Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. I love the Old World. A game that modernizes the system and captures the mood of the original setting sounded like a dream come true. Can a small team accomplish that? Was it worth waiting for Zweihänder? Will it become my go-to rpg for grimdark adventures?

I will answer the above questions in a review. I did waste four afternoons to create a character sheet for the game though, which probably tells something. I tried to combine my favorite elements from all the WFRP character sheets I like, while also trying to make the sheet as cartridge-friendly as possible. I hope you will find it useful! Form-fillable version is coming soon.

A4 landscape character sheet for Zweihänder
A4 landscape form fillable character sheet for Zweihänder

Update #1: Rumor and Warfare skills have been added, and Movement's calculation is now AB+3 as it should be. The former means less space for skill focuses.

Update #2: The bottom line of the Grimoire was longer than should be, it has been shortened. Form fillable version has been uploaded.

Update #3: Links removed from form fillable pdf.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Review: DCC #89: Chaos Rising

Every now and then a perplexed newbie appears on the DCC boards looking for guidance on the official adventures. Their confusion is unsurprising: not only the early DCC adventures were written for several game systems, but there are modules with fractional numbering, and unnumbered adventures hidden within other products. These are usually short sidequests, limited runs, or conversions of older D&D modules. Chaos Rising is a compilation of seven such adventures.

The booklet is 56 pages long and follows the iconic format of the current DCC line: eye-catching cardboard cover, sweet black and white interior, meticulously decorated maps, clear layout. I fell in love with their format the first time I got Doom of the Savage Kings in my hands, and consider it a gold standard for modules ever since. Inspired by Melan's post I checked if playtesters are credited, and I was glad to see that except for the last adventure they weren't forgotten.

The seven adventures within the booklet cover levels 1 to 5. They are all independent one shots that can be easily inserted into any campaign. Surprisingly there is no character funnel, and no level 4 adventure either. Let's see what else the book has to offer!

Elzemon and the Blood-Drinking Box

A level 1 adventure by Terry Olson, from the DCC RPG/Xcrawl Free RPG Day 2014 release. Elzemon the Quasit is bound by the wizard Nekros to guard and feed the titular box. He finds a hole in his contract, and convinces the wizard Rhalabhast that he really wants that box, so he should hire a bunch of ne'er-do-wells to steal it. If they fail, the demon had some entertainment. If they succeed, the demon will be free. It's a win-win situation for Elzemon - but not for the PCs. Obtaining the relic is no cakewalk: climb down the spiraling stairs for two days, get through an acid lake, find the entrance into the secret study under a pile of guano, then return to the surface with the box, which requires a healthy dose of lawful blood every day to keep its mysterious prisoner from escaping. In the meantime the group will be harassed by the sadistic quasit, colossal leeches, mongrel bats, and hairless vomiting cats that barf in the PC's mouth on a critical. Wicked! Then when the PCs think they can finally rest another NPC looking for the box is thrown in, and the players will have to decide whom they will piss off: a powerful wizard, or a whole church. It's a linear adventure, but it's full of delightfully fucked up ideas, and provides an ending ideal to become the starting point of a campaign.

The Imperishable Sorceress

A level 1 adventure by Daniel J. Bishop, from the DCC RPG/Xcrawl Free RPG Day 2013 release. Before the age of dinosaurs sentient sea scorpions called the Builders crafted imperishable bodies, but got trapped in them. Eons later Ivrian the sorceress found their secret, and tried to create an eternally youthful body for herself. She didn't succeed though, but managed to awaken the Builders, get killed, and become a ghost. Eventually her spirit managed to reach out to a blood realtive - one of the PCs, who is suddenly teleported along with his comrades to the cold mountains. After climbing the mountain and fighting savages the PCs can reach the old city, where Ivrian's ghost will ask them to finish the procedure she started. This will require the star stone held by a demon, who wants to be killed by the sword Nightraker, so he can leave this godforsaken place behind. Naturally the Builders are still alive, and will send ectoplasmic filaments to stop the intruders. The rooms also hold natural gas traps, poison gas traps, and invincible ghost fishes. Despite its small size The Imperishable Sorceress offers a few loops, branches, and multiple endings. If the sorceress gets her body and Nightraker back she will turn against the PCs. It's also possible her relative realizes the true power of the star stone and usurps the imperishable body from of the sorceress. Of course the Builders can circumvent both plans. Once done or in need of escape, the players can do it through a tunneling metal mole, or a portal at the peak, where a stone circle has the exact ritual of creating imperishable bodies written on it. This adventure is a real can of worms that deserves to be opened.

Glipkerio's Gambit

A level 2 adventure by Jobe Bittman, originally released as DCC #80.5. The party's wizard is visited by his patron(s) personally (The Three Fates as written, but can be easily changed to anyone else), who ask(s) him to clear out a temple invaded by the time traveling wizard Glipkerio, and his army of younger selves. As help the wizard is given a thread which makes him invisible to the forces of chaos, until the number 7 appears. The adventurers will have to ascend the mountain, where they will meet a cat-headed corrupt giant, wounded monks, stealing devilkin, hairy apes, and some evocative random encounters. After figuring out a puzzle the PCs will reach the temple grounds, which offer some more combat and exploration before the epic confrontation with all the Glipkerios hanging around. Some of them will travel back in time in the midst of the battle, and return later in a shape depending on what the PCs did to the wounded monks they've met during their ascent. At the end the elder Glipkerio turns into a cat-headed mutant giant, and travels to the past to stop the party. Glipkerio's Gambit is a fun and eventful one shot, albeit mighty linear. The premise is cool, the battles are interesting, the loot is good, and it has a simple, yet effective twist.

The Tower Out of Time

A level 2 adventure by Michael Curtis, originally released as DCC #77.5.  I have already bought this adventure last year on DriveThruRPG, and ran it in my D&D5e Wilderlands campaign. It's a trip to a primordial swamp, where the serpent-man wizard H'lisk sends a read beam from his tower to the sky. The beam is a homing beacon for the meteor that his master S'lissak used to travel the void. While it's incredibly linear, the scenery and the encounters are memorable - even disturbing, according to some of my players. The tower itself is an organic scaly structure, which holds spitting dinosaurs, antehumans controlled by cerebral leeches, prisons full of cavemen and rodents, giant trilobites, and the grotesque blood fueled flowerlike device which generates the red beam. There is a dangerous trap too, a simple puzzle, decent treasure, so all in all it's a well rounded little adventure with varied challenges. I'm a bit disappointed though, because the editor cut the patron Serbok out, who was included in the original release. It's a shame. If there is one thing DCC RPG needs it's more patrons.

The Jeweler That Dealt In Stardust

A level 3 adventure by Harley Stroh, from the Goodman Games Gen Con 2013 Program Book. It is a heist in the house of the fence Boss Ogo, who hasn't been seen since last month. Ogo isn't dead though: he got his hands on a gem that drove him crazy and turned him into a follower of Ygiiz, the Spider-Mother. He spent most of his time and money on his studies and managed to open a portal, thus drawing the minions of Ygiiz into our realm. The party is about to raid the place, knowing nothing about what's going on between its walls. They have plenty of room for planning, there are several ways to enter the house. Once they are inside they will face devious traps, fake traps, millions of harmless spiders, and a handful of demon spiders that have a devastating three step killer attack. Meanwhile Ogo is sitting in his room connected to the mystic gem, which keeps him alive, and makes him able to summon more demon spiders. There is a rival band too, waiting on the nearby rooftops for the PCs to exit the building with their loot. Besides the gem that drove Ogo crazy (if it survives the confrontation at all), and his remaining money, the adventurers can recover some stardust. Pressed into the skin the less fortunate take damage, while the others earn some luck at the cost of being constantly watched by the Spider-Mother. The stardust can be also fused into a larger crystal focus. Cool stuff! This adventure screams Lankhmar in every possible way, which is the highest praise a heist adventure can get.

The Undulating Corruption

A level 5 adventure by Michael Curtis, also from the Goodman Games Gen Con 2013 Program Book. This is a wilderness adventure, with a map divided into squares of 15 minutes of riding. Once upon a time cultists managed to summon the Night Worm, an extraplanar beast that eats corruption. From then on they could experiment with black magic as much as they wanted without becoming freaks. One day a lawful order defeated the cult, but kept the worm alive for they thought it could be used for the lawful cause. In the end the order was destroyed by infighting for control over the worm, and the monster was left hungering under the shrine. The hook is very straightforward: someone from the party wants to get rid of his corruption and hears a rumor about the Night Worm. By the time party reaches the shrine a group of treasure hunters have accidentally released the giant worm, which is heading towards the nearest town, warping everything in its way. Following its trail the PCs can encounter ten foot long mutant catfishes, and an exhausted anchorite, and that's all... The adventure focuses heavily on the battle with the monster, with special emphasis on being devoured by the creature. The survivors earn no (or minimal) loot for their deed, but the memorable fight and the one time opportunity to cleanse someone is totally worth it. Curtis also deserves a huge pat on the back for including simple advice on handling haste and fly spells instead of saying "they don't work".

The Infernal Crucible of Sezrekan the Mad 

A level 5 adventure by Harley Stroh, which was an example adventure in the first three printings of the DCC RPG rulebook. It was replaced by The Abbot of the Woods in the fourth printing, which I don't mind at all. Crucible promises to be an example of how high level a DCC RPG adventures should look like, but fails in this regard. The PCs are trapped in a three room laboratory that is built around a gimmick: one living creature must remain there. They will meet Elzemon the Quasit (a familiar face), some magical environmental effects, spell book eating glyph worms, mildly interesting loot, and an ape with a human brain. Not only there isn't much to do, but the adventure is also too wordy for what it offers. Surprisingly for a Stroh adventure this one is forgettable. Level 5 characters deserve something more epic than this.

In spite of my above complaints I like Chaos Rising a lot. It's jam-packed with intriguing adventures that require only minimal preparation, and don't take more than a session to finish. It's perfect for those times when the Judge is burned out, or only has free time while taking a dump. I hope Goodman Games will release another collection like this in the future - one hopefully less obsessed with wizards and climbing.

Tl;dr: While not without its fault, Chaos Rising is a juicy collection of short adventures that you won't regret buying.

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Status Report

Last Friday we finished the first session of my new gonzo science-fantasy DCC RPG campaign, Terminus Nova. We had an epic character funnel, one I will probably write more about in the future - after I'm done running it one more time on a small rpg convention in Budapest. Preparing for the campaign was also a good excuse to dust off one of my all-time favorite classics, the Arduin Grimoire Trilogy. Be prepared for a lengthy review!

Since some of my players have the handwriting of an epilectic doctor, I have created a form fillable version of my DCC RPG character sheet. I didn't put much effort into it because working with the form fields was a pain in the ass, but it gets the job done.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

DCC RPG Character Sheets

Of course there is nothing wrong
with it if you like it olde skewl.
There are plenty of character sheets for DCC RPG with a wide variety of unique features and created in very diverse styles. Two more probably won't hurt. I was looking for something a little more mundane and functional that also has Matt Rundle's Anti-Hammerspace item tracking system, but I didn't find any to my liking. So I dusted off Inkscape and created one based on older sheets I had been working on. I thought they were pretty darn good! Then my girlfriend intervened, told me what's crap and why, so I had to overhaul it several times.

In the end I have created two versions: one with the classic item trackes, and one for those who don't like writing or drawing into boxes. These are class-neutral character sheets, no charts for Lay Hands or wizard spells - feel free to either use the Abilities & Notes box, or the other side of the sheet for that. I hope you will find them useful!

A4 DCC RPG character sheet with boxes
A4 DCC RPG character sheet with lines
A4 DCC RPG character sheet with lines (form fillable)

Monday, 2 January 2017

Review: Slügs!

I prefer the first two weeks of the new year over Christmas, because that's when the best presents I ordered for myself usually arrive. This morning the postman finally brought me my order from Lamentations of the Flame Princess. There were two items in the box: the already reviewed Broodmother Skyfortress (which is even more amazing in hardcover format), and the dirt cheap Slügs!, which was also LotFP's Free RPG Day product last year.

Slügs! is a 36 pages long digest monster supplement. It's written by James Raggi, who introduces 16 unique slugs you can use in your campaign. An intriguing choice, one that has a huge gap to fill because mollusks are extremely underused in D&D. It's a pity, they are weird and disguisting things - which are also the two of Raggi's specialties, so my expectations were high in this regard.

I can't complain about the quality. The color cover is outstanding, and the interior black & white illustrations are pretty good too. The artists knew when to get serious, funny, trippy, or weird. Those who are looking for the hardcore visuals seen in other LotFP products will be disappointed though, there isn't much disturbing stuff here except for two sexual themed pictures.

Raggi starts the book with ranting about the rpg industry in the introduction, which is not devoid of some finely delivered Trumpish rhetoric. Will this product make gaming great again? While slimy invertebrates aren't enough to save the OSR, this book proves that they can make your campaign better! This book is fun to read, full of imaginative new creatures, and silly pop culture references that made me grin like an idiot.

My favorite is Slügatron, a robot in disguise who on Saturday mornings will take you on random adventures. The Sluggish Slug spreads apathy, slowly turning everyone within a few miles into me during my university years. An encounter with the Love Slug will answer the ages old question about what perverted things the player is willing to do with for a few extra levels. Then there is the Christmas Slug, who eats junk, leaves a delicious trail, and carries treasure in his hanging colorful tumors.

Of course Raggi didn't forget about those who want to mess more directly with the PCs either. They will get what they are looking for in the Acid Slug, Glass Slug, Rock Slug, Vomit Slug. My only disappointment is the Mentallo Slug, which provides funky adventure opportunities, but otherwise feels very bland despite his huge brain. I was hoping for some psionic powers in vein of Carcosa.

The best thing I got with this book aren't the monsters themselves though, but Raggi's writing kindling my creativity. After reading the Slügs! I came up with a dozen new creature, so I've got almost twice as many creatures than what I paid for!

If you are ordering anything from LotFP do yourself a favor and put this book into your cart. It's inexpensive, and you're also doing a favor for the community, because the sooner his stock is out, the sooner Raggi will put up the Pay-What-You-Want PDF.

Tl;dr: Slügs! shows you how mollusks can improve your campaign. You can buy it HERE.