This is a very impressive part of Zweihander. What the writers have done is define eight rather atmosphere, and I would say setting specific, diseases and afflictions. Each has a difficulty factor to resist infection, a description of the symptoms and of the treatment.
That bit isn’t particularly outstanding, but it is cool in its
own way. What makes it stand out is that this is followed by some really simple
but equally atmospheric rules of treating disorders and diseases and even
surgery in the default sort of medieval European setting that is beloved of
most fantasy RPGs.
Basic treatments just prevent the disease from progressing
on a week by week basis. Some diseases have a natural duration during which
time they run their course. Real treatment requires either a magical draft
called Panacea or surgery to address them. Of course there is the option of bloodletting
to treat infections, just to give you the idea of the sort of medical skill we
are dealing with.
I am pretty sure you will not be surprised if I tell you
that surgery is not without its risks. A critical failure can kill a character which
is not good.
Diseases are not the only hazards. This chapter goes on to describe
extreme weather from frostbite to heatstroke. Falls are split into falls on to
hard surfaces and those into water. That last one is not something I think I
have ever seen rules for before which is odd as I have thrown PCs off cliffs
hundreds of times I reckon in the past.
The hazards covered here are diseases, falls, fire,
intoxication, poisons, sleep deprivation, starvation and suffocation. Each has
details of the effects and treatments if applicable. Resistance Rolls as we
know them are called Toughness checks. Each hazard has a the modifiers to the
Toughness check for different conditions, the effects of failed Toughness
checks and where needed the treatment for the different hazards from dealing with
venoms to giving the kiss of life.
Zwei has a condition called Peril it is pretty much a game
mechanic for modelling stress. The way it works is that the greater the level
of Peril the more your skill bonuses are cancelled out. The logic being the
more stressed you are the more likely you are to make a mistake and that stressed
people do not perform at their best. The best analogy to Rolemaster that I can
think of is if you stripped out all the minuses from the criticals and the penalties
from being at 25% or 50% of hits and put them into a single mechanic rolling
them into a single penalty.
In Zwei a skill bonus of +30 is the absolute maximum and that
is three ranks at +10 each. Once you are in Peril the five steps of Peril go
from no penalty, -10, -20, -30, automatic fail due to mental incapacitation.
Recovery from Peril is rather like Rolemaster’s cinematic
healing. Resting in a nice warm safe place removes the Peril penalties, Resting
in rough conditions from sleeping in the gutter to on a dungeon can remove most
but not all Peril.
Harking back to the surgery rules, you can use smelling
salts to recover one step on the Peril scale but at a physical cost to the
There are no hit points in Zwei. There is a scale, called a
track from Unharmed to Slain with lightly, moderately, seriously and grievously
wounded in between. Each time you are hit the random damage is converted into ‘levels’
of damage and they knock you further down the track towards death.
The healing skill can be used once per day and will recover
you one level up the track. The further down the track you are the bigger the
difficulty penalty to the healing roll. A critical failure of the healing skill
causes the wound to become infected which circles us right back to the top of the
chapter and all those horrible diseases. That is going to make its way into my
RM game. I think I have been under playing illness and infection.
Recovery times are slightly faster than in RM but still are
enough to keep a seriously hurt character in bed for weeks. Moderate injuries,
with medical help recover in 1d10+1 days, serious injuries 2d10+2 days and so
Apart from the professions and a few talents I have read in
the early part of the rules, this is first real taste of Zweihander magic.
So just to make it painfully plain how Zwei sees magic I think
these four words sum up Zweihander magic.
Magick is cancerously malignant
Magick, with a k of course, comes in two flavour, chocolate
and strawberry whoops, Arcane and Divine.
Arcane magic is split into twelve different schools, or ‘winds’.
Interestingly the Animist who we see as Channeling is not Divine in Zwei but
rather an Arcanist. Other Arcanists include the Pyromancer, Necromancer and the
Astromancer or Astrologer.
Sanctioned and Unsanctioned Magick
So although Zwei says it is setting neutral it does go on to
lay down the rules regarding how magick users are perceived by the public…
“arcanists are most likely in league with demons, and if not, the temptation is there, so why not kill them?”
… and how some magick users are organised into self
governing schools and how others are self taught and half mad with the
corruption of it all. Now that sounds very much like setting specific colour to
Zwei then describes divine magic and there are no surprises
here but then goes on to describe 10 Gods with descriptions of their churches,
priesthood and commandments. There are pages on faith and worship, heresy and
fanaticism. This is all setting specific. I have said so many times before that
you cannot have magic and setting neutrality as the former has such a huge
impact on the world that contains it.
So, rant aside.
We have rules for acquiring spells which is research based,
there doesn’t seem to be any form of automatic gaining spells, this isn’t a
levelled game after all.
Spell casting has a few of the old clichés, you cannot wear
armour or excessively heavy clothing. It inhibits the arm waving and flapping
about required for spells apparently. We do have verbal, somantic and material
components for spells here, which for me is a blast from the past.
Once you have everything you need for the spell there is a
spell casting roll just like any skill. Casting spells takes AP in the combat
round. Remember that there are 3 AP in a round.
Petty magick takes 1AP, lesser spells take 2AP and greater
3AP. Durations are generally minutes in length so they will out last most
combats. Spells do need to be maintained and this is a 1AP action each turn
(rounds are called turns in Zwei).
The first really cool thing is that Zwei uses Counterspell.
It is pretty much like parrying that I talked about last time. You use your
Incantation skill and spend an AP. Critically failing a Counterspell is not
nice! You also cannot Counterspell magic that is more powerful than the magic
you can cast yourself.
Every spell causes you to roll chaos dies, these are d6s and
rolling a 6 means bad shit happens. I will do an entire post on Chaos and Chaos
dice later to wrap up all of these.
The spells are really very good. No, that is an
understatement, the spells are brilliant. Over the years I have read a great many
magic systems and there are a few standouts. The absolute best is the one from
7th Sea. My only complain about 7ths magic was that there was not enough
of it. I believe that there are supplements that expand the range of magical
effects but I don’t own them so I cannot say. HARP is a wonderfully flexible
magic system but lacks colour and excitement. I know that has been expanded in
College of Magics but I don’t own CoM so I cannot say. As you all know I have
never been really comfortable with RM spell lists and realms
My only complaint about Zwei magic is that there is not
enough of it. Here is a spell as an example.
QUOTH THE RAVEN
With a burst of feathers, you turn into one of the most noble of jackdaws.
Reagents: Three feathers of a crow or raven, held aloft (expended)
Duration: 3+[WB] in hours
Effect: After successfully casting this spell, both you and all the trappings upon yourself take shape of a Small Animal, such as a jackdaw, crow or raven. You retain your mental attributes (Intelligence, Perception and Willpower) and Damage Threshold, but cannot communicate nor use Magick while in this form. If you suffer an Injury during this time, the spell ends immediately.
Critical Success: As above, but triple the Duration.
Critical Failure: Your transformation goes terribly awry. Your body covered in feathers, you take on the form of a crow-like amalgamation that resembles a demon from the depths of the Abyss. You maintain this form for the spell’s Duration, unable to communicate or use Magick. Those who witness this transformation must succeed at a Resolve Test or be subjected to Stress.
I find the magic evocative and colourful. I like the use of
built in critical successes and failures. There are general spells, just as in
HARP or the Open lists in RM and profession specific spells just like our Base lists.
That particular spell comes from the Arcana of Aninism, it
is a lesser magick so a 2AP spell. The list of spells for each profession there
are three petty, three lesser and three greater magicks. It looks to me like
there is one offensive, defensive and one utilitarian spell at each ‘level’. I
know magick is intended to be extremely rare but that does seem to be extremely
limited in repertoire. I am guessing that several things will happen.
- Official supplements will expand the number of
- The Community Content Programme will expand the
number of spells.
I think both of these will happen and that the limited
number of spells is more a function of limited page count in the print version
than a limitation of the magic system.
But there is more…
The next section in the Grimoire is all about creating magic
items from healing cure-alls, the Panacea to enchanted items. The world of
Zwei, which of course doesn’t exist, says that ever magic items is unique and enchanted
items are incredibly rare. The cornerstone of magic item creation is Wytchstone(s)
which are parts of an asteroid that hit the planet.
You must have Wytchstone to create anything and it is an
extremely rare, out of reach of PCs, commodity.
The creation process, game mechanically, is very simple even
if for the characters it is extremely difficult: gather the ingredients, make a
skill test and bang! There you go! Fail the test critically and the Bang! There
is you go is quite literal.
Next up we have rituals. I am a huge fan of ritual magic and
Zwei rituals do not disappoint. The rituals come with a lot of background information
and are largely based on knowing the true names of different demons. This is
atmospheric stuff. It is also the only magic that is open to all characters
regardless of profession and it is the most dangerous of magics to perform. Bad
stuff WILL happen to your character it is not and *IF* it is a when if you
start playing with rituals.
The final part of the Grimoire is about talismans. These are
very personal magical items. I get the impression that this is pretty much the
most common sort of item that a character will ever encounter and the in game
effect of a talisman is a simple +5 to the base chance of a skill test. Each
talisman is keyed to a single skill and regardless of how many talisman you own
you can only employ one at once.
What is plain from these chapters is that everything in Zwei
comes in threes. There are three harder difficulty levels +10 to +30, three
easier difficulty levels -10 to -30. There are three levels of magic petty,
lesser and greater. There are three levels of screwing things up that do 1d10+1
to 3d10+3. Wounds take 1d10+1 to 3d10+3 days to heal. Even back in character
creations you rolled 3d10+25 for your stats.
I am fine with this. The first game I ever wrote was called 3Deep
as I recognised that 3 parameters is just about optimal in RPGs. The game had a
very different approach using 1d6 to 3d6 but you get why I feel quite tuned in
to a lot of Zwei. A lot of it feels a bit déjà vu.
Mine you my game was super light and I wrote it in 20 minutes in an email. Zwei
is a bit more detailed than that.
What is though is super consistent. I am seeing one mechanic
used again and again and virtually without exception. The few exceptions there
are happen at a Talent level and so remain consistent for that individual PC or
NPC. It is them that is different not the way the world is working.
So far so good.
The next chapter is 110 pages long and is on Game Mastery. I think that this will deserve a post of its own. This is possibly the longest blog post I have ever written at over 2000 words and I am mentally exhausted. Give me a day or two to recover and I will tackle the next chapter!