ZWEIHÄNDER Grim and Perilous RPG?

I know that Zweihänder is not Rolemaster and not directly Rolemaster related but…

Zweihänder is one of the best selling games of 2017 and 2018. It is a D100 based game. It is also detailed, gritty and simulationist. A typical character sheet/record runs to 8 pages. That all sounds rather familiar doesn’t it?

It comes as a single volume core book of nearly 700 pages so this is not a light weight game, one could fit all of RMU A&CL, most of SL and get started with CL into 700 pages!

When I looked at HARP I found that there were some really nice ideas that could cross over to Rolemaster. It would be interesting to see if the same is true of Zweihänder.

How Zweihänder got to its No.1 position is a matter of record. I don’t know anyone who has paid full price for the game. It has been in every sale it was eligible for and in between it has been Deal of the Day on DTRPG again and again.

While the success of Zweihänder as a gritty, “rules dense”, simulationist game in this age of ever simpler games is a really good thing for ICE and Rolemaster but there is another side to that. The two biggest concerns should be that Zweihänder has already occupied RMUs prime spot in the gaming landscape, I’ll come back to that one later. The other concern is Zweihänder’s price.

The standard price for the core book is just $9.99. In addition there are a great many free supporting supplements. There are 41 free or PWYW supplements as of this morning including translations, new monsters and card decks and game art collections. On top of that there are 9 supplements at under $2. As a GM or player the prices are not a barrier to getting the game or having new things pretty much as and when you want them.

What Zweihänder lacks, so far is really meaty companion style supplements. What appears to be the house style is to create more tightly focused supplements so imagine if RoCo 1 had been split into a group of small cheap supplements one with the new professions, one with arcane magic, one with the new monsters and one just for GMs with the very high level spells, and rules variations etc. That is how Grim and Perilous Studios appears to be working things. There is a GM’s Notebook supplement at $5.99 and a players folio at $5.99.

The worry for ICE and RMU, I imagine, is if Zweihänder is RMUs biggest competitor then Zweihänder has to some extent sucked the money out of the market. It is hard to sell a game of four $20 books when your competition is selling a single volume for $9.99.

The mini supplement model makes a lot of sense. If you imagine the product life cycle of write, test, release and earn income from. Working on a GM’s supplement of 40 pages, releasing it, working on an arcane magic supplement, then releasing it, then a players folio and releasing it; this cycle means you are giving fans something new much more frequently. The net cost is probably similar to a full RoCo once you take all the parts into consideration. The difference is that people can cherry pick what they want or need at that time. New books come out more frequently and if the take up is good then your titles will fill the top selling slots on DTRPG which is a great marketing ploy.

The low price points though, I think are a big threat to ICE and RMU, if they have to revise their projected earnings down by a factor of eight or more!

What is coming up?

I am planning a few posts about Zweihänder, just like I did with HARP, but I will pick out the bits that I think are the most relevant to Rolemaster fans and to RMU. It is going to take me a while to read all 692 pages of the core book so this will be the edited highlights of each chapter.

This will definitely take me well into 2019, but I promise to try and not bore your with it!

18 Replies to “ZWEIHÄNDER Grim and Perilous RPG?”

  1. Zweihänder is on my “to read” list but given its size it may be a while before I get to it! One thing I didn’t like was that there was no official setting.

    Shadow of the Demon Lord doesn’t really compete with Rolemaster, as its D&D origins are cleared, but like Zweihänder it has also been influenced by WFRP. Schwalb Entertainment works on a similar sort of supplement release model as well – lots of small supplements, from a few pages to a few dozen pages.

    Given the Community Content Programme for Zweihänder, it would be possible for fans to create the companion-style supplements you mention.

  2. I was going to talk about the community content and the licensing in a different post.

    The book is 13 chapters so I can imagine this running to 8 to ten posts. Some things naturally go well together or do not necessarily make that much sense in isolation, a chapter full of skills makes sense to cover during character creation and that sort of thing.

    From our perspective Zweihänder makes perfect sense to target for supplements. If it is one of the best selling games then it makes sense to write for it. I have one supplement already sketched out for it but I need a better grasp of a few of the rules. I believe all the rules I need for my game supplement are covered in pages 16 to 24 so I should have everything I need by tomorrow barring the spare time to write the book.

  3. The RPG world moves fast, and Zweihänder is an excellent example of that. I can’t say that I understand the background on why it’s taken RMU so long to get out of the gate, but I too would be/am worried that it’s going to be slim pickings for it when it finally releases. Way too easy for RMU to be lost among the many other OSR “rules-dense” products out there which are driven by faster, more aggressive companies.

    Your points regarding Zweihänder’s entry price, the community, available free content, licensing, etc… seem to show the way newer RPG’s are developed/released now. Their model seems to be faster, quicker, smaller, free’er releases, driving sales versus profit per sale.

    Case in point: your observation on their (and others) “mini supplement” model. Personally I like it, and it makes a lot of business sense because it doesn’t force the company to lift (or expense) large, hundreds of page tomes one a year or so. Side benefits include lower player entry costs, more frequently refreshed products, and a higher presence in the RPG communities mind.

    I thank you in advance for looking at Zweihänder from from a RM/RMU perspective, and I look forward to your thoughts.

    1. It’s a lot easier to get out small supplements at the rate of one, or even more, per month than it is to release a single big supplement. The total word count may even be similar. Plus people are less likely to think about the cost. $100? Well, maybe I’ll wait. $10? Perhaps in a sale. $1-2? Okay, I’ll pick that up.

      1. Oh totally agree, and there is the fact that at the end of the first month you have the first trickle of income, after two months you have a lightly bigger income and so on.

  4. Putting my real life hat on for a second…

    20 years ago, in online marketing, we used to talk about micro payment. The idea being that you could make a profitable website from earning a few pence/cents from each visitor rather than relying on large basket values and profit margins. The logic went that websites could attract hundreds, thousands or millions of visitors and those micro payments would mount up.

    That idea has sort of morphed into “Disruptors”, upsetting established business models and often market leaders by taking away their customers.

    Zweihänder could be the first real disruptor RPG. It technically has not created any new technology or business practices itself but it has marshalled the available disruptive technologies perfectly.

    I estimated the art costs based upon the amount, sizes and colour and b/w and given the quotes I have seen in the past it would have come to about $15,000 if they used European or US artists. Their initial kickstarter target was $16,000. I believe that they had the text basically ready to go from the several years of development and used the KS to fund the art. That is basically the perfect use of a KS as the art is normally the one thing that publishers cannot afford to run in-house.

    From that point on it doesn’t matter if you make 9 cents or $9 per sale it is all profit. The game is PDF only so they have zero production costs.

    They have used the very low price point to appeal to impulse purchasers. In addition they used Deal of the Day and DTRPG publisher points to get their game on the front page of DTRPG. This then caused a virtuous circle, the exposure drove sales, the sales generated more publisher points that drove exposure. That is the perfect use of publisher points and the OBS network.

    The mini companion model is brilliant in that they actually get an income from each mini companion as soon as it is ready rather than having to wait, as you say 12 months to turn over a single more expensive book. It is faster to market or in modern marketing speak ‘agile marketing’.

    Zweihänder also has a community content programme. If I were Grim and Perilous Studios this would be the only thing I was concerned about. Having the CC is great. In fact about half the content currently available in the Grim and Perilous Library are resources for indie developers to use in creating supplements for Zweihänder. The problem is that in the five months the library has been live there are only about six community created products and not one of them has even made copper.

    There are two problems for G&PS to examine, where are the creators and where are the consumers.

    The G&P Library should be the long term micro payment gateway for the the whole Zweihänder game. The community should be creating content and buying the content and they take a cut for doing nothing.

    Egdcltd and I are both ‘intending to’ create for the game but neither of us have created for the game. I hope to have something live by end of January. I will be interested to see how that is received.

    On a different note I am also really interested to see how their KS stretch goals are handled. It was the stretch goals that threatened to take down John Wick Presents and 7th Sea 2nd Edition.

    1. This week I released my first piece of community content, for Shadow of the Demon Lord. The Disciples of the Demon Lord only has nine pieces of paid community content at the moment, and one of those is PWYW, but notably there are three copper sellers on DriveThruRPG (where community content gets a lot more visibility).

      When I got Zweihänder I also got TORG which has another CCP. Plus I have a 3D printer (when I figure out how to work it correctly! The first half a dozen prints were perfect of course; after that everything has gone pieces. Literally) so there’s the Dragonbite program as well, although that is largely dominated by one individual.

  5. Zweihander is priced to suck the money out? At $9.99 (or lower if one gets one of those frequent deal of the days), I don’t imagine it wouldn’t cause a dent in RMU’s market. I’d think that it would have to be more like $50 to $100 in order to affect RMU. While the emergence of Zweihander top seller is great, however the follow up of Warhammer 4e platinum seller is a better sign. But it is priced at $29.99 PDF.

    On the bad news side, I also see that Talislanta, another old-time system and setting that was successful back in the day has made its return after some bad unfortunate mid-kickstarter situation with the head writer, Stewart, died. But it has yet to metal for those not jumping on the kickstart. ~2k supporters ~$70K raised before the refunds.

    1. By sucking the money out I didn’t mean that they had emptied everyone’s pockets.

      If other publishers follow G&P’s example, trying to emulate their success, and price their games down at $9.99 then it doesn’t take long before $9.99 is the acceptable price.

      Prices down at that end of the spectrum have normally been the hunting ground for the small press publishers and disposable games that you may play once or twice before moving on.

  6. As a 14-year veteran in advertising & digital marketing, I found the comments section particularly intriguing. You must be reading my personal journal, Peter!

    But yes, you’re /mostly/ correct – that was my approach to market: to disrupt the traditional price model and to bring in impulse buyers to the Zweihänder Grim & Perilous RPG community. And, use fast-follow incentivized sales to convert print-on-demand (which we recently took POD down as a part of our new publisher relationship with Andrews McMeel Universal). A bit mercenary, but that’s how we managed to move over 26k physical copies and 62k digital copies. And, our community seems to appreciate it – a lower price model helps us bring new people to the game with a good, steady flow of fresh content. It’s also well-playtested content, and the killer artwork becomes a draw to buy print on demand books we offer. We also actively participate in discussions in our Discord,, so that resolves some of the challenges other mid-range RPG publishers cannot seem to figure out: talking to the community and asking for feedback that isn’t diluted by political ideology from traditional web forums’ founders/moderators (save for ENWorld, which I adore).

    While I love reading reviews of the game – good, bad and critical – I do enjoy discussing digital strategy as it relates to #ttrpg marketing more. We should chat sometime!

    1. OK, no pressure then! For everyone else, Daniel D Fox wrote Zweihänder so now I have to think that everything I write with have the original author reading it. 🙂

      Your ‘copies sold’ is really impressive. If you really wanted to become the most popular person in the gaming blogosphere then publishing hard sales figures is the way to do it. Every gaming blogger is starved of accurate figures.

      What you are going to get here is six to eight posts looking at a chapter or two of the rules each time but through a Rolemaster lense. Both games are appealing to the same audience, the big difference is that Rolemaster has DnD DNA and Zweihänder has Warhammer DNA. The games started in different places but arrived at the same destination in terms of the design criteria (gritty, simulationist roleplay). They are both offered without a setting. In terms of column inches this serialised approach will give you far more exposure than any single review ever could, quite possibly 10,000 words or more. It will also happen faster than a single review would as I don’t have to read 692 pages before starting work.

      I think I put this in the post above, the only concern is that I cannot find the Zweihänder community. It certainly isn’t on MeWe, it is not on Facebook and it doesn’t appear to be reflected in G&P Lib sales. I could rejig my todo list and put out my first Zweihänder supplement by this time next week and probably a second supplement shortly after. The problem is that other indie developers are sitting on the fence waiting to see if it will be a happy hunting ground.

      I would love to see your journal entries on your Community Content Programme, the G&P Library.

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