Zweihänder Read Through – Game Mastery II

This is the second of my posts on Zweihänder’s mammoth Game Mastery ‘chapter’.

The first bit that sticks out is the world building rules. So far I have been somewhat critical about how Zwei can be both setting neutral and yet detail races, magical sources, gods, religions and to some extent monsters. The last will come up in a later post but the rest are, to my mind, all setting dependent.

The solution is an onion skin approach to campaigns. The inner most layer of the onion is the core rules. You can always remove stuff from the core rules like red lining gnomes or pyromancers. What you are left with are the game mechanics for your game.

The next layer is the campaign layer. These are brief descriptions of actual settings. There translate the rules as written into setting specific versions. This is where you can rename gods and their spheres of influence or decide on different magical sources.

This being Zwei, campaigns are based around conflicts. I believe this is a WFRPG concept but the campaign layers describe The Enemy Within, The Enemy Without, The Enemy Beyond and then a set of adventure hooks or ideas. So ‘within’ details the internal struggles within the nations detailed in the setting. ‘Without’ details potential hooks for adventures centred on other nations or powers from trading partners to demonic forces. The Enemy Beyond is all about the supernatural forces acting on the setting.

This section gives guidelines on creating your own campaign layers, such as Carrion Crows a user created world of corruption and contagion. There are also prepared settings such as the 30 years war (Germany 1630), a fantasy setting, Goth Moran Divided and an Egyptian campaign. That is only a selection.

The cool thing is that this does demonstrate the flexibility of the system and I can understand why they maintain that the core rules are setting neutral.


There will always be things that I don’t like. I am sure that if ten GMs read this core book then there would be ten different opinions about what is great and what is not so great.

Stables of Characters

Zwei is so dangerous that it is suggested that players create a small stable, three or more, PCs. Each completely different from each other. When playing a character all the other characters in the stable earn 50% of the experience (Reward Points) that the main character earns.

The point of the stable of spares is so that a replacement character can be cycled in should PC#1 meet their maker. It is also suggested that the most appropriate character is used for each adventure.

I struggle with this. I struggled with the completely random PC generation and once I had my PC I could not identify with him. I could cope with just about everything except random alignment. As a result alignment has atrophied to the point where it is playing no part in my game. If alignment is a barrier to having fun then alignment is asked to leave.

Stables of PCs are also something I seem to be struggling with. I like to invest in my PCs. I don’t know what personalities they will have until I start playing and their personalities develop over time. With a stable of characters their personalities are turning out to be shallow, more me than anything that has grown out of the game.

This is possibly more me than the rules as written.

Carrion Crows

I want to talk a bit about Carrion Crows . This is not an official part of Zwei. It is a 3rd party campaign layer written in the format recommended by the Game Mastery chapter.

Carrion Crows is a $1.99 supplement for Zwei. It centers around the nation of Albion and follows the Within, Without and Beyond format. It then goes on to introduce custom rules for a phenomena called Contamination that is highly contagious, as you would expect, and can infect player characters and cause all kinds of horrible effects.

The ‘stars’ of Carrion Crows are the crows themselves. These are the myriad of groups and bands that pick over the remains following battles. Each organisation is nicknamed a ‘nest’ and the members are the crows.

Nests and Crows are a useful vehicle for bringing characters together and allocating missions.

Magick, with a ‘K’, is incredibly rare in Zwei but Carrion Crows introduces a lesser form of magical item, more akin to luck charms. Items that give a little bonus here and there. They still fall into the core model of petty, lesser and greater and they still use the incantation skill to activate which makes the liable to critical successes and failures

You then get a sampling of these less powerful magics. Albion is intended to be higher magic than Zwei is off the shelf.

I have always said that I could not create a setting as they are too much work. I look at Terry’s efforts and marvel. A Zwei style campaign layer on other hand I could create. This whole thing is 21 pages, 20 without the cover and only 15 if you take the art out, and is perfectly playable.

I could create a 15 page setting. That is in the same ballpark as GRAmel‘s mini settings and they are my favourite. I am not saying that Zwei settings are like GRAmel settings, they are not but both can easily fit into 15 to 20 pages.

12 Replies to “Zweihänder Read Through – Game Mastery II”

  1. Stable of Characters?? That’s all D&D is to me. make up a few PCs to tackle the dungeon. In fact it’s recommended and some GMs make you do it. PCs, in this sense, are disposable, video game-like. Dead? Press Player 1 Start. New PC.

    I’m in the same camp as Peter. I like investing in my PC. I like to develop my PC. I like to enjoy playing the PC and maybe even roleplaying him. If I have a stable of disposable characters, I guarantee I’m not investing too much into any of them as they are expected to die. It’s just throwing fodder at the monsters until sheer numbers wear down the baddies.

  2. A stable of characters definitely is a state of mind, BUT the next comment usually one hears in the praises of games that accommodate this kind of play is: it takes just five minutes to roll up a character.

    This does not sound true with Zwei. In fact, Zwei character creation sounds as arduous as RM and C&S generation. I believe that, with modern games, the time commitment in character creation indicates the level of lethality of the game—or, in other words, where on the two poles of narrativist vs gamist the game experience should land. Intensive character creation suggests that the game is to explore the hero’s journey. Simple character creation tells the PC: try to win and survive.

    Which is why it’s counter-intuitive that RM should be so lethal. Yes, an RM game need not be about combat, but the lovingly detailed combat charts implicitly say that this is a core feature of the game. We all seem to make it work somehow.

    1. My first, and only Zwei character took 28 minutes I think to create. Not a mammoth amount of time but it is not a throw away moment either. If the rest of the game was on hold for half an hour while you rolled up another PC the rest of your group would get pretty fed up with you and the game fairly quickly.

      1. Looking through the Grim & Perilous Library FAQ, it doesn’t look as if much of anything is prohibited. So how about a G&P character creation utility of some description? App or programme perhaps. Or even an Excel spreadsheet. Some way of quickly creating a character with just a few key presses.

  3. As far as I’m concerned, stable of characters = something wrong with first level or you’re playing Paranoia. I’d rather spend time developing and investing in a character. And that’s my concern with RMU’s current first level. Too many issues seem to be working against a survivable first level unless you adjust RAW.

    You’re correct about the layer campaign concept being almost pure Warhammer. Most campaigns involve players working to stop Chaos in some form (or occasionally working with it if you’re running one of those games). It’s intentionally a dark world, with many forces working against the players that are beyond their immediate comprehension. But even Warhammer didn’t require a stable of characters.

  4. The best way to sum up the difference between Zwei and RM was brought home to me this week.

    For another project I am building a Jason and the Argonauts themed adventure.

    In RM Jason would be a PC as would the other heroes saling with him. In Zwei the PCs would be the other Argonauts. Or RM characters are heroes, Zwei characters are Adventurers, because heroes get themselves killed.

  5. It might be interesting to try and build a more detailed campaign setting for Zwei, rather than the shorter campaign layers. Perhaps in the aftermath of a Thirty Years War that was even more destructive than the actual one.

      1. True. I’m not sure whether it would be better to create a setting specifically for a system, especially if it’s through a community content program, or create a neutral one then adapt it to other systems.

        Whilst I’m not certain I could create entire massive setting books from scratch (okay, probably couldn’t), building a setting in small pieces, like the Harn supplements, especially on an existing map is a lot more feasible.

        1. *IF* I was to create a full setting I think I would release a free document first of all that included a few paragraphs of introduction to the setting and a table of contents, nothing more. I would then write and release each chapter as individual PDFs. Fifteen 20 page PDFs at $2 a piece would be a manageable task. With each release I would update the table of contents with a link to the new chapter.

          Fifteen $2/20 page parts is the same as a 300 page $30 setting but a lot more achievable.

          Once it is all written I would put it all together as a single volume and POD.

          The eternal problem of course would be the art, not that I have any interest in doing a full setting.

          1. I doubt I would be anything like that organised. I’d be more likely to create things – places, organisations, NPCs – that could standalone but would be intended to slot together into a whole. It probably wouldn’t even look like a setting to start with. I think the biggest artwork problem would be maps.

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