Zweihänder Read Through – Hazards and the Grimoire

HAZARDS & HEALING

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.

Peril

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 body.

Wounds

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 on.

The Grimoire

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 MAGICK

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 me.

DIVINE MAGICK

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.

Spells!

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.

Distance: Yourself

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.

  1. Official supplements will expand the number of available spells.
  2. 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.

Talisman

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.

Conclusions

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!

4 Replies to “Zweihänder Read Through – Hazards and the Grimoire”

  1. Counterspell! Has it been built for RM?

    I can see spending PP and using one’s Ranks in a Spell List to modify an opponent’s Spell Roll. If the counterspeller has the same list as the one containing the spell to be countered, all Ranks may be used. If not, half the Ranks of any other list may be used.

      1. If it’s a single spell, it seems too particular for me. Of course it depends on the setting, but I like to imagine that all casters can counterspell—which I consider essential to a proper duel—and not only those who know a certain spell.

  2. This is another area where the Warhammer roots show clearly through. Not that I consider that a bad thing at all…atmospheric stuff was really the meat and potatoes of that system. Magic was rare, seen as at best dangerous, and the spells were fairly colorful, if limited in number.

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