Zweihänder Read Through – The Conclusion

The final chapter of the core Zwei book is the starting adventure and I am not goung to spoil that. So in effect that is the end of the read through.

All GMs are magpies. We will happily steal ideas from anywhere. The two things I have already tried to introduce to my game are Zwei style wilderness travel and encounters and the way that Zwei treats chases as what we would consider percentage action manoeuvres.

What I would really like to adopt, but it would be a massive amount of work would be Zwei style spell failures. Scrap the spell failure table and adopt spell specific effects.

Part of my motivation for that choice is that I don’t like the failures that dump the PC into a coma for months. In effect that is most likely game over for that PC and all because of two poor rolls the player had no control over.

There needs to be consequences but random death needn’t be on of them.

I can see two solutions to this. The first is the piecemeal answer. I tell my players that I will not be using the RAW spell failures. Then on the occasions that we actually get spell failures I create an on the fly unique spell failure for that spell and jot it down in my notes. At the end of the session I add that new spell failure to the spell list as the new default spell failure. I could over time create two. One for a straight spell failure and one for an ESF induced spell failure.

The sort of thing I mean is something like Light. On a regular failure it covers everyone in the light spells radius with an flickering glow, this impedes stalking and hiding rolls by -25 to -75 depending on the lighting conditions.

On the ESF failure the light spell creates a chain lightning effect centred on the caster with the casters ESF penalty as the OB.

That last one sounds drastic but there are spells that can defend against the effect such as lightarmor and lightningarmor. This time the caster will probably be hurt but they can also mitigate against some of the effects.

Option 2

A second option is to adopt HARP scaleable spells into RMu. The reason this is an attractive option is that there are a relatively small number of discrete spells in HARP so working through them all sequentially is not such a big task. Much of the work involved in converting from HARP to RM has already been done so that isn’t much of a burden. The HARP rules have a full entry for each spell so adding in the failures to that page is simple. RM on the other hand has the same spells turning up on half a dozen lists rather than a single source.

For me and my preferred play style the HARP option also brings with it added bonuses. I prefer a low magic game where characters have fewer spells and have to be creative to make the best use of them.

RMu with its spells as skills approach has no mechanic to stop a PC just learning enough of Invisible Ways to get Invisibility, just enough Lofty Bridge to get Fly, and so on so by 4th level they basically can do everything.

With HARP spells the character has to learn the individual spells so one can have gate keepers to that knowledge and limit the access that way while still giving people access to most of the Universal sphere so they are completely functional.

This is a thought for when we finally see RMu in all its glory.

Getting back to Zwei for a moment. The other lasting impression I got from the rules is how incredibly slick the game is. It all [skills, magic, monsters] feels like one coherent system. The characters alignment and in play choices drives the corruption mechanic, corruption can lead to mutations, the bestiary has an entire section for mutants. That sort of chain of consequence is common and it explains where all these mutant creatures come from.

The combat is not as bloody as Warhammer but it is still bloody and specific wound driven like RM. As Hurin once said, once you have rolled 1d8 for damage, you have rolled them all.

I think Zwei is a big threat to RMu’s commercial success. I can think of no unique selling point for RMu except one.

That USP is that there are thousands of original Pete Fenlon MERP books out there and people love them. RMu is close to the original MERP/RM that should people want to use these old sources with a new game then RMu may be the logical choice. How compatible it is will be rather debatable and that is rather niche USP. Those books are rare and getting rarer by the day and there will never be any more of them.

MERP aside, every feature that made us fall in love with the game when held up against RuneQuest and D&D; Zwei has and does equally well. In addition Zwei is available right now and people are buying it so it is eating up those customers who will only buy one gritty, simulationist, D100 system.

Another disturbing thing is that Zwei was designed to be a core system behind a “Powered by…” family. This is something that I was advocating for RMu last year. It is now a reality in Zwei. They are working on a US Colonial Period game powered by Zweihänder. It will be the first of many.

One cannot help but think that RM will be forever niche until use old time players die off and then RM will die with us.

9 thoughts on “Zweihänder Read Through – The Conclusion”

  1. Although genuine MERP books are becoming harder to find, the number of digitised copies of them is increasing. People have been scanning their original books to preserve them, then uploading the scans online so that they don’t lose their copies – and often not protecting these PDFs from being found by search engines. With there being no legal method of obtaining PDFs, this trend is probably going in increase.

    Will the “Powered By…” family only be official publications? Or will G&P be looking at third parties to do so as well, allowing them more flexibility than is afforded under the G&P Library CCP?

    1. I do not know. This was the first mention of it. “In other news, we have a Very Important Call to be made with a partner on Sunday. The theme? Colonial American occult horror. Cross your fingers!”

      That was by Daniel Fox. It tells us that it is not being made by G&P Studios but by a third party.

      There were a few follow on comments such as…
      Daniel D. Fox – Lead Designer10/02/2019
      American colonial horror using #ZweihanderRPG. Is this something you’d be interested in? Inquiring minds want to know!
      Daniel D. Fox – Lead Designer10/02/2019
      What is a defining feature you’d like to see in an American Colonial horror game?
      Daniel D. Fox – Lead Designer10/02/2019
      So next question: the game will be powered by Zweihander. What sort of Professions would you anticipate seeing in an American Colonial horror game?

  2. With it being third party, I wonder if it might involve Rogue Games Inc, publishers of Colonial Gothic. Who are incidentally teasing something coming.

  3. This might not be the place for this question. But twice now, Peter, I have seen you characterize individual game companies as competitors. Earlier you bet on RM to… I’m not sure… maybe outperform VsD. Here you identify Zwei as a threat to RM.

    When I was a kid with a fixed “income” I had to carefully select which game—if any—I was going to purchase next. That’s not the case as an adult. Now I collect. Some games I read and never play. From others I steal. I’m perfectly willing to support a variety of projects, even if I never play some of them. I think that economic theory maintains that a large and diverse industry is productive and lucrative for EVERYBODY, and in the midst of our current tabletop renaissance this certainly seems to be the case.

    So I guess my question is: what precisely is at stake with these d100 “competitors”? In these discussions, the possibility or absence of some sort of open license and third party support seems to be a major factor. Is there a kind of “breaking point,” some threshold of necessary interest and “income,” the failure of which to reach would mean a discontinuance of “support” for the main line?

    Here’s another way of putting it: I seem to recall someone in the industry say that D&D’s continuing popularity is important for everybody. The idea is that, if you learn about and play D&D, you’re inevitably going to learn about other games. And then yet other games.

    Is this not especially true among the d100 systems? In this case we’ve already moved into a niche, potentially polyglot market. I can imagine the conversation:

    “Zwei is so hardcore.”

    “It’s alright. I prefer Rolemaster myself.”

    “You mean Chartmaster?” [snorts derisively]

    “You mean you play Zwei but are too good for Rolemaster?” [dismissive shrug]

    And so on…

    1. I agree that most people can financially afford to collect systems even if they never get to play them. The problem is that for most of the companies producing the games the core rule book is insufficient for them to survive. They need the repeat business of add on books, supplements and companions. For argument sake imagine Zwei has sold 100,000 copies at an average of $10 each. That is $1M. There appears to be 10 ‘staff’ involved with Zwei. They may not all be paid yet but I guess they all want to be at some point. Average pay in America apparently is about $50,000/pa. So to pay just average wages G&P Studios needs Half a million dollars a year, every year just to live hand to mouth and not spend a single dime on art or production.

      The art alone for the Zwei core book cost ballpark $26,000. Because it the way that Kickstarter stretch goals work most of the core fan base are going to get all the supplements for Zwei that are planned for the next two years for free as they have already handed that money over.

      If the game collectors are not likely to buy everything and the original fan base have already handed over their cash where does the money come from to page the wages next year and the year after? G&P Studios are actively competing for players.

      Talking of players… Players are often resistant to system change. They like it when they can trust their knowledge of the game. They don’t want their adventures to bog down in rules look ups. Furthermore not every system will be to everyone’s preferences so when the GM suggests system change some will inevitably want to go crunchier and others will want to go lighter. Crunchier rarely wins.

      So collector GMs may buy the core book but are unlikely to buy all the supplements. When they have the core book their players are not all going to want to play the game. The few groups that do adopt the game are unlikely to then swap a few months or a year later to yet another game in the same niche. If you have done ‘crunchy’ then the next game is likely to be rules ‘lighter’.

      Players also have a tendency to want to revisit systems. As memory fades we are likely to remember the fun times and games seem to be more fun in the retelling of anecdotes. That in itself is a block to new system adoption.

      The net effect of all this is that the publishers are actively competing to find those GMs and groups that will buy into their system and play the game. Once they have one they will do their best to keep them. To put it bluntly they need to suffocate the competition of players.

      Regarding D&D there is an often repeated assumption that people learn D&D and then out grow it and move to other games. My research all suggests that there is a cohort of GMs that are forever adventurous and will buy and play system after system with no particular loyalty. They can enjoy each system for what it does well and will forgive it its weaknesses because they are not looking for a spiritual home or a system to play for years and years. This cohort are of little use to games companies as they have no loyalty and are unlikely to keep buying book after book.

      The actual direction of flow regarding D&D is into the D&D camp and not out of it. If you move from one town to another, finding roleplayers or GMs is difficult. Often the default game is D&D. So regardless of your taste you end up playing D&D as it is the only game in town. Of course you could offer to run a different game for a new group as finding players is easier than finding GMs. It is a brave GM that picks up a completely new game and runs it for a group of players they have only just met.

      Inevitably there will be some flow back the other way, from D&D to other games but which way the tide is actually flowing is open to debate.

      I also think age is a factor. In my corner of the games industry I have noted a tend towards ever lighter rules. When I was young I would devour 500 page rulebooks with relish. Zwei was a 700 page book and it took me six weeks to read what with everything else I had to do. I have thousands of pages of rule books still waiting for my attention.

      So I think the answer to your question of what is at stake is a personal question for the developers to answer. If they just want to write the game for the love of it and to share their ideas then nothing is at stake. They are guaranteed success so they have achieved their goal the moment they release the game. If they want to live off their game then they need to sell books, lots of books, tens of thousands of books. Faced with that and an established games company trying to compete for the same GMs and players then you have a success/failure binary outcome.

      VsD vs RMu
      My money would be on RMu. It has a bigger existing user base who may be convinced to move over. The rules look more established and polished. It is not dependent on Kickstarter funding and it is closer to completion. I can see a small body of people dismissing VsD as a ‘clone’ and devaluing its achievement regardless of how much new material is in there. It wears its DNA on its sleeve.

      Zwei vs RMu
      I think RMu will struggle for oxygen. Daniel Fox is a marketing professional with a competent grasp of social media marketing. I am extremely biased but he has done everything I would have done. I have seen him make what I consider mistakes and I have seen his reactions to them. To the best of my knowledge I have seen no evidence of marketing savvy within ICE, unless they are keeping their powder dry, of course. I cannot see anyone choosing to jump from RM to Zwei. It is the new blood that Zwei will cut off. As long as RMu is happy to trickle along at the current activity levels then everything will be fine. They do have some significant marketing assets so they can grow but it is down to how they deploy them.

  4. Thanks for your detailed answer to my question, Peter! I see now that I was approaching the consideration of competition from the DIY perspective. I didn’t realize that Zwei—nor even ICE, for that matter—were hoping to generate careers or salaries out of their successes.

    For the record, I don’t believe this is the intention of the VsD designers. According to a recent interview, they all appear to have established careers already and are taking their sweet time in putting together what amounts to their emulation-minded house rules of their favorite childhood game. I do find your VsD vs RM assessment interesting, though, from the perspective of Kickstarter-funded vs company model. One thing VsD has going for it already is art: much is provided already by one of the designers, and he has contracted three or more other artists who already are contributing.

    Who else makes a living on the hobby, I wonder? Frog God Games does, I know. Jeff Talanian (of Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers of Hyperborea) also is doing quite well. We have Modiphius, Cubicle 7, Chaosium, Paizo, Troll Lord, Monte Cook…

    And thanks for a VERY INTERESTING analysis of D&D visibility and loyalty. What’s most amazing to me is how so many companies seem to pay their bills by generating material for 5e, material that is so readily purchased! If I were an ardent D&Der, I feel like I’d look down on that third party stuff as if it were “third rate.” But maybe many consumers don’t distinguish.

    1. I think on the Guild reputation is key. I also know a lot of indie developers are abandoning the $2 bargain basement end of the market and producing 200+ page full colour top dollar books to try and form a premier league of indie products. It is an ever changing world and due to POD and PDF publishing it can evolve incredibly quickly.

      I know many developers that supplement their incomes and a lot that aspire to replace crappy jobs with game development. I don’t know anyone who has succeeded as an indie yet.

      1. My guess is that the three biggest publishers are Wizards, Paizo and Steve Jackson Games in that order. Many of the other “big” publishers have turnovers under a million (pounds or dollars) and often well under. These days it’s also not so much Kickstarter vs company model either; SJG has run more than a few Kickstarters and Frog God Games is crowdfunding even some small supplements. However, crowdfunding has its own problems, as recently demonstrated by John Wick.

        As for indie developers who make a living at it, I would guess that Kevin Crawford of Sine Nomine probably can or has. Many other developers do a host of stuff. Owen K.C. Stephens owns and develops for Rogue Genius Games – not a tiny publisher – but that isn’t his full time job (and he sn;t doing a lot of development for it at the moment). That is Starfinder lead at Paizo. He’s also Freeport and Pathfinder consultant at Green Ronin and a consultant and developer at Rite, plus writing for other companies. Then you have Greg A Vaughan. He’s the Pathfinder Creative Director at Frog God, plus a regular contributor for Paizo – I think he has written for every single Adventure Path.

        From some comments at RPG Geek I don’t think D&D acts that well as a gateway (and you can throw Pathfinder into the D&D group as well; Pathfinder was more popualr briefly during D&D 4 I think). I got the impression that those who start with D&D/Pathfinder are more likely to stick with it and no other, but those who start with other systems are more likely to try yet more systems. Consequently, D&D players often get told things like “It’s like D&D but…” when trying to tempt them to new systems. Even if it has nothing in common with D&D.

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