Zweihänder from Grim & Perilous Studios, is a fantasy RPG based around a grim and dark setting. Though it doesn’t have a particular setting itself, it seems to be well suited for a late or post-Middle Ages setting similar to that of Warhammer Fantasy. Indeed, the system is basically a clone of the Warhammer Fantasy RPG which I have very vague memories of playing back in the earlier 90s.

The plan for our weekly tabletop game is for some Zweihänder, and our first session was basically character generation and going through some of the background for the GM’s setting.

Just like Warhammer, the basic system is percentile based, with 7 primary attributes defining a character. The most obvious standout feature of the rules though is that it strongly recommends that everything is rolled. Attributes, profession, background, race, gender and special features are all completely random. There is an option to swap around a couple of attributes (or set one to ‘average’), but otherwise it’s take what you get.

The only non-random part of the process is your selection of skills and abilities at the end, which is based on a list your profession provides. Obviously, if the group is unwilling to do this, then players can have more control over their character, and our GM did allow some choice if we really didn’t like the options, recommending also that we possibly rolled a couple of characters.

Personally, I’m a fan of no-randomness player choice in character generation, simply because it avoids the whole problem of players feeling hard done by. The problem isn’t that you might have a bad character, but if there’s a risk of everyone else being better than you at what should be your speciality, then it can leave you with not much to do.

Zweihander has that risk, and whether it’s a problem will depend on your group. There are seven attributes, which are effectively percentages, which begin at 25+3d10, so an average of 41.5. I rolled two characters before the session, and the first was below average on 6 out of 7 attributes. I decided to go with my second character, which was only below average on 4 of them, and had a more interesting profession. So not a great start.

She was a Monk, with a Militant upbringing. Except her Combat skill was 29, so unlikely to be able to make use of any of the bonuses that Militant would give her. Also Monk is mostly a knowledge based profession, and she had below average intelligence, and a very high Fellowship. But a monk gets hardly any social skills.

This is potentially one problem with random generation like this – you end up with something that doesn’t really make sense, or isn’t going to be that useful. Another PC rolled above average on everything, so there’s the potential of being completely outclassed. That can be okay depending on the group, the player and the type of adventure, or it can just be annoying.

So I swapped Fellowship with Intelligence, one of the options allowed. I alternatively could have set one attribute to 42, but swapping seemed better.

Everything else I kept ‘as rolled’. Your profession allows you to take ranks in a selection of 10 skills, each rank giving +10%. There are also 7 bonuses to your attribute bonuses (your attribute bonus starts equal to the 10’s digit of your attribute, and is used for some secondary attributes such as damage or resistances) and three talents.

So it’s possible for a character to have a set of attributes which don’t match the skills and focus of your profession, and this can’t really be fixed since the actual attributes don’t change, and +10% isn’t huge.

This is where the random rolling can be a bit disappointing, and also a bit nonsensical. It’s possible to have a character with poor physical attributes going down the warrior path – when in reality it’s unlikely they would do that. If you have a character that can’t do much in the game, it’s often not fun for the player.

On the other hand, it forces you to come up with a background and personality which describes your character. It can also push you into playing a role you would have never considered before, which can be fun. Finally, it greatly simplifies first time character generation, since you don’t need to examine all the choices (and there are a lot of them). You roll the dice, pick off the table and that’s what you are.

I rolled two characters, the first an Apothecary, the second a Monk, and decided that the second was the more interesting of the two – she also had slightly better stats. She’s low born, with a Militant upbringing – possibly the bastard daughter of a camp follower who spent her early years amongst soldiers, but who managed to escape that life and join a religious order where she was taught scholarly pursuits, which was her real calling.

She’s middle aged, so has spent a couple of decades living isolated from the real world, but reading a lot about it.

She has a knack for languages, being able to speak the tongue of any humanoid race. This comes from the Monk’s special talent – Learned Devotee. Most of her skills are around knowledge, so she’s not going to be much use in a fight but can hopefully provide a lot of support out of combat.

One of the other players decided not to go with the Profession they rolled (Old Believer, a type of medicine man and really not the sort of character they enjoy playing), another stuck with their selection.

Characters in Zweihänder advance much like in other systems. You gain experience (rewards), which is spent on purchasing more skills, talents and bonuses from your profession. Once you’ve bought them all, then you can select a second profession.

And there are a lot of professions. There are Bounty Hunters, Prostitutes, Rat Catchers, Footpads, Preachers and many others. You can select a second profession if it’s part of your Archetype (mine is Academic) without problem, but other options are possible if you can wrangle it in game. This second profession gives you another 20 skills and abilities to learn, allowing you to take a second rank in skills if you duplicate those from your first profession (up to +20%). Your third and last profession can take you up to +30% in a skill, or provide a wider range of abilities.

The game designers obviously had some fun designing the professions, and there are a lot of in-jokes amongst the abilities. The Smuggler has Häns Shot First, the Prostitute has The Full Monty, and the Investigator has True Detective.

The second and third profession is chosen by the player, so you can begin tailoring the advancement of your character based both on where you want your character to go, and what is happening in your campaign.

Not having a combat orientated character, I’ve mostly ignored the combat rules, except to realise I probably don’t want to be anywhere near combat when it happens. Zweihänder seems a bit less forgiving than D&D when it comes to combat, and avoiding fights whenever possible may be the best option even for our more combat oriented characters.

So I need to finish off the background for Eva, my Monk, and in a couple of weeks we’ll hopefully begin the campaign. It looks like a fun system, which will be a really nice break from D&D/Pathfinder. Since it’s pretty much a clone of Warhammer, I’m not entirely certain there’s much here that’s original, but as long as it all holds together and runs smoothly, that shouldn’t be a problem. I’m looking forward to giving it a go.

Samuel Penn