We had braved the character creation rules, and come out on the other side with a flavourful gem that I wouldn't mind playing in a game, and seems appropriate to the setting. So I guess ace in the whole, even if it could shave off a bit of chafe so it doesn’t take too long. I have this weird superstitious thing about long chargen processes, because it seems like 9 out of 10 times I’ve tried that “we’ll spend the first session just making characters” thing, it doesn’t end up leading to a game. Best to jump right into playing as quickly as possible is my current approach.
Anyways, with all the foreplay out of the way so it’s on to...
It is effective, deadly, and perfectly captures the tone of the setting.
Zweihander has mixed things up a bit, so let's see how it compares.
On a character's Turn, they have a reserve of Action Points that must be "spent" to engage in whatever their chosen activity. Action Points don't carry over from one Turn to the next. Turns are equivalent to about ten seconds in time. Character's take their turns following an "Initiative ladder" established at the beginning of Combat, with each combatant roll a d10 and adding the Initiative bonus (one of the calculated Attributes from Part I). This part is weird:
displayed openly for everyone to refer to."
Zweihander combat has a number of "conditional effects" that are applied during combat. These sort of remind me of CCG Keywords or "Aspects" of the Fate family of RPGs.
You always start each turn with 3 AP. Most combat actions are 1 AP, so theoretically you can make three Melee Attacks in one round, but the implication is you may want to save some for Dodging or Parrying attacks on your opponent's turn. But I guess having the Initiative ladder chart out in the open to reference means you'll know if that's going to happen and how many AP you should save. But that means if two people facing each other in combat, one could take 3 attacks every turn, one could parry 3 attacks ech turn, but if you do anything except defend yourself you wont be able to defend against every attack. OK, I guess that makes sense, though it paints a far more rigid picture in my head of combat than I'm used to. What's strange to me, however, is the AP costs for Movement actions. Walking costs 1 AP, so you can walk up to opponent and then hit them twice. But running costs 3 AP, so, you can run up to an opponent and...do nothing. I'm trying to picture how charges in combat would work according to this. Isn't most moving and attacking simultaneous in actual combat? I'm not talking about drilled army combat between regiments of infantry, just a brawl on a street. Isn't running up and hitting someone then trying to move out of the way before they can retaliate like Tactic #1 of most melees?
Also, moving out of combat instigates an "Opportunity Attack".
I head to reread that sentence a few times, then I had to check the cover of the book I was reading.
Dan, you added "Attacks of Opportunity" to Warhammer? Seriously, you just loved them that much from 3rd edition?
Well, not exactly Attacks of Opportunity, and as a fellow poster on the Pub where I originally typed up this review pointed out, there's precedent in the original rules for this, but regardless. here's a proper British man to tell you why you are wrong:
OK, section on Perilous Stunts. I guess they have one over on Feats, in that they seem to be usable by anyone willing to try them, not special powers a character earns. If a Perilous Feat is successful, it cannot be Dodged or Parried, only "Resisted".
Attacks are actually resolved in much the same manner as the basics of the system laid out in Part I with "Skill Checks". The "Chance for Success" is determined by taking the Base Chance (the Combat Primary Attribute plus any applicable skill Ranks). The game reminds us here that a character's Peril track sets the maximum skill ranks that can be applied. Most attacks then have a fixed Difficulty Rating that is applied as a bonus or penalty to the Base Chance.The GM adjusts/adds the Difficulty Rating based on the specific conditions of the Attack. Tallying all this together gives the TOTAL Chance for Success that is rolled against.
Again, slight bit of weirdness. The game insists that the GM must always announce out loud the Total Chance for Success for any NPCs. I don't understand the reasoning here, and again like the Initiative Ladder, it seems intent on giving players information they wouldn't have?
I'm getting the impression this game may have been intended for a more ..."tactical" style of gameplay than I'm accustomed to, which may link back to seeing Gygaxianisms leak into the design.
Anyways once the Total /Chance is calculated, the combatant rolls percentile dice, trying to beat it. If you roll a Critical Success, this may have some additional effect, and if you roll a Critical Failure, you lose (or gain, depending how you look at it) Fatigue, equal to 2D10 +2 "Physical Peril".
If an Attack is successful, and the opponent isn't Dodging or Parrying (which requires their own Skill Check and Total Chance calculation), a Damage Roll is made. Damage is based on the attacker's Combat Attribute Bonus plus a Fury Dice roll. Meanwhile, the Defender/victim calculates their Damage Threshold, based on their Brawn Bonus plus Armour.
The degree to which the Damage Total exceeds the Damage Threshold determines the severity of the wound, expressed as how many steps down the Character moves their "Damage Condition Track", and if they take Damage totalling 18+ their Damage Threshold, they are instantly Slain. Likewise, when the Character's Damage Condition Track passes several Thresholds, they may trigger an "Injury". Players roll a number of Chaos dice and any result of 6 indicates an injury which the GM assigns, presumably based on Zweihander's version of the Critical Hit charts. I say presumably because these have been hidden away in the GM section. Besides the fact that just as a resource during play this seems like it would be annoying not to have all in one section, I question this decision. In general I guess I wouldn't have any problem with it but it seems so...inconsistent. As I specifically remarked regarding other design decisions, it seems like the intent was to provide players with as much information as possible, to a point that for me crosses the line into metagame. So while I can conceptually see why Critical Hit Results would be Gamemaster only information (to be a surprise for players), it doesn't seem consistent with the game design choices up to this point.
If you receive an Injury and you have no armour, you begin Bleeding. The mechanics for this are apparently in another chapter.
There's some discussion about spending Fate points to stave off death, and then the final notes of the chapter declare the intention of the system is to be "exciting, riveting, and brutal".
So with the caveat that these goals are largely dependent on playstyle and personal perception, what comes to my mind first off is a section from Rick Priestly and John Lambshead's Tabletop Wargames: A Designers' and Writers' Handbook wherein they describe the role of "widgets" in the game. Basically, the concept is that in certain situtions, the outcome of a basic rule will trigger a conditional advanced rule. The engagement with this advanced rule after meeting certain preconditions is meant to increase player involvement by raising the stakes. An easy example would be in Warhammer Fantasy Battle's 8th edition magic system. A player casting a spell would roll a number of dice, the maximum defined by the magical skill or power level of the caster. Rolling double 6s on any two of these dice indicates the spell is cast with "Irresistible Force", indicating the caster succeeds in the casting attempt (which cannot be opposed), but must also roll on a separate effects chart to determine if their are further consequences (up to and including the caster accidentally opening a gate to the Warp and getting sucked in). This potential, for a spell to backfire or carry with it a heavy toll creates a "Risk vs Reward" choice on the part of the player. They may have access to 7 dice to put towards casting a spell, but is it worth rolling all 7 to statistically improve the chances of the spell succeeding vs the corresponding increased chance of rolling "Irresistible Force"?
I'm bringing all of this up because I think it's possibly the best approach to take to objectively evaluate Zweihander's combat system, specifically the additional "crunch" in comparison to the WFRP system.
Does the addition of the majority of rules for combat increase player involvement (ie make them "exciting, riveting"), and does the Risk vs Reward nature of the rules convey the intended "Brutality"?
My answer is a mixed bag. I don't know that the Action Point system adds any benefit to the experience of combat, even beyond the conceptual nitpicks I made regarding pricing. But that may just be me. The increased meta-game time implied by the method of executing Skill Checks bothers me from the PoV of a player/GM who prefers speed and abstraction for maintaining the tension and pacing of combat over complexity and definition.
I think ultimately my impression is that the original, streamlined combat system of WFRP achieves the same goals that Zweihander's combat rules set for themselves, but did it with significantly less steps. The reader will from that need to infer for themselves whether the interaction with the game mechanics proposed provides enough enjoyment for them to compensate for the additional rules crunch.
Further explanations of the Damage and Peril Tracks, one ending in Death, the other incompacitation. It took me a bit to Grok what Peril was meant to represent, the term seems so...external. But it's effectively like a Sanity/Psyche/Willpower pool, "Mental Hit Points" instead of physical ones. But not exactly, because there's inconsistencies. Usually it seems internal to the character, but in other rules it's less so. I find it helps to view from a Tolkien/religious perspective: "Your soul is in Peril." that sort of thing. In that manner it could be compared to the Doom mechanic in The One Ring.
I guess because it's a "grim world of perilous adventure?"
I never took that phrase so literally.
This chapter has some real gems though, in the form of Diseases and Poisons. Excessive detail is given to both categories with all the love and attention of some morbid Addams Family version of an Audubon Society handbook. Papa Nurgle would be proud.
There is a good amount of creativity in the form of new diseases, and old favourites such as Tomb Rot, as well as addressing more common "real world" maladies up to and including those of the venereal variety (thankfully not much detail here, that's what the internet is for kids!). Poisons are divided into deliriants, toxins and venoms. Which is sensible.
Pretty much every other form of mortal injury is dealt with as well, including frostbite, heatstroke, falling (or, more accurately, landing), burning, suffocation, starvation, etc. Maybe not 100 ways to leave your lover, but pretty close.
There is also info on intoxicants and alcoholism, I assume to make dealing with the rest a bit easier.
Speaking of, next up is the section on healing. This is one of the most in-depth looks at the subject I've ever seen not hidden away in a random supplement from a third party. It's complex, but only in the degree to which it covers pre-modern medical practices. Infection, Bloodletting, Bleeding, and Surgery are all among the section headings.
So yeah, it's as crunchy as any other part of the system, but here I find (for myself anyways), the crunch justified. I think it works with the horribleness being dealt with to up the tension. Dying is mostly slow and brutal, in the same way I think that combat should be brutal and quick.
Finally we get into alchemical powders and compositions, some more or less of medical value (or at least use), but also including gunpowder, the making of bottle rockets, quicksilver, Royal Water, and antivenoms.
All in all I'd say so far this is the best chapter of the book. It's the first time I think that Zweihander has managed to supercede WFRP.
The next chapter is...
I think in the introduction to Part I you'll find the reasons I preferred the original magic system, clunky as it was, but I've got nothing against the Winds of Magic concept. It does feel a little more "Middlehammer" than "Oldhammer" to me, though.
So for the Nine Winds of Magic they went with the Sefirot, from Kabbalistic magical theories. Kudos on that, it's a clever corollary. At the same time we also get the Gods of this "settingless" RPG (look for more ranting on that topic in Part III). Here I'm seeing a George R. Martin influence, with the gods defined as Archetypes rather than individual personalities. I mean, that may come from somewhere besides Game of Thrones in fantasy fiction, but that's where I encountered the concept, and one of Zweihander's "Archetypal Deities" is called The Winter King, with the symbol of a wolf's head, sooo....yeah.
I guess one could say then any Deity particular to a setting could be "slotted into" one of these Archetypes, but real life Gods tended to be much messier in their manifestations and domains of influence.
Casting a spell is once again based upon the same Skill Check universal resolution system we're familiar with. The bells and whistles are mostly what you'd expect. The spell list does have ingredients (or, in most cases it seems, an ingredient), so there's that.
I guess what it comes down to, as you might have surmised by my tone up to this point, is that this chapter just doesn't interest me very much. I've got no real complaints, it seems fine as a magic system. It just doesn't inspire me at all, it's no leap in innovation. I mean, it doesn't has to be, it's solid enough. Gets the job done.
There's a section on "Wytchstone", Zweihander's answer to Warpstone, and a section on Runestones...
And now we are onto the Game Mastering Section. This, more than any other part of the game, I expect to be the most illuminating in regards to the games' intentions and the approaches behind the design. It could make or break this review.
ZWEIHANDER doesn't have an implied setting."
No. No, after the Bestiary. Just to really drive my point home.
Moving on then. According to the game, instead of an implied setting, Zweihander instead "focuses upon a number of thematic elements to underpin the narrative and mechanics." We have have a rather in-depth, or at least wordy, explanation of the tropes of grim worlds with perilous adventures. we've been here before, at the beginning. While I can see re-iterating it here I suppose, I feel like all the various sections dealing with tropes and themes could have been combined into one.
We come across an interesting statement here though: "In some tabletop role-playing games , optional systems are provided to make the game deadlier and more 'realistic.' More often than not, a GM will ignore these rules because they are often unwieldy or perhaps too time-consuming. ZWEIHANDER also contains these rules, but instead of being optional, they are considered integral to the entire experience."
This actually explains a LOT about the design choices. As I interpret this, it seems that the author equates mechanical crunch with "grittiness." I'd honestly not ever considered this PoV. I don't think I share it, I've run incredibly deadly and gritty games with streamlined FASERIP rules (the REAL FASERIP, not the clone going by that name - it's annoying that I have to constantly reiterate that, but I refuse to stop using the acronym, it was ours first). For those unfamiliar, this is an incredibly (mechanically) 'rules-lite' system, somewhere in between Risus and WEG's Ghostbusters. I did not add rules crunch to make the system deadlier or more realistic, this was handled completely with some tweaks of the resource management system underlying the game and the way I ran it as a GM.
But I can at least see where Daniel & Co. are coming from on this one. It's mechanic design choices based on aesthetics. Even if I don't have the same evaluation, I can appreciate it from a game design perspective. Essentially Zweihander is "justifying its crunch" based on aesthetics.
Then we get some setting information.
And then back into genre and trope discussion. I think I get it, Zweihander is treating basically the Warhammer Fantasy Old World setting, or their equivalent of it, as part of "The Genre." Hm, well I can see the validity of the attempt from a legal standpoint, but does it hold up? Warhammer Fantasy is one of the largest fantasy IPs in gamedom, but can it be said to be it's own genre? And to what degree?
Anyways, this section overall is pretty expansive, taking up the first 7 pages of the chapter, before we go onto "Your Role as a GM."
The book goes on to compare the GM to a writer, and then a film director, and then talks about lots of techniques for "ensuring immersion" that there isn't space to shre. I was rather put off by this. I think we could of sacrificed some space for these techniques, would rather like to know at least an example so I can suss how they are actually intending the term "immersion," because my rather old fashioned idea of immersive play doesn't mesh well with the "GM as writer" approach.
"The Three Golden Rules"
Sounds like a fairy tale. These are apparently:
I."Change rules that don't work"
Really? Nothing about the game up to this point has given me a "Rulings not Rules" vibe.
II. Focus on the Characters
Well, yes, naturally. No objection, but is this even necessary to iterate?
III. When in Doubt, Say Yes!
We get another brief discussion of the difference from Narrative vs Structured Time in the game as a prelude to talking about Pacing an Adventure. That's good, a lot of GM sections don't address this topic. But Zweihander doesn't either, really. It just talks about knowing when to switch between Narrative and Structured Time. I mean, you use "Structured Time" as this game puts it when it's necessary, it's not really a pacing issue.
There's some general advice/recaps regarding rules upkeep before a new game, adjudicating Difficulty Ratings (for as important as this topic is to the system overall, seems like it could have gotten more attention than a few paragraphs that amount to "consider what's going on from several angles"), and applying Skill Tests.
In the section "People, Places, and Things" about half a page is devoted to the suggestion that players keep index card records of important NPCs they encounter. They're encouraged to take these notes in character. Should this be in the GM section? It seems to be aimed at the players.
Combat rules are next. It's here we find Zweihander's equivalent of the legendary WFRP Critical Hit Charts.
I've already talked about the Critical Hit charts in WFRP, but just to review, the attacker rolls percentile die to determine if a strike hits, flips those percentile dice to determine the location of the hit, and if the damage exceeds the Armour or hit points of the location, a roll is made on a Critical Hit chart corresponding to that location. The results range from flesh wounds to debilitating injuries to instant death, each described in graphic detail. It's a gory splash of flavour on the combat system.
Zweihander, on the other hand, abandoning the hit location element of resolution and with the degree of injury determined by the progress along the Damage tract instead divides the Critical Hit charts based on severity with one for Moderate, Serious, and Grievous injuries, and then a series of Slain! charts divided by the type of weapon used, describing the gruesome details of a combatant's demise.
This isn't an improvement or a decline really, it's just different. I suppose it comes down to personal aesthetics regarding which one prefers.
In amongst these are rules regarding flying creatures and larger creatures, and advice on when to end a combat.
And then we get to Risk Factor.
The following section, entitled "Narrative Considerations," seems to be largely advice about the use of environmental factors such as bad weather, dim lighting, exotic locations, etc. 'm not sure I would have called these "Narrative" elements of the game, but that term seems to be used more to invoke "narrating a description" rather than "fashioning a story," at least in this instance.
We also get some alternate/advanced combat rules, including a simplified weapon damage system and rules for performing multiple attacks. "Called Shots" optionally re-introduces the notion of Hit Locations into the game, with a GM advised to pick suitable Critical Hit descriptions that align. Piecemeal armour is likewise addressed, along with alternate Encumbrance rules, and "Morale checks."
We next get some rules for handling chases. I'm mostly a fan of RPGs tackling this, as beyond the classic 007 RPG from Victory Games this is an element conspicuously missing from most systems. In this case, the chase rules are a variation of the rules for Contests. Did I cover these in Part 1? Can't recall. Basically it's an extended skill test.
After deciding the distance the chase will take place over (yards, miles, or leagues), the Initiative track is configured, as per combat. The GM will set an "Escape Condition" (e.g. the pickpocket makes it to the market, the pursuers will lose them in the crowd, etc), and decide which side gets the "Head Start" (providing a movement bonus the first turn). There is a list of modifiers for chases on mounts, in vehicles, or other alternate forms of egress. At the beginning of each turn the pursued party generates an "Escape Value" equal to d10 + modifiers, representing the closing distance between them and the pursuers. From what I can tell, the action of the pursuers the previous turn don't affect this roll, which I find odd. Instead, each pursuer generates a "Pursuit Value" in the same manner. If the Pursuit Value is equal to or surpasses the Escape Value, the pursuer can attempt to grab the target (a Coordination Test). The degree of success or failure determines if the pursuit continues the next turn. There are some brief rules on Fatigue, attacking during a chase, and other complications, but that's the
Seems fine. Like the Bond rules better, but still a good effort using the pre-established system tools. And extra credit for something way too many systems gloss over.
And the kudos are not done, because that section is followed up by one on "Overland Exploration." I've been seeing this more and more recently, "travelling rules." I think the first overt ones I noticed were in The One Ring by Cubicle 7. Then the Japanese Fantasy RPG Ryuutama. At least one other in the last little while that escapes me. I wonder if this is influence form the OSR, or at least the nostalgia wing reminiscing over OD&D and the Wilderness Survival co-opted game supplement? Anyways, I like the trend, but I don't think the defining system has come along yet. The "game-changer." Unknown Armies to Sanity systems. Knighthawks to spacecraft combat. Ars Magica to, well, ars magic.
Sorry, that' not me criticizing Zweihander's system, I think it's very well done. It's basically an expanded variation on the Contest rules, as exampled for Chases. Yet also backed up by a lot of practical information regarding travel and GM advice, and a variety of sub-systems to cover everything from Party Roles (this is not as 4th Edition as it sounds), striking camp, and wilderness encounters. I think a lot of would-be OD&D OSR folks could benefit from a read of this section.
Well, Zweihander had me hooked for the last two sections, but now we're on to "Reward points", aka "XP."
It's not Zweihander's fault, experience points have always bored me as an approach. It's a "videogamey" mechanic, before videogames. I don't have anything particularly bad to say about it, I've seen it implemented well and sometimes even very clever ways, but it induces nothing beyond apathy for me. So you'll excuse me if I pass over this rather swiftly. Players get rewards for in-game activities (some as vague as "moving the story forward"), reward points buys advances. Add careers. Toss the salad. Zweihander goes a tiny bit FASERIP though, and also has "Reputation Points".
Maybe it should be "Social GP"
There's also a "Group Reputation." I'll let you extrapolate that one in your head.
After that, sort of out of nowhere, comes a section on "breaking objects." The lack of segue to this from that just left me picturing breaking objects over people's heads when they ask if they can pay in Reputation Points...
Nothing against the section, which is surprisingly in-depth, and a nice touch to really emphasize the upkeep and repair needed to realistically maintain weapons and armour. A very on-point subsystem and I applaud it.
Washed that XP taste right out o my mouth.
OK traps. Lotsa traps. Rules for Building traps. Detecting and disabling traps. Traps for every occasion. You need traps, this game's got 'em.
Malignancies and Divine Punishments. Good stuff.
Lots of specific information on the practices of various religions and cults devoted to the various specific gods of this RPG that specifically does not have an implied setting.
"Magick items" and some samples.
Again, not Zweihander's fault. My aversion to magic items comes from the way so many RPGs (and now videogames and media) treat magic items as, well, just all over the goddamn place. I'm not saying this game does that, this section is actually pretty reserved, and more akin to Lamentations of the Flame Princess, with the items being rare, legendary, and unique. t does it how I prefer it, just antagonistic towards the whole subject these days. I'm sure it'll pass in a decade or two...
"Grampa, tell us about magic items"
"Oh, in my day, you couldn't walk for all the magic items spillin outta shops around town. +1 longswords for everybody."
"Is that like a d-726 Photon sabre?"
"What ?! what'd I tell you about watching that Psy Wars crap! Gonna rot your brains!"
"Yes grampa! Sorry grampa!"
"Phonton sabres, my ass. It's just a light saber by any other name. George Lucas is rollin' in his Tomb!"
"Wha? The guy who created Star Wars!"
"I thought that was Mickey Mouse"
"Why I oughtta..."
Social Intrigue Rules. Sigh. Not a fan of mechanizing social interactions in games. It's not as bad as Burning Wheel's "social combat", but it's too close for my tastes.
Then, madness. If there's any rhyme or reason to the progression of these topics, I'm not seeing it. But, hey, let's check out Zweihander's Sanity system. I mean, WFRP basically just had a simplified version of Call of Cthulhu's system so it'd be hard to do worse.
While these are flavourful in and of themselves (overall, flavour-filled lists seem to be Zweihander's strongest points), I have to admit I was wrong.
This is way worse than WFRP's simplistic system.
It is just downright Byzantine. This mechanic is converted into that mechanic, is converted into that track, leads to this, ad nauseam. This isn't crunch so much as ring around the rosy.
And now, jarringly, we're suddenly onto optional rules for character advancement. Why wouldn't this come after the section on Reward Points? Was this chapter written stream of consciousness?
The next section "Slaves to Chaos" is about players playing the villains, or at least grimdark anti-heroes. I'm getting conceptual whiplash. There's some alternate character races, including not-Lizardmen, not-Skaven, and not-not-Broo.
There's now some advice on worldbuilding, which is actually mostly setting info. Dealing with demihuman inter-species relations, a simplistic overview of the feudal system, and some theology, including a list of major demons and extraplanar realms (Zweihander doesn't use the term "extraplanar," but any opportunity to make a Planescape reference...)
This is followed up (somewhat less jarringly) by "Campaign Seeds," which gives Zweihander the opportunity for the tryptic "The Enemy Within," "The Enemy Without," and "The Enemy Beyond." Cute Daniel.
We then are treated to a variety of campaign and adventure ideas. Many historical, from The 30 Years War to the Lost Colony of Roanoke.
And that wraps up the GM Chapter.
Kind of a mixed bag (with extra mixing).
Next comes The Bestiary, not only the largest chapter of the book, but also the last I'm going to cover in this review (the final chapter presents a sample adventure which I don't intend to ruin for anyone who may run it or play through it).
There's not much "objective reviewing" I can do here. It's comprehensive, as these sorts of sections go, and full of some really fantastic art. I'll only be covering a few in detail, just airing random thoughts and opinions of a mostly personal nature.
Abyssals includes Fomorians, Higher Demons, Lower Demons, and Hellbeasts. Each "species" has numerous example "subspecies," (though these might be individuals in the case of some demons it seems).
So, let's talk about Fomorians. Or, rather, let's talk about Fimir.
When I first encountered Warhammer Fantasy, one of the things that immediately grabbed me and sold me on the setting was the unique monsters, distinct in tone and visuals from anything prior. WFRP additionally presented them in a way that evoked the sense of real creatures and cultures. Of these there were three in particular that captured my young imagination; Skaven, Zoats, and Fimir; only one of which would survive past 3rd edition in the wargame. From the contents of this blog it isn't hard to guess my favourite of these, but I was just as fascinated with the other two. And in many ways they are the embodiment of "Oldhammer" for me.
The Fimir were created by Graeme Davis (with help from Tony Ackland and Jes Goodwin) at the behest of Bryan Ansell, who apparently requested a new monster "to be as distinctive of Warhammer as the Broo are of Runequest" (according to a usenet post by Davis circa 1998, quoted from The Realm of Zhu).
Graeme's primary inspiration was a painting by Alan Lee for the cover of a book of Irish myths...
Well , in one version of events. Sometimes the Fomor invaded sometime after the Tuatha de had shown up and kicked out the Fir Bolg (probably aborigines, but often made out as giants in legends). The Fomorians themselves were probably not originally monstrous, with historians interpreting them as everything from Norse Vikings to the displaced gods of a prehistoric religion. But Celtic traditions were passed down orally, and it wasn't until Christians got a hold of the stories that most were written down. And the Christian scribes went full Silent Hill in their interpretation of the Fomor (or, I guess, full Bosch).
First, a miscommunication came up when Nick Bibby took over duties as sculptor of the original Fimir line of miniatures from Jes. See, originally Fimir were intended to be man-sized (or at least orc-sized), and the stats they got in the Wargame reflected this. But Bibby sculpted them as ogre-sized instead, taking the place of 4 regular soldiers in WFB's rank and file system. As such, they were horribly undervalued. Big, expensive minis with bad game stats means very little sales.
Second, in crafting the culture surrounding the Fimir, Graeme had drawn upon numerous Celtic soures, including ascribing to them the common fairytale motif that they carried off human women to be their brides (that's the nice way of putting it). With 4th edition, Ansell was reformatting the game to appeal to a younger, mainstream audience, and assumed (probably correctly, judging by recent reactions to the Goblin Slayer anime) that a group of one-eyed rape monsters wouldn't go over too well.
It was this...
Higher Demons have an Arch Cenobite, so...there's a reference. It's Slaanesh by way of Clive Barker, makes sense. The "Great Devourer" is a Great Unclean One, but also gives birth to abyssal goblins from his slime. Oh, yeah, Nurglings...
And Tzeentch's vulture-demon is here as well.
Lesser demons include a few D&Dish fiends and proxies of most of the Warhammer Chaos daemon units. Hellbeasts include a Barghest standing in for a Hell-Hound, Black Dog-type (it should be Bargheist)
Animals are much as the name implies. They are divided into Critters, Primevals, and Beasts.
Critters are mostly ordinary animals, classed in groups with an overall profile the GM is expected to customize. These include large animals, including everything from horses (and, apparently, unicorns) to wolves to big snakes; large insects, man eaters such as lions, tigers, and bears...
Primevals are...well, I'll just let the book explain...
The phrase "almost Shakespearean in predilection and tastes" made me laugh aloud. I have no idea what that is supposed to mean.
In practice what we have is giant spiders, giant bats, giant rats, a paleolithic boar, an owlbear, a warg, and a crocodile.
This starts with the Aztlan, Zweihander's answer for Lizardmen. Here they follow much closer to the later Warhammer Fantasy Battles retcon of Lizardmen circa 5th edition. They are, as the name suggests, vaguely Meso-American in culture, descended from "Ancient Ones" (*cough*), and divided into castes based on the type of amphibian/reptile they most resemble, with toad-like hierophantic rulers. No Oldhammer herein, with nary a mention of pygmies or lobotomized slaves.
The Chosen of Chaos are Chaos Warriors, of course. Barely even a proxy, but then, Chaos Warriors predate Warhammer. Kudos for including Chaos Dwarves in the mix (here, Duergar, which is kinda just the Norse word for Dwarf, but that works). Dark Elves and Nephilim are also included as creatures "corrupted by Chaos."
Corrupted Souls is sort a catch-all category for human NPCs, of one or another degree of villainy.
Then out of no where we get a "Zoatar." Zweihander's answer to Zoats.
So, if you recall when I was talking about Fimir, Zoats were the third part of the trilogy with Skaven that I regard as the personifications of Oldhammer. Zoats in WFRP were an ancient race of weird turtle centuars (Testuditaurs?) who lived deep in the woods and had "Druid"-type powers.
Not that it was a masterpiece to begin with, but it's a concept I'd like to revisit at some point)
Either way, after that are Mutants.
The "Mutant" category doesn't have any sort of description or explanation, but I guess that's OK.
The first sub-category of Mutants is Deadly Flora, basically predatory plants
Subtypes of Goblins are Hobgoblins (the D&D kind) and Kobolds (the anime kind).
Grendel is the Zweihander equivalent of Beastmen, which were the Warhammer equivalent of Runequest's Broo. And the first sub-type of Grendel? Broo.
Lycanthropes are also classed as Mutants, along with Medusa (not Gorgons? Or, at least, medusae?), Orx (hipster orcs), Ravenous Ghouls(?), and Trolls.
Finally we get to Zweihander's version of Skaven, the SKRZZAK...
THE WARPSTONE MUST FLOW...
Sure, all perfectly plausible.
Rats as big as men? lol, pull the other one mate, it has bells on it!"
Underempire = Great Warren
Clan = Kabal
Brood Horror - Broodmother!
Oh yeah, in case you didn't know, Forgeworld makes the following model, depicting a Skaven Warlord with a Brood Horror mount.
And here is also where we hit Zweihander's big twist...
The Skz have a matriarchal society. The "Brood Mothers" are still huge, uh, breeding machines, but they are also in charge.
the Broodmother is found in a Wytchstone-imbued stupor
to bring them into communion with The Thirteen, the Skrzzak rat god."
Skaven society is of course divided into clans, with the most powerful clans each having a unique ...culture? Shtick? Theme maybe?
Clan Eshin are ninja assassins
Clan Moulder are beastmasters/eugenicists
Clan Pestilens are a disease cult
and Clan Skryre are mad scientists/boffins
There is also The Grey Seers, Skaven pope-sorcerers who operate much like a Clan, but are made up of Skaven born to any Clan with the very specific mutation of white fur and horns, marking them as full of the Skaven equivalent of midichlorians.
Zweihander retains this quadrilogy of "Kabals," but derives their titles from the Four Humours of medieval physiological theory.
left alone to survive and adapt. They are conditioned through rigorous torture and administration of Wytchstone fumes...to obey their Broodmother above all else.
Few survive the harrowing ordeal, but those that do are merciless,
fanatically devoted and cruel beyond measure."
one who will be a 'super ratling', a Skrzzak that can go to the regions of
prescient knowledge where Broodmothers dare not enter.
Through careful (yet imprecise) manipulation of Kabal bloodlines,
the Broodmothers have attempted to create this superior being,
who they call the Skrzzak Cholerach."
The Broodmothers are the Bene Gesserit sisterhood, the Bilious Kabal are the Sardaukar, the Phlegmatic SkZ are mentats, and the Sanguine SkZ are Fremen. But they also parallel the original Skaven to a wide extent. Sanguine resemble Eshin with Fremen cultural ideas. Choleric SkZ are patterned after Clan Pestilens but add in elements from the Lynch film's interpretation of House Harkonnen (and even reference the fact that Paul's mother was secretly a Harkonnen).
I mean...wow. Damn Daniel, colour me impressed. I have no idea where the inspiration came to blend these two, but it is a stroke of mad genius.
Above and beyond. If every one of the creatures in this Bestiary got this same level of clever re-interpretation and blending with pop culture reference, I'd consider this chapter a masterpiece. Alas...
Finally, we arrive at the Supernatural, largest category in the Bestiary, because it covers such a huge variety of creatures. To the point it sorta calls into question the point of these categories overall. Here we have Paracelsian Elementals (here called "Ætheric Spirits"), Defilers (Tomb King mummy-liches), Fey (faeries, continuing the weird-ass D&D tradition that these are somehow separate from Elves), Golems, Living Statues (Ushabti), Mindless Undead (Zombies and the like), Restless Spirits, and Vampires (apparently of the White Wolf variety).
The Vampire category gets a bit more cosmopolitan, with Lamashtu (named for the Mesopotamian goddess) and Rakshasha (the tiger-headed man-eating spirits from Hindu myth). Succubi are also included here, rather than among the demons, not the first time these categorizations have seemed entirely random to me. It's harder and harder pill for me to swallow that Zweihander is trying to be a generic, or at least settingless, RPG when they're interpretation o mythology seems to owe more to Gyga than the actual real-world legends, but that rant is coming up.
The Bestiary chapter finishes up with a guide to customizing creatures, including creating "underlings" and "Bosses," if you like some videogame in your RPGs. And several pages of "Loot Tables." These are flavourful, if a bit bizarre.
"Look! This Salamander I just killed was carrying a barrel of linseed oil!"
To be fair, there's nothing in the text directly tying the loot to the creatures in the Bestiary, so that would completely be at a GM's discretion, but why is this section even included in the Bestiary if not because of the obvious Gygaxian association?
OK (whew) that'll do it for Part II of this review. There is a handy Appendix collating the various charts needed for play, and a pretty comprehensive index, which is no doubt invaluable during play, which I'll find out (spoilers: I already found out, as I'm typing all this up a long while after I first wrote it) in Part III - The Playtest Session and Final Thoughts.