In this brand new series from Dicey Encounters, I’m going to be talking about certain things you can steal or lift from other roleplaying systems, and implement them into your game. Think of it as like a ‘best of’ from each system, things that I think would make games like D&D better, without the rigmarole of reteaching your players a brand new system. This could however get them to realise that there are more systems out there that are doing interesting stuff.
This week, we’re looking at Zweihander.
The first thing I really like about Zweihander is the morality system. Obviously you all know that I don’t think much about the morality system in D&D, so I’m always on the lookout for something that can replace it. You pick a couple of adjectives. One is your ‘order’ trait, the other is your ‘chaos’ trait. So an example is ‘heroism’ and ‘martyrdom’. This means that your character is heroic and has a desire to be the hero. But, it also means that that drive has a downside. Their heroism can turn into martyrdom, i.e. a suicidal tendency to throw themselves into danger and towards death because of their notions of heroic deeds. And the DM should prod the characters into situations where their ‘chaos’ side comes into play. This I think is way more interesting than something broad and vague as ‘lawful good’. It gives the players and the DM a concrete idea of the character’s strengths and flaws.
Professions and Archetypes
The second thing I like is the professions. This is what replaces classes, but also backgrounds. The characters will start as one fairly commonplace profession archetype such as scholastic, ranger, commoner or fighter, and then they will pick or roll for a specific job role (or just role). This means that your players will start life as a beggar, a guard, a blacksmith, and will get the call to adventure. They’ll level up their skills, and eventually earn a new profession – one that you’ll be more familiar with – like warlock, assassin, or knight. These will feel earned and the players will have a shared backstory and know where they’ve come from. No ‘level 1 paladin chilling in a tavern waiting for the call to adventure’ type stuff.
D100 Dice System
Another thing I’d nick from Zweihander is the D100 dice system. While this would probably be the hardest thing to lift and plonk straight into another system, it’s worth giving it a shot for a session or two at some point, just to show your players that the D20 system isn’t the be all and end all of RPGs. I like the D100 system because the aim of the role is clear: They must roll lower than their characteristic score. If you have a Weapon Skill of 42, then you need to beat it or get less to succeed. But, the cool part comes in with all the attributes, skills, situations and DM bonuses that give you extra +10s. It’s possible to swing things so far in your favour that you’ll have a 90% chance to do the thing you want your character to be awesome at. In D&D, the best you can hope for is some low number re-rolls, advantage and maybe a +9.
Randomised Character Creation
Okay so here’s something you could try out. Instead of letting the players choose all the details of their character, why not encourage them to randomise some parts? Not only does this lessen min/max type characters, but it is an intriguing sort of challenge to come up with a character where half of the details are already decided. In Zweihander there’s so much choice that it’s probably just easier to randomise everything so you don’t have the urge to compare every choice. Maybe roll for your race and archetype, and then pick your profession and racial modifier. Or vice versa. The racial modifier is a trait that is specific to your race, meaning that no two elves or dwarves should be the same…makes sense right? Some elves will have good healing, whilst another will be a whizz with their bow. This can also be randomised so your character will be very specific.
Disease, Madness, & Danger
The last thing I’d steal (well, that I’d write in this article), is the sheer amount of rules this system has for things like disease, illness, madness, corruption and danger. It makes that aspect of RPGs a bit more realistic than the ‘you’ve slept all night and are now fine!’. Which is gamey and alright if that’s what you’re looking for, but if you want something a bit more simulationary, why not make wounds have longer lasting effects and results? These sorts of things can become exciting quests too, to heal a certain party member before it’s too late. Nothing brings the players together and makes them more serious than when a party member is near death. Also, it has rules for gaining corruption from using magic, stress and fear from intense and horrifying situations, as well as full blown types of madness and insanity. Zweihander also has extended rules for travelling through the wilderness, which makes it feel like it’s as dangerous as it would be in that kind of world.
So that’s what I would suggest taking a look at if you want your game to be a bit more hardcore and grim! Check out the book if you like, it’s system agnostic meaning that you can use it with any world or story. They suggest Game of Thrones and The Witcher, which I think are lovely suggestions.