Zweihander RPG Characters – Whats in a roll?

Not too long ago I gave a break down of my initial thoughts on the Zweihander Grim and Perilous RPG. If you haven’t read that then this may seem a bit confusing. If you have and you’re returning for more, then hooray! Herein I take a look at how one creates a character before setting off on expeditions most deadly.

If you have a few moments, we’ve come to talk about Zweihander

Not long after getting to grips with the system, I gathered a group of friends and suggested they try Zweihander out. For most systems, when running a one off, I’d create pre-gen characters. It’s easier. It’s straightforward. Mostly, it means you exhort a little control as a GM/DM over the world and can plan accordingly. I was tempted to do the same but then I thought it would be interesting (and marginally selfish) to test out the creation rules in a live setting for the purposes of this article.

All the world’s a stage…

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. For me, the concept of the character has always come first. I tend to get overly ‘into’ creating a backstory and like to work out details and motivations before I even approach a set of dice (or point buy depending on your flavour of system). In the main, this has served me well. When you take the time on a character, you can become invested and the experience becomes more rewarding. For some of you, like me, who started on games like ADnD or Advanced Fighting Fantasy then you’ll know that a more fleshed out character story helps immensely. In some cases the only choices you made were what weapon to buy. Zweihander, like its spiritual parentage, flips this firmly on its head.

The default option for characters in Zweihander are essentially fully random. Sure, you can throw certain advice and rules out of the window and pick and chose to your choice. Remember it’s ultimately your game session so do what brings you and your group most fun. That said, hear me out. Embracing the random factor lead to more fun than I’ve seen during character creation in years.

And all the men and women merely players.

For Zweihander you’ll need percentile dice and a d6. Get yourself some paper and a pencil, a copy of the creation rules, and within an hour you’ll have a pretty fleshed out character; warts and all.

Characters are made up of seven key stats:
Combat – Your tactical acumen i.e. How accurate you can fire a bow or swing a blade.
Brawn – Your physique, or lack thereof.
Agility – How well you can balance and sneak around
Perception – Noticing the world around you. What you see, hear, smell, touch or taste.
Intelligence – Feats of the mind be it memory or learning.
Willpower – Mental fortitude and resolve.
Fellowship – One of my favourites. Your innate ability to be liked or manipulate.

Getting numbers for these requires a little bit of arithmetic but don’t worry, it’s only a little. Roll 3d10 and add 25 for each. Simple. Of course one might be a lenient GM and decide to allow players to assign rolls as they see fit. That would have been my first inclination too if not for the little text box that explains this is not the Grim & Perilous way. Whilst not one is going to come round to your gaming table and prevent you doing so, having players role-play where the dice land will more likely give you and your players more, not less, opportunity. Of course, the designer is not without a little mercy. The standard rules allows you to swap out a characteristic if you really struggle with a particularly low stat where you’d rather not have one (I’m looking at you Fellowship!)

Behind every face there’s a story. What’s yours?

Crucially, that’s the bulk of the ‘crunch’ now done. The majority of the in game rolls that you’ll be required to make come from either these directly or derived secondary statistics. So why the fanfare about the character creation process? Well gather round cause there’s a lot more than just your stats to worry about…

All characters great and small.

A small note on choice and nomenclature. Zweihander doesn’t make any rules distinction between sex or gender. Additionally, despite being humanocentric (I’ll get to that in a sec), there are a number of ‘ancestries’ that you can potentially roll up or chose. I’ve seen a number of discussions on social media amongst TTRPG players and how words matter. Personally I don’t have any real preference but if conscious choices like these help anyone in any way then it can only be a good thing right?

So ancestry? We’ve all encountered the somewhat worn trope of ye olde fantastical ‘races’. Dwarves are oft ale swigging, bearded smiths with stubborn determination whilst the fair elves are nimble, lithe, and full of song and poetry. Well yes and no. Just like humanity isn’t homogeneous, then neither should those of fantastical ancestries feel pigeon-holed. That being said, there are default internal balances to account for certain obvious differences. An Ogre is odds on going to have more muscle mass than a halfling. There’s certain physical characteristics you can’t ignore. What Zweihander offers though is wide range of traits that you may have as any given ancestry. In this way, you may encounter similar elves but it could be either coincidence or they’re from a similar area, rather than all elves being slightly better at lute playing.

Your lineage matters little when faced with the sharp end of a cleaver

Its a (hu)man’s world

The default for Zweihander is that all characters are human, ergo the humanocentric comment earlier. Although there’s no default world as such, it’s implied throughout that humans are the most common ancestry roaming the lands. Now you can feel free to change this up as much as you want; the game includes rules for a variety of fantastical backgrounds. However, the grim and perilous nature plays to the human angle better. All too often I’ve encountered players for whom Dwarves are just small humans with better stomachs and poorer manners, or Orcs are similarly angry humans with more time working out. It’s hard enough to get into the mind of another character without also considering how ‘alien’ their mindset may be. Still, everyone likes a challenge.

All this being said, I think it’s worth bringing all of these thoughts back towards the implied tones and themes of the game. This is dark gritty fantasy. Where the game makes no implicit rights or wrongs in your characters sex, gender, or ancestry, that doesn’t mean the same holds true in the game world you experience. I’m reminded of some source books which described cultural norms for their settings. Sexism, racism, and any other kind of intolerance may be rife. This may convey a dark realism though so as with all things, best to sound out with your group what you are all aiming for. No one book will answer that unfortunately.

Archetypes and Backgrounds

With your stats and ancestry firmly established you’ll be wanting to know what your life had in store for you. A quick roll will reveal your archetype; a broad brush stroke overview of your day to day persona. Whether an Academic or Knave, Socialite or Warrior, you’ll pick up your worldly belongings at the point, trappings, and also roll again to further define your profession.

A fair chunk of the book is given over to professions. In RPG parlance I feel its fair to think of these as classes. Where one could sort of kind of think of the archetypes in DnD terms, with warrior being fighter or socialite being bard, these professions are literally that. You’ve a chance of holding a decent job as watchman or maybe a scholar’s assistant. Maybe your upbringing was rough and you’ll fallen in with a group of thieves. Of course, maybe you’ve learned to rely on your good looks and sharp wit to turn coin at the local tavernas. Regardless, each profession gives you more traits and skills, as well as special ability linked to the job.

I’m a big fan of the profession system overall. It better reflects what you do as a character and whilst it might be more appealing to just pick the one you want, starting off with the hand fate dealt you doesn’t prevent you from changing your path. Instead of levelling up, characters in Zweihander gain experience and become more skilled at what they would have done in their job. You can then aim to progress out into a higher tiered profession or switch to something else which makes more sense. Think of tiered professions almost like promotions within a career. You might start as a squire but you can aim to be knighted with the goal of leading your own order. Of course you might as easily start as a ratcatcher with grand dreams of simply switching to a job that doesn’t involve crawling through excrement in the dark.

But it doesn’t end there.

This might all still seem focused on the ‘crunch’. With your profession established, now comes the really good meaty bits. It sounds like I’m describing a slow death through tables and rolls but having witnessed three players generate characters by random it was amazing to see how fluid ideas were and how quickly little wisps could crystallise into memorable aspects of their characters.

Things like size and complexion are all well and good but one of the best aspects of the random character creation was the distinguishing marks table and the concept of the Dooming! Distinguishing marks are exactly as you’d expect it’s things like odd colour eyes or maybe a scar. Its a decent sized list though and one, a wooden foot, led to a complete quick rethink of how one player saw their character. Instead of a stealthy stalking hunter type with his crossbow, he shifted to someone more calculating. He was stealthy but had to hide beforehand as the tap clump tap clump might be a giveaway. If you’re prepared to embrace these little touches, you’ll definitely not regret it.

We’re doomed!

Regardless of your chosen setting you have to shoe-horn in the concept of the dooming. At the time of their birth, your characters will have had some wise woman or seer, or maybe just a crazy uncle, cast a portent about their dooming. A cryptic line about how they will meet their fate or suffer a great downfall.

Yup, I don’t think we’re getting out of this mess.

There’s zero rules to this. Simply a little line that the character will have grown up with. Maybe it’s a cryptic line about trusting a snake which has led to a phobia. It could be that it shapes their outlook on a certain activity. Of course it could as easily be that the character ignores it or tempts fate to seek out such a demise to prove everyone wrong. Ultimately it’s just a nice tool that adds extra depth without having to wrack your brains for a wee hook to get you going.

Ready to roll…

Be sure to check out the Grim & Perilous Studios page for a wealth of information about the game and lots more discussion from those who’ve clearly enjoyed it as much as myself. You can check out the book directly here from Andrews McMeel.

I’ll be back very soon to discuss that most important of topic in games – combat and the art of war. Until then though, I’d love to hear any of your comments and thoughts below or join in the discussion over on our Facebook page.

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