Last month I did an article on a few RPGs that I thought were just too good to pass up, and I really hope you enjoyed it and checked a few of them out for yourself. Well, since then, I’ve had a chance to finish a thorough read thru of Warlock!, and I really wanted to dive into that one a bit more because it’s a great game that does a lot very well. I said in my original post that it’s a tribute to the classic Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay from back in the 80s, but it cleans things up a lot and Is infinitely more playable with the way it’s written and presented, which the older one definitely was not. With that said, let’s get into the nuts and bolts of it all, because the designers have done a wonderful job with this one and I was very impressed with most of it.
To kick things off, the look of the game is fantastically old school, with a simple layout, retro artwork, and even the font being a throwback. Everything is done in black and white and is a breeze to follow and read, and the rules are explained in delightfully easy terms. When things do happen to get vague the writers just say use common sense and to make it up on the fly, which is something I absolutely love about these kinds of systems. The book has a very purposeful and specific feel about it, almost like you’re flipping through one of the original white pamphlets that a certain RPG was printed in back in the day. The nostalgia effect is really high with this game, but it more than compliments what the title is trying to achieve, and it does so very effectively.
We next move into character creation, and following the trend with most retro games, it’s simple, fast, and basic. You start out by choosing your skills, thirty-two altogether, and each one is assigned a value from six, five, or four, depending on how you want to spread the points out. You next roll up your stamina and luck scores, with 2D6+12 and 1D6+7 respectively. Stamina, unsurprisingly, is how many hits you can take before going down, while luck is an interesting stat that lets you make a special test in certain situations to avoid failure. There are no character stats beside these two and your skills, which makes everything rules light and very fast when it comes to gameplay. After you select you race, human, elf, dwarf, or halfling, you’re off to the next bit, but don’t think that you’re going to get a lot bonuses because they’re minimal and the different races are pretty much more for flavor rather than anything else.
After the skills section we get to careers, which take the place of classes in other old-style games but are a bit more fluid and flexible. Your familiar warrior and barbarian types are here to choose from, along with wizard’s apprentices and priests of course. But you also get a nice mix of more mundane careers for a low fantasy setting, including beggar, rat catcher, and my favorite, the tomb robber. Your career also provides a list of skills that go with it to increase with experience points, and also a unique skill named after that career that involves everything specific with that path. If you ever feel stuck or max out your skills you can always switch careers, and once you’ve been through three, you can move into an advanced option like templar knight, outlaw chief, and full on wizard. I really like this part of the system a lot, as the careers are all very appropriate for the setting and the down and dirty nature of the game. Just don’t expect anything epic here, though, or you’ll be disappointed as everything is kept very lowkey. This section is capped off with a quick list of equipment and a few different gods for priest types to choose from, which like everything else, is very unglamorous and subdued.
Moving away from careers we get into the actual rules of the game, which like everything else, Warlock! handles in a very basic and rules light way. For a standard skill test, you add your skill value to a D20 roll, with anything equaling to or exceeding a twenty succeeding. For opposed tests, each player would do the same, with the highest total winning the day and a tie being a stalemate that indicates the struggle would continue. If something goes wrong you can always try to press your luck will a luck roll, but if that also fails it means that something very bad has happened, and in this game, I mean VERY bad.
Combat is next and it’s pretty simple as well, if not deadly, so be ready for a fight when it happens and if you choose to go that route. Initiative is determined by the players and the GM each rolling a D6, with the highest roll winning and then each choosing a character to go in alternating order. A fight is handled like an opposed skill test, with each combatant rolling a D20 and adding an appropriate weapon skill. The difference is the side with initiative adds a plus five for being the aggressor, with the highest total winning and inflicting damage in the form of stamina loss. The defender gets to roll their armor value to lessen the beating they’ve just received, but armor’s not all that great so you’re probably always going to take something. When your stamina falls below zero is when you start accumulating critical hits, which can be anything from getting knocked out, having a limb severed, or getting your skull crushed. Combat has a real air of dread about it, as it should in a grim retro themed RPG like this one.
If you want dread, the magic system is explained after combat, and with something gritty you just know it isn’t going to be pretty. I will say the spell list is very short and sweet, but I admit I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t longer and that I had to make up a good amount on my own. Casting a spell involves the expenditure of stamina and a standard skill check just like trying to do anything else does, but with magic being a skill, anyone can fiddle with it and try to learn to cast a spell, but that doesn’t mean they should. Catastrophic failure on a magic check can lead to horrible results and dire consequences for meddling in the arcane arts, so be prepared for a possible spell backfire, demonic possession, or worse yet, spontaneous caster explosion, eww. The system is really easy and with very few crunchy bits which is nice, but as I said, I wish the spell list was bit more robust.
To round everything out we get a generous creature section that’s very self-explanatory, along with a few pages talking about the games old school flavor, but I think this space could have been used to throw in some setting info rather than what was presented. In the end I have to give Warlock! a very solid four out of five, as it perfectly captures the old school British vibe, reworked mechanics, and rules light reimaging of a classic title. It also has a great price point at DriveThruRpg at around seven bucks, with the full setting info being another seven and everything else being available for free. It’s a great retro inspired tribute of an old one from across the pond, and I highly recommend you give it a go if you like that sort of thing. Try it out for yourselves, gang, and enjoy the bloodshed. Later, and happy gaming!