Review: Warriors & Warlocks

Ok, I lied about Tunnels & Masterminds. Except I’m holding in my virtual hands something that is, in many ways, just that very thing: an unholy mixture of Mutants & Masterminds and a kickass awesome fantasy role-playing game. Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you Warriors & Warlocks.

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Let’s start with just the facts, ma’am. It’s 145 pages long, costs $16.95 and available right now as a pdf from all the usual places you get pdfs from. It’ll be available in Real Dead Tree format in a few weeks time from all the places you get get dead trees from too. You need a copy of Mutants & Masterminds to play. The pdf version of that is just twenty bucks meaning the whole package is half the price of the D&D Core Rules bundle. Does that mean it’s half the value? Oh Gods no.

Look, this is hard for me. It’s really, really difficult to write about Mutants & Masterminds without sounding like some raving fanboi who wants you all to stop what you’re doing RIGHT NOW, rush out, buy it and play M&M instead of those other, inferior, games you’re currently playing. So I’ll try to remain calm. Cool, even. If this comes across that I’m in anyway unenthused about the product, or it’s underwhelming, trust me. I’m raving on the inside, ok?

Warriors & Warlocks deals with the fantasy genre as seen through the eyes of comicbooks. It’s role-playing in the world of Conan the Cimmerian, Red Sonja, Elric, Beowulf, Slaine and even Prince Valiant. If it’s made the transition from black and white text to four-colour panels you’ll find it here. This puts it at a slight tangent to 4e D&D. Whereas Wizard’s baby has morphed from being “a fantasy role-playing game” into “the D&D role-playing game” where Dungeons & Dragons is a whole sub-genre unto itself, W&W is the real deal. It’s literate D&D. It’s a role-playing game that clearly loves, supports and pays homage to the great authors of the fantasy genre instead of trying to shove them under the carpet and forge ahead down an Intellectual Property fuelled road.

Damn, it’s even got Conan on the cover. What more do you want?

This is a very rule-lite supplement – in fact it’s more of a genre book in that it goes into detail about the history and common tropes of the setting while providing pre-stated heroes and villains along the way. More on those in a mo’. If you were expecting a book full of rules that turn Mutants & Masterminds into a fantasy rpg you’re going to be disappointed. I’ve said it many times already: M&M is a stunningly good generic system that merely pretends to be a superhero rpg (like Clark Kent in reverse, kinda). It doesn’t need ‘more rules’ to be able to handle any setting you throw at it. In that regard, W&W is somewhat reminiscent of the old GURPS supplements of yore.

It does add two new skills – Gambling and Navigation – to the mix, and suggests new uses for the existing ones. There’s also a lot of new Feats too which better reflect the tropes and fighting styles found in fantasy. My own favourite is Oathbound. This gives a +1 to Aid Another when helping folks who share your allegiance, and a +1 attack bonus against opponents who oppose your allegiance. Flavourful, and usable in and out of combat. I love it!

Ok. I’m teasing you. You want to know about character generation, right? Oh boy.

W&W suggests three possible starting points for the game. There’s Power Level 6, 8, or 10. PL6 is what it calls “Heroic”, though that’s not to be confused with 4e D&D’s Heroic Tier. This is starting point if you want to run a low-level, street-level campaign where gritty realism is the order of the day. I’d say it’s roughly comparable to low level 3rd Edition D&D. PL8 is “Cinematic”. This is firmly 4e D&D power level, and ideal if you want to game in a style akin to action movies. Finally, there’s PL10 (the superhero norm in M&M), “Epic”. Our heroes are demigods and archmages who wander the worlds righting wrongs on a massive scale. Think of it as 4e D&D’s later levels and you won’t be far wrong.

I’d expected the chapter on character generation to provide a few pointers in the right direction, offer up a grab-bag of Archetypes and set you on your merry way. Which it does, but it also provides much, much more. One of M&M’s (many) strengths is that character creation can be as flexible as you want it. At the one end of the scale you could just take a pre-built Archetype, scribble your name on the top of the sheet and start playing immediately. Or you could take the Archetype and use it as a base, juggling a few points around to fine tune the concept. Right at the other end of the scale you have a completely blank sheet and freedom to do whatever you want (and the GM allows). Unlike D&D where it’s a pregen OR blank sheet, M&M is a sliding scale.

Let’s say you’re generating a character for Warriors & Warlocks for a Power Level 6 game. you’ve got 90 points to spend, and fancy playing a Scout of some kind. W&W provides a whole range of templates that are essentially pre-built packages with the points cost worked out. You could take one (or more) of them, tweak it a little and still have lots of points to spend fine-tuning your character. Or you could ignore the templates completely and create your own unique, one-of-a-kind character. Or your own race. Or organisation. Or anything.

Here’s the Racial Templates:

  • Beastkin (Aquatic, Avian, Feline, Lupine, Reptilian, Ursine)
  • Dhampir
  • Dwarves
  • Elves
  • Gnomes
  • Goblins
  • Halflings
  • Bestial
  • Celestial
  • Divine
  • Elemental
  • Fey
  • Infernal
  • Living Construct
  • Shapeshifters
  • Wilder
  • True Shapeshifter

As you can see, there’s a cheeky nod to 4e D&D in that list with the Celestial, Infernal, Fey, Wilder and Living Construct templates :D Some of the templates are designed to be mixed-and-matched to create half-breeds. There’s no reason why you couldn’t create a Fey Elf (*cough* Eladrin *cough*), Infernal Gnome or (my own personal favourite) a Celestial Living Construct. Take Bestial on it’s own and you’ve got your Half-Orc, or add it to another racial template for extra fun (Bestial Ursine Beastkin, anyone?). As everything it’s points-based it doesn’t matter whether all of the races balance with each other as the cost comes from your fixed pot of points. Take an expensive race (the Living Construct weighs in at 33 points) and you’ll just have fewer points for other things. That’s a fair price to pay.

I’ll stop there. Review, Part Deux, coming soon!

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11 Responses

  1. Care to elaborate on what you mean by calling it “literate?” I’m assuming you mean W&W draws much more directly from literary source material than D&D currently does, but I’m wondering if you meant more than that.

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  2. Rob says:

    I am really interested in this book. I have been feeling a little bit burned out on D&D (all editions) recently, and have been looking to play or run some different systems.

    Like you, I am impressed with the flexibility of Mutants & Masterminds system. I am currently building a campaign which is set in my version of a Hellboy/BtVS/Torchwood style setting. Mutants & Masterminds handles that as easily as it handles the Four-Color stuff.

    Now, my only issue will be getting the other players in my group to share my enthusiasm.

    follow @show on twitter

    Robs last blog post..The infamous episode six of Dollhouse

  3. Stargazer says:

    Thanks for the review. I think I will get a copy of W&W as soon as possible. That reminds me that I still haven’t had the chance to try out M&M.

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    Stargazers last blog post..Legend of Zork

  4. Greywulf says:

    @James Exactly so, and I couldn’t put it better myself. By “literate D&D” I mean that it’s influences come directly from the printed page rather than some second or third generation deviation. It’s Conan, as written by Robert E Howard, not Conan the MMORPG. It expects players to prefer great plotlines over great combat encounters, and character generation to be something that helps you model your character concept, not something where you optimise your stats for those killer moves.

    Not that you can’t have great combat encounters and killer moves, of course – just that they’re secondary to the plotline and character concept.

    @Rob At the risk of turning up my Raving Fanboi Volume Control too much, Warriors & Warlocks really does seem to be a cure for all D&D ills. Play at PL8 or above and open up the Powers list and it makes a better 4e D&D than 4e D&D without the need for a battlemat or time-consuming combat encounters. Keep things at Power Level 6 and you’ve got a better 3rd Edition D&D with the same solid core in a tighter, more well constructed frame. Tie down the templates a little more or provide Archetypes based on the classes from OD&D and you’d have a system to make old school gamers weep. The Perfect D&D? Darned close, I’d say.

    @Stargazer What are you waiting for? Play it NOW! :D

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  5. benpop says:

    Augh! I’m supposed to be saving money, not wanting to spend it on awesome game systems! Why must you torture me with how awesome it is? Whyyyyyyyy?

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  6. Webhead says:

    Thank you for Part 1 of your review. I have been looking forward to the release of W&W for a long time now as Mutants & Masterminds is still one of my favorite systems. I have been constantly “burning out” on all editions of D&D over the past several years and am happy to hear that W&W may be the breath of fresh air that I need. The trick, of course, is to get my group to switch over from D&D to W&W. At last, after 10 years of pipe-dreams I finally have a game that can run the Battle Chasers-inspired campaign I have been pondering.

    Between M&M and Savage Worlds, I’ve got some of the most excellent RPG systems available at my disposal.

  7. Bryce says:

    In my gaming group, just like any other, my fellow players and I don’t always agree. I love D&D and have been playing for many years. On the other hand we have another person who despises D&D for various reasons. So to compromise we decided to butt heads and try to come up with something that was both rich fantasy with a simple rules system. Well we both love M&M so we figured…wouldn’t it be awesome if we could have a fantasy medieval M&M game! So here I am parousing the Green Ronin site and viola! There it is…the W&W pdf. Bought it right then and there and we’re going to play this weekend lol. Looks awesome and can’t wait to try it out.

  8. Webhead says:

    Very awesome, Bryce! You’ll have to let us know how it goes!

  9. Greywulf says:

    Excellent Bryce! I hope it works out for y’all. Make sure to let us know :D

  10. Vulcan Stev says:

    I’m waiting for it to come out in that new wireless format, BOOK before I purchase my copy. But I will be purchasing a copy.

    Vulcan Stevs last blog post..The Cloak of Canineability: a Magical Item.

  11. Geek Gazette says:

    I pre-ordered mine on Amazon last year when it was first announced. The site says it will be shipped on May 5. I actually hope this is my D&D replacement. Everything I’ve seen and heard so far sure makes it seem like the closest thing to a “D&D killer” out there (at least for my group).

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