Review: Warhammer 40,000 Wrath & Glory – Part 2

In the previous part of the review we looked closely at the core mechanics and the game’s elaborate character creation. This time we start with a look at combat in W&G , which of course plays an important role in a 40k roleplaying game. The setting’s motto is “there’s only war” after all.

Surprisingly W&G is not a miniature-based game. With a roleplaying game based on a popular tabletop miniature wargame one might have expected a strong focus on tactical combat using miniatures. But Ulisses opted for a more freeform and cinematic approach. There’s a sidebar with some tips on how to use miniatures in combat but W&G uses “theatre of the mind” combat. The approach to initiative is almost “old-school” with player characters and NPCs acting in a back-and-forth manner. The default assumption is that the players act first (if they haven’t been ambushed). Players and the GM may also use “Seize the Initiative” to let two of their characters act before the other side is allowed to make their move.

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When it comes to threats Wrath & Glory puts enemies into four distinct groups: Adversaries (basically main antagonist for an adventure or campaign), Elites (combat-focused NPCs which act as lieutenants or bodyguards for Adversaries), Monstrous Creatures (basically monster which are immune to being pinned, staggered or suffering from fear), and Troops which are nameless enemies which are quickly disposed of. Groups of troops are called a mob, which basically act as one unit.

In W&G characters may take one move and one action per turn. A move means the character can move up to their Speed in meters this round. Run is a special action which allows the character to move a second time. Sprinting is another action which allows movement up to double the character’s speed, but they suffer a negative modifier to their Defense until their next turn. Tactical Advance is another special move which allows a character to move from cover to cover without losing their defence bonus, but it reduces the speed to one half. Aside from that there are rules for swimming, jumping, crawling and flying, so all cases should be covered.

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Possible Combat Actions in W&G are Manifest Psychic Power, Melee Attack, Interaction Attack, Investigate, Ranged Attack, Stealth and Use Object. The attacks are pretty straightforward. You assemble a pool from the attack skill you’re using and the related attribute plus any modifiers for cover, talents and so on. The result is compared with the target’s defense. If you have more successes than needed you can shift 6s to Extra Damage. Some weapons also cause Extra Damage which you have to roll separately. The damage caused is then compared to the target’s Resilience. If the damage equals but not exceeds the target’s Resilience, it suffers d3 Shock. If the damage exceeds Resilience, the target suffers 1 Wound per damage point above Resilience. Shock damage is caused by the psychological stress of war and fatigue. A character with Shock reduced to 0 is exhausted. Wounds are actual damage. A character with Wounds reduced to 0 is unconscious or dead (lesser threats die, adversaries and player characters are usually only unconscious and might live to fight another day). Player characters and important NPCs may also try to soak damage. After a successful check, they may convert lethal damage into shock. Neat.

The Interaction Attack is a taunt, trick, an intimidation or a maneuver meant to distract the foe. It’s basically a placeholder action for all the cool stunts and weird ideas players and GMs come up with.

imageAside from the actions listed below, the game offers an even longer list of combat options including Aim, All-Out-Attack, Called Shots, or the always popular multi-attack. Of course they also didn’t forget an extensive Critical Hit Chart, which is a must-have for every roleplaying game set into the Warhammer universe.  The critical hit rules also mention a Wrath Deck, which can be used as a replacement for the aforementioned chart.

imageThis review would not be complete if I didn’t mention the large amount of various combat effects, complications, and memorable injures, the rulebook mentions. Overall the combat rules are IMHO a mixed bag. I like that the game offers quite a few interesting options for the tactical-minded gamer, but the combat rules also add a lot of fiddly bits to the elegant and simple core rules. The combat rules are also one section which could have benefitted from some more editing and a better organization. But if you don’t mind some tactical depth and a bit of added complexity during combat, you should be fine.

Wrath & Glory has rules both for vehicular and Voidship (space ship) combat which fit neatly into the existing rules for character-scale combat.

Chapter five is focused on adventuring and covers rules including but not limited to the passage of time, movement outside combat, enviromental hazards, warp travel, social interactions, and threatening tasks. Threatening Tasks is Wrath & Glory’s way of handling extended tasks. You may know something similar from D&D 4th Edition in which they called it a Skill Challenge. It’s basically a number of tests which are necessary to complete a problem which shouldn’t be solved with a single test alone – mostly for dramatic reasons. Threatening tasks usually take 3 to 5 rounds and there are 3 to 5 steps to fulfill. At the start of each turn a Wrath Card is drawn. If any character shares one or more of the keywords on the card, they may attempt to overcome this step. If the players are having bad luck, the GM may allow them to spend Glory to draw an additional card. Last but not least characters can attempt Desperate Acts to complete all remaining steps in a single round. In this case the DN for the remaining tests is modified by +2 for each step to fulfill.

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On paper Threatening Tasks sound interesting as a game mechanic, but I fear luck (or the lack of it) is actually more important than skill in these situations. Threatening Tasks are also another use for the Wrath Cards and it seems a mandatory one. I wouldn’t mind if the cards were included in the core rules, or if it was clearly mentioned on the back cover of the book, that special card decks are needed. Unfortunately this is not the case. Luckily a GM can just ignore this step and allow the players to attempt to solve a step every round.

The sixth chapter is all about wargear. This chapter has descriptions and statistics for every weapon, armor, tool, or cybernetic implant you could need. There is even an extensive list of weapon upgrades. I should probably mention that Wrath & Glory doesn’t use money. Equipment is acquired by using one’s Influence and rarer and restricted equipment is harder to get. This makes a lot of sense to me. Warhammer 40K is about larger-than-life heroes and campaigns of epic proportions and not book keeping or paying taxes.

The vehicles listed in this chapter are all meant for battle. It would have been nice to get some examples for civilian vehicles in the 40K universe, but I guess they will add more vehicles and gear in future publications. Unfortunately the list of Voidships is pretty limited. The core rulebook contains the stats for an Imperial Frigate, an Eldar Frigate, and an Ork Rok. Last but not least the chapter contains a long list of trinket and charms in the form of three d66-based random tables. Examples are “the milky eye of an Astropath suspended in a vial of preservative fluid” or “an ornate silver snuffbox. The snuff within is fortified with trace amounts of xenos pollen”.

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Chapter seven focuses on Psychic powers. Psychic powers in the 40k universe are basically magic just by another name. Just like in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay 2nd Edition (and the upcoming 4th Edition) using magic or in this case psychic powers, opens the character’s mind to the warp. This also means that things can go very wrong if you roll a 1 on your Wrath dice if you attempt to manifest one of your powers. At this point another card deck gets mentioned: the Perils of the Warp deck. Alternatively you can roll on a table to determine what happens. Results go from flickering lights, a touch of hoarfrost to daemonic possession, blood rain, and psychic overload which may really ruin your psyker’s day.

The list of available psychic power is quite extensive and contains not only combat-oriented powers, but a lot of utilitarian ones as well. I included an example of one of the powers below.

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The chapter concludes with a section of Corruption. What would a Warhammer game be without the taint of the warp, the corruption of one’s body and soul? Whenever a character is exposed a source of corruption (like depravity, extreme violence, psychic powers, or even just radiation) they have to make a Corruption check. If unsuccessful they get 1 Corruption Point. Each 5 points Corruption advances one level and the character has to make a Malignancy test. If this test is unsuccessful, the character shows mental or physical effects of their corruption. A character with more than 26 corruption becomes a chaos spawn and turns into a NPC under the GM’s control.

The Game Master chapter covers the basics of what a game master’s job is, but more importantly Wrath & Glory gives advice on how to bring the Dark Imperium to life. Even though you are free to set your campaigns anywhere within the Milky Way, W&G specifically is set into the Dark Imperium, which is the part of the Imperium of Man cut off from the light of the Emperor. This chapter explores the themes of the setting and gives tips on how include these into your campaign.

imageThe “Campaigns and Frameworks” section provides GMs with examples for campaigns for the various Tiers of play from the Honour Imperialis campaign framework which focuses on a platoon of Astra Militarum soldiers, to the Our Vigil Begins framework which is about Deathwatch Kill-teams reminiscent of FFG’s Deathwatch RPG.

Overall the chapter provides GMs with information on how to design adventures, how to play NPCs, how to award Wrath during the game or how to balance encounters. The advice is usually pretty good but aside from the sections which focus on the peculiarities of the 40k setting, it’s not very useful to veteran GMs.

The Wrath & Glory core rulebook concludes with an extensive bestiary which contains a wide variety of threats for your players. Aside from the usual suspects like the various xenos, demons, and human threats, this chapter also gives details on a couple of alien beasts you might encounter on your travels.

The core rulebook also contains a two-paged character sheet and a one-paged index. Unfortunately neither the index nor the table of contents are hyperlinked.

So the big question remains. Is Wrath & Glory worth your time and money? Without hesitation I can say: yes, it is! Wrath & Glory may have some rough edges but it is an impressive labor of love nevertheless. The core rules are solid, simple, and easy to learn. The combat rules are a bit more complex, and at times I feel there are too many fiddly bits, but overall they should work just fine. What I love about W&G is the fact that it provides us – for the first time – with a single ruleset which can power campaigns of varying power levels. Even transferring characters between campaigns should be easily done. That’s quite an achievement if you consider that there’s quite a power gap between a Human hive ganger and a Primaris Space Marine. The organization of the book is a bit haphazard at times, but if you can overcome this minor issue, Wrath & Glory is a real gem. I can’t wait to actually play it.

Wrath & Glory is currently available digitally from RPGNow or the offical Ulisses ebook store (which is actually powered by OneBookShelf, so you can use your existing RPGNow or DTRPG account to login). The 458-paged PDF sets you back €25.81 or your local equivalent. There’s also a print edition available which you can get directly from Ulisses or your friendly neighborhood game store.

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

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