A Glorious New System For a Grimdark, Wrathful Future

Wrath & Glory is here! This is the brand new Warhammer 40,000 RPG system from the North American branch of Ulisses Spiele, who took over the 40K RPG licence after Fantasy Flight Games dropped it. (The Warhammer Fantasy and Age of Sigmar RPG licences went to Cubicle 7; their Age of Sigmar RPG is still coming but their 4th Edition of WFRP is pretty damn good.) Keener that I was, when the preorders came up I plumped for the chunky collector’s edition big box, containing much of the initial volley of Wrath & Glory products. How does it measure up? Well, let’s crack it open and see…

Beginner’s Rulebook

This is from the Starter Set and is also bundled in here, and as far as such things go it’s really quite good. At some 70-odd pages long, this isn’t a mere pamphlet useful only for holding your hand through the sample adventure provided there – it’s got a reasonably in-depth presentation of the core resolution mechanic, the combat system, and skill use, and as such it actually seems to be enduringly useful even once you’ve moved beyond it. The major things it’s missing compared to the core rulebook are the setting details, the character generation process (the Starter Set uses pregens), and the psyker rules.

That being the case, I can easily see this booklet being used as a quick reference at the game table by players who want a quick reminder on some aspect of the combat rules or other, freeing up the main book to be used by someone else at the same time. This is certainly much better than some RPG starter set rulebooks, which end up being more or less entirely useless once you’ve played through the content in there.

Core Rules

Wrath & Glory takes an entirely different approach to the problem of making a Warhammer 40,000 tabletop RPG from the previous run of games. The original design task for Warhammer 40,000 RPG purposes was taken on by Black Industries, the late, lamented RPG subdivision of Black Library, Games Workshop’s novels imprint, which put out the original Dark Heresy core rulebook, the GM screen, the Inquisitor’s Handbook and the Purge the Unclean adventure book before Games Workshop shut down Black Industries and transferred the licence to Fantasy Flight Games.

Black Industries’ original vision was that Dark Heresy would be the first of a trilogy of RPGs, each carefully focused on a particular aspect of the Warhammer 40,000 setting rather than trying to be a more generally themed game taking in all possible concepts. Dark Heresy cast you as grimy agents of the Inquisition; Rogue Trader was going to have you be a Rogue Trader and their crew, whilst Deathwatch was going to cover Space Marines. Each game would take place at an increasingly high power level, so sufficiently experienced characters from the less high-powered lines could show up in games of the more high-powered lines. What was more important, though, was that each game would be highly targeted to a specific, strongly-defined central concept, rather than offering a less tied-down system intended to be used for a broad range of concepts.

We’ll never know how close the versions of Rogue Trader and Deathwatch that Fantasy Flight eventually produced were to what Black Industries was envisioning here, but they did at least stick to the principle of keeping the games focused – even the games they added above and beyond the Black Industries plan, the Chaos-focused Black Crusade and the Imperial Guard-tastic Only War, took as axiomatic the notion that the Warhammer 40,000 was simply too big and broad for a single general core rulebook to address.

Wrath & Glory shreds up that axiom and steers directly away from it, with its core rulebook managing to be a bit thinner and more manageable than the heavy tomes that formed the core rules of the previous Warhammer 40,000 RPGs and yet, in an easy-to-grasp points-based character generation system, offers a massive range of character concepts. There’s bound to be some concepts which people want to run which the core rulebook just doesn’t fit (to my eye you’d need to do a heap of work to run a game set within the T’au Empire, despite its multi-species makeup making it kind of perfect for this purpose), but I’d say the range of character concepts you can implement with the tools offered here is easily broader than all the core books of the previous 40K RPGs put together. You’d need to work hard to think up an adventure-worthy Imperial concept which wouldn’t at least roughly correspond to any of the archetypes here, and you also have rules for Orks and Eldar characters straight out of the gate.

Of course, giving the players that level of freedom in character generation without further guidance runs the risk of coming up with an absurd party that doesn’t make sense for the planned campaign, but Watson and his team solve that less through system-based methods than through clear directions as to best practice. As part of the process of setting the Tier for the campaign – the overall power level it’s intended to function at – the group is also supposed to agree on a framework for the campaign – a broad concept for what sort of action it’s going to focus on and what the party are expected to be doing and what general situations they are going to be facing, which in and of itself will help narrow down the range of acceptable character concepts. “Inquisition-backed investigators” suggests a different party makeup from “Space Marine squad” or “Chaos cultists” or “Rogue Trader and entourage” or “Imperial Guard squad” or “Eldar adventurers” or “Orks lookin’ for a fight” – all of which are concepts you could absolutely run campaigns around using this game, and I’m just scratching the surface of what is potentially possible here. (Note that this covers more or less all the bases that the Fantasy Flight-era RPGs did and more besides.)

Aiding the process of narrowing things down is the way the Tier of the campaign is tied in to the character types available – rather than having the dozens of archetypes presented all available in all campaigns, each archetype is associated with a Tier score. You cannot pick an archetype whose Tier score is higher than that of the present campaign, so you can’t bring a Space Marine into a Tier 1 campaign about Necromunda-esque hive world gangers – but you can pick an archetype of a lower Tier, and then give them special “Ascension Packages” representing a bundle of past experience in order to elevate them to a level where they’re pulling their weight in the party. As such, the spectre of a green Imperial Guard trooper having to somehow keep pace with a Space Marine in a party is a non-factor – because you aren’t going to have a green trooper in a party with that Marine, you’re going to have a grizzled veteran whose wealth of experience and knowledge is just as valuable to the party as the Marine’s superhuman capabilities.

It’s very clear that the Wrath & Glory core rulebook is very complete in and of itself when it comes to the potential scope of the game – subsequent supplements might provide additional support for particular areas of focus, but I suspect it will be on the level of providing somewhat more targeted equipment and character generation options and adversaries rather than tweaking any of the major concepts of the system – and if Ulisses never get around to doing a supplement on a particular subject it shouldn’t be especially hard to muddle along just with the core rules unless the concept in question has significant playability problems in its own right. (“Tyranid: the RPG” is not a game concept which I think really lends itself to the traditional RPG format at all, for instance.)

All round, it seems like the Tiers concept and the broad range of archetypes on offer work rather well, which to the eyes of some might make the approach of Black Industries and Fantasy Flight seem at best misguided, at worst greedy. It’s clear from Wrath & Glory that it was always wholly possible to design a system which allowed this level of flexibility in its core book whilst still allowing individual campaigns to target a suitably focused play experience in the Warhammer 40,000 setting. That being the case, were we all played for chumps when we ended up buying 6 different core rulebooks for those game lines?

Well, not quite. See, the reason it’s possible for Wrath & Glory to do this is that its system is designed from the ground up to scale nicely without getting absurdly fiddly or complex or otherwise breaking down at high power levels. Uliesses Spiele gave Watson and his team the freedom to design the system from the ground up, but this is not a freedom enjoyed by most of the previous run of Warhammer 40,000 RPGs; Dark Heresy was not a unique system, but was essentially a heavily skinned and houseruled version of 2nd Edition WFRP, and its successor games worked on a similar basis.

It’s unclear to me whether Black Industries’ original plan was to base all the 40K RPGs on WFRP, or instead their intention was to have bespoke systems at each of the power levels they were envisaging and they happened to base the Dark Heresy one off of WFRP. Either way, the scummy, low-level, high-risk, nightmares-and-investigations approach of Dark Heresy has enough overlap with WFRP that it wasn’t a terrible match, provided you spotted the connection and were happy that the game focused less on playing a badass Inquisitor and more on playing an Inquisitor’s disposable assets. It made sense that they did Dark Heresy first – if the plan was to do bespoke systems for the other games, it’d take longer to do that than it would to adapt WFRP for Dark Heresy purposes, and if the plan was to base all of the Warhammer 40,000 Roleplay games on WFRP then there was a major engineering problem facing them at higher power levels which they didn’t need to solve for the purposes of Dark Heresy.

See, the thing about WFRP is that it assumed a certain baseline power level for characters, and had fairly defined limits on just how powerful PCs could reasonably expect to get; sure, in a long campaign they could become quite powerful, but you’re not looking at superheroes with the level and sheer number of superhuman powers that Space Marines have unless one of your party members has gone really in deep on the path of the Chaos champion as laid out in the original Realm of Chaos supplement or has otherwise done something similarly extreme. WFRP was never designed with an eye to you creating a character as powerful as, say, a Space Marine (even a typical Rogue Trader starting character is pushing it) and then getting even more powerful over the course of a campaign.

As such, whilst Wrath & Glory ably proves that you absolutely can have a single core rulebook covering just about all the basic concepts for a Warhammer 40,000 RPG campaign and a bunch of more esoteric and unusual concepts besides, I think it’s also the case that you couldn’t really do that with the WFRP system. To be honest, I’m not sure Deathwatch proves you can really do a smooth, fast-moving take on Space Marines with the WFRP system; they had to load you down with so many talents and other stuff in that game to match the Space Marines of the fluff that it just became burdensome.

So, what’s the Wrath & Glory system actually like? Well, it’s a fairly simple stat-plus-skill dice pool system based on six-siders; as with Shadowrun or the World of Darkness games, you roll the dice and try to hit a number of successes that meets or exceeds a difficulty number. Any D6 which comes up a 4 or 5 counts as an “icon”, counting as 1 success, and any 6 is an “exalted icon”. As well as counting for 2 successes, exalted icons can also be shifted out of the roll to get bonuses, so long as enough icons and exalted icons are left in the roll after you shifted to still hit the difficulty number. The suggested bonuses include completing a roll faster, or getting additional information out of the roll, or doing additional damage in combat, but they aren’t absolutely limited to this and there’s scope for the referee to offer bespoke bonuses on particular rolls if it makes sense on a situational level.

The game borrows from the D6 system of Star Wars and Ghostbusters fame the idea of having an extra die in there to throw in complications; specifically, one of the dice in your pool, preferably coloured differently from the others, is designated as being the Wrath Die; when you roll a 6 on it in a roll, you add a point of Glory to the Glory pot (and if you’re in combat you do a critical hit), if you roll a 1 on it then a complication gets added to the scene.

Glory is a pool of points usable by all player characters to get little bonuses. (Interestingly, there’s a similar communal-pool-of-bonus-dice mechanic in Warhammer Quest: Blackstone Fortress.) You also have a personal store of points you can use for more significant bonuses – or to add narrative elements to a scene – called Wrath (hence the title of the game). The GM also has a pool of points called Ruin, which can be generated in various ways – for instance, if you opt not to add a complication to the current situation when rolling a 1 on the Wrath Die, the GM can take a point of Ruin. The referee doesn’t spend Ruin to add narrative elements to the current situation because, as the game points out, they’re already free to do that as much as they like anyway – but Ruin can be used to activate NPC special abilities and otherwise have wild shit happen to make life more difficult for the PCs.

The designers also appreciate that some gamers dislike it when narrative powers are tossed out to the players, like spending Wrath to add a narrative element to a scene or negotiating a complication with the GM. Even better, the designers aren’t all condescending or snotty about it – they concede that it’s a legitimate personal taste thing and that some people find it more immersive if they aren’t asked to exert a narrative level of control over the situation which their PC doesn’t actually have. A sidebar on the subject provides useful pointers on how to drop the narrative bits.

To be fair, it’s easy enough to do without this sidebar – just opt to give the GM Ruin rather than generating a complication whenever you roll a 1 on the Wrath Die (an option which will also appreciably speed up play, so there’s additional benefits to doing that), and don’t use Glory to make narrative additions, simples. Still, the fact that the designers thought about this and made a sympathetic sidebar on the subject is welcome and a sign that they’ve carefully thought through the inclusion of these narrative mechanics and given due consideration as to why some people might enjoy them and why some folk might dislike them. It makes a welcome change to, say, Shadowrun Anarchy, where the narrative stuff seemed pasted on as an afterthought, but in such a way as brushing it off to get at the perfectly functional traditional system underneath actually involved a bit of effort and interpretation.

Similarly, the various card decks which have been produced for the game have various uses suggested for them in the core book, but they actually aren’t all that essential to play; the combat cards, for instance, are used to generate critical hits, but there’s also a dice-based table to roll on for critical hits that you can use instead. So far as I could tell the only game mechanic which absolutely requires the use of cards is the Threatening Task system, which is a bit like D&D 4E skill challenges except even worse because to even act in a turn you need to draw a card from the Wrath Deck which happens to include an appropriate keyword icon to your character, indicating that under the circumstances in question your character has a chance to act.

This is annoying to me for several reasons, the main one being that it abandons immersion and narrative and even-handed refereeing entirely, leaving the decision about which characters are able to act not down to what makes for the best story, or what’s fair to the people at the table, or who would logically be able to act based on the facts of the fiction as established, but sheer blind pointless luck.

Threatening Tasks are one of the two bits of the game system which don’t work for me. The other one is the rather stilted and game-ified investigation mechanic, which I think is intended for use if you want to do a quick investigative scene under particular constraints (namely, the PCs are attempting to amass sufficient clues to convince a powerful NPC of something), rather than substituting for the entire flow of an investigation-focused scenario. (In other words, it’s there to take the place of in-depth investigation for campaigns not intended to focus on that.) In short, it feels like an eminently optional mechanic which I suspect a great many groups will ignore anyway in favour of a more organic approach to investigating clues and persuading NPCs anyway. (To be harsh, it feels like a system for running an investigation game designed by someone who doesn’t like or enjoy investigative games and wants to get that pesky investigation done and dusted with a bunch of quick dice rolls rather than actually thinking about shit.)

So on the whole the system is nice, simple to explain, and has a combat system which is amenable to being resolved swiftly and efficiently. If you want, you can use tokens or your standard Warhammer 40,000 miniatures in the combat system – indeed, as noted below Ulisses have made some battle mats for use with the game – but there’s more or less nothing requiring you to use miniatures or similar; they’re nice-to-haves if you are dealing with a particularly complex combat or want to get tactical with it, but the game is entirely playable theatre-of-the-mind style.

One thing which I greatly appreciate about the system is that, whilst it still manages to provide a character generation system with a lot of customisation for the satisfaction of players, running NPCs and monsters is made substantially easier for the referee. Perhaps the thing I hated most about the Black Industries/Fantasy Flight generation of Warhammer 40,000 RPGs, particularly at the higher power scales, was the dependence in monster/NPC listings on long lists of talents and traits that the characters in question possessed.

On the one hand, this clearly helped save on page count because rather than reprinting a bunch of special rules each time a particular thing came up they could just print the name of the trait or talent and have the referee look it up. On the downside, this meant that there was no such thing as a monster or NPC whose pertinent information was all held on one page – you had to go looking up all their shit to figure out what they could do every time you used them. It’s viable enough to summarise a bunch of abilities as a bunch of trait and talent names when it’s player characters, because players only have to remember or note down what their own shit does; expecting referees to memorise the entire trait and talent lists (some of which functioned somewhat differently in different game lines) to run the NPCs was an obvious non-starter.

When news broke about Wrath & Glory I expressed hope on RPG.net that the monster listings would put all the needed information in one place and eliminate cross-referencing, and Ross Watson reassured me that this would be the case; Ross has delivered on this point, with the various creatures in the bestiary being summed up by attributes, skills, some weapon stats where appropriate and any applicable special powers or rules. Thank you, Ross; in one fell swoop you’ve made Wrath & Glory infinitely easier for me to run than Deathwatch and its ilk ever were.

On the whole, then, I’m very happy with the new Wrath & Glory system. I will be keeping hold of some of my older 40K RPG material due to a mixture of nostalgia purposes and the ease of exploiting the setting material there, but I can’t see myself going back to the old systems very regularly. I’d do Dark Heresy 1st Edition again if I wanted that grimy, low-powered, WFRP-meets-40K style of play, for instance, and I can imagine certain kinds of Only War or Black Crusade working better under the old systems (again, ones which emphasise a low-powered, scummy take on the base concepts), but on the other hand I can’t see myself doing Rogue Trader or Deathwatch under the old systems again when this finely-engineered baby could deliver on those straight out of the box, and if my group preferred to do those Dark Heresy games or those edge case Only War/Black Crusade games under this system I won’t exactly kick up a fuss either.

Wrath & Glory is, in short, a Glorious triumph. Loyalists to the old system may feel some Wrath, but I don’t see this as Ruining the game line at all; unlike WFRP, where the 1st and 2nd edition systems had become an iconic and classic treatment of a particular style of gaming, I don’t think the old 40K RPG systems had ever excelled quite to the same level, and hadn’t been in place for a similar length of time, so I don’t have the same attachment there; it remains to be seen whether an edition war will kick off over this, but I have seen absolutely no sign of one myself and would be kind of disappointed in the community if it did. For 40K purposes, Wrath & Glory is so clearly superior to previous offerings that I have to declare it a magnificent success.

Blessings Unheralded

This was the quickstart adventure that was produced for the system – it’s got a taster of the rules that’s much like the one from the Beginner’s Rulebook minus some of the introduction-to-roleplaying materials, and it’s got a sample adventure. The former is fine, the latter isn’t much to shout about but isn’t terrible either. (There’s an aspect where certain NPCs the players are encouraged to care about are actually doomed and cannot be saved, which may seriously bug some players – but there’s an argument that if such bleak outcomes aren’t to your taste, maybe it’s time to have second thoughts about playing a 40K-based game without really radically tweaking the setting.)

What’s perhaps most interesting here is what you get aside from the main booklet: a grid map of a combat area and some cut-out tokens to use with it. This is not at all vital to resolving combats, but is nice to have if you want it; in addition, the map is to the right scale where if you want to use your 40K minis and scenery on it, you can.This sort of thing strikes me as a smart way of encouraging RPG players to grab themselves some Citadel miniatures (and thus get some of that nice cross-brand synergy going), and ensuring that existing wargamers’ mini collections can be useful for the purpose of playing the RPG, whilst at the same time not alienating RPG players who specifically prefer “theatre of the mind”-style combat. The combat system is not reliant on maps and counters or miniatures, and I think Ulisses realised that a good chunk of the RPG audience would balk at a system which excluded theatre of the mind entirely; in addition, the combat system doesn’t go in too deep on the tactical skirmish aspects because if you want to play a 40K-themed game which spends most of its time on a particularly intricate skirmish combat experience you’d probably just play Kill Team or Necromunda. However, by providing tools that make running the games with minis easy, Ulisses mininise the barrier to their use without making them mandatory. To my mind, that’s the best of both worlds.

Escape the Rok

This is the sample adventure from the starter set; the titular rok is an ork space station constructed in a hollow asteroid; in a hilarious touch, the orks have carved it into the likeness of the Emperor, in order to lure in gullible Imperial ships for capture via traktor beam. This is a delightfully orky touch and also a much more comedic one than we’re used to seeing in the Warhammer 40,000 RPGs. Unfortunately, the adventure itself isn’t up to much; it feels rushed and underdeveloped, and in particular mixes some sections which are extremely railroaded and linear (thus teaching new referees bad habits) with other sections which are sufficiently underdeveloped that I suspect that beginner referees will find it a bit overwhelming to try to run them.

A happy medium was perhaps wanted here and was missed, and as such whilst the beginner’s rulebook remains a useful introduction to the system, I feel like the starter set as a whole isn’t going to be very good at minting new roleplayers – better for beginners to find an existing group or referee to play with instead. The art of crafting a starter set for an RPG with an eye to minting new referees is not easy, but it’s possible – Lost Mine of Phandelver did it for D&D 5E, and the recent Starter Set for Call of Cthulhu also managed it, but Ulisses have dropped the ball here. You absolutely, positively cannot rush the intro adventure in an RPG starter set, and yet that’s exactly what they’ve done here.

Dark Tides

An even worse case of dropping the ball is this first hardcover adventure supplement. As solid as the Wrath & Glory core system is, it’s a bit thin and flavourless when it comes to setting details – the sample setting doesn’t have even a fraction of the depth of, say, the Calixis Sector of 1st Edition Dark Heresy. In and of itself, that’s not a major problem – it’s explicitly been the plan for the Wrath & Glory line that the core system would concentrate on providing the baseline core rules primarily, and then supplements and adventure supplements would provide the deep dives into specific concepts. Likewise, it’s fine that the background and setting in the quickstart and starter set adventures are rather thin – both of those simply don’t have the page count to provide the adventure and the setting detail.

However, you’d have thought that they’d have made more of an effort with Dark Tides. The concept is that the PCs are troubleshooters employed by a Rogue Trader to help sort out various crises, all unfolding within a particular hive of a particular hive world in the sample star system from the core book.

Now, if you’re planning on running multiple sessions in the same location, with the PCs working for the same NPC, you might want some details on that – and certainly, were this a FFG-era supplement, I’d have expected that it’d have provided substantially more depth on the aforementioned star system, planet, hive, and Rogue Trader. It really doesn’t; it really feels like this whole thing was rush-designed to get it out of the door in time, and part of the casualties of the tight deadlines involved is any sort of in-depth setting development.

This reaches the extent that it’s to the detriment of the adventures presented, even if you were to take them as standalone adventures. One of them plunges the PCs into the political discord between different claimants to the planetary governorship, but because they’re so lightly and poorly detailed that there doesn’t seem to be much of a choice between them – and if the players have the bright idea of trying to find a third candidate to impose in their stead, oops, the world just isn’t detailed to an extent that would allow it. (All of the adventures are quite railroady here.) Other adventures seem to fail to grasp the fact that the adventure is taking place in a bustling hive-city – there’s multiple instances of the PCs wandering into an area, one of which is an entire district of the city, to be surprised to find it in chaos and/or strewn with corpses, when given the sheer size and the amount of activity happening in your typical hive you’d have though that the outbreak of disorder across an entire district would have become very, very apparent to everyone because word would have gotten out.

On top of all this, the book seems to misunderstand the Wrath & Glory system in some really fundamental ways. The suggested Tier levels for the episodic adventures begin at Tier 1-2 for the first adventure and culminate at Tiers 4-5, and the assumption is that it’s the same PC group working for the Rogue Trader across all these adventures. The thing is, a “Tier” is something which, once you set it, you expect the entire campaign to stay at that Tier, or at the very least a very substantial span of time in it – it sets the benchmark for what character concepts are suitable and what character builds are viable, and the jump from Tier to Tier is very substantial indeed.

The assumption here, however, is that Tier works like D&D level – a number which goes up every session or two, rather than remaining the same for a very long period of time. As a result, you’re left dealing with one of various deeply unfortunate alternatives:

  • You abandon the assumption that you are playing the same PCs in each adventure, and cycle the low-tier characters out for higher-tier agents of the Rogue Trader. An interesting idea, and it does seem like Dark Tides might actually be assuming that you do this – dumping your PC from adventure to adventure to pick out a different archetype to play with for a bit. This, however, is alien to how most players approach tabletop RPGs, and in particular seems hostile to the idea of consistently playing the same PC and developing their story over the course of the campaign – which seems to be what the core book is assuming you do.
  • You level the characters up between the adventures. This involves stacking the tier-boosting packages on them from the core book – of which there are a grand number of two, and one of them can only be picked once – and feels like an abuse of the system, since those are supposed to represent a genuinely substantial amount of character development.
  • You add in more adventures between the episodes, in order to allow characters to earn a suitable amount of experience. The number of adventures you would need to do in order to do this properly would make an absolute mockery of the supposed urgency behind the main episodes of the campaign – and, of course, the extremely shallow level of setting detail means that when it comes to actually devising those adventures, you’re pretty much on your own.
  • You adjust the adventures accordingly so the entire campaign would unfold at a particular tier. The book gives suggestions on how to do this, but really should have done if for you and been designed for one specific Tier from the beginning because seriously, Ross Watson, what the fuckity-fuck is wrong with you, you’re supposed to be the lead designer for both this book and the core book and the overall line and yet apparently you wrote this book not fully understanding how your own system worked.

It’s almost as though the book were written at a substantially earlier stage of development, when the Tiers were much more like a conventional level system and there was less separation between subsequent Tiers, and then they had to hastily tweak and patch it once the core book was finished up.

There’s an interesting idea at the end, where you get a bonus adventure casting the players as Eldar infiltrators having a little adventure in parallel with the climactic events of the campaign, but I feel that this chapter could have better been served as a setting chapter giving deeper details on all the assumed features of the Dark Tides campaign, and for that matter the book itself could have been better served either by picking one particular Tier to cater to and sticking to it or abandoning the campaign concept entirely and just presenting a collection of unconnected adventures of a range of different Tiers for the sake of giving examples of what action at each Tier looks like. In short, Dark Tides represents the low water mark of what’s presented in this box.

Various Card Decks

The deluxe set comes with a bunch of card decks intended to enhance play. The best of these are the Talents & Psychic Powers Card Pack and the Wargear Card Pack. These provide for you the rulebook text on what those talents, psychic powers, or bits of equipment do; having these in front of you can save you a metric ton of rulebook-flipping. Great, fantastic – it’s something which enhances the game nicely without being essential, I like it.

Next up you have the Wrath Deck, which is basically an alternate way of generating critical hits. In addition, each card has a couple of little icons in one corner which correspond to the keywords for the Threatening Tasks system. The fact that they had to slip this feature into a tiny corner of the Wrath Deck suggests to me that, as in the D&D 4E skill challenges which seem to have inspired them, the Threatening Tasks idea was thrown in at the last minute – half-baked, with no separate product supporting it and the essential randomised-icons aspect piggybacking onto a product designed for an entirely different purpose. Still, at least the critical hits are fun.

The Perils of the Warp Deck is an alternate way to generate psychic backlash. It’s slightly less useful than the Wrath Deck for this purpose because it requires you to divide the deck into five different piles, depending on how many complications were rolled to kick off the backlash (from 1-5), and then drawing from the appropriate deck. In an absolutely boneheaded move, Ulisses didn’t design the card backs to include the number of complications, which would have made this process much, much easier. It’s still useful, but it’d be more useful if they hadn’t fucked up like this.

Into the area of “cards I probably won’t use” is the Combat Complications Deck, which as the title implies is a deck of cards representing combat complications you can throw in when complications are rolled in combat. The problem is that a great many of these cards are identical, meaning that the designers ran into the exact same problem that the deck is supposed to solve – namely, that coming up with a fresh, interesting complication every time one is rolled in combat gets old real quick. I would rather just use the suggested methods of ignoring complications (by having them generate Ruin tokens for the ref) for the sake of not slowing down the game than use this deck.

In the “what were they even thinking?” category is the Campaign Deck, which is supposed to be a bunch of cards which players can use to shift the direction of the narrative, except actually a lot of them don’t really have that effect so much as they change the circumstances of an encounter slightly (and sometimes they don’t even do that but just apply a weird penalty or bonus to something). Sometimes they offer guidance on what sort of event is supposed to trigger them, but some of the cards just express their effects in pure system terms without giving even the slightest suggestion as to what this is supposed to represent or when/why you might want to do this. The entire deck feels utterly underbaked, like the design team were told to make it but each contributor had a different idea as to what campaign cards were actually supposed to be used for and the end result is a contradictory, horrible mess.

Little Tokens and Maps and Stuff

You also get a brace of posters, battle maps, and tokens here. Some of the tokens are poker chip-style tokens to use as Wrath, Glory, or Ruin points; others represent characters and can be used on battle maps if you don’t have appropriate minis, which is a nice courtesy. These, and the small collection of D6s, are nice to have, as is the GM screen.

Soundtrack Album

It’s by Joe Griffin, it’s not terrible but it’s not awesome either. It’s a bunch of tracks which sound like the sort of thing you’d get from a not-especially-imaginative FPS or something.

In Conclusion

In terms of system, Wrath & Glory is a major improvement over the previous Warhammer 40,000 RPGs for most purposes you could want to apply a 40K-themed system to. In terms of presentation, Wrath & Glory has taken some missteps. Some of the adventure materials provided have been threadbare, some aspects of the system (like the Threatening Tasks and the Campaign Deck and the like) are clearly threadbare gimmicks which most people will never use in actual play, and the paper stock on the core book feels thin and flimsy, making it feel like an overall cheaper and less carefully put-together product than the better Fantasy Flight/Black Industries-era games.

I think on the whole Wrath & Glory has a chance to make a success of it, but a lot will depend on how careful Ulisses Spiele are about their quality control from this point onwards – in particular, products as shonky as Dark Tides must not be allowed into the public sphere in future, and in general prewritten adventures should have much more thought put into them than the obviously rushed materials that have been offered up here.

6 thoughts on “A Glorious New System For a Grimdark, Wrathful Future

  1. Daniel F

    Oh my gosh – I love the idea that they actually recognise that some players dislike narrative mechanics, sympathetically address that, and provide advice on how to remove or avoid them. Narrative mechanics have been a sticking point for me again and again in RPGs, and it’s pretty rare in my experience for games to realise that some players hate them, or including ways to limit their use.

    That does a lot to improve my first impression of the game, and it sounds a lot more streamlined and playable than the FFG titles, most of which I didn’t love either. This might be exactly what I want in a 40k RPG.

    Background and setting-wise, though, my understanding was that W&G follows the newest metaplot? The Imperium is cut in two by a giant Warp storm, Guilliman is back, everything has been renamed something more copyrightable (aeldari, drukhari, astra militarum, etc.), Primaris Marines, and so on? Fortunately it sounds like the book is sufficiently light on background that if you’d rather set your game in an earlier take on the setting, that’s easily done?

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