Resurgent Wrath & Renewed Glory, Or Reheated Ruin?

The physical copies of Cubicle 7’s new Wrath & Glory rulebook have now emerged. For those who aren’t up on the backstory here, a quick summary: after Fantasy Flight Games and Games Workshop’s licensing arrangement died a death, the RPG rights to the various Warhammer settings were up for grabs. Cubicle 7 took the fantasy-based ones, and as well as Soulbound, their new Age of Sigmar RPG, they have brought out a delightfully flavourful 4th Edition of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.

Ulisses Spiele, however, took the Warhammer 40,000 RPG licence, and rather than keeping the lights on for the mass of different 40K-themed RPGs that Fantasy Flight had supported – Dark HeresyRogue TraderDeathwatchBlack Crusade, and Only War – they decided to put out an all-new game, Wrath & Glory, with a system intended to cover as many aspects of the Warhammer 40,000 universe as possible rather than going for a series of more focused games as Fantasy Flight had done.

With the design and development process handled by Ulisses North America, the first version of Wrath & Glory offered a promising start. The basic concept of tiered archetypes corresponding to different iconic Warhammer 40,000 character concepts, with the different tiers spanning power levels from low-grade chumps to top-tier superheroes, was basically sensible; furthermore, the designers made the sensible decision to not continue with the WFRP-derived system of the previous Warhammer 40,000 RPGs, which had always struggled a little to handle more powerful characters (WFRP having very much catered to the low-power end of the scale).

The perspective on the cover of the new core book never quite looked right to me.

That said, the Ulisses Spiele release of the game had its issues. The production values – particularly compared to both Fantasy Flight’s previous offerings and Cubicle 7’s WFRP material – felt a little lacklustre, a couple of ribbon bookmarks not quite hiding the slightly thin paper quality. Some of the art looked a little off; some of the game mechanics seemed either poorly explained, poorly tested, or outright poorly understood by the designers. (Dark Tides, the sole adventure pack released for the game, seemed to assume that characters would be advancing in Tier at a much faster pace than suggested in the core book.) A number of card decks were issued alongside the core book, which seemed to strongly hope you would make extensive use of them, despite some of them being a little half-baked.

In general, a lot of small things seemed to be a bit off, which added up bit by bit to give the impression of a product rush-released in a hurry. In addition, the core rules felt rather bland and thinly stretched-out, with not much meat in terms of setting material – an annoyance to many fans, since the plan had apparently been for the game to be a significant way to showcase what’s going on in the Dark Imperium (the chunk of the Imperium now cut off from the Astronomican’s light) but a bunch of the material developed by the Black Library’s authors for the book didn’t make the cut.

A mixed reception was followed by an abrupt disappearance – after the initial slate of products was released, there was a dearth of announcements of new material, previously-announced supplements didn’t seem to materialise, and everything got ominously quiet at Ulisses’ end. Fans noted that references to the game seemed to be disappearing from Ulisses’ website, and Ulisses didn’t show up with the rest of the Games Workshop licensees at 2019’s Warhammer Fest.

Finally, the hammer dropped: all material for Wrath & Glory and other Warhammer 40,000 RPGs abruptly disappeared from the DriveThruRPG storefront. A day or so later, carefully co-ordinated press releases were made by Ulisses North America and Cubicle 7; Ulisses North America was stepping away from Warhammer 40,000, Ulisses Spiele (their parent company) was going to content themselves with handling German language translations of the game, and design and development of the product line would now be lead by Cubicle 7, who’d also be publishing the English-language books.

I suspected at the time that Ulisses North America had overextended itself, taking on a product it wasn’t ready to do justice to, and had decided to prune things back. This may be correct, though I note that since then UNA are planning to put out a new edition of Fading Suns, and I wonder whether there might be an issue there. Whatever the behind-the-scenes story is behind UNA, Cubicle 7, and Games Workshop agreeing to rearrange things like this – as the IP owners there is simply no way this switcheroo happened without Games Workshop’s approval at the very least, and it’s very possible they initiated the process in the first place – the fact of the matter is that Cubicle 7 has how consolidated all the Warhammer RPG licences into their hands, and with the release of the printed version of their revised core book, the game is effectively getting a second edition.

Note how the update gives them the chance to bring in the new Warhammer 40,000 logo.

The new book is not just a spruced-up reprint of the original; the game has had a root-and-branch rewrite and reorganisation. The system is broadly the same – you can take any of the (extremely limited) amount of support material that Ulisses produced and use it with this edition of the game no problem – but a lot of the criticism of the original release has been accounted for, and further rounds of feedback from the initial PDF of this revision was taken into account in the print run. Some terminology has been changed to better reflect the underlying intention, some sections have been expanded and clarified, other bits have been yanked outright.


Since I still have my copy of the original printing, I thought I would go through the two books and do a compare-and-contrast to see what’s gone and what’s new. I am not going to do a fine-toothcomb line-by-line rundown of what’s changed – the initial list of changes here and the errata here and here will broadly cover that. (I can confirm that the latest round of errata has been implemented in the printed copies.) As you’ll see from that first link, the update has been pretty extensive; Cubicle 7 have been nice and given a fresh new PDF of the revised edition to everyone who’d purchased a PDF of the original release, but if you only bought a physical copy of the first version, you’re probably going to want to actually get the new rulebook in some format rather than trying to implement all those changes yourself.

The Look

The new corebook is instantly nicer to look at and read than the previous one. Layout has been tightened up, the art is nicer (the perspective always looked weird on the front cover of the Ulisses one, this version is a neat riff on the original Rogue Trader cover), and the page background is much less obtrusive. As I mentioned, the paper felt a little flimsy on the Ulisses version; whilst this rulebook doesn’t have ribbon bookmarks, I consider those to be decidedly inessential, and certainly not worth tacking on if you are going to skimp on other production aspects.

The Smell

For some goddamn reason my copy of Ulisses rulebook has this rather strong odour. I suspect they’ve sprinkled benzaldehyde on it to give it a distinctive “old book” smell, though it’s sufficiently overpowering and lacking in the other scents that old tomes typically have that to me it just smells really strongly of marzipan.

The Cubicle 7 version of the game came to me still smelling of the binding glue, though the scent is now fading.

The Lead-In

The Ulisses edition kicks off with an Aaron Dembski-Bowden short story that has been cut from the Cubicle 7 version, though it’s fairly standard RPG intro fiction and therefore eminently disposable. Broadly similar “what’s an RPG” and “what do you need to play” text is provided in both versions, though the explanations are a bit more polished in the Cubicle 7 version. In addition, the Ulisses rundown of required gear is arguably incomplete; though you can pay the earlier edition of the game without using mechanics like the Critical Cards or Campaign Cards, the book tended to presume you would. Those card sets are not supported by the new version, which is fine by me because both of them were kind of janky.

Next up is some setting information; in the Ulisses version this is a rather dry rundown of the basics of the Warhammer 40,000 setting which yaks on at length and tries to give a broad overview of the entire setting, followed by a desultory two pages on the Gilead System – the sample setting for the game (and the one where the scant amount of support material put out by Ulisses was set), this is a densely-populated system right at the edge of the Great Rift, and must fend for itself as a result.

By contrast, Cubicle 7 gives its introductory setting information in the form of two flavourful in-character letters, one from a pious Sororitas functionary, one from a sleazy noble, which between them give a brief rundown of important setting concepts without getting very bogged down in the detail, giving a much more efficient and flavourful introduction to both the Warhammer 40,000 setting in general and the Gilead System in particular.

This latter is important because Cubicle 7 have made the very sensible decision to offer much more support in the core book for Gilead as the default setting of the game, and generally assumes that this is what you will be doing unless you have some other concept in mind. Much of the additions, excisions, and revisions in the rules seem to have been done with an eye to making sure that, whilst broad enough that you can absolutely do a range of other campaign concepts with it, running a game in the Gilead System is particularly well-supported.

In addition, Cubicle 7 have made sure to do a much better job of telegraphing what the Gilead System is like, what sort of action you might expect from a game set there, and how to steer into its themes best. In fact, later on the Cubicle 7 book devotes its 12 chapter entirely to giving a substantially expanded writeup on the system and its worlds. This section includes two deeper profiles on its two major non-player characters: the badass Lord-Militant Taleria Fylamon, who commands the Imperial Guard forces in the system but can often find ways for PC parties to advance her strategies, and the Rogue Trader Jakel Varonius, the only fleet captain whose ships have reached the system since the Great Rift opened – a mysterious figure who has used the authority of his Imperial Warrant of Trade to declare himself in overall command of the system, and who is likewise a suitable patron for player characters.

Cleverly, each of these characters has two example Frameworks associated with them – Frameworks being player party concepts which give PCs a collective bonus and kit and help set the initial premise and power level for the campaign. This not only offers interesting worked examples of how Frameworks can be associated with Patrons, but also provides no less than four example concepts which you can pick up and run with to start playing in the Gilead System straight away.

By comparison, the Ulisses book mentioned both NPCs in passing but didn’t really give up many details on what they are like, what their interests are, and what sort of job they might send PCs on – a serious missed opportunity. If the Gilead System chapter here represents a restoration of the setting material provided by the Black Library authors on this sample Imperium Nihilus star system, then it’s a very welcome one – and kind of a bad look on Ulisses that they cut all this extremely useful stuff.

Character Creation

The ordering of chapters in the Ulisses book and the Cubicle 7 book diverge a little here; the Ulisses version has the rundown of the basic game mechanics placed before character creation, the Cubicle 7 places it after.

I can see justifications for both approaches. It is arguably very helpful to actually know what a game’s resolution mechanic is prior to commencing character generation, so that you can have a better idea of what sort of chances of success a particular score in your stats yields and can so better craft a character you are trying to make. At the same time, the Ulisses chapter ordering means that the section on the basic resolution mechanic is separated from the rest of the chapters detailing in-session game mechanics by the character generation details, whereas the Cubicle 7 ordering means that if you’re reading the chapters in order, you don’t read up on the resolution mechanic until after character generation, but at the same time all of the “in-session” rules which are used outside of character generation and advancement are in close proximity to each other, which is handy for looking things up in play.

On balance, I tend to prefer the Cubicle 7 version. If you want to know the resolution mechanic before making your character, absolutely nothing stops you skimming ahead to look it up, and I think keeping all the in-session rules together is more sensible from a use-at-the-table perspective. On that note, I’d also point out that the Ulisses book doesn’t have chapter headings or other indications of which chapter in the book you are in on each page, which can make looking things up awkward, whereas the Cubicle 7 layout includes a nice clear chapter indicator over on the right-hand side of each double page spread, so it’s not just a subjective thing: the Cubicle 7 book is objectively easier to find your way around in actual play situations than the Ulisses book is because it provides indications and aids that the Ulisses book simply didn’t bother with.

As far as the actual character generation process goes, the Cubicle 7 version shifts away from the Ulisses assumption that the referee will have a strong vision from the game reflected in a Framework which they unilaterally impose and more towards the idea that the Framework should be something which the group discusses and agrees on together. In this context it also gives a clearer breakdown of the various Tiers, and the sort of stakes you can expect to be involved with each of them, and also makes some useful tweaks. For instance, the Ulisses version of the game made references to a Tier 5 – but offered no examples of Tier 5 Archetypes or Frameworks in the character generation section (a Tier 5 framework is offered in the refereeing advice section – but no Tier 5 Archetypes!). The Cubicle 7 book sensibly amends the system to be focused only on 4 tiers, with the lowest-tier characters facing local threats whilst top-tier characters deal with system-wide threats.

The same Archetypes from the Ulisses version can be made in the present version of the game, but for some tweaks: namely, the four Chaos-oriented Archetypes from the Ulisses version (Cultist, Rogue Psyker, Heretek, and Chaos Space Marine) have been taken out of the main archetype lists and are instead discussed in a side box, where it is made clear that:

  • Running a Chaos-oriented campaign is very much not the default and something you can think about.
  • Those four Archetypes are essentially modified tweaks of existing Archetypes.
  • Other Archetypes can if you like be played as Chaos infiltrators or defectors with the backgrounds in question.

This seems to make sense given that Chaos is very much a Does Not Play Well With Others sort of faction, and that the assumed default setup for the core game doesn’t necessarily lend itself to a Chaos-based campaign. The Gilead System is already very much on the back foot, after all, and whilst it is plausible for a Rogue Trader to maybe recruit an Eldar or an Ork to work for them, playing a Chaos character really either locks the whole group into playing a Chaos game or will entail one PC being a traitor in the midst of the party, which is difficult to make work in an enjoyable fashion.

Significantly more flexibility in character generation is offered in the Cubicle 7 version, with a lot of Tier-based restrictions lifted – if you have the points to buy up something high at the cost of neglecting most other aspects of your character, you’re allowed to. In fact, the Cubicle 7 version drops the rather useless “Custom Archetypes” sidebar which the Ulisses version had (which said little beyond “if the referee says so you can tweak an Archetype) and instead provides an “Advanced Character Creation” system, where instead of buying an Archetype with experience points to give you a block of predetermined features you buy all your features in an à la carte fashion.

This is helpful because it makes more transparent the logic behind Archetype pricing, and could also be a handy way to create custom Archetypes if one wishes. Tagging it as an “Advanced” system nudges people into only using it if they can’t live with the Archetypes on offer, and providing it shows a willingness to trust players find their fun if they are sufficiently conversant with the system.

The rules for Ascending your character to higher tiers are also expanded. A major problem with the original rules was that they specified that you can only take each Ascension Package once, but only provided an utterly measly two Ascension packages – one of which turned previously non-Psyker characters into Psykers, which may be strongly against the character concept/basic self-preservation. Sanity has prevailed here; not only has the number of Packages been updated to 6, but there is now an option to simply graduate from your old Archetype into one of the Archetypes of the Tier you are ascending into (like a normal Space Marine upgrading to be a Primaris Marine by crossing the Rubicon Primaris, or an Inquisitorial lackey being promoted to full Inquisitor). Why the original rulebook didn’t offer anything like this is outright baffling.

Rules

The rules are the same in general concept but have had numerous small tweaks to tighten them up, which I don’t intend to go into detail here. As I mentioned, I think Cubicle 7’s decision to move the rules on the basic mechanics so they now sit next to the rest of the uptime rules is sensible, and this is not the only respect in which they have improved the organisation. For instance, in the Ulisses version of the basic rules chapter there’s a weird chunk of text at the end about how Rogue Traders interact with the High Lords of Terra, which feels like a bizarre place to put what is ultimately a not enormously important bit of setting information.

What is perhaps interesting is how many rules sections have been outright yanked – I suspect because it was decided they were badly underbaked or rather niche, and needed to be properly explored in a later supplement. Vehicle rules for instance, have been entirely yanked, which is probably a good term since I have rarely seen an RPG session outside of something specifically vehicle-oriented like Mekton or Lancer where vehicle rules were a big deal, and Cubicle 7 have specifically said that a more fully developed vehicles supplement will be forthcoming.

Likewise, the rather desultory voidship rules have been yanked, and to be honest given the assumed focus of play for a core-only game here that makes sense because characters are just going to be shuttling around the Gilead System or similar anyway. I suspect that the very underbaked voidship rules in the Ulisses version were there because Ulisses really wanted to be able to say that you can handle the action of any of the previous generation of Warhammer 40,000 RPGs with the Wrath & Glory core, but I think Cubicle 7 are more willing to bite the bullet and say “no, we’re going to need more than one book to cover all that”.

The Investigation rules are also gone, I suspect because they kind of fall between two stools: if your group likes investigative scenarios, they are not going to want to short-circuit it by mechanising the process, and if your group doesn’t like them then they’re probably also not going to want to spend time during the session grinding through an investigation through rolling. In addition, the Ulisses-edition Investigation rules all boil down to persuading whichever NPC authority figure the PCs want to sway that the PCs have found the answer to the enigma being investigated, and ultimately whether or not they do that is kind of an NPC roleplaying thing (with the social skills already providing a means for influencing them via roles) and should really come down to the NPC’s attitudes and preconceptions and agenda rather than rolls.

Refereeing Advice and Resources

The GM advice section is thinner in the Cubicle 7 rulebook, possibly because a lot of the stuff in it has been distributed elsewhere in the rulebook in the interests of keeping players more in the loop. In another instance of prioritisation, stats for xenos animal threats have been slipped out to expand the range of more “proper” enemies available – with some welcome fleshing-out of the ranks of the Genestealer Cults being a particularly beneficial addition.

Index

Both books have indexes, but the Ulisses one is a single page and kind of sparse. The Cubicle 7 index is substantially more useful

Conclusion

The Cubicle 7 version of the Wrath & Glory core rules is in some respects a second edition in all but name. If you are feeling harsher about Ulisses’ management of the line, it’s like a true first edition, the Ulisses version being a rough earlier draft which somehow slipped out without further refinement.

In some respects there is less in here than in the Ulisses rulebook, but that comes down in part to a restored focus – a focus which goes a long way to fix the sense the previous rulebook had of being a bit generic and bland, and so keen to bend over backwards to emphasise that you can do anything in the 40K universe with these rules with sufficient workshopping it neglected to point out a suggested focus of play.

In addition, the broad scope of the Ulisses edition in retrospect feels like it was attained at the cost of accepting sloppy and underbaked work in some corners. Ditching the voidship rules and getting more Ascension options. In general, a wide range of 40K RPG campaign concepts are still viable with these rules; if you have an ongoing Wrath & Glory game and are considering whether to switch, I would say it is a matter of deciding whether you would rather have broader scope at the cost of worse rules, or better rules at the scope of a (minor) narrowing of scope, said narrowing largely retaining the bits the old rules did well and junking the parts which weren’t so hot anyway.

If you are about to start a Wrath & Glory game but want to choose whether to go with the Ulisses or Cubicle 7 version, it’s a no-brainer. The Cubicle 7 is not only an improvement on more or less all fronts aside from breadth of scope, but it’s also the one which will get more support material as time goes by. In a number of respects – like the botched handling of Ascension Packages – the Ulisses version of the game is quite simply objectively inferior to the Cubicle 7 version in a way which it is simply quite impossible to dispute.

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