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.

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Wrath & Glory and Other Warhammer 40,000 RPGs Disappear From DriveThruRPG

Despite its first wave of products coming out and its core rules being pretty solid as far as I was concerned, there’s been a concerning silence about Wrath & Glory. Aside from a few mentions in interviews, there wasn’t much emerging from the design team with respect to details of future products. The game’s standalone website was still up, though it’s a singularly crap effort – there’s no link to buy the game from, only the starter set is detailed, and the social media links go through to WordPress defaults – and all mention of the game seemed conspicuously absent from Ulisses North America’s front page. Rumours floated around about poor sales, though sales figures in the RPG industry are incredibly difficult to pin down.

Now, though, a much more concrete sign of trouble has emerged: without warning, all Wrath & Glory products have been pulled from DriveThruRPG, along with all the PDFs of the Fantasy Flight Games-era 40K RPGs which Ulisses Spiele had been given the rights to sell as part of their deal with Games Workshop. The products are still available in your library if you’ve purchased them already, and they still show up on searches – but you get an error if you click on those search results, so it’s no longer possible to buy the products on DriveThru if you haven’t already.

On doing further checks, other Ulisses North America game lines like The Dark Eye and Torg are unaffected, so it doesn’t look like this is a shift in policy on their part to shun DriveThruRPG (a bizarre choice since it’d mean walking out of the biggest shopfront in the market). Likewise, Rough Nights and Hard Days – the new supplement for WFRP – is still available on DriveThruRPG (and is doing pretty well in the sales rankings at that), so it seems unlikely that Games Workshop has abruptly decided to cancel all their RPG offerings or ban their licensees from using DriveThru. (Such a move would be a bit out of character for Games Workshop these days anyway, since under their new CEO they seem much more reasonable and gamer-friendly than they’ve been for a long while.)

On the whole, the situation stinks of a licensing issue between Games Workshop and Ulisses – extending, possibly, to a full-on cancellation or freezing of the licence. Why this would be the case I do not know; a lot hinges on what termination clauses and measures were written into the licence, and as a result it’s possible that this was initiated by Games Workshop, or by Ulisses, or by both.

It’s difficult to speculate what could have prompted this, but if I had to put bets on it, I’d say that some sort of acrimonious disagreement is involved. Compare this to the situation where Fantasy Flight gave up the licence voluntarily, and were able to declare as much to give customers a chance to make a last few purchases before the clock ran down. I can’t see that either Ulisses or Games Workshop would have wanted it to go down this way if they had a choice about it.

Possibly it’s just a momentary argument about royalties due from PDF sales or something of that nature, and PDF sales will be restored in due course… but it feels more likely that Wrath & Glory is dead in the water. Whether this came down to Ulisses tossing the 40K licence away (perhaps due to poor sales making it no longer worth their time, or their arrangement with Games Workshop constraining them from making other deals they thought would be more worthwhile), or down to Games Workshop slapping the franchise out of Ulisses’ hands, we don’t know. We can only hope that sooner or later someone else will step up to the plate to handle the grim darkness of the far future in tabletop RPG format.

UPDATE: It’s been announced that Ulisses are turning over development of Wrath & Glory to Cubicle 7. Cubicle 7 press release here, Ulisses statement here.

Despite Ulisses putting a brave face on this, I feel like this is mostly good news for Cubicle 7 and Games Workshop, and a bad sign for Ulisses North America. UNA lose a major brand, Games Workshop greatly simplify their oversight workload on the RPG front, and Cubicle 7 get all the Warhams RPGs under their banner. I have to suspect that Ulisses Spiele may feel that UNA has overextended itself and have decided to prune back their American branch accordingly.

Cubicle 7 confirm that there’ll be a revised printing of the core book, which I actually welcome – as much as I like the new system, the production values on the core book could do with a little Cubicle 7 magic, and folding in the errata would be a nice move.

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…

Continue reading “A Glorious New System For a Grimdark, Wrathful Future”