By Anthony “LibrariaNPC” DeMinico, 22 August 2018
Once I learned Ulisses Spiele/Ulisses North America was releasing the new Warhammer 40k RPG, I was admittedly a little tentative. Fantasy Flight Games had a solid (albeit crunchy and multi-book) game inspired by the old Warhammer Fantasy mechanics, and the only thing I had known from this company was The Dark Eye.
As I’ve been trying to do a bit more often, I took a gamble and pre-ordered a standard copy of Warhammer 40,000: Wrath and Glory, as well as ran the Quickstart package Blessings Unheralded. Ulisses North America was also kind enough to send along review copies of additional material in PDF form, and I hope to have the opportunity to review them in the future.
So how does this stand up to the hype train? Well, grab your bolter and chainsword, because we have some adventuring to do.
Writer’s Disclaimer: Content for this review was offered by the publisher for review, and the core book was also purchased via personal funds. All opinions are my own, and the materials offered have not impacted the rating of the game.
Only War. That’s the common pitch for the Warhammer 40k universe. In the 41st millennium, the universe is ravaged by an ongoing war between humanity, multiple alien races, and even the forces of Chaos (and what Man Was Not Meant To Know). In a universe where life is cheap and meaningless amongst the scores of the dead, what good can one person do?
In the Gilead System, you’ll find your answer.
After the opening of the Great Rift, half of the Imperium of Man has found itself cut off from the rest of society. Traveling back is near impossible, communications are non-existent, and the forces of Chaos are coming through the rift.
The Gilead System needs heroes of various shapes and sizes. That’s where you come in…
Warhammer 40,000: Wrath and Glory is the newest roleplaying game set in the Warhammer 40k Universe. With a setting focusing on a mostly untouched part of the universe (at least untouched by the canon), players and GMs can use this newly introduced system to tell new stories.
==What You Get==
Wrath and Glory weighs in at 452 pages (not including covers and ad inserts), all in full color.
Within these pages, we are given a short primer of the Warhammer 40k universe, spanning under 50 pages (with plenty of setting details scattered throughout), and the rules needed to play. Said rules include creating characters (both Imperium and non-Imperium), equipping and improving those characters, and how to put together a campaign for these characters to take part in.
Unlike the previous version of Warhammer 40k (and even the original Warhammer Fantasy Roleplaying), we are not using a percentile system here. In fact, you only need d6s to play this, which makes the game welcoming to tabletop newbies as well as Warhammer 40k miniatures players. With an easy-to-grok d6 pool system, the game is very easy to get into and the price of entry, so to speak, is minimal. As long as each player has about 10d6, with one being designated as different, they are ready to roll. Literally, at that.
With regards to the rules, once you know the basics, the rest are just modifiers. Granted, there are a number of things to remember that modify rolls (like multiple actions, injuries, gear), but once you get the hang of those, it’s simple. In fact, I find it rather nice to know that the “Play Rules” essentially fill 60 pages (core mechanic and combat, with permutation), with the rest of the book being dedicated to making things interesting. If anything, fans of the Warhammer 40k wargame will feel right at home with the game, as many of the RPG mechanics are reminiscent, if not directly inspired by, the wargame.
I have to admit that, while the system is simple and has been seen elsewhere, it does bring in a number of “Quality of Life” changes we’ve seen in the gaming community. “Failing Forward” has a small section showcasing how it can be used in the game, and Keywords play a major role at times (a nod to Aspects in Fate or Traits in Star Trek). There are also multiple sidebars to show how the rules can be modified for different types of play styles fitting to the group (rolled initiative vs popcorn initiative; modified character creation, etc), which shows that Ulisses knew they were going to have a wide audience that likes to hack their games.
I’m also a fan with how fast the game can move. While there are tons of combat effects to memorize or keep a cheatsheet for, the game does move quickly once you get the hang of it. Running Blessings Unheralded was a breeze with my group, and even with a massive number of enemies (and I don’t mean one-hit mobs, either), the group experienced a fast-paced, relatively deadly, but highly satisfying combat. Even with the hiccups of the adventure as written, non-combat encounters also went surprisingly well and were easy for new players to pick up on. Overall, we have a solid mechanic that can move quickly and remain true to the source material.
Character creation spans about 130 pages, allowing for a plethora of character options and ways to customize your character. We’re given most of the major players in the Warhammer 40k Universe; Imperium (Humans), Adeptus Astartes and Primaris Astartes (two types of Space Marines), Eldar, and Orkz. There are also starting templates for each of them, such as playing a Tactical Marine for the Astartes, an Eldar Ranger, a Psyker Human, and an Ork Kommando.
With that in mind, it’s fun to note that the doors for this game are wide open.
For returning 40k fans, you should be happy to know that you can run just about anything you want out of the box, albeit with some modifications. If you are a fan of the Deathwatch line, you can build a group of overpowered Space Marines and continue on with the battle, have at it. You might need to modify a few things for specialized Marines (like Librarians, Apothecaries, Techmarines, etc), but it’s absolutely viable, especially since we are given nine Chapters to work with: Blood Angels, Dark Angels, Imperial Fists, Raven Guard, Salamanders, Space Wolves, Ultramarines, and White Scars. Want to have your Rogue Trader game? That’s easily covered as well! In fact, you can even play a Chaos game (albeit with some limits), or even an Eldar campaign with what we have here. That alone is worth the price of admission, in my opinion.
For fans of 40k in general, there is a bit of learning to be done here to allow that party I just mentioned to even coexist, but it all makes sense. As the “jump off” point in this setting is in the Gilead System, a part of the universe split from the Imperium (and half of the known universe in general) by the Great Rift, the various races have reasons to work together. Essentially, the Imperium (and other races) are realizing that Things Are Bad, and if they stand alone against the outside forces (Chaos Gods, Hive Fleets, etc), they will no longer exist.
With that, adventures in the Imperium Nihilus, or Dark Imperium, promote the idea of working together for common goals of survival. Not only does this allow for more diversity in a Warhammer 40k game (as previous games were Imperium heavy and frequently “Kill the Xenos!” based), but I think it’s a step in the right direction for the franchise. While the game originally was a “Everyone is evil”, it’s gotten changed over to the Imperium being the “Good Guys,” and some of what we’ve seen over the years is often argued among fans to be fascist apologia. Seeing a more open door option, but still having that hatred/distrust and leaving the option open to go out and slay an army of Orkz, is a nice change of pace in my opinion, as well as a step in the right direction.
From a visual design perspective, I need to get this off my chest: I’m not a fan of how the image layers work for the PDF. The book was designed to have a parchment or metal-appearing background, which could make things easier to read, but in this case, it did the opposite. The background is a gray with various darker symbols placed on the page (one symbol per chapter), sometimes with some type of “stain” on the page, and these tend to make reading the work a bit more difficult than it really needed to be. I think I would have been happier with a plain background that would complement the text, instead of making it harder to read.
If the print copy comes with a gloss instead of a matte finish, then this is going to be even more frustrating…
Added kicker: unlike Star Trek Adventures, we are not given a “Printer Friendly” option, so if you need to print a page or two for a cheatsheet (like wanting an adversary or the character creation tables), be prepared to print out every background along the way. For me, reading this on my tablet was a much bigger chore than it needed to be…
Additionally, with regards to layout, you really need to read the entire book from cover to cover to get a grasp of everything. The setting primer at the beginning is nice, but if you’re planning on playing an Aeldari, you’ll want to read them in the Character Creation chapter, then read about their gear in the Wargear chapter, then again in the Bestiary. If you’re a newbie, it’s a nice resource, but it isn’t all consolidated so you have a lot of page flipping to do.
On a related note, I’m a bit annoyed with the art selection at times. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of the art is amazing, and it’s the kind of stuff that got me into Warhammer in the first place (I came and stayed for the designs), but there are a few stinkers tossed in. For example, in the Character Creation section, we have a rather cartoon-y image for the Eldar, which detracts from the extraordinarily detailed image prior to it. In the Bestiary chapter, we see highly detailed Daemonettes, Servitors, and even Orkz, but then we have an old painting guide for a Space Marine. Some of the art feels out of place in comparison, and it irks me a bit.
Also, if I’m being picky, I do think it’s odd that we are in the Imperium Nihilus and so much of the game promotes interspecies interaction, yet the only time I see two different species in the art that doesn’t involve killing each other is a SINGLE image of a human and an Eldar.
One last tidbit of non-game content, but the number of typos in this book is rather staggering. I’ve been finding one every couple of pages, whether it’s a random extra letter sitting between words or a word that’s been hyphenated an extra time (or two) due to a line-break. A number of others that have pre-ordered the game have been quick to point out there are errors with statistics as well, and this doesn’t take the Quickstart’s typos into account. It’s sloppy editing, and when coupled with the background, it’s even more frustrating, at least for me.
For fans returning to the 40k RPG scene, you’ll find that there are a few things missing. Namely, you’ll find that we lack the Tau (split from this sector) and anything remotely resembling stats for Necrons, and we are lacking various “tweaks” to characters; Space Marines are Scouts or Tactical, so no Librarians, Apothecaries, Chaplains, or even Tech Marines. You’ll also find that the Orkz are lacking the Weird Boyz (even though a Weird Boyz staff is in the equipment section), and even Chaos denizens aren’t very well fleshed out. While we are given minor notes to hack this (such as meeting set criteria and swapping one ability for another), I fear that it’s not quite enough to properly create what we want. Granted, this is just a core rulebook, after all, but better hacking guidelines would have been appreciated here for those who want to use this new mechanic in an old campaign (I know at least one of my backers that wants to give new life to his Dark Heresy campaign).
This note is also frustrating in the ship category, as we are given THREE ships to work with (one for Imperium, Orkz, and Eldar), with the rest being up to the GM to design. That leaves a lot to be desired, as I feel that the information doesn’t give enough to get rolling.
Sadly, none of these are really fixed in the Dark Tides adventure package, so there will be some waiting until we get a solution here.
==The Middle Ground==
There are a few things here that I have a love/hate relationship with, and I feel they belong in their own section.
The Campaign and Wrath Cards, even though they are presented as optional, are both a money grab and play a role in the mechanics.
For example, the Campaign Cards are entirely optional; using them gives a slightly random effect to the game, such as extra enemies appearing or stating a random fact, while giving the player additional resources. While the narrative side of things could simply be covered by the use of Wrath, the cards make the results a bit more random while rewarding players with in-game resources. I like the idea because it does add something new, but I’m not terribly impressed with the concept (and the need to buy yet another resource).
The Wrath Cards, on the other hand, start off seeming like a convenient way to handle Critical Hits (instead of rolling on a limited chart), and as such, they are just a convenience or prop. Sadly, the “Threatening Tasks” mechanic (think Extended Tasks) actually requires these cards, taking them from a tool of convenience to a requirement to actually utilize a portion of the game. I’ll be hacking parts of Star Trek Adventures to fulfill this task, as I really don’t want to buy a deck of cards to use the mechanic as written, especially since it feels so sloppy (but potentially dramatic).
There are also some parts of the book that are repetitive. In the combat section, we are given a note about scale with a full table, but then that table is repeated in the Bestiary section. When we are first introduced to Voidships, we are given designated notes about them, which are then copied into the Voidship section under Wargear. While it does help with finding information in pertinent areas, they become a frustrating filler after a few times.
As a frequent GM, there are parts of the book I found less than useful, but perhaps a new GM would love them. The Investigation and Social Encounters sections are rather simple; we are given mechanics and difficulties for each step, tips for guiding players along the investigation (Cues vs Clues, for example), and how to arbitrate them. As a long-time fan of games like The Dresden Files and World of Darkness, as well as having my fair share of Call of Cthulhu games, many of these tips were unnecessary and redundant, but I can imagine how an RPG neophyte would find these wonderfully written.
Finally, I’m a little iffy on the usage of miniatures in this game. On one hand, the mechanics almost scream for miniatures to be used; movement works brilliantly for squares/hexes, ranged are easy to calculate, weapon deviation relies solely on directions, and vehicles have very specific movement requirements. While all of this is ideal for an RPG with wargame elements, there are mechanics that are the exact opposite: splash damage/area of effect attacks are given a rating (but no ranges) and a maximum number of targets that can be hit by it. It’s nice to see a non-board ruleset included, but it’s terribly frustrating when the rules leading up to it are based on one approach to gameplay, but then having the resolution being rooted in another, with nothing to represent the in between sections. Both are nice, but the situation is rather frustrating to me.
If anything, it makes me feel like the game hasn’t decided if it will be a miniatures game or a theater-of-mind RPG, and while trying to be both, failed due to missing parts of each. The game needs some hacks to fit in either category (and said hacks should be easy), but I personally can’t determine which approach would do the game justice as it rides that line between them.
By the time I got to the end of the book, I felt as though have to give Warhammer 40,000: Wrath and Glory the rating of 3.5 buns.
This new version of the 40k RPG brings us an easily accessible mechanic to let players, new and old, jump into the grimdark, war-torn universe. While it isn’t necessarily complete or original, and is lacking in a number of categories, it is a good jumping off point for fans of the franchise to get started with their tables.
If you enjoy easy to start RPGs, games that let you roll a ton of dice, have a fondness of grimdark, and like the Warhammer 40k universe, you’ll want to give this a look. If you are a fan that’s hesitating on the book, I would still suggest it, as you can always hack what you need, and there are more books coming later. It really is the most accessible Warhammer game I’ve seen so far, which is all the more reason why it deserves praise.
If you dislike Warhammer 40k, find combat modifiers difficult to track, or get frustrated by seeing yet another game that relies solely on the d6, then you’ll want to move along.
In addition issuing the final verdict of the core rulebook, I wanted to touch on some of the additional content that was provided by Ulisses North America.
At this time, the Campaign and Wrath Decks are complete with artwork. As previously mentioned, I’m not a big fan of how they are implemented in the game, but the artwork is solid, and they do add some variance to the game to make things interesting. If you like the add-on, they would make a nice addition to the table.
Sadly, the other card decks are lacking in art, and I fear that they will stay that way. In their current form, they are nothing more than a block of text on a card, with an abbreviated version of what’s in the rulebook regarding the Talent, Power, or bit of Gear.
The Perils of the Warp deck also feels like it’s more effort (and space) than it needs to be, as it is broken down by the number of 1s rolled, and then shuffled into a collection of sub-decks. Personally I’d rather just stick with the chart, but I can see the appeal of having cards to cover the entirety of this.
As a bonus, all pre-orders were given access to Ogryn and Ratkin. These are well worth it to diversify the selection of playable Imperium races for a Guardsman game, and I know a number of players happy to see this. Sadly, it does suffer the same aforementioned editing/layout issues.
There are also two adventures currently available. Blessings Unheralded is the Quickstart, with physical copies being made available for pre-orders. The adventure is rather simple and to the point, but I felt that as a Quickstart, it was lacking due to missing rules (Blast and Steadfast were missing), typos, and just not a very good adventure.
Dark Tides, on the other hand, is five individual adventures set on the same world. They can be interconnected and do seem to stay more in tune with the source material than Blessings Unheralded, and thanks to the Tier mechanic, can be easily tweaked to cover any party levels. The layout still suffers (bad backgrounds, beasts are in the adventure first introduced but not repeated elsewhere, etc), but the art in this is much more consistent, and the idea of having more NPCs and another planet make this something worth considering. At $14.99, it’s not a bad investment for five adventures (each averaging about 25 pages), and if you’re anything like me, having additional statblocks at the start of an RPG’s life really makes hacking things easier.
Finally, there is the recently arrived Starter Set (link not functional as of this writing, but should be here soon), which uses the characters of Blessings Unheralded with a full adventure (Escape from the Rok), as well as an abbreviated rulebook. This package is looking like a great resource for 40k fans wanting to get into the RPG but don’t know if it will be worth it for their group. It covers the basics of the game (including combat) in under 80 pages, and removes the fluff. The PDF option is not a bad investment if you want a ready-to-go game, and the physical starter kit does look like it will be worthwhile as it will be everything you need to get the game rolling.