We finished up a run of Through Sunken Lands in the OSR/Lab group and we rooted around for another system to tackle. A few of us have been interested in Warlock! and so I offered to run. Warlock! is inspired by Warhammer Fantasy, but unlike many “retro-clones” it really isn’t that much of a clone. This is evident by the lack of what we might call standard attributes. Stuff that you would expect to see in games modeled on a system that has never been clean and easy to play. But Warlock! I think is trying to provide a thematic experience without the trappings of the original.
We are playing the Warlock! Traitor Edition. I am not entirely sure what the difference might be or the significance of “Traitor”. It does not play into any of the system as far as I can tell. For resolution, the game has you roll a d20, add your skill, and try and meet or beat “20”.
Quick aside: Years ago when working on one of my older designs, called Twilight’s River, I used this method though with other modifiers as well. I found it refreshing to see another designer doing it. I am sure others have, but I had not seen it.
There are no attributes or other modifiers. If the roll is opposed, the two characters involved simply roll and high roll wins. A draw is a draw or if that does not make sense, the game tells you to re-roll. The GM can add a bonus or penalty to the roll depending on the circumstance. I am not as comfortable with this, though I have used it at least once.
Luck – Each character has a luck pool they can draw from. If a roll fails, the character can roll their Luck instead, This would be a d20+ Luck to determine success. Succeed or fail, luck is reduced by 1. It is reduced each time Luck is used and there is a diminishing return to the use of luck. In the first session, Luck may have been used once? In subsequent sessions the players used it more. Luck refreshes between sessions. We had a situation between sessions 2 & 3 where a battle was ongoing. After some discussion we decided to wait on the refresh until the battle was over. This worked out.
Combat – Initiative is simple. Either the characters and GM determine which side goes first, or you roll 1d6. I have chosen to use the 1d6 method and it works well for combat with more than two sides. In our last action scene there was a horse-headed demon, the characters, and a group of mercenaries.
You roll your attack and if you hit, you roll damage. Armor is a fixed number that reduces damage. However, when you engage in combat it is an opposed action. The winner of that roll, rolls damage.
Going back over the rules, I realize I have missed a few things in play. Initiative is a case of IGO/UGO. Each side has a character go and then the next group has a character go. Plus the above combat rule, but I will work them in as we progress in sessions.
Each character is defined by their community (human, elf, dwarf, and halfling), though the game points to a human-centric world view. You can choose a career, but there are rules provided to roll for a career. With enough experience you can move to an Advanced Career. This emulates the original source material. Skills are chosen by assigning a tiered bonus of 6, 5, or 4 to the skill. You get some extra skill points to bump these up.
During play, you can only gain skill bumps in your current career skills and your lowest career skill, provides you a modifier in your career / professional skill. This can be a bit confusing, but basically the lowest career skill you have, let’s say Survival for a Rat Catcher, provides you a Profession skill, in this case Rat Catching, equal to the lowest career skill. If your Survival is lowest and its +8, your Rat Catcher skill is +8.
Stamina and Luck are rolled at character creation. Stamina increases when your career skill, i.e. Rat Catcher, increases. If you have a base stamina of 17 and your Rat Catcher goes from 7 to 8, your stamina goes from 17 to 18. Experience is awarded from 1 to 3 EXP each session. Each point of EXP increases a skill bonus on a 1-to-1 basis. Characters are improving 1 to 3 skill bumps every session. I like this aspect of progression. It is simple to use.
The setting material for Warlock! is minimal and encourages you to do your own setting and backdrop. I pulled on some mythology, Welsh and Finnish, and made the “Empire” based loosely on historical Sweden rather than the Holy Roman Empire. The game takes place in some outmarches, Lake Country, where two old kingdoms have fallen on hard times. In this way there is not too much “imperial” interference, though the potential for gaining the empire’s attention is there.
We have a human beggar and dwarf miner who had been (prior to play) kicked out of a city because they were accused of helping spread the plague. They come to a crossroad and find one of the crow cages has a living person. They remove her from the cage and she asks them to help her home village of Luunken. The woman dies and they bury her nearby. They do decide to visit the village, finding it in the midst of battle. The companions save the children and then save the village witch.
Turns out the mercenaries were there to steal the village’s cauldron on behalf of a being known as Noita or The Noita. The Noita has appeared once (in Session 2) as a murder of crows who coalesce into a humanoid form. In Session 2 the characters witness the Noita appear and a sudden storm comes up to fill the cauldron with rain water.
The characters have been trying to sabotage the ritual, but they do not prevent the ritual from occurring. The players had decided to try a more subtle approach, which included putting horse poop in the cauldron. The villager is transformed by the cauldron into a horse headed demon that attacks the mercs. In the chaos, the characters free the other two villager prisoners and grab the cauldron. I allowed the dwarf character to push the hot cauldron because they had calloused hands.
In Session 3, the characters escape with the last villager (one had run off in fear) and one of the mercs who has a conscience. They return to the village and as the village witch is preparing to put the cauldron back in the ground, the characters rest and then go back searching for the final missing villager.
They find her and some signs that there has been some frostbite damage to some nearby trees. By the end of the session, the characters have gone back into the woods and searching around for what might have caused the tree damage.
We are (I think) having a third player join the game in the coming week.