Wrath and Glory Review

When Fantasy Flight Games lost the Games Workshop RPG licenses, two properties were left in the lurch. Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay (WFRP) was picked up by Cubicle 7, while Warhammer 40k’s RPG properties were grabbed by Ulisses Spiele, best known in the US for their reboot of TORG. Around the same time that the Fourth Edition of WFRP came out, a new game in the 40k universe was also released. Unlike WFRP 4e, Wrath and Glory steps away from the tried and true d100 system to create a game with 2010s sensibilities that still feels planted in the grim darkness of the future.

The play philosophy of Wrath and Glory departs from the model Black Industries (and later Fantasy Flight) used with earlier Warhammer 40k games. The previous line of games in the 40k universe were all standalone…playing a Rogue Trader was a different game than playing an Inquisitorial Acolyte. This allowed for differences in power level and playstyle…and maybe more book sales too. Wrath and Glory intends to bring all gaming in the setting under one game. Characters are built around Escalation Tiers, which specify a power level for each character archetype. Want to play Space Marines? You’re at Tier 3. Inquisitorial Acolytes? Tier 1. Rogue Traders? Tier 2. It’s not only a character build mechanic either, each Tier has limits on bonus dice which serve to keep characters’ actual mechanical dice abilities roughly in line with each other as well. And if you want to play a lower tier character archetype in your higher tier campaign, there are rules for Ascension, which give the character some extra goodies (and battle scars) to bring them in line.

The mention of ‘bonus dice’ may have given the hint that, in addition to trying to cover more ground than Dark Heresy or Rogue Trader did, Wrath and Glory has departed from the d100 mechanics as well. And they really have. The game is now a d6 dice pool system, with a dice pool assembled from attribute dice, skill dice, and bonus dice. Bonus dice come from any number of factors, like situational modifiers, but most bonus dice are going to come from character keywords. These keywords, like tags in Apocalypse World, give benefits in specific situations. In this way, weapon property mechanics and character affiliation mechanics, to name a couple prevalent examples, are collapsed into one unified modifier system. The other key element of the dice pool system is the Wrath die. The wrath die is (usually) one die that is a different color than the others. Roll a 6 on the wrath die, something good happens. Roll a 1, there’s a complication. These rules for ‘something good’ and ‘complication’ are handled by the game’s meta-currencies. Yup…meta-currencies, plural. There are three of them. First is Wrath, which each player has individually, and can spend for things like re-rolls and small narrative declarations. Second is Glory, which the party has collectively, and can be spent for things like increasing dice pools and damage. Third is Ruin, which is the GM’s pool. The GM gains Ruin from 1s on Wrath Dice but also from PCs gaining corruption (because what would a Warhammer game be without a corruption mechanic?). While older games made use of things like Fate points, this heavier reliance on meta-currencies is more reminiscent of a mechanic like the Destiny Pool in FFG’s Star Wars games. Other mechanics in the dice pool make it clear that the designers at least observed FFG’s other work (though without custom dice). When you roll a 6 in your pool, that die counts as two successes (4s and 5s count as one). Also, if you roll 6s and have more successes than you need to hit the target number, you can use those extra successes from the 6s for an increased effect on the roll (this is called “shifting”). Ultimately the dice mechanic isn’t that complicated, but with the separate wrath die and other additional effects, there’s a fair amount of information density that the designers want to pack into each roll.

Character creation is what you’d expect, though with more breadth than other 40k games. Humans, Astartes, Eldar, and Orks are all playable species, something that fell outside the scope of a game like Dark Heresy. Character archetypes run the gamut from acolytes to rogue traders to space marines, but the design choice here between species and archetype was a clumsy one. Ultimately, each archetype has only one species that fits with it, making species a false mechanical choice. It would have made character creation less complicated (and saved space in this 460 page book) if only archetype was a choice…the species modifiers could have easily been rolled into the archetype. Considering the archetype descriptions are still categorized by species, it’s difficult to see why the character creation section wasn’t written this way. All the character types you want are there, but my hopes of playing a down-on-his-luck Astartes Scavver were dashed.

My complaint about character creation is by far the biggest one in this book, and is a peculiar one considering how well most of the rules do at emphasizing choice and consequence. The book has a section on ‘failing forward’ which discusses how to make sure all rolls keep the game moving, but crunchier subsystems like combat have things more delineated. The combat system is mostly a logical extension of the core mechanic, with a number of maneuvers having specific rules, but there are some interesting choices. What caught my attention most was the initiative system. Except for specific circumstances like an ambush, or some other time where you really need to know who acts first, there are no initiative rolls. Instead, the PCs go first. It’s one nod to the fact that the PCs are the heroes, and get some favor in that respect…though the GM can spend Ruin for the NPCs to go first instead. After that, play alternates…PC, NPC, PC, NPC, and each side chooses who goes. Seize the Initative, a move the PCs can spend Glory on, allows two PCs to go in a row…the GM has this option as well. But other than meta-currency spending, the two sides just take turns. Some with a more simulationist bent may scratch their heads at this, but I think it makes perfect sense. Speed mechanics are easily exploited, to the point where any game which lets you buy speed or extra actions will basically raise a red flag on their initiative system that says ‘BROKEN MECHANIC HERE’. Turn-taking and popcorn initiative may take some fun away from people who like speedsters, but it keeps play from breaking down, and as the designers state right in Wrath and Glory, it encourages tactics and teamwork by giving players control over how they play out the round (instead of cursing the initiative order, which is what happens 99% of the time in D&D).

One nice thing is, despite moving away from the granularity of d100, the designers are not trying to make things easier. The combat system still has a critical wound mechanic, and the crit table is just as over-the-top as you’d expect. The psychic power system is also kind of wonderful. First, thanks to the inclusion of psychic archetypes for the xenos in the game, as well as separate archetypes for sanctioned and rogue psykers, there are many more ways to play with psychic powers…minor psychic abilities can be gained by others as well. But while psychic powers are more prevalent, they’re also more dangerous. Wrath and Glory has a Perils of the Warp mechanic, operated by the Wrath Die. Psychic powers are also one of a few rolls where you can gain extra Wrath dice, and rolling a 1 on any of these can spell trouble. While the Perils of the Warp table has done away with instant death effects, the effects that remain are still nuts. The GM can also make use of the ‘Horrific Results’ rule to have the effects automatically apply to low-level NPCs without a roll, making a power gone awry that much more, well, horrific. In a similar vein, the corruption mechanic maintains all of the nuttiness it had in Dark Heresy, with it being possible for PCs to grow terrible mutations and eventually just become a chaos manifestation and have the GM take their character. While the core mechanics and meta-currencies are there to keep the story moving and let the PCs take control, things can and will get out of hand…I’m not yet sure how this balances out in play, but I don’t think I’d want to play a 40k game where there *wasn’t* a chance that errant psychic powers make walls bleed and PCs grow wings.

Wrath and Glory addresses one of the subtle differences between Warhammer 40k and Warhammer Fantasy, which I think arises almost entirely on the side of the RPGs. WFRP, including 4e and offshoots like Zweihander, emphasizes the exploits of mostly normal people thrust into heroism (or villainy) by forces beyond their control. In contrast, Warhammer 40k is quite heroic. While there are low level characters in Wrath and Glory and there were in earlier games, the fact is that when you look at your classic 40k characters, your psykers and space marines and Sisters of Battle, they are over the top potent and are intended to stand out from the billions (trillions?) of inhabitants of the Imperium of Man. This strong difference in character assumptions made the choice to base Dark Heresy off of WFRP somewhat odd, and the mechanical choices made to bridge that gap made playing Dark Heresy a bit of a chore. Even at the low levels there were usually two or three captive bonuses sitting around to bring your 40-50% stats up to suitably proficient levels…but that sort of bonus memorization was tiring when Dark Heresy came out, and it’s tiring now. The d100 system, scaled as it is for WFRP, works for those setting assumptions, though even in WFRP the designers have tried to mitigate the success rates inherent in that scaling. Warhammer 40k, though, deserved a move to a different dice system which aligned with its conceit. Dice pools are appropriate for powerful characters, both for statistical reasons (your chance of completely whiffing a roll is miniscule) as well as tactile ones (don’t tell me you don’t feel powerful when you get to pick up twelve dice to make a roll). Very much like FFG did with WFRP 3e, Wrath and Glory takes most of the ancillary mechanics around the dice mechanic and keeps them the same. Wrath and Glory also has a bit of cruft in terms of accessories…there are a number of different decks of cards available, mostly for tracking items and powers and the like, though only two have mechanical effects. The Wrath deck is used for “Threatening Task” resolution, making it kind of required if you want to use these extended task rules. The Campaign Cards add interesting twist events to your game, but are completely optional. I’m not personally a fan of most RPG accessories, but these cards are nowhere near as bad when it comes to play aids as, say, WFRP 3e.

Wrath and Glory ends up being strikingly different from previous 40k games in some ways, and familiar in many others. By changing up the dice mechanic and adding some nods to narrative complications and declarations that would be familiar to the players of other product lines FFG has worked on, Wrath and Glory is more of a modern game than Dark Heresy. That said, it remembers that it’s “in the grim darkness of the future”, and maintains the most colorful and over-the-top mechanics, including corruption, Perils of the Warp, critical hit tables of renown, and the use of “More Dakka” as a descriptor and “WAAAAGH” as an actual mechanical tag. The game acknowledges that ultimately the Warhammer 40k universe is fun, violent nonsense, but at least makes the game engaging while you’re having your nonsense. The more complete product split between WFRP and Warhammer 40k seems to have gone well, and I look forward to seeing how the Wrath and Glory and WFRP 4e product lines evolve as they go their separate ways.

Wrath and Glory is available on DrivethruRPG

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