Troika! meets Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay.
Kriegsmesser is written and published by Gregor Vuga following a successful Kickstarter campaign as part of ZineQuest #3. It offers a range of character types with a light set of mechanics predicated on degrees of failure, solid advice on running the game, and a very much implied setting. That setting is one akin to Mittel Europe, roughly at the time of the Thirty Years War, so akin to that of the Empire and the Old World of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay. Although there is no specific setting, where Kriegsmesser differs from the original roleplaying game of ‘grim and perilous adventure’ is that it is humanocentric—there are no rules for playing anything other than Humans, there is no such thing as Corruption or supernatural Chaos, and so no bestiary of supernatural creatures. This is because the Player Characters are the chaos, though if the Game Master wants to include it, there are rules for Corruption which have a corrosive effect upon a Player Character, all too likely driving him into the clutches of Chaos.
A Player Character in Kriegsmesser is defined by a Career, four or five skills and some possessions. He also has ten points of Toughness and six points of Luck. To create a character, a player rolls ‘d66’ and notes the details of the character down. He then chooses a name. The options include the Street Rat, the Starving Artist, the Labourer, the Charlatan, the Revolting Peasant, the Vermin Snatcher, the Clueless Noble, and more. Each one of the Careers given in Kriegsmesser is accompanied by a short, but engaging piece of flavour text.
Skills: Read Signs (Demonic) 3, Notice 3, Fight (Monsters) 2, Gossip 1, Track 1
Possessions: Kickass Hat, Holy Water, Silver Knife
Mechanically, Kriegsmesser uses its own dice pool mechanics rather than those of Troika! Whenever a player wants his character to do something and the character has the relevant skill, he rolls a number of six-sided dice equal to the skill and looks for the highest result. If the highest result is a six, then the character succeeds without incurring any trouble. If the result is a five or four, then the character succeeds, but incurs some trouble. A roll of three or less is a failure. What form the trouble takes when a player rolls a four or five, can be anything from a weaker or partial result to bowing out gracefully or a complication. The Game Master is encouraged to present the player with a couple of options and essentially bargain with him as the possible trouble his character suffers. If a character does not have an appropriate skill, then his player can spend points of Luck to have dice to make the skill test. Luck can be recovered through rest, through prayer, or through some festive or merrymaking activities. Luck then forms an important resource and something that a player needs to expand with a care. Of course, every roll in Kriegsmesser should be important, but when or where, Luck is even more important.
Combat in Kriegsmesser is intended to be nasty and brutal, favouring characters—Player Characters and NPCs—who are combat trained. Otherwise, a Player Character has to rely upon his Luck and an NPC, a single die. Often, it is enough to draw a sword to persuade an NPC or possibly a Player Character to back down in the face of potential violence. Kriegsmesser does give more optional rules if the Game Master and her players want a less narrative influenced combat system. These cover initiative, armour (which reduces damage), various weapon types (from warhammer to pistol), mighty blows (bonuses to the base damage if sixes are rolled in an attack), and vantage (having a higher vantage grants a bonus die). Once a Player Character loses all of his Toughness, the next blow will probably kill him, but another option allows for Terrible Injuries, like losing multiple toes to one foot, a blow to the fleshy soft bits which forces the Player Character to double over in pain and vomit, or a strike which smashes the skull and damaging the brain, leaving him to collapse to the floor, dead. (No head flying off several feet in a random direction, sadly.)
For the Game Master, there is advice on the running the game, in particular, making the world real and the lives of the Player Characters exciting, being generous with information, and imagining and conveying a darkly humorously dark tone. There is advice too on how to interpret rolls, in particular, various forms of trouble if a Player Character does not roll a complete success. There are quick and dirty rules too to create and run NPCs, as well establishing relationships between them, as well as creating scenarios around towns. These tables are fairly short and are likely to be used up quickly. Six sample NPCs are included as potential encounters, which are nicely done. Rounding out Kriegsmesser is a discussion of the period in which it is set and ideas as to where it be set outside of a Holy Roman Empire-like setting. The latter is perhaps the least interesting or useful section in Kriegsmesser, but the inclusion of a decent bibliography makes up for it.
Physically, Kriegsmesser is decently presented, making good use of period woodcut artwork. The fanzine is general well written, but could have done with a slightly better organisation in places.
Kriegsmesser is Troika! meets Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, in terms of its simplicity and stripped-down style of play. Yet whilst it is by design set in a world similar to that of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, it shifts its window upon that world. Traditionally, the Player Characters are caught between being in society of the Empire and not, but by not having an ‘other’—typically Chaos in one form or another—Kriegsmesser pushes them into being that ‘other’ and as a consequence the roleplaying game echoes the politics of Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, First Edition (if not its setting and history). If there is an issue with this, it is that without a setting of its own, Kriegsmesser never gets to show this off properly.
If the Game Master can provide a setting, then there is plenty of scope in Kriegsmesser to provide an engagingly light and simple option for grim and perilous adventure.