If you think of Warhammer as just a series of video games...or a series of science fiction books, or as a series of miniature toy soldiers to paint, or as a series of board games, or as a war game...then you might be surprised to learn that it's also a tabletop roleplaying game. Or you might not be surprised at all, because the Warhammer IP is clearly nearly as vast as the [in-game] Imperium. I recently read through the Warhammer: Wrath and Glory tabletop RPG rulebook from cover to cover, and this is my review of it.
Wrath and Glory isn't the first Warhammer 40,000 RPG. There was Dark Heresy, a game about Inquisitors hunting down Heretics. Then Fantasy Flight Games released Rogue Trader, in which player characters acquired a Warrant of Trade and explored the farthest reaches of the galaxy. A third game, called Deathwatch was all about Space Marines. And there was Dark Heresy, in which players switched sides completely and took on the roles of Heretics. And finally there was Only War, with Imperial Guard player characters. I may have missed one in there, but the point is that there's no shortage of roleplaying opportunities within the Warhammer setting.
Wrath and Glory, in a way, is a game with the broadest scope yet, with options to play a rogue trader or hive city scum, an ork, an Inquisitor, Adeptus Astartes, Aeldari, and more. It feels very much like a 40,000 sandbox, with some soft limitations imposed by its setting, the Gilead System, which has been cut off from the rest of the Imperium by the Cicatrix Maledictum (Great Rift). If you have no idea what any of that means, that's probably OK, because Wrath and Glory doesn't assume you're a diehard Warhammer fan and does a pretty good job of introducing new players to an impossibly complex setting.
The book is 385 pages long.
Building a character starts with choosing a Framework. The framework basically sets the moral compass, which is important because there's no predefined "good" and "bad" in the Warhammer setting. Warhammer exists primarily as a war game. The player who wins is the "good guy" and the player who loses is the "bad guy" (reverse that when looking at it from the losing player's perspective). When an RPG gaming group agrees on a framework, certain factions are essentially marked as the protagonists and others are antagonists. For example, choose a framework with the goal of protecting the Imperium, and any Imperial character is a logical choice as a player character. Choose a framework with the goal of retrieving Aeldari soul stones back from a Dark Mechanicum cultist who seeks to unlock their secrets, and the Imperium and Dark Mechanicum are antagonists.
I love this idea, and I feel like it's an elegant solution to the age old problem of player character alignment. "Correct" behaviour is chosen up front when everyone agrees on a framework.
The book has four sample frameworks, and I don't feel like that's near enough. I guess the intent is that you'll create your own, but then what's the book for? I think a framework that encompasses each faction in the book is the bare minimum, but what's provided mostly favours the Imperium. If you want a framework that puts Chaos in the "good" slot, you're out of luck. If you want a framework for playing xenos, you have two frameworks but in both of those you're still working for the Imperium (albeit a radical subfaction within the Imperium).
Once you've chosen a framework, you can build a character.
In a Tier 1 game, you start with 100 XP. You get more for higher tiers. You spend XP on a character Archetype and on Talents.
Characters are based on archetypes, and archetypes are structured in four tiers. At Tier 1, you have access to an Adeptas Sororitas healer, an Adeptus Ministorum priest, an Astra Militarum Imperial Guard, an Acolyte and Sage of the Inquisition, a Ganger scum, an Aeldari Corsair, and an Ork. At higher tiers, you get more powerful options from those same factions and others, including a Sister of Battle, a Scavvy scum, an Aeldari ranger, plus a Rogue Trader, Adeptus Astartes scout, Adeptus Mechanicum, and so on.
The four main factions are humans and Astartes (Imperium), Aeldari, and Ork. The ogryn, ratling, and kroot species are included in a separate book, the Forsaken System Player's Guide.
You customise your character by spending XP to buy Talents. Talents give your character unique abilities that set them apart from their bog standard Archetype.
The dice system is a pool of d6, like in Shadowrun or, more to the point, like most Games Workshop products. If you've played Warhammer 40,000, Blackstone Fortress, Necromunda, Cursed City, and so on, then the core mechanics are likely to feel familiar.
What you roll depends on your character.
To try to make a complex action that has potential for failure, you must make a Test roll. For a Test, you assemble a dice pool equal to the relevant Skill and that Skill's parent Attribute. For instance, Athletics is determined by Strength, so if you have 2 Strength and 3 Athletics, then you roll 5d6. Each 4 or 5 you roll counts as a success (or "Icon"). Each 6 you roll counts as two successes ("Exalted Icon").
How many Icons you need to succeed is the Difficulty Number, which is determined by the Game Master and announced before you roll.
An interesting mechanic is that, should you exceed the Difficulty Number, you can spend your excess successes (Icons) for additional benefits. For instance, you can "shift" an Icon from the excess to make the action you've taken happen extra fast.
You must have one d6 in your dice pool that's unique from the others (a different colour, or size, or with digits instead of pips). This represents the Wrath die.
Should your Wrath die land on 1, then a Complication occurs.
Should your Wrath die land on 6, then you gain 1 point of Glory. Glory is a pool of communal points your party can use to boost their chances when performing a Test.
The Game Master has a pool of Ruin points. These are similar to Glory points, but they belong only to the Game Master and can be spent for special actions and attacks on the behalf of your foes.
Combat is a special form of Test roll, using either your Weapon skill for melee attacks or your Ballistics skill for ranged. If you roll a number of Icons equal to or greater than your target's Defense, then you've scored a hit, and roll for damage.
Weapons grant a damage value and sometimes an Extra Damage Die (ED). You can also Shift excess Icons in exchange for Extra Damage.
There are lots of variations within combat, with a whole page of special actions you can take (like sacrificing part of your turn to grant yourself +2 Defense, and so on). It's got the potential for being complex, but that's only if you want it to be. Combat can be as simple as I've just described: Roll to hit, roll damage. Or you can turn it into a narrative version of a Warhammer 40,000 game, using Stratagem-like options for special benefits.
I love the Initiative system. Turn order goes back and forth from the Player side to the GM's Threats. If you want to Seize the Initiative, then you can spend a point of Glory (or Ruin, for the GM) to make it your turn.
That's pretty much the game. There's more to it, of course, to account for special situations and Psyker powers, but those are mostly variations on the core mechanics plus detail-oriented rules that could be ignored during quick and casual games.
The question, I think, is how familiar do you have to be with Warhammer 40,000 to play Wrath and Glory? There's a whole chapter dedicated to the Gilead System, but it's a mere 18 pages. What hope does a new player have to find their way through the galaxy based on 18 pages of worldbuilding?
Well, I think that actually a new player has about the same chance as an in-game person would have. The Imperium isn't exactly known for sharing and promoting knowledge, so most people even of noble standing would likely have a limited worldview. The Aeldari could arguably be the most enlightened of the playable factions in this system but as an individual, you would have limited knowledge beyond your own Craftworld just because the galaxy is HUGE.
I think that as long as you know the basics, which are provided in the Introduction and the Gilead System chapter, you're pretty well equipped to play. I guess it would be nice for the Game Master to have some extra context, and realistically that's probably the expectation because it's usually the Game Master initiating a game. Even if a Game Master was relatively new to Warhammer, this book combined with a published adventure provides enough context to build a world that at least resembles the Warhammer 40K setting that a dictated Games Workshop fan is familiar with.
For players, the additional books Forsaken System and Church of Steel that contain not only further player options but also background about the world in which they're playing. For the Game Master, there's also 70 pages containing a Bestiary that describes enemy factions and their stat blocks (plus easy Mob rules).
I enjoyed reading Wrath and Glory and enjoyed the test game I ran.
I don't love having to be the arbiter of Difficulty Numbers (DN), just as I don't love setting Difficulty Class (DC) in D&D or even judging the complexity of a task in Call of Cthulhu. However, that's how the majority of RPG systems define success and failure, so I'm used to it.
I appreciate the focus it has on the Gilead System. It saves a gaming group from off-the-cuff diversions to Mars, it prevents a clever player from trying to contact the T'au (there's no mention of T'au and no T'au stats in this book). This takes a huge setting and distills it into just one little solar system, which itself obviously is vast (I've gone my entire life here in Sol without even once visiting Venus). There's plenty of material here to keep a gaming group occupied for several years, and there are enough published adventures available from Cubicle 7 to make that an easy prospect.
The system successfully captures the feel of Warhammer 40,000 both in its mechanics and its setting. Rolling a pool of d6 feels great, and it's familiar to anybody already familiar with other products by Games Workshop. This feels like Warhammer, because it is Warhammer.
All images in this post copyright Games Workshop.