Having just finished Far Cry: Primal I am totally in the mood for a Palaeolithic and tribal roleplaying. Searching for a game suitable for this kind of a story proved more difficult though than I had anticipated. After coming into conclusion that either was no such game or none of them were very good I stumbled on the Würm (funded via Kickstarter and co-published by Nocturnal).
Summary: Having (only) read the rulebook I have to say that it has some excellent ideas as well as interesting ideas and at least is an excellent tool box for any game set in this kind of environment.
The Würm rulebook book begins by stating that this game is a simple and clear way to tell stories in a world as faithful to latest archeological research as possible – and it stays true to this purpose from till the end.
What makes it interesting read is the mix of historical facts (often given in handy text boxes) and peculiar language. Now I am not an native English speaker and may output could often be improved but the writing style of Würm still left an impression to me. This game was translated from French and on occasion it uses strange ways of saying things. I’m not saying this makes it bad (in fact the opposite) but it is still something that is hard to such bypass.
For example: The game mechanic uses target numbers (referred as Threshold). When explaining how they work the game uses “inferior” and “superior” instead of “smaller” and “higher”. I know this is a tiny detail but I’m so accustomed to the smaller/higher that the inferior/superior wording just seemed too strange to pass. There are some other examples like this but this was the most prominent.
In it’s core the game system of Würm is nothing spectacular. It is simple and efficient system that uses 2d6 roll (with variables due to character Strengths and Weaknesses). Snake-eyes and double sixes do special stuff and so on. Combat has a list of manoeuvres to perform and the almost all possible activities are explained (these could easily be compared to basic moves from AWengine games).
What set the game apart though is the intriguing Prestige system of Bravery and Generosity. And Wisdom, that is given as optional but should always be included in may opinion. These two (or three) attributes are the very essence of what makes Würm interesting as a game. They are numerical variables that change with the characters actions during the game play and open up new possibilities for them.
Prestige reminds me in a good way of AGON by John Harper. They might not be intended as competitive values but knowing my gaming group I can definitely see them becoming meters of “better roleplaying”. I know that it is stupid but it is also fun-stupid.
Characters can gain Prestige by performing deeds that increase their Bravery or Generosity score. And the amount of Prestige determines the characters place in their clan. While each character (excluding children I think) begins the game with 6d6 Prestige they need at least 50 points of it to be able to marry. And that is only the first step on the Prerogative list.
As such it is of no surprise that Würm (in English) comes from the same publisher as King Arthur’s Pendragon. It is a game where the character’s social standing and family are much more important that his “characteristics” or “skills”. In fact Würm doesn’t use either but descriptive Strengths and Weaknesses that modify the base roll of 2d6 (as mentioned). This game even has rules for playing and making children as well as table to see how many mouths can you feed by killing a mammoth (and rules how much of the killed beast you can even take with you).
While the book makes a good effort to justify things according to historical facts it does not limit itself from fantasy. Though spirits, spiritualism and magic are represented in the book they are not entwined with the rules. You can leave them out or include them as you like which is a nice touch.
Like other parts of the book the rules for magic are fully fleshed out and loyal to the concept of accurate history. Magic works via potions and favors and curses of the spirit world. It is a shamanistic system and very suitable for a game like this.
The book also has a clear layout and simply beautiful art. In some places the art reminds me of school book art and in a good way.
All in all I really liked the Würm. The gaming system is very light (maybe excluding combat) and flavorful. It is also so simple that it can easily be replaced with your favorite system – they even encourage you to do so if you feel like it. And as a source book or tool kit for Ice Age? It’s excellent.
I have no problem of recommending at least reading of Würm for anyone interested in playing in Ice Age or similar environment. This was an excellent find and deserves more visibility (I haven’t even heard of this prior to Far Cry: Primal).