Warlock! is a rules-light roleplaying game designed to bring back the feeling of old-school British tabletop roleplaying games. This game attempts to bring wondrous and fantastical adventures harkening back to when games like Maelstrom, Advanced Fighting Fantasy, Dragon Warriors, and Warhammer Fantasy Role-Play were front and center. Warlock! looks to reproduce that same style of play, but in a lighter, quicker, and simpler ruleset that is easily hackable.
Warlock! (hereafter Warlock) is the core rulebook and sets the foundation for everything else in the Warlock series. Warlock has two guiding principles within the design. First, “The Golden Rule” simply states, “Remember that Warlock is a game, nothing more, nothing less. The aim is to have fun… This is the golden rule – have fun!” The Second, Warlock is set in a generic fantasy world similar to those of western fantasy literature. Stories take place in a human-centric setting, the Kingdom of Man, with elves, dwarves, and halflings sharing the land as the minority.
Character creation is fast and straightforward. Players follow a series of creation steps in which they are either assigning values, rolling on random tables, or choosing from options provided as a result of rolling on a table. The entire process took less than 15 minutes; if a player has analysis paralysis, it may take a little longer.
Warlock characters consist of skills, stamina, luck, community (race in other games), career, traits, and other minor elements. Every character is defined by what they can do. Characters begin with an aptitude in all skills; skill levels are assigned across the entire spectrum of skills on the character sheet.
Stamina measures the all-around health, fitness, vitality of a character—the higher, the better. In combat, if stamina drops below zero, a critical hit results. The type of weapon damage (e.g., slashing, piercing, etc.) determines which critical hit table to use. As a resource, stamina can be recovered after combat. Taking a 30-minute rest regains 50% of the lost stamina; the rest is recoverable after a good night’s sleep. Critical injuries, however, take longer to recover from. That duration is left up to the Gamemaster.
Luck represents a character’s fate and determines if a character is successful in situations not covered by another skill. When used, the luck score is temporarily reduced by one point for the remainder of the adventure. Players retain agency when deciding if they want to roll luck or not.
There are four communities in the Kingdom—Human, Elf, Dwarf, and Halfling. There are no actual mechanical advantages or disadvantages to being from one community or another. However, there are some narrative benefits and restrictions for the minorities to liven them up. Humans are the predominant community and gain neither benefits nor restrictions.
- Elves – long-lived, beautiful, graceful, and can see in the moonlight. Treated with mild suspicion by most, they tend to develop contempt for non-elves.
- Dwarves – Stouter and stockier than humans, happiest underground, and stubborn. Can see well by moonlight. Have a keen eye for appraising things that have been made. Always treated with respect, they are still considered outsiders to most in the Kingdom.
- Halflings – Diminutive and slight, yet full of heart, halflings are the most accepted race in the Kingdom besides humans. They act like children—impulsive, quick to tantrums, but forget past slights. Are quiet and can move silently when they want to.
The most important decision is selecting the starting basic career. With twenty-four available careers, players will randomly generate a list of four to choose from, ultimately choosing one of the four as their starting career. Each career provides possessions in addition to the basic equipment all characters receive and random tables that add a bit of color. Each career lists five adventuring skills and levels (see inset). These are the only skills that will advance later during character advancement.
Wrapping up character creation, players select three traits, choosing from those available or creating their own. These traits are purely for giving the character a little more personality. Lastly, purchase any additional equipment desired and choose the worship of one of the five gods.
The core mechanics of Warlock are grade school simple! Action resolution is only needed for dangerous and difficult tasks. Skill Tests are either Basic (unopposed) or Opposed. Basic Skill Tests are used when there is no opposition. All tests are resolved by rolling a d20 and adding the appropriate skill level; for Basic Tests, the target number to beat is always 20; for Opposed Test, the side with the highest total wins.
Character Advancement happens at predetermined points within a story as decided by the Gamemaster. Characters are granted 1 to 3 Advances to increase skills within their current career, saved to purchase a second career or eventually an “advanced” career. The most common use of an Advance is for increasing skills. As mentioned earlier, every career has five adventuring skills; these are the only skill that may be improved after character creation. Increasing these skills has several benefits. Its value is added to Skill Tests, and the average (rounded up) of the five adventuring skills is the skill level of the character’s current career, which also serves as a de facto skill. A character’s eligibility to purchase an “advanced” career requires several adventuring skills reaching specific levels.
Purchasing careers is the only way to broaden the usefulness of characters. There are two types of careers, Basic and Advanced. In character creation, a basic career is chosen, and later, a new basic career may be taken with the expenditure of Advances. When this happens, the character can no longer progress in their old careers’ skills. As their new career is their focus. To be eligible for an “advanced” career, a character must have had at least two basic careers and obtained three adventuring skills at level 10 or higher. Advanced careers allow for even higher skill levels to be reached in their five specific adventuring skills—some topping out at 17.
Combat represents the swirling chaos of the battlefield. Player and non-player character actions are resolved using opposed Skill Tests. Similar to other games, combat follows an outline to regulate the flow and action of the combatants. At the start of combat, if it’s not clear which side has the initiative, both sides roll d6; the side with the highest result has the initiative for the entirety of the engagement.
Combat is played out in rounds. The side with initiative goes first, selecting and carrying out the action of one of its members. Play alternates between the two sides until all combatants have gone; this concludes the round.
Combat is fast and brutal!—attackers can be hurt or killed if their opponent gets the upper hand. There are a limited number of actions available in combat.
- Move up to 10′ within another action. Particularly useful for moving into or out of melee range with another combatant. This distance is loosely the equivalent of crossing a room. Note: there are no penalties for withdrawing from melee.
- Move – spend the entire action moving—with distances abstracted to terms like close, nearby, far away, etc. This action is needed when moving beyond 10′, especially when moving from one abstracted distance to the next.
- Melee Attack – up close and personal combat. The winner’s weapon’s damage is reduced by the loser’s armor’s rating (light—1d3, modest—1d6, or heavy—2d6). Damage is applied to stamina (minimum 1).
- Ranged Attack – distance-based combat. An opposed Skill Test (bow skill vs. dodge). Penalties may be assessed for long-range attacks. If successful, damage determination is identical to melee.
Magic in Warlock is nothing more than practitioners requesting, ordering, or demanding entities from outside the mortal realm bestow magical power onto them. No one “learns” magic; they are written down in books, on scrolls, and sheaves of paper and must be read aloud to cast. However similar, Priests and wizards walk separate paths with different philosophies. Priests imploring the gods to grant them miracles, whereas wizards demand their powers from otherworldly beings. Every character can cast magic with their incantation skill, but only the initiate and the wizard’s apprentice careers allow them to advance the skill. Priest and wizard “advanced” careers allow even higher skills levels.
Every time an attempt is made to cast a spell (including combat), the caster must spend the required stamina, representing the lifeforce expended to power the spell before success or failure is known. If the d20 result is a natural 1, there is the potential for a miscast. A second incantation skill test is required. If it fails, the original spell is miscast and requires a roll on the miscast table—results range from humorous to potentially deadly.
At character creation, the initiate and the wizard’s apprentice have one spell scroll. All others must be found, stolen, or acquired somehow through the game to increase the caster’s repertoire. The Magic section includes thirty-six spells. Each includes a name, stamina cost in parenthesis, and a description of the spell’s effect. Gamemasters and players may create their own spells. To do this, one needs only the three core components that define spells—name, stamina cost, and general effect.
Unlike spells, magical items are rare. Magical items tend to either allow a user to cast a spell without needing an incantation skill check or allow the user to cast a spell with an incantation skill check without paying the stamina cost. Either way, they will always have a limited number of uses per day or charges before becoming exhausted.
Every adventurer worth their salt seeks fame and fortune, and what better way to do that than to slay beasts. Warlock includes a bestiary that represents a sampling of the beasts adventurers may encounter on their travels. Each entry represents the “typical” example of each creature. Gamemasters are free to modify the stats as needed to fit the story. Every entry follows a standard format with all the necessary information for the Gamemaster to easily incorporate it into the story and give it life on the battlefield. Every monster’s ability is clearly defined at the beginning of the bestiary for quick reference. All the classics creatures you might expect to see are included, but unfortunately, most do not include accompanying artwork.
Games Master Section
There is a short Gamemaster section at the end of the book. Within are tips primarily geared toward first-time Gamemasters. Several previously stated points are repeated here for emphasis, while others are expanded upon to provide further clarity. This section lacks two particular things. The first is the setting, which, if you recall, is undefined, enabling the players to aid in shaping the world. Second, although the topic of scenario selection and creation is briefly addressed, there are no scenarios included in the core book.
I purchased the premium digest-sized sepia-toned wrap-around cover art print version. The production value is nice all around. The copy is reminiscent of old-school products from the 70s and 80s with its typewriter-like font. The author uses a font size slightly larger than most products and also uses a spacious layout. Both are a much-appreciated deviation from the classic old-school look of small fonts and tightly compacted layouts. This layout, however, does leave quite a bit of white space. The interior artwork is a distinct mix of styles, representing the three artists responsible for all the interior artwork. The artwork is black and white linework, and some pieces are more visually appealing than others.
There were a couple of quirks in the character creation process. As noted previously, the entire character generation process took only about 15 minutes and is relatively simple, but two points caused me to scratch my head.
- Career selection – the provided chart is designed for two dice rolls—d4 then d6. The d4 identifies a group of six careers; the d6 roll results in one career. This is repeated four times, resulting in four careers from which to choose one. Unfortunately, in both sections where the career determination process is outlined, there is no mention of rolling a d4.
- When purchasing equipment, the following statement is found in that section, “Metal weapons and armour always costs at least 2d6 for poor quality, or 3d6 for normal quality.” The effects of quality are not addressed anywhere in the book and seem not to have any mechanical implications that I could find.
I could easily work out the career selection issue, but the one pertaining to equipment quality still has me scratching my head—perhaps I can’t see the forest for trees! Warlock’s simplicity is a double-edged sword in that it allows for easier access by a broader audience, but it’s also that same simplicity that makes it feel too generic. If you’re willing to purchase additional Warlock supplements, these will help give the game, but more importantly, the world additional character and depth. I believe the author could have accomplished some of this in the core book. Setting my personal opinion aside for the moment, the generic nature does, however, allow creative Gamemasters the latitude and freedom to create a personalized world within the framework of Warlock.
Some have debated endlessly regarding the idea of a British old-school versus an American old-school design aesthetic. While this review is not the place for such a debate, I believe Warlock! to be true to its British roots. It’s designed by an Englishman, with a simple design inspired explicitly by early 80s British roleplaying games. It captures that feel, at least in my limited experience with early British games. In the end, while it pays homage to those earlier games, Warlock is not a clone or hack of an earlier game; it is a unique game unto itself—one worth checking out.
Did you enjoy this review? Would you like to see us write more in the future? Your support means we can keep writing more reviews and articles. Please consider becoming a Patron by clicking the Patreon banner above.