Simple, Unified Mechanics:
It's an interesting mash up of two of the older British RPG systems hacked together. If you're a fan of either system or looking to have the feel without overcomplicated mechanics, and boasting a unified system this book will serve you well.
The Author had managed to achieve a simple mechanics system that still retains some of the traits beloved in both systems. Do not discount a simpler system for not having depth: The system satisfies a lot of that traditional feel both derived systems have without overcomplicating things.
Character Creation Easy and Unique:
The characters, while simple to create, have some nice random options to give them some distinction to avoid them becoming clones of each-other, while the simple skill system gives a player a mix of point-buy and dice rolls to make their character more unique.
Characters can Try Anything:
Like the more traditional approach with OD&D, characters can try anything and are not hampered by their class choice. Every character a player uses will have some skill in the usual challenges they will face, depicted succinctly on their character sheet.
This system relies on a simple skill list to indicate to the player what chance of success they may have, rather than relying on DM fiat and interpretation of their signals for the success.
This style may not suit all readers who prefer a huge list of skills or a more fluid style of Gamemastering but it works quite well, hearkening back to the system's influences.
Careers, not Classes:
One of the best things about the system is the progression a player can make. Starting in their initial career, they can multi-class and delve into Advanced Career options, each providing unique options to attain expertise in certain skills.
By blending the concepts of skill and class, the Career system takes the best of both to allow players to define their characters easily, while still providing unique traits. As the characters grow, they can branch off in interesting directions, mixing Careers to produce memorable figures for the players every time.
Opposed Combat Tests:
Another favorite mechanic derived from the British style is the opposed roll. Allowing every combatant attacking to possibly receive damage from their opponent in melee makes things very active and dangerous. It allows a player to pull a Conan, mowing down weaker creatures in one round but also makes other, more powerful creatures far more dangerous as entering conflict is always dicey.
It's a good system that keeps players and the Gamemaster actively involved in the combat rounds without playing the 'wait till my turn to do something' game that can kill the excitement of many encounters. The result is a great approach to the chaos of combat without overburdening it with complicated rules.
Attrition & Criticals:
I'm not a fan of having a player who has done everything right, receives an critical insta-kill, due to a bad dice roll result.
The system uses Stamina as hit points but does have critical results that worsen once the player's Stamina amount run out. It's a good blend of strategy with the potential for players to be tactical but also potentially hobble away at the end of combat with lasting scars or worse. There is also a rare potential of the player or opponent achieving a Mighty Strike for double damage, to keep everyone on their toes with unexpected consequences.
Players can be somewhat heroic but will be faced with times when running for their lives is the smart choice. No safety nets here like some more modern systems. Players should approach combat more creatively than just wading in every time and whittling down the monsters which can get quite boring.
This is not D&D:
It's nice to see a system that breaks away from being yet another D&D clone. Employing unfamiliar characteristics and mechanics could be a welcome change, paying well-deserved homage to some of the less known older British systems.
While the writing is very evocative, do not expect a full set of rules for wilderness travel, journey rules, etc. and tables to roll for tackling every occasion. There are no elaborate tables of treasure or a fully fleshed out world. There is certainly some flavour and a semblance of the world and how it works, but the many details are left up to the reader to elaborate upon.
There is some Tolkien influence, but it is somewhat sparse.
Don't expect pages of detailed history, elaborate treasure tables and a descriptive, established game world. The Bestiary is also decent but not overflowing with hundreds of choices like other systems.
No Mechanical Distinction for Player Races:
Surprisingly, while the Careers and Advanced Careers are plenty, the same cannot be said for this trait. In the system, depicted as 'Communities', the traditional classic choice of races, based on older B/X D&D are depicted. Humans are the most common and established, Elves and Dwarfs can see in moonlight, and Halflings are quiet and stealthy; a traditional fantasy approach.
However, there is no system mechanic differences between them. There are no rules or similar bonuses to dice rolls associated with any class, rather it is descriptive and left up to the Gamemaster to decide.
While this may be liberating for those wishing to avoid players who choose a character's kin, solely for its potential bonuses and not for how they fit into the fantasy landscape, it does again leave it up to the Gamemaster whether to incorporate the flavour text as specific rules.
Unexpected Class Archetypes:
The system breaks away from some of the stereotype traditions of the fragile Wizard and the healing Cleric archetypes. There is no real distinction between the two, other than some extra skill limits and are essentially interchangeable. The spell list is unified where a Wizard could be the one that heals and banishes undead, rather than the Cleric, which may confuse new players.
While a somewhat brief pantheon of Gods is described, again there are no bonuses involved with which a Cleric-style player chooses to follow so it really doesn't matter. However, it does mean that if one wants to be a sword-wielding, armour wearing Wizard, they are free to do so. Indeed, one of the advanced skills for a Wizard is 'Brawling' which I found unexpected but amusing. I suspect the Author may also be a bit tired of overdone Class tropes.
Solid Framework to Build Upon:
The system is tight, unified, and simple. While it lacks in detail in some areas, it shines in many others. Thankfully, the areas it crucially shines are the core rules and a solid foundation to build and customise a framework upon. It will take an adept and creative Gamemaster to get the most out of the system for a campaign but it it is flexible enough to simply serve as an entertaining one-shot night with minimal preparation needed to get playing.
The flexibility of the system allows one to graft on as much complexity and house-rules as one desires, without breaking the core rules. I think those that like tinkering with systems mechanics and enhancement designs will enjoy making this system in their own distinct style.
I feel Warlock! certainly deserves 5 stars for breaking from the OSR traditional options, delving into new areas of Old-School play, producing an enjoyable core system with great potential for expansion.