RPG Comparison: Würm by Chaosium

Loren SmallDeep Dive, Game Dev, Game DevelopmentLeave a Comment

Cover of Wurm by Chaosium and Cover of Born from Ice: Stone Age Role-Playing

Note: This is one of several articles that looks at other games (Würm by Chaosium) comparing what they do with Born from Ice. The intent is not to critique or find fault, but rather to try to present the scope of prehistoric tabletop RPG options that are available, and show the unique things that Born from Ice brings to the table.

Introduction: A Respectful Comparison

As the creator of Born from Ice, a unique 5e compatible D&D setting, I have a deep appreciation for other games in the prehistoric RPG genre, particularly Würm by Chaosium. It’s essential to start this discussion by acknowledging the respect I have for Würm, which is an impressive game in its own right. However, in developing Born from Ice, I’ve taken a different approach, aiming to offer a distinct and innovative experience of prehistoric role-playing.

Mechanical Distinctions

At the core of any role-playing game lies its mechanics, which fundamentally shape the player experience. Born from Ice diverges significantly from Würm in this aspect. While Würm operates on a d6-based system with a focus on Strengths, Weaknesses, Talents, and Secrets for character development, Born from Ice integrates the 5e engine, and includes a range of custom Classes, Totem Paths (subclasses), Backgrounds, and Feats. This variety allows for a broad spectrum of character creation and development, suiting different play styles and personal stories.

This difference in mechanics is more than just numerical; it influences how stories unfold and how players interact with the game world. To me, Würm can feel like playing an older game with a lot of moving parts to keep track of, and in my personal playing I have found it a bit imbalanced and rough around the edges.1 This is a major reason I chose to use 5e when making Born from Ice; it is designed around a modern system with over a decade of people playing, and in writing I have been able to take that already modern system and refine it based on the needs of the setting and understanding of some of the weaknesses of 5e from so much play-testing.

Magic and Fantasy

One of the most significant points of divergence between Born from Ice and Würm is the approach to magic and fantasy. Würm incorporates a considerable amount of fantasy within the writing of the core book and published adventures, leaving it up to the Game Master to remove or ignore these elements. In contrast, Born from Ice adopts a no-magic baseline, firmly anchoring its narratives in a realistic portrayal of the prehistoric world. This decision shapes not only the gameplay but also the storytelling, ensuring a consistent and authentic prehistoric experience.

Optional Magic in Future Supplements

It’s worth noting that while Born from Ice is committed to a no-magic core set of books, I am open to exploring magical elements through optional supplements in the future. This approach maintains the integrity of the primary setting while offering versatility for those seeking a touch of the mystical.

For those looking to integrate magic a bit earlier into their game, since Born from Ice is 5e based, other published monsters and adventures should generally be compatible with the game, allowing you to mix and match and make your own anachronistic stone age world should you wish to do so.

Approach to Material: Modern Research and Inclusivity

Born from Ice is deeply rooted in the latest research, striving to distance itself from the dated and often problematic views often embedded in the science of the 19th and 20th centuries that has influenced many prehistoric RPGs. Würm, like many of the caveman RPGs that are available, includes some of these elements that I personally think are troubling because of how the content is presented and gamified, but also because it is also not where the science is.

My commitment to addressing and removing elements within the text of misogyny, racism, and other troubling aspects is not just about being historically accurate; it’s about creating an inclusive and respectful gaming environment. To be clear on what I’m saying, the game is able to approach tough issues, but it can do so without itself being racist or sexist.

The Whole World: A Global Stage for Adventure

While Würm focuses on a relatively small geographical area, Born from Ice expands the horizon, offering a global stage for adventures, providing context and creatures (allowing you to base your games anywhere in the world that early humans were present), and information on how to adjust the game world based on where and when exactly you are setting your game. This global scope not only diversifies the gameplay experience but also enriches the educational aspect of the game, offering insights into different cultures and environments of the prehistoric world.

Adventures: Crafting Deep and Engaging Narratives

Another area where Born from Ice stands out is in the depth and detail of its adventures. In contrast to Würm’s lighter, outline-based adventures, I’ve instead opted to create a comprehensive level 1-20 adventure path. This includes fully fleshed-out characters, branching narrative scenarios, detailed maps, and guidance for adapting different parts of the adventure for varied levels of play. This depth of content is something I am particularly proud of, as it provides Game Masters with extensive tools for creating immersive campaigns, as well as adapting the material to their own home brew sessions.

Conclusion: A Unique Offering in the Prehistoric RPG Genre

In conclusion, while recognizing the many strengths of Würm by Chaosium, I believe Born from Ice offers a unique experience in the prehistoric tabletop RPG genre. Through its modern mechanics, grounded approach to magic, commitment to inclusivity, global scope, and richly detailed adventures, Born from Ice offers an experience that is both unique and deeply engaging.

I invite you to explore the prehistoric realms of Born from Ice and embark on adventures unlike any other. Discover more about this exciting world when our Kickstarter launches this spring.

Join My Journey

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  1. To be clear, this is based on the currently available English translation of Würm. My understanding is that there is a 2nd Edition available in France, but as it has not had an English release yet that I am aware of, I am unable to know if it has addressed any of the mechanical issues of the game. ↩︎