Warlock is a modern rules-light take on British fantasy roleplaying games like Warhammer and Fighting Fantasy. The stats and skills are a lot like Advanced Fighting Fantasy while the careers system is modelled after Warhammer Roleplay 1st edition while the inventory, world and monsters echo Warhammer Fantasy Battle 1st edition. With all these influences the modern flavour sometimes feels like the use of a d20 in skill checks.
Each career offers two random tables that offer details about your characters background if this is their starting career.
The core skill of a career is simply named after the career and covers the breadth of what the career is about. In addition stamina (or hit points) is linked to increasing your career skill which provides a double-incentive to focus on the core of your character.
The combat system keeps the idea of being fine while you have stamina (hit points) but then taking critical hits once you are at zero. Weapons are categorised into different damage types that have their own critical tables.
Items have cost ratings that result in a randomly generated cost. This makes hunting for a bargain a mechanical thing that encourages wandering and looking for bargains.
Less clever things
I think it's a bit odd that there isn't a Fate or Fortune point equivalent. You can test your Luck to break ties but that seems to be the only way you can really influence rolls that matter a lot to you.
The careers system allows you to jump from any career to any other career with the player being required to justify the change narratively. This is a sensible liberation but it would still be nice to have suggested career exits, maybe with a reduced advance cost.
Some of the writing and editing is quite sloppy with sentences not making syntactic sense let alone being grammatically correct.
Comparing to WFRP
Despite it's mixed heritage Warlock is most like Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and therefore I think it is a bit interesting to compare it's modernisation effort to the 2nd and 4th Editions attempts to do exactly the same thing.
Warlock only allows characters to develop skills that are part of the character's current career. For the most part later additions of WFRP saw careers as a way of describing what your character had done prior to the game and loosened up the way you were able to develop your character later.
Magic use is a skill and therefore is much more available than in Warhammer. However access to spells is more controlled so spellbooks and scrolls are much more important. The magic system feels much closer to the Sorcery! gamebooks and Advanced Dungeons and Dragons than any of the Warhammer games.
Virtually all versions of Warhammer have very whiffy combat where dodging, toughness and armour all combines to make it likely that any individual strike doesn't make any difference to the game. Warlock makes combat a contested role so it reads like in every exchange someone is getting hurt and the game is going to move forward rather than being a stalemate.
Warlock determinedly punts on having a background. The eponymous Warlock has betrayed the large human community that the game centres around. In addition to this internal foe goblins, orcs and hobgoblins constantly harry the humans' borders.
That's about the extent of it. I would have liked to see some principles of the game or ideas for adventures to try and understand what the author thinks the game is about but to be honest I haven't really enjoyed the world-building or colour in games with a fixed background in a while.
For a game that clearly calls back on a rich history of existing gaming the blank slate actually works pretty well.
There's a lot to like in Warlock, I kind of binge read it when the hardcopy arrived. It has a number of rough edges and I think some of them will only be evident once you play it.
But it is an exciting take on several classic games and manages to capture a lot of that early 80s British fantasy roleplaying atmosphere.