Monday, October 3, 2016

Shadow of the Demon Lord Review

"... I wanted something to call my own, a tabletop roleplaying game freed from canon and born from my imagination..."

Robert J Schwalb from preface to Shadow of the Demon Lord

I signed on to the kickstarter for all the .pdfs and liked it so much I bought a hardback of the core rules from my friendly neighborhood game store. Things I like include starting simple and adding complexity as well as a clear and easy to read prose style. The add or subtract a d6 to the d20 is a good alternative to the roll two d20. The game also allows for multiple d6, but the take the highest helps to keep it from getting totally crazy. I found the core rules chapter clear and comprehensive, although I would be inclined to present more of it as charts and tables, and less as prose (When I write my fantasy heartbreaker I'll give it a shot). I am afraid I'll not be able to judge the true balance of classes and spells until I turn my min-maxer friends lose on it (which hasn't happened yet). If you are a connoisseur of roleplaying games definitely pick this one up. The kickstarter has filled driveRPG with a lot of adventures as well. I haven't talked my 5e players into this yet, but it may be worth giving it a shot (Although she-who-must-be-obeyed is still struggling to switch from 2e to 5e, so perhaps best not to switch targets).

Chapter by Chapter Skim Through.
Table of Contents
Always useful (although I like indexes better)

Kind words from Frank Mentzer

Thoughts from Robert himself (see quote at the start of this review for example)

Some basic concepts and play examples

Chapter 1 Character Creation
Four attributes Strength, Agility, Intellect, and Will. Starting attributes are determined by race with some slight wiggle room. Only half a page on attributes here. Races include Humans, Changelings, Clockworks, Dwarfs, Goblins, and Orcs. No elves, halfings, gnomes or lizardmen (Probably only I will miss the lack of lizardmen, but the lack of elves  is more conspicuous, certainly after watching Shannara on DvD I am convinced that both elves and gnomes can do grimdark well). Lots of roll up tables for backgrounds and starting professions (better selection than 5e in my opinion).

Chapter 2 Playing the Game
Making decisions ask your DM.Time timekeeping is important (but not talked about here). Rolling dice 2 pages boon/bane only thing you haven't seen before. Attributes (1.5 pages kinda short shrift.) characteristics mostly calculated from attributes, long descriptions for insanity, and corruption. Speed for some reason includes the movement rules. Damage is the next section, mostly the standard stuff. Disabled has some possibilities. Afflictions (same as conditions in 5e) mostly the standard stuff. Environment deals with objects, range and distance, obscurement, illumination and invisibility. Role Playing covers social interactions and includes options for character bonds. Combat is comprehensive covering most options and ends this chapter.

Chapter 3 Novice Paths
Four novice paths: Magician, Priest, Rogue, and Warrior. Novice paths provide powers for 1st, 2nd, 5th, and 8th levels

Chapter 4 Expert Paths
Sixteen expert paths: Artificer, Assassin, Berserker, Cleric, Druid, Fighter, Oracle, Paladin, Ranger, Scout, Sorcerer, Spellbinder, Thief, Warlock, Witch, and Wizard. Expert paths provide powers for levels 3, 6, and 9.

Chapter 5 Master Paths
64 master paths: Abjurer, Acrobat, Aeromancer, Apocalyptist, Arcanist, Astromancer, Avenger, Bard, Beastmaster, Blade, Cavalier, Champion, Chronomancer, Conjurer, Conqueror, Death dealer, Defender, Dervish, Destroyer, Diplomat, Diviner, Dreadnaught, Duelist, Enchanter, Engineer, Executioner, Exorcist, Explorer, Geomancer, Gladiator, Gunslinger, Healer, Hexer, Hydromancer, Illusionist, Infiltrator, Inquisitor, Jack-of-all-trades, Mage knight, Magus, Marauder, Miracle worker, Myrmidon, Necromancer, Poisoner, Pyromancer, Runesmith, Savant, Sentinel, Shapeshifter, Sharpshooter, Stormbringer, Technomancer, Templar, Tenebrist, Thaumaturge, Therge, Transmuter, Traveler, Weapon master, Woodwose, Zealot. Master paths provide powers for level 7 and 10

Chapter 6 Equipment 
You know armor, weapons, adventuring gear, hirelings seem cheap. Options to buy scrolls and potions are always nice.

Chapter 7 Magic
brief introduction then list of spells split up into small schools called traditions Air, Alteration, Arcana, Battle, Celestial, Chaos, Conjuration, Curse, Destruction, Divination, Earth, Enchantment, Fire, Forbidden, illusion, life, nature, necromancy, primal, protection, rune, shadow, song, storm, technomancy, teleportation, theurgy, time, transformation, water. Have to turn my optimizing friends loose on this to which traditions have the killer apps. Air has some nasty spells. Arcane is for your magic misslers. Forbidden has some really freaky stuff. finally fire for fireball. I suspect there is a close correspondence between the Master paths and traditions, but I have not mapped it out in detail.

Chapter 8 A Land in Shadow
Gazetteer of the campaign setting

Chapter 9 running the game
A nice basic introduction to Dming. A nice section on horror as well. Read if you have need of such things.

Chapter 10 Bestiary
The bestiary closes out the book. A quick look shows most of the old standards, but nothing leapt out as new and noteworthy. I like the sections on characters, customization and templates

There is a lot of potential here. Fairly close to its d20 roots the main distinctions in the paths and traditions providing a bit finer division than classes and spell schools (a feature which intrigues me). Although it claims a grimdark setting, most of this system is just solid roleplaying. I like starting with basic classes and expanding outwards as levels increase. I think picking new classes for higher level powers will cut back on the 1000+ feat optimization problems of  3e and pathfinder. However, an extensive effort to find where the cracks are has yet to made. Pick this up, play it, find the cracks and let me know.

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