Robert J. Schwalb’s “Shadow of the Demon Lord” has been reviewed in quite a few spots on the interwebz. This review is for those of you who may be on the fence. I’m going to give you the top five reasons that this is the sorta thing you’ll like if you like this sorta thing (my grandpa used to say that and it just stuck with me).
1) Value– Player’s Guide, GM’s Guide, Barebones world, AND Bestiary in one well-laid out and nicely illustrated bundle for five sawbucks? This is one of the major selling points…..you’re not getting MOST of a game here – you’re getting everything you need in one pop…an amazing value.
2) Simplicity– For some this may be a bug and not a feature but you only need a d6 and a d20 to play. The game uses familiar d20 mechanics combined with a boon and bane system. (Boon roll a d6 and add the result to your D20 roll, Bane subtract the d6. Multiple modifiers provide more than one? They cancel each other out on a one to one basis. Simple, elegant, and I prefer it to 5E’s advantage/disadvantage system.
3) Familiar but Different– The mechanics and FEEL of Schwalb’s game are at once familiar and intuitive but also have some new splashes that are terrific. Humans, dwarves, and….clockworks? Goblins as a PC race? Yes, please! Corruption and Madness also make their Tolkienesque and Lovecraftian appearances respectively. How about taking a fast turn versus a slow turn? Fast is basically a single action but you get to step up in initiative, Slow gives you all your options but wait your turn…again the word is “elegant”.
4) Character Creation/Advancement– Hold on…let me just try to not lose my mind here. THIS part of the game was enough to not only make me buy it, but made me question RPG game design ever since. Let me just say that if you LOVE options but hate mindless bookkeeping, this is the system right here. The short version is this- You start with a novice path at Level 1: Warrior, Rogue, Magician, and Priest are the choices. I know, I know…you’re saying, “hardly revolutionary”. But then when you get to Level 3 (which your party advances as a GROUP- again just a great shorthand to move everyone along together) you select an expert path (one of 16 – with each of the four options basically branching). However (and here’s the kicker) – you can choose whatever you want! Tired of simply mixing it up in melee as a warrior? Grab yourself some expert path Assassin and get stealthy. Other than the normal issues (dedicated spell-caster will have more power within their spell-casting realm than those who dabble). This system is totally modular and simply works. Later on grab a master path or a second expert path for increased customization. This is simply the most amazing part of the game and if you’re in a store and have a moment flip to page 53 and read from there…then march to the counter and make the purchase.
5) Monsters and Spells and the World? Oh MY!
Bestiary– You’ve got monsters, you’ve got the framework to easily construct more, and Rob provides great advice on designing encounters.
Spellbook– Spell descriptions are TERSE and I love it. The game says look you’ve cast “fly” a hundred times in your rpg career, here’s the basic parameters and make rulings on the rest.
The World– The world provides a bit of a high fantasy at 5,200 feet overview of what’s possible in world design but I think most GM’s simply make their own. But if you don’t want to? maps, places, and hooks are all here.
That’s it. I can’t recommend this highly enough. I’ve been a gamemaster for 30 plus years. I’ve written and published my own work. I’ve picked the brains of the greats of the industry: Monte, E.G.G., Jolly, and Wolfgang. I can safely say Mr. Schwalb has secured his place in the pantheon with this offering…buy it today and you will be ready to grab the dice and roll with a great new system in no time at all!