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The stories you and your friends tell in Shadow of the Demon Lord focus on characters that come together as a group. The stories explore the group’s triumphs and defeats, the mysteries the group solves, the foes vanquished, the secrets unearthed, and the horrors overcome. As a player, you create and control a member of the group, and your contributions help advance the story toward its conclusion.
The game uses level to describe a group’s overall power and capability. When you create a character, the Game Master will tell you the group’s starting level. The higher the level, the more powerful and more complex the character becomes. Since low-level characters are simpler to play, the game recommends that GMs set the group’s level at 0 (or no level) for players new to Shadow of the Demon Lord. More experienced groups may prefer to play at higher levels since they will have more tools in their toolboxes, access to potent magic, and greater durability.
Your group’s level increases whenever the Game Master decides. Usually, a level increase results from accomplishing a story goal such as finding the cure to the Pox, stealing the necromancer’s magic, stopping the cult from tearing a hole in reality, and so on. Each time the group’s level increases, everyone in the groups gains benefits for that level.
In the Beginning, you Choose an Ancestry
When you create a character, you build the identity of an imaginary person living in the world of the Demon Lord. The game asks you to make one big choice—ancestry—and then provides you with tools to help you refine that choice. Ancestry describes the people to which your character belongs. Example options include humans, the easiest and most versatile choice, the giant-blooded jotun (pronounced YO-tun), the mischievous goblin, and the clockwork, a people made from cogs, gears, and springs. Other options may be available in the core book and in supplements.
Your ancestry tells you the numbers that broadly define what your character can do: it sets your starting attribute scores, determines your Size and Speed, and provides you with one or more talents (exceptional abilities that either modify your character or let you do something no one else can do). To help customize your character, the creation chapter provides you with tools for adjusting some of these numbers, to determine your character’s additional skills, starting equipment, and offers story options to help you bring your character to life.
If the GM sets the starting level at 0, you are ready to play once you choose an ancestry, select your starting equipment, and record the information on your character sheet. A beginning character is quite simple. This is intentional. I want new players to have a chance to learn the core rules through game play. Simple characters let players engage the core rules and master them before the game asks them to learn exceptions to these rules.
Stories for beginning characters tend to focus on how and why a group forms. Often, the player characters react to a common threat and have to find a way to deal with that threat. Furthermore, the starting story gives PCs a chance to figure out what they want to become later. A character that spends much of the first story fighting in hand-to-hand combat may go on to become a warrior, while another character that discovers an incantation and successfully reads it to produce the magical effect may be inspired to become a magician.
When the GM increases your group level, the rules may tell you choose a path based on your level. A path describes a way your character develops his or her abilities. You choose a novice path when your group reaches level 1, an expert path at level 3, and a master path at level 7. The path you choose makes improvements to your character’s capabilities, sometimes by granting talents, letting the character learn spells, or a combination of both. Here’s the advancement table so you can see how this works. Note that once you make a choice for ancestry or a path, you continue to gain benefits from that choice as the group level increases.
0 Choose an ancestry and record its traits on your character sheet.
1 Choose a novice path and gain the level 1 benefits from the path.
2 Gain the level 2 benefits from your novice path.
3 Choose an expert path and gain the level 3 benefits from the path.
4 Gain the level 4 benefits from your ancestry.
5 Gain the level 5 benefits from your novice path.
6 Gain the level 6 benefits from your expert path.
7 You may choose a second expert path and gain the level 3 benefits from that path or you may choose a master path and gain the level 7 benefits from that path.
8 Gain the level 8 benefits from your novice path.
9 Gain the level 9 benefits from your expert path.
10 Gain the level 6 benefits from your second expert path or the level 10 benefits from your master path.
Novice paths establish, in broad strokes, what a character trains to do. The novice paths highlight the big archetypes of fantasy. Magician, rogue, warrior, and disciple are the novice paths I plan to include in the core game.
A warrior is best at fighting with weapons, whether those weapons are fists, pistols, swords, or crossbows. To reflect combat training, all warriors have an asset for rolls to attack with weapons. (If you remember, from a previous post, whenever you have an asset, you roll a d6 and add it to your roll of a d20.)
The magician is best at casting spells. You might gain your spellcasting ability from studying under a witch or wizard, having a magical heritage, bargaining with a dark power, or from some other source as you decide. As a magician, you learn several spells, some of which you can cast over and over again.
Novice paths gradually introduce the more complex systems into the game. Magician plugs into the game’s magic system, which I’ll explain in another post, while warriors can rely on their greater accuracy or forgo that accuracy to perform stunts and maneuvers in combat such as shoving their enemies, knocking them to the ground, or pinning them in place with a successful roll. The options gained from the novice paths build on the core rules the players learned in the first story and shows how the rules bend to accommodate the various exceptions that serve to individuate the characters in the story.
When the group reaches level 3, you choose your character’s expert path. The expert paths show how characters fit into the story, may describe characters’ personal goals and objectives, and demonstrates ways characters might use their novice training. The benefits you gain from your expert path may complement those benefits gained from your novice path or let you develop your character in a completely different way. Expert paths do not have requirements. You can choose any path you like provided the choice reflects what has happened in your character’s story so far. Some example expert paths include assassin, psychic, ranger, and spellbinder.
You may choose a second expert path or a master path for your character when the group reaches level 7. Master paths focus characters’ training in narrow areas. So if you want to be the best at casting Fire spells, choose the pyromancer path. Or, if you want to be the best at fighting with pistols and rifles, choose the gunslinger path. Other example paths include the knight, martial artist, telepath, and wizard. As with all paths, the game expects you to make your choice based on what your character has experienced and accomplished in the story.
Putting the Paths Together
The path structure provides a great deal of flexibility in character development. You derive all benefits from the paths you choose, but you can choose any paths you like. And, if you make an unusual choice, you aren’t penalized for doing so, since previous choices continue to develop your character. Let’s take a look at three players and the decisions they make each time they choose a path.
Mindy has played roleplaying games before and she knows she wants to play a tough, badass warrior. She chooses jotun for her ancestry since jotun are big and strong. She spends the first story protecting her friends using a sword she finds. So when it comes time to choose her novice path, she selects warrior. As a warrior, she discovers an enchanted great sword that secretly craves blood. The weapon whispers to her while she sleeps, awakening the bloodlust within her. When she reaches level 3, she decides the berserker expert path best describes how her character has been developing. Throughout her time as a berserker, she finds herself in the thick of battle, slaughtering everyone that dares stand in her way. Mindy is having a great time with this character, so when she gets to pick a master path, she chooses death dealer, a master of fighting with two-handed weapons. When the game ends, Mindy’s character is a jotun warrior-berserker-death dealer.
Jay has also played roleplaying games before, but has no idea what he wants to play. He likes the goblin, though, so he chooses it for his ancestry. During the first story, he finds a pistol and has fun sneaking around and shooting people in the back, as goblins tend to do. Jay chooses rogue for his novice path since he’s been relying on his skills and tricks to make his way through the first story. During his time as a rogue, Jay’s character steals a heavy book filled with magical writing. He decides his character studies this tome so he can learn a few spells. When he chooses his expert path, he selects mage to reflect all the time he’s spent learning magic. Although he’s happy casting spells, he still enjoys shooting people, so when the group reaches level 7, he picks gunslinger so he can improve his aim with his favorite weapon. When the game ends, Jay’s character is a goblin rogue-mage-gunslinger.
Heather joins the group, having never played a roleplaying game before. She selects human for her ancestry, as it’s the most familiar option. During the first story, Heather’s character finds an incantation inscribed on a piece of pottery. She reads the incantation and saves her friends’ lives. She had fun casting the spell and wants to do more with magic. She chooses magician for her novice path. Armed with a bevy of spells, she has fun solving problems with her magic and occasionally blasting her foes to bits, but she’s worried about being cornered in a fight. In the story, Heather’s character takes time to practice fighting with Mindy’s character. When Heather is ready to choose her expert path, she becomes a champion—a path that enhances her fighting ability. She still gains spells from her magician path and now has some fighting ability and toughness as well. She finds she mixes the two a great deal during the game so when she’s ready to choose her master path, she decides to choose a second expert path—spellbinder—instead of a master path. A spellbinder can imbue spells into her weapons. When the game ends, Heather’s character is a human magician-champion-spellbinder.
As you can see, the game offers a considerable amount of flexibility in how characters develop. You might start as a warrior and build your fighting skills as you play or you might dabble in trickery, pledge your sword to the New God, sell your soul to a devil, or do something else. The ability to pick and choose lets you evolve your character with the story in whatever way you feel is appropriate. As well, since lower path choices continue to benefit you as the group’s level increases, you can choose any path you like that makes sense without the risk of making your character ineffective.
OK. That’s enough for this week. Next week, I’ll talk about combat.