Shadow of the Weird Wizard: A Q&A with Rob Schwalb
Why should you check out Weird Wizard? Is it different from Shadow of the Demon Lord? What does the future hold for the game beyond the Kickstarter? Who does Rob hold in most high esteem?
Get the answers to these questions and more!
What’s the scoop on Weird Wizard?
What do you hope to accomplish with Shadow of the Weird Wizard?
The one thing I heard again and again about Shadow of the Demon Lord was that people loved the system, but they just couldn’t handle the bleak and foul setting. Making a sanitized version of Demon Lord so that everyone could play drove the design of Weird Wizard, and now that I am more or less done, I’m excited to get this beast into people’s hands. Fantasy remains the most popular genre in tabletop roleplaying, and while there’s no shortage of options for people to try, Weird Wizard offers a sleek game system, deep customization, and exciting game play, whether you’re looking for an intrigue-focused game, a smash-the-bad-guys dungeon crawl, or an exploration-style game. I hope folks see this game as a great alternative to the other options out there and can experience everything Weird Wizard has to offer.
Why do you think people should give Weird Wizard a try?
Shadow of the Weird Wizard’s design aimed to knock down all those obstacles that have prevented me from enjoying roleplaying games. Low preparation, a slick core system that serves the story rather than drives it, and tons of ready-to-run quests. I think people love the idea of roleplaying games, but they often become bogged down in all the clutter. Weird Wizard aims to lower the bar to entry without sacrificing what makes these games fun.
What are key differences from Shadow of the Demon Lord that improve the system in Weird Wizard?
All these years later, I still believe in Shadow of the Demon Lord; I still think it’s a solid game with tons to offer. So, why change anything? Well, Demon Lord is a horror fantasy game, and so its difficulty operates at a different scale than should a game with a higher fantasy feel. Much of the changes exist in the background, but you’ll notice characters are tougher, characters can dish out more damage, and the game tilts a bit more toward the players, as the game posits the players are playing heroes.
Other changes function as refinements to the rules. Rather than fast, fast, slow, slow, end of the round for round structure, Weird Wizard has the bad guys go first, then the players (with the option to jump ahead of the monsters), and then the end of the round.
We still use traditions and spells, but now traditions offer magical talents so that discovering a tradition gives you a lasting benefit. Rather than have a power score determining the spell’s castings, we just folded that mechanic into the spells themselves, using the effects themselves to determine the number of castings.
These and other updates help make Weird Wizard its own thing, while keeping to the spirit of fun, fast game play, short quests, and focused campaigns.
What was your thought process behind making Weird Wizard family friendly?
A lot of anger and vexation drove Shadow of the Demon Lord’s design. In a way, that game was my catharsis, letting me channel a lot of my negativity in a constructive, if disturbing, way. Shadow of the Weird Wizard offers a bit more of a measured take on fantasy gaming—one that I think best matches where I’m at now. As a consequence, the game’s setting and themes ought to resonate more broadly than those of Demon Lord, and that means more people can see the game and experience a different way to play TTRPGS.
What do you see for the future of Weird Wizard?
Once we get the game out, I hope to use the core engine to explore different genres. I had planned to do that with Demon Lord, but this time, I plan to pursue it more aggressively. The core engine has the robustness to handle just about anything, from supers to modern horror. It’s going to take some time to clear out the stretch goal products, but once I’m through, I think you can expect to see new games using the same system.
Who was your biggest influence in your journey as a game developer?
Not going to fib: talking about my mentor and friend, Kim Mohan, and the part he has played in my own development as a game designer and writer has been difficult. But not spending a little time talking about him does a disservice to him. This game is for him, and in many ways, it’s the culmination of years spent working together.
I met Kim in 2008, maybe a bit before, not long after I started working for Wizards of the Coast full time. Kim and I hit it off immediately. Not only would we take time to catch up at work, or pick apart my work in a conference room, but we’d almost always see each other socially while I was up. The friendship grew and so did his guidance as I transition from 4e work to 5e. Kim was in the mix at the start, and his insights helped shape the style and tone of that game.
My best memory of Kim, though, was at Gen Con. Wizards sent him to the show for the first time in years, and he spent the weekend meeting freelancers and imparting his wisdom. At night, we drank beer, told stories, and argued about the proper use of adverbs, along with the other outcasts and degenerates who hung around the city at night.
After I Ieft Wizards, Kim had retired and was doing freelance work. He helped proof Demon Lord, and he handled editing duties on a great many Demon Lord products, notably Terrible Beauty. He got busy with freelance work, and I was sinking under the weight of a nasty depression as the pandemic folded its wings around the world. Thanks to Pam, Kim’s wife, Kim and I started working together on Weird Wizard, which until that point, which until that point, was a loose collection of charts and scribbles. Kim brought focus to the project, progress, deep insights, and advice. And when my father-in-law and stepfather died three weeks apart, he helped me through the grief.
I had always planned for Kim and I to make the big push to get the game done last December, but suddenly, he passed, and my guiding star was gone. I considered folding up the project then, but after talking with Pam, the playtesters, and my wife, I decided that finishing the game for Kim was the right thing to do. So here we are.
I wouldn’t be half the designer I am without Kim Mohan, and I owe him much for my successes. Thanks Kim!