Aids for gamemasters.

I built Shadow of the Demon Lord’s path system to give you the flexibility create and develop characters you want to play. If you haven’t yet picked up the game (and why the hell not?), the path system is easy to learn. As your group gains levels, you make three big choices. You choose a novice path at level 1, an expert path at level 3, and, finally, a master path at level 7. A path operates as a bundle of benefits distributed as your group climbs through the levels. The benefits, informed by the path’s story, help you portray the character while also expressing how characters that belong to the path most likely operate.

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I’m reluctant to say “never,” but it’s safe to say you’re not going to see a gigantic setting book for Shadow of the Demon Lord any time soon. Why? Well, it’s Steve Kenson’s fault. Many years ago, at one of the Green Ronin summits, Steve and I were discussing settings and adventures and he planted the seed in my brain that settings were best revealed through adventures rather than through giant gazetteers that must be read, digested, and, effectively, mastered to use properly. He pointed to Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth, Temple of Elemental Evil, the Dragonlance adventures and other classic scenarios that zoomed in on an area and brought it to life. Sure, we had the Greyhawk box, but it was all presented in broad strokes (and with curious attention on trees). If we wanted more information about the world, the adventures provided the stuff we needed to understand the plot, environment, and characters. And that was enough.

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1. The Gods are Distant Powers

Whether the gods exist or not remains an open question. While societies all over the world have their religions, worshipping gods, monsters, the spirits of the ancestors, or something else, the gods rarely, if ever, take a direct hand in mortal affairs. Instead, it falls to their devoted servants to advance their aims in the world and reinforce the faith that sustains the gods’ immortal existence.

In the lands of Rûl, people tend follow the Old Faith, a pantheistic religion that traces its origins back to the dawn of mankind, or have embraced the Cult of the New God, a monotheistic religion with many sects, each with their own interpretations of their divine patron. On the fringes, one finds the ancestor worship of the dwarfs, the dour gods of blood and iron feared by the jotun, and the dreaming Earth Lord sleeping in the center of the world.

2. Hidden Worlds

Other worlds exist within the mortal world’s bounds, entire realities that drift across its surface like soap bubbles on water. Such worlds include the Hidden Kingdoms, the realms of the faerie, the Underworld, Hell, Elysium, and countless others places strange and terrifying. Most mortals never encounter these places during their lifetimes. However, accident, weird magic, or the influence of the Demon Lord may land the living in the realms of the dead or afford a glimpse at the dreamy vistas of Alfheim.

3. Magic is Real

The world is a magical place. Magic infuses all things and is all that remains of the creative force that spun the universe out from primordial chaos. Magic’s abundance means anyone with the will, time, and talent can learn to harness its power. Some people have the gift for wielding magic and call upon the power from within. Others spend long years in study, uncovering the secrets of cosmic power from ancient tomes and scrolls written by ancient masters who recorded their discoveries for those that came after. And then there are the priests, souls devoted to the distant gods and who champion their causes in the world.

Aside from spells, magic sometimes lingers in objects infused with its power or created by it. Magical energy also gathers in certain places, making spells easier to cast or producing unexpected effects.

Magic’s abundance does little to soften views toward its use. In all but the most cosmopolitan places, humans largely distrust magic-users. After all, a skilled practitioner can throw lightning or fire, bestow horrific curses, or conjure foul monsters from the Void. Priests usually find a bit more acceptance than others, but only in communities where their beliefs are welcome. Witches, on the other hand, tend to be respected and valued in rural communities, but persecuted in civilized areas where the cult of the New God is strongest. Others may face suspicion, ostracism, or violence depending on the power they wield and the strength of a community’s superstitions.

4. Mortals Live Many Lives

Death is not the end for mortals. Death marks the transition from one life to the next. Upon dying, the soul pulls free from the flesh and remains for a short time before descending into the Underworld. In this gloomy place, the memories of the life left fade until nothing remains of the person who once was. Only then will the soul drift from the Underworld and enter a new body born into the world.

Not all souls go to the Underworld, however. Corruption weighs down the soul, stained by foul acts performed in life that can only be cleansed by torment. Mortals leading depraved and monstrous lives find Hell awaits them in the afterlife. There, twisted faeries and other, darker supernatural beings scourged the corruption from souls, feasting on those dark acts and savoring the memories of those acts as recalled when consumed. The darker the stains, the longer the soul remains in Hell, with some never truly escaping the damnation they earned.

5. Science and Technology

Humanity has made great strides in science and technology, discovering black powder, clockwork, and steam technologies. While still expensive and exotic, pistols and rifles are becoming more widespread. Clockwork automatons work alongside laborers in construction and manufacturing. Engineers have begun to take the steps in creating steam engines. In the great Nine Cities of the east, flying ships—balloons and zeppelins—have begun to appear. Had the Empire not collapsed, the advances may have taken mankind into a new era of progress and even greater discovery.

6. The World is filled with Terrible Monsters

Despite mankind’s efforts to tame the land and secure its borders, the world remains a dangerous place. Wild animals, many of which possess strange and unnatural powers, stalk the wild places. Drakes wing through the skies, descending to snatch livestock or people, blasting villages with fire spewed from their mouths. Trolls and giants roam the hinterlands, while undead claw their way free from shallow graves to terrorize the living. No matter the efforts civilization makes to drive back these threats, they return again and again, each time with greater numbers.

7. The Empire Burns

The greatest and mightiest civilization to appear in these lands now teeters on the brink of collapse. The Emperor lies dead, strangled by the Orc King who claimed the Alabaster Throne for himself and the legions of freed slaves that look to him for leadership. The uprising in the capital has sent shockwaves through the rest of the Empire. Orcs have risen against their masters as word spreads and mobs of vengeful orcs rampage across the countryside, burning, looting, and killing wherever they go.

The Empire’s instability has proven an invitation for other savage humanoids to exploit the weakness. Beastmen spill out from the old forests and broken lands, while trolls and giants resume their age-old wars against the faeries. Worst of all, cultists devoted to the Demon Lord have grown bolder and even now work to loose demons from the Void and hasten the arrival of their unspeakable master.

Refugees flee to the cities, hunkering down behind the walls and living in squalid, overcrowded conditions in the hopes that somehow they will escape the doom that casts its shadow across the lands. Order crumbles in the face of the chaos and upheaval. City leaders hide in their homes, nobles seal off their castles, deaf to the cries of the people beyond their doors. These are dark times, and many believe they signal the first days of mankind’s last age.

8. The Shadow of the Demon Lord

The Demon Lord is a menacing, shadowy figure lurking in the Void between worlds. It craves escape from this realm for one purpose only: to destroy the universe and devour the souls living in it. Countering the Demon Lord’s efforts are the angels, guardians of the ordered universe who drift among the stars to shore up the weakening boundaries between this reality and the yawning darkness beyond.

Despite their efforts, the fabric of reality has grown weaker with reckless magic and the actions of the mad and deranged who seek the final oblivion the Demon Lord promises. Cults of his servants have spread throughout the empire and perform horrid rituals to call forth lesser demons and tear holes in reality for the coming of their master. Given the troubles plaguing the Empire, it seems to many the Demon Lord is close to emerging, and when it does, all will be lost.

As the Demon Lord’s influence grows, it assails the world with catastrophes. Plagues, war, supernatural events such as the rising numbers of uncontrolled undead, the awakening of ancient monsters, corrupted magic and more trouble the world. The closer the Demon Lord gets, the worse the situation becomes until the Devourer of Worlds finally emerges to snuff out the stars, still the movements of the celestial bodies, and put an end to all life and all things.


Adventures give me ulcers. It’s complicated, you see. Part of me feels like a published adventure is to a roleplaying game as gasoline (or an electric charge!) is to a car. The adventure is fuel for your game. It gets you started and it keeps you going. But for all the good adventures do, they also seem to go out of their way to be difficult to use, usually because they are too long and require too much preparation. For Shadow of the Demon Lord, I wanted to eliminate these barriers and offer adventures that are simple to run and give the GM tools to tell a great story.
Single-Session Stories
My gaming groups meet every other week. Given how busy we all are, people usually miss one session in four, sometimes one session in two. When running a long adventure, one that takes a few sessions to finish, odds are that someone who was present the last time will miss the game. We accept these absences because what other choice do we have? But it’s a frustrating problem since it strains the suspension of disbelief and forces changes to the story in order to accommodate the absence.
   Aside from the characters that rotate in and out of the story, there’s also the problem of sustaining the narrative. A two-week gap between sessions makes it harder for the players to remember their objectives and what has happened so far. Names of important NPCs, situations, and places fade, even if the players are meticulous about taking notes.
   To combat these problems, the game’s stories are all playable in a single session. I expect a session to last from three to five hours. You can stretch the stories so they run longer by inserting extra challenges, allowing more time for roleplaying, investigation, exploration, and so on, or you might compress the stories by carving out or collapsing scenes if you have less time to play.
Low Preparation
Keeping the stories short and focused reduces the amount of time you have to spend preparing for the game. There are few things worse in gaming than having an adventure on hand and not having had the time to read it in advance. Stories in Demon Lord are as long as they need to be and no longer. I have found it takes about an hour of play to get through a page of story. Since the typical session lasts three to five hours, the page count on these stories is about three to five pages. That’s it. You can read a story in the few minutes before people arrive and you’re ready to go.
Just the Facts
To keep the page count down, Demon Lord eschews clutter. You will not find exhaustive story backgrounds, needless exposition, detailed characters, lists of adventure hooks, guidance about what come next, read-aloud text, or any of the usual suspects that bloat adventures. The story provides you with a skeleton and leaves it to you and your players to put flesh on it during play. Too often, adventures are written to entertain the Game Master. In Demon Lord, the stories provide you, the GM, with the tools you need to entertain the game’s players.
Objective-Focused Stories
Adventures in Demon Lord are called stories. Each story presents its objective to the GM in the opening paragraph so it’s clear what the story is about and what the PCs need to do in order to complete it. Character advancement depends on completing these objectives. Whenever the group achieves a story goal, they increase their level by one. It doesn’t matter how the group accomplishes its goal. They might use roleplaying, stealth, brute force, magic, or a combination of all four or something else entirely.
   Here’s an example: Retrieve the Bones of Saint Absalom from the Seekers of the Void before they complete their unholy ritual to call forth Absalom’s soul from the Underworld.
   The PCs might achieve their objective by butchering all the cultists and taking the bones by brute force, by disguising themselves as cultists and infiltrating the organization, by pitting a rival cult against them, or by sneaking into their headquarters and stealing the bones out from under their noses, and so on. Getting the bones away from the cultists before the ritual is complete is all that matters.
Short Campaigns
The core game provides rules for eleven levels of play—from level 0 to level 10. If you play one story each session and the characters achieve their goal at the end of each story, it should be possible to play a complete a campaign in as few as eleven sessions. A short campaign offers numerous advantages. You could play just once a month and get almost a year’s worth of fun. Or, if you play more frequently, you could play several campaigns in a year. Multiple campaigns in a year lets players create and play a variety of characters, thus letting them explore more of the game than they otherwise might in longer campaigns. As well, short campaigns encourage groups to rotate Game Masters. Being on the hook to run a campaign that lasts 3 to 6 months is a far smaller investment than an open-ended campaign that typically sputters out after a few weeks and the obvious end-point encourages people who might not normally run games to give it a try.
Final Thoughts

The approach to adventure-design for Demon Lord is a pragmatic one. Rather than delude myself and proceed with a design that expects people to devote hours to game preparation and get together once or even twice a week, I embraced the reality about how much time we actually have, which is not much. Keeping stories short and self-contained eases pressure on the GM and creates a sense of accomplishment in the players. If each game session ends with the story’s climax, it’s ok if you miss next week. You’ll start a new story with everyone else the next time you play. And if you have loads of time, the stories make excellent frameworks for you to use in constructing more elaborate and involved stories that take as many game sessions as you want to complete. Ultimately, how you play Shadow of the Demon Lord is up to you. But it’s my goal to make sure you can play in whatever manner you choose.