Find out the latest news and releases for Shadow of the Demon Lord and Godless from Schwalb Entertainment.

Things that Tear Your Face Off

I love monsters. There. I said it. And I’m not ashamed. I think monsters are the best parts of fantasy roleplaying games and I have books upon books filled with critters. Way back in the old days, whenever TSR pushed out a Monstrous Compendium Annual, I’d snatch it up, even if it meant forgoing food. Why? Monsters inspire me. I love the stories that spark, their weirdness, and the potential to surprise even the most cynical and jaded players at my gaming tables. So when it came time to build the creatures that the player characters might face in the world the Demon Lord is poised to devour, I saw it as an opportunity to create an array of creatures both familiar and unfamiliar, and that would give players a memorable experience, reveal something about the world, and inspire Game Masters to create stories around them.


Today, here’s a creature from the (currently way, way too large) Bestiary.
Bloody Bone

The-Enigmatic-Tower-1When I  revealed Shadow of the Demon Lord at Geek Media Expo in Nashville last October, I felt certain that the game was nearly done and that I would have scads of time to smooth the last bits while wrapped in the warm, fuzzy glow of post-design delight. I was, of course, optimistic and I am delighted to say that the keen eyes, insightful feedback, and experiences at tables from Asheville to Seattle, Fort Wayne to Birmingham have had their impact on the mechanical design and have helped me make a great game even better. Today, I want to talk just a bit about those changes to both show how the game has evolved and improved over the last few months.

Boons and Banes

The most recent change to Shadow of the Demon Lord came at Winter Fantasy and was suggested as a flavorful alternative to the clinical asset and complication names that were in place before. When I heard the new names, I made the change on the road back to Tennessee.

Action Rolls, Attack Rolls, and Resistance Rolls

For a long time, the game just used “roll” as the term for rolling to do something, rolling to attack something, and rolling to resist something. While sufficient in many cases, I discovered I needed more precise language to convey what was going on in the game. I could imagine situations when I would want a character to gain a boon for one type of roll and not another. I also figured out, pretty quick too, that roll was too broad a term for a game that involved multiple kinds of dice rolling. By breaking apart the “roll” term into action, attack, and resistance, I could bound the instances in which rolling a d20 occurred in play rolls and could also communicate to the reader the times when a boon or bane would apply to the d20. Now, the rolls work as follows:

Action rolls happen when the player describes an action and the GM is not certain of the outcome. The target number for these rolls is always 10.

Attack rolls happen when one creature choose a creature and attempts to harm that creature in some way. The target number for these rolls is always the score of the attribute or characteristic used to resist the attack.

Resistance rolls happen when a creature would attempt to avoid a harmful effect or reduce the severity of an effect. Incapacitated creatures always get failures for resistance rolls and the target number for these rolls is always 10.

Natural 20 and Natural 1

For several months, the game used the following rule: when you roll a 20 on an action, attack, or resistance roll, you have a boon for all rolls until the end of the next round. When you roll a 1 on these rolls, you have a bane for all rolls until the end of the next round. At Winter Fantasy, I was having dinner with my volunteer GMs who came up to run tables, my buddy Nat admitted to me that he felt the tech was hard to manage given the frequency in which they came up, at least when paired with the other sources of boons and banes. I saw his point and and tackled the fix on the way back.

The result? A roll of a 1 has no other outcome other than to be a crappy roll. A roll of a 20 on an attack roll with a weapon has an effect determined by the character’s novice path. For warriors, it adds 1d6 to the damage roll. For rogues, who are fragile, a 20 grants them one extra turn in the round. For priests, the target of the attack becomes impaired until the end of the next round (that’s a bane for all rolls). Finally, magicians get an effect based on the attack spell they cast—increased damage, longer duration, or a regain of the expended casting. Each tech helps make the character feel distinctive at the table and places the cool effect in the players’ hands.

Best of all, reserving special effects for PCs helps reign in some of the wonkiness that shows up when running large groups of foes.


Just Action and Movement

For a long time, I played around with two action types: complex and simple. A lot of this design inclination sourced from my work on other game systems. I discovered there was a great deal of static in parsing the differences between complex and simple at the table. Players wanted and needed a list of what action belonged on which list. It was too much and so I just blew up the simple action and now the game just uses actions.

Combat still follows the fast/slow, players-first structure as before, but now you have the following options on your turn.

Fast Turn. You can use an action or move up to your Speed.

Slow Turn. You can use an action and move up to your Speed.

You can do stuff that doesn’t count as an action—opening a door, drawing a weapon, and so on, but you are limited to one “non-action” on fast and two on slow. Easy-peasy.

There are more and subtler changes to the game you have seen if you have played so far, but everything serves to make the game faster, easier, and even more accessible.

We’re getting really close to the Kickstarter launch. I might as well tell you the date: March 12th. Mark your calendars and get ready. The Demon Lord, like Santa, is coming to town.


Introducing Shadow of the Demon Lord

This month I revealed what has been occupying my attention for the last 10 months at Nashville’s Geek Media Expo, a fun little show that celebrates all things geek. By now, you have seen the website and the awesome cover by Svetoslav Petrov, seen the various updates on here, Twitter, and Facebook. I am, however, certain you have some questions. This is the first installment of several updates about my new game, Shadow of the Demon Lord, and what you can expect from it.

Why a new game?

Over my decade-plus career, I have had the privilege of designing or developing over 200 products, from transmuting the fantastic novels of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire into a stand-alone RPG to working with and updating older games in my role as Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay developer and member of the design team for 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. I have worked on several established game systems and in several established worlds, from the gloom of Midnight to the grittiness of the Glen Cook’s Black Company novels. Over all this time, I have been thinking about what I would do given the chance to spawn a roleplaying game from the birth canal of my imagination, both in terms of system design and story design. So when design needs for D&D began to wind down at the end of 2013 and with my contract with Wizards of the Coast expiring, I decided to take all those thoughts and put them on paper.

So What’s Shadow of the Demon Lord All About?

One thing that seems largely common to fantasy campaigns is the apocalyptic event that marks the end of the campaign—the dark lord attacks with his armies, some fool opens the gate to Hell, a death world drifts too close to the planet after drifting out from some remote corner of space, the undead wizard seals the gates to the Underworld, and so on. These events almost always occur at the campaign’s end and the stories and adventures through which the players play lead to this epic conclusion. For me, this “epic conclusion” is the most interesting part. It’s the time and place when the story is most exciting. Shadow of the Demon Lord embraces the cataclysm and makes it the backdrop against which the characters’ lives unfold.

The core idea is that the world is one of many realities, each of which is separated by a yawning gulf of darkness called the Void. In the murky depths of this infinite expanse lurk entities of malevolent will, formless, inscrutable beings that have no physical form until called forth into a world, where they become demons. The greatest of these entities is the Demon Lord, a being of vast and incalculable power. The Demon Lord hungers. It craves destruction, to feast on mortal souls, to unravel creation. And over the march of eons, the Demon Lord has broken free from the Void to drag one of many realities screaming into its darkness. In the game, the Demon Lord has drawn near to the world and its shadow creeps across the landscape like ink spilled on a map.

The Demon Lord’s shadow instigates cataclysmic events as it spreads across the world. Wherever it falls, it foments discord and upheaval, altering the fundamental laws of reality through the individuals it corrupts. When the game starts, the shadow has fallen upon the Orc King, a former subject of the Empire who had been sworn to serve the Alabaster Throne through ancient and magical compacts set down in another age. The shadow has contaminated these peoples, turning them into savage killers, brutes without compassion and driven by their most basic impulses. As a result, they have risen up across the Empire they were bound to protect sparking upheaval and war everywhere. Travelers whisper the capital is in flames, the emperor dead, strangled by the Orc King who now sits upon the throne and gathers his armies to march against the imperial provinces that have declared their independence in the wake of this event.

While this is the assumed catalyst for the story’s start, the rules include other calamities that might befall the world from the Demon Lord’s fell influence. The shadow may fall upon the Dark Lady, the greatest of all the necromancers to have ever lived and, if so, she might be compelled to seal the gates to the Underworld. This act would upset the cycle of life-death-rebirth. Souls would be trapped in their corpses and rise up as undead. Or, the shadow could fall upon the Archmage and warp magic, causing all spells cast to have wild and unpredictable effects. Organizations, such the Inquisition, House of Healing, or Hierarchy of the Old Faith, could all come under the shadow, sparking terrible crusades, loosing virulent plagues to decimate populations, or a spark a series of natural disasters to topple the pillars of civilization.

Where the shadow falls is entirely up to the Game Master and may change based on the actions of the players or developments in the story so that the PCs might face war, terrifying plagues, a zombie apocalypse, and the awakening of some titanic monstrosity all in the same campaign or as the basis of several different campaigns. Most important, the degree to which these global events intrude on the story is up to the gaming group. The orc uprising might be a distant threat, as the game suggests for the start, or it could be the setting in which the characters find themselves, trapped in the ruins of the imperial capital and struggling to escape the mobs of bloodthirsty orcs for safer lands beyond their control.

So that’s the idea behind Shadow of the Demon Lord, and it’s one–I believe–that sets this game apart from other fantasy roleplaying games. I’ve mentioned plagues, wars, natural disasters, cosmic threats, and magical distortions. What other ways would you destroy your world?