If you missed the Kickstarter campaign you can now pre-order your copy of Shadow of the Demon Lord! Just head over here and place your order today!
Is the core mechanic based on a d20 system?
It is. For all non-attack tasks, your target number is 10. For attacks, your target number is the score of the attribute or characteristic used to resist the attack. The game increases/decreases difficulty with boons and banes. For every positive circumstance, you roll a boon. For every negative, you roll a bane. Boons/banes are d6s and they cancel each other out. You add the highest of your boons or subtract the lowest of your banes from your d20 roll.
I chose the d20 as the task resolution die because it’s familiar, most gamers have it, and it works exceptionally well with the rest of the system.
Will you share a bit about the resolution system, combat mechanics, magic and perhaps some snippets of text describing places of interest and/or other game lore?
How are you handling health?
Characters have a Health score. It indicates the maximum damage a character can take. So, if you have 12 Health, you can take 12 damage. When damage = Health, bad things happen to you. If you ever take damage equal to your Health in one shot, you die.
Presenting Health and damage in this way lets the game system move Health up and down without having to add different kinds of Health (temporary Health, negative Health, or any of that weirdness). The vigor spell increases Health by a couple of d6s. Being targeted by the spell doesn’t change your damage total, rather it changes how much damage you can take. Similarly, if your Health drops due to being drained by some unspeakable monster and it falls below your damage total, you would fall unconscious and face the “bad things.”
I thought about a wounds system a lot–being a WFRP guy and all, but I landed on the above since it helps the game meet the accessibility goal. This said, when your character is incapacitated (damage = Health), you have the option to take a wound. A wound removes some damage in return for getting a memento from the injury, you lose a finger, hand, eye, or something similar.
Is there going to be a critical hit system? If so, will you be using the mechanic like in SIFRP where the target can choose to take a critical hit to reduce HP?
There are no universal rules for rolling a 20 or a 1 on a d20. The 20 and 1 are numbers like any other. They do not guarantee success or failure.
However, three novice paths have talents that trigger on a roll of a 20. Warriors, for example, deal extra damage. Rogues can take an extra turn. Priests hand out boons to other characters that attack the same target. As well, all spells that resolve using attack rolls have special effects on a roll of a 20.
While I very much like critical hit systems, I decided for this game to leave them out, partly to keep the game streamlined and to keep them in check when there are several combatants in play.
Is Shadow of the Demon Lord good for convention style play? What about Online play? That is a one shot 3-4 hours in length. For higher level PCs, can these be created quickly?
Hell yes it is. This is a perfect game for convention play! At Winter Fantasy, new folks created expert characters in 15 to 20 minutes. In fact, one sitting adventures is what this game is all about.
How are stories (Adventures) set up? How does the system interface with such adventures i.e. I heard something about dials to up the apocalypse?
Adventures are two to four pages long. They have little tech inside them and instead point at things in the core book. The Shadow mechanic (apocalypse) layers over the adventures so you will be able to run them with any Shadow or no Shadow at all.
How mature are the adventures that you and the other writers make?
I’d peg adventures at PG-13. Could see going up to R for violence.
How easy is it to stay up NPCs and adversaries?
Pretty simple. The game include guidelines to help you. In short, creatures have the mechanics they need to have to do their thing.
Will there be combined stories to create campaigns?
As for connected adventures, I plan to release strings of 11 adventures in the future. We might even get one with a higher stretch goal!
Are the story packs or the fiction going to be grouped into their own big PDF? What about a physical book?
TBD. I’d love to say yes.
Does Shadow of the Demon Lord a have a default/static setting or is it a sandbox?
There is a setting but it is loose to allow a wide range of styles. The Worlds of the Demon Lord books will give you the tools to play in variety of settings; from Mad Max to sci-if.
Can you tell a bit more about the setting of the Empire ? Or is it explained in the core book?
Sure thing. The core rulebook zooms in on a frontier province of a Empire in ruins. The book details the region in broad strokes to allow customization, while zooming in on specific areas where adventures might take place. The Northern Reach, the default setting, is a landscape littered with the ruins of an ancient faerie kingdom. To the north lies the blast wastes of the Desolation, from which stumble hordes of undead driven by the Tomb Kings and dark magic from the Black Pyramids that drift across the sands. A string of crusader states forms a bulwark against the undead, and hold back the tide for now. The Empire, torn apart by an uprising of the slave soldiers (the orcs), spreads to the south.
Before the uprising, the Empire was taking the first steps toward industrialization. So you’ll see factories, at least one locomotive, pistols and rifles, balloons and zeppelins. Injecting magic into technology allows for clockwork people and other, fantastical “technomancy” elements.
Characters start at “Level 0” – what does this mean exactly?
Starting characters have no level. The first adventure explains how and why the characters come together as a group. Upon completing the adventure, the group forms at level 1. All characters in the group gain benefits from level 1. At this level, characters choose a novice path and gain the level 1 benefits from that path. At level 2, gain level 2 benefits from novice path. At level 3, everyone in the group picks an expert path and gains benefits for that level and so on.
Starting characters have two professions, which act like descriptors, and not much else.
Can we get a bit of info on how clockworks are going to operate? Will they be fairly autonomous, like warforged? or will the have parameters (like protect humanity), or somewhere in between like most Star Wars droids? Can they go mad? Or is it more like a virus in the system? Do they heal as biologicals do, or is it a repair system unique to them?
Clockworks are autonomous creatures that have two states: creature and object. They have keys in their backs that they cannot reach. The key is assumed to always be turning. When you roll a 1 on a d20, your clockwork character winds down at the end of the round and becomes an insensate object until another creature uses an action to turn the key. There’s plenty of flexibility in their form and appearance and personality. Clockworks are created by stealing souls from the Underworld and binding them to mechanical bodies. The souls usually have no memory of what happened to them. As creatures, they heal as creatures. As objects, they can be repaired.
Advantages include armored body (respectable boost to Defense), immune to poison, disease, fatigue, and aging. Plus no need to breathe, eat, or drink.
How many careers/paths are there?
Roughly 12+ Ancestries, 4 Novice paths, 24 Expert Paths, 76 Master Paths.
Why there are more experts than novices (And more Master than experts)?
Main reason is ease of entry into the game. at level 1 you have to make a choice on your first path – if there were 72 novice paths to pick from that choice would be very daunting. As it stands with 4 the choice is pretty easy. The game also is designed to become more complex (more toys to play with) as you go up on level, so with more toys comes more options (paths).
Where can I find add-ons?
Add-ons are two-thirds down the main page under the banner “Add-Ons.” Simply adjust your pledge amount to reflect the items you want to add.
Are you using a pledge manager? Will I be able to add items after the campaign through the Pledge Manager?
Yes, and Yes. I will be using Backer Kit.
While I see that fulfillment for print copies of the book appears to be set for December, is there any chance that PDFs will go out sooner than that?
The PDF of the rule book goes out to backers when we send the book to the printer. It should be August or September. The rest of the PDFs will follow as soon as they are ready!
Will there be printed bonus materials?
If we unlock enough of them to compile into book form, I can see adding another backer level to deliver the product. We already have a substantial amount of additional content, with the Demon Lord’s Companion, however. But, the stretch goal content won’t come out all at once and instead will follow the book’s release at a regular rate. In short, I’m considering options.
What are your plans for the GM Screens?
First we have a sexy handmade GM screen that is/was available as a limited edition Hidden Cultist backer level (currently sold out). There is also a $12 add-on for standard GM Screen. This tri-fold screen measures 16” across and stands 4.5” tall. Finally, I plan to release inserts for a customizable GM screen. (http://paizo.com/products/btpy7lm6…), Yes, it will be available as a PDF also.
Do I need something more than the books available here?
You need dice, but everything else you need to play will be included in the main book.
What color are the dice? Are there choices? How many do you need for the game?
The dice pack include a black or smoke gray d20 plus one white (boon), one black (black), and one red (damage). One d20 and three d6 should cover you.
Are the unlocked bonus PDFs exclusive to this Kickstarter? Or will they become available for purchase (say, through DriveThruTPG for instance) after release?
Everything unlocked by stretch goals, except for The Disciple of the Demon Lord Expert Path and the Exclusive Adventure will be for sale after the Kickstarter through DriveThruRPG, RPGnow, and other outlets.
Tell me about the Disciple of the Demon Lord Expert Path?
The Disciple of the Demon Lord Expert Path is a Kickstarter exclusive path that will not appear in other products. The path functions like other paths, but it is far larger as it will infect your character with demonic power, awaking a wide range of weird features and capabilities.
Is the Character Sheet really going to have enough space for spellcaster characters?
No there is not enough room in the ‘magic’ area for a pure spell caster to write every spell and all its info and we knew that going into it. We wanted a simple page design. We are currently working on an additional “magic” sheet that may or may not be included in this KS but will be available at some point.
What are your plans regarding 3rd party licensing. Do you plan on having an open policy, a closed policy, or something in between?
When playing with the Worlds of the Demon Lord expansion, Do the guns change the combat too primarily ranged or is melee combat still viable?
Melee is still very viable given the scarcity of ammunition.
If you grab the “all settings” add-on, you’ll get the Worlds of the Demon Lord expansion?
Yes. As will the Unspeakable Things and the Grand Grimoire.(possibly the 200k stretch goal…maybe???)
Are the all of the ancestries applicable to the settings in the Worlds of the Demon Lord expansion?
You can use whatever ancestries you like in whatever setting we do. The scorched Earth setting of World has room for orcs, goblins, jotun, and clockwork.
With World of the Demon Lord being unlocked will any of the Adventure packs from the stretch goals be in that setting?
The Worlds of the Demon Lord expansion includes one adventure for the setting and many adventures can be adapted for the world by just changing how you describe them. But. BUT. I think we’ll do at least one set in the world. And we can always do more, later.
Will the Unspeakable Things and the Grand Grimoire (and possibly the 200k item) will have similar print options if unlocked?
Is there a way to get a signed copy?
I plan to sign the hell out of the physical copies. For free even!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Shadow of the Demon Lord’s magic system has gone through some changes since design began, as it should. In a previous post, I discussed the direction I was taking and while much remains as it was then, I wanted to give you another look at the magic system.
All Magic Is the Same
Spells, enchanted objects, artifacts, and magical abilities tap into the same source of power: magic. What mortals and immortals consider magic is the lingering potential left behind when the universe sprang into existence. So when a priest, magician, or rogue casts a spell, the power they draw to produce the magical effect comes from the same source. A psychic’s ability to read thoughts, a miracle performed by holy man and woman, flames loosed from a pyromancer’s fingertips, a vile curse loosed by a hag, or the dark power used to turn corpses into mindless zombies all use the same energy.
The game uses the Power characteristic to describe a creature’s ability to call upon magical power and shape it into useful forms. All creatures have at least 0 Power. Player characters can grow their Power scores by choosing certain paths—magicians and priests increase Power and some rogues may increase their Power as well if they choose to dabble in magic. Expert paths and master paths can also increase Power.
Traditions package spells that share a common theme or effect. Fire spells, for example, create or manipulate fire. Technomancy spells create mechanical devices like bolt throwers, grenades, and flamethrowers. Alchemy spells create magical substances.
To learn a spell, you must first discover the tradition to which the spell belongs. Your paths instruct you when you discover a tradition and usually give you a choice between discovering a new tradition or learning a new spell from a tradition you have discovered. When you discover the tradition, you also learn the tradition’s minor spell, a spell with a rank of 0.
Your path tells you when you learn spells. When you learn a spell, you may choose any spell from any tradition you have discovered provided the spell’s rank is equal to or less than your Power score. So if you have 2 Power, you can learn spells of rank 2 or less from the traditions you have discovered.
For each spell you learn, you have a number of castings for that spell. The number of castings depends on your Power and the rank of the spell.
Unless the spell description says otherwise, you use your action to cast the spell. When you cast the spell, you expend 1 casting from the number of castings you have. If you don’t have any castings left, the spell has no effect and the action is wasted. In other words, you need at least 1 casting to cast your spells.
Resolving the spell’s effect is easy. Each spell is a set of instructions. Follow them and voila, you cast the spell. Here are some of my favorite spells from the game. I hope we get to include them all in the book or the Demon Lord’s Companion pdf, but we’ll see!
Boon of the Demon Lord
Demonology Utility 1
Gain 1d6 insanity. If you do not go mad, increase your Health by 4d6 and you make action rolls, attack rolls, and resistance rolls with a boon. At the end of each round until the spell ends, roll a d6. On a 6, the spell ends.
Technomancy Utility 2
Choose one pile of spare parts within your reach. If you concentrate on the spare parts for 1 minute, you construct a flamethrower from them. The flamethrower has 6 uses. When you expend the last use, the flamethrower crumbles into spare parts.
Any creature carrying the flamethrower may use its action to expend a use from it. Flames spread across a line-shaped area that is 1 yard wide and 10 yards long. Everything in the area takes 2d6 damage. A creature may make an Agility resistance roll. On a success, the creature takes no damage.
When a creature carrying the flamethrower takes damage from fire, it must roll a d6. On a 6, the device explodes, filling a sphere-shaped area with a 5-yard-radius with flames and then dissipates. Everything in the area takes 1d6 damage per unexpended use. A creature may make an Agility resistance roll. On a success, the creature takes half the damage.
Hole of Glory
Teleportation Utility 1
You may use your extra action on your turn to cast the spell. Choose two cubes of space, each 1-yard on a side. One of which must be within your reach and the other must be within medium range of you. A 1-foot-wide hole opens in the center each spot and can have any orientation you choose. The holes remain open for 1 minute and connect to each other such that you may reach into one hole and emerges from the other side. You can also attack creatures within 1 yard of the other side of the hole.
The hole severs whatever is in it when the spell ends with effects determined by the GM.
Enchantment Attack 2
Choose one creature that can see you, hear you, and is within medium range of you. Make an Intellect attack roll against the target’s Willpower score. You have a bane for your roll if the target has 20 Health or more. You make the roll with a bane if you or anyone with you attacked the target at any time within the last 24 hours. On a success, target becomes dazed for 1 minute. If you rolled a 20 on the die, the target is instead stunned for 1 minute. You have a boon for attack rolls made to socially interact with a target dazed or stunned by this spell. If the target takes damage, the affliction granted by this spell ends.
Time Attack 1
You may use your extra action on your turn to cast this spell. Choose one creature you can see within short range of you. Make an Intellect attack roll against the target’s Intellect score. On a success, the target no longer exists until the end of the next round. When the target reappears, it does so in the space it last occupied or in the nearest open space to it.
If you rolled a 20 on the die, you regain the casting of this spell.
Shadow Utility 1
You may use your extra action on your turn to cast this spell. Wisps of darkness gather to form into a solid blade in the palm your hand. The blade remains for 1 minute or until the blade leaves your hand. When the effect ends, the blade evaporates into a cloud of smoke that disperses almost at once.
The blade functions as an off-hand weapon with the finesse property that deals 2d6 damage. The weapon deals 1d6 extra damage when you get a success on an attack roll against a target obscured by shadows or darkness.
Transformation Utility 3
You assume the form of an object of your Size or smaller for as long as you concentrate, up to 8 hours. You make all decisions about what you look like while in this form. Until the effect ends, you cannot talk and you may only use your action to concentrate on this spell. You perceive using your normal senses however. You are physically indistinguishable from the object whose form you have assumed. The spell immediately ends if you take any damage.
Part Bone from Flesh
Forbidden Attack 3
Choose one living creature within medium range of you. If the target has a skeleton, make an Intellect attack roll against the target’s Strength score. On a success, the target takes 4d6 damage from the twisting and wrenching of its bones. If you rolled a 20 on the die, the target takes 2d6 extra damage.
If the damage incapacitates the target, it dies. The creature’s bones animate to become a skeleton that tears free from the flesh and attacks the nearest creature to it each round until it is destroyed.
Arcana Attack 5
When a creature within short range of you gets a success on an attack roll using a weapon against you, you may use your extra action to cast this spell. The triggering creature’s success becomes a failure and its weapon is destroyed. In addition, the creature must make a Strength resistance roll. On a failure, it takes 10d6 damage, flies 2d6 yards in a straight line away from you, and falls prone.
Battle Attack 3
Choose any number of creatures within a radius of up to one-half your Speed. Each target must make an Agility resistance roll with one bane. On a failure, the creature takes 4d6 + 3 damage.
After, you teleport to an open space any where within a number of yards of you equal to one-half your Speed.
Spiritualism Attack 2
Choose one living creature within short range of you. Make a Willpower attack roll against the target’s Willpower score. On a success, a malevolent spirit appears in the air around the target and then plunges into it where it remains for 1 minute. Until the effect ends, the target’s Health is reduced by 2d6 and it becomes impaired and slowed. If you rolled a 20 on the die, the target reduces its Health by 3d6 instead.
Each creature within short range of the target, other than you, that sees the malevolent spirit appear must make a Willpower resistance roll. On a failure, the creature becomes frightened until the end of the next round.
One of the most exciting things about Shadow of the Demon Lord is how characters evolve. The path system lets you develop your character in response to what happens in the story. With no requirements to meet and no restrictions on what paths you can choose, the game system liberates you to play whatever the heck you want to play.
Creating a starting character involves making one really big choice: Ancestry. Your ancestry describes the people from which you character comes. Will you be a human or a dwarf, a devil-spawned cambion, or a person made from clockwork? Once you make this choice, you record the mechanics from the ancestry: starting attributes, characteristics, as well as any talents you might have.
After you make your decision, you can flesh out details about your character. Details include your professions (tracker, burglar, soldier), background events, personality details, religious beliefs, physical appearance, and so on. All these things can be determined randomly, chosen, or invented. They don’t have any mechanical weight and are there to help you visualize how the person you play fits into the world.
The last step is to record your starting equipment. Everyone starts with the same things, a basic weapon, a miscellaneous item, and a random interesting thing—a reputation for being a bad ass, a tiny metal ball that floats a few inches above any surface where it is placed, or a tiny mechanical owl.
With your character created, you’re ready to play your first adventure. This story typically focuses on how your group comes together and lays the groundwork for how your character will develop. While playing, you should think about the actions your character takes, the choices you make, and how you contributed to the story’s outcome.
Group and Level
The first adventure behind you, your character should belong to a group of characters. Your group has a level that starts at one and increases by one each time you complete another adventure. At key levels, you and the other members of the group choose paths. Your path choice tells you the things your character knows how to do and delivers talents, magic, and other benefits for each level of your group.
Level What happens
1 Choose a novice path and gain the level 1 benefits.
2 Gain the level 2 benefits from your novice path.
3 Choose an expert path and gain the level 3 benefits from that 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 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 10 benefits from your master path.
The game includes four novice paths: magician, priest, rogue, and warrior. You can choose any path you want, usually in response to what happened during your first adventure. If you fought a lot, you might become a warrior. If you used trickery or spent much of your time sneaking around, you might choose rogue. Finding an incantation and casting it could lead you to become a magician or priest.
Of all the path choices, your novice path gives you the most benefits. The higher number of benefits protects you from making suboptimal choices later on, thus freeing you to choose the paths that fit your character’s story. As a warrior, you will always be great at fighting, even if you choose other paths that have nothing to do with fighting. Similarly, as a priest, you will always be good at helping others, lending support through the prayers you whisper.
Adventures for novice characters tend to be reactive. Something happens to you group and you must find ways to deal with the problem the event causes. Psychotic bandits could be butchering families on the fringes of the town, a bloody bone released from an ancient elfin vault steals a farmer’s hogs for their hides, or a group of misguided followers of the Horned God kidnap a friend of the group and make ready to sacrifice that friend to a twisted black tree in the center of the woods are all good examples of the kinds of things novice characters might do.
At level 3, everyone in the group chooses an expert path. Your choice indicates the area in which your character pursues expertise. Do you want to be an assassin, wizard, shaman, berserker, or a thief? The choice may complement your novice path choice, developing your existing capabilities or take your character in an entirely new direction. Since your novice path acts as your foundation, taking something different does not hamper your capabilities and may open up interesting avenues for you to explore in future adventures.
As with your choice of novice path, your expert path tends to reflect what has happened in the story so far. If you began as a warrior, let’s say, and you stole a tome filled with Forbidden spells and you even go so far to cast spells from that tome, you might choose wizard for your expert path to show how those experience altered your journey. Similarly, a rogue who spends much of her time skulking in the shadows and taking out enemies from hidden positions would likely choose assassin.
Expert adventures take characters into deadlier environments. Characters might explore the countless doorways of a weird tower that appears in the Blasted Heath when the moon is full, venture into the Desolation, battling through hordes of zombies, to reach one of the fabled black pyramids that stab up from the swirling sands. Expert characters offer players more options, greater power, and increased durability to help them withstand the trials they must endure.
When the group reaches level 7, everyone can either choose a master path or a second expert path. Master paths zoom in one thing your character does very well, while a second expert path diversifies your capabilities. Examples of master paths include death dealer, dreadnaught, executioner, conqueror, curse-speaker, pyromancer, and more.
Again, you can choose any path you want, which frees you evolve your character based on the story. A warrior who became a wizard could choose to become an inquisitor after having a brush with dark magic, or become a mage knight, weaving magic with fighting ability. The thief who became an assassin could become a shadowbinder and supplement the assassination techniques with magic or become a gunslinger and become a badass with ballistic weapons.
Master path adventures are the most challenge and take characters into terrifying places. The group might descend into the depths of Hell to recover a powerful relic or rescue a damned soul, or they may confront a powerful demon that wears a mortal disguise and hastens the end of all things at the Fortress of Oblivion.
The plan has always been to include material for groups that reach level 10 and would continue playing. Stay tuned for more details about how this will work.
In the game, Conan the Barbarian would have started as a warrior, become a thief, and finally a conqueror. The system for character improvement lets you play whatever you want to play and let the story shape your character into a unique and interesting individual.
Since the game packages almost all character benefits inside paths, it’s easy to build a character to join a group at any level. Just choose your paths and note the benefits you gain from them for the level.
Finally, you can create new paths or exclude other ones without wrecking the game. If you don’t want clockwork people, don’t have them. No gods? No problem. Rip out the priest and associated paths and you’re good to go. The game plays just fine without them.
I’ve had a few questions about why the game pins the target number for action rolls and resistance rolls at 10. Here’s the thing. Shadow of the Demon Lord does not pretend that your characters are moving through an invisible lattice of numbers, nor does it posit that the game system is always running in the background. Instead, the game is one in which you and your friends tell stories about an ensemble cast of characters and the horrors they face, the conspiracies they uncover, the weird locations they explore, and the challenges they overcome through it all. The rules are there for when something would happen in the story and you’re not sure about the outcome.
This means if your character attempts to climb a wall that has plenty of handholds and he or she is not under pressure, he or she climbs the darn wall. Why? It’s a reasonable outcome and it keeps the story moving forward. Now if your character made the same attempt while being attacked by winged demons that poop blood and fire on you, the outcome is no longer so certain and a roll would be appropriate.
Action rolls assume that a typical person in the world has about an even chance for success or failure. The game nudges it up by 5% to make tasks a bit more favorable and also so you can look at the die when you roll it and know you succeed when you see two numbers on the die. Setting the target number at 10 is also easy for the GM to remember. A GM doesn’t have to remember a stack of different target numbers and recall what target numbers go to which task.
Obviously some tasks are harder than others and other tasks are easier. Enter boons and banes. Each positive circumstance gives you a boon. Each negative circumstance gives you a bane. Boons and banes cancel each other out. Boons might source from talents gained from your paths, assistance from another character, a tool, or a magical effect. Banes can come from afflictions such as being fatigued or poisoned or from environmental and situational factors. Since you don’t add boons or banes, you’re just looking for the highest number on the d6s. The most you’ll ever add or subtract from your roll is 6, so handing out extra boons puts a limit on inflating numbers and keeps the d20 roll important.
Here are a few example situations where action rolls could come into play.
A character attempts to walk across a tightrope
Since most people can’t pull this off, a GM would call for a roll to see if the character can move across the tightrope or make some progress moving across it. The surface’s narrowness warrants one bane. The bounciness of the rope warrants another. And let’s say the character carries a lot of gear, imposing a third bane. It’s possible, but unlikely.
Now, if the character has a profession related to the task, the GM might knock off one or two of the banes. And if that character wasn’t carrying a lot of gear and wasn’t under pressure, the character should probably cross the tightrope without having to make a roll. Why? Because the person knows how to walk across tightropes and is going to make it across unless there’s some environmental effect (wind) or circumstance (the tightrope is covered in mayonnaise) that would make the attempt difficult.
A character attempts to open a lock with a set of lock picks
Most people don’t know how to use lock picks, but a character making the attempt could be lucky. The GM might call for a roll. Assuming the character does not have a profession related to the task, the GM imposes a bane if the lock is ordinary or just rule the task impossible if the lock is superior. A character with a burglar profession or something similar would just succeed on the task—again, because the character knows how to pick locks—if he or she is not under pressure. The character may have to make an action roll to unlock a complex lock or simpler lock if the attempt is made in a tough circumstance.
A character attempts to kick in a door
A strong character ought to be able to kick in the door. Yes, yes, it’s funny the first time a strong character fails to knock open a door thanks to a crappy roll and a scrawny character comes in behind the first character and succeeds on the roll. But after a couple of times, it gets a bit weird. Rather than even dealing with that situation, the GM should rule that the strong character kicks down the blasted door and keep the story going. If the door is secured, then the GM could call for a Strength roll and impose one or more banes depending on how the door has been secured.
You roll dice when you don’t know what happens next. Common sense prevails in Shadow of the Demon Lord. If it makes sense that something should happen, then let it. If it doesn’t, don’t let. If it could happen, but you’re not sure, let the dice decide.
My approach to creating adventures for Shadow of the Demon Lord comes from realizations I had while working on and running other games. I like big, chunky adventures just like everyone else, but I realized I rarely ran them all the way through till the end. Sometimes, the players take unexpected directions, requiring me to develop the story in new ways, leaving behind pages of otherwise great content. Other times, the game just falls apart when real life bullied its way into our fun. Rather than pretend life works differently, I stripped down adventures to their essential elements. Here are some broad strokes to show you how I did it.
I don’t plan to release many, if any, print adventures. The digital medium is cheaper on you and on me. Adventures will have a landscape, three-column format so I can fit more on the page. I don’t anticipate adventures running more than 5 pages in length so you can read them quickly and run right away.
Most adventures have the following structure.
Objective: The adventure presents to you what has to happen for the group needs to do to complete the story.
The Situation: The adventure summarizes what’s going on.
The Scenes: The adventure lays out the scenes, characters, and events tied directly to the adventure in concise chunks for easy digestion.
Most, if not all, adventures can be played in a single session that lasts two to four hours. This makes them excellent options for convention games and one-shots, yes, but it makes them great for home games too. Why? I find when I start an adventure and stop before we complete it, saving the rest for the next session, I wind up missing or gaining people, forcing everyone to bend the story to accommodate the new or lost characters. As well, you lose valuable time recapping what happened last time, forget essential events, or misremember them. Groups can get through a page of adventure material in an hour. Hence, the short page counts map well to single-session play.
You won’t find excess in Shadow of the Demon Lord adventures. The adventures tell you what you need to know and nothing more. Descriptions are similarly sparse. It’s your job, as the GM, to strike the right mood for your group. If you want to paint the walls with blood, go for it. The adventure lays out the basics and leaves the rest for you to present in whatever way you want.
Here’s an example of a “room” description (not edited yet, but it’s a taste):
The beastmen encamped here intend to take Thorpe by force and sacrifice of people to their dark god. The beastmen captured Franz, one of the treasure hunters, not long after he escaped the bloody bones and have kept him a prisoner here. They’ve been cutting on him for a day so far and are eating him alive. He has been too brutalized to be of any assistance to the characters.
In addition to the fomor hunting Delia (see “Survivor”), 4 fomor and 2 gnolls make up the band. They are lax about security and may be easily surprised. None knows about the Shrine and nor do they have interest in it.
They have a few weeks of rations, a barrel of sour wine, an old sword, a longbow, quiver of 30 arrows, and a sack filled with 15 ss, 76 cp, and silverware and other valuables worth about 3 ss, all looted from nearby farms.
Ripe for Expansion
Since adventures are barebones in design, you can easily add to them for a longer play experience. Just add more scenes, more challenges, introduce complications, or whatever you want to thicken the story. Similarly, since you create the connective tissue linking one adventure to the next, it’s easy to clip them all together to form a saga (aka campaign).