When you cast a spell in Shadow of the Demon Lord, you produce a unique magical effect. To cast a spell, you must have either learned it or possess it in a written form as an incantation. If you learned it, you must also have at least one casting of the spell that is expended when the spell takes effect. Here is how spells work.
Power and Rank
Power describes the amount of will, knowledge, and magical energy a character can harness. The game assumes all creatures have 0 Power. Characters may increase their Power from the paths. Players that choose magician or priest for their novice path at level 1 increase their Power by 1.

Power does two things. First, it tells you the highest rank spell you can learn. (I’ll explain ranks below.) Second, it tells you how many castings of a spell you have for any given rank. At Power 1, you have 1 casting for all rank 1 spells you know. At Power 2, you have 2 castings of rank 1 spells and 1 casting of rank 2 spells. It goes on from there. A table in the Magic chapter shows you how castings increase. Rank 0 spells, minor spells, have unlimited castings.
Learning Spells
Your path tells you when you can learn spells and how many spells you can learn. You can choose any spell you like when you learn a spell provided the spell’s rank is equal to or less than your Power and you have learned the rank 0 spell from the tradition.
Let’s say you have Power 1 and your path lets you learn two spells. You can learn up to rank 1 spells. If you wanted to learn a rank 1 spell from the Air tradition, flensing wind for example, you would first have to learn the rank 0 spell, direct wind, from the Air tradition. Once you learn direct wind, whenever you learn a spell, you can freely learn spells from the Air tradition.
In short, to learn spells from any tradition, you must first learn the rank 0 spell from that tradition.
Casting a Spell
A spell is a set of instructions. When you would cast the spell, you expend 1 casting of the spell and then follow the instructions to resolve its effects. Here’s an example spell.
Unspeakable Choice
Black Magic Attack 1
You use an actionto cast this spell on one creature within medium range of you. The target takes 2d6 damage. If the damage would incapacitate it, the target may choose a creature friendly to it that it can see. The target reduces the damage it would have taken from this spell to 0 and gains 1 corruption. The creature the target chose then takes damage equal to one-half its Health.
The Name: The top line of a spell is the spell’s common name. You can call a spell whatever you like, though. A caster might give spells learned more evocative and personalized names.
Tradition: The first bit on the second line is the tradition. This is an organizational/sorting keyword, generally, but some creatures have special resistances or vulnerabilities to spells of a particular tradition.
Attack or Utility: The second bit designates a spell as an attack or a utility. It’s an important distinction for casting spells in combat. When you use an action to make an attack, you might make that attack by casting a spell, attack with a weapon, charge, or do something else. For warriors dabbling in magic, a warrior at level 5 can attack twice when using an action to attack. So, a warrior might attack twice with a sword or might attack with a sword and cast an attack spell or might cast two attack spells.
Rank: The last bit on the line tells you the spell’s rank. The core game will have spells from rank 0 to rank 5. Future products will expand the ranks up to 10.
The Effect: The effect explains how the spell works. Just do what it says to resolve its effects.

Regaining Castings
Once you expend the last casting of a spell, you cannot cast it again until you regain at least one casting for that spell. Talents from paths may allow you to regain castings during play, but everyone regains all expended castings after they complete a rest.

Hello future! When this goes live, I will be in the thick of a travel week that began in North Carolina, wanders around Seattle in the middle, and ends in South Carolina. Instead of a big sexy write-up, how about a glimpse at the newest version of the character sheet prototype?

Design goal on this bad boy was to reduce the intimidation factor and just present a cool sheet that has the barest necessities with broad spaces players can use to fill in with whatever they want. Comments and feedback welcome.

The “magic” of the holiday season is rapidly receding in my rearview mirror and I’m now seeing road signs for the Kickstarter launch date, which is going to happen in about ten weeks or so. The date will firm up soon. Promise. So without wasting anymore time, let’s tackle another big chunk of the game: Magic.
     The game posits that all magical things, whether spell or artifact, derive their power from the same source. A wizard riding on the back of a war turtle and spraying liquid fire from his fingertips is drawing on the same energy source as does the unhinged cultist who reads incantations from the pages of the Tome of the Nailed Tongue, the devoted healer whose touch causes wounds to close and cures disease, or the wild man of the woods who can talk to birds. Magic is magic is magic. It’s all the same thing.
Spells and other magical bits may draw power from the same source, but they have wildly different effects. After all, compelling the bartender with a spell to give you a drink for free is a bit different from calling into existence a wall of water that wobbles a bit and then crashes down to scatter everything it strikes. To help manage the various effects spells can create, the book sorts them by game effect or theme and shoves them into categories called traditions. Spells that create or manipulate fire tend to belong to the Fire tradition. Spells that deal with demons belong to the Demonology tradition. You get the idea.
     A tradition is more than a wrapper for spells, however. Traditions also provide a look at how the spells fit into the world, describes the kinds of people that learn those spells, and what an individual caster must do to cast the spell effect and what a caster must do to regain the energy required to cast the spells. As well, traditions sometimes deliver special rules that may describe consequences for learning spells from the tradition or weird effects that happen when a character casts a spell from the tradition. For example, Black Magic, Demonology, and Necromancy are all deemed dark magic since their spells tend to make the world a little worse. The desire’s end Black Magic spell detonates a creature’s “junk.” Necromancy spells create undead thralls. Demonology spells rip holes in reality to the Void so that demons can slither free. None of these traditions produce happy effects.
     The current draft has 34 traditions. Each tradition has ten spells. So the current draft has 340 unique spells. The traditions that will make it into the finished product will depend on how the Kickstarter goes, though even if I can only include just a few in the core book, I can deliver the rest via future supplements.
     Here’s a list of all the traditions I have designed so far:

Traditions by Attributes
Intellect                      Willpower
Battle                          Air
Black Magic               Alteration
Conjuration                 Celestial
Demonology               Death
Divination                   Earth
Enchantment              Fire
Faerie                          Life
Illusion                         Nature
Necromancy               Polymorph
Shadow                       Primal
Technomancy             Sorcery
Telepathy                    Spiritualism
Teleportation              Storm
Time                            Summoning
Wards                          Telekinesis
Witchcraft                  Theurgy
Wizardry                     Water

For this week, I have decided to show off a great piece of art by Ivan Dixon created for Shadow of the Demon Lord.  The scene takes place in the heights of the Shield Mountains and features a couple of characters making their last stand against the orcs hunting them.

With the holidays being bullies and sucking all the air out of the room, this will be my final blog post for the year. I’ll be back in January to show off more of the game, including a look at how magic works, sample creatures, example paths, more art, treasures, and more. Thanks for reading and thanks even more for your continued support! Spring is just around the corner and with it comes the Demon Lord.

New players of fantasy roleplaying games rarely have a sense of scope about what their characters can do. How many times have you heard, “I stab him in the eye” or “I want to kick the wolfman in the nards?” No matter how robust the set of rules, such enthusiasm places the GM in a tough spot. Permit the action and cross your fingers in the hope that the enthusiasm doesn’t escalate or deny the action and create a “feel-bad” moment for the player in the name of making sure you’re playing the game properly. Granted, once players learn how to play, they also learn the parameters in which they can act. They engage the game in the manner the designer(s) hope, by using the rules as written.
     I kind of hate that.
     I feel the rules should facilitate play, should spark creativity and encourage players to look for solutions outside the character sheet. In the past, I have been a victim of the need to “play the game the right way,” and rarely does this create a memorable play experience. I suspect my inclinations to play by the book stem from tendency for RPGs to define every possible activity one might think to do. While my background in design lends itself to these sorts of games, I wanted Shadow of the Demon Lord to be as permissive as possible.
     Rather than hard code various tasks into the game’s rules or create lists of mechanical widgets you must have to do a particular thing, the game leans on assets and complications to deliver the kinds of cool maneuvers that many players crave. Allow me to unpack this a bit.
Three Kinds of d20 Rolls
To resolve any task and the task’s outcome is not certain—you don’t have a lot of time, you’re under pressure, you are impaired, poisoned, fatigued, or something else—you roll a d20.
     An active task that does not involve harming or forcing another to do something calls for an action roll. The target number for an action roll is always 10. You make action rolls when you would pick a lock on a door, climb up a wall with plenty of handholds, inch across a narrow surface, dredging your brain for a useful piece of information, and so on.
     When you would react to something that would harm you, you make a reaction roll. Again, the target number is always 10. You might make a reaction roll to avoid falling into a pit, to resist a snake’s venom, to keep your wits when you would beguiled by faerie lights, or to stave off gaining insanity from seeing something unspeakable.
     Finally, when you would harm a creature or object with a weapon—a sword, your fist, a bullet fired from a pistol—or a spell that specifically targets a creature or object, you make an attack roll. The target number is either the attribute score you are attacking or the target’s Armor Rating, when you attack with a weapon.
The game includes many examples of when to and when not to roll. Generally, the game wants success to happen and happen often, and so GMs are encouraged to just let things happen in the game. Johnny wants to climb the wall and he has plenty of time? OK. Sue wants to kick down the door and she’s plenty strong? The door falls inward. It’s only when the circumstances are tough that a roll is necessary.
     Players can choose to make circumstances tougher by trying to perfect exceptional activities or stunts. Swinging from chandeliers, sliding down banisters, diving through windows without getting cut up by the glass, and other cases might demand rolls since they are often things not everyone can do. Rather than change the target number, the GM can just call for a roll with one or more complications. The harder the activity, the more complications added to the roll. Similarly, the easier the activity, the more assets are added to the roll. Adding one complication means the task is challenging, two hard, and three very hard. Adding one asset means the task is easy, two very easy, and three so damned easy you probably shouldn’t have called for the roll in the first place. You don’t have to sweat about how many complications or assets. You just use what feels right.
     The benefit of this system is that characters can generate assets on their own from their talents. Rogues, for example, have an asset for one action roll, attack roll, or reaction roll each round. This means that the rogue, assuming he knows how to pick locks, is probably going to pick that lock thanks to the asset. The rogue is also the one most likely to succeed at “crazy” stunts and maneuvers in the game too. And this makes sense, right? We want the rogue to be able to balance on a tightrope, to scamper up a wall, to swing from chandeliers.
Combat Maneuvers
Just as you use assets and complications for asset rolls, you should also use them with attack rolls. Whenever a player would make an attack roll and wants to do something more than just deal damage on a success, you can make the activity possible by adding a complication on the roll. The rules chapter offers a selection of options for melee attacks, but you can easily adapt these options for other kinds of attacks at your discretion.
     Here are some examples. In each case, the character attempting the “maneuver” has one complication for the roll. You can’t do them all at once; just one per attack you make.
     Charge: Choose a creature or object that is more than 2 yards from you but within a number of yards equal to your Speed. Move up to your Speed toward the target and then make the attack against your target.
     Guard: Make the attack roll. On a success and in addition to the attack’s other effects, the next creature to attack you before the end of the round has a complication for its roll.
     Lunge: You increase your reach for your attack by 1 yard.
     Pin: Make the attack roll. On a success and in addition to the attack’s other effects, the target’s Speed becomes 0 until the end of the round.
     Smite: Make the attack roll. On a success, the target takes 1d6 extra damage.
     Unbalance: Make the attack roll, on a success and in addition to the attack’s other effects, you force the target to make an Agility reaction roll provided the target is your Size or smaller. On a failure, the target is knocked prone.
     Remember how I said characters generate assets on their own? Warriors, starting at level 1, have an asset for all attack rolls using weapons. This means that warriors can use combat maneuvers better than anyone else. A magician that tries to “smite” with a staff attack is going to have a complication for the roll and will likely get a failure as a result. A warrior, on the other, that tries to “smite” with a warhammer loses the asset but also doesn’t have the complication either. Warriors are, simply, the best at using combat maneuvers and they should be!
     Furthermore, as warriors gain levels, they can make attacks using simple actions rather than complex actions. This lets warriors do two maneuvers during a slow turn. A warrior, taking a slow turn, might use a simple action to charge with a melee attack and then guard with her next melee attack. Or, she might charge and then charge again. Or she might charge and then smite the bad guy. Any combination works. And it’s fun.
     While the above list is small, it really is just a starting point and the options serve as examples for the kinds of things a player might pair with an attack roll. Using the list, the GM can gauge what’s possible and what’s not, and leave it to the player’s imagination to describe how the maneuvers might work, all without having to reference or choose widgets to permit the desired outcome.

     All this said, it’s important to remember that these options are not things a player has to remember or even engage. Players who don’t want the complexity don’t have to use these maneuvers at all and aren’t punished for not using them since having an asset for an attack roll is always a good thing. But, as the player’s familiarity with the game grows, she may find herself using these options more and more often and sometimes to great effect.