Category Archives: News, Rants & Reviews

Shadowdark RPG (Beta)

Wow. This one creeped up on me out of nowhere. And I probably would have just passed it by. I’ve seen too often the blurb that combines old school and modern design that have left me saying that ain’t old school.

Let me first tell the little story of how stumble across this gem. I was just perusing my way around DrivethruRPG and I stumbled across The Nightmare at Castle Goldgloom. Hey, this is an old school adventure that’s compatible with Shadowdark. OK, what’s Shadowdark? Hmm. It isn’t on Drivethru so let’s do a quick Internet search which lead me to the Arcane Library and the beta Rules for Shadowdark. And this explains a lot why I hadn’t noticed it before. Kelsey at the Arcane Library has been doing primarily (and apparently successfully) creating 5E content and as most readers know, I haven’t really paid attention to that much of the 5E content especially stuff on DM’s Guild. Don’t let that stop you here. Shadowdark has some strong OSR DNA.

Let me start with basics. You’ve got the classic classes: Cleric, Fighter, Magic-User and Thief. Yes, Thief and not Rogue. And yes, they have a d4 Hit Die. For Races, there’s pretty much the standards: Human, Elf, Dwarf, Halfling, and Half Orc plus Goblins are thrown in as a race. And yes Race is separate from Class. Task resolution and Saving Throws are handled with Attribute checks (d20+Mod) with any additional modifiers from Class. Shadowdark uses Ascending AC.

Since most readers here are interesting in the old school style of play, let me start there. For Attributes, it’s 3d6 in order. You can’t get more old school than that. There’s an option to start a campaign with 0 Level characters (ala Dungeon Crawl Classics) or 1st Level characters. It uses the old school three Alignment system (Law, Neutral, and Chaos). And Encumbrance is handled with a Strength based slot system similar to Lamentations of the Flame Princess. Scattered throughout the PDF are many of the traditional bits of advice like those found in Matt Finch’s Old School Primer. You know the drill. The answer to a problem isn’t on your character sheet. Rulings not rules. Go ahead and houserule to make the game fit your group’s style. Player Skill vs Character Skill and so on. These are great bit advice for those new to the old school style.

Let me talk about the modern and new game mechanics that snuck into the Shadowdark. It does use the Advantage/Disadvantage mechanic (which I think is the neatest thing to come out of 5E). There is a metagame currency in Luck Points which are a bit like Inspiration but not quite. Experience is handled a bit differently but you still can get XP for Treasure. The neat thing about Leveling is how character improvement is handled. On odd levels (1, 3, 5, 7, 9), each class gains a Talent. Here’s the catch it’s random. Each class has a random table to roll on to see what the character gets at that level.

There’s one mechanic that I thought was cool and I’m not sure if originates from another game. Torches last one of real time. Not game time. Real time. I like that because it actually puts some pressure on the players to move ahead and not mess around.

Magic (both arcane and divine) uses a roll to cast system. Fail or fumble and bad things can happen. The spells keep to the basics and take more inspiration from the old school versions rather than the newer ones. Like Power Word Kill: You utter the Word of Doom. One creature you target with 9 HD or less dies if it hears you. That’s basically it. The spells are to the point and simple to use at the game table without a bunch of useless fluff text or extraneous mechanics.

For the over mechanics feel of Shadowdark, I can see the inspiration from games such as Index Card RPG, Five Torches Deep, 5E Hardcore Mode, and Dungeon Crawl Classics. I will say that I’m (like many others) aren’t that fond of the “You get all your HP back with a Long Rest” but hey that can be worked around. And there’s a neat little mechanic to add a bit more of challenge. Have a Random Encounter during that Long Rest. Make a CON check, fail and you get no healing or anything else.

Even after all the above and you don’t think it’s your thing, it’s still worth looking at. Why? Well, there’s a bunch of handy random tables to use no matter what rules you happen to be playing. There’s a game within the game (Wizards & Thieves) for when the characters want to gamble at the tavern.

So yes, this well worth a look and a lot of it is going to end being used at my table. I’m going to be really bold here but IMHO Shadowdark is the kind game that fits into the so-called next wave of OSR games. It’s not artpunk. It takes the best of old and new school games and makes a game that feels and plays more like old school. The rules are clean, easy, and most importantly efficient.

And in case you missed above just head on over to the Shadowdark page on the Arcane Library.

Praise The Fallen & Sision Tower

I like adventures that are out of the ordinary. I can stock a cave or lair with your standard array of monsters. I really like it when an adventure has interesting monsters that can be used for more than just the adventure at hand.

Praise for the Fallen and Sision Tower are two adventures by Graphite Prime Studios. First these two adventures are tied together in that they share the same universe of fallen angels and the like. No problem. I like that sort of thing. Praise the Fallen is a more standard dungeon crawl while Sision Tower is “vertical” dungeon crawl. That is the map is a cut away side view. No biggie but kind of neat.

Cherub Haunt

Both of these adventures stand out for having an array of non-standard monsters. Things like the Cherub Haunt or The Phaen Witch are just plain cool. Heck, if the DM want to do just a little adjustment, the Phaen Witch could easily become a reoccurring villain or even a darker mentor. Even the encounters with standard style monsters are interesting. So yep. These have some new opponents for the party to face off against.

Phaen Witch

So new monsters. Check. And guess what? New nifty magic items too. Sision Tower has sixteen new and interesting magic items. I mean really I’ve shelled out more bucks on adventures that don’t have a single new thing in them. Yeah, these adventures are inexpensive as well. New monsters and magic items alone make it worth the price of admission.

I usually don’t comment much on artwork. I’m more focused usually on just the content. But Graphite Prime is one of those lucky people who can write and draw. This gives both adventures even more of a similar synchronized vibe.

It takes a lot for me to get excited about so much RPG stuff that comes out these days. So much lacks personality, gets all edge lord just because, or just over complicates stuff that doesn’t need it. Both these adventures have personality. Their out of the ordinary without going over the edge. They don’t go into details that the DM and/or players might not even care about.

You can grab Praise the Fallen and Sision Tower on DrivethruRPG. Oh and check out Graphite Prime’s blog. There’s good stuff over there.

Find Your DM Voice

How many videos and blog posts out there that tell you who to DM or DM in a specific way? How to run a mystery. How to run a political, horror, grim dark etc. A lot. Too many? That’s up to you to decide.

If you’ve spent any time around writers there’s this common talk of finding your voice. Finding that style that it is you. This same idea applies to being a DM. Sure some folks can bounce from genre to genre and from tone to tone with ease. But some of us can’t. Or should I say that some of us aren’t that good at it. And that’s OK. Embrace your voice and be yourself.

I admit it. I suck at running most SciFi games. I can do it and enjoy it but the campaigns never last long. What about horror or something grim dark? Well, no. I try. I start that way and soon my own dark sense of humor creeps in and we’re making Monty Python jokes in the face of an Elder God. Is there anything wrong with this? Oh no! It break immersion. Yeah it does but when what you’re immersed in isn’t exactly your forte then fewer people start enjoying the game.

So be honest with yourself about what you’re good at and what you enjoy as DM. Be honest with your players. And as a player be honest too. Just because the DM isn’t running the game the way you want. Doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. It’s just different. And any reasonable person can tell the difference between just a different tone and feel and folks that are just jerks.

And on the mini painting front. Here you go.

A Dancing Girl, Blink Dog, & Merchant.

Torches Zine No 0

Over the last year, I’ve grown to like zines. They generally offer adventure that cumbersome, extra little tools and tricks, magic items, and other neat things. Stuff that I’m actually going to use and get a bigger bang for my buck. So when I saw Torches Zine No 0 on Drivethru, I grabbed it up.

So what do you get in this little zine? Well, a dungeon, a city, a monster, an NPC, and a magic item. Now, I’ll say that dungeon (The Ancient Library of Aghma-Toth) is more of place. Sure there are monsters but it’s more of useful as a place for the characters to go because they need something (probably magical).

Looking for a monkey scorpion hybrid? Well, there’s the Mandricolas. There’s a small city in the zine too and it’s laid out with only the barest of details and I think some may be missing. As I mentioned before there’s an NPC (a mean anti-paladin type guy) who’s thought out pretty well. And finally a magical artifact, Lovan’s Artifact which offers some minor benefits on the scale of artifacts.

Torches is designed for use with Old School Essentials so it can be easily converted to whatever old school rule set you happen to prefer. I’m 90% sure that the authors are not native English speakers so there are few confusing sentences in the zine so the few confusing sentences here and there are things that I’m will to overlook. The material is inspirational but you as the DM will have to do all the heavy lifting in most cases.

Torches Zine 0 is available on DrivethruRPG for free so it’s worth a look and will worth you time to keep an eye these as they come out in the future.

It’s December. Time to Navel Gaze

I know everybody does this and I actually started last month but I wanted to just get this one over with.

A lot has been going on this year not all of it good. There’s been the usual RPG controversies and trolling. I’ll mock that later. But I want to look back a little over this past year about a few of the good things that I managed to pull off.

I would say most importantly I finally got an online game off the ground. It was real dry stretch there with COVID and losing contact with most of my old meat space gaming group. I suppose I could dove into something but I’m always kind of picky about who I game with. I know that sounds snotty but I’d rather not get stuck in a game that wasn’t fun for me.

I actually managed to publish two things on DrivethruRPG. I know that’s not really a major accomplishment but I’d rather do two things that I though were good rather than a dozen meh products. And both Deathstalkers of Antediluvia and Forgotten Tales of Sword & Sorcery made it Copper. I suppose I should do a little more marketing on them.

So what else happened? I started a Patreon but I’ll lament more on that later.

Now, I know that doesn’t sound like much but I did post more here on the blog but I did stop doing the Anchor Podcast since it wasn’t really worth my time. And, of course, COVID also put the Youtube videos on hold.

Yeah, and I finally started painting some mini’s again.

So with that I’ll back planning on the mischief that I plan on causing next year. I’ll post about that later. Trust me. Lot’s of things are going to change around here. It will be fun or a total disaster.