Thursday, November 17, 2022

Spotlight: Shadowdark RPG Quickstart

I've written a bit about the Shadowdark RPG from The Arcane Library so I thought I'd highlight what I think sets it apart from other OSR products I own.

The game's author has mentioned she wanted to build the game from B/X DnD's foundation and obviously, with the success of Labyrinth Lord and Old School Essentials, B/X DnD seems to be the most popular, at least within the OSR. Shadowdark does use a unified roll high mechanic, as well as, a Difficulty Class system that we've seen since DnD 3, but I also think Call of Cthulhu, Basic Role Play, and other percentile systems are inspirations too. DC's in Shadowdark are 9, 12, 15, and 18 and since Ability modifiers are the focus (skill just grants Advantage) in it, those map to a 60%. 45%, 30%, and 15% chances of success before Ability modifiers come into play.

When a Wizard or a Cleric casts a spell they roll against a DC of 10 + the Tier (level) of the spell and if successful the spell is cast and some spells have bonus effects on a Natural 20, but if you fail the spell doesn't go off and is lost for the day. I think adding spellcasting to the unified approach to the rest of the system makes far more sense, especially to new players, than the various exception-based and sub-system approach to B/X, its clones, and DnD's "vancian" spell casting as a whole. This also eliminates Saving Throws as a separate sub-system because when a spell requires some kind of roll on the Target's part it is merely another Ability Check.

One of my favorite parts of the game is that when rolling damage you don't add your Strength or Dexterity modifiers to damage. If you gain a bonus it comes from a class Talent or a magic item. I think this slightly speeds up combat as even people that are excellent at addition can take an extra bit of time totaling the die and adding something to it. 

The final bit that appeals to me are the Class Talent tables mentioned above, at 1st and every odd numbered levels you roll 2d6 on table with specific Talents for your class. These tables give you bonuses to attacks, ability scores, Advantage with particular spells, and additional uses of class abilities. I know that Shadowdark didn't come up with this idea but I'm really glad they included it and I like that the advancement rate it uses has that Old School feel. I remember when Wizards of the Coast began talking about "dead levels" when your Hit Die was the only thing you got and while I do appreciate mechanic abilities I also like rulings over rules and the mindset behind a game where what I do as a player and a character can be as much as what I and the DM think should happen and not "rule for everything" approach. As a new gamer having a rule for everything did help me out and we have millions of new DnD players that want and need that kind of structure but the OSR's allure, for me, was the DYI approach. With those Talents only coming every other level I think it keeps a lot of what makes a character unique specific to the player and their adventures. This is the kind of game where let's say there is aa character that bargains well through role playing, I'm comfortable not requiring a dice roll to succeed or at the very least give them Advantage on their roll. The fact that the bonuses are fairly bounded and most bonuses will never go above +4 combined with the chance of success the DCs  represent gives me a very tight engine where the math is very clear and I love that.

I know that the Shadowdark RPG is yet another game in a crowded area featuring a number of B/X D&D clones and derivative works but I really feel that the game's author Kelsey Dionne had a similar goal to Joseph Goodman when he published Dungeon Crawl Classics. Their aim was rooted in older editions of DnD as a guidepost and the end goal of both games honors that era while blazing new ground.

Do I own a bunch of OSR clones? Yes. But. I'm going to run the Shadowdark RPG while many of them gather dust.

Right now you can purchase the Shadowdark RPG Quickstart in print or digitally, there will be a Kickstarter for it in March of 2023.

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