Step into the Shadowdark … you might like it

Step into the Shadowdark … you might like it

For those who don’t know about the Open Game License “incident” from earlier this year, it’s too complicated to lay out in an introduction, so go look it up, then come back to this article.

Crazy, right? Despite Wizards of the Coast walking back a lot of what they were going to do, players and game designers alike are giving serious thought into whether or not they want to continue playing with this game system. While many are sticking with 5th Edition (5E) Dungeons & Dragons, others are looking into something completely different, including games that simulate the 1st Edition rules (known as Old School Renaissance or OSR). Which puts Kelsey Dionne at Arcane Library in the perfect time to release her long-awaited Shadowdark game, since it combines the fan-favorite elements of 5E and OSR games.

While it might seem like Shadowdark was rushed into production to capitalize on this sudden interest in alternative game systems, the truth is that it’s been several years in development. After the OGL crisis, Kelsey Dionne had to re-work some of the mechanics so that Shadowdark didn’t resemble Dungeons & Dragons too closely, but this just results in the game now looking more like her own unique thing (a similar situation is occurring with Gavin Norman’s also long-awaited Dolmenwood game). There are still the usual 6 character traits, armor class, and hit points. But complicated encumbrance rules are now replaced by a simple gear slot mechanic (you can carry as many items as your Strength score). The magic system looks like the traditional Vancian system used in every version of Dungeons & Dragons, but now it’s limited by a spell mishap table (similar to what you find in Dungeon Crawl Classics). Darkvision has been completely eliminated as an option for player characters, making those torches far more important and the threat of losing your light source far more intense (since ALL monsters can see in the dark).

Speaking of torches, one of the unique quirks to this game is that torches only last for one hour before sputtering out and leaving your characters at a severe disadvantage. And that’s not one hour of game time; it’s one hour of the players’ time. That means that if your players waste a lot of time arguing about marching order or how to divide treasure, they’re screwed. It reminds me of the West Marches system of down time in real life matching down time in the game (so that if your players don’t get together for two weeks, their characters have just been sitting in a tavern for two weeks as well). In both cases, it’s a mechanic that’s intended to keep the game moving forward.

The game has a Kickstarter campaign that began on February 28 and has already reached half a million dollars (far exceeding its $10,000 goal). If you’re concerned about backing a Kickstarter campaign, keep in mind that the book has already been completed (with several game reviewers already receiving advanced copies and posting reviews here and here). Arcane Library has also already published over a dozen game supplements and adventures, so this isn’t going to be someone making a lot of big promises for a system that never appears.

But if you’re on the fence about this game, a free Quickstart Set is currently available on the Arcane Library website that includes a Player Guide, a Gamemaster Guide, 8 sample characters, and an introductory adventure. Download it, try it out, and if you want to pick up the full game, make a pledge on Kickstarter so you can get a bunch of extra goodies (including some Shadowdark-focused zines).

One of the hardest parts of choosing an rpg system is finding something that satisfies all of your players. Choosing a system that combines OSR elements with 5E elements can be a great way to bridge the gap between these two play styles. And with the explosion of new rpg systems that’s likely to happen in the next couple of years, Shadowdark could well be the go-to choice for a variety of players.

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Jeff Stehman

I don’t have much interest in Shadowdark, but it filled me with joy to click through to Kickstarter that first day and see it at $192K. I subscribe to The Arcane Library Youtube channel primarily for her overview videos on the adventures she publishes, but I’m always happy to see an independent able to make a career out of gaming.

She played it smart. She had product in hand before launching the Kickstarter, and she gave review copies to some OSR people who have much larger followings on Youtube than she does. They loved her product, and boom. (I hope she has a fulfillment partner though. That’s going to be a lot of books to package at your gaming table.)

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