I got to participate in a game of Shadow of the Demon Lord last week and wanted to write down a few things about the experience. The game was a lot of fun, and Marc did a great job as the GM. We had several rules questions, but he kept the game moving along. He also rolled with what the players were doing, which turned the session on its head a bit at the end; in a good way. The game just released on Drive Thru RPG, so you can pick up the core book as a PDF for $20 right now.
There's a lot to like about Shadow of the Demon Lord, so I'll stick to the stuff I really enjoyed here.
Building characters with the random tables is a ton of fun. First of all, character creation is really simple. All you have to do is pick an ancestry, adjust your stats once if you like, choose two professions/languages and that's it. We took the option to roll on the random background tables to generate histories for our characters. The tables provide some flavorful tidbits, and weaving all of them together really gives you a more interesting character in the end. When I run this for my group, we will definitely be rolling on these tables to build up the party.
Boons and Banes
One of my favorite things about the latest edition of Dungeons and Dragons is Advantage and Disadvantage. It's such a simple mechanic that really communicates to the players that they have a significant asset or detriment on their roll. Shadow of the Demon Lord has a similar mechanic with Boons and Banes. Basically, you roll an additional d6 for each Boon/Bane you have on a challenge or attack then keep the highest roll from those d6s. If you had a Boon you add that to the d20 roll, or subtract it if it was a Bane. One of our players, +Brian Ries, gave us a run down of the math which and thought it was interesting that rolling with +2 Boons was very similar to rolling with Advantage.
It's a great mechanic that feels important when you get it as a player.
Combat can be Lethal
First of all, nobody died in our first session. Reudan, our naive human follower of the New God, nearly ate it in the fight he picked with a spirit. The orc, Runt, also took a massive hit for 8 points of damage which would have instantly killed my character. Perhaps it's because we were level 0 characters that it made the combat feel more deadly, but standing toe to toe with an angry spirit felt like a very bad idea. Even now that I've leveled up my character only has 11 health, which isn't much.
We gained a level after the first session, so we all got to choose our Novice Paths. I was thinking of building up a rogue, but Marc had dropped a fancy dagger that would boost someone's necromancy powers. Since I had pocketed the dagger at the end of the night in order to keep it away from Reudan, I figured it would be a good reason to turn my character into a magician. It was a quick update, but now my character is set for a few levels. Once I get an Expert Path my character could change significantly. I really like the fact that I can adapt my character however I want as we level up.
We've only played one session of Shadow of the Demon Lord, so there are a few things that I'm not sure about. After we get a few more games in, I'll have a better idea of what I think of these items.
You don't randomly determine initiative in this game, which I think I'm a fan of. However, the players will always be able to act before the monsters. This concerns me because of experiences I've had in other systems where having the players go first results in a huge pile on of damage and effects that renders monsters completely unable to do anything. Sometimes that happens in Dungeons and Dragons and it can make a potentially interesting fight fall pretty flat.
There's a reward the GM can hand out during the course of play called Fortune. Once a player receives it he can expend it to succeed at any roll, give another player +3 Boons on a roll, or convert any player's d6 roll to a six. It all sounds pretty great, but we had a brief discussion about it after the session and I wasn't sure how I felt about it afterward. Unlike the XP reroll mechanic in the Cypher System, or Savage Worlds bennies, Fortune guarantees success for yourself, and probably for others. I suppose, it's probably a rarer resource than XP or bennies are in the aforementioned systems, I'll just have to see how it plays out.
There really isn't much bad here. Shadow of the Demon Lord is living up to what I was expecting so far, and I'm seriously considering running it next year when the physical book shows up. I do have one complaint, but it isn't that big of a deal.
Level 0 Characters
Making level 0 characters is a lot of fun, playing them is not quite as much. Your character won't have a lot that they can do, and they'll feel pretty powerless. It is a great way to introduce the game to new players, and the feeling of being completely powerless is fairly unique these days. That being said, however, once players have figured things out there isn't much left to do with a level 0 character.
Overall, Shadow of the Demon Lord has been great. I'm having a ton of fun getting my character up to level 1, and I'm looking forward to the next session. Until then, I'll just have to content myself with discussing the game which has also been great. Oh, and I'll also have to keep myself occupied with my 5th Edition campaign and the Achtung Cthulhu game I'm a part of. I think I've got plenty of stuff to do until October.
If you want to read more about Shadow of the Demon Lord, check out James Walls' impressions as he built his character for the campaign on his blog Living 4 Crits. There's also Marc Plourde's site, Inspiration Strikes, where he has been posting about the campaign as well. And there's Troy Pichelman's site where he's got a write up for his character's background.