Cower In The Shadow Of The Demon Lord
  • Cower In The Shadow Of The Demon Lord


    Shadow of the Demon Lord (SotDL) plays like D&D with ten levels, great house rules, and with every character multiclassing. Layered in are rules for corruption and insanity. The setting features a haunted, dying world being invaded by a demon lord, whose corrupting shadow brings a variety of different rule and story effects. A dying empire is the default end of the world and nineteen other choices are detailed.


    Shadow of the Demon Lord is a 272 page fantasy horror full-color hardcover RPG. Warning: SotDL contains a small amount of disturbing content and NSFW art (female breasts and a naked baby being harmed).

    The rules have a number of familiar options for PCs. Dwarves, goblins, humans, and orcs can be played but not elves which are in the monster section. Unique choices include changlings and clockworks (like warforged but with wind up keys they cannot reach). Each PC has professions which also function like skills.

    After the first adventure, the PCs gain levels and start going through novice, expert, and master paths. Magician, priest, rogue, and warrior serve as a base and springboard to later paths like assassin, death dealer, gunslinger, and mage knight.

    Spell lists include arcana, illusion, nature, and theurgy. Dark magic corrupts and includes curse, forbidden, and necromancy. Dark spells create vile effects. For example, desire’s end does damage and dazes as well as removing the reproductive organs of the victim who is successfully attacked.

    SotDL is great for players and contains a lot of advice and support for the GM. However, there are so many options for the PCs and they can do so much that their power detracted from the horror elements. Combat mutated into simple dice rolls before combat and the mood and tension were hard to maintain.

    Spells in SotDL can be like D&D: call lightning, fireball, and invisibility. But mixed in are a handful of disturbing spells with horrific costs. But the mix can be jarring. Why doesn’t the shadow of the demon lord corrupt all spells? If all the spells were dark the world would be marked as strongly horrific and truly cursed and dying.

    Monsters are interesting and well designed. However, so many powerful creatures have fear game effects that rolling to see if the PCs become scared becomes overused at high levels. It had the strange effect of having the lower level PCs being frightened less often by monsters than the hardened veteran PCs. The mix of standard fantasy monsters and true horrors sometimes does not mesh well.

    Shadow of the Demon Lord dips a toe in the water of the vile and disturbing while remaining on the shore of traditional dark fantasy gaming. It plays well at low levels and okay at high levels. The dark elements can be downplayed or dialed up depending on preference. For a change of pace from D&D or especially if more horror is desired, Shadow of the Demon Lord is a good choice.
    Comments 30 Comments
    1. Mike Myler's Avatar
      Mike Myler -
      I'd like to point out that Robert has a huge line of supporting products for Shadow of the Demon Lord and third party publishers are producing material for it as well (I got to be the first with Mists of Akuma ).
    1. tuxedoraptor's Avatar
      tuxedoraptor -
      It loooks really damn cool, I just can't run it, ever. Because I am beyond broke. I wish there was a SRD or something for it. Ah well, one less system to teach people about.
    1. Connorsrpg's Avatar
      Connorsrpg -
      Yeah, this looks good and I wish I got in early. Already a stack of extra books.
    1. CapnZapp -
      plays like D&D
      I would be interested to know which edition it plays like: OD&D, AD&D, d20, 4E or 5th edition?

      I'm hoping for the latter, of course - 5E has introduced a large number of streamlinings and simplifications to the legacy D&D engine, and I'm not inclined to abandon them...

      great house rules
      Do you mean that Schwalb's rules have the feeling of "great house rules", that is, the game features rules that aren't RAW D&D, but more like rules you feel could have been part of your home campaign...? Or what does "great house rules" mean - the rules of the book surely aren't presented as house rules when they're actually the core rules of this game?
    1. Charles Dunwoody -
      SotDL feels like the D&D Cyclopedia (everything elegantly packaged in one rulebook) has options like 3.5, and a touch of 4E design (3 tiers of play and healing). By house rules I simply meant that this runs like D&D with some great changes like simplified derivative math in the ability scores. Closer to 5E in regards to math and formulas.
    1. qstor's Avatar
      qstor -
      Has support for Green Ronin's Freeport too!
    1. exile -
      Quote Originally Posted by CapnZapp View Post
      I would be interested to know which edition it plays like: OD&D, AD&D, d20, 4E or 5th edition?

      I'm hoping for the latter, of course - 5E has introduced a large number of streamlinings and simplifications to the legacy D&D engine, and I'm not inclined to abandon them...


      Do you mean that Schwalb's rules have the feeling of "great house rules", that is, the game features rules that aren't RAW D&D, but more like rules you feel could have been part of your home campaign...? Or what does "great house rules" mean - the rules of the book surely aren't presented as house rules when they're actually the core rules of this game?
      In play, it feels like Basic/Expert D&D to me, though there are definitely more options in terms of character creation and in-play decision making.
    1. Banesfinger -
      We have played a campaign spanning 0-level to 10th (max). Our impressions:
      - It plays a lot like D&D 5e to us, with a smattering of Warhammer FRPG thrown in (loads of classes to choose from/advance into).
      - Players loved how they could choose 'spell lists' to learn/specialize in.
      - It even has its own version of advantage/disadvantage.
      - I'd agree with the opening review: upper level (7-10) play seemed to be a little 'off-balance'. It also slowed-down for players as their PC sheet started to fill up with waaaay too many abilities to keep track of (only about 20% improve on existing abilities instead of getting new ones). However, some players may like that...
      - My players loved some of the 'gross' spell descriptions/effects. Definitely for a mature audience.
      - As a DM, it was a 'medium' effort to place into a different game world (e.g. Forgotten Realms): easy enough to remove some of the 'steam' technology, but you need to buy supplements for some common races: Elves, halflings, etc.
    1. Superchunk77's Avatar
      Superchunk77 -
      "Warning: SotDL contains a small amount of disturbing content and NSFW art (female breasts and a naked baby being harmed)."

      Lol, I guess the images of people tearing off their own flesh and having their genitals explode didn't warrant a warning :P
    1. Zaukrie's Avatar
      Zaukrie -
      I knew I should have backed this...
    1. Charles Dunwoody -
      Quote Originally Posted by Superchunk77 View Post
      "Warning: SotDL contains a small amount of disturbing content and NSFW art (female breasts and a naked baby being harmed)."

      Lol, I guess the images of people tearing off their own flesh and having their genitals explode didn't warrant a warning :P
      In the USA nudity is usually completely forbidden at work along with any weird child abuse art. Violence is more of a sliding scale. Also, violent images in art are more common in RPGs than art images of nudity or child abuse.
    1. Istbor -
      YEAH! We in the US love our violence. It crops up nearly everywhere. Can't stand the naked human form though. That's going too far.

      I am not sure anyone is totally okay with "weird child abuse art" world-wide.

      Looks cool though, and I think I have a group of players who would totally enjoy it.
    1. Charles Dunwoody -
      Quote Originally Posted by Istbor View Post
      YEAH! We in the US love our violence. It crops up nearly everywhere. Can't stand the naked human form though. That's going too far.

      I am not sure anyone is totally okay with "weird child abuse art" world-wide.

      Looks cool though, and I think I have a group of players who would totally enjoy it.
      Yes, the US has some interesting ideas. Although to be fair I've seen plenty of European RPGs with lots of art depicting violence as well. Violence in RPGs is common which is why I didn't mention it. And the baby art was mentioned in the review exactly for the reason you mention.

      And the art fits the genre and tone. I just wanted to give a heads up that at least a bit of it is NSFW.
    1. Brodie's Avatar
      Brodie -
      Quote Originally Posted by CapnZapp View Post
      I would be interested to know which edition it plays like: OD&D, AD&D, d20, 4E or 5th edition?

      I'm hoping for the latter, of course - 5E has introduced a large number of streamlinings and simplifications to the legacy D&D engine, and I'm not inclined to abandon them...
      I'd say it's pretty close to 5E, primarily because Schwalb was also involved with D&D 5E. Boons and Banes are pretty similar to Advantage and Disadvantage.

      Quote Originally Posted by CapnZapp View Post
      Do you mean that Schwalb's rules have the feeling of "great house rules", that is, the game features rules that aren't RAW D&D, but more like rules you feel could have been part of your home campaign...? Or what does "great house rules" mean - the rules of the book surely aren't presented as house rules when they're actually the core rules of this game?
      There's the core rules, but there's quite a bit of stuff in the core book that you can use or not use, and house-ruling stuff is encouraged.

      I've been running for a while and I love the system. There's some issues with wording in the core book that's rectified and made clearer in later offerings. The PDF adventures available are numerous and that's just from Schwalb Entertainment. One of the things I like is the adventures being listed as for starting, novice, expert, or master characters instead of hard set level. You can pick a novice adventure for your novice-ranked players and it'll be fine regardless of level.
    1. Jhaelen -
      Doesn't appeal to me at all, despite Rob Schwalb's excellent reputation.
      The cover art reminds me too much of Warhammer, which is another franchise/setting/game that never had any appeal to me.

      The NSFW comments are a clear indication for me to avoid this, no matter how clever the game's mechanics or how great the writing may be.
    1. Michael O'Brien's Avatar
      Michael O'Brien -
      Currently playing in a multi-GM, 24 player SotDL campaign, masterminded by one of the writers of Horror on the Orient Express. The tag line that drew me in about playing in this SotDL campaign was, "It's like 5th edition, only 666% more bad ass".
    1. Aldarc's Avatar
      Aldarc -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jhaelen View Post
      Doesn't appeal to me at all, despite Rob Schwalb's excellent reputation.
      The cover art reminds me too much of Warhammer, which is another franchise/setting/game that never had any appeal to me.

      The NSFW comments are a clear indication for me to avoid this, no matter how clever the game's mechanics or how great the writing may be.
      Warhammer does not appeal to me at all either, which is why I honestly find my initial enthusiasm a bit surprising. I think it would be easy enough to adopt it to other settings, including SFW settings.

      When investigating this book over the past week, I saw a number of people who suggested converting it to other dark fantasy settings such as the Black Company, Ravenloft, various sword and sorcery settings (e.g. Elric, Conan, etc.), and Blizzard's Diablo franchise of games. But I also saw people talking about using the rules for Privateer Press's Iron Kingdoms, Rokugan, and a number of other standard settings.
    1. satbunny's Avatar
      satbunny -
      I read this in pdf and loved it. It felt like lean 5e. I liked the layered tiering of abilities as you progress thru the level groupings. Like MOB it felt like 5e but 666% better with more than a decapitated body full of Warhammer FRP.. and therefore Moorcock and Lovecraft and all that schtick.

      My mate Neil also loved the read through and I suspect when we have played Symbaroum this is going to come to a dark fetid gaming room sometime in the next few years..
    1. Charles Dunwoody -
      Terrible Beauty is the fey book with elves in it. Great supplement. That combined with SotDL core would make a great Labyrinth the movie like setting or like something Tad Williams would come up with.
    1. CapnZapp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Jhaelen View Post
      Doesn't appeal to me at all, despite Rob Schwalb's excellent reputation.
      The cover art reminds me too much of Warhammer, which is another franchise/setting/game that never had any appeal to me.

      The NSFW comments are a clear indication for me to avoid this, no matter how clever the game's mechanics or how great the writing may be.
      I'm of the exact opposite opinion.

      Sadly I mean exact opposite:

      Does appeal to me very much, despite Rob Schwalb's dodgy reputation. The cover art reminds me very much of Warhammer, which is another franchise/setting/game that I have always loved.

      The NSFW comments are a clear indication for me to look into this, no matter how clumsy the game's mechanics or how... actually I can't say I mind his writing style.

      In the end, I'll probably have to wait for an official 5th edition release of the game, if that were to happen. At the moment, I can't stomach older versions of the D&D engine.
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