Who Seeks The Black Blade Of The Demon King?
  • Who Seeks The Black Blade Of The Demon King?


    The Black Blade of the Demon King is an old school adventure/setting supplement from Knight Owl Publishing that attempts to recapture the madcap energy of fantasy role-playing modules from the early 1980s. Does it? Let's talk about it.


    First, let's talk about the art in the book. My short answer? I love it. The interior of the book is black & white line art. The art is high quality and goes a long way towards helping set the "Mythic Scandinavia" tone that the book is going for. The art is raw, with a style that is similar to that of woodcuts, and it helps to give a primal feel to the book. The graphic design of the book helps with this primal feel, as the splotchy, shadowy page elements bring the feel of darkness encroaching upon the world to the pages of the book. The cover is bright and garish, full of reds and pinks, that draws the attention of the eye and gives the book a feel of bombast that I think is appropriate to the adventure contained within.

    This book is a love letter to the work of Michael Moorcock. That isn't really unique as Moorcock's fantasy writing has permeated all levels of fantasy role-playing games, in some cases without writers realizing that they are referencing Moorcock's writing. That is how deeply his creations have been worked into the fiber of fantasy gaming. While it might not be for everyone, it seems as if Moorcock's writing has fallen in the esteem of contemporary readers, this was a big selling point for me. Moorcock's approach to weird fantasy has always been something that I've enjoyed, and his influences are always a part of any fantasy game that I might run.

    In regards to setting, what you get with The Black Blade of the Demon King is a "keep on the borderlands" style of adventure. One of the setting's central points is an outpost-style town in the country of Svartgard, called Stovring. Stovring is a port community whose main source of income seems to be adventurers searching for the titular Black Blade. This is an interesting approach to a setting because typically these sorts of towns are set up as an unimportant cipher, a simple background element that gives adventurers a place to sleep, drink or eat. Conversely, towns can be overtly antagonistic towards player characters. As someone who lives in an area that is supported by tourism out here in the real world, not only do I like this approach but I think it is a bit more "realistic" in how it approaches a town. I think that a realistic approach to a town is something that combines the overly antagonistic approach with this book's approach: obviously attempting to capitalize on the existence of adventurers tromping through their town.

    In my first read through, I thought it was odd that the main store outlined in the book charged such high prices for things in the store. Then as I read more closely, I realized the underlying idea. I like that the designers gave thought to how the economy of Stovring would work. This is one thing that you don't see often in a fantasy setting, and I like how it makes things feel more realistic to me. Designers Ahimsa Kerp and Wind Lothamer deserve kudos for adding this depth to their world.

    There are some nice things in the bestiary portion of the book. I found The Cold to be reminiscent of a Doctor Who villain, in a good way. Since Dungeons & Dragons shifted alignment from the allegiance system that it was in the earliest editions to mechanics that helped mold the morality of a character, games have portrayed the Law/Chaos dichotomy as being one of good versus evil, rather than the Moorcockian approach where both of these "sides" in the cosmic conflict of the universe were equally reprehensible towards the more common people (i.e. player characters). The Cold are that sort of Lawful antagonist, and I like that approach. One of the ways that this setting highlights the Moorcockian influences is to have an oppressive universe that is acting against the characters.

    As you would imagine, there is a Black Blade that is integral to the story of the adventure, and it belongs to a Demon King. I'm not going to go into too much detail because I don't want to spoil the adventure, but I will discuss a few things. The adventure is on a timer, which means that there are events in the background and foreground that happens on a schedule. Most of these incidents are there to motivate the player characters, because we know that players can waste a lot of time during a game session. These scheduled events work in a similar manner to random encounter tables in that way, both motivate players and player characters to do rather than talk about doing.

    There is a lot to do in the adventure, and I would guesstimate that you can get 3-5 game sessions out of just the adventure in the book. The book can also be used as the starting point for an ongoing campaign, of course once the Demon King and the Black Blade are dealt with. Stovring can make a good home base for a group of adventurers. You could even use it in conjunction with Frostbitten and Mutilated for more content that is inspired by the lands of ice and snow.

    My quibbles with the book are pretty minimal. The writing was a bit stilted in places to me. The writing isn't really unclear, you can understand what the designers are trying to say, but there are places where their enthusiasm wasn't quite up to the level of their ability. This doesn't really detract from the book overly much, or the usability of the adventure. This is something the writers will grow into with experience.

    One thing that we should have a conversation about that can impact the bottom line of small press publishers (or large press publishers for that matter) is quoting song lyrics. "Fair use," which rarely is relevant in a commercial product no matter what the internet tells you, doesn't cover quoting a song's lyrics in their entirety. Music publishers require payment for these sorts of things, and quoting an entire song (or even most of it) can leave a publisher open to payment issues, and these payments can often be far above the finances of small press game publishers. Yes, you can quote songs within reason (consult an appropriate legal expert for guidance on issues like this) but not in its entirety. This applies to most things under copyright. No one want to have their dreams of being an RPG publisher crushed because they thought it would be cool to put a song's lyrics in the front of a book.

    My opinion on this matter is that it is always better to err on the side of being conservative when quoting or referring to copyrighted material. The book also makes extensive use of quotes from the poetry of various Romantic, and other, poets. Relying on material that you know is in the public domain is going to be a lot safer for publishers.

    All of that said, check out the adventure. While it was written with older editions of Dungeons & Dragons, and its clones, in mind, it would be relatively simple to run this adventure with the fifth edition rules. Running this adventure with Pathfinder would take considerably more work, due to the much higher level of mechanical detail to that game, but a DM could likely reskin some of the numerous creatures already available for that game to use in place of the monsters in this adventure. I hope that we will see future development of the world that Kerp and Lothamer have created in The Black Blade of the Demon King.

    You can pick up The Black Blade of the Demon King in either PDF or print formats.
    Comments 10 Comments
    1. dave2008's Avatar
      dave2008 -
      This sounds interesting; however, what system is this for?

      "While it was written with older editions of Dungeons & Dragons, and its clones, in mind, it would be relatively simple to run this adventure with the fifth edition rules."

      Is this system neutral or was it written with a specific edition of D&D (or another system) in mind. I am a little confused by the statement above.
    1. darjr's Avatar
      darjr -
      Itís a broad category, including early AD&D and the basic sets plus many of the early d&d clones. Swords and Wizardry and OSRIC. Many are broadly compatible.
    1. Christopher Helton's Avatar
      Christopher Helton -
      It is an OSR game written with retroclones in mind, but playable for pretty much any iteration of D&D previous to D&D 3E.
    1. Over the Hill Gamer's Avatar
      Over the Hill Gamer -
      "Black Blade of the Demon King is an adventure like no other for Lamentations of the Flame Princess or whatever flavor of OSR game you prefer." -- from drivethrurpg.com
    1. trancejeremy's Avatar
      trancejeremy -
      The problem with adventures written for LotFP is that because the game basically has a flat attack progression, monsters tend to have a very small range of ACs, basically from unarmored (12 in LotFP I believe) to plate (18, I think).

      That same is actually sort of true for 5e, while it can vary wildly in old school D&D games (OD&D has the slowest, BECMI has the greatest, not surprisingly, since it has 36 levels plus weapon mastery)
    1. EthanSental's Avatar
      EthanSental -
      Curiously interested but on the drivethru rpg site, the creators said it's for levels 1-4. I take it this sword of supposedly gonzo power really isn't for them, at the end or maybe it's power is just legend than actual? Kind of like reading the Dragonlance novels and thinking the sword Tanis received (wyrmslayer) sounded so awesome in the novel to my high school imagination only to find its was only a +2/+4 vs dragons type thing
    1. Von Ether's Avatar
      Von Ether -
      In my first read through, I thought it was odd that the main store outlined in the book charged such high prices for things in the store. Then as I read more closely, I realized the underlying idea. I like that the designers gave thought to how the economy of Stovring would work. This is one thing that you don't see often in a fantasy setting, and I like how it makes things feel more realistic to me. Designers Ahimsa Kerp and Wind Lothamer deserve kudos for adding this depth to their world.
      The OSR system, Adventurer, Conqueror, King, is all predicated on designing a economy from the ground up in just this fashion up to the point that the gold pieces your spending make sense even when you have your own keep and vassals.
    1. francisca's Avatar
      francisca -
      Howdy-

      I went to look at the dtrpg page for this, and the first bullet point reads:

      "Unique cinematic three act structure."

      The grumpy old grognard in me reads that, and says, "Sounds like a railroad."

      Could you comment on that, and and "cinematic" features, as I don't really know what that means in the this context. Thanks.
    1. Celebrim's Avatar
      Celebrim -
      Quote Originally Posted by francisca View Post
      The grumpy old grognard in me reads that, and says, "Sounds like a railroad."
      As an adventure design theorist, I'd be inclined to say, "Not necessarily. It could have a broad-narrow-broad, structure..." But then there is this, "The adventure is on a timer, which means that there are events in the background and foreground that happens on a schedule." Yeah, hop aboard.

      I'd guess then cinematic in that it's a series of dramatic scenes you are supposed to partake in, which is one of the several definitions applied to the term 'cinematic' when it comes to RPGs (but not the one I prefer, which has to do with the interplay of mechanics and imagination).
    1. Jorge Jaramillo V's Avatar
      Jorge Jaramillo V -
      Quote Originally Posted by trancejeremy View Post
      The problem with adventures written for LotFP is that because the game basically has a flat attack progression, monsters tend to have a very small range of ACs, basically from unarmored (12 in LotFP I believe) to plate (18, I think).

      That same is actually sort of true for 5e, while it can vary wildly in old school D&D games (OD&D has the slowest, BECMI has the greatest, not surprisingly, since it has 36 levels plus weapon mastery)
      It's not really a problem, it's a feature but one not everyone likes, and hat's understandable. When I run non-LotFP adventures in my LotFP game, I don't change many things, only, sometimes, AC. When I do that, I assign a value that make sense to me, not following any conversion rules or making any math.

      When I started running LotFP, I also changed monster's HP totals, because I had the wrong notion than being powerful meant taking long to kill (plenty of hp), but that's not the case anymore. I'm even considering changing weapon damage according to HD of the attacker: a sword makes Xd6 damage, and X = HD; something like that, it's ony and idea and I have to think about it; my intent is to make fights quick and lethal even at hight levels.
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