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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 also available in PDF. 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.

This article was contributed by Charles Dunwoody as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. Please note that Charles is a participant in the OneBookShelf Affiliate Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to DriveThruRPG. We are always on the lookout for freelance columnists! If you have a pitch, please contact us!
 
Charles Dunwoody

Comments

CapnZapp

Adventurer
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.
 

Imaro

Adventurer
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.
We've taken a break form 5e until Xanathar's comes out and, because of how the levels and gameplay is structured, are playing this in the interim... It really is a good, solid game (though I will admit some of the more vulgar/metal/horror?? humor is not to my tastes), not at all an older edition (or based on an older edition) of D&D... if anything I would say it really is it's own thing in the d20 space with nods to 5e. I wouldn't hold my breath for an official 5e version though since I think Schwalb has made it clear he very much wants to keep the game it's own thing and is only doing licensing on a case by case basis.
 

Brodie

Villager
One of the things I love is that - while it has a level-based system - it's up to the GM as when the characters advance in level, not some arbitrary experience system. The basic rules say that when they complete an adventure, they should level up. So if you have them start as starting level (level 0), you can run eleven published adventures and they'll be maxed out. The Forbidden Rules book has rules for... I guess you could call it epic level stuff. It also has variant rules and extra to make the game more to your liking. And that's not even counting the Poisoned Pages PDFs that have other variant rules, like expanded rules for insanity and combat damage that affects how characters perform. Don't like the core setting? There's Godless, a Mad Max-esque version of Earth where humans have mutated into the orcs, goblins, dwarves, etc. of the game (and there's still vanilla humans, of course). Love the setting in the core book? There's PDFs detailing several locations in the setting.

I'll freely admit that I stumbled across this on Kickstarter and backed it and then forgot about it until the book showed up in the mail. It has since taken a place next to L5R as one of my two favorite game systems.
 

DM_Nel

Villager
I was an original KS backer (name's in the book). Best RPG investment I've ever made! This is a great game. Been running a campaing for the last 6 months. It is just as fun as 5E (which I also enjoy) but scratches a different itch. D&D is heroic fantasy. SotDL is dark, gritty and your "heroes" can get very flawed as the game progresses. It has excellent support, with weekly releases ("DeMondays") that are very reasonably priced and a fantastic G+ community. I highly recommend this game.
 

ruemere

Explorer
There are several alternative game versions for those who want to enjoy the system in a different setting:
- Godless: A World of Fire and Blood (http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/202062/Godless) - This is a Mad Max hack. Near future, post apocalyptic, with cars. I think there are two scenarios supporting the book.
- Freeport (http://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/216708/SotDL-Freeport-Companion) - Pirates from Freeport. There are also conversions of three infamous adventures (Death..., Terror... and Madness...).

There is also a lot of supporting material out there (http://www.drivethrurpg.com/browse/pub/8782/Schwalb-Entertainment), mostly scenarios and small rule expansions (warning: some of them contain major spoilers).

The game itself plays quickly and easily, though if you moved to more modern systems, like 13th Age, you will find the lack of self-reliance of military classes disappointing (personally, I ported dodge mechanics from Warhammer to alleviate it to certain extent), there are certain NPC/monster assumptions that veer away from PC building logic, and finally, the safest option is to use a ranged damage character since most opponents do more damage or have better defenses than the characters.

Regards,
Ruemere
 

Afro-Goblin

Villager
Also a KS Backer, I initially figured it was something I would run a quick few campaigns of and be done. However I am very pleasantly surprised of its Mechanics, it's definitely a bit of a fresh start, and if you like 5E, I think you'll find this game to be superior. It has a Stronger RNG, and it is better Playtested, overall you'll feel this when you read its rules, and how most of the character options interact with the game over time.


Finally, the "baby harming" or have you is just a picture of a baby being held upside down as it's to be sacrificed, no gore, just an evil figure holding a baby and a knife. 3rd edition has showed as much boobs, if not more in terms of past D&D editions and books as well.


@CapnZapp
What's Dodgy about Schwalb's Reputation?
 

R_Chance

Explorer
One of the things I love is that - while it has a level-based system - it's up to the GM as when the characters advance in level, not some arbitrary experience system. The basic rules say that when they complete an adventure, they should level up. So if you have them start as starting level (level 0), you can run eleven published adventures and they'll be maxed out.
It's funny, but to me it being up to the GM when PCs level up is more arbitrary than an XP system. Adventures tend to vary in length and content, so, as yardsticks go, that's a bit difficult to use. All, imho, of course. Anyway, it sounds interesting, but that could be my love of Moorcock's Eternal Champion stories surfacing...
 

Brodie

Villager
It's funny, but to me it being up to the GM when PCs level up is more arbitrary than an XP system. Adventures tend to vary in length and content, so, as yardsticks go, that's a bit difficult to use. All, imho, of course. Anyway, it sounds interesting, but that could be my love of Moorcock's Eternal Champion stories surfacing...
Worded the way I did, it does sound rather arbitrary. But the whole group levels up when this happens. The way the system is designed is that if you choose to run the adventures that have been published, one adventure gains the players one level at the end. Also, the page count of the adventures is a rough estimate of the number of hours it should take run. Three pages? That should take three hours. Six pages should take six hours total. The way my group is... I had to split a two page adventure into two 3 hour sessions...
 

R_Chance

Explorer
So, the adventures are planned to level them up. That makes sense. It would take some careful planning adventure wise. My group tends to wonder all over the place, they can take forever to do something you would think is quick and cut through planned long stretches quickly. They're a fun bunch :)
 

Brodie

Villager
So, the adventures are planned to level them up. That makes sense. It would take some careful planning adventure wise.
Well, the published stuff has a brief rundown on the first page that usually ends with 'the players complete the adventure when...' Any meandering and wandering about and general putzing around is all on them. If they want to spend twenty minutes discussing whether or not to trust the npc they just encountered - whether or not you thought the npc up on the fly - can't be helped. Although, one or two adventures deal with a ticking clock.
 

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