Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Celtic Religion for D&D

Following up on another post about Celtic-themed D&D races, I wanted to write a short paragraph about how each class fits into a Celtic-themed setting, but it wasn’t working. Each class fits very well as stated, but they need framing in context of Celtic society and legend, so here’s that instead. I'll start with religion and magic, and cover warrior culture later.

Celtic Religion

The details of historical Celtic religion are incomplete because they had no system of writing, and their myths mostly survive in folk tales and fairy stories, many written by Christian priests during the Dark Ages! In addition, some elements date back to Neolithic times. Stonehenge probably meant something different to the builders thousands of years ago than it did to the people Rome found and wrote about. We do know that the Druids were an integral part of their society, along with Bards. Since we’re talking about a fantasy setting, we have a lot of leeway and should always go for something engaging for players.

The Druids are the oldest and most pervasive religious force in Albion. They act as advisors to kings, give judgements in law, and see the will of the gods and spirits of the land. Youths with potential are trained for years in the ways of nature, the stories of the people, and legends of the supernatural. They are not priests who claim to act as the voice of the gods, but they are wise and learned enough to be the best counselors in all things mundane and supernatural. Because of this they are found among mortals and fey alike. The Gaels are still firmly entrenched in Druidism, but the Britons are split between the rural folk who remember the old faith and the few large cities where Imperial customs and religions are more dominant.

The Druids teach that the world has a mirror reflection called the Otherworld, where all manner of spirits dwell. The Otherworld is a place of magic, the home of the fey, and also the temporary realm of the dead. Druids also believe that mortal spirits reincarnate over time, and foul magic and undead that subvert that cycle are despised.
Individuals exceptional to actually have Druid class levels can guide natural forces around them with their spells and take the form of beasts. Sacred groves and standing stones are their places of worship, especially at solstices and equinoxes. People will be reverential of them when they wear their ceremonial white robes, even in cities where the Church of St. Cuthbert thrive. The spirits respond to each Druid differently, and players should work out with the group how their spells and Circle abilities are unique to their character. The shamans of the Picts and Saxons are mechanically similar to Druids, just with less formal training and social importance. They are more often a vessel for spirits to speak through.

Bards are short-changed in D&D. They are mocked as silly minstrels who sings songs while their allies fight. Bards are a part of the Druidic order and incredibly important to the Celtic culture. With no written language and constant in-fighting, the shared stories of the people keep their values alive. Bards are always welcome wherever they travel, and expected to share news and recount heroic tales. They wear bright colors of many hues as a sign of their training. The old Welsh wise men who pre-date Merlin were usually described as Bards. The spells and inspiration abilities of classed Bards are proof that the magic of the Otherworld lives in their songs and poetry, that they can remake the world around them with their art. The different Colleges are different roles Bards can play—sages, warriors, entertainers, and assassins. The Saxons have their own tales of glory and love of kennings (poetic descriptions of common terms) that thrives among their Skalds.
The spell casting abilities of the Ranger tie them to the Druidic order. In a land permeated with magic, it makes sense that warriors close to the land would learn some of its power. There are also Celtic heroes like Finn McCool who trained with Druids and Bards. Any character with nature-based spell casting should have a unique relationship with the spirits they gain their abilities from.

The Empire may be gone from Albion, but its influence still lingers. The largest cities have architecture, technology, and most importantly, new gods left behind by the foreign powers. The most prominent new religion is the Church of St. Cuthbert. The Church teaches the doctrine of Law conquering Chaos, through the spread of mortal civilization and the destruction of supernatural evil. Unlike the Druids, the priests of the Church have a rigid hierarchy and claim to be the voice of their god through religious texts and tradition. Outside of the cities, priests can be found as solitary missionaries trying to convert with talk and deeds. Other foreign religions can exist as wanted by players, but probably have similar structures. Their miracle workers, those with Cleric class levels, are holy warriors, healers, and direct expressions of their god’s will. Celtic or pagan Saxon gods (mostly similar to Norse gods) may imbue a champion with their divine power, but they are not part of an order. This allows for players to play with access to a broad range of Domains, but they need to be clear if their part of a civilized Cleric tradition or a pagan with mechanically similar abilities. This creates the divide between the New Church and the Old Faith that is important to Albion.


Arcane spell casters are outside the Druidic order but still get much of their power from the Otherworld. Their relationship with Druids will depend on whether they subvert the natural order when they use their magic. Warlocks have a patron who interacts with them and seeks to influence the mortal world through them. Sorcerers exhibit primal magic left over from the creation of the world. Wizards catalog magic into forms and patterns they can recreate.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Celtic Races for 5E

I haven't been able to get a Shadow of the Demon Lord game going yet, but I have been running 5E D&D at Card Kingdom in Seattle. I hadn't played 5E yet but I'm liking it a lot so far.

As I'm wrapping my head around the new edition, figuring out the similarities and differences from older editions, I'm still struck by how well "vanilla D&D" works for a Celtic fantasy setting with Arthurian overtones. So here's some ideas for putting a Celtic theme on character options.

Races

Gaels--The Gaels were the first humans to come to Albion, displacing the Tuatha de Danaan. They are still a wild, tribal people, impossible to conquer and impossible to unite. Gaels are known to paint their bodies, spike their hair, and charge into battle shirtless and screaming. They are close to the fey and their primal gods. (Use Human stats)

Britons--The largest group of humans in Albion, the Britons are divided culturally between the rural clans who follow the old ways, and the civilized city dwellers who adapted Imperial customs. Rural folk live simply, close to the land and the fey nearby, and will fight stubbornly to defend that land. The city folk have rallied around the Good King to build a strong future for Albion, but have had trouble recruiting allies. (Use Human stats)

Saxons--From across the sea, droves of invaders from Midgard have tried to claim Albion after the Empire fell. The Saxons are slowly gaining ground and driving out the Gaels and Britons. They follow proud war gods and are skilled sailors. (Use Human stats)

Picts--The Emperor's Wall cuts off Caledonia from the rest of Albion, for in the rocky north dwell the mysterious Picts who are hated by all and hate everyone in return. They were strong in the time of Atlantis, and the bloodlines of their chiefs keeps the determination and savage nobility of their people intact. Many though have been corrupted by dark forces in the dark corners of Albion and become horrible brutes. Picts worship beasts and monsters of the wild, tattoo themselves, and have subtle characteristics that mark them as different from other humans. (Use Half-Orc stats for noble bloodlines, Orc stats for degenerates)

Tuatha de Danaan--The Children of the Earth Goddess are wild fey, exemplifying the primal power of Albion. They defeated the Firbolgs and drove the Fomorians into the sea, but the Gaels ushered in the time of humans to rule Albion. The Tuatha, or Pren elves, live in the remote wilds now but are always eager to battle threats to the land. Bushy beards, hair the hue of sky or flowers, or even antlers are some of the strange appearances they can manifest. (Use Wood Elf stats)

Sidhee--The noble fey of Albion have always been more comfortable in their faerie hills than the mortal realm. Beings of otherworldly desires and interests, the Morwen elves view humans as playthings and pawns in their games or wars, even kidnapping children to raise amongst them when they wish. Their features are beautiful but sometimes in an unsettling way, and their eyes are fields of stars. (Use High Elf stats)

Changelings--When the Sidhee take the fancy of a human child, they leave behind something to fool the parents. Crafted from elven wood and troll blood, a Changeling takes the form of a baby and eventually learns to mimic anyone they want to. Never feeling at home among mortals or fey, Changelings can become morose and malicious. The children raised in the Otherworld however, grow to see the beauty in both worlds, and become great heroes and adventurers when they come of age. (Use Changelings from Eberron, and use Half-Elf stats for stolen children)

Knockers--Named because their mining can be heard in mountains and caves. Knockers are wonderful smiths but universally grumpy and antisocial. Its almost impossible for them to do a task without complaining about it, and they always find a flaw in even the finest craftsmanship (especially their own). Pale or ruddy skin and bushy grey hair, brows, and beards are common. (Use Mountain Dwarf stats)

Coblynau--Many tell the tale of a Saint who found the hard-working Coblynau in the hills and converted them to his god, though they still build cairns to their ancestors. This race of dwarves seems small but are just as strong as a human, and seem wizened and old but are tireless. They are mysterious even to other fey. (Use Hill Dwarf stats)

Boggans--Rural folk sometimes are lucky enough to have a Boggan nearby, and if they keep it happy with gifts and praise it will help them with chores and defense of their home. Rarely seen, if they are unappreciated they will disappear entirely, if insulted they will wreak havoc. (Use Lightfoot Halfling stats)

Tylwyth Teg--The opposite of their quiet cousins, the Good Folk are loud, dirty, and often have subtle bestial features. They love pranks and can be obnoxious, but are also loyal to those they have befriended. (Use Stout Halfling stats)

Brownies--Small even for fey, these hairy beings live in forests among small beasts that they count as equals. Bursting with energy, they can become single-minded when set to a task. (Use Forest Gnome stats)

Gruagach--While most fey love nature, Gruagach love things. They are skilled crafters and can create out of any materials, even trash and scraps. Their creativity has a nasty competitive side that can turn into bitter jealousy. (Use Rock Gnome stats)

Blood of The Dragon--Sometimes the wild magic of Albion, called The Dragon by Druids and Wizards, leaves its mark on a newborn. The elemental magic inside them can be unleashed with great destructive power. They may have a large twisting scar or even have draconic eyes, but seem mostly human. (Use Dragonborn stats)

Demon Blooded--Albion faces corruption from various dark forces, whether the Fomorian sea devils, the fey of the Unseelie Court, or the horrible demons from the void before time. Any of these can try to spread evil by siring a half-breed mortal, but the human lineage still allows for free will. Even Myrddin fought his devilish heritage to help the Good King to the throne, although with many questionable acts along the way. Deformities mar most Demon Blooded. (Use Tiefling stats)


Thursday, November 3, 2016

Shadow of the Demon Lord: Magic

I have a lot of thoughts on the magic system in Shadow of the Demon Lord so this might ramble. Short version: I love the flavor and new twists, but I'm afraid it might seem too limiting for some players.

Spellcasters learn spells based on their paths, but other than a few extra ones at the first and second levels of Priest or Magician, they'll only be learning one new spell per level. Your Power score is the D&D equivalent of your spellcaster level, and it determines how many times between rests you can cast each spell you know, along with the spell level. Basically you're more like a Sorcerer than a Wizard. You know a few spells, and can cast them several times.

On top of that, there are 30 Traditions of spells and you have to learn a Tradition before you can learn any spells from it. You have to spend a spell choice to learn a Tradition, and you learn one 0-level spell (or two if you're a Magician). So you can't just decide to take Fireball when you reach 5th level if you weren't already learning spells from the Fire Tradition.

My greatest worry with this is it will seem like magic doesn't have nearly the versatility that Wizards enjoy in D&D. Players used to being able to find the right spell for any situation will instead be limited to a few spells that are all thematically linked.

There are a few points against the "Wizards can do anything" school of thinking, though. First, it wasn't always that way. Earlier editions had shorter spell lists, fewer spells per day, and encouraged DMs to be very stingy with handing out new spells for a Wizard's spellbook. Also, in every edition there are certain spells which become obvious choices (and personally I hate that). In 3E you were foolish if you didn't have Haste and Dispel Magic prepared for every combat encounter, and the combination of Scry and Teleport at higher levels was a common way to ambush enemies. In 5E, certain spells have routinely caused problems at organized play events. So while Wizards seem to have lots of options, if they all take the same spells there's no real variety.

The magic system does a lot to differentiate between different spellcasters and give them more of a theme. I've gone through lots of builds in my head while reading over magic, and for a character who starts as Magician and takes all spellcasting paths it seems that learning 3 Traditions is the best or most likely option. You could do 2 Traditions but honestly a lot of the lower level attack spells are kind of redundant--do you really need 3 different ways to set someone on fire? If you do 4 Traditions you might be a little under powered at lower levels, but I would only do this if you really want more variety. You'll probably be agonizing over choices between all four every time you can learn a new spell.


Priests might be a little put off by their lack of choices--in D&D Clerics and Druids get access to a large spell list and choose what they want every day. However, a lot of those are false choices also. There are different healing spells for every different affliction. After all of those, you'll probably be picking similar spells every day. Priests have to choose their Traditions from a choice of three, depending on their religion. All religions have Life (healing) as one of the options, but Priests can also heal some with their path abilities if they don't want to spend a spell choice on that.

I'd also be a little forgiving with Tradition choices if the player can come up with a good story reason their character should learn it. Maybe you're the Church's sword of vengeance, so you learn the Battle Tradition, or maybe your Druid worships a thunder god and learns Storm magic. Maybe you're a monk who specializes in elemental Traditions--Avatar: The Last Airbender, anyone?

So while spellcasters in Shadow of the Demon Lord don't have the versatility of most D&D casters, they make up for it with more flavor and more thematically-related spells.

A few other interesting bits about the magic system:

  • Some Traditions give you Corruption points for learning them. This includes Necromancy, Curse spells (which Witches are good at), and the Forbidden Tradition, which has awful spells like Hateful Defecation and Ravenous Maggots.
  • Any spell can be on a one-time use Incantation (like a scroll), which anybody can attempt to cast. This is a way to add a lot of variety to a campaign.
  • There is a Master Path for every Tradition in the core rulebook.
  • Spells are split between Attack spells and Utility spells, so every Tradition gives at least some offensive capabilities. I'd also encourage players to be inventive with their Attack spells in non-combat situations, and make ad hoc rulings.
  • Traditions are a great way to add flavor to a group in the world--maybe mages of the Ice Tower specialize in Water and Enchantment magic, to freeze their opponents and enslave them, while the goblins of the Lost Woods use Illusion and Teleportation magic to confuse and waylay travelers. 
  • The Primal Tradition lets you take on bestial traits and summon animals, while the Transformation Tradition lets you take the form of animals, among other things. Primal is better for those who want to boost their combat abilities, Transformation is better for someone who want to stop casting spells and rampage for a bit. Neither aligns with what D&D Druids can do with Wild Shape, so be prepared.
  • A Magician with the Battle Tradition can match a Warrior in offense, but is still fragile.
  • It still bothers me that none of the religions have Divination as an option for Tradition, given the etymology of the word.
  • I don't like to house rule much with a new system, but one thing I'll probably do--give all casters unlimited uses of their 0-level spells. That way they can fire off attacks without resorting to mundane weapons. I'll see how this goes, and adjust as necessary.
  • There is one way spellcasters can get more versatility--the Wizard expert path allows three spells in a grimoire that can be cast using spell slots for other spells. I would allow the player to swap out at least one spell per level as they advanced as well.


Friday, October 21, 2016

Shadow of the Demon Lord: Expert Paths

The Path system is one of my favorite things about Shadow of the Demon Lord. It reminds me of old computer RPGs where you got access to different subclasses at a certain level. Its actually more flexible, because any character can take any path.

Granted, if you aren't a spellcaster and try dipping into that in your Expert or Master path you'll be way behind another character who started as a Priest or Magician, but you have the same problem in D&D. I'll try to discuss magic more in another post.

When a character chooses an Expert path at 3rd level, they are encouraged to choose an objective for their character as well. At this point they should start shaping the world around them. Again, there are suggestions for story development, reasons your character got their new abilities. I'd like to make heavy use of long downtime in a campaign, make sure there are breaks in the action to allow the characters the chance to grow off-screen. I find it jarring when characters grow amazingly powerful in weeks of game time because a campaign is moving quickly. 

Here's my thoughts on several of the Expert paths, both from my understanding of the game and how they might fit into my pseudo-European folklore setting.

Artificer:  Right away there's something anachronistic to my usual tastes. I like running Dark Ages type settings, where there are few or no nations or kingdoms, war is common, and steel swords and chain mail are the height of military advancement. Shadow of the Demon Lord has lots of steampunk inspired elements--Clockworks, guns, and a Technomancy Tradition of magic. 

Honestly though, I'm not going to worry about it too much. Sometimes bits of anachronistic tech appear in fantasy--the hookshot in Legend of Zelda, elaborate gear traps in God of War, a mechanical hand in Army of Darkness. Its not really science, just bits of Technomancy-based magic. 

The Artificer path is a spellcaster who can make random equipment from spare parts they carry around. At higher levels they can store spells in items and create mechanical servants. Pretty basic.

Assassin:  If the Assassin attacks from hiding, their target has to make a Strength challenge roll or take damage equal to their Health. Basically, they're dead. This seems incredibly powerful, but also the target number for the challenge roll is 10 like all other rolls. Even a peasant has a 55% chance of surviving. Still, there's always the possibility that your big bad monster could fail their roll and bite it easily. Two things I'll be doing anyway with big bad monsters--using more than one at a time, or giving them some ability to survive attacks like this. Like how Elite and Solo monsters in D&D 4E had ways around Save vs Suck effects. 

Berserker:  When a character goes berserk, they get a bonus to Health, resistance to mental effects, and trade a bane on attack rolls for extra damage. With that attack penalty, its doubtful anyone besides a Warrior would want to take this Path, though possibly a Magician with the Battle Tradition.

I really like berserkers because they're so prominent in Celtic and Norse myth. In both cases, the fury is seen as a gift from the gods that warps the body and gives supernatural might. The Irish warrior Cu Chulainn would go into a "warp-spasm" that would make him twist in his skin, spurt blood from his head, and make his hair stand in spikes. The 2000 AD comic Slaine depicts this for its hero as well.

Cleric:  This path is for Priests who want to use their spells in combat more effectively. Its primarily good for the Theurgy Tradition of the Cult of the New God. I say Priests, but its worth noting that if a character wants to be a "priest" with more spells, they can play a Magician. 

Druid:  Tailored for Priests of the Old Faith. Its pretty tame at 3rd level--identifying animals, trackless step, etc, but at higher levels you can jump between trees while moving and get resistance to elemental damage. Since the Old Faith is more common on the borders of civilization, Druids will be more influential than Clerics in my game. Historical druids weren't Captain Planet hippy types, they were lawgivers and advisors to kings, feared and untouched by all. 

Fighter: A Warrior with more training. A character gets one Talent at 3rd level, and while there are a few options "Fight With Anything" seems clearly superior. Weapon attacks do a minimum of 1d6 damage regardless of type, and get an extra boon on attack rolls. A Warrior who takes the Fighter path now gets two boons on attack rolls. Non-warriors who want to hit better can take this Expert path as well and get on par with Warriors. 

Oracle: The Priest version of a Berserker. Go into a Divine Ectasy which gives a Health bonus, resistance to mental effects, and get a boon on mental attacks and challenges. Its great for spell-casters who want to go aggro. 

Paladin: Good for a Priest who wants to be tougher in melee, or anyone who wants some religious magic. Characters can convert spells into extra melee damage with Divine Smite. For a Warrior or Rogue who wants to dabble in magic, that flexibility means you're not giving up combat effectiveness for one or two low-level spells.

Ranger:  This path gives a double Health boost at 3rd level as an homage to the 1st-ed D&D Ranger that gave two Hit Dice when you gained the class. You also get to target an enemy and gain a boon to attack or track it, and you can't be surprised. Definitely has more flavor and skills than just taking Fighter, and you're still effective in combat.

Scout:  A sneakier version of the Ranger. Still can't be surprised, and is good at stealth. At higher levels you can Reveal Weakness and give everyone a boon to attack a target. Good for the Rogue that likes to go off on their own. 

Sorcerer:  Spellcasters who channel more power but can overload. They can increase the effectiveness of their spells but get Strain points, which at some point will explode around you. Not bad unless allies are nearby.  

Spellbinder:  This path allows you to have an enchanted weapon and cast spells at the same time. Its the best option for trying to make a "fighter/mage", whether your Novice class is a Warrior or a Magician or Priest.  A spellcaster with the Battle Tradition could be especially deadly, but won't have the Health of a Warrior. 

Thief:  This path lets you be extra slippery and gives Talents that cover most expected Thief abilities. Not much else to say.

Warlock:  Spellcaster who can mimic others' spells. Good for Magicians who want to get sneakier or Rogues who dabble in magic. I think this one would be really fun to have in a game. Spellcasters are fairly specialized, so mimicking the spells of enemies would give a player the chance to cast more of a variety of spells.

Witch:  This is awesome. I love witches and don't understand why they're not more prominent in fantasy games. They start off with a unique spell, Witch Fire, which kind of turns the caster into a will-o-wisp temporarily. At higher levels they get a flying broom and a familiar. Witchcraft is actually a religion, so Witches could be Priests or Magicians depending on how they want to play, and of course any Novice path can go into any Expert path if they want.

Wizard:  I'll go into more detail in another post, but even Magicians don't get that many total spells. Its comparable to Sorcerers in D&D or a 1st-ed Magic-User who has a stingy DM and only has the basic number of spells. I think it will work fine in play, but they don't have as much versatility as D&D players are used to. The Wizard path tries to correct that, but I think I would tweak it a little more. They get a grimoire with three spells that they can swap for spells they know when cast. The problem is its difficult to replace the spells as you level up, and I would make that easier. 

There's lots of cool options with the path system. Its easy to build on a Novice path with an appropriate Expert path, like Warrior into Fighter, but there are some other interesting possibilities. Especially if you have a DM (like me) who is flexible with the rules. 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Shadow of the Demon Lord: Novice Paths

The class system in Shadow of the Demon Lord is based on three different Paths a character chooses during their adventuring career. You select one of four Novice Paths at 1st level, one of 16 Expert Paths at 3rd level, and at 7th level choose from 64 different Master Paths (or choose a second Expert Path instead, so actually 80 options).

I've seen the comparison, and it fits, that Novice Paths are like Basic D&D classic options, Expert Paths expand to sub-options available in AD&D and later, and Master Paths are like Prestige Classes. You get an ability from your Paths at every level (except 4th level, where you get either a new spell or an Ancestry ability).

Your Novice Path gives you abilities at 1st, 2nd, 5th, and 8th level, and the abilities at 1st and 2nd level are particularly defining for your character. This makes the Novice Path you select the biggest factor in who your character will be. Its more like a specialization than multi-classing.

If you want to dominate in combat, go with Warrior. You get lots of Health and a Boon to all weapon attacks right away. At second level you get an extra 1d6 to all weapon damage rolls. At higher levels you get the option to do extra damage to a single target or make attacks on multiple opponents. Every Path gives the ability to heal yourself one quarter of your Health total once between rests, along with an extra benefit. The Warrior gets to use this as a Triggered Action, so they can do it immediately after taking damage, leaving them free to still fight on their regular Action.

Rogue is good if you want to get away with a lot in and out of combat. You get a Boon to one attack or Challenge roll a round. Since Challenge rolls are used for "skill checks" and "saving throws", it makes you good at everything and hard to pin down. And if your attack Boon isn't negated by a circumstantial Bane, you do extra damage. At second level, they get a bonus turn if they roll 20+ on an attack roll. In the one session I ran where a player had this ability they loved it. It fits the fiction of a tricksy character while also being very "game-y", for players who like to min/max at the table. Rogues also get Talents that allow them to specialize in combat or skill styles, or dabble in magic.

Priest allows you to fight while still supporting your party, and gives you a few spells. When a Priest heals themselves one quarter Health they allow another character to do the same thing, and they can give a Prayer boost to attacks and later damage starting at second level. Prayer can be used on yourself, so its possible to hold your own in combat. Religions include the Cult of the New God and the Old Faith (I love the new church vs paganism dynamic), as well as Witchcraft and Dwarven Ancestors. Spells are more limited than the Magician, you'll likely be picking from just two Traditions for your character, so if you want to cast more go with the other class.

Magician is all about spells. Spells are divided into Traditions and you have to spend a "new spell" to learn a Tradition (Magicians learn both cantrips associated with a Tradition, unlike other classes that only learn one). Your total spells known will seem limited if you're thinking of later D&D options--if you focus on spellcasting paths you'll still only get a total of 13 new spells by 10th level. On the upside, you get to specialize your spellcaster into a Storm Mage or a Fire Mage, instead of having a berth of options but only a few optimal choices.

If the first session where you only have an Ancestry is a prologue, your Novice adventures are about coming together as a party and getting comfortable with your basic abilities. There are suggested options for training for each class, so I'll let some campaign time pass between the first session and the second to allow for the characters to grow and become their class. The first few adventures will be about responding to dangers presented, setting the stage for the characters to become movers and shakers in the world.


Saturday, October 15, 2016

Shadow of the Demon Lord: Ancestries

Campaigns in Shadow of the Demon Lord are designed to be short and fast moving. Characters start off with an Ancestry and no class, and level up after every short adventure. So you can run a character all the way through level 10 in just 11 sessions.

The first adventure of a group can be a prologue of sorts, showing how they came together as a group and introducing threats and themes that will be in the game.

Ancestries are like race in D&D. You get your starting stats and a few abilities from your Ancestry, and later at 4th level you have the option to get another ability based on it. I'll go through the Ancestries and talk about how I'll use them in my upcoming game, which will be heavily based on folklore.

Humans get some flexibility but nothing outstanding. They're good for any class. In my game they will be the dominant group, but that doesn't mean I'm favoring them as a PC race. Like in legends or even Lord of the Rings, humans are all over and run the kingdoms, but adventures frequently involve the more supernatural elements of the world.

Changelings are fey beings created by elves and swapped with human babies. They can change their appearance like D&D changelings, but their origin is more in line with the folklore that inspired them. Its notable that elves are NOT a playable race in the core book, and I like them being aloof and potentially dangerous fey creatures. I'm going to use lots of fey-oriented stuff in my game so changelings are already a good fit. They make good Rogues and Magicians.

Clockworks are mechanical beings. There are elements of steampunk in SotDL, including guns. Part of me thinks this clashes with the Dark Ages/medieval tone I like, but then if Final Fantasy and Link can include steampunk and mechanical things then why not my game. Clockworks would still be rare in the world, but that just makes a character more special. The dark twist of Clockworks is that they are "powered" by a soul called up from the Underworld. This could supply latent memories or such, and would be fun to play with. They make good Warriors or Magicians, depending on their build.

Dwarves are pretty typical--tough, greedy, and insular. Its implied that adventurers are often survivors of underground cities overrun by monsters because dwarves are too paranoid to ask other people for help--which is pretty much the background of The Hobbit. I'll add that there was only one great dwarven kingdom in the area of my game, and it was destroyed by a volcanic eruption. And the elders are hiding something about it. They make good Warriors or Priests.

Goblins are fey outcast by the Summer Queen, doomed to live in the mortal world. They are small and each has unique appearance and odd habits. Again, I love using more fey folklore stuff for my game. Goblins will be aware that the Summer Queen has gone missing after an assassination attempt by giants, and the Raven King has led an army of goblins and dark fey against the Summer Court in the confusion. Goblins make good Rogues and Magicians.

Orcs are big brutes used by the Empire as soldiers until civil war broke out and the Orc King Drudge strangled the Emperor on his throne. Created by dark magic, I'm adding a Celtic element to their origin. A legendary king quested to find the Cauldron of Resurrection from the Underworld but was pursued into the mortal realm by its guardians. After the battle the Cauldron was missing, recovered by agents of the Empire. Unable to use it properly, they warped its purpose and used it to animate captured prisoners into Orc slave-warriors. Supposedly an orc witch is in possession of the Blood Cauldron now, building an army somewhere.



Shadow of the Demon Lord: Overview

I'm really excited to be running Robert Schwalb's Shadow of the Demon Lord soon and thought I'd share some thoughts I've had about it recently.  This will be an overview of things I like about the system first, and some in depth thoughts about the classes, magic, and subsystems later.

First of all, its similar enough to D&D that it plays well to gamers familiar with that system (or even new gamers familiar with fantasy tropes). The main mechanic is d20 based. There are orcs, dwarves, and goblins as Ancestries. What sets it apart is a darker tone with lots of horror influence, more adult themes, and the impending doom of the world that lurks over every campaign.

Orcs are a barbarian tribe warped with dark magic to become warrior-slaves for the Empire, until they rose up and overthrew the Emperor. Forbidden magic has horrifying splatterpunk effects--exploding eyeballs, literally shitting yourself to death--and taints the soul of the spellcaster who uses it. The potential for apocalypse, the "shadow of the demon lord", can manifest as plagues, hordes of beastmen, or awakening elder gods. These are just examples, and while the game has a setting provided, the themes and ideas are easily adaptable to a variety of homebrew settings, which I will be doing.

The system is simple but flexible. Robert Schwalb has worked on a lot of different rpg games and one of his design goals was to create a system that could be learned easily and didn't require mastery to play (*side-eye at you, 3.5 D&D and Pathfinder*). The bare bones mechanic is: roll a d20, get a 10 or better to succeed. That's it. Your only numerical bonuses will be from your attributes--Strength, Agility, Intellect, and Will. These bonuses will vary from -2 to +5 for typical player characters. Situational or class bonuses are called Boons or Banes. For every Boon you roll a d6, taking the highest one and adding it to your roll. Banes work the opposite and the two cancel each other out one-for-one. The DM is free to adjust difficulty of an action by applying Boons or Banes to a roll, and the roll-all-take-the-highest rule means less math and prevents a task from ever being too easy or too difficult.

Next I'll dig into the class system, which I love.