Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Crazy for the Demon Lord

Shadow of the Demon Lord uses insanity to describe the effects of encountering the awful. When a character sees something that doesn’t belong in the world, witnesses an atrocity firsthand, or is subjected to something of profound wrongness, insanity is often the result. Like damage, insanity is measured as a number. You accumulate insanity, rather than reduce some other resource. The maximum insanity a character can accumulate is its Willpower score.

Gaining Insanity
When the GM decides or when the rules direct that a character is at risk of gaining insanity, the character must usually make a Willpower resistance roll. On a failure, the character gains 1 or more insanity and becomes frightened for a number of minutes equal to the character’s insanity total. Gaining insanity from some creature has additional effects such as with the hag. A creature that gains insanity from a hag also becomes compelled for a number of rounds equal to the character’s insanity total.

One way characters can rid themselves of insanity is to spend insanity to buy a quirk. Once each day, a player may ask for a quirk. If the GM agrees, the player reduces his or her insanity total by a variable number and acquires a roleplaying trait appropriate to the source of the insanity. For example, a character who recently gained insanity after encountering a bloody bone might have a fear of raw meat. Quirks can be phobias, addictions, nightmares, and a variety of other disorders acquired from great mental strain.

A character cannot gain more insanity than his or her Willpower score. When the insanity total reaches the limit, the character goes mad. The effects of madness are random and example forms of madness are included in a big, saucy table. Once the character recovers from going mad, the character removes insanity from his or her total.

Here’s an excerpt.

1 or lower         Death. Your heart stops and you die as a result.
2                       Catatonia. You fall prone and become defenseless. At the end of each hour, roll a d6. A 4 or higher ends the madness.
3                       Self-Mutilation. You must take the next turn you can and use your action to tear your eyes from your sockets. Unless prevented, you become blinded until your ruined eyes can be repaired—such as with the restoration Life spell. The madness passes at the end of the next minute.
4–5                   Stricken. You become stunned. At the end of each minute, roll a d6. A 5 or higher ends the madness.
6–7                   Sickened. You become violently sick, vomiting and defecating as a result. While sickened, you are dazed. At the end of each round, roll a d6. A 5 or higher ends the madness.
8–9                   Hallucinations. You believe vermin infest your body. While affected, you must take a fast turn each round and use your action to cut or claw yourself unless you are prevented from doing so. Each time you take this action, you take 1 damage. At the end of each round, roll a d6. A 5 or higher ends the madness.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015


Player characters use skills to describe the areas in which they have formal training, the languages they can speak and read, and the environments in which they are accustomed. Skills add to characters’ description, offering details about identity, occupation, and nature. In this way, a skill is more like a descriptor or a tag. It is something that a character has or doesn’t have. A skill has a negligible mechanical weight and usually functions as a story-telling tool.

Generally, only player characters have skills. NPCs and creatures can have any skills the GM wants as appropriate to their role in the story and their description.

Language Skills
The most basic skills in the game are the language skills. All starting characters know how to speak in the Common Tongue. The game includes a list of typical languages and more languages are mentioned in the Bestiary. Having a language skill means your character can speak in that language and be understood. You either have the ability or you don’t. Note that the ability to speak in a given language does not automatically mean your character can read it. You can trade out one of your skills to become literate in all the languages you know or you might choose a professional skill that grants literacy in a language.

Professional Skills
Most skills are professional skills. A professional skill describes the area in which a character is trained and how that character might normally make ends meet. Examples include Arcanist, Armorer, Locksmith, or Theologian.

Having the Arcanist skill means your character knows stuff about magic. When your character sees an unfamiliar magical effect, you might automatically know the spell’s name or what the effect does. Or, you might have to make an Intellect action roll to gain this information as the GM decides. If you don’t have the Arcanist skill and you encounter an unfamiliar magic effect, the effect is unfamiliar to you.

Some professional skills let you manufacture finished items from raw materials. The Armorer skill, for example, lets you turn raw materials into armor provided you have a space to work, tools, and raw materials equal to 1/4 the armor’s price.

Professional skills also enable certain activities. Having the Locksmith skill means your character knows how to use lock picks to unlock locks. Without the skill, your character must resort to other methods to unlock locked doors, containers, windows, and so on—using a key (obviously), brute force, or magic.

Many professional skills grant literacy in a language the character knows how to speak.

Status Skills
Finally, some skills indicate a special status such as Aristocrat, Criminal, or Drunk. Of all the skills, these are the “softest.” A character with the skill knows how to conduct himself or herself around other characters that fit into the described status. Aristocrats know proper etiquette, can probably recognize heraldry, and know the people of wealth and status in their homeland. A criminal has connections to the black market and criminal underworld, knows the major organizations, and likely has a contact or two. A Drunk knows his or her way around taverns, can consume vast quantities of booze without becoming too impaired, and can probably gather a few rumors from the regular haunts.

Gaining Skills

All characters begin with two skills (chosen or determined randomly) plus any skills gained from their ancestry. Characters gain another skill when they choose a novice path, an expert path, and a master path. Some paths grant additional skills.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Magic Stuff!

Magic Stuff
Shadow of the Demon Lord has spells, as you saw last time, but what about magic treasure? Are there enchanted swords, cloaks, and other objects? Sort of. Magical objects are a staple in the fantasy genre. Frodo & Bilbo had the ring. Arthur had Excalibur. Arawn had his Black Cauldron. Agni had his wand of Universal Fire. It goes on. At one point, I had rejected the idea that the game would have such things as “magic items,” but I ultimately came back to it after recognizing that enchanted objects do have a place in dark fantasy. Such things can be mementos from previous stories, oddities that can hinder as much as they help. They can also operate as world-building tools for GMs and players alike. For these reasons and others, I use three broad categories for magical widgets: consumables, enchanted objects, and artifacts.

A consumable is a magic device that has a single use. When you use it, you consume the magic from it. In the case of potions, you literally consume the object. In the case of incantations, you consume the magic by reading the script aloud. Player characters can typically purchase consumables, though their availability depends on their rarity. For example, you’d have to travel to a large city to find a philosopher’s stone.

Here are two examples of consumable items found in the equipment chapter:

     Repair Oil: A thin, amber oil causes fractures in objects to close and repair any damage done to it. You may use an action to smear the oil on an object or a creature that is a construct within your reach. The oil takes effect at the end of the round in which you applied it. The object heals 1d6 damage or damage equal to its healing rate if it is a construct.

     Death’s Heralds: A white, powdery substance contained inside a wax paper packet, the powder is made from the eggs of a rare moth found in the Underworld.
     You may use an action to attack with the powder by blowing the contents from the packet into the face of one living creature within short range. The target must make a Strength resistance roll with two complications. On a failure, it becomes impaired for 1 minute. If it’s already impaired, it takes 2d6 damage.
     At the end of each round until the effect wears off, the affected creature must make a Strength resistance roll. On a failure, the creature takes 1d6 damage from the hatching eggs and burrowing larva. A creature incapacitated by the damage dies and its body vanishes.
     In addition, each time a creature takes damage from the death's heralds, a cloud of black moths spreads out in a 1-yard radius from a spot in the creature's space. The cloud remains until the end of the next round and it totally obscures its area.

Enchanted Objects
Enchanted objects are not generally for sale. Instead, they are  found in the world. They are worth whatever the NPC or PC is willing to pay for it. Enchanted objects are things of minor magical power that persists. A glass box that glows when touched, a wand that sprays liquid flames, or a bone scimitar that glows blue when brought to within short range of a troll are all good examples of such items.
            In the core book, the game presents a set of tables for quick generation. One table gives you an idea of what form the object will take. The other tables describe the object’s magical power. The GM can pick or roll dice for random generation.
            Here’s the form table:

Enchanted Object Form
1d20           Form                         Examples
1                 Light Armor              Robes, soft leather, hard leather
2                Melee weapon          Sword, staff, or spear
3                Jewelry                     Ring, necklace, bracelet
4                Furniture                   Chair, mirror, rug
5                Sculpture                  Statuette, idol
6                Coin                           A copper penny
7                Tool                           Hammer, scales, wrench
8                Clothing                     Hat, cloak, shirt, shoes
9                Instrument                Lute, drums, flute
10               Container                  Bag, box, chest
11               Inscription                 Tome, scroll, clay tablet
12               Implement                Wand, crystal ball, knife
13               Technology               Pocket watch, pistol
14               Game or Toy             Cards, dice, doll
15               Accessory                 Key, monocle, scabbard
16               Vehicle                      Cart, rowboat, wagon
17               Religious                   Holy symbol, book, beads
18               Weird                        Mummified hand, gallstone
19               Ranged weapon        Longbow, crossbow
20              Heavy armor            Chainmail, plate & mail

And here are a few entries from the effects tables.

6                The object radiates menace. Creatures within 5 yards of it have a complication for Willpower resistance rolls made to stop or resist being frightened.
7                You can use an action to place the object on any surface you can reach. The object stays there, no matter what, until you touch it and use an action to pick it up.
8                The object changes color to match its surroundings perfectly.
9                The object vibrates slightly when within 100 yards of a troll or giant.
10               You can use an action to extinguish all flames within 10 yards. You can use the object three times. You regain expended uses once each day when you douse the object with water.
11               The object turns green when within 10 yards of a poison.
12               You can use an action to cause all doors, containers, and other objects that can be closed or opened within 10 yards of you to close or open as you decide. The object has three uses.

An artifact is an enchanted object with a story. These items tend to be more powerful, have a drawback, and may benefit the entire group. Here’s an example artifact.

Blood Moon Medallion
A disk wrought from reddish metal and embossed with a skull-like visage on the front, the medallion hangs from a rusty chain that catches and pulls the hairs from the neck of anyone wearing it. When inspected in moonlight, the medallion gleams with baleful light.
     Raise the Dead: Once each night, you may use an action to choose a pile of bones or a corpse of Size 1 or smaller creature that you can see within short range. The target becomes a skeleton or a zombie until it becomes incapacitated.
     Upon creating a skeleton or zombie with this artifact, make a Willpower action roll. On a success, you fully control the target until dawn, at which point the skeleton collapses into a pile of bones or the zombie falls down to become a corpse. On a failure, you gain 1 insanity and the target becomes hostile to you and your companions until it becomes incapacitated.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Spells, Power, and Rank, Oh My!

When you cast a spell in Shadow of the Demon Lord, you produce a unique magical effect. To cast a spell, you must have either learned it or possess it in a written form as an incantation. If you learned it, you must also have at least one casting of the spell that is expended when the spell takes effect. Here is how spells work.

Power and Rank
Power describes the amount of will, knowledge, and magical energy a character can harness. The game assumes all creatures have 0 Power. Characters may increase their Power from the paths. Players that choose magician or priest for their novice path at level 1 increase their Power by 1.

Power does two things. First, it tells you the highest rank spell you can learn. (I’ll explain ranks below.) Second, it tells you how many castings of a spell you have for any given rank. At Power 1, you have 1 casting for all rank 1 spells you know. At rank 2, you have 2 castings of rank 1 spells and 1 casting of rank 2 spells. It goes on from there. A table in the Magic chapter shows you how castings increase. Rank 0 spells, minor spells, have unlimited castings.

Learning Spells
Your path tells you when you can learn spells and how many spells you can learn. You can choose any spell you like when you learn a spell provided the spell’s rank is equal to or less than your Power and you have learned the rank 0 spell from the tradition.

Let’s say you have Power 1 and your path lets you learn two spells. You can learn up to rank 1 spells. If you wanted to learn a rank 1 spell from the Air tradition, flensing wind for example, you would first have to learn the rank 0 spell, direct wind, from the Air tradition. Once you learn direct wind, whenever you learn a spell, you can freely learn spells from the Air tradition.
In short, to learn spells from any tradition, you must first learn the rank 0 spell from that tradition.

Casting a Spell
A spell is a set of instructions. When you would cast the spell, you expend 1 casting of the spell and then follow the instructions to resolve its effects. Here’s an example spell.

Unspeakable Choice
Black Magic Attack 1
You use an action to cast this spell on one creature within medium range of you. The target takes 2d6 damage. If the damage would incapacitate it, the target may choose a creature friendly to it that it can see. The target reduces the damage it would have taken from this spell to 0 and gains 1 corruption. The creature the target chose then takes damage equal to one-half its Health.

The Name: The top line of a spell is the spell's common name. You can call a spell whatever you like, though. A caster might give spells learned more evocative and personalized names.
Tradition: The first bit on the second line is the tradition. This is an organizational/sorting keyword, generally, but some creatures have special resistances or vulnerabilities to spells of a particular tradition.
Attack or Utility: The second bit designates a spell as an attack or a utility. It's an important distinction for casting spells in combat. When you use an action to make an attack, you might make that attack by casting a spell, attack with a weapon, charge, or do something else. For warriors dabbling in magic, a warrior at level 5 can attack twice when using an action to attack. So, a warrior might attack twice with a sword or might attack with a sword and cast an attack spell or might cast two attack spells.
Rank: The last bit on the line tells you the spell’s rank. The core game will have spells from rank 0 to rank 5. Future products will expand the ranks up to 10.

The Effect: The effect explains how the spell works. Just do what it says to resolve its effects.

Regaining Castings
Once you expend the last casting of a spell, you cannot cast it again until you regain at least one casting for that spell. Talents from paths may allow you to regain castings during play, but everyone regains all expended castings after they complete a rest.