Sunday, February 4, 2024

Playing Shadowdark Part II

I wanted to love Shadowdark, I really did. The idea of simplified game mechanics and clarified resource management rules made it a very enticing game. I am sure for some groups is what they need and what they want, for my group not so much. We played six games of Shadowdark, adding in the previous 4 games, a total of 10 games in all. I think we all went into it with an open mind and we gave it a fair chance. In spite of that the game fell flat with us.

Things we didn't like:

To start of with, resource management is not fun. I am not saying it is bad, just boring. My players did not like equipment slots and worrying about torches. This just added a level of book keeping that only served to annoy my players and take away from the enjoyment. They don't mind dealing with things like how much weight they can carry or the lack of dark vision. The problem was, these rules required the players to pay meticulous attention to details they really didn't care about, they wanted to play the game, not do supply room inventory every game.

The next issue was characters tend to be bland with very few id any interesting things the players could do in any given circumstance. Character development is just uninteresting, honestly, there is very little difference between a 1st level character and a 5th level character beyond a few extra hit points. The fact that the player had little control over how development progressed, irritated my group a lot.

The worst part of the game is how fucked spellcasters are. Roll to cast sounds like an interesting idea, but in practice was a terrible idea. Loosing key spells at the wrong time often spelled disaster for the group. Luck tokens are supposed to alleviate the issue, but really didn't, even giving out 2-3 luck tokens to every character in every game did not seem to make a big difference, if the dice were against you, they were against you. Ultimately no one in the game wanted to play a spellcaster and even the one person who did, rarely bothered casting spells and only did it if he had luck tokens available.

Lastly, 4 classes and 6 ancestries is not enough. Ancestries we could probably get by with, but 4 classes just isn't enough and adding enough classes and ancestries to bring the game into parity with D&D 5E breaks on of my rules of DMing, which is keep house rules to a single page, otherwise you are playing the wrong game. I thing that is what this really amounted to, we were just playing the wrong game.

Things we did like:

I don't want anyone to think we hated this game, we didn't, it is just not what we want out of a game. There are things from Shadowdark that I will be bringing back to D&D 5E. I loved the always on Initiative, it just made the flow of the game much smoother. I just ordered everyone by Dexterity score (then alphabetical by character name) and proceeded from there.

My players really enjoyed getting back to rolling for stats rather than point buy or standard array. They did not like rolling for class talents, but they did like at the beginning having to take what you roll and build something out it, even if it was not optimal for what you wanted to do. Lets face it, rolling a 6 in something is a great role playing opportunity.

Overall, Shadowdark is a solid game and I would not turn down a game of it if someone wanted run it, but sadly, fo my group it is just not what we want. One of my players has said over and over, the only thing we want from a game is to be able to play interesting characters and I think that is where Shadowdark fell short for us. So last night we had a session zero and we are going back to D&D 5E.

Saturday, January 27, 2024

A Night on the wall


A Night on the Wall is a pure combat session, where the PC's are defending the wall of a city against a monster attack. This is meant as a replacement for the Gauntlet style game or as a quick and dirty game session that can be run with no preparation. This works well for up to 6 characters of 4th level or less. Much after that it becomes an epic battle fought at the end of a campaign rather than a skirmish fight.

Along with the PC's there will be teams of NPC's, each team will contain 4 Commoners and 1 Militia man. The number of teams on the map will depend on the length of the wall to be defended. There should be roughly 1 NPC for each 10 feet of wall, plus 1 team on the ground to act as medics and 1 team to act as runners and defend the wounded.

Generally speaking an attack will last 20 rounds. If a breach occurs and the light sources cannot be re-lit, chances are good the battle will not go well. If the PC's are able to keep a breach from occurring or re-lighting the light sources quickly, they stand a pretty good chance of making it through the 20 rounds. If the PC's make it 20 rounds without an uninterrupted breach, the monsters will withdraw and go look for an easier sector to attack.


A breach occurs when two or more light sources next to each other are extinguished and monster bands start coming through that area every round instead of every 1d4 rounds from a random direction. The only way to stop a breach is to re-light the light sources.

What the NPC's will do:

  • NPC's who are reduced to 0 HP will die in 4 turns unless taken to the building where they can be stabilized by the one of medical team, each member of the medical team can restore 1 HP per turn. NPC's will return to the fight if they at at least half their HP restored.

  • NPC's will use their ranged attacks and attempt to stay out of reach of any monsters and will only use their melee weapons if a demon comes within Close distance. The NPC's will use their ranged attack on any monster within Near proximity, otherwise they will be scanning their section of the wall for more monsters.

  • When a light source is extinguished, the closest NPC who is not in a fight will attempt to re-light it with a DC 8 Dex roll. If there is no monster in Close proximity, they have advantage on this roll.

  • If the number of NPC's is reduced to half its starting number, any PC or NPC can call for reinforcements. It takes 1d4 rounds for reinforcements to arrive. Reinforcements will generally be 2 fresh teams of 1 Militia man and 4 Commoners.

  • The Militia men will move around the map to assist with attacks coming in other areas, commoners will assist using their ranged attacks on any monster in near range, but will otherwise stay at their posts.


Commoner: AC 10, HP 1, ATK 1 Club (1d4) or 1 Shortbow (far) (1d4), MV near, S +0, D +0, C +0, I +0, W +0, Ch +0, AL L, LV 0.

Militia man: AC 13 (Leather+Shield), HP 5, ATK 1 Shortsword +1 (1d6) or Crossbow (far) +1 (1d6), MV near, S +1, D +1, C +1, I +0, W +0, Ch +0, AL L, LV 1.

What the monsters do:

  • At he beginning of the session, one band of monsters will appear on the map outside the wall from a random direction. Each round thereafter roll 1d4 and on a 1 another band of monsters will appear on the map, approaching from a random direction. If the battle goes 4 consecutive rounds without a monster band appearing, one will appear on the next round.

  • However if at the beginning of a round  two light sources next to each other have been extinguished and have not been re-lit a monster band will automatically approach from that direction.

  • If a monster comes into Close distance of a PC or NPC, the demon will attack, otherwise it will move Near distance in a direction determined by the GM.

  • If a monster comes into Close distance of a light source, they will use their action to extinguish it, this requires a DC 8 Dex roll. If there is no PC or NPC in Close proximity, they have advantage on this roll. If an NPC or PC is also within Close distance, it will extinguish the light first and attack second.

Monster Bands

I use generic monster stat blocks for two reasons, first I can skin them as I please depending on the needs of the setting, and second I did not want the monsters to have special abilities, because this can slow down what is already a long drawn out combat.

To determine what each monster band is, add up the levels of all the PC's in the group and match this number with and equal number of monster levels. Additionally each monster band will have two level 0 monsters for each PC in the group. The 0 level monsters will usually come in first trying to extinguish light sources and kill any commoners near by.

Don't make the monster bands swarms of level 1 monsters. It is bad enough that there are so many NPC's and level 0 monsters, don't slow combat down by adding sixteen level 1 monsters to the attack because there are four 4th level PC's. Read the section "HOW MANY MONSTERS?" on page 193 of the Shadowdark RPG rule book on balancing an encounter.

  • Example 1: For a group of 4 1st level PC's each monster band could contain 4 level 1 monsters and 8 0 level monsters, or 2 level 2 monster, or 1 level 3 and 1 level 1 , or 1 level 8 Monster along withe the 8 level zero monsters.

  • Example 2: A group of four 4th level PC's totaling 16 levels could be facing monster bands made up of two level 8 monsters, and 8 level 0 monsters.

Level 0 Monster: AC 10, HP 1, ATK 1 Claw (1), MV near (Climb), S +0, D +1, C +0, I -3, W +0, Ch +0, AL C, LV 0.

Level I Monster: AC 11, HP 5, ATK 1 Claw +1 (1d4), MV near (Climb), S +1, D +0, C +0, I -2, W +0, Ch +0, AL C, LV 1.

Level II Monster: AC 11, HP 10, ATK 1 Claw +2 (1d6), MV near (Climb), S +2, D +0, C +0, I -2, W +0, Ch +0, AL C, LV 2.

Level III Monster: AC 12, HP 14, ATK 2 Claw +3 (1d6), MV near (Climb), S +3, D +0, C +0, I -2, W +0, Ch +0, AL C, LV 3.

Level IV Monster: AC 12, HP 20, ATK 2 Claw +4 (1d6), MV near (Climb), S +3, D +0, C +0, I -1, W +0, Ch +0, AL C, LV 4.

Level V Monster: AC 13, HP 24, ATK 3 Claw +4 (1d8), MV near (Climb), S +3, D +0, C +0, I -1, W +0, Ch +0, AL C, LV 5.

Level VI Monster: AC 14, HP 29, ATK 3 Claw +5 (1d8), MV near (Climb), S +3, D +0, C +0, I -1, W +0, Ch +0, AL C, LV 6.

Level VII Monster: AC 14, HP 33, ATK 4 Claw +6 (1d8), MV near (Climb), S +4, D +0, C +0, I -1, W +0, Ch +0, AL C, LV 7.

Level VIII Monster: AC 15, HP 37, ATK 4 Claw +7 (1d10), MV near (Climb), S +4, D +0, C +0, I +0, W +0, Ch +0, AL C, LV 8.

Order of the battle:

  • The Monsters go first in every round. When the monsters appear on the map, the PC's and NPC's will have a chance to attack with ranged weapons. Any monsters surviving the first round will make it to the top of the wall at the beginning of the next round and will have both their move and action available to them.

  • PC's go next in order of initiative.

  • NPC's go last in every round.


As is, this can a difficult scenario to survive, especially if a breach occurs and is not fixed quickly or two, perhaps three consecutive attacks occurring from different directions. To make it easier;

  • The monster bands come every 1d6 rounds.

  • Halve the number of Level Zero Monsters with each band.

  • The PC's and Militia men are given 2 Potions of Healing each and they can get 2 more by visiting the medical team.

  • Add an NPC Cleric to the medical team.

  • Reinforcements are doubled and automatically come 2 rounds after the arrival of each monster band.

  • Make the Militia men tougher

  • Give the players a round of notification that a band is coming from a particular direction, so the PC's have a round to move around the map, or perhaps shoot into the darkness at disadvantage.

Zero Level PC's:

  • If this is being used as a replacement for a Gauntlet style game for Zero level characters, generate the PC's as normal.

  • Each player should roll up 4 characters, if a PC dies, the replacement PC will arrive with the next set of reinforcements.

  • In addition to starting gear, the PC's will be given flint and steel, a torch, a club, shortbow and 20 arrows.

  • Monster bands will consist of one Level I monster and a number of Zero Level Monsters equal to the number PC's.

Player Strategy:

  • Keep the light sources lit at all costs.

  • Commoners pop like balloons, Militia men can take a couple of hits from level zero and level I monsters, but they will still soak up a lot of damage in the long run, use that to your advantage.

  • Ranged attacks are your friend, especially on the first round a monster band is approaching the wall and everyone gets a free shot at them.

  • Let the Commoners and Militia men handle the level 0 monsters, while the PC's tackle the big boys.

  • Sometimes allowing a breach to continue is the best way to funnel the monsters into a single direction of attack. Use this strategy wisely.


Shadowdark License. This product is an independent product published under the Shadowdark RPG Third-Party License and is not affiliated with The Arcane Library, LLC. Shadowdark RPG © The Arcane Library, LLC.

License: This adventure is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License.