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.