Sunday, September 10, 2023

RE: Shadowdark RPG Review

Last night I ran my second game of Shadowdark. The first game was a pretty normal session zero, with the players rolling up characters and then introducing those characters to the setting. We did 3d6 in order, it had been a couple of decades since we last did that and we were apprehensive about it, but with the roll until you get a character with at least one 14, worked out pretty well, after Class Talents were rolled, we even had one 18 and no one ended up with a useless character. The second half of the game, I introduced a bunch of NPC's and conducted a typical bar fight, just so we could get use to combat and such.

Over all, it was a fun session, my players enjoyed it and said it was a nice diversion from 5E and they were surprised at how squishy they were compared to 5E. I think the only disappointment was the limited number of ancestry and class choices they had, so I think if I decide to run a full blown campaign, I will need to include some mix of rules from Unnatural Selection and Into the Shadowlands to bring the game into parity with D&D 5E.

The second game, was a rats in the cellar style game. It was designed to be a pretty easy scenario, the main purpose was to familiarize the players with the system, get them use to the 1 hour torch concept and the always on initiative mechanic. This scenario was not designed to be lethal, nor even especially challenging, it really just a test drive before diving into the deep end. Now I am glad I decided to run the game this way, rather than dumping them into a gauntlet or something similar.

The major problem that turned up was the roll to cast mechanic. When it came time for the priest to cast his cure wounds spell, he failed his role. No problem, they have two priests, number two charges into the fray and he fails his roll too. Now neither of them can cast cure wounds again until they have had a rest. The two other characters that were down to 1 or 2 hit points in the middle of a fight, were not especially amused. This did not cause excitement, it did not instill fear, what it made was frustrated players.

I know what some of you are thinking, well you guys are just Gen Z 5E players who have been coddled by the 5E no one ever dies style of play. Anyone who knows us, knows this is not true. The majority of us have been playing since AD&D 1E was a thing. We remember when Magic-Users were one and done. So now I am going to say one of the things we grognards are not suppose to say out loud. Having a character who was more or less useless after doing the one thing they are suppose to do, really sucked. It sucked back then and it sucks now.

So this for us is something that needs to be house ruled. When the problem became apparent, we stopped the game and had a discussion about it. We asked what was the base problem and what was the best way to address it. Now obviously, I don't want players spamming spells like 5th Edition cantrips, there does need to be some limit on what they can do and how often. Out of this conversation, three possible house rules emerged;

  • Idea 1: Give 1 free casting of each spell per rest, after that roll to cast is in effect.
  • Idea 2: If the roll is failed, they loose the ability to cast the spell for 10 rounds or perhaps just until the end of the combat.
  • Idea 3: If the roll is failed, reduce the numerical effects of the spell by half.

Personally, I think I am leaning towards #2. There does need to be a limiting factor, but #2 help mitigate the problem by allowing for a shorter recovery time. I think #3 goes against the one of the core tenants of the game and that is, magic is cruel and fickle mistress. There is nothing stopping a player from spamming half powered spells. #1 seems like a reasonable option, but also just seems like a band aide on the real problem.

Friday, September 8, 2023

The Question of Morality

I have given this a little bit of thought, no a lot, but a little. Here is what the real difference between Christian Morality and Secular Morality in stark contrast.

Lets assume for a moment that God truly reveals himself in such a way as no one can deny his existence. God has come to earth and shown beyond any reasonable doubt that he is in fact the God of the bible and he exists. He then promptly issues the following command;

“In the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them, the Canadians, and Mexicans, as the Lord your God has commanded you.”

With no other information available, other than what I have provided, what do you do?

  • The Christian response should be, "Yes master, let me go get a baseball bat and a couple of guns.".
  • The Secular Humanist, Atheist if you will, should respond with; "Hold on a minute, what the fuck!, NO!"

Don't give me any bullshit about "God wouldn't do that!", the guy has a track record, he has done this in the past, since he is timeless and unchanging, there is no reason to believe he would not do it in the future. Lets be real, Revelations points to a very bad end for humanity. So the real question is, what is the truly moral thing to do here? Does faith and obedience justify the deaths of millions of people? Is defying the ultimate authority really a good idea?

My thought experiment for the day.

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Shadowdark Home Brew

You are not what you appear to be, you are actually a small 3 pound brain with 4 legs who likes to consume the brains and inhabit the bodies of bi-pedals.

You know Common and Primordial.

Transient Mind. Upon death of your host body, you can escape and take over another body. You loose the ancestry feature of the host body and it is replaced with Transient Mind.

A small creature resembling a brain with four legs who likes to consume the brains and inhabit the bodies of bi-pedals. Brain-Eater’s love the experience’s provided by the host body such as eating, drinking, and adrenaline induced excitement, they tend to be hedonistic while inhabiting a host.

AC 12, HP 10, ATK 2 Claw +2 (1d4) and Mind Bite +2 (1d6),
MV near, S -2, D +2, C +1, I +2, W +0, Ch +0, AL L, LV 3

Empathy. 1/day the Brain-Eater can detect any living creature with an Intelligence of 3 or greater within double near distance for 3 rounds.

Mind Bite. The Brain-Eater can target a single creature within near distance with a mental attack, roll 1d20+2 with a DC of 12 to succeed. On a successful roll, the target takes 1d6 damage.

Transient Mind. The Brain-Eater may take control of the body of a corpse that has not been dead for longer than 10 minutes. The Brain-Eater consumes the brain of the corpse, crawling inside, taking its place and restoring the body to life with 1 HP. The Brain-Eater takes on attributes, memories and personality of the new host. The Brain-Eater looses the ancestry features of the host body and it is replaced with Transient Mind feature, but looses Empathy and Mind Bite while it inhabits the host.

“I am not your brother, I am the thing that killed him.” - Indrid Grimm

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Shadowdark House rule

One of the big complaints I have had with many old school style RPG's is wasted levels, where the character really only gets some extra hit points. In Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition, this has been dealt with very nicely. Unfortunately Shadowdark fell into the same hole these other RPG's fell into. In Shadowdark, on each odd level your character receives a class talent. So, in the name of getting a little something each level, on each even level your character receives a roll on the general talent table. The following table is my first draft of this table.

Nothing on this table particularly breaks the game and most of them are already on other tables. I think the biggest thing about this table, is it allows characters to gain abilities from other classes. If the campaign goes all the way to 10th level, the player will get 5 rolls on this table, with half the rolls being concentrated in the 8-12 range, a quarter of the rolls will be 3-7 and a quarter will be 13-18. Realistically that would translate to 3 rolls in the middle and 2 rolls either on the low or high side.

I was considering an alternate table based on 2d6 rather than 3d6, with 5 options rather than 16 options. This would be more akin to the class talent tables, but I think this gives a wider range of possibilities and therefore more interesting for the players.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Review: Shadowdark RPG

 Much like Deathbringer, Shadowdark is a variation on D&D 5E designed for players looking for a simple fast playing game. My problem with Deathbringer is it played very flat, meaning there did not seem to be any depth of play, much like the original version of D&D. A fighter was a fighter was a fighter, sure you could play them slightly differently and use different weapons, but at the end of the day, there was no real variance.  The author of Deathbringer is working on an expanded version, but I suspect this is a low priority for him and so it may be years before we see a real product.

While Deathbringer could be printed out on a single sheet of paper, Shadowdark is a full blown RPG with no dependencies on any other games. The Shadowdark book contains everything you need, ancestries, classes, spells, magic items, monsters, the whole 9 yards. So right off the bat, Shadowdark is the better game. The Quickstart rules for Shadowdark can be had at; 

The Shadowdark core rules contain 6 Ancestries, Dwarf, Elf, Goblin, Half-Orc, Halfling and Human. This sounds all good and well, pretty standard fantasy RPG races, except for one small thing. None of them have darkvision. In fact darkvision is not a thing in this game. The only defense against darkness is natural light, torches or lanterns. In either case, they only last 1 hour of real time, not game time, real time, and once the lights go out, no one can see anything. That is except for the monsters, who are all dark adapted and can see in the dark just fine. This builds an interesting resource management aspect to the game, because the characters can only carry so many torches or so many flasks of oil for the lantern. This means the players have to plan out their excursions. They cannot take a long rest after every combat, because a long rest costs the characters 8 torches, or they have to build an actual fire, which has its own problems, especially in dungeons where there is little or no air circulation.

The game has 4 base classes, Fighter, Priest, Thief and Wizard. There are plenty more available online and creating new classes is pretty easy, but honestly, I am not terrible sure that is necessary. I have always felt the 4 core classes are pretty much all that is needed. Although, something I would probably house is multi classing, because it does make character building more interesting and allows the players to make characters more like the movies and books. One of the more interesting aspects of the game is, as the characters level, rather than getting set in stone powers and abilities, they get a 2d6 roll on a talent table. Rolling a 2 gives you an extra powerful talent, rolling a 12 lets you choose any talent off the table or gives you a +2 to distribute to you attributes as you see fit. 3-6, 7-9 and 10-11, give you a mixed bag of talents. The player will only ever get a maximum of 5 rolls off the table, assuming the game goes to 10th level, enough to get an interesting mix I think.

Another interesting aspect of the game is no saving rolls of any kind. All spells are roll to cast, which means every time the character casts a spell, the player must make a spell casting check against a DC of 10 + Level of the spell. If they succeed, the spell goes off normally, if they fail, nothing happens and they cannot cast the spell again until they have completed a long rest. There are no spell points or spell slots, the character can cast the spell over and over, until they fail a roll. This helps keep the focus on lower level spells, because they are easy to cast and players will tend to save the high level spells for when they absolutely need them instead of wasting it on three kobolds because they think its funny.

Overall, I think this is a solid game. If you have played any of the modern itinerations of D&D, this will be familiar to you. However it has been stripped down for speed and ease of play. Combat should not be bogged down with endless choices and because the torch is burning and no one wants the torch going out in the middle of a fight, players are motivated to expedite their turns. I am giving this one an 8 out of 10. I really want to play it.

Shadowdark Torchbearer Class

 I made this class up as a joke. This class is meant to be terribly under powered without being totally useless. The two use cases for this class is first as an NPC the GM wants to be able to improve over time. The second is when you, as a player, roll some really crappy attributes and your GM is making you play the character anyway. Lets be honest, when you roll 7, 9, 8, 14, 7, 10, there is no way you are going to be successful as a serious character, so you might just as well lean into the sidekick thing. If you actually use this class for an actual character, I cannot be held responsible for the results.

Legal Information:

Fonts. Old English Text MT by Monotype Type Drawing Office used under license, Montserrat designed by Julieta Ulanovsky, Sol Matas, Juan Pablo del Peral, Jacques Le Bailly, used under Open Font License, Old Newspaper Types by Manfred Klein used under license.

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.

Layout Template. By Taylor Seely-Wright.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

RE: Mastodon

 I shutdown my Mastodon server today. My main problem was getting feeds from a diverse set of other servers. The Fediverse is cool and interesting if you have an account on one of the larger servers, however, if you are on a small self-hosted server, it is very difficult to find interesting content. My feed was pretty flat, with posts coming in slowly and it was pretty much the same stuff over and over. Over the weekend, this got me to thinking that this cannot be all there is to Mastodon.

On Sunday I submitted an account request to, an RPG centered Mastodon server. Today, I received my account and transferred over the more interesting accounts that I followed. Low and behold, within minutes my feed was exploding with content. On the one hand, I was excited to finally see what Mastodon was really about. On the other hand, I was sad in the realization that a small server really stands no chance of replacing Twitter for its users.

My opinion at this point is, setting up your own Mastodon server is a waste of time unless you intend to provide service to a few hundred friends. Otherwise you are going nowhere fast. Your best bet is to join an already well established server with a few thousand accounts. You will not regret it.

Wednesday, May 31, 2023


I was involved in a podcast for a couple of years, it was a fun experience and I would definitely do it again. Unfortunately we fell into the many of the same traps other hobbyist podcasts fall into that made it unsustainable. Now don't get me wrong, I think we did a pretty good job and I had a fun time doing it and again, I would do it again in a heartbeat. However, if I were going to do it again, there are several things I would do differently.

The things we did wrong:
  • Technology: We almost always had technical issues, and all of this was due to bad planning on our part. We were using Skype when we definitely should not have been using Skype. For the first few episodes, I used my webcam microphone instead of investing in a decent headset, this led to poor quality sound. There were other issues as well.
  • Planning: We had no structure to the podcast, we basically got on and started talking about random stuff. Sure we had a general focus of the podcast, but episode to episode, there was no planning involved. More often than not, I had no idea what we were going to talk about until we started recording. We also fell into talking about the same things from week to week
  • Unscripted: Okay, I am not saying we should have scripted every episode, but we should have had outlines of what we were going to talk about along with bullet points of subtopics. The problem with what we were doing is often we would end up rambling aimlessly from topic to topic with no focus.
  • Unedited: We posted our stream of consciousness unedited and raw, this was a bad idea. We should have had a third party editing the podcast, taking out the awkward pauses, unintelligible rants and the dumb in jokes that no one else was going to get. I am certain a good editor could have cut 30% of every episode and we would have been better for it.
The things we did right:
  • Personality: I think the podcast had a great personality, Leigh and I bounced off of each other really well and we had a really good working relationship. I think we both contributed to the podcast in a positive way. In spite of what I said earlier, unscripted and unedited does have its advantages, we were our real selves as rough and unpolished as that was. We are good friends and that came through on the podcast.
  • Informational: I think the podcast put out a lot of good information and a variety of topics, we answered a lot of questions, when we did not know the answer, we said so and when we were wrong about something, we admitted it and corrected ourselves.
  • Dedication: Leigh and I were dedicated to what we were doing. We recorded pretty much every week for over 2 years. Sure, we missed a few here and there, but usually that was because of planned vacations and things of that nature. We recorded even when neither of us really wanted to. We both thought what we were doing was important and we did not falter from that.
  • Community involvement: We had a couple of interesting guests, who spoke intelligently about important topics. We also had a couple of episodes we did in Discord where our regular listeners, as few as there were, got in on the action, so it was not always just Leigh and I talking.
Overall, I think this was a positive experience and I think all or most of our issues were that we did not really know what we were doing. I learned a lot from the experience and I think if we restarted doing it or if I decided to do my own, I would require some moderate amount of production time for each episode. There is no reason not to have 2 or 3 episodes in pre-production at any given time and once a topic has been covered, it should not be covered again for at least 4 episodes, unless something radical comes up. I would also like to see a standard format for each episode, even if it is as simple as; Intro (5 minutes), Primary Topic (30 minutes), Secondary Topic (15 minutes), Finishing Up (5 Minutes), Post Production additions (5 minutes). This would obviously make for more work, I think doing these things would make for a more professional production.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Summer is before us

 It is Memorial Day weekend, as always I am pretty optimistic about the summer, but I know in my heart it is probably going to be a total bust and another summer will pass. Okay, so now I am not optimistic, I am feeling a bit depressed about it. I think instead of dwelling on summer, I am going post my newest D&D Character.

This is a character concept I have been thinking about for a while. The basic idea is Inrid Grimm is not actually Indrid Grimm, he is actually the thing that killed Indrid Grimm. At some point, Indrid was attacked and killed and replaced by an Intellect Devourer. Indrid was chosen because he had been selected to go to Candlekeep and study on a scholarship, this allows Indrid to infiltrate Candlekeep for his Mind Flayer masters.

Indrid Grimm
Male, Intellect Devourer, Wizard 1
Medium Aberration, lawful evil

Armor Class 10
Hit Point 6 (1d6)
Speed 30 ft.

Str 10 (+0), Dex 10 (+0), Con 10 (+0), Int 18 (+4), Wis 14 (+2), Cha 14 (+2)

Saving Throws: Intelligence +6, Wisdom +4
Skills: Arcana +6, Deception +4, Perception +4, Stealth +2
Tools: Dragonchess Set, Thieves' Tools
Languages: Common, Deep Speech, Telepathy

Firebolt, Ranged +6 to hit, damage 1d10 Fire damage.
Dagger, Melee +2 to hit, damage 1d4 Piercing
Staff, Melee +2 to hit, damage 1d6 Bludgeoning


Telepathic (TCoE 81), Intelligence, Increase your Intelligence score by 1, to a maximum of 20. The spell’s spellcasting ability is Intelligence. 

Actor (PHB 165 ),  You gain +1 CHA, you have advantage on Deception and Performance checks when trying to pass yourself off as a different person, and you can mimic the speech of another person or the sounds made by other creatures that you have heard (for at least 1 minute).

Wizard features:

Spellcasting (PHB 114 ), You can cast prepared wizard spells using INT as your spellcasting modifier (Spell DC 14, Spell Attack +6) and wizard spells in your spellbook as rituals if they have the ritual tag. You can use an arcane focus as a spellcasting focus. 

Arcane Recovery (PHB 115 ), Once per day when you finish a short rest, you can choose expended spell slots to recover - up to a combined level of 1, and none of the slots can be 6th level or higher. 

Cantrips: Firebolt, Light, Minor Illusion
1st Level: Comprehend Languages, Disguise Self, Expeditious Retreat, Find Familiar, Silent Image, Silvery Barbs
2nd Level: Detect Thoughts (1 per Long Rest)

Racial Features:
Tasha's Custom Lineage
Creature Type, (TCoE 9)
You are a humanoid. You determine your appearance and whether you resemble any of your kin. 
Size (TCoE 8), Medium 
Ability Score Increase (TCoE 9), +2 to Intellegence
Feat (TCoE 8), Telepathic
Variable Trait (TCoE 8), Proficiency Perception 
Languages (TCoE 8), Deep Speech

Side note: Campaign allows each character a free feat at 1st level.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Review: Deathbringer RPG

 The Deathbringer RPG was written by Professor Dungeon Master, a Youtube content creator, as a stripped down version of D&D. The rules take up a single double sided page, however it does require some edition of D&D to provide monsters, spells and magic items. At face value Deathbringer appears to be just what it says it is, a stripped down grimdark version of D&D that plays fast and easy. It replaces many of the D&D class features, feats and special abilities with Deathbringer dice, a d6 that you can roll and add to any other die roll you please. This is a cool mechanic that does work well. Deathbringer also removes the 3-18 attribute levels in favor of just using the 0-4 modifier scores.

The problem Deathbringer has is it plays a bit flat. In D&D, even a 1st level character has some options for things to do on any given turn. Deathbring has the same issue early editions of D&D had. The only real option a fighter has is to attack, once the Wizard blows his wad in spells, all they can do is throw daggers and this does not improve much as the game progresses. Characters do not really improve much between 1st and 10th level. I really think most game groups would be better served by another game, like Shadowdark or perhaps just playing D&D 5E, but limiting players to using the Basic Rules.

I love the idea of Deathbringer, I do not love actually playing it, although I do not especially hate it either. I think Professor Dungeon Master had the right idea, but I think execution was not nearly as good as it could have been. I have to give this one a 2 out of 5.