By Rodney Nedlose Self Published Shadowdark Level 1
The Village of Wealton is a peaceful hamlet in the northernmost reaches of the Green Valley. It enjoys natural terrain to isolate them with a swamp to the north, mountains to the east, and an enchanted dark forest to the west. Now strange things have been happening in town, and the farmers and peaceful folk need help! Some think it’s the doing of the local witch-woman, who lives in the swamp. But is there more to this picture than immediately meets the eye?
This 21 page digest describes a fifteen room tower with about four levels. There’s basically nothing going on here. At least nothing that couldn’t be done in a single page. A single digest page. It’s just a padded out almost-empty tower.
As of this writing, Kelsey’s kickstarter is closing in on $1mil. So, a) Congratulations! And b) I’m so jealous! To mollify my feelings I’m reviewing some third party stuff for Shadowdark. It don’t matter how good your game is, someone with more enthusiasm than talent will show up to publish something for it.
So, small idyllic village. Been that way for a long time, even though Evil Undead Kingdom is to the north, separated by a menacing swamp, where the Swamp Witch lives. Some evil shit goes on in the village. Youget sent to the swamp witch. You find her tower. It’s made of obsidian and its been damaged. Inside you fight a couple of shadow-things on some stairs, before fighting a couple more in front of a locked door where the witch is holed up. Also, there’s a wight on the roof. Witch needs her tower repaired to recharge the spell that keeps evil away from everyone. Thus the end of the adventure is the hook for the next part. That’s it. You can now run the adventure.
But, Bryce, there are a lot more pages here?! And rooms! You said fifteen rooms! Yeah, man, but, there not adding anything. The rooms take five pages and are full of exciting descriptions like “Hallway from east to west. Foul smell fills the enclosed space” and “The door from the lavatory opes into a hallway” “There is a broken door to the east and a closed door to th west, which is locked” Ok, yeah, so there’s more. But, this, the boring mundanity of life, is AT LEAST 50% of the adventure text. Text explains the mundane. Text repeats. The “really” clean lavatory smells of lilacs and elderberries. Nothing more. We’re told where doors exit to. The witch is withered, 85#, and impossibly old … we’re told several times. Padded out. No real interactivity at all. Just stab a couple of things and break down a door.
There is, I think, a good monster description in the monster stat appendix. For the Hexling: “A whispering, writing shadow that coils and snaps like a whip.” Not bad! The others, though, tell us things like “Shades created by the ritual Mirena performed to ward the southern lands against the Bonecrusher’s hordes.” Great. A backstory but no description to use when the party encounters them.
Just use the four sentence description I provided if you need to. There’s nothing else here. All if bleak. Not dark. That would be scary. Just bleak.
This is $2 at DriveThru. Ain’t no preview. That sucks balls.
“Witch in a village” is admittedly a more creative lo-level adventure template than “rats in a cellar”, “orcs in a hole”, and “skeletons in a crypt”, but it has also been run into the ground in the last 10 years or so.
After 50 years of thousands of writers pumping out low-level material, I think it’s safe to say 99% will have been done already. I don’t begrudge anyone their rats, skeletons, zombies, goblins, bandits etc at this point.
A radically subversive idea: maybe, just maybe, if you are thinking about writing another adventure about whacking 2d6 orcs in a hole, you should probably think again?
Didn’t mean to respond to you directly.
The first in a deluge of ShadyDark sewage, no doubt.
How’s the map?
So here the thing
Shadowdark is not wotc and 5e players are coming
We have an interest in providing folks with the tools to make good Shadowdark things
This is an opportunity us old folks people have not had at this scale
What’s the plan
We can’t let this be more Borg where people make all this bad stuff because they don’t have fundamentals
What do they need
We don’t want good Shadowdark because the system has no value. Read it, really, its trash. We want good oldschool dnd. Shadowdark is a bridge between 5e and oldschool dnd but like MB its too crude to sustain anything else. If you are an oldschooler and you want to bring people into playing oldschool, be patient and nice sure, but see if people actually like oldschool gaming, or if they are just riding the hype train. If there’s something there, invite, if not, they are of no interest and will move on once the hype dies down.
I have no interest in Shadowdark but, come on, it is a perfectly fine system. Old editions of D&D are not good systems, they’re horrible really BUT they provide a structured gameplay loop and Gold = XP and that makes the core of OSR. I long for a decent system that understands the core tenets of old school gaming.
I lost interest immediately with Shadowdark when I heard Reviewers (i.e. Questing Beast) were bought and paid for to say good things about it. I don’t agree that it’s ‘just marketing’ to do that and find it disgusting as that breaks morals for what a review is supposed to be about. So no thanks, but to each their own.
This is a rumor, my dude. QB reviews everything for a cost, and he says so up front. This isn’t some scandalous news flash.
And honestly, his review was probably the most critical of any that I saw. He says he stays neutral in these reviews, so take it for what it’s worth. But if he was paid to “say good things about it,” then the author should probably ask for her money back.
Everyone else who talked about the game had no financial involvement or otherwise.
It doesn’t ‘understand the core tenets’ of old school gaming at all. It is a grab bag of popular mechanics thrown together to attract casuals and 5e-players with a blurry idea of dnd and the OSR. Marketing wise it is a spectacular success but this is barely above Mork Borg in terms of what makes a good game.
Anyone who states that these older editions are ‘horrible’ (so horrible that with minor legibility and utility upgrades they have been the most popular game in the OSR) should of course provide a possible alternative. What you find is that the estimate is often based on aesthetics, layout or something even more smooth-brained.
Meh. Nobody’s trying to pry the AD&D books out of your hands. We all know you think a 50-year old game full of fuzzy bolt-on rules and janky math will never be outdone by anyone, ever, in history, past, present, or future. Nothing could ever touch the holiness of Gygax’s vision! NOTHING! Perfection has already been achieved! Everything else is Mork Borg for smooth-brainers!
Dull strawmen for dull people.
For your diminutive consideration: ACKs, SWN, Nightmares Beneath etc. etc. There’s good OSR games, but MB and Shadowdark are not among them. Clear?
Mhm. So two AD&D near-clones, and a game that is Shadowdark + a bunch of sub-systems to make sure it adds that AD&D bloat. Clear!
Even for low-tier trolling this is substandard. Try to muster a higher time-preference and commit to the bit, that way you can pretend that you were only trolling later on and waste more time. The NuSR is not sending its best *pensive*
A strong answer full of rebuttals! You have resoundingly proven that all you don’t only worship AD&D and its close derivatives. Just kidding.
A rebuttal is predicated on the presence of an intelligible statement. ‘But other OSR game look like DnD therefore I correct’ is not it.
I am confused. There is really no need to demonstrate ad nauseam that you have a penchant for deceptive bad-faith communication. It would be like trying to groom kids here or infect everyone with a venereal disease. These are attributes that are already associated with you and yours.
I fear she doth protest too much!
Bad faith, indeed. You can’t suggest a “good” non-AD&D derived game and so resort to (amusingly Shakespearian) jokes about venereal diseases.
“Good” is a matter of opinion, so I’ll chalk it up to your taste being too narrow in scope for most people. But I, and surely others, remain unimpressed with your empty responses.
The anon you’re arguing with is an idiot, bc ACKS and SWN are very, very clearly based upon BX and not 1e and is talking out their ass. Anybody in this sphere that shits on older editions is very clearly not worth interacting with and is clearly a bad actor.
I just hope the poor dear got what he came for and is doing alright.
Prince, shouldn’t you be writing reviews and blog posts?
First, ShadowDark is just a commercial product getting its 15 minutes.
Second, to understand Bryce’s advice, one must first understand this: http://udan-adan.blogspot.com/2016/11/conceptual-density-or-what-are-rpg.html
In answer to the question, “What do ShadowDark writers need to do?”
If ShadowDark is an “OSR” rules-set like any other—and there are many—then writers for it need to do **exactly the same thing writers for any other OSR product need to do.**
First, they need to play—not GM—plenty of OSR games at plenty of OSR game master’s tables. Then, they need to GM plenty of OSR games. You know, *have actual experience running and playing OSR games.* Yeah, that’s a requirement. That’s the lowest bar.
Bryce would say OSR writers need to need to remember four things:
1. Ease of Use. This is technical writing; it’s not a fiction. It’s meant to be used at the table, and that means bolding words and making sections that catch the GM’s eye while also putting important stuff up front in a sentence. Give short, concise descriptions.
2. Evocative Writing. Take those short, concise descriptions and use a verbose vocabulary make them capture the player’s imagination. The ubiquitous advice to writers: “Show don’t tell.” Don’t write, “The orc is evil.” Write, “The orc tears the human baby in half and eats it in front of its sobbing mother.” In other words, write well.
3. Interesting Interactivity. Not everything should be a hack-and-slash. “Kill monsters and take their stuff,” as Bryce says, is the lowest form of D&D. Yes, you want some of that, but a cake is not all icing. Make the “other stuff” good. Give players agency! It’s the players’ game, not the GM’s.
The real magic is in the fourth pillar: “Design.” That’s where mediocre becomes good, but you can’t teach that. That comes with talent, skill, and experience.
Last, do what I did. Read old posts from Bryce’s site from about 2020 or so until now. Read ’em all. I did.
Just my opinion.
My opinion is that while Bryce opinions are good for crafting fine adventures, they are not the Law. They are just the opinions of a random blogger. Stop busting people balls for not following his word. (Love you Bryce)
Devolving into nihilism ‘it’s just an opinion’ has never contributed anything to any conversation ever. It is the major problem with trying to discuss rpgs on reddit. Speak the Word, Kill anyone who disagrees.
Or maybe just let people do what they want instead of gatekeeping. If you don’t like something just don’t buy it.
Experience has taught us that we should gatekeep and gatekeep hard. Trash writers will inevitably try to condemn, marginalize or disqualify good creators so people will not realize they are trash. Always gatekeep.
Buzzword alert! Gatekeeper! Gatekeeper! Oh Noes! Won’t someone please think of the children!!!! (runs around in circle like chicken little)
People can do what they want. Your so called gatekeepers can’t prevent them from doing that but let’s put on our big boy pants here, man up and start producing better work. It’s easy to blame hating on gatekeeping. Maybe these designers should step up their game instead.
It’s not gatekeeping – adventures are things dms can use to run a game
The anti adventure path it’s not quite as simple as taste imo
Useful tools that spur the mind there is truth there
Also MB has way way less than SD has. It’s not a totally fair comparison
Heck I saw Robby c run this
Robbi is old school af wilderlands blackmarsh bro bro
Reviews are gatekeeping now.
Funny how Shadowdarks creator was not “gatekept” from the OSR community- because he adventures are damn good. It was woohoo welcome aboard.
Why would negatively reviewing one author suddenly become gatekeeping?
Maybe assume the reader of the blog has actual independent thought and agency- that they know the foibles of the reviewer as well as their own and can come to independent decisions based on those two parameters about what is good and useful to them?
You know, like grown ups?
Thats what questing beast is now since he went full time
Its an open secret – be mad at him imo
I don’t even think it’s a secret when he says “this is a sponsored review” at the start of the video and tags it as sponsored.
Reason with reason
Prince, you sound like you’ve seen the full version of ShadowDark? Did they send you a review copy?
I’ve only seen snatches of the playtest version. More then enough as far as I am concerned. I understand people are sensitive to peer pressure and hype but by Morradin’s Beard, the torches in real time mechanic alone should be a red flag.
This overview is decent:
I just read this person’s blog. This is more then enough to make up my mind. Some people are susceptible to hype but dear me. Read the whole series.
Like its oldschool predecessors, good OSR games are often not so much made from wholecloth as grown and refined over time. Maybe, among all the modifications they cover a niche that lacks refinement in the original game (like ACKs), maybe they innovate in a particular area (like Crawford in sandboxes), sometimes it is a unique vision (NiB or even Lotfp). Here I see a bog-standard, mass-market, simplified, small-scale B/X framework with some gimmicky mechanics thrown in. How could this possibly be of interest to anyone but redditors, people coming in from 5e, and assorted tourists?
Whoops, sorry for double posting.
I’m trying to share a blog but my comments keep getting eaten by spam.
I’ve read a few pages of the quickstart and I knew enough. The OSR games that have been actually good try something in an area that was underexplored in the original game, have some sort of unique vision or are the product of years if not decades of honing and refinement. SD is yet another B/X chassis with additional simplification and an even more truncated range. How could this excite anyone but MB fans, redditors and 5e players (no offence to the last one)?
Not trying to be a jerk but it sounds like you glanced briefly at the free material and then went and read someone else’s blog to form your opinion.
I read these posts you linked and they’re not the best. She gets really stuck in the weeds over weird stuff like how the game doesn’t tell her why it doesn’t have a dual wielding system?? I mean… because it doesn’t? Lots of strange gripes and misreads of that sort. Probably would seek out a second opinion.
I guess I’m going to wait for the full version to come out and actually read most it before declaring it trash/not trash. I reckon that’s fair.
I don’t particularly like the analysis, but the pages are sufficient for my purposes yes. You are welcome to devote more time to it. I find it very unlikely it will be good, based on what I have seen. We will see if I am proven right.
Probably a good discussion question would be: Reading what you have so far, what can you hope to get out of this that is not already provided by OSE? The realtime torch mechanic? The abstracted distances? The random advancement? Even if we temporarily accept, for the sake of argument, that the modifications actually improve the game, you will end up with something that is 90% similar to OSE/B/X, with minor efficiency upgrades. Is that cause for jubilation?
So what do you expect to get out of Shadowdark that is not already provided by an extant game?
That’s fair! I’d wager it’s a similar to why people buy PCs vs. Macs, or Hondas vs. Toyotas.
They’re all basically the same thing, right? Commuter cars, consumer computers. But you still get a different experience using one vs. the other. Different enough to be like, I’m a Mac person or I’m a PC person.
From the live plays I’ve seen from Tenkar and more grog-types, this game does have something unique going for it. Seemed easy to pick up, fun, seemed like it had a good gameplay procedure for dungeon crawling.
Maybe that only comes through in the actual gameplay instead of the book. I dunno.
The game seems like it’s a good way to get players from the last 20 years (3rd edition and up) interested in a more old-school style, even if it’s not full blown BX. Something like 13,000 people backed the Kickstarter, so if that many people saw a hole in what OSE/BX was offering and felt ShadowDark was more approachable… It’s hard to call that nothing.
Anyway, sorry to ignore the adventure being reviewed in this threat. Feel like I commandeered the convo a bit. Sounds like this adventure ain’t that great. I hope other ShadowDark material is better. Maybe the game’s author can carry it with her writing.
That was a fair answer, thank you 🙂
As a transitory vehicle for players to migrate between 5e and old-school gaming it might serve. You can imagine most players interested in 3-4e already moved (there was an influx of players into the OSR at around 2008).
I wouldn’t know about Tenkar, I would imagine after 20 years or so of GMing, he can probably run most B/X derived dungeon-crawling games (and that is all this is) pretty smoothly. I’m a bit more cynical r.e. the kickstarter. I think the same people who backed OSE first, now Shadowdark are probably going to be backing another game 1 year later. The unilateral support of the tabletop youtubing community also raises eyebrows.
I dunno. When something like Stars Without Number came out this was genuinely exciting and innovative, and the tools it provided for sandbox generation felt like a genuine improvement. Its hard to see anything new here. As I said, we’ll see what the lifespan of Shadowdark is, but I suspect it will be closer to MB then it will be to Lablord or OSE.