Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday, 26 December 2015

The Sorting Scenario

Although there is no scenario in the rulebook for Shadow of the Demon Lord, the first RPG released by Schwalb Entertainment following a successful Kickstarter campaign, one of the excellent decisions upon the part of the designer has been to release support—and release it early—in the form of scenarios for the game. This way a gaming group can get playing quickly, even if they are just using the core rules presented in Victims of the Demon Lord: Starter Guide and an adventure. In addition, the publisher has also released Tales of the Demon Lord, a complete mini-campaign that takes a party of characters from Zero Level up to Eleventh Level. In the meantime, the first adventure is Survival of the Fittest.

Designed for Zero Level characters and players new to Shadow of the Demon, the adventure comes as an eight-page, 9.9 MB PDF. As it opens it finds the adventurers under the eaves of the Old Wood, having fled there following a bandit attack on the coach they were travelling on. They had been bound for the settlement of Fletcher’s Rest, but now find themselves in a forest with a dark reputation. Lost and desperate, the travellers need to find their way out of the woods if they are to get to the safety of sanctuary at Fletcher’s Rest, itself a rough little hamlet built around the tomb of a martyr to the New God.

Survival of the Fittest is a mini-sandbox which consists of ten locations, including Fletcher’s Rest. The others range from the Ambush Site and the Bandits’ Camp to a blighted Misty Clearing and the Lonely Cottage of a hermit. Getting through the Old Woods, with its dense tangle of oaks, maples, and elms, will be slow going and there is the danger of random encounters as well as bandits still looking for victims to rob and kill. Some of the individual encounter locations are nicely done, the Fungal Patch in particular a potentially bloody, foul, and messy experience. Others are simply eerie or benign, but all are easy to run and elaborate upon by the Game Master.

Unfortunately, as a sandbox scenario in which the characters can just wander around seeing what happens, Survival of the Fittest is not the best of scenarios for a beginning Game Master to run or beginning players to play. It has no plot or intrinsic direction, which may mean leave the players and their characters just wandering around with nothing happening and nothing to do. An experienced Game Master might instead take these encounters and perhaps move them around to give his players and their characters something to do and perhaps help drive them on towards the intended destination of Fletcher’s Rest. Also, as a scenario for Level Zero characters it does not quite serve the need to expose the characters to elements that will influence their decision in choosing their Novice Path—Magician, Priest, Rogue, or Warrior.

Physically, Survival of the Fittest is nicely presented and clearly written. Almost half of it is devoted to its monsters and threats and that does mean that it is lacking in terms of advice for the Game Master. Another reason then, why Survival of the Fittest is not quite suitable for an inexperienced Game Master. The map has a lovely feel to it, though the numbers of the various locations are perhaps a little difficult to read in places. Nevertheless, Survival of the Fittest has a grim, dark atmosphere that the rules of Shadow of the Demon Lord readily support and there is everything here for a gaming group to have fun with this.