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

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Too Forced

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 fifth adventure is Wretched.

Wretched is the first adventure written for characters who have entered the Expert Path, that is of Third Level or higher. It is written by Shane Hensley, best known as the designer of Deadlands: The Weird West Roleplaying Game and Savage Worlds, and comes as a seven page, 9.44 MB PDF. As it opens, the player characters are on the road, skirting their way between a forest and a marsh when they spy a notice of a bounty—the village of Fimmoran is offering money (and lots of it), for the head of Grülag the Witch. When they reach the village the player characters are informed that its children have fallen sick and that the efforts upon the part of the village priest have come to naught. Therefore the illness must be due to another cause; in other words, Grülag the Witch. If the player characters take up the bounty, they are directed north out of the village and first into the surrounding marsh, then into swampland. The journey is not without incident and it is does end with a big fight.

Wretched looks to be another straightforward affair, but there is a big twist to the adventure—and it is not a good one. The problem is that the scenario pushes the player characters along path in pursuit of an answer and pushes them there without giving them any other option. If they had the opportunity to pursue those options—and there are options, but only after the primary one has been pursued—then the events of the scenario might not come about. The problem is, the plot of Wretched does not just feel forced, it is forced—it is designed to force the player characters down a path and then make them feel ‘wretched’.

In addition to the scenario, Wretched includes write-ups of two monsters new to Shadow of the Demon Lord—the Newtling and the Swamp Troll, plus Grülag the Witch herself and a magical artifact that any spellcaster will want. The two monsters are a useful addition to the game whilst Grülag the Witch can be used as the basis for another NPC. Physically, Wretched is decently presented.

Unfortunately, Wretched is the first scenario released for Shadow of the Demon Lord to be a disappointment. Its plot is too simplistic and forced; there might be a great scenario to be had in Wretched, but it should come about by player agency rather than author fiat.