The Demon Lord wears many masks. It is the One Foretold,
the Destroyer of Worlds, the Hunger, the Shuddering One,
the One Who Whispers, the Shadow in the Void, the Dark
Between the Stars, and the Unspeakable One. Its will alone
snuffs out the stars and its shadow ends realities.
In this edition of RPG Backlog I will be looking at Shadow of the Demon Lord, the first game designed by Robert J. Schwalb for his company Schwalb Entertainment. You may recognize Schwalb from his extensive resume of game design that includes multiple editions of Dungeons & Dragons, Numenera, Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay and the Song of Ice and Fire roleplaying game. He started his own company in 2014 and Shadow of the Demon Lord is the first of what will hopefully be many games from that company.
What is Shadow of the Demon Lord?
Shadow of the Demon Lord is a fantasy horror roleplaying game set in the last days of a dying world. Cultists are hastening this death by trying to rip the very fabric of reality apart all for one purpose; to free the Demon Lord and loose him upon the universe. The players fill the role of morally ambiguous denizens of this bleak and dangerous environment. Perhaps they will merely fight to survive or perhaps they can prevent the destruction of their world.
If you listen to Schwalb talk about the game in interviews, one thing that he always mentions is his desire to create a game that requires very little prep. Because of this the rules of Shadow of the Demon Lord are very geared toward time savings. For example, character creation can be done in less than ten minutes using only die rolls. I can tell you from personal experience that you can pick up an adventure module and be ready to run through that session in less than an hour.
How Did I Get Shadow of the Demon Lord?
Like many of the other games I have in my RPG Backlog, I came across Shadow of the Demon Lord on Kickstarter. The project successfully funded in April of 2015. The campaign raised more than four times its goal and unlocked an insane amount of stretch goals in the process. Rewards for the project starting rolling out in the Fall of 2015 and have been coming in continuously since then. Seems like a month doesn’t go by without my getting an email with a new download for the game.
Because of all the stretch goals unlocked, I now own a vast library of Shadow of the Demon Lord material. In addition to the hardcover core rulebook, I received digital copies of the same book, a digital copy of Victims of the Demon Lord, the starter rules for players, and a digital copy of the GM’s supplement The Demon Lord’s Companion.
In addition to the rule books, the Kickstarter funded several digital supplements for Shadow of the Demon Lord. Furthermore, the project delivered more than twenty digital adventures, and a digital version of Tales of the Demon Lord which is a complete campaign.
What’s In the Books?
The Shadow of the Demon Lord core rulebook contains everything that a group would need to play the game. To start off, the first seven chapters cover all the items that the players need; these include character creation and advancement, equipment, magic and, most importantly, how to play the game. In addition, the final three chapters of the book provide all the information that a Game Master will need to run a game of SotDL. First off, Chapter Eight introduces the world of Urth, the setting for the game. Next, Chapter Nine expands on the rules for Game Masters. It also offers tips on how to create horror in the game, how to run an adventure, and how to create your own adventures. Finally, Chapter Ten is a bestiary which offers up more than fifty pages of abysmal creatures to challenge the players with.
The additional supplements offered with the Kickstarter expand your options for running the game in interesting ways. For example, Exquisite Agony provides Game Masters with options for taking the players into Hell. Not literally, of course. Godless, the latest product released by Schwalb Entertainment moves the Shadow of the Demon Lord game from the fantasy setting of Urth to a near future version of Earth.
Adventure modules for Shadow of the Demon Lord are divided into four categories: Starting, Novice, Expert and Master. These categories correspond to the level of advancement for the characters, but I found that they also seem to nicely mirror the experience level of the gamers. Schwalb Entertainment has already published more than twenty adventures written by a veritable who’s who of RPG talents like Monte Cook, Chris Sims, Miranda Horner, and Shanna Germain.
What’s The Verdict?
Ever since I got these books I have been anxious to play this game. Fortunately, a last minute player cancellation for our regular D&D group provided that opportunity. As I mentioned earlier, I was able to prep to run a Starting adventure and run through character creation for four players in less than an hour. The simplicity of the game mechanics allowed the players to pick it up very quickly. This meant that I could spend more time with the story and less time flipping through the rulebook.
This game may have been perfectly suited for my last minute needs, but that doesn’t mean it’s just some fill-in game. The world of Urth and the mythology of the Demon Lord are explicitly detailed. You could just as easily craft a campaign that would span years of playing as you could throw together a session for this Saturday night. One of the most impressive things about Shadow of the Demon Lord is just how much material Schwalb Entertainment has put out for this game in less than two years time.
The players seemed to really respond positively to the system and the world of Shadow of the Demon Lord. I did as well. I enjoyed running the game so much that I want to dive deeper into it and get better at it. This game is at the top of my list for my next big campaign.
Shadow of the Demon Lord products are available digitally at DriveThruRPG. In fact, the PDF version of the Core Rulebook is now available at the discounted price of $19.99. That’s a great deal for a great game. You can also check out the Schwalb Entertainment web store for ordering print and digital Shadow of the Demon Lord products.