Game Name: Shadow of the Demon Lord
Publisher: Schwalb Entertainment
Author: Robert J. Schwalb
Year: 2015 (Last updated 2017)
Pages: 272 pages
Retail Price: Hardcover $49.99; PDF $19.99 – currently on sale for $13.79
Shadow of the Demon Lord is sure to scratch a bit of the Old School Renaissance/d20 fantasy itch for those looking for a uniquely original setting. There are quite a few OSR titles out there which mash traditional fantasy tropes and horror together but none, in my opinion, done as well as SotDL. We’re not talking about yet another late 1970’s D&D clone with a new splash of paint either as Shadow of the Demon Lord utilizes a handful of instantly recognizable mechanics, from a variety of systems, to create something which feels fresh and new. Oh, and gruesome! I should probably temper my classification of SotDL as OSR, as I think about it, since it’s as much old school as it is new school.
Author Robert J. Schwalb mentions in his introduction that he was looking to write a roleplaying game he wanted to play. In reading the core book it’s obvious he’s drawn a lot of inspiration from 13th Age, Games Workshop’s Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, and 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons along the way. Shadow of the Demon Lord never comes across as any sort of blatant ripoff though, as seen in far too many other RPGs out there, as there’s tons of creepy creativity at work here. I will mention the actual rules of the game aren’t very complex but they did require me to read them a few times before they began to click in my head.
The world of SotDL is one which is on the brink of the apocalypse. Hell, the setting is an utterly chaotic disaster (in a good way) and the Demon Lord hasn’t even arrived on the scene yet. The core book is jam packed with great world building and is a truly fascinating read which will have your juices flowing in anticipation of getting SotDL to the table. That is, if you and your friends are mature gamers because this is absolutely not a book for the kiddies. The core book contains some rather twisted stuff and runs neck and neck with the original Little Fears as the darkest RPG game I’ve ever read. There are also some rather intense pieces of artwork throughout as well.
Yet, for the less squeamish GMs and gamers out there, Shadow of the Demon Lord is a really cool game. Not only are the rules easy to get into and implement, the premise of the game is that the player characters are trying to prevent the world from plunging into darkness. It isn’t as if the players have to represent goodie two shoes sorts either but, even if the PCs are less than savory types, they’re still attempting to prevent things from getting worse as monsters galore pour forth from the Void. Granted, they might find as much success with stopping this as a kitten trying to stop a runaway freight train…
There’s a very steady flow of new content coming out for Shadow of the Demon Lord too so GMs will certainly find no lack of adventures or ideas. On a quick side note, SotDL has really caught on and the Schwalb Entertainment booth at this year’s Gen Con was extremely crowded. Honestly, there was a near constant line which put a lot of the more venerable RPG publishers at the show to shame