"It's time to move on," they say, "The Darkmaster waits for none." Welcome to the big, bold, and deep world of Against The Darkmaster, a new tabletop roleplaying game by Open Ended Games.
Against the Darkmaster is an utterly massive new RPG system, clocking in at over 550 pages, that serves as a one-stop-shop for everything players and a Game Master need to dive into the game.
Inspired by old-school RPGs, and full of tables to roll, this game blends storytelling with technical specificity in a way that feels entirely new.
In Against the Darkmaster, no matter what shape your adventure takes, you'll always have to loom on the horizon the existential threat of the Darkmaster — a vile villain the game group creates together, who pulls the strings from a distance, slowly impressing their evil will onto the world of the game.
And having a common enemy to fight against really gives this game a special feeling that sets it apart from so many others in the fantasy RPG genre.
Elves, for instance, are divided into four different Kins: there are the sturdy Half-Elves, the seabound sailing Silver Elves, the wild and free Dusk Elves, and the ancient and noble Star Elves.
There's also the Kin of High Man, a taller "descendant of the forefathers of man." Add to that the nature-loving and mysterious Wildfolk, the monstrous and powerful Stone Trolls, and the huge and imposing Firbolg, and you've got a cast of playable characters that both refer to its RPG predecessors and reimagines them at the same time.
The game also asks the player to select a Culture that they're from, which along with heavily impacting their backstory, indicates a character's starting equipment and Wealth Level.
Some of our favorite culture options (there are 13 available options) include the frozen hardiness of the Arctic culture, the mysterious and magical Fey culture, the peaceful Pastoral culture, and the Weald and Woad cultures, which show two sides of living in the wild (on the borders with Weald, and deep into the dark wild for Woad).Unlike other RPGs that offer up most of their character customization and specialization through "Classes," Against the Darkmaster puts most of its character emphasis on Kin and Culture.
The options for "Vocations" as they're called in this game, are more straightforward: Warrior, Rogue, Wizard, Animist, Champion (they mix of magic and might), and Dabbler.
All in all, this is one of the most robust character creation systems I've ever played with, allowing players to truly sculpt a character that's not just unique, but unique as supported by the rules.
In other words, you're not just playing an Arctic Firbolg with the hands of a healer for flavor, you're playing that character with bonuses, stat bumps, and special abilities informed by those choices.
One of the core mechanics that really moves the game along is the idea of "Passions and Drive." As you create your character, you also describe their passions.
When building your character, you choose up to three statements that your character lives by, such as "I will defend the deserts from all who would defile them," "I'm loyal only to my friends and comrades," or "I will do whatever's necessary to reclaim my ancestral throne." When a character moves the story forward by acting on their passions — whether that means putting themselves in danger, getting themselves into trouble, or moving the story in a different direction — they gain a "Drive" point, which can be spent to gain tactical, dice-on-the-table benefits.
This is one of the savviest ways I've ever seen an RPG balance storytelling and mechanics, and this interplay created, in our playtests, a bouncy back-and-forth feeling that left us excited to drive the story forward and spend our points to crush our enemies on the battlefield.
So, now that we understand the main aspects of building a character (and there's plenty more to add flavor and detail we won't go into here), how does the game actually work?
The core mechanic in Against the Darkmaster revolves around players rolling a D100 and adding their relevant skill bonuses and any modifiers when they want to attempt to accomplish something that could fail.
What I love about this system is how it goes beyond "Success or Failure;" you can of course succeed or fail, but you can also fail so badly you break a piece of equipment.
This, like so many other aspects of Against the Darkmaster, just adds to a feeling of flexibility and balance between rules and story. Spellcasting works similarly, with various modifiers that can be applied situationally to any spell being cast.
The magic caster must then roll on a Magical Resonance Roll Table, with results ranging from the benign (just a feeling of darkness passing over the players) to the disastrous ("The caster has been located and deemed worthy of the Darkmaster's attention.
There's so much more to cover in this massive book, from combat rules to travel, hazards, healing, a robust grimoire of magic spells, and a bestiary full of terrifying creatures and foes.
A character's Passions are so central to the theme that if you're not working together to help each other accomplish your goals (and any group goals you have), then this game won't run for you.
This is a game where every die roll matters, and while it's not as punishing as a game like Dungeon Crawl Classics or Hackmaster, death is never too far off the table.I also want to take special note of the art in this book, which you can see scattered throughout this review.
While my group of newer players needed to adjust a bit to the heavy reliance on tables (you roll on a lot of different tables throughout the game), we found a happy medium.
Some tables we didn't consult, while others (like the Magical Resonance Table mentioned above) we cheered and screamed to with each and every roll.
It intentionally slows the pace of an average game, which in its own way allows the storytelling to open up and breathe. I'm enamored with this heavy, hulking book.
2 months ago by Masoumeh Shafiei