I backed the Kickstarter and have run my 5th sesh already, absolutely love it. In many ways it is very! OSR, but with some modern mechanics where it makes sense. A lot of people truly like it, 1.3 million dollar Kickstarter, many very positive reviews by OSR youtube pundits. There is also a small % of people don’t like the system or especially how it became so popular. Thoughts?
From a brief overview, I can see why it’s divisive. It uses the 5e ability modifiers and leans into rolling frequent checks which, to me, ends up neglecting time and inventory management. This was one of my biggest gripes with 5e.
On the flip side, I kind of like the real-time torch rules. If anything, I wish the author went further with this kind of stuff (i.e., re-imagining OSR exploration rules) instead of just making the game a diet version of 5e. Also the art looks cool.
But, I haven’t played it so I wouldn’t really know how it runs.
Well, in response to the linked post, I can mention my experience with SD. I’m a player, one session into the Quickstart dungeon crawl adventure right now, and playing session two later today. So far I really like it - the huge majority of my experience is 5e, and I recently ran a one-off of FMAG.
From that perspective, I wouldn’t call Shadowdark a perfect middle ground between styles. It definitely leans Old-school. But its terminology is familiar enough for anyone who’s been playing a while to go through the Quickstart booklet with fairly high confidence and understanding.
My group is digital, and we got an encounter that snuffed our light sources. I have to say, catching a single glimpse of a new monster token before seeing the Roll20 board go dark? In terms of being scared in character, that moment rivals the endgame enemies of our group’s 1-20 run in 5e.
I’ve been really itching to get away from 5e as my own lvl 1-20 game crosses lvl 16 and rules just keep getting more and more nitpicky and specific. So far, FMAG and SD are the 2 systems I’ve tried. I love the old school feel where there are rules but they spend more time getting out of the way than in it. As it is now (not having seen the GM resources for Shadowdark) I’m not sure if I’d feel strongly about picking one over another.
it sure is a game!
i have no problem with shadowdark, but i don’t particularly get what the hype is about. it’s an OSR game that promises to clean up the cruft and use modern design, but those are… kind of a dime a dozen? it’s not a bad game by any means, but i think basically any notable non-retroclone OSR game has about as many improvements.
it’s a perfectly competent OSR game that managed to build up a strong community over the years, and nailed the timing for the kickstarter to siphon a big chunk of 5e’s audience. i just… don’t think it’s really anything more than a perfectly competent OSR game. it’s not doing enough new things for me; i think it lacks a lot of the innovations that other non-retroclones have had, like DCC-style maneuvers.
i also have absolutely no clue why people keep calling it a middle ground between 5e and OSR when it’s essentially just an OSR game. i don’t see the 5e in it anywhere; i assume the people calling it that have played only 5e or only retroclones.
i don’t want to fuel the hate train that seems to have spawned around it - i still think it’s a perfectly good game! - but i can see why some people resent it for taking up all the air in the room for doing things that other, more creative OSR systems were doing years ago. especially with knave 2e coming out as a thing to compare it to, since that game does have a lot new to offer, and feels like it really makes use of the lessons learned over the last decade or so of OSR innovations.
I have played both a lot, OSR/retroclones and 5E.
A few (there is more) 5E ish things SD has:
D20 higher is always better system
A nr of classes (if you count the add-ons, optional rules by creator as well as community content) that rapidly approaching the nr of classes 5E PHB has (not often the case in OSR, where there are usually 3 to 6 classes, especially in retroclones)
A few things it does extremely well which I think (only a) few other OSR systems get right to the same degree:
Great light/darkness and light mechanics and resource management rules, add tons to the game
Outstanding slot based encumbrance system, adds a lot of interesting choices for players
Extremely good layout, succinct yet clear phrasing, low / just enough amount of words (for instance each class one one page and actually with the fewest words possible)
Insanely fast character creation and levelling
Really great art and vibe
Many great and rather original random tables
I don’t think SD ever set out to be the most “creative” OSR system, that wouldn’t necessarily even be possible in the relatively low amount of pages and words it uses. “New” isn’t necessarily what everyone wants, needs or prefers.
What it perhaps did set out to be; one of the fastest, simplest, easiest to learn, run and quite short yet complete modern yet old school systems out there. I think it succeeded very admirably. In that sense I think it stands almost alone.
I also backed Knave 2E and think it has real merit too, I intend to use some things of Knave 2 in SD, but since Knave is really rather different from any version of D&D, i think it is both more creative and somewhat less accessible to people that have already (only) played OSR or any form of D&D. Otoh, it is short and very well written, so switching is certainly possible.
I wish both -and anything well-made- all the success in the world!