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June 22, 2021 4 min read 24 Comments

Shadowdark RPG is a love letter to classic fantasy RPGs!

It has a bit of the "old school renaissance" in it, but it might even be better to call it an "OSR-like," as Ben Milton from Questing Beast has done... because it's not really trying to be anything at all, except my favorite version of the game.

The secret is, I wrote Shadowdark RPG for me and my group of players. I wanted something that allowed dungeon crawling to be fast and deadly, to be systematic, to feel like the games I remembered as a kid. I wanted gear to matter, turns to be quick, magic to be dangerous and a bit unknowable. 

What I didn't want was cruft. Proficiency bonuses, so many actions per turn that slow the game down, weirdly defined saving throws and ways of tracking armor class, grindy combat, magic systems that are more bookkeeping than fun... 

When I combed through all the fantasy RPG systems out there, new and old, I just didn't find something that matched my personal tastes.

And so I ended up writing that system. Shadowdark RPG isn't D&D  it's something different, born from endless experimentation, play-testing, and hundreds of hours clocked trying all sorts of TTRPGs to see what actually works and what doesn't.

Shadowdark RPG has a few new tricks up its sleeve. It has a built-in system for time pressure: Torches last an hour of actual game time... but sure, go ahead and waste some of that time looking up and arguing over the rules, players (evil cackle)! 

Min-maxing is impossible because players roll randomly for a new-but-fitting ability every other level. No more build-tuning, but lots more excitement as the dice clatter and reveal your fate. 

It pulls some ideas from modern gaming: Straightforward, roll-high math and streamlined mechanics. 

It pulls some ideas from old school games: Low hit points and damage, no skills, a less forgiving character death system, quick and simple character creation.

And it has influences from lots of other places. Roll-to-cast magic a bit like you might find in Dungeon Crawl Classics. Easy distance measurement like in Index Card RPG. A roll-high system where a natural 20 is always a success. Simple XP tracking that rewards finding treasure (and spending it carousing) rather than killing monsters.

The game just works. I've used it to run lots of classic adventures with hardly a handwave in changes; I've used it to write new adventures that are receiving top ratings from folks like Bryce Lynch at tenfootpole.org.

All in all, Shadowdark is the fantasy RPG I want to run and play. And maybe that means it's the RPG you'd want to run and play, too! 

Down below is a Q&A-style explanation with a bit more about the game. Check it out!

What is Shadowdark RPG? It's a complete fantasy role-playing game contained in one book. In it, you play a character who teams up with fellow adventurers to plumb the dungeon-filled depths of the Shadowdark and explore the crumbling, lost kingdoms of a perilous and mythical world.

How can I learn to play? If you already know how to play a fantasy TTRPG, you're more than halfway there. And if not, I'll be releasing tons of resources beyond the core book that walk you through what to do. Email me (kelsey@thearcanelibrary.com) about joining the Arcane Library Discord if you want in on a supportive and enthusiastic community of Shadowdark players!

When will Shadowdark be available? The book went live on Kickstarter on February 28, 2023 and funded for $1.3 million in March 2023! You can check the campaign out here.

You can also buy digital PDFs of all the material on my webstore, and physical copies once we have the print run ready to go! 

Can I see a preview of the game? Absolutely! The digital version of the Shadowdark RPG Quickstart Set is available totally for free. Download it here. You can also pick up a physical print set here

Is there a Shadowdark RPG community? There's a burgeoning Arcane Library Discord community full of Shadowdark players, and I'd love for you join it! You can do so at this link

What supporting material will you be releasing? There are already a few Shadowdark adventures out there so you can hit the ground running.I'll also be releasing new material regularly, and I hope you'll be inspired to write some of your own third-party material, too (see below)!

Will there be an Open Game License for Shadowdark? There already is! You can check it out at the bottom of this page. It's already fully usable with the Shadowdark RPG Quickstart Set.

With this license, you can publish your own compatible material for free or for profit at your discretion and keep all the royalties and rights. I don't want a cut — I want to be able to run and enjoy the amazing things you come up with.

I'm going to continue to add to the free Shadowdark RPG Creator Kit to give you all you need to write and publish for the game, including templates and design advice. Gone are the days of confusing legalese, licensing fears, and game design quandaries! You'll get my best advice on publishing for success, too. Any mystery around writing engaging material and getting it into other people's hands ends here.

Are you still going to publish for 5E? As of right now, Wizards of the Coast has revoked the Open Gaming License that would allow me to do that in a fair and free way. So, sadly, I don't foresee being able to write more 5E material unless WotC changes their stance towards creators.

Will you have an option for FLGS or small retailers to sell Shadowdark RPG? Right now, I'm working on a retail plan where FLGS will be able to sign up for wholesale orders. I'm also planning to have lots of educational material and some cool bonuses available to FLGS retailers who buy from me. Stay tuned!

How can I stay up-to-date on further news? Sign up for the Shadowdark RPG newsletter for updates on my projects. I also send out some fun articles and freebies every so often! 

I have more questions! Can I contact you? Please do! Email me at contact@thearcanelibrary.com, or fill out my contact form here. I may also update this article with further FAQs.

24 Responses

sylvia
sylvia

June 09, 2024

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Phillip Heaton
Phillip Heaton

June 08, 2024

I just received Life-Paths for Shadowdark. Great book, but it has classes (Bard, Ranger, Witch, Warlock, Knight, Shaman) that do not appear in the base book. What book are they published in?

Thank you,
Phillip Heaton

Eric Bullis
Eric Bullis

April 12, 2024

Dear Kelsey:

I have a quick rules question: Do the monsters add their stat bonus to damage? For instance, an Ogre with STR+4 hits a player character with a greatclub. Is the damage 2d6 or 2d6+4?

Thanks for your time,
- Eric

Bunny Niyori
Bunny Niyori

February 07, 2024

I have downloaded the quickstart and printed it out. Dang near a fully capable game with just this.

40 bucks for a pdf? not going to happen. 80 bucks for a really good looking hardcover, I’m interested.

But what remains past the quickstart? What will I be getting?

Jay Geraths
Jay Geraths

January 17, 2024

I’m trying to print the PDF but it prints off center so the pages do’nt line up, front and back.

City-adventures & an adventure to beat the Beholder on the cover?
City-adventures & an adventure to beat the Beholder on the cover?

January 17, 2024

Hello,

I recently got my Shadowdark set and we’re excited to try them out. Two points i wanted to ask about:
1) is this game meant for doing just dungeon-crawling hack-and-slash, combat heavy gameplay? It seems so as I’ve been reading through the main rulebook. I don’t see a lot of support for role-playing-heavy games and campaigns. Also if we wanted to run a waterdeep-like city campaign or adventure, how well would Shadowdark rules work? Those tend to be more intrigue, espionage, diplomacy and subterfuge oriented, and that doesn’t seem to be a strong suit of this system.

If I had a scale between ( 1 ) being Heroquest (strictly hack-and-slash) and ( 10 ) being Pathfinder (well able to handle role-playing and hack-and-slash murder-hobo play), Shadowdark would seem to fall around 3 or 4. Am I wrong? Are there going to be supplements for city adventures which would emphasize more role-playing rules?

2) The beholder-but-not-beholder on the cover of the book; is he a named creature? Is he a boss defined in the rules anywhere? I’ve looked but can’t find anything. Is there or will there be an adventure to deal with him and beat him? That would be cool.

Lots of good work here. I appreciate it.

Bret

Kelsey
Kelsey

July 17, 2023

@Eric — You are so kind to reach out about this! But don’t worry. Those four copies are for your own personal use with your gaming group, and in my opinion, that’s fair use and well within your rights. It’s not like you’re printing up a bunch of copies to sell or distribute to a bunch of people! Don’t worry one bit, and keep on gaming. :) Thank you for bringing Shadowdark to your college RPG club!

-Kelsey

Eric Bullis
Eric Bullis

July 04, 2023

Dear Kelsey Dionne:

I owe you money.

I participated in the ShadowDark Kickstart with a Legendary pledge, but I know that it will be a long time before the physical books arrive during the “fulfillment phase” of the kickstarter. Because I want to prepare a ShadowDark campaign for the Truckee Meadows Community College RPG Club (in Reno), I wanted to have rulebooks ready next month, so I ordered the printing of 4 copies of the ShadowDark core rulebook through Lulu.

However, printing of your intellectual property (without payment) is not fair. I do not want to hurt your company’s profits, so please email me with a fair “bill of sale” for the 4 printed copies that I ordered and I’ll make a payment to the Arcane Library (via additional PDFs purchased on your website).

Thanks for your time,
- Eric Bullis, PhD

Ossborn
Ossborn

May 02, 2023

Really wanted to support this on Kickstarter, but once again, there is a hurdle… only accepted method of payment is a credit card, which is very… very… very uncommon in Germany… if Kickstarter would finally allow Paypal, count me in, but untill then… NOPE

Remy
Remy

April 04, 2023

Well done on the Kickstarter, it looks like it exceeded all expectations. I unfortunately missed it. Are there plans to still make Shadowdark available after the Kickstarter fulfills?

Christopher Brandon
Christopher Brandon

January 16, 2023

Dear Kelsey:
Read your letter today, thought I would take the time to answer, and hopefully encourage. I am so glad to hear you are fighting the good fight. Do not despair. You have an original creation that is the child of your imagination. Sure you were touched, and influenced by the ideas and creations of your peers and mentors, but ultimately you birthed a work that evolved from the labor of your hands, the spark of your inspiration, the window of your vision which inspired you to design the World of Shadow Dark. This achievement is just a minuscule tasty morsel in the constant metamorphosis of what we know as Role Playing Games, which in my opinion belongs to no one person or entity, but is the property of every passionate gamer and hobbyist in the past, today and the future to come. So carry on Lady Deone, people will support your campaign. For the enemy so easily forgets, you can create and horde all day long, but it’s the players that make and support the game, without them it’s just an idea. I am of the opinion, it was what Gary Gygax and Dave Areneson had in mind all along; it’s the Playing the Game that’s the thing. So, Damn the Torpedoes, Full speed ahead !!! They may take our lives, but they will never take our FREEDOM !!!!!!
Christopher Brandon:

Thy
Thy

October 24, 2022

Hi Kelsey,

speaking of PoD: I’m not really conviced of that. Usually one only has limited printing option and if we take a look at DrivethruRPG which is distributing to the US, UK and EU then I have to state that it’s only mediocre. Some options are really crap (like #70 paper for b&w printing) and the rest is average. Premium color books are even overpriced there imo.

Maybe you can ask Leo from L.F. OSR how to create premium books. He seems to be an expert on high quality and fancy books.

If you’re still looking for an option for worldwide distribution you can consider to partner with Exalted Funeral. They offer this kind of service and they are experienced in kickstarters.

Kelsey
Kelsey

October 05, 2022

@Dave – Thank you so much! Will definitely read this in detail. I love the ease of PoD, but I also want to give this book the most premium treatment possible… I’ll definitely do a few end-to-end tests (probably including ordering a small batch from the printer on my dime) to make sure there’s a good proof of concept. And devouring all advice possible from others who have succeeded! Thanks again for this link!

Daveb
Daveb

October 03, 2022

Kevin Crawford (of stars without number) wrote a decent article about fulfillment and kickstarting products. A bunch of it is probably a known element for you, but he has reliably done and delivered good products. Print on demand seems to be the best way to avoid over extending yourself and getting stymied by shipping to various parts of the world.

The article is in here (it’s free!) https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/143764/The-Sandbox-1?manufacturers_id=3482

Nitehood
Nitehood

May 25, 2022

Just got my ShadowDark Starter kit in print today. Wow! Looks fantastic! I will using it to do an impromptu session tonight with the kids…
I am looking forward to this.

Hankerin
Hankerin

May 23, 2022

The torch idea is just great

Kelsey
Kelsey

March 16, 2022

@Joel – Gladly! :) This is an original piece by Lucas Korte, also known as shoggoth_kinetics on most social media (I first came across his work on Instagram). He’s the flagship artist for the game — there will be 7-8 more full-sized pieces from him within the book, plus an oil painting on the cover! This beholder is the first page of the Monsters chapter.

Joel
Joel

March 04, 2022

Could you share who drew that amazing tentacle eye beast on the cover?

Kelsey
Kelsey

January 08, 2022

Hi, Vernon! I’d love to hear your thoughts — please email me your comments at kelsey@thearcanelibrary.com. :)

Vernon Fults
Vernon Fults

December 31, 2021

I’ve just read the beta rules and like the way your choice of having ten levels and restructuring the spell lists into five tiers. There are, however, some things I’d like to comment on in detail. Is there an email address or website where detailed commentary may be posted?

Paul Rodriguez
Paul Rodriguez

August 05, 2021

I tried out the Core Rules at my table and everybody had positive things to say about the game system, how there’s so much detail to the adventure.

I explained to them that your Core Rules document isn’t completed yet (at the time of my post) and the adventure was based on rolling tables found within what is publicly available.

They were speehless at the quality and level of detail of what was available. We want to dive back into the adventure (of which only one survived).

John Sikking
John Sikking

June 29, 2021

Very excited to see this labor of love come to fruition and I am very interested in seeing the final product and the creator’s kit you are developing.

Kelsey
Kelsey

June 23, 2021

Hi Nerval! I’m still working with third party logistics teams to see who offers what. I’d be spectacular to land on a company that has some UK/Europe presence, so that’s among the things I’m looking into as I weigh different fulfillment partners.

Nerval
Nerval

June 23, 2021

Will there be a UK distributor?

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