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 (email@example.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 to get an email when the full Shadowdark RPG book launches! You can also join my regular newsletter for updates on my projects, including 5E material, Shadowdark RPG material, and otherwise (bonus: you get a free 1st-level 5E adventure when you join).
I have more questions! Can I contact you? Please do! Email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or fill out my contact form here. I may also update this article with further FAQs.