Shadow of the Demon Lord

Posted 28 Apr 2021 to Fantasy

Heroic fantasy in a grim and gritty world.


XP Card

Sessions GM'd: 100+ lost count
Sessions as Player: 45

I Used

Physical book 270 pages, and PDF Occult Philosophy add on (containing hundreds of new spells). I have some of the add-on adventures and books in PDF also.


Call off the search! The fantasy system to replace D&D has been found. This game will reproduce the heroic hijinks of that fantasy game, in a tightly designed system that is rewarding to play. I ran 6 campaigns, using a variety of settings. I used it for a Yoon Suin campaign, and a few in my homebrew fantasy Africa setting. I also ran the Curse of Strahd campaign.


The Good

  • Ingenious class system.
  • I'm going to harp on this point for a few paragraphs because it is so important. Your players will love this part of the game, once it sinks in.
  • You pick your first "Path" at level 1, from a limited list of 4 options: Warrior, Rogue, Magician, Priest. Then at level 3 you select from a wider list of 16 options. You can choose to have your warrior double down and specialize in fighting, or, hell, you can choose to diversify and pick up spell-casting. Again, at level 7 you pick from an even broader list of 64 options.
  • This clever structure allows players to build a simple character at the start, when they are still learning the game. It delays the more complex decisions to later on, when the player has understood the game better.
  • It allows you to build a wonderful variety of character concepts, without ever being constrained by your class or feeling that you are weakening yourself. You can discover synergies between one path and another and cackle with glee. You can also pick a path that fits with the story that is unfolding.
  • Scope is reasonable. The maximum level is 10, which is achievable. It is intended that you will level up after each adventure (2 sessions for me). This cap works perfectly for me, wrapping up a campaign at around 20 sessions. At maximum level your character will be doing awesome and heroic things.
  • One book has everything. Creating characters, running campaigns, magic system, GM advice and monsters.
  • Clear writing style. The rules are easy to read and understand and they say exactly what they mean. Consistent terminology is used. Fluff and waffle is minimal.
  • Innovative initiative system. It's fast and fun. It's consistent, with no rolling and helps speed up the pace of combat - once your group gets over the awkward, "Who is going Fast?" question at the start of every round. It also allows the party to act as a team, setting up slam dunks, which is fun. For example, "You do A, then I'll do B, which will mean we all get better next round."
  • Faster Combat. Enemy health pools are small, but they hit hard. This means that combat is faster and more exciting.

The Not-So-Good

  • The default setting is grim and gritty. It puts some people off. Fair enough. The system itself works perfectly in any setting, and you can use it to run your favorite fantasy setting without difficulty.
  • The default setting is a bit of a mess. In an attempt to jam every genre of fantasy into one world, you have steampunk alongside high fantasy. If you consider all the add-on books, there are dozens of playable races, from mole-men to goblins and fish-people to half-elementals. Players love options, so this is what sells, I guess. It's too busy for me.
  • Insanity and Corruption may not suit your game. I just ignored them because they weren't themes in my campaigns. You can drop them if they're not important to you.
  • Save or die. Some of the more powerful enemies have abilities or spells that can one-shot a PC. Use sparingly and telegraph the danger.



Hell yes, I'd play this again. I've GMd enough of it to want to take a break, but it is likely I will go back to it eventually. If someone else ran it, I'd sign up with glee.



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