Sunday, 12 May 2019

Let's talk: Against the Darkmaster


It bears repeating that the OSR isn't just D&D, and the upcoming game Against the Darkmaster (VsD) is evidence of this. Starting as a bunch of Rolemaster house rules, VsD evolved into a ruleset if its own. Think streamlined, modified MERP. I've always found MERP pretty confusing in terms of layout and perhaps a little too esoteric, but it's always attracted me in a weird way.

You can download the deluxe quick start rules right now and a Kickstarter will go live sometime this year. Oh, and when I say quick start, I mean a 120 plus page book.

Everything uses a d100 mechanic, rolling d100 and adding various abilities and skills, cross-referencing with table to see how successful you've been. Combat is in the mid-crunch realm, relying on tables where damage is figured by looking at your weapon type and your opponent's armour, with damage having degrees of success and types of wound. Typically, this isn't the kind of combat system I go in for but it's all pretty simple.

Characters are formed of backgrounds, kin, cultures, and vocations, giving you a nice amount of customisation without getting too bogged down in min maxing. I like the kin types, like dusk elves, star elves and high humans, giving it a particularly high fantasy Tolkien feel. They each have their own attribute bonuses and special abilities. For instance, halflings gain double HP after eating a second breakfast. See what I mean about Tolkien?


Which brings us onto cultures, which is a mechanic I included in my own Dungeon Nights game, offering some extra background, equipment, skill ranks and helping to determine how wealthy (or dirt poor) you are. Cultures include City, which are obviously city or town dwellers, Woad, which are tribal folk, and Noble, who are rich types with privileged blood.

There are six vocations in the main game, but four in the quickstart. These include warrior, rogue, wizard, animist, dabbler and champion (the first four of which are in the QS). Your vocation offers you a pack of skill bonuses and/or vocational spell lores, which are types of magic, of which only wizard and animists can cast in the QS, but I'd imagine the dabbler will likely have some spells. You gain skill development points at character creation to choose which ones to upgrade, in addition to the innate bonuses you get. Ultimately, VsD is a skills game - your vocations don't get their own innate powers, but the wide array of skills actually make them highly customisable.

Speaking of customisation, we're not quite finished yet. Backgrounds can be purchased based on background points you get from your kin. For instance, my dusk elf rogue gained 3 background points, so I spent it on the major tier of Elven Training, meaning he can use his Swift attribute instead of Brawn when fighting with certain light swords, in addition to gaining a silver elf trait. Each background has two tiers that cost different points, so if you have enough points you could buy minor or major tiers in multiple backgrounds, rounding out your character and adding to their pot of abilities. Bring all of the above, kin, culture, vocation and background together and you have the ability to customise without being overburdened (looking at you, Pathfinder).

The game also has Passions and Drive. Passions are split into three categories: motivations, nature, allegiance. Each one of these is a statement the player comes up with at character creation with the help of the rest of the group. These are basically why your character is doing what they're doing and how they may react to situations. Passions link directly to drives, which is a mechanic that offers a boon. You can gain drive by playing on your passions, and spend it on bonuses, re-rolls and a few other nifty little things. It's a great mechanic that helps contribute to roleplaying and characterization.

I've not really sunk my teeth into the magic side of things yet, but it's point based and has the capacity to go wrong, which I really like. It's much more involved than your typical D&D OSR game, where casting spells can attract the attention of the Darkmaster himself and there are various modifiers to do with range, whether the target is moving and whether the spell is prepared or not that beef up the system a bit much for my taste. It's not overly complex, but I'd probably chuck a few rules out for streamlining purposes.

I'm super impressed with VsD as it stands and I look forward to backing the Kickstarter when it launches.

Image: Against the Darkmaster/ The Fellowship & Sego

No comments:

Post a Comment