Time for a three part review! Shadow, Sword & Spell-Basic, Expert, and Threats!
Product– Shadow, Sword & Spell: Basic
Producer– Rogue Games
Price– ~$5.25 here http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product/83073/Shadow-Sword–Spell-Basic
TL; DR– All the stuff I love in an RPG 94%
Basics– How about some good, old fashion pulp fantasy! Shadow, Sword & Spell is an old school RPG with some new mechanics and a serious side of Conan. It’s a simple system, but simple in a smart way. It’s also human focused. Let’s look at the first book, and possibly the only book, you need to run the system-Basic.
Mechanics or Crunch– This game doesn’t have a ton of moving parts, but let’s look at the different things presented here:
Base Mechanic- This system used a 2d12-based, roll-under system for all tasks. Basically, for any given task you determine an attribute from your character (like brawn for swinging a sword) and a skill (melee for the sword) and add those two numbers together. That’s the number you need to roll under on two twelve sided dice. All tests are resolved this way. Its quick, it’s easy, and I’ve just taught you the entire system in 30 seconds.
Degrees of Success– From above, you need to roll under a target number. BUT, what I really like about this system is the degrees of success really matters. In your standard DnD Game, hitting the orc with a 10 on the d20 really doesn’t change how dead the orc is compared to a rolling a 15. However, in this game, you count how far under the number you needed to roll. If your opponent wants to dodge the attack, he/she/it rolls under its quickness and dodge scores, and counts the degrees of success (if any). The target’s successes are subtracted from your successes, and if you still have hits, you hit the target and that number of net hit is multiplied by the weapon damage of your weapon. This system uses NO other dice. Thus, a hard hit is one where you are way below your own target number and they completely flub their defense roll. It’s interesting, almost as if you run the race against yourself. I like that a really good roll has a really good result. This works for everything from sword fights to battles of wits with the king.
Magic-It wouldn’t be fantasy if it didn’t have magic. And it wouldn’t be pulp if magic didn’t cost you something! In Shadow, Sword & Spell, all magic will cost you some vitality (hit points), and some will cost you sanity. Just like before, it’s all roll under your proficiency with a spell, compare your successes to their successes, and do an effect. Unlike before, that magic system here is cast till you pass out. You cast a spell, you lose some life. Keep going, and you might kill yourself! I love that in a magic system! The magic is broadly divided into two different categories: common spells and alchemy. Common spells are the magic you know and love that will rain fire or heal your friend. Alchemy is your potion brewing, elixirs, and poisons.
Hooks and Story Currency-Lately I’ve been on a kick of giving some narrative control to my players. I love ideas like hero points and inspiration from the big two. Most 3rd party RPGs are adding this in as well. This RPG is no different. In this game you get hooks. Hooks are one line descriptors that describe your character. This can be “I will never let an innocent suffer” to “if it doesn’t pay, I don’t play“. They don’t need to be noble or even nice, but they do tell the GM what you will do with your character. When you follow these hooks you get action points. Action points let your character cheat: raise your target number for your roll, become proficient in a skill, or whatever you might dream up. It’s pretty simple, and doesn’t need much explanation, but this does make me happy to see this added to another system.
Vitality-Vitality is your hit points. What’s interesting about this is that as you lose vitality, you also gain negatives. I’ve taken a few hits in my day, and as I take a hit, I wear down. Lose a percentage of your vitality; you gain a -1 to all tests. Lose more vitality, and you gain more penalties to all your target numbers. “More than none, ready to run” isn’t realistic, and I appreciate the gradual reduction in your abilities when you get hurt.
Summary- This system is a combination of all the things I like to see in an RPG. It’s got a combination of dice rolls that provide a more stable average for your rolls. Its mechanics are simple enough to grasp in five minutes. It’s got magic that doesn’t require a college degree to understand and explain. It’s got player narrative control, cast till you pass out, and damage reducing your abilities. And most importantly, its use of roll under target numbers is a well executed, general mechanics for all its tests. This last point is the most important. When I teach RPGs to new players, the vast number of different mechanics at play tends to be the most confusing. Here, I can just say, “Roll under those numbers, and tell me how much lower you were.” And it’s done! That right there is the best part of this whole system. The only thing I would like this game to talk about more is how to build fights fairly. The book doesn’t go too in-depth on how to make a combat. It discusses running a combat, but not how to set one up. 4.8/5
Theme or Fluff- For a third party pulp book, this book actually has a really well done amount of fluff! I honestly wouldn’t have expected a whole world to play in to come from this book. The book has a lot of ground to cover from teaching the system, to giving all the math a GM will need to run this effectively, but the book actually invents its own world that you can use right out of the box. Yes, the world is pretty much what you’d expect from Conan and Lovecraft fan boys. But, I’m a Conan/Lovecraft fan boy, so I’m on board. I did feel like there should have been some kind of divine magic as the arcane and the alchemical are good, but don’t explain some of the cult magic you’d read about in the old school pulp. 4.75/5
Execution-This is a really well done third-party product. It’s not perfect. I’d like a bit more guidance on how to set up fights for my players, and I’d like the art a bit more focused. However, there is a decent amount of art for a small company. It really breaks up the text well. I never felt bored reading this book. And the book even comes with an adventure. For the price, this is well worth it for a complete system. Also fun, the system books kind of look like pulp books. They’re short books with some simpler covers. That simplicity isn’t much but it really does tie things together. 4.5/5
Summary– This is a well done system. The math behind everything from after dinner quips with the queen to killing all her guards is simple. I like the race with myself mechanics. The books are executed fairly well also. It has LOTS of white space. Look, I tend to get some flak for that. I’m supposed to like reading RPGs if I LIKE RPGS. But, I like when a book doesn’t make itself a chore to read. And the sleeper hit of this whole package is the word that is discussed here. If you want your own pulp world, the book helps you with that, but if you want an out of the box setting ready to roll, here you go! All said and done, I’m really impressed with this game. 94%
How about some more Shadow, Sword & Spell?
Product– Shadow, Sword & Spell: Expert
Producer– Rogue Games
Price– ~$5.25 here http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product/89294/Shadow-Sword–Spell-Expert
TL; DR– A textbook splat book example! 97%
Basics– How about some more Shadow, Sword & Spell? Now ON EXPERT MODE! Expert is the truest definition of a splat book. It’s just more of the stuff you want for your S, S&S game. Expert adds rules for everything from managing a kingdom to making new monsters. Expert also adds to the world and expands on the places you can conquer, explore, and control.
Mechanics or Crunch– This book is crunch-tastic. Honestly most of the book is new subsystems to add to your game. These are not mandatory subsystems, but they are ones your GM would have to custom build on the fly if, say, you wanted to tax your fiefdom and raise an army to go conquer your neighbors. Now, these are all the d12 mechanics we know and love from Basic, but now you have a set in stone from the designer’s rules for how to do it. Also, rules for monster generation are really useful. 5/5
Theme or Fluff- Expert is larger than Basic, and Basic has to explain how to play the game! That said Expert explains the rest of the world and has maps. I loved how Basic had a world to play in. And now I love that Expert makes the world truly a world. It even expands on all the fiddly bits of the world. It’s not down to the level of favorite fish of a region to eat, but it’s done well enough and taken from the pulp sources that you could find that information. For a book on adding subsystems to a game, there is a ton of new story to add to your games. 5/5
Execution– Expert is done extremely well, but it could use a bit more. I’d like a few more examples with some example characters and groups to help me understand the subsystems it adds a bit more. What’s here is good, but it needs a few read-through’s to get its point across. Also, I am happy to see art and white space to break up texts, but as with basic, I would like a little more consistency in the art. While in its execution Expert stumbles, Expert falls from perfection to extremely well done. 4.5/5
Summary– I really like this book. Now just like the authors of Basic said, you don’t need this book. But, you most likely will want this book. No pulp game could be complete without a battlefield and a fiefdom to command! Now you get nitty-gritty rules for that! I’d like a few more examples and some more art, but overall, this is what a splat book should be. 97%
And more Shadow, Sword & Spell, but this time it’s the monster manual!
Product– Shadow, Sword & Spell: Threats
Producer– Rogue Games
Price– ~$5.25 here http://rpg.drivethrustuff.com/product/102515/Shadow-Sword–Spell-Threats
TL; DR– A well done monster manual 93%
Basics– Every good game needs a monster manual. Sure, Basic had a small one, but here are a ton of different threats (see what I did there!) to throw at your players.
Mechanics or Crunch– It’s a bunch of monsters that all follow the rules set forth in Expert. The abilities are all defined well and you will know how to make them. I would kind of like a repeat of the rules from Expert on how to build a monster, but honestly that book’s cheap, so go buy that one! 4.75/5
Theme or Fluff- I like the monsters here. They all feel pulpy, but they don’t get too much write up. A common set up is one page for a picture and one page for stats and description. Descriptions get the short side of that stick. The description does give you something to work with, but I would have liked a bit more. However, the book does describe a few new villainous organizations for you to throw at your players, so Threats does build on the story of the campaign setting. 4.5/5
Execution– Threats does have some problems, but overall it’s well done. There are a few typos and other minor problems. Also, just like Basic, no real advice is given for how to build a fight. But that is par for any pulp fantasy RPG course. Even with those minor complaints, I am really happy with one thing: EVERY MONSTER GETS A PICTURE! I hate having to describe each monster and then point at a general monster of that type. The pictures are not perfect, but at the very least they’re in there! 4.75/5
Summary– Every good system needs a monster book. And this is just a well done monster book. My problems with this one are minor. I’d like game specific art for each thing, but some are is better than no art. Also, while other monster manuals teach you to build the monsters, Threats expect you to look at Expert to know those rules. Those are not bad, but just know that going into this one. Overall though, what’s here is well done and well worth your five bucks. 93%