Game: DarkLore Campaign Primer
Publisher: Malladin’s Gate Press
Review Dated: 9th, November 2003
Reviewer’s Rating: 9/10 [ Something special ]
Total Score: 10
Average Score: 5.00
DarkLore is really good. It’s really good. Don’t say, “Malladin Who?” or “Who’s Gate? What? Where?” say, “DarkLore is really good”.
This isn’t Malladin’s Gate first product. The small company has been praised for their sharply designed Forgotten Heroes and Academy Handbook series. I’ll be amazed if a fulfilment house/imprint deal isn’t set up for them by the end of the next year. Why would I be amazed? I’d be amazed because DarkLore is really good.
DarkLore is, as the name suggests, dark. It’s a d20 game too. Oh now. Stop laughing. It might be possible. In fact, it is possible, Malladin’s Gate have done it.
Out goes the stratospherically high fantasy of most D&D and inspired games. In comes Dark D20. DarkLore isn’t dark in the sense that you’ll be playing a weakling street thief desperately trying to earn his first silver by creeping into the fat’s merchant’s house, the one with a guard, at night. No.
DarkLore is dark in the sense that the whole world has gone to hell in a handbasket and stayed there. The gods are dead. At least, the gods have gone and they didn’t go easily. Maelstroms, complete with purple lightning, shred the landscape whenever they touchdown. Rumour has it that the maelstroms even go after people.
It’s dark too, not dark in the atmospheric sense, it’s dark due to the thick cloud known as the Cloak of Acheron, that keeps the sun at bay. It’s either night or twilight and as you might imagine the undead are a problem.
Player characters in DarkLore tend to be more powerful than normal. There’s an easy explanation for this, the survival of the fittest. You have to be pretty damn fit to survive in Krynas, the DarkLore world.
The bump up in power also gives the game mechanic maestros of Malladin’s Gate room to introduce new rules without losing the abstraction d20 was designed for.
I like the abstraction! I also like dark fantasy. The fighting techniques that characters can learn or the short three-level career classes are both good examples of what can be achieved with this extra room.
This is a review of the DarkLore World Campaign Primer. I’m pointing out the “Campaign Primer” bit. The 83-paged PDF is designed to give you only the basics, just what you need to know about Krynas, to get going. It’s actually two books in one; a standard way to do Dark D20 and an introduction to DarkLore.
I also get the feeling that the Primer was going to be free. It’s not free any longer. It costs a whopping $5. I know. Bank breaking. All the money raised by DarkLore goes to keeping ENWorld alive. Okay. ENWorld raised a small fortune but this still counts as a good reason to buy DarkLore and is a good indication of how Malladin’s Gate really do have their finger on the pulse of gaming.
If you’re still giggling at the suggestion that the d20 system can be used for an atmospherically game then I have got an important admission to make.
DarkLore isn’t quite the fantasy edition of d20 that you know; not quite 3.0 or 3.5. DarkLore is heavily inspired by D20 Modern.
I think D20 Modern makes some important improvements on the core mechanics and I’m more than content to see them taken on board here.
The core classes in DarkLore are based on D20 Modern. No, we don’t have Strong and Fast heroes; we have Outlanders, Scholars, Thieves, Warriors, the Devout and the Destined.
These classes are associated with one of the ability scores. The Warrior class, for example, is associated with Strength. The simple but effective way to summarise which bits of D20 Modern DarkLore takes and which bits of 3.5 it stays with is to say “DarkLore takes the best of both”.
There are talent trees to enjoy.
I like the way DarkLore does magic. It doesn’t awkwardly tinker with the system; it manages to cleanly swap old and boring with new and interesting.
The elements, the purest forms of the fluctuating magical mix, are blood, lightning, metal and shadow. If you want to translate normal spell descriptors then blood correlates to fire, lightning to electricity, metal to acid and shadow to Cold.
There are also planar associations for each. The gods might not be active in the DarkLore world but devils and demons are. In turn the planes fuel different sorts of magic.
Wizards use shadowmagic – and most are evil, many hunting down sorcerers, who use Dragonmagic, out of nothing more than jealousy.
In a world that’s been ruined in a godswar you might expect many people to turn to Druids and their earthmagic. Although there aren’t clerics who receive their magic from gods there are still pure-hearted saints who are able to empower celestial magic through their own conscience and heart.
DarkLore handles races well. It isn’t just humans who gain extra feats. There are different types of human too; breaking the race down into geographical sub-races. Why not? It’s been down with dwarves and elves throughout fantasy games. Not all the player character races are as powerful as others.
DarkLore makes the call that rare races are more powerful than uncommon races and that uncommon races are more powerful than common races. They’ve game mechanics to balance it all up and level the playing field.
Whereas its a bit of a cheat to assume rare races are better than the common one it seems to be the unspoken rule in many RPGs and fantasy novels. DarkLore purposely goes after the fantasy novel feel. The world-shattering end game plays shouldn’t be par for the course here; they should be the campaign end gameplay.
And there’s politics. I’m far too interested in politics for my own health. Krynas is a world where politics and secret societies have come to power. Life is so tough that raw goods and skills are more important than money.
This quickly promotes “peasants” to “citizens” very quickly. There’s one society, for example, that keeps the lines of communications open between the different cities and this service has made them very powerful. DarkLore introduces the new Advantages mechanic that keeps track of where the PCs or NPCs are in these societies and where they stand.
The Campaign Primer doesn’t just mention the new way to think of spells, the new system to deal with races and new classes – it gives them to you. You’ve pages of spells. You have got the complete rules for the basic classes and a dozen career classes. Career classes are short, 3 level, advanced/prestige like classes that are easy to qualify for and complete. The primer is packed with useful stuff.
Let’s not use the word “primer” let us use the word “tease”. The DarkLore Campaign Tease just leaves you wanting the full DarkLore book. Sometime tomorrow, please. Thanks.
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