Against the Darkmaster is a new fantasy tabletop RPG, a retroclone of Rolemaster. I’ve not played Rolemaster before, so this review won’t be able to compare the two.
This tome is REALLY massive rulebook, containing character creation, rules mechanics, game mastery, bestiary, magic lists, and an adventure. There’s a lot to it, but it’s all contained there in a single book, and would be very easy to run an entire campaign all out of this one 563 page book. The book is much thicker than Zweihander, though fewer pages. The paper’s a lot thicker, so it all feels really durable.
The basic mechanics of Against the Darkmaster are pretty simple: A D100 percentile roll is used for all rolls (with a few exceptions using a D10). Your skills and attributes have values both negative and positive. You’ll roll your D100 and add or subtract the appropriate attribute, trying to meet or beat 100. The game has degrees of success and failure, so 75-99 will get you a partial success, while over 175 will give an outstanding success.
Character creation has a lot of different components to it. Players will choose their character’s Kin (race), Culture (which tells where you came from), Vocations (your class), Background (where you’ll choose to spend Background Points for different advantages), as well as Passions and Drives.
Combat works in phases. All characters declare their actions, then move into the actions. First spells prepared in the previous round go of, followed by instant spells. Then ranged weapons prepared the previous round are fired. Close combat then happens (longest to shortest weapons in order). Then ranged attacks that hadn’t gone off before are fired. Finally, all unprepared spells go off. I love the way this goes, allowing tactical preparation, and then watching a cascading effect take place as all of the actions play out.
Taking damage is very dangerous. Tables for each type of weapon determine the severity of damage, and how likely critical hits are. As you take damage, you’ll suffer penalties, which can lead to a death spiral. Luckily, your enemies are also under the same effect, so it balances out.
One of my favorite aspects of the game is the creation of The Darkmaster. There is a large section for creating your own Darkmaster. A series of D100 rolls determine the epithet of the powerful being, as well as the coveted artifact that is tied to them. The game master and players can work together to determine the Darkmaster’s origins, their goals and servants, and their powerful dark fortress. There’s also a great selection of premade Darkmasters with great backgrounds and info. Here, the pages are inverted, so the black pages actually stand out when the book is closed, which I like.
Magic is another cool aspect. There are a collection of Spell Lores. Each lore must be purchased separately as a skill, but each rank grants the next highest spell in the list as you weave more complex spells. For example, Communion: first gives you Question Animal, allowing you to summon and speak to creatures. Higher levels allow you to cast auguries, divine visions, and speaking with he dead.
The art throughout is REALLY solid, all in solid black and white, very evocative of the implied setting.
I really like this ruleset. I can see why people love Rolemaster and MERP. It’s has straightforward rules that’s a lot less complicated than it seems at first. I can’t wait to try out some one-shots soon to really run the system through its paces.
If you’re looking for a grim and brutal system, Against the Darkmaster is a solid contender.
Dice Monkey was sent a copy of Against the Darkmaster by Gamerati for review.