And the Rest: Movement, Travel, Wealth, Experience and Magic in Against the Darkmaster

As with most games, Against the Darkmaster (VsD) tracks Encumbrance Levels—five of them, ranging from Unencumbered to Over Encumbered. Generally, the GM and players use a few simple criteria to eyeball what might be a character’s appropriate Encumbrance Level. An encumbered PC moves more slowly during overland travel and takes penalties on physical activity. No surprise.

Surprisingly, though, for someone like me, the VsD encumbrance system was a bit too handwavy, even while I recognize that, in mostly every game, encumbrance is shrugged away anyway. I consequently went through the Equipment Table, assigned a weight number (usually 1 or 2, if anything) to large items, and ruled that characters possessing these in numerical increments of 5 would go up an EL.

Tucked in between rules for Encumbrance and Wealth is a Hazards Table. Here is a more lingering glimpse of the emulationist aspect of VsD: characters are expected to encounter 2-3 Hazards during mid-length overland travel. The table provides randomized results of Weather, Free People, Natural Obstacles, Minions of Darkness, Wild Beasts and Ancient World Perils. The table is useful but not enough. The QS lacks even a modicum of explanation for these results. Certainly the full rules will rectify this, and I hope that the complete game will contain “breakout” tables with which the GM short on ideas might generate different types of Weather or numinous suggestions for Ancient World Perils. For my game I borrow a strategy from Kent David Kelly, using a standard dictionary to randomly generate words that inspire possibilities.

The rules for Travel are expanded on the VsD blog. As with the fictions inspiring the game, it is very important for characters to find sheltered Campsites and Safe Havens in the midst of adversity.

If the Encumbrance rules weren’t anything surprising, the Wealth and Treasure system was! Instead of tracking coin, every character possesses a Wealth Level ranging from 0 to 5. Everything on the Equipment Table has a Fare score that falls within an equivalent range. If a character’s WL exceeds the Fare of the desired item, that character is understood to have purchased that item immediately. In this instance, the character’s WL does not change. If the WL equals the Fare, the WL drops by one. If the Fare exceeds the WL, well, tough luck—go find some Treasure. Right, Treasure: each trove has a corresponding Treasure Value. If the TV=character’s WL, WL increases by 1. If the TV exceeds WL by any increment, the WL becomes the TV.

I ran a Session 0 for my tabletop game. My players determined their characters’ WLs, I explained the system, and we went shopping! When I described to the designers what I had done, they said something like, “Oh. Well, you can do it that way, I guess, but our intentions had been for WLs to be part of starting equipment. We imagined that all new acquisitions would be roleplayed in-game.”

In VsD, PCs seem to advance in Experience Levels more swiftly than in other games, another feature I appreciate. My gaming table never is going to complete a years-long campaign from Levels 1-10 in traditional play. It’s just not possible. Even if there weren’t numerous other equally-enticing games and genres vying for our attention, we just don’t have the time anymore. Starting PCs possess 10 XP at Level 1. After every session, every person at the table asks his or her character if that PC can say yes to the following questions:

You travelled to or explored a location you’ve never seen before. You faced dangerous foes and/or difficult situations. You completed a quest or mission. You suffered a grievous wound, or suffered a great personal failure.

p. 57

In addition to these are some Vocation-specific queries. Every yes awards an XP. Every 10 XP results in a Level advancement.

As has already been stated, the basics of the VsD spell system are shared with BASiL and some others. What remains to be said is that some spells may be Warped. This means that additional Magic Points can be expended (exceeding the base cost of casting the spell) for greater or additional effects. Another rule regarding Magic emulates VsD’s source fictions: if ever, during a Spell Roll, “doubles” are rolled on the d100 (e.g., 66), the character might “attract the attention of Dark Powers and Servants of the Shadows.” The GM then rolls on another table to see what specific action, if any, the Darkmaster takes in response to this Magical Resonance.


I have examined this game, as presented in its QS, through the lens of the specific fictions that this game seeks to emulate. By this criterium, some of the rules—particularly those that contribute toward lethality in combat—are at odds with VsD’s stated intention. Some features—such as rules for Warfare—are missing and without intention of being developed, but these might be provided for through community contributions or future company support.

I expect my own gaming table will be exploring this rpg for the entire year. Two of my four gamers have expressed great enthusiasm for these rules. They are fairly new gamers, so this kind of surprises me. The presence of a d100 core mechanic (in comparison to the cobbled-together, home-ruled Original D&D I had been running) probably contributes to their enjoyment.

For myself, I love how this satisfies a nostalgic impulse while designing away most of the features that have created difficulty for me in regards to its progenitor. More is to be done, and the basic structure of VsD is porous enough that, should I need to, I can modify this to my own tastes. My main difficulty appears to be Weapon Stats. 

ToM’s recently stated company openness to non-profit community content (and some licensing) and independent OPEN00 (genius name, by the way) game derivations is highly encouraging. With this support, the VsD community is likely to enrich individual game qualities and perhaps appeal to brand new gamers who are seeking an experience outside of the d20 hegemony. I very much look forward to an update to the QS and, above all, the Kickstarter for the full rules later this year.

4 Replies to “And the Rest: Movement, Travel, Wealth, Experience and Magic in Against the Darkmaster”

  1. I confess that I haven’t read the QS for quite a while, I skimmed it when it came out and that was about it.

    Regarding kit and equipment and encumberance I am certainly on of the hand waving GMs. In a game I am working on right now it works on the principle that if you character probably owned something and they could be carrying it then the probably have it. Once we know the character has the item it is added to the character sheet.

    I don’t even bother with buying starting equipment, it slows down character creation and adds not a lot to the game.

  2. Thinking about those encounters Gabe – is that going to be a bit like the Saga idea of no one stays out in the countryside because of the spirits and weather so everyone tries to make camp either within a sacred site or under a roof (which may or not be safe)?

    1. It’s actually more mundane than that. If the PCs fail or create a complication with their Campsite roll, it doesn’t necessarily mean a Creature encounter but that something occurred to present a restless night: water in a gully, perhaps, or stinging gnats, or a whistling wind. A poorly chosen Campsite. It would mean that the PCs might be “Weary” (-20 to activity, if I remember right) the following day.

      1. Oh, so no different to RM or MERP then. Just an event for the GM to riff should they have not thought about the journey ahead of time.

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