Friday, September 4, 2015

The Dark Eye: Introduction

In early 2016, Ulisses Spiele will publish an english version of the German roleplaying game "The Dark Eye" (TDE henceforth). You might now stand there and ask yourself: "Why the fuck should I care?" And of course you don't need to, but if you by chance remember my article about my best RPG experience, well, it was with TDE. The system might be worth a look for you because it's most likely not like the fantasy systems you know, especially if you are familiar with D&D. And if you're not and/or a novice to tabletop RPG, consider starting with TDE, because it's awesome. I want this to be the first in a series of articles that introduce you to the system, so let's start, shall we? The outline for the series is as follows: 
1) Introduction. You are here. 
3) The Rules. 
4) The History (of the system)

TDE is a pretty old and well-established system. As a matter of fact, it's exactly as old as I am, having been created in 1984 on a wave of RPG popularity that was spawned by D&D's success. In Germany, it has always been the most succesful system, but proven unable to expand into other countries (experiments with French and English translations were aborted pretty early on due to dismal sales). The system has seen several rule editions, with the newest, the 5th, rolling around the corner as we speak. That's why they're giving the English speaking market another try now.

After we got this off our chest, what's the game like? TDE is often described as a low-fantasy-setting, which is true to some extent. While magic and divine interventions do exist, they're fairly rare (magical talent, as a rule of thumb, is found in 1 of 35 persons). That means that if a mage walks into a village, people will gawk instead of simply seeing them as a usual appearance as in some other systems. However, the existence of supernatural elements is a known and accepted fact in all parts of the world. 

TDE also keeps the scope fairly limited, at least most of the time. Player characters are about to smoke out a bandid hideout, or escort some merchant, or slay a rouge band of three of four orcs, or perhaps try to kill an aspiring black mage in his tower or something. They're usually not venturing out trying to rescue the world (or even their region) or slaying dragons, because that's not something that they're capable of. Usually. Of course, on higher levels things change, and there are some big campaigns, but your run-of-the-mill-adventures are pretty low-key. 

In a notable deviation from established fantasy practices, the world and the player characters are fundamentally good. What this means is that the whole world has an ever-so-slightly fairy-tale-feeling to it, and it is assumed that all the player characters are good people trying to do the right thing. Until the fourth edition, all rules always spoke of "heroes" instead of player characters, to give you a sense of what I mean. That doesn't mean there are no ambiguities and dark elements, but in the end, it's always clear that the forces of good will triumphe. 

Until we get a closer look into the world, let this suffice for the general feeling of the setting, which, of course, you're always at freedom to ignore anyway. In case you just want to use the rules and bend the world to your own will, it might make sense to get a little overview of the rules (which we will look deeper at later). 

The rules are really distinctive to TDE. There is no other system using similar mechanics. If you're familiar with D&D, you will instantly recognize the twenty-sided-dice that are used all the time, and the general mechanism is the same: you roll, and you need to get certain results in order to succeed. Just turn all the numbers in your head: contrary to D&D, low numbers are good and high numbers are bad, but that's about it. The distinction comes at the attributes: you have eight of them, and most stats are derived from them (like your attack and your health). 

Nothing cries out "TDE" more than the skill checks, however. Every skill, spell and liturgy you have is associated with three of your attributes, and if you check it, you roll for all three attributed and use your skill value to make up for bad rolls. Of course, hard tasks take away from your skill value. So you're rolling three D20 a lot of the time. For the rest of the system, let's wait for the rules post, shall we? 

With that, I want to end my overview. Stay tuned for the next installments.


  1. Interesting new series, Stefan! Although the one campaign I played TDE, I was really underwhelmed.
    For any beginner to P&P out there: look into systems like "FATE" or "Dungeonslayers", too. They are rules-light, so easy to get into, and you can download them for free.

    1. I don't know. Thing is, I don't know how many people will try to learn several RPG, so I can't really recommend to "start light" and then upgrade. The starter book is pretty comprehensible and while certainly not without some complexities can easily be used by starters in my opinion.

    2. Dungeonslayers, for example, can be downloaded without any trouble. You need to read only the first thirty pages to play. I've played D&D, DSA, CoC, SR, FATE, Dungeonslayers, read Ars Magica, and some other systems.
      DS I could explain to even new players in less than two minutes.
      Both times I created a character for DSA/TDE, I had to meet the GM separately and spend two hours or such creating one.
      Why I mostly advise people to start with rules-light systems: they are far more intuitive, but players who've played crunchier systems have, in my opinion, a hard time going "back" to rules-light systems.

    3. TDE 4th edition was a real sinner in that regard, yes. 3rd edition was incredibly easy to get into, and 5th edition now falls between the two. But I see your point.

  2. Really looking forward to this series!
    I grew up with TDE and was exposed to D&D only much later, via PC games, and it seemed so random to me. TDE is really logical, in comparison.