I recently had the honour to had a game of Rangers of Shadow Deep, a cooperative fantasy miniatures game with a big old RPG bent.
Since I don’t own the rulebook and only had three games so far I’m not doing a full review just now. But I essentially will. So on to the quasi-review.
Rangers of Shadow Deep is Joseph McCullough’s second notable set of rules, after the successful run with the Frostgrave rules (and derivates thereof) with Osprey. I got the Frostgrave rulebook pretty much at release and haven’t played it once. Read it a few times. Anyway, these new Rangers of Shadow Deep rules are self-published this time.
It’s a big, black book, softcover, 125 pages, comes with everything one needs to play: Character creation, including spells and heroic abilities, companions, equipment (ranging from the mundane to the magic variety), a whole range of enemies and – last but not least – a bunch of scenarios.
The layout of the book’s rather spacious, all black and white, the artwork is rather moody, all kept in the same style and by the same illustrator. Not my preferred look, but I’m sure it’ll resonate with many.
What is it then?
RoSD is a solo or cooperative fantasy miniatures game with a serious RPG flavour. Each player plays a ranger (of Shadow Deep) and a handful (depending on their Leadership characteristic and the number of players) of companions. These are chosen from a number of archetypes and aid the ranger in their missions into the dark, dark unknown to uncover the dark mysteries thereof.
The game’s scenario-based, each game depicting either a self-contained mission the rangers are sent out on to do, or several games depicting a longer adventure, full of twists and turns. It is expected that the game’s played as one big campaign, not unlike a pen&paper RPG, with the player characters gaining experience and material possessions over the course of their advantures.
What do I need to play it?
In the beginning each player creates their character based on a creation points system. Technically all of them are ‘rangers’, but there is a number of ways to customize the character. You can focus on close combat, ranged combat, special abilities, you can make your rangers a spell-caster, focus on getting a larger number of companions or play a ‘lone wolf’ if you prefer.
As you can see, this looks straight-up like a pen&paper RPG character sheet. Here we see the stats of my ranger, Drago Dunkelschummler. He’s a Dark Elf ranger (of course), and thus a super-cool ninja type person. I invested some points in upping the movement speed (because it’s an elf) from the regular 6″ to 7″, the mêlée score got a slight increase, just like the Will score.
In Rangers of Shadow deep you don’t choose a race (or class), it’s all done via stats. Unfortunately you can’t lower the base stats, but that could be house-ruled.
I invested several points to increase some skills, such as stealth and acrobatics, and in the end added some heroic abilities (Blend into Shadows, Dash and Deadly Strike) and a spell (Smoke, essentially to depict smoke bombs) to round the character off. Starting equipment is pretty simple – each player may choose five items from a very limited list, covering simple mundane equipment. I chose a hand weapon, a bow, a quiver full of arrows, light armour and a rope. All of this went pretty swiftly.
My two team mates created Distel, a gnomish ranger of the spellcasting/ranged combat persuasion and Clarissa, a proper archer.
In the end we worked out the points we get to spend on companions. Clarissa chose a heavily armoured knight to do the mêlée fighting while she peppers the opposition with arrows. Distel chose to bring her pet dragon Blautatz and a rogue named Milo. My character Drago was ordered by the guild of cool ninja assassin types to take two inexperienced novices with him – Drixi and Draxen.
How does the game work?
Now that we got our characters and companions, let’s have a look at the game mechanics.
This game is very much scenario driven, so usually the table is set up according to the scenario, an introductoriy blurb is read out, special rules and scenario goals are explained.
In general a game turn works as such:
.) Rangers activate – in which each player does something with their Ranger. One after another players may carry out two actions with their character: one move action (moving up to the character’s movement allowance) and another action like fighting, firing an arrow, using an item, interacting with a person or an item, and so on. Or do another move action (albeit at a reduced speed. It’s pretty much like in Infinity.)
.) Enemies activate – In which enemy creatures on the table act according to a few simple rules. Usually they’ll move in the direction of the next “goodie” character they see and, if possible attack them.
.) Companions activate – In this phase the rangers’ companions activate and may act just like the main characters: 2 actions, one thereof has to be a movement action. However, if companions are starting the turn close to the ranger they follow they may be activated in the Rangers’ phase. Which just one reason why sticking together is a good idea in this game.
If you’re familiar with Frostgrave you’ll instantly see some similarities here.
Combat is an opposed roll using 20-sided dice (D20). Each side adds their Fight Value, the side who wins gets to do damage if they penetrate the target’s armour. Each round that’s fought either side can be hurt, so better pick your fights wisely. Overall though it’s very straightforward.
Very, very straightforward in fact. To help with all this predictability (D20 aside), scenarios will throw in events based on a card draw at the end of each or each other turn.
…and that’s it pretty much. As you can see – simple. Now let’s see how we fared in our first game.
Mission 1 – The Missing
A famous ranger is reported missing while he was investigating a deserted village. A group of less famous rangers is sent in to find out what happened.
…and we’re instantly surrounded by a bunch of zombies and giant rats.
That’s why we’re not famous rangers. Yet. Anyway, there are four Clues on the table we have to investigate to find out about the whereabouts of the ranger, plus two more in the buildings.
Immediately we have our characters and underlings swarm out to collect the clues. Drixi runs up to the top left one, Draxen to the one in the top right. The knight bonks the head off a zombie, while Clarissa kills another undead.
Drago goes straight for another zombie, doesn’t quite kill it, and takes some damage.
Distel and Blautatz also take on a zombie while Milo dashes for the building in the right.
A turn later Drago finally manages to kill the zombie off. He immediately runs to help out Distel (who was quick to point out that she could have dealt with this on her own just fine).
Once the undead problems at the centre are solved Clarissa has her burly knight smash through the other building’s door to investigate. In the mean time she stands guard and shoots arrows at any opposition who stick their heads out.
Nobody quite knows what the knight does in the building, but there’s a lot of loud banging and kerrunching. Drago does’t think much of it as he elegantly dashes by, as the whole building suddenly collapses on him. Neither the knight nor Clarissa are hit by debris, but poor (and already injured) Drago is buried underneath a pile of rubble, costing him his last hit points!
Distel sends Blautatz over to check on Drago.
Things look grim, so she zips over (leaving Milo to fend off another zombie and a giant rat he encounters in the other hut by himself) to save the dark elf with a healing spell. He’s down for the game, but would be fine for the next mission.
The knight stumbles out of the building which collapsed on his head and into a zombie. In the meantime Clarissa investigates the last remaining clue. She encounters a very odd person who doesn’t know anything about a range, but happily follows her around, playing weird songs.
While all this is happening Drixi and Draxen had taken care of the two clues in the north. Drixi found a stash of dried weeds she stuffs into her pipe for later use. Draxen finds a corpse, but lacks the skill to make anything of it. They link up again to fight a shambling skeletal zombie.
Unfortunately this simple zombie proves to be too great a challenge for the youngsters, and they go to the ground, later to be rescued by the rest of the group. Not a glory day for the dark elven kind.
Here’s an overview of this stage of the game: Dark Elves in Purple, Distel’s crew being blue arrows, Clarissa and the knight in red, enemies in green.
In the lower right you can see Milo doing his thing. After having encountered a zombie in the house and a giant rat behind it, he goes for the last clue, finds another giant rat and kills it. In the mean time new zombies enter the table from all sides. So the pressure is on.
In the end all the dark elves are rescued, all the clues are investigated and the rangers take off, because the zombies keep coming.
We didn’t quite find anything out about that ranger that’d gone missing, but hey – most of us survived! Draxen got poisoned in the process, and would start the next mission with fewer hit points.
The post-game process is really simple – work out experience points based on the scenario objectives and for the number of enemies killed (we also got a bonus for rescuing that weird person and escorting him off the table).
Rangers of Shadow Deep plays really well. The game feels polished and well-tested. Having to rely on pre-made adventures of course is a constant problem, but a.) there’s plenty in the rulebook and b.) it’s not too hard to make any up. Oh, and of course there already are supplements and additional adventures out in pdf form.
The pre-done scenarios of course come with the caveat that you’ll have to have certain things in your collection. Actually, the scenarios each supply a list of miniatures and terrain pieces you’ll need to play. On this I certainly suggest applying some common sense and creativity. In the end the difference between an Orc and a Gnoll are miniscule for this sort of game. Just like you can substitute a giant rat with a giant spider/worm/chicken, a goblin, and so on.
If there’s one thing I’m not too happy with it’s that the game’s maybe a bit predictable. The events and randomized stuff that happens when investigating clues does help with that of course.
Then there’s that thing. It’s probably just me being weird, but it already bugged me in Frostgrave – the fact that only one of the characters gains experience. Sure, sure, the companions also gain a sort of reduced kind of experience, and in Frostgrave the apprentice also levels up along with the wizard. But somehow the idea that for some reason this one person is more special than their companions (who are more treated as cannonfodder) is odd to me. I would prefer to all members of the group to gain experience.
Anyway, Rangers of Shadow Deep works really well and we instantly made a date for another game in our campaign. So stay tuned for more adventures of our rag-tag band of rangers!
I hope you enjoyed the article and that you were able to get an idea of the straightforward rules for this modern, cooperative game. 🙂 If you have any questions or suggestions, please feel free to post them using the comments function below or send them directly by e-mail. You can also contact me directly via the Tabletop Stories Facebook page, the Battle Brush Studios Facebook page, or Battle Brush Studios.