Some time back the mid-1990s I purchased one of my favorite games of all time… Warhammer Quest! This board game was a spiritual successor to the popular HeroQuest series, with more RPG elements and that crazy Warhammer Fantasy flair. Players could build a team of custom heroes equipped with all manner of magical weapons and abilities in order to venture deep into all manner of ruins and treacherous locations. From my initial reading of today’s review, I immediately felt the nostalgic connection between those titles that I still love to this day. Grab a sword, Ranger! We are heading into the Shadow Deep!
Created by Joseph A. McCullough and published by Modiphius Entertainment, Rangers of Shadow Deep (RoSD) is a tabletop adventure game designed for 1-4 players (yes, they have options for solo play). As noted in the rulebook, each player creates a character – a ranger – to represent him on the table, and to go on a series of missions to explore the Shadow Deep and to fight against the evil forces that plot to destroy their kingdom. Over the course of these missions, players will learn more about the secrets of the dark realm and will be able to watch their characters grow in power and ability, enabling them to take on greater threats and make a larger contribution to the war.
Characters in RoSD are able to gain levels, progress, and otherwise build on their experience. There are also companion characters (essentially NPCs) that can aid in missions and gain experience over the course of a campaign. Unlike other tabletop adventure games, RoSD implements a streamlined mechanic allowing for a GM-less experience wherein all adversaries follow “marching orders” of sorts that allow the game to move forward quickly.
Also, this game assumes that players are going to play this on a table, so the scale of each scenario will often times reflect a 3ft x 3ft play area. There are no dungeon tiles to worry about, no special dice, or multi-token related minutia. You only really need a playing surface, your character sheet, a few d20s, a deck of playing card, and a token or miniature to get started. The creators of this game took great care to make sure that everything from the resources needed, and prep time are minimalistic. RoSD is designed for fluidity and can easily be picked up and understood by players of any experience or skill level.
It should also be noted the Deluxe Edition there have been a few additions including updated and expanded rules for character creation, updated errata and rule corrections/revisions, and expanded artwork. If you were planning to buy the game, this edition would be the one to go for.
SIDEBAR – Rangers of Shadow Deep reminds me of not only HeroQuest & Warhammer Quest, but also Myth 2: Soulblighter, and most importantly, Zombicide: BlackPlague! There is just this interesting combo of tactical adventure and RPG with a dark setting. The mechanics set in RoSD would make for an awesome adaptation of Band of Blades, or Mordheim!
RoSD takes place in a dark fantasy setting where the world is slowly being consumed by the Shadow Deep, a realm of darkness wherein evil lies. The Kingdom of Alladore is currently next in line to be consumed by said darkness, and it is up to the rangers, a group of skilled heroes, to stop it. This is a game about playing as heroes who are desperately fighting a desperate campaign against a seemingly unstoppable evil. They are the light against the darkness, and little by little, they will try to keep Shadow Deep at bay for another day. The world of RoSD is a brutal one. Characters and Companions may be gravely injured or die. Objectives may be lost, but for those who persist, a great story will unfold.
Campaign play is where this game truly shines, as there is a great deal of freedom regarding the layout of each scenario with only a handful of useful rules to make sure the layout is fair and optimal for play. Since dungeon tiles are not part of the game, there is no need to worry about creating random snaking corridors or having to conform to the limits of the resources at hand. On the flip side, this is exactly the type of game that could utilize dungeon tiles if desired or be adapted to an online environment like Roll20.
As campaigns progress, characters will learn more about the plot, the kingdom, and the Shadow Deep itself. Each scenario builds naturally on itself and can have either straight forward or an elaborate series of objectives. Playing cards are drawn to randomize events that may vary per scenario.
Additionally, some of the pre-generated adventures in the book truly utilize the skills of the characters and give agency to the players. For instance, there are scenarios in which players can choose the approach that will dictate where they start on the board. Said approach may affect the type of skills that they may need to utilize in order to achieve the objective. A frontal assault may require stronger characters or those who are able to pick locks. Conversely there are times where swimming across bodies or water or jumping over gaps may prove invaluable. Imaginative GMs could really make some awesome campaigns using this toolset.
To call them rangers can sound slightly misleading. This is not just a group of woodsmen who jump from tree to tree while firing arrows. Ranger is a broad term meaning a multi skilled explorer or adventurer. They are the Swiss Army Knife of heroes. With that said, a player can create the character they want from the start. This includes the adding spells, hero abilities, and any combination of skills. For example, you could feasibly make a stealthy archer who can cast fireball, pick locks and swim. The combinations are up to the player, and every choice is useful!
Characters consist of the following:
- Stats – Move, Fight, Shoot, Amour, Will and Health
- Heroic Abilities – Think of this as Feats from D&D 3rd edition. They allow players to perform combat maneuvers, provide passive buffs, or take a unique action.
- Spells – Spells have wide array of uses including combat, utility, movement, and buff/debuff related effects. Teleportation, healing, fireball and even creating magic ladders can all be equally useful.
- Skills – There are 15 total skills covering a wide array of utility. Acrobatics, Pick Lock, Perception, Tracking, and Swimming are just to name a few. A skill like Ancient Lore may prove invaluable in some scenarios where identifying Shadow Deep objects or writings may provide valuable clues towards the next objective.
- Equipment – Characters may only carry so many items at once, but interestingly basic equipment can be easily replaced or swapped without cost. Sometimes this means that players must choose to drop an item if they need another.
During character creation, players have a number of build points to spend across all of these aspects in order to flesh out a complete character.
The Rangers of Shadow Deep books is 130 pages long, complete with illustrations and nicely laid out. There is a robust bestiary that covers a wide array of adversaries. Everything from the undead to demons, and giant creatures will be available. Similarly, the bulk of the game rules are quickly navigable and easily understandable.
The PDF is linked and the campaign provided in the latter sections of the book are impressive. Depending on how the players chooses the missions, there are upwards of nine scenarios to play with increasing difficulty. There are also advertisements for an additional four campaign modules. On a side note, I can see RoSD as they type of system where a crafty GM could easily re-skin/adapt the rules it into branching type of fantasy settings or even another genre entirely.
This game has everything that I could want out of a tabletop adventuring game! It has a streamlined system, great setting, player agency, and even the ability to play it solo!
I am struggling to find a downside to this game, however, TTRPG fans may find this one too “RPG lite” for their liking. In addition, if the creators are reading this there is room for an optional module for “downtime activities/encounters”
If you like tactical games, Zombicide, Warhammer Quest, board games or are not allergic to fun… buy this game!