En Garde! It’s Shadow, Sword and Spell

Shadow Sword & Spell is, as you might guess by the name, a swashbuckling sword and sorcery game. It uses a system called 12° and offers a suitably light and fast-paced gameplay experience extremely well matched to the genre it strives to portray. It provides a toolkit to tell human-oriented sword and sorcery stories in the mold of the classics of the genre, but leaves it up to you to decide which elements to emphasize.

The Pros

SS&S is a very easy system to use once play begins, allowing for a fast-paced game. Among the elements I really enjoyed were the non-binary social conflict resolution mechanics—which is to say, people’s reactions can be gradually affected over time, but rarely flipped from hostile to friendly with a single roll. Negotiations can thus be more readily portrayed, whether they’re over the price of a longsword or over someone’s very life.

Another nice aspect is the inclusion of Hooks in the character creation process, which are used to define the character and provide roleplaying and story opportunities. The sword and sorcery influences and the focus on human characters make it quite easy to come up with a character concept, from a cutthroat rogue to a mighty-thewed barbarian and anything in between.

Yet another selling point is the game’s scalability—which is to say, unlike D&D, it could be run quite easily with one player and a DM, or with seven or more players and a DM, a range far broader than D&D’s optimum of five players.

The Cons

Unfortunately, the character creation process got bogged down when I took the game for a test drive with a group of friends. The presentation of the skill system was so confusing that six of us, more than half of us avid gamers and amateur game designers ourselves, had some difficulty determining exactly what was meant to be happening on our sheets. Ultimately we discovered that errata had been published on the official website that clarified the system, and were able to proceed, but it was a frustrating point that probably could have been avoided with another pass or two of editing, and had we not been able to access the internet readily at the time of character creation it could easily have been a greater issue.

Another editing pass would also have picked up several grammatical errors throughout the text. None of this significantly detracts from the function of the game, but presentation is very important.

A third issue we faced was that the skills can be quite granular and the difference between them is not immediately evident at a glance. Examples include Divination and Astrology, or Heal and Physick. In a system where purchasing the appropriate skills is one of the major ways of defining your character, it is important to make the distinction between available skills clear.

The Verdict

Ultimately, SS&S is a fun game to play, and a nice toolkit to use to create sword and sorcery worlds of your own. If you enjoy sword and sorcery, and don’t mind not having elves and dwarves as playable races, then you could indeed do much worse. The price point for the game is spectacular at under $20 for a print and digital bundle, and under $10 for the PDF only, and can more than make up for the few bumps in character creation and presentation. Once we got to actually playing the game, we discovered an enjoyable and easy to use system that for the most part everyone in the group was satisfied with.

Further reading

Comments (2)

Daniel M. Perez (September 29th, 2010)

The game is undergoing a new editing revision and all PDF copies purchased will be sent the updated copy once it’s out. Likewise, the next printing of the book will be the new edit.

Brandan Landgraff (September 30th, 2010)

That’s fantastic to hear and I can almost guarantee at least one purchase of the new revision, since I really enjoyed playing around with the game. Any estimate on when it will be out?

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