Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Review: The Dark Eye

The Dark Eye
I have known about this game for a while, both The Dark Eye and the original German Das Schwarze Auge. I always wanted to own the original German, having taken German in both high school and college, but not using a language for, well longer than I care to admit, you lose it. Das tut mir leid.

The Dark Eye always attracted me as a sort of darker fantasy RPG.  A game where Mirkwood is replaced by the Black Forest.  

I picked the 2nd Printing of the English edition at my local game auction.  I grabbed the core rules and a bunch of add-ons that I suspect came from Kickstarter. There is a lot and it all looks so good. There is even a basic QuickStart.

The Dark Eye - Core Rules

Hardcover & PDF. 414 pages. Full-color cover and interior art (and all of it is gorgeous).

For the purposes of this review, I am considering both my hardcover version and the PDF from DriveThruRPG.

There is so much about this book and game that I love. Before I go into my deep dive I want to say that this game is wonderfully crunchy; this is not a rules-light game. BUT, and I can't stress this enough, it works so well here.  This easily could have come across as an artifact of the mid-80s with some early 2000s notions added on, but it doesn't. It actually all holds together rather well. I can well imagine that this is what D&D would have been like if instead of the wilds of Wisconsin it grew up in the wilds of Germany.  In both cases, the beer and brats would have been good. The adventuring world, Aventuria (and I will be discussing that more), is a dark place but the characters seem lighter for it. It is a nice antidote for the "Grimdark" worlds where the characters are equally grim. 

Chapter 1: Introduction 

This chapter gives us the basics of the game including what an RPGs are. We also get some background on the adventuring land of Aventuria including the lands of Middenrealm and surrounding lands. There is a nice map too. We get a brief on all the gods and demigods and even the five major dragons of the world. 

Chapter 2: Basic Rules

Covers what it says, basic rules. The game mostly uses d6s and d20s. There are eight attributes; Courage (Cou), Sagacity (Sag), Intuition (Int), Charisma (Cha), Dexterity (Dex), Agility (Agl), Constitution (Con), and Strength (Con). Remember I said it was wonderfully crunchy. Attribute checks are rolled on a 1d20, rolling under their score. Pretty easy. There are modifiers to these rolls as to be expected. A roll of "1" is a success and "20" is a botch.  If a modifier ever brings an attribute below "1" then it can't be attempted. This chapter also covers the basic of Skill checks and combat. 

There are also various Conditions, like confusion, pain, paralysis and so on that also modify various rolls and even combat and movement. 

I think this great to have all of this up front since it helps with the Character Creation section next.

Chapter 3: Hero Creation

This chapter details character creation. There are 15 steps outlined. Sounds like a lot, but character creation is quite detailed. It is a 4-page character sheet after all. There are many human cultures that provide some roleplaying differences and some mechanical ones. Additionally, there are Elven and Dwarven cultures too. By Step 5 we are getting to allocating points to our Attributes. Going pretty fast so far. This is a point-buy system and like many modern RPGs you can set caps on attributes and the total number of points.  You can choose a Profession (detailed in Chapter 6), as well as choosing Advantages and Disadvantages. You can then modify abilities, calculate combat techniques, choose any special abilities, calculate your derived characteristics, buy equipment, choose your starting age and name. 

There are some sample characters given and some details of how they were made. With all these cultures, professions, advantages, and disadvantages you can make a wide variety of characters. 

I created one for a Character Creation Challenge last year, the process was long but really fun.

Chapter 4: Races

This gets into detail on the races available to us. In addition to the Humans, Elves and Dwarves we have met there are also Half-Elves (who use elf or human culture).

Chapter 5: Cultures

Cultures are the more important aspect of your character's background. So there is more on culture than on race. The cultures are highly detailed and have some Earth analogues, but not exact copies which is nice. 

Toad Witch
Chapter 6: Professions

These are the "classes" of The Dark Eye. And there are a lot of them here. They are divided into three types, Mundane, Magical, and Blessed.

Mundanes include Bard, Courtier, Gladiator, Guard, Healer, Hunter, Knight, Mercenary, Merchant, Performer, Rogue, Sailor, Spy, Tribal Warrior, and Warrior. 

Magical professions are: Spellweaver, Wyldrunner, Cat Witch, Raven Witch, Toad Witch (three witches!), Black Mage, Gray Mage, Guildless Mage, and White Mage.

Blessed professions are your cleric and religious types. They are: Blessed One of Boron, Blessed One of Hesinde, Blessed One of Peraine, Blessed One of Phex, Blessed One of Praios, and Blessed One of Rondra. Or, the various gods of the land, but not all of them.

Chapter 7: Advantages and Disadvantages

This covers the same lists found in character creation, but much more detail.

I am a huge fan of Advantages and Disadvantages. We used them all the time in Unisystem and became a great mechanic. I would love to see them ported over to D&D in someway.  But I guess modern D&D has feats, so there is that. These are great here and hit all the ones I expect to see.

Chapter 8: Skills and Chapter 9: Combat

Both chapter deal with how to run skills, non-combat, and combat respectively.  Chapter 8, like Chapter 7, provide more detail than what was presented in Character Creation, Chapter 3.

Chapter 10: Magic

My favorite part of any fantasy RPG is Magic. This one is no exception. In the Dark Eye we have two basic methods of controlling arcane power, Spellcasting and Rituals. 

Now various spell-casting checks rely on different combinations of attributes, so no one mage is going to be great at everything unless all their attribute are high. Point-buy mostly assures this won't happen. Magic is a highly detailed affair, as to be expected. So one magic-using class is certainly not like the other. 

There are rules for traditions, artifacts, illusions. Just tons of details here. It is certainly one of the most robust magic systems I have seen in a while. Even elves have a complete different set of magics. 

And of course, there are spell listings. 

Chapter 11: Works of the Gods

This is similar to the Magic chapter, but for the Blessed Ones.  The magic here has different mechanics as to be expected really. While the "Spells" are largely similar format (for ease of reading) they feel very different.

Chapter 12: Detailed Rules

Covers all sorts of other rules. Healing, disease, poisons, heat and cold, and gaining experience. Also how Arcane Energy and Karma are replenished. 

Chapter 13: Bestiary

Usually, my next favorite chapter after Magic and this one is great.  We get all sorts of demons, elementals, animals, and familiars listed here. Obviously room for much more. The monsters are built like characters, so have similar statblocks.

Chapter 14: Equipment

All the gear your characters will need.

Chapter 15: Game Tips

Both tips for the Players and the GMs. Kudos to them showing apples as the game snack.


This includes a checklist for optional rules (with page numbers), common abbreviations, and tables.

There is just SO MUCH with this game.

The Dark Eye RPG

I am overjoyed AND overwhelmed with all the options.  I can easily see why this game is so popular here and in Germany.  It is a game I would love to do more with. There is just so much material to be had, both to buy and for free. There is even a Community Content section for fan-produced works.

I could spend another year with it and still be finding something new. My only regret is not having anyone I can play this one with.  

Well. I suppose I will mine it for ideas.

This game will not be everyone's cup of tea, but it will be the perfect game out there for some groups.


Granger44 said...

For me, there were a couple aha items within Dark Eye. I first encountered the system in the PC game Drakensang which hooked me for a short while.

The first was that skill rolls were a set of attribute rolls (almost always 3) and skill points were used to buy off failures. Though I don't own it, I know the newer version standardized some things, but the older version I have had different attribute mixes for each skill (and rules on altering those mixes if the GM/players thought it made sense).

The second was how combat skills worked with a split between offensive and defensive capabilities (though kept reasonably close).

Florent "Killerklown" Didier said...

Nice review of a really nice game! I hate the 3 rolls for a skill check, but the Universe of this game is just amazing!