Shadow of the Demon Lord (SotDL) is a tremendous game. I love how dark it is, how the combat is rapid and intense, there are enemies that are genuinely challenging, and player characters aren’t always assumed to win every encounter. Characters start as fragile commoners, and growing into powerful forces to be reckoned with.
As with any game, I like to tweak the rules once I understand how the rules work as written. This fine-tunes your campaign and helps emphasize the important themes. Personally, I love how SotDL gives GMs tools like disease, insanity, corruption, and other nasty things for the PCs to deal with, but I find that some of these threats don’t really pack much of a punch. These rules help adjust that.
1. The optional rules for Insanity are used from Unhinge the Mind.
Reasoning: Honestly, characters in Shadow of the Demon Lord campaigns really don’t ever go mad because it takes so long to accumulate Insanity. Madness is typically a null-issue, which means that character paths that have abilities that occur because of going Mad never come into play, like Berserker and Demonologist. With liberal use of Unhinge the Mind, Insanity becomes something for characters to manage, weighing their options to reduce insanity, like taking quirks or resting.
2. Except for clockwork, all ancestries that are ordinarily immune to the afflictions diseased and/or poisoned (as well as damage from disease and/or poison) are instead resistant to disease and/or poison; this grants a boon to challenge rolls made to avoid or remove the affliction. See Fever Dreams for more disease mechanics, and a host of horrid infections.
Reasoning: When a GM invents a sinister plague that slides through town, making villagers fall left and right, it is really anti-climactic when most of the party are completely immune to disease. They could roll in the pox pus of infected orphans and nothing would happen, which doesn’t seem to fit with SotDL’s grimdark themes. Now they still get a significant benefit, but it doesn’t eliminate the possibility of them getting infected.
3. Creatures lose their frightening or horrifying traits for characters of a certain level or higher, according to the creature’s difficulty.Character Path (level)Creature difficulties that are no longer frightening or horrifyingStarting (0)All creatures retain their frightening or horrifying traitNovice (1)All creatures retain their frightening or horrifying traitExpert (3)25 or lowerMaster (7)50 or lower
Reasoning: Does it really make sense that a level 10 Orc Warrior-Berserker-Deathdealer would still be terrified and go insane when they see an animated corpse, or a size 1/4 demon that they could kill easily in a single attack?
4. The effects of Cure and Greater Cure (SotDL page 133) are changed. The list of benefits for the spells are replaced with:
Remove one of the following afflictions from the target: fatigued, impaired, dazed.
Temporarily remove one of the following afflictions from the target: poisoned or diseased. If the poison or disease is an ongoing effect (i.e. the victim must make a Strength Challenge roll each day), the affliction returns after 1 hour.
If the target has gained Insanity in the last minute, remove 1 Insanity from the target.
Reduce any penalty to the target’s health by 2d6.
The target heals damage equal to half its healing rate.
Reasoning: Cure and Greater Cure spells are very effective. Very, very effective.
As discussed, diseases and poisons in SotDL are not threatening. The Cure spell normally removes the diseased condition without a roll, meaning no disease or poison can threaten you for more than a single round until the priest gets there. This is boring, turning plagues and poison traps into tedious acts of casting Cure. With the change, for ongoing effects like plague, the spell now temporarily helps the symptoms but doesn’t remove the cause. It is still useful, but you have to do something more to get rid of those oozing blisters…
Normally, with any down-time between adventures and at least one caster with the Life tradition that the party can reduce their Insanity to 0 simply by casting Cure multiple times each day. Insanity thus is never going to be an issue throughout the entire campaign, because of a rank 1 spell. With this change, the spell is still is useful to reduce Insanity, but you must act quickly, adding tension.
As written, Cure can remove all health penalties (a rank 1 spell can be used to remove a -50 penalty to health inflicted by a Hag’s curse). With this change, it is limited, but still very useful and can remove small penalties easily, with multiple castings required to remove large penalties.
Have other house rules that you use in your Shadow of the Demon Lord games? I would love to hear them, or any thoughts on my house rules, let me know in the comments below.