Dungeon Master Assistance

Where anyone over 18 can share thoughts and ideas on RPGs.

D&D 5E vs. ShadowDark

Comparing Dungeons and Dragons to ShadowDark.

This is one of several reviews I am doing this year of various table top roll playing games. I am specifically comparing them to D&D 5e. I am doing this with the assumption that my readers are already familiar with D&D 5e. The following review is based only upon my reading of the rulebook. I haven’t played this yet, but I will be posting my opinion after I get a chance to play test it.

I am referring here to the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons as 5E and ShadowDark as SD. This information is for evaluation purposes, it should not be considered official rules of the game. You can assume than things that I don’t list here are basically like 5E with only minor differences. Where SD uses different terminology than D&D, I have noted the terms used in 5E in square brackets. As an example, “Ancestry [Race]” indicates that SD uses the term “Ancestry” where 5E uses “Race”.

 In SD the Dungeon Master is called the Game Master.

Summary of the game system

ShadowDark is a new game created by Kelsey Dionne. It is a rules-light table top fantasy role playing game with an old school feel, but it isn’t a retro-clone. She calls it a nostalgic-but-new adventuring system. It is currently (as of March 18, 2023) on Kickstarter and has over $900.000.00 pledged of $10,000 goal. She has my pledge and I can hardly wait. In the meantime this review is based on my reading of the ShadowDark free quickstart set.

Primary differences between ShadowDark and D&D 5e

Stats [Abilities]

  • Ability Scores: SD and 5E both use the same 6 ability scores.

Ancestry [Race]

  • You can choose to play a Dwarf, Elf, Goblin, Halfling, Half-orc, or Human.
  • These races should be familiar to you, but their descriptions are very short. For example, here is the entire description for a Dwarf.
    • Brave, stalwart folk as sturdy as the stone kingdoms they carve inside mountains.
    • You know the Common and Dwarvish languages.
    • Stout: Start with +2 HP. Roll your hit point gains with advantage.
  • No Darkvision: None of the races can see in the dark.
  • Speed: All races have the same move rate – During your turn, you can move up to “near” (roughly 30 feet).


  • Your character can be a Fighter, Priest, Thief, or Wizard.
    • Fighter:
      • You add your CON mod to your gear slots. (Refer to Gear Slots below.)
      • You add 1/2 your level +1 to attack and damage with one weapon type of your choice.
      • You have advantage on your choice of STR or DEX checks.
    • Priest [Cleric]
      • Turn Undead. You know the turn undead spell.
      • You serve a deity who matches your alignment (Chaotic, Lawful or Neutral).
      • You start with 2 tier 1 [level 1] priest spells and gain new spells with each level.
    • Thief [Rogue]
      • Backstab. If you hit a creature who is unaware of your attack, add 1/2 your level to the damage.
      • Thievery. You have advantage on these tasks [In 5E you would be proficient in these abilities]:
        • Climbing
        • Sneaking and hiding
        • Applying disguises
        • Finding and disabling traps
        • Delicate tasks such as picking pockets and opening locks
    • Wizard
      • You start with 3 tier 1 [level 1] wizard spells and gain new spells with each level. (No spell book required.)
      • You can also learn spells from spell scrolls.
    • Titles: Your character in each class receives a title based on his alignment that changes as he advances in level.
    • Talents: [Could be compared to feats in 5E, but much less powerful or complex.] Humans get one additional talent at first level.

Here is an example of the talents for the Fighter class:

2Gain Weapon Mastery with one additional weapon
3-6+1 to melee and ranged attacks
7-9+2 to Strength, Dexterity, or Constitution stat
10-11Choose one kind of armor. You get +1 AC from that armor
12Choose a talent or +2 points to distribute to stats

XP and character level advancement

  • Experience Points
    • XP awards not based on the monsters you kill but on the quality of the treasure and boons you gain.
    • The levels range from 1 to 10 in the quick start rules. I can’t find anywhere if that is the level cap that will be in the full core rule book.
  • Leveling Up
    • All classes advance at the same speed.
    • To gain a level, you need to earn your current level x 10 XP.
    • Once you reach a new level, your total XP resets back to zero.
    • You get any new title, spells, and talent improvements listed for your level. Your maximum HP increases, and you might also gain a talent roll.
  • Talent Roll: You gain one roll on your class’s talent table when you reach the indicated levels (about once every other level.) Duplicate talents stack unless noted.
  • Increased HD: Roll your class’s hit points die and add it to your maximum HP. You don’t’ add your CON mod and you must roll for each level’s HP.
  • Ability Modifiers: From a score of 2 to 18 the modifiers are the same as 5E. A score of 1-3 is -4, any score of 18 or over is +4 so there is no need to ever go over 18.

Character creation

  • Select a Background, roll Stats, choose an Ancestry, choose a Class, roll one class Talent, determine Hit Points, select an Alignment, roll for starting gold, and buy your Gear.
  • Abilities: Roll 3d6 six times and assign to abilities in order.
  • Hit Points: Equal to one roll of your class’s hit points die + your CON mod (minimum 1)
  • Starting Gold: Everyone starts with 2d6 x 5 gold pieces.
  • Purchase Gear: You must purchase your equipment from the equipment lists.

Armor Class

  • Unarmored: 10 + your DEX mod
  • Armor: There are only 3 armor types. The AC they provide are: Leather 11 + DEX mod, Chainmail 13 + DEX mod, Plate mail 15, Shield +2

Gear Slots

  • You can carry a number of items equal to your Strength stat or 10, whichever is higher. Most gear besides typical clothing fills one gear slot.

Luck Tokens [Inspiration]

  • These are used just like inspiration with one subtle change. Instead of using it to roll with advantage you can use it to reroll any roll you just made. (This is a common house rule in 5E.)

Crawling [5E doesn’t have a name for this. It is everything that is not combat]

  • Characters are in crawling rounds while not in combat. Everyone always acts in turn.
  • Round: about 6 minutes but it suggests that you use real world time for time passing in the game.
  • Turns: Each person takes a turn, starting with the GM and going clockwise.
  • Actions: On your turn in the round, you can move up to near (roughly 30 feet) and take an action, or move twice. An action can be anything you could typically do in 6 minutes.
  • Distances: Distances are broken up into close (5 feet), near (up to 30 feet), and far (within sight during an encounter or scene).


  • Round: about 6 minutes.
  • Initiative: At the start of combat, initiative is rolled as in 5E, then the one with the highest result goes first, followed by the others clockwise around the table.
  • Move: On your turn in the round you can move, splitting up your movement however you want, and take an action, or move twice.
  • Actions:
    • As your action you can make a melee or ranged attack, cast a spell, or do an improvised action.
    • You can also do small, parallel tasks on your turn, such as standing up, speaking, activating a magic item, or quaffing a potion. This doesn’t typically use your action.
  • Critical Hit: You deal a critical hit if you roll a natural 20 on an attack roll or spellcasting check. For a weapon, double its damage dice on the attack. For a spell, you may double one of its numerical effects.


  • Enemies who are reduced to half their ranks (or half their hit points for a solo enemy) flee if they fail a DC 15 Wisdom check.


  • Death Timer: When you are reduced to 0 HP you set a death timer. You set the number of rounds before you dye by rolling 1d4 + CON mod (min. 1).
  • Survive: On your turn each round before you dye, roll 1d20. If you roll a natural20 you rise with 1 HP.
  • Stabilize: An ally that is close to you can make a DC 15 INT check. On a success, you stop dying (but are still unconscious).

Magic and spell casting

  • Spell Tiers [levels]: These range from 1-5. I don’t know if there will be higher spell tiers in the core rule book.
  • Types of Spells: There are wizard spells and priest spells.
  • Casting Spells: To cast a spell, roll 1d20 + your INT mod if a wizard or your WIS mod if a priest. The DC to successfully cast the spell is 10 + the spell’s tier [spell’s level].
    • Critical Success: On a natural 20, you may double one of the spell’s numerical effects. This remains in effect on a focus [concentration] spell until your next focus check.
    • Critical Failure: On a natural 1, the spell fails. If it was a wizard spell, you can’t cast that spell again until after a [long] rest and you roll on the Wizard Mishap table. If it was a priest spell, you can’t cast that spell again until you perform a penance to your deity and complete a [long] rest.
  • Acquiring and preparing spells: You don’t have to prepare spells. You can cast any spell you know. You acquire new spells when you advance in levels. You can also learn new spells from scrolls.
  • Saving Throws: This is typically their Wisdom check opposed by your last spellcasting check.
  • Spell descriptions: Each spell is clearly described and easy to use. There is no option to cast a spell at a higher level.

What you need to get started

Everything you need is available on ShadowDark’s web site.

You can download the Quick Start Set for free that includes a one-shot adventure and character sheets.

If you decide you want to run a ShadowDark campaign, you will want to get the ShadowDark RPG core rulebook. It’s not available quite yet, but you can get it as soon as it is available by making a Pledge on their KickStarter page.

Final Thoughts

  • This is a deadly game. To quote from the book “Characters at zero HP die in 1d4 + Constitution modifier (minimum 1) rounds. Dead characters are retired from play!” So you had better hope you have a friend close by with a heal spell ready.
  • It is very rules-light and stresses rulings over rules.
  • No multiclass.
  • No spell slots.
  • No spell books.
  • No spell components.
  • No skill system – no ranks or skill points.
  • ShadowDark does use Advantage/Disadvantage rolls.
  • This is a newer style of game that still feels old school.
  • I like it (mostly). I will have to see how some of this plays at the table.

2 responses to “D&D 5E vs. ShadowDark

  1. b003 March 20, 2023 at 2:29 pm

    Looks good.


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