07 May Why Should I Play This Game?
A Beginner’s Look at The Dark Eye
There have been a lot of high-profile fantasy RPGs to hit the gaming community in the last few years – some light, some grim, some familiar, some not – so onlookers can be forgiven for wondering why they should consider yet another option just because it happens to be a very popular game in Germany. I’ll admit, I wondered that too.
As a new arrival myself, I thought I would take a moment to walk you through a beginner’s introduction to The Dark Eye.
The Dark Eye is an epic fantasy setting. It’s not grimdark or low-magic, but rather a classical high-fantasy setting. I choose the word “classical” very carefully – Aventuria shows some of the same Tolkien roots you would expect in a fantasy game from the 70s and 80s, but it also carries more of a fairy tale sensibility than most other games I’ve seen. There’s also a subtle distinction to a fantasy game that includes knights and castles that are inspired by Germanic rather than Arthurian tradition.
But what makes the setting of The Dark Eye really stand out is its continual progression over the past 30 years and heading into the future. This is a living world – not one that changes simply from edition to edition, but one that is constantly being written through a variety of source material. I would equate it to the old World of Darkness, although with more creative focus and consistency (and without the power creep). The designers of The Dark Eye put a lot of thought and planning into telling stories with a growing world without making such drastic changes that players can’t keep up.
What’s more, the designers have always looked to fan feedback to help guide new developments, and they plan on including the English-speaking audience in that conversation moving forward.
I’ll admit, I’m not a fan of the 20-sided die. I dislike the small-sample problems it creates in most games where it is used. Too often when I’m playing other popular d20 fantasy games I get stuck with terrible rolls for things that I should be good at. I have become very reluctant to play any d20 games where I don’t get rerolls or after-roll adjustments.
But The Dark Eye just works better. Roll under makes for more predictable math than the usual roll+modifier mechanic. And even more than that, TDE offers both after-roll adjustments and rerolls. I particularly enjoy the non-combat skill system, which involves groups of skills tied to combinations of attributes. This is probably the most mechanically unique thing about TDE, and it deserves its own detailed discussion. It may seem a bit odd when you are first trying it out, but it’s really quite elegant once you get used to it.
What I will say about it briefly is that it emphasizes those skills more than I’ve seen in other fantasy games. In many systems, it can feel futile to try something unless you excel at it, but The Dark Eye encourages you to explore many different approaches and solutions, especially those that feel the most in-character. But at the same time, it makes characters feel competent at their skill specialties.
And it’s the little things that I appreciate as well: I like active defense. I enjoy an armor system that actually reduces damage instead of making me harder to hit. I like the narrow band of initiative results, so that quick characters are always quick. I like systems that include a degree of success, and I particularly love how The Dark Eye handles that feature. And overall I just like how boardgame-level pretty it is.
I understand that it can be hard to put your faith in yet another fantasy game, to believe that somehow this time it will be different. But The Dark Eye really does have a unique feel. If you’re looking for rich epic fantasy storytelling with a fresh mechanical approach, I think you’ll enjoy it.
Eric Simon, Social Media Manager