The Rising Dark – Not Quite a Review
I’m currently reading “The Rising Dark” by Nicholas Berquist and I have to say I am surprised it is holding my interesting. Let me explain that I have nothing against Berquist or his writing/design and really have nothing but praise for what I am reading. Instead my issue is with the dark fantasy genre in a general sense as I have never been able to understand the appeal of it. If I want grim and dirty I can drive the two hours to Philly.
However, despite my general dislike of the dark fantasy genre I find myself continually sneaking glances at “The Rising Dark” due to pure ability of the author not only to turn some common things on their head but in the immersive quality of the world Berquist is creating with each world.
The menagerie of gods presented pretty much at the beginning of the book is a joy to read, even if each god only gets a scant paragraph. Complete broad deities all of them unique in some way claw for attention, and as a player who loves going in as a Cleric, I found myself weighing my options not based on domains (or profiles in “The Rising Dark”) but on the outline provided for that deity. This is the first time since a homebrew setting back in my Army days, that I’ve weighed deities by more than what they offered me in terms of … well in game terms …
By offering up the deities first, I believe Barquist is throwing to the potential player from the get go that he wants this game to be one of stories and myth not stats. This thought is continued in the thought of corruption and its role in the game.
According the rules of the game world, Agraphar, all magic, no matter the source, is chaos made manifest and shaped by the caster in the material realm. As such, unless protected by some means, spell casters and some spell enchanted items can be affected by the corrupting powers of Chaos. This is, however, not that easy, as to be affected by corruption the cast needs to first roll a natural 20 (in addition to his normal roll) and then fail a saving throw. If both happen the cast receives a “corruption mark”. It takes three of these marks to start the true corruption process on the caster, but still the threat is there, every spell, every enchantment holds the power to drag a person kicking and screaming into the darkness. It is a beautiful addition to magic and spell-casting in the OSR (or in fact any d20 system).
One last note on spell-casting and corruption in “The Rising Dark” is that of the life of a spell-caster who, due to their profession, are typically feared and hated by others because of who they are (yes folks, that is an X-Men reference).
The rest of the book is mainly devoted to delving into the world of Agraphar itself, with information on the nations, peoples and interesting locales to adventure in. There is an adventure in the book “The Doom of Zeramath” which I am still reading and haven’t had the chance to inflict upon anyone at my local game shop (where I have begun to host pick-up games). I will say the formatting of the adventure is more in the modern vain and less in the classic. There are also sections on new spells, monsters and the like.
There is also a section on races and it is huge. There are grand total of fourteen playable races in “The Darkness Rises” ranging from the normal lot of humans, dwarves and elves to more unique races like satyrs and faeries. Some of the presented races come with inform in game terms (i.e. dark vision 15 feet, etc) but most of the information is cosmetic and helps to paint the picture of these races and how they interact with the more overarching world of Agraphar.
There may be more to Agraphar, as “The Rising Dark” serves as an introduction to the world. There is a Gazette available for free at drivethrurpg.com but I haven’t looked at it yet. As is, however, “The Rising Dark” offers a lot of ideas, a world that can easily immerse a player or referee and brings to the table some excellent new concepts.
The pdf itself runs 57 pages, the art is almost all public domain ranging from the Renaissance to the neo-classical, and runs $2.99 for the pdf.