Dark Places & Demogorgons is an extension of the game, Survive This! by Bloat Games. In it, you play a high school student trying to figure out a rash of disappearances in your dreamy suburban setting. Get the full review after the jump.
Dark Places & Demogorgons Background
Dark Places & Demogorgons launched as a Kickstarter campaign in 2017. It had already been developed at the time of the campaign. That means it was written, laid out, plat tested, and … well, it was ready to go when it reached its fundraising goal.
And that was over $7,500.
Dark Places & Demogorgons is an OSR game, and its foundation is “the original 1970s fantasy roleplaying game.” To you and me, that means Dungeons & Dragons.
For ease-of-typing, I’ll use DP&D for Dark Places & Demogorgons for the rest of this review.
It’s the 1980s and you’re a high school student in Jeffersontown, KY. It’s a suburb of Louisville. One that’s right at the edge of farm land and the hilly back country.
In your town, people go missing often. You and your band of friends need to figure out what’s happening before you go missing too. Weird shit happens. The police have no idea how to solve these cases. And you’ve got a rogue preacher who thinks the town is the Devil’s playground.
Sounds like a lot of drama, eh?
Now, let me put back on my reviewer hat: I would normally balk at the material provided. DP&D is a minimalistic rule book. It gets to the point and leaves out extraneous details.
But, the creators found a way to weave in enough to make the setting come alive. It also doesn’t hurt that they rapidly produced a series of supplements to fill in gaps, like the Jeffersontown Setting Guide (more on that later).
I’ll give them kudos for translating the 80s for people who weren’t alive yet. On pages 78-9, there’s a table that tells you what technology people had to use in the 80s. Remember, we didn’t have iPhones, nor Google, back then.
DP&D uses templates for 5 different classes of characters. Within the classes there are a 3 subclasses available.
The 5 classes include:
- The Brain
- The Outsider
These are all tropes you’d expect to find in high school.
Each class has specialties for its attributes, so you get some starting skills and background information for each. The one added element is a random background roll. The Game Master, like a Dungeon Master, can let you roll d100 twice for some character flavor. That means your kid could be a doomsday prepper with an odd fear of loud noises. It gives you a chance to get bonus attribute modifiers.
Anyway, the character attributes are just like other D&D derivatives:
- Strength (STR)
- Intelligence (INT)
- Wisdom (WIS)
- Dexterity (DEX)
- Constitution (CON)
- Charisma (CHA)
- Survival (SUR)
I’ve added more about Survival under Game Mechanics. In a nut shell, you roll a 3d6 to score each attribute. You can roll 7 times and then assign the scores: No need to go in order. The best score you can get is 18, which gives a +3 modifier to any roll based on attribute. Obviously, a 3 means you get a -3 modifier under these situations.
To me, it’s easier to take a class and sub-class, then modify it. You don’t have to look up all the skills and background info to get started. Check out the sections on psychic abilities and magic, too.
You also get Armor Class, for defensive rolls and to prevent damage, an alignment, and a system for advance your character based on experience points (XP).
Now, hit points have a minimum. No character can have less than 5 hit points. As you advance, you get a d6 increase per level, and there are only 5 levels in this game.
If you’re familiar with Dungeons & Dragons, then this game is a breeze to pick up. It has all the mechanics you’d expect. There are saving throws, modifiers (+3 or -3 based on attribute), initiative, hit points and more stuff right out of Wizards Of The Coast games. I would say this is closer to your standard D&D rules than Advanced D&D.
So, this game is meant to move fast. It’s not encumbered by a lot of pre-roll checks and modifiers. It’s as simple as check the attribute and add/subtract based on the situation and let ‘er rip.
There are a couple of attributes that can start an encounter or change the impact of a roll. Those are Courage and the use of Survival points. For Courage, you roll to see if your character will run away in fear on the very first encounter with something supernatural. With Survival points, you can spend one to see if you can undo a botched roll. It’s kinda like spending Karma points in Marvel Super-Heroes.
The designers use examples throughout the book to clearly show how the mechanics works. If you played D&D, it’s a piece of cake to use this system. If you played White Wolf games, it’s not difficult to make the switch.
Monsters & Ghosts
The Monsters & Ghosts section starts on page 99 and goes through page 167. That’s a good chunk of material for critters, spooks and beasties. The best developed monsters appear under the Adventure Seeds, mini-adventures for players.
Once you get past this section, the monster descriptions are pretty sparse. You get a minimal description, the stats info and the monsters’ special attacks or powers. Overall, I’d say this section is ‘meh’ at best. The game producers did make supplements to address this. But, some of the supplements aren’t worth your time. You can see which ones I recommend under Supplements.
In all, this is a lackluster area of DP&D that I hope they fix in an updated edition.
Aesthetics & Information Design
This game takes you back. The art selected, from cover to character illustrations, looks exactly like something you’d find in a D&D book from that period, if D&D took place in high school. I could also see a bit from the first editions of White Wolf games. To make it feel more like high school, there are year book pages scattered throughout.
So, there’s no quibbles with the character class art or monsters (except the pixelated teen werewolf on page 130). The art fits the surrounding material.
However, the information design for the Chenoweth Knobs (starts on page 180) looks rushed. It’s like “Oh shit, this got funded and we didn’t have time to prepare a layout so let’s just upload this Word doc in Arial font” kind of thing.
The core rules contains multiple appendices to find 80s inspiration, jump to a table of modifiers, and there’s a table of contents, too. I do think some of the d100 optional backgrounds or random creation tables could use bigger fonts . But most of my complaints are really minor here.
There are 6 supplements available and all are extensions of content available in the core rule book. These include:
Player Options & GM Guide
This supplement adds 18 sub-classes and builds on magic game play. You’ll also get info on new levels. It ends with more information to world build in the 80s.
I found it useful for the new sub-classes, magic rules and character development, but didn’t need more info on the 80s in the back part.
The Ghost Hunter’s Handbook
The Ghost Hunter’s Handbook starts with 4 new classes and why ghosts form. You get descriptions of the ghost world, new weapons and spells, too. There’s even a little adventure to take your team on.
I recommend adding this one for your sessions. It goes beyond what’s in the core rule book’s ghost information.
I can’t recommend this supplement. It does have some good info for randomly plussing up a werewolf’s attributes and origins, but it doesn’t really add much beyond the core rule book. There’s a series on mini-adventures after that. It’s not enough for a standalone product.
This is another supplement I’d pass on. Each section has a an adventure and a sub-class of vampire like Nosferatu. It’s not adding much beyond the core rule book. I’d say Bloat Games should combine this supplement with the Werewolf Sourcebook to make it worth your cash.
Jeffersontown Setting Guide
This one’s mandatory for your sessions. It describes the town in detail. You get its history, crazy happenings and crazy characters in a concise read. You can even go shopping for magical items at the antique store.
This is my favorite supplement. Bloat Games hit its stride with this one. It was funded by a separate Kickstarter campaign, and it shows in the art quality and monster descriptions. It includes vampire and werewolf info from previous supplements, so buy this one over the other monster supplements. However, ghosts are not in this edition.
For the most part, the DP&D core rule book is self-contained and you don’t need to buy the supplements to run a bunch of sessions. But, the ones I recommended will help with your creature selection and adding nuance to characters. If you only had to pick one supplement, I’d say get the Cryptid Manual, but the Jeffersontown Setting Guide is really close behind.
Ghostly Activities’ Take
I recommend the game, but you really need to pick up a supplement or two for better monster info. It moves fast, reads easy, and keeps players wanting to explore more of Jeffersontown. You can run many sessions of DP&D before things start to get stale. Not bad, considering the setting is limited to a small town in the 80s for a few kids.
You can directly buy Dark Places & Demogorgons from Bloat Games.
Feature image: “Dark Places & Demogorgons core rule book cover” from DP&D Kickstarter. Cover art by Tommy Stamper.
Dark Places & Demogorgons and all images in this review are copyrighted by Bloat Games.
Note: Jake bought all rule books and supplements with his own money. There is no expectation of a good review from the publisher.