The Dark Eye, also known as Das Schwarze Auge, is a fantasy TRPG from Germany. It’s game that’s been around for quite some time, to the effect of 30 years. As a result, The Dark Eye is as much a phenomenon as Dungeons and Dragons or Shadowrun: there are various novels set in the universe of The Dark Eye, as well as numerous video game adaptations.
In recent years, the 5th Edition of The Dark Eye has been published in English. As one might expect out of a game from Germany, it possesses an extraordinary level of detail that would make even the most hardcore Shadowrun players say “Don’t you think that’s a bit excessive, chummer?”
There’s pros and cons to everything, though, so let’s take a brief look at what a game of this level of complexity does well!
1) Character Creation Is Open-Ended
One of the praises I’ve often heard from fans of Pathfinder and D&D 3.5 is that there’s a lot of options for creating characters. Meanwhile, a related criticism of D&D 5th edition is that there aren’t as many options or as much freedom in that regard.
If it’s freedom you’re craving during character creation, The Dark Eye grants it in spades by being a point-buy system. You’re given a certain amount of “Adventure Points” to make your character, with everything about your character costing so many. Though if you’re new to the game or otherwise want the framework of having things like races and classes to pick from during character creation, The Dark Eye provides that as well.
To illustrate, every Profession (Class) has a list of different skills it provides, as well as variations that might offer different skills. These Professions (and variations) also have a listed amount of AP associated with it. Thus, a player or GM knowledgeable about how much different skills or abilities cost could make changes to a Profession’s skill list to fine tune it to what they desire!
2) Dice Mechanics Build Off Each Other
The Dark Eye has some very robust and detailed sub-systems. This aspect can be daunting at first blush, since it does mean there's a great deal of minutiae that needs to be understood. On the bright side, though, it all builds off of a few recurring rules.
At the most basic, you have your attribute roles, which are a simple Roll d20 and see if it’s at or below the attribute in question. Attack and defence rolls in combat follow the same kind of logic, except you’re instead rolling beneath a Combat Ability.
Skill rolls are a small step up from that, where each skill has three associated attributes, and you roll a die for each attribute, seeking to meet or go below the attribute in question. Your skill rating comes in by granting you a few points to “nudge” a die in the direction you need, with the more points you have left over at the end granting a better margin of success.
As far as spellcasting goes, each spell is treated as an individual skill that requires Arcane Energy every time it’s used, with the amount of skill points left over after rolling for it having a much more significant impact on the end result.
All of The Dark Eye’s sub-systems work this way: they build off of something that was previously established.
3) Many Abilities Take Time And Planning
The general scale of time in The Dark Eye is much slower; what this means is that there’s a long list of different skills, and many of them are skills that require a great amount of time or some other cost.
The core rules include many different sub-systems for creating magic items. All of these can be readily available to starting characters, but also require time and other precious resources such as permanently lowering one’s arcane energy, or finding rare or expensive materials.
Mages aren’t alone in this conundrum, however. The heaviest of armors are readily available to new characters as well, but require not only time to put on, in addition to granting three levels of the status “Encumbered,” imposing numerous penalties that would make traveling long distances challenging.
4) Combat REALLY Isn’t Everything (Or Is It?)
The Dark Eye does have a fairly robust combat system, complete with all manner of special abilities and other factors that can go into a combat scene. The aspect I believe is most important is this, though: healing doesn’t happen very quickly, to the point where it’s impractical to do so in combat.
This makes the stakes of combat much higher, since it’s no longer easy to reverse the effects of being ravaged by cold steel. One could wear heavy armor to make battles safer, but then journeying becomes more perilous. Heavy armor is cumbersome, and makes you more prone to exhaustion! (Both of which cause penalties to all actions that add up.)
The end result of these higher stakes is that an adventurer that wants to live will have to be willing to either plan extensively for battle, or seek ways to avoid it. When you consider that player characters don’t necessarily gain experience for every antagonist they slay, fighting to the death stops seeming so alluring. (NPCs share this sentiment as well, since many statblocks in the bestiary indicate that the creature in question would flee if their Life Points fall below fifty percent!)
If I were to sum up what the major difference between Dungeons & Dragons and The Dark Eye is, I believe it’d be most meaningful to say that mundane choices and long tasks are given more support in The Dark Eye.
Professions in The Dark Eye are more than just how well your character can slay monsters, and most magical spells deal with more mundane tasks than making combat end faster.
That isn’t to say you can’t have your monster slaying fun in The Dark Eye. After all, the continent of Aventuria does have a region where the netherworld has begun to bleed through into the world of ordinary people...
Aaron der Schaedel has a penchant for games with dense rulebooks. If you looked up Shadowrun on Youtube, you probably found one of his videos on the subject. He’s also hoping you didn’t notice that he forgot to write an end blurb in his last article he wrote for High Level Games.
Picture Reference: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1216685848/the-dark-eye-rpgenglish-edition
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.