It can go without saying, but this product is evocative of 1986’s Middle-Earth Role Playing (MERP) from Iron Crown Enterprises, from the overt homage demonstrated in the color cover to the gorgeous black-and-white interior art to its d100 rules structure and attack and critical tables. But Against the Darkmaster (VsD) is not precisely a retro clone. Instead it articulates a number of innovations that can be adapted to many a rules system.
Traditional high fantasy Kins are matched with Cultures (this is common to many games) to identify base Stats and starting Skills. After this, players spend points (as many as 5, for Human Kins) to differentiate player-characters with starting abilities, items or backgrounds. This is a refinement from MERP’s Background Options Table and one of my favorite features of VsD.
VsD presents an abstracted system for Social Class and Wealth that feels slightly at odds with the deeply granular and simulationist combat system common to the games out of which VsD derives. Furthermore, as a way of decreasing this system’s lethality for PCs, VsD uses PC Drive Points to improve Skill tests and reduce the severity of Critical Hits to PCs.
VsD simply has the best magic system out of the games to which this one might be compared. All lists contain ten spells. No spells are duplicated across lists, making all casters unique. All the spells are "useful" and interesting. None are more powerful versions of other spells. While casting a spell, additional Magic Points might be spent to increase/alter effects or durations.
My group has been playtesting these rules since January of this year. After this campaign, for my GMing style and the pacing of my tabletop stories, I might readapt to a d20 OSR system, but I’ll be porting into it many components from VsD, particularly VsD’s XP system, which rewards PCs for doing things and behaving in character. For these reasons I recommend it, and for d100 gamers who want streamlined Skill development in character creation and advancement as well as gritty, “heavy metal” combat, I highly recommend it. Obviously I’m eager to back the upcoming full release on Kickstarter.