Monday, November 7, 2011

REVIEW: Darker Paths I: The Necromancer

If you're an old school gamer, especially if you're preferences tend toward fantasy roleplaying, the last few years have produced a wealth of new material, much of it every bit as good as what we got back in the day. For some, though, it's an embarrassment of riches and they've found it hard to keep up with the steady stream of old school games, supplements, and adventures. That's perfectly understandable -- I, too, find it difficult to stay current -- but it's also unfortunate, because it often means that worthy offerings are overlooked.

A good example of such an overlooked offering is Joseph Bloch's Adventures Dark and Deep. ADD, as you might guess from its acronym, is a fantasy RPG inspired by Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. More specifically than that, it's a speculative RPG intended to provide one possible answer to the question, "What might AD&D's second edition have looked like if Gary Gygax had remained at TSR to complete the project himself?" Answering that question is certainly a huge undertaking and some might even think a quixotic one, but Bloch demonstrated a great command of both first edition AD&D and, perhaps more importantly, Gygax's public statements on how he intended to revise that game for a new edition. The end result is a game that I think does justice to the "what if?" question posed above.

Darker Paths I: The Necromancer is a 24-page PDF supplement to ADD, providing a new sub-class of the mage. The necromancer is, of course, restricted to evil aligned characters, as well as to humans and dark elves. This will limit its appeal to many players, though evil PCs are a longstanding tradition of the hobby. Even if the sub-class sees little use by players, it's still quite useful to the referee in creating adversaries to use in adventures. As written, the necromancer functions much like an ordinary mage; its two primary differences are its ability to affect (i.e. turn or control) the undead and its unique spell list.

That unique spell list encompasses nearly 100 spells, most of them original to this product. With so many new spells, it's fair to say that they take up the vast majority of The Necromancer's word count. I didn't personally find that to be a problem, since I thought many of these spells were quite clever and I'll be gleefully swiping them for Dwimmermount's own version of the necromancer. More impressive, though, is the way that these spells feel very much like they were products of post-Unearthed Arcana AD&D. Moreso than the spells in the Players Handbook, the spells of Unearthed Arcana have long struck me as being imbued with a specific flavor that undoubtedly stems from Gygax's peculiar take on fantasy. Some of that same peculiarity is on display here, too, in spells with names like funeral shroud, empty tomb, conqueror worm, and span of the mayfly. It's a great collection of new spells and well worth the $5.00 cost of the PDF, even if you play something other than ADD (or AD&D or OSRIC).

Darker Paths I: The Necromancer is a well-done and useful product. It's definitely a niche product, primarily of interest to old school fantasy gamers looking to expand their repertoire of magic spells and the classes that can wield them. If you're among that number, you'll greatly enjoy what Joseph Bloch has produced here.

Presentation: 7 out of 10
Creativity: 8 out of 10
Utility: 7 out of 10

Buy This If: You can't get enough new sub-classes and spells or you're looking for a well-done necromancer class to use with your class-and-level fantasy RPG.
Don't Buy This If: You've got more than enough spells and sub-classes or would rather that necromancers not be treated as a unique class.


  1. I may have to buy the Dark Paths bundle now after reading this. I want some unique spells for the sorcerer class in my new B/X home brew system (with a healthy dose of ideas inspired by the Dungeon Crawl Classics RPG and Lamentations of the Flame Princess).

    Adding some choice Witch and Necromancer spells would be a big start. Sounds like between the two pdf's in the bundle I would have plenty to choose from.

    Thanks for this review!

  2. Thanks very much for the review, James!

  3. Bought the Dark Paths bundle today. I definitely prefer the witch class (Dark Paths 2) to the necromancer. From a quick flip through it feels like it has more flavourful and "fun" spells. The necromancer on the other hand seemed to focus a bit too much on the "undead master" image. I would have liked to have seen more spells like Funeral Shroud, Into the Grave or Memento Mori. Maybe when I sit down to properly read through them my view will change though.

    I should add that I won't be using the classes in my home brew and thus can't comment on those. The spells are what I really wanted of these there are some good ones.

    Hopefully there will be more in this line produced in the future. I'm really hoping for a sorcerer class and hopefully some paths that aren't so "dark".

  4. Oh and hopefully James will post a review of Dark Paths 2. I'd love to hear his thoughts on the Witch class and which he prefers of the two.