Review – Rangers of Shadow Deep

Rangers of Shadow Deep. Self-published (Digital), 2018. Designed by Joseph A. McCullough. Art by Barrett Stanley.

I have always been fascinated by skirmish gaming. I’ve read the rules to Kill Team, carefully constructing my squads of Salamanders and Necrons, I’ve watched people play Crisis Protocol on YouTube, marveling (get it?) at those rad minis. I’ve scanned through the teams of Wild West Exodus, imagining how cool it would be to pit those weird west figures against each other. The problem is that Em, my gaming partner, is not interested in skirmish games (well, except for Imperial Assault), so if I want to play something like this, I have to find one that is A) a solo game, and B) cheap (because I can’t justify spending more money on a game that only I will play).

Luckily for me, there is the dark fantasy Rangers of Shadow Deep.

Rangers checks off all my boxes: You can play it alone (or co-op), It’s a fairly inexpensive PDF on Drive Thru RPG (especially if you get it on sale, like I did), and it uses whatever minis and terrain you have lying around!

Seriously, just throw the kitchen sink at this thing.

What’s going on?

The village is quiet. Too quiet. Smoke from smoldering coals casts a haze over the hamlet, but there’s something more. Some kind of preternatural gloom hangs in the sky above, oppressive, foreboding. As you approach the center of town, you hear a groan. A survivor? you wonder. But as you see the man shambling towards you–all color gone from his face; his eyes, lifeless–you know that he has not survived at all. Draw your sword, and prepare for battle.

So yeah. An evil has blighted the land, as it tends to do. The king has called for his Rangers, the guardians of the wilds, to stand up against this darkness (as if they weren’t going to do that anyway). You gather your band of adventurers and investigate what this force is, killing monsters and saving bystanders along the way. Basically, it’s Like Lord of the Rings, but with less magic and no Hobbits.

What’s so good about it?

The rules are easy to learn. You make a character based on some basic stats, plus points to customize your character. There’s a very simple feats system, and an equally-simple magic system. Then, you buy companions from a list of potential candidates. In about 20 minutes, you’ve got a full team ready to go.

Rangers, ASSEMBLE!

Combat is straightforward: you and your AI opponent roll a d20. Add your bonuses, and the highest roll wins. Subtract the winning combatant’s total from the loser’s armor, and that’s the damage.

Enemies are controlled by a flowchart, and a deck of playing cards (seriously, just standard playing cards) determines what events occur at the end of a round. You just compare the drawn card to a chart (specific to each mission) and do what the chart says.

I especially love the character progression: You slowly level up your Ranger and companions, gaining more points in skills, better stats, and more health. You can also acquire lasting injuries: after two games, my Ranger had a “crushed leg” that reduced his movement speed permanently. The slow progress and chance of injury and death heightens the stakes of each mission.

Prepare for some lasting injuries!

What’s not so good?

Remember that event deck? In my second mission, I would only draw an event every 2 rounds. I killed all the enemies, but still had 4 rounds until the end, and the event I drew for both round 7 and round 9 were dependent on enemies already being in the field. My companions just had to stand around with nothing to do. I feel like this could have been easily fixed with a scenario-specific rule that said “at the end of the round, if there are no enemies, spawn 2 at random locations.”

Another problem I had is that my PDF copy of the game won’t allow me to add bookmarks and doesn’t use hyperlinks, so I found myself occasionally flipping back and forth, trying to find the rule for poison damage, or to clarify a rule. Those are technical issues that have nothing to do with the rules themselves, and if I had bought a physical copy (like the Deluxe Edition from Modiphius), it wouldn’t have been as much of an issue.

Perhaps the biggest problem I had, though, was with that breezy combat system. It’s great that it’s an easy formula to remember, but combat is real swingy. If you happen to roll high, but the opponent rolls higher, you’re going to be taking a lot of damage. I actually lost two companions on single-turn rolls that were good, just not good enough. And it’s frustrating when your opponent rolls a 3 and you roll a 12, but because the monsters armor is 12, you do no damage at all.

This spider is outnumbered and outgunned. There is no reason he should be getting one-hit kills.

What do I think?

Each game that I played took me about an hour, so the game never overstayed its welcome. I imagine some scenarios (the book comes with several, and there are others for sale on Drive Thru RPG) will take longer. It’s a game that’s easy to get on the table, easy to justify taking the time to play solo, and easy to put away when you’re done (depending on what terrain you use).

Rangers of Shadow Deep gets 7/10 victory points, though some minor rules tweaks could improve that score.

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