The Rules and World of The Dark Eye

24 Aug 2009

Das Schwarze Auge has been the most successful pen and paper roleplaying game in Germany for as long as many of us can remember. But it has only enjoyed limited international success; the first edition made it into the Netherlands as Het Oog des Meesters, France as L'Œil noir, and Italy as Uno sguardo nel buio, but it was never translated into English.

The third edition did make it into English-speaking countries; not as a tabletop RPG, but as a computer RPG: the classic Realms of Arkania trilogy, also known as the Northland Trilogy (NLT). The fourth edition has been officially released into English-speaking territories as The Dark Eye, though only basic rulesets are available.

I used to play quite a bit of 2nd edition Oog des Meesters, back in the day, and like many lovers of classic cRPGs I'm well familiar with the NLT games. But 4th edition is fairly unexplored territory. And unlike Dungeons & Dragons, to many players this property is completely unfamiliar. For that reason, we're going to walk through the basic rules and details on the setting in this editorial. As a 25-year old system, TDE is very complex, and as such this basic guide is not meant to be complete. It is simply meant to help unfamiliar players get a better grasp of the game and world.

Rules – Attributes

Eight attributes define the core statistics of any character. There are four mental attributes - Courage (CO), Cleverness (CL), Intuition (IN), Charisma (CH) - and four physical attributes – Dexterity (DE), Agility (AG), Constitution (CN), and Strength (ST). The possible variation to each of these attributes is 1 to 21, but 8 to 14 is considered a “normal” stat. Many of the character's other stats are derived from attributes, but during adventures they can also be tested directly. A twenty-sided die (D20) is rolled, and if the roll is lower than the attribute's value, the test has been passed. Derived data includes Vitality (VI), Endurance (ED), Astral Energy (AE), and Resistance to Magic (RM). So the negative and positive attribute system from 3rd edition is gone, with 4th edition adding advantages and disadvantages to character generation instead.

In 4th edition, each character starts with 110 Generation Points. Specialist professions cost GP (for example: starting as a magician costs 20 GP, while starting as a burglar costs 0 GP), but most of these points are invested in the 8 attributes as well as in starting Social Standing (SO). Your chosen race modifies your attributes, which must then match the minimum requirements for your chosen profession. Advantages and disadvantages are the final step in GP investment, with advantages costing GP and disadvantages giving you additional GP to spend (to a maximum of 50). After this step your total GP must be 0. To use an example from the TDE textbook:

Lisa starts her character's generation by determining the race (human, 0 GP) and culture (Horasian Empire, 5 GP). She opts to be a burglar (0 GP), which means she has to have CO 12, AG 12, DE 13 and social standing no greater than 7 as starting values. Her final character setup gives values of CO 12, CL 11, IN 12, CH 10, DE 14, AG 13, CN 11, ST 12 and a social standing of 7. That mean she spent a total of 102 GP, with her culture costing her an additional 5, leaving her with 3 GP. She spends 16 GP on advantages (Connections and Social Chameleon), meaning she's on negative 13, which she compensates with 13 GP in disadvantages (Curiosity and Greed).

Rules – Talents

The next step in character creation is your talent sheet. Talents are basically skills, and TDE has a rather wide set of them. For purposes of Drakensang, this list has been cut down to 10 combat skills (brawling, daggers, axes & maces, staffs, spears, fencing weapons, sabers, swords, two-handed swords, two-handed axes & maces) and 23 non-combat skills (sneak, willpower, perception, pick pocket, dwarfnose, animal lore, plant lore, survival, traps, streetwise, treat poisons, treat wounds, arcane lore, seduce, etiquette, haggle, human nature, fast talk, alchemy, bowyer, blacksmith, pick locks and disarm traps). Your choice of race, class and culture modifies your starting values (from the example above: amongst other things, Lisa gets +7 open locks from her burglar profession and +1 crossbows from her Horasian Empire culture). Combat skills determine some base combat values (see below). Other talents are tested ingame, by rolling modified tests against a number of attributes. Another example:

Lisa's character wants to open a lock. Her lockpicking talent is 7 from her background. Picking locks is listed as tested against IN/DE/DE, Lisa's values in those attributes being 12 and 14. She rolls three D20s, rolling an 13 for the intuition test, and 17 and 8 for the dexterity tests. She can use one point from her talent to compensate the intuition test so that the value becomes 12, and 3 points more to compensate the dexterity test to become 14, meaning she made her skill check (assuming there are no difficulty penalties due to the lock being very hard).