Review: Rogue Games – Expert (Shadow, Sword & Spell)

Shadow, Sword & Spell: Expert
Expert is the second core rulebook for the pulp fantasy system Shadow, Sword & Spell (powered by the 12° system) published by Rogue Games and written by Richard Iorio II.
By Aaron T. Huss

At its core, the Expert core rulebook adds to, builds upon and expands the core mechanics found within the Basic core rulebook. In actuality, Expert allows players to become master of their own domain, literally. And with this kind of power comes new responsibilities and threats that affect a much broader spectrum of people and places. To coincide with this new found power, Rogue Games has created a whole new set of mechanics that deal with encounters (as a backdrop primarily) on a much grander scale.

While ruling your own domain sounds like a lengthy lesson in paperwork and number-crunching, it is more of a purpose for new adventures and extended campaigns rather than what you should deal with from game to game. Just don’t start neglecting your people. Thinking of this, Expert is appropriately titled as these mechanics are not meant for new players or short adventures. They are designed for long-term campaigns and players looking to take their game to a whole new level. But this is not the only value within the book as there are plenty of new mechanics available (such as arcane spells) for newer players, adventures and short-term campaigns. Expert brings a new level of gaming experience to Shadow, Sword & Spell where the possibilities are virtually endless!


Expert starts out with Skills & Schemes, expanding upon some of the core mechanics from Basic. This includes three new, optional character creation methods, a couple new skills and additional languages concerning the detailed setting. Schemes is a new concept for the system which allows the players the ability to come up with a sinister plan of their own (similar to what a GM may create as part of an adventure) with a plethora of mechanics to help them be successful. This includes mechanics for how to define the scheme, how people/groups get involved, how manipulations occur, and many other fun tasks surrounding the ideas of scheming and how to make it work (through actual mechanics). To me, this is how players turn the tide on the NPCs they don’t like.


The Gear section is more than just new equipment, it’s a whole new way of outfitting your characters and their domains with everything they could need. This includes transportation, siege equipment, artillery and new mechanics for constructing your own buildings and hiring your own “minions” (although you may want to call them mercenaries). At first I didn’t understand the purpose of these new mechanics, but when you read the following sections you fully understand their value. If you’re going to run your own domain, you’ll need all the right equipment to keep it safe and stocked (with warriors).


Followers & Domains is where the first group of large-scale mechanics comes in. In the Gear section, hiring your own mercenaries was introduced. Followers & Domains explains how the mechanics surrounding how to keep those mercenaries from a game-play standpoint. The mechanics would take a fairly long time to explain, but the basics are this: If you hire mercenaries, you have to keep them happy. The mechanics get into what happens if you keep them happy, if you don’t, and a variety of things that improve or penalize those chances.

The section then moves on to all the mechanics revolving around being the master of your own domain, literally. This includes building your domain, its economy, figuring population, and all the mechanics surrounding happiness – such as what happens if you don’t keep them happy and what happens if you do. The bonuses can include boosts to population (which increases your income) while the consequences can include plague being brought down upon your domain. These mechanics are very similar to those surrounding followers, but on a larger scale, dealing with a higher quantity of people. While you may think this is when player characters move from simple adventurers to nobles pushing paperwork, it is really meant to create a new atmosphere with which to create new adventures or campaigns.


Expert expands upon the original magic mechanics with additional common spells and alchemy arts along with bringing in the mechanics for arcane spells. Added to this are mechanics for how to create new spells and arts. Most of this is seemingly basic but the arcane spells are a nice addition to bring in the mechanics for sanity and heighten the “fear factor” of the setting.


To bring more flavor to your games, Expert touches upon introducing relics, tomes and books (including libraries). Relics are designed as “intelligent” magical items with more than just simple abilities. This includes all the mechanics surrounding how to create new relics and a group of examples. Books (and tomes), however, can be as much of a part of any adventure as relics. This includes finding scrolls to learn new spells or reading books to improve your next skill check. Not only does this section include the mechanics surrounding books and tomes, but also a set of sample books to choose from.


Now that you’re master of your own domain, how do you deal with the borderland barbarians that are knocking on your door? With fairly simple mass combat mechanics! The way these are kept so simple is by categorizing your warriors into type lining up one group against the adversaries group. These groups are “rated” using a quality system and these ratings are the numbers used to determine the outcome (along with some bonuses and penalties). I find the quality system to be a fantastic way of creating a physical mechanic that can be compared to the opponents mechanics. This quality system gives warriors with more or better training a higher rating, which really makes more sense. A group of 50 untrained barbarians should not be equally compared to a group of 50 trained soldiers. This quality system balances the concept of why you should choose one type of warrior over another, but also creates one simple number that is used to compare against the opponents one simple number. Roll the dice, add bonuses, take-away penalties, and you have your result. The setup may take a while, but the execution is very simple. And now, you can defend your domain with in-game mechanics!


Running your domain involves more than keeping your citizens happy and fending off armies. There are politics to be concerned with and trade to explore. Expert continues its large-scale mechanics with allowing players to take on new encounters and explore other ideas for adventures and campaigns by fleshing out mechanics for politics and trade.


Expert expands upon the Shadow, Sword & Spell setting (simply introduced in Basic), which they call The World, by creating a full world with a lot of variance from region to region. Each region is described with basic physical descriptions and an overview of those residing within the region. This setting is designed to be used as a sandbox campaign, so much of the details are simple and listed as an overview. This gives good direction for gamemasters and new adventure seeds. This also includes a look at deities and noble rankings.


Expert adds new creatures to the system and a full set of mechanics for creating creatures of your own (including a full set of optional traits) based on a points system. There is a large variety of creatures here which helps to populate the various regions within the setting.


While the Basic core rulebook introduces and brings you into the system, Expert shows a whole new way of taking advantage of it and being able to truly create any type of gaming experience desired. This ranges widely from simple adventurers questing across the country to lords controlling a domain filled with a population of thousands. While it’s called Expert, there is something in here for everyone including arcane spells, new creatures and a sandbox setting. If you enjoy playing with the core mechanics from Basic, I highly recommend getting the Expert core rulebook and diving into the new mechanics, even if you don’t use them all.


Publication Quality: 10 out of 10
Rogue Games continues to publish high-quality products, and with each subsequent publication the quality gets better and better. Expert has a great layout and presentation and reads smoothly. I like the sprinkling of illustrations throughout the book, especially the creatures. One thing I haven’t noted before but need to point out is how well Rogue Games utilizes their publication format. Expert is a digest-sized book and each page is well-filled with content and illustrations. Basically, Rogue Games does an excellent job of adding as much content as they can without producing an excessively large book.

Mechanics: 10 out of 10
While many systems have third party supplements that bring in some of the various, large-scale mechanics, Expert actually brings them into the system directly with balance and purpose. While you may not use them, they are a wonderful way of expanding the potential of your campaigns and providing a gaming experience that is completely new and exciting! And to balance these mechanics, and balance the overall value of the book, there is still plenty of new or expanded mechanics and material that motivates one to use what’s found within (such as arcane spells and the setting). Expert does an excellent job of creating a setting designed for use with the core mechanics and providing a host of new gaming experiences to be had with the large-scale mechanics. Basically, Expert is filled with new and expanded mechanics and they all flesh out beautifully within the systems’ core mechanics.

Desire to Play: 9 out of 10
For those playing Shadow, Sword & Spell already, Expert is a fantastic addition. For those who desire a pulp fantasy system, Expert really enhances the ideals set forth in the Basic core rulebook. For those looking to play the most epic-level of campaigns where the sky is the limit, then Expert is an absolute must. But for those only looking to play simple adventures, Expert is probably not necessary (unless you plan on using the setting and creatures). I can think of multiple reasons why this is a great addition to Shadow, Sword & Spell and the only reason I can find for not using it is because it may introduce things that you just don’t need in your standard adventures.

Overall: 10 out of 10
I have one major reason for giving a 10 out of 10 rating: Core mechanics (non-third party) rarely covers mass combat, the art of trade and being able to run your own domain. What makes this even more powerful and desirable is that these mechanics are balanced (compared to the core system) and simple to game-play. The setup may take some time, but I wouldn’t expect otherwise. The possibilities for new, unique adventures and campaigns grows significantly when you take these large-scale mechanics into consideration. For instance, you can run an adventure that pins your characters as rulers, leaders and heroes of a massive army against the oncoming undead army that will stop at nothing to destroy your way of life. I’ve said this before with Shadow, Sword & Spell, but there are mechanics that allow the players to help create, shape and influence the storyline, adventure and campaign. These new mechanics follow that same appeal of the system. Players become a much bigger part of the game instead of simply taking the role of player characters.

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