This month’s esoteric system is the translated ‘The Dark Eye’ , from Ulisses-Spiele. With a veteran of the system and a complete noob looking at it, we hope this not-a-review is helpful!

As you read on, note that Sylverthorne’s take will be in purple, and Andi’s in green; we hope this isn’t too confusing for anyone!

Unlike Andi, I come at this from a place of no experience either with the system or with the setting. I’ve heard some about the system, but the language barrier prevented me doing more than wonder.

Then an English-language version of the system came out via kickstarter, and naturally, we both jumped; Andi from a basis of nostalgia, and me from a place of intense curiosity, and man, we were not disappointed!

The book is gorgeous, by the way. (The artwork! Wow!) Unfortunately, looking at the rules, I’m finding the system hard-going. We both found the book’s layout confusing and less than optimal, and character creation is complicated at best. I can only imagine what this would look like to someone planning to run it cold, with no prior knowledge.

The setting is deep and fascinating, and I’m pretty sure I could happily get lost in it, no problem.

Hopefully, Ulisses-Spiele will set up a character creation program, either in-house, or getting together with Lone Wolf; I know I’d prefer the latter, but my issues with new software are legendary and another story.

The Dark Eye was my first foray into group-based role playing games, as opposed to ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ books. I was, as a result, quite pleased when Ulisses announced plans to translate and publish the game in English.

I was surprised at the amount of changes to the system since I last played in the late ’90s; in the intervening twenty years, the game moved from a class and somewhat level-based system to being almost entirely based on point purchases, similar to GURPS or various smaller systems. The original Mechwarrior or BESM come to mind.

As I expected of a system with thirty years of history, coming from a different language and culture, there is a steep learning curve. Thorne already mentioned she found character creation complicated. I found simply dealing with all the restrictions placed on how points can and cannot be spent to be the worst part of that. At the same time, I did find that many of the original systems survived the years. In particular, the spellcasting, skill check and attribute check systems are unchanged at their core, with spells being simply a special case of skills, and skill checks often ending up chained, with prior checks influencing the difficulty of later checks.

Aventuria, the default world of The Dark Eye, is reminiscent of Paizo’s Golarion, with fantasy takes on historical and mythological societies (Vikings, Frankish medieval, Arabian Nights coming to mind immediately). The world’s races are at the same time more and less Tolkien-esque than D&D’s. Elves are immortal as long as their purpose remains unfulfilled, Dwarves are miners and metal-workers – and more recently – farmers and ranchers more akin to Hobbits than traditional Dwarves.

We both agree that despite the book’s shortcomings in organization, and the involved character creation, it is a solid game system set in an interesting and engaging world. It’s definitely worth a look; and a form of the quick start rules are available for free.