Sharpen your blades for gold and glory. Adventure awaits the bold! Following up the Festival of Swords quick play adventure is Dark Peaks: Deep Maw. Unlike the Festival of Swords, this is the full version of the brand new tabletop RPG. However, for your first playthrough, you might want to take a look at the adventure to quickly launch into your campaign. Kieran from the Dark Peaks team has worked on a few great projects that we’ve reviewed over the past few months, and Deep Maw is no different. Here is our Dark Peaks: Deep Maw review.
Cover Image taken from Dark Peaks: Deep Maw.
Dark Peaks: Deep Maw Review
Deep Maw is a 94-page full-color PDF, containing everything you need to get started in the world of Dark Peaks. Included are the core mechanics and player character creation, a Games Master section, and a monster and enemy section.
For the most part, I like how the book is laid out. The font is well-spaced out, easy to read, and subdivided logically. Now, I can’t emphasize this enough, well laid out text is absolutely essential for rulebooks, and Deep Maw does a good job of it. The artwork is perfectly fitting to the grittiness of the world.
Dark Peaks is a low-magic, medieval fantasy with a bleak outlook. Some will enter the mountain to fend off monsters against their villages. Others will enter to gain glory and power. In either way, death is almost inevitably guaranteed, so you must have bravery.
The Character Creation process is so incredibly simple in Dark Peaks, and I love it. It’s a deadly game, so the creation of another character must be simple and streamlined. And it is! Choose a name, choose a background, then find your fear and motivation. That’s it! If you’re looking to spice them up quickly, take a look at our Distinctive Feature Generator, Personality Trait Generator, or Quirk Generator.
Character advancement is a pretty interesting concept as well. While your stats will improve as you gain experience, you can also pay to have someone train you. In this case, the more money you make, the faster you will be on your way! However, it’s not all on the upswing. In fights it is possible to have injuries that affect your stats negatively as well. Instead of the constant gaining of power that is seen in most games, Dark Peaks: Deep Maw is more of a balancing act. It’s a constant struggle to improve.
Finally, let’s get into some of the game mechanics! And right out of the gate, I have to say: I’m pumped! The core rules themselves are slick, easy to comprehend, and unique. Of course, I’m not going to outline every rule in the book, but I do want to get across some fun mechanics. Get ready, because I’ve got quite a bit to say about them.
Characters have 4 stats, (Acuity, Fleetness, Grit, and Physicality) which will usually range between 2-3 when you’re first starting. When your actions are uncertain, you’ll make a skill check by what’s referred to as a Level Die (or LD). This will be a die from a d4 to a d12, as determined by the GM. If your stat + roll is higher than the difficulty, you succeed. Pretty easy peasy so far.
Level Dice & Risk Dice
I want to take a quick sidebar about Level Dice. In the core rules, the further down you get into the depths, the higher the level die becomes, representing a higher level of danger. For the top-most layers, it starts at a d4, with the next depth reaching a d6, to d8, d10 and finally d12. By the book, this will be the same for a whole adventure, from start to finish. However, I think you might get some interesting results by increasing this mid-game as the stakes are raised.
Where this gets interesting is with the inclusion of Risk Dice. When you need an action to succeed, and you’re willing to put everything on the line, you can use a Risk Die. This will allow you another die to roll (again based on the Level Die), you will roll 2 dice + your stat increasing your chance of success. “But, where’s the risk” right? Here it is: rolling certain results on your Risk Dice counts as an automatic critical failure. For example, when your Risk Die is a d4 and reads a 1, you’ve suffered a critical failure, and tremendously bad times are coming your way. And the risk/reward percentage is raised as the LD increases.
Take a look at Dark Peaks: Deep Math, where we take a deeper dive into Level Dice, Risk Dice and Difficulty.
Ah yes. What’s an RPG without a good ol’ fight? The Deep Maw is a dangerous place, and any person brave enough to enter better be prepared. The rolls and skill checks in combat rules are largely the same as the rolls above. If you’ve played any RPG before, you’ll feel comfortable with how armor and hits work in this system.
The standout option here is how combat flows. There are no turns like in D&D, it’s fast and brutal. Instead combat moves in phases, where all players take their turns at the same time! (on a tangent, this is similar to a mechanic that Roll4 uses in a game that we’re playtesting. So, we love it, naturally. Great minds think alike Kieran!)
Another unique feature is the time limit on decisions. The players add up all of their character’s fleetness, then multiply by 2. Cumulatively, the group has only this many seconds to decide all of their actions. It leads to rash decisions in combat, giving a bit of a frantic feeling keeping players on the edge of their seats. It’s a breath of fresh air in the RPG space in my opinion, to not be able to overanalyze your options. That being said, for the first session or two, you might want to make this time a bit longer until your players get a strong grasp on what all of their options are.
The last thing we need to talk about is armor. In combat this, of course, helps you to stay alive, but also affects your ability to hit others. Honestly, I overlooked this rule entirely on my first few read throughs. When you roll to attack a creature, any dice value that is below the armor rating is ignored, even if the result would normally be a hit. It’s an interesting way to include armor without simply modifying the challenge rating.
Games Master Section
The Games Master section does a good job of filling in the gaps, providing a much greater understanding of the intricacies of the system. Providing clear examples, and plenty of them is a clear strength here. There are roll tables for anything you would need to get started.
While this section does provide a good amount of samples, the combination of The Festival of Swords adventure with this section makes it much stronger. Where the GM section gives advice and rules for how to play, having an adventure clears up ambiguity. I sincerely hope that the Dark Peaks team creates a bundle deal, which makes this a much stronger section.
This is the section that includes what you might find in the Maw. Most likely they’ll be looking for a fight, but who knows, maybe they’re looking to team up as well. Here’s a quick rundown:
- Taurs (as in Minotaurs) are half-human half-animal sentient creatures. Rattaur martial artist? Hello Master Splinter!
- Dusklings may have been human at one point. Now, they’re more Gollum-esque creatures with a nasty attitude. Also like Gollum, they gotta get that sweet thing you’re carrying. You know the one, they want it.
- The Night Choir are quite on the creepy side. They’re a bit like a cross between a banshee and a Dementor. All spooky and necrotic looking. They are all gifted Artists (magic users), casting through use of their voices.
- Then there’s the rogue adventurers. They once were like you, but now they dwell in the maw itself for their own reasons.
- Finally there’s monsters. They’re monsters. Looking all monster-y and such.
One thing I really like about this section is the monster cards. Each monster listed has their own stats on what looks to be the size of a playing card. For future expansions, I can see this becoming a way to create random encounter decks, or just an easy way for a GM to keep track of what’s going on. Hopefully Dark Peaks will have a separate PDF available with the creatures, so you can print them out.
Dark Peaks: Deep Maw Overall
Dark Peaks: Deep Maw is a game that’s easy to get into. The mechanics are streamlined for quick character creation, and fast play. Yet, there are enough options available to keep characters feeling different. Character advancement, combat, risk dice are all unique aspects that really make this system stand out from the crowd.
A few things that would greatly benefit this book would be a glossary of terms, with the associated rules. And player handouts, which I’ve become incredibly addicted to the more my group plays one-shots of new systems. On the bright side, this would be an easy thing for Dark Peaks to include in a separate product on Drive Thru.
Dark Peaks is available from Drive Thru RPG for $19.99
Whether you’re looking for a one-shot or fast-combat and gritty campaign Dark Peaks is a perfect fit. The world of Dark Peaks is brutal, and you must be prepared.