black void, Black Void – review, Yawning PortalRecently a new Danish fantasy roleplaying game was published. It is called Black Void and was designed by Christoffer Sevaldsen. The game was successfully Kickstarted last year. Here’s our review. 

There are so many great games being published now in Scandinavia; Trudvang Chronicles, Forbidden Lands, Ruin Masters, Tales from the Loop and Mutant just to name a few. Most of these have hailed from Sweden but recently a new esoteric fantasy game was published in Denmark, a game called Black Void, but we did an interview with the game’s designer, Christoffer Sevaldsen a few months ago.

I pledged in the Kickstarted campaign, since the game looked really promising and got me interested. I’ve been waiting for the book to come and once it finally arrived in the mail I couldn’t wait to dig through the pages.

black void, Black Void – review, Yawning Portal

The setting

I think that the strongest part of Black Void is the setting. In this game, you take on the role of descendants of the survivors from Earth. Following cataclysmic events during the reign of Babylon the veil between Void and Reality was torn and the awful truth or our small place in the universe was revealed. Mankind cried out in vain to their gods for help, but where swept away by the torrents of the Void, to become scattered among the stars, where only few survived.

If this isn’t enough to get you interested, how about this? Black Void is what you get if you mix Arabian Nights, Lovecraft’s Dreamlands, Planescape and Stargate into a great bowl of esoteric fantasy. This is one heck of setting and really, really interesting.

The main part of the setting is the great city Llyhn – the Eternal city, where you take on the roles of some humans, near-humans or Voidmarked humans. The city is a melting pot of different species, cultures and politics, where daimons, angels, demi-gods, slavers, cutt-throats and everything in between make their living. The cosmopolis is located at a convergence of Void currents, making it an ideal meeting point and it attracts multitudes from across the known Cosmos.

The city is composed of seven different districts, each with its own personality, and is held fast in a caste system, where a “might-makes-right” tenet prevails. When all else fails, the Unseen Rulers step in, who ensure that the imposed laws are followed and the delicate balance of power isn’t threatened.

Beyond all lies the Void, the unreality – the existence that is everywhere and nowhere, shielded by the Veil. While reality, as bleak as it is, is in order, the Void is chaos, always in entropy and turmoil – incessant chaotic creation and collapse. Sometimes things slip through…

I really like the setting and find it immensely interesting. It has everything I need; the cosmic horrors of weird fiction, enough fantasy to last you a lifetime and a buffet of philosophical and political dilemmas to throw at your players.

black void, Black Void – review, Yawning Portal

The system

The main die for Black Void is d12. To be completely honest, I am not a fan of using d12 as a main die for various reasons. So far I’ve only found The One Ring rpg use it in a way that suits the game. Black Void is a DC based system, where player characters roll d12 and add related traits, skill and power bonuses. Rolling a 12 is usually an exceptional success (if the DC is 11 or lower) or incurs a second roll (The Rule of Twelve), while rolling a 1 is a failure (The Rule of One). Obviously the chances of scoring a failure is higher than in d20 DC based systems. The DCs range from 4 to +25. In combat, you need to roll equal or higher the opponent’s defence value, initiative is a d12 roll plus all bonuses, highest goes first, and so on. If you are familiar with D&D, these come natural.

The character creation is really nifty and cool, and the players have from myriad of options to choose from. You get character points, which you can use and invest in traits, talents, background, attributes, powers and skills. Though the traits are always the same, the later options can greatly vary from one character to the next and I can imagine that players that like game with many player options would love digging through these.

The combat system is based around different combat manoeuvres,  where the player characters can e.g. opt to go for an all-out attack or charge, to get different bonuses to their attack rolls or defence values. I know many players who love to have options like these, though I admit that I often feel that too many options while in combat slows the game down but seasoned game masters should find it no problem to speed up combat in Black Void.

The player characters can learn Powers, so called Blood Rituals, which is pretty neat. Via either Bloodletting or Sacrifical Divination the player characters can gain boons and fortunes, which have direct impact on the player characters, e.g. they can increase a physical trait by one once utilized in action or gain +1 to all actions rolls for the duration of the boon. Of course, this can backlash and have a drastic effect on the player characters. Since you roll for either boon and fortunes and the backlash effect this has a pretty random effect in game, but in a good way since I feel it represents the chaotic nature of the world.

The player characters can also choose to become mystics, either furores or gnostics, which have the ability to manifest Phenomena. Phenomenas are sort of spells, where the mystic desires for a phenomenon to occur and forces the reality to conform accordingly. Since the mystics are at odds with the Cosmos, the reality resists, the more odd the change is, the more Cosmos resists. There are a few spheres of influence, all of which have their own phenomenas. Channeling can also fail, which can have a devastating effect and even end in a player character death.

It is also worth mentioning the Void and the rules regardin it. There are detailed rules on how to traverse the Void, how to spot places where to enter the Void and so on. Due to the chaotic nature of the Void, spending time there can have serious effect and lead to transformation, from minor change in appearance to having one’s mind torn asunder.

Otherwise I felt that the system and how it is built be to much like D&D for my taste. For many players this might be good, but much as I like the ingenuity and innovativeness of the setting, I found the system lacking and mostly because it had too much of D&D in it. Don’t get me wrong, I like D&D, but after reading through the setting I was hoping from something more, something else.

black void, Black Void – review, Yawning Portal

The book

The book itself is beautifully laid out and is easy to browse through. It has many great and inspiring art pieces. It is well written and the text is quite good. It is obvious that there was much effort and love put into the design and creation of the book.

Conclusion

Superb setting, which any fan of Planescape, Lovecraft or esoteric fantasies should check out. The system is a bit too similar to D&D for my taste, though I know that many players will see that as an asset.

Score: 3.5/5