The Dark Eye (originally called "Das Schwarze Auge" or DSA for short) is a German pen-and-paper RPG. Originally released in 1984, its fourth edition was published in 2002. The game is set on the planet Dere (an anagram of the German word for Earth, “Erde,”) more specifically the continents of Aventuria and Myranor, even though a supplement for a third continent was announced last year. Aventuria, the main continent for the game, is tiny, but one of the most well-described RPG settings known to mankind – every region has its own sourcebook of 200 pages or so, often with minute details about the food, customs and people of that region.Typical for The Dark Eye is a very strong and continuous Meta Plot, including the political decisions made in Play By Post Games for, preferably, Hard Core players. This very strong canon orientation has created a vivid background but also has the consequence that sourcebook content ages quickly and is rarely up to date. The detailed world is also one of the major selling points of the system, and creates a feeling of verisimilitude which is quite uncommon for fantasy RPG settings.The majority of the setting consists of blatant Fantasy Counterpart Cultures, with a few alterations and new names. The major religions are also very similar to either the Greco-Roman pantheon, matriarchal goddesses or Islam, respectively. All religions have a semblance to Zoroastrianism.The game is also well known (at least in Germany) for its many adventure modules, even though the quality varies widely between them.In Germany, it's the game most roleplayers start with, and more popular than every other single system.One of the strongest selling points rule-wise is the completely open character development. It is based on 4 elements:Attributes: The 8 Attributes are courage, strength, mobility, dexterity, intuition, smarts, charisma and constitution. The default starting value is 8, 11 is average for a starter character and they cannot exceed 14 on character creation, not taking into account certain bonuses/penalties from racial or cultural choices. They influence things like life and mana points, basic attack and defense values, are important for talent checks, and can later be increased with adventure points.Advantages/Disadvantages: These can only be purchased during character creation, but certain events can lead to gaining or losing any of these if the game master is feeling generous/mean. They generally involve things like social standing, physical properties, or — in the case of disadvantages — fears and negative character traits. They normally give you bonuses or penalites on talent or attribute checks in certain situations, help to flesh a character out, and — since disadvantages grant you extra generation points on character creation — can be used to make up for it if you had to sink a lot of points somewhere else.Special Skills: Can be bought with adventure or generation points at any time. They are divided into two groups: combat and non-combat. There are far fewer non-combat skills than combat skills and they generally involve things like expert knowledge on certain cultures or places. Combat skills are necessary to execute special maneuvers or use certain fighting styles like dual-wielding or shield-combat. Think of these as the equivalent to feats in D&D 3.0/3.5.Talents: These are the bread and butter of the gaming experience. They can be bought and their value increased with adventure points at any time. Every talent is associated with 3 attributes, with the possibility of one attribute being associated twice. You roll with 3D20, one for each attribute, and hope to roll a value lower than your attributes. If not below the given value, the talent's value can be used to compensate. If all 3 compensations together are higher than the talent's value, you fail the check. Leftover talent points are sometimes used as an indicator for the quality of the executed action. An exception are the weapon talents that have a total value which needs to be rolled below with no compensation for simplifying combat.The starting value of all these 4 elements are influenced by choices of race, culture, subculture and starting profession, but from there on, the character can develop any way the player wants to, making it even more interesting to keep a character for several adventures.Fun fact: Even though the first English rule book got published in 2003, between the years 1993 and 1997, novels and games based on The Dark Eye were released under the title of "Realms of Arkania". Later games based on The Dark Eye include the Drakensang series (except the Drakensang MMO, which has nothing to do with TDE) and Chains Of Satinav.Tropes in this System:
Alchemy Is Magic: In a way, while one does not necessary need to possess magical abilities to create a potion, having access to them allows the creation of more powerful varieties of regular potions and enables the alchemist to create certain potions one needs to cast a spell on.
Affably Evil: The leader of the Church of Borbarad Azaril Scharlachkraut is an outgoing, charismatic and generally amicable elf. Just don't test her loyalty towards her revered master or her determination to accomplish her goals.
All Witches Have Cats: Both played straight with one sisterhood of witches and handily subverted with all other sisterhoods. Most witches do have some type of Familiar though.
Armor and Magic Don't Mix: Forged metal interferes with the flow of magical energies (with some rare exceptions) in such a way that it makes casting spells more difficult and prohibits the regeneration of Mana if a significant amount is worn close to a magic user's body. While magic users can wear anything not made out of metal (e.g. heavy leather), this is frowned upon by the Magician's Guilds as not befitting a wizard's standing, further restricting proper certified wizards to fancy robes and such.
Ax Crazy: Most of the people who form a pact with Belhalhar (demon lord of bloodlust and murder) tend to become this, if they weren't already by the time they formed the pact. Some members of the clergy of Kor (demi-god of wars and bloodshed) tend to act in a similar way, some have even begun questioning whether this god is in fact a demon. There are subtle differences between the two though, Kor priests are disgusted by the murder of innocents and only revel in the battle and eventual death of armed combatants. There is more than one indication, that the god Kor was almost seduced by the demons though...
Badass Normal: Wizards might tell the universe to shut up and sit down, but a competent fighter will usually be able to do the same with the wizard.
Bizarre Alien Biology: Each of the non-human races has at least one quirk in this regard: Narcissus (daffodils) are contact poison to Elves, whereas daphne (the plant) isn't; Dwarves are resistant to mineral poisons, able to eat and digest several species of metal-rich mushrooms; Orcs and Goblins are very sensitive to human childhood diseases, such as scarlet fever or German measles; and Achaz (Lizard Folk) have an entire list of differences, such as being lactose-intolerant to such a degree that milk and dairy products are toxic to them.
Black Magic: Everything dealing with demons is treated that way. Many other spells are regarded similarly, as well.
Summoning demons and most (read: any really effective (using creatures with a soul)) forms of blood magic are punishable by death. Necromancy gets you buried alive. Just killing someone with magic, even in self-defense, gets you automatically charged with murder. In the last case, the main privilege of the wizards' guild - the right to conduct their own trials, if magic is involved - kicks in, so you'll at least get a fair trial.
Blood Knight: All clerics of Kor, son of Rondra fulfill this trope to a certain extent.
As do the Maru, a race of crocodile people. According to their legends, their patron god Kr'Thon'Chh wanted them to be this way despite the belief of many humans that Kr'Thon'Chh is a demon, he is in fact the god Kor.
Boisterous Bruiser The late Duke of Meadows (Waldemar the Bear) is Aventurias standout example.
Call a Hit Point a "Smeerp": Mild but fairly literal-minded example. What characters and creatures actually have are 'life points'; 'hit points', while used, literally only refer to the base damage inflicted by an actual hit, which may be reduced by armor and other factors before the remaining 'damage points' are finally deducted from the target's LP total.
Canon Discontinuity: Several setting elements have suffered from this, as common with many RPGs. Notably applies, combined with Fanon Discontinuity, for the "legendary" solo adventure "Borbarad's Curse", one of the very first published scenarios when the setting was not nearly as developed. It was notable in its own right for the first (and only) attempt of a fantasy/SF crossover in TDE: beginning as a classic dungeon crawl with the solitary hero exploring an abandoned wizard's tower in the Gorean desert, after the first third or so it features a crashed alien spacecraft, complete with alien monsters on board, technology (which the protagonist can figure out how to use) and, at its climax, the task to repair the ship's drive (aided by the ship's AI), enabling it to launch. Some fans view it as So Bad, It's Good, but the vast majority prefer not to even mention the name. As for the canon discontinuity, certain NPCs were retained as they later became key figures of the setting (among others, Borbarad and Rohal, first introduced here), but the main plot of the scenario and its components (i.e., everything related to the spacecraft) were erased from existence.
Cast from Hit Points: Exists both in a socially acceptable way, by using ones own life force when all magic power is gone, as well as the socially unacceptable way of Borbaradianism, where anyone who learns this can cast any (borbaradian) spell he learns without any inherent magical talent, only using his life force to cast. The additional downside of borbaradian spells is that they are all at least somewhat demonically tainted.
Character Customization: Using a Point Buy system, and several templates. Characters are all based on the trinity of race, culture and profession. Characters are customized afterwards.
Character Level: Older Editions (up to third) used classes, the current one is strictly skill-based and only lists levels as a measure of comparative power.
Color-Coded for Your Convenience: if it is black, red or black and red it is likely to be something bad. Or a priest of the god of smiths, or the god of mercenaries.
Church Militant: The cult of Rondra, the warrior goddess are the best example, but roughly half of the cults maintain their own faith militant.
Color-Coded Elements: The six elements are coded (at least by human standards) mostly this way with a few exceptions: fire is red, wind is yellow or colorless, ice is purple or light blue, water is blue, rock/stone is orange and humus(earth and plants as well as all living things) is represented by earthen colors, but usually by green.
Color-Coded Wizardry: the three guilds of mages, white(law abiding and usually following strict ethics and codes when using magic research must only happen under strict regulations), black(free thinkers who believe that every type of magic deserves to be researched and that no boundaries should be forced upon this research) and grey(somewhere in between, usually rather moderate in one way or the other). All other practitioners of magic don't fall into this scheme though.
Crapsack World: Definitely one of the tamer examples of this particular trope, but still, after the Borbarad campaign (see Darker and Edgier below for extensive details), parts of Aventuria qualify.
Cultural Translation: The original German name "Das Schwarze Auge" translated literally means "The Black Eye". The name was changed to avoid the association with a bruised eye (in German, a bruised eye is called "blaues Auge" i.e. a "blue eye").
Dark Messiah: The Aikar Brazoragh, leader of all orcish tribes is one of these.
The first edition of the game was mostly family-friendly fantasy (well, discounting the violence inherent in battles against Orcs, for instance), with the occasional darker scenario or two thrown in (the valiant heroes raiding the lair of a vampire or other mighty undead). In-universe, the different states (which were quite strictly typecast into "good" and "not so good", but not outright "evil") were politically stable and quite well-to-do. Then, adventures and mini-campaigns dealing with Aventurian wars started coming up, as well as plots dealing with the Cult of the Nameless One (not that one), a faction best described as Lawful Evil in D&D alignment terms.
Then, in the 3rd edition, the so-called Borbarad campaign (offical title: The Marked Seven) was released...which is when it really hit the fan. Aventuria was invaded by demons and a cataclysmic war nearly tore apart the Middenrealm, obliterating several central provinces, severely weakened the other states and certain regions of the continent fell prey to demonic infestation (quite analogous to the Warp corruption of Warhammer). It ended with a dearly-paid-for victory for the free species and peoples of Aventuria, but since then, basically most of the metaplot has been dealing with wars against the remnants of the Heptarchies (demon kingdoms) - the Middenrealm was attacked once again later on by the strongest of these and, additionally weakened by a civil war, was all but shattered, virtually removing its former status as the superpower of the setting.
At the current stage of the metaplot, some of the Demon Kingdoms were defeated, but several still remain - and even in the liberated regions, the aforementioned infestation is far from being cleaned up, leading to mutations, instances of When Trees Attack, demon raids and so on (several people at Fantasy Production seem to have been somewhat partial to Warhammer, judging by the influences). And, in the context of a frequent sister trope to Darker and Edgier, there was Oron, one of the Heptarchies which basically was built around non-consensualBDSM, "spiced" with demons. Adventures set in Oron (a few were released) were recommended by the publisher itself to be treated as the German equivalent of M-rated material. This sub-setting really did not sit well with many fans and thus was retired (in-universe, Oron was defeated).
The newest campaigns reintroduced the threat posed by the servants of the Nameless One, who, largely dormant during the Demon War, now are using the opportunity to strike at the weakened states from within... To foreign players typically not familiar with the RPG itself, but only with the video game spinoffs such as Drakensang or the Realms of Arkania series, this is mostly not known, but at the current stage of the metaplot, quite a big chunk of Aventuria has become a serious instance of a Crapsack World and the rest is not as shiny anymore as it used to be. The good thing is that the setting as a whole has matured, considerably lessening (though not wholly abandoning) the typecasting prevalent in the beginning.
Deal with the Devil: Pacts with demons are a quick way to great power. They have certain drawbacks, though...
Demi Human: Half-Orcs and Half-Elves are the most obvious examples.
Dump Stat: Older rules editions had negative as well as positive attributes. Often the negative Curiosity or Greediness stats were maxed out to raise positive stats.
Depending on your build, almost all of the attributes except for Courage can be this. Manual dexterity in particular is so narrow that it often suffers this fate.
Elemental Baggage: Most magical traditions need a small amount of one of the six elements is to summon a servant, djinn or master elemental of that particular element. If the element in question is not pure (sand instead of stone for a stone elemental) it will be more difficult, should it be purer, it will be easier (diamond instead of stone for a stone elemental).
Elves Versus Dwarves: No outright violence (although there have been wars in the past), but a lot of issues to work out nonetheless.
Elves prefer to live under the open sky. Dwarves consider that to be suicidally insane, after all you never know when a dragon might attack.
Elves love the forest and will defend it from loggers. Dwarves view the forest as a good source of more mineshaft supports.
Dwarves believe (with some justification) that dragons, specifically the Great Dragon Pyrdacor, are the root of all evil in the world. Elves once worshipped Pyrdacor as a god.
Dwarves distrust all magic, viewing it as the Dragon's Work. Elves are inherently magical.
Dwarves love beer (and wine, and rum, and...). Elves find the smell of any fermented foodstuff or drink so revolting it can cause them physical damage.
Elves have no body (or facial) hair. Dwarves believe any male without a beard must have been cursed by their god for some very serious crime.
Male and female dwarves are fairly easy to tell apart. Elves...aren't. This can lead to embarrassment.
The list goes on. Needless to say, the two races have had a traditionally rocky history...
Evil Counterpart: Each of the Twelve Gods (the main pantheon) has a Demon Lord as their antithesis.
Evil Is Not a Toy: Mage-Emperor Fran-Horas summoned the Archdemons to deal with a particularly annoying revolt against his rule. The demons obliterated the rebels...and then promptly turned on Fran's own forces, plunging the empire into four centuries of civil war and anarchy. His descendant Hela-Horas tried to do the same thing a dozen or so generations later, and another Dark Age was only averted because the gods themselves decided that enough was enough and made a personal appearance to stop the summoning.
Executive Meddling: The name "The Dark Eye" was chosen by the publisher, the creator simply called it "Aventuria". A new type of palantir-like magic items was quickly added as an explanation for the choice of names.
This is actually a recurring trope; Mada's sacrilege works very similar, and this is also the point of the Borbarad Campaign.
Familiar: Most witches and some of the dwarven version of druids (only the kind ones though) have these. They come in many shapes and sizes: cats, ravens, snakes, owls, toads, snakes, small monkeys and spiders for the witches and dogs, wildcats, snakes, eagles and toads for the dwarves. Each familiar is linked to a type of behavior and character that is more or less expected of its mistress.
Witch characters can choose a specific benefit (powerful background feats chosen during character creation) to obtain a more powerful familiar. For instance, in the case of the Black Widow coven (Sisterhood in Aventurian terms), the familiar is usually a big (but not giant), somewhat intelligent spider - with the "powerful familiar" benefit, however, it is a Maraskan tarantula, a giant poisonous spider with a diameter of 2 meters or more. In extreme cases (if the GM agrees, that is), witches can even choose small (housecat- to dog-sized) dragons, which are fully sentient, capable of speech and possess magical powers of their own, as familiars.
Fantasy Character Classes: The Dark Eye has lots and lots of classes, divided into fighting professions, traveling professions, social professions, handcrafting professions, magical professions and clerical professions. Not every profession is automatically a good choice for an adventurer though, and is absolutely possible to play something unspectacular as a confectioner with wanderlust.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Loads. It is actually difficult to find a culture in Aventuria which is not based on history or stereotype, often several different ones mixed together.
The Middenrealm is predominantly somewhat akin to the Holy Roman Empire. The internal cohesion of the Middenrealm, however, usually was far stronger for most of the time (occasional civil wars aside).
The Weiden province is a backwards province - while the central part of the Middenrealm is more late Middle Ages/early Renaissance, Weiden is a firmly medieval setting and (naming customs aside) can be taken as a stand-in for any 1300s rural area where knighthood is still dominant.
The Almada province, lying next to the Novadi Caliphate and the Horasian Empire, is an expy of Spain. Even their reconquest of formerly Novadi holdings is aptly called 'Reconquista'.
The Albernia province is Oireland, though in-universe it has quite some Thorwalian influences.
The Horasian Empire is a cloak and dagger setting taking place in a renaissance-like time period, strongly influenced by France and Italy (apart from the absence of city states, that is). A Vestigial Empire that got back on its feet, tracing its history back to the Empire of Bosparan (see below).
The Cyclopean Islands, a mediterranean-flavored assortment of Islands (duh!) with a culture akin to Ancient Greece.
The Empire of Bosparan, the precursor of the Horasian Empire and the original realm of the migrants from the 'Gyldenland', with the emperor being the high-priest (and occasionally supreme mage on top of that), combines Roman and Graeco-Roman influences.
The 'Gyldenland' itself originally was, according to fluff (i.e. the account of a shipwrecked sailor who accidentally got over the ocean), somewhat of an expy of Ancient Rome. More recent source material additions have strongly retconned that and created a multi-flavored setting that combines all sort of Roman, Indian, East-Asian and a lot more and also a totally different influences.
The Tulamid peoples combine basically all oriental influences from the Greater Middle East to India and beyond.
The most common Tulamids are somewhat Levatine (and perhaps Persian) in nature, though their language (identical to that of the Novadis) is some form of mock-Arab.
The Diamond Sultanate and the Mage Moghuls were the (pre-Gyldenlandic) ancient human nations on Aventuria, and though there's little information about them, they appear to be Mesopotamian/Persian/Indian.
The Novadi Caliphate is firmly bedouin Arab, with an expy of Islam as their religion to boot, making them the only monotheists in the setting.
The Ferkinas are a viciously barbaric and cruel people of Combat Sadomasochist, and are clearly based on the Afghanic tribes.
The Maraskanis are an odd people that combines a strange philosophy, Chinese/Japanese-looking weapons and armor and a Vietnam-like environment.
The Thorwalians are basically Vikings, though less violent and mass-murdering, and firmly opposed to slavery on top of that.
The Gjalskerlanders are a Thorwalian people that is at least partially based on Scottish Highlanders.
The Forest People are dark-skinned Mesoamerican jungle dwellers.
And the Utulus from the deep south are tall black-skinned African jungle dwellers.
The people in the north basically mesh together the rest.
The Bornlanders are Eastern Europeans from Poland to Russia, combined with a Hanse/Netherlands-type trading empire.
The Norbards seem like a mild-mannered tartaric/kirgiz people of nomadic traders, with some Jewish influences thrown in as well.
The Nivese are a mix of Finns, Inuit and Sami.
Fantasy Gun Control: Strictly enacted. Black powder exists and is used for fireworks, but is not feasible as a weapon. The church of Rondra, goddess of war, also abolishes crossbows and similar weapons for their "unsportsmanship". Since the church has immense influence on what an army will use, they have a tight grip on technology.
For the pirates and musketeer sub-settings/regions, highly advanced torsion based weapons take the place of firearms. Arguably these are more dangerous than the weapons they replace. There are also Automatic Crossbows and other advanced forms of bow weapons.
The Dwarves, being the master artisans and technologists they usually are in standard fantasy, and the Horasian Empire, which is arguably the technological superpower of the setting (based on Late Renaissance Italy and France, compared to the High Middle Ages Holy Roman Empire Expy that is the Middenrealm), really take the cake in this, stretching the plausibility of the replacements somewhat thin. The Dwarves have the Gandrash Crossbow, a monstrous weapon somewhat like a hand-held ballista and the setting's "anti-tank" crossbow equivalent, dealing something like 3d6+8 damage per bolt and ignoring some types of armor, as well as the aforementioned automatic crossbow. The Horasians have an assault rifle equivalent rapidly firing small projectiles, which even comes with a drum magazine, but is powered by a spring system instead of gunpowder. To be fair, according to the 4th edition fluff, the Horasians are indeed experimenting with weaponized use of gunpowder and even forged some prototype cannons, but they have never been used yet and it is unlikely that the technology will have significant battlefield presence (meaning it probably won't feature in any adventures and certainly PCs will not be able to get their hands on it).
Fantasy Kitchen Sink: Despite the usually more "realistic" presentation of the setting, Aventuria includes many, many creatures and concepts. As a rule of thumb, if something was popular in another RPG, it is likely to appear in TDE as well. This includes dark elves, lovecraftian monstrosities, and the usual mixture of mythologic creatures.
The Fair Folk: They exist, and technically all elves are their descendants. They occur only very rarely in the game though.
Fighter, Mage, Thief: Averted - TDE group build is far more often optimised around different fields of problem solving than just combat expertise. The main areas, in broad strokes, are: Combat - Wilderness - Social - Science - Crafts.
There are so many different skills, that special rules are present if you want, for example, help repair a boat and only have the woodworking-skill but not the boat-carpentry-skill, so you can use the skill you have to supplement the missing skill.
Especially in the knowledge and crafts sections there are so many skills, that a character focused on those areas most commonly needs an additional sheet just to write down all their skills. This is mentioned in the rulebooks.
Combat suffers from this as well. Beyond a certain point it is neither affordable nor useful to keep maxing your weapon-talents. Then you are just better off buying extra maneuvers that allow you to trick opponents in combat, break their block, turn an attack into a defense, use your legs, use things as weapons, swing from a chandelier, etc. Luckily, all those special moves may play out as epic strikes with much finesse and creativity, but are not more than a basic attack/defense roll with maybe a difficulty modifier.
Fish People: Plenty. Some are harmless (the zilits), some are strange and might be dangerous (Necker, Risso), some are truly bad news (the Krakonians) or even worse (the Hummerians are large, fiendish crab people of the demonic-3-meter-tall-with-natural-plate variety).
God Is Evil: The gods of the achaz are this. Their priests basically try to distract them from possibly destroying the world.
The priests are essentially like really experienced Investigators, treading ever so lightly as not to awaken the gods.
The Nameless God also counts, as he indeed was a member of the Twelver Pantheon at the creation of the universe - in contrast to the Archdemons, who are separate Evil Counterparts to the gods, and aspects of Chaos, while the gods, even the Nameless one, are aspects of Order. He was even said to have been the mightiest of them, but then turned to evil and was banished from Alveran (i.e. heaven). In-universe, some freethinkers (not necessarily members of the Nameless God's cult) theoretize that the banishment was actually due to Praios envying his might but that, of course, is heresy.
Giant Flyer: Well, there are dragons. To make them fit into the usually more realistic approach of the setting, these creatures use intuitive levitation magic.
Half-Human Hybrid: Half-elves and half-orcs exist as per standard fantasy conventions. There is also a particularly strange case in Khadan-Horas, current child-emperor of the Horasiate. His mother was a human noble and priestess. His father was a 70-foot dragon. Nobody is quite sure how that works, and he looks perfectly human for now...with the notable addition of a Third Eye.
Human Sacrifice: Always a favorite of demonologists and other users of black magic.
Hybrid Monster: Chimaerology, the magic of creating magical hybrids from all kinds of animals and humans is a classic but nowadays somewhat rare form of black magic. Later versions are based on the hybrids of mundane creatures – or people and demons.
Ineffectual Sympathetic Villain: Well, perhaps not all that sympathetic - but certainly ineffectual: Pardona, the Tongue of the Nameless God and Envoy of Evil, is canonically defeated, rejected or thwarted in every one of her apperances. Even if their Characters might fear her - most players regard her with a bemused mix of detached pity and condescension.
Not too bad for a 5000 year old beeing, that spend the last 1000 of those in hell and just recently spotted the civilization these dumb apes have build. She is still learning that humans aren't animals anymore...
Judge, Jury, and Executioner: In theory, every Noble with the privilege of Jurisdiction. As long as he or she is on the grounds of his/her own fiefdom.
The Rays of Light often assume these privileges, always in error (assuming the privileges, not the denunciation)
Kill and Replace: There are at least two demons who use this as their trick, along with the Shapechangers (creatures of uncertain origin likely linked to The Nameless God) and the Mantra'Kim (shapechanging, nigh-immortal dragon-men created to serve the elder dragons).
Knight Templar: The Rays of Light,The Priest-Emperors and often the Church of Praios in general.
Kryptonite Factor: Common iron blocks magical powers. For some spellcasters, this is only a minor problem, others like druids cannot use forged metal at all.
For all elementals their opposing element is their greatest weakness, no matter how resistant to any sort of damage they become.
Those who have forged a pact with a demon lord and all that lords demons are particularly vulnerable to blessed weapons and areas of the god that is their counterpart.
Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards: Averted. While spellcasters can be very powerful, a PC wizard remains very squishy for his whole career, and an optimised warrior is usually very dangerous, even for wizened old wizard guys.
If a PC is played for long enough, a Wizard can level up in combat arts greatly thanks to the skillpoint system, since every character is open to nearly everything once created. Also, they get magical staves that cannot be destroyed by any nonmagical means, bypassing the very realistic break-factor checks. On the other hand, they pay more experience points for combat ability than dedicated fighter types and most weapon skills depend on physical attributes that won't be particularly high on a wizard's list of priorities.
Loads and Loads of Rules: Oh, yes. There exists a "basic" rulebook, but it is so abbreviated, it is basically worthless - all information in the book is repeated or contradicted later on, making it entirely possible to skip the "basic" rulebook and start with the real rules. Also, it is usually assumed that you use the full rules. These consist of at least two full-sized hardcover books containing rules for character creation, combat, skills and the environment. If you want to play a priest you will need another book. A magic-user, another two books. You still lack enemies to fight and comprehensive setting informations.
The authors addressed this issue, however, not by reducing the rules, but by making them extremely modular. Many rules (especially for combat) are marked as optional and you can play with about half of the rules cut out and still have a very detailed experience.
Magic Staff: Trademark weapon, ritual implement and status symbol for wizards. Almost entirely indestructible and capable of injuring otherwise invulnerable opponents, the wizard's staff can also be enchanted with effects that require a ritual once and then just a thought, word or gesture every time the PC wants to use it and require only a handful of mana points to trigger. One of the most useful examples (besides the magical torch spell) is the Hammer of the Magi: From breaking down doors to breaking down skeletons of enemies, this physical amplification of any swing with the staff is extremely powerful at close range. Especially funny if the enemy is a light one and the player just decided to invent baseball. Other options include transforming the staff into an animated, levitating flaming sword, storing spells inside the staff for later use or simply reducing a full-sized quarterstaff to the size of an elegant cane.
Magitek: Not present anymore (except for one of the Heptarchies), but a strong element in the culture of the now-extinct High Elves (direct progenitors of all modern elves but the Wood Elves, to whom they are "merely" close relatives) a few millenia back. Everlights, magical elevators in their spire-like skyscrapers, the occasional airship or two - the usual works. The modern elves are technologically backward even compared to humans by choice, as they believe that it was this lifestyle coupled with the hubris of the High Elf leaders, a few of whom tried to elevate themselves to godhood, that led to the culture's downfall. They're partly right, partly wrong: the true cause was Pardona, a High Elf artifically created by Pyrdacor and immediately corrupted by the Nameless God, who manipulated her way into the ranks of the leaders, then betrayed her species and almost single-handedly caused their extinction. However, this manipulation was only made possible by the High Elf hubris.
May Inca Tec: The ancient saurian civilizations. Stepped pyramids in the jungle, human sacrifice, obsidian-edged war clubs, plus a lot of similarities in terms of style (saurian glyphs look a lot like mayan writing, for example). There are also parallels to the Long Count and an expy of Huitzilopochtli...who is still worshipped as a sun god (and chief of the pantheon) by modern aventurians.
Medieval Stasis: Very much in effect. In-universe, the timeline has progressed to more than a millenium after the fall of Bosparan (Ancient Rome expy). While advances in social organization have definitely been made, and lots of magical research has been going on (most of it related to rediscovering the old secrets though, as there have been several dark ages in Aventuria after the fall of Bosparan, the Mage Wars etc.), technology is pretty much stagnating. There is some progress, but not nearly comparable to that of our real world in the same timespan. Seen even more clearly with the Dwarves, who are quite technologically developed (though not to Steampunk levels) and inventive, but have been stuck at the same level of technology for millenia, and especially with the local Lizard Folk, the Achaz, who are the oldest species in existence on Aventuria, had several high cultures and survive both in feral variants and a few isolated, civilized communities - which nevertheless have been essentially unchanged for tens of thousands of years.
Mordor: The Heptarchies are like that, to a different degree.
Mundane Fantastic: Called "phantastic realism" by the authors, making magic pretty weak compared to Dungeons and Dragons, at least as far as most PCs go.
There actually IS a rule describing how to become super-awesomely powerful, but you'll always have to pay with something. In the end, with spells being extremely flexible on the run and often having basic effects usable to the caster's liking, wizards are more of a “box of super awesome utility.” Very few spells have definite descriptions, most are only limited in their power, not their potential.
She's great at manipulating dragons, demigods, ancient high elven wizard-kings and so on. Unfortunately, mere mortals have never really registered as relevant in her world view, so she has absolutely no clue how to deal with them...
Luckily not as odd as you might think. The child of the goddess of love and the god of trade and thievery? He's a travelling flute-player and the patron of wanderlust.
One Stat to Rule Them All: Constitution can be, not only because it is most important to HP-Base and many physical talents, but also because the better half of your constitution is your wound-threshold. Any damage received higher than that threshhold deals a wound, which is a crippling effect, that, if not suppressed, can quickly lead to another one and another one. Also, afterwards, any healing-skill-check is severely constricted by each wound.
Another example would be Intuition. Taking a major part in attack- and defense- basevalues and in many physical talents is good enough for most action-oriented characters, but it also has at least normal weighting in all science talents, along with almost all spells (ALL spells in elven representation, along with often having double weighting) and additionally all social and language talents. This is the stat to go especially for characters who are supposed to be able to fight AND talk/cast magic in usable proportions. In their case, cunning most often gets less attention than it normally would.
Even some stats are regarded lesser by almost all characters, while others are more important, no stat really overtakes all others, since for every talent-check, at least 2 attributes are necessary, balancing characters out automatically.
The strength attribute used to be the top dog since it was equally important for hand-to-hand stats as dexterity, but paramount when it came to calculating damage, which was arguably the most important stat for any melee-oriented class - and on top of that was also indispensable for the generally fairly low carrying capacity. The most recent edition has downgraded the efficiency of strength for all but the really heavy weapons to such an extent that it rarely pays off to raise the stat above 15, though.
Some talents (and the associated attributed, guess which!) are seen as core important to play and survival. Self-control, body-control and acuity may be rolled any number of times between once per adventure to once every few actions, but almost all GMs agree, that those are the talents most commonly saving a character's ass outside of combat. Similarly, empathy is the most important social talent. without it, nearly no decent sale, negotiation, persuasion or intimidation would ever work (again, varies from GM to GM).
Our Dwarves Are All the Same: Partially avoided. There are stereotypical Dwarves who love their gold, forges and beer, but there are also ultra conservative Dwarves who love mathematics, flamboyant jewel burglar Dwarves and Dwarves who are very similar to Tolkien's hobbits.
Our Elves Are Better: There are several Elven cultures around, all described with the usual tedious amount of details. They are all better than humans, though.
Not in every way. If they leave their elvish ways behind too far, they die within weeks and fullblood elves even get a minus on their cunningness attribute. They are also very socially inept in non-elven cultures, commonly misunderstanding simple things such as money or ownership.
Really only applies (and as said before, only partially even then) to the modern elves. Their ancestors, the High Elves, were the typical "better than all of you" elves of Tolkien fame, but with the Jerk Ass factor dialed up. After Pardona established her cult, that High Elf faction (granted, a minority, but a sizeable one) became outright evil, comparable to the pre-Fall Eldar of 40k fame. (She later fused her most devout followers with demons, creating the Black Elves, a fertile species of elf-demon hybrids that plagues parts of Aventuria to this day.)
Our Orcs Are Different: Orcs in The Dark Eye have a thick black fur, are small and stocky and bear some traits of Mongol Golden Horde expies.
They interestingly appear in Nethack: The description for one of the orc types cites the Dutch translation of the first edition.
In the first and second editions, they were treated much like the Orcs of early D&D: Always Chaotic Evilhat-wearing but comparatively weak monsters used as sword fodder and XP source. Later, more and more of their culture was developed, transforming them into Proud Warrior Race Guys with a violent and alien culture, but also a certain kind of honour system, and a a few sympathetic Orc characters and archetypes were introduced (priests of Rikai for instance). They are still inimical to humans and most other sentients, but only because they serve their own interests, not because they are "evil" (and arguably, "it's their planet" might apply here, since the fluff strongly hints at the possibility that the Orcs are actually the indigenous population of Aventuria's northern regions, with the only older species being the lizardfolk in the south) . On a final note, during the Demon War, the Orcs refrained from using the situation to crush the Middenrealm, declaring neutrality at first, and then, in the final battle, sending a small, but effective contingent to aid the Alliance's side.
Pimped-Out Dress: THE court fashion in the Horasian Empire under Emperess Amene. The fashion at her successors court is slightly more subdued.
The Temple Guard and Order of the Raven for Al'Anfa
The Sun Legion for the Heliodans of the Church of Praios
There was even a guard unit named Prætorians for the horasian emperors of old.
Proud Warrior Race Guy: Most cultures are given too much depth to be reduced to this, but the Thorwalians (Viking expies) and Orcs might qualify.
PunnyName/IncrediblyLamePun: Quite a few places, people, legends and organizations throughout the setting. For example there is Mantrash'Mor, a mountainrange in which the faces of by now five of the twelve gods have been carved...
Also the various cults of the Archdemons that cropped up all over Aventuria during and after the Borbarad Campaign.
And then there is the Church of Borbarad himself.
Retcon: Happened a few times. Most spectacularly, an old adventure about a crashed UFO was cut out of the canon, while the adventure's supposed big bad later became the big bad of the Borbarad Campaign.
Sci-Fi Writers Have No Sense of Scale: In an inversion of the usual fantasy problem with distance and size of land masses, the entire continent of Aventuria, with all the cultures and empires, is only about the size of Greenland. While that's not small, it doesn't begin to explain the climatological and cultural diversity (some of which has been Hand Waved by way of A Wizard Did It).
She Is the King: Type 3 (gender-neutral title) with the Horas, emperor/empress of the Realm of Horas (though in German, the definite article will give away the gender). Type 1 for Emperor Hal of the Middenrealm, actually Hal's believed-to-have-died-at-birth sister Selinde.
Sourcebook: Lots. One for every region, and additional ones for specific topics.
Smug Snake: Al'Anfa and the Horasiat are breeding grounds for this lot.
Combined to great effect in the Kingmaker-Campaign with an Al'Anfanian conspiracy in Horasia. Smugness all around abounded.
Spin-Off: The short-lived "Swordmaster" campaign took place inside the (hollow) planet and was intended as an epic challenge for high-level characters. "Myranor" is a far less heroic, but higher-magic setting on the distant western continent.
Squick: The Demon Lords of the Dark Eye are the dark reflections of the gods, and thus the anti-pantheon includes such charming entities like Belkelel, the Demon Queen of Rape. At one time, this Demon had her own theocratic state.
Sympathetic P.O.V.: Seems to be becoming a thing for Aventuria's major villains. The following happened twice: An odd year or two after a major villain's demise at the hand of an adventuring party follows the inevitable release of an official biography. Those biographies tend to depict the villains long before their fall and are writtenby fans (the editorial staff consists only of fans...) Thus we are treated to stories of how relatively normal people are driven mad by circumstances. We see the later Evil Overlordpetting Kittens or the later Evil Chancellor as the only person with a basic grasp of politics in the entire Empire, freeing peasants and being a far better ruler than the actual emperor in general.
The Caligula: Emperor Perval. Slightly less violent, more on the incompetent side, joint Emperors Bardo and Cella.
The Dark Lord: Borbarad was one for the history books, his heirs are not that bad, either.
The Dragon: Rhazzazor to Borbarad. Bonus points for actually being a dragon. Similarly, Pardona to the Nameless God, who, while a High Elf, gets a half-bonus for being artificially created by a dragon.
The Pope: The former priest-emperors of the Middle Realm were basicly the Holy See of the Papal State in a fantasy setting, complete with no tolerance for heretics. The island of Jilaskan, where the priest-emperors' descendants were sent to exile, preserves this.
Time Travel: Not a common feature, but a few adventure modules deal with this.
Thirteen Is Unlucky: Every Aventurian knows why. For those who don't: Next to the twelve good gods there exists the thirteenth, the Nameless One, the god who tried to overthrow the others and who should not be mentioned unless it is absolutely necessary.
Trickster Archetype: Three: Phex (Greater God, thievery, commerce and "rogue-ish" behaviour in general), Aves (wanderlust) and Xeledon (mocking the futility - and destruction - of anything, basically the bad side of Loki).
Actually not that new. The earliest sources (as early as 1984), taking place at the beginning of Hal's reign, depicted the emperor as vain (declaring himself a lesser God), ineffectual and indecisive and basically predicted that he was to blame for the coming decline of the Middenrealm. Later expansions rectified this since the authors apparently decided that casting the monarch of the most powerful empire in the known world as a buffoon might not serve their interest in creating a proper atmosphere. From then on, Hal was strictly described from an in-universe perspective.
The House of Almada, too. A whole Lineage of spoiled, incompetent morons, who, as its reigning Emperors, brought down the Middenrealm from a continental empire to a vestigal rump-state almost entirely on their own.
Warrior Prince: Quite common for the heirs of the Middenrealm, Princes and Princesses alike.
Well-Intentioned Extremist: The flagellants, also known as the Rays of Light, a layman order is like this: They want to protect the people from dark magic and heresy. Preferably by a few nice autodafés.
Not to forget Borbarad himself. While his methods were surely questionable his goals were ... also sort of questionable. But he had good intentions.
To elaborate: What he wanted, or at least claimed to want was the liberation of humankind (and other sentients, although in his last few incarnations he was mainly focused on humans) from the control of the gods and the creation of a world in which any being was a master of their own destiny. This is also the original reason he developed blood magic: it would have enabled any being to use magic by using "life energy" - abolishing the restriction of magic to the tiny percentage of arcane-sensitive creatures and thusly equalizing power. Basically, Borbarad's core beliefs were a fantasy version of Thelema. Too bad that he decided to use demons, viewing them as tools to accomplish his goals, and entered several pacts with the Archdemons...which very probably corrupted him.
There is also the goddess of magic herself. Born of a mortal and the goddess of wisdom she wanted to free all mortals from the thralls of the gods by allowing them to wield magic and determine their own fate. She nearly succeeded, brought magic in the world and a select few mortals actually developed the power to use it. Too bad that she weakened creation so much through her actions that the demons of the nether hellsfound entry into Ethra, too.
Weapon of Choice: Weapon skills are expensive to increase, so it is very useful to specialise for most warriors.
This is made worse by the inclusion of D&D 3-like feats in an otherwise GURPS-like point-buy system. Pre-planning for your future combat style is almost a must.
Then again, a half-decent master will throw in some NPCs for you that happen to know that technique that is basic for every other technique your WOP is capable of.
World Half Empty: According to the background mythology, creation is inevitably doomed.