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Holding back the shadow, one battle at a time.

A kingdom stands on the brink of destruction, as the vast realm called the Shadow Deep slowly swallows everything in its path. As the army fights to contain the tide of evil creatures teeming up out of the black clouds, the kingdom’s best soldiers, the rangers, must venture down into the shadows to gather information, rescue prisoners, and ambush enemy supply lines. It is a desperate fight against overwhelming odds, but every little victory brings another day of hope.
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Rangers of Shadow Deep is a skirmish-level single-player/cooperative Fantasy Tabletop Game by Joseph A. McCullough, creator of Frostgrave and its spinoff Ghost Archipelago. The game uses a variant of those games' rules system for its basic mechanics, coupled with a simple set of rules to govern the behavior of enemy characters and a number of random event mechanics to keep the players from growing complacent. Gameplay is divided into missions, which are further divided into scenarios. Each player builds a primary character (the titular "ranger") to serve as their representative in the game; depending on how many rangers are playing in a given scenario, the players also receive a certain number of Recruitment Points that can be spent on other fighters and support characters ("companions"). The intent is for the game to be played as an ongoing campaign, with each player's ranger and companions growing in skill and power as they progress through the story.

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The Good Kingdom of Alladore has enjoyed a long period of relative peace since its most recent major conflict, a war with the neighboring kingdom of Lorenthia, was resolved nearly a century ago. Maintaining this peace are the rangers, an elite cadre of professional adventurers who wander the lands righting wrongs and rooting out threats to the kingdom. All of that changes, however, when Lorenthia is swallowed overnight by the Shadow Deep: an all-consuming black fog from which emerges a seemingly endless horde of hideous monsters, shambling corpses, and the occasional demon. The Shadow Deep has destroyed countless kingdoms in the past, and it seems clear that it's only a matter of time before Alladore falls as well. It now falls to the rangers to fight a delaying action against the Shadow Deep, performing scouting missions and raids into its territory to gather information, rescue survivors, and disrupt the enemy's supply lines. With every victory, they buy more time for Alladore to rally its defenders, call upon its allies for aid, evacuate civilians... and maybe, just maybe, find a way to defeat the Shadow Deep once and for all.

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A number of products have been released for Rangers of Shadow Deep, mostly in PDF and print-on-demand form via DriveThruRPG.com:

  • Rangers of Shadow Deep: The original rulebook. Includes the basic rules for building a ranger and playing the game, stats for companions and monsters, and a series of introductory scenarios to get you started. Also includes the mission Burning Light, in which the rangers must search a ruined convent for a precious artifact.
  • Blood Moon: This supplement consists mainly of a single one-scenario mission, complete with rules for scenario-specific companions and monsters. It also includes rules for lycanthropy.
  • Temple of Madness: This supplement presents a number of new magic-oriented character options (spells, Heroic Abilities, equipment, and companions), as well as a Dungeon Crawl-style mission that advances the game's narrative.
  • Ghost Stone: This supplement presents a new mission that involves two separate ranger groups, one inexperienced and one veteran. It also includes rules for a unique companion that can join the rangers in future missions, as well as a number of unique weapons that can be discovered over the course of a campaign.
  • Incinerator: Another single-mission supplement that sees the rangers captured by the forces of the Shadow Deep and forced to escape from a firey Death Trap, possibly acquiring a new unique companion along the way.
  • Rangers of Shadow Deep Deluxe Edition: Published in conjunction with Modiphius Entertainment, this new edition of the core rulebook is the first Rangers product to see a commercial physical release. It incorporates all content from the original rulebook, plus the character build options from Temple of Madness, with some minor rules tweaks and additional artwork.
  • Across the Wastes: The first in a series of three books comprising one long, high-level mission, this supplement introduces a new setting (the deserts to Alladore's north), new monsters and unique companions, and advanced rules for herbalism.


This game provides examples of:

  • An Adventurer Is You: All rangers begin with the same basic statline, and players use Build Points to upgrade their characteristics and purchase special abilities and skills. Depending on what abilities and gear are chosen, it's possible to build a ranger to emulate nearly any of the traditional Fantasy Character Classes, and specialized companions can then be taken to fill any gaps in the ranger's repertoire.
  • Armor Is Useless: Downplayed. Rangers and companions can be equipped with light or heavy armor, which reduces incoming damage by 1 or 2 points respectively, and can also take a shield to further reduce damage by another point. Because of the way combat works, any enemy who rolls well enough to beat a hero in a fight is also likely to punch straight through any armor they might be wearing; however, those 1-3 points of mitigated damage per attack can add up over the course of a game, especially for companions, who generally have fewer Hit Points than rangers do. That said, if the ranger or companion has to do any swimming, armor (especially heavy armor) and shields go well past useless and become actively crippling.
  • Badass Bookworm: The arcanist companion type. In this case "arcanist" means "scholar of ancient lore" rather than "magic caster," since that's the conjuror's job.
  • Barbarian Hero: The barbarian and savage companion types.
  • The Beastmaster: Rangers have access to hounds and raptors as companions. They're relatively fragile and can't carry items or use most skills, but they're also cheap to recruit, fast-moving, and each has something uniquely useful to bring to the table: basic hounds are the cheapest companions in the game (only half as much as a recruit or one of the other animal companions), warhounds are semi-decent fighters, bloodhounds are good at the Tracking skill and can also boost Tracking rolls for their ranger, and raptors have sharp eyes and nearly unparalleled mobility thanks to their ability to ignore most terrain.
  • Big Creepy-Crawlies: Giant flies and giant spiders are a common enemy in many scenarios. A particular variant of giant spider is also responsible for the zombie outbreak in the first core rulebook mission.
  • Bow and Sword, in Accord: Most starting "archer" rangers will skew towards this build. A level 0 ranger will have, at best, a Shoot score equal to their Fight score, and there is little incentive for a ranger to not carry some form of melee weapon just in case the enemies get too close. This can be downplayed later on as a ranger levels up and their Shoot score can start to exceed their Fight score, but the incentive to carry a melee weapon as backup remains.
  • Character Level: Every ranger starts at level 0 and levels up each time they hit a certain Experience Point threshold. Each level gained grants the ranger either additional skill points, an additional stat point, more Recruitment Points to spend on companions, or a new Heroic Ability or spell.
  • Critical Hit: Rangers or companions who roll a 20 on the dice when making a Fight or Shoot roll automatically win the fight / hit their target and deal an additional 5 damage. There are a couple of Heroic Abilities that increase the critical threat range to 18-20 for a single roll. Enemy models will also win the fight / hit their target automatically on a roll of 20, although mercifully they don't deal any extra damage when they do.
  • David vs. Goliath: Fights in Rangers are resolved by both combatants rolling a twenty-sided dice, adding their Fight scores and any relevant modifiers, and comparing the results, with the winner's score being used to determine how much damage they deal. The nature of the dice means that even the most skilled combatant will sometimes roll poorly and even the most pathetic of fighters will sometimes roll well, and occasionally both will happen at the same time, leading to some truly unexpected takedowns. This can be incredibly satisfying if it results in something like a basic hound tearing out the throat of a vicious ogre, or a lowly recruit felling a powerful shadow knight; unfortunately, it also means that there's a chance your veteran ranger will get bitten to death by a giant rat.
  • Dual Wielding: Averted in the mechanics, as the rules specifically state that carrying multiple hand weapons and/or daggers provides no added benefit in combat (in contrast to the original Frostgrave rules, in which wielding a sword and dagger gave the wielder +1 Fight). That being said, the rules for two-handed weapons are similar to how other fantasy tabletop games handle dual-wielding, and nothing says that your ranger's "two-handed weapon" can't be a pair of one-handed weapons if you really want your ranger to get their Drizzt on.
  • Emergency Weapon: Daggers, and unthrown throwing knives even more so. If a model is forced to fight using one of these weapons, they don't suffer the penalty to their Fight roll that comes with being unarmed, but they do suffer a damage penalty if they manage to win the fight. Rangers can take a single dagger or throwing knife without spending an item slot on it, so there's no real reason not to take one; however, there's little enough non-weapon equipment available that there's also no real reason for them not to take a proper weapon of some sort as well. Any other model whose primary melee weapon is a dagger is most likely either an archer or someone who really shouldn't be anywhere near combat in the first place.
  • Experience Points: Rangers gain experience when they or their companions kill enemies, successfully investigate clues, or accomplish scenario objectives. Companions use a much simpler experience point system that depends mostly on whether or not they were taken out of action during the scenario.
  • Forest Ranger: Not necessarily the titular rangers themselves (though of course any given player can decide how to characterize their ranger), but the tracker companion type definitely fits this trope; with a bow, a quarterstaff, and a good Tracking skill modifier, a tracker would feel right at home in Sherwood Forest.
  • The Good King: Arethic II of Alladore has so far proven to be one, despite his youth (only 26 years old at the time the story begins) and the fact that he became king only six months before the coming of the Shadow Deep.
  • Heavily Armored Mook: The knight and templar companion types. A knight carries a shield for even further damage mitigation, making them a Stone Wall, while a templar wields a two-handed weapon and is more of a Mighty Glacier.
  • Help, I'm Stuck!: A number of scenarios have cards in the event deck that cause the ranger or one of their companions to become immobilized — caught in a giant spider web, stuck in a sinkhole, snared by magically-animated chains, etc. — until they're able to break free. In addition to interfering with their ability to accomplish the scenario objectives, this also usually makes them a sitting duck for any nearby monsters to gang up on.
  • Luck Manipulation Mechanic: The aptly-named Hand of Fate Heroic Ability allows a ranger to re-roll a dice once per scenario. Perfect for ensuring you make that important skill roll or land that big hit on the monster (although, due to the way combat works, not so useful for preventing the big hit the monster is about to land on you).
  • Magic Knight: Most spellcasting rangers are going to end up being some variety of this. While it is certainly possible to aim for a Squishy Wizard build, a starting ranger has access to a maximum of five single-use spells per scenario. Once those run out, the ranger is going to want to have some kind of backup in the form of either a melee or ranged weapon (or both), and since wearing armor has no impact on their ability to cast spells, they're probably going to want some of that as well.
  • Magic Wand: Magically-inclined rangers can take a wand with them into battle. It enhances their magical ranged attacks, essentially functioning as a Boom Stick.
  • New Meat: The recruit companion type is just that, a new recruit to the rangers with little combat experience. As such, they don't have much in the way of fighting prowess or useful skills, but they're a cheap body on the field that doesn't come with the skill restrictions that animal companions like the hound and raptor possess.
  • Random Event:
    • In order to add some variety and challenge to the game beyond what the predictable enemy AI can provide, nearly every scenario in the game features an event deck built from a selection of standard playing cards. At the end of each turn, a card is drawn from the deck and its color and value referenced against a scenario-specific table. Most of the events are detrimental to the rangers and companions, although a few impact every model on the board equally and some are even beneficial.
    • In addition to the event deck, several scenarios also feature "clue tokens" that represent points of interest on the map for the rangers to investigate. Typically, when a ranger or companion makes contact with one of these tokens, the player rolls on a table to determine what they find there. Unlike most events from the event deck, clue tokens generally represent things that are beneficial in some way to the rangers, although sometimes they turn out to be Chest Monsters instead.
  • Ranger: You don't say. Given their membership in an elite military unit that focuses primarily on covert operations, as well as their status as in-universe Memetic Badasses that's largely backed up by their abilities on the tabletop, the titular rangers definitely qualify for this trope.
  • Rat Stomp: Giant rats are one of two enemy types in the first introductory scenario in the corebook, the other being zombies. The zombies are a significantly more dangerous threat.
  • Scars Are Forever: Rangers or companions that drop to zero Hit Points during a scenario have a chance of receiving a permanent injury, most of which penalize the character's stats or rolls in some manner. While in most cases they can continue to soldier on despite any permanent injuries they might have suffered, there is one exception: a ranger or companion who is blinded in both eyes is forced to retire from adventuring.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Unless the scenario specifies otherwise, a ranger or companion may move off the map at any point and will not return that game. The primary reasons to do this are: 1) the model is carrying treasure that the player doesn't want to risk losing; 2) the model grants experience if it survives the scenario (and most such models are poor fighters with low health totals); or 3) the model is in immediate danger of being taken out of action and the player doesn't want to chance rolling on the post-game injury table.
  • Simple Staff: Staffs are a piece of equipment available to rangers and companions. They deal less damage in melee combat, but their defensive abilities cause opponents to also deal less damage in melee combat to the staff wielder. Spellcasting rangers can take an upgraded Magic Staff that lets them Cast from Hit Points to boost Will rolls or deal magical damage in melee.
  • The Sneaky Guy: The rogue companion type.
  • Spell Book: Another piece of equipment exclusively available to magic-capable rangers, the spellbook in Rangers of Shadow Deep acts as a sort of magic battery, allowing the ranger to take one spell they didn't cast during a scenario and save it for use in a future scenario. Considering what a limited resource magic in general is in this game, this is potentially very useful.
  • Squishy Wizard: The conjuror companion type.
  • Standard Status Effects:
    • Certain enemies and environmental effects can inflict the Poisoned condition, which is handled similarly to how other games use the Slowed condition: if a ranger or companion is poisoned, they only receive one action when they activate (as opposed to the usual two) until they either heal back up to full health or cure the poison in some other manner. This makes poisonous enemies disproportionately dangerous, as healing is rare and action economy is very important in this game.
    • Other enemies and conditions can inflict the Diseased condition, which has no effect in the current scenario, but imposes a Maximum HP Reduction and a penalty to all rolls in the following scenario, if it's part of the same mission (otherwise it's assumed the diseased character has a chance to recover between missions).
  • Super Drowning Skills: A ranger or companion attempting to traverse deep water must make a Swim skill check in order to make any progress; on a failure, they lose their actions and take damage based on how badly they failed. An unarmored, untrained hero has an 80% chance of passing this check. However, wearing armor (especially heavy armor) or carrying a shield or treasure penalizes the roll, to the point that a fully-armored knight laden down with treasure has only a 40% chance of making the check and can drown in a single turn if the player rolls badly enough.
  • Swamps Are Evil: One of the scenarios in the core rulebook forces the rangers and their companions to trudge through a swamp in what was once Lorenthia. Assuming you're playing the scenarios in the recommended order, this is the first time the rangers and companions are unavoidably required to interact with deep water, and as such is probably where you'll learn that tooling up with heavy armor and a shield isn't always the best idea.
  • Technicolor Fire: A line of watchtowers equipped with beacon fires lines the border between Alladore and what was once Lorenthia. The forces of Alladore have managed to hold onto some of these towers, whose beacons are lit with ordinary orange flames; the majority, however, have been taken by the forces of the Shadow Deep, and their beacons now blaze with unnatural green light. One scenario in the core rulebook allows the players to discover what goes into producing these eldritch green flames, and it's... not pleasant, to say the least.
  • Useless Useful Spell: A number of spells in the game are highly useful in very specific circumstances, and serve no purpose outside those circumstances — for example, spells that can only deal damage against certain enemies, or that interact with skill checks or terrain effects that only show up in certain missions. Given how limited and precious a ranger's Heroic Ability / spell slots are, it's a much better idea for them to take abilities and spells that have more general use. This is one reason why the conjuror companion is so useful: unlike rangers, conjurors can swap out their spell selection before every scenario, ensuring that they always have access to those situationally-useful spells precisely when they are needed, and aren't burdened by them otherwise.
  • The Usual Adversaries: Most of the enemies the rangers will encounter in and around the Shadow Deep are either gnolls, various forms of undead, or some sort of hostile, oversized wildlife.
  • Utility Party Member: Arcanist and thief companions don't bring much to the table in terms of combat prowess or firepower, but they have an array of useful skills that can go a long way towards helping the company achieve its objectives.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: The first scenario of the first introductory mission in the core rulebook deals with a small-scale zombie outbreak that wipes out a small town. The culprits turn out to be a brood of mutated giant spiders whose venom reanimates the corpses of those it kills.
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