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Running Great Gauntlets in Shadowdark RPG

Party of adventurers holding up a torch and looking into the darkness around them. Art by Lucas Korte from Shadowdark RPG

In Shadowdark RPG, the Gauntlet is a deadly, 0-level adventure used to determine players’ starting characters for a campaign. It’s recommended that you use random character generation to create four characters for each player and only one (if that many!) will survive for each. The following ideas will help you run a fast and fun gauntlet for your groups.

Stoppage Time for Torches

The game tracks torches using real-time. This is awesome. But cats need to be wrangled, dogs need to be fed, and bladders need emptying. Rather than starting and stopping the timer (which can take away from the fun), use the global football concept of “stoppage time.” Near the end of a torch timer, quickly estimate how much “non-game time” occurred during the life of that torch. Hopefully, it’s not much. Add it to the timer’s remaining time and let the party know. For each of our torches, I added about 3-10 minutes of “stoppage time” to the end to account for miscellaneous needs.

Bonus: Keep the timer visible to the party. It’s fun (and daunting) to watch that timer wind down to darkness.

Random Character Generation

As the game recommends, lean heavily into random character generation. Gauntlets are meant to be deadly. Characters will die. Often. Don’t spend any more time creating characters than you need to. Encourage players to create a story from the character and not the other way around.

You can generate four random level 0 characters with a single click using ShadowDarklings.


Gauntlets are deadly. A little luck will go a long way. Use the system’s rules for Luck Tokens or introduce flex dice. Take it a step further and use a limited but shared pool that the entire party can tap into.

Roll in the Open

As the game recommends, roll in the open! It’s more fun and less adversarial. The dice are the cruel gods and not the game master.

Make Death Meaningful

Use the death of previous characters to aid those still alive. Did Jym the dwarf take a dart trap to the eye and say goodbye? Maybe his corpse is still pointing at the next clue. Did Raddle the goblin walk into a room full of skeletons and meet his doom? Now the rest of the party has the advantage of surprise as the skeletons pick over the dead goblin. This technique moves the game along and adds a bit of fun to the narrative.

Embrace the Humor

Characters will die in wildly unexpected and often funny ways. Let the party have fun and crack a few jokes. The Shadowdark knows how to bring the mood back to seriousness when needed. Random encounter, anyone?

Gauntlets are fun in Shadowdark but they’re a different beast. With these ideas at hand, you can run great gauntlets and hook your players for what’s to come after.

Game on.