I recently had the opportunity to play and review Black Void, a dark and (in the game’s own words) “esoteric” tabletop role-playing game that has a flavor all its own. Thank you to Christoffer Sevaldsen, one of the creators, for hooking me up with resources and to the team at Of Dice & Dames for playing through it with me (you can watch our playthrough in the video below!).
Here are all the links you need if you’d like to try Black Void for yourself:
FYI: Some of the links in this post are affiliate links, meaning I get a small commission if you use them to make a purchase. While this is nice for me, I have written this review based on my real opinions and not on kickbacks. Now, let’s get to it.
Black Void is unique in that it uses a 12-sided die (d12). While some smaller dice are included (d4, d6, etc.) all dice rolls can, if necessary, be completed with a d12 and some easy conversions. Otherwise, it functions like many other tabletop RPGs in that a player proposes an action, the game master (or Arbiter as it’s called in Black Void) calls for a corresponding check, the player makes a roll and adds any modifiers, and the Arbiter narrates the outcome of the action based on the roll. A natural 12 is an exceptional success and results in an exceptionally positive outcome; it also allows the player to roll another d12 to add to their result. On the other hand, a natural 1 is a critical failure and leads to an especially negative outcome.
According to the core rulebook, the guiding philosophy behind the rules of the game is “Simplicity grants diversity.” The creators state that simple rules “can be made to fit anything an inventive Arbiter or player can come up with, thus granting endless possibilities within the game.” It’s true that the rules leave room for creative actions and ideas, but as I played through the game, they didn’t always feel simple to me—I’ll dive more into this later.
The premise of the Black Void RPG is tough to summarize, but I’ll try: back when Babylon was the peak of civilization, a bunch of rifts in the Void opened, swallowed up the humans, and scattered them throughout the cosmos. Players take on the role of humans or human-hybrids descended from these survivors, and they find themselves at the bottom of the cosmic totem pole surrounded by “a vast treacherous cosmos…swarming with outlandish lifeforms, eccentric daimons and otherworldly entities.” This is a fun difference from many other tabletop role-playing games in which players take on epic, heroic characters with awesome powers—in Black Void, you’re the lowest of the low.
The unique setting is definitely a highlight of Black Void. Llyhn the Eternal is the cosmopolis hub and centerpoint for most adventures; it’s a colorful, chaotic, bustling, hodge-podge city that has everything you want. Because the city and the cosmos are so diverse, Arbiters can easily focus on elements they want in their game, whether that’s intrigue, grit, horror, or anything in between. Plus, the core rulebook has extensive world-building information, including alien species and other planets, if you feel like venturing away from Llyhn altogether.
Combat in Black Void moves fast and rewards strategic thinking. Each player only takes one action per round of combat, and there is a hefty table of combat maneuvers that are available to all characters. This means everyone has a wide range of options beyond the classic “I walk up and swing my sword at the bad guy” (although you can do that as well). For example, you can sacrifice accuracy to try to hit more than one target with Wild Swing, or you can forgo damage to knock down an enemy with Knockdown. Many of these maneuvers depend on ranges and positioning, so this is a game best played with maps and miniatures (even though we didn’t do this in our playthrough).
What makes the combat in Black Void especially engaging is the option for players to act outside of their turn. While everyone only gets one action per round, there is some flexibility in when players can use that action. They can choose to act on their turn as normal, they can react defensively when an enemy attacks, or they can delay an action for a future trigger (like an ally moving into a better position). This encourages players to focus on combat even when it isn’t their turn and think strategically about how to use their single action.
What I Loved
Now that I’ve given you an overview of the game, I’ll highlight some of the elements of Black Void that I loved. These are the pieces of the game that stood out to me as especially fun, unique, interesting, or just downright cool.
The artwork in the core rulebook and the introductory adventure is freaking cool. It really helps set the tone for the whole game and provides a fascinating look at the unique setting of Black Void. If you’re sucker for good art, then the core rulebook may be worth it for that alone! Here’s a sample to give you an idea:
Dice Rolls That Matter
Because Black Void uses the d12, every modifier, even if it’s just a +1, feels more significant. Compare this to a d20 system when sometimes a +2 makes no difference in the outcome because you rolled somewhere in the middle. The d12 narrows the window between failure and success more than a d20, so a +2 can make a huge difference.
On top of that, the use of exceptional successes and critical failures on 12s and 1s makes every roll exciting—your chances of something incredibly bad or incredibly good happening are both 1 in 12!
Nitty Gritty Combat
If there’s something you want to do in a fight, chances are there’s a defined mechanic for it in Black Void. This can be really satisfying for players who love crunching numbers and optimizing their strategies. It also makes combat feel more lively and fluid from one turn to the next.
However, for players who prefer a more straightforward approach, there’s nothing wrong with taking a basic attack action either. The system doesn’t punish a playstyle that’s more laid back and beginner-friendly. It has managed to find a good balance between the two.
What I Didn’t Love
Overall, I enjoyed Black Void and would be up for playing it again. In fact, I may just do that since the new adventure, Dark Dealings in the Shaded Souq, has just come out (check it out here). However, I will explain what I didn’t love so you can decide if this is the game for you.
My experience reading through the core rulebook for the first time, and even the quickstart rules, can be summed up in one word: overwhelming. There is a ton of information to absorb, and it feels a little like drinking from a firehose.
I realize there’s a learning curve with any new game. However, what made Black Void especially daunting was that important information wasn’t always easy to find. Some info is clearly displayed in the many tables throughout the book, but other key tidbits are buried in the middle of blocks of text. I ended up creating a little Arbiter cheat sheet for myself to keep track of the rules and mechanics that come up most frequently.
While the foundation for the game’s core rules is “Simplicity breeds diversity,” I wouldn’t describe Black Void as simple. Within the rulebook’s 400+ pages, you’ll find rules for weapon quality, madness, blood rituals, gaining influence, and more. It’s a bit intimidating, even for a more experienced player or game master.
Fortunately, when I played through it, I found the rules to flow better than I was expecting. The simplicity shines through in that every action is rolling a d12, adding the modifiers, and explaining the outcome. I was able to skate by on this mechanic and run the game without any major hangups. However, because there seemed to be a mechanic for everything, I was always worried I had missed a rule.
While the complexity of Black Void wasn’t my favorite, I think game masters and players who enjoy crunchier systems and are willing to study the rules will enjoy the depth this game offers.
TL;DR- Would I Recommend Black Void for Beginners?
Not for total beginners.
Black Void has a lot going for it, but the accessibility for brand new players, especially those who have never played a tabletop role-playing game before, is not one of those things. This game requires at least a basic level of tabletop RPG literacy (my experience with D&D and Pathfinder helped a lot). For that reason, I wouldn’t recommend this for complete beginners.
If you do want to give it a try, try to find someone who has played before. If that’s not possible, then start with the free quickstart rules and beginner module, The Flight from Salvation Square. The module does a solid job of introducing players and the Arbiter to various elements of Black Void one piece at a time, so by the end, you should feel like you have a better grasp of the game.