Dark but not too dark...

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Dark but not too dark...

Post by Neo-Paladin » Mon May 11, 2020 10:12 am

Hi folks!

I've been judging for quite a while now and want to try my hand at creating a setting inspired by Westerns, Mad Max, King's Dark Tower series, the Dark Souls game series and Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique (and/including " The Abominations of Yondo" - it's never stated if Yondo is a part of Zothique).

The basic idea is that, some time in the future, something happens to the universe. No one is sure what it is, but some element that kept the laws of the cosmos somewhat predictable vanishes. Things begin to break down. Time no longer works reliably. Distances can change. Technology has become unreliable as well, except for simple mechanisms (steam and combustion engines, gunpowder weapons). Sometimes the stars are recognizable. At other times they look back at you. Sometimes the moon is gone. Sometimes it is red and rains down...things.
Monsters stalk the lands. Sometimes they are the result of radiation from old power plants. Sometimes they are mankind's fears realized. And sometimes they have crept in from outside.
If the dead are not burned, they will rise again and seek to devour the living, becoming smarter and smarter the longer they are allowed to roam and feed. The only reason that there is not a full-blown zombie apocalypse is that there are not enough people around.
People eke out their existences in whatever way they can, in towns protected by Lawmen who know more about handling their guns than they know about the written law.
Sometimes, farmers far away from towns hire professional Watchers, little more than hired killers, to keep an eye out for trouble.
Cosmicists wander the lands, seeking and sharing knowledge of the dark realms that now encircle what's left of the earth like hungry sharks.
Cults have sprung up everywhere. Some of them worship the Times That Were. Others pay tribute to the things that rain down from above with the frequent meteor showers, clutching comets until they ooze onto the surface of the earth.
Others worship forgotten gods. Not all of them are inimical. Sometimes even the inimical ones can make for allies against nature run amok.

Now, so much for the synopsis. The thing is...I want to avoid the apathy that comes with too much grim darkness. How would I manage to make the players actually care despite the setting being pretty bleak?

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Re: Dark but not too dark...

Post by GnomeBoy » Tue May 12, 2020 6:59 am

Neo-Paladin wrote:
Mon May 11, 2020 10:12 am
I want to avoid the apathy that comes with too much grim darkness. How would I manage to make the players actually care despite the setting being pretty bleak?
If you're not sure how the players will react, that's a tough call. But I can see a line between "it's all over, just give up" and "things are bad, but people can still actually make a good life". It depends on if that bad stuff is literally around every corner or not.

An option is to leaven the bleak with wonder and/or absurdity. For example, Umerica is a third-party post-apocalyptic setting for DCC, but it's also absurd and truly gonzo. The wacky off-sets the horror.

Or you can lean into the bleak and mix in Hubris, another third-party setting for DCC.

Basically, you've grabbed a hodge-podge of doom and gloom to populate your world. What else (if anything) are you going to populate it with? Even if the de facto game-as-played is full of the awful stuff, knowing there's still good stuff in the world can make it worthwhile.
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Re: Dark but not too dark...

Post by Vanguard » Mon May 25, 2020 9:43 am

I think there's a lot of things you can do to offset it.

NPCs. Make the initial sessions have NPCs that communicate this mix of despair and hope. Attach adventures to the despair side, adventurers to the hope side. We can make it another day/week/month/year if you could just. . .

When they win, make the world feel a little brighter through small details. The town guards wish them well as they leave, smile and wave when they return.

Think about how people celebrate in the world. What does it look like when they let their guard down? Use that to make town worth defending. Later on, threaten that.

Go the other way. Have NPCs they've met lose hope. Let them become villains. Show them what happens when people give up, too.
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Re: Dark but not too dark...

Post by serendipitous » Fri Jun 19, 2020 11:08 am

Our group recently got apathetic in a couple of campaigns. I think there were two problems: First, one campaign just killed you if you had the least thread of nobility. As in, you had to be willing to just throw NPCs under the bus if you didn't want to get killed; or maybe just spend most of your time hiding under something. Some of our players have a grand time building criminal characters but none of us have fun running total slimebuckets.

Also -- and Vanguard hit on this above -- there wasn't an opportunity to improve anything for anybody in the world, really, in either campaign. Our group likes to do things like occasionally blow a bunch of money on orphans. Usually after they blow a bunch of money on cool bling, but still. If we felt like we could make a difference even at a small level, maybe help the widow/orphan/elderly parent of an unfortunate (or, cool twist, villainous) NPC who bit the dust and then run into them a bit later and see them still doing okay it would be great. Or found an assassin training school as a way up & out for luckless young'uns. Doesn't have to be Pollyanna to be hopeful.

Love Vanguard's idea about also letting bad choices happen that really mess things up, so that the players feel the agency.
"... and also: the willingness to stand firm, and also: where does one learn to stand firm? in what kind of school or university?" -- Bolano, 2666

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