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Offline Ancient Gamer

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« on: December 16, 2004, 06:25:50 AM »
Ok. I have been posting dark fantasy for a while, and I bet you're all thinking: "How depressing!".

To be depressing is not my intention.
The idea is to instill Lovecraftian horror and portray the world in a Warhammer fashion, while still letting the players be heroes. By letting the world be such a gruesome place, and by releasing short novellas, I try to immerse the players fully into the setting, lending authencity and a sense of dread to it.

In contrast: By letting the players SHINE and EXCEL I attempt to double and triple their worth and sense of achievement. I feel that this is a vital and crucial point.

I have failed to do the latter on a couple of occasions, and it was not a good thing.

So have you any experiences with dark fantasy? Or any thoughts on the matter? Do you perceive weaknesses with the approach or do you see some possibilities that I have not?

Hope for some feedback on this one  :)
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Offline Siren no Orakio

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« Reply #1 on: December 16, 2004, 10:47:00 AM »
While I have no particular experience with 'dark fantasy' as a specific, I do have a great deal of play time in a similiar genre, cyber-punk.

Since I wasn't a very good DM of it, I can't say a whole lot, except this: The largest appeal of the game was the desperation of the PC. Our acheivements were made all the more vaulable to us by knowing that they were hard fought and barely scratched out, and knowing that to do something more than transient was the highest order of accomplishment. To this effect, 'The Man' should do everything he can to keep the PCs down.. without giving any indication that it's actually costing him anything. This, of course, is only punctuated by the conflicts with other small organizations, the prevalance and power of organized crime, which PCs may be affiliated with, etc. Even if they are doomed, the joy of the game comes from the 'rebel' status, and /all/ that it implies.

Okay, that's enough of that sillyness from me. :-p

Offline CaptainPenguin

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« Reply #2 on: December 16, 2004, 06:04:53 PM »
Let me start off by saying that I LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVE Dark Fantasy. Dark Fantasy is one of my favorite genres, blending Fantasy and Horror (preferably supernatural horror).

I have not really had much success doing Dark Fantasy, mostly because I lack the motivation. My gaming group really would prefer to just get through their adventures and have a little fun. They don't "immerse" well, if you will. And I prefer to let the wishes of my players lead my actions. Whatever is most fun for them.
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Offline Ancient Gamer

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« Reply #3 on: December 16, 2004, 11:51:53 PM »
...Which is exactly why I created this thread!
Lets all discuss and perhaps develop techniques that will make dark fantasy more enjoyable for the players.

I too follow the desires of my players, any good GM would, but I try to include roleplaying elements of any suitable kind as often as I can.

I have discovered some crucial elements for leading a successful dark fantasy campaign:

1. Always "throw a bone" to the players. They won't appreciate a grim tale if there is nothing vaguely heroic about it. My players get to shine and they get to improve the world in different ways. It is never hopeless.

2. Always include enough information, foreshadowing and clues that the players have a chance to understand what is really going on. If the GM is mysterious and sparse with his tips, the players are going to sulk.

3. Give the players a break, give them access to easy heroism. I push my players hard. Their quests are very difficult, both in combat complexity (they have to use tactics to stay alive) and in puzzle complexity. Some times they get tired and just want to be big and important without all the fuzz. I let them. But just sometimes ;)

4. "The Hollywood factor". Create cool and impressive dark fantasy cinematic scenes.
The careful preparation of combat scenes with cool details and small "random" events will make the players howl with glee. Every player has a munchkin hidden within, and when their players, for instance, deliver that awesome killing blow while fighting in that awesome location, the players are going to have self-satisfied smirks for days and weeks afterwards.

I'll post techniques as I remember more of them.
Join me in the dark fantasy playability effort, you hear!?
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Offline Maggot

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« Reply #4 on: December 17, 2004, 04:52:11 AM »
You post the game and I'll be there.
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« Reply #5 on: December 17, 2004, 06:14:48 AM »
I just wish I could play with you guys IRL. *sigh*
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Offline CaptainPenguin

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« Reply #6 on: December 17, 2004, 10:43:06 AM »
So do I. *also sigh*
I'll join the Dark Fantasy RP, if you make it.
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Offline Kinslayer

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« Reply #7 on: December 22, 2004, 01:43:32 AM »
According to google, I created the most popular "dark fantasy roleplaying game" (half of the first page hits are related to Midian with that search phrase).  I obviously must like the genre...

I enjoy telling a good horror story.  Most gamers enjoy a fantasy setting.  There's no reason you can't play a horror game in a low-fantasy game world.  I enjoy being able to explore deeper psychological issues, describe a horrific scene with gothic imagery, or just send a chill up someone's spine, without the shock--or loss of players--that would occur if I didn't warn them ahead of time with the "dark fantasy" label.
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« Reply #8 on: December 22, 2004, 05:17:46 AM »
Quote from: "Siren no Orakio"
The largest appeal of the game was the desperation of the PC. Our acheivements were made all the more vaulable to us by knowing that they were hard fought and barely scratched out, and knowing that to do something more than transient was the highest order of accomplishment.
[...] Even if they are doomed, the joy of the game comes from the 'rebel' status, and /all/ that it implies.


While I agree with you, I also have experienced far more success when giving my players the chance to achieve something, anything, on a regular basis, It might be securing their family line, defending their honour, giving food to a beggar or once again saving the world.
The hopelessness of standard horror and dark fantasy gnaws at the players. slowly eroding their mood and enthusiasm over time. I find it best in small doses. relieved by the PCs own brilliance and their heroic efforts,

Sometimes the heroic effort is dark in itself, such as when a Hexenjaeger PC burns the defeated Coven at the stake.

What I am trying to say is this: I like dark and foreboding settings. I do not like to overwhelm the PCs with hoplessness and making them resign.

Quote from: "Kinslayer"
I enjoy telling a good horror story. Most gamers enjoy a fantasy setting. There's no reason you can't play a horror game in a low-fantasy game world. I enjoy being able to explore deeper psychological issues, describe a horrific scene with gothic imagery, or just send a chill up someone's spine, without the shock--or loss of players--that would occur if I didn't warn them ahead of time with the "dark fantasy" label.

Ditto. I don't do gothic anymore, but otherwise I feel the same. For me the entire Gothic thing has grown to become a cliché. Mainly because of the 90's overdose of Vampire movies and such I guess.
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Offline Kinslayer

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« Reply #9 on: December 23, 2004, 12:16:28 PM »
I agree.  The trick is to use the same stylings of the old gothic novels, rather than the more modern treatments.  Pulling inspiration from a Byron poem is much better than rehashing an episode of Kindred: The Embraced.  

This is even something of an overgrown joke in Midian.  "Goths" are an ethnic group, with the darker version that most players & fans would think of as "gothic" contrasted with their barbaric & blond forebearers on the continent of Osterre.
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Offline Ancient Gamer

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« Reply #10 on: December 30, 2004, 01:27:44 PM »
Anything can be dark fantasy
You don't need vampires or liches, gothic cathedrals and windy autumn nights.

Take common trolls. In DnD they are green, frail limbed, regenerating beasts with yellow eyes. They live in swamps and you have to bring your torches when fighting them. They are never encountered in DnD horror scenes, the only monsters in horror campaigns are undead *yawn*. Why can't the living be terryfying?

Create your own trolls instead. And when the lowland villages are raided by mask wearing beasts. When the women are raped by savage trolls and the men are butchered with axes and stones, claws and teeth. When the Troll shamans rip open the bowels of the town elder and pulls out his entrails, performing a divining ritual with them... Then you have made dark fantasy out of something ordinary.

Trolls don't have to be stereotypical. Kobolds don't have to be stereotypical. Anything can be dark fantasy.
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Offline MoonHunter

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« Reply #11 on: December 30, 2004, 02:38:01 PM »
Actually Windy Autumn nights, dark and stern Cathedrals, would be things I would include in a Dark Fantasy.  

Dark Monsters are nice, but no need to be cliche either.

It is all description and motivation. Like the rules for Noir films, it is a world that is cold, impersonal, and even good people will do bad to keep themselves alive/ comfortable.

You just need to emphasise the dark and uncaring evil of the world.
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Offline Ancient Gamer

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« Reply #12 on: December 30, 2004, 03:37:13 PM »
My point is that dark fantasy can be quite effective without resorting to standard issue stuff. Trolls were just one example, given proper presentation they would not be cliche but quite impressive. But it was not the point. If you like dark cathedrals they work out pretty well too, but after the tenth dark cathedral it is nice to find inspiration elsewhere.

I agree with the film noir theory, but I add more to my scenarios and campaigns to keep them convincing and noncliche. I guess I am not a dark fantasy purist, but a sword and sorcery / dark fantasy in between. I sometimes do pure dark fantasy, but wield my artistic license freely and improve the genre where I deem appropriate.
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Offline Scrasamax

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« Reply #13 on: December 30, 2004, 05:57:48 PM »
The funny thing about the undead in horror modules is that the actual horror part of the undead is completely overlooked, or forgotten. Zombies? They shuffles and moan, big deal. Skeletons, again no big deal and at times more comical than menacing.

The horror of the undead is that they were once living people. Yuor aunt, or your mother could become a shuffling corpse, hungry for your flesh, being driven on by an emotionally amputated necromancer. What prevents you from becoming one of these shuffling monsters?

Look at the key points from any good zombie movie

Creepy Little Dead Girl
Really good guy gets infectious Bite
Someone conceals bite, and tries to eat a loved one after dying in their arms, or at their feet.

Zombies arent very threatening, but they should be horrifing, because it could be you trapped in the rotting body that was once your own.


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Offline Cheka Man

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« Reply #14 on: December 30, 2004, 08:14:38 PM »
One of the best horror novels I read featured a form of dryad.These dryads were anything but sweet and friendly-they killed people by dragging their bodies into solid rock.

Offline Kinslayer

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« Reply #15 on: January 01, 2005, 01:12:16 AM »
I find that the game is scarier without monsters.  Which do you find more viscerally frightening: your friend sitting across the table calmly describing a monster as being 200 meters high, or being reminded of the last time you were nearly bitten by an angry barking dog? By keeping encounters restricted to four primary areas, I avoid much of the "typical dungeon crawl" effect that would serve only to reduce the fear factor.  These four types of encounters are:  normal beasts (as in the above example), sentients (the crazy guy in the dark alley--cross the Troll with your worst neighbour, and make him your new boss...  I should note that Trolls are a normal pc race in Midian), things-that-go-bump (pure description--the players are never sure what's going on), and non-encounters (such as a scene consisting entirely of the description of an abandoned church silhouetting a stormy sky).  

An important aspect of running a successful dark fantasy campaign is to set your players' standards low.  Focus on the small details, even things that might be considered trivial & time-wasting in other genres.  If they never have money--or never have it for long, never encounter an altruistic noble (or at least one who isn't an otherwise reprehensible jerk), never seem to fully achieve anything lasting or worthwhile--but never really fall so far into darkness & dispair that they completely lose hope, and never ever find true happiness, then you can string the players' along on an emotional coaster ride, where nothing is as it seems, and morality comes not in black-&-white, but rather in a dozen dull hues.  This is why I recommend a low-fantasy setting/ruleset for a dark fantasy campaign.  If the players cannot resort to powerful magic spells or items, and the GM cannot resort to simply throwing a bigger & nastier monster at them, then all are forced to find new methods in their shared storytelling.

The player-characters should never encounter a real hero.  The bickering, ill-conceived, motley, violent, misanthropic lot known as the players' troupe, is the closest thing to heroes that a dark fantasy world should have.  Sad, isn't it?  It is permissible to have other "heroes" as competators, and for every vainglorious success they enjoy, the pc's (or at least the players--cut scenes work well here) should learn one dark secret or atrocity of the supposed "hero."  The corrolary to this is that few villains will be completely evil, either.  Finding out that the vile warlord that slew the entire town loves little kittens--and they love him, too--makes it much harder for the pc's to shove their jagged-edged blades through his black heart... as his eyes look up in shock & terror, baby kitten still mewling in his hands...  You can, of course, have truly unrepentant and awful evil beings--demons or guys named Scott who enjoy pouring piping hot coffee on flowers, but these should be used sparingly, to further emphasize the grey-area ethics of murdering a "bad guy" while he's petting a lil' kitty.  

Don't forget the graphic descriptions.  Dark fantasy comes from a litterary tradition that made trite, flowery, overwrought descriptions into a twisted artform.  Include every possible sense as well:  not just the flash of lightning, but the low rumble of distant thunder, the scent of rain blowing on the cold breeze, the coppery taste of the victim's blood, and the uncomfortable stone in your shoe.
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Offline Ancient Gamer

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« Reply #16 on: January 01, 2005, 06:28:48 AM »
Excellent all of you!

Scras:
You touch upon  an aspect of undead that I had really forgotten. To me, undead became much more exciting after that post of yours. Thank you.

Cheka Man:
Yes. Anything can be used in dark fantasy, Satyrs, stones, swords, anything. Aunt Magda for that matter. I don't just mean monsters (they were an example), I mean ANYTHING. A tale at a tavern could be used for dark fantasy, a song, a strange stone, a pit of mud, the sun, a monster, the neighbour... Anything.

Kinslayer:
It seems like a very nice way of GMing. I will try it a few times, experiment with it so to speak. I find monsters cool though, and often use them as a metaphor for human bestiality. I am fond of metaphors I guess. Since my system is skill based, my gameplay do not suffer from the bigger monster syndrome but your method was surely a novel way of solving things. Very good.
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Offline Scrasamax

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« Reply #17 on: January 01, 2005, 06:59:57 AM »
I am going to have to disagree with Kinslayer over the existance of true heros. They are going to exist, but they will be the utmost rarity, and when they do stand up as heros, it is in defiance to their previously muddied background. The henchman of the uber-villian who realizes the magnitude of what he has done. He seeks the rectify the wrongdoing knowing that it will mean his life.

Hero = Selfless act. This most often manifests as the suicidal act of bravery that saves the party in some manner. The wounded soldier who says he will hold back the horde of aliens single handed while the rest seek shelter aboard the ship, or inside the cathedral, fortifying the door is a prime example. Zombies movies couldnt exist without the heartfelt sacrifice of some character who has been either a coward or a dick throught the first part of the movie stands for the group while they make their escape.

Scary Encounters
Dressing the Scene - often cheesy effects such as the stormy night, with the winds and the jagged lightning. Not so much scary in itself as it is setting the mood.  The sky hes iron grey, and the clouds hung with a leaden weight, black crows call from the field, massed around something large and probably dead. I'll tell myself that it is a busted open garbage bag...i can handle that better than another dead body.

Bump in the Night, aka the Red Herring - The moment is intense, the PCs on edge, something is moving, mkaing noise, they see a silhouette of a person, they investigate, hearts in their throats, fear in their bellies. They find the neighbors missing cat, or the little girl from the village who is lost and scared. Everyone has a whoosh of relieve as they stop holding their breath, it isnt the monster, or the madman, or the alien infestation.

Wild Things - Also a lesser encounter, the child zombie, a pack of feral wolves (this is also dependant on the level and skill of the PCs) It could also be a few weak foes, like the zombies, or a handful of aliens. It serves to weaken the PCs, soften them up, and deplete their supplies. Also serves to cause a few injuries, possibly infecting them with virus X.

Darkness Falls - The most powerful encounter. The main host of the zombies, the broodmother of the aliens, the chuckling maniac in the black suit. This should be the denoumont, the deciding moment. The heros, dark as they are have to A. prevail over the darkness. Heroic but not very dark, or B. Barely escape with their lives, with the forces of darkness weakened by their actions, but not eliminated. not so heroic, but certainly more fitting in the 'There is no hope' style.


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Offline Kinslayer

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« Reply #18 on: January 02, 2005, 08:36:50 PM »
You're disagreeing by arguing my point?  There should exist some fatal flaws in every would-be hero. The guilt-ridden henchman is already obviously flawed, by virtue of his past associations, as is the cowardly jerk against the zombies.  Even someone who has no obvious deficiencies and sacrifices themselves heroically has a fatal flaw in a very litteral sense:  their selfless heroism got them killed.  When this occurs in a movie, it's someone who did not previously have many lines, was neither hero nor foil, has no further use in the story, and--most importantly--is never mentioned again by the surviving characters.  

The seemingly selfless hero who sacrifices him or herself, in addition to the obvious fatality of their heroic flaw, can be later revealed to have a few "skeletons in the closet" type hidden flaws.  This will serve to humanise someone who is elevated post mortem to near worship, especially to nauseating levels.  Let the player-characters get sick of hearing about the wonderful Sir Neverwrong the Pure, and then drop hints about his "heroic" bravery in battle stemming from his overwrought aggression & hatred of all other ethnicities.  

Even without these humanising flaws, heroes in dark fantasy, if even used at all, should share the common flaw of their mortality:  they are all dead, or are emplaced into the story only for the express purpose of dying.  The sacrifice of such a noble & caring person will seem quite pointless (and thus appropriate to genre) when compared to the misfits & malcontents who survived only due to the forfeiture of life of the "hero."
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Offline Scrasamax

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« Reply #19 on: January 03, 2005, 04:20:18 PM »
Perhaps i should restate.

There is such a thing as a hero, be heroism comes from overcoming personal fears and limitations in a dramatic fashion, or in the act of selflessness. No one is a perfect hero. I hate to preachy, but the bible states

"There is not one righteous man, not one."

There are no perfect heros, no paragons of ultimate purity and goodness. They exist only in myth and fairy tale. A fraction of the angelic host rebelled against Heaven and God and were cast down for their transgression and arrogance. Lancelot was tempted by Guinevere and failed. We have no pure heros. There are as much as myth as the concept of the 'everyman'

The Paragon of Ultimate Goodness is as much a cardboard characture as the Champion of Immortal Evil.


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Offline Kinslayer

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« Reply #20 on: January 04, 2005, 03:25:02 AM »
There, we agree.  I feel that the Superman/Gallahad type heroes have no place in a dark fantasy game.  They certainly have their role in high fantasy, but not the darker stuff.

Of course, as dark fantasy is all about shades of grey, without some heroism & nobility to offset things, the game becomes just as pointless & silly as a high fantasy game without monsters & villains to combat.
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« Reply #21 on: February 07, 2005, 06:52:54 PM »
Appearantly there is dark fantasy art too. I stumbled across Chad Michael Ward's website and as you can see in the "about section" he claims to do "dark fantasy fine art".

Hmmm... Perhaps the Wikipedia definition needs to be expanded? :wink:
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