View Full Version : Dark Souls & Dragons

2016-09-18, 10:06 AM
I just finished my first full playthrough of Dark Souls and got back into Bloodborne, and it frequently had me think about how some things might be cool to use in an RPG campaign when designing dungeons.

Now the gameplay of these videogames is really totally different from an RPG and I don't think there is much in the way of mechanics that would be practical to adapt. But the design of the environments, the monsters, and the settings are full of interesting ideas that might work really quite well.

What things do you think would be great ideas to have in fantasy campaigns? This is obviously only comprehensible to people who played some of the games, but they are all pretty long and filled with things that are easy to miss, so consider what stuff should be put into spoilers. (I think including the name of the game and the area in which the thing is found in the heading of the spoiler box is probably the most practical way.)

One thing I like about all thr games in general is that they seem to take place in some kind of otherworld where time doesn't pass normally and which are somewhat disconnected from the real world. In Demon's Souls the land Boletaria has been swallowed by a supernatural mist quite similar to Barovia in Ravenloft, and in Bloodborne the weirdness that is happening seems to be a regular event confined to the city Yarnam. In the Dark Souls games it's the whole world that seems to be in the middle of a periodically reoccurring apocalypse. Which is also cool but requires that the whole setting is build around that. Something like Demon's Souls or Bloodborne can be quite easily integrated in an already existing setting and doesn't require the whole world to be almost destroyed.
By putting the adventure into an otherworld you can pull out the really weird funky stuff and then can go back to something more ordinary with the same setting and characters.

I also like the idea of boss souls. Whatever caused the location of the adventure to become pulled into an otherworld apart from reality is still being maintained by the souls, life force, or magical powers of great sorcerers and warriors who still roam the place. To end whatever is going on the player have to find these people who have turned into monsters and either slay them or otherwise get them to cut their connection to the supernatural power.
It seems tempting to have the weirdness go down as these boss monsters are being taken down, but that would be boring. It's much more fun if things get only weirder. Maybe the connection to the real world gets weaker and the area pulled increasingly deeper into Hell or the Void. If the party collects all their souls they might be able to perform a ritual to get it back fully into the real world snd close the border again, or they might just cut it of completely and let it get swallowed but at least making sure there's nothing coming over into the real world. Offering the players both options with different difficulty might perhaps be the most fun approach.

I think Maiden Astraea is the most creative boss I've ever seen in a game. She only has her bodyguard and can almost do nothing to defend herself. But she's corrupted by demon power and won't hand it over willingly. Taking the soul from an enemy who doesn't attack or fight back but pleads for mercy should get really interesting in a dark themed campaign. Maybe there could even be a way for the players to get the mystic power they need without killing its owner, but I think it should be something the players have to work hard for to just learn that such an option exists.

Giant, beating, disembodied heart that hangs high in a prominent place and empowers the supernatural stuff that is going on? Yes, please. :smallbiggrin:

You don't even have to have giants. But I think when normal tombs have gotten boring for the players, giving them one where even a torch lets you only see a meter ahead can even make ghouls and skeletons scary again. I think thr key is to not let the players know how many enemies are attacking them and from which directions they may come.

In Dark Souls there's a staircase that first has some patchs of crystal in some places on the walls and ceiling. As you continue on ahead the patches first become more numerous and then larger and eventually cover every surface. And then the crystals continue to grow larger making the space to move getting smaller and smaller. I found this somewhat unsettling. In an adventure you could take it even further and make the passage continue to narrow until only a single person can squeeze through sideways, perhaps requirig metal armor to not get shredded. I really wonder how many players would be willing to keep going or just turn around and go somewhere else. Normally I think it's bad dungeon design to only have one possible path to get somewhere, but in this case I would probably put something fully optional but really good at the end that can't be reached any other way. This will make it much more rewarding if the players brave the challenge.

2016-09-18, 06:35 PM
Something that I'd like to steal from the SoulsBorne franchise at some point is the idea of taking a soul, and transforming it into something that reflects its previous owner. Finding a +5 Sword in the horde of an ancient drake? Meh. Taking the dragon's soul and transforming it into Flashfire, a sword whose blade burns with the dragon's unquenchable greed and even now seeks to consume more and more? Now that's a reward.

And while Dark Souls' cycle of collapse and renewal might be something that needs a whole setting to be built around it, I do think there's room to incorporate that into a smaller adventure, particularly if you go with the 'Disconnected Otherworld' idea. Perhaps that world isn't necessarily bad/wrong/evil, it's just other, separate. And it can continue to persist, in its very special place in the universe, but it requires a powerful being's sacrifice to fuel it. This puts the players at a difficult crossroads, especially if they've bonded with beings who live there. Are they willing to sacrifice one of their own to keep this unique place in existence? Are the friends they've made here worth never being able to return home, or worse, surrendering their own existence?

I have a setting which takes great inspiration from Dark Souls I use for some home games. In it, Pelor always fills a similar role to Gwyn, sacrificing himself to keep the sun burning. More than one evil character has come to the sun in an effort to usurp Pelor, only to find a mindless, rotting corpse where the glorious sun god should be. Once they came to understand just what it meant to take Pelor's place...well, let's just say the corpse stands watch still.

2016-09-19, 04:58 AM
The Kiln looks fantastic. It was one of the big things that gave me the idea to have dungeons that are in their own weird pocket dimension. Places like that just don't fit into a normal medieval world.

In my homebrew setting magic items can only be made from parts of supernatural creatures. They are not so much enchanted and more shaped into a form that allows sorcerers to activate their inherent powers.

One cool mechanical element that might work in an RPG is Insight from Bloodborn. It's a bit like an Insanity score that lets you see things normally invisible to mortals but also makes you more vulnerable to the powers of supernatural beings. I think it's even a bit underused in the game and there could have been a lot more changes to the environment as you gain greater insight.
The big obstacle to implementing it is that it would often be enough to have only one of the PCs turn himself mad with eldritch knowledge who then simply tells the others about the things they don't see.
But the idea of making yourself a better monster hunter by becoming more vulnerable to their powers seems really cool. I was already planning to make some kind of corruption score for my campaign. They might actually work well together as a single mechanic.

2016-09-19, 07:57 AM
There are a bunch of ideas flying around here, but I'm going to talk about weirdness.

Personally I love settings where you can't use your common assumptions to get around. And that is something I love about Dark Souls. It mixes parallel universes with a bit of time travel and immortality. And then it straps all that onto a setting where the undead are more common then regular humans and goes from there.

Mind you the standard is the standard for a reason. There is a certain cost to communicating all of these changed assumptions to the player/reader/viewer. Plus I'm not sure many parts of Dark Souls would work outside of a video game.

Still creating a setting with just one or two weird things can work well. Just explore the consequences of those changes to get the rest of the changes in the setting. Which to me is the difference between a gimmick and an significant setting change.

2016-09-19, 08:17 AM
Curious Puzzle actually uses some of the dark souls world mechanics in the campaign he/she is nice enough to post to these forums, and is often very enthusiastic about discussing it, could be relevant to your interests!


Martin Greywolf
2016-09-19, 08:59 AM
As OP correctly said, actual combat mechanics of SoulsBorne (SB) can't really be transferred all that well into TTRPGs, so we're left whit what's, well, left. That would be:

1) XP system

Death means very little in the short term, you just loose all of your XP, and cen get it back if you get to where you died. Easy enough, though TTRPGs would make this considerably less tiresome. Still, this could work.

Hollowing itself is a bit more problematic - for one, it doesn't work consistently. The theme is that once you loose your drive, you become a zombie eventually, which is less of a mechanic and more of a fluff thing - PCs don't loose drive easily, after all. In SB, this state is represented by you not playing the game any more, giving up on ever reaching the end.

2) Visuals

I'd say this is the easiest one - make visuals dark, but still hinting at the old grandeur, avoid cheap gore, etc etc. Undead dragons aren't gory beasts of grimdark, but rather sad, decaying husks of once great beings.

This underlying sadness to the world is actually a major theme in Souls, and you should always keep it in mind when designing visuals for a DS-like feel.

3) Strangeness and mystery

Here we come to the story - Soulsborne has a very weird story, it almost never goes the way you expect it to. There's one major contributing factor to this - DS is really deeply rooted in Eastern mythologies. Much like Western ones are usually centred around heroes who battle evil and make a difference, Japanese, well, not so much. Dark souls is all about unavoidable cycles of nature and how one man can't really change them. There's a lot of things rooted (ultimately) in Taoism, and mashup of this and otherwise fairly medieval European aesthetic makes for a unique mix.

Achieving this is, well, hard. A decent rule of thumb for a DM is to make sure no single NPC knows the definitive answer, but almost every single NPC thinks he or she does just that. Even players may not find out what the real story is behind certain aspects in the end, only make a fairly good educated guess.

Lastly, tell vast majority of stories through the enviroment. No NPC will infodump about ancient war with the giants, you will just find some of the hints towards it, often very unclear hints, like an overabundance of ballistas in strange places.

4) Murder is the path to power

This was always an integral part of SB - you get stronger by murder, and you can kill people who don't deserve it for power without much consequence outside of the person being, well, dead (which can be a problem with some merchants, but will never stop you from finishing the game). Lautrec in DS1 is a good example of just such an NPC, and was mostly added to the game to make sure the players are on the receiving end of one of these incidents.

Killing bosses for soul weapons ties into this quite nicely, as does the XP system. Also, always put at least one guy who just minds his own business and killing him makes you a real bastard, but gives you a powerful weapon. Hell, use at least one dude who's a decent guy you HAVE to kill - like Sif, Velstadt and arguably (dude's in a DLC) Orphan of Kos.

2016-09-19, 10:49 AM
There are a bunch of ideas flying around here, but I'm going to talk about weirdness.

Personally I love settings where you can't use your common assumptions to get around. And that is something I love about Dark Souls. It mixes parallel universes with a bit of time travel and immortality. And then it straps all that onto a setting where the undead are more common then regular humans and goes from there.

Mind you the standard is the standard for a reason. There is a certain cost to communicating all of these changed assumptions to the player/reader/viewer. Plus I'm not sure many parts of Dark Souls would work outside of a video game.

Still creating a setting with just one or two weird things can work well. Just explore the consequences of those changes to get the rest of the changes in the setting. Which to me is the difference between a gimmick and an significant setting change.

To be fair, it's not that Undead are more common then regular humans, it's that we always see the games after the Zombie Apocalypse esque event that starts leading to everything going to ****.

It's also really cool that it's a setting specifically about how Humans are Cthulhu(http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/HumansAreCthulhu) (No real info, but definitely some strong hints scattered throughout all three of the main games in the series that seriously point to Mankind not being natural, check the spoiler below), it's probably the only one where humans are STILL the underdog despite that, and Humans STILL terrify everything else in existence.

In the Oolacile DLC for DkS1, It is stated that the Humanities are fragments of the Dark Soul, which is what turns Humans back to humans rather than Undead. Suspiciously, you also start running into enemies outside of Manus' boss gate that look suspiciously like Humanities, and they are "drawn to like beings". How do they attack you? They don't; they just try to move toward you and it hurts.

Humans are the only creatures with the ability to come back from the Hollowing State, and lore wise they are the only ones able to be constantly reborn after dying (Hence the human undead being corralled into various Prisons in both DkS 1 and 2; they can't be gotten rid of otherwise). It also explains why in DkS 3 the only creatures featured in Londor are humanoid rather than Giants; the only people who benefit from the world being dark are those born of the Dark Soul.

There are other hints as well(Humans are the only beings who don't get corrupted by the Abyss, what with you walking into it twice, the Gatekeeper at New Londo has been chilling there for years and others), but I don't want to force the opinion on people without them seeing all the evidence for themselves.

Just.... the Shrine of Amana. A giant watery pathway in a dark cavern area with Phosphorous lights, all while a haunting song is played in the background. Kill the wrong enemies and the singing stops..... but you just made a whole bunch of enemies wake up and have a reason to be pissed at you.

Basically, the Milfanitos are chanting to appease the undead/things that are in the area, and as long as they sing it puts those creatures in a trance. Stop the singing, and......

2016-09-19, 01:46 PM
I wonder if dungeons like Valley of Defilement and Blighttown would work well? The floorplans would just be like normal multi-level dungeons, but I am not sure how well you could communicate to players all those bridges and balconies the see in the distance long before they get there.

2016-09-20, 12:53 AM
While the idea of massive open dungeons is interesting in theory, I think keeping the players oriented would be a challenge. Having a detailed, physical map the players receive at the beginning of the dungeon would help - if the characters can see the layout of the dungeon, the players need a convenient method of accessing that information. In addition, I think emphasizing those connections in verbal description is a must.

For instance, when the party enters, say, Blighttown:

Before you stretches layer upon layer of ricketty bridges, scaffolding, and platforms, maze-like and haphazardly constructed. The pillars of wood rise up from the swamp below like the fingers of a hand, desperately trying to reach for the sun. You are suspicious it will never succeed. However, you can see the path that leads to the bottom - several different paths, in fact, one that begins with a ramp to the right, and a ladder to your left. Off in the distance, through the forest of rotting supports, you can see a second tunnel, another entrance to this hellish landscape.

Then, some time later, something like:

You clamber down the ladder, barely having avoided the poison darts of your assailant. Far above, you can see where you first entered this accursed place, and are fairly certain you can track the path back up the ladder and across the bridge. You can also see the ramp leading down to the poison waters of the swamp, and the ladder to the small platform where the creature sits - blocked by three buzzing, giant insects. The second entrance to Blighttown in only a short distance away, but you can't see any way to reach it from your current position.

2016-09-20, 03:37 AM
This (http://monstersandmanuals.blogspot.de/2016/09/the-mask-worn-by-night-sky.html) had me think of all the hidden corpses holding items that are lying around everywhere. Putting magic items and other treasures on corpses instead of hiding them in chests and drawers is easily done and sets a quite different tone. The corpses just have to be in places where humanoid monsters wouldn't easily find and loot them. Such as at the bottom of a pit trap.

The more I think about it, all the games are pretty classic megadungeons, except that huge portions of them are open to the air. Unless the players can fly there really is no need for a roof at all, and even if they do you can still have some outdoor sections. And flying may be much less attractive when there's dragons and gargoyles patrolling the sky. Staying to the streets between ruined walls is much less noticeable.

2016-09-20, 01:25 PM
What things do you think would be great ideas to have in fantasy campaigns?
One great idea? Associated mechanics. (http://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/17231/roleplaying-games/dissociated-mechanics-a-brief-primer)

All mechanics are associated and used to support the plot. In most videogames prior to Demon's Souls, multiplayer mechanics (and others as well) often came at the expense of the immersion and story. In SoulsBorne games, they managed to use these mechanics to improve immersion.

In Demon's Souls, no mechanic is simply passed over as "video game logic." Decisions made by you, the player, can generally be equated to decisions made by your character. A thousand adventurers have passed into the dead grey mists before you and failed. Seeing other players in the world? Visions of ghosts in the fog. Player communication? Adventurer signs etched into walls by those who came before, warnings to those who might follow. Bloodstains? Touching them gives you a psychic flash of the fate that befell a previous adventurer that ventured into the dead grey mists. Death? You become one of the mad spirits wandering the lands taken by the dead grey mists (that you've been fighting like all the time), and can gain your true life back only by stealing the body and soul of another (either by PvP or killing a boss). Multiplayer Co-Op? You can only do it if you're alive, and you can only summon players who are dead. You're doing necromancy, summoning the spirits of fallen adventurers to aid you. PvP is when you're a spirit yearning for life and trying to steal the body of a living player. Heck, when a boss summons the spirit of a fallen hero, it actually summons another player to kill you. Moreover, every single character in the game follows the rules of the game world... no invulnerable NPCs or anything like that.

Honestly you'd think pen and paper games would be better about this, but... they're often not, (http://thealexandrian.net/wordpress/17231/roleplaying-games/dissociated-mechanics-a-brief-primer) and RPG writers could do well to remember just how much of an impact associating all of the mechanics had on the SoulsBorne fanbase.

Heck, even beyond the stuff that the Alexandrian is talking about... association in the SoulsBorne series goes even further. Everything has a reason for being where it is, to the point that the placement of things tells a story without words. If there are werewolves, you can bet there's a whole lot of lore about how people have dealt with werewolves and why they dealt with it the way they did and what kinds of impact this has had on the history of the world (though the Soulsborne series won't insist that you notice it; like everything else in those games it expects you to have to pay attention in order to find out anything). It's never just thrown in. Even the placement of loot tends to tell a story or reveal things about the plot.

So, for example, in the SoulsBorne approach, you'd never just have "oh yeah, and people can cast a wide range of enchantment spells which command the minds of others." There'd be factions and cultural structures and metaphysical implications and creatures and adventure locations and other implications built around the notion that people in the world are taking advantage of such things. Basically, it's not just a thing that people could do, it's a thing that people have done and will do and are dealing with. This alone makes it superior to the worldbuilding in some official D&D settings by making the setting feel lived-in.

Contrast Forgotten Realms where there is way more magic available and yet people are somehow living like it's a standard poor medieval land. At no point do the implications of healing magic create a place like Yharnam or something. It doesn't seem like magic is applied by any intelligent agents at all! SoulsBorne worldbuilding runs circles around this silliness.

2016-09-24, 03:14 PM
Having reached the end of Bloodborn but still not having found probably half the pieces of information that I've seen other people mention, I think the games are great examples for how to make megadungeons investigative. The classic megadungeon design is checking off rooms and looting treasures, but aside from restoring the completely unhinged world back to some state resembling order, exploration in Dark Souls games really is about sifting through the aftermath of big events and trying to figure out what actually happened. Making the players in a megadungeon a supernatual cleanup crew could add a very interesting new twist to such a campaign. I think almost all adventures about demon summonings and evil gods revolve around preventing that they are unleashed in the first place. But in these games the worst has already happened and the goal is to destroy gods, and demon lords, and eldritch abominations and their spawns that are covering everything.
It's certainly more high magic and more high power than the average treasure hunt but I think most players would love to get opportunities to do the really insane high level stuff you rarely see in a generic fantasy campaign.

I've started DS3 this week and really started to like the idea of irregularly flowing time. (Was quite happy when I explored the new Firelink Shrine and recognized the amazing chest ahead. :smallwink:) Usually I don't like time travel stuff but continuity-wise it's very simple to have both people and places becoming suspended from time for variable durations and one day just showing up again seemingly untouched by the hundreds or thousands of years that have passed in the meantime. It's a good justification for why incredibly ancient ruins are still full with useful stuff. And it could be fun when the players suddenly find themselves missing years or decades after returning from exploring such places. It doesn't seriously impact the characters in campaigns with relatively low levels of continuity regarding NPCs and ongoing events, but might still be an interesting supernatual feature when exploring strange castles.

2016-09-25, 07:20 AM
Well we have covered the weird setting, the detailed world building, the 'its there if you look for it' nature of the lore and the associated difficulty. And a couple of other things. Yet something that hasn't been covered yet is the difficulty.

The old school "this game is only half an hour long, but we'll keep you entertained for weeks will it by giving you such a small margin for error" type difficulty. Imaging traveling through the Tomb of Horrors except with the ability to rewind time to the beginning of the area and try again. Limit to one save, not that long ago so people can remember the situation.

I think you could make it work. Although it might interest a different group than most of the other things we can draw from Dark Souls. It is a tactical challenge, offering the ability to discover new tactics and recover from mistakes in the search for the perfect run (by the way, doing this in most versions of D&D would take forever). It is not so much a narrative element like many of the others.

But maybe that is just me.

2016-09-25, 10:31 AM
One of the things I've stolen from Darksouls is how dragons work. My players love going Drake hunting, because it lets them fight dragons without the whole "hunting an intelligent animal for it's skin" thing. Plus, a monstrous humanoid warlord can ride an armored drake without it being weird.

That being said, I keep drakes much weaker than dragons. The only true dragon the party met could've practically one-shot them.