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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Dark Fantasy Setting Tips

    Hiya Playgrounders, my name's TechnOkami and I'm a fan of Dark Fantasy. I've always loved the stories that come out of some of these worlds: Berserk, Dark Souls, Diablo (to a degree), Claymore. I really like the lore in these various stories, and I've always wanted to make a world of my own. What are good tips to keep in mind for creating a Dark Fantasy setting?
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    78% of DM's started their first campaign in a tavern. If you're one of the 22% that didn't, copy and paste this into your signature.

    I started my first campaign outside of an abandoned mine, just as soon as a meteor storm from the moon hits.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    EvilClericGuy

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    Default Re: Dark Fantasy Setting Tips

    If you pitch your setting too dark you may find it becomes too much. People get apathetic and the darkness become ridicules; it looses it meaning.

    You might want to consider "mood whiplash". Rapid decent from a colorful friendly scene to a blood soaked carnal nightmere. The contrast may have more impact than simply layering darkness on top of darkness.
    My Home brew setting:

    Concentric circles
    Necrotheism

    Quote Originally Posted by JusticeZero View Post
    How very Machiavellian, professor Doom.
    Clever, effective, and anyone who agrees with it is a grade A global supervillain.

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    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Dark Fantasy Setting Tips

    Mm... I'd rather handle a Dark Fantasy setting with glimmers of hope. Going from happy to Darkgrimgrimdark and back to happy is too big of a shift, IMO. I would want to keep the Darkness consistent, with glimmers of hope in a hopeless world to keep the party going.
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    78% of DM's started their first campaign in a tavern. If you're one of the 22% that didn't, copy and paste this into your signature.

    I started my first campaign outside of an abandoned mine, just as soon as a meteor storm from the moon hits.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Dark Fantasy Setting Tips

    Use the f word and other harsh profanity as much as you can. Throw random sex in there, too.
    Under no circumstance can there be an honestly good-aligned religion, either.

  5. - Top - End - #5
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Dark Fantasy Setting Tips

    Quote Originally Posted by Janus View Post
    Use the f word and other harsh profanity as much as you can. Throw random sex in there, too.
    Under no circumstance can there be an honestly good-aligned religion, either.
    But there can be Good aligned people scattered about. Again, hopefulness.
    I've started streaming again.


    78% of DM's started their first campaign in a tavern. If you're one of the 22% that didn't, copy and paste this into your signature.

    I started my first campaign outside of an abandoned mine, just as soon as a meteor storm from the moon hits.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    EvilClericGuy

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    Default Re: Dark Fantasy Setting Tips

    You need to decide what the kind of threat people are facing; "what ifs" can be a good source of this. Some thoughts:

    Suron wins: It has been done quite well before. The idea is that orcs and goblins are running the show; all the world is mordor.

    Saurman wins: I have seen the one above before but I have never seen a concept of what the world would look like if Saurman won.

    Fae apocalypse: Grim light. Humans live in small kingdoms and have to deal with classical fairy tale monsters. Goblins are wicked tricksters, troll are cunning and Elves are WORSE. Bonus points for a low level/commoner campaign.

    Forever war:

    Heart of darkness: Draw inspiration from the historical atrocities of the Belgian Congo.


    Some idea of the scope and scale of the threat would also be helpful. Is it personal, national, global or existential. Is it a threat to life, freedom, culture, prosperity and/or beliefs.
    My Home brew setting:

    Concentric circles
    Necrotheism

    Quote Originally Posted by JusticeZero View Post
    How very Machiavellian, professor Doom.
    Clever, effective, and anyone who agrees with it is a grade A global supervillain.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Titan in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Dark Fantasy Setting Tips

    Generally, power level should be relatively low. When you are in control of a situation, you have nothing to fear. To get any sense of dread, the PCs have to be underprepared for the threats they are encountering.
    We are not standing on the shoulders of giants, but on very tall tower of other dwarves.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Zombie

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    Default Re: Dark Fantasy Setting Tips

    Quote Originally Posted by Blightedmarsh View Post
    Saurman wins: I have seen the one above before but I have never seen a concept of what the world would look like if Saurman won.
    "Saruman wins" is the steampunk version of "Sauron wins". Uruk-hai run the world and they have factories and dark satanic mills that manufacture hell on earth.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Dark Fantasy Setting Tips

    You could distort the morality of the common people - if, for example, being deceived for someone`s else personal gain is not considered something it`s appropriate to be angry about. Everyone tries to do this all the time.

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    Default Re: Dark Fantasy Setting Tips

    depends on what kind of "dark fantasy" you mean.

    apocalyptic dark fantasy? sure you can do that, but its subtle as a ton of flying bricks. too easy to hit the "too dark" threshold.

    you can do dark fantasy in a normal fantasy world- just play up the horror, pain and tragedy of what is normally a happy life in fantasy world. farmers don't just have to worry about getting enough food to feed for winter…they also have to worry about dragons coming by and ruining all their hard work. or some wizard coming around deciding that the farmer should be a blood sacrifice for their ritual to turn all their crops into demon fruit. adventurers can easily be scammers who just use some illusions to convince people that their problems are solved thanks to their intervention, collect their "reward" then be on their merry way while the village gets destroyed by a real threat. and who said that the gods agreed on anything? religious wars were common enough in real life, imagine how bad they would be in a world where the gods are actually perpetuating them.

    and of course, giving magic costs that make you think twice about casting them is always a good way to make it darker. you have a spell that cures people of all diseases! unfortunately it drains your life force when you cast it. would you still be willing to go around using it to cure people when the plague comes and people start dying around you? even to the point of you dying in their stead?
    or would you turn to dark magic and start draining the life force of other people to power them? if so, how far would go? would you overthrow the kingdom so that you may a rule kingdom yourself, and drain the life force of all criminals so that may use the life-gems created to cast spells that heal people? would such a measure even be enough to heal them all?

    and of course, magic doesn't have to be so showy. I can see kings and nobles use subtle mind magic to keep things within the status quo and to play their power games…..go to deep into politics and you might soon find yourself following their every command….that is not to say you can't defeat them, but there is a reason they are the ones in power, and that you should be careful about playing politics.

    and of course the lives of true heroes and adventurers who go around trying to fix all of this is no easier- their work is one of danger, confrontation, and bloodshed against horrific monstrosities without and probably power games, manipulation, lies and trickery against power hungry bastards within. and not all the magic items they get for doing this are cost-free with magic with no strings attached on them. said stuff is probably has a downside for every upside and you need to careful using it. and there is always a few cursed magical items eventually….

    dark fantasy can take many shapes and forms. question is, what kind of dark fantasy do you want?
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    Orc in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Dark Fantasy Setting Tips

    Here's my tips:

    -If there are deities, perhaps put them on opposing sides with very different philosophies, but make both sides complete and utter diiiiiiiicks for differing reasons.

    -Magic should be scary, it should be difficult, it should be costly, and if PCs use it, it should probably either turn them evil, kill them, or drive them crazy eventually.

    -Shades of grey are your friend. Don't make the monster races "Always Chaotic Evil," make them scary and savage, but in ways that one can understand why their culture is this way, and give them sympathetic traits. Wars should be less about "Good vs. evil" and more about "Dickish noble vs. dickish church" or "primal horror-god worshippers vs. brutal imperialistic industrialists" or "city-state needing resources vs. brutal repressive theocracy". Think the conflict between Irontown and the forest spirits in Princess Mononoke, and you're on the right track.

    -If you are going to make a monster/monster race always evil, make them unnatural and alien, less a living being than a metaphysical stain upon the world.

    -Take a look at everything that sucked about living in pre-Industrial Revolution times and think "How could adding magic, monsters and douchey gods make this suck more?"

    -Above all else though, as others have said, the setting should have hope about it. You should be able to tell both sides of gods to suck it and win, you should be able to stop the war and at least create some measure of peace between the two sides, you should be able to make things a little better for the people of this world, and so on. The victories should be hard fought for and probably come with some nasty costs, but they should be obtainable.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    EvilClericGuy

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    Default Re: Dark Fantasy Setting Tips

    Concepts:

    The gods are indifferent, insane and worship with human sacrifice.

    Magic progressively eats away at your humanity.

    The world is ruled by archmages, liches and high priests.

    Armies of orcs, goblins and the undead are the foot soldiers, subjects and slave drivers of the magic users. Orcs and goblins are not always evil, just afraid. They are cruel because they can be with no consequences and because it is expected; not because it is their nature.

    Most humans are slaves; most slaves are mindraped to the point where they are oblivious to the fact that they are slaves.
    My Home brew setting:

    Concentric circles
    Necrotheism

    Quote Originally Posted by JusticeZero View Post
    How very Machiavellian, professor Doom.
    Clever, effective, and anyone who agrees with it is a grade A global supervillain.

  13. - Top - End - #13
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: Dark Fantasy Setting Tips

    Quote Originally Posted by TechnOkami View Post
    Hiya Playgrounders, my name's TechnOkami and I'm a fan of Dark Fantasy. I've always loved the stories that come out of some of these worlds: Berserk, Dark Souls, Diablo (to a degree), Claymore. I really like the lore in these various stories, and I've always wanted to make a world of my own. What are good tips to keep in mind for creating a Dark Fantasy setting?
    The best advice I have is the most generic: Ask yourself why you love these settings. Don't just make a laundry list of surface elements that are cool, really dig down to the core of the engagement, and take careful note of how the surface elements work together to create this core engagement.

    This is a lot harder than it sounds, but if you can pull it off, you can find that special spark at the heart of these works, and basically gain artistic magic wizard powers. You can use radically different surface elements to create the same engagement and appeal the source material provides.

  14. - Top - End - #14
    Bugbear in the Playground
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    Default Re: Dark Fantasy Setting Tips

    Quote Originally Posted by Craft (Cheese) View Post
    The best advice I have is the most generic: Ask yourself why you love these settings. Don't just make a laundry list of surface elements that are cool, really dig down to the core of the engagement, and take careful note of how the surface elements work together to create this core engagement.

    This is a lot harder than it sounds, but if you can pull it off, you can find that special spark at the heart of these works, and basically gain artistic magic wizard powers. You can use radically different surface elements to create the same engagement and appeal the source material provides.
    This is vitally important. I recommend you pick *one* thing that's different from normal fantasy settings, and then play it out to its logical conclusion. Dark Souls, for example, was a pretty standard fantasy setting outside of the "nation of undead" thing and everything that revolved around that.
    "...I worry that modern gaming is gradually shrinking the wide spectrum of gameplay mechanics into a single narrow red bar with "KILL" written on it sideways. Exploration, navigation, puzzles, platforming, all gradually shrinking away until only one thing remains, being taken by the hand from room to room, moving on only when nothing remains alive in each one." - Yhatzee Crosshaw

    Check out our zombie survival sandbox video game!

  15. - Top - End - #15
    Ettin in the Playground
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    Default Re: Dark Fantasy Setting Tips

    Hm...

    I think something I like about Dark Fantasy is that it feels more realistic than more traditional high fantasy stuff, in the sense that armor and weapons (unless they've been magick'd) looks like stuff that could have been made in the proper time periods and have it be practical, useful armor/weapons. (I say that & i have a weakness for characters weilding unwieldy swords. :P) As for magic... well, I think magic should be rare to non-existent amongst humans, but have it be wildly prevalent amongst monsters & bad guys. And if Humans do gain magical prowess, very few of them should be able to gain magic that isn't necessarily self-destructive to use (like nature magic). Other types could be self-destructive, like sacrificial magic or demonic magic. As for Gods... they should be beings that a.) do what they want, or b.) exist only as religious concepts. They should really be out for their own interests and not for humanity's. there should be a few amount of people who are legitimately, honestly nice & caring, because their rarity makes them precious.

    I think I prefer Dark Fantasy over regular fantasy is that it feels like an uphill climb for almost everyone, and thus more of a challenge and a struggle. It also blurrs the lines between good and evil a lot, and depending on the actual setting this could go so far as to mean that ultimately there is no true victory for humanity, or that any victory humanity might gain is short lived.
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    78% of DM's started their first campaign in a tavern. If you're one of the 22% that didn't, copy and paste this into your signature.

    I started my first campaign outside of an abandoned mine, just as soon as a meteor storm from the moon hits.

  16. - Top - End - #16
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    OrcBarbarianGirl

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    Default Re: Dark Fantasy Setting Tips

    For one, check out the E6/P6 variant. It keeps players from getting wuxia powerful, and lets them marinate in one set of villains for their whole career instead of leveling out of the BBEG's plot as i've seen happen before.

    Two, actually read and contemplate some of the common monster stuff. There is no shortage of enemies that people blow off as laughable that can actually keep you up in fear of screaming nightmares if you start really unpacking them.
    For instance, look at your basic low CR replicating undead. Generally this is random encounter level grind junk.
    Resurrect type magic cannot raise anyone whose body is undead. All those 1/2 CR skeletons contain a trapped helpless person's soul being denied an afterlife. And wizards whip them up for fodder.
    How about the psi race version Duergar? 'We dug too deep. We found something Lovecraftian. We are going to do anything it takes to keep it asleep. If you aren't helping us, you are part of the problem.' Imagine fighting them for many levels only to realize that they might be right, and that might be why those last couple NPC's turned..

    Mind flayers? Dopplegangers? Yellow musk? Mimics? Many of the Abberations? These things can be horror gold. We're used to just smacking them down as random encounters, but some of them you really regret knowing you share a planet with them if you think about their existence.
    Last edited by JusticeZero; 2013-04-19 at 09:03 PM.
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    Goblin

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    Default Re: Dark Fantasy Setting Tips

    First of all, remember to not make all sides too dark - pick up some good traits and give it to them, and put strong emphasis on them. Terryfing bastards are fine, but if they're tragic in some way, they may be much worse, because people may understand how they came to be that way.

    In fact, good advice - this trope should be used, but only ONCE. Do not intentionally create more than one of bad guys who are completely devoid of anything good about them. Set standards for other bad guys below which they won't sink, or give them convincing reasons for their action, prefferably tragic or well-intentioned. This way this one guy, who is devoid of all those redeeming qualities, will stand out and be much more iconic.

    Make sure there are good people in the world, but also make sure that the life is still crappy, just because their actions don't have that much impact as they wish.

    Maybe throw some elites who are actually live decent lives, but are unwilling to help other guys (something like a**hole wizards from tippyverse)

    Read about historical wars and battles, find the most horrible examples, and draw inspriations from this. Same with plagues and diseasters. Try to not overdo it.

    Don't give any race to be the evil guys to kick in the butt, make sure the entire basis of the setting are pretty gray from all perspectives - no one can claim to be without fault on whatever goes in backstory.

    Make magic rare. This will make any ecounters with magicians much special and make your magicials feel lonier and isolated. Same with magic items and other gear. It might be also interesting to remove gold and replace it with exchange - imagine when you have to get rare and powerful magic item, but the only guy who has it wants that one certain sword.

    John Wick's method: Think of three things:
    1) "What I want the game to be about?" - What you want to be the central theme of your game?
    2) "How I can accomplish this?"
    3) "What player behavior I want to reward?"

    Also, remember - good game makes player make choices they wish they wouldn't have to make. This is especially important in Dark Fantasy.

    Recommended readings:
    Kentaro Miura, Berserk
    Geln Cook, Black Company
    Michael Sanwick, Iron Dragon's Daughter.

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    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: Dark Fantasy Setting Tips

    Quote Originally Posted by Man on Fire View Post
    First of all, remember to not make all sides too dark - pick up some good traits and give it to them, and put strong emphasis on them. Terryfing bastards are fine, but if they're tragic in some way, they may be much worse, because people may understand how they came to be that way.

    In fact, good advice - this trope should be used, but only ONCE. Do not intentionally create more than one of bad guys who are completely devoid of anything good about them. Set standards for other bad guys below which they won't sink, or give them convincing reasons for their action, prefferably tragic or well-intentioned. This way this one guy, who is devoid of all those redeeming qualities, will stand out and be much more iconic.

    Make sure there are good people in the world, but also make sure that the life is still crappy, just because their actions don't have that much impact as they wish.

    Maybe throw some elites who are actually live decent lives, but are unwilling to help other guys (something like a**hole wizards from tippyverse)

    Read about historical wars and battles, find the most horrible examples, and draw inspriations from this. Same with plagues and diseasters. Try to not overdo it.

    Don't give any race to be the evil guys to kick in the butt, make sure the entire basis of the setting are pretty gray from all perspectives - no one can claim to be without fault on whatever goes in backstory.

    Make magic rare. This will make any ecounters with magicians much special and make your magicials feel lonier and isolated. Same with magic items and other gear. It might be also interesting to remove gold and replace it with exchange - imagine when you have to get rare and powerful magic item, but the only guy who has it wants that one certain sword.

    John Wick's method: Think of three things:
    1) "What I want the game to be about?" - What you want to be the central theme of your game?
    2) "How I can accomplish this?"
    3) "What player behavior I want to reward?"

    Also, remember - good game makes player make choices they wish they wouldn't have to make. This is especially important in Dark Fantasy.

    Recommended readings:
    Kentaro Miura, Berserk
    Geln Cook, Black Company
    Michael Sanwick, Iron Dragon's Daughter.
    Someone else likes The Black Company! :D

    My first campaign was inspired by that book series. Also, I treated the PCs like NPC minions and they actually liked it. When you point a mirror at all the stuff PCs do because they're PCs they kind of appreciate it.
    78% of DM's started their first campaign in a tavern. If you're one of the 22% that didn't, copy and paste this into your signature.

    (In point of fact they were all already part of new recruits for a merc company and the airship they were all on crashed, caused in no small part by the warlock's actions)

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