Views from the Dark Side
Yesterday, I gave some details about how I was predisposed towards darkness, and you already know I’ve been gaming longer than some of you have been alive, so how did it happen for me to combine these elements? Obviously, I didn’t have to. There are many genres and types of settings to choose from and many, many of them are neither dark nor dreary nor full of the bleakness. Let me say, I love the bright settings as well. However, what draws me time and time again for coupling skewed elements with gaming is one main reason. A reason I articulated many years ago when one playtester read through RunePunk and commented on the bleakness of the setting. He asked something to the effect–and I’m paraphrasing here–I still have to get out the door and do some last minute Christmas shopping–where is the hope for the heroes?
I smiled as I read those words and dashed off a reply which some of you may have heard me say on an odd panel or two or in the course of casual conversation at a convention. Why, the heroes ARE the hope!
My take is this–the darker the world, the greater the obstacles and adversaries the heroes must face, the greater the opportunities which arise for the heroes to shine. A star shines brighter on dark, clear night, than it does at mid-day (with our dear sun, being the exception).
A good story is based on conflict. I don’t care if it’s a movie, a book, a graphic novel, or a video game, if there is nothing for the hero to butt his head against, where is the audience buy in?
My work, by and large, has reflected the influence of darkness. It is important to remember darkness does not equal hopelessness nor helplessness. Some folks equate the two, but one should be discrete and regard them separately. I, for one, with all my talk of doom and gloom think it’s unfair (in most instances) to not give the heroes some sort of fighting chance. Even a direct conflict with the Mythos can be mitigated through diligent research and thoughtful roleplay. Some bodies may hit the floor. Poor decisions can have their cost, certainly, and even in Realms of Cthulhu, though the deck may be stacked against them, the characters can come out on top. (This is a tricky balancing act which, in all likelihood, should be considered in a future RWR, so we’ll set it aside for now.)
Our heroes, as already mentioned, should have the opportunity to explore the darkness, confront the darkness, and conquer the darkness. Naturally, what form this takes varies wildly. Jobbers in RunePunk are going to handle things much differently than, let’s say, Agents in Agents of Oblivion or Investigators in Realms of Cthulhu. Each of them have their crosses to bear (be they clockwork, technological, or literal, as the case may be.) Darkness does not encompass just monstrous horrors, though they reside within. It also encompasses the strange, bizarre, and other elements out of the ordinary. Is it scarier to fight a demon in an alleyway or discover Mr. Simmons likes to carve the calves of wayward women and serve the slices up to folks in his roadside cafe? Two distinct types of darkness, yet I’m fairly certain which one you’ll choose.
There are certainly more recesses to explore, but I’m out of time for today, so I’ll leave you with this: darken your present game, just for a session or two, and see how your players react. See if it heightens their experience. Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!