Let’s face it. Grim dark (or is it Grimdark) is always around. It’s popularity ebbs and flows. Many folks are totally against it. While others relish in it. I’m gearing up to start a new campaign and wanted things to be a little darker so I start thinking about Grim Dark again.
This is sort of like my old Sword & Sorcery: It’s More Than Just No Elves. Like that old post, Grim Dark is more than just lethality and killing characters. Heck, Dungeon Crawl Classics kills of characters left and right. But it’s not a Grim Dark RPG. Sure the threat of death is real and more likely to happen but it’s more than that.
It’s atmosphere. Just the feeling between walking up to the castle and it’s a bright day and the birds are signing. Or it’s cold, overcast, raining. The road is muddy. The only birds you see are crows picking at the remains of thief dangling from a noose.
There’s also the morality. Things get really gray. Sure it’s still good versus evil. Law versus chaos. But good isn’t always that knight with perfect teeth and shiny armor. It’s a scarred battered veteran who’s seen too much. And there are times when serving the greater good comes at great cost.
But wait there’s more. How many times have we heard, “actions have consequences”. When pushing into that Grim Dark territory those consequences become pretty darned costly. How far are willing to go?
I do want to add one thing. It doesn’t matter what edition of D&D or whatever other game that you are playing. If the game master really wants to kill your character they can do it. However, challenging PC’s till their down to their last few HP with no spells left and their fighting for their lives. It’s a challenge for the GM and challenging and exciting for the players. Too much death. It’s becomes routine. But barely surviving now that’s exciting.
I admit that Grim Dark isn’t my subgenre of choice. I like to interject a bit and turn the dial a bit from campaign to campaign. And, of course, I can’t just help myself by interjecting some humor into a session. But I can take some of the elements and set tone and use it as warning to the more inexperienced players. Shit’s about to get real.
2 thoughts on “Grim Dark: More than just killing PC’s”
I don’t think the tone of a setting and the lethality of the campaign are necessarily connected. My current Sunday night game is brutal in terms of PC turnover–I have probably run through two dozen characters in three years. But it also extremely light hearted and silly in tone. We spend a lot of the game figuring out ways to make the DM laugh, or bang his head in frustration, or both at once.
In fact, it is our rather lackadaisical attitude towards keeping the PCs alive that allows the game to be so silly–no one is going to be too upset when our hairbrained schemes blow up in our faces.
On the other hand, the most Grimdark game I’ve ever played in was probably a Shadowrun campaign in which there was only one PC fatality in a year–and that one was borderline suicide–I’d gotten so tired of running a nihilistic necromancer that I just stopped trying to avoid danger and ran into battle recklessly.
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I had a pretty dark Shadowrun game too. The players decided to call the campaign.