20
Feb
09

in the heart of darkness

A comment on Tankards & Broadswords got a little long so I’m porting it over here to bloom. This is my take on what to do when you’re in a setting where Evil is triumphant. The kind of thing where Luke turns to the Dark Side or where Frodo puts the ring on and decides that Sauron is OK for a disembodied immortal flaming eye.

  1. Protagonists must make a positive change to the setting – even if the end is still doom-laden and stacked against them.
    In these settings, the protagonists are likely to be outlaws. They will adopt strategems ranging from the flashy antics of Zorro to the downbeat fun of Firefly/Serenity.

    These strategems are often intensely fun. Always play consequences – outlaws do not live that long unless they are (a) successful and (b) as bad as, or worse than the status quo.

    Robbing the rich to feed the poor would have quite the impact on the kingdom’s political status internationally – there’s a reason Robin Hood is famous.

  2. Some villains will die, you can’t have an omelette etc.
    Whether at the hands of the protagonists or the betraying hands of bigger villains (or even smaller ones – take note of Saruman) doesn’t matter. This may also not be a good thing for the protagonists as the devils you know unintentionally give you breathing room while the devils you don’t, well, don’t.
  3. Be aware of burnout, if you need a holiday take one…
    There is a limit to how long you can be a fugitive. Some rest-time or time in a less-fraught locale will be helpful for people to get their breath back. I’ve found this with a Mage game set in New York that moved to Sao Paolo in Brazil for a while. The change in setting, attitude and even local colour can reinvigorate jaded audiences.
  4. Be inventive in your evil.
    Monolithic evil is OK but everyone has seen endless undead armies marching in lockstep. Even an undead army will realise their battleground is pacified ruins after 20 years; the orcs of Mordor didn’t enjoy their duties after all.

    Those calling on eldritch horrors may need motives beyond breaking the world open for their supernatural masters and may have interesting motives tangential to the traditional. The best example I can think of is The Fate in Delta Green who use eldritch horrors and bizarre magics to control the New York underworld.

    Evil doesn’t mean extensive remodelling to grungy and foul. You can have pockets of glamourous, glittering wealth and idyllic tropical settings. Sure, Vegas has a dark side and some parts of Hawaii need their bounty hunters. Mix it up, play to the unexpected.

  5. The balance of power will shift eventually. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow…
    Evil betrays itself – it can’t help it. The vices and flaws that mark those characters rarely stay static, sadistic killers, despotic tyrants and crazed summoners do not make stable communities and eventually things break down into turbulent times.

    Those who pick up the pieces may be worse though. That’s a common enough reality and the protagonists may find themselves invited to be in charge… will they retain their basic integrity or do they fail in the face of temptation?

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