Dark Is Bringing Stealth Action To Tabletop RPGs

Jonathan Bolding | 28 Feb 2014 12:00
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Hindmarch isn't a new face in the RPG scene by any stretch of the imagination. He worked for years on Vampire and ran a successful kickstarter for his game Always/Never/Now. He has the chops to pull this off and the success of his Kickstarter campaign, now closing in on its last few days, reflects that.

I had the opportunity to speak with Hindmarch about Dark and discovered one of the most well thought out roleplaying games I've heard about in a while.

Jon Bolding: Where does Dark sit on the spectrum between stealth and stealth action? Between heroic, protagonist centered and cold, uncaring world?

Hindmarch: Each of the game's settings [Dark, Dark|Net, and Dark Planet] assumes a slightly different spot along that spectrum. In the fantastical core setting for Dark, player characters can move pretty freely between stealth and action (for varying definitions of "action") depending on the individual adventure. The game can be approached in lots of different ways, from one adventure to another, and without a save feature or the ability to reload a level, that was important to me. Sometimes an adventure goes sideways and becomes about running and dodging swords or bullets. Other times it can be about blending into the game world and going unnoticed until the time is right.

Dark's different game worlds take somewhat different philosophies to the question of heroism, though. In the fantasy setting, the game doesn't make many assumptions about the characters' motives. Maybe they steal to adorn their lairs with gold. Maybe they want to change the world for the better. Maybe they want revenge. Maybe they start off thinking one thing and change over the course of play.

The game worlds address those questions in different ways and I hope different adventures and campaigns drill down into the subject in different ways. I mean, each of these game worlds is pretty harsh, filled with villains that provide essential contrast to the players' characters as infiltrators, trespassers, and thieves, but are these stories of heroes or antiheroes? Are the players' characters forces for good or are they merely the lesser evil in the campaign? Those are choices the players get to make.

JB: Talk to me about Dark's mechanics. What does it do that is new?

WH: In Dark, the cards draw together a number of mechanical features. The better hidden a character is, the more cards her player holds in hand at once and thus the more options she has. This helps the environment inform the player's decisions and gives some weight to the character's interactions with the game world. At the same time, the player gets a certain amount of information that the character might not have, but which the player can characterize if she likes. A lot of players look at their hand of cards and interpret that for their character as an instinct to run, or an idea for how to lie, or a hankering to fight.

Honestly, though, I think a lot of Dark's mechanics are more evolutionary than revolutionary. Everything's been calibrated to emphasize the interaction between the PCs and the environment or the NPCs in ways that provoke and reward a style of play and then, over time, become a descriptive language for portraying the campaign that unfolds from that kind of play.

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