Dark Is Bringing Stealth Action To Tabletop RPGs

Jonathan Bolding | 28 Feb 2014 12:00
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JB: What's unique about Dark's default setting, and where does that intersect with both the rules and with Dark's own modularity?

WH: One the defining features of Dark's core fantasy setting is its societal contrasts. The religions, the politics, the geography, the magic of the setting are all designed to frame the core activities of play. In the eyes of the landed gentry and pious rich, for example, sneaking into the homes and palaces of one's betters isn't simply illegal - it's dangerously profane. It goes against the cosmology honored by some, depicted by the game world's "Tree of Civilization." Likewise, if you believe in the genius loci - the spirits of especially powerful and ancient buildings - then buildings themselves may turn against trespassers and those who disrupt a place's peace.

In comparison, the Dark|net setting is a sort of post-collapse quasi-cyberpunk world where half the world's gone off the grid and lost electricity because that gives the GM more flexibility and freedom when devising adventures for that world. It provides a wider array of new environments with built-in reasons for not using laser grids, motion sensors, or even electric lights. Plus it throws the social order into disarray in ways that allow for characters to break laws without necessarily being either outright villainous or gallant Robin Hoods.

So each setting is built to put the activities of the game into different contexts, with different imaginary trappings.

JB: How do you feel about Dark as a generic system? How do you feel about the idea of setting modularity in modern RPGs?

WH: It's probably more apt to say that Dark is built to use three settings in particular and that those settings are built and presented in such a way to make it easy to devise new settings for the game. Dark is flexible but it is by no means a generic system.

How an RPG interacts with its setting is a question each RPG gets to address in its own way, according to the designer's vision or ambition. System matters to me but a system can portray anything from a broad philosophy of dramatic stakes and consequences to the unique physics and material realities of an imaginary world. Some games take a character's dramatic importance into account when determining what a sword's edge does to that character while other games only care about the kinetic energy a weapon coldly applies to the flesh and bone of that same character.

Personally, I'm thrilled that we've got such a varied array of different RPGs reaching audiences right now. Players and GMs have an incredible amount of options when deciding how to model their visions for adventure, whether they're trying to explore an existing property or not. Whether you're playing a game crafted specifically to portray your favorite TV show or you're adapting a setting to a system that asks the dramatic questions you want your campaign to be about, options abound.

JB: Your prior Kickstarter was for an essentially finished game, how does the Dark Kickstarter feel different for you?

WH:My first Kickstarter, for Always/Never/Now, had more writing done in advance but a smaller range of playtests, so when I saw how successful the campaign was, I sort of freaked out and put the game back into playtesting to make sure it would live up to expectations. That took a while. Plus I got bitten by shipping rate increases and numerous other classic first-timer problems with Kickstarter. My mistakes.

Dark is something I've played a lot more of over the years. I just wasn't sure how many people out there wanted to play a game like this. I thought maybe it was just me. Learning that I'm not alone? Seeing that this game will find happy homes all over the world? This is a profound thrill.

You can find Project: Dark on Kickstarter. It is scheduled for release in August 2014.

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