July 2017 RPG Blog Carnival: Doomsdays & Dystopias (Dark Genres and Settings)

Abandoned Environment Concept tutorial by maciejkuciara

While I enjoy tons of heroic settings with noble characters ensuring good in the world, I’ve always loved truly grim and dour settings.  I speak of worlds that fit the “GRIMDARK” moniker that’s been affectionately used.  For those who don’t get the reference, it refers to Games Workshop’s Warhammer 40K tagline, which states that “In the grim darkness of the far future, there is only war!”  I’m speaking of places blighted by impossible evils, dystopias where any sort of righteousness and passion is repressed, a sinister universe that is out to destroy you, nuked out wastelands where the remains of society struggle to continue or scrap the last bits of the old ones… but you get the point.

So, why is my theme essentially “dark settings and dark themes”?  Sounds depressing, I know.  After all, spending too much time in an overly dark and oppressive world can wear one down, right?  Not exactly!  There are many reasons why dark settings are truly fascinating.  Before I turn the carnival over to you, let’s take a look at why starker settings can be awesome.  (Or if you prefer, skip down to the bold text.)

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Monsters IN SPACE – Sci-Fi twists on Classic Monsters

Vampire by Saindoo

Even vampirism has evolved alongside growing technologies…

“Magick…” he grumbles in a hoarse whisper to himself, “the force we all thought would hamper progress.  And here we are, traveling the stars with it.”  Letting out a sigh, he pushes his hovering seat away from a messy desk.  “If we were truly destined to separate ourselves from magick, the horrible monsters would have been vanquished long ago… not terraforming entire planets.”  The man slightly grips his teeth as he rises from the floating chair, joints popping from ache and wear.  The spacefaring man gazes into a mirror before continuing to shuffle.  The marks of fatigue and age on his face contrast the shining gleam of his badges, reflecting light from the ‘glow panels’ dotting the ceilings and hallways throughout the vessel.  Over towards a huge glass pane, the elder military man observes systems of stars with planets seemingly nestled in perfect viewing spots by ancient giants or celestial creatures.  “And this ship, it has served more of a home for me than it deserves.  But, through the mad crusades and bloody combat, it has served me well.”  The tranquility of an empty space fades as ships pull into view, built with alien geometries and operating through impossible physics, they charge weaponry for an epic battle.  The man cracks a faint grin as similar weaponry opens fire on the enemy crafts.

The worlds of magic and monsters don’t need to end when civilizations have advanced themselves into new eras; feudal worlds give way to industrial, which give way to information, which give way to hypothetical new technologies that Earth can only speculate about.  Even a world of fantasy can and should advance and change with the flow of time.  All too often do these worlds stagnate in the endless mush of quasi-medieval high fantasy.  Now, this isn’t to say that such a thing can’t be good and doesn’t still have a place.  It’s just that for many fans of the genre, such things have grown stale and resistance to change.

In a fantasy future, adventurers will continue to carry on their business.  Perhaps new sanctions are in effect and new regulations are in place.  However, there are still dens filled with malicious monsters and strange sights to behold.  There are gnoll raiders who operate miniguns instead of wield war-axes, elementals from a plane composed of radiation, beholders who bolster their psychic power through cybernetic enhancements, orcish biker gangs terrorizing the streets through their “hover hogs” and much more.  Granted, most of these will not be appearing in the article below.  However, they are ideas on how someone can twist a classic monster for a more Modern/Sci-Fi inspired setting.

Author’s Note: I figured this is a great way to close out the theme, a look at some classic monsters transferred to a new genre.  And by this, I mean transferring classic D&D monsters into classic (as well as some less standard) science fiction.  Also, please don’t mind the cheesy space-opera-meets-D&D blurb from up above.  I’m not quite what I’d call a writer, but I figured it would be a fun change of pace.

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Smokepowder Shootist – A Gun-Focused Fighter Archetype

Fantasy Rifleman by BrotherOstavia

Time for a change.

Smokepowder, a powerful substance that has changed the landscape of battle, has become more and more popular as its name spread throughout wildspace and beyond.  This powder can ignite and produce a powerful explosion.  Many have sampled its alchemical properties for a new weapon, the firebrand.  In some realms, this projectile weapon is revered in religious circles as both a sacred artifact and testament to their craft.  For the less religious, many soldiers and warriors have trained in the art of the firebrand.  Honing their talents with these advanced weapons, a new breed of ranged combatant was born.

The smokepowder shootist is a fighter or ranger whose focus is melding firing of guns with sophisticated martial techniques.  While a rival to the battlemaster, this type of fighter is far more focused on perfecting their gunslinging.  Understandably, their knowledge of this school of fighting has caused ire among other classes of warrior and martial tactician.  Some harrumph in disdain, for they find no honor in these new weapons.  Some seek the very same weapons for power or fortunes, hoping to pry it from the fighter one way or another.  As such, the order of the shootist is a rare and secretive one in many lands.  In places more adept to firebrands, or “firearms” as they’re likely known there, some orders are willing to train other warriors deemed responsible enough to handle guns.

For those that have banded together, the firebrand is a symbol of many things; technological advancement, futurism, terrifying new grounds in warfare, liberation from the elite, power to the people and more.  Their order wields this weapon with intense precision and finesse, pulling off elaborate displays that are equal parts tactical gun fighting and martial arts.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: I’m still not fully content with my shootist sub-class and I’ve received requests to have it branch out to other classes.  I’ll likely expand this over the next week to do just that, once I really figure out what makes classes like The Ranger tick.  To be fair, even WIZARDS OF THE COAST doesn’t know!  (Yeah, I know, low blow.)  In the meantime, I’m willing to test this as is for Rangers and see what breaks down in the process.  Lemme know if you try! 

ALSO, this sub-class assumes that firearms are considered martial weapons or that your character is trained in them already.  If not, there is a campaign option to become proficient in a kind of firearm upon taking the sub-class.

Also, to answer a quick question of what’s with the name…  Well, a “Shootist” is a term dating back to the American Old West.  It refers to an expert hunter or gunfighter, often outside of the law.  In fact, infamous gunman and cattleman Clay Allison originated the term in the mid 1800s.  So, there you go.

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Gaslamp, Steampunk and Weird West NPCs for D&D 5th Edition

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Many heroes exist in the many realms.  From industrialized cities to lawless frontier wastes, champions against the darkness use sixshooter and spell book to ward off absolute evil.  While dark forces destroy most and corrode others, these few do all they can to fight back against those who seek us harm.  Purity and sanity are often lost in the process and these defenders of the common good are more than likely sacrificed in the process.  However, their actions help to preserve the balance that keeps reality as a whole from falling into an age of continuous torment.

Likewise, countless forces embrace the corruption that taints our reality, dragging it into an endless hell that will never die.  It is their goal to destroy all that is sacred and ensure that nothing will end the all consuming abyss.  These agents of evil and fallen heroes are the cancerous plague that continue to rot existence and will continue to do so.  As long as great evils exist in the endless multiverse, there will always be corrupted minions at their disposals.

Author’s Note:  Instead of backgrounds or monsters, I wanted to craft up some generic NPCs.  Some of which are based on existing NPCs as well as monsters I had made in the past while others are wholly new.  Here’s a wide variety of archetypes from western, pulpy and Gothic fiction.

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Factory Stacks and Sixgun Shootists – Gaslamp & Weird West Backgrounds for D&D 5th Edition

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“Truly, this is paradise”

Not all who dwell in dark gaslamp lit towns and cities are called by the darkness.  Some take more heroic and honorable pursuits.  Of course, these people are just as susceptible to the darkness as the more “accursed” among them.  Noble deeds can be tainted and benevolent action can devolve into a fanatical crusade.  But in proper moderation and reflection, these heroes can be true champions of not only their ideals but for others as well.  A harsh society is made all the more overwhelming by the presence of dark forces.  In fighting them, even the most pure of hearts can fall to their wickedness.  Those who are careful prove to be the truest exemplars of righteousness and courage, but few rise up to the occasion.  Like countless others who are forced to take a stand, these mere everyday people must overcome extreme odds for not only victory, but survival as well.

Author’s Note: I tried to write as much as possible for this one!  After all, my last background post was a fair bit skimpier.  With that, I went a bit more overboard by giving you 4 new backgrounds and 2 variant backgrounds!  All of them fit a general 19th century inspired fantasy/horror/adventure theme!  Also, be on the look out for my next post!  It’s a tie in to a certain blog carnival theme for this month!!

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The Shootist – A Gunslinging Martial Archetype for D&D 5th Edition

One with the Gun.

Just as a Monk masters using their body as a weapon and a knight channels their energy into their blade, the shootist treats their “fire brand” as an extension of themselves.  Explosive power of the gun is truly an art form in the hands of a shootist.  While declare guns as a dishonorable weapon, the shootist shows that it merely requires its user to have panache, constant mobility and an eye like no other.  No longer is the fight about stopping and studying, as the fighter is always on the go.  Their new goal is to outpace their rival while sinking a challenging hit.

Unlike other martial trainings, the shootist is a considerably rare one.  While many are capable of picking up a gun and shooting it, few can truly master the art of gun fighting.  The ways of steel and fire are too complicated for some and likewise too frightening for others.  Even so, orders that are dedicated to this fighting style are very protective over it.  To risk sharing it to an unworthy fighter is an extreme disgrace.  With an almost religious fervor, they seek out anyone who would dare to steal their secrets… or worse, give them to someone unworthy.  Much like the outsider, the informant is also deemed an outcast among the shootists.  Outcast Shootists are typically tracked down and executed by a posse.  Just as the punishment for transgressions and mockery of the art are harsh, joining them is just as harsh.  Due to their secretive nature, they tend to be very picky on who can join.  Much of their “initiation” tasks are actually suicide missions meant to kill off potential recruits.  Those who survive some insane ordeal are then tested in a lethal trial grounds.  Anyone capable of surviving the onslaught has proven themselves to be a worthy addition to their cause, so long as they prove themselves loyal as assistants on missions.

Christine by AlexRaspadOf course, that isn’t to say that the shootists are an inherently corrupt order.  To them, innovation and order must be handled gently, by those who can be trusted.  To let it slip into the wrong hands would result in unethical science and totalitarianism, among other atrocities.  Balance in all things is a philosophy held strong by this gunslinging knighthood.

Beyond the dimensional nexus where this quasi-religious order was started, its influence has made its way into countless Prime Material planes throughout the multiverse.  In worlds like Abeir-Toril, residents of the technocratic island nation of Lantan pay tribute to their planar inspirations by making their own gun-based arms.  On Khorvaire, the secret is horded by mercenaries and artificers who have long since disbanded from the dimensional order, often seeking new methods and black markets around urbanized regions like Sharn.  On Oerth, this order takes a heavy divine angle in service to a plane traveling deity named Murlynd, who brought the secrets of explosive powder from a realm named “Boot Hill.”

Author’s Note:  The original Shootist post needed a bit of a pick me up, so here we go!  Granted, this one turned out to be a hybrid of The Brotherhood of Steel from the Fallout games and the characters of the Dark Tower saga.  That said, if you want to ignore the fluff, by my guest!  Make them a studied guns expert, a weird western gunslinger, a honed rifleman, etc.  Nothing mechanical is directly tied towards the Order in anyway.  I simply added that in the fluff for the sake of being a fanboy.  With that, I updated my Shootist archetype.  After some mulling over, I tried to downplay the Pathfinder Gunslinger element that was heavily prominent in the initial version.  This one takes cues from the Battle Master, as well as a 3E class made by one of my good friends (with their permission) and just bit of the Paizo class.  Also, you may be wondering what this has to do with my gothic theme?  Quite simply, my idea was “Gothic and Gaslamp”, expanding out towards Dark Fantasy, Steampunk and Weird Western.  Besides, this is just another type of romanticized warrior of sorts.

For the longest time, I asked myself one thing, “Do I want to remake the archetype or expand it into a full class with its own archetypes?”  To this day, I still ask this.  I’m considering making a full class at some point, but not at the moment.  Personally, I find Tribality’s full class to hit that niche pretty well.  As it is, I’m going up against Matt Mercer’s take on the archetype… (which in my opinion is just a conversion of the Pathfinder class.)  With that, here’s a modified fighter archetype!  Enjoy.

Edited 10-28-2016

DISCLAIMER:  This version is somewhat tested, utilizing some feedback to try something completely different.  Lemme know what you think, as I’m more than eager to develop it from here.

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Stories from the Mists – Gothic-themed Character Backgrounds for D&D 5th Edition

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While many have heard the story of the troubled monster hunter, there are other heroes that struggle against deadly foes and unspeakable evils as well.  These unsung champions of the light do all they can to keep all hope from being extinguished in a dark and desolate world.  Not all heroes are born from myth and legend.  Many are souls who have faced great adversity, pushing them into impossible odds.  Those souls have either become broken or are seeking ways to prevent them from collapsing under pressure.  Whatever the cause, they have witnessed terrible things that pose a grave threat to them, as well as others.  Perhaps the conflict isn’t so much external as very much internal.  These troubled heroes seek retribution, redemption, truth and understanding.

In endless realms where mad lords and mysterious mists survey and control all, hope is all one has.  Without it, one simply cannot live.  And those who cannot hope anymore will likely be consumed.  Many have tried, but many have fallen to the darkness as well.  How will you fare differently?

Author’s Note:  In celebration of Curse of Strahd, I wanted to make some backgrounds with a distinctly Gothic theme to them.  Sampling from history and literature, here’s 3 new ones!  Of course, you could easily reflavor my Researcher and Lost One backgrounds from the Fey post into something more gothic with ease.  Also, I truly love the Haunted One background quite a bit!  It’s why I referenced it in my first sentence, hehe.

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