Dark RolePlays


Special Doodle

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What makes a RolePlay dark? Many people, myself included, will openly tell you that they like a dark, gritty story. But what exactly makes a story dark?

The darkest story I've ever RPed was something that originally should've been something very lighthearted. A merperson was captured and put on display in a casino. The story itself was loosely based off a silly dream I'd had, but it quickly turned into a dramatic affair. Language barriers, a wide array miscommunication errors, stockholm syndrome, and mental illness quickly turned what could've very easily been a silly romantic comedy-esque story into something that I could only describe as very dark in nature. The story itself was silly and nonsensical. But the characters made it something different.

But every RP is different. And it makes me curious. What were some of your darkest RPs? And what made them that way?


Original poster
Dervish and I have a TES RP that has already featured near-character death, flesh monsters, dead children, two PCs died within two days of joining, and we've been making progress into introducing the fact that being a hack-n-slash murderhobo isn't going to solve their problems and adding consequence into every player choice. We throw them a cookie every now and then but the RP can be summed five words, "But wait, it gets worse!" A lot of the characters have black-and-grey morality and everyone is on eggshells with the other, only tied together by the promise of more gold than they have probably ever had to the backdrop of Dominion vs. Empire political machinations. Our branching off of TES is becoming pretty darn grimdark and I'm aiming to keep it going down that road until everyone's depressed and we cross a despair event horizon.


Returned from the Void
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Urban Fantasy, High Fantasy, Epic Quest, Sci-Fi, Time Travel and World Hopping, Steampunk, Action/Adventure, Modern Drama, Mystery, Slice of Life, Romance, and many more.
lots of #edge

I kid I kid

I would describe a 'dark' story as one that has themes and parts of the story that take me out of my comfort zone; there is an element of amoral, grim extremity to it.


Mother Knows Best!
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I agree with Minibit!

I'd say that stories that are typically considered dark are the ones that deal with morally questionable, or generally just sad material. Things like death, mortality, abuse, rape, etc.

Generally, they're also not very happy. Things don't always go the protagonist's way, and the protagonists themselves are also usually terribly flawed right from the start, and their flaws tend to cause or exacerbate the problems they find themselves in.

Executed well, a good dark story is often very intense and very interesting. Pulp Fiction (if you haven't seen it, go see it) is one of my favorite examples of a really dark comedy. It deals with some really serious material - especially considering it was released in the 90s - but manages to very successfully put a comedic twist on all of those things.


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What makes a RolePlay dark? Many people, myself included, will openly tell you that they like a dark, gritty story. But what exactly makes a story dark?
Right, so, spoiler alerts ahead for old TV shows and movies and what not. Almost feel like this shouldn't even need mentioning when citing examples, but, there you go.

To weave darkness into any storytelling, there's a few things you need to do to make it effective. There's a few distinct differences between something that is just angsty for the sake of it, and something that is shocking, painful, and moving.

#1: Give a reason to care first.
Nobody will give a shit about how dark your world is unless there's a reason to care about it. There is such a thing as a world so irredeemably rotten that any and all responses within that universe are justified. However, before you get to that point, you have to sufficiently humanize some aspect of the world so that people will have a reason to care. This is often done through the characters themselves, working for flawed factions or in a world where they're removed sufficiently from any sort of power that their only objective becomes survival rather than heroism. If there's nothing to care about, and no hope to strive for, no matter how minuscule or distant, then there is no point to survival in such a world.

#2: You cannot always be depressed.
This is the most common error I see out of teenagers attempting dark worlds: Your worlds can't be constantly depressing. That's just not how humans work. People can only feel a particular emotion for a certain amount of time before they get tired of feeling it and their brain flushes it out. Remember, emotions are derived from chemical responses in the brain--and the brain is forced to flush certain chemicals before it legitimately overdoses and causes damage or death. So it is actually legitimately impossible to be "forever sad", because that would literally kill you, and your brain subconsciously prevents it by numbing you out. This is why good horror films and romance films typically mix in other elements to relieve tension or heartache--because if you feel too scared for too long, your brain flushes the chemical of fear away and starts over. That, or you have a panic attack, which is the brain ODing on the fear chemical and your conscious inability to deal with it. The same applies to a dark world: You need moments where the characters involved can have reason to laugh, or smile, or feel hopeful, or so on. If it's always unrelenting pain all the time, you and your players will numb out, and the story will lose all ability to interest you. Which brings me to the next point...

#3: People empathize far more when they have reason to give a shit.
I cannot emphasize this enough. Make people care. Give the characters reason to live, even if the world they live in is horribly shit.

#4: Dark worlds thrive on moral conflicts. Use them.
Black and white logic rarely works in a dark world. It can, given certain circumstances, but it usually requires being handled quite delicately and even in some points, predictably. Meanwhile, the more flexible method of developing a dark world is to pit two (or more) factions at each other who each have a legitimate and pressing need to win the conflict. These factions could be as large as nations, or as small as bands of individuals, but you need to give legitimate reason for all parties involved to get involve in a conflict. Maybe there's a fantasy world with a virus that is killing everyone, and an island is full of the only resource which has the cure, but it's only sufficient to save some people from one faction--not enough to save everyone, leave alone every faction. This would naturally create contention and moral ambiguity by its own nature. Now, when you kill someone, you're not killing some evil baby-raping demon: You're killing a man who is likely desperately trying to save his children from dying of a horrible disease, just like you.

Suddenly, everything you do that helps yourself and the innocents in your faction, causes the innocents in another to suffer. If you do nothing, then everyone suffers, and you will probably die.

That is the key to any dark world. Make every decision a sacrifice, make every action dirty and impure. No matter how noble the intention, force situations where the knight can't save the damsel without sacrificing the innocent. Force situations where the soldier has to choose whether or not to shoot the twelve year old walking towards them, because he may or may not have a suicide vest on underneath. Force situations where high school kid has to take a baseball bat to his undead mother to save his younger sister.

Force consequences that cause characters to go through a personal hell, without depriving them of a reason to live. That is how you achieve that nirvana sweet spot of making people upset when you ram an inanimate object into something to get the job done. Even if you can't see their faces, you know good people died for that--people who, through previous interactions, you gave a shit about.

#5: Ten thousand is a statistic, one's a tragedy.
Remember that point about empathy? Manipulate it. People care far more about things with faces, and names, which are in some way useful to them. If the guy beside you who has a family back home, who just cracked jokes with you, who has been helping you fight against the enemy for the past few posts, gets impaled, and you see him die--that's far more impactful than hearing about someone having casually murdered ten thousand people. This ties into show, don't tell--people are affected far more by that which they can see. Tragedy which impacts you personally is always more effective than tragedy which affects someone else. Therefore, tragedy which affects the protagonists that players project onto is far more effective than tragedy that afflicts some random part of the world the players have never seen before.

#6: Death is the ticket.
I've never seen a dark and morose world really work before without death. Even in dark children's fantasy, death is typically at least implied to occur at some level. Here, let me remind you by punching you in the gut. Death and finality are core to a dark story. This, obviously, includes role playing--if none of the protagonists ever die, then the protagonists will only ever be delayed. The same applies for people the protagonists care about. So, if you're the GM, remember: Kill them. Also, kill their families, and their pets, and their favourite objects and items and towns. Never too quickly, always give them some hope. Also remember, that you can give the protagonists a happy ending after all in a dark story--so you don't have to kill them all, just... Kill the ones that people love the most. Basically, invoke the spirit of this man, and you should be good.

Final Point: People new to writing plots and stories should probably stay away from dark role plays. Their moral ambiguity and need to understand pacing, emotional control, and how to make likable characters that avoid cliches, pretty much makes them noob unfriendly by nature. Instead, consider having dark moments in a story, rather than making the whole story dark. Star Wars gets away with cutting off people's limbs and heavily implied mass child murder--fucking twice--fairly sure you can get away with the occasional dark moment in an otherwise normal story.

Oh, while we're at it, just to prove a point: Here's another punch to the childhood, just for fun. Oh, and anime fans!... Don't think I'd forget your childhood either. Hell, even Star Trek did it.

So, you know. To summarize...
  • Give a reason to care about the characters in the dark world.
  • Grey worlds with harsh but survivable consequences are better, but black and white is possible.
  • Kill loved ones, children, leaders, animals, and protagonists--at the very least, murder people within sight of the protagonists.
  • The less villainous the antagonists are, the harder it will be to act against them emotionally.
  • Murder people. Not everyone--restrain yourself, it's an artform, but murder people nonetheless.
So there you go. The basic formula to a dark story--make people care, and then remind people why the world they're in is shit while they try to accomplish whatever objectives they have. It can be a bit more complicated than that, but you can figure it out from there. Have fun, you sick bastard.

As for some of the darker moments in my own stories...
About two and a half to three years in the story, the comedic, flirtatious thief, was horribly raped and beaten. By the time the players reached her, she had been mentally broken, and it took hours to get her out of that state. She's never been quite the same ever since, having a cold twitch whenever she's emotionally hurt--she just emotionally shuts down, rather than facing the pain anymore. The players at the time were enraged enough that they abandoned the main objective of the RP momentarily to get revenge in brutally murdering the person who orchestrated breaking the comedic thief's mind, to the level that they flattened half of the keep she was in and murdered hundreds of people.

It's one of the darkest moments in my RP's, and it involved only one person the players cared for being brutally raped. All the thousands of innocent fatalities in the world doesn't compare to seeing one of my players literally seethe with rage.
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