Probably around oh…five years ago, I started working on a roleplaying game. As most misguided projects go, it ended up changing a lot from then until now. Initially it was pretty much a heartbreaker, a kitchen-sink collection of things I liked from games, cobbled together into a Frankenstein. The core was always the same though: It’s about a group of characters investigating the supernatural.
I foolishly commissioned some artwork when I was first starting out. You can see some of it below. It was called Van Dread at the time and was mostly a pulp clone of Hunter: The Reckoning, by way of Call of Cthulhu and Unknown Armies. The most damning evidence of my failures in game design were the many permutations of this game, from concept, to mechanics, to system. I’ve used the Storyteller system, Fate 2.0, and Apocalypse World, with various success. There’s been skills lists, skills and stats, just stats and so on.
At this point, I just want to dump all the work I’ve done so far in this blog post, as a way of clearing the slate. I do intend to finish Dark Days at some point, hopefully soon. I’m still not sure what system I should use for it. The mechanics can be bolted on to most systems.
Here’s bits and pieces of the game. If you’re lost, keep in mind that it’s based on Apocalypse World and the Aspects from Fate.
All artwork is copyrighted to the respective artists and has been licensed for use with the Dark Days roleplaying game.
Premise I think the best way to explain the game is to explain what the original idea was. If you’ve played Call of Cthulhu, or any horror investigation game, you’ve probably experienced the mayhem associated with mortals experiencing the supernatural. People go crazy, get injured, scarred, lose limbs, lose families.
Too bad those guys can’t keep doing that forever though. They already know it’s best to burn the haunted house down and shoot the neighbors in the face after the first few investigations. Everyone is out to get them. But what if they could?
…and that’s Dark Days in a nutshell.
The characters are ex-members of an organization dedicated to destroying the supernatural threat. They got maimed, fired, disgraced or quit. But they get called back to serve the organization the left behind, as part of a special operations team.
There’s a catch though. To be part of the program, you have to let them shoot some really weird shit into your bloodstream. To make you tougher, faster, smarter, weirder. Just like the monsters you’re going to kill.
What do you do in this game? It’s a horror investigation game, with a focus on action. The investigation part isn’t about looking for clues, it’s mostly about trying to figure out what the hell is going on and what’s the best way to end it. A shortcut to the usual investigative games, if you will.
In a run of the mill scenario, you’d be sent to a town or a city to investigate something weird that’s happening. After a few days of interviewing witnesses and snooping around, the shit will inevitably hit the fan and at that point you’re gonna want to neutralize the threat and get out alive.
The setting makes a few assumptions. Monsters are real. The general public is unaware. There’s no grand conspiracy, just a bunch of smaller ones. When the mailman eats a lady’s face and then jumps 30 feet up into a tree in a small town, what cop is gonna say that to the news crew?
Monsters all come from the same place. The Dark. The Abyss. Hell. Whatever you want to call it, it’s another place, a different dimension. Things slip through, or are called here. When that happens, weird shit goes down and people die.
The Dark is a corrupting force. Most monsters used to be human before they were corrupted into something else.
The characters have a piece of the Dark inside of them. That’s what the project is. They have weird powers, just like their monster counterparts, but the human part is still in control. They’re the perfect weapon against monsters.
The organization is set up like the military. There are multiple player-chosen branches. Some deal with intel, some are R&D (Research and Development), some carry flamethrowers around.
● Humans can be monsters and monsters can be human. I know this goes against the general theme of the game (kill monsters), but it fits into the character’s monstrous nature. The characters will encounter plenty of seemingly monstrous beings that end up being harmless or smart enough to use diplomacy to stay alive. That’s why there’s a Covenant move that allows you to strike deals.
● The Abyss is an alien thing, and true creatures of the Abyss are too. There is no way to understand it or pacify it. Kill it or be killed.
● The world is a fragile thing. Any one of the things that escape the Abyss can mean the downfall of our way of life.
● You kill monsters to protect the innocents, but what about you? You’re a ticking time bomb and you’re already half a monster. What the fuck are you gonna do with yourself when you find yourself becoming less human day by day?
For the way the BPRD is set up, for the interplay between human and supernatural agents, for the way they deal with the supernatural (figure out if it’s dangerous, kill it with impunity if it is). For the dozens of nameless agents that get killed in the first hours of every mission. For the way the world is threatened in the later issues.
Supernatural TV Series
For the casual nature of hunting monsters, for the occult tomes and symbols, for it’s concepts of hell.
For it’s depiction of the other place, Hell, the Abyss.
Agenda Make the world dark and real. Make the characters’ lives interesting. Play to find out how you die.
Blanket the world in Darkness. Figuratively and literally. Dark Days takes place in perpetual darkness, artificial or not. The weather is shitty, rain and cloudy days. Characters live in the dark and often investigate dark places. The Dark also represents the corruption of the Abyss. Not everything touched by the Dark turns into a monster; your neighbor might harbor some pretty horrible secrets and thus be somewhat changed. Besides, with the murder rate of most metropolitan cities being what it is, the chances of you living in or near a murder house are pretty high.
Make the human monstrous; make the monstrous sympathetic. Evil isn’t always an effect of the Dark. Sometimes it’s plain old human evil. On the other hand, a monster might be capable of more compassion than you. The characters stand on the threshold. Which side are they gonna end up on?
Introduce the weird, the magical, the horrific, the unfair at every opportunity. Nothing is sacred. Kill NPCs, destroy structures, burn everything. Address yourself to the characters, not the players. Make your move, but misdirect. Make your move, but never speak its name. Ask provocative questions and build on the answers. Be a fan of the players’ characters. Name everyone. Make them important.
The Stats are:
Cold …means you are cool, calm, numb, graceful under pressure. You add this to your dice roll when you Act under pressure.
War …means you are violent, skilled in combat, aggressive, mean. You add this to your dice roll when you Shed Blood.
Majesty …means you are sexy, seductive, convincing, attractive. You add this to your dice roll when you Influence/Seduce, when you Threaten Violence.
Edge …means you are sharp, witty, quick, skilled, perceptive. You add this to your dice roll when you Read a person.
Esoterica …means you are creepy, scary, dark, strange. You add this to your dice roll when you Invoke Darkness.
Stats go from -1 to +3. Higher is better. A stat can be set to 0.
Every character gets the following Moves:
Basic Moves Act under pressure Invoke the Darkness Assess Situation Shed Blood Threaten Violence Read person Help/Interfere Influence Investigate Covenant Peripheral Moves Suffer Trauma When Darkness reaches 0 Intake darkness
Act under pressure When you act under pressure, roll +cold. On a 10 you do what you want. On a 7-9, you hesitate, you get scared, you stall. The MC will offer you a difficult choice or a hard bargain. On a miss, you fuck up.
Invoke Darkness When you invoke the Darkness, roll +Esoterica and state your subject. On a hit, the MC will tell you something you didn’t know about. On a 10, you may ask one clarifying question. On a 7-9, the MC will state something. On a miss, the Darkness reveals something dark about you.
Assess Situation When you asses the situation, roll +Edge. On a hit, you can ask questions. If you act upon them, get +1 going forward. On a 10, pick 3. On a 7-9, pick1. which enemy is the most dangerous? which enemy is the weakest? who’s in control here? how do I get out of this? what’s my best escape route /way in / way past?
Threaten Violence When you threaten violence, roll +War. On a 10+, they comply and you Shed Blood.
On a 7-9 they can choose to:
trade harm for harm
comply with your desires
Shed blood When you shed blood, roll +War. On a 10+, choose one extra effect:
take +1 forward.
You inflict terrible harm
You suffer less harm.
On a 7-9, trade harm for harm.
When you read a person, roll +edge. On a 10+, hold 3. On a 7–9, hold 1. While you’re interacting with them, spend your hold to ask their player questions, 1 for 1: is your character telling the truth? what does your character intend to do? how could I get your character to _?
When you help or interfere with someone, roll +Edge. On a 10+, they get +2 forward On a 7-9, they get +1 forward but you expose yourself to danger.
When you manipulate someone, roll +Majesty. For NPCs: On a 10+, they do it. On a 7-9, they ask for reassurances/they ask you to promise them something before they do what you ask. For PCs: On a 10+, both. On a 7-9, choose 1: If they do it, they mark improvement if they refuse, they mark improvement.
When you investigate the scene, roll +Edge. On a 10+, hold 2. On a 7-9, hold 1.
Spend hold 1 to 1 to ask the MC questions: What happened here? How many of them were there? Where did they go? What has been concealed here? On a miss,
When you enter a covenant, roll +Esoterica On a 10+ pick 2. On a 7-9 pick 1. You include a clause or loophole for yourself. There are no loopholes the other party can abuse. The deal is fair.
When you intake Darkness, roll Esoterica. On a 10, get equal to the dose +1 Darkness On a 7-9, you do it.
When Darkness hits 0
When you treat wounds, roll +War. On a 10, heal 2. On 7-9, heal 1.
On a 10+, your flesh withstands. On a 7-9, suffer Trauma.
Trade harm for harm.
Announce off screen badness
Announce future badness.
Take away their stuff.
Activate their stuff’s downside
Offer an opportunity, with or without a cost.
Make a threat move.
Make them investigate.