Dark Places: Behind the Scenes
“Every move towards darkness brings us one step closer to answers. When you have endured it all as long as I, as well as I, you begin to see that the answers outnumber the questions. This is the problem that comes of time folding inward upon itself, and it is resolved through the Books of the Void. In their pages, there are questions and answers aplenty. Making them match… that is the work of us all.”
—The Darkened Father, in an early Third Turning sermon at the Chapel of the Dust
Dark Places is a strange game. It has an unconventional genre (afterlife mystery), an unusual play style (specific number of players and no gamemaster), a strange core dice mechanic (D8s and D4s), and it isn’t explicitly designed to tack on to any particularly popular tropes. What it is though is a unique way of telling stories that wouldn’t quite fit in any other game, and that is why it was so important that I bring it to you.
My name is Jeremiah L. Schwennen, and I am the writer and conceptual ringmaster of Dark Places. The amazing team at Vagrant Workshop, in particular Carsten Damm and Angus McNicholl, made the final product elegant and beautiful, but Dark Places in its ugly, warty original state has been around for a decade and has reaped the benefits of being touched by many hands, as evidenced in the credits of the book.
The mission when I first started working on Dark Places was to create a game that allowed players to portray characters from across history. I wanted a game that focused on the interactions of individuals, not epic battles or massive political intrigues. As the idea of an afterlife realm where time-lost souls interacted started to take shape, the real question of the game also started to define itself. Why did it matter that all of these people from across the world and across time are thrust into this strange patchwork Hell?
The answer, of course, is mystery. Dark Places is an afterlife mystery, where the big questions, things like “Why are we here?” and “What is the purpose of the Dark Places?” lurk in the background but, ultimately, become far less interesting than the more personal, grounded mysteries of “Why am I here?” and “What do I do with this new chance at living?”
Every player in Dark Places is trying to tell the story of his or her character’s descent into darkness and madness, or perhaps valiant struggle for redemption, in tandem with every other player. The mysteries, and opportunities for intense drama and daring adventure, all grow organically from the natural intersection of each character’s pursuit of their own story arc.
As a human being and as an author, I subscribe to an idea I call Convergence Predestinism. I believe that our path through life is largely predetermined, but it is only through interactions with others that our course can be altered. None of us exist in a vacuum, and the collisions and intersections with the predestined paths of others give us the chance to jump tracks and send our lives moving in unexpected directions. That is Dark Places, in a nutshell—a place where, instead of characters just continuing on the same path they would have taken in life, this hodge-podge damnation creates myriad unpredictable ways for characters to collide, intersect, and alter the course of one another’s destiny.
And behind the scenes, working slowly and unveiling through glimpses and clever plays by even more clever players, the answers to the big questions start to pop up. But with no single authorial vision—no gamemaster—the answers to questions like “What were the Fields of Soot before they were the Fields of Soot” have confusing, conflicting answers. Navigating those conflicting truths is the challenge of the game, creating a situation where, instead of a gamemasterless game, one starts to see Dark Places as a game where everyone is the gamemaster.
All of the best parts of playing? Check. All of the best parts of gamemastering? Also check.
That was the dream in my head when I started working on Dark Places in this latest iteration. A story about bad, bad people with incredible powers, striving to assert their dominance and work their will in a world where everyone is just as damaged, just as precariously positioned for greatness, as they are.
And along the way, I have some crazy stuff to throw your way. Ancient monsters, secret pacts, unfathomable forces, and remnants of old, broken truths hide in the Dark, waiting to be found by four players who want to try something just a little bit different than anything they have played before.