Monday, December 5, 2011

Revisiting the Dark Country

Beginning in a week or two, I'll be revisiting the wilderness map of the Dark Country along with its encounter tables and settlements.  Ultimately my goal is to excise most of the standard D&D monsters* that populated my original encounter tables and replace them with monsters of my own design.

Most of these monsters will be specific to the region they're encountered in.  The drowned corpses of the Long Swamp aren't going to be found anywhere else.  I'll make some exceptions, normally with monsters that can be created regularly by magic users such as the standard sorts of undead.  There are also likely to be a few monsters that can be encountered throughout the dark country, somewhat like how I described mites living in dirty houses.

I'll also be fleshing out the Seven Cities a bit more, particularly Lichgate -- for which I also hope to figure out a canon spelling.  I may also take another look at Nightwick Village with an eye towards getting rid of NPCs with character levels.

While quite a bit of this is inspired by Raggi's advice in the Referee book for LotFP, I'm not doing this to evoke the "weird."  I consider the Dark Country to be Dark Fantasy instead of Weird Fantasy, and while that may be a fine distinction there are important differences.  If one is to go by Beedo's Taxonomy of Horror, the Dark Country is firmly in the Supernatural position.  I suppose it is a little different from typical Supernatural Horror in that while an all powerful and omniscient god exists it is horrible and inexplicable in its own right.  My goal from day one has been to make sure that the Church isn't the good guy and neither are the pagans and neither are the satanists.  Still, the Dark Country is heavily reliant on the Gothic** for its aesthetic and I want my vampires, werewolves, and ghosts.

What is more important to me than making the setting "weird" is making the setting mine.  I think Empire of the Petal Throne is possibly the greatest work of early D&D because it takes OD&D and bends it to the idiosyncrasies of MAR Barker's imagination.  While my vision isn't as outre as his, it is certainly idiosyncratic. I've said before that I am more of a horror fan than a fantasy one,*** and I'd like to bring that to the fore even more.

In the days before In Places Deep started, I ran a short lived proto-Dark Country campaign that used a monster list where most of the entries were either invented by me or taken from intentionally obscure sources.  You can see one of my old players' confusion about my decision to go back to standard monsters here, and while I was somewhat dismissive of him at the time I think he was right.****

What this means in the short term is that I hope to restart Monster Mondays sometime around the beginning of next year; however, rather than showing how standard D&D monsters fit the setting I want to introduce and explain the new monsters I'll be using.  I'll also be posting articles on other setting related matters such as settlements, magic items, and dungeons.  This will probably mean that the development of my Albigensian Crusade campaign will be put on indefinite hold.  I still like the idea but I consider the Dark Country to be my magnum opus -- such as it is.

* I'm still going to be using a few like goblins and ogres whose names are evocative enough that they can be used without reference to Tolkien.  Still, I'm going to try to make these conform to my vision of the monster rather than to the standard D&D vision.

** More accurately it's reliant on the version of the Gothic presented in Hammer Horror, Corman's Poe films, and Dark Shadows.

*** I'm even more of a fan of things that mix the two together, such as CAS's Averoigne Cycle or "The Black God's Kiss."

**** I'll still be keeping Dwarves and Elves because there are interesting things to do with them.  Especially Dwarves.


  1. Sounds like a good idea. I look forward to seeing what you come up with.

  2. I especially like the part where I was right. ;)

  3. To put a more particular point on that previous discussion, my personal setting contains elves, and could quite possibly contain half sized people. However, they are in no way Tolkien's products. In the case of the former, it is the result of my desire to heavily feature fair-folk in a more folklorish way than traditionally done with D&D. Elf is, however, used rather interchangeably with faerie, is out of the question as a player race, and a decidedly more "wierd" entity than Tolkien's. The Faerie one is one of illusion where the laws of nature do not apply, and the source of magic in the setting. In the latter, it's because such people apparently did exist and are therefore an especially plausible alternate player race. That being said, the more Sword & Sorcery feel of the setting means they're not the kind of thing I would throw at players from the get go, but maybe something they stumble upon if they decide to explore outside of the normal borders of the central setting to go looking for strange places beyond.

  4. Sorry for the triple post, but my feelings on the subject are more or less encompassed here: . I agree that some familiarity is necessary in order to provide a common perspective, but, beyond this, unnecessary similarities to other settings do little more than trivialize the thing. Your creations become somewhat thinned if they appear unable to stand without the support of others'.