Darkening or greying the campaign setting.


Lost Omens Campaign Setting General Discussion


I like flaws. I kinda wish we could make a sourcebook to add flavor and contention in there. meaning how to run a game with these real world issues such as religious tension, gender issues, and prejudice societies. Basically a way to add into the campaign as something to majorly strive against. Maybe I'm just weird. But I like to muddy up my good and bad guys. Make things more morally ambiguous. For example I have been running Wrath of the Righteous. And I have run with these muddied conflicts. I play up the criminals be exiled to Mendev to serve in the crusade. I play up the inquisitions witch burnings and innocent people being tortured and killed. I play up the fact Mendev in my game is a mixed bag of good people who sometimes get it wrong. I love playing up them meeting a shell shocked veteran who is to mentally broken to fight anymore. Or the fact that the crusade hasn't been completely right. I make up facts about them accidentally slaughtering whole towns of Sarkorians purely by mistake thinking they are practicing demonology when really they were just ignorant of their cultural beliefs. I love to add tension between Mendevians and Sarkorian refugees. I do this because it makes things much more dire in my opinion. You have good guys getting it wrong whole good churches doing bad things because people are at the helm. I know this isn't for everyone. What do you guys think?

Liberty's Edge

I'm cool with some serious shades of grey. :)

That said, I think the setting comes pre-made with them (indeed, I enjoy the sword and sorcery Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser/Conan/Elric aesthetic it provides), so I feel like adding more is excessive.


I feel you. I was DM for a long time in Warhammer 2.0 so it was important to have that grim/dark atmosphere. However don't forget to do sometimes the opposite: even the worst bastard in the world can care for a few things (Child, legacy...) and sometimes do good.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Little of Column A, little of Column B.

I've written elsewhere on this forum that I'm a bit disappointed that Molthune gets all the bad guy stuff (oh look, units of human-eating monsters, no way that'll backfire!), while Nirmathas gets all the heroic stuff... even though I want Nirmathas to be the nominal "good guys."

In my setting, the Nirmathas/Molthune border is a very bad place to be, whichever nation you claim allegiance to. Molthune sends a reconnaissance in force across the border, then some Nirmathi hotheads burn out a few Molthuni farms and slaughter the inhabitants because, in essence, War Sucks.

In the end, it is Molthuni aggression which drives the conflict- but the luckless farmers near the border are the ones who pay for it.

However, in a world where a deity can stop granting spells if you do things they don't like, having good-aligned faiths do horrible crap as a matter of policy is NOT a shade of gray I go into- Iomedae takes your spells away if you just start roasting midwives because you think they're in league with the Abyss.

But common foot soldiers? Yeah, well, there's a reason the "Low Templar" prestige class is associated with Mendev- that war attracts both heroes and scumbags.


I think its fun to look at each nation and expand on its dark aspects.

Like Brevoy can be a highly feudalistic medieval nation, where the peasantry are little more than slaves and often die at the whims of their lords and said Lords are plagued with intrigue, infighting and decadence.

The Land of Linnorm Kings is a realm at constant war with itself, ever fearful of the encroaching influence of Irrisen.

Iobaria is a medieval post-apocalyptic wasteland populated with barbarians and marauding centaurs.

Rahadoum is a 1984 style state, suppressing any form of religion or spiritual practice.

Kelesh is a tyrannical empire based on slavery and religious fanaticism.

Even 'Eagleland' Andoran could be interpreted as a corrupt naive state with an increasingly failing democracy which is slowly being taken over by a new nouveau riche-style class of merchants and former nobles.

These interpretations might not be canon, but it can be an interesting way of interpreting them.


I think when doing shades of gray, people tend to go quickly towards ultra violence and sexual violence to make the world seem gritty. I prefer more atmospheric and less on the nose showings of gritty fantasy settings that many people don't normally go for. Paranoia and mistrust, hopelessness, hypocrisy, sociopathy, famine, apathy, class war, bigotry... I feel these and more really add to that atmosphere one is looking to for a darker world without going straight to the jugular. Just remember that even in these dark times, there should still be some good people the PCs can trust.

I personally like to focus on a group's lack of empathy combined with hypocrisy to make compelling villains and that feeling of despair.

The Exchange

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I wrote a lengthy post over at the "retcon" thread before deciding that it probably came to near to make said thread be closed (and therefore I deleted it).

The gist being that I think it is really important to have those things in your game, because I think that roleplaying is not only about being entertaining but also about exploring human nature. To not touch on existing real-world topics like gender issues for fear of some people could feel offended by that diminishes the value the whole activity has (for me).

That's why I applauded the designers to include a homosexual couple in the very first AP issue, and make clear, that while a lot of people were very accepting of this relationship, there were still people out there who would find it "scandalous and offensive".

That's why I liked Erastil being misogynistic because it enables the players to play Red Sonja-style stories and making the statement that even Good-aligned gods can be seriously wrong about some things.

And that's why I like that you have the Pathfinder society as well as the Aspis Consortium being opponents wihtout being honestly able to point at the Pathfinders and saying: They are the good guys.


Odraude wrote:

I think when doing shades of gray, people tend to go quickly towards ultra violence and sexual violence to make the world seem gritty. I prefer more atmospheric and less on the nose showings of gritty fantasy settings that many people don't normally go for. Paranoia and mistrust, hopelessness, hypocrisy, sociopathy, famine, apathy, class war, bigotry... I feel these and more really add to that atmosphere one is looking to for a darker world without going straight to the jugular. Just remember that even in these dark times, there should still be some good people the PCs can trust.

I personally like to focus on a group's lack of empathy combined with hypocrisy to make compelling villains and that feeling of despair.

I get the whole GM treating darker or grey settings as a club against certain players. I think that is a bad GM thing. Moral ambiguity along with flaws and mistakes of society and people make things interesting for the players. But I have heard stories of the creepy GM victimizing a female player through bad GMing, and we all know thats awful. But if there is some misogyny done right where the player can slap it in the face and say I'm so much stronger. Then I think it CAN make an interesting plot. But we just need GMs to stop being creepy.


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The Minis Maniac wrote:
Odraude wrote:

I think when doing shades of gray, people tend to go quickly towards ultra violence and sexual violence to make the world seem gritty. I prefer more atmospheric and less on the nose showings of gritty fantasy settings that many people don't normally go for. Paranoia and mistrust, hopelessness, hypocrisy, sociopathy, famine, apathy, class war, bigotry... I feel these and more really add to that atmosphere one is looking to for a darker world without going straight to the jugular. Just remember that even in these dark times, there should still be some good people the PCs can trust.

I personally like to focus on a group's lack of empathy combined with hypocrisy to make compelling villains and that feeling of despair.

I get the whole GM treating darker or grey settings as a club against certain players. I think that is a bad GM thing. Moral ambiguity along with flaws and mistakes of society and people make things interesting for the players. But I have heard stories of the creepy GM victimizing a female player through bad GMing, and we all know thats awful. But if there is some misogyny done right where the player can slap it in the face and say I'm so much stronger. Then I think it CAN make an interesting plot. But we just need GMs to stop being creepy.

It can make an interesting plot, but so can many other things. It gets boring if every female character has to deal with the same plot.


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thejeff wrote:
The Minis Maniac wrote:
Odraude wrote:

I think when doing shades of gray, people tend to go quickly towards ultra violence and sexual violence to make the world seem gritty. I prefer more atmospheric and less on the nose showings of gritty fantasy settings that many people don't normally go for. Paranoia and mistrust, hopelessness, hypocrisy, sociopathy, famine, apathy, class war, bigotry... I feel these and more really add to that atmosphere one is looking to for a darker world without going straight to the jugular. Just remember that even in these dark times, there should still be some good people the PCs can trust.

I personally like to focus on a group's lack of empathy combined with hypocrisy to make compelling villains and that feeling of despair.

I get the whole GM treating darker or grey settings as a club against certain players. I think that is a bad GM thing. Moral ambiguity along with flaws and mistakes of society and people make things interesting for the players. But I have heard stories of the creepy GM victimizing a female player through bad GMing, and we all know thats awful. But if there is some misogyny done right where the player can slap it in the face and say I'm so much stronger. Then I think it CAN make an interesting plot. But we just need GMs to stop being creepy.

It can make an interesting plot, but so can many other things. It gets boring if every female character has to deal with the same plot.

I agree. And not every plot is good for every group. I know when I start a campaign I always have a preparatory meeting with my group and ask what players are comfortable with and I always have complete transparency with my players what they are comfortable with. I think that is also important in darker plot lines. I know in my Wrath of the Righteous campaign, I have a religious person at the table, and I cleared it with them first about the how I planned to make the crusade muddy morally as well as dark and gritty. They consented and have enjoyed the game so far. I think that is always key, you need to know your players and their comfort levels.

Liberty's Edge

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See, I'm fine with misogynistic Good Gods...I just tend to think Erastil is a bad choice for such a deity. It implies things about Golarion's past (ie: that it used to be more sexist than it is currently) that aren't true and don't make sense when examined.

And more generally...I tend to feel Golarion is already a pretty dark place. Or more accurately a world with plenty of pretty dark places within it. It seems to me that 'making it darker' is a rather silly idea. Just set your game in one of the darker corners and you're good to go.

I mean Geb has slave pens where the slaves are primarily used as a food source. Galt is a dystopian nightmare. Irrisen is a land where the darker kinds of Fey rule and peasants are constantly afraid. Ustalav is a haven for evil, corruption, and paranoia of all sorts. And those are jst the four that leap to mind.

Why does the world need to be darker than that again?


Deadmanwalking wrote:

See, I'm fine with misogynistic Good Gods...I just tend to think Erastil is a bad choice for such a deity. It implies things about Golarion's past (ie: that it used to be more sexist than it is currently) that aren't true and don't make sense when examined.

And more generally...I tend to feel Golarion is already a pretty dark place. Or more accurately a world with plenty of pretty dark places within it. It seems to me that 'making it darker' is a rather silly idea. Just set your game in one of the darker corners and you're good to go.

I mean Geb has slave pens where the slaves are primarily used as a food source. Galt is a dystopian nightmare. Irrisen is a land where the darker kinds of Fey rule and peasants are constantly afraid. Ustalav is a haven for evil, corruption, and paranoia of all sorts. And those are jst the four that leap to mind.

Why does the world need to be darker than that again?

It isn't about the obvious evil places, it's about the less evil places. I mean Mendev is a generally a good guy bastion. In my Mendev you have horrible atrocities committed by the crusade in the past usually by mistake and other times by successful manipulation by cultists. You have deep racial tensions between the Sarkorian refugees and the Crusade and Mendevians. You have criminals sent to join the crusade against their will. You have the church of Iomedae at the front losing influence with the people due to wrongful inquisitions and executions. You have a growing population of severely wounded (physically and mentally) crusade veterans, and a general undercurrent of dissent that the 4th crusade has been a complete failure. And with the growing casualties it seems the 4th crusade only favored the demons as no progress has been made, and the rate of new crusader recruits has fallen drastically. As well as the native mendevians beginning to resent the crusaders for past failures and inability to protect them.

So in short this to me brings Mendev more alive and made it more colourful, more alive. It also conveys the importance of the PCs to be good.

Sovereign Court

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Companion Subscriber

I think most of that is at least implied in the current Mendev. It doesn't help that Mendev doesn't have a sourcebook, so you have to comb through eight different sources to learn most of it.

Liberty's Edge

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Yeah...I've seen explicit textual references to literally all of that in regards to Mendev. Well, Iomedae doesn't actually support wrongful inquisitions and executions, but people still do them in her name.

Now, not everywhere is as dark as that, but not everywhere should be, and nowhere is perfect.


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Deadmanwalking wrote:

See, I'm fine with misogynistic Good Gods...I just tend to think Erastil is a bad choice for such a deity. It implies things about Golarion's past (ie: that it used to be more sexist than it is currently) that aren't true and don't make sense when examined.

And more generally...I tend to feel Golarion is already a pretty dark place. Or more accurately a world with plenty of pretty dark places within it. It seems to me that 'making it darker' is a rather silly idea. Just set your game in one of the darker corners and you're good to go.

I mean Geb has slave pens where the slaves are primarily used as a food source. Galt is a dystopian nightmare. Irrisen is a land where the darker kinds of Fey rule and peasants are constantly afraid. Ustalav is a haven for evil, corruption, and paranoia of all sorts. And those are jst the four that leap to mind.

Why does the world need to be darker than that again?

I don't really agree on Erastil, but the rest of this, absolutely. Don't forget the anarchy of the River Kingdoms, the bloodthirsty realm of the Gorilla King, Devil-worshipping Cheliax, etc. Really, unless you like Dragon-run eugenics programs, there isn't much of anywhere on Golarion that could rightly be described as "idyllic". It's not 40k, but it's pretty dark as is.

Liberty's Edge

Ouachitonian wrote:
I don't really agree on Erastil, but the rest of this, absolutely. Don't forget the anarchy of the River Kingdoms, the bloodthirsty realm of the Gorilla King, Devil-worshipping Cheliax, etc. Really, unless you like Dragon-run eugenics programs, there isn't much of anywhere on Golarion that could rightly be described as "idyllic". It's not 40k, but it's pretty dark as is.

In fairness, several places aren't actually too bad (Andoran leaps to mind). Even they have problems, but many are perfectly nice places to live for most people.

But yeah, there's plenty of darkness to go around.


See were I running a game in Andoren I would probably gritty that up too. I'd put major threats to this burgeoning democracy. Constant subversive threats from within by Cheliax. Maybe some super corrupt noble families trying to bring it down from within. That sort of stuff.

Liberty's Edge

The Minis Maniac wrote:
See were I running a game in Andoren I would probably gritty that up too. I'd put major threats to this burgeoning democracy. Constant subversive threats from within by Cheliax. Maybe some super corrupt noble families trying to bring it down from within. That sort of stuff.

Well, all that actually exists officially (well, most of the nobles have assimilated or moved since it's been decades, but a few do remain), plus the Lumber Consortium and other corrupt businessmen doing some shady stuff. The difference is that none of those problems are widespread within Andoran. They all exist, but life for the person on the street there is still pretty good, and the government is mostly idealistic rather than corrupt.

It's a nice place...but by no means a perfect one. And definitely one with outside enemies, Cheliax in particular, trying to bring it down.

The Exchange

Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
Deadmanwalking wrote:
Why does the world need to be darker than that again?

Well, about Erastil we'll have to agree to disagree, but that aside, I basically agree with what you said. Golarion already is a pretty dark place, so to me it's more about to pronounce what's already there than about to introduce new stuff making the setting even more horrific. I still remember how I impressed I was with the inclusion of the "Monster in the Closet" scene in Burnt Offerings, just to show what scary little critters those pesky goblins actually are. Not to speak about the next to adventures in the RotRL AP.

At the moment I'm runnning games mostly for my kids, and when using Paizo adventures, I basically have to tone down a lot of stuff. I guess that's part of the reason why I tend to crank it up to eleven when running the same stuff for adults. But even then, what's already there gives me a lot to work with.

The rest has probably to do with my rather pessimistic world view. In my mind, there is no such thing like an idealistic government. There is only corrupt. That's also part of why I don't believe in the past of Golarion having no gender issues. Fairy tale stuff and utterly unbelievable to me. And no interest in playing things like that.


WormysQueue wrote:
Fairy tale stuff and utterly unbelievable to me.

Uh, it's a setting where all the fairy tale stuff is actually true.

(And a 2 foot tall halfling (with sufficient power) could kill Godzilla King Mogaru with her bare hands in a single round.)

And, oh, Golarion has gender issues. But they aren't backed by GOOD deities.

Kotschtchie, on the hand, can cheerfully fulfill all your wife-beating needs =P


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WormysQueue wrote:
The rest has probably to do with my rather pessimistic world view. In my mind, there is no such thing like an idealistic government. There is only corrupt. That's also part of why I don't believe in the past of Golarion having no gender issues. Fairy tale stuff and utterly unbelievable to me. And no interest in playing things like that.

Not no gender issues, but also not a deep traditional "Women are subject to men" history either.

Honestly, it adds more complications than it takes away. If there was such a history, what happened? Was there a feminist movement? Is it still going on? What stage is it in?
Is it the same across different cultures and even more so different races? Did all the major races have roughly the same kind of unequal history?

Liberty's Edge

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WormysQueue wrote:
The rest has probably to do with my rather pessimistic world view. In my mind, there is no such thing like an idealistic government. There is only corrupt. That's also part of why I don't believe in the past of Golarion having no gender issues. Fairy tale stuff and utterly unbelievable to me. And no interest in playing things like that.

Well, there are certainly idealistic revolutions, and the governments spawned by such certainly become corrupt eventually (and indeed, one of the things statted in the Andoran book is a corrupt politician)...but Andoran is only 40 years old. Real corruption takes longer than that to overcome idealism.

As for 'no gender issues' that's not true in Golarion at all. There are plenty of gender issues, they just don't take the form of a long-term and universal prejudice against women. And there are sound sociological reasons for that, such as female deities and the fact that, while possibly less physically strong then men, women aren't any less magically strong and being prejudiced against people who can turn you into a toad is a poor survival strategy. Not that these facts keep such cultures from happening (Orc culture is like this, for example), but they tend to make them not persist very well over centuries.


The Minis Maniac wrote:
Odraude wrote:

I think when doing shades of gray, people tend to go quickly towards ultra violence and sexual violence to make the world seem gritty. I prefer more atmospheric and less on the nose showings of gritty fantasy settings that many people don't normally go for. Paranoia and mistrust, hopelessness, hypocrisy, sociopathy, famine, apathy, class war, bigotry... I feel these and more really add to that atmosphere one is looking to for a darker world without going straight to the jugular. Just remember that even in these dark times, there should still be some good people the PCs can trust.

I personally like to focus on a group's lack of empathy combined with hypocrisy to make compelling villains and that feeling of despair.

I get the whole GM treating darker or grey settings as a club against certain players. I think that is a bad GM thing. Moral ambiguity along with flaws and mistakes of society and people make things interesting for the players. But I have heard stories of the creepy GM victimizing a female player through bad GMing, and we all know thats awful. But if there is some misogyny done right where the player can slap it in the face and say I'm so much stronger. Then I think it CAN make an interesting plot. But we just need GMs to stop being creepy.

While true, I meant it more about using subtlety to make an atmosphere of despair, instead of going straight for the jugular with torture and rape to make a point that "this ain't your dad's D&D game!!" I've always been more of a fan of the Hitchcock method of setting up an atmosphere, where the bigger, more violent aspects are implied and used sparingly, but still used. Apathy and nihilism rule my setting, with a few people trying to do good in a world where ignorance and selfishness begets cruelty.

I've been playing a lot of Witcher 3 and that really summarizes what I'm looking for in a girtty setting. Gray with some points of light and blobs of shadow.


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The Minis Maniac wrote:
See were I running a game in Andoren I would probably gritty that up too. I'd put major threats to this burgeoning democracy. Constant subversive threats from within by Cheliax. Maybe some super corrupt noble families trying to bring it down from within. That sort of stuff.

Since Andoran is fantasy America, I'd play up the dangers of Manifest Destiny and native races getting moved to make room for more Andorans. And lynchmobs going after anyone that is suspected of being of noble blood.


Pathfinder Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber
Odraude wrote:
The Minis Maniac wrote:
See were I running a game in Andoren I would probably gritty that up too. I'd put major threats to this burgeoning democracy. Constant subversive threats from within by Cheliax. Maybe some super corrupt noble families trying to bring it down from within. That sort of stuff.
Since Andoran is fantasy America, I'd play up the dangers of Manifest Destiny and native races getting moved to make room for more Andorans. And lynchmobs going after anyone that is suspected of being of noble blood.

Can't forget to mention the Lumber Consortium and it's antics....

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