Wednesday, February 01, 2012

A Better Points of Light – Afraid of the Dark

Darkness fell across the surface of the world, and civilization ended.


Entire empires were obliterated in a single night. Nations with histories older than words were toppled with ease. As the lights of every house went dim, the Darkness entered, and smothered, and tore, and rended. The only safe places were those that were used to beating back the night, the lighthouses, the watchtowers, the labyrinthine catacombs of the dwarves and the phosphorescent forests of the elves. These places, where the light never died, where illuminations magical held back the Dark, were all that was left.


Ten thousand years have passed, and while we have begun to rebuild, the Dark is still out there, waiting. It feasts on the foolish and the brave, any willing to step out into it without torch or match. We have cities again, built against the walls of the lighthouses, reaching out only as far as the light can touch. We have nations again, after a fashion, and trade. Torches that burn ever bright are our only salvation, and they come at such great cost that a mage can only fashion a few each year. But progress is being made. Every year, we beat back the Darkness ten yards at a time. We are winning, we are taking our world back by inches and feet.


But we know what is out there, we know what lives in the Dark, and we are scared. The small, skittish things that scavenge close to the light, those things we can deal with. But there are bigger shadows moving in the Darkness, and when those come for us, many fear we are well and truly doomed.

I had this idea for a setting while reading the very beginning of a webcomic. What if we took the Points of Light idea literally? What if the entire world was swarmed by malicious Darkness, and the only places left were the lighthouse cities and the watchtower fortresses? What if every adventure came with a sudden and desperate need for light.

So I decided to write it like I would for a submission to Wizards of the Coast for their Great Setting Search, the one that brought us Eberron. I’m calling it “Valgust.”

Fantasy Setting Proposal Template

1. Core Ethos Sentence. “Valgust is heroic Points of Light D&D taken to its most extreme.”

2. Who are the heroes? The heroes are the Bringers, those brave souls who push back against the Darkness and bring the relics of civilizations lost back to their people. They are the Wardens, who watch the mystical lights that keep the Dark at bay, allowing their cities to grow and prosper. They are the Foragers, who bring food and water and building supplies from the catacombs beneath the world or from the Elven cities in the Deepest Forests.

3. What do they do? The Bringers are adventurers good and true, forging out from their comfortable homes to wrest prosperity, technology, magic and resources from the Dark’s grip. The Wardens empower magical crystals with the ability to burn brightly, and fight back the Darkness with the power of their faith. The Foragers are explorers and traders, getting what they need by any means necessary. In practice, though, the lines are seldom that clear, and often the three groups work closely together, piecing civilization together from the scraps that are left to them. They work with politicians, planners, teachers, scholars, mages, and all walks of civilization to bring light and life and happiness back to the world.

4. Threats, Conflicts, Villains The Darkness is ever-present. It has been so for as long as anyone can remember. There is no light in the world, and where the Darkness exists, so too do the things the live within its cloak. There are creatures that once lived in the light, but have been twisted and perverted by the Dark’s whispering, taunting words, and there are things that have never seen the light of day, crafted from the stuff of the Dark itself. Who knows what is leading them, what they have planned, how they keep the volatile forces under their rule controlled. Also, there is a distinctly paranoid feel to the setting; everyone is acting in their own best interest, and that will often get people (and sometimes entire cities) killed.

5. Nature of magic. Once, magic was everywhere. Upon a time, swords were crafted that could hew castles in twain and wizards roamed that could set entire nations ablaze. The Darkness has smothered magic like a blanket. There are still some who can find it, but they are far fewer than once they were, and their skills are coveted. A weapon made with a simple enchantment can fetch entire kingdoms as their price.

6. What’s new? What’s different? Valgust is a setting that takes the idea of Points of Light and makes it literal. There are only a few places in the world with light, fighting back a malicious darkness that wants to smother the world. It is a deadly world of faded ideals, where people are forced to do anything to survive. The shadowborn are a new enemy type, three new classes (Bringer, Warden, Forager), a setting-established nemesis, plenty of room for various sorts of play (exploration, combat, role-playing), and a world that can easily incorporate anything from any book ever published for the 4th Edition of Dungeons & Dragons, a dark horror feel that steps away from Ravenloft, a hyper-deadly setting that is distinct from Dark Sun.

1 comment:

R - R A F said...

I think it's sad to see so many comments on the Open Letter and none in this interesting article. People once took more interest in homebrew settings and ideas for our favorite game, but I noticed that the interest has progressively died out.
Anyway, I think this idea has potential. I think Rokugan had a similar darkness, but I'm not sure if it was literal like this one. Anyway, I see the main problems of the setting as two big questions:
- Are all classic monster now "darkness-themed"? (Wouldn't this reduce their variability?)
- What would make the three new classes different? (Wouldn't they be better as organizations?)
That said, I started picturing a lot of locations within the setting, like castles with big lighthouses and a beautiful city, the only wealthy one, in which magic light is everywhere again, a metropolis that is trying to reach out to the old empires glory. It would be an interesting place because an entire campaign could be based around questioning why would this single city stand out, what made it possible, why didn't the darkness attack it...
Good read!