Designing "Darkness of UR" - Inspirations


I recently launched the next stage of play testing for my TTRPG: "Darkness of UR". When it comes to any RPG, one of the main things I believe you need to convey is what is the overall theme of the game. What are players & GMs going to expect from the game? What is the core gameplay loop? What is the tone/theme of it all?

Theme & Tone

As I explain in the a short introduction paragraph in the playtest document, Darkness of UR is a dark fantasy game with elements of horror. I tell people that it's basically The Three Musketeers (the original book) meets The Witcher (the book version) meets The Witch (the movie). PCs (referred to as adventurers in the game) traverse a gloomy landscape reminiscent of 17th century Central Europe and encounter monsters and horrible fairytales come to life. As a German, I draw inspiration from our dark (and they're really dark) folktales and myths as recorded by the brothers Grimm and other local variants. These aren't the cheerful tales as told by Disney. No...these are the original dark tales that haunted the corners of villages throughout Germany.

The other area of inspiration that is evident in the game and the setting is that of the true, real life horrors experienced by the people of Central Europe during the Thirty Years' War. War atrocities (e.g., most of the inhabitants of the city of Magdeburg were butchered in one siege), climate upheaval in the form of the Tiny Ice Age (e.g., reports of people freezing to death in the woods in the middle of summer), societal changes, famine, and the plague. It was a truly horrible time to be alive in many parts of what is now Germany between the years 1618-1648.

As horrible as these dark fairytales and real world occurrences were, they are exceptional fodder for a dark fantasy setting. But I do not want players & GMs to go into a campaign of Darkness of UR thinking that it is a hopeless world. Far from it. Following the unleashing of the cataclysmic event known as "The Grimm" just a few decades prior to campaign begin, the PCs are part of a world reshaping itself and rebuilding their societies. The PCs are part of the hope for a better world.

As a German and an historian who focused on the early-modern period (roughly 1500-1800), I always felt a little let down by the lack of RPGs set during this general period and in particular the 17th century. Therefore, I decided to create one myself that address all of these themes set in this tumultuous century.

Darkness of UR is also an homage to my home country of Germany and our rich history of folktales and myths, many of which have become so common place in modern society and pop culture that their darker roots have been forgotten. By the way, the "UR" in the title is derived from the German prefix "ur-" which denotes old, ancient, grand, etc. (e.g., old-growth forest = Urwald or great-grandfather = Urgrossvater).

Gameplay Loop

Every game, whether on a console, a board game, or a TTRPG has a "gameplay loop"...essentially what the game is about and what players are (to a degree) expected to do. The beauty of RPGs is that they have a more open and flexible system. Players and GMs can take them in any direction they a point. Classic D&D is about exploration, survival, finding treasure, and overcoming monsters. These themes are backed into the mechanics of the older editions. I believe that a good RPG has a core gameplay theme and builds mechanics that reinforce it. A game that kind of does a little of everything ends up not doing much of anything properly (yeah...I'm looking at you D&D 5e).

Darkness of UR has a number of sub-systems that encourage exploration, survival, and outpost building. Most Adventurers are wandering past the safety of the Boundary and trying to reclaim the lost lands from the dark denizens of the Grimm. Whether they are doing this for themselves or a patron of some sort does not matter. But moving into the wilderness, discovering lost settlements, battling the elements and dark creatures, and eventually setting up a safe haven are all at the core of what this game is about. I have designed mechanics that reinforce these themes. Within Darkness of UR you will find details on traveling, weather, hunting, finding herbs, etc.

That all being said, you can have a great time playing the game and never leaving a city. The old Urlander cities are rife with intrigue, plots, and power schemes. However, to fully experience everything the game system and the setting have to offer, occasional forays into the wilderness are highly encouraged.

This was just a short overview of what inspired Darkness of UR and what you can expect as a player and GM. In the coming weeks and months I will detail more aspects of the game and my designs. In the meantime, if you want to grab a copy of the playtest packet you can find it on my Patreon page right HERE.