System Design Document
This particular document is meant to clarify the inner workings of the Death Unto Darkness Season One, both system- and metaplot-wise, as well as what themes this game attempts to explore.
We have decided that this first season would have a central narrative, as to offset the risk of the game eventually ending up feeling aimless. Therefore, each event, while self-contained and focused on its own story, will still be connected with the overarching metaplot.
- To create a vision of the Dark Millenium that is inclusive to all OOC orientations, identities and abilities – the Imperium doesn’t care what someone looks like, what they identify as, or who they choose to partner with, so long as they are loyal (and not Abhuman). At the same time, we aim to preserve the cloying horror of the setting and the grim and hateful nature of the Imperium – with a focus on existential and psychological terror instead of jump scares.
- To provide a coherent underlying narrative to the game; one that it is accessible enough that players can feel encouraged to interact with even outside of events: on top of yearly XP, characters will have the opportunity to act in the universe at large, while exploring plots, and interacting with permanent NPCs. Furthermore, players can find pursuable plot hooks through a multitude of means, both during uptime (through NPCs, sideplots, items, etc.) and downtime (through player downtimes, Sector Updates, etc.)
- To create a visually impressive game, where players are encouraged to invest actively in the look and feel of their kit, and where the not-for profit nature of events ensures every bit of money not spent upon site hire and catering is invested directly into improving the visual look/feel of crew kit.
- To create a game where players feel like they can be proactive, and what they do will actively have echoing impacts on the narrative of the season, and the direction of events.
- To reimagine and homage the original Death Unto Darkness LARP, under a new team of writers.
Character Conflict and PVP
Death Unto Darkness is primarily a PvE game, and the team’s objective is to focus on these situations. However, while characters are generally expected to work together, competing factional objectives and goals will sometimes be assigned, and cause social conflict – which has the potential for escalation to violence. Political and social conflict is a major part of the 40k setting – differences in theology, philosophy, morality and methodology can run hot at times, leading to violent conflict between characters.
Similarly, there are circumstances where ‘reactive violence’ (where social conflict legitimately requires a sudden violent action) may occur, with potentially lethal consequences, (e.g. finding out or indicating one will reveal someone else’s dark secrets, or threatening them with violence). In addition, Madness and Corruption cards (as well as Mind Control and Mental Roleplaying effects) can lead to situations where spontaneous violence will erupt, as characters will turn on their friends as the result of their deteriorating sanity, the seductive control of the Dark Gods or Daemonic possession.
To this extent, we cannot promise any player they will be entirely safe from any and all PvP violence. If you are uncomfortable with this notion, then we acknowledge and accept that this may not be the LRP for you.
Fore more on PvP see here
The Social Contract(s)
We rely on our players to maintain a high-quality game – both as players and as crew. Having a large number of crew members is vital to give our players the best possible experience; therefore, our social contract with players involves a “play one, crew one” agreement between us and our players. We understand that it is not always possible to attend every event, either as a player or crew, and that in certain circumstances (like an event set up in a specific planet or location, when another certain PCs will be in attendance, etc.), players might want to skip crewing an event so they can play it. We understand that, but we also ask our players to fulfil their side of the contract as soon as possible.
Crewing is incentivised by the offer of priority booking (to an event of the individual’s choice) – in order to ensure fair treatment of those who engage in the social contract. Any player who has played two events in a row will be placed on a low-priority list until they crew an event.
As for the Social Contract between players, it is the expectation that all players will endeavour to show respect to each other out of game, no matter how heated IC politics get – this is, and will always remain, a game, and, while investment in character stakes are encouraged, please do not allow them to spill into out of character disrespect for other players.
It is the aim of the game rules and combat design to encourage cinematic and entertaining fights to look at, rather than encouraging players to fight competitively. Combat is intended to be cinematic, with big telegraphed blows, and the intent of things looking mildly choreographed. This applies as much in Player vs Player fights as it does in Player vs Crew fights – the aim of Death Unto Darkness combat is to serve as a visceral physical way of expressing the violent moments of the story, not to ‘win’ a fight.
While there is active encouragement of IC prejudice against certain IC optional traits (like being a mutant or an Abhuman), it is expected of all characters to treat each other free of other prejudices (like sexism, ableism, racism, etc.). Prejudiced language and discrimination that target real life traits of a player is not tolerated, IC or OOC, and may result in summary removal from events, and you being asked not to return to the system.
For more details on OC rules see here
Season One: “Malleus”
Sources of Inspiration
Primary: Inquisitor (Wargame) (thematically) and the Inq28 Community (visually) with aspects of Necromunda (new and old edition), Jupiter Ascending and other elements taken from across the various editions of the setting.
Secondary: Watchers of the Throne and The Carrion Throne by Chris Wraight, the works of Aaron Debenski Bowden. The works of Fantasy Flight Games. Battlefleet Gothic, and other story-driven specialist games played a huge part in this.
Tertiary: Anything by Dan Abnett, Ciaphas Cain, and a collection of short stories from across the BL publishing history.
This season is focused on the intercene conflicts of the Inquisition and the Imperium: as field agents for the Inquisition, characters must safely navigate the whims and demands of their powerful superiors, as well as the strict rules of their Imperium, in order to survive to (hopefully) see a better tomorrow (whatever that might mean for their characters). Faced with an overwhelmingly powerful enemy in the form of the Warmaster, the characters must unpick a series of conspiracies in order to save themselves, and the Imperium.
The characters are in the middle of one of the biggest shadow wars for the soul of the Imperium – either because they were present in Everholt when it all began, or because their allegiances to a faction made them privy to the awful truth: the Sector Governor Armelius Durovera (and currently the Warmaster of the Prosperitas Crusade), the man responsible for the successful reforming, and (many say) salvation of the Prosperitas Sector, is, in fact, a Daemon who took the human form of an imperial nobleman.
But to so much as whisper such an accusation would be considered High Treason – Durovera seems untouchable, loved by the masses, and with a quickly dwindling number of open detractors. Led by the Inquisitorial Conclave, the characters are now tasked with having to secretly undermine and bring down the creature firmly entrenched in the throne of the Sector – while conducting day-by-day operations for their superiors.
Individual events focus on individual themes, to the point that events will often come across as very different in feel and even ‘genre’. However, despite the different deliveries, the season themes will be recurring in every event:
- Overwhelming Odds: the characters are fighting a losing war against an enemy that cannot be touched directly. Worse, they are isolated among the fellow imperials they are trying to protect, because nobody would believe them – and would very likely oppose them were they to know the truth. To make things worse, the Warmaster doesn’t just have control over countless resources, he is a powerful Warp entity pursuing what is obviously a long-term endgame. To make it all worse, they still have to face the forces of the Archenemy, the anti-Imperium rebel group the Rising Flame and the growing threat of the alien Xenos.
- Monsters We Are: in the process of fulfilling their duties and saving the Imperium from itself, the Warmaster and the usual dangers that plague it, the characters have to find just how far they will fall in order to achieve their goals and survive. Furthermore, when faced with their own past or their own darker self, characters might find out that the monster inside is often the most dangerous one.
- Divided Loyalties: the characters must serve many masters: the Imperium, individual Inquisitors, the Ecclesiarchy, the Imperial Navy, several Forge Worlds – depending on their faction and current mission – plus the Inquisitorial Conclave, that leads the secret effort to destroy the Sector Governor. All of these people and groups have their own agendas, which will frequently clash; and characters, being individuals, will also have their personal goals, as well. At the end of the day, they must decide with whom their true loyalties lie, and if betraying their allies and friends, their orders or their own morals will ultimately be for the greater good.
- Temptation: many temptations lie in the path of the characters – to abuse their power as agents of the Imperium and their skills – just to make their incredibly hard missions a little easier; to see everyone else as pawns and objects, as not to waver in one’s loyalty to the Imperium when they, inevitably, are crushed by it; to just give in to that little voice that whispers dark promises of power – just give in one time, how bad can it be? In this dark, grim universe it is easy to give in to the sweet lure of temptation.
A totalitarian state that rules its people by fear, ruthlessly censoring its own history, and engaging in the systematic oppression and/or active destruction of non-humans and mutated/evolved human groups. Relentlessly inclusive to its own people, it still controls them by fear and keeps strict order with threats of violence, reeducation and worse. The Imperium is intended to be both Master and Antagonist to the player characters, an organisation they have to work within and are expected to obey unquestioningly, but equally representing a permanently looming threat to them should they choose to turn their backs on it.
A monolithic lie of an organisation, which is, in fact, a bunch of independent people driven by individual objectives philosophies and goals. These are individual NPCs that have dangerous drives, and some may end up becoming challenging antagonists if the characters are not careful while dealing with them. The Inquisition is the primary driving force of events, at least, in some shape or fashion.
The Player Characters:
Characters are defined by a word: outsiders.
They are products of the Imperium, and, yet, they are individuals who display unique talents and a capacity for freedom of thought that might otherwise make them a threat to the Imperium if they weren’t leashed to the organisations they serve. They may hold to the hardline beliefs of the tyrannical organisation they serve, or they may believe that they can change it; the Imperium tolerates them as outsiders because they can complete the tasks that it cannot entrust to the masses of its oppressed population who obey it with willing complicity.
“The kind of person who becomes an imperial agent, a protagonist, is an outsider in the Imperium – they possess skills and talents that set them apart, they are better educated than the Imperial masses – and they may not share the majority’s opinions, and may even be quite radical in their beliefs. They stand out in a crowd either for their eccentricities, or because the crowd is too terrified to stand near them. And, so, they will forever stand apart and outside… and that is exactly why their Masters noticed and chose them to serve.”
Though this can be viewed in negative terms by the character, their nature as outsiders, and as potential threats to the Imperium – is exactly why their Masters are willing to expend them on such dangerous tasks.
Styles of Play and Characters
With the game running two events a year (with room for sanctioned events and a different time table should we find it necessary), it is intended to be supported by a downtime system, as well, for active inter-event engagement with plot. The game should be approachable with a idea that it is driven by all manner of skilled individuals, and that not all problems can be resolved by punching them until they stop moving. A system that interacts just as well with combat skills or lores, and is fueled by player-driven creativity to solve problems is what we are aiming to foster.
- Combat-focused characters will feel at home, with military tensions rising, as well as the ever-present physical threat of servants of the Archenemy, and of enemies within. However, a pure combat character is going to function best inside a balanced group, where their skills will be complemented by more intellectual characters, who will help them tackle threats that cannot be solved by force alone.
- Investigative and Social characters will be equally useful, between drawing information from enemies and allies alike – the Inquisition is suspicious by nature, and sees all alliances are temporary. So, robust intelligence management will enable individuals to gain an upper hand in understanding and overcoming potential threats.
- Leaders and Proactive Characters will find that there is plenty for them to engage in, and we do encourage players who want to take a proactive lead to investigate or create something within the setting to approach us with ideas for forging their narrative. However, although there are traits that provide a character nebulous ‘status’, no leadership-focused character should be able to magically pull rank / pull a Rosette / pull a title – to automatically be charge of any given group of PCs. PC leadership is earned, weaselled and grabbed, not bought at character generation
- Psykers and other Abhumans from minority groups of the Imperium are equally useful, with unique and vital skills – even if they are oppressed and treated as less than human, with the Imperium and its beliefs always represent a constant looming threat to them. Therefore, any players choosing to play these types of characters should be very aware that the majority of the Imperium follows the belief that you are ‘less than human’ and deserving of fear, suspicion and rigid discrimination and control. If you do not like to experience IC discrimination and hatred, please do NOT play an Abhuman character.
- Radical and Liberal Characters are, as noted above, expected to be more common amongst player characters, who are intended to be outsiders and misfits – however, please understand that it is a design intent of the setting and the game that the the Imperium is not a moral government, but a tyranny. Holding views that challenge its nature, such as the mistreatment of abhumans, is completely reasonable as a character trait – but be aware that you are likely to face IC consequences for expressing those views publically, either from other PCs or from the Imperium itself, which is likely to label anyone attempting to challenge its beliefs as seditious. This is intended to provide a fun and interesting IC challenge that don’t normally crop up in most LARPs – as working for an essentially tyrannical organisation should not be an easy process. At the same time, this is why it is not required of players to create characters who conform to Imperial norms; that is why we will write plot that is intended to challenge those who conform as often as we will write plot that will create challenges those who don’t.
There is a defined meta-narrative that unites all the events of Season 1, and every single one contribute to its resolution. While this meta-story is already drafted, it is still in a state of flux, as it is affected directly by player actions – to the point where entire events had to be rewritten or postponed to better deal with the aftermath of player character’s actions.
The final goal of Season 1 is to position those that survive the endgame in a place where they will be more likely to become NPCs, and potentially appear in Season 2 (with original player permission, of course). Furthermore, we aim to create forward-going echoes of past actions, to allows us to build a DuD metaverse, in order to stress the design objective that player actions have consequences.
As Season 1 will be a self-contained narrative, the theoretical Season 2 would not only see PCs not returning, but also represent totally different themes to the 1st, and explore different aspects of the setting. Our vision for the ‘final mission’ event is to run over a bank holiday weekend/several days, with all players participating in missions, and contributing both as crew and players, so they can all be part of the final conclusion of the story.
There may be call for “aftermath” events to conclude the few dangling plot threads if there are any, but it is very much intended that Season 1 will end with player character narratives resolved.