I ran a session of Into the Dark last weekend. Since I have not seen many AP reports for this game, I wrote one up.
During prep, Into the Dark recommends seeking inspiration in the geography of your home town. At first this seemed unworkable to me—I come from Eastern Europe, where post-apocalyptic vistas are not hard to find, but the friendly modernist mid-rises of the city I’m from are about as far from “dark fantasy” as you can imagine. Still, I wanted to play the game as written, GM procedures included, so I gave it a shot. I pulled out a paper map of Gdynia, placed a Well from the book at a distinctive location (Well of Blue Tears on top of the Sea Towers), and located the Lit settlement at some remove (district of Witomino, separated from the city proper by a forest). A few rolls on the Obstacles & Problems table, some more gazing at the map and the list of monsters, and I was done! To my surprise, the process was both productive and a lot of fun. It’s one of the highlights of the game.
We played the session over Google Hangouts. Each player rolled dice in the comfort of their own home, which was fast and simple but took away from the drama somewhat. Also, as a result I don’t have a record of what was rolled, so below I give my best attempt at reconstruction.
We started by creating characters, two brothers, one of whom follows in the family’s proud tradition of Shadowbinding while the other is a bit of a black sheep, having become a Lightbearer. The process was fast and fun, although we ran into some inconsistencies between the player print packet and the character sheets (does the Lightbearer’s Handgun cost
4/-?). I was afraid buying the gear up front—in contrast to Blades’ declare-you-have-it-when-you-use-it approach—would bog us down, but we breezed straight through it.
Our intrepid delvers start out on a road through the forest, tracking the Night Render that tore apart the settlement of Witomino. The Shadowbinder’s Fetch comes across an emaciated but still breathing woman just off the road, covered in spiderwebs. Against his brother’s advice, the Lightbearer attempts to free her (Prowess+Prowl?, got 4/5): the woman is freed, but unconscious, and three Spiderlings with blue eyes are closing in on the heroes! They try to flee, with the woman in fireman hold, mislaying their pursuers (Insight+Prowl); they lose two of the Spiderlings (4/5), but one is still on their track. The Lightbearer invokes the power of the Silver Flame to create a Ward, creating a barrier between them and the Spiderling (Resolve+Attune). He succeeds (4/5), at the expense of the Silver Flame dimming (tick 1 of the 6 segments of the Flame clock). The woman has no useful information, but promises to reward them when they return to Witomino.
Once they exit the forest and enter the city proper, the delvers find themselves on a long cross-street. Four- and five-story pre-Murk buildings on both sides, now dark and ruined, give it the appearance of a canyon. Down the center runs a fluorescent blue stream, unmistakably corrupted. Far down the street a tall tower stands, with a blue waterfall leaping down its side.
Our heroes start walking towards the tower, but a chasm filled with the vile blue liquid blocks their path. They employ a clever stratagem: the Lightbearer makes a bridge out of a Ward (no test, I just Said Yes), while the Shadowbinder channels the Murk to summon a pair of Murkbeasts, and offers them blood (Bladder of Fresh Blood) if they spread themselves in a thin layer over the Ward, allowing the delvers to pass on top of them. The beasts, hungry for life essence, agree (Resolve+Channel, 6), and the brothers continue on their way.
They overcome a couple more obstacles before reaching the Well: they puzzle their way out of the tower’s lobby, and scare off a flock of Furies on the long ascent to the roof. Finally, they are on the rooftop terrace, where they see the Well—and the sleeping dragon that guards it. The Shadowbinder pushes himself to sneak past it and drops the Silver Flame into the Well (Prowess+Prowl?, 6); closing it, but waking the dragon! The Lightbearer distracts the beast by firing his Handgun, allowing his brother to leap back to him, but fails to penetrate the dragon’s hide and is whacked with its tail (Insight+Shoot, 1-3, takes Tails Swipe damage). The tail swipe also destroys the staircase entrance. Fortunately one of the brothers brought a climbing kit. They use it to rapidly rappel down the side of the building, crashing through a window a couple stories down. The dragon takes to the air and breathes flames into the building (Corrupting Breath); the Lightbearer drops unconscious. Luckily the dragon cannot see them any more, and after circling the tower a few more times, departs.
We make no more rolls, declaring that the delvers return to the Lit lands and pocket the reward from the Order. They also sell a couple items of loot acquired along the way (generated with the aid of the inspiring loot tables).
We all enjoyed the game: it would have been better in person, but we had a good time and told a captivating story together. I particularly liked the out-of-the-box solution to the chasm. As far as the system is concerned, the GM prep procedures, provided Wells and monsters, and random loot tables all shone. I was not bold enough to use the “Random Things in the Murk” tables to generate scenes on the fly, but I’m excited to try them next time.
I’m more ambivalent about the return of old-school HP. Harm in Blades has its problems: players always forget about it, even if you treat roleplaying Harm as an XP trigger. But HP is hard to weave into the fiction, and forces the GM to either prepare the challenge level carefully, or accept that the characters may die quite suddenly. My reading is that Into the Dark wants you to take the second approach and embrace character death.
Embracing death is easier said than done, especially when the characters die through no fault of their own. In the final scene, after the rappelling into the tower, I just asserted that the dragon breathes on the delvers, dealing them damage. In Blades this would be standard practice, I think: as a powerful opponent, the dragon can place the protagonists on the back foot, forcing them to resist their attack. But here, I rolled so much damage that a less-than-perfect resist roll could not save the Lightbinder—and indeed, he went down to 0 HP. I was rather unhappy with the outcome, and declared (contra rules as written) that he falls unconscious rather than dying. I’m not sure if that was the right call.