[EDIT - Addtional information has been added to this post since the first draft.]
In the interest of promoting a dark fantasy RPG setting I've become quite enamored with, I'd like to share a few posts regarding the campaign I've been running for the past year or so, on and off, to generate discussion (read: to pimp my favorite setting).
The setting is called Midnight, from Fantasy Flight Games. It uses the D&D 3.5 ruleset, with some sweeping modifications to core classes and magic. For those who find the D20 OGL cringeworthy, a significant amount of work has been done to convert the setting to True20, by fans over at the unofficial fansite for Midnight, Against the Shadow. Additional information and resources can be found at the fan-produced SRD at Darkness Falls.
Following will be a setting summary along with some game session summaries and other tidbits. I invite you to read, comment, and use the links above to explore further if you find something that interests you.
This is an email I sent to prospective players some time ago to introduce them to the setting.
In an age so long past it has no name, there was a war in heaven. The gods banded together against the dark will of Izrador and wove a great magic to banish him in physical form upon the world of Aryth.
But something went wrong.
They succeeded in banishing Izrador to the material realm, but in doing so they also shut themselves out, having created an impenetrable veil between the earth and the heavens.
This was the Sundering.
Since this time immemorial, the gods have not answered the prayers of the faithful, and divine magic is all but lost. The people of Aryth learned to embrace more natural magics, channeling the energy of the world itself, and that of the lost spirits unable to leave the material realm. The most common of people has the potential of weaving simple hedge magic to assist in daily tasks, and other, more dedicated students wield much greater forces and energies.
But divine magic was not entirely gone. Izrador slept.
The dawn of the First Age began with the coronation of Aradil, Witch Queen of the elven court in the forest of Erethor, on the continent of Eredane. The twilight, many thousands of years later, came with the first invasion of Izrador, his faithful Legates, and hordes of Orcs bred in the frozen north and heretofore unseen. But Aradil had known of this day, and spent long decades in preparation of the younger fey and the human immigrants who had carved out the nation of Erenland in central Eredane. The dwarves of the Kaladrun mountains in the east joined the cause, and the free peoples of Eredane fought as one to turn back the tide of darkness.
But it would not last.
Aradil knew that Izrador was not defeated, and slumbered yet in the north. The Second Age passed and the peoples of Eredane turned their concerns inward, but the Witch Queen was ever vigilant. At the end of the Second Age the second invasion of Izrador was a harder battle, bloodier, as Dragons seared the skies and grounds on both sides. Only by the intervention of an elder wyrm did the forces of light prevail.
The Third Age was brief. Aradil was ever vigilant, but with the increasing fracturing of the races of Eredane, she was powerless to unite them in time for the final battle. It was then that the darkest hour saw the betrayal of four great heroes, subverted to Izrador's cause. The last stands of Erenland were pitifully short slaughters.
Izrador has won.
In the hundred years since the beginning of the Last Age, the dusk of Eredane, Izrador's occupation of the human lands has been harsh and nearly total. The orc legions and the watchful eyes of the Legates, the dark priests, have preserved the fissures between races, even between peoples, turning brother against brother and son against father in their feeble efforts to eke out a miserable living under the shadow. The last holdouts of light fight a losing battle in the depths of the Kaladrun mountains, where isolated clans of dwarves make the insurgent orcs pay for every inch of ground in gallons of blood; and on the edge of the forest of Erethor, along the Burning Line where every able bodied elf, unswayingly loyal to the seemingly immortal Witch Queen, fights a hopeless guerilla battle to slow the advance of the foul orcs and the turncoat human mercenaries.
This is the world of Midnight.
It is a time of darkness, where hope and freedom are but lone, feeble candles in the ever increasing night. Will there be a dawn? What can one person do when evil has already won?
What can four people do? or six?
This is not a time of might. Heroes are made in the silence of their refuges, in the subtle acts of sabotage that do little more than unsteady the war machine of Izrador. Literacy has been stamped out, magic and weapons outlawed, even metal tools restricted. Legates hunt the resistance with the persistence of bloodhounds, sniffing out magic in the deepest recesses of the land, making examples of the discontent to keep the wary, fearful masses in line.
Heroes are made in the quiet defiance of small actions. They are not heralded, they are not welcome; they are mistrusted, and betrayed by the grumbling stomach of an old man, or the terrified cry of a child. They are unsung, unappreciated.
But the true measure of a hero is that they willingly pledge their life to the protection of those who will never know of their sacrifice.
Are you such a hero?
Midnight, Second Edition, is a D20 dark fantasy setting using the D&D 3.5 ruleset. There are significant alterations to some core classes; others are discarded completely. There are different rules for channeling magic, different forms of magic unscryable by the hounds of the Legates, such as Charms, and herbal concoctions. There are Covenant Items of lost legend that grow along with those lucky enough to wield them. There is a wealth of new potential in Heroic Paths and a plethora of Prestige Classes and new Legendary Classes.
There will be no final battle in the world of Aryth; it has already been lost. All that remains is stamping out the fires of resistance.
Can you light more?
Below are some basic changes from typical D&D:
All spell-casting classes have been replaced by two classes: the
Legates, priests of the dark god, who are the sole purveyors of divine
magic, and have their own spell list; and the Channeler, which combines
basically everything else; if it's on any spell list OTHER THAN the
cleric, paladin, or PrCs of either, it's on the Channeler list. This
gives access to some divine spells such as cure, etc., from the Druid
and Ranger lists; but all spells are considered arcane, as their power
source is channeled from the arcane energies of Aryth itself. There is
also innate magic, from racial abilities and certain feats.
Temples of Izrador have artifacts called black mirrors that suck the
arcane magic of Aryth from an area (increasing DCs and spell energy
casting cost within their effect, and otherwise potentially nullifying
magic items). Legates also have incorporeal spirits called astiraxes
(which possess animals for physical form) that can 'smell' channeled
magic effects within a certain radius. All of which makes life hard for
the good guys.
Core classes for PCs are:
Wildlander (effectively a ranger without spell progression) Barbarian
Defender (effectively a watered down monk without the oriental or
Channelers come in three flavors: Hermetic (Int), Spiritual (Wis), and
Charismatic(Cha). Each has the same spell list, but they learn spells in
different ways, and have a few minor differences in class features.
Elf (wood, snow, jungle, or sea)
Halfling (agrarian or nomad)
Dwarf (surface or underground)
Human (Sarcosan (arabian nights), Dorn (norse) or Erenlander (mix))
Half-races are fey combinations only; no fey race interbreeds with
Dworg (orc and dwarf, generally treated the same as half-drow) Dwarrow
(dwarf and gnome) Elfling (jungle elf and halfling)
More info to players in a later email:
Because magic items are outlawed in the conquered territories of Erenland, and due to the Legates' uncanny ability to find and execute bearers of such items, such items are difficult at best to come by, and dangerous at least to carry. Even Channelers have been known to be identified by the residue of magical auras left by the spells they cast.
Still, there are always alternatives. Rules for Herbalism are detailed for creating natural implements that mimic certain spell-like effects, of small scope and limited duration. Similarly, Charms can be crafted as innocuous items that store singular spells for one-time usage that do not radiate magic auras until triggered; at which point they are rendered useless. Certain feats and Heroic Paths also make natural healing (using the Heal skill) a viable alternative, given sufficient time and safety.
Because the Sundering has cut off the world of Aryth from all non-material planes, the spirits of the dead have nowhere to go, and thus the undead, or Fell, are much more common and problematic than in other settings. As such, all cultures have developed death-related rituals in their efforts to prevent the fallen, enemy and friend alike, from rising again.
As well as magic, literacy and weaponry are outlawed, in order to keep the surviving conquered peoples isolated from one another and threatless. Even smithing is closely monitored, if not outright restricted. The man who walks into a town bearing a two-handed sword across his back may soon find he hasn't the hands to wield it with.
As such, all characters start out illiterate. There are three levels of competency in language, and some languages offer "cascade" competency to others. There is no real "common" tongue, though the closest would be Gnomish, or "Trader's Tongue." There are specific rules governing starting languages and acquiring fluency or literacy which differ from the core rules. Suffice to say they're more expensive with respect to skill point cost.
Another significant change from the core rules is there is little value in monetary currency, as it cannot be eaten or worn. Finding a cache of gold is like finding a bag of sand. It's heavy, and nearly useless.
Item values are rated at "value points" which are initially equivalent to gold piece cost when equipping your starting character; however, any item's value varies widely depending on where you are in the world, what the current supply and demand are, whether it's a restricted item, and the mood of the person you're bartering with.
Another consideration when thinking about character types: In the conquered lands, elves and dwarves are killed on sight. Halflings might escape notice, but as their kind were nearly eradicated during the invasion, they're very rare. Only gnomes move about Erenland with anything akin to freedom, as the forces of Shadow depend on their fleets of river barges to pass supplies and troops up and down the major rivers flowing into and out of the great Sea of Pelluria, a freshwater inland sea that dominates the geography of Erenland.