Chapter 12: Game Creation
In the first chapter of these rules we discussed the idea of collectively creating a group's characters, so as best to furnish a group with tools for storytelling. Fate, a spectacular game, at its best during character creation, takes this a step further by actually having the game world, and campaign built in tandem with characters. As Darkrealm is designed specifically to cater to games set in Allornus this would be difficult, but it does ensure a commonality, and a sense of belonging that beds characters into plot, so it's not inconceivable that a director might author his overarching plot as its protagonists are authored, leaving players to decide on details as core as setting. Meanwhile Dungeons & Dragons has, for years, published a specific Dungeon Master's Guide as part of its core rules, detailing how to build adventures. Darkrealm offers this single chapter to prospective directors on how to ideate a game.

The Player

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Character Goals

One of the most important jobs a player has is to make his character seem real, alive, immersed in and participating in the world. This is one of the few things that is not the job of the director. And for this reason, a player shouldn't just have his character sit idle until the director feeds him a plot hook. Nor should he gaily follow every morsel the Director places in front of him because he feels the story expects it of him. To this end it is a player's job to ensure his character has goals, and make these goals clear to the Director as play progresses, and most of all to pursue these goals, especially when achieving them contravenes the story! It might be as simple as amassing a large enough fortune to buy a plot of land and settle and start a family, or as complex and story-bending as being the heir to a conquered kingdom seeking to retake his throne, or even as character-shaping as being a sadist who simply sells his sword for the love of the blood. Whatever the case, players must never lose sight of their character's goals - their actions govern what happens in the game. If your character decides he has enough money and wants to retire, it is up to the Director to come up with a way to maintain the game's momentum - that is not the player's job.

Being a Director

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The Director's Pledge

The Darkrealm demands that all Directors using the system (yes, we'll be monitoring you) make one promise to their players: what their characters do, big or small matters. This may sound self-evident, but many published adventures are just an exercise in navigating from one scene to the next, without a care for how the characters get there. The story is pre-existing, and it's up to the players to just populate it. This is bad Directing. If the players have no agency in their fates, why should they be engaged? Why not just tell them the story? If it takes players three days to reach the evil wizard's tower rather than the expected seven then the tower should be a different place. If they are expected then the wizard hasn't had time to prepare for them. If they're not expected then perhaps something is happening, change the game, it may not necessarily be a reward for speedy travel, maybe the wizard had initially been using the days the characters were travelling meeting with his mercenaries, but the characters early arrival means the mercenaries are still present. Similarly if they take twenty days because they had to recover from some serious wounds, it should matter. Perhaps spies tell the wizard about their coming, maybe he has moved on altogether. Players will never know what the alternative would have been, they can't rewind time, but they need to be able to trust that the things they're spending their time doing matter, and so the Director's job is to pledge to his players that if they take an action, any action, if there is a logical effect on how the story proceeds (or to keep things dynamic, sometimes even if there isn't) then it will be noted. Pay attention to what they're doing, be thoughtful about it, take your time. Your players work hard, and they deserve this work to matter.

Similarly, keep track of what matters to them. If they always make a point of repairing their weapons whenever they're in a town, then have enemies weapons break more regularly - perhaps even at a crucial moment. If what they're doing has a payoff they're more likely to give you titbits that actually enhance your game or do some of your job for you, so just pay attention, and make changes accordingly.

Finally, don't forget that we've just told the players to pursue their characters goals and leave the story to you. Let them derail your story! It's their world. Never lead them by the nose. Encourage them to take over more and more of the story. Give them tools to pursue their goals, but don't use these tools as bait to string them along a linear plot line. The advantage of a pen and paper role playing game over one on a computer is a player's freedom to do absolutely anything, and so they should be able to. If your player is portraying a character who simply no longer cares about your story good for him! Consider the consequences of his no longer being involved in the events taking place, prepare to play those consequences out, and see where he wants to take the story. It's the character's story, not yours. You just tell it.

Let Them Succeed or Fail on Their Own

Many Directors will be tempted to build the occasional failure into the narrative. Resist this urge. Every player will have a bad run one the dice at some stage or another, and whether they succeed or fail should be something players feel they have control over. If they're doing remarkably well in an episode feel free to fast-track the final confrontation, if they're doing poorly feel free to throw a spanner in the works. Many Directors have written great stories, and are so eager to tell them as they're written they relegate players almost to spectators. This would be great if you were a novelist or a screen writer, but sadly this is an RPG and you have a mob of co-authors who need to feel like what they're doing matters. So a Director must let his characters fail occasionally. The Darkrealm does not advocate killing characters, unless it serves the story, and Directors are welcome to fiddle the rules to serve the narrative at key times, but only ever to enhance the game, not to keep it on a rigid track. If the players are slow rescuing the kidnapped princess, forgo your big climactic battle with the kidnappers and have them slit her throat and escape - you'll find the backlash of a king whose daughter the characters have essentially killed could be more interesting than what you initially had planned. If players don't feel like their success is guaranteed or their failures planned, scripted events then they will feel like what they're doing matters, and thus like they have agency in the authorship of the game - which they have a right to.

Campaign or Series

The Darkrealm has adopted terminology from the television industry to describe the individual elements of a role playing storyline, but so as to maintain some commonality with other RPGs the terms 'series' and 'campaign' are used alternately to describe the series of events that lead from the beginning of a specific story arc to its final resolution.


Genre is a concept familiar to film and literature, and since these are the roots of the fantasy role playing game it works well as a mainstay of the medium. Furthermore a good game is one anchored in the story it intends to tell, and limiting what kinds of stories take place keeps a game from descending into a mass of random concepts not rooted in it's own internal logic. It's also nice for a Director and Player to be able to work together towards a common tonal goal. Like the audience of a film or reader of a novel, a player will be happier if they have some expectation about a consistent tone to a game that they can help build.

To this end either Player and Director should co-determine a genre or the Director should dictate one before characters are designed.
It is recommended that a game have only a single governing genre, though it may have a few sub-genres at work, and these can be stated or not. Generally there should never be any more than three genres at work throughout an entire series. The genre system is about imposing some mutually recognizable limitations to events, and thus using too many defeats the whole point.

That being said often a change of tone can be refreshing and fun, and so for single isolated episodes a Director might decide to go wildly off-genre with his story. This should be a rare and isolated occurrence, and just as a TV viewer would instantly be given visual cues of the shift, so should players be explicitly told that the shift is taking place so that they can behave accordingly (or at least shift their expectations about the world).

Finally what defines a game genre, unlike a move or novel, is the nature or tone of the story being told, not the setting or plot devices. Thus when expanding this list Directors should remember that film genres such as Western or Film Noir strongly rooted in a visual style or particular setting cannot be called game genres, but rather are the result of a combination of several of these listed genres with a very specific kind of setting (in the above examples a western is usually a revenge and survival story while a noir is simply a crime story with a very rigidly specific cast when you take away all of it's 1950s style and visual assets).

What follows is a comprehensive but by no means complete list of genres and a brief description of each.

Action is probably the simplest of the game genres, and also the least interesting thanks to the natural slowness of RPG mechanics, more suited to the video game RPG. This game is rooted entirely in conflict, with the protagonist carving a bloody swathe through a sea of increasingly powerful enemies. Story may be present, and is often involved, but it takes a back seat to the actual nitty-gritty of overcoming opponents.

The buddy or romance game focuses on the amicable (though usually antagonistic) relationship between two or more characters, be it between a player and auxiliary character or player and player. Usually there is an anticipation that the characters will end up as friends/lovers, but as the story progresses it throws up specific obstacles against the two uniting or highlights the stark differences between the two to put unity in jeopardy. Normally only by uniting can a final obstacle be overcome despite there difference between the two characters.

The conspiracy game focuses on unravelling a complex plot or series of events that is occurring or has occurred. The protagonists usually start out in a position of total ignorance, but steadily as they achieve their goals within the game more and more information becomes apparent until the entire plot of the story is clear to the players and they can act on this understanding, either by thwarting it, joining it or whatever they feel appropriate.

Like the conspiracy game, the crime game focuses on an antagonist trying to prevent a crime, or bring it's perpetrators to justice. The protagonists usually represent a greater authority, and go out to pursue this authority's interests. While the name is a little misleading, this might also include the agents of a monarch being sent out to perform various odd-jobs, though the jobs themselves might infringe on other genres. The crime protagonist is likely to come into conflict with the authority they are attached to in actually completing the goal. Often this conflict results from the conflict between their moral obligations (to be good or evil) and their duties for a structured authority.

Enemy Within
In the enemy within game a character is driven to face some flaw within themselves, be it as abstract as a second personality that can dominate the character's body, to a personality trait that must overcome in order to achieve resolution. The primary obstacle to success is always an aspect of the protagonist. Progress is usually slow, with moments of clarity punctuating indulgence of this flaw.

Exploitation is possibly the most stylized of all the genres, and also meshes the worst with other tones. Essentially exploitation is about rich, unrealistic excess. Every warrior is the world's finest, every damsel the most beautiful, superhuman acts become commonplace but only to the protagonists and antagonists, the world around them remains mundane, making their awesome acts ever more astounding. Exploitation is about indulging the overcoming of the impossible in steadily escalating scenarios. Relationships tend to be cartoonish and melodramatic and all resolutions come down to the indulgent and excessive use of 'cool'. Exploitation also allows for the most conceptual kind of gameplay for very creative directors and players, but largely the Darkrealm setting is unsuited to it. Those interested in the Exploitation genre might try the No Man's Land setting.

The heist game is possibly one of the hardest to run, because the player takes on the role of author and the Director is relegated to running a very reactionary world. The centre of the heist game is the protagonist's plan and the world is a static place that the protagonist plays out his plan upon. In essence the action of the game is actually based around the actions of the protagonist and not actions set into motion by the Director.

The horror game is primarily about atmosphere, but is also focused on opponents who are frightening because they cannot be physically overcome by the protagonists. Direct confrontations result in disfigurement and death, and escape is the focus of most events or encounters.

Martial Arts/Aspiration
The aspiration game is all about the character's drive to be the best. Whether this takes the form of a warrior wanting to best a powerful opponent, or a magician striving to outdo his master, these stories are about the quest for power and supremacy, and tend to involve a character who begins as poor or mediocre and finishes extremely powerful.

The quest is probably the most iconic of fantasy genres. It involves a journey to achieve a great goal, but on this journey there are many obstacles placed there by an antagonist who wants to stop the protagonists at all costs. Usually set to some kind of tumult to give a sense of urgency to the journey, characters are usually inexperienced or uninformed and are guided by a wise mentor.

Something in the player's character's past means that the aspiring game is all about him seeking out those who wronged him and extracting revenge, either just of excessive. The revenge story might begin with the actual source event itself, or it might be something in the story's background.

The survival game is about a character in adversity, overcoming the elements of a hostile world. A character might be a native to a ruin, a desert, or even a slum. Whatever the case the main drive of the story is usually the need for the basic elements of survival, be that food, water, money or shelter. A secondary goal is often escape from the survival situation, either fleeing a deserted island or becoming rich or ending the constant state of need.

The tragedy is doom laden in nature, usually the protagonist is a great hero who can defeat anyone in his field, but is disempowered to fight against the antagonist of the game. Usually it will culminate with a, noble or ignoble sacrifice. Death, or a devastating loss in the face of overcoming the antagonist.

War is about conflict on a grand scale. The war game takes place in a state of flux for the setting where the protagonist is part of a large powerful organization (usually a nation) locked in conflict with another powerful organization. It is centred not only on fights, but on choosing what fights will be most beneficial or where victory is most attainable.


In keeping with the way Darkrealm engages story, the episode, like that of a television series, is the basic narrative body. And episode is not a set length of time, bu rather the period over which the story progresses from one chapter to another, and marks a good way to decide when to begin and when to end play. A series, or campaign, is made up of several episodes, and each episode should have its own problem and resolution as well as building towards the resolution of the series as a whole. An individual episode will usually be made up of a lot of scenes, with a rule of thumb being that at least three scenes and an epilogue are the normal minimum. A given episode should nearly always include a lull in the action for a few interludes (see below) unless the intent of the episode is to give characters little time for pause. Some episodes will take place over hours of game time, others may take up years, but whatever the case it is recommended that the actual play-time of any given episode not exceed one gaming session, and that if it seems likely to that the episode have partial resolution at the half way point, so that a "to be continued" format is maintained.


An interlude is something short that takes place between episodes. It might be that characters want the opportunity to interact with one another, or with auxiliary characters, or that they want the opportunity to pursue their own goals, and the playing of this pursuit would be detrimental to the story - a character going away and learning to read and write for instance might be key to the character's development, but hardly makes for exciting play - so an interlude might be though of as a short, low-key series of events, usually isolated to a single scene. An interlude may be something as simple as a character stating that they want to go to market and buy some supplies and stock up on arrows, and simply upkeeping their characters, or it might be an opportunity for role-playing and relationship building, or it may even impart a piece of key information, but whatever the case it has a single reason for taking place, and in terms of play time it is relatively short and uncomplicated.


A story must be populated by characters, from the minor ones who are simply around the characters portrayed by the players, to the antagonist of the story, his allies, the players' allies and so forth. As a group, any characters who populate the story are referred to as the cast. Within the cast there are specific levels of importance, which an individual may shift to an from depending on their role in a given episode. The groups are generally as follows:

A character represents your core cast, these are played by a player and he has relatively autonomous control over their actions unless something in the story subverts this. Even then the player is expected to continue to portray his character, even when under the sway of another individual. Characters are the ONLY individuals in the entire game who are allowed Hero Points.

Auxiliary Character
An auxiliary character is main cast, but he is controlled by the Director. They can be central to, or even the focus of stories, and will be around for the majority of the action, participating to the same level as a character, but without autonomy from the director that characters enjoy. The fewer players there are in a game, the more the Director takes on the role of other players to populate the world with other auxiliary characters who replace other players. It is recommended that a given game have a total of 3-6 characters and auxiliary characters, more complicates the Director's job, and less leaves the character with no one to build a relationship with - one of the foundations of good story.

Supporting Character
A supporting character is another reoccurring character portrayed by the Director, who plays a relatively key role in the story, but not a central one. An example of a Supporting Character might be the King who sends the knight characters on a quest, or the princess they quest to save, or the sheriff of a town who doesn't trust the armed travellers, or the proprietor of the characters' tavern of choice where they return again and again looking for work, or even the informant or sage to whom they are directed for information in their quest.

Extras tend not to have names, and make one off appearances, or if they do have names they do not play a major role in the story, and are usually a relatively generic member of their race, social class and profession. The merchant where weapons are repaired may have a few quirks to make him interesting, but he's not important to the plot, merely there to populate the world. Of course, players in a well-run world shouldn't be able to tell the difference between Supporting Roles and Extra Roles - after all, nothing kills immersion quite so fast as knowing who's important the instant you meet them just because they have a name and personality.

An obstacle is just an extra with teeth. An obstacle is an extra who bars the way of the characters, and needs to be somehow dealt with, be they the guards who won't let the character into town at night, to the wolves who attack them while they're camping outside the gates, to the villain's henchmen who are already in the town looking for them. They need not always lead to a violent encounter, but they stand between the character and their objective, and can either be removed, befriended or avoided.

A villain is a Supporting Obsticle, a bad guy who has a name and a character and some build up. He could be as simple as the really big henchman with the unusual weapon who gets an entrance, or as complex as the evil count who has kidnapped the Duke's son and is holding him ransom. A good episode will have at least one villain if not considerably more, because encounters with opposition with some personality and some creativity, even if they are killed within a few moments, are still far more memorable and enjoyable.

Arch Villain
An Arch Villain is the anti-character, he might be thought of as an Auxiliary Villain. The characters must develop a relationship, albeit usually antagonistic, with the Arch Villain, and so he'll almost have to be around for a while, and whether he's an evil spirit known the land over, or the shadowy faceless and nameless leader of an assassins guild, he will develop a direct relationship with the characters, become aware that they seek him (or indeed actively seek them), thwart their plans, have his thwarted by them, and truly have some depth and character before he is finally confronted. Because arch-villains must be developed slowly like this they tend to have survival tools similar to characters - but they are also fallible like real characters. Don't go to unrealistic lengths to save your arch-villain if you make a genuine mistake with him, simply recast his role and move on. Most series have one or more arch-villains, though there can be several episodes in a row without one.

A nemesis is someone whose goals are not dissimilar to those of the characters, but who is not an ally. The nemesis often faces the same obstacles as the characters, but competes with them in overcoming them rather than aiding them. The most obvious example would be a professional jouster who goes from town to town winning tourneys, whose rival, another jouster, is not an enemy, but seeks to win instead. Or a group of noble knights who seek to slay and evil wizard while another group of knights seek to take him alive to answer for his crimes, or to take a prisoner to a different master, or collect the bounty for themselves. These are examples of nemeses, and a good nemesis will often last for the entire series, sometimes becoming an Auxiliary Character, or sometimes an Arch-Villain.

Backup Character
Player's characters occasionally die - the world loses weight if you don't kill. And while, as a Director, it is your job to ensure that a character's death is meaningful - thus they die for some purpose rather than as the result of an accidentally high die roll by a henchman - but when they do die, no matter how dramatically or poignantly - it can throw a real spanner in the storyline. Thus a player should always have a backup character on hand, and it is the Director's job to keep this character on the periphery of the action - never treating him like an auxiliary character, so that the player doesn't come in without freedom to create a new character, but close enough that he can be involved in the action (though not always with the same agenda) relatively quickly and naturally.

The Tome of Lore: Core Rules for Darkrealm
Chapter 1 Character Creation; Concept; Core Details; Player Interaction
Chapter 2 Talents; The Fourteen Talents; Generating Character Talents; Properties
Chapter 3 Traits; Character Traits; Context Traits; Status Traits
Chapter 4 Skills; The Skill List; Purchasing Skills
Chapter 5 Gameplay; Announcing a Test; Sequence of Play; Actions and Objectives
Chapter 6 Damage; Opposed Tests; Effects of Damage; Recovery; Death
Chapter 7 Development; Awarding Hero Points; Training; Changing Character Traits
Chapter 8 Setting; Tone; Technology & Lifestyle; Religion; Magic; Other Oddities
Chapter 9 Player Races; Civilized Races; Racial Abilities
Chapter 10 Gear; Armour; Weapons; Tools; Animals and Transport; Clothing; Weight and Encumbrance
Chapter 11 Magic; Alchemy; Divination; Talismans and Relics; Fear and Superstition; Spellcasting
Chapter 12 Game Creation;
Appendices Common Actions; Damage Statuses