Move silently. Hide in shadows. Make theirs yours.
"Dark's intense focus on stealth, combining intricate maps with deeply specialized characters, breathed life into a whole shadowy world in play — one I'd never seen before, usually being too busy blundering around being a hero." —Jason Morningstar, creator of Fiasco and Durance
It seems like forever sometimes.
I've long been captivated by games based around the exploration of fictional worlds — roleplaying games especially. And while lots of games let you move through fictional spaces, games focused on sneaking and stealth have always held a special place in my heart and my imagination. Great stealth games are partly about experiencing an imaginary realm — overhearing snippets of life, whether mundane or incredible, that bring the world to life — and partly about solving the puzzle of how to move through that world to accomplish key goals.
I love to design imaginary worlds as a tabletop GM. I love to play sneaky, stealthy characters as a player. I wanted a game that emphasizes that kind of play throughout. I wanted a game that wasn't necessarily about storming dungeons and fighting everything. I wanted a game that brought a fictional world to life in different ways.
So I set out to make it myself. It seems like forever sometimes.
Project: Dark is an umbrella term for one endeavor that encompasses several game worlds in the same style: stealth-adventure games for tabletop roleplaying.
Along the way, I've cultivated a few different worlds to explore. This fundraising campaign starts with one of them — the core, fantastical game world of Dark — and expands out to include other settings, if you like. They all use the same main game rules and emphasize the same focus on stealth and intrigue but each world puts that central play activity into different contexts.
"My hands are shaking," said one play tester. "Can I save? Are there save points? This is seriously intense."
I designed Dark from the ground up to cultivate the tension and suspense of stealth gameplay. For the players, the game hinges on regular playing cards, rather than dice. This allows players to better plan, make both dramatic and tactical choices, and benefit from patience and precision in tangible ways. The better hidden your character, the more cards you have in hand.
Characters themselves are described by the cards players place in their deck and the skills they train. Each player needs their own deck of regular playing cards to play.
"Pulse-pounding tension and riotous cleverness combined with a deck-building flourish." — John LeBoeuf-Little, play tester
Here's what Dark looks like in play:
- 1) The rules guide
- 2) The draw deck
- 3) Player's hand (usually hidden)
- 4) Character cards and abilities by suit
- 5) Character background and skills
- 6) Character's wound spaces
- 7) Disguise spaces
- 8) GM's area with dice (and captured Joker)
- 9) Player's discard pile
- 10) Character's bag of loot
Over the course of this fundraising campaign, I'll use updates to share more information about the game and how it plays.
The game plays wonderfully with even just a single player and a gamemaster (GM). With one or two players, it feels like an infiltration game about sneaking into forbidden places and capturing loot or secrets. With more players — I play it with up to 4, plus a GM — it sometimes feels more like a fantastical heist, with lots of moving parts and a delicate balance between plans and opportunities.
"Most RPGs 'support' a single player and GM as an afterthought, or with a lot of clumsy system hacking. Project: Dark *features* an amazing two-player experience that is unlike any other. The clever combination of deck building, collaborative character generation, and tense cat-and-mouse exploration promises tremendously satisfying gameplay for players and GMs alike." — Wil Wheaton, author and gamer
Dark adventures can take the form of detailed environments, with pre-written conversations to overhear, or they can be randomly built by the GM as you play, using dice to inform the environment and determine the threats to the players' characters. The Dark text contains complete guidelines on both kinds of play — and I look forward to offering complete and detailed adventures for the game(s) throughout the year.
The worlds of Project: Dark are built to emphasize the dramatic and gameplay potential in playing thieves, spies, intruders, and trespassers in perilous worlds. Some adventures are about petty thievery — but sometimes this is a game about revolutionary skullduggery, internecine intrigue, shadowing enemies, and changing the world. Will your tales be gritty sagas of street-level survival or sordid crime epics about nefarious antiheroes?
"Brutal, clever, and exciting. This was amazing. So fun and tense and I've already bought fancy cards." — Austin Bookheimer, play tester
"Will Hindmarch is one of the most insightful roleplaying thinkers I know and is without a doubt one of the best writers in all of RPG gaming. Back this project, and do it now." —Jeff Tidball, designer of Horus Heresy
List of Additional PDF Content
A few folks have asked for a complete list of the PDF/ebook content that's now coming from the campaign, and rightly so! Here it is:
- The Player's Guide
- The House Book
- The Dark|Net setting expansion
- The Dark Planet setting expansion
- The Saturnine Codex (PDF)
- Two adventures for Dark
- Two adventures for Dark|Net
- Two adventures for Dark Planet
This content will roll out throughout the coming months. For example, I don't expect all six adventures to get released at once. Additional adventures may get released still through my Patreon site and DriveThruRPG, after these initial adventures are wrapped up. These first adventures also contain expansion material for their game worlds, such as new abilities to train (after, say, you steal the spellbook from a local wizard in the Dark setting). This will keep me busy for a while — and I'm delighted about it!
Add-Ons For Cards
Now that we've passed the milestone for custom playing cards, let's look at exactly what you need to add to your pledge to get those cards. These prices are based on known costs (printing, warehousing) and estimated costs (shipping, packaging), so they were a little tricky to arrive at based on estimated weights and envelope sizes — but they're what we're using. Have a look:
- 1 deck: $10 (US), $13 (International)
- 2 decks: $18 (US), $22 (International)
- 3 decks: $28 (US), $33 (International)
- 4 decks: $36 (US), $42 (International)
- 5 decks: $44 (US), $54 (International)
Let's look further at the loot you get for backing Project: Dark and how that funding's going to work.
This campaign aims to buy me time to complete development, production, and writing of the core rulebook, the Dark setting, and a sample adventure. Most of this money goes to art and a lot to writing. (Note that I'm including layout costs in the writing, because I lay out these books myself.) Here's a breakdown for you:
The core book is fully outlined and about a third of it is written. The book will be about 70,000 words and I'm budgeted to get about a nickel per word — a bit less than my usual rate in the RPG market. This campaign, if successful, allows me to take time off to finish writing and laying out the text while commissioning the art for the book.
I'm working with some terrific artists on this project, too:
- Ray Fawkes (portfolio)
- Rachel Kahn (portfolio)
- Leah Huete (portfolio, NSFW)
- Lukasz Gac (portfolio)
- Phil Reeves (portfolio)
- Benoît Blary (portfolio)
Backers at most levels get the game's beta kit at the completion of the campaign. That features a demo adventure, four ready-to-play characters, sample character abilities, and the game's basic rules.
The game ultimately sees publication in two books: The Player's Guide, containing player-facing rules and character-creation information, and The House Book, containing everything in the Player's Guide plus all the information on adventure design, background on the world of Dark (and why it's been designed the way it has), and complete rules for playing the Inspector who investigates the players' characters' crimes.
Additional material, especially adventures and new worlds for play, may be unlocked over the course of the funding campaign. These largely take the form of PDF products added on to existing backer levels.
The thumb drives for the talisman-level rewards are leather-and-chrome-looking USB drives with a 16 GB capacity. They'll come pre-loaded with PDFs of The Player's Guide and The House Book, plus other PDF content available at the time the drives are prepared. (You'll be able to get all owed content online, too, of course.)
To avoid shipping books out of my house and wrestling with the woes of international shipping, which have stymied and vexed a lot of campaigns, I offer physical books available at cost from DriveThruRPG. You'll pay a small printing cost and whatever the apt shipping rate is for your home in addition to what you pay to fund this project. Because DriveThruRPG can produce and ship books from the US and the UK, this should save both you and I on shipping rates and shipping times.
It's impossible to know exactly what the printing cost of these books will be at this date, but it looks to probably be around $3-4 for the Player's Guide and $4-5 for the House Book (priced in US dollars).
Remember, you're not just buying the game, you're helping bring it into existence. To thank you for that, I'm also offering a few unique backer rewards, such as hand-bound codices describing the game worlds we successfully unlock (containing information unlocked throughout the funding campaign) and a chance to play the game early with me via a Google hangout. Be sure to come back as new backer rewards may appear over the run of the campaign.
Update to the "Learn the Game" level! Backers at this level now do receive codes for print books from DriveThruRPG and the thumb drives, in addition to a Google Hangout to learn the game. International backers, please add $15 to your funding for international delivery of that thumb drive; if you just want the codes and the Hangout, but don't want to shell out shipping for the drive, you can back at $85 and skip out on the drive. No worries.
Retailers! The retailer levels are now live! Please note: (1) Proof of purchase for customers is ideally a receipt and an emailed photo of the customer with the book; if you can take that photo with a cell phone in the store, just so I can see the books in their temporary retail homes, that's great. (2) We'll be verifying retailers during the fulfillment process, so if you see me say "verified retailers" at some point, that's what I'm talking about. (3) I don't know which Dark adventure your customers will get, yet, but whichever it is all the campaign backers get it too.
This is my first time composing retailer reward levels, so I welcome your feedback on them. Thanks!
"This is definitely my most anticipated game of 2014."—Stras Acimovic, ace play tester
If we raise enough funds, we'll start unlocking additional art and adventures for the game. Update! You've smashed the first stretch goals. Onward!
$9,500: This first stretch goal for the game earns us a full-color map of the fantastical city at the heart of Dark, rendered by Mark Richardson, a game designer, graphic designer, and professional cartographer from Ottawa, Canada.
At $11,000, we unlock original cover art for the Player's Guide.
(Somewhere between $12,000 and $14,000, I got to give myself a pay raise for the Dark books and take some additional time off from freelance work to devote just to them.)
If we raise $16,500, I'll follow up Dark with the setting guide for Dark|Net, bringing the game into a post-collapse dystopian future where electricity is scarce, oil is gone, and our modern cities are lit mostly by fire. In this setting, the world's broken into isolated states warring over next-gen energy tech while guerilla-run dark-nets coordinate clandestine would-be Robin Hoods who consider themselves revolutionaries — and might even have a chance to change the world. Dark|Net introduces electronic countermeasures, new gadgetry, and new abilities into the game, and I'll demonstrate the world with a complete, detailed adventure in the setting. All of this debuts in PDF.
If we raise $24,000, I'll write up the setting guide for Dark Planet, taking the game to an extrasolar colony world oppressed by an alien menace that has sheathed the planet in darkness. Sunlight falls only where they say, when they say. It's up to renegade humans to infiltrate alien compounds and palaces, to undermine alien tyranny, to bring down the artificial sky that holds the planet hostage. Dark Planet takes the game into a grim and gritty retro future of high-tech treasures and alien monsters where secrecy is the key to survival and infiltration is the way to victory. This setting comes with a detailed adventure to get your campaign going and it all debuts in PDF.
We're still examining printing solutions for a Dark-specific deck of cards, but I am happy to report that we have a new stretch goal for the card art! Past the threshold of $25,500, artist Rachel Kahn will create original card art for the royals, aces, and jokers in our Dark deck. These cards will eventually be for sale via DriveThruCards, so even if we don't raise any more money, we'll be able to order special Dark decks in the future.
The next stretch goal is a big one: At $35,000, we get custom-made Dark decks printed by the US Playing Card Company, as described in this update. That'll unlock new backer levels and the ability to add on decks to existing backer levels. Think we can do it?
More Commentary About the Game
"WARNING: If you pick up Project: Dark for a quick two-player one shot when you can't get your entire game group together, don't be surprised when you don't want to go back to your regular campaign." — Wil Wheaton, author and gamer
"Dark and Dark|Net capture everything brilliant about stealth action games and distill them into tabletop form. [They] will change the way you run games." — Martin Gleason, play tester
"Project: Dark is the perfect mix of structure and freedom, allowing both player and game master a unique and challenging gaming experience." —Erin Kahoa, play tester
"It's hard to believe but it's even cooler than it sounds." — Josh Rensch, play tester
Notes on the Campaign
The playing cards pictured above are "Medallions" from theory11. These were used without any endorsement by the manufacturer — they're just some of my favorite (and some of the most lovely) playing cards, and I had them on hand. Recommended.
Risks and challenges
Coordinating artists and production assets — myself included — always involves unforeseen challenges. I have carefully crafted this campaign to minimize risks and obstacles, learning from my experiences in previous campaigns. Still, any machine with moving pieces sometimes needs troubleshooting.
As a veteran of the tabletop-games publishing business, I have the experience necessary to coordinate fixes, troubleshoot errors, and overcome the hurdles between this project and its final completion. If funded, this project pays me for the time necessary to manage and shepherd the project to success, with minimal distractions. It is my sincere aim to have this game available for sale at Gen Con 2014 and this funding makes it possible for me to devote time and resources to that goal.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (32 days)