Dark and Gritty – D&D Need not apply?

Here’s a quandary I’ve been pondering.

I have spent a lot of time preparing a campaign land for our local RPG group, it all started off quite simply, I wanted a place that was not your typical and hackneyed fantasy trope, so points of light was out, as was the kingdom in peril, the long established empire in decline, the death of magic, the birth of a new era, the … you get the point.

I needed to answer a few questions to get to where I wanted.
Where was the peril going to come from, what need would this land have of adventurers?
How did every day life reflect the surrounding differentness?
Why was everything stable?

The advent of D&D 5e has changed a number of things, for instance the power curve is a lot flatter than it used to be, the proficiency bonus only incrementing after 4 levels helps, this means the main difference between a 1st level character and a 4th level character is the number of hit points/hit die they have and whilst I agree that makes a big difference it also means a bunch of 1st levels can at least have a go.

So what now if we take everybody in the land and give them military service, so everyone has at least 3 levels of a character class.

What about Jim?
Yes, Jim too.
Even Lucy?
Even Lucy, everybody!

Now the reason for this military service is they’re holding back a huge threat to the rest of the world, there’s a worldscar, it’s black, it’s huge and it’s a gateway to the hells of this planet. I’m going to go a bit more radical here and say that of all the races on the planet, only humans are resistant to possession by the demons that live in the hells, this effectively makes the land resistant to the other races living there. I’d go so far as to say the only non-humans in this land are slaves and are absolutely not allowed to become powerful in any way, this doesn’t mean they have to be treated badly, but they cannot own anything, they cannot be taught to read or write, they cannot aspire to be anything other than a slave.

The people of this land are very insular, they don’t talk about the hellgate, they watch, they guard and they fight when needed. From the outside, without all the information available, the land these people live in seems dark, hideous and not a little fascist. Of course there are good reasons for the fascism but without all the details there might just be some people who want to change things for the “better”.


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