# Dystopian sword & magic settings

Actually something that just came to my mind and something I've never encountered before. Are there any settings or systems centering about dystopian worlds, but without technology, nothing more complex than average D&D campaign?

For example, an enormous city, surrounded by even larger tracts of farmlands, with all of this surrounded by high walls. City governed by self-appointed Court of powerful (or many) wizards/priests. No one remembers times before The Isolation, people don't go out at night, as then strange monsters reign and devour strays. The Court keeps everyone in control, disallowing most of the fun, and people live their lives day by day, working on farms, trying to survive, making arms, playing cards, and so on.

Some scenarios along this lines.

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I do believe that there was a D&D 3rd setting called Midnight that revolved around the typical Tolkien setting where the bad guys have won. – Ingó Vals Aug 2 '12 at 17:54
From Wikipedia: Dystopias are often characterized by dehumanization, totalitarian governments, environmental disaster, or other characteristics associated with a cataclysmic decline in society. That sounds a lot like the actual dark ages. – Llepwryd Dec 24 '13 at 14:54

The Dying Earth RPG, set in Jack Vance's Dying Earth.

Dark Sun, for D&D, where the world has been dried up by destructive use of magic.

Ravenloft, also for D&D, which is a dystopia, being the private hell chunks for 20+ über-evil individuals.

Several published settings for EABA. Greg's got a pretty dark streak showing.

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I will have a look at them later, thanks for giving examples! – Maurycy Mar 11 '11 at 6:45
Dark Sun was my first thought. Ravenloft is another good example. There's even the Dark Sun domain in Ravenloft. – migo Mar 16 '11 at 2:31
@migo: there wasn't in the last edition I had... at the time, the official rule was that Dark Sun was not anywhere near the timeframe of Ravenloft, the Realms, Grayhawk, nor Krynn... Last thing they wanted was Thri-Kreen wandering the Domains.... But I stopped after the 1st 3.0 version. – aramis Mar 16 '11 at 2:55
I believe it was detailed in Domains of Dread. – migo Mar 16 '11 at 3:50

In Glorantha's (north) west are the Malkioni, who are a family of cultures with knights and priests, which is the part of Glorantha closest to mainstream medieval fantasy.

One of the strongest and most dominant cultures is the Rokari of the land of Seshnela, who provide a number of dystopic features:

1. They do offer peace and salvation to their peasants, in exchange for great poverty and arbitrary brutality. The immiseration of the peasants is held to be good for their souls by the wealthy priestly caste. The society offers no social mobility.
2. The land is subject to the whims of a series of powerful inquisitions, led by intolerant zealots. The knights who are not impressionable zealots are mostly thugs, likewise the priests who are not zealots are generally corrupt.
3. Rokarism is misogynistic, holding that women are weaker than men, and prone to temptation by demons. Witch-hunting is a favourite pastime of the various inquisitions.
4. Sin is an objective taint, however excusable the sin, and invites demonic attention. So sometimes the misery the inquisitions cause does target evil horrors.

I get the impression that Seshnela was meant to be a game-friendly environment, but most people who game in Glorantha's west find the place too ghastly to be fun. But the attitudes of Rokari priests and knights can make them great (PC/NPC) characters in games set outside Seshnela. For dystopic gaming outside of Glorantha, some features of Rokarism might make help with the setting: a rigid, brutal caste system, mysogyny, and sin-based taints are all good material to work with. But watch out for the player hooks: players who want heroic fantasy are not likely to be best rewarded in such a setting. Something more along the lines of a detective mystery or cover-up I think would work best.

Some references:

1. Nick Brooke has excellent resources on Glorantha's west: his Living in Seshnela gives a feel of the place;
2. The notes for the freeform How the West was One gives lots of nice psychological insight into some Rokari characters. The freeform notes was published somewhere; offhand I don't remember where, but emails to the onld Gloranthan mailing list cover some of these bases: google "how the west was one" site:glorantha.temppeli.org for some character summaries.
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To a certain extent, ALL of Glorantha is disfunctional, and many places, heroquesting is a step up on the food chain. – aramis Mar 16 '11 at 2:52
@aramis: I agree that Glorantha is, in a certain sense, a dysfunctional world - in the game's mythology, the world was broken in the Great Darkness, and Compromise was an incomplete repair of the world. But I take dystopia to mean the communities are corrupt to the core, while Gloranthan communities mostly work very well, as they have to given the terrible external threats they face. – Alticamelus Apr 3 '11 at 4:43
@aramis "step up on the food chain" - Not how I see it! HQing isn't, or rather shouldn't be, all about the main heroes who take on the roles of the gods - HQs don't work without the backing of many initiates. I think it's best to see HQ as a history-changing response to a dire external threat faced by a community. Now, the God Learners saw HQing as step up, and see what happened to them... – Alticamelus Apr 3 '11 at 4:47

I know I'm coming to this late, but this seems to describe Menzoberranzan. It is ruled by a council of the heads of Eight Ruling Houses. The Houses are ruled by priestess fanatically devoted to a single deity (Lolth).

It is geographically separated by the harshness of travelling through the Underdark, but generally not absolutely separated. In times of crisis it can be entirely cut off though.

It is filled with political intrigue, but has no shortage of internal warfare with combat. Along with that, there is a high level of the spying and monitoring of the general citizenry that you would expect in dystopian fiction. There is also a fair bit of heresy that is hunted for in the form of "traitor priestesses" and the like that practice their religion in the dark.

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