Thursday, May 8, 2014

Midnight in the Garden of Evil and... More Evil

When the third edition of Dungeons and Dragons arrived in 2000, it came with a gift, a new way of thinking about things:  the open gaming license (OGL).  The OGL made it possible for third party publishers to create material for the newest edition of the world's most popular roleplaying game (at the time of course).  And create material they did.  Some of the third party content was excellent (Freeport and Ptolus).  Some of it was Terrible with a capital T.  Most of it, however, got buried in an absolute glut more or less dubious products.  The good material often could not find an audience.

One of the products that did find a bit of success was Midnight.  Fantasy Flight Games published a massive core book that went through two editions and a baker's dozen of supplemental material.  It even spawned a made-for-tv movie pilot that never became a series. In 2009, Fantasy Flight devoted themselves full time to making good, but ridiculously complicated board games and dropped the line entirely.  After a long hiatus, the products are once again available on DrivethruRPG.

Midnight has been described as Lord of the Rings if Sauron had won.  I have always found those sorts of pitch phrases reductive, but for the uninitiated, that description does serve a purpose.  The game is set on a continent that has been subjugated by the minions of a once defeated God.  This entity escaped his confinement, raised an army of Orcs in the frozen North and conquered a land that scarcely realized he was still a threat.  A hundred years after the frozen God's return, the human population has been subjugated. Elves and Dwarves have been run to ground and hunted almost to extinction.  The halfling population is routinely enslaved, while gnomes work as collaborators with the Orc occupiers and the God's omnipresent Church of the Shadow.  The Church is dominated by the Night Kings, powerful sorcerers (one is even a dragon) tasked with keeping the entire continent under their thumb.

The Night Kings.  Guaranteed to get your next party
 shut down by the cops.

In this world, magic is proscribed for all but priests of the Church.  As a result, magical items are scarce and generally of the relic variety.  The subjugated populations, however, have not completely given up the practice of magic.  In secret they create charms: small single (or limited) use magic items that generally grant skill or attribute bonuses. Possession of even these meager boons is subject to death, but their very presence shows the will to resist the occupation persists, even as the years of occupation drag on.

As far as fantasy games go, this one is pretty bleak.  The game material states explicitly that the world is so tightly under the control of the frozen god that it will likely never break free.  Into such a world, heroes are often born only to be crushed under the filthy Orkin boots.  So why, then would anyone want to game in such a world?

To answer that, I look to the words of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird.  Real courage, he told his children comes "when you know you are licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.  You rarely win, but sometimes you do."  The Frozen God is evil and the Church of Shadow is pervasive.  Still, they cannot be everywhere.  Maybe the players, who must start from meager beginnings, can bring a little light to their corner of the world.  If the light in that corner shines bright enough, perhaps it might allow for a little light somewhere else as well.


  1. This is my favorite thus far.

  2. There is a lot to like about this game. A lot of fantasy settings wear their Tolkien influence on their sleeve. At least this one doesn't quibble about it.