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Kren Cooper
How dark are your games?

I’m running a session tomorrow night that has some fairly dark themes – torture, gang-rape, prolonged sexual violence – for a set of my players who are generally “cool” with that sort of stuff in their games (and very not cool with that happening in R/L, just to be clear).

I know that there’s a selection of my players who most definitely would not want to play in that game (my wife comes top of the list), and it’s certainly not something I would run lightly – even though I personally don’t find that type of “evil” much different to the grand largesse of the corporate approach of “evil” – letting millions starve, oppressing millions more, all in the name of 1/10 of a % more profit.

But – I wondered – how do you as other players and GMs prefer your games. Do you use the full spectrum from hilarious slapstick spoof through to emotionally rending and harrowing material? Do you stick generally more with a middle of the road action flick feel? Do you prefer for stuff like this to be in the game but happen “off camera” and the players just see the aftermath?

Please – I’m not after a morality discussion on the evils of either rape, torture, arson, corporate greed or company negligence - *that* would probably get nasty and bitter, and ultimately won’t help anyone.

Instead, what I’d really like to know is – how dark is your game, and is that as a result of open discussion with your players, or a general feeling of what they want, or down to your personal preferences as a GM?
Depends largely on the table. If they know what they are getting into and are okay with it, fine.

If one or two are really not comfortable at that level, you do need to consider maybe some changes as everyone is there to have fun and shouldn't be shamed into playing something they don't want to because the majority does.
Not saying you do, but have seen it at tables.
This can sometimes mean running two different sessions, mainstream style and an 'After Dark' style campaign for those wanting an alternate darker play.

As for how we have presented/played out the actions, some is done livetime with full gore/seduction/etc... while other situations may be a fade to black situation, depending on both intensity and also gametime consumption.

If parties don't like sitting around twiddling thumbs while a decker is off hacking a building, they probably don't want to be sitting around twiddling their thumbs while the blood mage is roleplaying out the entirety of an old school flaying of every inch of skin off the Elf Johnson who shafted them on the last run.

Our gaming does tend to be a bit more adult, bordering on NSFW style play, but again we do adapt to fit the table.
As Sendaz says, it really depends on the table. That being said, I personally have absolutely no problem with a truely dark and gritty setting where the players and/or I get to go into detailed descriptions about rape, torture, interrogation etc. But then again, I don't really have any problem with the slapstick end either, and most of the games I tend to play with my regular gaming group tend to end up closer to that side of things, than to the dark end of the scale.
Kren Cooper
Thanks both for your thoughts. I agree that it is something you have to gauge carefully and make sure it's appropriate for your players, and for the story that you want to tell.

Personally, I often try to use elements like this to send a clear message to the players regarding morality / karma.
The bad guys are shooting at people, holding them up at knife point, breaking and entering... sure, they're the enemy. But they may be people who feel they have no choice, forced to that life by circumstances. Geek them if you want, but negotiations are also an options, or bribery, or redirection.
The bad guys are raping people - they're properly black hats, not shades of grey. Feel free to take the kid gloves off, and geek them. Expect these people not to show any mercy, so show them none in return.

I also like to remind players that though we have a laugh, and fun is the aim of the game for us, and though their characters can have fun to, the world is a pretty shitty place, and it's a reminder that if they're not careful, or take consequences into account with their mission planning, then the world will have no compunction in bending them over and shafting them, without lube.
Like everyone else, it depends on the group. I've done Cthulhu crossovers that got pretty "out there" in the darkness scale. If you are willing to toss some gallows humor in there, you can really amp up the "life sucks, wear a hat" and keep most players happy, in my own experience.
Generally I run at a '1980's action movie meets Tarantino flick' standard. The world sucks, but not in such a pervasive all-encompassing way that it is no fun to play in.

So more 'your angry Fixer paid you to take off a guy's nose with bolt cutters for welching on a debt' on the bad end than 'we're farming children for bunraku parlors'.
TOO Dark. I've had players complain, "Every time we end up playing, I am forced to solve some terrible moral dilemma". Choosing between finishing the run or preventing the soldiers from digging mass graves may have been too far, last session.. The point being that I have recently come around to the idea of a lighter game. Shadowrun, like all games, is meant to be a general escape. I think back when I started playing and I was very sheltered, the concept of stepping out and having a "darker" game was more appealing. As I age I find that I am more interested in a lighter, "Food Fight" type setting where the Runners get away in the end, the evil corporations lose revenue, and the consequences to blowing up a few city blocks don't include worrying about the guy who happens to own the flower shop on one of them. This may all be in response to the "grittier" version of superhero movies that keep coming out, whereas my preference would be for something closer to 80s action flicks.

That depends what you mean by "dark". I don't force my players to commit sexual violence, and am hesistant to subject their characters to it even when they really ask for it (like sitting down amidst drunk frat bros and then going on an extended astral journey). Something happened to the character there, but not all the way, mostly because this isn't my idea of fun.

I much prefer to do body horror, surreal nightmares, and moral choices. However, I try not to over-use torture and body horror, whcih easily happens, and dulls the impact, I find.

Usually, for dark and troubling stuff, I stick to small-scale background elements, like a formerly Deus Network Node bum babbling incoherently about God's terrible all-seeing presence (I had one PC mercy-kill that guy, and another PC covering for her to the rest of the team, which was, RP-wise, totally awesome) and the occasional malfunctioning bunraku girl who breaks conditioning just enough to whisper "kill me, please" to a PC while serving drinks for the runners and their Yakuza Johnson.

This gets to the players a lot more than some elaborate cannibal torture rapefest.
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