Grim & Noble, Dark & Bright: Attaway & Theme
In your travels and consumption of media, you may have heard the term “grimdark” used to describe the setting of a game, show, comic, or film. You may have also heard people describe a spectrum from “Grimdark” to “Noblebright.” If you’re not sure what these terms are, or you are and want to know where Attaway shakes out on the spectrum/grid, keep going -- this is for you.
The term grimdark has no concrete origin in time but was originally used to describe the setting of the Warhammer universe of games (both Warhammer Fantasy and Warhammer 40,000). The tagline for Warhammer 40k sums up the gist of the term pretty well: “In the grim darkness of the 41st millennium, there is only war.” Grim and dark are both right there in one sentence, and it’s easy to understand what the term means.
The Warhammer universe is overwhelmingly bleak, with war on an interstellar scale, constant threats from all sides, and a general sense of futility of one’s actions. Characters in these settings are either low-powered and horribly out of their league as they try to combat highly lethal threats, or superpowered warriors capable of mowing down thousands of enemies without breaking a sweat. However, no matter how hard anyone fights, there are always more enemies, new threats, and only death is certain.
In contrast to Warhammer’s grimdark nature, some people decided to coin a contrasting term -- noblebright. While grimdark stories tend to focus on deadly worlds, morally bankrupt characters, and heroes with little to no hope of succeeding in their goals, noblebright stories are set in worlds that are growing and full of opportunity, with characters who are powerful and always manage to save the day despite the odds. This is not to say that noblebright worlds are free from adversity; many have powerful villains, tyrannical empires, and characters still struggle.
The central difference between the two is that while grimdark stories have little to no hope, noblebright stories are full of it. The Star Wars films have been used as examples of noblebright media, as well as the Pokemon anime, Star Trek, and many superhero stories (i.e. Superman, Captain America, and Spiderman).
Anonymous contributors to tabletop gaming forums online posited that there must be a spectrum between these two settings, and devised the grid shown below:
As you can see, there are two axes to the theme grid: noble- to grim-, and -bright to -dark.
Noble settings feature heroes and villains who directly affect the world with their actions, worlds where anything is possible if people are willing to work or fight to change them, and there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
Grim settings feature outnumbered protagonists whose successes are limited and temporary, worlds where little to nothing changes despite the efforts of its heroes, and hope is fleeting or non-existent.
Bright settings are full of opportunity, though they may still be full of danger. There are always new things to discover, and those things are met with wonder and excitement. The heroes are true heroes, striving for a better world, and though they may die there may be ways to bring them back.
Dark settings are full of danger and low on opportunity. The risks of adventure often equal or outweigh the rewards, so heroes must be given a good reason to help others. Villains have little to no morals, and combat leads to lost limbs at best and death at worst. If the lack of food or drinkable water doesn’t kill the heroes (or everyone else), then the nuclear apocalypse, unstoppable alien invaders, or legions of demons and undead will.
It should be noted that all combinations of these vectors can make for interesting and compelling stories. However, we at Attaway have decided that our initial story arc for the game will be noblebright. Brightborough as a city is experiencing a golden age in the wake of war, from scientific advances like Brew and the innovations of Atlas Electromagnetics, to cultural and artistic booms and emerging industries. Although Attaway’s Brews are considered illegal, they’re still bought and sold behind closed doors and used by common folk and high society alike. The player characters duck the police and rival stills at every turn, but the rewards are well worth it and money lines the pockets of Attaway’s families. It’s a time of social and political upheaval, and if there are laws the protagonists find unfair they can champion the campaign to change them. The Wildehalls that border Attaway are full of strange creatures and unusual dangers, but they are also awe-inspiring and alluring.
From a metagame perspective, we chose the noblebright theme because we’re interested in stories where the characters are a bit larger-than-life in a world that’s more cinematic than it is gritty. We want you, the players, to feel like you have direct agency over your characters’ stories as well as the game world around you. There are other people who live and work at Attaway but they’re not the ones who will shape its future -- that’s your job. There are people who want to ban Brew altogether, but how that shakes out is up to you. There are other stills trying to cut into Attaway’s business, but you’ll choose how best to deal with them.
The game world is limited to one city and it surrounding environs, but a lot can happen in such a focused space, and we want you to be able to explore and take ownership of that sandbox. For better or worse, Attaway is your home and the other players are your family. How will you make your home better for everyone? How will you make a better world? You might be criminals, but you’re also the heroes… so you’d better start acting like it! The future of Attaway depends on you.