"I can't remember the last time I saw a wizard casting magic with a fucking smile on his face. It's always a grim, half-hooded scowl of disgust, like he's shaking off some stubborn ear-wax rather than the manifested power of the Fire Spirits. 'Ooh, I had to fight in a big war because I've got mastery of time and space; meh meh meh'. Why don't you magic yourself cheerful, you gloomy spod?"Dark Fantasy is, generally speaking, a Darker and Edgier subgenre of fantasy. These kind of stories can be pretty much described as Standard Fantasy Setting meets Crapsack World, as opposed to the usually-lighthearted regular fantasy setting. Oftentimes common fantasy elements are deconstructed or played in the darkest way possible, and the best you can hope for is Grey and Gray Morality. Wikipedia goes a step farther, saying it's Horror meets Fantasy. It may have been originally, but now, with some linguistic drift, any remarkably dark fantasy story (it's sometimes enough if it's set in a Crapsack World) is often listed as a Dark Fantasy. While it's often a matter of marketing or abuse of terms, this entry assumes the latter, currently more common, definition. Darker and Edgier Science Fiction isn't recognised as a subgenre as Dark Fantasy is; however, dystopic fiction often has markings of SF and thus gets an honourable mention here. In recent years, grimdark has become another name for Dark Fantasy with fans on both sides divided whether it's a valid name for it or not. Also, if you want to write your own, check this out.
- Magic Is Evil and often The Corruption, or at best relatively neutral. There is a good chance it's directly obtained through a Deal with the Devil, powered by Blood Magic or involves Human Sacrifice and Forsaken Children. Individual wizards tend to go mad with power (or just the possibility of it) and are full of themselves. This is likely why Burn the Witch! is a popular pastime of the lower classes and the major religions.
- Magical weapons tend to be evil, or at least require a very heavy price for their use.
- If Sufficiently Advanced Magic enters play, the following may happen: augmentations eat away at one's humanity (often involuntarily for the sake of war and profit), communication magic creates new and fascinating ways to control people, and sentient constructs have only contempt for their creators.
- Sometimes magic is kept on a low level, hard to exploit or of highly limited usefulness. This way the setting avoids the fancifulness of a Standard Fantasy Setting and is easier to keep gritty.
Politics and society
- There is a high chance that there is an evil, expansive and genocidal empire, which nonetheless is a seemingly better alternative to the rest of the lot, if only for the fact that everyone is too afraid of The Emperor to try anything funny. Which means that if the emperor is weak or ill, then all bets are off. When democracies and republics exist, they are corrupt and profit-driven. Kingdoms and theocracies don't even need a description, and The Magocracy uses magic to Mind Rape the people into obedience.
- Wretched Hives of cities and The Dung Ages in the countryside is what you should expect of society. The lower classes are Medieval Morons, while the upper class are Evil Aristocrats. The slave trade is the main source of income, both in terms of taxes and population. Expect the cute, fuzzy, Weak-Willed ones to be targeted, such as Petting Zoo People or Hobbits. Conscription into the army may be present, overlapping with an Army of Thieves and Whores. Often, Hobbes Was Right.
- The Horde (often hailing from the eastern edge of the map) vastly outnumbers civilization. The Fantasy Axis of Evil is there, and is either even worse than you'd expect, or the "good" guys aren't really better than them. Expect a lot of Rape, Pillage, and Burn when they go raiding. Good chance someone (on either side) will say "The Women Are Safe with Us."
- Of the Five Races, the elves are all stuffed-up jerks who have either sneaked off, devolved into fancy-eared humans, are horrifying abominations, or have been enslaved (the only kind who may thrive are the Dark Elves), the hobbits were the first to be subjugated or are just plain evil in the first place, the dwarves don't care about anyone else and thus shamelessly nickel-and-dime the other guys, and Humans Are Bastards and actively persecute the rest. Abusive Precursors, if any.
- If a Fractured Fairy Tale is being told, the darkest Alternative Character Interpretation possible will be used. Forget three little pigs building houses out of questionable materials because mum kicked them out, it'll be a horde of Orcs trying out new fortress designs so they have somewhere to store pillage from the village vs. a werewolf knight, or perhaps Puss in Boots is a shameless Con Artist Femme Fatale humanoid puma or cat-demon, or Little Red Riding Hood and the Woodsman are a serial killer husband and wife team.
- In terms of politics, often there's an endless conflict between the civilizations. Wars of extinction are not uncommon and entire Worldsnote are often put to the sword to ensure victory. Otherwise it is a fight to be the new figurehead of the old empire that had fallen eons ago.
Religions and deities
- The gods are all assholes who pass the time eating prayer chips and drinking soul-booze while placing bets and trolling the helpless mortals, and The Legions Of Eldritch Abominations are mere days away from breaking into the Mortal Realm, if they aren't there already. A God of Evil is probably the only active one, unless the point of the story is that he doesn't need to, because people will jump at any opportunity to do harm anyway. Demonic Possession is quite common. May even have Devil, but No God, or an outright evil supreme god running the show. If there are no "gods" per se, the Celestial Bureaucracy/Council of Angels have more red tape than a ribbon factory. Alternatively, the eldritch abominations might be destroying both sides. In the most absolute worst, the universe is a Cosmic Horror Story.
- Any organized religion which is not a Corrupt Church or Religion of Evil is a Path of Inspiration. Expect Spanish Inquisition ripoffs run by Knights Templar, complete with a grimdark gothic Catholic theme, but turned up to eleven as a full-blown totalitarian State Sec. What else there is tend to be cults (often of Eldritch Abominations), paganic Scary Amoral Religions, or even more radical offshoots of the big ones. Often led by a Sinister Minister.
- The dead find staying buried a little boring, and resist any and all attempts to keep them buried, short of cremation or dismemberment. There might even be a region so full of undead that nothing and nobody in their right mind goes there.
- The very best you can count on is an Anti Heroic Knight in Sour Armor. There is a high chance of (likely more than a bit of Well-Intentioned Extremist, or just straight-out bad guy) Designated Hero, who will probably lose or end up as He Who Fights Monsters or a zombie anyway, no matter how hard he may Resist the Beast. If they're Giving the Sword to a Noob to Defy this, expect said Noob to fail.
- Even if you don't count in the Black and Gray Morality of the heroes, they spend most of their respite on having sex or getting drunk and violent and have a less than amicable working relationship with their comrades.
- If any hero has a shed of nobility to them, and refuse to do any of the above activities they are often depressed loners who feel that they are the only one in the world who believes in traditional High Fantasy values of goodness. Often they are hated and feared by the very people they protect. Yet they never turn their back on their values, and try to preserve the little goodness in Dark Fantasy worlds.
- The World Is Always Doomed. One may be able to Earn Your Happy Ending, but Evil Only Has to Win Once.
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Anime and Manga
- Ceres, Celestial Legend: Certainly one of Yuu Watase's more cynical creations, the story follows the Japanese tradition of the swan maidens, but full of vengeful celestial maidens, jealous husbands, ancient family curses, Eldritch Abominations, evil corporations, incest, rape, insanity, and with that shojo twist, doomed romances.
- Berserk: Part The Epic, part Tragedy, part Survival Horror. A Knight in Sour Armor Anti-Hero searches for revenge and/or redemption in a Crapsack World and fights sickeningly frightening demons along the way. Constant instances of human cruelty lend to the tone of the work. Humans Are Bastards, All Men Are Rapists, and Aristocrats Are Evil are in full effect. The church is either a Corrupt Church or Path of Inspiration (details of its founding are unclear) but regardless, watch out for the Knight Templar Inquisition. Magic and good witches definitely exist, but are treated with suspicion and hostility by the above church. The Magic Comes Back is portrayed as almost certainly a bad thing, as the only deity shown to be active in the world is a God of Evil. (More benevolent godlike beings are mentioned, but haven't shown up to help out.) The Messianic Archetype is a mass murderer and a rapist. And so on. The kicker? According to a now partially decanonized chapter that was removed for spoiling too much, said God of Evil and its demons are merely the answer to humanity's desire for something to be responsible for their suffering (as opposed to it being random and meaningless). The Idea of Evil only exists because, in a truly warped way, people need it to exist.
- Claymore: monsters run amok devouring the innocent civilians while disguising themselves as their neighbors and the only warriors who can fight them (all psychologically damaged young women) tend to live very short lives thanks to The Corruption which will turn them into something much worse and it's all just a Monster Protection Racket (something that the warriors are just as ignorant of as the terrorized peasants). And for what? To create ideal weapon for an Endless War between another continent bent on seeing them dead.
- Genma Wars: Despite the setting taking place in a post-apocalyptic Earth, it fits all other aspects: civilization has fallen and humanity is ruled by an oppressive demonic tyrant and his sorcerous race, who employ evil monsters to enforce their will. There are no actual heroic opposition against them, the only other group that defies the demons are a criminal band of reavers that steal from the demon's innocent servants, while the two protagonists are failure heroes who just make everything worse.
- Re:Zero, while seemingly starting off as a High Fantasy, is slowly unraveled to be one of these by Arc 3, featuring terrifying monsters, evil cults, and good people doing horrible things when caught in the middle of it all.
- Ninja Scroll
- Ubel Blatt, in a decaying kingdom under the threat of war with its black magician neighbors, an inhuman young man is murdering the seven greatest heroes of the land. Only the truth turns out to be much worse.
- Vampire Hunter D is set in a world where monsters control the Earth, with humans as second-class citizens kept in Medieval Stasis. The only hope humanity has is various monster hunters.
- Black Moon Chronicles, a French series of comic books is essentially this as the tale is set in the war-torn quasi-medieval world where corrupted priests, misguided paladins, demons and indifferent mercenaries vying for power while an impeding doom looms on (or rather above) the horizon.
- Requiem Vampire Knight is this in spades, and the world of Resurrection is as crapsack as they come.
- Tales of the Dragon Guard: Dragons naturally radiate The Corruption, which only virgin women are immune to. Entire villages are mutated into slavering, insane monsters, and if the dragon knights fail, a Fantastic Nuke is detonated, which turns the countryside into a wasteland. Some peasants are convinced that nailing a virgin vaccinates them against the corruption, so you can guess what happens. The dragon knights are followed closely by prospectors looking for dragon gastroliths and scales, who often won't wait for the dragon to be killed before prospecting.
- Some albums from Thorgal series are set in definitely bleak and corrupted fantasy settings (especially Three Ancients of the Realm of Aran/Bottomless Lake).
- Tales of Telguuth from 2000 AD is an anthology comic series set in a High Fantasy Crapsack World where monsters, demons, and tyrants roam the land, and life is generally short and brutal.
- French comic Arawn is set in a dark fantasy realm loosely inspired in Celtic legend and has a Evil Overlord as a protagonist.
- The original Lady Death comics qualified as Religious Horror, however they turned into straight-up dark fantasy under Avatar Press: they story was rebooted, most biblical elements were ditched and it took place in a afterlife realm that wasn't necessarily Hell in the strictest sense, but it was it was populated by monstrous demons that lived alongside native humans, with no shortage of omnicidal maniacs trying to purge it of all life.
- Game of Thrones, just like the books it is based on.
- In The Acts of Caine it's one half of the setting. The other half is classical Dystopia.
- The Black Company cycle. The military kind of dark.
- Clandestine Daze by Tim Marquitz follows the adventures of a cannibal shapeshifter who hates what he does and who he is but needs to continue on in order to keep peace between humans and Aels in the modern world.
- Cruel Sisters is a short story with dark fantasy while retelling the ballad "Twa Sisters," showing Reality Ensues when a harpist makes an instrument out of a dead girl's body.
- Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues published by Ragnarok Publications gained a surprisingly large Kickstarter following by promising to be nothing but this.
- The Cthulhu Mythos along with the Cosmic Horror Story genre in general have evil cultists galore, and a whole plethora of incomprehensible Evil Gods. Magic or any reality-warping abilities are generally not used, as one wrong word results in Insanity or Mind Rape by an Eldritch Abomination. Success will usually either drive you insane(r) or get you eaten by an Eldritch Abomination. That said, if a wizard is mentioned, you can bet your ass he's a villain or will meet a tragic end. The only notable exception is a guy who reads a spell book For Lulz, and accidentally teleports himself to an Eldritch Location.
- Demon Road, by Derek Landy of Skulduggery Pleasant, is pretty dark, as it features demons, a Deal with the Devil and the main character's parents attempting to use her blood in order to fulfill a blood pact.
- Dirge by Tim Marquitz is a novel about an assassin trying to deal with the Zombie Apocalypse which has pushed her Low Fantasy world to the brink of extinction.
- Draconian Symphony, is about an abuse victim that gets roped into doing Hell's dirty work after getting a demon's help in revenge against his abuser.
- Michael Moorcock's Elric Saga, focusing on a doomed albino emperor with the mother of all Evil Weapons.
- The Eye of Argon is an attempt at a gritty Conan-style tale of blood, sex and violence.
- All novels written by Feliks W. Kres, especially the Szerer cycle.
- Joe Abercrombie's The First Law series has a feudal society in which the upper classes scheme and intrigue while caring nothing about the common man and the Inquisition is a very powerful, feared and merciless force...bordered by a vast and totalitarian slave-keeping empire to the South and a barbarian kingdom of savage killers from Grim Up North on the other side. Said Southern empire being controlled behind the scenes by a cabal of crazed cannibal mages...and non-cannibal mages being little better (if not worse...). Oh, the little matter of any form of magic being, at its source, a demonic power in this setting. Lots of violence, grittiness, grime and death. It's saying something that one of the (comparatively) more sympathetic characters is a cynical, crippled Torture Technician for the aforementioned Inquisition.
- The Gentleman Bastard series has thieves as its protagonists, who are kept sympathetic by the fact that the whole world is cutthroat and corrupt.
- Jill Kismet is an Urban Fantasy series set in the seedy underbelly of the Weird West, starring a foul-mouthed monster slayer who started as a teenage prostitute and whose mentor was murdered by an Apocalypse Cultist. That should give you some idea.
- Believe it or not, J. R. R. Tolkien actually wrote a fair amount in this genre. He even wrote that most of his tales were tragic.
- The Children of Húrin would be one of the earliest examples if only Tolkien hadn't held it in Development Hell until his death. The Horde vastly outnumbering human civilization? Check. Isolationist elves and shameless dwarves? Check. The gods passing the popcorn? Check, as this is set before Eärendil's voyage. The God of Evil is the only one not passing the popcorn? Oh yes, check. The main hero is an Anti-Hero in sour armor? Frickin check. Pile on the incest, genocide, bleak war against the forces of an evil god where humanity's on the losing side, and a tragic Downer Ending, and it's almost hard to believe it's in the same universe as the Hobbit.
- Much of The Silmarillion feels like this, amusingly enough. The entry just above is but one story in a list of several darker losses and tragedy, set within a world of astounding beauty and wonder, but also in a world where the wisest know that the old glory cannot last and fate is doomed to taint the world with evil. Most elves in the story are genocidal, racist, and on a path of bloodshed and revenge for the Silmarils, doomed by their own oath to get them back or fail beyond any help from the gods and by fate itself. Promises are Serious Business, after all. Humans either die heroically in a war they have no chance of winning, betray their kin with promises and seduction by the dark god Morgoth, or simply try to survive against all odds. Dwarves are either greedy or isolationist against all the suffering around them, and the war is going so bad that both men and elves are on the brink of apocalypse. Things do get better, but their Numenorean descendants bring their triumph down to a Pyrrhic Victory.
- Even The Hobbit could be considered an example, albeit a downplayed one (especially since it's for kids and has a lot of comedic elements). The whole story is motivated not by the balance of the world, but by greed and self-interest on all sides. There are very few real heroes — even Bilbo is an apathetic Classical Antihero a lot of the time, and Gandalf is a trickster who shanghais Bilbo into the quest and comes and goes capriciously.
- Lady of Gems series has a lot of dark fantasy elements,the first book deals with Body Horror and not to mention the fear-feeding creatures that keeps people in at night.
- The Malazan Book of the Fallen takes typical War Is Hell conventions and applies them to fictional wars in a fantasy setting. Some of the atrocities the characters bear witness to (or go through themselves) are genuinely shocking.
- Miserere: An Autumn Tale: the purpose of the World is to hold off Hell.
- Mortis: The Blood 'n Flowers Series's first book, Demon Meat for Dinner, progressively gets darker with each passing chapter, ultimately leading to the the graphic torture and butchering of the antagonist.
- Phenomena starts of as a fantasy and starts showing hints of becoming a Dark Fantasy in the 2nd book, by the 7th and the spin-offs is it really a dark fantasy with Body Horror, terror, Slasher Smiles and more. Of the characters only the two main characters seem like genualy good, most of the others have Grey and Gray Morality. Most of the characters treat murder as "necisary", at times, people sell them out, lie, and have slaves. One elf that never was a slave thinks it's okay to kill the race that mainly keeps elves as slaves. There's canibalism, strong implications of rape (one even bragged about seemingly doing it), Fantastic Racism, magic is seen as evil, implied incest, and it goes From Bad to Worse. It's a good series because it's well written, interesting story, and the characters are great, but it's still feels wrong that it still has a 9+ rating in Norway, which might be because of the lack of swearing and implications of nudes, even though it's allowed on Norwegian children's TV.
- Red Room by C.T. Phipps follows the adventures of The Men in Black Derek Hawthorne and Shannon O'Reilly as they work for Ancient Conspiracy the House in keeping humanity in the dark about the supernatural. There are no heroes and the only thing a person can aspire to o be is less evil than the next guy.
- Return of the Reaper would be a clear example, with the "hero" being the same demon who enslaved all the sentient races in the world and who is acting more for revenge than for the well being of those sentient races.
- Craig Schaefer's Revanche Cycle follows the struggle for to control a parallel-Renaissance papacy. Black and Gray Morality is in full effect; decadent nobles, witches, poison, and back-stabbing galore. The one truly good character in the saga, an aspiring knight who seems to have wandered in from a much happier fantasy world, is an Ax-Crazy psycho who's just been drugged and brainwashed into acting that way. It's that kind of story.
- The Second Apocalypse series is unrelenting in its darkness. The world is in a constant struggle involving religious zealots, insane immortals, ruthless sorcerers and intergalactic sex-demons. War Is Hell, and is described in horrific detail. Plagues, infighting, wide-spread slavery, casual cruelty and rape are so common they become background scenery. The setting's already been brutalized in the past by a world-ending apocalypse that came dangerously close to driving humans to extinction, and all the warning signs for the second are already here.
Humanity's best chance of survival rests in the hands of a manipulative, pitiless sociopath Übermensch who reads the emotions and minds of people with disturbing ease. He's the only one who has the single-minded focus to manipulate the self-interest and infighting of the population into one common goal and prepare for the return of Mog-Pharau, the No-God. The sorcerers of the School of Mandate, who are aware of the Unholy Consult's existence by way of dreaming of the First Apocalypse every night, are derided and mocked by society as madmen who have damned their souls. Additionally, later books state outright that the threat of damnation is completely true, and thousands are doomed to suffering in a literal interpretation of the Christian hell, and those that remain are in for a full-scale Cosmic Horror Story.
- The Silerian Trilogy: A people as occupied with killing each other as winning liberty, versus a brutal empire which rules them, fairly ruthless "heroes" leading them, and evil wizards who extort others for the simple use of water. The chosen one dies at the end of the first book, and once the empire leaves, the newly free country falls into civil war.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: George R.R. Martin goes the full mile in trying to show his readers how dark the Dark Ages truly were. Anyone Can Die, morality is a subjective thing, War Is Hell and the tangled politics with its socio-economic lessons in self-defeat makes the whole war thing look like the easy (or just plain lazy) option towards speedplaying your way to disaster. Even the Magic Coming Back seems to just make everything more dangerous.
- The works of Stephen King often travel into fantasy territory, depending on how far the supernatural elements are elaborated upon. The Dark Tower series and related works like The Stand, IT and Insomnia are this.
- Tales of the Black Raven by Seth Skorkowsky is a work following the adventures of the titular Master Thief in a dark and dreary Renassiance-meets-Hyboria setting.
- The Ties That Bind Trilogy by Rob J. Hayes is another example. It is a bleak setting of cynical mercenaries with a ruthless Inquisitor out to save the lands from a demonic invasion.
- We Are All Completely Fine is about a support group for traumatized heroes who are all suffering from their various ordeals with the supernatural, some of which, like the Dwellers, are real and still after them
- The Witcher cycle, particularly in the later books of the Saga, when it began accumulating grimdark. The game and earlier stories are quite gritty, but lighter than late Saga.
- Roald Dahl's The Witches is a strange mishmash of Dark Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Defanged Horrors, and Conspiracy Thriller.
- The Young Elites by Marie Lu features a crapsack world, fantastic racism, black and grey morality, while Adelina Amouteru, the protagonist, becomes darker as the books progress.
- The Zombie Knight: Thanks to a high amount of humor throughout, this story might not have the same sense of hopelessness and/or pessimism that many other entries here have, but even so, this story is still very dark. The "magic" in the story comes from grim reapers who resurrect corpses, and while the protagonist is actually quite noble-hearted and wants to protect the people of Eleg, his success is never guaranteed.
- That said it slides more towards the idealistic side of the scale. The protagonists win as much if not more so than they lose and they are all likable and heroic. The fact that is takes place in a modern setting means values dissonance isn't at play. There are score of good people who capable and willing to stop the numerous villains that inhabit their world. Their may be tons of omnicidal maniacs in Eleg but not all is lost.There is always a sense of hope throughout the story that makes you want to read more to see if things get better.
- Caitlyn R. Kiernan is known for writing short stories and novels in this genre. The Red Tree either falls into horror or dark fantasy, depending on your interpretation of what happens. If you choose the latter, it is a subversion of the story of a girl that finds a magical tree less than 100 yards from her house that grants wishes. Instead, according to the manuscript Sara finds in the cellar, the tree has a history of sinister urban legends, tales, and local folklore that becomes fascinating to the protagonist, an author named Sara. Needless to say, the massive red oak starts to take an interest in her too. Some events are not entirely explained by the suggestion that she was [[spoiler: slowly going insane and losing touch with reality.
- European myths, whether they are Greek, Lusitanian, Celtic, Norse, Finnish, Estonian, Slavic, Russian or Judeo-Christian, tended to vary about this. Regarding tropes...
- The treatment of magic varied a lot. For most of recorded history, it was either bad or ignored. Recently, this has started to get subverted, thanks to popularity of fantasy works and the good PR that Neopagans have.
- Politics part mostly depends on your interpretation of (mostly real) history. On Five Races, that trope didn't exactly exist back then, and The Fair Folk were mostly just annoying tricksters. A Forever War thankfully never truly occurred.
- On Jerkass Gods, see that trope. Classical Mythology was the worst offender. A total Cosmic Horror Story was averted though in all myths. (On that, see Aztec Mythology.)
- The classical heroes were often the "anti-" sort. Averted in the medieval times, which trusted more in the Knight in Shining Armor.
- Atmosfear (AKA Nightmare), which has the players at the mercy of an angry, petty demon-god called the Gatekeeper. The players roleplay his minions, either his Herald, a monster beholden to him, or a "soul ranger" attempting to steal a key from a herald.
- Don't Rest Your Head: A group of insomniacs are slowly losing their minds, and gain access to a city built out of insanity, and populated by corporeal nightmares, which they fight off with Power Born of Madness. And, as the title suggests, if they do ever get to sleep, they are in deep shit (If they live long enough to wake up again, they lose their superpowers untill sleep deprivation drives them crazy enough to use them again).
- Some Dungeons & Dragons settings (Ravenloft and Heroes of Horror spring to mind), and it really depends on the player's Character Alignment and the DM's mood when he cooked up the campaign whether it stays Heroic Fantasy too.
- The Dark Sun setting takes place in a desert fantasy world where a psychotic Evil Sorcerer named Rajaat taught the art of Defilingnote to a bunch of humans and lead them on a genocidal world-war that annihilated a number of sentient species, devastated the cultures of those races not driven extinct, and burned the world to a dying desert. When those humans realised that their boss wasn't human and, in fact, planned on wiping out humanity once it had killed off the other races, they turned on him. Then the most powerful of them all turned into a monstrous dragon-monster and ever since the others have ruled as undying sorcerer-kings whilst slowly trying to advance themselves in the same way. Slavery is the norm, cannibalism a fact of life, family members will kill each other over a mouthful of water, and any heroes (if you can call them that) fight out of necessity, not idealism.
- The Midnight setting takes place in a rather generic fantasy world where the Forces of Evil won the final war and the protagonists are guerillas or simple folk trying to delay the inevitable. Imagine The Lord of the Rings if Sauron had won. Add in the fact that the gods created the world as a prison for the Big Bad and screwed up the bindings that were supposed to keep only the Big Bad trapped, so now they can't get in and sort things out, and it gets worse.
- The overall theme in Planescape is it's moral ambiguity, and the bizarre settings only increase grim mood.
- Exalted: Creation has pretty much been on a declining spiral since it was created, with one or two temporary exceptions. The Gods are corrupt, lazy, and/or addicted to games which are worse than crack, heroin, nicotine, and bacon combined. The world is threatened by no less than three sets of Eldritch Abominations, any of which would be happy to corrupt, unravel, or utterly destroy existence. The greatest weapons with the capability to fend off these enemies are humans stuffed with way more power than humanity was built to handle, suffering from a curse that causes them periodic psychotic breaks. The average mortal can expect either a long life of drudgery and toil or a short life of terror and pain. Oh, and those weapons? Two of the three sets of Abominations have their own versions working for them. Pretty much the only thing keeping the setting from being a Cosmic Horror Story is that the PC Exalted are fully able, if they act with wisdom, to actually confront and, potentially, solve the problems that face Creation.
- Gemini is set in dying world that succumbed to eternal twilight and the people are harassed by the demonic forces looking for hiding Prophet believed to be a Saviour of Man.
- Kult: Humanity used to be immortal super-entities, but a jealous deity known as the Demiurge took away our powers and sealed them off, and imposed "mundane reality" on us. People who we think to be crazy are actually seeing through this veil.
- Although the game itself has very little in terms of setting, the rules and artwork in the Lamentations of the Flame Princess core books present a world filled with sex, black magic and the most gruesome violence imaginable.
- Palladium Game's Nightbane, where you must save a modern-day Earth that has *already* been taken over secretly by monstrous shapeshifters- often by being one of them.
- Warhammer hits pretty much every trope except evil cults controlling all organized religion and Cybernetics Eat Your Soul. How dark is it? When the setting was rebooted the justification was that all the prophecies about The End Of The World came true simultaneously and everything was destroyed in horror despite everything the various heroes and factions tried.
- A few of the tropes it meets:
- Magic really is intrinsically tied to Chaos but not using it simply isn't an option.
- Every religion and power structure has been infiltrated to some extent by Chaos worshipers.
- Any and all actions that a sentient being performs directly feed the forces of Chaos. Fighting against the Champions of Khorne, for instance, empowers Khorne because that just increases the violence. Not fighting just means you will die, which also furthers Khorne's goals.
- Since the coming of Chaos all forms of life in the world have been at least slightly corrupted by it. The elves lost their compassion and turned into haughty manipulators, xenophobic cannibals, and vicious slavers. The lizardmen, the chosen race of the original gods, have gradually lost their Super Intelligence and the lesser ones have become partially feral. Dwarves once formed firm and long lasting bonds of friendship but now obsess over grudges and ancient hatreds instead.
- The off-spring game Mordheim is set in the world of Warhammer Fantasy and fits the bill even better than its progenitor. In the ruined city of Mordheim, the pious become zealous, the tough becomes weak and the good become corpses hung above the streets. It says something that the only irrevocally "good" faction is a small group of fanatic warrior monks who *everyone else* think are evil.
- A few of the tropes it meets:
- Its more popular spinoff Warhammer 40,000 can be summed up as Warhammer In Space. And it does have everything on the list, even the evil cults monopolizing all religion (provided you remember the Imperial Cult is the lesser of two evils).
- The World of Darkness games are practically the trope codifiers for urban, Dark Fantasy.
- By Chaosium, the very early game Stormbringer and its 90s temporary successor Elric!.
- McQueen - an exploration of a journey "down the rabbit hole" of a distorted London with two suicidal fashionistas waiting until morning.
- Amea features a world overrun by zombies, yetis, and darkness. And by the end of the game, Amea, Inglor, and Garrik are shown to be the only good guys, and Garrik gets killed fairly early.
- Avadon totters on the edge of the trope without quite falling off, allowing for both humor and heroism in a totalitarian, ends-justify-the-means society that's one broken treaty away from bloody ruin.
- The Under the Burning Suns expansion for Battle for Wesnoth.
- Berserk and the Band of the Hawk: See entry for Berserk.
- Berserk: Millennium Falcon Hen Seima Senki no Shō: See entry for Berserk.
- Brütal Legend has elements of it (Humans opressed by demon overlords and both sides under attack from The Undead), but it's mostly masked by the sheer awesome.
- Despite the sometimes terrifying enemies and morbid nature of the setting most of the Castlevania series is Gothic Horror. The Alternate Continuity Reboot Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and its sequels however, dive right into this.
- The Darkest Dungeon toes the line between this and Cosmic Horror Story. After the Narrator spent the family fortune on uncovering the secrets of the family's ancestral home, he Dug Too Deep and found an eldritch portal that let something out. Now the once stately manor has become an abomination, and it's up to the player to send teams of adventurers into those maddening corridors to investigate. Not all of them come out alive, and those that do are often changed irrevocably.
- The Deception series tends to be set in a world that invokes this feel. Though as the main character is usually limited to a small area, it's mostly shown in outside cutscenes and enemy descriptions.
- Demon's Crest, the final game in the Gargoyle's Quest series, is one of the bleakest games on the Super Nintendo, taking place in a realm of demons and with a main character who wants to gain ultimate power to rule the world.
- The Dept. Heaven series in general. As if the mortals weren't bad enough by themselves, all mortals are by design stuck in the middle of the war between gods and demons, both sides of which will actively screw you over in the name of their own victory. Defectors from either side generally don't get very happy endings either.
- Diablo has elements of it. Moreso in Diablo II, where The Legions of Hell have The Horde of Undead, mutant wildlife, lesser demons, and Deal with the Devil types Vs. a morally dubious Necromancer, a Vain Sorceress, or a Paladin who belongs to a Corrupt Church. And it's all up to that one person, plus any minions s/he may hire/summon. Heaven won't help out because of a strict non-interference policy, except for one Angel who sells goodies and resurrects dead party members to pay rent — and who, in the third game, finally gets fed up and decides to become a mortal in order to help humanity directly.
- Dragon Age is completely this. The entire world is almost always at war. Mages constantly fight against the whispers of demons from the dream world/afterlife of the Fade trying to take them over (little wonder many of them choose to be magically lobotomized), and every so often, one succumbs and becomes a Humanoid Abomination, or makes a deal in order to learn Blood Magic. Demons are thus a constant threat. Because it's so easy for a mage to be possessed or go rogue, they're imprisoned and kept under constant watch by The Chantry. Mages who resist this are hunted down and either captured or killed. Elves are a Slave Race distinguished from humanity only by their long ears, who were once the dominant species but were soon hunted down, and are now second-class citizens in a society dominated by humans (the only exceptions being the Dalish, who are nomadic and desperately hold on to the last shreds of culture they once had). The Dwarves are a politicking race with a brutally restrictive Fantastic Caste System, who cower in their last two remaining fortress-cities, with the rest of their once-mighty empire being overrun. The resident Proud Warrior Race (though it's technically a religion, not a race, and anyone can join) called the Qunari are almost impossible to understand by the other races, and are constantly threatening invasion. One of the world's major powers is built on slavery, and the rest are filled with everything from Deadly Decadent Courts to constant infighting. To top it all off, every hundred years or so they all come under attack by Darkspawn, which the Chantry's god figure, The Maker, cooked up as divine retribution because Humanity tried to invade heaven - according to the Chantry, anyways.
- Drakengard features Caim, a protagonist who gleefully slaughters enemies with his dragon, who is also having a jolly old time with all the murder. One of the party members is a cannibalistic serial killer who targets children. Another is a pedophile. At least there's Caim's sister, who seems like a decent enough person. Except for the fact that she wants to bang her brother, and kills herself when she finds out her brother is disgusted by the idea. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the story morphs into a Cosmic Horror Story by the end.
- NieR, Drakengard's spinoff, is closer in tone to a traditional fantasy narrative...at first. Things are post-apocalyptic, sure. Magic is blood-based, I'll grant you that. Humanity may have done some awfully unpleasant things in the past in the name of saving themselves. And yes, your daughter has been kidnapped by the resident king of shadows. But you and your friends are good people...right? Maybe you are, maybe you aren't. However you view yourself, you still just thoughtlessly murdered the last of the original humans.
- Dwarf Fortress moved from Low Fantasy into this genre in its 2010 edition. The gods are at best silent, and at worst curse mortals into monsters or help demons take over civilizations, the angels are terrifying creatures that are brought into the world to help the former demons, the vampires and werewolves are bloodthirsty/savage monsters, the Night Creatures take a page from The Fair Folk and abduct and/or eat people, or try to kill anyone who's out alone at night... And strictly all of the giant monsters raid settlements to steal, kill or plunder. Oh, and the only magic users are necromancers, who reanimate beings anathema to all life (which secrets are revealed by death gods) except them because they are scared of death. Most human "deities" and goblin leaders are demons, and the elves are man-eating ecoterrorists. In short, not unlike Warhammer, life as a peasant must be short and brutal.
- However, A World Half Full is a force too. The elves are rather friendly if arrogant and if you don't offend them they'll be good trading partners, the vast majority people will adhere to Sacred Hospitality, the dwarves are generally pretty decent people, the humans are varied but generally friendly, and there needs no grim antihero : you can play an Ideal Hero, forge an utopia for your dwarves, and triumph over all the nasties with just bravery, dwarven ingeniosity, and good steel.
- The Fall from Heaven mod for Civilization IV is explicitly described as Dark Fantasy by its creators. Convenient, since the mechanics of Civilization heavily encourage a rather brutal and cynical gameplay.
- Fallen London and Sunless Sea are set in a version of Victorian London that was "stolen by bats" and is now run by the Masters of the Bazaar. Players can commit murder and cannibalism, go mad, become possessed, have their eyes stolen by spiders, sell their soul and be sank beneath the strange waves of the zee by enemies.
- Demon's Souls takes place in a kingdom completely overrun with demons, and it's up to you to feebly try to destroy them.
- In Dark Souls, Where to begin? The games are classed as Survival Horror by way of fantasy Action RPG by a good amount of people. The game takes place primarily in the Kingdom of Lordran, which has been completely run into the ground. The only thing that remains are the decaying buildings, it's inhabitants have all either died, or become hollowed, crazed and undead. In addition to it being host to dozens of different types of horrific forms of demons, twisted animals and grotesque monsters. Lordran is also just the worst of the Kingdoms and nations in the souls universe. Many other states are implied to be decaying and faltering. That's just the setting. The world is actually ending to the Plague of Undeath. The morally ambiguous protagonist, along with most of the world's population have been cursed by the Darksign. A curse which grants its bearer technical immortality, but at the cost of eventual complete loss of sanity. (death is also not any less painful when you're immortal in the souls universe). The gods have either all left or are too bothered to do anything about the situation. Many of the NPCs you meet along the way eventually lose themselves to the curse and you are forced to slay them in self defense. The "hero" is tasked with relighting the First Flame, which even then, would only temporarily cure the curse, as it is forced to resurface every couple of centuries. Or, the hero can choose to let the flame die ushering the world into the ambiguous "Age of Dark". An age of freedom? or simply another word for the dark and nothingness consuming the world? Even the quest givers who task the hero with the final goals of the game are not entirely trustworthy and may be manipulating the player character as an unwitting pawn for further ends.Then there's Manus and the Abyss, if there's anything the Souls series needed to make it the crappiest of crapsack worlds, was an eldtrich abomination trying mindlessly to obliterate all known existence. There isn't much hope in the Dark Souls universe, indeed.
- Dark Souls II is even darker than the first game, with up to four kingdoms crumbling due to the shards of Manus influence. While there were many characters who claimed to be undead in the first, even after going crazy they appeared to be normal. In II, NPCs can be varying levels of hollow, from appearing vaguely zombie-like to almost falling apart - just like the player.
- You think Dark Souls 2 was bad? Dark Souls 3 leaves the series at it's WORST, civilazation has fallen, the Age of Dark is practically upon mankind, all the Lords who kindled the flame before have abandonned their thrones, and now it's up to you to decide what is the true fate of the world, and this is not necesarily a good thing, all that remains is ember indeed......
- Bloodborne is a mix of this and Gaslamp Fantasy for the first half of the game, being set in a Victorian-Gothic setting, with a lycanthropy plague, quicksilver bullets, witches, magic and other elements of the subgenres. However, it is later revealed to be a science fiction story along the lines of H. P. Lovecraft's novels.
- Heroes of Newerth: Maliken's betrayal has caused many Legion strongholds to fall to the mercy of the Hellbourne forces who plans on destroying it so they can bring forth their Sacrificial Pit.
- Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor and its sequel Shadow of War lead towards this direction rather The Lord of the Rings's High Fantasy: instead of an epic adventure where the heroes travel to several lands in search for a magical artifact to defeat the Dark Lord, the games take place entirely inside Mordor where evil is everywhere and the forces of light have no power. The main protagonist derives his powers from a dark source and has to do very morally ambiguous deeds like raising his own army of brainwashed minions, and said source is not completely well-intetioned either.
- Nights of Azure is set in a world had been showered by a demon king's blood, leading to transformed fiends plaguing the night. The only thing protecting humanity is an untrustworthy, Burn the Witch!-happy church who sacrifices a designated Saint every ten years to prevent the demon king from returning and who employs agents that get transformed into fiends if they're exposed to too much demon blood, unless if they themselves are one of the rare half-demons that retained their humanity. Don't feel too bad for humanity though, as a common theme of the game is how humans could be comparable, if not worse, than demons.
- Overlord series are both a pastiche and a parody of this genre.
- Path of Exile is set in a continent-sized Corpse Land-cum-Penal Colony (think "fantasy Australia") under siege by Fantasy Nazis. All summoning runs on Necromancy, and even Templars do this.
- The original Quake featured this as the main setting. Eldritch horrors, dark magic, gothic and occult architecture, and an overall bleak atmosphere permeate the entire setting of the game. The major difference? You kill the enemies with More Dakka.
- Soul Sacrifice is based around Sorcerers in such a world, and filled to the brim with Body Horror and Was Once a Man.
- Sword of the Berserk: Guts' Rage: See the entry for Berserk in the Manga folder.
- Valkyrie Profile is an example of one. Slavery, war, and general atrocities is the order of the day. More often than not, humans succumb to the worst part of themselves. Not to say that the gods are any better. Ragnarok is just around the corner, and things are falling apart. Your job is to recruit the soul of worthy mortals to fight in that final battle, and there is no shortage of death and despair to make it very easy and guilt-free for you.
- The Witcher - see literature explanation above.
- Most of the games of Yasumi Matsuno (Ogre Battle, Tactics Ogre, Final Fantasy Tactics, Vagrant Story, Crimson Shroud) fall under this category. War-torn lands, oppressive governments, Corrupt Churches, and vengeful gods abound.
- Black Guards and its sequel, has your band of thugs, madmen and junkies dealing with enemies much worse than yourselves, as you try to prove yourself innocent of a murder in the first game and go on a dark quest for revenge in the second.
- Grim Dawn has a steampunk fantasy world where humanity is pushed to the brink of extinction by an invasion of other-dimensional beings and the undead. The situation has become so bad that gold has become worthless, it's useful iron that's the currency.
- Legacy of Kain, the world of Nosgoth is rotting away when its guardians became corrupted. Demons and undead roam dark forests and swamps while bandits are free to murder as they please. And these are the good old days!!! Because the vampire messiah who was supposed to save the world didn't. Instead he raised a horde that reduced humanity to cowering behind a single fortified city while his vampire minions cloud the skies with toxic fumes, as the world is dying even more rapidly. And then an Eldritch Abomination decides to get into the act...
- Ark The Improbable: The main characters are an Elf and a Frankenstein's Monster belonging to a Bounty Hunters guild, fight hideously mutated creatures, developed from The Virus working it's disgusting magic on mundane animals, plants, humans, and fantastic creatures, including Werewolves and Zombies.
- Baskets of Guts: Despite the fact that magic is quite common and basically doesn't require any evil activities to use it, most of the wizards empower their spells with homunculi-based batteries. Said homunculi are supposedly artificial powerful wizards, doomed to serve as energy sources for their entire life. And then there are paraanatomists who promote "medicine" over healing magic. And The Mafia, lots of it. So it's not the world that is dark, but rather the creatures who populate it. It even makes the whole goverment tyranny thing somewhat justified.
- Black Rose features a grimy corrupted empire with Steam Punk technology versus an underdeveloped country where magic users are being wiped out, a lack of fantasy races other than humans, and a continued emphasis on how while things might seem bad at present, the protagonists will doubtlessly be going through worse. Said underdeveloped magic using country also has magic users capable of Mind Rape, with the military of said grimy corrupted empire being their only true means of protection against them (for a fee)...provided they don't just "vacate" their settlements and take over their land if they don't buy in.
- Draconia Chronicles, although it's more of the "Society is in the toilet, none of the races can get along or see their so-called "allies" are about to stab them in the back, and there's constant, unceasing warfare, atrocity, and bloodshed" sort of dark.
- Drowtales: Murder and Demonic Possession are very common. One character whose life is in danger comments that she doesn't want to end up Undead (and another has her zombified little sister as a bodyguard). Cannibalism is completely legal due to a resource shortage, as is rape, incest, pedophilia, and Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique. Schools don't mind the students killing each other, as long as they do so quietly and dispose of the bodies themselves. And those are the "good" guys. On the surface world, nobles bathe in elven blood because they think it'll make them immortal. Magic is fairly neutral though, but some are allergic to Blood Magic.
- Parts three and four (and possibly part 5, we're not sure since it hasn't been posted yet) of A Modest Destiny, although they manage to inject some humor. It also seems to be getting better (due to one character, a frost-elf Vampire/ Necromancer, being stuck in the Heel–Face Revolving Door.)
- Above Ground
- The Arkn Mythos
- Demon's Due: An illustration based web series where an evil sorceress unleashes all kinds of evils upon a local lordship. Magic is fairly neutral here, too, but dang is it can't be misused for all kinds of horrors in this one.
- Dis Acedia: a dark fantasy web serial set in an interdimensional magical prison, crafted by an ancient, utterly demented deity. Magic is extremely dangerous and feared, death is never an escape, and the entire dimension is divided into fiefdoms waging an eternal war.
- The Iron Teeth: A dark fantasy web serial set in a world full of dangers and monsters. Human civilization hangs by a thread and yet people still war and fight among themselves. Magic is neutral but limited and hoarded by guilds that use it for personal power. And of course, everything wants to kill goblins...