"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
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.
Also, if you want to write your own, check this out
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 prove that Aristocrats Are Evil. 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 morals, and The Legions Of Eldritch Abominations are mere days away from infesting into the Mortal Realm, or are 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.
- 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 nothing in its right mind goes there.
Sibling trope to Dungeon Punk
, which can be just as grim and gritty, but Dungeon Punk has Magitek
. See also, Fantastic Noir
. May be the result of a disruption in, or Evil's turn, on the Balance Of Good And Evil
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Anime and Manga
- Ayashi no Ceres: 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.
- 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.
- 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 Knights Templar Inquisition. 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Some albums from Thorgal series are set in definitely bleak and corrupted fantasy settings (especially Three Ancients of the Realm of Aran/Bottomless Lake).
- Requiem Vampire Knight is this in spades, and the world of Resurrection is as crapsack as they come.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- A Song of Ice and Fire: George RR Martin goes the full mile in trying to show his readers how dark the Dark Ages truly were. Rape is a constant thing, innocents die at the hands of psychotic soldiers who have nothing better to do, Anyone Can Die for no reason and War Is Hell full stop.
- The Black Company cycle. The military kind of dark.
- The Children of Húrin could be one of the earliest examples, if only Professor J. R. R. Tolkien had'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.
- Much of "The Silmarillion" feels like this, amusingly enough. Tolkien even wrote that most of his tales were tragic.
- Miserere: An Autumn Tale: the purpose of the World is to hold off Hell.
- In The Acts of Caine it's one half of the setting. The other half is classical Dystopia.
- The Second Apocalypse series begins with about half the known world being destroyed by the No-God, and things continue in the same general tone from there.
- 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.
- 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, full stop.
- The Zombie Knight: Thanks to a vein 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.
- Joe Abercrombie's The First Law series definitely qualifies as well. 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.
- Blackguards: Tales of Assassins, Mercenaries, and Rogues published by Ragnarok Publications gained a surprisingly large Kickstarter following by promising to be nothing but this.
- 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.
- 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.
- Warhammer. Its more popular spinoff Warhammer 40,000 can be summed up as In Space.
- As of 8th edition, the only thing on the list Warhammer lacks is evil cults monopolizing all organized religion. Sigmar and Ulric have reasonable priesthoods.
- 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 overall theme in Planescape is it's moral ambiguity, and the bizarre settings only increase grim mood.
- 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.
- The Dark Sun setting takes place in a desert fantasy world where the Forces of Primordial (or whatever bad, bad guys the writers feel like throwing in an edition) won the war and the heroes (if you can call them that) fight out of necessity, not idealism.
- 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.
- Dont 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).
- 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.
- The World of Darkness games are practically the trope codifiers for urban, Dark Fantasy.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Dragon Age: Origins: Kinda like Claymore, but one can play as a guy. The Grey Wardens are all Death Seekers, because they drink Darkspawn blood and risk becoming one themselves. Magicians constantly fight against the whispers of demons from the Fade trying to take them over (little wonder many of them choose to be lobotomized), and every so often, one succumbs and becomes a Humanoid Abomination, or makes a deal in order to learn Blood Magic. Elves are a Slave Race distinguished from humanity only by their long ears and the fact that they produce magicians slightly more. The Dwarves cower in their two fortress-cities. The local flavor of Orcs -which resemble muscular, horned Drow- called Qunari, are gearing up for an invasion. The Evil Empire is invading. And they're all under attack by Darkspawn, which God cooked up as divine retribution because Humanity tried to invade heaven. (according to the intro cutscene, anyways) Hauntings and undead are common.
- 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.
- 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.
- Drakengard, which later jumps feet-first into a Cosmic Horror Story.
- Overlord series are both a pastiche and a parody of this genre.
- Brutal 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Despite the sometimes terrifying enemies and morbid nature of the setting most of the Castlevania series is too idealistic to be this trope see Gothic Horror. The Alternate Continuity Reboot Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and its sequels however, dive right into this.
- Demons 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, the Fire that lights the word is dying, and it's up to you, cursed to never fully die and to slowly lose your humanity every time you fall, to travel through the undead and demon filled ruins of Lordran to do something about it.
- 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.
- Dwarf Fortress moved from Low Fantasy into this genre in its 2010 edition. Staying outside at night is tantamount to suicide by hordes of bogeymen, other evil creatures casually kidnap and murder people, and Hidden Fun Stuff occasionally breaks free to take over religions and civilizations. The 2012 edition, with its necromancers, divine curses such as vampires and werebeasts, and evil Death Worlds nastier than ever, cements its status as Dark Fantasy.
- 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.
- The Under the Burning Suns expansion for Battle for Wesnoth.
- 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.
- Warcraft III, the undead scourge have overrun the region and it is seemingly hopeless for anyone to stop the Scourge and Frostmourne.
- 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.
- 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.
- Fallen London and Sunless Sea are set in a version of Victorian London that was "stolen by devils" 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- Demons 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.