Nightmares focuses on an Ensemble Cast of characters, chief amongst them being a guy named Donovan. By day he works as on-call roving tech-support for a half-dozen firms, offices, and other businesses around the area. By night, he works in his godfather's bar/nightclub, The Sanctum, as doorman and security.
This is where he has his first encounter with the Masquerade, and he begins to explore the magical Underworld, meeting (and fighting with) zombies, trolls, ghouls, goblins, vampires, werewolves and other shapeshifters, and The Fair Folk. He soon learns they have a convenient group term, "Wight", derived from an old proto-germanic term for any magical creature. (Tolkien appropriated the term for a different use, which led to others borrowing the incorrect usage.) Youkai is actually an accurate parallel term.
Most of the information below is produced from the writer's world bible, excepting major reveals.
- Beware the Nice Ones - Inverted. He was always bigger and stronger, but was generally raised to be careful around other people. He actually had to break himself of Gentle Giant tendencies when he got on the defensive line in high school sports, and still has to fight it in his second job.
- Bouncer - Donovan works a second job as one of these at the Local Hangout, owned by his godfather. He lives in a loft apartment overtop.
- The Big Guy - He used to be a linebacker in highschool, but he's not Dumb Muscle. (Not exactly a Genius Bruiser, but he did graduate college with a computer-science degree.)
- The Hero - Despite being the biggest & strongest among the main cast (instead of The Mario), he's also the lead character.
- The Smart Girl - Her focus in college was literature and mythology, but somehow those didn't get her a job. Her typing skills did.
- Embarrassing First Name - Actual first name, "Walter", hates it with a passion. Mike is short for Michael, his middle name.
- Handsome Lech - He's pretty much in it for the ladies, and they're pretty much receptive. He is so glad this is a college town..
- The Lancer - Mike plays off of Donovan's seriousness and social awkwardness by being jokey and The Casanova. If this were a different story, he might've been The Hero.
- Parental Substitute - Served in the military with Donovan's father, and did his best to provide the Male Role Model for him growing up. When Donovan needed a job and apartment during college, he provided. Wanders between this and Big Brother Mentor.
- Beast and Beauty - She gets involved with Donovan early on. She's a model-esque beauty, he's an ex-linebacker beast.
- Brainless Beauty - Averted. When Mike tries to get Donovan to meet her, he refuses, having dated quite a few airhead cheerleaders who only dated him because he was on the football team in highschool. Fortunately, she's not like that.
- Femme Fatale - Much noise is made over the fact that she's stunningly beautiful, almost to Head-Turning Beauty levels. She tends to get her way because of it.
- The Chick - Well, sort of.
- Cool Old Guy - Murdoch looks to be in his fifties or sixties, for a Troll, anyway, but he's closer to three hundred and fifty. He's lost track.
- Old Master - Murdoch takes it upon himself to train Donovan and Samantha in combat and the rules of the Underworld.
Nightmares in the Dark includes examples of:
- All Myths Are True - More or less, yeah. Every myth has a grain of truth, though a lot of facts have been distorted or mistranslated.
- City of Adventure - Currently unnamed, but a combination of Pontiac and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Includes diverse geography, a short drive from any one of the Great Lakes, with the downtown split by a major river, with only a 15-minute drive from the downtown urban center to middle-of-nowhere farm country or woods.
- Debut Queue - Not one every episode, but the show takes its time in introducing characters.
- Elemental Powers - Around half the magic is like this, the other half is indirectly associated, especially in how the elements connect to more idealized concepts like healing (water), defense (earth) or music (wind).
- Four-Temperament Ensemble - For the younger portion of the cast:
- - Donovan (Phlegmatic) - Rational.
- - Mike (Sanguine) - Extroverted.
- - Gwen (Choleric) - Ambitious.
- - Sam (Melancholic) - Perfectionist.
- Functional Magic - Several different subtypes are used. Most magic is Theurgy, as rituals call on spirits from the Spirit World, but since most spirits are non-sentient, it's almost Rule Magic. Some casters will bind spirits to use their powers on command, but these pacts can have nasty side effects. And some will consume a spirit to gain those powers for themselves, but you will get changed by this. (This is also how all the different Wight races were created, the changes stacking up over time.)
- Gothic Punk - Played with, but ultimately averted. The Punk Punk genres are alluded to with an in-universe fashion trend which tends to wear fake armor, as a modern Hot Topic take-off of KISS-style costumes, which is referred to as 'Dungeon Punk'. Also convenient fashion for Masqueraders to wear their regular armor in every-day circumstances. Large weapons are still hard to hide, though.
- Götterdämmerung - Both straight and averted. There was a previous age when magic was common knowledge and gods walked the earth. Then some people didn't like that. Averted in that the magic is just as strong today as it was then, they just use it in more subtle ways to avoid discovery.
- Life Energy - Generally averted. The local variant of healing magic is based around transformative magic, so it's literally shaping the flesh back into a proper form. Don't think about it too hard, not for the believability, but for the squick.
- On the other hand, Mana exists, as a byproduct of sentient thought, and Emotion Eater spirits and others feed on it without usually harming the target.
- Masquerade - Several levels of it, in fact. First you have the active Wights who are hiding. Then you have the Changelings, regular people who don't event realize they're actually monsters. See Tomato In The Mirror, below. There are also a number of normal humans who know about and help or hunt the Changelings, but preserve the Masquerade because The World Is Not Ready.
- Meta Origin - Somewhere between this and Fantasy Kitchen Sink. Everything has a coherent explanation that all ties back into the same base concepts, but those concepts can be applied broadly enough that just about anything mythological can be justified.
- Muggles - Referred to as "Mundanes", "Mundies" for short, or when in public, "Mondays". (As in, "I hate Mondays.")
- Our Monsters Are Different - Verging on All Myths Are True. Much research was put into this, including the use of modern fictional sources, such as roleplaying materials, via the use of the Literary Agent Hypothesis to justify it. One general exception to this rule is cryptozoology, including the stuff from medieval bestiaries. Any monster which could be explained by a garbled description of a real animal, has about high chance of being just that. On the other hand, magic does make some of the tougher real-world connections easier to maintain (and who knows what a wizard might have done..).
- All Trolls Are Different - Played up with the Jaegers, (no, not that kind), a broad family of monsters that are beastly near-humanoids without any particular animal's features, such as Goblins, Orcs, Ogres, Gargoyles, etc. The name comes from the term 'hunter', as they're also The Wild Hunt. (Specifically, they hunt demons and undead.)
- Our Demons Are Different - Several different versions exist, and are related. Imps are Negative Emotion Eater spirits, which can be bound by spellcasters to produce Black Magic. They can also possess or be consumed to turn someone into a physical demon, referred to as a Fallen. There are Fallen versions of several of the major races, including succubi, devils, HellHounds, and
Balrogs-I mean, Fire Giants, yeah..
- Our Elves Are Better - 'Young' elves are slender, naturally graceful folk who tend towards nomadic travel, and are often found amongst Gypsies, Irish Travellers, and other off-the-grid subcultures. (The 60's were their heyday.)
- The Fair Folk - Older elves become more these types, as they lose the wanderlust and become more interested in Fey politics. (This usually takes a hundred years or so.) The older they get, the more power they accumulate, and with that power comes a set of oftentimes very odd rules and strictures. The exception to this is that in the Fey Courts, anyone can attain rank, as long as they prove themselves worthy through some means. This means anyone can play their ballgame, you just need to learn the rules of the particular court.
- Our Vampires Are Different - Well, they don't sparkle... Real vampires are monstrous, undead creatures whose souls have been converted into energy-sucking dark essence (blood just happens to be a handy conduit for energy). 'Half-vampire'/proto-vampire infectees are humans whose souls have been infected by this demonic essence, and risk turning into full vamps, and so must absorb certain energies, including good emotions, from regular people to keep from turning completely. Note that sunlight also contains this energy, which is bad for full-vamps who are only being kept alive by their dark essence.
- Winged Humanoid - Greek Harpies/Sirens, Norse Valkyries, Indian Garuda, Japanese Tengu, and a few other similar myths are combined into a Winged Humanoid race with Air element connections, including a gift for bewitching music.
- Witch Species - Both averted and utilized. Anybody can use magic, but the more you use it, the more it changes you. 'Monsters' are just people who've been using magic for generations, the changes tend to stack up over time.
- Post-Victory Collapse - This happens to Donovan right after his second encounter with magic, where he was forced to defend himself from a ghoul, and eventually killed it.
- Power Trio - Mixed, depending on the episode. Donovan is in many of the early episodes, but who's along with him depends on the situation, and his role. In the second and third episode, as part of a larger arc:
- Donovan (SuperEgo) - He's resistant to the women Mike tries to set him up with, because they're brainless bimbos. He is a virgin, by the way..
- Mike (Id) - He sees that everything gets better if you just get laid regularly.
- Gwen (Ego) - She appeals to Donovan's interests aside from dating, displaying a depth which he doesn't expect. Then she bonks his brains out.
- Timm Style
- Tomato in the Mirror - A small but noticeable chunk of the world's population, (something between 5% and 15%) are actually monsters in hiding, even from themselves. Their ancestors were Wights who used magic to hide their magical appearance and abilities in their children, making them entirely human. At least, it would, until they undergo a heavy trauma, or are exposed to certain magics, which wakes those latent magical traits right back up. Referred to as Changelings.
- Urban Fantasy - With emphasis on the urban.