This anti-D&D mentality was drawn out of the then perceived watering down of AD&D2's content. In fact there are a number of publishers and authors from the time that I have talked too that have said they published their game in opposition to the loss of demons and devils from AD&D2 or as reaction to the popular media's stance on D&D. "You think D&D is evil? Wait till you see my game!!
We kinda got out of that for a while. But now it seems we are heading back into it again only this time without some sort of reactionary motivation to account for it.
I like horror games. I have worked on a fair number of them over the years and one thing all horror games struggle with is the desire to motivate their players while putting fear into their characters. Sometimes this is via mechanics. The Fear saves/checks of many games are usually the first thing used. The Sanity checks of Call of Cthulhu is also a prime example of a mechanical feature that has effects on the character and the player. The game Dread does this brilliantly with Jenga blocks. You can instill a sense of foreboding and doom in players IF you are willing to try.
The latest batch of supposedly Grim-Dark FRPGs don't do that. They are more akin to the reactionary games of the early 90s.
I am going to pick on one as an example, but there have been and will be others.
I don't like "Lamentations of the Flame Princess: Weird Fantasy Role-Playing".
It tries, oh so hard, to be edgy, but really all I see is like watching a little kid dress up in their mother's or father's clothes and pretending to be big.
Let's start with the suggested reading. This is now nearly boilerplate text in any RPG these days. Not just to include it, but to include these exact same authors. There is a reason though, the works of Clark Ashton Smith, H.P. Lovecraft, Poe, Howard and Tolkien are all fantastic as sources for a game. Each had a level of storytelling that was sublime. LotFP is not sublime and I wonder truthfully if the author actually read those books.
The idea, as I take it, is that LotFP is supposed to be "wierd", but outside of the splatter-porn art and questionable abundance of violence on women, there is nothing in the game that I don't have already in Swords and Wizardry, Labyrinth Lord or Basic Fantasy. Except with those games I get monsters.
Now the author claims there are no monsters because monsters should be unique.
Frankly that is not only lazy, it's bullshit as well. The game has an introduction book aimed at new players, yet goes on to tell these new players to make monsters without ever giving them anything to work from? That's also just bad design. This of course is the bias of an author who has not seemed to have played many games outside of AD&D; I am not sure what games Raggi has played, but venture outside of AD&D and there are a lot of ways to have monsters and make each and every encounter with them unique and fearful.
Let's compare this to Call of Cthulhu the pinnacle of horror gaming for most. There is a whole chapter on monsters, right there in front of everyone. In fact there is even a skill in the game so characters can know something, maybe a lot of something, about each and every one. It still does not do them a bit of good. Raggi quotes Lovecraft and Smith, but his depiction of what you do with those elements are almost antithetical to what the authors were actually doing. Browsing through the art (which is fantastic by the way, when it is not over doing it with the violence on women) there is nothing here that would actually have appeared in any Lovecraft or Smith book. Yeah, there is the vague Nyarlathotep-looking creature on the back cover of one of the books, but that was the exception rather than the rule. He took the time (and use that phrasing rather loosely) to not include monsters, but didn't bother to say much at all about mood, tone and how to generate a sense of horror that doesn't involve a disemboweling.
Horror is not the only factor in these newer Grime Dark games, there is after all the Grim.
Well to get a good idea on how to best do this I'll take a very recent example, The Northlands, which I reviewed a while back is grim game. The stakes in this game are high; you screw up you will freeze to death and that is your best option. It very successfully impresses on you the feeling of doom; yet people still live here and make a life out of it. The Scarred Lands from Sword and Sorcery Studios a few years back is another grim world. They are grim, but not to the point of nihilism. People/Characters still can rise up and be something more than they are now.
And so far I don't like Dungeon Crawl Classics.
Why are we looking at a game and extolling it's "non-heroic" mien as a virtue?
Plus, on a pragmatic point, neither of these games are particularly original or new. What new has been added? Specialists (LotFP) are new and I'll grant that something that would work well in a Swords & Wizardry game. DCC? Well I am still reading through the BETA to be honest with you. The art reminds me of the old school art, but lacks the charm of it.
I like the old school games. I still love playing B/X and it's modern clones.
Butt what I did then is what I like to still do now.
Play the game, save the village, town, kingdom, or even just the princess (or prince), defeat the monster, and be the Hero.
I have both the Deluxe and Grindhouse versions of LotFP and I'll pick up DCC too.
I doubt I'll play either.