I can’t speak for the Dark Souls games, but in Sekiro, which I’m told is similar, story is told obliquely, through torn off pages, off hand mentions, and item descriptions.
We were talking about this on a discord this morning, and I was thinking about how it worked, so I’ll use an example from the game.
Item description for firecrackers:
Firecrackers from across southern seas. Can be fitted to the Shinobi Prosthetic to become a Prosthetic Tool. Makes a deafening sound, frightening to animals. Sold by little Robert and his father to raise funds for their travels. Their voyage brought them to Japan, where they would seek the “Undying” in an attempt to extend Robert’s life.
Incidental speech from a boss:
“For the sake of my son…Put down your sword.”
In catacombs behind a monastery:
The mummified corpses of many children who were killed in experimental procedures by the monks to create the Divine Child of Rejuvenation, who cannot die. None survived.
There are many other stories, some linked to locations (the undying gorilla boss at directly below where the waters of rejuvenation flow from a later level), some to items and characters like this one. But, I think they have two or three of these in common, and always the first point:
- Only tangentially related to any main plot
- Mentioned in item lore, item name or by an NPC
- Implied through description of a location
- Implied by special ability
I can give myself a procedure then: When I describe a location, grant an NPC a special ability, name an item or give an item a history, I must add at least one of the other two to my list of “future lore to be incorporated”. I strongly doubt the writers of Sekiro wrote the story of Little Robert and then chose to incorporate firecrackers into the gameplay. It was the other way around. The thing is there, and then I decide who brought it into the dungeon, why they did, and what clues are left after they’re gone.
A kobold wears a helm the shape of a charging boar. One of the six Beast-Knights once ventured into the forest, seeking the Crown of the Forest Wild, which was stolen from Her Verdant Majesty. His word his bond, his corpse is upon the Bridge of Duels, affront the bones of many enemies. The Rod has the images of six beasts upon them; one is a charging boar.
By doing this, I can begin to give my world or dungeon the kind of lived-in depth that I saw in Sekiro and that people talk about in Dark Souls and Elden Ring.
11th January 2023
2 thoughts on “Minimalist Lore”
I love the procedure you’ve worked out here! I think I’ll use this in my #dungeon23 entries.
Thanks for writing it!
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This is intriguing, but I’m somehow failing to parse your procedure:
“When I describe a location, grant an NPC a special ability, name an item or give an item a history, I must add at least one of the other two to my list of “future lore to be incorporated”. … The thing is there, and then I decide who brought it into the dungeon, why they did, and what clues are left after they’re gone.”
What are “the other two”? Both sentences seem to have four things.
It’s also interesting to me how strongly it conflicts with the advice of some other commentators to “only include material directly usable at the table”, which has always sounded reasonable but like it could lead to really superficial play – so if I can figure out how to put your procedure into practice I’ll be trying this with my next location…