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"If you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face - forever."

1984 George Orwell

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."

God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics C.S. Lewis

Basic Information

A Dystopia is a world - frequently, but not always, a Science Fiction or Cyberpunk setting - in which existing or imaginary social issues are taken to an extreme. A Dystopia often is a Crapsack World, but the reverse is not necessarily true - for instance, an After The End setting doesn't necessarily qualify since there aren't enough people to have huge, overwhelming social issues. Some sort of civilization or society must be present, though it may be crumbling. Often it is society itself which does the oppressing, but it might also be the government or other powerful political, social, or economic force or organization.

A more disturbing Dystopia can be less 1984 and more Brave New World … in which case people are oppressed not by some external force, but from within by their own degeneracy and limited ambitions.

A Dystopia doesn't necessarily require oppression either … the Cyberpunk genre is crowded with petty tyrannies but the overall impression is an almost medieval one of conflicting power centres and a net anarchy (no pun intended) that results.

It's also worth noting that one man's dystopia is not much more than everyday life for another, even (perhaps especially) in the real world.

Grimdark ensues where the dystopia in question is still better than any reasonably practicable alternative … this brings us back to the previous comment about real life.

Related Tropes

See Also


Game and Story Use

  • A Dystopia provides plenty of opportunities for adventures, since there is so much the characters can fight against - up to and including the government itself.
    • Alternatively, the forces of oppression might be too powerful to fight. In that case, the challenge is to survive, hopefully with some semblance of morals still intact.
  • For more moral ambiguity, the PCs can work for the government, possibly without being aware that they live in a dystopia at the start of the campaign.
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