Showing posts with label VRGtR. Show all posts
Showing posts with label VRGtR. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, Part 5. Plays Well With Others

I touched briefly on this with my posts on Building a Darklord, Castle Amber, and Horror Adventures, but one of the key strengths of  Ravenloft has always been its mutability.  It can go anywhere, it be what you need it to be and while some might bemoan its pastiche of horror literature stereotypes, that same familiarity allows it to work in a lot of ways with other books and games.

While I am perfectly happy, indeed happier now, that Ravenloft is more amorphous and less of a "world" there are plenty of sources out there if you want to expand it beyond what lives in between the book covers now to a larger world.

Here are some resources I am planning on using to make my Ravenloft campaign (whenever I can get that going!) a little more personalized.

Ravenloft and Cthulhu

While this seems to be a "no-brainer" just slapping Cthulhu into a game almost never works.  Sure there are some great monsters here, but the real value-add here are the sections on running a cosmic horror game.  This is a great overall resource, and a fantastic one when running an adventure in Bluetspur.

Ravenloft and Fantasy Horror

I mentioned already the utility that Pathfinder's Horror Adventures provides in setting up some details for a Dark Fantasy Horror game.  The 3.x d20 system in Pathfinder is similar enough to the 5e one in Ravenloft to provide plenty of ideas with a minimum of conversion needed.   If you must have them, the Fear, Sanity, and Corruption rules can be ported over to 5e Ravenloft.  Even some of the Feats can be used (but used sparingly).  Spells and Magic items can be ported over almost as is really. 

In fact, I have found it so useful in the last few days that I have moved it from my "Pathfinder" shelf to my "Horror" shelf.

BlackRose

Going back to some of the earliest posts on this blog are my ideas for a BlackRose game.  Now with the new 5e Blue Rose out, it is practically begging me to use it for this.  For me, the ideas behind BlackRose have changed a bit.  I think a Domain that is similar to Aldea, but maybe more of one of sadness.  Not Aldea, but using a lot of the ideas and rules.  Something more akin to my Kingdom of Rain.  Which has one foot planted squarely in Blue Rose and another in a melancholic sort of Folk Horror that would find a home in Ravenloft.  I ran an adventure under the title "Kingdom of Rain" a while back. It was a little Aldea, a little bit Innsmouth, and a little bit Alton, Illinois.  There are some solid Fey elements to it as well; I introduced my River Hags here.  A version of Kingdom of Rain is set to be published under the name "Witching Weather," so watch this space for more on that.

Ravenloft and the Runewild


Speaking of fey lands, the Runewild from Sneak Attack Press also provides a bit of a wilder fey world with tinges of Horror and Dark Fantasy.  If you ever wanted to expand on the Domain of Tepset then this is a fantastic source.  Again, as with the Horror Adventures and Blue Rose, there is material here that can be dropped into Ravenloft "as is" with very little modification.  The Runewild also help build up that "dream-like feeling" I like to use in Ravenloft before hitting characters with the Nightmares.

My Kingdom of Rain lives in the intersection of the triquetra-shaped Venn diagram of Ravenloft, Blue Rose, and Runewild.  I can also use this for expanding my new Domain with The Snow Queen as the Darklord.  Though do I REALLY want my Kingdom of Rain converted to a Dark Domain?  I'll have to suss that one out as I go through my books here.

Ravenloft and Ravenloft


Sounds odd, but most of the grief the new book is getting online is "it's not like the old Ravenloft." Ok, fine. If you must, make it like it.   Most of the Ravenloft books are fluff anyway.  Grab what you want from any of the old books and reuse it.  Want Viktor back instead of Viktra? Ok, do that.  I might create a Domain where they are both there and there is an intense rivalry between them.  I am thinking Father and Daughter.  Their creations of course are caught in this battle.  Rival evil scientists. Using their creations to get at the other.  Both wanting to capture their opponents' creations to learn their secrets. Viktor is intensely jealous of his daughter fearing her creation Else is superior, all the wile claiming she knows nothing that he did not teach her.  Viktra hates her father for never sharing his work and finds Adam to be an abomination.  

The more I type this, the more I like it.  Go all Hammer Horror for Viktor and Giallo horror for Viktra.  Set them on different sides of Lamordia where their minions search the countryside for parts for their experiments and to hopefully capture one of the more successful ones of their rival Darklords. 

It's one part Frankenstein Created Woman (1967), one part Lady Frankenstein (1971), and one part War of the Gargantuas (1966).  All set in Fantasy Gothic Horror Switzerland. Sprinkle in a little bit of Reanimator and I am good to go. 

Horror is my favorite seasoning for most games.  Ravenloft lets me do this with everything.

Friday, June 11, 2021

#FollowFriday Ravenloft Giveaway!

I can't believe it is Friday AND the Friday before my Birthday.

So let's do something fun.

I am really enjoying the new Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft. A lot.

I played through the first Ravenloft module on my birthday so many years ago and now I want others to have the same joy.

So I want to give away a copy, shipped by me anywhere in the contiguous United States.  Sorry Europe and the rest of the world, but I need to work out the logistics of that first.

So here are the rules.

I am going to share this post on Twitter.  

To enter I need you to do the following:

  1. Like the Tweet. 
  2. Retweet it. In the Retweet tell me your favorite villain/big bad from any edition of D&D.
  3. Follow me on Twitter.
  4. (Bonus) Follow me on Instagram and Facebook for extra chances.

Do those three things (or four!) and I'll put your Twitter ID into a spreadsheet and pick a winner.

I will also pick two runners up who will each get one of my witch books of their own choice.

Winners agree to send me their mailing address to ship the book.  I'll send out one of the standard covers as pictured above.

I am going to be out over the weekend but I will pick the winner Sunday, June 13th before 11:00pm Central Time.

So let me know on Twitter and GOOD LUCK!

Wednesday, June 9, 2021

Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, Part 4. Do You Wanna Build a Darklord II?

Demon Eyed Elsa
I am going for this

Nothing exists in a vacuum. RPGs are no exception to this rule. While Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft is a great tool for a DM wanting to add horror to a D&D game and it is the tool to use to run a D&D 5e Ravenloft game, it is by no means the only tool.  

I have so many horror RPGs that I have tools for just about any type of horror game I ever want to run.  I have not even gotten into doing things like adding WitchCraft's Book of Hod to Ravenloft (and I have been doing it for years) or even getting into the material from World of Darkness or Call of Cthulhu RPGs.  

WitchCraft, World of Darkness, and Call of Cthulhu are all fantastic games.  Each one has a different approach to their own types of horror.  If I am fighting against the cosmic horrors then CoC is my game.  If I want to explore the horrors of existence within myself as a monster tr something that is no longer truly human then WoD.  If I want a mixture of the two with a grounding in philosophies of the world as all being true then WitchCraft/Armageddon is my game of choice.  This is only three games. I can grab from Chill, Kult, Little Fears, and more.   All are great. All are fun. Not every one of them is great for a Ravenloft game.

So. Let's build another Darklord like I did last week with Darlessa. I am not going to go into the same level of detail as I did with her.  Instead, I am going to use some other horror sources to do my heavy lifting.  NOW to be sure, I don't NEED to add anything to Ravenloft for me to use it.  Everything I am doing here I could do from scratch from the material in Chapter 2 of VRGtR. I happen to also have all these other books with great ideas. 

I have this thing that happens with all my campaigns.  I collect a lot of data, materials, products whatever for a campaign. I pick, I choose, I write, I rewrite and in the end, I get something that is often not at all exactly like what I wanted, but that is great really. But I also have this stack of other "Stuff" that I didn't use but is still compelling to me.  My campaign "Ogre Battle" grew out of my old "Shadow War" for example.  I ran this huge war that worked as a prequel to this big AD&D campaign.  The Second Campaign grew right out of Come Endless Darkness.  Right now my big campaign taking a lot of my creative energy is War of the Witch Queens.  I have barely got into it (characters are 3rd level) and I already have leftovers and plot threads that have grown larger than the campaign can handle.

Before I pull that into this conversation let me shift gears and talk about Pathfinder.

Pathfinder is the biggest alternative to D&D out there.  They gained a lot of traction in the 3e days and boomed in the 4e days as the go-to choice for D&D-like games.  I have a lot of really cool, really well-written Pathfinder books. None of them are currently in use because I am not currently playing Pathfinder.

For Ravenloft, the best Pathfinder book you can get is Pathfinder Horror Adventures.  I reviewed this book a while back and there is a lot overlap between what this book does and what Ravenloft does. The Pathfinder book is more "Domain agnostic" so it has more room for things like new classes and spells.  The Pathfinder book also covers sanity, fear, and madness.  I mentioned in my overview of Ravenloft that I usually don't like how most games do "madness." What they do here works well, for Pathfinder, I am not sure how it would work for D&D 5.   I do like Pathfinder's approach to Darklords in their Dread Lords. I am going to keep this in mind for the next bit.

Note: The Horrific Inspirations on pages 252 to 253 in Horror Adventures covers movies, television, and print for the same types of Horror Genres found in Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft. 

Land of the Ice and Snow

Pathfinder forever gets a special place in my heart because it gave me Irrisen, the land of the Witch Queens. Home to the Daughters of Baba Yaga and has included such notables as Tasha/Tashana/Iggwilv. I have a bunch of material from the Winter Witch Queen adventure path from Pathfinder and other books.   I love the idea of Winter Witches, both in fiction and history.   If I am going to pull in some Pathfinder bits from various books then why not build a Dark Domain that is Pathfinder based.

So. Let's do this.  Irrisen is a land ruled by a Witch Queen and she gets 100 years to rule until Baba Yaga comes in a pulls her out. There have been a few that rebelled and try to go longer and there is always a rivalry between the various Daughters of Baba Yaga over who will get to rule. Queen Elvanna is a good example. There is a lot of potential her then for someone to be a little more pissed off and try to kill her rivals. Now. That in of itself is not a good enough reason to drag someone into the mists. In fact, Baba Yaga encourages such machinations to guarantee the strongest one will rule. It's hard to imagine then what a Witch Queen would need to do to get the mists' attention.  One would have to assume a crime or act so vile that mists have to take notice.

Building a Pathfinder / Ravenloft Domain

Let's take an easy example.  I'll start with Elvanna, but I don't have to.  Let's just say any Winter Witch Queen.  We don't know what happens to these queens when Baba Yaga is done with them.  Tashanna is the only we do know about, but she has been banned from returning to Golarion.  We can assume that Grandmother Bony Legs doesn't let them retire to a beach home in Florida.

When Elvanna was defeated let's say she came up with a plan, if she could not rule Irrisen then no one could.  She whips up a ritual to destroy the whole land in a winter that even the inhabitants of Irrisen would fear.  She started her ritual managed to wipe out a village or two, the key here is that people important to Baba Yaga have been killed. Either the mists open up to grab her OR maybe Baba Yaga has the power to summon them. One thing is for certain.  She killed her own sister, who was going to be the next Queen. Her name likely ends in "-anna."

I would steal some ideas from the 4e adventure Winter of the Witch.  I could even use Koliada the Winter Witch. I did 5e stats for her, but I really don't need stats.  I also have access to the Snow Queen a Winter Fey creature from Kobold Press' Tome of Beasts for 5e.

Snow Queen

If it looks like I am going for evil Elsa, then you would be right. Well. Elsa actually was evil before Disney got to her.

The idea with this Domain is to use the rules presented in Pathfinder Horror Adventures to get my ideas and then the rules from Ravenloft Chapter 2  to detail them. 

I do admit, I am likely to steal some ideas from the old Domain of Vorostokov from the 2nd Ed Darklords book.  The Darklord of that land, Zolnik, was not all that interesting as a Darklord, but the land was.

Think of a landlocked in an endless deadly winter.  Everyone is poor, miserable, cold and the only source of food is what the hunters can bring in.  I would call it Ikkesen.  Combining the Norwegian word for "not" (Ikke) and Irrisen. 

The Dark Domain (5e) / Realm (Pathfinder) is one of Dark Fantasy, but it is also really Survival Horror and just enough Folk Horror to keep you on your toes. Ikkesen rarely gets above sub-zero temps and never above freezing.  It is a dark land of endless winter.  Wolves of the worst sort roam the woods. There are skinwalkers, wendigos, undead and worst things. It is what happens if Ragnarök occurred and the Frost Giants won. 

I will detail this one some more, but I am also waiting to see what I have leftover from War of the Witch Queens.  

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Classic Adventures Revisited: X2 Castle Amber

X2 Castle Amber (Chateau d' Amberville)
What can I possibly say about Castle Amber?

This adventure had always been something of a Holy Grail quest for me. I was a huge fan of Tom Moldvay, I had heard this adventure took place in Glantri and it was full of horror elements. As time went on and I still never found a copy I began to hear more; that it was a crazy dungeon full of crazier NPCs. That it is was more of a thinking module and not a hack and slash one and finally, it was heavily influenced by Clark Ashton Smith, whom I always felt was superior to Lovecraft in many respects.

I did finally get a copy from my FLGS, paid a lot for it, and I also got a copy from DriveThruRPG. The module lives up to the hype. It is not a particularly easy module to run and you better spend a lot of time with it. But for me at that time (the mid-90s when I finally got a copy) it became a great addition to my growing Ravenloft collection. It was not officially part of Ravenloft mind you, but so much of it feels the same that it would have been a crime not to bring them together.  

Later I ran it for my family under D&D 5e rules and it quickly became one of their most favorite adventures ever.  I started a trend in my family's games; they love anything done by Tom Moldvay. 

For this review and retrospective, I am considering my original Castle Amber module, the PDF and POD from DriveThruRPG, and the Goodman Games hardcover of the Original and 5e update.

X2 Castle Amber

Castle Amber is an adventure for characters level 3 to 6 for the D&D Expert Set.  It was written by Tom Moldvay, who gave us D&D Basic set half of the B/X D&D line. This adventure shows that.  While the Expert set was more focused on wilderness adventures, this is a romp through a "haunted house."  For many gamers of a certain age this became the template for all sorts of Haunted House dungeons that are still being published today.

Physically the original adventure was a 28 page book with color covers by Erol Otus with the maps of the titular castle in old-school blue on the inside covers.  The art inside is black and white and done primarily by Jim Holloway.  The art has a duel effect here.  Otus was the prime B/X cover artist, so the feel here is 100% his weird fantasy vibe of B/X.  Jim Holloway was also at this time the primary artist for the Horror game Chill.  Come for the weirdness, stay for the horror. 

Averoigne

The adventure is overtly an homage to the tales of Clark Ashton Smith.  The area where it all takes place, Averoigne, is used right out of the works of CAS.  The Amber family would fit right-in in one of his tales and that is the Colossus of Ylourgne, or rather his D&D counterpart, on the cover.  The adventure even includes a reading guide for those that want to read up on the tales of CAS, and I highly recommend doing so.

CAS, and his contemporary H.P. Lovecraft, were no strangers to the D&D world by 1981.  Indeed Molday's pulp sensibilities shine throughout in this adventure as much as they did with X1 The Isle of Dread and B4 The Lost City.  All three adventures have also been updated by Goodman Games for 5e in their hardcover Original Adventures Reincarnated series, making Moldvay their most reprinted designer. Even more than Gygax himself who as of this writing only has 1, soon to be 2.

There is a lot to love about this adventure too.  There are monsters to kill yes, but this is not a kick in the doors and kill the monster sort of deal.  There is a mood and atmosphere here.  In fact this is the prototype for the horror adventures of later date, in particular Ravenloft (which I will discuss).

On one hand, we have a haunted house filled with the not-quite-dead members of the Amber family.  This can be a pulpy nightmare or even a Gothic tale.  The room with the Tarot cards and their abilities gives us a sneak peak of some the things we will see in Ravenloft. On the other we have creatures from beyond that are quite Lovecraftian.  The Neh-Thalggu, or the Brain Collector, is a creepy ass aberration that can give the Mi-Go a run for their money.  

There is travel to other worlds via some strange mists and 16 new monsters. Some of these monsters also appeared in The Isle of Dread, but here they feel a bit different.  Plus what other B/X D&D book can you name that has "Demons" and "Pagans" in it. 

The background of this is rich enough that you want more of it. More on Averoigne and its connection to Glantri, more on the Amber family, and more on the world that this adventure implies.  It is no surprise really that much of this adventure and what it all implies found welcome homes in the BECMI version of Glantri.   

For me though the best connection is the one to Ravenloft. I have to admit the last time I ran this adventure I made the tie-ins to Ravenloft more specific, but I did not have to do much. I have to admit I was rather gleeful inside at the scene where they have to run from the "Grey Mists" to get into the castle.

Classic Modules Today & Revisited

I mentioned the Goodman Games hardcover above, but it really is a gem of a product.  With it, you get the original adventure and a 5e version of the adventure (where was that when I needed it!) as well as some fantastic comments about the adventure itself.  I wish Tom Moldvay had still been alive to give us his thoughts on this.   The 5e version expands on the Castle and those within.  There are a lot more monsters included and there are full NPC stat writeups for members of the Amber family. 

NPCs

Most of all this new version expands Averoigne in ways I would have loved to have had years ago. 

Additionally, there is the Classic Modules Today version published on DMsGuild by Chris Nolen. This one is a straightforward conversion. You need the original adventure but it is a fraction of the cost of the Goodman Games version.  I have both and have used both to great effect.   

Plays Well With Others

Castle Amber is a fantastic adventure and I am a big fan if you can't tell.  What I enjoy the most about it is that by the nature of the adventure itself and how it is written it can easily be added to any world and slotted into any sort of campaign. For me it was a no-brainer for my Come Endless Darkness campaign.  While that campaign is overtly a "Greyhawk" again the nature of it allowed a side trip to Mystara/The Known World. I would later use it as the "front door" to my Ravenloft adventure.  It was something I have wanted to do for so long and it worked so well I want to do it more.  A lot more.  While I gladly mixed and matched Basic, AD&D, 3e and 5e in my games, it is now much easier now that everything I want speaks the same, 5e, language.

Castle Amber & Ravenloft 5e

I have long postulated that not only is Castle Amber a Proto-Ravenloft, but Barovia is from Mystara/The Known World.   These connections are made more explicit with the D&D 5e adventure Curse of Strahd.  With the 5e Curse of Strahd, 5e Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, and Goodman Games 5e Castle Amber this is now a trivial effort.

Ravenloft and Castle Amber

In fact, using the same process from Chapter 2 of Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft you could easily make the Averoigne of Castle Amber into a Domain of Dread. 

Averoigne is Gothic Horror and Dark Fantasy, with some Cosmic Horror and some Folk Horror.  I could turn up the horror elements a little, but I would not need to do much, to be honest.  Thinking back to my original running of X2 Castle Amber and I6 Ravenloft using the then-new 5e rules I had great fun. If I had tied them closer together then it would have been fantastic. 

Black Rose

Back in the early days of this blog I discussed a game I wanted to run; Black Rose, a combination of Blue Rose and Ravenloft.  Now with the 5e version of Blue Rose out, it would be a lot easier. 


I will have to write my review of the new Blue Rose Adventurer's Guide

This also begs for a good (or Goodman) version of B3 Palace of the Silver Princess for 5e.

Castle Amber is easily one of my favorite adventures and the appeal of it has only grown for me over the years.

Links

The Black Gate ran a fantastic series on Clark Ashton Smith.  I won't link all of them here, just ones that are germane to this discussion, but they are all good.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Monstrous Mondays: The Bagman

Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft has been a lot of fun.  One of the most talked-about monsters featured in it, the Bagman, doesn't have stats. Now before you freak out about this, it is by design.  

In Chapter 5 the section Creating Unique Nightmares covers how one could make a Bagman. 

For example, perhaps you’ve got an idea for a troll that ambushes adventurers while they rest. Considering its origins and appearance, the troll literally being a troll isn’t important to you; you’re more interested in that general challenge and look for the creature. To make your troll feel notorious, you think of what would scare adventurers—where they’re vulnerable and what they’re sensitive about. You come up with an idea for a creature that can come from anywhere, maybe even within the adventurers’ own gear. With tactics and traits in mind, you think of your troll as an abductor and give it the Grappler trait of a mimic and the Amorphous trait of a black pudding so it can sneak in anywhere. Finally, you don’t think of the troll as a minion, but you give it the Alien Mind trait to reect its tormented psyche. Then you esh out its story and give it a name: the Bagman.

- Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, p. 225

The Bagman is described as an "Urban Legend," it is what happens when someone crawls into a bag of holding out of fear and dies inside.  Troll + Mimic + Black Pudding = scary monster that you can scale to meet the needs of your party.   Sounds great.  But MY Bagman would be a little different.  Sure Troll is a great place to start, but I want something a little scarier.

bagman
"I was an adventurer once just like yoooooou!"
Bagman

Large Undead (Corporeal)

Frequency: Very Rare
Number Appearing: 0 (1)
Alignment: Chaotic [Chaotic Evil]
Movement: 120' (40') [12"]
Armor Class: 5 [14]
Hit Dice: 8d8+8** (44 hp)
 Large: 8d10+8** (52 hp)
THAC0: 8 (+11)
Attacks: 2 claws, fear aura
Damage: 1d8+3 x2
Special: Amorphous, fear aura, grab, magic required to hit, undead
Save: Monster 8
Morale: 12 (12)
Treasure Hoard Class: None
XP: 1,750 (OSE) 1,840 (LL)

Str: 18 (+3) Dex: 16 (+2) Con: 13 (+1) Int: 7 (-1) Wis: 7 (-1) Cha: 6 (-1)

The bagman is an undead creature found hiding inside Bags of Holding.   Legend has it that the first bagman was an adventurer who in a fit of panic crawled inside a bag of holding to hide.  His fellow party members were all killed and the bag was tied up and stuffed into a troll's treasure hoard.  The adventurer died inside that bag and the extra-dimensional properties keep their spirit from moving on.  It also twisted their body into an elongated shape.  Their hair and nails have grown long and their bodies are thin and emaciated from dying of starvation.

The bagman is only encountered in their lair; a bag of holding.  Once the bag is picked up and carried away by an unsuspecting victim the bagman will wait until the bag is motionless again and then it will attack.  They emanate an aura of fear like the spell cause fear.  While the fear is creeping over the potential victims the bagman crawls out of their bag of holding. They will surprise on a 1-3 on a d6.  They move silently and stealthy as an 8th level thief with Dex 16. The bagman never speaks.  They attack with their long claws. 

On a successful critical hit (natural 20), it grabs the victim and pulls it into the Bag of Holding it was using as its lair.  Inside it will attempt to strangle the victim.  The bagman feeds on the dying energies of the victim.  

It is believed that to destroy a bagman one also must destroy the bag of holding they are attached to.

As undead monsters, they are immune to mind-affecting spells.  Magic spells or weapons are needed to hit it. They turn as Spectres.  Any "T" result will send them back inside their bag of holding.

--

I like it. A creepy-ass monster / urban legend.  Something old Grognards tell young adventurers before they head out on their first campaign.  "Watch out for those bags of holding!  The bagman will get yeah when you sleep!"  They laugh and drink their ales, and quietly, and hope no one notices, the slight tremble in their voice or the shake of their hand as they remember a time when the bagman came for them.

The best part about this?  Everyone should create their own bagman stats.  Some are slimy monsters. Others are extra-dimensional aberrations that enter our world via a bag of holding.  Others are stranger still.  Every campaign out there has a different bagman with different powers, attacks, weaknesses.

It might be interesting to see what others do!  

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, Part 2b. Do You Wanna Build a Darklord?

Darlessa, the Vampire Queen
Wait.  Shouldn't this be Part 4?  Yes, but everything I am talking about here deals perfectly with the material I reviewed in Part 2 and very little of Part 3.  

One of the shifts in design goals of the new Ravenloft book is a move to focus more on the Darklords you can create for your own game. 

While several updated and new Darklords and Domains are detailed, the fun comes creating your own, and in particular, one that has meaning for your players and characters.   Chapter 2 covers this well and comes before Chapter 3 on the existing Darklords and Domains to get the readers and potential DMs to think about what the domains mean to them.

So let's take the advice of the book and create a new Darklord and Domain.  Now my first horror game likely happened as soon as I got my Moldvay Basic set if not before.  I dig horror. A lot. So I have at least 40+ years' worth of horror gaming to draw on.  And while such D&D campaigns I have run in the past, The Shadow War, Ogre Battle, or even The Dragon and the Phoenix had horror elements to them, but none really rose up to the levels of Ravenloft worth horror, though the Shadow War back in 1991 came close and even featured some Ravenloft game sessions.  My own Ravenloft campaign was essentially a tour of the then Domains ala "The Fantastic Journey" only horror and not sci-fi.  I imprinted on a lot of weird shit as a kid. While a lot of fun, it does not give much in the way of "new" material.  Sure there is a lot of old material I could bring back, but that's not what I want to do here now. 

So let's start with Chapter 2 and build a Domain. And do that, we need a Darklord.

Who is My Darklord?

It's going to be a vampire. Why? I like Vampires. I played a cleric as my first class ever so I could be like Van Helsing. My goal what to fight vampires and undead.  Let me put a pin in that idea for a moment. 

I thought about maybe using my cavalier that I ran through Ravenloft as a player or one of my favorite NPCs I used as a reoccurring character that would torment the players because while she was a vampire she was not overtly evil. But my cavalier died in the Shadow War and the NPC, well she ended up the focus of a ritual to bring a vampire back to life.  She is human now, and given the history of that character, I kinda want to keep it that way. 

There is only one NPC that could really be my Darklord.  That is Darlessa the Vampire Queen.

Spend any time here and you will know about my history obsession with the various Vampire Queens.  I love them.  Blame Hammer Horror, blame 60's and 70's Giallo, but they are so great.  Darlessa comes to me via Small Niche Games and the Valnwall products where she is credited with killing St. Johan, my very first Cleric character. So the origin here is still Basic, B/X style at that, D&D.   Truthfully there is a multitude of reasons why this works for me, so I am not going to bore you with the justification and the details and just state "it works."  

So let's start with Darklord Creation.  Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft says:

A Darklord’s memories, desires, mistakes, and evil deeds shape the domain’s twisted lands, inhabitants, and features. You need not create these in a vacuum, though. When creating your own Darklord, consider the relationship that will define their evil in your adventures: their conflict with your players’ characters.

- Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, p. 39

Well...I don't have any players, not just yet.  You all are my players now. The adventures you have had are reading this blog. 

One this is clear off the bat.  The Darklord is evil.  Darlessa might be a lot of things, but a misunderstood villain is not one of them.  This notion of evil and evil deeds is repeated many times in this section. So much for Ravenloft not having good vs. evil. 

What are Darlessa's evil deeds? She kills people. Well, lots of vampires do that. She used her evil and power and privilege to command others.  She tolerated no rivals. She kidnapped the granddaughter of Johan Werper and threatened to kill her. She caused Johan's death instead and this was her last act that damned her.  Let's consult this questionnaire from VRGtR, answers in parentheses:

  • Where was the Darklord before the Mists took them?  (In the swamp outside her castle)
  • Who was the Darklord’s family? (none, she had killed them all centuries ago)
  • How was the Darklord’s family oppressed, oppressive, or both? (domineering over her, killing them might have done the world some good)
  • What was the Darklord’s childhood like?  (oppressive. She was bullied and bullied in return)
  • Whom did the Darklord care about? (Only herself mostly, BUT I am willing to work on this)
  • Who cared about the Darklord? (Maybe a sister?  I will think about this.)
  • Who hurt the Darklord? (everyone, but usually only once)
  • Whose respect or love did the Darklord crave? (only those who had more power than her)
  • What did the Darklord value? (power)

So Darlessa is a vampire, not because she craves lives and blood, but because she craves power. Her desire to control everyone and everything around her was her undoing as a vampire and led her to become a Darklord.  But lots of vampires never become Darklords.  She has to be something else.

In "Corrupt Beyond Redemption" on page 40 we are given some ideas of what makes a Darklord more than your average villain.  The Darklord needs to commit Evil Acts, or "The Dark Powers consider an act to be evil if it is intentional, unnecessary, and successful, and most importantly if it causes significant harm."  Those Harmed have to be significant.  In this case, it was my first character trying to protect my first AD&D 2nd Ed character.  Maybe not significant to you but for me it has gravitas.  And finally, the act has to be Irredeemable.  Darlessa was about to drain the life out of a seven-year-old girl just to get to her parents and grandfather. She managed to cause the death of the grandfather and scar the granddaughter so much she was terrified of the dark.  (Role-Playing tip. Try playing an AD&D character who you have decided is afraid of the dark. All dark, all the time.)

Background

Darlessa always fancied herself as a Queen, which of course is impossible because she is from Glantri. She might have been an upstart Princess if fate had been kinder to her, but instead, the only magic she learned was witchcraft, a "lesser" form of magic to the Glantri ruling class.  Rejected by those she considered her peers and laughed at by those she considered underlings it was no surprise that she turned to evil.  She married a minor noble and soon had him murdered.  She moved up in social status by marrying one of the lesser Princes.  She could not kill him as easily so she had him locked away due to madness, which she of course caused.  She was always vying for more and more power, a better position in the social hierarchy. While she felt she was in control of her situation and had everyone else figured out in truth all the nobility saw through her ruse and were just toying with her.  When discovered this and was laughed out of court she sought out her demon to turn her into a vampire. But even then she chaffed under this yoke and sought to kill her new master. 

She managed to escape and had planned her glorious revenge on all who had mocked her, only to discover that everyone from the court was dead.  Not of some nefarious or evil plan, but of the natural progress of time.  She had taken decades to break free and now it was too late. All that remained were the offspring of those who had rejected her.  She reinvented herself as a noble and re-entered court, this time none knew her.  She would have been successful too had it not been for the cleric Johan.  Clerics had been banned in her day in Glantri, but Johan was distantly related to a noble and had proved a wise council on ecclesiastic and occult matters.  He quickly spotted Darlessa for what she was and thus began 40 years of open conflict between the two.  

Until the night she got what she had desired.  She was going to kill Johan and his granddaughter. Johan had taken his granddaughter to see the court. Her chance had come, everyone who had stood against her were all in one place. She had killed every servant in the castle to get to the girl and had taken her back to her own keep.  Johan followed. The ancient enemies fought and both died by the flaming holy oil.  Only the young granddaughter survived.  Johan was canonized and became St. Johan.  

Darlessa awoke to find herself in a finely appointed castle much like that of the court.  She was surrounded by servants and nobles, and all addressed her as Queen.

Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh from Pexels
Photo by Quang Nguyen Vinh from Pexels
The Domain

The Domain of Darlessa is a small island, or at least that is what it seems to be. There is the island and it is surrounded by water, but they are on a lake and the island is in that lake.  Beyond are only mists.  Darlessa is the Queen, but she has no subjects. She has servants, the very ones she had killed to get to Johan, but they are mindless, repeating the same tasks every day, day in day out.  Members of her court have the exact same conversations over and over again.  Games of chess or cards always result in the same outcomes no matter how many times they are played. Everyone in the castle adores her and they tell her this, often. Every day. The exact same way.  She has tried to feed on her servants, but they provide her with no life and they are returned the very next day.  She has gone on berserk killing sprees, killing every member of her court, and they return the next day acting as they always have.

The night she was rejected by society plays over and over again as it did in her mind when she was subservient to her demon lord. Now it plays out for real and she holds the place of power and honor. Her every desire has been given to her. And she is tortured by it all. 

This Domain has treated Darlessa everything she ever wanted and she is sickened by it all.  The fawning courtiers, the sycophants, the hangers-on. They all disgust her and there is no release.  The sun remains behind dense clouds and is never bright enough to kill her.  She thirsts constantly, but no one inside her domain can satisfy her.  Even her small cadre of warlocks (of the Undead) who do her bidding are revolting to her.  Though they do leave the island to gather new souls for their Queen.  In truth, she longs for a great Paladin or Cleric to come to destroy her to end her endless torment. Sadly, for her, those were outlawed. 

For the Darklord Connections (p. 44) we have the following:  1: An adventurer reminds the Darklord of their bond, desire or loved one.  OR in this case as the clerics Johan or his granddaughter Celene.  Darlessa is convinced that only Celene would be able to free her. 

Genres of Horror

This Domain is pure Dark Fantasy with bits of Gothic Horror and Psychological Horror. It should feel like a D&D world (Mystara in particular) in the movie Groundhog's Day.  The same day repeats over and over in an endless cycle. It is Dark Fantasy with the trappings of Gothic Horror.  The castle is haunted, but not by ghosts, but by memories.  Psychological horror comes from the "Repeat" and not knowing who is on repeat or not.  Also, how does one get out of it all?

Arevenir
Domain of the Vampire Queen

Darklord: Queen Darlessa
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Gothic Horror
Hallmarks: Undead ruler, same day repeats over and over.
Mist Talismans: Invitation to the Royal Court, a book of beginner spells from the School of Magic, a single candle.

Arevenir is a depressing domain consisting of a small island, a castle on the island and the surrounding village.  The locals are glum and speak no language the characters will understand right away.  The populace will claim the woods nearby are haunted with evil fae creatures and wolves with eyes that glow with balefire. 

The castle offers a respite from the cold, uninviting village. Inside the events of the same night play over and over again. The PCs will find they are trapped inside with no hope of escape except from the evil Queen herself and her warlock acolytes.

To escape they have to find the proper talisman. 

--

I am sure I can develop more if needed. But this is a good start.  With this setup the PCs do not need to fight Darlessa at all. So while I have stats for her I don't need stats for her.  Even if they did like everything else in the castle she would just return the next day. 

What I want here is a land influenced by the French and Italian horror of the mid 1970s.  Similar to the most recent October Horror Movie marathon I just did where I focused on Pre-Exorcist European Horror.

It would be fun little diversion. 

Now if I were making a new Domain for players well I get more player input.  Every successful horror game I have ever run has had one thing in common; Player's buy-in.  They have to want to play it in order to make it work out fine.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, Part 3 Horrors and Monsters

Ravenloft Spirit Board
This is Part 3 of my coverage of Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft.  For this, I am going to cover Chapters 4 and 5.
You can also read Part 1, Part 1b, and Part 2.

Chapter 4: Horror Adventures

This chapter covers how to do horror in Ravenloft.  No to be sure this is "how to do horror in the situated rules of D&D and Fantasy Heroics."  It is not, nor should it be "how to do Horror for every other RPG out there."  The advice is good, but only when used in the proper situations and circumstances.  The advice given here is good advice, and it is not dissimilar to any number of horror games I have played in the past. 

For reference, I compared this chapter to some other horror games and books I have here.  In particular, I used: 

These are the ones I use the most, though I could grab examples from another couple dozen or so games.

VRGtR covers Preparing for Horror and this covers not just what sort of horror game everyone wants to play it also covers things like consent. Yes. Consent. No this is not a political stance, it is what I like to call "not being a fucking dick about it."   Section 7.3 of Nightmares of Mine states that 

"Even if the player has originally given his consent, he should be able to veto further exploration of a theme that causes real discomfort, insult, or distraction. Many people don't know exactly where their discomfort zones begin until it is too late."

- Nightmares of Mine, p. 119

And that was written over 20 years ago.  If you are complaining about consent being part of a horror game you lost that battle a long time ago.

Horror Guides

Ravenloft's Session 0 (p. 186) almost matches perfectly to Spooky's "Pre Game Checklist" (p.34) in terms of what sort of horror game is this? Who are the characters? What purpose does the story serve?  Spooky asks "What is the Monster?" Ravenloft asks "Who is the Darklord?"

VRGtR also covers the physical environment to running a horror game. This includes advice, while not exactly cribbed from 2nd Ed Ravenloft, certainly inspired by it.  This includes dimming the lights, props, music, and so on.  Chill also addresses this throughout their game. No shock, Chill 2nd Ed and Ravenloft both came out of the same section of the upper midwest at pretty much the same time.

There is also a section on using the Tarokka Deck (there are many available) and the spirit board that is replicated on the last page of the book. I am hoping that one becomes commercially available. 

Pause for a second here and consider this.  D&D along with Ouija Boards were a favorite target of busy moms and the Christian far-right during the Satanic Panic.  Now consider this. Ravenloft is back, full of all sorts of horror themes AND there is their own version of a spirit board included.  And yeah it is still getting attacked.  I guess some things never change.

There is a fun Horror Toolkit that includes some great Curses to lay down on people, places or whatever needs it.  Similar to what we saw in the AD&D Forbidden Lore set. There is a Fear and Stress mechanic.  Madness is gone. Good ridance.  Here is something I wrote about Madness in my own Sanity in Ravenloft: Masque of the Red Death. 1997

I have always had a problem with the way that the various Ravenloft rulebooks have handled fear, horror and madness checks, but madness in particular. In real life and in most Gothic literature, madness is a gradual thing, usually built up over long periods of time; think of the madness as described in Poe or even Lovecraft. The Madness checks from Ravenloft and later Masque of the Red Death were an all or nothing affair, one failed roll could turn anyone into a raving lunatic. Plus the rules in The Realms of Terror and the Masque of the Red Death books mostly dealt with madness as an after effect of psionic interference. Of course millions of people suffer from mental illness without the “benefit” of being psionic.

Sanity in Ravenloft: Masque of the Red Death. 1997

I wrote that because as someone with multiple degrees in psychology and a former Qualified Mental Health Professional I have NEVER been happy with how any RPG's system for "Madness" or "Sanity" worked.  Call of Cthulhu was an exception because what it did was so closely tied to the stories it emulated.  I attempted to do the same. 

This new system works better for the Fantasy Horror of Ravenloft. For me, the guy who used to be in charge of the night shift at a mental facility for schizophrenics, this system is better.  Yeah, people are going to say "but madness is part of horror!" No. It is part of Gothic Horror and to a degree Cosmic Horror, but there is nothing in Fantasy Horror that needs Madness. Yes, you can use it. No, you don't NEED to use it.  AD&D 2nd Ed used it, I used my own mechanics. I am happy to drop both today.

Though, there is no corruption mechanic here or a fall to Dark Powers.  The underlying assumption is that the PCs are heroes in the pure and true sense.  That is great, but D&D 5 players are no different than AD&D 1st ed players.  Dangle power in front of them and they will grab it with both hands and ask for more.  I get that, I really do and it works for this game. I am going to have to see how it works for me as I play Ravenloft 5e. On one of the few times I was a Ravenloft player and not a DM I had a character, a cavalier-sort, who was sucked in to the Mists and went blind.  He gained the ability to "see" while fighting but no other time (think Daredevil) it was a struggle to keep him from reaching out for more. He did move from Lawful Good to Lawful Neutral, but that was as far as his slide went.

Moving on to a GREAT piece are Survivors.  Survivors are a little bit more than normal humans, and a little bit less than a 1st level character.  These would be the people/characters in Ravenloft that would have souls. There are four basic types and they map on perfectly to the four class archetypes.

  • Apprentices have a minor talent for magic (Wizards, Magic-Users)
  • Disciples adhere to the tenets of the faith (Priests, Clerics)
  • Sneaks survive by their wits and are petty thieves. (Rogue, Theif)
  • Squires have some martial prowess or training. (Warrior, Fighter)

There are stat blocks for these four on the following page. They get a minor talent (like a feat, but not as strong).  Basically, they are Basic D&D 1st level characters.  If I was going to start a Ravenloft game, I would figure out what everyone wanted to play and then give them these level 0.5 characters that match their archetype.  Playing a Warlock? You start out as an Apprentice. And so on.  

House of Lament
The House of Lament

The included adventure deals with the House of Lament.  To new players it is a creepy ass haunted house that holds the spirits of Mara Silvra and Dalk Dranzorg (which are totally names you would find in Glantri, just saying). To older fans, the House of Lament was just as evil.  Now Mara goes from helpless victim to warrior now complicit in her own damnation in Ravenloft.  In both cases, her body is entombed in the house and her spirit haunts it.   The House of Lament was introduced in one of the first accessories for Ravenloft, RR1 Darklords which was released in 1991.  This new house has all the chills of the first.

There are rules for séances and the replies from the various spectral inhabitants.  There is even a handy adventure flowchart.  You don't have to follow it, but it does help.  The new house pretty much looks like the one in Darklords.  The maps are not 100% the same, but close enough that is obvious there are supposed to be the same place. Or at least built by the same hand. BTW the maps of the House of Lament are by none other than Dyson Logos

The change is interesting and hits on things we all talked about online back in the 90s.  So in the original House, Mara was an innocent victim, yet her soul was stuck in this house with the other spirits.  We always wondered why the Mists would trap an innocent soul.   We came up with a lot of reasons, but the current authors bypass the issue altogether and make Mara more active in her placement here.

Still, tt is a great introductory adventure.

Chapter 5: Monsters of Ravenloft

The very last part is a collection of new (well...new to some) monsters found in the Mists and Domains of Ravenloft.

First, we get a bit about how to use monsters in a horror game.  It is good but I do feel it could have been longer. Then we get into the monsters themselves.  First off. I LOVE the Bagman!  Why I never came up with it myself I will never forgive myself for. We get the expected cast.  Invasion of the Body Snatchers Pods, Brain in a Jar, Boneless, evil dolls, headless horsemen, ghosts, Star Spawn of Cthulhu Emissary, slashers, couple of different Vampires, zombies. The expected cast.  Given Ravenloft's history, there are tons more that could be added.  Well, it will keep the folks on DMsGuild busy for a long time!

Ok. So. Let's address it. The monsters do not have alignments listed.  "Oh no" the cries come from the Internet, "nothing is evil anymore! D&D is DOOOOMED!" Oh, grow the fuck up.

Monsters. They are still evil.

I have lost track of how many times over the last 40 years someone has brought up "hey maybe we should get rid of alignments in D&D."  Also aside from Ravenloft how many Horror RPGs have alignments?  Right. None.  Well...maybe Beyond the Supernatural. Just checked, yeah it does, but none of the other non-D&D-derived Horror games have it. One thing is made abundantly clear, monsters are there to be fought and fought against.  There is no "Subjective morality" here the monsters are described in terms of their "Wrongness" (p. 224) or their nightmarish qualities (p. 225). To be clear here every monster listed either wants your soul, your body, your blood, your life, or some combination of all the above.  In truth, there should never be anything at all like a random monster. Everything should be in place to maximize the effect the DM is wanting.  At no point should a random goblin show up in the middle of investigating an undead killer moving through the streets. Every monster should thought out, planned and figured out where they exist in the ecology of fear the DM is creating.  If that means a Boneless is a horrible creature trying to attack OR is it a helpless victim that needs the PCs, then alignments printed on the page would not matter. 

My only complaint about this chapter is there needs to be more. But I do love my monsters.

We end with an art page of the spirit board.

Edited to Add: Wizards of the Coast has a free PDF where you can print out the Ravenloft Spirit board. Print it out and glue it to some wood or cardboard.

All in all this is my favorite D&D 5 book.  I can see myself reviving (reanimating?) my old Ravenloft game with these new rules.  My original players are all over the world now, but I have new ones.  OR what I am more likely to do is add elements of Ravenloft into my current games.  The Second Campaign is headed to a large desert.  You know that Ankhtepot is going to be there.

There has been much ado about the changes to the Vistani. They are less of a cultural stereotype now so that is good. They can be good, or evil, as individuals choose, so that is also good.  Generally improved all the way around.  I have to be honest, I never used them very much save in Barovia, but that was it.

D&D 5 Books

With all the other D&D books out now you can build quite a collection of resources for Ravenloft.  The Candlekeep mysteries adventure, Book of the Raven, was our D&D 5 introduction to the Vistani and some Ravenloft concepts. 

More D&D 5 Books

The new various "Guides" have plenty of monsters and other ideas to flesh out your Ravenloft for 5e.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, Part 2 Domains and Darklords

VRGtR: Special Edition Cover
This is Part 2 of my exploration of the new Ravenloft book. You can also read Part 1 and Part 1b.

So last time I ended with character creation.  A couple of other points.   I was talking with my oldest son about the new classes, asking his expert opinion on how balanced they were.  He says that they are fine, nothing too out of the ordinary.  He just wondered why we need a Warlock with the Undead as a Patron when The Sword Coast Adventurer's Guide already had a Warlock with the Patron The Undying.  Yes, they are fairly similar.

People seem concerned that two of the three lineages can see in the dark (Darkvision).  Well...this has always been an issue, elves, dwarves, gnomes, all have been there from the very, very start and they can also see in the dark.  Fear of the dark is a powerful fear, but it is also not the only one.  I always made the mists very opaque.  You might be able to see in the dark, but not the dark found in Ravenloft.  Afraid yet?  Well to quote one important gnome, "you will be. You will be."

Chapter 2: Creating Domains of Dread

Before we get into all the Domains of Dread (39 domains in total) we are going to talk about the creation of a Darklord.   Why do this first? This gets the Ravenloft DM to think about what needs to go into a Domain, AND what doesn't.  

Domains are reflections of their Darklord.  The building of a Darklord looks at the relationship between the Darklord and the characters and even the players.  I mean starting in Barovia with Strahd is always fun, but what if your players are not into vampires?  No problem, there is something here for you and your players.  Here the Darklord is created by asking questions about their past life, their fatal flaws, what makes them evil.  Yes.  This book presents the Darklords as all as unrepentantly evil. Evil with a capital E. Of course, the Darklords may not see themselves as evil or even as a Darklord, but that doesn't change what they are. 

Following the Darklord creation, we create a Domain. Remember that Domains are designed not just to be a prison for the Darklord, but one that tortures the Darklord as well.  Strahd is trapped and constantly tormented by his obsession with Tatyana. She is constantly being reborn, each time she torments him more.  Various other questions are asked.  What sort of culture is this? What do they fear? How do they treat outsiders? And a lot more.  Asking these questions here help understand what the domains are later on. 

Larissa Snowmane
Larissa Snowmane on the River Dancer.  Growing up near the Mississippi, I have had nightmares like this.

The next section, and one of the best, cover all the different sorts of horror you can use and the ones this book uses.  Reminder.  Ravenloft is not really Gothic Horror.  Sure it has elements of Gothic Horror. It has the tropes of Gothic Horror.  But even the AD&D 2nd Ed version of Domains of Dread informed us that Ravenloft is actually Fantasy Horror.  So let's see what the book has. 

  • Body Horror - horrors about being transformed or our bodies failing us.  Think of movies like The Fly, The Thing, or one of my newer favorites, Tusk.
  • Cosmic Horror - horrors from beyond and the cults that follow them.  Think Cthulhu.
  • Dark Fantasy - the intersection of fantasy and horror. Arguably where Ravenloft works the best.
  • Folk Horror - One of my favorites. Old towns with strange natives. Pagan cults and practices.  The Witch, The Wickerman (original one please), and Midsommer are good movie examples, but there are a lot more.
  • Ghost Stories - an old favorite. Ghosts, haunted houses, haunted...well everything. 
  • Gothic Horror - yes, it is represented here. Gothic Horror has much in common with the Romance genre.  The difference is the inclusion of a monster. Not a snarling beast, but often an old, often European aristocrat.  Dracula is the prime example given, but also the works of Poe and Le Fanu.
These are the main ones.  They all feature examples and tone. They also discuss the types of monsters that would be common.  Additionally like all D&D 5 books, there are plenty of d8 and d10 tables of options and suggestions.

There also others that are more briefly covered. Disaster Horror, Occult Detective Horror, Psychological Horror, and Slasher Horror.  All of these are now used in the Domains.  Well...they have all always been used, to be honest, now we are just more explicit about it.

Is this enough to run a horror game? Well...no, not really. It is PERFECT for running a Ravenloft game.  It's not really designed to run a Call of Cthulhu game and certainly not a Kult or Little Fears one, but it does work here.  

If you have never run a horror game before then there is a lot here that will help you.  If you have run horror games then this is a good introduction to the type of horror you can run in Ravenloft.

Chapter 3: Domains of Ravenloft

This the largest portion of the book. Nearly half of all the pages.

The first part covers souls. As in, most of the people in the Domains don't have them.  This is not a new idea really.  It was touched on in the Knight of the Black Rose books. The soul of Kitara was "copied" and her true soul was set free by the Darkpowers to whatever reward (well, punishment) her god (Takhisis) demanded.  What stayed behind was created by the Darkpowers to torture Lord Soth.  Similar to the soul of Firan Zal’honan's son.  

The section on souls also has a bit that should really scare D&D players.  While most "people" don't have souls, the ones that do better keep a tight grip on them.  Dying in Ravenloft is bad.  How bad? Even if you are raised or brought back under 24 hours a bit of your soul is still wandering the Mists.  Over 24 hours?  Your body might be raised, but it won't have your soul in it. That soul will be reincarnated over and over in Ravenloft.  Welcome to the Hotel Barovia. You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave.  While I felt this was a negative feature in Curse of Strahd, it is a positive here. A scary one at that. Death is permanent after a point and death is not even an escape from the mists.

The Domains are now not all Gothic Horror.  They fit into 1 to 3 sub-genres of horror described above.  Gothic Horror is just one of those types.

Unlike previous editions that would feature the Darklords and the Domains separately, this book keeps them together.  This is a big improvement.  Darklords are inseparable from their Domains, and this book sells that philosophy well.

Seventeen Domains and their Darklords are covered here in greater detail and 22 in lesser detail.  Not every Domain from the old books are here. Nor should they be. So goodbye Sithicus, you were fun, but we don't need you now. 

Each Domain is covered, it's Darklord listed, the Genre (from above) listed, usually one to three, the Hallmarks of the Domain and the various Mist Talismans that can drag you here or help you leave.  Also, each covers what characters and people with souls think of their lands and what it means to them. While the Domains are not really part of a world as others think it there is no reason that people living there know that.  Some might suspect something, but they have always lived like this and this is what is normal for them. 

There are some alterations to every part of the Domains. Some are minor, many are major.  While some bemoan this I see it as fantastic.  First, I am not going to be playing this with anyone that knows the difference between Falkovnia and Fallstaff, AZ, let alone the difference between Mordent now and Mordent then.  Plus even if they did, well that is just the Dark Powers messing with their memories.  “Yeah you thought it was like this, but it really isn’t!”

A couple of other points.  The Darklords don't have stats.  But really, the Darklords don’t need stats.  At no point EVER in all the years I ran Ravenloft I never had a group of players that wanted to go after a Darklord.  And many that never even knew who the Darklord truly was.  How many Dracula movies are there?  How many has he been killed in?  Same here, I don't care even if the Darklord IS killed, they will be back as soon as I need them to be.

Also, the Domains are not as connected as they once were. Domains can be islands, or connected or not.  Ravenloft is not a "world" it is a loose collection of semi-connected prisons.  Only the Vistani can safely and somewhat reliably navigate the Mists and that is exactly as it should be.  Connect them if you want, I am playing this as an homage to the old TV series "The Fantastic Journey," the characters, and the players, step into the Mists and no one will know where they will end up. 

Each Domain feels new to me.  Like I am headed back to a place I once knew.  It would be exactly like me going back to my old University town. It has changed a lot since I was last there in 1994, the streets are the same, but the buildings are all different. Some things are the same, but there are things that are new.  This is the same.  

Barovia is the first, well for many reasons, but here it is alphabetical.  It is also the one that will most familiar to old and new players alike thanks to Curse of Strahd.  Like Curse of Strahd is completely supports my thinking that Baravoia is from Mystara, even though it is never stated here. 

the Amber Temple

A couple of other notable Domains.  Darkon was the former domain of Azlin Rex, now it is a Domain in slow-motion destruction. Like watching an explosion slowed down. Azalin is gone, where is he? No one knows. The Kargat still run the place, and there are other factions, but everything else is falling apart.  It is listed as Dark Fantasy with Disaster Horror.  Darkon was always the most "D&D" of the Domains, but now it is in tatters.  It is also a Domain searching for a new Darklord; PCs beware.  

Falkovia is now ruled by Vladeska Drakov. Now no longer a dime-store Transylvania and a bargain-basement Vlad Tepes, it is now World War Z in the Dark Ages.  Think the Black Death, if the Black Death could get up and go after you.  This is fantastic! And, really let's be honest, Vlad Drakov and Falkovia always kinda sucked. Really. It did.  This is so much better.  Har'Akir is so improved that I want to use it first.  Hazlan's Darklord Hazlik finally is portrayed as we always said he was back on the old RAVEN-L lists. He is not evil because he is gay, he is evil because he is a cold-blooded psychotic killer, even beyond that what other Red Wizards of Thay can accept. 

Dementlieu. Ah...now here is something really fun.  Completely changed from the old one this is an endless Masquerade, both in terms of the party and how everyone lives.  The Darklord of Dementlieu is "Duchess" Saidra d'Honaire. She fancies herself as a Lady, but is really just a commoner. In fact, everyone lies in Dementlieu, and every lie has to be more outlandish than the last, but uncovering a lie, or having your lies uncovered, is tantamount to that person's death.  It is Cinderella plus Masque of the Red Death (Poe's version, not the AD&D one) mixed with Bridgerton where every negative high-class society stereotype turned all the way up to 11 and put in a background of "be the most popular or die" attitude.  Get caught up in the lies and deceit and you could be lost in the Grand Masquerade.  You will never or should never get into combat situations in Dementlieu. You could for example challenge some "Lord" to a duel, but his second will, unfortunately, will not be there and he is under strict guidance from his doctor not to duel. Or some other reason.  Most likely Saidra d'Honaire will out you as a fraud first. OR, the would-be combative will be caught in a lie and reduced to ash in front of your very eyes by the Duchess.  

The list can go on. Harkon Lukas is more than just a fop now. He is a great example of a Darklord that has no idea he is a Darklord and thinks he is good. But we know he isn't.  Viktra Mordenheim is a great update over the thin pastiche that Viktor Mordenheim was to Dr. Frankenstein.  Chakuna, the new Darklord of Valachan replaces the old Darklord Baron Urik von Kharkov. I actually liked Baron Urik von Kharkov and the later art made him look like Tony Todd, always a plus.  No opinion yet on this one. But it does look interesting.

Chakuna, the new Darklord of Valachan
The Displacer Beast is a nice touch for this Domain

Not everything is perfect here though.

Yes, some of the domains are not as well defined as they could be or even should be.  Some details are here, but some are left out. I mean how do you grow food in an endless night?  To be honest, I really don’t care where the crops are coming from in Ravenloft to feed the townspeople anymore than I am worrying about where the crops come from to feed the townspeople in Frankenstein Created Woman all I care about is will they have their pitchforks ready when I need them.   And in truth, the book covers this in the very beginning with their “this is a world of nightmare logic” and the fact that most "people" in the Domains are not even real. You can even assume that nothing exists for real until the characters need it too.  The Dark Powers provide it all. How can hordes of zombies attack Falkovia every month like it's Episode 8.03 of Game of Thrones? Doesn't matter, it does and they do until the end of time.

We also get some important NPCs.  They are a great bunch, to be honest.  Among our "Stars" are Van Richten himself, the Weathermay-Foxgrove twins, and Ez d'Avenir.   Others are also returning stars from previous editions with more details.

I think Alanik Ray and Arthur Sedgewick are very much improved.  They remind me of what Holmes and Watson from the Netflix show the Irregulars could have been like.  I know there are people complaining that “they made Holmes and Watson gay!” No. They made Alanik Ray and Arthur Sedgewick gay. And guess what. They can do that if they want.   They are now more than just a thinly veiled dime store Holmes and Watson.

Having  Larissa Snowmane from the novel Dance of the Dead is a nice nod to fans, but they mention she avoids Nathan Timothy and yet they give no indication of who that is or his own Domain or why they would be interacting.  I mean I can pull my old books, but newer players don't have that.

They bring up Firan Zal’honan, but also never talk about how he used to be Azilin Rex. Or maybe he will be again?  I mean I am thrilled to see him! I can remember reading “I, Strahd: The War Against Azalin” in 1998 when it came out, sitting on my backyard deck and watching my wife work in the garden. This is deep-cut stuff.  But my son, who was not even born yet at that time, has his own copy of this book and has no idea who Firan is. 

Among the new Domains is the very compelling Cyre 1313 from Eberron. It's a freaking Ghost Train!  Who has never heard a tale about a Ghost Train?  This is one of the Domains, like the Carnival, that overlaps other Domains for a time.  It can travel the Mists and not in a good way. 

Cyre 1313

I am not a huge fan of how it looks, but my knowledge of Eberron is slim. This might be how all trains look. For me, I might make it look more Victorian.  But that's my solution for most things.  Though floating over the ground with little electrical sparks is good.

That is quite a lot of the book.  Next time I cover Chapters 4 and 5.

Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft