Showing posts with label 5e. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 5e. Show all posts

Friday, July 23, 2021

Kickstart Your Weekend: Celts, Demon City, and Anime

A few Kickstarters today that look like a lot of fun.

Heroes of Tara Player's Guide

Heroes of Tara
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1955128460/heroes-of-tara-players-guide?ref=theotherside

5e? Irish myths?  Yes, please!  I mean what else do I need to know here?  No. That's pretty much all I need!

Pixies, Wyrms, Demon City – Three Mini Role-Playing Games

Demon City

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/dyskami/pixies-wyrms-demonicity-three-mini-role-playing-games?ref=theotherside

While Dyskami Publishing has some issues left over from the Guardians of Order days and...I am not quite sure how I feel about that, I did love BESM.  These new books for TriStat are exactly the sort of things I loved.  Hell, I even had my own Demon City in the works, but I am happy to put that down of other projects. 

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.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Review: Witch+Craft, a 5e Crafting Supplemental

Are you a fan of Studio Ghibli movies?  Well, I am and the authors of Witch+Craft, a 5e crafting supplemental are as well. And this book proudly and openly displays that love.  But I am getting a little ahead of myself. 

I backed this project as a Kickstarter a while back and it came with the book, PDFs, and all sorts of great add-ons like wallpapers and spell and magic-item cards (PDFs).

So I am going to be reviewing the hardcover book and the PDFs from the Kickstarter.  I am uncertain if the PDFs from DriveThruRPG are 100% the same or not. 

You can purchase the hardcover from the publisher's website and the PDFs from DriveThruRPG or also from the publisher.

Witch+Craft, a 5e Crafting Supplemental

Witch+Craft is a full-color hardcover 214-page book.  The theme of the book is decidedly high magic, and a style of high magic infuses all aspects of the lives of the people of this particular vision of the 5e fantasy universe.  This book is exactly the opposite of "grimdark," wherein magic is everywhere and it is a tool to be used to make things better.   I state this upfront because that is the pervasive philosophy of the book.  It works, and it is a great one to have.  But it will have to fit your style of gaming and campaigns.  I knew this on the onset, and lets be honest, the cover gives this away, but if this is not your kind of game there is not a lot (there is some!) that this book can give you.  

That all being said this book is a fantastic resource for anyone that has ever said "can I use magic to make BLANK?" Where BLANK is anything and everything from clothes that clean themselves, to self-sorting spell components, to fire that heats but won't burn, to well...half a thousand things I have heard from my kids in their 5e games.

While I may have started this review with who this book is not for, who it absolutely IS for is anyone that has ever played an Artificer in 5e or an Alchemist in Pathfinder 2e.

What this book doesn't have, despite the name, is a Witch class.  Ah well. 

Witch+Craft table of contents

Introduction

We get the basics of this book. In bold letters right in the first line of the first paragraph we get : 

This book is about making things.

You have to appreciate this. Some RPG books are never quite as clear as to what they are about. This book is also about rounding out your character with Trade Classes.  Though Trade Professions would likely be a better term. You can take these along with your Fighter, Wizard, or whatever levels. I will get into more details in a bit.

Chapter 1: Domestic Magic

Part 1 of this chapter covers the basics of crafting. The six-step process is listed and then detailed. 

  1. Blueprint. You propose a project.
  2. Challenges. The GM imposes a Difficulty Level based on the specifications of the project. They will also list the base materials required to make the crafting attempt at all. (7 levels total)
  3. Preparation. You may prepare for the project in order to improve your chances of success.
  4. Craft Action. You begin the project, rolling to qualify your success.
  5. Fine-tuning. After the rolls are in, you may choose to expend bonuses to alleviate any potential flaws.
  6. Appraising. When all is said and done, the item is created, and its features and flaws known.

The rules here a pretty simple and even elegant in their own ways.  It does add to the 5e system as a new sub-system.  So while old schoolers will not even blink an eye it does feel "added on."  Now this is not a bad thing.  It feels like the best system for detailed craftwork, as opposed to say "just roll a d20 and beat this DC."

Part 2 deals with Trade Class basics.  This is just a tracking system on how you get better with crafting.  Class is kind of a misnomer here since it is not a D&D Class.  Trade Profession might have been a better choice.  These professions/classes can progress through Tiers (not levels) and have different kinds of media they work in; crystals, drafting, living arts, metals, textiles, and wood.

Part 3 covers Techniques. Or how you can do things.  This also covers tools.  They are presented like feats but are attached to the Tiers. For example "Green Thumb" does more or less what you think it does.  The prereq is "Living Arts or Wood."  While presented like a feat, it does not have any "combat" advantages.  Certainly lots of role-playing advantages.

Part 4 is Picking Your Trade Class.  Here are the actual classes/professions. They are based around the media above.  So someone that works with crystals could be Glass Blower or a Mason or a Jeweler. The builds cover what other materials you can work with, what tools you have, and starting techniques.  Each media get three example builds.

Chapter 2: Cape Verdigris

Cape Verdigris is a setting where all of this crafting and domestic magic can be seen in use. It lists places of interest, guilds, shops, and many major NPCs. It is designed to be added to pretty much any campaign world. 

Chapter 3: A House of Plenty

This is a 40-page complete adventure of a different sort.  The goal here is to restore an old manor house to it's former glory using the crafting skills they have learned in this book.  So in TV shows, you are trading Sci-Fi or Shudder for HGTV. There is something interesting here and I really admire the authors' choices here.  

Chapter 4: Spells

This chapter covers 12 new spells to use in conjunction with the rules.  

Witch+Craft tspells


Chapter 5: Familiars

Also what it says on the cover, this introduces 10 new familiars. Many are fey, others are animals. Greater familiars are also presented here. If you wanted a soot familiar like the ones in "My Neighbor Totoro" or "Spirited Away" then this chapter has you covered.

Witch+Craft

Chapter 6: Items

Not just magic items but a whole bunch of mundane and domestic magic items as well.  The blanket of napping is an easy favorite. 

Witch+Craft items

Appendices

Here we get a collection of various stats. 

Appendix I. The NPCs from Chapters 2 and 3 get their writeups here. Why not with the chapters? Easy, in the chapters, you are supposed to be focused on who these people are how you interact with them, NOT what their combat stats are. 

Appendix II covers unusual trades like healers and wandmakers.

Appendix III has various boons and flaws of the items crafted. These can be minor, major or magical/dangerous for boons and flaws respectively. 

Appendix IV is a list of crafting obstacles.

Appendix V cover crafted treasures

Appendix VI is Awakened Objects. So lots of monster stats here.

Appendix VII covers the stats of various objects; HP and AC.

There is a very attractive character sheet in back. The next few pages cover all the designers and artists that helped make this book possible.  There is also a list of Kickstarter contributors. Sadly there are a few typos here with some names cut off, some listed more than once.  Mine isn't even listed at all. 

There is also an index and the OGL statement.

The book really fantastic and joy to look at.  The art is great, the layout is wonderful and very easy on the eyes.

The audience for this book is a little slim.  There is nothing in this book really that would help in combat, defeating the next big bad (unless he challenges you to a bake-off) or any of the things that people typically associate with D&D.  This is much more of a narrative presentation with a lot of role-playing potential.  

One of it's strengths though design-wise is that since the crafting system is not inherently tied to D&D5 is can be lifted out and added to other games with only minor tweaking.  For example, Chapters 1 to 3 could be lifted out and added to something like Blue Rose AGE edition with a little work.  

I would like to recommend this to Old-School gamers. I could something like this working well with a game like Old-school Essentials or The Hero's Journey. But even those games tend to be combat-heavy at times and really don't have much in the way of the need for various crafting. Not to say that some groups or players wouldn't, it's just not universal.

This book is best for the younger D&D 5 player that got into D&D after a steady diet of Minecraft and the ones that loved crafting items in MMORPGs. It is also great for any DM that wants a better handle on making items of any sort.

Witch+Craft


Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Review: Blue Rose Adventurer's Guide

Blue Rose Adventurer's Guide 5e
I am on record as being a big fan of Green Ronin's Blue Rose setting, both in its True20 and AGE versions.   There is just something about it that I find very, very compelling and think it makes for a fantastic game and game world.

I am also on record as being a huge fan of D&D 5th Edition.  While it wont replace my beloved Basic D&D it will sit on my shelves and game table very happily right next to it.  

So what happens when Green Ronin decides to take their Blue Rose world and used the D&D 5th edition rule system?  Well, you get the best of both worlds!  Let's look into this RPG chocolate and peanut butter creation and see what we have.  My only fear is that some of the things that made Blue Rose so special might get lost here.  Let's find out.

The Blue Rose Adventurer's Guide (5e)

For this review I am considering the PDF and POD versions I purchased from DriveThruRPG.  Note: As of the date of this writing the POD is no longer available. I suspect this has to do with the change in printing costs for "Premium Color" prints.  There was a successful Kickstarter (that I missed) to fund a traditional print run.  It looks like there will offset printing ready for your FLGS by the end of 2021.  I guess I better hold on to my now collector's item!

The book is 176 pages with full-color art throughout.  Once again the cover art is by the incredible Stephanie Pui-Mun Law who has given us the look and feel I associate with Blue Rose.  All of the art, as far as I can tell, has been used before in the AGE version of Blue Rose.  I do not see this as a problem. The art is so tied to Blue Rose for me that I would have a difficult time seeing anything else.  So this is a positive in my mind.

It is hard to believe that it was four years ago that I reviewed the "new" Blue Rose AGE edition (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3).  So a lot of what I said there will apply here.  

You do not need the Blue Rose core rules to play this, but you do need the D&D 5th Edition rules.

Introduction

This section from developer Steve Kenson introduces us to Green Ronin and Blue Rose.  It is a nice reminder that Green Ronin's DNA is deeply sequenced with D&D.  Many of the founders and developers at GR can trace their careers back AD&D 2nd Ed, D&D 3.x, and D&D 5.  These are not "johnny come latelys" these are people with a strong and credible background in game design and D&D in particular.   This also covers some naming conventions.  "Sorcery" from the True20 and AGE versions has been renamed "The Occult" here, so as not to confuse with the sorcerer class.  Similar distinctions are made later on with Priests and Clerics when dealing with the various theocracies.

Chapters 1 through 7

These chapters all deal with the history, people, and geography of the World of Aldea.  They are,in order, The World of Aldea, The Kingdom of Aldis, The Theocracy of Jarzon, The Khanate of Rezea, The Thaumocracy of Kern, The Matriarch of Lar'tya, and On the Borders.

Pages from Blue Rose Adventure's Guide

While these sections are nearly identical to similar sections in the Blue Rose core rules AGE edition, they are not a copy and paste.  I covered those in Part 2 of my Blue Rose review.  The differences here are now largely one of rules setting.  Details have been edited to better fit the D&D 5e rules.  

This also works well as an overview for anyone wanting to play in Aldea regardless of which rules (True20, AGE, D&D5) they want to use.

Chapter 8: Aldean Ancestries

We are moving away from the old concept of race in D&D and I could not be happier.  This chapter gives us a good example of how this can be done moving forward.  There is a natural familiarity here for anyone coming to this version of BR from the True20 one.  The ancestries of the world of Aldea are here and how they can be played in D&D 5.  If you are thinking ahead then YES, you can now use Rhydan and Sea-folk in your regular D&D game.  

Pages from Blue Rose Adventure's Guide

What was "race" is not split off into Ancestries (your "genetics" as it were) and Culture (where you were raised).  This is particularly useful in the cosmopolitan world that is Aldea and in particular Aldis. Sure you might a Night Person, but you were raised in a villa on the Northside of Garnet.  Your best friend is a Sea-folk and you spent more time on the waterways than whatever stereotypical things people think Night Folk do. Sure you might be naturally strong and fierce-looking, but the only battles you have ever been in are the Poetry competitions in Garnet. Which by the way are pretty damn fierce in their own right. In my Blue Rose games, Garnet has annual poetry competitions that have all vibe and energy of an epic Rap-battle.  The top prize is a lot of money, but more importantly, bragging rights.

I would like to say this should be back-ported into D&D, but I am pretty sure we will see this in future versions anyway.  This is an improvement.  Character customization at a new level.

Chapter 9: Aldean Classes

Ah. Here is what I waiting on.  Blue Rose AGE and True20 versions only has three classes.  An while this works remarkably well, D&D has a bit more.  So in the proud tradition of so many D&D 5 books, this book offers new takes on all the standard classes.  I want to focus here on just a couple I really like.  

Pages from Blue Rose Adventure's Guide

The Monk gains the Blue Rose Spirit Dancers in the Way of the Spirit Dance and makes it better than the sum of it's parts.  I have never been a big fan of monks, I have only played one in my 40+ years of gaming.  The Blue Rose spirit dancers were a great concept, but again, not something I would play.  This new Way of the Spirit Dancer Monk is better than either and yes I would play one.  Imagine an acrobat with ballet training and grace and mix that in with aikido and karate.  Yes, that is basically Gymkata (Gods of Light help me) but so much better really.

Paladins get the Oath of the Rose and really just become the Knights I was always playing in BR anyway, but nice to see them on paper.

Warlocks.  You knew I was coming here. We get two Patrons here (from the Primordial Gods), the Autumn King and the Winter Queen.  A Winter Queen warlock is indistinguishable from how I like to play witches as to be the exact same thing.  But honestly, I expected nothing less from Steve Kenson and line developer Joseph Carriker. 

Wizards get a little psychic in School of the Psyche.  I would run wizards with a pretty tight hand in Blue Rose 5e. Not because of the lack of magic, just the opposite, there is a ton of magic in this world. 

These all are designed well for the World of Aldea, but I'd be crazy not to play a Queen of Winter Warlock.

Pages from Blue Rose Adventure's Guide

We also get some Feats to help round out some of the powers that characters can get in Blue Rose-AGE.  Not a lot, but 5e is not as feat-heavy as 3 was.  

Chapter 10: Aldean Backgrounds

Aldea is a new world so there are some modified and new backgrounds for it.  The best is the Reawakened.  Or the reincarnation background.  You know I am going to use that!

Chapter 11: Aldean Arcana

This covers the magic in Aldea including the Occult (what was called Sorcery).  Some spells from the Player's Handbook/SRD are marked as "Occult" spells.

I would have loved to see some new spells here, but I would need to go through both the Blue Rose book and the PHB to see if there is anything missing.

We get some new magic items including Ancestral and Rhydan ones as well as Occult Artifacts (great for any game).

Chapter 12: Aldean Creatures

This covers the monsters and creatures we find in Aldea not in the Monster Manual/SRD.  There are some important alterations to some creatures such as Griffons, Centaurs, the Fey, and undead, to correspond to the world better.  We also get Clockwork creatures, "upgraded" Fey Lords, and slightly different Fiends. Rhydan also get updated 5e style stats.

Shadow of Tanglewood

This is an included adventure for four to six 1st level Blue Rose heroes. 

There is an Index and the OGL statement.

While I was worried that some of the charms of Blue Rose AGE would be lost here there is more than enough to make up for it.  I mean there are no stunts or any of the other nice features of the AGE rules. There is no conversion matrix for bringing over characters from one game to the other.  But this book plays to the strengths of D&D 5e and still manages to give us an Aldea that feels special. 

What might have been lost from the AGE (or even True20) version is more than made up for with D&D5.  It's not exactly the same, but it is every bit as fun.

Who Should Buy This Book?

If you are a Blue Rose fan and a D&D fan then get this book.  If you are a Blue Rose player/GM/fan and your group is playing D&D 5 then you should get this book.  If you are a D&D 5 player, and you are curious about Blue Rose, Aldea, and the City of Aldis then most certainly get this book.

One of the great strengths of this book is its ability to introduce the concepts of Blue Rose and its world to a bunch of new players.  Honestly, D&D 5 players should be grabbing this book. 

If I were Green Ronin, I'd put a QuickStart adventure using Blue Rose 5e with some very simple concepts from the game.  Don't include character creation, but instead have a set of pre-made characters including a Night Person, a Rhy-Cat (or Rhy-Bear), a Sea Folk, and a Vata.  Show off their strengths and then get a group of YouTubers to play it. I know my youngest's group would eat this up in a heartbeat.  Slap a giant ad in the back for both versions of the game.

Now I just need a set of Blue Rose 5e dice to go with my set of Blue Rose AGE d6s.

Blue Rose Core and Blue Rose Adventure's Guide

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Review: The Runewild Campaign Setting

Putting the Hex into hex crawls.

A while back I mentioned the Runewild Campaign Setting Kickstarter. I was quite excited about it and happily backed it.   I got my books and my PDFs, but it was in the middle of my Covid-19 fueled busy summer last year. The book has been sitting on my desk, mostly ignored since then.

That is a damn shame.

With all the fun I have been having with Van Richten Guide to Ravenloft lately I wanted to revisit this book and see what I can add to it from this book.  The short answer? A lot.  So much in fact that while there are some great ideas in this book for Ravenloft, there is a TON more for my War of the Witch Queens campaign for Basic-era (B/X, BECMI, OSE) D&D. 

So for this review, I am going to refer to both the Softcover print and the PDF.

The Runewild Campaign Setting

Published by Sneak Attack Press, written by William Fischer, art by Joyce Maureira, and Cartography by Toy Fayen.  306 pages. Full-color covers and interior art. Available in PDF, Hardcover, and Softcover versions. For 5th Edition, recommended levels are 1 to 10.  Available on DriveThruRPG and at your FLGS.

The PDF is fully bookmarked with hyperlinked Table of Contents. 

The Runewild Campaign Setting (Runewild) is overtly a "Dark Fantasy fairy tale" campaign sandbox guide and a hex crawl in one volume.  That is it in a nutshell but does not really do it justice.  Best to break it up a little more.  

From the introduction,

This book includes:
  • A history of the Runewild and its surrounding settlements
  • 150 detailed encounter areas for player characters to explore 
  • 8 new Backgrounds and a new Feat: Fey-Touched 
  • 21 unique magic items (like witch embers and the staff of clarity and confusion) 
  • 32 new monsters (including clockwork dwarves, fey lions, giant forest sloths, and the terrifyingly beautiful Golden Bodach) 
  • Detailed descriptions of the histories, motivations, and weaknesses of the witches of the Runewild, including the Whitebone Sisters; Missus Switch, the swine hag; Korthsuva, the Witch of Hours; and the Hag Queen Griselda, Mother of Ogres 
  • New optional rules for exploration and resting 
  • Advice for running a sandbox campaign 
  • Dozens of random tables designed to help GMs make a Runewild campaign their own

That is quite a lot. Frankly, I was just happy getting the material on the Witches of the Runewild, the rest is gravy for me.  I turn the page and suddenly my "gravy" turns into another dessert course when I am introduced to the "Witch Wars."  Oh. This will be fun.

The book is split into four sections, Running the Runewild, Magic of the Runewild, A Runewild Gazeteer, A Runewild Bestiary.

Runewild Magic

Running the Runewild: This section covers what the Runewild is and a bit of its history.  It also introduces the idea of a Sandbox Campaign.  While many gamers of a certain age will already be familiar with the idea of a sandbox (and even where the term comes from) this might be new to the majority of younger D&D players.  No inditement of their experience; everyone learns something new at different times. This is a good overview of this style of play for the newer generation of players.  

The advice given about Sandboxes vs. Adventure Path is solid and there is even something here that warms the cockles of my old-school heart.  To quote page 10, "e of the greatest difficulties in running a sandbox-style campaign is balancing encounters. In short, there are no balanced encounters in the Runewild."  Players and Characters need to get used to the idea of running away. 

While this might be a shift for some 5e players, it is not a hard or difficult one.  In fact, it is presented in the light of the characters have the ultimate freedom to do what they want.  It is wonderful really and to quote Darkseid from the Synder Cut of Justice League, "we will use the old ways."

The Old Ways describes Runewild to a tee. 

Among the "old ways" are plenty of Random Encounter tables with brief descriptions of what is encountered.  Adventure Hook tables, Scenery tables, Fey prank tables, general Runewild strangeness, random animals, random NPCs, and more.  For new schoolers, this will make the area feel vibrant and alive. For new schoolers, this will feel strangely homelike. Note at this point, 30 pages in, there has been very, very little in the way of stats. An encounter with a Skeleton is listed for example, but where you look up your skeleton is up to you.

We do get into Runewild Backgrounds which are 5e backgrounds.  For 5e they are great really, lots of great information here, and none of them feel overpowering (they grant a skill and a tool proficiency and usually a language) for other games, you can use the native skill system (Trained would be the equivalent in 3e, free Proficiency in AD&D 1.5) or wing it. One of my favorites is a Polymorphed Animal.  You used to be a normal animal and now thanks to strange magic you are human-ish.  Really fun stuff.

Magic of Runewild: This section covers some more game-specific information such as some new feats, curses, and new magic items (lots of these).  But the star attraction of this section has to be the Goblin Market.  There is so much here and frankly, they could have published this on its own and it would have been a great seller.  There are random tables of trinkets, goblin charms, treasures, and of course a list of vendors and encounters.  

Goblin market
“We must not look at goblin men, We must not buy their fruits:
Who knows upon what soil they fed Their hungry thirsty roots?”

One thing that I felt was missing from this section? Spells.  There are no new spells here.

A Runewild Gazetteer. This starts out with the hex maps of the Runewild. Numbered just like all old-school hex maps too! The hex encounters are then detailed throughout the chapter with a corresponding Challenge Rating. An improvement from older Hex crawls to be sure.  So yeah the party of first-level characters can enter a CR 0 hex with no problem and come out ok. They can also enter into a CR 10 hex with the same level of difficulty (that is, none at all) but they are not going to leave it as easily!  That's a hex crawl. There are no signs saying "You Must Be Level 5 or higher to Enter" if the player goes there, then their characters will pay the price.

Each hex of course has different levels of detail, but they are all given some quick bullet points to help the DM out.   For example:

2. The Last Tower (CR 4)

  • A ghost haunts the tower 
  • Ten giant rats feast on bandit corpses in the tower’s basement 
  • The bandits carried stolen treasure

Then more details follow.  NPCs are noted ad are monsters. There are maps where needed (even a player's map in a few cases!) and yes more random tables. There are 150 such encounter areas and it covers a little over 200 pages. Some encounters are a paragraph or so, others are multiple pages. 

A Runewild Bestiary: Now you know I love this section.  There are over 30 new monsters, monster variants, and (and this is my favorite) listings of  The Witches of Runewild. This includes a bunch of various witches (mostly hags), new types of hags, and the two major and one minor covens.  Again, if they had sold this separately I would have scooped it up the moment it hit DriveThru.   

Here is an example of one of the witches.

Goodie Sharktooth

There is no Witch Class.  Part of me is disappointed, but another part is happy since I can now do what I want with them. 

The chapter and book ends with Monster Variants. 

The art in this book is quite great and helps give the proper mood for this dark fairy tale land.

Using this with Basic-Era D&D

The book feels like a BECMI Gazeteer.   I could set this outside of Glantri and it would feel right. There are 5e stats, but not a lot.  Most of the monsters have an analog in other games.  For example, if you run this with say, Old School Essentials, just swap out the monsters.  BTW this would work FANTASTIC with the Dolemwood products

Runewild OSE

This is a wonderful book and resource and I am very pleased with it. My only regret with it is I wish I had picked up the Hardbound version instead!

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