Showing posts with label Darlessa. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Darlessa. Show all posts

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.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Character Creation Challenge: Swords & Wizardry Boxed Set

Swords & Wizardry Boxed set
Is it really June 1st??  Spent my Memorial Day weekend the same way I always do; grilling a bunch of food and spending all my time helping my wife in her garden.  So far we have 61 tomato plants in, 3 tomatillos, 74 peppers ranging from sweet to "Satan's Kiss,"  untold numbers of onions, potatoes, celery, squash and I have no idea what else.  Sadly we ended up losing all of our okra plants due to a late-season frost.

But today is a new month and that means a new character.  Although today's character is not new, per se, it is new since this is the first time I have presented this character before she became a Vampire.

The Game: Swords & Wizardry Boxed Set

I got my Swords & Wizardry Boxed set in the mail over the weekend from the Kickstarter.  It is a great-looking set and I want to spend some more time with it.  Getting a set of dice inside was a nice touch.  The books are top-notch really. Though I fear that my old-school itch is now being scratched by Old-School Essentials. Still, my oldest saw my set and admired it so maybe he will do some running with it.

There is a lot to like about it.

Old School Boxed sets

The Character: Darlessa

Long-time readers know of my love for the various "Vampire Queen" adventures out there and my own history with them.   Darlessa is one of the Vampire Queens I most often use.  She has a nice personal history with me and my characters and she is 100% OGC so others can use her too.

I am going to be using her in another project very soon, so I thought it might be nice to talk about her today before she became a Vampire.  Since I have this new rule system here that mimics the oldest RPG in our hobby, I thought it might be nice to go back and see her as a human witch. Right before her humiliating betrayal and her seeking out her demonic patron to turn her into a vampire.

Darlessa as a human witch
Darlessa

Chaotic Female Human Witch, 13th level

Strength: 10
Dexterity: 12
Constitution: 13
Intelligence: 15
Wisdom: 14
Charisma: 18

Saving Throw: 5
Hit Points: 43
AC: 1

Occult Powers

Familiar (Raven)
Evil’s Touch
Devil’s Tongue

Spells by Level

1st (4): Burning Hands, Cause Fear, Minor Curse, Read Languages
2nd (4): Agony, Bewitch II, Enthrall, Rite of Remote Seeing
3rd (3): Clairaudience/Clairvoyance, Danse Macabre, Toad Mind
4th (3): Arcane Eye, Bewitch IV, Phantom Lacerations
5th (2): Death Curse, Greater Command
6th (2): Death Blade
7th (1): Wave of Mutilation

Magic Items

Bracers of defense, ring of protection, ring spell storing.

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.

Darlessa, S&W character sheet

That is the sad tale of Darlessa. One of jealousy, anger, and hubris.  What happens to her next?  Tune in tomorrow and see!

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Darlessa the Vampire Queen

I have had a long and sorted history with the "Vampire Queen" in my games.

One of the first adventures I worked on for OSR publication was called "The Tomb of the Vampire Princess" or "Vampire Queen" or "Palace" depending on my mood at the time.

I essentially saw it as a sequel of sorts to the original Wee Warriors / Pacesetter Games "Palace of the Vampire Queen".  But a few things happened. First Mark Taormino published his own "Hanging Coffins of the Vampire Queen" which was AWESOME.  Then Bill Barsh of Pacesetter Games produced some sequels of his own with Castle Blood and Crypts of the Living.
So the need for my own sequel dwindled.

A couple years back Small Niche Games produced Guidebook to the Duchy of Valnwall. I had the pleasure of working on that product.  I submitted a character to be "Saint" in the game, Father Johan Werper, my very first D&D character ever.  When I got my copy I was so thrilled. Something I had wanted to happen for ages was going to happen, Johan was going to be a real saint in a "D&D" book! I opened it up and I was not disappointed at all!  Moreover the book's main author and designer Pete Spahn had added this section:
He died in a tragic tale that is recounted in the Hunt for the Dark Mistress, where he tracked down and slew Darlessa the Vampire Queen who had abducted his granddaughter.
Unfortunately, Johan was himself cursed by the taint of the vampire's blood. Rather than remain an undead abomination, he bid goodbye to his granddaughter and used the last of his strength to douse his body with oil and set himself alight.
Pete never contacted me about this and I could not have been happier!  Without knowing it he included things that happened in my game; Johan dying and leaving his granddaughter, Celene, behind (Celene was my first 2nd Ed character, and afraid of the dark.  Now I know why).  The use of holy oil in my games (does 1d8 damage to undead; more when lit) and of course giving a name to an enemy that had been lurking in the back of my mind ever since I first read about Elizabeth Bathory.

It was like throwing a deck of cards into the air and having them land in a perfect house of cards.

So modules V5 and V6 combined will cover a lot of similar territory to what I was going to do in my adventure. So I'll just drop that and keep the elements that are new.  The opening of the crypts.

I have a stack of various notes, maps, ideas and going through them all I think I have something pretty cool here.  I'll have to get it all together in time for my annual Halloween horror game.

Right now the working title is Descent into the Crypts of the Vampire Queen. It will be my homage to the great adventures of the Golden Era but also a nod to the two Vampire Queen adventures that brought me so much joy.

Here she is for Advanced Labyrinth Lord.

Darlessa, The Queen of Vampires
Female Vampire Witch, Demonic Tradition
No. Enc.: 1 (Unique)
Alignment: Chaotic (evil)
Movement: 120’ (40’)
   Fly: 180’ (60’)
Armor Class: -5 (bracers of defense, amulet of protection, ring of protection)
Hit Dice: 13
Attacks: 1 (touch, see below) or spell
Damage: 1d10, drain 2 points of Constitution, witch Spells
Save: W13
Morale: 12
Hoard Class: XXII
XP: 11,400

Str: 18 Int: 15 Wis: 14 Dex: 18 Con: (18) Cha: 22

In addition to the powers of a vampire, Darlessa has the following witch spells and Occult Powers.  She casts as a 13th level witch.

Spells by Level
Cantrip (3+5): Alarm Ward, Black Flame, Daze, Knot, Mend, Mote of Light, Object Reading, Spark
1st (4+3): Burning Hands, Cause Fear, Everlasting Candle, Hecate's Spiritual Dog, Minor Curse, Read Languages
2nd (4+3): Agony, Bewitch II, Burning Gaze, Enthrall, Ghost Touch, Produce Flame, Rite of Remote Seeing
3rd (3+2): Astral Sense, Clairaudience/Clairvoyance, Danse Macabre, Toad Mind, Tongues
4th (3+2): Arcane Eye, Bewitch IV, Elemental Armor, Moonlit Way, Phantom Lacerations
5th (2): Death Curse, Greater Command
6th (2): Death Blade
7th (1): Wave of Mutilation

Occult Powers
Familiar (Undead Raven)
Evil’s Touch
Devil’s Tongue

Magic Items
Intangible Cloak of Shadows, Amulet of Protection* (also prevents cleric turning), bracers of defense, ring of protection, ring spell storing.

Links to Adventures
Links to my 'Vampire Queen' posts