Showing posts with label ravenloft. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ravenloft. Show all posts

Saturday, August 19, 2023

#RPGaDay2023 Favourite PUBLISHED adventure

 I have a few, to be honest. Sometimes I run them as is, other times I alter them. But one of my all-time favorites has to be the original I6 Ravenloft.

Ravenloft

I grew up on a steady stream of Universal Monsters, Hammer Horror, and Dark Shadows. That's my Appendix N. So an adventure set in pretty much the Hammer Hamlet where I get strange locals and have to fight a vampire? Yeah, that is what D&D was to me.

Ravenloft was TSR's great experiment.  Take the central monster and make him a fully realized character.  Seems odd to ask to do this now, but back then, that was crazy talk.  Gothic Horror in Heroic Fantasy?  Crazy! But it worked.   Sure, Strahd can be thought of as a poor man's Dracula, but he has since become his own monster.

I know some old gamers bemoan "The Hickman Revolution," as it it called, but I loved it. Ravenloft was a literal game-changer for me. Finally, an adversary worth fighting and a REAL vampire too, not the D&D one. 

Ravenloft three different printings
Original, 25th Anniversary Edition, Print on Demand


I even got my original module from 1983 signed by Tracy Hickman.


I have run this one a lot and even in other game systems. It is a lot of fun.

RPGaDay2023

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

#RPGaDay2023 Favourite DICE

 Favorite dice??? How do you choose that? I have different sets for different needs.

Ravenloft Dice

This is the set I use when playing Ravenloft of any other Horror themed D&D-like game. Made up my black and red dice with some Castles & Crusades dice thrown in.

D&D Dice

These are my main D&D dice right now.

Ghosts of Albion

My Ghosts of Albion Dice.

Drow Dice

I got a bunch of Drow Dice at Gen Con and have used at Gen Con when running the GDQ series.

Old Dice

Some of my oldest dice. Used these throughout highschool.

Witch Dice

Various witch-themed dice.

Halloween dice

Halloween-themed dice!

Old Dice

More old dice to add to my collections.

Holmes dice

Some "Holmes-themed" dice, including some Gary Con ones.

Character dice

A box of character-themed dice with their minis.

Dice bags

Various dice bags from my years of playing.

Basic Dice

Basic Dice

These though are my best sets. Original TSR-era Dragon Dice from the Basic and Expert sets. These are my "showcase" ones. These are the rules and dice that don't get played. I have plenty of other copies for the table. 

So you see...how can I choose?


RPGaDay2023


Sunday, August 21, 2022

#RPGaDAY2022 Day 21 - Setting Sunday: Share an intriguing detail from a game setting you enjoy

Setting Sunday!

It is said that AD&D Second Edition was the king of settings and campaign worlds.

One I always found interesting was the AD&D 2e setting Red Steel

Essentially "Fantasy Australia where even the rocks can kill you." Credit to TSR for trying something so new so late in the game development.

I always liked the idea and wanted to explore it a lot more, just never got around to it.  Though with my Mystoerth setting I could likely find a place for it.

Another great 2nd Edition setting was Masque of the Red Death, an attempt to bring AD&D to the Victorian Horror genre. For a while, this was my absolute favorite setting even if the system (AD&D 2nd Ed.) never really worked well with the setting (Victorian Era earth). 

In both settings there are things in the world that can corrupt the PCs.  And as it turns out both are red.

In Red Steel it is the dust and rocks, but there is also the red steel to protect you.

In MotRD it is the eponymous Red Death, the evil force that haunts Gothic Earth.

Both came out at similar times and I have to admit I wanted to explore more connections between the two other than the superficial. 

See what I mean when I said I could just play D&D and never run out of ideas!

RPGaDAY2022


Monday, March 14, 2022

Monstrous Mondays: The AD&D 2nd Ed Monstrous Compendiums, Part 5

MC14 Monstrous Compendium Fiend Folio Appendix
Fiends, Fiends, Fiends!

Today I delve into a dark subterranean world filled with long-forgotten creatures that have not seen the light of our sun for ages. Of course, by that, I mean the Usenet, and that age was the early 90s.  

What I think was one of the first big battles of the Edition Wars was the one concerning demons and devils.  Namely, where the hell were they for AD&D 2nd Edition?  They have not appeared in any of the Monstrous Compendiums so far and the official word was they were no longer needed.  Which everyone knew was a smokescreen for TSR caving into concerned, busy-body mothers and the religious right.  The discussions on Usenet had a LOT of opinions on why they were gone and then what to make of them when they finally came back.

Thankfully this did not last and by the start of 1991, we got demons and devils back, albeit in the names Tanar'ri and Baatezu. Ok, the names were changed but they were back.  In truth, I never minded the name change and it opened up the lower planes to have more than one type of demon or fiend. Something we are still benefiting from today.

MC14 Monstrous Compendium Fiend Folio Appendix

PDF 64 pages (70 with dividers and covers), Color cover art, black & white interior art, $4.99. 

While not full of fiend per se, the Fiend Folio has always had a place in the games of many 1st Ed AD&D players.  It was the second "Monster Manual" and it collected a number of creatures from various modules and the White Dwarf Fiend Factor column.  It was also either really loved or really hated, depending on who you asked.  Maybe that is the reason it did not get published until much later (1992) and was the 14th MC to be published.

This MC contains 65 monsters, Aballin to Zygraat, and is a fairly good representation of the monsters listed in the original Fiend Folio.  Some new (the aforementioned Aballin) but a few notable ones had appeared in other volumes already.  Drow appeared in the main Monstrous Compendium. Death Knights were moved to Dragonlance (a loosing their demonic heritage in the process) and Styx Devils had been published in the MC8 (see below).  The "oriental" Dragons are not here, but Gem Dragons are. There is no flumph here though. We don't see those again until Monstrous Compendium Annual Volume Two. 

Also there are no explanatory notes here that many of the others also had.  I guess at this point you are expected to know how to read the stat blocks. Not a complaint at all, merely an observation.

It is a mostly generic compilation of monsters and I mean that is a positive way.  These monsters can be used anywhere.  For example, I pulled out the Penanggalan and put it in my Ravenloft collection.

MC14 Monstrous Compendium Fiend Folio Appendix

MC8 Outer Planes Compendium
MC8 Monstrous Compendium Outer Planes Appendix

PDF 96 pages (102 with dividers and covers), Color cover art, black & white interior art, $4.99.  

This collection has 90+ monsters (Aasimon to Zoveri) from the various outer planes.  There are good and evil ones here so plenty for DMs taking the characters out of the dungeon and into new worlds.  There are a lot of old familiar faces and some new ones.  The "named" Demon Princes or Dukes of Hell are not here. Many, like Orcus, will never even get AD&D 2nd Ed stats. Most of the 1st Ed converts feel buffed up in stats. Even the succubus, a demon with little desire for combat, feels tougher with all her powers defined.

Demons and creatures from the Outer Planes in general really feel like they benefit from these expanded monster entries. While the Planescape Setting is still a bit away, we get tidbits of information about the Blood War and more.  Reminding us that when it comes to settings, 2nd Ed really was quite superior. 

MC8 Monstrous Compendium Outer Planes Appendix

Monstrous Compendium Planescape Appendix III

Monstrous Compendium Planescape Appendix III

PDF, 128 pages. Color art. $9.99

This book was one of the bound softcover Monstrous Compendium Appendices and it took on the trad dress and style of the Planescape line rather than the Monstrous Compendium line. The monsters inside conformed to the standard of the Monstrous Compendium stat blocks, but there was no doubt what line this belonged to.

This volume has 128 pages and 71 monsters from Animental to Xill.  Many of these monsters appear on both sides of the page, usually due to the larger art elements, and expanded details including a bit of fluff for each one.  This makes this book actually better for use in the three-ring binders.  Even though this one was never designed to be added!  Again another point for the PDFs.  That is if you don't mind printing out all the full-color pages this one has.

Interestingly enough the Xill appears here and the Fiend Folio MC 14.  In fact, many monsters from the AD&D 1st Fiend Folio also make it here. Cases in point the Quasi-elementals, the khargra (with much improved art), thoqqua, and trilloch.  The Khargra and the Xill appear in all three (1st ed and both 2nd Ed books).

Xill

This one does have explanatory notes and it also covers the ecology of the outer planes.  By this time the Planescape setting had been in pretty wide use so the "Planescape" view of the Outer Planes has superseded, for good or ill, the AD&D 1st Edition Manual of the Planes version.

AD&D 2nd Ed may not have started out with fiends (of any sort) but they ended with not just a few, but a whole new outlook on them that changed how D&D would use them for the next 30 years.

Monday, March 7, 2022

Monstrous Mondays: The AD&D 2nd Ed Monstrous Compendiums, Part 4

Monstrous Compendium Ravenloft Appendix
Back at it today with more monsters from AD&D 2nd Edition.  I have to say that going through all of these has put me in the mood for an AD&D 2e game at some point. 

I have mentioned this many times before but for me AD&D 2nd Ed was synonymous with Ravenloft for me. For most of AD&D's heydays, I was at university, either as an undergrad, in grad school, or working on my first Ph.D. So both money and free reading times were limited. I focused my efforts on the campaign world that I enjoyed the most, though I did dabble a bit into Planescape.

While I bought the Monstrous Compendiums as I could, I made an effort to get the Ravenloft ones. 

MC10 Monstrous Compendium Ravenloft Appendix

PDF 64 pages, Color cover art, black & white interior art, $4.99

I don't remember when exactly I bought this product the first time, but I do remember I was living in my first apartment after the dorms.  I thought it was amazing and I could not wait to use some of these monsters.   This product also expands on many of the monsters that had been briefly mentioned in other products, namely the Ravenloft boxed set and some early adventures.

This compendium appendix covers 55 monsters "Bastellus" to "Zombie Lord" and includes the "demi-human" vampires.  Up to this point, I had argued that only humans could become vampires, but I guess the Demiplane of Dread is such that any race can become a vampire. 

vampires of all sorts

In addition to all the monsters, this book includes an "Encounters in Ravenloft" that is helpful for the different rules that monsters can follow here. 

MC15 Monstrous Compendium Ravenloft Appendix II: Children of the Night (2e)

PDF 64 pages, Color cover art, black & white interior art, $4.99. Covers just 20 monsters from "Brain, Living" to "Vampyre."

This second compendium draws from many of the adventures and books published for Ravenloft at this point.  It has similar monster types to the first one, but all of these monsters are unique NPCs. For example, the MC10 had the Ermordenung creature, this one has the specific entry for Nostalla Romaine. Some, like Desmond LaRouche, the Half-golem and Jacquelline Montarri, even get 4 pages of treatment each.  This is part and parcel of the nature of monsters in Ravenloft, each and everyone has the potential to become a unique encounter and a specifically planned one.  This is one of the reasons I really don't do "random monsters" anymore.  In Ravenloft, there never should be a random encounter.  Even "non-Ravenloft" creatures get a unique Ravenloft treatment like Althea (medusa) and Salizarr (a meazel).  

This might make the utility of this book a little less than the others, it is a book of NPCs really, not just monsters.  The advantages though are a way to show how nearly any monster can get the "Ravenlot" treatment and expand to something more than a collection of HP to be traded for XP.

Monstrous Compendium - Ravenloft Appendix III (2e)

PDF 128 pages, Color cover art, black & white interior art, $9.99

This is one of the first "bound" Monstrous Compendiums I ever bought.  By this time TSR had learned that the three-ring binder experiment was over.  So no attempt here is mad to keep up that pretense. 

This book is larger, 128 pages, and takes on the trade dress of later (middle era) Ravenloft products.  This one does feature a guide of what monsters from other Monstrous Compendiums are suitable for Ravenloft.  Additionally, the "Climate/Terrain" section lists which Domain they are found in or even when they are found on other worlds.

This book covers 120 monsters from "Akikage" to "Zombie, Wolf." Some are repeats, but all are updated. We get newer versions of Flesh Golems and Strahd Zombies, and yet another version of the Baobhan Sith.  Some more vampires (Drow and Drider) and a bunch of Liches.

Monstrous Compendium - Ravenloft Appendices I & II (2e)

PDF 128 pages, Color cover art, black & white interior art, $9.99

This product features the final Ravenloft trade dress and is one of the last Ravenloft products to be wholly TSR and not TST/Wizard of the Coast.  Again, like the Ravenloft Appendix III, this is a 128 page book that first appeared as a softcover.  The monsters are the same as Appendices I & II; even dividing them up into two sections of Part I Creatures of Dread and Part II: Children of the Night.

If your goal is to print out pages for your own Monstrous Compendiums, then the original MC10 and MC15 might be the better choice.  If you are collecting the PDFs to have all the monsters then this product is the better bet. 

I am a Ravenloft fan. So I have all four.


Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium IIRavenloft Monstrous Compendium IIIRavenloft Monstrous Compendium I & II


I also find quite a lot in these I can still use in my 5e games and in my OSR/Old-School games.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Review: She is the Ancient: A Genderbent Curse of Strahd

She is the Ancient: A Genderbent Curse of Strahd
A couple of months ago, beginning of September I think, I was made aware of a new title on DMsGuild called She is the Ancient: A Genderbent Curse of Strahd by Beth the Bard. 

I checked it out and liked it. Hopped on to Twitter to offer her congratulations and mentioned that she would hit Gold Best Seller status.  Well, this past month she did it!  I thought with Halloween coming up and so many people running the 5e Curse of Strahd this would be a great time to review it.

She is the Ancient: A Genderbent Curse of Strahd

by Beth the Bard

157 pages, color art, PDF.

To start with you will need the 5th Edition version of Curse of Strahd to use this resource. Though I am going to also talk about how this can be used with the original AD&D 1st Edition adventure I6 Ravenloft.

She is the Ancient is more than just giving us a distaff Strahd. You don't need a guide for that.  This guidebook shows how changing the gender of Strahd, but keeping her as a strong warrior figure, changes the nature of her relationship with, well everyone. The most interesting is her new rivalry and even hatred of Tatyana.  These new relationships take up a good bit of this guide. 

Beth the Bard reminds us that this IS a horror adventure and to assume that bad things can't happen to, well, everyone, is unreasonable.  So yes there is still violence here and it's directed at everyone this time.

The changes are largely of these sorts:

Characters/NPCs.  Several characters get changes, some minor, others are major.  Strahd is now female, as is Van Richten.  Others get minor changes. Any of these can be used optionally.  Many of these are much more interesting than the ones we get in Curse of Strahd

Relationships. Related to the characters are new relationships.  These are very well detailed and even if you never change a single character according to this guide this is a very useful tool for Curse of Strahd.

Encounters.  There are also changes to various encounters all over the Curse of Strahd adventure.  This takes the shape of some encounter rewrites and others with tips.  Additionally, there are encounter "flowcharts" that show how the various encounters are related to each other.  There are also new handouts that you can print out to give to players.

That is overly simple, there are 157 pages here after all, but this is the gist of it. 

The layout is clean and clear and the art is rather fantastic.  It is on sale right now, but even at its regular price of $19.99 is a good deal, especially considering all we are getting here.

She is the Ancient

The overall feel is the same I get from watching a classic horror movie.  "Dracula" is a horrid monster, someone that kills pretty much everyone in his path.  "The Bride of Dracula" is just as evil, and likely kills as many people, but for some reason, her story seems more tragic.   This new guide turns even this around.

Strahd is tragic, his love for Tatyana has driven him to become a monster.  In this new Strahd, she is still a tragic figure, but it is nothing so prosaic as love that drives her, but hate and betrayal and yes jealousy.  THIS Strahd is motivated by more violent emotions and desires.  You anger her at your peril. 

There is an accessible version of this adventure available. Link included in the PDF.  There are tokens and NPC portraits you can use with this OR with the original Curse of Strahd if you choose.

I6 Ravenloft

Curse of Strahd is the newest iteration of the classic Ravenloft tale.  This is "Dracula Untold" with Luke Evans.  "I6 Ravenloft" is Hammer Horror with Christopher Lee.  SO it stands then that "She is the Ancient" applied to I6 Ravenloft is Ingrid Pitt, in her "Countess Dracula" role. 

I have not sat down with this new guide and Ravenloft and analyzed it line by line, but I have run Ravenloft several times since I purchased the original shortly after it was released.  I have run it for every version of D&D since 1983, including D&D 5e before Curse of Strahd was released.  My feeling here is that She is the Ancient can be used with the classic module just as easily. 

All versions of Castle Ravenloft

Much of what is presented in the She is the Ancient is relationship-based. So conversion to or from 5e and 1st Ed is not an issue.  There are some 5e stat blocks, but nothing that can't be easily replaced or swapped out. 

Honestly the next time I run I6 I am going to give this a try.

What I like best about this is an attempt to do something different with what is now can be considered a classic sort of tale. It shows that like love, the topics of hate, revenge, and undying purpose are universal and can transcend simpler concepts of gender. 

I had thought, originally, that this would give me some ideas for my own Darklord and Domain, Darlessa and Arevenir.  Thankfully, She is the Ancient is not only NOT distaff Strahd, it is also NOT just a generic female vampire Darklord.  I will, however, adopt the adventure flowchart idea and the relationships as they are modeled here.  There are some great ideas to be honest.

Who should buy She is the Ancient?   Anyone who has run and wants to re-run Curse of Strahd and wants to try something different. Personally, I feel the DMs that have run Curse of Strahd already will benefit the most from this.

I also think that first-time DMs of Curse of Strahd will enjoy this, but there is a LOT going on in both Curse of Strahd AND She is the Ancient.

Once you have this you can adopt/adapt as much or as little as you like.   Or even just use the flowcharts and relationships to flesh out all the characters more.

I would say my ONLY complaint is that there is no POD option, but in truth, the layout and design are such that any page or collection of pages can be printed out and slotted into your Curse of Strahd book. Though a POD would be nice. 

She is the Ancient: A Genderbent Curse of Strahd is not going to be for everyone and that is OK.  BUT, for the people that are inclined to use it is a great resource and guide.  It is well written with great art and layout.  A lot of work went into this and like the original Ravenloft, it provides yet more options for replayability.  

Thursday, September 16, 2021

Mail Call, Part 2: Another Return to Ravenloft

Ravenloft Print on Demand
Well, I had forgotten I ordered this, but I am glad I did.  Waiting for me on my front porch after getting groceries today was a Print on Demand copy of I6 Ravenloft

It was not very expensive really, just under $9 for the book. I had bought the PDFs when it first came out so I just grabbed the Print on Demand version this time.  Getting both is $2 more than just the print but still cheaper than getting them separate like I did. 

It was about $4 for shipping and a buck something for taxes.  All in all, it came in just $15.   Sure more expensive than my original, but relatively speaking still cheap.

The scan is really nice. Not exactly what I would call crisp, but perfectly clear.

The maps are in the back of the book, as the pictures below will show. So not really useful. But when you buy it with the PDF you can print them out.  

Ravenloft Print on Demand

Ravenloft Print on Demand

Ravenloft Print on Demand

It's not like I needed another copy of Ravenloft.  I have ran it so many times now already I don't think I'll run it again as is.  But it is nice to have this.  It does compare well to my original edition and my 25th-anniversary edition.

Ravenloft three different printings

Not to mention the AD&D 2nd Edition House of Strahd, the D&D 3rd Edition Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, and the 5th Edition Curse of Strahd.  All of which are essentially the same adventure with tweaks to their respective systems.

All versions of Castle Ravenloft

I am likely to give my new copy to my oldest son who LOVES Ravenloft now.  This kid hated anything horror growing up and now can't get enough.

Maybe one day I'll run it with a distaff Strahd.  OR maybe Darlessa?

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

#RPGaDAY2021 Day 24 Translate

RPGaDAY2021 Day 24

Heading into the back end of the challenge. What do we have for today and how does it relate to NIGHT SHIFT?

Day 24 Translate

Continuing on the ideas in Simplicity and Substitute, I often try to Translate material from one game system to another for different sorts of experiences. 

In many ways, the ultimate representation of this is NIGHT SHIFT.

NIGHT SHIFT began as a way to take something my co-author Jason and I loved; the games we worked on and played back in the 1990s and early 2000s and translate it to a rule system we also loved.

The simplest way to describe NIGHT SHIFT is "Buffy the Vampire Slayer with Basic D&D rules" but that doesn't really capture all of it.

In the 1990s my game world of choice for AD&D 2nd Ed was Ravenloft. I loved the horror elements, I loved the trappings of Gothic Horror, and I loved that I could bring in characters I have been playing for years over to it.  The Masque of the Red Death Gothic Earth supplement was a dream come true since it also brought in my beloved Victorian era.   It was perfect...almost.

Near the end of the 90s I was getting really burned out on D&D.  Thankfully I had discovered C.J. Carella's WitchCraft RPG.  Here was yet another "Gothic Earth" only this time coming at from a different angle.  I loved it.  Of course, as the supplements for WitchCraft were released I thought of many ways to "translate" Ravenloft over to WitchCraft.   In a way, I got my wish and wrote Ghosts of Albion.  A horror-soaked Earth, in a Victorian setting.

Still as perfect as I think WitchCraft and Ghosts of Albion are, they still didn't give me something.  Sure it was a minor thing, but there was still something I was looking for. 

Jason did something similar.  While I went for the themes I wanted, he took the Unisystem rules found in WitchCraft and went a different direction with Dungeons & Zombies; a way to translate D&D experiences and adventures into Unisystem.  Like myself, he also had a few "fan" based products.

We really have been dancing around NIGHT SHIFT for decades.

I wanted a game where I could translate anything I have done over the last 30+ years to a single game system.  I feel NIGHT SHIFT does this.

Don't forget our Kickstarter going on right now for The Night Companion.


RPGaDAY2021

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, June 9, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Land of the Ice and Snow

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

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

Building a Pathfinder / Ravenloft Domain

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

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

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

Snow Queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Classic Adventures Revisited: X2 Castle Amber

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

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

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

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

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

X2 Castle Amber

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

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

Averoigne

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Classic Modules Today & Revisited

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

NPCs

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

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

Plays Well With Others

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

Castle Amber & Ravenloft 5e

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

Ravenloft and Castle Amber

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

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

Black Rose

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


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

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

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

Links

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