The Ravenloft (setting) thread

Shipyard Locked

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A thread of random thoughts about the Ravenloft setting for D&D.

My personal history with Ravenloft actually starts before ever seeing the original module, the setting, or even D&D. What I mean is, Ravenloft had an influence on things beyond D&D that I encountered first.

For instance, the Castlevania video games are inextricably linked to Ravenloft for me, not just because of their themes and design but because they blatantly copied it at times:







Castlevania II, a childhood game for me, would then go on to strongly influenced how I ran Ravenloft, especially in the way that the night was much worse than the day.



I'm of the opinion that daytime in a Ravenloft domain should feel and look as pleasant as possible so that the horror elements contrast more starkly. The fact that many domains in the core Ravenloft setting can't pull this off because they are so thoroughly unpleasant to live in is a big strike against them.

I also indirectly experienced Ravenloft before the real thing through the Fighting Fantasy books that clearly took a few notes from the original module:



This one's sort of infamous for its technical issues, as discussed in this review:

The first true Ravenloft product I acquired was the French version of the original boxed set, picked up while studying abroad in Paris.

I loved the interior art, the "portraits" of darklord families, and the nice isometric maps of various lairs provided in the set, but I'll have to share those later. I wasn't too fond of how detailed the new rules were though. The long lists of effects for horror and madness, the little moving parts for Dark Powers checks, they were a bit of a turn off for my minimalist preferences.

I ultimately never got to run those rules, running my first Ravenloft campaign in 3rd edition. More on that later.

In the meantime, share your thoughts on the setting.
 

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I really wish I'd followed my initial instinct when my wife announced she was doing a Curse of Strahd game and made a swashbuckler rogue/battlemaster fighter whip user.

(A lot of people try to say the Belmonts are paladins, but honestly all their magic is in the items they use, they don't have magical abilities themselves).
 

finarvyn

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I have a love/hate with Ravenloft. The concept is awesome, the specifics are pretty hit-and-miss (in my opinion).

I loved the original module, not so much the sequel. Liked the 2E boxed set, not as much a fan of the extended sourcebooks and such. Liked the gothic Masque of the Red Death boxed set. Liked the first few novels, lost interest in the later ones.

I looked at the 3E sourcebook but it didn't grab me so I never bought it.

I liked the 4E-based boardgame, but not a fan of 4E so didn't buy any Ravenloft materials for that edition.

The 5E version is pretty decent, but it takes forever to run through the hardback. (A friend of mine is running it and he thinks it will take him a year. Yikes.) The AL modules are a lot of fun and pretty well written.

Again, for me the concept is awesome but I find that it's a setting that I tire of quickly.
 

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BTW ‘Keith Martin’ for FF is actually Carl Sargent the game designer. Love his dark fantasy work on Greyhawk but strangely I don’t think he ever did a Ravenloft module...

I love Ravenloft, the first module is great, the first box set is also very good. Never got the second box set. I find most of the supplements like the Van Richten guides and Masque terrific.

There are loads of 2e modules and they’re not all winners but there are more hits than misses than in almost any other line. Even the flawed ones, like Hour of the Knife, have such great concepts that they’re worth (and easy) to fix up. The best of them like Castle Forlorn are excellent and due for re-evaluation.

I ran a good bit of CoS and it was a blast. It is long and we moved before being able to finish it but I think the breadth should considered a virtue. I also think the original module is still quite ready to run.
 

Shipyard Locked

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I have a love/hate with Ravenloft. The concept is awesome, the specifics are pretty hit-and-miss (in my opinion).
The demiplane of dread is interesting in that its central idea - a collection of unreal prisons for a powerful-yet-cursed evildoer whose personality is reflected in the very land itself - is an awesome gothic seed for GMs to get very creative with, while many of the specific prisons/prisoners in official products are very standard issue.

I also feel they make defeating (or otherwise undoing) the dark prisoner and freeing the innocent people a little too hard for what is supposed to be a blend of heroic fantasy and traditional gothic literature.

I usually make my own domains in the mist for both these reasons.
 

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A thread of random thoughts about the Ravenloft setting for D&D.

My personal history with Ravenloft actually starts before ever seeing the original module, the setting, or even D&D. What I mean is, Ravenloft had an influence on things beyond D&D that I encountered first.

For instance, the Castlevania video games are inextricably linked to Ravenloft for me, not just because of their themes and design but because they blatantly copied it at times:

Castlevania II, a childhood game for me, would then go on to strongly influenced how I ran Ravenloft, especially in the way that the night was much worse than the day.



I'm of the opinion that daytime in a Ravenloft domain should feel and look as pleasant as possible so that the horror elements contrast more starkly. The fact that many domains in the core Ravenloft setting can't pull this off because they are so thoroughly unpleasant to live in is a big strike against them.
Agreed on all points--I started my exposure to classic monsters with the Crestwood House children's books, and was playing Castlevania II (and later I and III) before I ever got involved with D&D and Ravenloft.

The Black Box agrees with us on the contrast in its introduction, but the setting as presented/evolved didn't really support that.
 

Armchair Gamer

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BTW ‘Keith Martin’ for FF is actually Carl Sargent the game designer. Love his dark fantasy work on Greyhawk but strangely I don’t think he ever did a Ravenloft module...

I love Ravenloft, the first module is great, the first box set is also very good. Never got the second box set. I find most of the supplements like the Van Richten guides and Masque terrific.

There are loads of 2e modules and they’re not all winners but there are more hits than misses than in almost any other line. Even the flawed ones, like Hour of the Knife, have such great concepts that they’re worth (and easy) to fix up. The best of them like Castle Forlorn are excellent and due for re-evaluation.
The second boxed set is a lightly revised combination of the first box and Forbidden Lore. I just received my print copy of the Black Box PoD book from DTRPG, and it came out pretty nicely.

Another module that definitely merits fresh attention is RA1 Feast of Goblyns.
 

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I generally want to seal off the setting, no demiplane. These are just different parts of the same planet/world. Then tie them in tightly together. (Ditching any other world-specific parts of it like Lord Soth's domain), or changing name/elements to suitable for a "this is your home reality/planet" deal with it. Part of that is just me if you make it a plane, and planar travel possible, you've left an opening for escape. I'd rather it be "No escape, not even death, the only real hope is YOU changing the world." I know I'm kind of singular in that idea.

Then again, I think it should mostly be human-centric. Dropping all races but humans. Sadly, this is why I won't run it for a friend who wants to play because they would balk at those limitations. Yet, I'd rather tie it spiritually to Castlevania, more so than D&D.
 

Shipyard Locked

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Another module that definitely merits fresh attention is RA1 Feast of Goblyns.
Interesting, I've never owned it and heard very mixed comments about it.

A common problem with Ravenloft modules was that they didn't offer enough gothic horror, leaning too much on mean-spirited gimmicks and old-school off-beat D&D encounters (my favorite was the attack of madness-inducing fleas in what amounted to the Frankenstein's monster module).

I take it that wasn't the case in Feast of Goblyns?

Then again, I think it should mostly be human-centric. Dropping all races but humans.
I used to feel that way, but now I just press them hard on the Outsider Rating penalties in most domains. Obviously I warn them in advance, and if that's a deal-breaker than so be it, but there are many players who actually get a kick out of playing the persecuted.
 

Voros

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Interesting, I've never owned it and heard very mixed comments about it.

A common problem with Ravenloft modules was that they didn't offer enough gothic horror, leaning too much on mean-spirited gimmicks and old-school off-beat D&D encounters (my favorite was the attack of madness-inducing fleas in what amounted to the Frankenstein's monster module).

I take it that wasn't the case in Feast of Goblyns?
I have encountered that to be true, most of the modules I've checked out had overtly gothic premises, like Hour of the Knife that is a Jack the Ripper/dopplegangers storyline, Howls of the Night is a riff on the Hounds of Baskerville, Night of the Walking Dead is a classic zombie tale and Neither Man nor Beast is David Cook's D&D meets The Island of Dr. Moreau. Not sure what you mean by gimmicks but what I like about the modules is they are usually based around one fresh idea or a inspired D&D meets Gothic mashup. Another fine supplement is Carnival, the artwork is particularly grotesque and inspired.

BTW an excellent resource for all the Ravenloft releases is the extensive fansite Fraternity of Shadows.
 
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Shipyard Locked

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One of my pet rats died today, so I'm burying her in a cardboard coffin marked with the symbol of the horned rat and posting this goofy but interesting portrait of the Renier wererat family in her honor:



Richemulot, which is where these girls are from, was one of the better and more useful canon domains in my estimation. Especially after it got fleshed out in the 3rd Ravenloft Gazetteer in 3rd edition.

Not sure what you mean by gimmicks
Things like killing the players via railroad early on to turn them into monsters, or cursing them to force a railroad, etc.

BTW an excellent resource for all the Ravenloft releases is the extensive fansite Fraternity of Shadows.
Yes, I used to post there back in the early 2000s, but I wasn't a particularly scintillating contributor as I recall.
 

Voros

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Things like killing the players via railroad early on to turn them into monsters, or cursing them to force a railroad, etc.
Ah yes, they are oddly fond of that in some modules. Easy enough to fix though, some of those modules also seem better suited to a one shots I think as the concept, such as all the PCs being resurrected monsters, is inspired but not well suited to long term play, similar in that way to the Tomb of Horrors.
 

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Ah yes, they are oddly fond of that in some modules. Easy enough to fix though, some of those modules also seem better suited to a one shots I think as the concept, such as all the PCs being resurrected monsters, is inspired but not well suited to long term play, similar in that way to the Tomb of Horrors.
Several of them had their origin as tournament adventures (Hour of the Knife among them), and there was a consistent strain of thought that the only way to really scare the players was to threaten the PCs.
 

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My homebrew involves an island in the Forgotten realms being swallowed by the mists. The players have a chance to prevent this from happening and to bring the island back. I am using the Ordering of Ao as the reason a Dread Power can claim the land as well as some plot reasons. The thing is, I am making it a players vs potential dreadlord, and the Dread power is mostly there looking for shits and giggles and to see how it will play out (It's only interaction is going to be sarcastic or bored commentary).
 

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Ravenloft is my favorite of the published D&D settings and the only one that I would DM

I own the original Realm of Terror black box and I'd love to get Masque Of The Red Death as well.
 

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Here's a favorite illustration of mine, from the writeup of the darklord Ebonbane (the intelligent sword). Just look at that hair!



Also note the cross on the paladin's tabard. The entry this picture is attached to is evasive about which religion she followed, but this is Gothic horror so no prizes for guessing what the author wanted the reader to fill the gaps with. As I recall, it took a little while for the setting to present a clear Christianity analogue for its natives to worship, the church of Ezra. It's a bit of an odd omission from the first boxed set, since Christian imagery is so essential to the genre the setting evokes.

Anyway, I rather like the church of Ezra and use it as the default religion for my homebrew domains. Often, when a domain is pulled from another world, the church of Ezra magically replaces whatever religion was already present, and the natives have their memories altered so they believe they always worshiped Ezra. The church has a clear tie to the mists of the demiplane and is multi-denominational, which helps create conflict and uncertainty.

On the other hand, something I've never been keen on in the setting is how on-the-nose its naming conventions tend to be. The family name of the paladin in that picture? Shadowborn *we need an eye-roll emoji on this site*
Everything in this setting is named "shadow" this, "darkness" that, so it drains these words of their meaning and impact. There are two darklords, mere miles away from each other, whose names are a variation of of "Triste" (French for sad), another NPC named Tristen, and a bunch of locations that also include Triste.

I don't particularly like "darklord" either because it's the generic term for an unimaginative "high fantasy bad guy". I often say "dark prisoner" in game, not much better but at least more interesting.
 

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A tricky thing about Ravenloft is preparing monsters for the PCs to fight.

First, people say that Ravenloft is the "undead setting". Trouble is, every D&D setting is the undead setting! Undead are so basic and versatile that they can and do show up in any context. I'd argue they've really lost a lot of their impact and specific flavor. Combine that with the fact that undead are very overexposed in other media lately and I've grown quite bored of them.

Second, using batches of generic fantasy monsters just doesn't play to the setting's strengths. This is a setting that really wants you to customize critters, make them unrecognizable or unfamiliar to increase the dread that comes from uncertainty. Under optimal conditions, two monsters using the exact same stat block in the same encounter should still feel like distinct horrors. Even if all you do is re-skin, this still takes some real effort to get right.

As I've mentioned in other threads, I've been experimenting with using very low numbers of carefully chosen/crafted monsters in an otherwise human-focused setting. The intent is to amplify their impact and force myself to make each representative of the same monster "species" a unique individual. I'm even toying with the idea of having only one significant monster in a Ravenloft domain, a true boogieman that can only be temporarily halted, like a nightmare creature suddenly stalking the otherwise normal streets of a modern town in a monster movie.

 

Necrozius

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As I've mentioned in other threads, I've been experimenting with using very low numbers of carefully chosen/crafted monsters in an otherwise human-focused setting. The intent is to amplify their impact and force myself to make each representative of the same monster "species" a unique individual. I'm even toying with the idea of having only one significant monster in a Ravenloft domain, a true boogieman that can only be temporarily halted, like a nightmare creature suddenly stalking the otherwise normal streets of a modern town in a monster movie.
Just wanted to high five this idea. I want to do the same thing if I ever run Ravenloft again.
 

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One of my favorite ideas from the 3rd edition incarnation of the setting was using the half-orc stats for a different flavor of race, the calibans. It was brilliant on several levels:
a) It removed orcs while allowing players to keep a race option.
b) It elegantly filled the setting's need for low-level "cursed freaks" with a minimum of effort on the part of the designers and GMs.
c) The name was perfect.
d) It provided a good alternative "misunderstood monster" player option that fits the setting much better than drow or tieflings.

One of my favorite 'tricks' with these guys is to exploit the players' modern-thinking tendency to assume that all calibans who don't immediately attack are misunderstood creatures deserving of trust. In actuality, the vast majority of them are dangerous because they are the product of dark supernatural influences, not scientific anomalies, and many are cunning enough to exploit the few wandering ahistorical characters who reflexively blame society for how they turned out.

"Oh yeah, I'm like... the bullied local cathedral bell-ringer, sure. I'll gladly lead you to the village of tragic outcasts who will give you invaluable assistance in beating the true evil in this land."

 

Simlasa

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Like others have said, it's more the idea of the setting that inspires... rather than the specifics (too many D&D tropes sometimes).

I always liked the idea of the pocket dimension prisons (The Whispering Vault had something similar with its Shadowlands)... but not so much just as places for standard D&D PCs to 'visit'. Nowadays I'd be tempted to layer it over one big mundane/historical setting (30 yrs war Europe? Regency Era Britain? Victorian/Edwardian?) and have a lot more human monsters... more intrigue involving corrupt nobles, inbred madmen, cults and sorcerers... the Karnstein family and such... still with the occasional trip to some haunted netherworld.

I really like that idea of the Calibans... sort of like milder chaos mutants from WFRP.
 

TristramEvans

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Like others have said, it's more the idea of the setting that inspires... rather than the specifics (too many D&D tropes sometimes).

I always liked the idea of the pocket dimension prisons (The Whispering Vault had something similar with its Shadowlands)... but not so much just as places for standard D&D PCs to 'visit'. Nowadays I'd be tempted to layer it over one big mundane/historical setting (30 yrs war Europe? Regency Era Britain? Victorian/Edwardian?) and have a lot more human monsters... more intrigue involving corrupt nobles, inbred madmen, cults and sorcerers... the Karnstein family and such... still with the occasional trip to some haunted netherworld.

I really like that idea of the Calibans... sort of like milder chaos mutants from WFRP.

That's starting to remind me of Berserk. A historical medieval setting where dark alternate realities begin imposing themselves on the "real world"
 

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I started this as a variant setting for High Valor, where its Dark Age heroics and folkloric thing, this? Something else:


Baron Magnus Von Kharzsk is sometimes known as the Terror of the East, He rules Ransylv, by the grant of the Holy Triune Empire. He vanished after retiring to his home Castle Kharzsk, on Lake Huzzusk, tired of bloody endless warfare.

His diary fell into others hands and it along with other writings will be the guide to the world as we know it.



Magnus Von Kharzsk 8-10-1458

" I grow weary of wars, but they grow, darker and more heated, as the years pass, the Ghazir's black hearts do not relent, and their ways are an abomination on mankind, yet I would know peace with them if possible. The rumors are they shall not end their wars until we are wiped off the world, or convert to the worship of their fiery lord. I feel a disconnection from any faith, as none hold me fast anymore, should we worship any great idea, when we are the ones who trudge through innards and war with one another for their differences?"


"They the Ghazir claim us unbelievers, unfaithful and infidel, yet it is they that speak as heathens to the Triune God. The Old Empire held them at bay, yet now they fall upon us all, even the Tzars of Ussurrus. The Tzars guns speak often to the heathen but it is the cold that takes the Ghazir the end."



"I must find a way to bring peace, a way to see what stirs the wars unending in mankind's hearts. Only then perhaps may we lay aside our arms and rest."



Magnus Von Kharzk 11-18-1461



"I have the means, at last, I think to end our wars. I have discovered old writings in terrible places, bleak ruins of other ages crumbled all but to sand. The writings are magic of great power, and I dare not dabble in them, I must face them and study them until I am sure they will let me bring peace to man, may heaven and the Triune aid me in this, for it is only by his will that I will master this and make the difference I seek.."



Magnus Von Kharzsk 2-6-1466



"The terrors grow, nightly I hear the voices of things in my sleep. Not those of men, but of praeternatural things that were old when even the Triune's hand worked miracles in Eoshua, the Triune seem powerless before these foul abominations of the mind. I must have faith, I must hold the door. I am...what I must be, and alone this will be my burden."



Magnus Von Kharzsk 4-6-1466

"I have looked into the face of the evil greater than any devil. greater than the Adversary that wrestled the Triune incarnate. It is indescribable, no mortal mind can fathom what fell form it holds, it is wrought in the hideousness of nightmares, and it is coming through the gate! A gate that must be shut, must be sealed. All the magic I have done, all the perversion which my mind and hands have done, and it laughs oh it laughs with glee! It comes and consumes, it does not want worship or faith, it wants our fall into madness into sickness more profound than evil temptations the book has warned us of...I did not see it, I did not understand. The gate was opened long ago, and it is I, I who alone that can see it, that knows of it! I must shut it, I must find the means.

I found these event which I share here:

Jeremiah Alder, 6-13-1466

"Children dreamt of a foul thing, and I have tried to stamp it out. It speaks to me of black magic, but others who know of magic say it is harmless, a child's imagination, The telling is like this: If one goes into a dark room with a mirror carrying only a candle, they may whisper to their reflection these words: "Come Lord of Whispers! Come Lord of Whispers! Come Lord of Whispers! Come Forth!" then if he hears you calling, the Lord of Whispers comes and snatches the child! I caught little Sylvia doing this in the dressing room. During the day, she was too frightened to do so in the dark. Thank the Triune. I do not know if has any power, but I'll keep watch and keep my own children from such mischief. I should do it, embolden my heart, and carry a loaded pistol. I don't think any such supernatural thing would be happy with a blessed ball in its brainpan!"





A Cryer on the steps of the town square: "It is hear by ordered that Henrik Alder, and Elizabeth Alder forthwith attend on June the nineteen in the year of the Sovereign Triune fourteen hundred and sixty six to a visit to the mayor's home and give evidence to the mayor and his witness as to the strange events and circumstances leading up to the death of their eldest married son, Jeremiah Alder, and the disappearance of his wife Fianne and their children, Joshua, a boy, and Sylvia a girl. All others should await their summons to the mayor for further inquiry."


Mourngyre was a world once wrapped in wonders. Explorers had mapped far away lands for gold, and spice. Castles and Kingdoms fell to Empires and Colonies. Then the Lord of Whispers appeared on the edges of myth and rumor, children at first teasing one another's fears with his name. Yet one day the sun drifted dimly across the sky. Clouds gathered listlessly. When night fell it was chill, and harsh, even in places it should not be so cold. The moon stared down, gibbous and watching, Red like blood as it was eclipsed by the world. The stars winked out, one by one as if something black consumed then. The moon became sheltered by the clouds, and the seething fog rose up in all the world, twisting and terrifying. Traveling more than a days distance from a village or city became almost impossible as rains and fog, mudslides, storms of ice all hampered the way, and things haunt the in-between places. Deadmen rose up and spoke, and all faith trembled as the Lord of Whispers passed over the world. Now travel is possible, but rare. Trains remain safest, but cart or wagons are recommended to caravan and all able men be armed.



Yet among man, there are others, that stand with us.

The Husks: Clay creations whose hearts pump aqua vitae, created as soldiers of the Long War against the Jun and Ghazir. The Haunted Ones: Travelers who have journeyed to a place called the Solemn Mountain as a pilgrimage, and found tools to fight the darkness. It is their Sanctum Sanctorum. Who are these strange Templar like soldiers who go around veiled in archaic armor? The Remnants are they creations, monsters, things from other ages that linger still, or new things that struggle in the landscape of Mourngyre. Clockwork Folk: Fashioned by Mad geniuses they live but are not given breath, they too fear, and believe, and then, at last, there are the Mourngyri.

Of them I write last 'There are many dangers in the wilderness. Mourngyri travel and bring stories of things beyond the darkness, offering their tinkering, weaving, and songs, but few will take them up on their offers. They are treated as thieves, and vermin, and driven off by most. They seem to know something. They should be feared, says the voice in the back of others minds. They sing and they dance in their ways to bring forth joy again, yet only briefly do they ignite in themselves and others this moment that fights the dark in the world about them. They speak no secrets of what they know but one. They know the ways to fight monsters. Still, other men do not listen long or do not wish too. They fear the strange ways and drive off these things they fear appear as men but are not.

War has at last stilled among men at least. No blessing as I once thought. Instead, terrors hold men in their farmhouses fortified against whatever comes, villages rebuild ancient walls long fallen into ruin.
What have I done?"



On 6-18-1466, Magnus Von Kharzsk disappeared from his locked room.
 
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Ronin

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A couple bits from mine,

"Entombed alive he has gone mad. Completely consumed by the darkness in which he dabbled. His mind wanders from the chapel. Trying to find those that might help him from his prison. Failing that, his influence drives them to madness and destruction.
A small dedicated group of Black Friars seeks to break to bonds that have sealed their master. But as of yet have not discovered a way. They are dark souls wandering a hellborn path. Subversives wishing to unleash terror against the church and royal family."

"Created for Veles servant, Koschei the Immortal. This twilight creature wants his gift back. He has slowly been pulling closer to his goal. A master of arranging happenings from the shadows. He draws near. All shall know the power of Koschei the Immortal, King in Yellow."

"This sword is lost. Having passed through many hands, ruining lives. Its last owner fell in combat. The sword coming to rest next to his body. Laying on the floor of a dark lonely woods, forgotten, and forsaken."

"
Where Alba Road and the Grey Mountain Road meet. There is a rickety old wooden set of gallows. Known as the Gallows of the Cross Roads. It is a dark place that has seen more than its share of death. These gallows used to be the primary execution spot during the rule of Duke Valentin Valeriu. Its last victims fetid corpse still dangles from the rotten rope.
But this place has also a dark secret. The corpse that dangles in the wind was no ordinary criminal. They say he was touched by the devil himself. He swore to come back and haunt this land. That this world would never lose his murderous touch.
Unfortunately he was true to his word. Though few have survived to tell. For at night his corpse comes to life and stalks the countryside. Strangling the life out of his victims. Just as his was taken. Then returns to his rope perch at day break."
 

Shipyard Locked

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Ah yes, they are oddly fond of that in some modules. Easy enough to fix though, some of those modules also seem better suited to a one shots I think as the concept, such as all the PCs being resurrected monsters, is inspired but not well suited to long term play, similar in that way to the Tomb of Horrors.
I went back to the Fraternity of Shadows website that was linked earlier, looking for things I'd contributed oh so long ago. I found my old review of the module Adam's Wrath, and my writing was less cringy than I expected from my early 2000s output (when I was still an undergrad and thought I had the world all figured out *eyeroll emoji*). Adam's Wrath was one of the worst offenders when it came to railroady twists.

I ended up running a pretty substantial campaign in Lamordia, fitting since Frankenstein is my favorite of the classic Gothic stories, so the module was very useful to me despite its shortcomings.

Anyway, here's a link to that review:
 

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I went back to the Fraternity of Shadows website that was linked earlier, looking for things I'd contributed oh so long ago. I found my old review of the module Adam's Wrath, and my writing was less cringy than I expected from my early 2000s output (when I was still an undergrad and thought I had the world all figured out *eyeroll emoji*). Adam's Wrath was one of the worst offenders when it came to railroady twists.

I ended up running a pretty substantial campaign in Lamordia, fitting since Frankenstein is my favorite of the classic Gothic stories, so the module was very useful to me despite its shortcomings.

Anyway, here's a link to that review:
I read that review!
 

BedrockBrendan

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My introduction to the setting was Knight of the Black Rose when it came out. I had seen the Ravenloft material on the shelves and knew about them, but reading the book prompted me to buy the black boxed set and Feast of Goblyns. Both had an enormous impact on me. Read them constantly. Ran Feast of Goblyns a bunch of times, then picked up things like book of Crypts and the Van Richten Guide to Vampires. I bought everything I could and any time a new Ravenloft book came out I picked it up. This was all under the 2E system at the time. When the red boxed set came out, incorporated that into my campaign. Same with Domains of Dread (though I wasn't as much of a fan as most people of its approach to balancing the gothic and the fantasy more). I was basically a fan up until the last few years. And I didn't like the shift in art direction and layout once they stopped using the Fabian stuff (which to me really helped define the line). But on the whole I really enjoyed the 90s Ravenloft stuff. I still continued to be interested and ran the 3E material when that came out, but I think the 3E system didn't play the way I like Ravenloft to play. So I shifted back to 2E around 2008 when I run Ravenloft. Now I will occasionally run it, and prefer using the old books.

For me the key to Ravenlof is the Van Richten books. Those really give you the material for endless adventure.
 

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And I didn't like the shift in art direction and layout once they stopped using the Fabian stuff (which to me really helped define the line).
Agreed that Fabian was the most effective of the Ravenloft artists. He should have been as strongly welded to the setting as Brom is to Dark Sun and Diterlizzi to Planescape.

Personally, I think the 3rd edition art was, overall, the nadir of Ravenloft's visual representation. That said, there were some pieces from that period that I found pretty inspiring. Here are some examples I appreciated:














 

opaopajr

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I think Ravenloft is chock full of campaign design goodness, arranged by shotgun blast into a chocolate box. :storm::present::eat::dice:

It gives great advice on what makes the setting tick: hint, be luscious & compelling! :sun::heart::storm::brokenheart: Go be dramatic!

It also gives good advice on how to make your own Prison Domain and Imprisoned Darklord: focus on the narrative villainy and subsequent recursive punishment. :star::shade: How to make a star of the show!

But it needs a GM to know their audience to best serve their favorite dish. I could easily see an Alternity version with Alien, Predator, or Terminator, even Event Horizon, or The Black Hole. :alien::skeleton:

The point is to torment evil, yet let the evil feel all-powerful and in-control... up until it ritually has the rug pulled out from it again. So you don't need much in the way of 'combat encounters'. You do however need to broaden, or at least brush up, on one's definition of meaningful encounter.

We should make a new Domain and Darklord! Who wants to try? :devil:
 

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We should make a new Domain and Darklord! Who wants to try?
Working on it. The darklord is the hardest part, and until you've got them just right you can't really make the domain. I'm hoping to start posting a creation diary soon.

A notable risk in this process is that homebrew darklords have a serious tendency to become cringy obnoxious GMPCs on steroids.
 

opaopajr

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Working on it. The darklord is the hardest part, and until you've got them just right you can't really make the domain. I'm hoping to start posting a creation diary soon.

A notable risk in this process is that homebrew darklords have a serious tendency to become cringy obnoxious GMPCs on steroids.
I think mayhaps that is the point: torturing a cringy, obnoxious GMPC-on-Steroids. :hehe:

Follow the Domains of Dread (IIRC?) guideance for Darklord creation. It's pretty helpful. Or we can reduce it to bullets and then flesh out a tormenting narrative! :thumbsup:

Domain
Time:
Place:
Style:
Tropes:

Darklord
Crimes:
Powers:
Punishment:
Redemption: (nigh-impossible on DL's own):

PCs Cycle
Trigger:
Chase:
DL Defeat:
DL Absolution (very hard):

:clown: Wanna try a randomized time, place, and crime?
 

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Sorry, I was going to post a filled-out version of your format, but I backed off at the last minute because I fear one or two of my players finding this site eventually. One of the great strengths of home-brewing after all is that the internet cannot spoil the surprises.

I will say this much, at the moment I'm leaning towards a domain with an "attack of the big indestructible animal/non-humanoid" vibe, but not were-creatures. The gimmick is that the darklord is not in fact the big dumb monster. Next on my movie list:

 

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That has me thinking of some variation on Moby Dick... the obsessive drive to destroy the beast becoming the real curse on the land.
Or the darklord is the one who set the thing loose in the first place and continues to tacitly permit its depredations. A true beast is only following its nature after all. A human can make irresponsible choices that leaves blood on their hands just as surely as if they'd committed the slaughter themselves.

Yes, I'm exploring irresponsibility, misplaced sympathy and disregard for consequences as full-blown sins. I'll throw in ingratitude, elitism, and the denial of responsibility for good measure.

Redemption: (nigh-impossible on DL's own):

DL Absolution (very hard):
Quick note, canonically no creature that has any chance of redemption can become a darklord. I'm sure this rule has been violated by official material when the editor was asleep at the wheel, but I happen to think it's important. Imprisonment as a darklord is such a perverse fate that it is only fitting for a completely perverse individual. This is damnation, not rehab.
 

opaopajr

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Hmm, how about a Dr. Faust crossed with Chinese Traditional Medicine herbalism? :shade:

The Good Doctor needs rare plants and dangerous beast parts to make medicine. But it is adventurers repeatedly going into the wilds to extract them that a) brings dangerous beasts into lethal contact with civilization (the red herring), and b) exposes society to wilderness plague fleas that are the real vectors of disease.

Good Doctor's secret power? During lack of attntion or suspicion subconsciously controls the plague fleas to infect people. When threatened, feeling persecuted, is protected by the wilderness red herrings.

Patients end up alive, thankful, and indebted to the Good Doctor's favor... or are otherwise dead. :devil:

Almost a Munchausen-by-Proxy domain. :thumbsup: And a good excuse for violent megafauna.
 

BedrockBrendan

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Hmm, how about a Dr. Faust crossed with Chinese Traditional Medicine herbalism? :shade:

The Good Doctor needs rare plants and dangerous beast parts to make medicine. But it is adventurers repeatedly going into the wilds to extract them that a) brings dangerous beasts into lethal contact with civilization (the red herring), and b) exposes society to wilderness plague fleas that are the real vectors of disease.

Good Doctor's secret power? During lack of attntion or suspicion subconsciously controls the plague fleas to infect people. When threatened, feeling persecuted, is protected by the wilderness red herrings.

Patients end up alive, thankful, and indebted to the Good Doctor's favor... or are otherwise dead. :devil:

Almost a Munchausen-by-Proxy domain. :thumbsup: And a good excuse for violent megafauna.
A Chinese Ghost Story or Painted Skin would also be interesting takes on Ravenloft
 

BedrockBrendan

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Or the darklord is the one who set the thing loose in the first place and continues to tacitly permit its depredations. A true beast is only following its nature after all. A human can make irresponsible choices that leaves blood on their hands just as surely as if they'd committed the slaughter themselves.

Yes, I'm exploring irresponsibility, misplaced sympathy and disregard for consequences as full-blown sins. I'll throw in ingratitude, elitism, and the denial of responsibility for good measure.



Quick note, canonically no creature that has any chance of redemption can become a darklord. I'm sure this rule has been violated by official material when the editor was asleep at the wheel, but I happen to think it's important. Imprisonment as a darklord is such a perverse fate that it is only fitting for a completely perverse individual. This is damnation, not rehab.
It has been a while but was this constant in all the rules (I seem to remember the rules for powers checks and becoming a Dark Lord changed with different boxed sets and books).
 

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It has been a while but was this constant in all the rules (I seem to remember the rules for powers checks and becoming a Dark Lord changed with different boxed sets and books).
3rd edition is fresh in my mind, so yes on that score. As an aside, it's rules for powers checks are very similar to the 2nd and 1st edition versions.

I just-rechecked my box set for the 1st edition of the setting. It's in French, but it's pretty clear that once you fail the sixth powers check, you are a darklord, you become an NPC and you are an eternal prisoner. It vaguely implies that good deeds can somewhat mitigate the accursed effects of the previous five levels of the descent, especially if you leave the demiplane, but not once you become an NPC.

2nd edition is extremely explicit on this topic. Page 13 says:

Beyond Redemption
Dungeon Masters and players should always remember that the lords of Ravenloft's many domains are utterly evil. This is not to say that they may not be tragic figures, only that the time when they might have been saved from their dark fates has long since passed. The Demiplane of Dread embraces no creature that has any hope of redemption. If even the faintest spark of truth or goodness smolders within a person, he will not be granted his own domain.
 

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Here's a great paragraph about writing horror movies that I'm going to try and keep in mind going forward in Ravenloft:

“When you’re writing a horror movie, you’ve got to write two movies,” says James Moran. “There’s the movie that’s gonna happen if the slasher doesn’t arrive, or the ghost doesn’t possess somebody, so the horror doesn’t start happening, and that should be enough to sustain a whole 90 minute movie – and then, half an hour or so in, that’s disrupted by the horror element crashing in and stuffing everything up.”
 
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