The Ravenloft (setting) thread

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Simlasa

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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:
Yeah, Lots of horror films fail so badly at that... throwing out a bunch of obnoxious characters who are just there to be killed. If I don't care about those characters and what they're doing, why will I care (be horrified) when they are in danger?

For me it's part of how I interpreted the 'onion skin' approach I first read about in Call of Cthulhu... there's a surface level of stuff going on that has to be interesting enough to keep everyone involved long enough to discover the next layer, and the layer after that... but that first layer continues to be important.
 

Shipyard Locked

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In 1985, children across the world were traumatized by a movie that was expected to be a sequel to The Wizard of Oz but was very different in tone. Years later, I would encounter the film as a rental and found one section of it particularly disturbing:



A few years later, in the early 90s, Ravenloft took that very strong monster idea and turned it into, in my opinion, one of the best non-Darklord antagonists of the setting, Jacqueline Montarri.

Here's one of the three illustrations of her in the Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium II. None of the other unique monsters in this collection gets that many pictures, so they obviously knew she was the star. It's an ambitious but charmingly flawed illustration from Mark Nelson, the guy whose art would dominate 2nd edition Ravenloft. I didn't like Nelson's "look" for the setting very much, especially compared to Fabian, and he went on to produce much better work.

rCfivGx.png


Much later, I suspect this stream of inspiration once again flowed into a Castlevania game, this time Aria of Sorrow on the Game Boy Advance.
Check out the "Headhunter" boss fight at minute 2:30 in this video:

 
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opaopajr

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It's a great Darklord-to-be! Easily comstructed as a two-faced (multi-faced?) socialite. The Potion of Life, pursuit of youth, angle is an easy design. But I would go for something more ambitious, more Dangerous Liaisons.

Have the monster holding court shit-stirring out of boredom, yet when almost caught in her own web ends up fracturing her psyche, using this to build ever greater lies that end with public beheadings? In self-preservation and abuse of power through manipulation ends up graduating to the forever damned Darklord status. Sort of a mix of Dangerous Liaisons and the Crucible? :heart:

So what have you decided so as to flesh out the Chinese Herbalism Dr. Faust? :dice:
 

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So what have you decided so as to flesh out the Chinese Herbalism Dr. Faust? :dice:

I know you were probably thinking of the shop dude from Gremlins, but that whole thing reminded me of someone else (or rather a facsimile of someone) I've wanted to put into a campaign for a long time...

GyMl3eA.gif


With a tonal adjustment to make it less comical, I think this Darkstalkers version of a jiāngshī would actually make a pretty good Ravenloft antagonist. The herbalist angle would fit in quite easily.

ccoTaNR.gif


Part of the appeal is that it's simultaneously very martial (fitting for D&D), creepily unpredictable (fitting for Ravenloft), and mysteriously foreign (fitting for Gothic literature).

wXIgtAA.gif


It's too bad I probably couldn't justify using Hsien-Ko's amazing stage music during the final confrontation:


One issue with using such a character is I tapped the China/Korea/Japan well pretty deeply in my most recent Eberron campaign and I wouldn't want to come across as one-note or fixated to my players.
 

opaopajr

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Ah, Hsien-Ko, one of my mains when playing Darkstalkers. :heart:

So, ok, you want 'hopping-vampires'. Essentially anything from WoD Kuei Jin will work here, and give you far more room to expand. But what exactly is the Crime and Punishment?

Let's go back to the quick-form I made and fill it out! Are you making the jiang-shi THE Darklord, or is it merely one monster of many in the domain? You could easily have a "Chinese Herbalism Dr. Faust" end up having jiang-shi rise from dead patients because their "cure" leaves them with a leaky chi (qi) imbalance...

But define the domain by the sin & sickness first. It helps instead of jumping around. China, kung-fu, jiang-shi... OK, but now let's fill out the Crime & Punishment because that will flesh out everything else, from Darklord powers, routine, and stronghold, to wandering monsters and domain's 'romanticized beauty'. :thumbsup::shade:
 

Shipyard Locked

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Essentially anything from WoD Kuei Jin will work here, and give you far more room to expand.

Good idea. For all its flaws, I kind of liked some of the ideas presented in KotE. Too bad my original copy went 'missing' (:irritated:).

Are you making the jiang-shi THE Darklord, or is it merely one monster of many in the domain?

Since I intend to make the darklord's identity a mystery to solve, a few red herrings would be great. I think that's what I'll deploy the jiāngshī for. If I do it right, it'll easily fit the themes.

But define the domain by the sin & sickness first.

I think I'm getting pretty close to the final idea, close enough that I'll soon switch to a development diary format instead of continuing here. I'm still a little nervous about posting too much in public, but I think I can say a few things so far.

The sins are the avoidance of responsibility, ingratitude, being too forgiving of evil, and valuing the monstrous over other humans.

I think I've found the right movie to anchor this project too. It's not going to be a 1-for-1 copy though, just like Strahd and the Ravenloft module were not direct copies of Dracula. I'm going to be using The Brood, a Canadian production, and the domain will likely be themed after Acadia in New France. I'll also be giving a spotlight to a Mystaran monster who doesn't get as much attention as I think it deserves...

FrKOOXg.jpg
 

Voros

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Good idea. For all its flaws, I kind of liked some of the ideas presented in KotE. Too bad my original copy went 'missing' (:irritated:).



Since I intend to make the darklord's identity a mystery to solve, a few red herrings would be great. I think that's what I'll deploy the jiāngshī for. If I do it right, it'll easily fit the themes.



I think I'm getting pretty close to the final idea, close enough that I'll soon switch to a development diary format instead of continuing here. I'm still a little nervous about posting too much in public, but I think I can say a few things so far.

The sins are the avoidance of responsibility, ingratitude, being too forgiving of evil, and valuing the monstrous over other humans.

I think I've found the right movie to anchor this project too. It's not going to be a 1-for-1 copy though, just like Strahd and the Ravenloft module were not direct copies of Dracula. I'm going to be using The Brood, a Canadian production, and the domain will likely be themed after Acadia in New France. I'll also be giving a spotlight to a Mystaran monster who doesn't get as much attention as I think it deserves...

FrKOOXg.jpg

I have the Brood on DVD. One of my favourite Cronenbergs.
 

Simlasa

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The sins are the avoidance of responsibility, ingratitude, being too forgiving of evil, and valuing the monstrous over other humans.

I think I've found the right movie to anchor this project too. It's not going to be a 1-for-1 copy though, just like Strahd and the Ravenloft module were not direct copies of Dracula. I'm going to be using The Brood, a Canadian production, and the domain will likely be themed after Acadia in New France. I'll also be giving a spotlight to a Mystaran monster who doesn't get as much attention as I think it deserves...
I don't get it... is Samantha Eggar's character the Darklord or is it the the Somafree Institute that made her that way?
Cronenberg's early movies feature a number of strange 'institutes' doing bizarre experiments... I wonder if there is a way to work in such a thing, like a collective of Dr. Frankenteins and their various hideous endeavors? A similar theme of hubris and lack of responsibility for the consequences.
 

Voros

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I don't get it... is Samantha Eggar's character the Darklord or is it the the Somafree Institute that made her that way?
Cronenberg's early movies feature a number of strange 'institutes' doing bizarre experiments... I wonder if there is a way to work in such a thing, like a collective of Dr. Frankenteins and their various hideous endeavors? A similar theme of hubris and lack of responsibility for the consequences.

A Cronenberg CoC seems so obvious I'm shocked I hadn't thought of it before.

Now that I think on it Shivers is a pretty damn HPLish film.
 

Shipyard Locked

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I don't get it... is Samantha Eggar's character the Darklord or is it the the Somafree Institute that made her that way?

Eggar's character, but remember this is not a copy of The Brood, just like many of the darklords in canon Ravenloft are not copies of their inspiration. Consider that the setting's equivalent of Jekyll/Hyde is almost nothing like the book for instance.
 

Simlasa

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Eggar's character, but remember this is not a copy of The Brood, just like many of the darklords in canon Ravenloft are not copies of their inspiration. Consider that the setting's equivalent of Jekyll/Hyde is almost nothing like the book for instance.
I get that it's not a copy... but I guess I saw her character as more of a victim, vs. Reed's 'mad doctor'.
So is she a sort of ' mother of monsters'? Twisted matriarch with her 'dark young'? I know some really scary moms so it works for me.
 

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I get that it's not a copy... but I guess I saw her character as more of a victim, vs. Reed's 'mad doctor'.

Well two things:

1) Ravenloft doesn't work well with any philosophy that boils down to "everyone is ultimately a helpless victim if you think about it". Accountability is very important in the Gothic horror genre - except for the most truly dire circumstances, characters can usually still decide to do the right thing despite what life has thrown at them.

2) Who the villain is in The Brood is complex, in my opinion. Depending on how you view it, Reed is an overenthusiastic researcher who realizes too late that he's lost control of the situation, goes into denial for a bit, and eventually risks everything to do the right thing, dying in the process. In Ravenloft terms, he's failed a few powers checks but hasn't fallen off the edge. Eggar was abused by her mother, predisposing her to dangerous choices, then expresses her murderous subconscious will through her telepathic mutant brood, then consciously decides to murder her own daughter. In Ravenloft terms she could easily become a darklord at the point of that decision.
 

Simlasa

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Well two things: ...
It's your own thing, doesn't matter what I think.
I like the idea of the mutant mother spewing out more mutants. It's a flipside to all those stories where there's just one mutant in the family, hidden away in the attic/dungeon... or the one true patriarch of the family is some ancient toad-thing (obscure movie reference).
 

Voros

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1) Ravenloft doesn't work well with any philosophy that boils down to "everyone is ultimately a helpless victim if you think about it".

Cronenberg made the film soon after or in the middle of his divorce where he admits to fantasies of killing his ex-wife.

The film is ambiguous and emotionally raw because of it. The scene at the end
where Reed strangles Eggars remains disturbing for that reason.
 

opaopajr

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I like where this Darklord is going, it is suitably creepy. :thumbsup: Sounds almost like an avatar of Shub Niggurath, or a better replacement for the Darklord of Bluetspur.
 

Brock Savage

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This thread has inspired me to take a closer look at Ravenloft. Thanks.

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.
I think this is an excellent idea and would use this approach if I ran Ravenloft.

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.
I prefer human-centric settings and in fact have been doing humans-only games for a good many years. I believe demihumans as playable races leads to "humans in funny suits" syndrome more often than not but concede that a no demihumans policy is a deal breaker for a great many players.

I think elves could work for me if they were like Melniboneans turned up to 11 but doubt that would have broad appeal.
 

Chris Brady

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Love the concept, hate the execution. And 5e's remake is among the worst, especially for a level based game system. The map was too small, the area had to be too full of monsters for the pacing to make sense...

Dragon Warrior was, and in my opinion, always will be a better system for the setting.
 

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And 5e's remake is among the worst, especially for a level based game system.

You mean Curse of Strahd? I don't own that book so I am unaware of what it has done to the setting.

I thought it was independent of the setting though, just an update of the original Ravenloft module without any of the demiplane of dread stuff?
 

Voros

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You mean Curse of Strahd? I don't own that book so I am unaware of what it has done to the setting.

I thought it was independent of the setting though, just an update of the original Ravenloft module without any of the demiplane of dread stuff?

I ran a good portion of CoS and it was terrific. It is the core Ravenloft module with a significant expansion of the surrounding area so it is effectively a mini-setting in itself. There are no other domains or darklords as Hickman was an advisor and he was not a fan of the 2e boxset expansion of the module.
 

Chris Brady

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I ran a good portion of CoS and it was terrific. It is the core Ravenloft module with a significant expansion of the surrounding area so it is effectively a mini-setting in itself. There are no other domains or darklords as Hickman was an advisor and he was not a fan of the 2e boxset expansion of the module.
My experience running the entire thing was the opposite. It was a slogging grind, with too many monsters between each town that one could travel in a day and half to each. The best part was the castle, but you have to be levels 8-10. But the rest of the adventure I found severely lacking.
 

Voros

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My experience running the entire thing was the opposite. It was a slogging grind, with too many monsters between each town that one could travel in a day and half to each. The best part was the castle, but you have to be levels 8-10. But the rest of the adventure I found severely lacking.

Did you use the random encounter tables? I know this is OSR heresy but I hardly ever use those, I will only roll a random encounter if things seem to be getting boring. One is never chained to the text, if an adventure feels like a slog it is easy enough for the DM to fix it and speed things up.

As to the rest, I’d disagree, the townsfolk, nighthags, abbot with mongrelmen, werewolf faction and temple with lich were all very fun and flavourful to me. Death House is also an excellent low level adventure, although probably a bit too lethal.
 
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Simlasa

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the main thing is just to not travel at night.
Well, that's just common sense... gained from watching old Universal and Hammer horror films. All those villages close up tight at sundown, the only regular humans out are buxom barmaids on their way home, sleepwalking virgins, and foolish travellers who insisted on walking to Borgo Pass.
 

Chris Brady

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Did you use the random encounter tables? I know this is OSR heresy but I hardly ever use those, I will only roll a random encounter if things seem to be getting boring. One is never chained to the text, if an adventure feels like a slog it is easy enough for the DM to fix it and speed things up.

I did. Because if I didn't, the players would never have leveled past 4, and that's because of the pacing, and the lack of space between each area. You could literally get from village to village in one day.

As to the rest, I’d disagree, the townsfolk, nighthags, abbot with mongrelmen, werewolf faction and temple with lich were all very fun and flavourful to me. Death House is also an excellent low level adventure, although probably a bit too lethal.
There were small parts inside the book that are good, but none of them give enough XP to get level 3 to 10.
 

EmperorNorton

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I did. Because if I didn't, the players would never have leveled past 4, and that's because of the pacing, and the lack of space between each area. You could literally get from village to village in one day.


There were small parts inside the book that are good, but none of them give enough XP to get level 3 to 10.

Ok, earlier you said that it was a grind because of too many monsters between each location, and now you are complaining that there isn't anything in the adventure to level you... Also, holy hell some of the things we fought when I was playing I am pretty sure we should be HIGHER level than we actually are.

Also, I'm pretty sure that most of the official adventures expect you to give fairly generous xp rewards for accomplishing things, not just for killing stuff.
 

Chris Brady

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Ok, earlier you said that it was a grind because of too many monsters between each location, and now you are complaining that there isn't anything in the adventure to level you... Also, holy hell some of the things we fought when I was playing I am pretty sure we should be HIGHER level than we actually are.

Also, I'm pretty sure that most of the official adventures expect you to give fairly generous xp rewards for accomplishing things, not just for killing stuff.
My apologies, what I meant was there wasn't enough space between locations, so for players to get the proper amount of XP to level, you'd have to pack it with encounters. And that includes the ones where players pass things on the road and ignore them. Like the Skeletal Rider with the lantern.

And you're supposed to give experience (at least in Adventure League, which is where I ran this) for encounters players solve, whether it be by sword or by word. But there isn't enough space in between the villages and other locations according to the provided map.

This is my complaint with 5e's Ravenloft book. As source material, it's great, the NPC's are interesting, the concept is cool, but the execution was botched beyond belief.

In my opinion.
 

Brock Savage

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I'm nursing a hangover and reading 5e's Curse of Strahd based on the recommendations of this board. I haven't enjoyed the other 5e adventure books but you guys made a good argument so I gave it a chance. Thanks everyone.

I liked the wandering monster tables. It drives home the idea that travel is just too risky for common folk and even armed bands have to be careful. Nighttime travel is to be avoided altogether. There was just enough exposition for each entry to spark my imagination, allowing me to take my own spin on the encounter.

Setting up the campaign based on the Tarokka deck is a nice touch but I concede that not all DMs like that sort of thing (I like to be surprised as a DM). I think the Vistani were done well with cool thematic abilities and again, just enough exposition for me to take the concept and make it my own. Gothic trinkets are cool and I would find that chart useful in a campaign. Haunted One background is nice and I might cannibalize it for use in my personal campaign.

Overall I think Curse of Strahd could offer a nice break from my regular diet of weird pulp fantasy and I am seriously considering a side game with just a couple players. I like the presentation and structure. It isn't a rigid adventure but not a complete sandbox, either. Let's call it a sandbox with guide rails. I do have some questions though:

Are all players assumed to originate from another world? Is it a bad idea for players to be natives of this realm? What's your preference and recommendation?

How can I use experience point rewards to reinforce the theme and setting of Ravenloft? I dislike awarding XP for killing monsters but XP for treasure doesn't fit Ravenloft either. I don't like milestone XP as I feel it takes away player agency. I am open to suggestions.

Thanks.
 

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Are all players assumed to originate from another world? Is it a bad idea for players to be natives of this realm? What's your preference and recommendation?

I don't have CoS, but my immediate instinct would be to download this map of Barovia in the context of the Domains of Dread setting...

... then use this link to research the very basics of the following realms you see near Barovia on the map:
Dementlieu
Mordent
Borca
Nova Vaasa
Kartakass

That should give you just enough to inform players of places they can be from that aren't Barovia but still "fit" the tone. I highly recommend Dementlieu (fake France with a theme of hypnotism) or Mordent (fake England with a focus on ghosts) as player origins. They are relatively modern, and the monsters in those realms aren't very in-your-face, so characters could be realistically naive about the provincial horrors they will find in Barovia.

Plus, isn't it fitting for a party of heroes from fake England to come and kill fake Dracula in fake Transylvania? :wink:
 

Shipyard Locked

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How can I use experience point rewards to reinforce the theme and setting of Ravenloft? I dislike awarding XP for killing monsters but XP for treasure doesn't fit Ravenloft either. I don't like milestone XP as I feel it takes away player agency. I am open to suggestions.

That's a question I've been thinking about, and I don't have a satisfactory answer yet. Some ideas:

- Give players XP for discovering crucial or cool hidden information (encourages exploration and paying attention)

- Give players XP for having their characters react in ways that are tactically bad but fitting for the horror genre: split up when searching for something in a creepy place, run further away than necessary, trust someone obviously untrustworthy, have sex at a bad time (encourages horror tropes)

- When things go disastrously wrong, give them XP immediately (softens the Gothic catastrophes). Hey, trauma is a learning experience too!

- Give them an XP multiplier for each hour they can successfully complete without making out-of-character jokes (encourages atmosphere).

- Whenever someone rolls a 1, offer them the opportunity (don't force it) to choose something bad that happens to their character in exchange for XP. Rolled a 1 while running through the forest? Sprained ankle! 1 while investigating a library? Gain a minor form of insanity from leafing through a blasphemous tome! 1 while making an attack? Fumble weapon off the balcony!
 

Chris Brady

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That's a question I've been thinking about, and I don't have a satisfactory answer yet. Some ideas:

- Give players XP for discovering crucial or cool hidden information (encourages exploration and paying attention)

- Give players XP for having their characters react in ways that are tactically bad but fitting for the horror genre: split up when searching for something in a creepy place, run further away than necessary, trust someone obviously untrustworthy, have sex at a bad time (encourages horror tropes)

- When things go disastrously wrong, give them XP immediately (softens the Gothic catastrophes). Hey, trauma is a learning experience too!

- Give them an XP multiplier for each hour they can successfully complete without making out-of-character jokes (encourages atmosphere).

- Whenever someone rolls a 1, offer them the opportunity (don't force it) to choose something bad that happens to their character in exchange for XP. Rolled a 1 while running through the forest? Sprained ankle! 1 while investigating a library? Gain a minor form of insanity from leafing through a blasphemous tome! 1 while making an attack? Fumble weapon off the balcony!
And you still won't be able to give players the XP needed to hit level 10.
 

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Shipyard Locked Shipyard Locked

Thank you for the links and advice, I appreciate it!

Plus, isn't it fitting for a party of heroes from fake England to come and kill fake Dracula in fake Transylvania? :wink:
I don't know if you were being serious or not but I think this is a good idea because the wife loves Castlevania.
 
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opaopajr

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Alt XP is an interesting discussion... :trigger:

I think the big key for me is resonating to Ravenloft's aesthetics (it is very Hammer horror). Ravenloft box set (was it Domain of Dread or Original?) suggests to keep the world in a state of passionate extremes: lush natural beauty contrasted with primal forces of nature; clannish, provincial people who celebrate with an almost desperate zest; the allure of evil's power with its chastizing curse; etc. Basically Romanticism. :wink:

I'd Alt XP reward: Discoveries, Survivals, Moral Heroics. :thumbsup: That way players' PCs are trying to dig deep in the romance of the place, be it any of the three game pillars (combat, social, explore). It is a thrusting of yourself into where you don't belong, trying to escape from its revealed danger, and then going back for a second helping when you know it's "the right thing to do!"

That seems to follows the aesthetic from a mere murderhobo passive survival into a passionate active participation, and finally mimicking a moralizing pageant of epic fantasy. :heart:
 

zweihander

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Much like the Cthulhu mythos, Ravenloft works best when the players don’t know about the campaign world they’re about to begin in. Rvenloft has always been a love/hate relationship for me. Once that nice, chunky boxed set hit the table, the players knew what they’re getting themselves in to.

A lot of what came out of the product line never met my expectation. I wanted an acutely-taut psychological horror game, but instead got a serialized “Undead Land” magical mystery tour of the Domains. That being said, the best product to come out of the line was Feast of Goblyns. I know that Nights of the Shed (podcast group) are running the adventure, but recast it in the real-world Renaissance, use Zweihander RPG rules and recording a fantastic radio play of it:


Admittedly, we ran the new Curse of Strahd using Zweihander RPG. We made it 7 sessions in, until we abandoned it. It was just too contrived, left nothing to the imagination and - once again - players already knew what they were going to get into as they beheld the book. Although I changed up some of the lore (assumed Strahd had been killed, Tatyana made the domain a fascist state that was purging Vistani and Strahd was going to be reborn unwittingly by the PCs), it just didn’t work out:


All the players were extremely dissatisfied, particularly because we just came off a 20 session, heavy psychological horror campaign I wrote for Zweihander RPG called The Dunhallow Mystery. In it, the players had no idea that it was going to turn from something as simple as recovering a land deed to becoming something terrifyingly supernatural:

 
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CRKrueger

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How much time elapsed between Dunhallow and Ravenloft? I see you’re working on turning your basement into the ultimate gaming cave. :thumbsup: :dice::pizza::gunslinger::alien::skeleton::drink:

Do you play Monolith Conan or did you just do it for the minis?

Although if you’re going to do YouTube streaming, you need to up your A/V budget, but I’m sure you know that.

BTW, when is Main Gauche shipping? August?
 

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How much time elapsed between Dunhallow and Ravenloft? I see you’re working on turning your basement into the ultimate gaming cave. :thumbsup: :dice::pizza::gunslinger::alien::skeleton::drink:

Do you play Monolith Conan or did you just do it for the minis?

Although if you’re going to do YouTube streaming, you need to up your A/V budget, but I’m sure you know that.

BTW, when is Main Gauche shipping? August?

1) About six weeks. We have been remodeling the basement over time. It took about 8 months: here is how far we’ve come (not yet finished):
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2) Minis. The gameplay is far too complicated.

3) We dropped a blue Yeti recently from the ceiling, and working on a new video option. Our focus is primarily podcast with video as an afterthought. Because we have a custom-made 4x8 table, we can’t use the webcams we have (4K/60fps). We just picked up a Meeting Owl 360 degree cam to test, it’s super neat but is only 720p/30fps. We also have another 4K/30fps 180 degree cam we will be testing this week:

4) Kickstarter backers get theirs mid-July, and the street date for preorders are Sept 10th.
 
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