Thursday, October 30, 2014

Who's Doomed in Blighter's Manse.

Consider this a "Who's Doomed" of Blighter's Manse.

Claudius Maximilian Bogg, aka "Deadhand." Much-feared assassin for hire.

 Stephen Gettier, aka "The Getter." Procurer, fence, and middleman for all sorts of illegal goods and services. Originally from Dementlieu.

 Mei Lin. Pirate captain from an obscure island nation. Has a score to settle with Redoath over some stolen cargo.

 The Beverlay Sisters, Eva and Louisa. The are the madames who run the Salty Sabre "house of leisure."

 Sigismund Redoath. Kosti pirate captain on the run from something.

 Andullah. Priestess of Ezra-Drowned-in-the-Seamist. Cackling and possibly insane. Strong connection to the spirit world.

John Bale-eye. Governor of Blighter's Manse and agent of Bluebeard.

Marta Parr. Alchemist, formerly a student at a Lamordian university--sent down for an unknown disgrace.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ravenloft Orgs: The Green Hand, The Unholy Order of the Grave, the Order of Guardians, Vistani

The Green Hand is an order of druids who believe that protecting the sanctity of graves and burial grounds is a way to ensure the the cycle of death and rebirth is uninterrupted by the curse of undeath. 

Commentary: The original presentation of the Green Hand has them as pseudo-Egyptians operating in a very limited area of Ravenloft; I've kept the "guarding graves" aspect, but made them about druids instead. I like the idea of undeath as an affront to the natural world.


The Unholy Order of the Grave is an unusual coven of wraiths who travel the world at the behest of an elusive, shrouded master. Each ghostly member of the Order of the Grave is marked with symbol of an emptying hourglass.

Commentary: Man, "Unholy Order of the Grave" is a bit over the top, isn't it? Anyway, as originally presented this organization is just a bunch of undead operating out of Necropolis. This is my way to add-in Nazghul/Dementor analogs.

The Order of the Guardians is a monastic organization that is sworn to collect dangerous or cursed magical artifacts and safeguard them within their fortified retreats. The center of the order's operations is the Monastery of the Lost, a bleak edifice in Markovia. Children raised in a monastery operated by the Order of the Guardians receive mystical training that aids them in the quest to keep the world safe from malicious arcane items.

Commentary: Every setting I really like seems to have monks who wander around looking for evil magic items. Shades of Friday the 13th: The Series, I suppose. My contribution here is to use the organization as a way to explain where monk classed-characters get their training in Ravenloft. Fold that Avatar and ninja stuff right in; feels good, man.

The Vistani are a tribe of gypsies who wander the breadth of the world by wagon caravan or riverboat. Although most Vistani belong to the same ethnic group, occasionally an outsider who has done them a tremendous boon is accepted into the tribe. It is believed that any Vistani possess the second sight or have a natural aptitude for witchcraft. In many areas, the Vistani are distrusted—as nomads they are seen as little more than rootless thieves.

Commentary: I like presenting the Vistani as an "ethnic organization" way more than D&D's sticky idea of what constitutes a "race."

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Possessed Barbarian, Whispering Bard, Scarred Nun, Absinthe Warlock

Need some ideas for characters or NPCs in Ravenloft? Here are some 5e-flavored characters to steal:

Sylvia Tenenbrook, elf barbarian
Most barbarians are savages that hail from the wild-lands of the world, but Sylvia Tenenbrook could not be further from the usual lumbering berserker. Sylvia is the daughter of renowned spiritualists in Sithicus; however, when she was but a child one of her parents' seances got out of hand and Sylvia has since found herself persistently haunted by the ghost of a maniacal killer. In times of stress or anger, the ghost possesses Sylvia, sending her into a murderous rage.

Carlo Scarlioto, gnome bard
Mentored by maestros in Kartakass, Carlo Scarlioto is a musician who seeks to revive the lost art of "whisper-singing." Whisper-singing is an unaccompanied style of vocal performance in which the artist intones tragic lyrics with the merest of breaths; as the audience strains to catch every turn of phrase, they find themselves swept-up in the torrent of emotion evoked by the performer's words. Carlo's study of the obscure art whisper-singing has shown him how to charge his art with arcane power--his goal is to seek lost tomes of whisper-singing instruction as he adventures throughout the world.

Martessa van Horne, human monk
In a previous life, Martessa van Horne was the beautiful widow who joined a convent as a way to deal with the grief she felt after the death of her husband. The solitude she sought was destroyed one night when her convent was entered by adventurers who believed that a great treasure was secreted in the catacombs beneath its cells. Little did these adventurers know that the sealed vault they discovered was the prison of a powerful demonic force. Unwittingly set loose by the adventurers' blunder, the demon killed all within the convent--save Martessa. Left hideously scarred by her encounter with the demon, Martessa has since sworn to hunt the creature down and send it back to the abyss.

Amanda Martell, half-elf warlock
Most fey-pact warlocks go out into nature to find their patron, but the decadent poetess Amanda Martell finds her muse at the bottom of a glass of absinthe. When she has drunk enough of the liqueur to disorder her senses, the Green Fairy comes to her and whispers all the magical secrets of bending others to her will. Amanda adventurers to keep herself in money enough to indulge her vile wormwood habit. 

Monday, October 27, 2014

Ravenloft Remix: Warpunk'd Falkovnia

(art by Likaspapaya)

Let's take another look at Falkovnia:

Part Hitler's Germany, part Stalin's Russia, part Vlad Tepes's Wallachia through a Gothic lens.
A heavily forested realm ruled by the tyrant Vlad Drakov; Falkovnian trees are towering and black—the people refer to them as “viglia dimorta,” or “sentries of death”; Falkovnia is also the Core's breadbasket—it exports grain to virtually every other domain; Lekar, the largest city in the Core, is a center of trade linked to the Falkovnia's towns by well-maintained roads; Falkovnia also possesses three fortified towns: Stangengrad, Aerie, and Morfenzi; Drakov's summer palace is located in Silverbas, which sits on the eastern shore of Lake Kriegvogel; the Falkovnian people are a downtrodden lot: they are overtaxed, overworked, and terrorized by Drakov's soliders; each Falkovnian citizen is branded at birth with the sign of a hawk—Drakov's mark of servitude; in Falkovnia, soldiers are the highest social class and the elite military is completely loyal to Drakov; however, there are rumors of an armed resistance forming against the tyrant's rule."

In Ravenloft, "Dracula" has been cleverly split into two different archetypes: Stoker's vampire is Strahd von Zarovich, while the historical Vlad Tepes has an analog in Vlad Drakov. However, there is an important difference between the two Vlads: the historical Vlad committed monstrous acts to discourage and demoralize an exterior invading regime (the Turks), while Ravenloft's Vlad terrorizes his own people to keep them under his control. As I noted above, there's more than a bit of Stalin and Hitler in Vlad Drakov's fictive genetic makeup. 

There's also a bit of WWII-era Germany and Russia to Falkovnia in that it is the militaristic powerhouse of the Core. As one of the setting books states, Ravenloft is a setting without large-scale military conflict--except Falkovnia seems to threaten all of its neighbors, so much so that four of the most important and developed domains have made a pact to defend each other against it should war erupt.

Playing up the threat--or eventuality--of war in Ravenloft has tremendous potential for a campaign. It does, however, pose a question: why is Falkovnia a credible threat to the rest of the Core? After all, Falkovnia is depicted as a medieval land; perhaps it has the bio-power of a large army, but how else might it menace its neighbors?

One idea is to lay on some Weird War flavor onto Falkovnia. Perhaps a military-minded mad scientist from Lamordia has defected to Drakov's employ and has been directing the build-up of monstrous engines of war. "Steampunk" mecha and military designs offer a lot of potential inspiration to steal. It wouldn't take much; a handful of such devices could give Drakov a decisive military edge over the other nations of the Core (and give the players some targets to infiltrate and destroy.) 

My Falkovnia might have a large dollop of this bit of Sucker Punch added to the mix:

And there would definitely be a lot of Hellboy folded in:

And maybe a bit of Bioshock Infinite as well:

Or maybe Vlad Drakov's "forests of the impaled" can be commanded to rise from their stakes as a unified and tireless army of the undead? I really need to watch Frankenstein's Army:

For maximum Weird War II action, you could have Falkovnia form an Axis of Evil with pan-asian Hazlan and perhaps have a military coup result in new leadership in Borca that is friendly with Drakov's rule...

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Imagining Around the Art: Ravenloft Edition

Lord Soth, reluctant lord of Nedargaard Keep

Kazandra, first among the Kargat

 The drow of the Shadowrift

Lyssa von Zarovich, grandniece and foe of Strahd

The "late" Rudlph van Richten; after death he was reanimated as a severed head by a mad inventor at the behest of Gennifer and Laurie Weathermay-Foxgrove.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Historical Oddities for Ravenloft

I've long maintained that there is a lot to be found in real-world history to inspire fantasy gaming. Ravenloft already takes a great deal of inspiration from the morbid and macabre annals of history; we've got historical intrigue and wrongdoing to thank for the setting's Faux Borgias and Not-the-Ripper, after all. Below are a number of historical items drawn from the morbid annals that you could easily find a place for in a Ravenloft adventure:

St. Osyth Witches

God as Devil

The Twa Sisters

The White Witch of Rose Hall

Walpurgis Night

Balthasar Bekker

Dancing Plague of 1518

Maria Monk

Angels of Mons

Servant Girl Annihilator

Delphine Lalaurie

Darya Saltykova

List of Unusual Deaths

Hand of Glory

Rat King

Loathly Lady


Astor Place Riot

John Murray Spear

List of Occultists

John Henry Anderson

John Darrell

Richard Dugdale

Ines de Castro

Chung Ling Soo

Rat Torture

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Religion in Ravenloft: Takhisis and the Wolf God

Takhisis, also known as Tiamat, is a five-headed dragon goddess worshiped by the elves of Sithicus. Her constellation, which shines in the night sky only over that nation, is an avatar to be placated rather than adored; as the Mother of Evil, Sithicans pray to her to spare them from the misery she threatens to bring. Only the most depraved curry her favor as She of Many Faces, the Corrupter, the Dark Queen, the Queen of Many Colors and None, or the Dark Warrior.

Commentary: I'm not sure how it plays out in Dragonlance, but in my head the cult of Takhisis should be a decadence-based religion. Intoxication as a rite, pleasure as an offering, dissolution as a virtue, etc. The sane worship her as a way to appease her and avoid her wrath; the mad give themselves over to vice and excess--bliss in the spiritualized darkness.

* * *

The Wolf God is the ravenous god of barbarians and lycanthropes. The Wolf God's rites are blood-soaked, carnal, and sacrificial. Holy symbol: a wolf's head.

Commentary: The bestial Khorne to Takhisis's Slaanesh, but now with way more werewolves.