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1st ed Ravenloft Realms Revisited

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  • No One of Consequence
    started a topic 1st ed Ravenloft Realms Revisited

    1st ed Ravenloft Realms Revisited

    Inspired by monteparnas 's recent review of 5th ed Ravenloft, I decided to dig out my older Ravenloft books and look at the original Domains. This is mostly just random musing and commentary to amuse myself and not any sort of review or anything. Most of my "D&D" style gaming the past dozen or so years has been via 1st ed Pathfinder, so that will tend to color how I look at some of these, and some of the thoughts I have about them. If anyone who enjoys 5th ed feels like chiming in and adding thoughts about things like classes and what not in various Domains, please feel free. But I request people please refrain from edition warring.

    Also, I rather like the concept of the core, with these various areas having the play against each other in a fashion, even if the Darklords themselves have little to no chance of actually doing anything to their neighbors. Honestly, it kind of feels like another aspect of Ravenloft being a prison. The "little people" can move around as they wish (at least as much as politics and culture allow), but the great lords are stuck in the same place forever. Likewise with several of the Clusters, although there are a few I have issues with.

    Sadly, I can't seem to find any of my 3rd ed books (barring the copy of the DM Guide I picked up last year from NobleKnightGames). But this edition's (and late 2nd ed) efforts to treat Ravenloft as a place characters might actually come from instead of just an oversized dungeon they wander into from another world is one of the reasons I like it a lot.

    Which brings me to my first musing. The true history of Ravenloft should be a pretty big secret, at least from the PCs. It's the sort of thing the Darklords - especially people like Strauhd and Azalin - should know, but few others. I'm of the opinion that the entire core should have a false history that everyone alive in the present day is aware of and generally believes. As should the people of the clusters (including possible dates of contact/trade with the Core via the two seas). Actually discovering the true history of Ravenloft should be the makings of a story of Cosmic Horror and madness, the sort of thing that might drive the PCs mad or at least have anyone they tell the story to think them insane. Even finding out about the Conjunction and its effects should be disturbing.

    And my second, lesser, musing is that over the years it has occurred to me that one could almost divide the Core into two parts. The western part, for the most part, tends to be very heavily influenced by classic Gothic ideas, as well as places and things from the 18th and early 19th century. Early science/natural philosophy, mesmerism, classic ghost stories, and the like. The eastern part, on the other hand, seems more build on Dark Fantasy, with its inclusion of wizards, fantasy races, and a general late medieval feel. (This isn't entirely ironclad in anyway. The southern areas are a bit odd in some places.) Which is something I think works in Ravenloft's favor, as it allows a DM to focus on which aspects they prefer, including certain genre tropes, how common things like dwarves or elves are, which classes are most common, and so forth.

    With that out of the way, on to the first Domain.

    ARAK (Realm of Terror pg 61)

    If there was an award for Most Pointless Domain, you'd have to work pretty hard to beat Arak. It barely gets half a page write up, and all it says is that nothing is there. No people, no settlements, no phones, no lights, no motor cars .... Just vague mentions of Drow lurking underground and abducting anyone who tries to spend the night. Arak does have a history, in which it was someone populated. It popped up on Bavaria's border and eventually Darkon was to the north, and finally Nova Vassa to the south. This made it a trade route and the mountains seemed a good prospect for mining. Then Keening came about, and its creation scourged Arak's surface of anything living. And that was it. The original Realm of Terror book gave no real info about the place, not even a hint about its Dark Lord. My guess is that they were planning some sort of adventure module about the alleged Drow living under the surface and what they were doing, but it never came about. Instead, when the Conjunction happened and the Shadow Rift opened up, it was eventually revealed that Arak's Darklord, Gwydion the Sorcerer-Fiend, had tried to escape his/its prison crafted by his Shadow Fey (not Drow) slaves who'd tricked him into letting them escape into the Mists of Ravenloft, and in the process dragged that entire domain into where Markovia and G'Henna used to be, creating the Shadow Rift. Arak's surface was still where it used to be, but just got absorbed into Darkon.

    This strikes me a bit of a wasted opportunity, especially for the somewhat Dark Fantasy influenced east. Darkon is already a place populated with a lot of the classic D&D fantasy ancestries, so Arak just seems like the perfect place for a Dwarven Domain. As I mentioned in the previous thread, Tolkien's works do provide a few ideas to riff on. The idea of Dwarven kings being consumed by greed from The Hobbit and the idea of once majestic Dwarven mine-kingdoms reduced to abandoned ghost towns in Lord of the Rings can both work well in Ravenloft, IMO. The idea of the proud king of a once great Dwarven kingdom consumed by greed until turning into a villainous tyrant, and perhaps even dying and becoming some form of undead, bringing his kingdom to ruin. Now it's stuck in Ravenloft, and the surviving Dwarven population are perfectly content to sell off what they dig up to the neighboring lands, and the Darklord is powerless to stop "his" treasures from being "stollen". The entire place could easily be haunted by various sorts of undead (which, again, playing on its closeness to Darkon probably makes a degree of sense), with the local Dwarven population being skilled at fighting them. (Pathfinder's Horror Adventures sourcebook includes some optional traits for Dwarves which fit well with this, not to mention some of the new classes in Occult Adventures and things like Oracles and Shaman.) This, at least to me personally, feels more interesting than an empty wasteland.

    Next, I'll be looking at Arkandale.


  • No One of Consequence
    replied
    Originally posted by monteparnas View Post
    Otherwise, Ivana is a fantastic character, but I do find her romantic streak to central to her being, it sounds like a repeated note for a number of Darklords, especially women. It isn't that this ain't a good aspect for them, but the focus it receives is frequently unnecessary. So much so that, while I still consider the romanticism as being there, I like VRGtR's take on shifting focus to her not being taken as seriously as she deserves.
    I suspect if I got around to running a Ravenloft game again and had the characters meet Ivana, I'd end up playing her as incredibly competent and ruthless, and anyone who underestimates her - or worse, thinks "she just needs to be redeemed by True Love" - will very quickly find themselves one of her pawns or victims. I'm sort of torn between trying to change her alignment from Chaotic Evil to Neutral Evil.

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  • monteparnas
    replied
    The renting scheme is kind of a common placeholder for "Feudalism" in Ravenloft. It seems like the authors have a sort of a hard time with pre-industrial notions of property and nobility, so anywhere aristocracy doesn't work as an outright tyranny they're some sort of land renters or something.

    It is interesting because of how much they put an effort into describing those things, but in the end it feels fairly silly and repetitive.

    Otherwise, Ivana is a fantastic character, but I do find her romantic streak to central to her being, it sounds like a repeated note for a number of Darklords, especially women. It isn't that this ain't a good aspect for them, but the focus it receives is frequently unnecessary. So much so that, while I still consider the romanticism as being there, I like VRGtR's take on shifting focus to her not being taken as seriously as she deserves.

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  • No One of Consequence
    replied
    BORCA (Realm of Terror page 66; Domains of Dread page 55)

    (finally)

    Borca is an interesting Domain, but sadly doesn't really get much in the way of a description in the original book. We get the description of its Darklord (which I'll get to in a moment) which clearly sets something of the tone for the place, and a very barebones description of Borca itself. Namely, that it has two settlements (towns/cities) of note, and that most of the populace is really poor because everyone is just rending from the Darklord. By the time DoD rolled around, we get the added detail that anything with a purple tint to it has the reputation for being poisonous. (Given the color purple's associations with nobility and the nature of the Darklord, this makes for an interesting bit of subtext with the idea that the Domain's entire nobility are in a sense toxic.)

    Lady Ivana Boritsi is our Darklord, a noblewoman who came to power after poisoning her own mother, the original Darklord Lady Camille Dilisnya. (Camille is apparently originally from Mordent, which feels odd for some reason. Not sure why.) She apparently earned Darklord status by killing her husband and his lover. And then died when her daughter killed her for having an affair with her own lover. The circle of life in Ravenloft, I guess. It's probably a good thing for Ivana that she has no children. But seeing as how her entire body is poisonous, if she has a child it will likely be even worse than she is in multiple ways.
    Ivana is an interesting character, the mix of her mother's twisted misandrious tutelage and her shattered romantic dreams of finding true love. (Which she found, only to have her mother deliberately destroy out of spite.) Ultimately, she decided she could trust no one. The exception was her cousin, Ivan, but after the upheaval and them being forced to be co-Darklords, she's lost even that. It's very tragic. Probably even more so by the fact that Ivana is, as a Darklord, irredeemably evil and corrupt.

    Ivana is very clearly inspired by Lucrezia Borgia of the infamous Italian Borgia family. Lucrezia is an interesting historical figure, extremely well educated and intelligent, who was Governor of the city of Spoleto for a while. Sarah Bradford biography of her (Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love, and Death in Renaissance Italy) is a good overview of her life. C.W. Gortner's novel The Vatican Princess is a fairly entertaining fictionalization of her. While she did have numerous lovers, including some of her in-laws, stories involving incest are most likely slander from her family's political enemies augmented by lurid retellings. Similarly her reputation for being a serial poisoner. But this is Ravenloft, so we're going with the fictional legend.

    Spoleto is part of the Umbria region of central Italy, and I confess that this sort of influences how I see Borca. It's a hilly land with mountains and two major valleys, with fertile farmland and a number of small towns and cities.

    I have mixed feelings about the idea that Ivana literally owns the entire Domain and everyone - even Borca's nobility - are just renting from her. Beside's not really meshing with the Italian Renaissance style the Domain seems to be going for (it feels more like some sort of Tsarist Russia bit), I feel like it kind of undercuts the potential for Borca's aristocracy to be a reflection of their Darklord. And by that I mean a bunch of ruthless, back stabbing, manipulative Soap Opera characters who are constantly sleeping with, betraying, murdering, scheming with/against, and doing business with each other. But I guess if all of them are constantly on the edge of bankruptcy, it just makes them more desperate and ruthless.
    By the same token, I feel like Borca's peasantry should also reflect Ivana's history and tragedy, with them being generally a fairly romantic lot (and by that I mean both in the emotional larger than life wear your heart on your sleeve sense and in the "the hills are alive with the sounds of love and passion" sense). The young people especially should have these big dreams of true love and romantic adventure. And then usually have it undermined by jealousy, betrayal, and the crushing machinations of the aristocracy or the dark forces of Ravenloft.

    From a Pathfinder 1st ed perspective, there's a number of interesting bits to work with here. Italian Renaissance style Swashbucklers or Cavaliers, for example. And obviously Alchemists and Rogues who specialize in poisons. (Their Potions and Poisons book has a lot of interesting character options.) And for a real oddity, the Shifter class from Ultimate Wilderness has an archetype based on the idea of making ones body more and more poisonous.

    (I haven't talked much about the Dorvinia half of post upheaval Borca, as I'm saving that for it's own post.)

    Next will be the dark fantasy land of Darkon.

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  • CTPhipps
    replied
    This is fantastic! Thanks for doing this.

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  • No One of Consequence
    replied
    I've been extremely ill the past week and a half, hence no Borca yet. Hope to have that rectified by the end of the week.

    Meanwhile, please enjoy the Ravenloft Travel Agent channel on YouTube, and their fun video overviews of several of the (apparently 3rd ed) domains.

    Leave a comment:


  • No One of Consequence
    replied
    Well, I was thinking that the human slaves would be subsisting on mushrooms and bugs, as they'd all be underground. That or some very strange aberrant "animal" flesh. Or soylent green.

    I keep pondering the idea of Bluetspur's Illithids doing something similar to the Yithians where they swap minds with or possess humanoids around Ravenloft in order to manage the procurement of new slaves and to gather intelligence/research.


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  • monteparnas
    replied
    Originally posted by 2ptTakrill View Post
    It's been a long time but if I remember correctly there is a town in Barovia that is populated by Psionic survivors from Illithid enslavement. It was in one of the supplements.
    I vaguely remember something like that, but Barovia has about two or three communities of immigrants from other domains.

    On the Mind Flayer part, I remember that Lords of Madness gave proper attention to describe what the Illithid diet actually looks like, and it is interesting. I just re-read it and was right there.

    With a fresh brain every week an Illithid needs otherwise the common diet of its stock body, which in Bluetspur would mean human most of the time. If they have less than that in brains they can supplement with animal viscera, but still have the other nutritious requirement to meet with normal food, and they can't go lower than one brain a month. That book goes itself through a calculation that each Illithid would need 250 slaves for food purposes alone to be able to survive in minimal conditions.

    So if we go with that book, Bluetspur is probably three things: full of slaves, possibly meeting its minimal requirement and some, extremely aggressive against other domains, and generally miserable for everyone living there, as even the Illithids are most of the time living with little more than the minimal food rations to survive and with dubious quality for their standards.

    Usually most Illithids in settings like Greyhawk and Forgotten Realms are from Drow stock, which makes a fungus-based subterranean diet actually ideal for them. But with such scorched surface Bluetspur has to rely on the same strategy without having the same dietary needs. It's ironic that they probably dislike their food as much as their slaves do.

    Now, Lords of Madness is a far newer book than even the latest descriptions of Bluetspur in 3rd edition, but using this information is actually an interesting way to color and work deeper into developing the domain.

    All puns in this text were unintentional, but noticed and approved before posting.

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  • 2ptTakrill
    replied
    It's been a long time but if I remember correctly there is a town in Barovia that is populated by Psionic survivors from Illithid enslavement. It was in one of the supplements.

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  • No One of Consequence
    replied
    Originally posted by monteparnas View Post
    Actually Bluetspur isn't described as without inhabitants. Although the exact number is never given and their role is very minor in Thoughts of Darkness, it does have the slaves/cattle of the Illithids, but indeed there's so little reference to them that their numbers do not seem nearly enough. We also don't have citations to where they get their food.
    I sort of suspect the diet of Illithid slaves would be heavily based on fungi and insect larva, if just for the lack of other viable options.

    I suppose "escaped slave from Bluetspur" would make an interesting PC character background, (especially, from a Pathfinder perspective, for certain types of Psychics and Kineticists, or things like Oracles or Barbarians) but I'm not sure such a thing would fit smoothly into a Gothic setting, even if most of their memories of captivity were blocked away by amnesia or the like. Maybe Gothic-with-Lovecraftian Overtones, perhaps?

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  • monteparnas
    replied
    Actually Bluetspur isn't described as without inhabitants. Although the exact number is never given and their role is very minor in Thoughts of Darkness, it does have the slaves/cattle of the Illithids, but indeed there's so little reference to them that their numbers do not seem nearly enough. We also don't have citations to where they get their food.

    The God-Brain is this sore point. 3rd edition cited that it is somehow more obsessed with total immortality than others of its kind, for some reason that is kind of a sin among them. Its desire for experiencing life through a human body is somehow also thrown there. A net-book by the same authors, but non-canon for Wizards, said it could be actually a human mind, a powerful Psion that somehow possessed the God-Brain from inside, becoming the absolute dominant mind in the amalgam. 5th's VRGTR elaborates more in the 3rd's idea and made it a cannibal (preying on other Elder-Brains) and afflicted by a degenerating disease brought by this cannibalism (and the others exiled it for fear of the disease and nothing else).

    I guess this last iteration is somewhat better, an afflicted villain trying to stave off their own death. But it is still less than good enough.

    Oh, they also made it more clearly common for the Illithids to seek and capture victims in other domains, precisely through a combination of abduction tropes and a broader application of the 2nd ed interposition rule.

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  • No One of Consequence
    replied
    Yeah. Bluetsput's entire ecology is kind of wonky. I guess maybe if there'd been these Brain-God cults spread around the Core who kidnapped people and shipped them off to the Domain, it might have worked, but being a lone island just makes the issues more apparent. Even if they are still actively going out to other domains and snatching people without anyone noticing, kind of like alien abductions, I'm not sure the math works for their population.

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  • AnubisXy
    replied
    One thing that always irked me a bit about Bluetspur is that Illithids require large populations of humanoids. Humanoids are a necessity, both for food and to produce more Illithids. If Bluetspur doesn't have any native humanoids, then the Illithids would have to launch frequently raids into other Domains in order to get the humanoids that they require for their basic, night-to-night survival.

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  • No One of Consequence
    replied
    BLUETSPUR (Realm of Terror page 65; Domains of Dread page 84)

    One of the odder (if not oddest) corners of the pre-Conjunction Core, Bluetspur is a desolate area of cyclopian mountains, often with geometric elements which defy logic and/or geology. Next to nothing lives or grows in the Domain, and it has no known native populous. Any who spend the night here are subject to terrible nightmares and ... wait, why does this sound familiar?

    Yes, Bluetspur is essentially a more developed version of Arak. A mountainous domain with no populous or ecology, a dark reputation for travelers, and the real stuff happening deep under the earth. In this case, instead of Drow/shadow fey, they are Illithiads/mind-flayers and we actually get a slim bit of details about them. Namely, that they exist, which is more than one can say for the "Drow" of Arak. Beyond that, we get very little.
    But unlike Arak, Bluetspur was the setting for an adventure module, Thoughts of Darkness, which detailed the Domain and who/what was there, including its Darklord, the God-Brain. As the choice for a Darklord, this is ... odd. Gothic villains tend to have something, some trace of humanity or flicker of desire we can sympathize with, to possibly identify with or say, "there but by the grace of God ...." But it's hard to find such a thing in a totally alien creature that neither has nor had any trace of humanity in it ever. And just what would make the powers of Ravenloft notice this particular elder brain among all its peers? There have apparently been unofficial efforts to answer this question over the years, but I'm not really sure they satisfy. (YMMV)

    The other oddity about the Domain is that apparently it is never really day here. You get a sort of perpetual twilight and then a few hours of night. This detail is in Domains of Dread, but not Realm of Terror. I presume it was introduced in Thoughts of Darkness.

    Bluetspur was another Domain slated for removal during the Conjunction. In this case, it was simply rent loose from the southeastern corner of the Core and cast out into the Mists as a lone Island of Terror. And honestly, given how much Bluetspur seems to draw from Lovecraft's "Call of Cthulhu" short story and its haunted corpse-city of R'lyeh (as well as the mind-flayers bearing certain traits akin to the Mi-Go and other Lovecraftian beings), this is very fitting. This is the sort of Cosmic Horror realm of insanity that should be off in a hidden corner somewhere and not sitting right on the border of Dracula's Transylvania.
    This sort of isolation might potentially tie into some of the above issues about the Domain, if the GM wishes. This Domain could be the subject of some sort of experiment by the Powers of Ravenloft, or worse, might be the result of a terrible accident in which an inhuman evil has intruded upon the Demiplane and is now a potential threat to it.

    As Bluetspur has no non-mind flayer population, there are no potential PCs from here. However, if one wanted to incorporate certain Lovecraftian/Cosmic Horror elements into people from the Core, its entirely possible that people who've sailed the Sea of Sorrows or the Nocturnal Sea have stumbled upon the island and, having survived, brought back its psychic taint in the form of dark cults, puppets of the God-Brain, or the sort of influence which leads to various Sorcerer bloodlines and their equivalents. (Pathfinder has about 50 or so Sorcerer bloodlines, including Aberrant, Dreamspun, and Starsoul, each of which would fit here. Likewise various Witch patrons, certain Oracle mysteries and Cleric domains. And of course the Psychics from Occult Adventures.)

    Next, the poisonous land of Borca.

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  • monteparnas
    replied
    Originally posted by 2ptTakrill View Post
    What about Mask of the Red Death and Gothic Earth, was any crossover ever intended?
    Not only was, it happened a couple times. A few Masque charcaters are from Ravenloft, and a few Ravenloft characters are from Masque, including two Darklords, Peter van Riese (he's Swedish, I think) and Maligno (he's Italian).

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