I do not use the game conceit of Ravenloft: Realm of Terror. I do not find the idea of characters trapped in a mystical prison for the truly evil to be a campaign that I want to run or play. Even if I don’t use the Ravenloft “world,” I still find lots of great material in the Ravenloft setting. Taking parts of the source material and using them as set pieces can provide a sense of unease and terror within a campaign that is unexpected and filled with fun.
In my Tasque Elzeny campaign, I didn’t just use the source material as an adventure location. I used it as the home base and setting of the campaign. Unlike the original module I6: Ravenloft and the Ravenloft box set, the PCs were never trapped in the setting. No darklord was ever trapped by Dark Powers in Barovia or Mordentshire. Castle Ravenloft was to be an adventure site and maybe a home base for the PCs, if they reclaimed their “ancestral home.” Most everything I took from the Ravenloft and Gothic Earth material was “sense data.” It was information and fluff to evoke a Hammer Film vibe…a Vincent Price air…a Boris Karloff ambience. Now, how would things be different, if I took the source material and kept as close to the game conceit as possible?
In the D&D 2E hardback Domains of Dread, there is a section on pocket domains, “…domains located within other domains.” I am considering taking some pocket domains and combining them into a setting for a new campaign. Three pocket domains stand out as pieces of this setting: Aggarath (from The Forgotten Terror”), the “House of Lament,” and “Davion” (both from Domains of Dread).
Aggarath appears in The Forgotten Terror – the sequel to Castle Spulzeer, a Forgotten Realms adventure module. Aggarath is both a Domain of Dread and the pommel jewel of the dagger Aggarath. Persons killed with Aggarath, find themselves trapped inside the domain Aggarath. Aggarath is the prison realm of Chardath, the last of a depraved family. Thanks to his poor rearing and an overly developed sense of revenge, Chardath allied himself to a lich and murdered his sister; now he dwells trapped in a dodecahedron-domain, wherein his memories and his fears are made manifest. People slain by Aggarath have a chance to escape this domain. They must gather 3 enchanted rubies and a silver key to open the portal out of Aggarath. Aggarath reminds me of movies from the 1970s where a character is trapped in someone’s psychedelic nightmares and rushes around trying to escape.
The domain named the House of Lament is a strange one. The House is both the domain and the demilord of the domain. It began its existence as a bandit lord’s castle. The bandit lord stole the daughter of another lord and entombed her in a tower wall of his castle to appease the gods and make his castle impervious to attack. The woman’s horrific death wakened something that drove bandits mad or killed them. The castle fell into ruins, except for the tower where the woman had been entombed. Sometime later, a merchant added a new house to the still standing tower. In time, the Spirit of the Tower or the deranged spirit of the woman killed the man and his family. Now, anyone who stays too long in House of Lament is trapped, driven mad, and killed. It is an Amityville Horror house.
Davion, the name of both the domain and its demilord, is my favorite Domain of Dread. A wizard, desiring ever more power, accidently wished three adventurers into his body. The combined power of these four being was such that they could actually control reality around them. Depending upon which psyche was dominant at the time, their shared body and their surroundings changed to fit his or her reality. Only Davion knew true situation and only Davion could use the powers and information of the others. It drove him mad and to acts of great brutality to keep his new power. Eventually, he is drawn into the Mists and given a domain. The domain shifts appearance, as the each psyche takes control of the body. Augustus the Mage lives in an orderly village filled to meet the needs of any wizard. Boromar the Warrior transforms the area into a frontier town on a cold, clear day. Narana the Priestess worships at a large temple in the center of a small town caressed with warm spring breezes. Ruins of an earthquake aftermath fill the area, when Davion is master of his own body. The personalities fade and surface without notice or warning, so the village and surrounding area are ever-changing world of madness. The locals never seem to notice the changes, but it could easily mess with both Players and PCs senses of reality.
Now, what I may do is place Aggarath on Davion’s person and it is the only thing that will not change when the body shifts psyches. The House of Lament will be in the center of town and while the tower will remain the same, the house attached to it will become a temple, a school, or a long house as the psyche of the demilord changes. It would still have dark rumors spread about it, but the deaths caused by the house would be fewer and less obvious. Finally, the town of Davion will be set on an isolated coast far from civilization.
In this setting, the PCs are among the few that notice the way their world changes. They have heard rumors of madness and death about the House of Lament. The area in which Davion is located will be geologically unstable; earthquakes are relatively common. While the PCs know that there are five (yes, 5) different people who share the same body space, most of the villagers are only aware of one, whichever one is dominate at that time. All of this knowledge would put the PCs at odds with the most of the village. The PCs get to see the workings of the setting, but may not be able to do anything about it.
I’d make the Players create multiclass characters. Magic items and otherwise mundane equipment may have shapeshifting properties. Davion would be the big or maybe hidden villain for some, if not most, of the campaign. He would be trying to absorb the PCs to increase his power.
What do you, Dear Readers, think?