Notes and Lost Projects
John W. Mangrum
I'll drop a few hints on the Gazetteer metaplot.
Had we kept to the schedule of two gazetteers a year, the series would have concluded in 762 BC - thirteen years before the Time of Unparalleled Darkness. The ToUD has always been and remains nothing more than an idea seed for DMs -- no one that I know of (with the exception of Steve Miller, for the initial adventure concept that eventually became Die Vecna Die) has put much thought into its details. (Just about all of my thoughts concerning the ToUD are actually in R3E, seeded in the History section.)
That said, the general idea that's been simmering for quite a while is that the ToUD, unlike the Grand Conjunction, would not be a singular event. Rather, it would be the culmination of a long series of terrible events, each one making the world a worse place. One way to look at it -- if every Dread Possibility comes true in your campaign, you're setting the stage for the ToUD.
Azalin's plan, should it succeed, would be one of the events making life worse in general. If Azalin's plan succeeded, some groups of people would never notice. For other groups, however, Azalin's success would spark catastrophic fallout. As an example of possible fallout, Azalin's success would likely spark a war across most of the western Core, which would in turn probably crush Borca. This war has nothing to do with Azalin's plans whatsoever -- it's just a logical side effect of his intended actions, one of no personal significance.
Added afterward: why Borca would get crushed in the looming war of the western Core really isn't a mystery -- it's pretty explicitly laid out in Gaz IV. Escape from the Demiplane of Dread is not part of Azalin's plan. (Which is not to say it doesn't factor into anyone's plans -- there are several movers and shakers here, each acting toward their own ends.) By now, Azalin's figured out that even if he did escape, who's to say his "tormentors" wouldn't just snatch him up again?
The children of the Gentlemen Caller do figure into it. In Gazetteer VI, the reader would have learned just how many children were out there/Azalin needed to find. In Gazetteer VII, S would have learned as well, and both she and the reader would have discovered the exact purpose of her magic bracer. This would have kicked off the latter half of the series, with S visiting the clusters and islands.
As an unrelated side note, Gaz VI would have also introduced a supporting cast that would have stuck around until about halfway through Gaz VIII -- the crew of the ship Azalin supplies to cart S about the seas. Ultimately, the Gazetteers aren't about the catastrophic end game -- they're about S herself. In my personal notes, I considered Gazetteer XIII a good place to end Ravenloft Third Edition. Particularly since D&D 4th Edition would likely be approaching (or here) by then, were RL still going at that point, I would have bumped the timeline forward to 765 BC and handed the reins off to the next generation of designers to launch Ravenloft Fourth Edition, which likely would have focused on the imminent "end days" of the setting.
Oh, I'll add a few more notes, since I just remembered them:
According to plan (which I later managed to muddle), there would be one child of the GC in each Gazetteer (thanks to my deadline issues, Gaz III ended up with none, and Gaz IV got two). The first child (the one in Gaz I) is, as some have speculated, the batwinged Beast of the Hills. Not that there's any way to tell from the book. The Kartakass chapter originally included a bit more on this character, but as it stands she narrowly avoided being edited out of the book altogether.
A concept I eventually formulated was that in terms of exact nature, powers, and personality, each individual "demonspawn" was an amplified reflection of its Vistani mother's worst fears and failings. Malocchio Aderre is the only one who actively seeks the destruction of the Vistani, because he's a dark reflection of the worst aspects of his mother, Gabrielle, and he's the most powerful, because he reflects the power of his mother.
The general idea of the Beast of the Hills, since it's moot now, was that her demonic nature manifested almost entirely physically. Most of these "dukkars" look normal (save for some minor physical deformity), but have utterly fiendish souls; this one is physically fiendish, but inwardly lacks her father's malice. In hindsight, I'd assume her mother had serious self-esteem issues.
The Beast's lost Dread Possibility went something like this: The Beast had retreated to Radaga's old haunting grounds to avoid civilization. However, the artifact Radaga possessed (the stone slab she used to steal the youth and vitality from damsels strapped to it) was empathically calling out to her (as evil artifacts are wont to do), trying to convince her to use it to give herself a normal appearance.
Regarding the lack of "dynamism" in 3E Ravenloft: One of the first and best bits of personal advice I received as a fledgling game designer came from David Wise, who passed this wisdom on to me: "Your job [as an RPG designer] is not to tell a story. Your job is to give the DM the tools to tell a story."
The 1990s/2E era was, if anythying, a far too dynamic period for game design, with many products being rendered obsolete within a few years of their release. TSR was far from the worst offender at this, and Ravenloft was one of its setting least beholden to metaplot ("game designer as meta-DM," as Steve Miller once put it), but it was hardly immune. Grand Conjunction, I'm looking at you. (For 2E TSR settings truly shackled to their non-interactive tie-in novels, see Forgotten Realms and the mother of them all, Dragonlance.)
As game designers in 3E, we felt that if the first Gazetteer had been retconned by the time the final Gazetteer was published, then we'd have done something horribly wrong. Ultimately, readers would have discovered that even the simmering metaplot in the Gazetteer series wasn't about reshuffling the setting yet again -- it all came down to S and her journey as an individual.
Now, of course, we didn't do everything with the line that I would have personally liked as a consumer -- as a DM, I was reliant on modules, and I know I'm not alone -- but leaving the Big Changes as Dread Possibilities for DMs to tackle with their own stories is not one of my regrets.
Mangrum, on the WotC RL board:
It never progressed past a simple proposal. To present the nutshell itself, a working title was Creeping Terrors: Nightmares and Pocket Domains. A brief intro would have been followed by four chapters of varying lengths.
That's literally all that exists of this book. It wouldn't have been presented in-character, as a note. At least not as proposed.
Here are my Rokushima Taiyoo/I'Cath cluster notes in a new thread. You may note that I have shamelessly ripped off John's suggested name for this cluster. This is beside Mr. Mangrum is a brilliant writer. :)
Much of this material is little more than half-formed musings and some sketched maps. There is more material, but I haven't found the right notebooks yet (I have *dozens* of notebooks full of drawings and notes on everything I'm interested in, plus several boxes of loose pages and print-outs ... and no organization). The ideas presented are open to expansion or amputation, but the idea is to mesh with Ravenloft as a whole up to the end of the 3.0/3.5 run.
I found some of my notes... not the ones I really wanted on improving Rokushima Taiyoo and some specifics on possible darklords, but at least the general Asiatic cluster notes. Here we go... The obvious two domains in this cluster are Rokushima Taiyoo and I'Cath. The changes are fairly light to these domains. The domains in this cluster are isolated from each other, with large stretches of dangerous ocean between them.
Rokushima Taiyoo needs some refinement such as cleaning up the silliness of some of the place names and defining the locations and NPCs more. The focus is tightened a bit - instead of throwing *every* facet of Japanese horror and fantasy together in one place, Rokushima would focus on human evils, cruelty and brutality, warfare and class disparity, ninja and yakusa, and also the bonds of family and their dissolution, ancestry and the sins of the past (exemplified by Haki Shinpi). Mostly human horror, with plenty of ghosts and a sprinkling of other monsters.
I'Cath becomes a island in the Poison Sea. It needs to be polished to better reflect Chinese ghost stories and legends, but I'm not terribly familiar with that topic, so it's a blank. A possiblity is that I'Cath actually (or apparently) drifts in the Poison Sea, intercepting unlucky ships.
I'd definitely also add:
The Poison Sea (Dokyuumi) - I split off the Poison Sea (from Rokushima Taiyoo's maps) into a separate domain, much like the Sea of Sorrows and the Nocturnal Sea. In fact, I think every unique ocean should be its own domain. Anyhow, I re-read the description from the Red Box and took it literally. Dokyuumi is a dark and oily sea whose waters are so salinated that they are literally poisonous. Additionally, the Poison Sea is filled with sea monsters; any fish drawn from these waters are not only monstrous and dangerous, but also poisonous (save perhaps for near Rokushima Taiyoo's waterfalls, and even there the fish are ugly, salty-tasting and have to be carefully prepared to eat safely). Further, hundreds of rocky islets dot the waters, making navigation difficult.
The Rokushimans do *not* like sailing the Poison Sea, though the Great Mirror Lake has a long and deep history of seafaring. Their native suspicious of outsiders is exacerbated by suspicion of those who cross the Dokyuumi's waters (who must be in league with the evil sea spirits, in the Rokushimans' eyes). The inhabited islands of the Poison Sea have high cliff faces along their shores instead of beaches, which keeps oceanic horrors from crawling inland to prey on whatever inhabitants they might find.
The darklord of the Poison Sea is a sea serpent called Umibouzu-Ryuu. Somewhere there's a set of notes on its back story, but I haven't found them yet (I suspect they're in a box in my garage from the last time I moved).
After this, my suggestions are a lot vaguer. Here's some basic concepts:
Monastery Domain - A very small domain composed of a monastery for a sect of warrior-philosopher monks in the vein of the Shaolin monks. Once famous for both its martial teachings and its benevolent philosphical teachings, the monastery is now empty save for the darklord, once a monk of the temple who traded away his humanity and the teachings of his masters for mastery of the martial path.
Ghost Mines Domain - Based on Hashima Island (see Hashima Island) near Nagasaki, this small island was the site of highly productive coal mines. Due to the small size of the island, the miners ghetto was built directly on top of the mines in incredibly cramped and squalid conditions. Governed by cruel imperial overseers, the mines had a massive casualty rate until the mismanagement of the mines lead to a catastrope that killed most of the population and drew the island into Ravenloft. Now the ruins are populated by ghosts that continue the work they did in life, still driven by the spectres of their taskmasters. The darklord is a caller in darkness composed of the commanders of the mining colony who were responsable for the disaster.
Hyakki Yako Domain - Inspired by the Hyakki Yako (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyakki_Yak%C5%8D), this domain represents the more fantastic side of Japanese horror. Here, rather than the Sengoku peroid warfare of Rokushima Taiyoo, we have a stronger imperial government. But the real power is the yokai, the bakemono, the oni, the array of spirits, ghosts, and monsters that haunt this domain. The yokai of this domain grip the domain in as much fear as the most timorous Barovian peasant. Offerings and sacrifices to appease the yokai are frequent and often onerous; particularly bold yokai occasionally act as bandits. And some nights, hundreds of yokai gather to parade, striding or flying under the moon, unafraid of mankind.
The darklord is the yokai's king (or queen) - it's pretty much a big blank slate at the moment. Beyond the yokai, though, another terror afflicts this domain - a living darkness, a pale hatred, an inexplicable horror. Seemingly at random, places and people become afflicted, becoming antithetical to life, both human and yokai. Reality warps, inexplicable horrors occur, shadows darken and crawl like living things.
The towns of this domain are small farming villages. Even the capital is surprisingly rustic. Temples and shrines are everywhere. Themes of this domain are the Hyakki Yako tales and other classic Japanese ghost stories, fused with modern J-Horror like The Ring, the Grudge, Uzumaki, and others. This domain might be seen as have some influences from the Shadow Rift. This domain would probably be somewhat larger than Rokushima Taiyoo (RT is fairly small), but widely separated enough that, should Rokushima ever sink, it will prove difficult to reach this safe harbor.
Yellow Peril Domain - Based in pulp horror Oriental themes and real Chinese history, this is the largest domain of the cluster. Before being drawn into Ravenloft, this domain was *much* larger. The Mists border part of this domain, so it is unclear if this domain is merely the largest island in the archipeligo of the domain or is actually part of a "mainland." The larger size gives this domain more variety of terrain that the smaller islands, with drier grasslands that rise into mountains, once one is beyond the coastal plain.
One unusual feature is that a long fortified wall runs along the section of this domain where it touches the Mists. Similar to Darkon's Mistlands, the Mists wash against this feature like a tide, sometimes washing over the wall and at others, retreating a considerable distance, revealing unremarkable fields and hillsides.
The domain has several cities, which are invariably large, crowded, and dirty. The center of culture is the Imperial City, home to the emperor's extensive family and even more extensive court. These individuals live decadently, indulging in exotic pleasures and making byzantine plots to gain power and prestige. The ultimate goal, of course, is to become the heir that suceeds the emperor - either by appointment by the current emperor when he steps down (unlikely) or upon the emperor's death by natural causes or assassination.
The emperor himself is ancient, powerful, cruel, and brilliant, in the finest Fu Manchu tradition. He has dozens of wives and concubines, and even more descendants. Beyond this, its pretty open - whether he is a warrior or a mage, his history, and his crimes are undetailed. His curse is clear - he will never have an heir that satisfies him, no matter how long he lives or how many he sires.
That's all of the material I've found thus far. There's a lot of vagueness and some are just ideas, but it should be good enough to look at and get ideas from.
Chris: Yep. I always felt Daglan deserves a second chance, using Daglan Daegon as the lord. I had a back-story I worked on tieing the Order of the Guardians into the domain and its lord.
I suppose that could be, though being the bitter burnout I am, I can't help but wonder if she didn't succumb to the "Good is Boring" mindset that seems to afflict so many authors. S and the twins should have been counterpoints; that they ended up apparently heading in the same direction is just disappointing. For the record, I consciously designed the twins so that if some random NPC met them and somehow learned that one of them was a werewolf, Laurie would be the obvious candidate: she's headstrong, eager for action, and chafes at authority, whereas Gennifer was the quieter, more sensitive, more insightful sister.
The way I portrayed them in VRA (and explicitly spelled out in a later outline or two), Laurie enjoys the thrill of the hunt. While still pure at heart, she gets her thrills from the destruction of evil. Her portrayal used a lot of "action" verbs. Gennifer was to be the more sensitive and insightful of the two; her main goal was with protecting innocents from harm. Her protrayal was to include a lot of concern into the deeper, lasting, emotional effects of evil on its victims. (Of course, these differences were just a matter of degree; I remember putting something in an outline to the effect that the twins had likely had identical educations -- same tutors, same time, same room -- so their writing styles would naturally end up fairly alike.)
In a sense, I could say that Laurie modeled herself on Uncle George, while Gennifer modeled herself on Uncle Rudolf -- neither one of them cold, calculating, and mercenary like S. I think that portrayal was pretty clear in VRA, which, in between the lines, is a heartfelt plea from both sisters to their uncle George to come back from the spiritual abyss. For me, it was a personal shame to see what was intended to be a source of light in Ravenloft essentially being smothered.
Van Richten's Guide to the Mists has several flaws, but I'll just discuss the big one(s). Lesser problems can be discussed later. The central problem is this.... Van Richten's Guide to the Mists is an ill-advised product that presents ideas already present in the setting in a oblivious and clumsy manner, and exhibits a lack of understanding of several central design tenets of Ravenloft. This central problem is reflected throughout the text. For instance, it has always been one of the central tenets of Ravenloft design that you do not define the Dark Powers, ever. Yet, VRGttM clearly equates the Mists with the Dark Powers, and further portrays the Mists as sentient and malevolent. Defining an area that is supposed to be ambiguous and up to individual DMs to determine is not a good idea.
Then consider the Fugued, an ostensibly new mechanic and monster type. But the Fugued do nothing that can not be duplicated by a few simple Mist-themed powers check failures. Why re-invent the wheel? Later we have feats the allow PCs control over the Mists. Yet the previous design paradigm was that control over the Mists was very rare, limited to Vistani, anchorites, and a handful of darklord created spells. Again there is a lack of understanding of Ravenloft's basic design philosophy.
Oubliettes are a horrible idea that ignores one of the fundamental ideas behind Ravenloft's cosmology. Every place in the Mists is a domain. Every domain has a darklord. No exceptions. Further, oubliettes are merely a badly broken recapitulation of pocket domains. Again, VRGttM reinvents the wheel - and does it poorly. We can *again* see a lack of attention to and understanding of the setting throughout much of the latter portion of the text. In Ravenloft Gazetteer Vol. 2, Salizarr is comfortably located in Il Aluk as a ghoul. Yet here he is, a bizarre Mist-tainted adversary of Gennifer and Laurie Weathermay-Foxgrove with his name spelled incorrectly to boot.
In the introduction to the DM's material, the idea of Mist creatures as Bogeymen is expounded at great length. But this very topic had just been addressed, and in considerably better form in the Ravenloft publication immediately proceeding Van Richten's Guide to the Mists, Dark Tales & Disturbing Legends. This is exactly the kind of sloppy, half-assed editting that resulted in two wildly different versions of Barovia appearing in the back-to-back releases Ravenloft Gazetteer Vol. 1 and Champions of Darkness.
Lastly, Van Richten's Guide to the Mists reveals too much, too fast. Laurie and Gennifer are far more experienced and competent than they have any right to be, even if they are devoting every waking moment to monster hunting. Additionally, the set-piece revelation of Richten Haus is flatly un-necessary; the revelant adventure was laid to rest in 2nd edition and left the final ending up to the individual DM to decide based on the needs of their campaign. Short of a Time of Unparalleled Darkness mega-adventure/campaign supplement or a conclusion to the Weathermay-Foxgrove's writing and adventuring, the final fate of Richten Haus and Rudolph Van Richten just didn't need to be addressed.
In short, Van Richten's Guide to the Mists was an ill-advised and un-necessary product that showcased both the fundamentally lack of understanding or respect for the philosophies and history that had gone into Ravenloft's design over the years and the poor state of editting and quality-control that marked much of 3.0/3.5 Ravenloft.
As a note, had we been able to write Van Richten's Guide to Eldritch Horrors (which would have been about illithids and their fleshcrafted spawn), the "hook" would have been presenting this Lovecraftian horror in a Gothic context. (There was little to no point in doing a simple rehash of the Illithiad or Lords of Madness.) Because it's true, beyond the surface conventions Gothic and Lovecraftian horror as inherently thematically incompatible.
Each of Van Richten's foes presented a different thematic/moral threat -- a different take on evil. Werebeasts represented our darkest natures unleashed; Created was about the hubristic need to control our surroundings. Shadow Fey morality was skewed by their lack of mortality. Fiends were ultimate evil, interested in nothing more and nothing less than spiritual destruction for its own sake.
The underlying thematic threat of Bluetspur's inhabitants would be the threat of transforming the cosmos from Gothic Horror to Lovecraftian Horror. In other words, that the true threat of the illithids was the destruction of morality itself -- that, in a cosmos where the illithid way of life rules supreme, all that we know as Good and Evil would be stripped away, replaced by an utterly alien morality -- one into which mankind may not even figure. A cosmic paradigm shift, if you will. In other words, better the devil you know than the thing you can never understand.
Rotipher: Really? I'm glad to hear you say that, John: it's good to know that the conceptual issues between Gothic and Lovecraftian horror would have been dealt with. In a way, Lovecraft's writing was a conscious rebellion against Gothic sentimentality -- not to mention, I suspect, its religious overtones; being a die-hard atheist in 1920s New England couldn't always have been easy for HPL, and depicting tentacled aliens as 'gods' may have been his act of "spiritual anarchism" -- so it wouldn't have felt right not to examine that disparity in such a book.
I'd think there could be a more personal aspect of that contrast between Gothic and Lovecraftian world-views, as well, that might've rung truer in Ravenloft than in other horror-settings: in the Land of Mists, there actually is another side to reality, that mortal men are blind to -- the side in which the world is a contrived construct, that serves the unsympathetic purposes of Powers outside human experience -- and the realization that this "darker reality" exists could, in some ways, draw parallels to the sort of cosmic culture-shock that Lovecraft's indifferent universe was designed to evoke. Facing off with eldritch beings that view reality so differently, in a world where some of these creatures' beliefs (like the absence of intervention or consistent guidance by [human-conceived] deities) are actually and perhaps even demonstrably true, could be grounds for loss of faith, hope, and/or mental stability by individual PCs, on a level more psychological than cosmic.
To quote "Dog Soldiers": "Those things out there are real. And if they're real, what else is real...?" Not, in this case, mere werewolves (which PCs in any decent Ravenloft game consider a comparatively-mundane part of their world), but forces vastly more alien and incomprehensible and disturbing. The fantasy-aspect of D&D tends to water down the "This can't be happening!" factor so typical of post-Lovecraft horror fiction, but aberrations' warped world-view -- and the validity which the constructed nature of the game-setting could appear to grant it, if properly introduced -- could help bring it back into the game.
She's cold and arrogant, with no time for stupidity or social niceties. She seems to have turned into a borderline alcoholic, which was I think unintentional and moderately amusing. Despite all this, she is quite good at getting people to talk to her. She's driven by curiosity/lust for knowledge. Does this sound like anyone we know yet?
She is the illegitimate daughter of a Darkonese nobleman (erm, that is, the people who raised her are Darkonese nobles--so who is her real father? Go on, it's not that hard). She tried to get in to the Fraternity of Shadows but, being a woman, they wouldn't let her in. For some reason, Azalin is interested in her and holds high hopes for her progress around the Core. This quest (which, knowing Azalin as we do, can only involve an escape attempt from Ravenloft) somehow involves the Gentleman Caller and his children and various dukkars and Vistani outcasts, including the Tribe of Hyskosa who are dedicated to thwarting Azalin's schemes.
For what it's worth, I see the Gentleman Caller's place in Ravenloft as a trap to get Isolde stuck there, and having achieved that but failed to destroy her entirely, he now wants to get the hell out. So that could give you more a clue as to what Azalin plans. Or it may be a red herring. Plus, Azalin gave her a bracelet that somehow protects her (or rather, her mission). After being killed in Verbrek, she woke up some time later in Valachan in a house that had been recently "cleared" by the Kargat. think this relates to Roots of Evil or From the Shadows if anyone wants to go try to work out what's actually going on.
Finally, in terms of projects that never saw the light of day, the very last book that was discussed before the line folded (at least with me) was Lands of Nightmare. It was going to be a Gazetteer for 13 Pocket Domains, narrated by Dr. Ilhousen for his new born child as a monster hunter's guide and memoir should anything happen to him. Dr. Ilhousen essentially went around describing the lands he saw in people's dreams. But that never got beyond the bare concept stage; I don't think the developers even picked out authors to do it.
John W MangrumAs a note of historical trivia:
A couple of years ago, shortly after Ravenloft ceased publication under Arthaus, Andrew Wyatt suggested the Kargatane create our own version of the core books, just for our own private gaming purposes. Now, obviously, we never presented this for publication; so don't think this is a "could've been" like our original concept for SotDR.
At any rate, we never progressed very far, with only the monster book receiving any real work. But here's the basic outline of what a "director's cut" of the setting would look like, had the Kargatane been written a blank check and a good deal of hindsight:
First off, Ravenloft would have been presented in three volumes:
Lands of Mist: Ravenloft Player's Companion
Chapter I: The Gothic Hero
Character Concept Homeland Sidebar: Outlanders Cultural Level Religion
Chapter II: Races of Ravenloft
Chapter III: Character Classes
Chapter V: Skills
Chapter VI: Feats
Chapter IV: Prestige Classes
Chapter VII: Equipment
Chapter VIII: Ways of the World
Chapter IX: The Land of Mists
Powers of Darkness: Ravenloft Dungeon Master's Companion
Chapter I: The Hidden Ways
Chapter II: Other Realities
Chapter III: The Unseen World
Chapter IV: Secret Societies
Chapter V: Who’s Doomed
Chapter VI: The Arcane and Profane
Chapter VII: Dread Possibilities
Shadows of Dread: Creatures of Ravenloft
Chapter I: Children of the Night
Chapter II: Foes of Van Richten: Vampires
Chapter III: Foes of Van Richten: Ghosts
Chapter IV: Foes of Van Richten: Liches
Chapter V: Foes of Van Richten: Werebeasts
Chapter VI: Foes of Van Richten: The Created
Chapter VII: Foes of Van Richten: The Ancient Dead
Chapter VIII: Foes of Van Richten: Fiends
Chapter IX: Foes of Van Richten: The Vistani
Chapter X: Foes of Van Richten: Witches
Chapter XI: Foes of Van Richten: The Walking Dead
Chapter XIII: Foes of Van Richten: The Fey
Chapter XIV: Foes of Van Richten: Scaly Devils of the Deep
Chapter XV: Foes of Van Richten: Eldritch Horrors
Appendix I: Animals
Appendix II: Vermin
Appendix III: Grafts and Symbionts
Appendix XIII: Monster Conversions
Back to The Parlor
Please send your articles to email@example.com
Back to Ravenloft