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Monster Party Book 2 Commentary 
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Evil Genius
Evil Genius

Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 11:30 am
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Post Monster Party Book 2 Commentary
Author's notes Chapter one: As always here's where I will post my thoughts on each chapter and be accepting feedback.

Anyway, sorry for having this opening chapter be so short, the next chapter should be of a more normal length. I just wanted to have things end on the most dramatic/ appropriate moment.

For those who were paying close attention, yes our protagonists started out this story playing the “real life” version of Red Dragon Inn, another excellent party game that I can't recommend highly enough if your friends understand that the Pixie gets it first right out of the gate.

Also as you may have noticed, given my eternal refrain of there is no continuity, THERE IS ONLY THE MISTS I'm starting out this chapter with a refresher on how the characters look to most ordinary people of the Mists. If you find this helpful that's well and good if you find it unnecessary repeating of what we already know, then let me know and I'll work to not include it in any future books.

Sat Nov 15, 2014 6:38 am
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 11:30 am
Posts: 634
Post Re: Monster Party Book 2 Commentary
AN Chapter Two: Well that was at least a little bit longer than chapter one.

The monster they run into in this chapter is indeed named Yeneskyy (don't blame me) it's basically a white version of a cloaker, which is a monster that looks like a black cloak.

It also has this to say about their moans...

“The cloaker can also emit a special subsonic moan of increasing intensities. Although this power is blocked by stone or other dense materials, it can be very effective in an open chamber. Cloakers may not moan and bite during the same round. A cloaker may emit one of four types of moan each round. The first intensity of moaning causes unease and numbs the minds of those within 80 feet of the cloaker. The immediate effect of this moan is to cause a -2 penalty to the victims’ attack and damage rolls against the cloaker. Further, any creature that is forced to listen to the moan for six consecutive rounds is temporarily forced into a trance that renders it unable to attack or defend itself as long as the moaning continues. “

Wow I'm used to D&D having save or screwed, but that one doesn't even give you save! Of course the key word there is “causes unease and numbs the minds.” Mirri being a vampire, thus being undead is (get used to seeing this in the author's comments as frequently as I mention the thing about poisons) completely immune to all mind affecting abilities that aren't designed with undead expressly in mind (basically turn/rebuke undead and probably a handful of necromancy spells out there designed to hold/control undead).

So yeah, there's no reason at all why the cloaker's moan should affect Mirri, though she still decided to initially freeze like the others and “play dead” (easy to do when you don't have to breath) to see what came to try and take advantage of the group and then, well you saw what happened.

Also technically the language they speak in Vorostokov is “Vos” or some language that should be unique to this domain/not show up anywhere else in Ravenloft. That said, I will bring up “Knight of the Black Rose” in which Lord Soth is taken from Krynn to Ravenloft, and there is a distinct lack of him having trouble figuring out the local language. Since I don't recall Death Knights having an innate ability to comprehend languages/speak some universal language, I'm just calling it that Balok is also the “common” that everyone outside Ravenloft proper speaks by some cosmic coincidence.

Also our protagonists can be assumed to at least speak passably every major language in the demi-plane, because “My horse cart is full of eels” is only funny once.

Last edited by jamesfirecat on Wed Dec 17, 2014 11:20 am, edited 1 time in total.

Mon Dec 01, 2014 8:15 pm
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 11:30 am
Posts: 634
Post Re: Monster Party Book 2 Commentary
AN Chapter Three: When Alex talks about "White Mouth" he's actually referencing the disease we'd call rabies. A disease known for being passed by animal bites, and ends up causing increased aggression in those who come down with it, so the comparison to lycanthropy isn't completely uncalled for...

As of this chapter I'm officially calling it, having read the Van Richten's Arsenal (Vol 1 though there's also only one volume out at the moment) James has taken the “Smitten” feat targeting Mirri.

For those wondering “Smitten” works like this.

Smitten [General]

You are truly and deeply in love, in the purest storybook sense. Your love is not necessarily requited, but acts as a source of strength and purpose, for you would cross oceans and move mountains to protect your beloved.

Benefit: Select a humanoid creature, or any creature that at least appears humanoid. That individual is your beloved. When your beloved is within your line of sight you receive a +1 moral bonus to attack rolls and saving throws. If your beloved is threatened by physical or magical harm, including mental attacks or control this bonus rises to +2. If your beloved is reduced to 0 hit points or below in your presence you must make a Horror save (DC 20). If your beloved dies or is revealed to be a supernatural creature (such as a lycanthrope or vampire), you must make a Madness save (DC 20)
Special: You cannot take this feat more than once, even if your beloved dies. This feat has no benefit after your beloved dies, and cannot be replaced with another feat.

The only addition I'd make is that in James and Mirri's case the bit about being revealed as a supernatural creature doesn't count since he knew she was a vampire when he took the feat and was cool with it, (the fact that he's not exactly a normal human either probably helped).

Also some of you may notice a contradiction between Alex's "No creature can be more evil by nature than one that sets out to do as much evil as possible on purpose." and what James had to say on the subject of no one setting out to do/be evil in the last book. This is intentional/reflects each characters own view of how they see the world, and I won't say who is right is wrong on the issue.

Oh yes the name of the monsters involved in this story has been changed slightly for reasons I will explain later, good for you if you noticed.

Thu Dec 11, 2014 7:27 pm
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 11:30 am
Posts: 634
Post Re: Monster Party Book 2 Commentary
AN Chapter Four: Not much to say on this one, though if you are paying careful attention/know your song lyrics you might notice that a theme I'd manage to keep running through the first three chapters just come to an end.

Sometimes you have to take the long hanging fruit though, and the fact that Vorostokov is stuck in a Narnia like perma-winter made that lyric just too appropriate not to use.

Tue Dec 30, 2014 8:39 pm
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 11:30 am
Posts: 634
Post Re: Monster Party Book 2 Commentary
AN Chapter Five: Not sure if I had Alex and friends tip their respective hats with how this chapter /the fight scene turned out, I tried to make it as reasonably believable as possible.

Also, funny story, while reviewing this chapter it I realized that I'd made an error in the "which NPC knows what" area of dialogue all things considered. Then I looked it again and realized while it was an error it wasn't that kind of error and decided to keep it as a bit of serendipity. Let me know if you spot it!

Sat Jan 03, 2015 6:21 am
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 11:30 am
Posts: 634
Post Re: Monster Party Book 2 Commentary
AN Chapter Six: The Arayashka (once again don't blame me that is what they are called in the book!) or Snow Wraith's are depicted at more or less the power level from the book. They're not exactly mindless undead (they've got intelligence between 8-10 which is a bit below and right up to human norm) but they're extremely set in their ways.

They exist to drain the heat from the living, and that makes them really ineffective at fighting other undead, doubly so for ones like vampires who have DR cold on top of their normal fast healing and immunity to the strength damage that their touch would normally cause (makes sense since the str damage in this case is a representation of the body growing numb with coldness that doesn't really happen to vampires.)

So in short, the most they could hope for would be to cause Mirri to flee for about half a minute if she fails her will save, at which point she walks right back and returns to kicking them apart. So yes I didn't just cut the battle because it was funny I cut it because it was needlessly one sided, this is why unless everyone is doing it you don't let your players use vampire PCs in D&D. On the other hand Ravenloft is such a dangerous setting that Alexander wants to have someone like Mirri in the group especially because she's able to waltz through s**t like this, and you can look back at those Yeneskyy back in chapter two for another example.

Anyway, undead hijinks aside, if there's one thing that is weird about this adventure (and there isn't just one thing) it's that there's a lot fewer people running around naked than you might expect. What's stated in the book is that after being defeated in Torgov he turns into a wolf and runs back to Vorostokov, and then leads a bunch of of his boyarsky (who as you might now have realized are all werewolves who he has infected) to Kirinova and has them attack in wolf form (being infected werewolves they get no special abilities in human shape beyond some minor increased wisdom) giving them Damage Reduction insuring they're able to easily run wild over a bunch of peasants.

However by all rights, when he reveals himself to the PCs after doing this he should have nothing to wear having burst/shrunk out of his clothing when he first turned into a wolf. No matter how many werewolves an evil villain may have at their beck and call, no one is going to take them seriously if they try to threaten the party without having any clothes on.

So yeah, I can only assume that as part of his Darklord powers Gregor automatically gets the same sort of enchantment that James has on his clothing which makes it so that whenever he transforms his outfit will meld with his body rather than him ripping through or slipping out of him. That way he's able to dramatically reveal himself without needing to worry about the unintentional humor of him being nearly naked. Anyway enjoy the cliffhanger!

Thu Jan 15, 2015 7:41 am
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 11:30 am
Posts: 634
Post Re: Monster Party Book 2 Commentary
Author's Notes Chapter Seven: Florence is taking advantage of the fact that she knows all the various nasty plants that exist in the Ravenloft setting, in this case, she turned into Crawling Ivy, which is both intelligent and not evil so there's no reason that she couldn't turn into it. It's got horrible stats, but it barely even uses them to attack. Instead, it's main method of attack is a special ability (well an exceptional ability so Florence would have access to it via wildshape) that's identical to entangle with a DC 15 Reflex Save. If you fail the reflex save and can't get free then bad stuff starts happening (the ivy's leaves start sucking your blood for D3 constitution damage a turn).

Florence being a druid with natural spell, isn't bothering to use the plant's ability and is instead actually casting the spell entangle which means the wolves get hit by a much higher DC to escape the spell.

Also it's entirely possible she used third level spell Snare to set up traps, and then once someone gets hit by one of those they have to make a DC23 strength or DC23 escape artist to get free. So long as they haven't won free they count as being entangled, which in this case I'm sure means that they also count as being open to the Crawling Ivy blood drain attack/ability.

These are infected werewolves so escape artist is right out. If they go for strength check, average infected werewolf is strength 15 or +2... they need to have at least a +4 bonus to escape on anything other than a natural 20 (at +4 strength they need a 19 or 20). So yeah, there is a reason why they get caught and then Florence con/blood drains them to death.

Devi is using the first level spell “Pass Without Trace” in order to avoid the werewolves because for an hour per level after casting it becomes literally impossible to track someone without magic. Werewolves are magic, but they don't have any magical tracking skills so they're left with no way at all to try and follow her.

Also I may be playing a bit hard and loose with Gregor's followers in this chapter. In theory, they shouldn't be any smarter than normal wolves (or for a certainty they should be as much slave to their instincts as normal wolves) but it’s no fun/not interesting for the reader if their wolf brains keep them from being able to properly understand exactly what they are seeing/what is being done to them, how screwed they end up being thanks to things like Mirri tricking them into the middle of a snowstorm.

Mirri as always do1es not have any actual ability to command undead, but she is quite capable of taking advantage of the Arayashka's inherent desire to drain the heat out of ANYTHING they run across that is above room temperature, and “room temperature” for them is -50 F or so. Werewolves have damage reduction 10/silver (15/silver in Ravenloft) and an old (3rd edition gets rid of the “very old” category) vampire like Mirri has DR 20/+2 to followed up by 0 cold resistance) so she can ignore 30 points of cold damage while the werewolves can only do it up to 15, so it only makes sense that she's able to withstand even colder temperature than the wolves. Also lycanthropes in Ravenloft by default do not have fast healing, but Mirri fast heals 6 (meaning she always gets back six points any turn her HP is below max but above zero) making her that much better at surviving low temperatures.

So yeah, what a surprise. Magically animated corpses are better at not being bothered by cold than those things that are still alive.

Wed Feb 04, 2015 10:07 pm
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 11:30 am
Posts: 634
Post Re: Monster Party Book 2 Commentary
AN Chapter Eight: Lets talk language again, in the original book the evil wolf pelt using lycanthropes are called Loup Du Noir (don't ask me why this domain is using Mordentish/French when for the most part it has a much more Slavic /Russian feel to it) which translates as "Black Wolves" which is a little on the nose given that the most obvious example of them is Gregor who turns into a wolf with Black Fur. I changed that to Wolf of the Night or something along those lines, because it's a bit more fanciful and it makes sense that they might have been called that in legends which predated Gregor's transformation even.

Thus, in the interest of trying to only include non English stuff when it looks cool/profound upon the page (see James' motto/battle cry in Latin) Alexander identifies himself in this chapter as Wolf of the Light. If I'd kept the original version of the shapeshifter name he'd probably identify himself a Loup Du Argent (wolf of silver as opposed to wolf of black) but at that point on one level we're only talking about hair/fur color so I much prefer the somewhat more philosophical sounding nature of day and night, light and darkness.

The way that the wolves are portrayed in this chapter (the dominance ritual is as close to correct as I could make it) is much closer to the True Neutral, Int 2 (Int 3 is the lowest a PC can go but 10 is the human norm) animals that part of me argues that any infected werewolves should also be portrayed as. On the other hand while an infected werewolf should be Int 2 they're also chaotic evil, (though I'd argue that really wolves are a pack animal, werewolves should honestly be Lawful Evil the same way that wererats are) and they'd be directly under Gregor's control so... well I played it by ear.

Unlike with rats in Richemulot there very much are wolves in Vorostokov that are not under Gregor's power, and while they may only be Int 2, your average wolf is has a wisdom score of 12 (once again human norm 10) so they quickly realize that Alex and Mikhail are both "off" /not normal wolves, (werewolves smell funny to normal wolves, and the aura of invincibility they frequently carry themselves with makes normal wolves fairly quickly fall in line) and realize that it's better to have them friends/leaders then foes.

Also I will admit that in this book we go much deeper into Gregor's back story than we went into Markov's in the last one. What can I say, Markovia used to be part of the Core, and given that Markov used to be an ordinary butcher who got chased out of his old village it's not like people (especially adventurers) wouldn't already know his background. No Ravenloft story where a Darklord isn't victorious is complete without making it obvious why his failures have finally come home to roost so knowing their background is important both for the obvious reason of why the heroes want to know it (know yourself, know thy enemies) and why the audience wants to know to make the story feel more climactic.

Also the being brought back to life thing, back in the Darklords book where Gregor Zolnik first showed up, it expressly says that if Antonina, Elena or Natalya is killed, so long as Gregor is still the Darklord they will automatically be resurrected, so I'm not sure how Gregor managed to kill his mother and make it stick in this particular . I decided that the most reasonable and interesting answer is that only if a Zolnik kills a Zolnik will it be sure to stick, that explains Antonina staying dead, and also makes Mikhail just that much more important to the unfolding story.

As a final note, Alexander talks about there being four kinds of lycanthropes, this definitions are more or less in line with Rudolph Van Richten's Natural Lycanthropes (James) born to at least one parent of that nature, Pathologic Lycanthropes, also known as ordinary people who got bitten/scratched by another lycanthrope, and Maledictive Lycanthropes, which are people who became lycanthropes through curses/magic. Alexander further divides Maledictive Lycanthropes in much the same way that vampires are broken down, into "Dark Desires" and "Cursed" with Dark Desire Maledictive Lycanthropes having wanted to gain the power and Cursed Maledictive Lycanthropes having been transformed by external circumstances. Alexander is still not a werewolf himself, but a Cursed Maledictive Lycanthrope is the best/most accurate frame of reference he feels like giving Mikhail at the moment. (Maledictive Lycanthropes should in theory only have two aspects/forms, Alexander clearly has the full three of a Natural Lycanthrope if nothing else but he clearly does not have a Natural Lycanthropes near orgasmic transfiguration. If anyone was offended by that last comparison, well that's not the words they use but it certainly seems to read that way...)

Sat Mar 07, 2015 10:56 pm
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 11:30 am
Posts: 634
Post Re: Monster Party Book 2 Commentary
AN Chapter Nine: To start with "squinch" and every word derivative of it (squinched), is not a real word. I don't know of a proper English word for what I wanted to convey though (and I've got a pretty good vocabulary) so I decided to make up a word.

To get the proper effect of a "squinch" pull your head back a few inches, then shift your lips as far to the right as you possibly can, and open your mouth wide, hold for five to ten seconds, your eyes should assume the proper expression without any intentional effort.

Originally this chapter had a very different ending, well not "very very" but it involved our heroes managing to catch Gregor by surprise, and kill him in his sleep. Either way, you already know that him being killed as a human isn't anywhere close to the end of the story, but that first ending seemed to make things a bit too easy for our heroes, even if it allowed James to make some interesting points on the subject of how once you start screwing people over you have to spend the rest of your life living in fear that someone will return the favor.

Instead, let's talk some more about Mirri's feats. She took enhanced energy drain, and also drain life which adds your charisma modifier to the amount of hit points someone looses and you gain when you drain levels. Mirri is at least 20 CHA, so that means every negative level she bestows is 10 hit points lost and 10 gained for her, and she can give our two negative levels a round with a successful natural weapon/slam attack. In short, never get into a grappling contest with a vampire, if you start to loose you'll be level drained into oblivion, if you start to win they'll just turn to smoke/mist.

Gregor's longsword can cast the spell "heal" which will restore just about all of your lost hit points, the problem is that he's not really dieing to the hit point loss, he's dieing to the negative levels, and while a heal spell cast on a vampire will f**k them up right and proper that's not an option he can make use of at the moment. In the book, it directly say that the sword can only heal its wielder, probably because 99 times out of 100 if you don't care about anyone else, a sword that lets you cast heal just on yourself is just as good as a sword that lets you cast heal on anyone. In this one particular case though, casting it on yourself might recover the hit points you lost to the negative levels, but not the levels themselves, and when you get enough of them to equal or surpass your actual level, you die.

Also as written, the fight in the book with Gregor as a human makes no sense. I'll comment on why that is more when I do my final notes on this particular story/book though.

To get back onto the topic of negative levels, I'm not sure if there is a feat that lets you give out more of them than you normally would, but I know that there are some Salient Abilities in Van Richten's Guide to Vampires that does so. Mirri is way too young (200-300 years too young) to pick up any of those, but if she did, and the dice gods were kind to her she could possibly energy drain FIVE levels a round, and drain at least 50(!) hit points just by touching you, before you even bother to look into how hard she managed to hit you..

Energy Drain in D&D is a very silly part of a very silly system, especially given that it basically comes down to, either make sure to use death ward/soulfire all the time and it can't affect you at all, or oh god it is going to screw your character over so so badly.

Not that James' "build" is any less silly as it revolves around the fact that when a monk, brawler or similar unarmed specialization class uses flurry of blows they are allowed to do all their BAB (base attack bonus) earned attacks THEN as a secondary attack at -5 and half strength bonus for damage (well James took multi-attack and improved multi-attack so make that just just half strength bonus for damage) make "one" attack with all your natural weapons.

Flurry of blows for three attacks, then Claw, Claw, Bite, (and assuming he's grappled his foe or is using pounce in cat or hybrid form) Rake, Rake. The above also presupposes he isn't doing anything silly with his Warshaper levels to make his tail into something prehensile and dangerous,

Of course both of the above builds are never going to work in anything but a low magic setting where you basically have to be a BBEG (Big Bad Evil Guy) to take levels in Wizard, Sorcerer, Cleric or (Gods Forbid) Druid, otherwise else they'll just get wished into the cornfield by some manner of save or screwed spell because that is how you play high level D&D, and by high level, I mean level 7 or so and up if you try hard enough.

Moving on, yes I know James and Mirri got a lot of focus last book so it is a bit unfair that they get to have so much of this chapter to themselves, but it is not my fault that this section of the adventure fell right into their wheelhouse.

Like any build in D&D James' and Mirri's can be made better via magical items, but they can wreak much more havoc with their bare hands /paws than Cal or Devi, and inside a stone castle/hall is not Florence's best environment to pick a fight in.

Well that, and if it came to an issue of who winds up playing Solid Snake around a castle crawling with bad guys, the girl who can all but literally turn into a puff of smoke and the guy who can look as cute and non threatening as a slightly oversized housecat win hands down over any sort of traditional D&D character. When you run into that kind of job, it's time to send in Vamp and Revolver Housecat.

Sorry, I just couldn't logically think of a reason for Florence, Devi or Cal to take the risk of going inside Gregor's Hall unless James and Mirri found something they couldn't sneak past and reported back that it was time to for plan "damn the torpedoes full speed ahead!"

However, it is worth noting that they only really pulled it off with the help of one of the Cal's mixtures. The Oil of Silence is not a traditional D&D item, but as Silence is a second level spell and you should be able to make a potion or oil (difference is that you drink potions and they affect you, oils you spread on something and they affect it) out of any spell that is up to third level and has less than minute long casting time. Like I said before, silence is a second level spell and casting time is one standard action, so it meets both qualifications.

By the way, did you get the reference with the name of James' ancestor? If you do I'm very impressed...

Next Chapter we'll get to see Gregor Zolnik fight round two, this time it's Fursonal (get it, because he's a werewolf and I'm combining "fur" and "personal" and oh god that's a horrible joke why don't I just end this author's note while I still have some dig

Mon Mar 23, 2015 7:30 pm
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 11:30 am
Posts: 634
Post Re: Monster Party Book 2 Commentary
Author Notes: It's worth pointing out that if you look at the Adventure Book that this story is based on, it has the stats for Gregor and Mikhail Zolnik near the back. Gregor is stronger than Mikhail (Gregor has 16, Mikhail 13 with the "half divided" way that D&D stat work that means that Gregor is +3 Strength while Mikhail is only +1), Mikhail is a little more dexterous (Gregor has 14 versus Mikhail having 16 though given that it's strength not dex that matters for most of the stuff dealing with melee fighting that's not as useful as it could be) but Mikhail also has an edge in Constitution (Gregor has 15 Mikhail has 17), also known as the stat responsible for determining how punishment you can absorb before you go down in a fight (if you don't get one shotted by save or suck spells but that's why I write stories based on D&D rather than actually playing the game).

How long it takes to drown in D&D is also determined by how high your constitution score is.

Granted the rule is you can safely hold your breath for rounds = con score *2 then you need to start making a DC 10 + number of successful checks of this type you've made since you last were able to take a breath of actual air.

If you make the roll, you're fine for the next 6 seconds. If you fail, congratulations, set your character to zero hit points, they are now unconscious and will drown in one minute (10 rounds) unless they get help.

That's a little silly, since creature size should really play a part of it also (granted going up in size tends to give you a constitution bonus) but yeah... Mikhail's strategy to play "drownball" with his father and see who wins first, that's a completely respectable tactic given their respective stat scores, doubly so if you start throwing in possible modifiers for how long you can hold your breath based on how prepared you were before you went into the water. Not sure if you guys would actually do that in a game you're GMing but it doesn't sound completely unreasonable to me.

Also, as I grew up with the Narnia books like I'd guess somewhere around 50-75% of the people reading this did, so help me but whatever their faults, they do have some lovely timeless imagery to them. Vorostokov is in a situation which is begging for someone to shamelessly rip off... I mean pay homage to C.S. Lewis' work.

So while it wasn't present in the adventure book, it is present here. That's why as things start to go south for Gregor, Vorostokov's temperature starts heading north. That'd be much more egregious if it wasn't for the fact that Ravenloft pretty much already runs on the principle of "what would be most dramatic" and given that the salt and wolfsbane mixture was supposed to effectively break Gregor's connection with the Dark Powers I feel completely justified in having the weather starting to get better bit by bit after it is applied.

Also yes I know the fate of Mikhail's brother was anti-climatic, I will discuss that soon enough in two chapters time, one more chapter for the epilogue and then an entire chapter based on my overall thoughts on this adventure and how I adapted, just like with the last book!

Mon Mar 23, 2015 7:40 pm
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 11:30 am
Posts: 634
Post Re: Monster Party Book 2 Commentary
AN Epilogue: Yes those characters are exactly who you thought they were. Yes that kicks continuity in the face and stomps it into the pavement if you try to make the timelines match properly (especially considering some stuff that will come later), but remember in Ravenloft there is no continuity there is only the Mists!

But if you're serious about that sort of thing pick your favorite excuse.

1)Hickman and Rice say that he never actually went to Ravenloft so Black Rose Blooms and everything related to it can be tossed out a window. So timeline/continuity is preserved unless Vlad Darkov is said to have fought in the war of the Lance I missed it.

2)If the Dark Powers want to open a portal to an earlier time in one of the world's they're connected to they damn well can do it, because what is a little time travel to beings who can keep gods from directly intervening in their realm?

3)I wanted to get Mirri's line in so badly I don't care about the situation fitting into established timelines.

Whoops did I actually say that aloud?

3) You're supposed to become a Darklord in Ravenloft shortly after you commit your act of Ultimate Darkness, as far as I can tell he got yanked into Ravenloft while he was sitting around doing nothing especially evil at the time (if nothing else the ghost he was "killing" had actually betrayed him unlike some other people I could name). If Ravenloft was going to treat him like they treat most Darklords he should have been taken to Sithicus right after he murdered his second wife in which case... continuity still doesn't line up unless his Blue General is from Sithicus. I give up!

For those who have no idea what any of the above means, the "him" is Lord Soth, a death knight from the World of Krynn/the Dragonlance series who some would argue got pulled into Ravenloft to be the Darklord of Sithicus, except that after the book where it happened was written a gigantic copyright battle happened and I'm not going to poke that particular anthill at the moment.

I was a huge fan of Dragonlance novels in high school (my interest in the series sort of petered out after War of Souls just because that felt like a natural end point.) and it just so happens that Krynn (the world those books take place on) is one of the minor contributing realities to the Ravenloft setting (as in super evil villains from Krynn occasionally become Darklords in Ravenloft). So yes, since they never assign what world Vorostokov should be returned to after Gregor's death I'm going with Krynn because it's one of the few world's relating to Ravenloft (I know next to nothing about Greyhawk) that I'm familiar with.

If you didn't figure it out yet, Alexander and friends just basically caught sight of the Dragonlance version of the Fellowship of the Ring. Probably a good thing it was only sight though, I'm willing to bet that if James Firecat and Tasslehoff Burrfoot got into a conversation the universe would explode from their sheer keetness. (Keet: Japanese term for an overly exuberant/enthusiastic young male character, comes form comparison to a parakeet) Well that or their companions would have to gag/murder them to get them stop talking.

They'd probably also both good naturedly walk away with half of the other's possessions without realizing it to, just so long as Tass doesn't try to borrow James' icon of Bastet.

James raises a good question though, it's been a while since I've read my Dragonlance, I'm honestly not sure if there actually are any werecreatures (or even vampires honestly) in Krynn (a trip to various googled sites says vampires and werewolves exist but are SUPER-DUPER RARE compared to Ravenloft).

Still, given that I heard that the Dark Powers warped an orc that was taken into Ravenloft into some sort of bizarre man ape thing (there are no orcs in Ravenloft) would creatures that exist in Ravenloft but not in other dimension be changed into something different temporarily just to create a "form you are more comfortable with" effect?

Speaking of things that are super-duper rare in some planes, there are enough Dragons to fight several wars based around them in Krynn, in Ravenloft... there was this one Shadow Dragon that Azalin used to work with, he's like the only one I can think of. Okay I know Bonemaw "exists" and Soth had a fight with a young red dragon to escape Strahd's keep, but I honestly can't think of any adventures that involve dragons (there's an imaginary one in Forgotten Terror but once again mark him down next to Bonemaw), probably because dragons tend to be a gigantic "Final Boss lives here, are you a bad enough dude?" sign and that's not how Ravenloft rolls. There's not really anything horrific about Dragons when you get right down to it. You're afraid of them because they're powerful, but that's about it they don't speak to the human condition in any particular way like werecreatures or vampires do

Could be a fun "weekend in heaven" side story (as opposed to the "weekend in hell" way many adventures work, characters from a world other than Ravenloft getting pulled into Ravenloft to go on one particular adventure then getting sent back to their home plane at the end of it. Dark of the Moon (the adventure this "book" was based on) is a perfect example) where our heroes end up on a different world where Alex's entire "I will create a group of monsters who even other monsters are afraid of" philosophy would be frowned upon by the occupants of a less hostile domains where such measures aren't considered necessary.

Oh also feel free to take another drink if you recognize the woman Mirri showed an interest in and what just what kind of a future she has to look forwards to. As always if I ever have Strahd think Mirri is a reincarnation of Tantayna (wrong hair color if nothing else, also totally wrong personality, she's supposed to be innocent and pure... crap James is a redhead who is shockingly pure and innocent for Ravenloft, what if he's a male reincarnation of her?) feel free to reach through the internet and beat me to death.

Stay tuned for one more post on this thread dealing with my thoughts on this adventure and how I adapted it. Also expect another side story to go up before long and after that the start of book three!

Sat Mar 28, 2015 2:11 pm
Evil Genius
Evil Genius

Joined: Sat Sep 06, 2014 11:30 am
Posts: 634
Post Re: Monster Party Book 2 Commentary
Monster Party Book 2/Dark Of the Moon analysis.

It's that time again folks, the time when I go through the adventure and talk about what I think of it, and how what I read impacted what I wrote!

To start with this adventure is not quite as much of a Weekend in Hell as Neither Man Nor Beast, both of them generally are, but there is one important difference.

In Man Nor Beast if the group rides Markov's boat into the Mists away from Markovia (and out of Ravenloft in general) they can get picked up by a ship from wherever and it will be as if the whole thing never happened minus whatever items, gold and exp they gained.

Dark of the Moon though... if this adventure is run as intended with level appropriate characters, unless the dice are super kind to your players, then it will end with everyone infected with pathological lycanthropy thanks to Gregor and his boyarsky.

If they're going back to a non-Ravenloft setting this isn't quite so bad since you've only had it for a short time and there are a bunch of different ways to deal with that in most settings. If they stay in Ravenloft though, well while you have successfully killed the Master Lycanthrope, you still to need to have a BUNCH of spells cast on you, and make a saving throw which you only get one shot at, and if you fail then you're a pathological lycanthrope FOREVER.

Actually there still is ONE way out of it.

You could take five levels of Moonchild (see Ravenloft Gazetteer IV (4)), and if haven't failed enough Dark Powers Checks along the way to become an NPC (or failed those will saves and had your alignment shift to something the DM won't let you play anymore) then BOOM now you're a NATURAL lycanthrope. Get that armor and your weapons upgraded/enchanted so they'll will fit your new hybrid form and prepare to enjoy that sweet sweet taste of 15/Silver DR!

Also Moonchild expressly says that your ECL doesn't change! I'm not sure if that covers the difference between being human and lycanthrope or infected and natural lycanthrope but either way, considering that you no longer have to worry about loosing control of your character at all the wrong moments Moonchild is super strong... if D&D was resolved by anything involving HP instead of fights actually being about getting one shotted by Save or Suck/Die spells. Hmm... sorry guys seem to have gotten a little off track here...

Anyway, suffice to say, if you run this adventure as part of a long term campaign in Ravenloft, you either need to have Gregor's death be one of those sparkily one time magic events where killing an evil wizard causes everyone they've cursed/transformed to change back to normal kind of things (see Jafar's defeat in Aladin (first or second movie) or Ursula from the Little Mermaid) which will wipe away the lycanthropy, or have something planned for how you're going to deal with this particular turn of events. If you don't, expect at least one of the players to ignore any more traditional plot hooks you dangle their way and instead start taking levels in Moonchild (and it's going to be pretty transparent what is going on if you don't let them, I mean it's not like the Gazetteers are some obscure hidden third party sourcebook that was never meant to apply to this setting, they have "RAVENLOFT" right there on the cover!), and remember it's very hard to run a proper Ravenloft game when your players planning on playing Werewolf the Apocalypse.

Wow, just got sidetracked again!

Anyway, yes I will freely admit this story probably featured the most involved NPC we're likely to see for a good long while, and I did change how Mikhail worked slightly, I'll get to that a little later though.

Also did you notice the chapter titles for this book? I am super-duper proud of them, do you know why?

Well like normal they are indeed all song lyrics.

The thing that is different is that with three exceptions (two of which I will defend to the death) they all hail from a song with "wolf"/"wolves" in the title.

Chapter One is Wolfbite by Owlcity.

Chapter Two is Werewolf Boyfriend by Fright Ranger.

Chapter Three is Will the Wolf Survive by Los Lobos

Chapter Four is one of two exceptions I will defend, being "In Like A Lion (Always Winter)" by Relient K because come on, I couldn't resist using a song about Narnia to describe Vorostokov which has a similar problem with a lack of seasonal rotation.

Chapter Five is from White Death by Sabaton, and this exception I'll admit I probably could have found something acceptable from a song with a more lupine theme, but the lyric fits the situation well enough so give me a break I get lazy every so often.

Chapter Six is Raised by Wolves a song by Falling In Reverse.

Chapter Seven is Wake the White Wolf by Miracle Of Sound.

Chapter Eight is Hungry Like the Wolf by Duran Duran.

Chapter Nine is Wolfpack by Sabaton.

Chapter Ten is Winter Wrap Up from My Little Pony. This exception I will also defend to the death on the grounds that it is hilarious in context, because Alexander and Mikhail must indeed "Wrap up Winter" in Vorostokov by killing Gregor Zolnik for good.

The Epilogue is from a song simply titled "Wolves" by Palisades which in keeping with the theme started by the first book, the Epilogue's song lyric also come from the same song as the book's over all lyric.

Speaking of those 11 chapters, some of you may notice that this "book" was a bit shorter than the first one. But if you look the adventure books themselves, Neither Man Nor Beast is 74 pages, Dark of the Moon is 68, how come 6 pages worth of book material translated into 5 chapters, especially when those 6 pages were in all honesty probably just more maps?

Well if you are curious, I can only plead that something about the chill of Vorostokov made everything seem more important and more rushed. In the first book, if you aren't being threatened by the locals, and you don't need to eat fresh non sentient meat, Markovia isn't a bad place to spend your time. The island has more or less has your standard tropical climate mixed in with a few in no way threatening tees that shouldn't be there. With that in mind it just seemed more appropriate to have the characters be able to spend time relaxing/doing things that were important to them but not necessarily important to the overall plot.

Also in Man Nor Beast I was able to create a few chapters from whole cloth just out of interesting interactions between the PCs and NPCs. The way James freaked out /didn't get along with the crew gave us chapter two, Mirri getting painted by Markov and Delphi showing off how she reacted to seeing James in hybrid form was chapter eight, 75% of chapter twelve was Alexander and Markov verbally toying with one another.

There was only one important friendly NPC in this story Mikhail (granted Man Nor Beast only had two but "Doctor Fran" spent a lot of time pretending to be one also), and due to his general personality/ the set up of the adventure, well it was not hard to do interesting things with him, it was just that the interesting things I did with him tended to be inspired by checking off moments from the story as having taken place/been taken care of. I'll give examples when appropriate.

Also if you were paying attention you can notice a few lines which showed up in the first book, expect to see them as running gags/arc words through Monster Party.

So with all that trivia out of the way lets start talking about what I wrote chronologically.

The adventure can begin just about anywhere, all that matters is the characters are somewhere, and they start getting haunted by tendrils of mists or engulfed by a cloud of it. Since there are no book long adventures that take place in Dementlieu (that I am aware of) I decided to have this story begin with our protagonists there. Dementlieu is probably the most "refined" (I'm speaking 'culturally', stuff like operas and art galleries, Larmodia is the most scientifically advanced when it comes to stuff like guns and watches) domain in the Core.

If I'm not sure if the Red Dragon Inn 'joke'/'reference' works as well as I thought it would, if it would have been better if I dragged it out longer (Mirri: Look deeply into my eyes, you want to raise. Cal: Phoenix thinks you should fold. Florence: My druidic staff detects disharmony!"), but I decided that as they say, brevity is the soul of wit in this case.

Mirri of course checks over the dead body first chance she gets looking for anything interesting. I wish Ravenloft/the Dark Powers weren't so schizophrenic about grave robbing and Dark Powers Checks. Almost everything else that causes a Dark Powers Check, it's comes with the ability to say "this is the person you are hurting when you do this" even if the person is "yourself" and we assume that practicing Necromancy or openly flaunting the rules of the faith you have sworn to follow is bad for the soul. Grave robbing, well who is hurt?

If you had nothing to do with the person's death (or if they were trying to kill you and you killed them in self defense) then it's not like leaving those rings/gold coins on their body to rot (or be taken by the "proper authorities" which more often then note equals the domain's darklord) is going to help anyone and its not like it is going to hurt anyone to take them. Yes, good faith efforts should be made to return important items to next of kin if they're family heirlooms or whatever, but to be perfectly honest, grave robbing (often without needing an actual grave or with one that has remained untouched for hundreds of years so it all evens out) is the foundation of the D&D adventure's life and economic system, or as Cal would say "First you shoot then you loot."

Mirri is going to be doing most of the group's grave robbing because it fits her personality to commit social taboos that others would shy away from, (sometimes simply for the chance to commit them) and do keep in mind my thoughts from the last book about how and why vampires don't get dark powers checks unless they do something REALLY nasty.

Moving on, a cloud of mist rolls in, taking the form of wolves in this case, which at least makes it slightly different/new compared to the normal clouds of mist shaped mist that take your characters to Ravenloft/a new domain in Ravenloft.

Speaking of domains, Vorostokov is what I believe to be called a "Island of Terror". Ignore the fact that it is completely landlocked, what matters is that, it exists, it is a physical location... but at the same time you're not able to physically enter or leave it unless the Mists want you to. In effect its boarder is always closed ("closing the boarder" being Ravenloft speak for the Darklord using their powers to make it so people can't get in/out due to some magical occurrence they control) and you probably couldn't even find the border to Vorostokov on most maps.

So yes Vorostokov is even more distant from the Core of Ravenloft (we'll have a book that takes place in the Core sooner or later, I promise) than Markovia was in the last one.

Once the weather sets in everyone but Mirri gets a helping hand from Florence casting Endure Elements on them. It's a first level spell that is basically "ignore normal adverse temperatures" and lasts for 24 hours, it won't keep you from getting scorched by a fireball or held in place by a chilling touch, but it will let you waltz around in the snow in noting more than lightish jacket or treck through the desert without issue.

The first real enemy that our heroes encounter is the Yeneskyy... and ironically they're probably the deadliest thing in this whole damn adventure. I mean a monster that can cause complete nervous system shutdown without giving you a save of any kind?

If you don't know what to look for, or cut the players some kind of slack (some of them may survive since the monsters can't sing and eat people at the same time and the book says eventually both of them will start to eat rather than sing) but I would really consider giving your players a will save. That or make a much bigger show of constantly rolling dice behind your screen while the things sing, so that the PCs realize something serious is going down and they need to do something about it NOW before it gets worse. Hopefully your group will contain a bard like Tandem the Spoony who can use counter-song to save them.

Although it's not explicitly stated in the story, what happens that night is Alexander takes Florence some place private/out of the way, then taking off his eyepatch to use his hybrid shape's greater size (not to mention fur) to help keep her warm.

Moving onto the third chapter Gregor catches sight of our heroes for the first time. He attacks them with a force of werewolves and ordinary wolves to get their measure, though the vanguard of his force is ordinary wolves.

It's not directly stated in the book, but I decided to give Gregor a personality towards combat that can be best summed up in the lines of Magneto from the third X-Men movie (assuming you believe said movie exists) "In chess, the pawns go first." Why should he attack personally or send in his boyarsky when he could just drive ordinary wolves forward to do the job?

The only werewolf who decides to take part in the fight manages to land a hit on Mirri, but you can't make a vampire into a lycanthrope because, well they're already dead obviously. On the other hand there are examples of lycanthropic creatures turning into vampires (see Urik von Kharkov) but that is neither here nor there at the moment.

During this fight we actually get a clue/hint with what is to come in the fight against Gregor. In a three dimensional field of battle (flying through the air during a jump, or swimming underwater) the hybrid forms offer much greater range of motion than an animal one.

In the adventure book the boyarsky transform with the new moon or whenever Gregor generally commands them to, they don't need to wear wolf pelts. However, I decided that while they can transform without them if Gregor wants them to, their normal 'trigger' (event that causes a pathological lycanthrope to transform) should be putting on a wolf pelt, because I wanted to establish something of a theme for this adventure with the people putting on wolf pelts to transform and it wouldn't resonate as strongly if only the Zolnik's did it. Also Alexander would have been able to give us an interesting speech about how he views the world.

If you're going to tell a story about contrast between the heroes and the villains, then you need to establish what (even if not "who") the villains are with time for the heroes to explain how and why they oppose them.

In this particular case, it quickly becomes very clear that Alexander does not like Maledictive Lycanthropes who brought the curse upon themselves intentionally for the power it grants. His reasoning is fairly simple, and it will start to make more and more sense (with any luck) as we slowly unveil his back story for the you throughout still further books to come.

With he fight done with we meet Mikhail Zolnik. I'm not sure if I pulled it off but I was trying to riff on the famous "what does god need with a starship" with his "what does a werewolf need with a campfire" question, if it didn't come across properly, that's fine since it is a perfectly reasonable question to ask in his situation and shouldn't seem out of place even if you don't get the pop culture reference.

Now, surprise surprise, I changed how Mikhail Zolnik works from the adventure book.

In the book he's a Maledictive Lycanthrope by way of the curse his father took being passed down to him, with the exception that Gregor needs his black wolf pelt in particular to transform, and Mikhail can do it with any wolf pelt.

I decided that because I wanted this story to be at least a quarter Mikhail's he should get a buff (a buff that also plays into him getting a more clear and definitive ending). Thus I wrote him as a natural lycanthrope who had the "token" of a wolf pelt.

A "token" is different from a "trigger", for more or less the reasons Alexander mentioned in story. A trigger will frequently cause a pathological lycanthrope to transform against their will, a token is an item that must be present for a natural lycanthrope to transform, but should not cause unwanted transformations on their own. Token's are a flaw in the Natural Lycanthrope's shape changing abilities and not something every Natural Lycanthrope has (James doesn't have a token he is completely free with his transformations) but Alexander's eyepatch/the eye under it being exposed to light are in effect a token for him as I have previously mentioned.

I suppose I may have cheated a little in that I didn't give Mikhail access to the powers that he should have in theory had even before he transformed early on in the story (as James is happy to explain, even in human form he has a better sense of smell than normal people, and is much more resilient to harm) but a narrative explanation is simple enough...

Ahem... when Natural Lycanthropes are young, they're able to eat vegetables, grains, and dairy products like normal demi-humans of their race. We know this because some Natural Lycanthropes who spend most of their lives in animal form will leave their children (who are often also Natural Lycanthropes) near human civilization to be adopted and raised. If these children required an all meat diet as opposed to mother's milk then they'd all be sure to die off, but Van Richten's writing makes it quite clear that they don't.

So I'll argue that the powers that mark a Natural Lycanthrope in human form don't truly kick in until the same time as the cost they pay for those powers (the need to eat nothing but uncooked preferably very fresh meat) does. Normally this will happen in the teenage years as a sort of magical puberty (when James talks about "growing hair in places where there was no hair before" he isn't kidding!).

Because Mikhail has a token however, until he bothered to put on a wolf pelt (or have one forced on him in this case) he never transformed and never unlocked/activated his lycanthropic side, and was living life as a normal human.

So with that discussion of Mikhail covered I've said all that I really feel the need to say about chapters three and four since chapter four is mostly walking, talking to Mikhail, getting to know largely unimportant NPCs who won't be joining the group.

If you were running the adventure you might wan to give your PCs a chance to spend the night preparing for the battle to come by seeing what sorts of traps/strategies they can set up in advance to help defeat Gregor and his boyarsky when they arrive, and let things play out as needed, IE reward them with an easier fight/more EXP if they come up with some good plans.

This brings us to chapter five.

I didn't really intend to have this chapter be told all/mostly from Mikhail's point of view it just sort of happened. He is after all the one with the most to say to/talk about with Gregor, and I wanted to get a chance to start painting a fuller picture of what the Boyar of Vorostokov is like.

Gregor established himself with about 50% chance of being the darklord back in chapter four (because in Ravenloft more often then not whoever holds the most political power in the Domain is also the darklord, the only exceptions to this rule I can think of are Mordent, (where the darklord is a ghost and mostly just hangs around one particular house), Nova Vassa (where the darklord still has control over/has the corrupt Prince running things in his pocket already effectively), Shadow Rift (where the darklord not having nearly any power to effect thing is sort of the point), Tepest, (where the Hags are clearly having more fun being in opposition to the Inquisition than bothering to actually make the effort to run anything, IE effectively the same argument Mirri put forward in the last book about being a monster against being a queen), Invidia (where the darklord used to have political power before her son took it away from her but couldn't quite kill her) and Lamordia (and Adam not being able to interact with people in any capacity for extended periods of time is sort of the point of his character)) but after his conversation with Mikhail there should be clear beyond a shadow of a doubt that he Vorostokov's darklord.

Mikhail doesn't have the right frame of reference to realize it of course, since if you spent your entire life in only one domain and have no stories from other domains, you wouldn't realize that darklords are a somewhat universal thing in Ravenloft and it's not just your domain that has some kind of cruel tyrant oppressing it/evil monster haunting it.

I would have liked it a bit more if the adventure book had put down in writing what exactly Gregor's long range plans for Mikhail are, (I can assume they are to make him wear wolf pelt then force him to serve in the boyarsky regardless of if he want to or not but I'm not 100% sure) and then Gregor's general reluctance to get personally involved in a battle unless it's a sure thing leads to him letting Mikhail go.

Then we get to see Alexander and company doing what they do best from the eyes of an NPC in what I hope was a shockingly effective scene to remind you how important context is. Hopefully this fight (or at least their part of it) ended up seeming a lot more effortless on their part than the one in chapter three did.

The general strategy they employ I did not fully explain in story. Now however I will, the plan starts with Mirri turning herself into mist, and mix in with the snow that is already falling to create a barrier than obscures sight for a far greater distance than she ever could by herself (vampires can turn into obscuring mist for an area that's about nine feet across in any direction, but with bad weather conditions already present she can cover a lot more).

Mikhail sees James in hybrid form and his mind gropes rather helplessly for a context into which to put what he is seeing. The issue here, (once again left directly unsaid in story because it wouldn't have made sense to talk about something someone realizes they can't talk/think about) is that the only lycanthropes prior to the group's arriving were Gregor and his boyarsky. They're all Maledictive or Pathologic Lycanthropes, so they don't have hybrid forms. Werewolf stories in Vorostokov have no reason to include hybrid forms, only men turning into animals or animals turning into men, not something halfway between.

Likewise while there might be some housecats here and there (they're never mentioned one way or another though they do mention that there are some vermin) but clearly no cats larger than that. So don't think too poorly of Mikhail for the fact that he can't recognize a hybrid werecat on sight, as always context matters, it is hard to put two and three together and get five if you've never heard of two or three.

James and Alexander go into the fog bank, where they put their above human norm senses of smell and hearing to good use. Alexander kills one boyarsky with his sword, then takes off his eyepatch and really goes to town on them.

He reverts back before the Mirri dissipates the mist, and tells Mikhail the "plausible" (for the Ravenloft setting at least) lie about wolves made of mist to explain why all the other boyarsky looked like they got chewed up and spit out by animals. Once again the fact that Alexander is Chaotic Good means that he will not hesitate to lie to people (even other good people) and here is another fine demonstration of it.

Also at this point Gregor makes a slip of the tongue which spells out that if nothing else he is the Black Wolf the group ran into beforehand. It happened by accident on my part, but then I left it in. When Gregor is mocking Mikhail he talks about his SIX outlander allies. Mirri is still probably in mist form at this point, and James is probably still in hybrid form. It doesn't make sense for Gregor to know that there are six people who are helping Mikhail.

Except that Gregor is the Black Wolf and he saw SIX people fighting his wolves back in chapter three. Hence what was just me writing without thinking actually turned into a pretty clever bit of foreshadowing!

With that we close out chapter five and move into chapter six.

Chapter six, where we end up giving Mirri another chance to shine. I didn't intend to give her center stage so much this book, but what can I say? The fact that she's undead lets her waltz through a lot of otherwise problematic situations. Her "death is hilarious" speech was to me wonderfully darkly comedic to me (which probably says more about me than it does about Mirri).

Even "worse" was her explanation later to Mikhail. Alexander is Chaotic Good, he will lie if he feels there is a good reason to lie, Mirri is Chaotic Evil, she will lie if she thinks there's a good chance she can get away with it, just to have the joy of snickering at some poor fool behind their back.

The scene of running through the city, once again we establish something of a pattern sadly, I don't mean to have NPCs exist in these stories just for the heroes to give them exposition (come to think of it, isn't it supposed to be the other way around?) but I tried to have less say more when it came to the fate of Kirinova.

The chapter ends with Gregor managing to corner the protagonists in the church.

The adventure as it is actually written is far more likely to end with Gregor at this point decisively defeating the heroes by infecting them with lycanthropy/burying them under a tide of lupine bodies.

Once one PC gets infected and is promptly controlled by Gregor, the desire not to kill them (and possibly you as the DM giving some kind of prompting/having Gregor give some kind of speech as the fight takes place) should warn the PCs that they can loose this particular fight without all dying horribly.

After that comes the Wolf Run. Okay it isn't actually called that in the adventure book, in fact it isn't called anything at all in particular.

The fact remains however that this kind of thing is not an isolated indecent, in fact I believe the place I saw something like this happen was in was in Terry Pratchett, though the situation itself (without being given a name) shows up a fair bit in Ravenloft. It's used here, and it is also used in the Fourth Gazetteer when Alfred Timothy catches S spying on him his fellow werewolves.

Suffice to say, since I don't think it exists as a named trope yet (on tv tropes I mean), I decided to give it one. According to me out of universe and Alexander in universe, a "Wolf Run" is any situation in which a character is stripped of all noticeable items that could help them (luckily Devi manages to hide her rings under her dainty blue gloves which she isn't forced to remove after she takes off her heavier ones) and then told to start running and that after X amount of time the werewolves will start chasing after them in animal/hybrid form. Granted Alexander has a second reason for having a name for the particular phenomenon as we'll see later on in the story.

After some 'negotiation' and the rules being laid out we come to the Wolf Run itself.

This can be a really fun scene to see what your players are made of, because they're going to have most of their toys taken away from them, and have to make do on wit alone.

Not only THAT but also you don't get to do any D&D hive minding either, since the book instructs you to basically run the scene several times over, each time taking one member of the group out alone, or better yet putting the members of the group in different rooms and visiting them one by one, and only letting the ones who have already have taken part in their "Wolf Run" talk to one another be sent into the normal common room. In short, you have to work with the very bare essentials, and you have to do it without help from the other characters or the other players.

Needless to say, Alexander does what were all expecting him to do assuming that you didn't decide to read this book before you read the first one. He decides the time has come to take off his eyepatch.

I know that this is an open secret, but for the sake of writing these books in the most fluid reading order possible, much like why I give a brief refresher on how everyone looks in the first chapter of every book, you have it on my honor that I will always try to make what happens after Alex removes his eyepatch for the first time in any given "book" be a crowning moment of awesome, though I am equally certain that I will never be able to actually top his escape from Markov, since there was no reason for you to expect that to happen, and it was probably the most perfectly written reveal that I can imagine myself pulling off.

As for Florence, she shows off her power to wild shape yet again. Granted as a general rule of thumb, if you chase a druid into a forest... you are no longer chasing a druid. They have either 1: already gotten away, or 2: are now hunting you. Florence in this case goes for the second option and needless to say, while she is Neutral Good and the nicest member (well her or James but James is nice because he can't imagine being any other way Florence has a more mature sort of "niceness" if that makes any sort of sense to you guys) of the group... nature is in all its wrath is a terrible thing to behold.

Mirri takes advantage of the peculiar nature of interactions between her and the Snow Wraiths (I'll write that rather than their more stylized name name because it's so much easier to type) of Vorostokov. Though as I repeat over and over again, Mirri can not command undead like a normal vampire could. HOWEVER, the Snow Wraiths exist only to steal heat and leave others to freeze.

Mirri like many of those enjoying a post life experience (a polite term for being undead) has a body temperature which never fluctuates much from room temperature. So since the Snow Wraith's more or less have a thermographic view of the world (at least that is how I interpret their nature), and Mirri is neither colder nor hotter than the snow around her, she's sort of... just not really there to them. I mean they might know she's there, but she's already cold as the snow, she's already dead, they aren't driven to interact with her any particular way.

The werewolves on the other hand, well they're living beings, so the Snow Wraith's do what they exist to do, freeze the living to death. You should have recognized it but as the wolves frostbite the big one (tomatoes to the left, rotten cabbages to the right) she's singing a modified (altered for female rather than male singer) version of the "Snow Miser" song from The Year Without Christmas.

Granted this being Ravenloft and monotheism being a suckers bet there just like in most D&D settings, Christmas isn't a thing in Ravenloft. So I used a a more general "solstice" instead. I honestly don't know if Richemulot or Nova Vassa or any other Domain has official holiday at that particular time of year. That's mostly because what with all the gothic horror and what not, most of the "festivals" that we have detailed knowledge of in Ravenloft are the kind that end with somebody screaming "NOT THE BEES, NOT THE BEES!"

James takes the opposite approach, using fire instead and of course he's singing the Heat Miser's version of the song. In story James probably either dragged Mirri to see a production of whatever play the Ravenloft versions of the song hail from, or he just hums/sings the song to himself at times, either way he's probably responsible for Mirri picking it up.

Devi uses a very simple spell which is why I try really, REALLY hard to not use magic too creatively or too freely more than once a book. As D&D got more and more complication... sorry I mean compilation books, more and more spells came into being. Before too long it sort of gets to the point where you can find a magical spell to do just about anything you could possibly want to do. In this case, "Pass Without Trace" (which is even a CORE spell I'm pretty sure!) is exactly the spell you want if you're being chased by wolves/werewolves and want to throw them off your trail.

As for Cal... well what can I say, Cal lost all of his fun toys so he did the best he could with what he had. In this case that was just the fact that a human being can climb a tree a lot easier than a werewolf can, at least so long as the werewolf in question is unable to assume the hybrid form. That's not to get down on him, since the book sort of assumes that the best you can achieve is keeping the wolves from catching you for long enough for Gregor's sisters to show up.

So then we get chapter eight and thanks to those two hags, (not being insulting to them/women, that's what they are in D&D terms) our normal protagonists and Mikhail are reunited. Then we get a nice big plot dump, which to be perfectly honest I wrote with the my copy of the book spread open on my legs to the pages that talk about Gregor's back story.

So they explain the back story and in the adventure book they can give out a few moderately useful items (like a new batch of heavy cloaks since the group had their old ones taken away as part of going on a Wolf Run) but I decided to play that up a bit more. A potion to make the group immune to Gregor's sense of smell seemed appropriately mystical, though exactly how good Gregor's tracking by scent abilities are is an open question.

Then we have Mikhail and Alex training together, cue up Gonna Fly Now, Eye of the Tiger, Hearts On Fire, or, well you get the idea.

Like I mentioned back at the start of this run down, this scene perfectly encapsulates how just about everything I wrote was based on pages taken from the Adventure Book. Obviously the entire training Mikhail how to be a lycanthrope isn't in the book, but the wolves are.

In theory the group is supposed to encounter the wolf pack between leaving the hag's home and arriving at Vorostokov. I shuffled them around some since being only ordinary wolves the group would have rolled right through them as a combat encounter. That would have been equal parts uninteresting (I know that our protagonists are overpowered for Ravenloft, but come on, there has to be at least a little challenge) and somewhat out of character since if you can't tell from this story (somehow) Alexander Diamondclaw is actually pretty well disposed toward wolves and doesn't like it when a bunch of them get killed for no proper reason.

Next up, I wanted to remind people that being a Natural Lycanthrope is actually pretty awesome compared to being baseline human.

Having Pathological Lycanthropy means you are sick with a horrible condition that will probably lead you to murder the people who you love and in general make you do things beyond your control.

Being a Natural Lycanthrope means you have superpowers.

Even if you never actually transform, you still have 15 points worth of damage reduction, improved willpower, along with scent and low light vision related tracking skills. The only downside to it is the raw meat diet... which I spent so much of the first book pointing out can be a huge downside.

I'll admit, I don't spend near enough time dealing with Mikhail and needing to eat meat, but there was no time to put it in and have it flow properly. I have him eating that caribou he killed with the help of Alex and the regular wolves, so at the very least that should make sure that he's taken care of for the rest of the adventure given the normal "lycanthropes can go without food for four days" thing.

He probably found some other animal to eat on the way back during the epilogue but wasn't worth showing/had no bearing on the plot. Anyway, there are perfectly valuable reasons to see being a Natural Lycanthrope as a good, or at least useful thing.

Being able to turn into an animal which has enhanced senses and is much more resilient than any natural creature is very useful when food is hard to come by. If you feel like debating that particular point, remember, wanting to be able to hunt as effectively as a wolf is the entire reason that Gregor Zolnik kicked off this entire mess in the first place!

Getting back to Gregor and Vorostokov time to talk about chapter nine. Vampire charm gaze is a powerful tool for an NPC/monster/foe. It is a REDICULOUSLY SILLY ability for a PC.

Chiefly this is because of the action economy, or at least the kinds of challenges that PCs face that NPCs don't. It is possible for the GM to play an NPC as being unaware of the fact that they have been given orders/instructions/desires without them realizing it by magic and start acting them out. With PCs, well the PLAYER has to be aware even if the PC is not, and the wall between player and PC knowledge can be paper thin at times. In short once a player realizes that control of their character has been taken away from them will start plotting out to get it back. An NPC in a similar situation can either be played as a Philosophical Zombie to keep the game moving along, or you can have them try get revenge at some point but that requires a lot more effort on your part.

I'm not sure if I'm making the point I want clearly so let me boil it down to, charm gaze can be useful in combat, but is far more powerful if you find chances to use it outside of combat.

I mean, Mirri isn't as powerful a mentalist as Dominic d'Honaire, since you know he can control people with just his voices, and can eventually render people completely incapable of ever resisting his commands.

Still, she has UNLIMITED access to the charm spell through her gaze, and she is not at all afraid to use it to make most problems of a diplomacy based nature a walk in the part. Nowhere is this better displayed then how she deals with the two guards.

After that we get to meet up with Mikhail's grandmother, or at least her ghost... or her... whatever she is exactly. I'm more or less pulling how this goes down right from the book, but it is not like there's much reason to change it up.

Salt plus Wolfsbane plus Gregor's pelt means that he doesn't get some incredibly silly defenses in wolf form where you need to use silver that also has been recently blessed to properly harm him, and he'll still come back AGAIN if you kill him as a wolf.

After that we had Marik... and what can I say here? I read the book, saw the guy was called Marik the Mouse Eater, I saw that he was named that because that's what he literally does, it is not like I had to actually even TRY to come up with this scene. It wrote itself in a completely natural way, and it got the job done.

Two more unfortunate Pathologic Lycanthropes proceed to get taken by surprise by Mirri and James, because lets be honest, even in Ravenloft it takes a pretty paranoid person in order to suspect that a housecat is about to kick your ass. On the other hand, I will admit that this is D&D, so housecats can be surprisingly dangerous foes!

James' line in the next scene is a direct reference to the Yellow Submarine movie, there's its "tip toe through the meanies" and they didn't even have the benefit of being able to speak it in a language that the sleepers would not be able to understand.

James also makes another reference to his family's interesting history, that may or may not pay off in a future Monster Party book.

After that, we have the fight between the two of them and Gregor Zolnik as a human. Okay this is the fight that as written makes no sense.

Here is why.

Gregor is just about invincible in his wolf form. The book as written assumes that you'll catch Gregor by semi-surprise (about as much surprise as James and Mirri did) in his private chambers, with his wolf pelt hanging nearby.

The book assumes that for some reason that at the moment I can't possibly figure out that this fight will involve chasing Gregor through the castle as he makes use of various hidden passages he knows since it is his castle.

What should happen, what a SMART VILLAIN should be doing is pretty obvious...


It is right there after all, there is no reason why he shouldn't try to put it on!

It's not like Gregor needs to complete some complicated ritual in order to transform he just needs to pull the pelt on over himself!

I will not apologize for how Gregor goes down like a chump against Mirri's grapple/energy drain attack when I'm letting him use an attack strategy (put on wolf pelt, turn into wolf, tear their throats out) which is so much better than the one he's given in the book.

I mean from a doylist perspective (commentary from out of universe) I could argue that if Gregor put on his pelt at this point then the adventure would end early either with the heroes managing to slay him properly (since it is possible to apply the wolfsbane and salt mixture to him while he's in wolf form) or far more likely because he's horribly horribly murdered them in his near invincible wolf form.

From a Watsonian (in universe) perspective though, it looks like Gregor completely forgets about how his powers work.

I mean I'm not saying that the idea of a two stage boss fight is without merit or isn't thematically appropriate, (kill the man, kill the beast) but it needs to be better handled. The book should go further to point out that ambushing Gregor while he's doing his rounds of the Hall or otherwise someplace AWAY FROM HIS MAGIC WOLF PELT is vastly preferable to picking a fight with him while it is in the same room.

Also I'm a little upset that Dmitri Dneprov who is clearly supposed to be Gregor's Busey ("Busey" is a term that shows up a lot in the Leverage Commentaries, but the term itself is a reference to the character played by Gary Busey in Lethal Weapon, it basically is short hand for the evil villain's main physically imposing minion whose job it is to either loom menacingly or go out and hurt people. (This is as opposed to the villain's Smithers (term comes from Leverage Commentaries also, you should have already guessed the name comes from Waylon Smithers and the Simpsons), which is his main minion who he keeps around for the non-combat related skills)) and yet he gets no real development and no proper death scene, back story, or really character to speak of.

To put this in perspective, Dmitri and Alexei are Gregor's two main minions, they are all but INFINITELY less well developed than Orson and Felix from Neither Man Nor Beast who both had distinct back-stories, different personalities, goals, fighting styles, and you get my point right?

Moving on yes I was referencing "You, me, AND MY GUARDS" from Robbin Hood Men in Tights by Mel Brooks, which is a very good movie though will be about twice as funny if you take the time to watch the version of Robbin Hood with Alan Rickman as the sheriff first so that you can see the exactly what they're trying to parody.

Which takes us to the "final" chapter. I purposely decided to try and avoid using names for the scene where Mikhail and Alexander confront Gregor, instead simply referring to the them as the gray wolf, silver wolf, and black wolf respectfully.

I can't give you a 100% honest answer for why I was struck by this particular desire but let me take a few pot shots at it anyway. I think/feel like it gives the scene a nicely feral air to it.

It is also worth pointing out that much like I would say about Alfred Timothy, Gregor Zolnik's problems do not come from the fact that he has a feral spirit inside him that is straining to break loose and causing him to commit horrific crimes of animistic passion.

No, Gregor's problem is that he's a bastard.

His repeated issues with actually trusting the women he claims to love, alongside a near pathological desire for fame and glory are issues that come 100% from his human side might have been brought to the surface by his self inflicted Maledictive Lycanthropy, but I fully believe he would have found his way to darklordship just as well if he'd discovered a magic suit of armor hat made him faster and stronger than those around him along while also possibly giving him some way to control their wills.

I may or may not bother to write a book that takes place in Verbrek (there's no official large adventure book that takes place there (which I know of) though there is a freely downloadable fan written one that I haven't gotten around to reading yet) but part of my thoughts against it is that Alex would be making similar arguments towards Alfred Timothy as he does against Gregor Zolnik, except Alfred cares about the "theology of a proper lupine way of life" a lot more than Gregor does and so will argue back more. If you think that kind of thing is awesome then I may write if, if you think it's just a retread/rehash then I probably won't, either way feel let to me know.

As for the fight within this chapter, even though this is an Alexander and Florence Book, (by which I mean an Alexander book) to be perfectly honest when you get down to its core, it's actually a Mikhail Zolnik book even if he doesn't show up to chapter three. As a general rule, whoever's book it is, they'll be the one who gets to fight/defeat the darklord/evil villain at the end of it.

Besides, I've been building the fact that Mikhail doesn't like his father since his name was first mentioned, I showed their hatred in chapter five, and then started laying out in chapter eight that it might have to be Mikhail who killed Gregor to make it stick, and two chapters later surprise surprise Mikhail is the one who goes toe to toe with his father.

If nothing else, the fact that Mikhail fights Gregor should have been far more obvious without the need of hindsight than James fighting Markov was. As for Alexei showing up, look the book doesn't even bother to give him a "cutscene" if you run into him in Gregor's Hall. That is how unimportant he is in the grand scheme of this adventure book as written. Compared to that, he should feel honored that at least in my version of the story he's noticeably contributing to his father's goal of staying alive by keeping Alexander and Mikhail from being able to double team him.

After that... oh god I promise you people I will try to never again write two lycanthropes/shapeshifters fighting in pure animal form.

I've read enough other books to have a general sense of how to write scenes with two humans fighting each other, and can extend that to lycanthropes in hybrid form... I actually felt pretty out of my depth trying to write a scene with two wolves fighting each other properly. That's why the wolf section of the fight is somewhat subpar in my opinion.

Still, at the very least you can't say that Mikhail's turnabout maneuver is far from a Deus Ex Machina. I mean if the entire reason that Gregor stops running from the two is that he has just discovered that the river he is trying to cross has perilously thin ice, don't be shocked if indeed the ice cracks.

I wanted to play up some of the advantages of hybrid form in this fight, aside from the obvious ones like being bigger, so instead I went with a less obviously but just as valid one, a hybrid form probably actually more familiar to lycanthrope than a purely animal form. The ways that a humans swim, and the way that a wolf/dog swim are two entirely different things, and the hybrid form can swim like a man.

Which is actually better for underwater combat? That's a bit of a tossup, but the obvious outside the box answer is "whichever one you're more familiar with" and it's silly bordering on unreasonable to expect Gregor to have any spent time swimming in his wolf form prior to this fight.

Also some of you may be surprised that the ice broke under Mikhail and Gregor (a wolf and a hybrid) but managed to remain stable when Alexander pulled Mikhail out of it (two hybrids). For those of you who are wondering about this... it's adorable that you think "how much do these creatures weigh" matters more than "thematically what should be happening to the ice at this moment" to the Dark Powers. In the Adventure Book as written it basically says "make players do some dex rolls, give narration to make them sweat, no actual in game dangers needed" when describing what to do as the players start fighting Gregor out over the ice.

Which brings us to the epilogue.

What Alex says is basically correct, there are no hard and fast rules for what will happen when a darklord dies, but Alex is covering the most common occurrences.

From my outside story perspective as the author, I can tell you exactly what happened in this case. For a while the Dark Powers were sustaining Vorostokov with no darklord (they've kept Sithicus together for lot longer periods Soth wasn't paying any attention to it) but were keeping very careful watch on Mikhail to see if he'd make the same mistakes/sins as his father.

When he gets back to Torgov he very promptly disappoints them because he's open to Anna about what has happened and she in turn is open with him, because the two have some of that storybook love which EVEN IN RAVENLOFT STILL EXISTS, otherwise they wouldn't have needed to design a feat (Smitten from the Van Richten Arsenal) around it.

After the two kiss the Dark Powers throw up there hands and shout "Aww you're no fun any more!" Then they shuffle Vorostokov off to some other plane since there's no sign of it producing a proper darklord any time soon. As I explained in my author's notes I decided to go with Krynn because it's the only world that feeds into Ravenloft with some regularity (two of the Core's darklords come from there after all) that I have any real knowledge of.

I was tempted to have the story end with group passing through the misty boarder to be greeted with the sound of creaking wooden doors and finding themselves right back in the same inn they'd left back in chapter one, though a suitable amount of time has passed. That would have been quite amusing but it would have drawn the attention away from the more important matters that I wanted to deal with. The characters discussing what they'd just seen, and why they actually made an effort NOT to get taken out of Ravenloft when Vorostokov was.

So with that I'll close up these notes since I've run out of things to talk about!

Sat Mar 28, 2015 2:12 pm
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