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D&D General Reading Ravenloft the setting

I honestly found Ezra (from DoD) one of the best additions to Ravenloft as a expy Christian church that is very needed in gothic storytelling. The old cathedrals, exorcists, inquisitions, etc. When domains were flyover country that your primary goal was to not outstay your welcome, it didn't matter what god the local church was, but once you get local PCs, it mattered.

On a side note: I like Hala as well (coming from the 3e era) as a kinda expy Wicca/pagan goddess worship option. Those two fill 90% of the "good" religion needs of the setting and still keep enough mystery to not be completely wholesome. For me, it was nice to have a faith or two you could get holy water from.
What's an "expy Christian church"?
Eberron csn also add the cost (heavy almost but very much not catholic church structure type vibes), a couple with links to more eastern style Buddhist type fairs (path of light & BoV) , and even a "mesh whatever, I go to church because I guess I care" conglomeration of faith in the more generic sovereign host.after doing write ups for each eberron faith I bet rthe wotc folks can give at least one or two thematic and obviously inspired by but ridiculously wrong for the good of plot type faiths in the ravenloft book
 

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Voadam

Legend
I never really clicked with Ezra. Or with Domains of Dread's generally throwing all the demihumans to specific Legends and Lore real world pantheons such as Gnomes with Greeks, Dwarves with Norse, and Elves with Celtic. It did not seem to integrate well in the setting for me. Without their own domains it seemed weird to suggest both their own universal racial pantheons and to connect them to human real ones as real ones showed up in specific domains (Hindu in Sri Rji, Egyptian in Har Akir). I would expect elves of Sithicus to worship Krynn deities, elves in Darkon to worship the false state religion, etc. It seemed particularly weird for the elves and Tepestani (as shown in Servants of Darkness) to both worship the Celtic pantheon with no real connection between the two groups.
 

What's an "expy Christian church"?

'Expy' is basically a term for 'fantasy substitute for..'. The church of Ezra serves the same role in Ravenloft as Christian churches do in Gothic stories - big cathedrals and little local churches, generally humble and protective clergy but can go over the line into dogmatic and monodominiant, no rites or beliefs that would be wildly out of place in real-world Christianity, plus the dogma and theology etc is up for debate and interpretation and is the subject of conflict between sects (though how that debate lasts past the first casting of 'Commune' I've never been quite sure).

I don't mind the use of the celtic pantheon in Ravenloft, but they've always been kinda background and never really fleshed out, plus @Voadam is right that it seemed silly they're worshipped all over the place. Tepest and Forlorn, two domains separated by the width of half the Core, but nothing in between?

I would have liked to see more use of the Divinity of Mankind though. I think it was mostly a Paridon belief system, but it'd fit well in Lamordia if you wanted to have a church there, and you could have an evil human-supremacist sect centred in Falkovnia too. Its emphasis on inner power and self-perfection did fit well into a setting where gods are so distant though.
 

Remathilis

Legend
'Expy' is basically a term for 'fantasy substitute for..'. The church of Ezra serves the same role in Ravenloft as Christian churches do in Gothic stories - big cathedrals and little local churches, generally humble and protective clergy but can go over the line into dogmatic and monodominiant, no rites or beliefs that would be wildly out of place in real-world Christianity, plus the dogma and theology etc is up for debate and interpretation and is the subject of conflict between sects (though how that debate lasts past the first casting of 'Commune' I've never been quite sure).

Commune contacts divine proxies as well, and I wager they could have different agendas that align with different sects. As for Ezra herself, if she exists, she is always AFK when it comes to those spells. So casting commune doesn't ever get you Ezra, it gets you Saint Dominic who has his own spin on Ezra's teachings.
 

Faolyn

Hero
I wonder has anything been done to look at Darklords as Warlock Patrons? and then just how a Warlock Patron differs fundamentally from a Diety?
Within Sourange is the Zombie Lord a god? (little g)
The main difference is that Warlock Patrons aren't quite at god level. I'd put them at demigod level, myself.

If they're undead, the DL would be the Undying patron or whatever it's called in the upcoming book.

Otherwise... yeah, there probably should be a new patron, although considering how different the DLs are, it might be difficult to pin down enough standard features to make a single one. Perhaps, like the Genie, the extra spells would be one generic plus one from a Column Whatever that matches your particular DL's type.

Potential types: Tyrant (Vlad Drakov, Alfred Timothy), Seducer (Ivana Boritsi, Dominic d'Honraire), Instigator (Ivan Dilisnya, Malkan), Sage (Azalin, Victor Mordenheim), Monster (Adam, Three Hags).

A lot of the other abilities could just be new invocations, maybe a new Boon. Any other thoughts for this potential pact?
 

Faolyn

Hero
seemed particularly weird for the elves and Tepestani (as shown in Servants of Darkness) to both worship the Celtic pantheon with no real connection between the two groups.
Tepest didn't really come from any other setting (so making up a religion for them is OK), and the elves haven't been shown to worship Belenus in any of the actual game books, one adventure notwithstanding.
 

Faolyn

Hero
The original design was suppose to be a nightmare realm, bits snatched from throughout the multiverse, so the nonsensical nature is by design.
Speaking of, I kind of hope they do something with the Nightmare Lands, even if they'd have to remove the extremely badly-done Abber Nomads from it.
 

Richemulot, AKA 'the domain whose name I always always always spell wrong'

A domain with an actual population! 45000 people here, closer to 50000 if you count the wererats (although Mordent gets double the page count for a tenth of the population). And there's a (relatively) large demihuman population too. Well, 'marginally biologically viable for the halflings at least' is closer to the truth than 'large' given we're AGAIN over 90% human, but it's more diverse than the last few domains, so we'll take what we can get in that department...

(And really, Richemulot is painted in here very much as the melting pot domain, with immigrants coming from everywhere to fill its empty cities. Would it have killed them to have a few demihumans live here?)

Geography - Richemulot is a fairly big place, and for a heavily urban-themed domain and darklord, there's a lot of rural areas here. Amost all the detail of these seems to have been created from whole cloth for this book, I can't find references anywhere else for a lot of the locales listed here. We have rich farmland, ancient forests, sun-drenched vineyards and lakes, and a rocky upland region of superstitious repute that's covered in ancient ruins of towers and chapels. There's a lot to do here for a PC group, but it has absolute zip to do with the darklord or the wererats that the domain was originally themed around.

Once we get to town, everything changes. We have massive cities with impressive architecture, broad thoroughfares and masterful masonry. And, of course, expansive and brilliantly engineered sewerage systems, though unbelievably foul and fithy cos this is a rat-centric domain after all. However, nobody knows who built or engineered these cities, and a large portion of them is empty, boarded up and abandoned with moss and weeds creeping up the marble and sprouting through the cobbles as only rats and pigeons disturb the silence.

The usual evasive history stuff, except even more blatant than usual. DMs are actually encouraged to have feral rat swarms erupt from nowhere to disturb any attempts to discover the deep history of the place through divination magic. In more recent history, it raise more questions than it answers. We have a family of wererats hailing from the original world that spanwed Mordent (which we also know nothing about, as Mordent has also no meaninful history pre-Mists) ending up in Falkovnia, then making the place too hot for them, getting stomped by Vlad's people, then fleeing into the mists where the family head Claude became the Darklord (apparently just because he was a bad guy in general, not through any particular Rubicon-crosssing sin like we see in most Darklords). And after a few decades, his granddaughter Jacqueline murdered him and took over the domain lordship (whether she knew entirely what she was metaphysically doing here, or whether she was just after temporal power and the darklordship came along unasked-for is not clear). I suppose it's just another example of them wacky capricious ol' Dark Powers having funsies, but it's not really clear why the Reniers earned their domain. There's no single seismic monstrous act that condemns them like Strahd's murder of Sergei. Hell, Claude and Jacqueline fled as hunted refugees from the decidedly unpleasant attentions of Vlad Drakov, and then found themselves in a domain that was an ideal safe haven for them and which has given them considerable luxury and power (and remember, Richemulot is a place that was spawned whole from the Mists for the purposes of being the Renier domain, it isn't like Barovia or Forlorn which were transported bodily from their original worlds). If the goal of the Dark Powers was to torment their prisoners, they could have done a much better job, I'm just saying.

Culturally, it's a bit of a mixed bag that doesn't map easily to any real-world culture that I'm aware of, though the names and laguage remain resolutely 'High Mordentish', ie, French. There's a lot of Provence in the countryside, shades of Catharism in the mountains with their strange Ezraite sects, but the city is perhaps more reminiscent of booming early America, bustling, commercial, and approximately meritocratic with a tidal wave of immigrants flooding in to seek opportunity, and finding that it CAN exist here but life's not quite as easy as advertised (though having said that, when the alternative is frothing psychopaths like Vlad Drakov or Malocchio, one would certainly consider it as a pretty reasonable exchange if the worst you had to deal with was some exploitative work practises and having to padlock the toilet seat down overnight so the wererats don't get in). There's even a slightly Arthurian touch in places, ancient castles where maidens lie in enchanted slumber, swords made of sacred steel that curse their wielder should they ever shed innocent blood.

This immigrant boom is something that's first mentioned in this book as far as I know, and I'm a bit ambivalent about it. Depends what you want, I think. If you're seeing the Core as a living world, then it makes perfect sense. Life isn't actually too bad in Richemulot, there's plenty of work, and solidly-built housing that you can literally just walk into at no cost, and it's just awful in a lot the neighbouring domains. Renier seems fairly sane and is a very competent administrator and leader despite being a disgusting rat-monster and having a set of policies that basically run the domain on graft and corruption. In-world, the immigrant influx and the subsequent population and economic boom are entirely credible and understandable, and they also give the western Core that high-population domain that houses all the workshops etc that actually manufacture all the firearms and similar clever gadgets that people in tiny Lamordia hamlets invent.

On the other hand, thematically I'm dubious. The horror aspect of Richemulot has always been twofold. First is the obvious 'eek, the ruling family is wererats!' jumpscare reveal. Secondly though, has been the more existential horror of this mighty marble city lying near-empty and abandoned to rot by its makers, while the rule of the wererats and the everpresent sussurant hiss and scritching of the vermin hordes in the sewers underground remind the dwindling population that the time of humanity's pre-eminence is past, and that the age of the rat has come. A bit of Ozymandias, or Planet of the Apes. This whole undertone is, of course, plenty compromised if the place is undergoing an economic boom, attracting people from all around to its thriving opportunities, and developing a flourishing cafe culture. But on the other hand, the almost bucolic south-of-France vibe of the rural regions messes with the theme just as much, and that's been around since at least Domains of Dread. So yeah, some clarity on what sort of story the domain is trying to tell would be welcome.

We get quite a lot on wererat culture here, which is useful for a campaign centred on them, if not particularly revolutionary or ground-breaking. There's a few ratish plot hooks, I kinda like the one where the non-wererat male Reniers, sick of being used a breeding stock and then getting eaten, have raised Jacqueline's father as a quite respectably powerful mummy and are using him to murder prominent wererats as the start of a power play. There also one where Jacqueline is trying to breed a strain of normal rat that can transmit lycanthropy by bite, and then basically wereratting the whole city in a day. Which seems a bit more Dr Evil than I'd expect from her, she's normally portrayed as the ruthless intriguer rather than the take-over-the-world type. And why would she eliminate her own preferred food source?

This is another domain where there's a vague ruling nobility or aristocracy in charge without anything resembling a monarchy. This really seems to be a Ravenloft specialty, we had the same in Lamordia, Mordent, Dementlieu - hell, even Strahd is nominally a count rather than a king. Renier is specifically stated to keep the leadership through sheer ruthless cunning, blackmail and violence, and a stoking a degree of populist jingoism amoung the common people, but theoretically someone could usurp her power. It's still a bit weird though - historically the aristocracy has been associated with monarchy almost everywhere, but in the Core is just seems like the default form of government and monachies are like hen's teeth. It'd love to know the in-world history and reasoning that led to this state of affairs, but this is Ravenloft and trusting its history is like building a house out of jelly. We do have the same sort of high-social-mobility aristocracy that we did in Dementlieu, though instead of being based on what's fashionable, here it's based on secrets and what you know. If you want an intriguey domain that's NOT dominated by a couple of psychic control freaks, this might be for you.

Refreshingly, this is not a magic- or arcane-unfriendly place. People are wary of magic sure, but they'd likely be equally wary of anyone heavily armed with musketry or swords - like these, magic is power. There's a degree of understanding almost, many Richemuloise are here to better themselves, and leveraging one's advantages and skills in that pursuit, even if those skills are magic-related, is a familiar concept. So this is another domain your wizard PC can call home, at least.

To close the borders, Jacqueline summons a ludicrously titanic horde of rats that literally encircle the entire domain and eat anyone who tries to pass (their bites penetrated damage resistance etc equivalent to a +6 sword, and flight magic fails for anyone who tries to fly over them). Ok, firstly, does this mean you could escape with an Antilife Shell? Secondly - does this happen often, and what the hell do people say it does? I mean, in Mordent or Dementlieu when the borders are closed people can write it of as getting lost or confused, and in Darkon everyone knows that this is the sort of magic that Azalin uses. But here? Surely a mindblowing rat plague like this that encircled the entire country would stick in one's memory and cause a little comment in a gossip-obsessed society?

Random class generator gave me a monk. I decided that monks were un-Richemulot-y (the 'Richemulotese hero' sidebar in the book agreed with me) and tried again. Got monk again. Reloaded the page and tried again. Monk. Restarted the browser. and tried again. You guessed it, monk. Okay, fine, if that's the way you're going to be, monk it is then. I thought about doing a kensai from one of the weird heretical Ezra cults that spawn up the mountains, a sort of ecstatic dervish devoted to Ezra's favoured longsword. But I wanted to do something urban for an urban domain, so this guy was a successful prizefighter for years before spending a night in the sewers on a bet and falling into the bottle to forget what he saw there. Now sleeps in gutters and is widely despised. Drunken master, with the emphasis on Drunken.

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Next, on to Gazetteer IV and Borca.
 
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If the players want to be monster PCs the wererats could be interesting antagonists. Richemulot could be also a conflict zone between the wererats and other werebeasts hidden among the inmigrants. Some citizens wouldn't be theriantropes really, at least not by infected by other, but cursed by the Dark Powers.

If the werebeasts have got regeneration power the slaves could bet eating carbage and used as "renovable source of food", perfect to be sold to some "special clients with peculiar tastes". Some lucky slaves would be gladiators and pit fighting, faking their deaths, and the pain would be only for some couple of hour while the rest of the time they are training, and later ascended into hunters (against other werebeats).

If there is space for the dark comedy in Ravenloft somebody could be cursed with a no-predator (or no mamal) theriantropy. Werehare and weredonkeys were canon in previous editions.




 

I suppose it's just another example of them wacky capricious ol' Dark Powers having funsies, but it's not really clear why the Reniers earned their domain.
It is perhaps a more interesting idea (and I seem to remember this is slightly hinted at) that the Reniers are not the true darklords, but have somehow usurped the power of the true dark lord. Having your bucolic land overrun by rats is their torment.

Suggestion: the real dark lord is the Pied Piper of Hamlin.
Secondly though, has been the more existential horror of this mighty marble city lying near-empty and abandoned to rot by its makers, while the rule of the wererats and the everpresent sussurant hiss and scritching of the vermin hordes in the sewers underground remind the dwindling population that the time of humanity's pre-eminence is past, and that the age of the rat has come. A bit of Ozymandias, or Planet of the Apes.
This seems a bit Lost-ish. There are hints of ancient secrets that can be unlocked. But if the land was created for the Reniers then the only secret is it's all fake.
historically the aristocracy has been associated with monarchy almost everywhere/
The Italian city-states where ruled by Dukes (or Doges). Wales was never more than a Principality. There are places like Monaco and Andorra in the modern world. In a sense a duke or a prince is just a king who controls less territory, just as an emperor is a king with a bigger territory.
To close the borders, Jacqueline summons a ludicrously titanic horde of rats that literally encircle the entire domain
This is her nuclear option. Something she could do if the land was ever threatened by invasion. It's not something that happens on a regular basis. If she just wants to stop a bunch of adventurers leaving the country a much smaller rat-horde does the job.
 
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JEB

Adventurer
This seems a bit Lost-ish. There are hints of ancient secrets that can be unlocked. But if the land was created for the Reniers then the only secret is it's all fake.
Random idea: All the "false history" we see in Ravenloft domains? That's actually fragments of the real history of whatever the Domains of Dread were originally, before they were overwritten by the nightmare realms created around the Darklords.

Perhaps that's the torment of the Dark Powers themselves - they can only hope to fleetingly recreate the world they lost long ago, as the skeleton upon which other prisons are built.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Richemulot, AKA 'the domain whose name I always always always spell wrong'


This is another domain where there's a vague ruling nobility or aristocracy in charge without anything resembling a monarchy. This really seems to be a Ravenloft specialty, we had the same in Lamordia, Mordent, Dementlieu - hell, even Strahd is nominally a count rather than a king. Renier is specifically stated to keep the leadership through sheer ruthless cunning, blackmail and violence, and a stoking a degree of populist jingoism amoung the common people, but theoretically someone could usurp her power. It's still a bit weird though - historically the aristocracy has been associated with monarchy almost everywhere, but in the Core is just seems like the default form of government and monachies are like hen's teeth. It'd love to know the in-world history and reasoning that led to this state of affairs, but this is Ravenloft and trusting its history is like building a house out of jelly. We do have the same sort of high-social-mobility aristocracy that we did in Dementlieu, though instead of being based on what's fashionable, here it's based on secrets and what you know. If you want an intriguey domain that's NOT dominated by a couple of psychic control freaks, this might be for you..

Having rule by Aristocracy was one of the prevailing schools of political thought during the Renaissance/Enlightment period as society moved from Monarchal to Republican forms of government.

Many of the era became interested In Cicero’s De Republic where he writes “Hence the aristocrats have taken over the middle ground between the inadequate autocrat and the reckless mob. Nothing could be more moderate than that. With such men protecting the state, the people must be very fortunate; they are freed from all trouble and anxiety, having made others responsible for their carefree life.”

That such Republican theories are prevalent in Ravenloft is one of the things I like about the setting and the strong Rennaisance/Enlightment vibe of the relevant Domains - those who are of a mind to rule can do so by Merit and birth even without the divine right of Monarchs :)

Anyway in real world history Machiavelli, Hobbes, Rousseau, Calvin and many others all advocated for the rule of The Enlightened Few in a Mixed Republican model - accordingly the UK established the House of Lords and House of Commons and even the US Constitotion was influenced by the theory with its rule by The One (President), the Few (Senate) and the Many (Congress).
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
It is perhaps a more interesting idea (and I seem to remember this is slightly hinted at) that the Reniers are not the true darklords, but have somehow usurped the power of the true dark lord. Having your bucolic land overrun by rats is their torment.

Suggestion: the real dark lord is the Pied Piper of Hamlin..

Oh I love that idea - the Pied Piper steals the children of Hamlin and enslaves them, starving them so they turn to cannibalism to survive (perhaps Claude was the first to turn to cannibalism). This all gets the attention of the Dark Powers who transport the Piper and his children to Ravenloft AND as a further irony transform the children in to wererats. They head back to what they think is their home town only to find the abandoned cities of Richemulot - the twist is that the towns are depopulated due to the Piper stealing the children, which makes the rats the rightful heirs of the land :)
 
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The videogame "vertmicide" shows us the skavens, the ratfolk from Warhammer, can be very dreadful creatures.

I imagine the wererats like the antagonists of a zombie post-apocalypse fiction work who dare to eat human corpses.

If Dark Powers love to create troubles you could bet most of werebeasts abducted from other worlds will be sent to Richemulot for a wicked version of cat & mouse game.

Weredonkeys looks too ridiculous as monsters for a horror movie, but if we remember the pleasure island from Pinocho's tale then we could create a twisted version about innocents tricked to become monster slaves.

Other idea is using necromancy and rats for a depraved version of reincarnation spell. A rat (or a vemin) is sacrificied to be a living "cortical stack" and grafted within a humanoid victim a mind-controlled possesion host.

Rats are linked with contagious diseases and epidemics. That in Ravenloft means your hand become a tentacle or a crab piencer because you were bitten by a rat.

Can werebeasts be hunted and used as "food source" for other theriantropes or meneater monsters?

* Werevermins were canon in 3r Ed, in WotC web articles.

 

Voadam

Legend
This immigrant boom is something that's first mentioned in this book as far as I know, and I'm a bit ambivalent about it. Depends what you want, I think. If you're seeing the Core as a living world, then it makes perfect sense. Life isn't actually too bad in Richemulot, there's plenty of work, and solidly-built housing that you can literally just walk into at no cost, and it's just awful in a lot the neighbouring domains. Renier seems fairly sane and is a very competent administrator and leader despite being a disgusting rat-monster and having a set of policies that basically run the domain on graft and corruption. In-world, the immigrant influx and the subsequent population and economic boom are entirely credible and understandable, and they also give the western Core that high-population domain that houses all the workshops etc that actually manufacture all the firearms and similar clever gadgets that people in tiny Lamordia hamlets invent.
The immigration is a Domains of Dread addition building off a population increase that started in the Red Box.

Page 46 "The population of Richemulot is slowly growing. Many folk flee their homelands In Falkovnia, Invidia, or Dementlieu in hopes of making a better life in Richemulot. Some succeed, but others vanish without trace. Many of those who vanish do so after attempting to challenge the Reniers or one of Richemulot's other powerful families."

The population has increased in each incarnation of the setting.

Realms of Terror: "Six thousand people live in Pont-a-Museau, but the city can house nearly 20,000 comfortably. About 3,000 folk inhabit the once-grand city of St. Ronges, leaving homes for another 12,000 citizens vacant. Mortigny has the largest current population, with 7,000 natives." so 16,000 in the three places.

Red Box "Fourteen thousand people live in Pont-a-Museau, but the city could house nearly 20,000 comfortably—much of the city is boarded up and infested with all manner of vermin. Similarly, about 6,000 folk inhabit the once-grand city of Ste. Ronges, leaving homes for another 12,000 citizens vacant. Mortigny has the largest current population, with 7,000 natives." so 27,000 for the three, but the 14K in Museau contradicts the statement of largest population of 7k in Montigny.

Domains of Dread says "Sixteen thousand people live in Pont-a-Museeau, but the city could house nearly twenty thousand comfortably. . . . Similarly, about sIxty-five hundred folk inhabit the once-grand city of Ste. Ronges, leaving homes for another twelve thousand citizens vacant. Mortigny houses eight thousand people, but if the buildings are my indication, another five thousand folk once lived there." So 30,500 for the three.
 

Voadam

Legend
The usual evasive history stuff, except even more blatant than usual. DMs are actually encouraged to have feral rat swarms erupt from nowhere to disturb any attempts to discover the deep history of the place through divination magic.
Funny enough DoD also says "All Richemulot natives may take the local history nonweapon proficiency for free. However, they do not have much information about their cities and who built them, instead possessing information on what families are currently allied with whom and which factions might be planning to move against another."
 

Faolyn

Hero
On the other hand, thematically I'm dubious. The horror aspect of Richemulot has always been twofold. First is the obvious 'eek, the ruling family is wererats!' jumpscare reveal. Secondly though, has been the more existential horror of this mighty marble city lying near-empty and abandoned to rot by its makers, while the rule of the wererats and the everpresent sussurant hiss and scritching of the vermin hordes in the sewers underground remind the dwindling population that the time of humanity's pre-eminence is past, and that the age of the rat has come. A bit of Ozymandias, or Planet of the Apes. This whole undertone is, of course, plenty compromised if the place is undergoing an economic boom, attracting people from all around to its thriving opportunities, and developing a flourishing cafe culture. But on the other hand, the almost bucolic south-of-France vibe of the rural regions messes with the theme just as much, and that's been around since at least Domains of Dread. So yeah, some clarity on what sort of story the domain is trying to tell would be welcome.
What I would assume is that the wave of immigrants is not actually causing a huge population boon. It's actually just feeding the wererats, who can feast off these newcomers that are not going to be easily missed, while leaving the natives more or less unmolested. This would give the natives an extra reason to be welcoming to immigrants--and still leave the city with huge, unclaimed areas going to pot.
 

Borca, and the first thing I notice is that the terrible, terrible maps are back. Huge blurry grayscale lines and patterns (good luck distinguishing between forests and hills, for instance, or roads/borders/rivers) labelled with massive fonts, and some text randomly sideways because that was the only way the dreadful graphic design could squeeze them. I mean, sure they COULD have just dropped the font size about 72 sizes, but who wants THAT, hey? Major geographical features referred to in the text like Mt Gries are illustrated on the actual map but frequently not labelled, so I don't think it's fair to blame the cartographer, someone doing graphic design or lettering dropped every possible ball here, after some editor decided to magnify a chunk of the endpiece map for the domain maps in each chapter rather than commissioning something new. Ugh.

Another thing that bugs me about the editing choices in the whole Gazetteer line is that for every domain we get a complete stat block for an average watch member or guard. Every. Single. Domain. Despite them only differing in minor details re weapon choices etc - even in 3.5e, there's only so much customisation you can do with a first-level warrior. What a waste of space.

What Borca gives us is basically the de Medici tropes with a layer of Eastern European landscape and aesthetic on top. Geographically the western end of the domain is darkly forested (with lots of poisonous herbs, fungi etc, to rub in the theme) and lightly populated with the few estates run largely by crooked thugs retained by absentee noble landholders, while towards the eastern end it becomes more cultivated, rockier, and culturally a bit more reminiscent of Barovia, though with a noticeably larger population. There's still more than a bit of italian influence visible - the sprawling houses of the wealthy with their atria and enclosed courtyards, the emphasis on crossbows is reminiscent of the famed Genovese mercenary crossbowmen, and there's more than a touch of the Roman church in the location of the heart of Ezra's worship here, the pretty much universal and sincere worship of Ezra among the populace, and the links and tension between church and secular authority.

Again, a largely human domain with few conventional D&D monsters in evidence barring a few undead and some plant critters in the deeper reaches of the forest. In Borca, your PCs enemies will be mostly human, for a given value of 'human'. Wizardry is feared but you're not treated as a monster for using it, just dangerous. Borcans understands using power where you can find it, and whether that's the spellbook or the account book or the poison vial, they just recognise your ambition as dangerous rather than magic specifically.

Historically, we have shades of Mordent here, a dogs breakfast of a history cobbled together from an inconsistent and sometimes contradictory body of Ravenloft canon. Modern Borca is a combination of two domains, the old Borca, and the now defunct Dorvinia, both of which seem to share a common history with Barovia and Strahd. Dorvinia's origins are in the Strahd story - the ruling Dilisnya family plotted to murder the von Zarovitches at Sergei's wedding, except Strahd got there first, then blamed the Dilisnyas for the crime they attemped but didn't manage to complete, and hounded them into near extinction (note there a several versions of this story). The specifics are blurry, but the Dilisnya patriarch who plotted this was either killed and his bones hidden in Castle Ravenloft, or else turned into a vampire by Strahd and then entombed to exist in starving madness forever, or else escaped completely and died later. Regardless, his gigglingly murderous descendent Ivan Dilisnya was the darklord of Dorvinia until recently. Old Borca, on the other hand, originated in the same messy world of corrupt infighting city-states as Barovia and Dorvinia, but made its way to Ravenloft independently when its darklord, Camille Boritsi (a distant cousin of the Dilisnyas), poisoned her unfaithful husband and his lover. Camille's rule progressed with increasing caprice, bitterness, and paranoia, during which time the Church of Ezra was founded in Borca by her vision-smitten brother Yakov, until she was poisoned in turn by her daughter Ivana in revenge for Camille's vindictive seduction of Ivana's intended. Ivana inherited the darklordship, and when Borca and Dorvinia arbitrarily merged relatively recently, the two became co-Darklords of the new combined domain with Ivana distinctly the dominant of the two. How much of this matters to the great majority of Ravenloft games is pretty questionable.

Societally, money rules, although poison sometimes comes over the top with a late spoil to the boundary (I won't overuse the Australian football metaphors in future, I promise...) We theoretically have a legal system centred around contracts and indentures, with Ivana owning basically everything in Borca and letting it to her nobility of the moment, who sublet it further and further, and every layer adds their own batch of fees and graft on top, and corruption is a way of life everywhere and everything is for sale including justice so good luck getting your contract enforced if someone higher on the ladder decides to cheat you. Predictably, Borca is a terrible place to be poor, you're basically a serf with less recourse, and it's not a much better place to be a noble, cos the politics is lethal and lethally expensive, and if you have an attractive child they might be unfortunate enough to attract the attention of Ivan or Ivana. Lots of noble young Borcans are sent off to study in Dementlieu etc to avoid this very possibility. Economically, there's of course agriculture and winemaking and some crafts, but the place runs around money - it's the banking heart of the Core, though in an oddly missed opportunity to lay out some plothooks, we don't hear much about which nations, domains, or individuals are deepest in debt to Borcan financiers.

The protrayal of Ivana is a bit inconsistent. We're told she's flighty, vengeful and romantic, uninterested in governance except for when it comes to raising taxes to fund her own luxuries, but we're also told that she orchestrated a seamless takeover after killing her mother, and that she's one of the driving forces behind the anti-Falkovnia alliance of western Core nations, and we have a scene where she shakes S down for intelligence so expertly that S only notices later. From a plot point of view, she's your classic black widow trope, with a trail of poisoned lovers behind her, who twists and crushes the loves of others for the bitter sport of it. I suppose you could try to get a PC romantically involved with her, but do PCs really ever buy into that sort of thing? Having her enthrall an NPC the PCs care about might be a better option. Van Richten's Arsenal had a great plot suggestion where one of the high-ranking anchorites of Ezra in Levkarest, an aging, crippled man of great and renowned holiness who was a long-time trusted ally of van Richten, develops a hopeless late-life obsession with Ivana, and it had tragedy written all over it. If i wanted to run a black widow plotline with Ivana, I'd probably mine that. Her curse is pretty underwhelming - she looks ugly when she sleeps. Me too, sister, me too. Camille's curse was much more interesting - she was doomed to be betrayed by anyone who she trusted, which paradoxically led her to kill Yakov after the founding of the Church of Ezra - she never trusted him, so he remained faithful to her until the day she murdered him.

I wonder at the necessity of Ivan. Granted, in a domain themed around vicious backstabbing and untrustworthiness it makes sense to have an uneasy balance of Darklords at the top, but he doesn't seem to add much. He's a grinning foppish shock-value psycho, the 'crazed playwright forcing others into roles in his plays' thing is already done by Lemot Sediam Juste, and it's not like he and Ivana even actively seem to plot against each other much. There's hints that the lunatic image is a facade covering something more competent and dangerous (and his destruction of a Falkovnian incursion argues in favour of that), but what are his goals? The only one really talked about here is his paranoia about his advancing age while Ivana remains eternally 18. Why she doesn't simply try to turn him into a ermordenung (the inhuman venom-impregnated agents she creates alchemically from the prettiest of her young favourites, who i believe do not age) I'm not 100% sure.

Actually using Borca in a game - hmmm. For a one-off weekend in the Mists type thing, you're probably looking at a more evil Romeo and Juliet situation here - amazing dresses, upper-class debauchery, veiled barbs, feuds, duels, exotic poisons, doomed lovers, and a truly massive body count at the end when all the plots come to a head and Ivana and the ermordenung start cutting loose. It could work - though integrating a party of foreign PCs into a situation like that can be tough. And there's the obvious problem that so many of the nobility are just horrible people (or they wouldn't stay part of the nobility very long), PCs might be tempted to do a Mercutio and wish a pox on all their houses. The other way you could go is to emphasise the dilemma of the church of Ezra, an obvious Christianity-analog, a religion of the poor, that preaches humility and mutual protection against a dark world, but which is intricately entwined with the profoundly vile secular (and supernatural) rulers. Johann the anchorite and his crush on Ivana could be something to work with here, shades of Ambrosio from The Monk, except with Ivana wanting to find out how far a once-virtuous man would be willing to immerse himself in debasement and evil. Though the temptress femme fatale playing with the hearts of innocent men is an overdone and predictable trope I'd prefer not to run straight, there'd need to be a twist on it.

As a part of a living world setting, it's not my favourite, though it's reasonably well depicted here, and it serves as a nice thematic bridge between the 'advanced' domains like Richemulot and Mordent, and the more medieval places like Barovia and Nova Vaasa. I don't have anything against it, it just lacks ... pizzazz, once you get out of the big city and away from Ivana, Nostalia, and the Great Cathedral. It is another 'humans-are-the-worst-monsters' domain like Falkovnia, but I think it's more playable than Falkovnia in most travelling-around-hunting monsters campaigns. Falkovnia's role is to be the bad guy in a Falkovnian-militarism campaign. Borca is more flexible. I do like the ermordenung though, there's a lot of plot potential there. And if you're running a Strahd campaign that isn't CoS, there's a lot you can do with the Dilisnya family history too.

Borca is going to be a hard domain to translate to 5e though, simply because of the way the 5e poison mechanics work. Poison damage is once-and-done (and even the nasty ones don't cause much damage), and it rarely lingers. The poisoned condition is very nasty, sure, but you can sleep it off and it goes away if you can cure the poison. And in that department, Protection from Poison is a lowly second level spell that basically makes poison trivial unless it kills you outright first try before your cleric/druid/paladin/whoever can get the spell off. At least in previous editions you had Slow Poison at 2nd level to delay things a bit so you could frantically hunt for antidotes or try to concoct herbal remedies or whatever, and Neutralise Poison only came along as a 4th level spell. 5e really isn't set up for many classic poison-related plots - the one where someone is poisoned into a coma and you have to quest for the antidote (rather than just hiring a 3rd level cleric to Protection from Poison them), or the one where a bad guy poisons you and demands a favour for the antidote, or where poisons weaken you or make you more suggestible or similar rather than just wiping hit points off, or whatever. Simply bung a Protection from Poison on and you're fine - and it's not even a big investment of resources and for something with a really solid duration. Given poison is really Ivana's thing, they're going to have to do some work to make her (and the ermordenung) scary. Still, you could possibly do that with a sidebar containing game mechanics for a couple of dozen more interesting poisons than we currently get, and maybe some special rules for anti-poison magic being less reliable here.

Will Borca make it to 5e? I dunno if it's been revealed yet, but I suspect it will in some form. Wouldn't be surprised to see some major surgery in the interests of simplification though. Probably removal of one of the Darklords, excision of all the old history with Strahd. The classic black widow trope will be something that likely gets re-evaluated or de-emphasised, which i think is partly a shame, because it's a great trope for drama, but also could be a positive if it leads to Ivana becoming a more rounded character with interests beyond the romantic. i wouldn't even really particularly mind if Borca became a sort of pocket-domain centred around Ivana's court, or a Verona-style city state (I almost typed 'Vernon' there, which would have been a very different place...). To be honest in a Ravenloft where all domains are islands in the mist and Borca is not only surplus to requirements when it comes to 'the geography between Barovia and the Western Core' and we lose scope for the sort of nasty international politics where Ivana can shine, but also Borca loses its historical Barovian connection ... I'm not really sure what value we get, from a setting point of view, from rural Borca.

In light of me arbitrarily deciding we don't need rural areas in Borca any more, of course the random class generator gave me ranger. So this is a monster slayer ranger, built using a bunch of the Tasha's alternative Ranger class features to make it less wilderness-y. I figure she's an insignificant daughter of tenuously lower-middle ranked aristocracy, who found a copy of some of Van Richten's guides in an old library and has since secretly applied their lessons to a number of minor undead creatures and the like. However, pretty soon she'll have to go to Levkarest with her family to fulfil their social and contractual obligations. Her parents don't have the cash to send her out of Borca away from Ivana's circle until they can safely marry her off, and are afraid of what might happen. They'd be more afraid if they knew what she was up to in secret - she killed an ermordenung a while back, under the misapprehension it was a monster of some sort, and how she reacts when she realises ermordenung comprise half of Ivana's inner circle is anyone's guess.

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Next up is metaplot-world, Invidia!
 

Faolyn

Hero
He's a grinning foppish shock-value psycho, the 'crazed playwright forcing others into roles in his plays' thing is already done by Lemot Sediam Juste, and it's not like he and Ivana even actively seem to plot against each other much.
It's unclear if the Gazetteers were ever going to cover Scaena, even if they had lasted long enough to get to those mini-domains. I imagine the best use for Ivan would be for him to (try to) directly hire the PCs for something while being so Caligula-meets-Joker-insane that the PCs have to decide whether working for him is less dangerous than working against him. Of course, a party of PCs could probably take Ivan in a fight, but he has a ton of "loyal" soldiers they'd have to get through first.

Which, of course, is the second reason to have Ivan--the PCs are approached by one of the "dead men" who wants to be free of Ivan's poison, which would involve infiltrating Ivan's home (which I know is named; I just can't remember the name). Ivan's home is undoubtedly a crazy dungeon of its own and is probably filled with horrific Grimtooth-style traps.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
I recall that Ivans children were secreted away by their midwives at birth, so it might be interesting if a PC turns up who, unknown to themselves, has a birthmark that prove they are Ivans child and thus a claimant to his throne - intrigues, seductions and assassination attempts ensue..

Borca was based unashamedly on the Borgia family (who hailed from the town of Borja) and were known as highly corrupt murderers, manipulators and wealthy clergy (including Pope Alexander VI (born Rodrigo de Borja). Fortunately The Borgias got their own TV series which could be mined for ideas.
 
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