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D&D General Reading Ravenloft the setting


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Voadam

Legend
I always liked the ermordenung narratively. I thought they were a great Ravenloft addition.

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In practice they are a save or die every attack monster which I find generally unfun to use in actual combats.
 

I always liked the ermordenung narratively. I thought they were a great Ravenloft addition.

View attachment 135234

In practice they are a save or die every attack monster which I find generally unfun to use in actual combats.

Yeah, poison of any sort is such a hard thing to mechanically implement in an interesting way. I'm mostly only familiar with their 3e incarnation, which wasn't QUITE save-or-die, though it certainly could be depending on what base character you applied the template to. Ermordenung monk!

Most interesting poison plots require something horrible but slow-acting, so that there can be a time limit on some quest the PCs have to do to save the day. But in practice that just provides time to prepare a Protection from Poison spell.

I've never run a game with an ermordenung, but I suppose the only real way to go about it would be to have it a detective story, with any combat coming predominately from different sources before a short, sharp, lethal confrontation at the end. But even then, an intelligent ermordenung has all sorts of ways of killing PCs in their sleep etc with an eye on efficiency rather than drama.

One thing about them though - is it written anywhere that their loyalty to Ivana is part of their make-up? Could an ermordenung turn on its mistress? PCs trying to cure an ermordenung, or dealing with a loved one who has been turned into an ermordenung, or managing an ermordenung who wants to defect (to Ivan, or to somewhere outside Borca) could be interesting. Ermordenung are explicitly not immune to each others poison (otherwise the 'oh no i can never touch a loved one again!' tragedy aspect of them has a honking great loophole in it), could there be an internecine civil war among the ranks of the ermordenung? Everyone ELSE in Borca intrigues and backbites, why not these guys too?
 

Voadam

Legend
Yeah, poison of any sort is such a hard thing to mechanically implement in an interesting way. I'm mostly only familiar with their 3e incarnation, which wasn't QUITE save-or-die, though it certainly could be depending on what base character you applied the template to. Ermordenung monk!

In AD&D they were save or die on any touch, saving meant you only took 10 hp that round, 20 if they had you grabbed. You got a +4 on the save so it was easier, but you still took damage.

3e's 2d4 con damage twice is pretty nasty as well regardless of your level if you are not already protected. That is one of the nastiest in the game, con damage is the only one that can kill generally.

I've never run a game with an ermordenung, but I suppose the only real way to go about it would be to have it a detective story, with any combat coming predominately from different sources before a short, sharp, lethal confrontation at the end.
There are others besides detective stories.

They could be a plot element powerful bodyguard threat that is not planned to be used as direct combat. "I hear Boritsi is protected by the Ermordenung, an elite all women society of assassins."

They could be a known big threat in a Leverage style heist. "The Kargatane wants you to acquire the letters that Madame Velini holds. She is known to kill with a contact poison that has no known antidote. Direct confrontation is not advised. You have five days."

They fall into a similar category to a lot of undead in AD&D, nasty dangerous glass cannons. A big pack of ghouls is similar, save or be paralyzed for longer than the encounter.
 

Voadam

Legend
One thing about them though - is it written anywhere that their loyalty to Ivana is part of their make-up? Could an ermordenung turn on its mistress? PCs trying to cure an ermordenung, or dealing with a loved one who has been turned into an ermordenung, or managing an ermordenung who wants to defect (to Ivan, or to somewhere outside Borca) could be interesting. Ermordenung are explicitly not immune to each others poison (otherwise the 'oh no i can never touch a loved one again!' tragedy aspect of them has a honking great loophole in it), could there be an internecine civil war among the ranks of the ermordenung? Everyone ELSE in Borca intrigues and backbites, why not these guys too?

Only vaguely

From 2e

"The ermordenung are a dark and evil people found almost exclusively in the domain of Borca. Here, they act as elite agents who serve Ivana Boritsi, the ruler of that dread domain. On rare occasions, they are sent on missions outside of Borca to further the interests of their mistress.
* * *
Habitat/Society: The ermordenung live as members of the ruling elite in Borca. They seldom mix with "the common folk" unless acting on behalf of their mistress, Ivana Boritsi. The fact that the ermordenung cannot touch another living creature without causing it to whither and die causes them endless heartache. They have been forever denied the physical pleasures—the caress of a lover's hand, the embrace of a close friend, the affectionate hug of a child—that mean so much to mortal men. Their inner suffering and agony has been marshalled to make them cruel and heartless agents who carry out the orders of Ivana Boritsi without question.
Ecology: The ermordenung are normal humans who have been transformed, at the command of Ivana Boritsi, mistress of Borca, into nightmarish creatures. The process by which these creatures are created is dark and mysterious, but is believed to be so brutal to its subjects that only the most physically fit can survive it. Because of her own passionate nature, Ivana Boritsi selects only the most physically beautiful of her people for the "honor" of transformation."

In 3e:
"A seductive, twisted and evil people of the domain of Borca, the ermordenung are created by Ivana Boritsi, mistress of Borca, to become her most loyal and elite operatives and assassins. Living as members of the ruling class, they appear as normal human beings of beauty, nobility and grace. Both men and women are exceptionally tall and marked by coal-black hair, dark, hypnotic eyes and an unusually pale complexion.
* * *
Forever denied normal physical pleasures, inner suffering and agony leads most of them to become cruel and heartless, carrying out the orders of Ivana Boritsi without question. They are rarely sent on missions outside Borca."

So it does not say directly why they are loyal to her instead of bitter and hate her, but it could be the creation process, the status position, or something else.

The fact that she rarely sends them out hints at possibly not having great control outsider her domain so their could be a darklord power or a poison thing that borders block.

Also I was misremembering them as only women. From the initial 2e description it talks about both sexes as does the 3e one.
 


Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
This can be great for horror though
I think slow insidious poisons that take effect over time (Mummy rot) is more horrorfying though. I’d change Ivana and the ermordenung so they have the option of either the save or die attack or a insidious touch that does Con damage each morning until healed and which victims (PCs) may not even know they have been afflicted by (at least until they realise they are being forced to make daily saves)
 

I think slow insidious poisons that take effect over time (Mummy rot) is more horrorfying though. I’d change Ivana and the ermordenung so they have the option of either the save or die attack or a insidious touch that does Con damage each morning until healed and which victims (PCs) may not even know they have been afflicted by (at least until they realise they are being forced to make daily saves)
Con damage isn’t really a thing in 5e though (for understandable reasons - the idea of stat damage was nice but in-game it was a nightmare to continually recalculate your entire character sheet when it happened)

Something like levels of exhaustion that can’t be removed by resting might be an alternative implementation. But the sheer ease of magically curing poison in 5e makes any sort of long-term poison basically trivial.
 

I always liked the ermordenung narratively. I thought they were a great Ravenloft addition.

View attachment 135234

In practice they are a save or die every attack monster which I find generally unfun to use in actual combats.
Interesting character, but her weak point is discovering them is relatively easy if only the touch of a living animal,a canary for example, by a suspect (why does she wear gloves always? is enough to know that to be poisonous. Or she could be discovered accidentally when a hostile man hits her. In 5th Ed the enemies with save or die are too dangerous.

Other idea is the creation of agents totally inmune to the poison, to fight against ermordenung or to be their "company and comfort", or with an artificial heart created specifically to stand poisons with heartattack effect.

I would change her allowing normal pyshical contact most of time, or at least for a little time, but the poisonous attack is caused by a hidden natural weapons, maybe fangs or a grafted symbiont tentacle , or when a magic tatoo is activated. And some magic item to alter the self. Some agents could be created with a sleeping effect to catch alive certain targets (for example for a kidnapping).
 

I think slow insidious poisons that take effect over time (Mummy rot) is more horrorfying though. I’d change Ivana and the ermordenung so they have the option of either the save or die attack or a insidious touch that does Con damage each morning until healed and which victims (PCs) may not even know they have been afflicted by (at least until they realise they are being forced to make daily saves)
It depends. Mummy rot can be horrifying. But knowing a monster can kill you with a touch is terrifying. I think you need both to have real horror. Lethality is very important IMO
 

Invidia. Full of sound and fury, but signifying?

Invidia has been (with Falkovnia) the axis around which much of the international politics and plotting have centred for the past three-and-a-bit Gazetteers, so it's a bit jarring to finally arrive here and realise how tiny it is. Population of under 7000, but a few hundred extra 'allied' Falkovnian troops in addition to that. Oh, and we're supposed to believe that it managed to sustain over 1000 people in the military. That's not how economies or societies work - at least not for long without collapsing in a starving heap.

Yep, it's another nation that's overwhelmingly human and doesn't like arcane magic.

Geographically, we've got the sort of Eastern European gothic we've seen before in Barovia and to some degree in Borca. No actual mountains, but deep and old forests rarely touched by the axe, deep slow rivers trafficked by barges and riverboats, and a range of difficult hills in the middle that serve as a quasi-border between the rival rulers of the place. It's noticeable how samey the descriptions are here - there's several different forests described here, each with their own prevailing flora and rumours, but the upshot is that it's a lot of trees with not much else. The place is largely uncharted, especially in comparison to similar-sized domains like Richemulot or Mordent, where the writeup went to some lengths to plonk ruins, plothooks, and mysteries on the unlabelled bits of the map. Not here.

Given it's a bit less cultivated than other neighbouring domains, we do have some more monsters here than we've seen elsewhere. In particular, Invidia is called out as a place where giant-type creatures are common - ogres, trolls, fomorians, and ettins in particular, which is a bit unusual for Ravenloft. There's reference to Malocchio being able to control or direct them against his enemies, but it's really only a few allusions. Also not sure whether they were here before he showed up. Neighbouring forested domains like Kartakass, Verbrek, Valachan don't get called out as harbouring many, neither do mountainous domains like Barovia, Forlorn, or the Mountains of Madness in Darkon. Perhaps their existence is linked to the Dukkar somehow?

What other typical D&D monsters never really appear in Ravenloft? There's vanishingly few dragons, but they have made appearances from time to time in some of the higher-fantasy domains or in older products. I don't think I've ever read about beholders or ropers or owlbears, umber hulks or rust monsters, or the metal-bull implementation of gorgons, but they're D&D-specific creations with no folkloric roots, so that's perhaps not a surprise. No genies have ever appeared in a Ravenloft product that i can remember, which is a bit of a surprise now I think of it, they'd be a really great fit for places like Pharazia. In fact it surprises me a bit that TSR never created a al-Qadim themed domain during their 'let's put a domain based on EVERY campaign setting in Ravenloft!' phase. Actually, come to think of it, other than fiends or the odd very very rare celestial, there's almost no planar creatures in the setting - no slaad or modrons or phoenixes or couatl or or maruts or whatever - you don't even get regular elementals here. Most aberrations could probably find a home in Bluetspur, and there's a drow colony in Darkon where you could put most of the standard underdark critters if you felt the need i guess. There's a domain with a medusa darklord, from memory. Hobgoblins? Pegasi? Remorhaz?

Now I want a giant-centric domain. Every so often, when you're sowing beans in a mist-heavy area, one beanstalk will grow monstrously higher than the others, and if you climb to the top you find a mighty fortress in the clouds, and a domain of giants who will grind your bones to make their bread. I do like that the Invidian giants are very much the grotesque malformed varieties rather than the elemental-themed regular D&D giants though. Adds a point of difference (speaking as someone who's currently playing through Storm King's Thunder and has never been a huge fan of D&Ds tendency to have classical-element-themed varieties of everything)

But I digress. Socially, the place is Barovia but more so. Superstitious illiterate impoverished peasantry, oppressed by ironfisted tyrant, not really much new or novel here. We get our second of three full-on pogrom domains here - sucks to be a nonhuman in Falkovnia, sucks to have Vistani heritage here. Malocchio is trying to murder them all, and given he's immune to the evil eye and Vistani curses, he's having much better luck than anyone else would. Again, this makes it very inconvenient to be here if one of your PCs is of the target demographic. Still, there's bugger-all people in the domain and if you need to pass through here you can probably sneak through the woods if you have a decent ranger with you, or face down most of Malocchio's patrols if you've got a few levels under your belt, and unless you've specifically got something to do in Malocchios's part of the domain, you can always avoid it entirely by travelling via Borca and Barovia.

Historically, we've got another combined domain, Invidia absorbing part of the now-default and never particularly well detailed realm of Gundarak, after its maniacal vampire darklord (who basically existed as a foil to more interesting Darklords like Strahd and Lukas) was weakened and then killed off entirely in a couple of very early 2e products. Invidia itself was originally a werewolf-themed domain, until its darklord was killed by Gabrielle Aderre, who assumed the mantle. More recent history centres around Gabrielle and her children. She is half-Vistani, and her Vistani mother had a vision very young that warned of the misery that would come to pass if Gabrielle were to ever have a family or children. When Gabrielle grew, she became obsessed with her unknown father, and eventually blackmailed her mother into revealing his identity. She didn't react well to being told she was the child of rape when her mother was a prisoner in Falkovnia (her father is heavily implied to be Vlad Drakov), and abandoned her mother to die. However, once she was ruling Invidia she was visited by the Gentleman Caller and became pregnant. Heavy Rosemary's Baby vibes here - the baby is a half-fiend with Vistani ancestry, called a Dukkar, and is very powerful and precocious. So precocious in fact that as a child Malocchio took over temporal rulership of Invidia from his mother (she's still the Darklord though) and started his persecution of the Vistani. Gabrielle survived, however, with the aid of her wolfwere lover, and now controls the northern ex-Gundarak part of the domain with the help of the wolfweres and of a Gundarakite separatist movement led by her other lover. She has another child now, whose fatherhood is uncertain, and things will soon go very bad for her when the child either does or doesn't turn into a wolfwere, thereby alienating the lover who is not the father, and half her power base...

Whew. Got all that?

So, what's it like as an actual place to play? Honestly, as written in the Gazetteer, the whole thing is so heavily focused around the Kargatane's much-beloved Dukkar metaplot that unless you're going to get deeply involved in that, there's better places in the Core to run almost any story you can run here (unless giants are your thing?) This is very much a domain that fits into the Core-as-living-setting model of Ravenloft. It's all about politics and international power and even naked war - between Gabrielle and Malocchio, or between Invidia and Barovia, or as part of a larger conflict involving Falkovnia and the western Core domains. I think Invidia was once written as the domain that riffed off 'evil prophecied child' horror, like the Omen or even Exorcist, and could be used as a one-shot sorta setting for that kind of story. (Does that still work when the mother is also evil?) However, in the metaplot, Malocchio was allowed to actually grow up to adulthood and start doing his thing, so that much more interesting angle is long gone now and we're left with a rather uninspiring by-the-numbers adult bad guy. If you're deep, deep into Ravenloft historical canon, or the nature and culture of Vistani and their prophesies or whatever, then this might have something for you. I'd be interested to hear what experiences others have had with the place, because it really doesn't do much for me personally.

Will it make the transition to 5e? I suspect it might be on the chopping block and if it was, I wouldn't really miss it, but sheer real-world history might get it through. If it does, it'll look very very different. We already know Vistani are going to be less bloodline-based, and there goes half of Gabrielle and Malocchio's backstory, and the rape aspect may be toned down, so there goes a chunk of the rest, and as discussed at length in this thread, a large amount of what Gabrielle does is all based around her lovers and her children etc etc - if Invidia makes the 5e cut and she's still around, I reckon she'll get a rewrite to give her more agency and motivations and ambitions outside the reproductive space.

Random class generator gave me wizard, in a very non-wizard-friendly domain. It occurs to me that Ravenloft was originally created before sorcerers and certainly before warlocks. The various domains that are prejudiced against arcane spellcasters operated under various assumptions, especially that the majority of arcane casters were wizards and so identifiable by their spellbooks etc, but also that arcane magic was meaningfully distinguishable from divine magic, which isn't really true any more. The Gazetteers, being 3.5e era, do make some distinctions between the perception of wizards vs sorcerers from time to time, but the whole edifice of anti-arcane sentiment is starting to creak more than a little. Anyway, this guy is a cart-driver who helps his father run caravans to Barovia. He got to know one semi-regular passenger who was indignant he'd never learned to read, and taught him his letters. Slowly he discovered that this passenger was a wizard, and he begged to be taught magic so he could escape his drudgery and the unwelcome marriage his father was planning for him. The wizard refused, saying he was too busy to spend multiple years educating an apprentice. So this fellow blackjacked the unsuspecting wizard and threw him overboard from a river ferry one dark night, and took his spellbook and other stuff. Pictured here admiring one of his new magic items. Has no idea what it does...

1617800313248.png


Next up, Verbrek.
 

Remathilis

Legend
So, what's it like as an actual place to play? Honestly, as written in the Gazetteer, the whole thing is so heavily focused around the Kargatane's much-beloved Dukkar metaplot that unless you're going to get deeply involved in that, there's better places in the Core to run almost any story you can run here (unless giants are your thing?) This is very much a domain that fits into the Core-as-living-setting model of Ravenloft. It's all about politics and international power and even naked war - between Gabrielle and Malocchio, or between Invidia and Barovia, or as part of a larger conflict involving Falkovnia and the western Core domains. I think Invidia was once written as the domain that riffed off 'evil prophecied child' horror, like the Omen or even Exorcist, and could be used as a one-shot sorta setting for that kind of story. (Does that still work when the mother is also evil?) However, in the metaplot, Malocchio was allowed to actually grow up to adulthood and start doing his thing, so that much more interesting angle is long gone now and we're left with a rather uninspiring by-the-numbers adult bad guy. If you're deep, deep into Ravenloft historical canon, or the nature and culture of Vistani and their prophesies or whatever, then this might have something for you. I'd be interested to hear what experiences others have had with the place, because it really doesn't do much for me personally.

Invidia to me was basically interesting if you were heavily involved with Vistani politics (or were Vistani or later, half-Vistani) but otherwise it was a less interesting Barovia. The metaplot tried to give it something, but boy did it sideline Gabrielle in her own Domain. I don't see much they could do with her due to how they are redoing Vistani, but it's possible to give her more of a role beyond being the Mother of Metaplot.

(Hmm... Maybe make her a little more like Dani from GoT?)

PS she's the second darklord in a row who's origin is directly tied to Strahd, being descended from Madam Eva and possessing her Tarokka Deck. Wonder how that'd work now that Strahd and Eva are siblings...
 



Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Yeah Invidia is a boring setting, I never cared for it, but you do highlight the presence of giants and I do like your beanstalk idea.

There are goblins in Tepest who are lead by Goblin Calibans that use hobgoblin stats

and the Gorgon bull isnt a D&D creation, it came from a 1607 The Historie of Foure-Footed Beastes a English Bestiary, its a foul a bull like creature from Libya, and apparently a medieval version of the Catoblepas

and the domain Al-Kathos is based on Zakhara and its darklord may be an Efreeti with devil minions
 
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Faolyn

Hero
I don't think I've ever read about beholders or ropers or owlbears, umber hulks or rust monsters, or the metal-bull implementation of gorgons, but they're D&D-specific creations with no folkloric roots, so that's perhaps not a surprise.
For whatever it's worth, there's a reference to some taxidermied monsters--including a gorgon--in the not-actually-published Van Richten's Guide to Mists.

But yeah, I guess by the time Ravenloft came around, they decided that those old monsters were just bags of hp and therefore weren't scary. Which is a shame, because they definitely have potential to be truly scary.

Neighbouring forested domains like Kartakass, Verbrek, Valachan don't get called out as harbouring many, neither do mountainous domains like Barovia, Forlorn, or the Mountains of Madness in Darkon. Perhaps their existence is linked to the Dukkar somehow?
Due to the nature of domains, there's not a lot of monster spillover. You get fierce, vicious, evil, man-eating wolves in Barovia, Kartakass, or Verbrek, but cross the border to the next domain that isn't as werewolf (or wolfwere) centric and the wolves suddenly become real-world wolves that would rather run away from humans than hunt them.

The black box doesn't list giants in Invidia--the only monsters listed are wolfweres, will-o'-wisps, and jermlaine--so they probably are because to Malocchio. Possibly his presence warped humans, or human fetuses, into giant form.
 

Tonguez

A suffusion of yellow
Due to the nature of domains, there's not a lot of monster spillover. You get fierce, vicious, evil, man-eating wolves in Barovia, Kartakass, or Verbrek, but cross the border to the next domain that isn't as werewolf (or wolfwere) centric and the wolves suddenly become real-world wolves that would rather run away from humans than hunt them.

The black box doesn't list giants in Invidia--the only monsters listed are wolfweres, will-o'-wisps, and jermlaine--so they probably are because to Malocchio. Possibly his presence warped humans, or human fetuses, into giant form.

I beleive that Malocchio employs Ogres in his army, so its not a stretch that there are giants too.
There are real canon giants in Sithicus and Hazlan, so I assume the giants of Invidia are real giants too. The Feast of Goblyns mentions the skeleton of giants.
Nabon the stone giant wanderer is a character in Spectre of the Black Rose (Lord Soths Terror).
 
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there are real canon giants in Sithicus and Hazlan, so I assume the giants of Invidia are real giants too. The Feast of Goblyns mentions the skeleton of a giant
Nabon the stone giant wanderer is a character in Spectre of the Black Rose (Lord Soths Terror).

There are a bunch of giant skeletons in Feast of Goblyns in Radaga's Cavern, but it doesn't say much about where they come from as I recall. Definitely not a fan of giants in Invidia myself (the original domain was cool because it was about the human conflict and relationships, things like enchantments, etc; I thought the later material on the domain was terrible and undercut Gabrielle Adere (who was much more interesting to me than Malocchio.

The giant skeletons were pretty cool. Radaga was almost a lord herself (it said something about her possibly getting a domain in that area under the right conditions (and that it would be a domain of undeath).

This was always one of my favorite Fabian images in Ravenloft:

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Voadam

Legend
The giant skeletons in MC10 are made by using an enlarge spell as part of the process,

"Like lesser animated skeletons, these undead things have no true claim to any place in nature. They are created from the bones of those who have died and are abominations in the eyes of all who belief in the sanctity of life and goodness.
The process by which giant skeletons are created is dark and evil. Attempts to manufacture them outside of Ravenloft have failed, so it is clear that they are in some way linked to the Dark Powers themselves. In order to create a giant skeleton, a spell caster must have the intact skeleton of a normal human or demihuman. On a night when the land is draped in fog, they must cast an animate dead, produce fire, enlarge, and a resist fire spell over the bones. When the last spell is cast, the bones lengthen and thicken and the creatures rises up. The the creator must make a Ravenloft Powers check for his part in this evil undertaking."

Those look a lot like the ones in Feast of Goblyns, but the ones in Feast of Goblyns have 8 HD and not the MC 4+4 HD. Both are immune to fire and do d12 damage.

2e Fire giant skeletons would have 15HD. 1e ones would have 11 HD.
 

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