D&D General Reading Ravenloft the setting

Because you repeated it several times, that there was a woman writer on this project. And when it was said way back in the past posts that this does really mean anything important to the topic of some of that project detailing a tendency toward certain tropes, it seemingly fell on deaf ears. As, not long after, again the female writer was mentioned.

Assuming you meant to say doesn't (if not then will edit this response to answer the inverse meaning). Someone can say it is not important, that doesn't make them right. I think it is relevant which is why I repeated it. I don't have to cede a point just because someone makes an assertion. And I repeat this fact often because in discussions about TSR era material people often talk about how there aren't many female authors. And I think that is an overly simplistic view of the development of the hobby and the context of the times. Like I said it isn't a straight line. Ravenloft is a line that had a lot of female contributors. That matters.
 

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Faolyn

(she/her)
It doesn't mean that there isn't problematic content, but it certainly should be weighed when reading the characters. And I am not so sure about your conclusions. The tone of the argument I am seeing seems to be not only is the book bad, but the people who made it were either bad or not good designers because they had women who had love as a motive
And you've completely failed to understand any of the things I've talked about.

Remember, I started this whole thing by saying I want more female darklords that have something other than romance as their primary goals, because not only is it sexist that almost all the female DLs have their goals involving men or babies, but it's boring as well--especially in contrast to the highly varied male darklords.

Then you and others jumped in saying how romance was the most important thing and the non-romantic DLs are not as interesting as the romantic ones--as if I was attacking the concept of romance altogether. It got to the the point that Paul said the game should just be dumped rather than daring to add a non-romance goals to the women, because it would no longer be gothic. And then you're saying that there were women working on it, as if that means it's not sexist or that all women should feel the same way or something like that.
 


And you've completely failed to understand any of the things I've talked about.

Remember, I started this whole thing by saying I want more female darklords that have something other than romance as their primary goals, because not only is it sexist that almost all the female DLs have their goals involving men or babies, but it's boring as well--especially in contrast to the highly varied male darklords.

Then you and others jumped in saying how romance was the most important thing and the non-romantic DLs are not as interesting as the romantic ones--as if I was attacking the concept of romance altogether. It got to the the point that Paul said the game should just be dumped rather than daring to add a non-romance goals to the women, because it would no longer be gothic. And then you're saying that there were women working on it, as if that means it's not sexist or that all women should feel the same way or something like that.

This will be my last post on this topic as I don't want to derail the thread further. For the record I do not agree with Paul's conclusion there. I also don't agree a lot with his views on gothic and on horror. I think love and romance are important elements, I don't think they are the only elements, and I don't think tanking the line is a good option here. I also recognize that 5E Ravenloft is not going to be 2E Ravenloft. The point where I felt I was jumping in was when it was stated that the message was women aren't happy unless they have a man and babies. I was saying you can have tropes that get into that stuff without it meaning a message about that. When I was a kid my mom lost a child. This had a significant impact on me. It comes out in my writing and design. I wanted to give the designers of the black box fair credit and assume those kinds of things were present for reasons other than trying to send a negative message about women. I think we get into somewhat dangerous territory for writers and their self expression when we reach immediate conclusions about tropes. I don't think it is as simple as X trope is bad, and means this. That was my point. I agreed with your point about wanting more female dark lords. Even just for the purposes of this discussion only having two female dark lord entries in the black boxed set, felt like it made it hard to really establish visible patterns. There are very, very few RPG books that I would hold up as a 'great work'. The RoT boxed set is one of them. That is my reason for being so passionate and really putting pressure on criticisms I don't agree with. That is also why I keep mentioning it was co-authored by a female writer, I don't want Andria Hayday and Bruce Nesmith getting labeled as sexist, when I don't think they were at all (and I doubt they will be in here to defend themselves). And I don't think all women should feel the same way about it. Part of the reason I mentioned female writers also in Ravenloft was to point out women can have different opinions on this stuff (as presumably the women writers for Ravenloft who engaged these tropes felt differently about them than some of the posters here).
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
Epic
OK, and? That has nothing to do with the lack of information written into a book for GMs.

Jacqueline manipulates people. The book could have gone into a few sentences as to how. For instance: it could say that, if she dislikes a particular aristocrat, she spreads rumors amongst the peasantry that the aristo is engaged in <activities to make a QAnon-er proud>, often driving the peasants into throes of homicidal fury. Among the aristocracy, she spreads rumors involving grabs of power and land that would give one faction a leverage over another, ensuring the latter one moves against the first.

Do you understand what I'm talking about now?
and what if you don't know what aristocrats or peasants are? what about cabins?.. there is a domain with lots of those & what if the reader doesn't know what cabins are either? At some point the author needs to accept that the reader will have some amount of knowledge & experience of their own world that they can draw on or will make something up if they cant. Wikipedia is not acceptabe 'formats for a sourcebook. The needs of Plato's cave dwellers are far from the needs of an average reader & at some point they will need to remove the chains or enjoy the shadows.
 

TheSword

Legend
Jesus. Seven pages about the same small section of Ravenloft. Can’t you all just agree that it was of its time and that Renier’s love life is a contested issue?

I mean the new book isn’t even out yet. We don’t yet know the full details, but you can bet there will be more women in it.

The fact it was written in the 80’s and 90’s should be enough for people to accept it for what it is. A piece of fiction in time. Now if May 2021’s release follows suit, then sure have at it. If not, why not give it a pass.

1970’s comedy writers apologise for not accurately predicting which jokes would be acceptable in 2020
 

Faolyn

(she/her)
and what if you don't know what aristocrats or peasants are? what about cabins?.. there is a domain with lots of those & what if the reader doesn't know what cabins are either? At some point the author needs to accept that the reader will have some amount of knowledge & experience of their own world that they can draw on or will make something up if they cant. Wikipedia is not acceptabe 'formats for a sourcebook. The needs of Plato's cave dwellers are far from the needs of an average reader & at some point they will need to remove the chains or enjoy the shadows.
At this point, you either can't tell the difference between an example and a lecture, or are being deliberately obtuse and argumentative.
 

Dementlieu, and we are on to Gazetteer III. This one very much focuses on the '1800s-era' domains that dominate the 3e Ravenloft aesthetic and assumed tech level - Dementlieu, Mordent, and Richemulot (Lamordia makes up the complete set). Firearms, greatcoats, and cravats replacing broadswords, tabards and platemail. They even share languages - there's hints in the text that Dementlieu in particular spawned off Mordent rather than being dragged in from another world, so perhaps a level of common ancestry here? Though Mordent and Dementlieu share basically nothing else from a cultural perspective, so I'm honestly not sure what we're meant to read from this. Anyway, if this was almost any other domain it'd be a welcome opportunity to divert the course of this thread from gender representation flame war to 'D&D is too superheroey for Gothic' flame war, or even a nice flame war about firearms and armour in D&D, but this is Dementlieu and Dominic, so no such luck I suspect. But I'll do my best to kick off a flamewar about class instead, ok?

It's not QUITE the first thing we read, but nonetheless we finally officially learn that S is indeed female, so I can stop torturing my sentence structure trying to avoid using gendered pronouns when talking about her. Phew. S apparently studied in Dementlieu for a while after her father made her unwelcome (which is why she wasn't in Il Aluk to get turned into a vassalich or something by the Requiem) so she's fairly familiar with the place. The other thing we learn is that in Darkon Azalin gifted S with a magical bracer, which she has now discovered she cannot remove. She is not best pleased about this.

Dementlieu is ... nice. Pleasant rolling hills and farmland, picturesque lakes, mild weather, beaches, elegant cafes, gardens and culture and art the like. The niceness carries through to the wildlife - the nastiest monster listed as present here is only CR7, which after Falkovnia and its laundry list of CR20 horrors, is a profound relief. Even S comments on the lack of monsters here. I think Dementlieu is meant to be written up as another 'humans are the worst monsters' domain with all the nastiness hidden under a welcoming facade, but again, after Falkovnia it just seems tame.

The history section is the normal sort of 'I'd love to talk more about the history but the documentation is weirdly scant and people here aren't interested in history' dodge that we're getting very familiar with at this point. The high points are increasing tension between aristocracy and the poor, and Falkovnia's failed invasion basically as soon as Dementlieu appeared in the Core. This was only 50 years ago, so it was actually within living memory of plenty of people (and probably unliving memory if S had bothered to hunt down a ghost or something for interrogation), which makes the whole 'oooh, history is all SUCH a big mystery' schtick a bit annoying here. The cracks in the premise of the setting begin to show a bit, but that's kinda the nature of Ravenloft really.

Culturally, Dementlieu riff heavily of 1800s France. There's very little canonical material on the domain that I'm aware of outside of brief descriptions in the main setting books, no defining Dementlieu adventure or novel or anything, so I think a fair bit of what we read here is basically created from whole cloth for this book. As we've seen a few times, the Kargatane try to make the world feel more lived-in by adding extra fault lines or complexities in the domain other than the lords (Barovia's ethnic tensions, for instance) and here that tension is based on social class. The poor are oppressed, the rich are decadent, and revolution is in the air. Methinks a viewing or two of Les Miserables was an inspiration to the writeup here.

Social class is actually not something that's often a major setting element in D&D. In standard 'medieval' D&D you very rarely see serfdom, for instance, or anything resembling feudal obligations, and adventuring and magic give almost anyone to transcend the class (or caste, or whatever) they were born in through access to vast amount of loot, or through sheer power. And then there's the question of what happens when one player shows up to the first game session with a dung-covered farmkid peasant PC and another one with a nobleborn squire - you need them to be able to associate with each other on a relatively equal level for the game to work. D&D basically has modern-day social mobility with a quasi-medieval paint job over it. Which is entirely consistent with D&Ds swords-and-sorcery roots (Conan was the barbarian who became a king, after all), but fits less well with Gothic tropes which are almost always centred around upper class or at the very least gentlefolk protagonists (probably because that's the class who was writing the books).

Dementlieu is a little caught in that bind, riffing off a class-stratified social structure in a world where several factors and the requirements of good gaming mitigate against that. We DO have social mobility here, if you're artistically talented you can make it big, fast; while conversely if you're highborn and lose at intrigue, down you go. Everyone tries to develop artistic talent - the rich get art tutors for their kids, the poor treasure any talented kids they might have because they might be able to life the entire family up the social ladder if they become popular. But despite this and a sort of dole that prevents actual starvation (mostly) the quality-of-life gulf is huge and resented, and the place is painted as a powder keg. How do foreigners (like most PCs) fit into this very binary-divided structure? It's not very clear. Obviously if you're a scruffy druid with a skunk companion on your shoulder and you haven't bathed for weeks you're not going to get invited to the best parties no matter how high-level you are, but a bit of guidance would have been nice (which is something I forgot to mention in the Falkovnia writeup - foreigners can get passports to enter Falkovnia, but non-humans are persecuted. What about foreign non-humans?).

Art is a big deal, and social life here revolves around it. High art (opera and theatre, painting and sculpture and fashion) are the most prestigious, probably because they're the most expensive to do, but there's a bit of everything all the way down to street theatre and fancy decorative cooking. Apparently the place is swamped with mediocre and bad artists from everywhere, hoping for their big break, and every second indulged rich kid has resentful pretentions of unappreciated artistic genius, which is a dynamic I kinda like. Very little else happens here, i want gang wars over artistic schools, dammit! It's also a relatively tolerant society when it comes to magic, though with a focus on illusions etc for their artistic potential over sheer destructive power. There's a small society of wizards who study more 'serious' magic but most people just think they're bookish weirdos (hey, at least they're not actively shunned like they are everywhere else!) Religion also is tolerated with a shrug, lots of casual Ezraites here, who show up to services sometimes but aren't devout. There is an ancient cathedral of Ezra here with an artefact that can cast Heal on you - of dump all the sicknesses it cured from the previous petitioners on you if it doesn't find you worthy. Given the relative scarcity of high-level healing magic in Ravenloft, a pilgrimage here with a sick NPC would be a good plot hook.

If you're thinking that there's not much for a standard adventuring party to do here ... you'd be right. Violence is rare and frowned upon, there aren't many monsters. The nastiness is almost entirely between people. That'd be a problem, with lots of D&D parties. In a setting where adventures are almost always going to be social or intrigue-based, are players going to retain their interest? D&D does a lot of combat niche protection, ensuring that there's something everyone can do, but in social scenarios, it's basically all about who has the high Cha and the social skill proficiencies. Maybe with a bit of help from the PC with Investigation if there's a mystery plot. The tanky fighter who dumped Int and Cha isn't going to find himself much to do here, unless the DM tries really hard.

And the we have Dominic d'Honaire. The place is ruled by a Lord-Governor (currently elderly and fading) supported by a council of advisors (all nobles, of course), or which Dominic is the chief and the clear power behind the throne. He can basically mentally condition people to be obedient servants of his with a couple of applications of his mental powers, and he's got these people scattered all throughout the city (the Lord-Governor and all but one of the council are Obedients too). This power hs the side-effect of making the subject very resistant to mental attack from any other source - if I'm a DM, I'm actually having Dominic openly offer this treatment to PCs as a hypnotic process that'll help them resist mind-affecting spells etc, without mentioning the side effects. His motivation here is a bit curious. He's basically got everything he wanted (curse aside) and now he just likes to mess with people for the hell of it. Not the most compelling vilain hook, I have to admit. So in addition to this, he has a foil, a psionic brain in a jar who hides in a cellar and challenges Dominic's hold over Dementlieu.

The Brain has many problems as a villain. First, he's the lost son of the ruler of Lamordia, who was shipwrecked and captured by Mordenheim and then had his body amputated. When his psionic powers developed, he dominated Mordenheim into building him a life-support system and letting him go (if Mordenheim turned me into a brain in a jar, and then i mentally dominated him, he's not going to get off that easy, let me tell you...), and then he got a servant to carry him to Dementlieu where he immediately started taking over. Why Dementlieu? Just seems random, especially for a very prominent Lamordian. And why did he have this sudden desire to dominate and seize control off Dominic anyway? Also not explained very well at all (he want to 'prove himself', really? To who? How? Who will he brag to, once he's done it?). And he lives in the city with a miraculous healing relic, why hasn't he gotten someone to carry his jar up there and try to be re-embodied?

However, what the Brain does do well it hit Dominic where it hurts. If implemented better, he'd be a much more apt curse for Dominic than his actual curse. Dominic is a control freak, everything from his first murder to the government he designed and runs is based around control. A nemesis who can challenge his mental powers, the most pure expression of his need for dominance, undermines his sense of self and security like nothing else. I LIKE that dynamic, it's just that the Brain is a bit of a mess.

The actual curse has been discussed here ad nauseam already - Dominic cannot dominate any woman he's attracted to, and she will find him more and more repulsive the stronger his attachment grows. I don't like this particularly, it's a very romance-centric curse for someone who isn't routinely motivated by romance, and while Dominic has killed a woman he desired when she resisted his domination, that was after he became Darklord, so the curse would not be related to that incident.

What i do find interesting about Dominic is that he's a very human Darklord. Strahd and Azalin are undead, Lukas is at the very least extremely long-lived, Mordenheim just seems to have been made arbitrarily immortal by the Dark Powers to mess with the unaging Adam. Dominic, on the other hand, actually seems to be aging. About 50 years have past since he arrived in Dementlieu as a young boy, and now he's in his late 50s. He has a wife (from a loveless political marriage) and at least one child. He's actually getting old, his hair is graying and he's quite portly. Will the Dark Powers allow a Darklord to escape them by dying of old age or heart disease? And his curse is being leveraged against him, so far successfully, by a rival on the Council. She realises Dominic has feelings for her, but is able to conceal her curse-driven repulsion for him in the interests of advancing her political plots. Could a Darklord be brought down by a good poker face? I have to admit that'd be a profoundly appropriate ending for the guy - after dominating everyone in his domain who could be a threat, and living an entire lifetime in which no woman would love him, he finally falls in love late in life with a woman who seems to reciprocate, only to lose everything when she betrays him and reveals she never cared at all. Ouch.

As far as a game setting goes, Dementlieu's very civilised setting doesn't make it a comfy fit for most D&D games. You'd need to have a group very willing to do intrigue and social plots. You could do a weekend-in-hell story here with the revolution coming and the Brain and Dominic on opposite sides in the shadows and Dominic's curse coming to a head - but the problem is, Dementlieu is so outwardly pleasant and normal. There's not really much horror here until you get deep under the surface.

As a part of a campaign world, it fits better, It's a great (reasonably safe) place for PCs to originate from, and there's no huge prejudices against non-humans or spellcasters (not many barbarians here though!) From a world-building point of view, it's written up as the cultural and manufacturing centre of the world, although as we're accustomed to by now, the populations numbers don't support this.

Which is probably why it's being turned upside down. Apparently in 5e Dementlieu's Darklord will be a female d'Honaire (a daughter or descendent?) and will be themed around fairy tales. Which is so wildly different to the place's current incarnation that I can't even imagine what the premise is going to be (and come on, don't we already have Tepet and the Shadow Rift for that sort of thing? And even Kartakass is casically a Red Riding Hood story waiting to happen)

What I would have liked from Dementlieu as a Core domain is ... more. I think the writers here were just being too careful to stick to the very limited available canon, where canon really needed some expansion. It's obviously Les Miserables-influenced, as i said, and it's written up as a huge dynamic place. So I wish the authors would have made it bigger, just so Dominic had more people to manipulate if nothing else. There's so much source material if you source from French literature and history. The Port-a-Lucine Opera House gets a few paragraphs, but where's the Phantom of the Opera minidomain? Where's the Beast of Gevaudan? The Man in the Iron Mask? Dig up Angels of Music by Kim Newman for some reference, a wonderfully Weird/Gothic/Pulp novel where Erik from the Phantom runs a Charlies' Angels type operation of women from various Gothic novels, and they battle against baddies like the Grand Guignol Theatre and critter from beneath the sea.

Anyway, today the random class was bard, which is very apt for the domain. This guy hails from the poor quarters, he works in the meatworks and his thing is juggling/throwing cleavers (in 5e terms, he's a Blade college bard - seriously WHY isn't there a bard subclass focusing on actually entertaining people and having fun?). He's part of a street performing troupe that sneaks into the wealthy areas and puts on scurrilous skits or shows before the gendarmes arrive to chase them off. The troupe (the Butcher Boys) is very political, but this fellow is more in it for the thrills...

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Next up, Mordent.
 

JEB

Legend
Which is probably why it's being turned upside down. Apparently in 5e Dementlieu's Darklord will be a female d'Honaire (a daughter or descendent?) and will be themed around fairy tales. Which is so wildly different to the place's current incarnation that I can't even imagine what the premise is going to be (and come on, don't we already have Tepet and the Shadow Rift for that sort of thing? And even Kartakass is casically a Red Riding Hood story waiting to happen)
You may be right that Dementlieu just wasn't fantastical enough for what they wanted for 5E Ravenloft. But I also wonder if maybe Dominic d'Honaire (by dint of the nature and implications of his powers) has become just a little too creepy for modern preferences. (If anyone here has seen Jessica Jones, think of Killgrave.)

I'm not sure why that would have also necessitated an overhaul of the domain, however. Though I could throw one possibility out there: maybe Saidra d'Honaire has hypnotized the population into creating her own perfect fairy-tale life...
 

Of course Ravenloft has to change, but not only to be more inclusive but because the current fandom also is changing. The original Ravenloft was inspired in the old black & white horror movies, but today these can't the exclusive main of inspiration. Today new DM generations drinks different sources, as the indie horror movies, TV-Shows, Asian comics, survival horror videogames, or other TTRPGs besides the classic World of Darkness.



In my game there are planar gates from the demiplane of dread to a crystal sphere in the material plane, but this is almos so bad like the own demiplane. It is like Innistrad, with a little better technology and more "post-apocalypse", suffering "raid" by Lovecraftian creatures from the Far Realm. The fact is the darklords almost can "visit" that crystal sphere. Really they can't exit the "cages" but this dread domains as "floating pocket universes" can appear in the "dammed" crystal spheres causing lots of troubles to the naive survivers, who have got enough troubles with monsters and supernatural factions conspiranting to rule the remains of the civilitation. (A poisoned gift, or trick by the Dark Powers for those enough brave or fool to dare to try an escape).

In my game also there are very good people, true blessed, and sometimes when they suffer a tragic fate, something happens, and Dark Powers like this nothing at all, for example the undeads can't attack in the sacred place of a saint martyr, or evil magic fails when innocent children pray asking divine help. Some dark lords feel really unconfortable when they suffering visions of geists (ghosts) showing inner peace and serenity because they died with enough divine grace, or at least saved their souls with their sacrifice getting the true redenmtion.

* It is harder to feel piety for the dark lords when you notice they are behaving like totally toxic people. Let's say I enjoy more when the antagonists know how to be true leaders of their factions.



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