Saturday, February 8, 2020

Ravenloft: The Powers That Be



I first became familiar with Ravenloft as a setting for ADnD 2E on the back covers of comic books.

After our first or second session playing ADnD as Garamond, my fighter, whose Ability scores were so low he couldn't qualify for any other class or any Kits, we started talking about the settings we'd like to try and Ravenloft was at the top of my list.

It's odd because I never liked horror growing up, I was even afraid to watch the classic Universal monster films and couldn't sleep for days after watching a short snippet of Night of the Living Dead and Halloween (by the by, I rewatched the latter recently and I'm not sure WHAT I was afraid of).

But as I got older I found myself drawn to horror, especially in fiction and especially in RPGs.

Sadly, I don't know how well horror lends itself to heroic fantasy. Yes, ADnD 2E isn't as super-heroic as 3.X, 4E, or 5E but the only thing that scared me in the 2nd Edition era were monsters that caused you to lose levels (we leveled so rarely and it just pissed me off). Yeah, we would run from those monsters but only because we didn't want to lose levels and we never had a Cleric along with us.

After playing Call of Cthulhu (I don't remember which edition, it was either 4th or 5th -- but honestly, aside from 7E does it matter?) I just didn't think ADnD or most versions of DnD worked for horror. In fact, when White Wolf announced the rights to publish Ravenloft under 3.X I hoped we'd at least get a version for the Storyteller system (I don't know why I didn't just run Adventure! in the Demiplane of Dread and Desire).

While Curse of Strahd is one of my favorite campaigns for 5E (and second behind Vol 1 of Tyranny of Dragons in my stores), it too was a great sandbox, but not that frightening. In fact, we lingered at 10th level for 8 months because our Dungeon Master didn't want my Druid to get daylight.

So I've been thinking about ways to make Ravenloft, if not frightening, at least evil, or in this case EVIL.

First, what if the Dark Powers were simply the Powers That Be (to steal from Whedon's Buffy and Angel mythology). What if they are Lords of Law whose primary mission is to lure evil beings into their Demiplane and trap them there? What if every being who gets trapped there is going to be tormented and tested to see if they should permanently be imprisoned because they are imperfect? Maybe they aren't EVIL enough to be a Dark Lord or Lady, but they are evil enough to be trapped within their borders too. Maybe this is Purgatory, but what if it's something worse?

The point is that the Lords of Law are unable to see subtlety or to read context and because of that, nearly any being is too "chaotic" to be set free. Accordingly, the Powers That Be believe that no being should be saddled with free will because it is, literally, chaos. And since Ravenloft is a prison run by guardians who are inflexible, literally anyone can run afoul of the Demiplane's mists, but adventurers are especially drawn to the Powers' attention due to their chaotic actions.

The Powers That Be know you will fail their tests once within their borders, but their only question is are you evil or EVIL? Remember, if you are evil then you just become some lost and fallen soul participating in the punishment of a Dark Lord or Lady. You aren't even worthy of your own specific Hell.

But, if you are EVIL? Well then their Demiplane grows and perhaps, one day even grows into a true Plane or eventually into something even more all-encompassing. The Powers are hungry to set the Multiverse right and to scourge Creation of Chaos in all of its lurid forms.

Gods, Fiends, Aberrations, Primevals no one really knows where the Powers That Be originated and somehow their presence and especially their creation triumphs over even a God or Primeval's will. In other words, no one messes with the Powers That Be, because they can't and they might become imprisoned. Even Gods have nightmares and the Powers are their worst fear. Perhaps they already have come for Gods in the past? Perhaps a God has been imprisoned by the Powers and everyone has simply forgotten them. What if a trapped deities' most loyal worshippers were imprisoned at the same moment? What if Tharizdun is the only being to ever escape the Powers, it's only fear is being rediscovered by them, and that above all its use of secrecy?

So that's how the Demiplane of Dread and Desire operates and next time we'll talk about how the Powers decide if you are evil or EVIL?


1 comment:

Justin Ryan Isaac said...

I think Ravenloft could be interesting if used with Eric’s The Blackest of Deaths.

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