Dread Domain Detectives Illustrated, Session 3 – The Missing Mentor

Dread Domain Detectives Illustrated, Session 3 – The Missing Mentor

After more than a month away from the game, we eased back in, looking into a cold case, their mentor is missing.

The Lamordian House of Lords debated changing penal law so that any found guilty of a felony could have their body offered to science to better our understanding of the natural laws (inspired by the Bas Lag’s books’ ReMade).

Dread Domain Detectives Illustrated

Dungeons & Dragons

Weird Science,


& Gothic fantasy!

Ripped from the 
pages of
Van Richten’s Guide to

With Art by Storn A. Cook

Viktor and Talis dig into their unfinished caseload - a missing person and a burglary.

What became of their mentor, Mathias Vimmer?

Who burgled the University's hallowed laboratories?

Who hunts the streets of Ludendorf?
Private Eye but the eye is an eye.

Started the session on Warlock Cliff, a cliff-face just outside of Ludendorf where magic doesn’t work. When I started to describe it, Jeff and Storn jumped in, offering further details – fog coming in from the sea and a lighthouse below the cliffs, throwing light through that fog – a bell on a dinghy from somewhere in the waves. Good stuff.

They spoke with their mentors nemesis, Emil Enh, a corrupt constable who was arrested and thrown onto a prison hulk. The old villain was sick, with a bone-rattling chest cough and wanted them to take him into custody so he could help them look for their old mentor, Mathias Vimmer (our Commissioner Gordon).

They got 3 cases – a murder case involving a university student, a casefile from a man named Adam, who was currently serving on a Prison Hulk for Breaking and Entering, Assault and Illegal Possession of a Firearm and a missing person case about a young woman named Elise, who had been arrested in the past for thievery and body-snatching.

There was a fun series of scenes where the crew was trying to gain access to the Inspector General’s safe, the current Inspector General didn’t know it was there. We found ourselves butting heads with D&D a bit (more on this later).

In the end, they got some important files from cases Mathias was keeping, along with a pistol and knife from the war and a picture of his ex-husband.

Ravenloft Lore Icon (raven on a skull)

Viktor tracked down Dr. Lukas Kronecker who teaches (I hesitated, not sure what subject he taught and Storn said, “Pantheons Beyond the Borders.”) Mythography, allowing me to drop some St. Ezra lore.

It turned out, the ex-husband didn’t know anything and was bereft that he didn’t know where Mathias had gone. Viktor told him that they found a picture of them together in Mathias’ safe. When he left, Viktor could hear the Mythographer crying.

Talis took the pistol and knife to a Vistani woman, who could, at this point, only say that Mathias was not anywhere in Lamordia alive and if he was dead, his spirit was not restless. She would work to look beyond the borders but that would take time and resources.

DeKalb, the Tiefling from their last case, was out of work because of things they did. He was hired by the Kranev Investigative Guild and would be an administrative aide and added muscle when needed.

D&D 5e doesn’t seem to be helping us much in our goal of playing an investigative gothic fantasy buddy crime story. We’re discussing other options.

The End, with human/bat skeleton, wings fanned out.

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Dread Domain Detectives Illustrated, Session 2 – Awaken Thrilling Horror

Dread Domain Detectives Illustrated, Session 2 – Awaken Thrilling Horror

Dread Domain Detectives Illustrated

Dungeons & Dragons

Weird Science,


& Gothic fantasy!

Ripped from the 
pages of
Van Richten’s Guide to

With Art by Storn A. Cook

Who is the Horned Man following Killian and what is the Asmodeen Personal Security Firm? 

learn the nature of Killian and Lady's Relationship!

Ludendorf. Bastion of Weird Science. Frigid. Cruel and getting more cruel. 

Talis & Viktor’s third case, The Bone Key, with the Kranev Investigative Guild Concludes.

“I'm sorry, cousin. I saw your way of life as you getting away with something,”
- Baroness Maja von aubreker.

Inspired by the Unscene from Jason Cordova’s amazing Victorian horror RPG, The Between, I start each session with some kind of flavorful scene within Ludendorf (while they are in Ludendorf). This week the constables mobilized their municipal flesh construct, metal bars reinforcing its fists and armor all over its monstrous frame, directing it to knock down the locked and barred door to a drug lab. The lab’s guards let loose a volley of bullets, all absorbed with barely audible grunts, by the construct, who the constables hid behind, before running down the drug-makers with clubs. Elsewhere, parliamentarians discussed broadening the Flesh Rights laws so that felons would be altered by science to show the world their crimes.

When I started that description, the constables had pistols but Storn asked some good questions and Jeff offered suggestions and it led to an interesting discussion on these kinds of alchemical pistols and their reliability and use. We decided the door-kickers wouldn’t have firearms for this kind of gig. The possible law changes in Lamordia were clearly inspired by China Miéville’s Perdido Street Station.

“One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature and awaken thrilling horror - one to make the reader dread to look around, to curdle the blood, and quicken the beatings of the heart. If I did not accomplish these things, my ghost story would be unworthy of its name.”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

When we last left our stalwart investigators, they were about to meet up near the apartment where Killian and Valentia were having their dalliance. A mysterious blue man in a black suit with black horns atop his head, was also waiting nearby, though he hadn’t noticed them yet.

They were looking at the Tiefling as he sipped tea and waited, trying to figure out his roll in all this. When Storn said, “Wait, he’s a bodyguard.” I created a new rule, where if I hear them say the right guess, we make an appropriate roll and if it over 5, they feel the cosmic tumblers slip into place and know that they are right.

When the couple left the apartment building, dressed as mourning aristocrats, both in black veils, a plan was hatched. Talis would follow and Viktor would stay and dig into the empty apartment.

Talis rolled poorly on this new stealth roll (the context had changed enough to warrant a new roll, even by my Burning Wheel-inspired Let it Ride standards). The high-class Tiefling bodyguard got the jump on him (clearly through sorcery) and put a hand on Talis’ back, making it clear that he’d Arcane Bolt his guts into the street if he moved.

Cut to Viktor, who contacted the superintendent, an old man with a poorly fitted steam-powered leg, who shoveled coal into the basement furnace and fixed things around. He looked at an empty apartment, getting a feel for the layout of the rooms. The owners of the building were barristers with the Holmes & Crick Law Firm, who specialize in property law and Flesh Rights cases, offering those in poverty the ability to sell their bodies to science. I hated them already.

Talis lied big and rolled well, explaining to the Tiefling, whose name is DeKalb, that he represented a client who was looking for a good source of corpses for experimentation. DeKalb offered his card and said he’d run it by his client; Talis suggested he leave word at the Rusty Harpoon, the sailor’s pub under their office.

They ended up with all of the pieces they needed to wrap the case up. Viktor got a used sheepskin prophylactic from a rubbish bin in the apartment (ADDITIONAL CLIENT CHARGE: 1 silk handkerchief). There was a fridge unit with an expensive lock.

“Storn, could you give me an Austrian Surname?”

Storn, not knowing what it is for, “Loos…”

“Loos Locks. I like it.”

They assumed that grave robbing was going on, as Killian and Valentia were taking frequent trips to the expensive and fortress-like series of crypts, the Hausdervorfarhen.

There was an interesting discussion about how to tell Viktor’s cousin, the client, Baroness Maja von Aubrecker. Talis floated some ideas about blackmailing Killian but Viktor wasn’t into it. The conversation went in and out of game, veteran gamers checking in, making sure their character’s foibles didn’t step on our friend’s toes. Good stuff.

When they were done, walking up the stairs to the office above the pub, I asked Jeff how Viktor felt after having had a dream in which they had in fact blackmailed Killian and came away from the deed with a bag of gold, having beaten DeKalb half to death. It was good to get a grip on the character, find their borders and hear Jeff describe them.

In the end, Maja wanted to confront Killian in the apartment where the Dalliance was occurring. They used the empty apartment as a staging ground, renting it for a few months on Maja’s dime, circumventing DeKalb, who was waiting outside.

I find stories about jilted lovers and jealousy tedious but stories about cunning business women using baroque betrothal law that we’re all making up is cool. In the end, Killian was told that he’d be signing a variant of their 5-year-betrothal-contract, one that would leave Maja and her family very wealthy and controlling interests in the Neufurchtenburg factories. The bodies of Maja’s parents were taken out of the fridge and sent back to the crypts. Killian’s family key to the crypts, the Bone Key, was put in Maja’s care. Maja’s parents, it turned out, had pioneered a form of pneumatic seal that they had put on their own tombs, so their bodies were well preserved.

Why did these Lamordian nobles want to be preserved so well? Maybe we’ll learn that another time.

Had good world-building discussions, inspired by the lock and the fridge. Electro-chymical energy batteries and such. Felt very much like we were doing some quality cooperative world-building in figuring out the details of this strange streampunk nightmare.

Case #0003L2 was closed, information handed to client with some post-case extracurricular services offered to tidy up loose ends to client’s satisfaction.

Case #0001L2 (Missing Persons) and Case #0002L2 (Burglary) are still open cases that will be worked on in the coming days.

No new lore was dug up about the Dark Realms, though a Tiefling bodyguard who had been an agent of the Asmodeen Personal Security Firm will likely be out of a job and Talis showed him enough empathy and kindness that he might’ve turned a future enemy into a future ally. Maybe DeKalb will stop by the offices above the Rusty Harpoon in his dapper black suit and look for some work.

The End, with human/bat skeleton, wings fanned out.

Kranev Investigative Guild: a group patron for one’s Ravenloft campaign

Kranev Investigative Guild: a group patron for one’s Ravenloft campaign

The Kranev Investigative Guild, started by Madame Celia Kranev, has offices of some type in almost every domain in the Dark Realms and Domains of Dread that have grown like a fungus around Castle Ravenloft.

Kranev Investigative Guild
Chapterhouse Ludendorf

Guild Type

  1. Thriving – half a dozen investigators leading teams on dozens of cases at a time in a bustling office building.
  2. Decrepite – one so-called investigator and maybe one administrator in a closet office or office/apartment, one mistake away from bankruptcy.
  3. Plucky – an up and coming investigative team or even two teams starting to take on cases
  4. Embedded – an old and venerable guildhouse that is closely linked to local governmental powers in ways that can be problematic to the casework.
  5. Abandoned – a dusty closet, sealed and condemned after a rough case that destroyed this guildhouse; if you are lucky a ghost remains to tell the tale and the archive remains intact.
  6. Faded – once it was an institution but because of retirements, losses on the job or other problems this guildhouse is a shadow of what it once was.

Guild Contact

  1. Undercover Agent – gathering info for a case among dangerous people who don’t want their secrets in daylight, this contact will meet you in secret and will always be looking over their shoulder.
  2. Retired Investigator – someone who has seen it all and is happy to share old tales from their time solving crimes in the mists.
  3. Ghost – a dead investigator or a murder case that got solved, now they are spending time helping the guild before moving on.
  4. Brain in a Jar – they might be a science experiment gone wrong but they are also a guild contact you can throw in a bag and take with you on the case with the possibility of other psionic perks.
  5. Investigator-in-training – young, naive and full of energy, they are here to welcome you to the guild and learn about the trenches while they teach you how to navigate the office.
  6. Ezran Priest – a learned temple scholar who is here to see to your professional and spiritual needs.
Human/Bat Hybrid Skeleton Subject Divider


Guildhouses – every domain has a guildhouse – it might be a haunted closet above a tavern or might be a bustling office building in the ritziest plaza but it will be a place you can seek shelter for a time and round up resources.

Friends of the Guild– the Guild has helped many people over the decades and Madame Kranev’s reputation is well known. Roll with advantage when using a Charisma check in seeking aid.

Mists – Madame Kranev was born into a reputable Vistani clan and can often get her agents into any domain but getting out is often more tricky, especially if the case attracts the attention or ire of a Darklord.

Old Casefiles – the Guild has gathered decades of eclectic information on all levels of society, if you are able to access the old casefiles in a branch, roll that first Research check with advantage.

Extradition – if you are, Ezra forbid, taken by local law enforcement, it is only a matter of time before Madame Kranev wheels and deals to get you out. Surviving in the local domain’s prison system is your responsibility while those deals go down. If you should die, she will see that your remains are interred as per your intake paperwork.

Human/Bat Hybrid Skeleton Subject Divider
Kranev Investigative Guild
Casework Satchel

3 Pencils
Stenographer's Notebook
Compact Spyglass
Alchemical Medkit
3 Pocket Watches
Sapper's Lantern
Vial Silver-infused Holy Water
3 pieces of Chalk
Pound of Salt
5x5 Folded Butcher Paper
Van Richten's Guide to the Dark Realms, dog-eared copy
Letter to Constabulary with Barrister on Retainer's Address

What does your character add to the satchel?
Kranev Investigative Guild Case Notes Case # Investigators: Uncovering Truth is our chosen vocation. We hold Justice closer to our hearts than Laws. Understand and own the full consequences of the final report that you will hand to the client. If found, return these pages to the nearest Kranev Chapterhouse. Any information herein is the property of the Kranev Investigative Guild. Madame Celia Kranev Investigator General and Proprietor

If you want to read about the Kranev Investigative Guild in play:

Dread Domain Detectives Illustrated, Session 1 – Motives Were Mingled

Dread Domain Detectives Illustrated, Session 1 – Motives Were Mingled

Ludendorf is a port city built around 3 hills upon which are built the university, the baron’s vacated castle – now used by city bureaucrats and constables and the cemetery, a fortress to keep out grave-robbers with a police force all its own.

PRELUDE: A whaling ship bringing in a strange haul, some kind of gargantuan humanoid with something almost squid-like for a head. “Seemed to just be waking up when our harpoons found it,” one sailor said. “Strange aeons, indeed,” another agrees, “Not sure if we are going to get much oil out of this chtonic beast.” Newspaper headlines in the Ludendorf Gazette note that the civil strife in Neufurchtenburg is escalating. The Anarchist Slayer has claimed another victim in Ludendorf.

Link to Session 0

Dread Domain Detectives Illustrated

With Art by Storn A. Cook

Dungeons & Dragons

Weird Science,


& Gothic fantasy!

Ripped from the 
pages of
Van Richten’s Guide to

Viktor von aubreker. 17th in line for the throne. Rogue & Artificer. 

Talis Arsalan. Bard. Newly arrived immigrant.

Ludendorf. Bastion of Weird Science. Frigid. Cruel. 

This is their third case with the Kranev Investigative Guild.

Their first two cases are unsolved  when the next case walks in. 

“I believe my husband is cheating on me,”
- Baroness Maja von aubreker.

Getting together with old gaming friends like Jeff and Storn is just lovely. Their partner banter was amazing.

I’ve got vague ideas about how to use Perception and Investigation and Insight in ways that will make the rolls more meaningful. More on that as it marinates.

Storn has an etsy shop that is well worth checking out and book-marking if you think you might like some character-art for yourself or as a gift to a friend.

We described the office being a bit of a mess with diagrams on the walls from the other 2 unsolved cases – one concerning a theft of university property and another concerning their missing mentor. Storn suggested a bamboo screen to put over this evidence when visitors are in office.

Private Eye but the eye is an eye.

Case #0003L2 Baroness Maja von Aubrecker believes her husband, Killian Furchten, is carrying on an indiscretion. The client is hiring the Arkev Investigative Guild to find out the nature of this dalliance as the 5 year anniversary of the betrothal nears, the time when, according to Lamordian betrothal law, the couple’s holdings become fully entwined.

The tension between Baroness Mara and her cousin, Inspector Viktor, was palpable but there was also some trust that family business would be dealt with in a discreet manner.

The case’s contract was filed by Chapterhouse Ludendorf’s chamberlain, Arek Avakian.

The guild’s Ludendorf Chapterhouse is located above a sailor’s bar on the docks, owned by sailor’s wife, Rosaly, with squid-tentacle tattoos of her husband’s rare prosperous voyages. One such voyage is crossed out.

Lamordian Nobles have taken to slumming it in Ludendorf – the latest style is to done Dementlieu-style masks and stagger from one working class pub to another. This is called a Dementlieuax Pub Crawl.

The Baroness’ manservant, interviewed by Inspector Talis, taken aside under false pretenses. Niklas, said servant, suggested they look deeper into betrothal laws and rites.

Killian has been frequenting university science presentations. The moneyed classes often look to these presentations to find investment opportunities. Viktor’s social status was used to gain entry, as suggested by his sister, a university student.

The investigators made their way to the university, looking at presentations. A list of past presentations was easy enough to find. Storn asked if he noticed anything strange about the list. Good question.

If I’d had a list, I could’ve just unveiled it and left it to him but I didn’t and didn’t feel like creating one on the spot was a good use of our time or my effort. Roll Investigation. It was a solid roll. Yes, you notice that Valentia Doss is the only woman’s name on the list; she presented on Ambulatory Balance in Constructs. The university has some patriarchal bullshit at hand.

Talis and Viktor attended a presentation about the science of where skills and attributes are stored in the body. A pair of corpse-arms, acquired legally through a flesh contract, was inspired to play a haunting violin tune through electric stimulation. Does this show the fiddle-skills of the arm’s former owner or the skill to inspire such a tune through electric manipulation?

NOTE: This led to a productive discussion about the type of weird science tech that is common, getting us on the same page.

Talis followed Killian leaving a presentation with a promising post-doctoral student, Valentia Doss, who has won the esteemed honor of serving as Viktra Mordenheim’s lab assistent last semester. A Tiefling with dark blue skin and black horns under a custom stove-pipe hat was also following the couple to an apartment in an expensive part of the city. Talis paid a young lad, Peter from Oil Street, to notify his partner of his whereabouts and his wife that he’d be home late. His wife was not notified. The horned man has not noticed Talis yet.

That is where we begin next week – a cold Ludendorf street as the sun sets. A well-married noble in an apartment with a bright science academic and a devil-folk in a dark suit standing outside this apartment, staking it out as our investigators meet up down the block to discuss their next moves.

The Dread lore gathered in this session concerns a distant Domain called Dementlieu, where masquerades are the fashion.

“The circumstance on which my story rests was suggested in casual conversation. It was commenced partly as a source of amusement, and partly as an expedient for exercising any untried resources of mind. Other motives were mingled with these as the work proceeded.”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein

Dread Domain Detectives Illustrated, Session 0 – All the Pieces Matter

Dread Domain Detectives Illustrated, Session 0 – All the Pieces Matter

Skull and bones header
Dread Domain Detectives Illustrated

A new thrilling crime tale
from the casefiles of
Talis and Viktor!

the Arcane
side by side w/
the alchemical!

On the cold, learnèd streets of Ludendorf

from the team that brought you Sons of Kryos!

the most

Arcane Science!
Forensic Science!

as used
by the 

Getting together with Jeff and Storn to catch up last week was lovely. The conversation turned to gaming. Storn has been gaming regularly (Stonetop and a project he’s playtesting) and Jeff hasn’t gamed in a few years. I pitched a idea that I’ve been sitting on for a while – pair of investigators in an Investigative Guild in Ravenloft – Gothic Fantasy Horror Crime buddy-action-flick and they were in. A week later we got together to make characters and talk Session 0 stuff.

Kranev Investigative Guild

Jeff said something about being mad science-y and Storn spiked that volleyball set with an idea about one being mad science and the other being arcane magic. It was quickly apparent that Lamordia was the domain There’s 2, maybe 3 pages of material about Lamordia in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft and there’s a sweet map. That is about perfect for us.

I talked about keeping my trap shut about grand theories and ideas concerning Ravenloft’s true nature, thinking that we’d get plenty of mileage out of Lamordia before we started looking into those kinds of greater mysteries of the nature of the world around them. I tossed out the idea that maybe their first case was a murder at Strahd’s supper party but they want Strahd to be a myth to be met (or not) later. Thank goodness; I like what we ended up with much better.

Was the chapterhouse of their investigative guild a bustling and established branch or a haunted closet above a pub or a worn down mess? We went with a worn down mess; they are the only investigators and there is a House Chamberlain, Artem Aviet, missing an arm from a wound taken on the job as an investigator. On the drive home it occurred to me that Artem rides a bicycliopede to work.

Victorian bicycle from pixabay.

Starting at third level for a few reasons – it allows me to not fret about killing the characters. Also, it means they had a case or two already. Discussed options and took it a step farther, going full hit points at every level so I can really lean into the monsters and not worry much about an awkward total-party-kill.

Immediately started discussing the past cases.

Case #1: The Inspector General of the Ludendorf Constablery, Mathias Vimmer, went missing and the case is not closed.


His Second-in-Command, now acting Inspector General Leopold Kandel, who doesn’t like them (also the brother of…more on this later)

His Ex-Husband, Lukas Kronecker, professor of biology

His daughter, Robin Vimmer – ??? who is she?

His Nemesis, unnamed as of yet, who was on a prison hulk when Mathias went missing.

Case #2: High-end burglary, using science and arcane skillsets. They got the suspects, the Shallows Gang, off. Jeff rocked out with the name and details about the gang being named for the street they prowl, where the city’s first cemetery had been but flooding kept washing away bodies. Sometimes today, floods still unearth bodies that were missed and not moved. Recent thought, the cemetery was moved so it could be better fortified against corpse-thieving anatomy professors at the local university.

Standing Stone

Saint Ezra in the mists. 
Standing stones like this one from a farmer's field outside of Ludendorf can 
be found all over Greater Ravenloft, depicting Saint Ezra in tasks from his 
gospels or more obscure and even heretical depictions.

The Bluetspuri War – there is a war in a faraway land. When soldiers return they have uniform scars on their heads because there is a disease in that foreign land and the medicine has to be administered through the brain cavity for some reason. The Bluetspuri War, in the craggy, surreal lands of Bluetspur, where mountains are said to be as large as gods and no one can quite agree on what the Bluetspuri are like or what makes them seem inhuman.

Why Dread Domain Detectives Illustrated? Because Storn always draws while we game (see below). Today he was taking notes but I can’t wait to see him rock out again. CLICK HERE to hire him to create art that embodies your character(s) or hire him to stuff your book with amazing art.

Talis Arsalan is Storn’s character, whose dad remarried into a Vistani Clan and runs a merchant caravan. He’s an immigrant to Lamordia and his ladyfriend, Larissa Kandel, is 8 months pregnant. She was in the war, from a military family, 95th Infantry (Ranger). Her all military family is not a fan of him about now.

We agreed Talis has a good relationship with his step-mom.

Viktor Aubrecker is Jeff’s character, is a cousin to the ruling family of Lamordia but he’s far away from any throne, 17th in line. Maybe he’ll go Rogue; maybe Artificer or some blend. His family is not happy that he let his scoundrel friends con his betrothed out of money, soiling a profitable match for the family. Rich kid turned rogue scientist – thinking about Perdido Street Station‘s Isaac Dan der Grimnebulin and his fringe-science-buddies in their warehouse apartment. Viktor’s nose is still crooked from when his father broke it. His sister is in university and they get along.

A beloved auntie knows Celia Kranev and put a word in for him. Celia hired him to get the Ludendorf Chapter House running again as a branch of her Investigative Guild.

I’m going to read up on Insight, Investigate, Perception and Persuasion – so when/if I make some changes it will be from an informed place. Discussed this and some options, confident that we’ll find houserules that work for us. Can’t wait to show them Bingo XP.

I’ve got a few half-written tables for creating cases and a few ideas on some strange jobs related to the Investigative Guild. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein on audiobook is ready to roll after I’m done with War of the Worlds.

I have been daydreaming about what kind of case to write up for the first game and I think I’m going to go with classic noir trope mixed with betrothal contracts among Lamordian noblity, “I believe my husband is cheating on me and will pay you to prove it…”

Writing notes now, can’t wait.

The End, with human/bat skeleton, wings fanned out.

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Why is Strahd a good villain?

Why is Strahd a good villain?

The Sigil Six have slain Strahd and cross the Dread Bridge into the Shadowfell. Now word is getting out as they approach 9th and 10th levels, that they have killed the legendary vampire. Sure, the Curse of Strahd hardcover tells us that Strahd will return but I call bullshit on that and talked about it with the players and told them that their actions have meaning and Strahd is dead and gone.

Last game, Hajek related the slaying of Strahd to another monstrous asshole, Lord Soth. I thought it was worth commemorating.

“Know that strahd died screaming in daylight. The Devil was ambushed by the Sigil Six, his crystal heart shattered by Kuru, immortal body turned to ash by his brother’s flaming sword in the hands of Helwynne, a Chosen warrior of the Moon, while his people watched.”
Jusko Hajek,
relating the slaying of Strahd to Lord Soth

A few days ago, Pete asked me, “Why do you think Strahd is such a good villain?” Great question.

Let’s face it, ole Strahd gets by a bit on his name. He is a part of D&D’s mythology and lore (see also – Kaz, Vecna, St. Cuthbert, Mordenkainen, the Raven Queen, Orcus, etc), a name I’ve heard about since I was a young teen playing the game for the first time. But like good bits of modern myth, he has become more than the sum of his parts. Strahd works for me because he is a monstrous personification of toxic masculinity. Ravenloft works for me because it is a metaphor for how the world arranges itself to keep assholes like Strahd from ever seeing themselves as villains, from ever seeking the help they so desperately need and from getting their teeth kicked in. Ravenloft (also a fun metaphor for the prison industrial complex but that is a whole other post) and Strahd as metaphors don’t quite line up perfectly. Not every element works but that is okay. Metaphors in fantasy work best for me when they are their own beast and don’t quite work 100%.

In our game, Strahd was trying to escape his prison and turn Sigil and the planes into his hunting grounds. There were a few moments there, when several characters were brought low by Strahd’s arcane powers, when I thought he might achieve his goal. In the end, through teamwork, Trundle the Ranger’s goodberries and Helwynne’s mighty battle prowess, he perished as Hajek relates in the image above.

Strahd works for me because he is a walking example of assholes I see all over the world and our hobby who walk around thinking that they are cursed and wronged. In our tabletop role-playing games, at least, we can roll d20’s and attempt to kick them in the teeth with our friends, sifting through their ashes when we’re done.

These designs and more in my Threadless shop – t-shirts of all kinds, mugs, stickers and even shower curtains…

Blog of Judd Karlman from Daydreaming about Dragons

Curse of Strahd Awards

Curse of Strahd Awards

To hand out to players once the adventure is finished.

Slayer of Strahd

The most obvious and sometimes most coveted award goes to the player who struck the final blow that destroyed Count Strahd, the First Vampire, Lord of Ravenloft.

Human/Bat Skeleton Subject Divider
Seducer of Strahd Award

Did you seduce Strahd? For a moment did he forget about Illyanna? If so, here’s the award for you.

Human/Bat Skeleton Subject Divider
A Domain of Your Own

If no characters became the Lord of Ravenloft at the end of the adventure, this award can be handed out to whoever the group votes as Most Likely to Become a Darklord.

Human/Bat Skeleton Subject Divider
The Frog Brothers Award

This is for sharing lore about monsters that might or might not be true with one’s friends while hunting said monsters. The more ludicrous the lore, the better.

Human/Bat Skeleton Subject Divider

The Heart-Breaker is for the character who strikes the final blow struck against the Heart of Sorrows, Strahd’s most coveted artifact, and destroys it in a rain of crystal and blood.

Human/Bat Skeleton Subject Divider
Friendship is Sorcery

The Friendship is Sorcery Award goes to the character who made the most unlikely friendship with the oddest being in Ravenloft. Could be a soulless husk of a villager, a witch who cooks children or an angel driven mad by the Domain of Dread’s fell influence.

Human/Bat Skeleton Subject Divider
Even Death May Die

Even Death May Die goes to the character who died the most tragic death, even if they were ripped from the churning of souls to fight again. In the event of a deathless campaign, the group can vote to give this award to the character who came the closest to dying or whose shenanigans made everyone think that they were surely not long for the land of the living.

Human/Bat Skeleton Subject Divider
The Buffy Summers Award

The Buffy Summers Award goes to any character who both slayed a vampire and also had romantic relations with a vampire.

Human/Bat Skeleton Subject Divider
The Slaughtered Lamb Award

The Slaughtered Lamb Award goes to the character who leaves Ravenloft as a lycanthrope.

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The Michael of Santa Clara Award

The Michael of Santa Clara Award goes to character or characters who leave Ravenloft as a vampire, a child of the night (sweet music optional).

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The Pvt. William L. Hudson Medal

The Private William Hudson Medal goes to the character who showed the most fear concerning Ravenloft’s threats and did so in such a way that their dread was passed to their comrades and so the Curse of Strahd was that much more horrific.

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An award should go to any character who earnestly engages in D&D’s grappling rules but this award goes to those who grapple with vampires. Winning its sibling award is a particular honor.

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The Von Zarovich Award

This award goes to the character who was related to Strahd, be it a sibling or a distant cousin or even a descendant.

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Break the Black Gates

This award goes to any character who dies in Ravenloft and comes back to life, or at least back to sapience. Can anyone who dies in such a place return without a mark upon their souls? What would such a mark look like and what effect would it have on this delver’s dark fate?

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Angel Award

This award can go to more than one character, any who change the angel stranded in Ravenloft through cunning, sorcery or steel.

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If there is another Award or Medal you’d like to see, please let me know and I’ll do my best to add it to the list.

Dedicated to the Thursday Night Delvers

Thank you to the contributes at Game-Icons.net. Links to their work is under each pic that drew from that amazing resource.

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Blog of Judd Karlman from Daydreaming about Dragons

All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought, Session 1, Knights & Elves

All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought, Session 1, Knights & Elves

All Shadows Lead to Gloomwrought / Session 1: Knights and Elves

In which the Sigil 6 meet a quartet of Holy Knights of the Raven Queen and pay their toll for crossing a Shadar-Kai Bridge with the Tale of the Strahd’s Slaying.

Who are the Sigil 6 – Trundle, Helewynn, Bugwump, Kuru, Jusko and Failed Soldier?

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  • Trundle rolled a fairly high perception roll looking at the Demi-Plane of Dread’s Mists and so he could see that they were not natural but manufactured and also malevolent.

    “Let’s take our time and get to Sigil by walking through the Shadowfell to Gloomwrought – enjoy the market there, purchase magic items with our fortune and not be on the Lady of Pain’s clock for a while…”

    Their friend, Tefnek, a Ranger from Chult, is with them. Their pterodactyls are in a cart/pen on a mule-drawn cart.

  • With the Staff of the Forgotten One, Bugwump’s Arcanna rolls are always amazing. He rolled 27 to know more about the Shadowfell and so I told him what I knew of the Despair that can infect travelers and a bit about undead being prevalent, home of the Raven Queen – blah blah blah. The roll is so high, though, I told the player I’d answer questions later as they came up.

    When Kuru heard about the Despair, he bought some joke books from the Vistani.

  • They travelled away from the Domains of Dread and towards the Shadowfell. When they were exhausted, they came upon a hill above the mists, a waypoint for travelers. Already camped there were 4 Holy Knights of the Raven Queen, know as the Raven Queen’s Consorts, they are undead hunters.

    They were very intrigued to hear that the Sigil 6 had killed the First Vampire. The quartet of holy knights, Chatham, Corax, Podum and Morpha (I went to the Raven Wikipedia page and chose words that seemed like they’d make cool names). They had been tracking Lord Soth across the Shadowfell, where he was riding with his posse, recruiting new allies.

  • Players’ Addendum (Jusko’s Player): My favorite part is that while you’re orating a tax report, and Flodier and Kuru are trying shadow puppetry to make your story seem more dynamic, Jusko is boosting Trundle to engage in some light vandalism and he’s totally into it. We’re 15 year olds with magic lasers.

    (Helewynn’s Player): “My favorite part was the entire kerfuffle that occurred after Helewynn just outright told the knights that they had killed Strahd, and then there’s 20 minutes of back and forth bickering in front of four stunned black knights who continue to feed them increasingly better food, and then Bugwump magically pukes on the black breastplate. I5 year olds with fresh tattoos and magic lasers.”

    DM’s Note: Bugwump puked on the breastplate because Bugwump’s player describes the Frog-Kin Wizard’s spellbook as being glands on his body and so his spell descriptions are often biological in some way. The vomiting was a Non-Detection spell, leading to some amazing back and forth about Frog-kin society and vomiting as a ritual act.

  • Jusko discussed having Lord Soth’s breastplate, having found it in Strahd’s castle. He admitted the breastplate seemed to want him to devour life from others. When Kuru ribbed him about having it, Jusko admitted wanting to enter Gloomwrought with an ace up his sleeve, something to barter with.

  • They got to a bridge from the mists, over a bottomless shadow chasm, leading into the Shadowfell. The bridge was fortified by towers inhabited by Shadar-Kai. The knights were to be given free crossing without paying and insisted, upon hearing from Trundle that the Sigil 6 had killed Strahd, that they told the tale.

    “How do we know you are not a Dreadlord, trying to escape?”

    “Because we are he Sigil 6 and we just killed Strahd.”

  • When they were crossing the bridge, all of the Shadar-Kai, fully cloaked and veiled, were gathered to hear the Tale of Strahd’s Slaying. Jusko told them that Helewynn had run him through and so Helewynn told the tale. Elves sworn to the Moon have some kinship to Elves born in shadow, I thought. And so, on a bridge above a bottomless chasm, a Moon Elf Barbarian told the Death of Strahd in High Elvish to Shadar-Kai.

    Helewynn told the tale and asked Jusko to show Strahd’s signet ring, which he did. An old Shadar-Kai crone approached to verify and she yelled, “TRUTH!” in her Shadowfell dialect of High Elvish to the crowd, who gasped audibly.

    DM’s Note: Let me stop for a second and say what I loved about this scene. Jusko’s player set up Helewynn’s player and Helewynn’s player set him up right back. The picking up of the signet ring was something Jusko’s player talked about doing; there was no real reason for Helewynn’s player to take notice but they did remember that detail and used it to make another character relevant in a scene. It was players awesoming up other players. To me, that is what good play is – bolstering others at the table.

    Helewynn did not roll high on the Performance roll, even with Advantage. They still believed her but in the legends to come, there would be huge misunderstandings and misrepresentations of what really happened.

  • I rolled an 8 and a 2 for the first encounter and had a 4e character who was a Raven Queen Paladin, so I used my idea for that character to flesh out these knights.

    I wasn’t sure how to take them out of the Mists, so I rolled a 9 and a 6 and immediately thought of a Shadar-kai toll bridge. I have more thoughts on this and will seed those in the next session.

    It was a low-key game; I was feeling low energy but I loved what came out of it.

Next Game: Jusko’s player suggested the Shadar-Kai give their Moon Elf cousin a gift for her tale. Love it. We’ll start there next game before heading into the Ygoni Valley.

What do you think the Shadar-Kai should offer Helewynn as a gift for telling them about how she killed Strahd?

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Books from Castle Ravenloft’s Library

Goomwrought / City of Midnight / Factions, Powers and Merchants / Observations & Reports from Servants

This tome was compiled by Strahd over the years, keeping track of Gloomwrought, through the reports of his messengers. This was the place he reckoned would be his first stop when he escaped from the Demi-Plane of Dread’s clutches.

Allows for 3 rerolls when seeking out lore or understanding people embroiled in power struggles on the streets of Gloomwrought or finding people or Powers in the City of Midnight. Describe how Strahd’s writings on his messengers’ reports explaianed this aspect of Gloomwrought.

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Conquering the Planes
a manual by
Arch-age Xrathburlg the Unsparing
Emperor of the Cosmos

This tome was written by the infamous Frog-kin Arch-Mage, concerning being a cross-planar conqueror.

Allows for 3 re-rolls when you are seeking out planar lore or understanding beings who are attempting to conquer the planes.

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Van Richten’s Guide to Hunting the Lich

This tome was written by the famous monster-hunter who has killed monsters in many domains of Ravenloft. This tome was procured by Strahd so that he could better do battle with Azalin Rex.

Allows for 3 re-rolls when you are seeking lore concerning liches, demi-liches, necromancers on the path to lich-dom or their catspaws and servants.

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Curse of Strahd, take-aways (not an in depth review)

Curse of Strahd, take-aways (not an in depth review)


Some post-Curse of Strahd thoughts as me and my friends prepare to depart Ravenloft after spending 14 deliciously horrific Thursday evenings there.

Sometimes the time for talking is done and the only response that makes sense is to kick toxic masculinity in its parasitic teeth. Sometimes that toxic masculinity is named Strahd and is a vampire who believes he owns a woman because of his feelings. Fuck his feelings.

The other take-away is that prisons don’t work and they damage the communities they claim to protect. True for Ravenloft, true for any world.

But then at the end of the adventure is this:

Strahd’s destruction is temporary, for his curse can’t so easily be ended.

The Curse of Strahd

Nope. Me and my friends didn’t spend 14 Thursday evenings for that paragraph to render all that horror, derring-do and fun meaningless. Strahd was killed by Hellewynn, an Elf Barbarian sworn to a Moon Goddess. She was wielding the Sunsword that belonged to Strahd’s brother, Sergei. While in Barovia she picked up lycanthropy and wrestled both a werewolf and Strahd himself (he chipped his tooth on her armor).

Tome from the Met (link below) Curse of Strahd with our group’s stickers on the tome.

Link to the original tome used in the above image.

The book is ours now; not because I bought it but because we played it and the words shared among friends at the table are bigger than any and all words written.

That said, someone made Ravenloft, someone is behind this evil demi-planar prison complex. Osybus, Shami-Amourae and Tenebrous, the architects who made Ravenloft, have a lot to answer for. You can’t just kick middle-management’s teeth in and call it a day. What else is high level play for?

The campaign continues…

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