The terms one enters to algorithmically inspire these images is in a discord server, so you can see what other people are doing and what terms they are using. Seeing someone else’s blueprints inspired me to try my hand at creating Lamordian cash bills for our Gothic Fantasy investigative game, Dread Domain Detectives Illustrated. Here’s what I ended up, good cash for a steampunk horror game inspired by Mary Shelley’s seminal science fiction novel.
full page scan of detailed steampunk money + human anatomy + clockwork in the style of the British pound note
terms that led to Midjourney’s algorithm imagining the following images
You can see a few where I got interesting results but the form factor was limiting. I used the same terms but changed the size, so it was more of a cash size and shape.
I looked around and noticed that we can change the height and width and then we were cooking with gas. How will I use these? Maybe as subject dividers in blog posts or maybe as strange stickers I give my friends who are playing in that game with me. I’m really not sure.
Now we’re talking.
If you dig the above images, there are stickers for sale and all artists’ proceeds go to the National Network of Abortion Funds (and then Threadless tosses in some more).
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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.
Thriving – half a dozen investigators leading teams on dozens of cases at a time in a bustling office building.
Decrepite – one so-called investigator and maybe one administrator in a closet office or office/apartment, one mistake away from bankruptcy.
Plucky – an up and coming investigative team or even two teams starting to take on cases
Embedded – an old and venerable guildhouse that is closely linked to local governmental powers in ways that can be problematic to the casework.
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.
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.
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.
Retired Investigator – someone who has seen it all and is happy to share old tales from their time solving crimes in the mists.
Ghost – a dead investigator or a murder case that got solved, now they are spending time helping the guild before moving on.
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.
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.
Ezran Priest – a learned temple scholar who is here to see to your professional and spiritual needs.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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You tried to kill Strahd and you failed. Now he has broken his prison and is free. Chase him across the Shadowfell, where the adventure might lead us into Gloomwrought, Sigil into the Hells or the Far Realms. We will venture beyond the Curse of Strahd and together we will find out if you can prevent the curse from becoming a plague.
Expect a player-driven fast paced chase through the planes.
How Will Character Creation Happen?
Characters will be 10th level, made before the game and we will link the party together during our Session Zero in which we will outline what happened during our fictional run through Curse of Strahd.
Pre-gens will be available.
What Will the Players Need?
Web-cam and mic are necessary. A good understanding of D&D rules and mythology is preferred. Players can roll dice online or use their own dice at home.
A burning desire to destroy Strahd is needed.
What Will I Bring?
I will bring a map of the Shadowfell, factions for Gloomwrought and Sigil and a vision of Strahd as a driven villain with his own nefarious goals.
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.
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.
To hand out to players once the adventure is finished.
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.
Did you seduce Strahd? For a moment did he forget about Illyanna? If so, here’s the award for you.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Buffy Summers Award goes to any character who both slayed a vampire and also had romantic relations with a vampire.
The Slaughtered Lamb Award goes to the character who leaves Ravenloft as a lycanthrope.
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).
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.
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.
This award goes to the character who was related to Strahd, be it a sibling or a distant cousin or even a descendant.
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?
This award can go to more than one character, any who change the angel stranded in Ravenloft through cunning, sorcery or steel.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
In which the Sigil Six throw a rocking party, talk to a deity, set an angel right, make a Wish, convert a werewolf, offer wise counsel to a Flesh Golem regarding anger, take a lost friend’s remembrances, take up a saint’s femur as a weapon and don the Knight of the Black Rose’s breastplate.
Rahadin and the remaining vampires left the Domain. None are sure where they went.
With Strahd’s curse off the land, the angel realized that it had been out of the Morning Lord’s gaze and if that was a test it failed. The players found them healing the mongrel-folk until one refused to be turned back. “Fuck you. I want you to see what you did. I want you to feel that you did this to someone for no good reason.”
Kuru asked the angel to meditate with him. While meditating, Kuru had a holy vision of the Morning Lord, who asked him what he planned to ask of the angel and when Kuru said he was going to get him to defeat what evil remained, the Sun God agreed. The Morning Lord looked at Kuru’s as-yet-un-Identified short sword and said, “There is only one left. Now there are two.” Kuru came out of the meditation with a deep fully body sunburn and the angel complied with his request, humbled that the Morning Lord spoke to this Hobbit Thief.
The B Team returned from fighting Baba (Lysaga) Lasagna. One of the Drow and the Dwarven Priest of the Portal God died in the battle. Also, don’t accidentally call an evil and powerful NPC Baba Lasagna; it doesn’t matter what you say after that, they are forever Baba Lasagna after that. Trundle took up the priest’s ring with many keys holy symbol to bring back to Sigil.
The Frankenlady approached Failed Soldier, who is now in the Flesh Golem also made by the angel. She named herself Dusk and confessed that she had great anger towards her Creator. Failed Soldier suggested she find a group of people like the Sigil Six and respected her feelings. Their discussions about VERY human things is so lovely.
The group was concerned with the cycle of souls and rebirth that was a mess in Ravenloft and was still a mess. The angel suggested to Failed Soldier that the Trinity that had created the Domains of Dread were very powerful. “Strahd was but a plaything to them.”
Hellewyn spoke with Emil, the werewolf they freed from Strahd’s dungeons, made sure he was taking leadership of the wolves. “They call you the Moon Queen,” Emil told her. He said that they would hunt for a time before migrating from these cursed lands and agreed to contact her should he do so. She asked that he look to the Moon for guidance, “Even though she can’t respond to you here; she does hear you.” Emil was moved.
Kuru’s sword, Identified by Bugwump, was a Luck Blade and it had not 1 but 2 wishes. Circumspect and full of self-control as he is, Kuru made a wish 7 minutes after learning this. He wished that if any of the Sigil Six should die, that time would go back and give them a chance to live. Cosmic tumblers clicked into place and a being told him that his friend still might die (we discussed the rules). One Wish remains.
Failed Soldier talked with the last of the Ulmist Inquisitors, giving them the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind and the last of the Ulmist order gave Failed Soldier a letter of introduction to any in the Ulmist order and the Femur of St. Markovia.
Jusko got a garish (and awesome) tattoo of a broken heart with a flaming sword through it. He got a pedicure and got drunk at the big party that broke out. He staggered into Castle Ravenloft and thrust his sword through Strahd’s coffin and said something like, “We won.” When he woke up he was in an alcove with a steel breast plate, enameled black with a black rose on it. He took it – Bugwump identified it as a +1 breastplate, one can turn a single attack vampiric if one is using a Superiority Die. Once they have done this and accrued more hit points than they currently have (we keep track of the hit point tally when they do it) new fell powers will open.
Kuru, drunk from the party, went into the Bag of Holding to confront the Bagman, who had been big as an ogre since they got to Ravenloft. The Bagman admitted that Strahd approached him and asked him to betray them but he had not done so. He asked Kuru to drop the bag in the Mists and free him. Kuru realized the Bagman was evil and refused and got away.
He gave the bag to the angel, who burned it with a touch. And so a tiny Demi-Plane of Dread was decimated.
Next week we head into the Mists, into the Shadowfell…
More Actual Play posts about the Thursday Night Delving Club’s shenanigans? Links Below:
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:
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).
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?
Helewynn ran outside the tower, where the group had entered and saw Strahd’s Nightmare Steed, still unable to see him. She jumped on a pterodactyl and titled with him once, doing brutal damage to him with the Sunsword but Strahd did brutal damage with his hands and a Blight spell. When the group arrived, the Nightmare took Strahd into the ethereal.
The plan was to lure Strahd into the room where he had a teleportation brazier and teleport everyone, including Strahd, to a killing field they had set up in the Abbey of St. Markovia’s courtyard.
The group ran down the tower’s steps into the crypts and started looting his ancestor’s tombs (finding a cloak and a sword). Rahadin found Bugwump alone and did some brutal damage to him, dropping him to 0 hit points right in front of Trundle, who was standing by the secret door from the crypts to the hallway that led to the teleportation room.
The group dropped Rahadin down to 1 hit point, nearly killing Strahd’s Red Right Hand but she misty-stepped and got away.
There was a cool moment where Bugwump went down and Kuru used Mage Hand to get a healing potion to his comrade but the way A described it was really nifty. He described running towards them, tossing the potion to his Mage Hand and the magical hand zipping to pour a potion down his friend’s throat. He made a simple casting of a spell feel like an action movie. It was cool.
Strahd arrived, invisible, and asked the group to fall to their knees and beg for mercy; they did not and began to run for the secret door that led to the hallway that led to the teleportation room. Strahd threw 2 fireballs that really decimated the group. Failed Soldier and Jusko fell but were brought up to single digit hit points.
The group was huddled in the teleportation room and Strahd entered, walking through the door. The group was ragged. He asked them to make their way through the mists to the Shadowfell and tell Sigil of his mercy. Hellewynn grabbed him and pulled him into the teleportation area but not before he gutted her with his hands.
The group was on the precipice. The killing field they had prepared and it gave them advantage on that first round. They did a brutal amount of damage to Strahd and Strahd, in turn, dropped Jusko and nearly dropped Bugwump. Failed Soldier used a cool spell to take negative damage and brought Helewynn up to 40-something hit points.
Sun Sword in hand, Helewynn killed Strahd and in the sunlight of this magic blade, he could not turn to mist. The clouds party and for the first time the Sigil Six could see the blue sky.
Jusko, once he was healed, picked up Strahd’s signet ring, knowing that it would have great meaning to his family, proof that he had killed the vampire who had feated on his kin. He offered it to Helewynn, who pushed his hand away, wanting him to have it.
Next session the Sigil Six is planning to head into the Shadowfell, through the mist, and make their way to Gloomwrought. Or as Trundle said, “Fuck the Lady of Pain. Let’s take our sweet-ass time getting back to Sigil.”