More Domains, more Darklords, we’re back for another segment on Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft! Halloween is frighteningly (hah) close now, though the real fear yet lies in wait… Christmas music. It’s already started where I live, at least a little bit. Soon enough I’ll be begging to be taken by the mists.
Anyway, today we’ll be covering what I call “the Scooby Doo Duo (and Richemulot)!” Though any true Ravenloft Scooby Doo adaptation would likely be better served by replacing Richemulot with Kartakass, but alas the alphabet is a cruel mistress. Anyway, on with the show in Mordent, Richemulot, and Tepest!
Click through to unmask the “monster” (and find something worse underneath)!
For your reading reference, our esteemed scaling system I made up over the course of six minutes.
- S Rank – The best of the best. Mostly reserved for Strahd.
- A Rank – Brilliant ideas executed perfectly. High-quality content.
- B Rank – Good ideas with few flaws. Fantastic content, with a little work.
- C Rank – Decent ideas hobbled in some way. Good inspiration to build on.
- D Rank – Usable, but difficult for some reason. Ideas with issues.
Mordent Mysteries Gang
Horror: Spooky, scary ghost stories aplenty!
Length: Anything up to a full campaign.
Cumulative Grade: B+
What’s new Scooby Doo? They’re coming after you, gotta make that Wisdom save-
*Ahem.* My apologies, so sorry. Anyway, let’s talk about
Ravenloft Coolsville Mordent, shall we? It’s a great Domain hindered by a two issues – a limited Darklord and one very odd editing problem. Ultimately, though, I really like Mordent. I want to rate it higher. If we were just talking about how much I like it, I would probably give it a solid A. But I am trying to remain at least theoretically objective, so here we are.
Before we move on, however, I’d like to note that Mordent is (as far as I can tell from what I’ve looked into) the second oldest Domain, right behind Barovia. Mordent was the setting of the original Ravenloft module’s somewhat odd sequel, House on Gryphon Hill. Not a bad module by any means, but definitely an interesting and unexpected change from the original.
First off, let’s go over positives. Mordent is a beautiful Domain with an iron grip on its theming and genre such that doing a classic-style ghost story anywhere else would be madness. The Domain is large and varied, with skillfully crafted locales and naming conventions to perfectly embody the gothic ghost story aesthetic. Out of all the Domains, Mordent was voted most likely to employ unexpected inheritances of old, rumor-shadowed manors as well as being the most hospitable Ravenloft destination for wan and mourning spirits, malicious and sneering poltergeists, and every sort of shadow, ghost, banshee or wraith.
It’s great, seriously. None of that is sarcastic. If you want a ghost story, go to Mordent. It’s the same level of power over a genre that Falkovnia has over zombie stories. And that’s impressive – other Domains have solid themes and genres but none of them are quite as broad as Mordent’s absolute mastery over the very concept of hauntings.
Where Mordent falters is in its own description of itself. Notably, the Domain is completely absent a description of adventure hooks. Every other Domain contains ample suggestions for what type of stories to tell, where to tell them, and what characters to make use of in them. Mordent has none of those.
Instead, it spends a great deal of time diving into the specifics of the ideal Dungeons and Dragons ghost story. This should be fine, ghost stories are the Domain’s specialty after all, but it ultimately left me wondering… why not include all of this in Chapter 2?
For reference, Chapter 2 of Van Richten’s contains detailed rundowns of all the different horror genres present in the book. It has descriptions of gothic horror, dark fantasy, cosmic horror (whatever the hell that means), body horror, ghost stories… and that’s where the question comes in. Why does Mordent have to take so much time away from itself to describe the genre of the ghost story when no other Domain has to do the same for its own genres?
Barovia doesn’t spend much time describing what “gothic horror” is. It counts on you having read the rest of the book, and then elaborates on how you can take those general gothic horror themes from Chapter 2 and give them a decidedly Barovian spin. The same goes for Darkon and Dementlieu – they’re both “dark fantasy” but neither spends any time explaining what that means, they just address how to make Dementlieu’s dark fantasy feel different from Darkon’s interpretation.
This is a shame for a few different reasons. For one, the advice given is really very good, high-quality stuff. Any ghost story, in Ravenloft or outside of it, could greatly benefit from those tips. And yet they’re hidden away in a specific Domain’s description, making it harder for a would-be ghost story DM to find it.
And secondly, it just doesn’t have anything to do with Mordent specifically. It might come in handy more often in Mordent than in other Domains, but it isn’t specific to it. And that means that the story prompts and narrative suggestions we get at the beginning of the section are all we get for the entire Domain. And so, through no fault of its own, Mordent feels shallow and empty. It isn’t that it doesn’t have depth. We just aren’t shown that depth. Mordent is a murky pond, and while that might be very thematic it doesn’t exactly help a DM better make stories in the Domain.
Darklord: Lord Wilfred Godefroy
In many ghost stories, the actual ghosts themselves are not the true villains. Most ghosts are victims, either of malevolent supernatural forces (demons or cultists) or of more mundane cruelty (social bullies and abusive family). Thus we often feel sympathy for the ghost, even if we still dislike them for, y’know, trying to kill us. “Sure sure, she wants to murder us,” the player says, “but that guy really did just kill her so he could elope with her cousin, so can you really blame her?”
Lord Godefroy, however, is the exception that proves the rule. He deserves what he got, and you can’t even feel sympathetic for his pain because it is all self-inflicted. His undead state is a consequence of his own sins, and thus he’s easy to fight.
This is nice because it allows for a change of pace. If you had a full campaign of ghost stories, players would become accustomed to the idea of “the ghost is just misunderstood.” So encountering a spirit who is, actually, evil from the start would be a fresh experience. It also allows him to be a good overall villain. His actions could have caused all the pain and suffering that produced all of these more sympathetic ghosts, thus every ghost the party pities is another reason for them to hate Lord Godefroy.
What holds him back is his relatively limited options for interaction. He’s an antagonistic force. Part of this is him suffering from the lack of description that the Domain as a whole has (see above), but even despite that he’s still just a villain. He also doesn’t have many ways of interacting with players, though that can be fixed. Just have him show up to complain at the party for being a bunch of meddling kids (and the party ranger’s dog) then leave and go back to whatever it is he’s doing.
Advice and Final Thoughts
Seriously, someone make a Scooby Doo campaign set in Mordent. It would work so well. Because, to be honest, I think that’s how it’s intended to work. The book spends so much time describing ghost stories as a genre because, at the end of the day, that’s all Mordent is. It’s a ghost story. This is a Domain begging for a full campaign of seemingly isolated hauntings that ultimately tie together through the character of Lord Godefroy.
Personally, my angle would be the idea that Lord Godefroy has somehow escaped his torment. Whether he’s become able to possess living creatures and thereby experience life again, or is able to physically manifest a new living body for himself, he’s the root cause of each haunting. A pair of lovers separated by their families were only discovered because a passing traveler outed them. An elderly woman was killed for her fortune after a passerby egged her ungrateful heirs on. And so on – this mysterious stranger essentially travels the Domain generally being unlikeable such that he gradually becomes a villain just from the party’s second-hand experiences with him.
But I’d try not to make it into a simple “Lord Godefroy is an asshole in general” plot by also having him do things based on his own schemes too. Maybe one of the ghosts could be a brilliant young genius whose “lab accident” death was anything but accidental. Or maybe the spirits haunting an old mine have been bound to Lord Godefroy’s will so he can obtain large quantities of some magical material needed for his device. Thus the players’ dislike of him will grow as they realize he isn’t just a jerk. He’s evil.
The main point would simply to focus on having as many ghost stories as possible. And to have as varied a set of stories as you can too. Don’t just settle for seven haunted manors. Mansions and mines, gardens and shipyards, just make it interesting.
As one final note – Mordent is also ideal for many of the mist wanderers presented later in the book. Many Domains could present certain obstacles to using them (Van Richten being conscripted by Vladeska, as an example) which can somewhat throw off their stories. Not that these twists are bad, they just make it harder to use those characters and may not reflect what you want out of their character archetype. Mordent lacks those restrictions and is a suitably “normal” environment in which these figures can thrive.
Richemulot, Land of Now-Familiar Horrors
Horror: Plague horror, a concept we’re all a little too used to at this point.
Length: Maybe a smallish campaign, but more likely less.
Cumulative Grade: C
I really do wonder… when did they decide on the theme for this Domain? Was it before or after early 2020 is basically what I’m asking. Probably impossible to tell, and it could even be a pre-existing Domain I’m just not remembering, but still. Interesting thought, to me at least.
Anyway, Richemulot is one of the more lacking Domains. Not only is it physically small, but it also doesn’t have a big variety of options. It’s the plague. That’s pretty much it. And while Richemulot does a good job of that theme, it doesn’t augment it with additional options or expand it to cover many different interpretations. It also suffers a little of the same issue as Mordent where its mechanical description of the plague takes up precious page space and leads to a dearth of information about the actual Domain.
To be honest, I completely forgot about this one in between rereads. It’s a little Domain wedged in between the powerhouses of Mordent and Tepest. And, truth to tell, it just doesn’t have much content.
The first problem is size. Of the “kingdom/country” scale Domains, it is without a doubt the smallest. Even Dementlieu, which is set inside a single city, still feels larger because it’s more densely populated with points of interest. Richemulot, meanwhile, has three cities which are all fairly similar. They’re all different flavors of “plague-ridden city” but they ultimately don’t offer significantly different experiences. Add to that the fact that there aren’t really any locations included to fall between the cities and you’ve got a fairly empty experience.
The second issue is somewhat inherent to the theme – plague can be decidedly unfun in D&D. The mechanics supplied for handling the plague are well thought out and functional (more on them in a bit), but I still feel like it doesn’t make for a fun experience. Imagine a roleplaying game where you just have the flu. Hardly the stuff of epic confrontations. But even so, Ravenloft is a horror setting and I am not a horror person. So perhaps I’m missing something.
Finally, Richemulot’s largest problem is the plague mechanics themselves. They’re very well crafted and do what I consider is the best job possible at making a playable disease in D&D. However, the cost of that is that the rules take up a lot of space. They’re very in-depth, which is good, but that space comes at the cost of less info about the Domain itself, which isn’t good. This same problem was very hindering to Mordent, a fundamentally good and interesting Domain, and so it’s borderline disastrous for a bare bones Domain like Richemulot.
Now, there are positives to the Domain. I find the “secret police” Casques to be very cool. Animated armors controlled by rats is such a rad idea. The Inverted Court is a cool concept for a dungeon. There’s also a brief suggestion in there that the current residents of Richemulot may not be the region’s original inhabitants. That’s a fascinating plot thread which unfortunately is never developed further or even really mentioned again. The initial reference to it seems so ominous and foreboding, but then it just never comes up again. I think the idea is supposed to be that the wererats themselves are the original inhabitants, but it isn’t really established very clearly.
Ultimately, I just don’t feel like Richemulot has a lot to work with. It doesn’t get as low a rating as something like the Carnival because I can still imagine a scenario where you can craft an interesting horror adventure entirely based in the Domain… it would just take significantly more work than with other Domains.
Darklord: Jacqueline Reiner
Unfortunately, Richemulot’s Darklord can’t salvage the Domain’s issues. Jacqueline Reiner is fine, there’s nothing expressly wrong with her, however her potential usage is very, very limited. I also don’t particularly like her backstory. Her one strong point is that her base of operations, the Inverted Court, is pretty cool – as is her rat and wererat theme.
To begin with, Reiner is fairly limited to being an antagonist and no more. There’s really no reason for her to ever be even mildly friendly with players, and she’s pretty easily outed as a villain. There is an angle where you can play her as a sort of necessary evil, given the plague doesn’t just magically end if she dies. But even then, she’s still just an antagonist. Which I guess is fine, but having more options would be better in my mind.
My complaint about her backstory is relatively petty, all things considered. I just feel her sudden paradigm shift from “nobles = good” to “wererats = good” seems very… jarring. This is a character defined by their haughty self-importance and obsession with noble superiority, then she gets bit by a rat and immediately changes her entire worldview with seemingly no difficulty. It’s just… odd. But maybe that’s just me.
The problem at the end of the day is that she just doesn’t have much use. How much of that is because the Domain itself doesn’t have anything to do, I’m not sure. I feel there’s only a single plotline you can really do with Richemulot, and Reiner ultimately can only serve a single purpose in that narrative. If that happens to match what you need, great. But even then you’re going to need to put in some work.
Advice and Final Thoughts
Richemulot is one of the only Domains I flat out wouldn’t use. It doesn’t offer anything truly unique, and you can make a passable attempt at any Richemulot story in one of several other Domains without much difficulty.
If you really want the wererat angle, why not go to the land of lycanthropy, Kartakass? You could also easily insert the plague and rats into Dementlieu without much trouble. Jacqueline Reiner could be added in as a major house scion in Borca, with the plague hitting there instead. I mean, hell you could just have Ivana of Borca do an alchemical plague using rat essence or something. It would be functionally the same as Richemulot, but making use of Borca’s much more robust descriptions.
I don’t want to needlessly criticize the Domain. There’s plenty of understandable reasons for the problems it has. The plague mechanic, while detailed and very well made, takes up far too much space and leaves the Domain feeling empty. The Domain’s map is very limited in size, reducing options of where you can insert more details. And the limitations caused by the lengthy plague mechanics further restricts things – you have to describe the three main cities, right? But once you do that there’s no space left for anything else, and thus you get the problem.
I want to refer back to my arbitrary rating scale – Richemulot is a Domain that is hobbled by space limitations but remains a good base on which to build something new. It can really inspire you, I just think the things it inspires would almost always be better served by being ported into a different Domain.
Tepest and the “Yes, We Actually Do That Here”
Horror: Twisted folktales and rural horror, or “country gothic” as some would say.
Length: Up to a full campaign.
Cumulative Grade: A+
Whoever made this clearly grew up close to the same unspeakable horrors that I grew up near. Don’t bother asking for that insidious place’s name – such sounds are best left unsaid in view of honest sunlight. Tepest just does too damn good a job at representing those tenebrous things for it to be anything else.
(Can you tell I’ve played Darkest Dungeon recently?)
Anyway… I love Tepest. It absolutely nails the feeling of an eerie, old country town that’s been festering in isolation for too long. The strange rituals, the bizarre things that are taken as “common knowledge” – all of it is brilliant.
It’s also very, very spooky. The ambiance of this Domain is perfect. Once again (like with Kartakass) I can’t necessarily name the specific aesthetic, but it’s very distinct. It also offers a unique perspective to Ravenloft with its more fairy tale inspired style.
Where to start? Tempest’s atmosphere is ideal for its genre. I like that the villagers are firmly benign until the night of the Tithe. It helps to have a friendly group of allies in these types of stories, giving you a safe place to rest in between horrors. Until you discover the monsters inside the walls might be worse than anything you could find outside. I feel like I can’t possibly overstate the importance of this, so I’m going to try my best. For this brand of horror, having an idyllic farming village is critical. Players need a place that they feel is safe which in reality isn’t. And Viktal, the main city in Tepest, is perfect for this. It’s obviously peaceful, and everyone is happy. But scarecrows add an element of spooky decor… and the weird practices of the villagers can get a bit concerning… It all comes together to be a brilliant basis for a folk horror story.
The wilds that cover the rest of the Domain are also wonderful. Beautiful mountain vistas and nightmares beneath the trees. I also love the naming conventions of this place too, even the unimportant filler points of interest have fascinating names. The fact that Tepest has its own Underdark-equivalent is just icing on the cake. Take the area you can see on the map and double it – that’s the true size of this Domain.
I also thoroughly enjoy situations in which you have multiple starting location options. The town of Kellee is a perfect alternate start if you want to begin on a more horror-minded footing. The town is also delightfully under-described. Clearly describing things can sometimes ruin the horror of the situation. I’m not advocating for leaving things vague, far from it. You need just enough detail to make it clear that even though you don’t know what’s going on, you’re totally sure that you should be afraid of it.
Oh, and there’s also a Baba Yaga style walking hut roaming around too. I mean come on, what more could you want?
Darklord: Mother Lorinda
Statblock: Green hag
Mother Lorinda is a perfect fit for Tepest. She’s shrouded in secrecy and intimately connected to nearly every creepy element of the Domain. That can be a downside if you wanted to do a Tepest adventure without using her, but simultaneously she’s such a good character that you’d be losing out on a lot of potential by skipping her.
My absolute favorite part about her is the number of mysteries and secrets surrounding her. When players first arrive, all they’ll hear about is the enigmatic goddess Mother. Even once they begin to doubt this goddess’s claim to benevolence, there’s still this mysterious Tithe – why won’ anyone talk about it? Then after the Tithe, curiosity switches over to focusing on Laoirse… what the hell is that thing, and why does no one notice what a monstrosity it is? All this time you can build up references to the more witchy and/or hag-like hints until players begin to wonder how that legend might relate.
It just… she has so much potential for intrigue. And I love Laoirse too. The monster is scary, but it’s the reskinning suggestion that I think is most important. Reskinning is such a critical skill for DMs, but I feel like it’s one that many new DMs may just never hear about. You don’t have to make a brand new statblock for every unique monster. You can just use an old one with new skin!
Lastly, I love her walking hut and I’m crazy about her imprisonment of her sisters. It isn’t often that a Darklord has a concrete method of beating them. Now… would anything change long term? Probably not, the Dark Powers wouldn’t allow it. But releasing the other two hags could still help the party escape, if not because the hags reward them, then because in the chaos they can slip away. But then there’s always the threat too – what if they’re even worse than she is? Boiling brings out flavor, so if you put a couple of bitter old hags in the pot to simmer for centuries, whatever comes out likely isn’t good.
Advice and Final Thoughts
Regarding Scooby Doo – Tepest primarily works if you’re using the movies (Scooby Doo and Zombie Island, etc.) as inspiration. For classic Scooby Doo, go to Mordent. Well, actually, just don’t go to Ravenloft at all since it usually isn’t an actual ghost. You’d be better off in Saltmarsh, to be honest.
Anyway, my ideal Tepest would be very slow burn. Just go on some normal, if a bit concerning, adventures first. Players stay in Viktal and quest out for various strongholds of monsters. Each time they return to the village to rest, the upcoming festival has gotten a little bit closer. First come the harvest decorations, dried herbs and gourds. Next is the art with streamers and banners. Someone’s made a wicker charm for the characters’ rooms. A good luck charm, they assure.
Then the next quest is different. Maybe malicious fey are behind it. But some of the fey seem almost concerned… they warn the players that they aren’t safe there, in that town. Not there, not with Them. Players think nothing of it, until they return to find the wicker decorations finished. Sinister forms lashed together roughly but with an unnerving design. But it should be fine, right? It’s just a festival.
One last piece of advice – I wouldn’t have the players subjected to the Tithe the first time around. I would have a random villager (preferably one the party at least somewhat likes) chosen instead. The players should be conveniently pulled away from the festivities close to nightfall, only for them to hear horrific noises and hurry back just in time to see some monstrosity dragging half of its latest meal away behind it.
This allows you to save the actual confrontation with Laoirse for a later point, meaning the characters can be a higher level (and thus Laoirse can be more imposing) and that they can dread the confrontation for longer. Half of horror is in the buildup, after all.
And there we have it! Make sure to come back for our final installment… an entire post about Cyre 1313! Yep, that’s right. Almost three thousand words about the Mourning Rail, a minor Domain that gets like two paragraphs in the book. Don’t think I won’t do it, cause I will.
But I’m actually just kidding, I really love Valachan so it’ll get more than its fair share of coverage. And there are other cool minor Domains too, even if Cyre 1313 will still end up with double the coverage as any of the others. Eh, what can you do?
Why… you can let me know what you think, of course!