Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Dread Mood

"Vampire Castle" by Graf Von Krolock
When I came through here last week, carrying barrels of ale for the Duke, the village was happy, healthy, and a cheerful place. All of the peasants were happy to see a merchant traveler coming through, and we shared news with them as they gave us a hospitable welcome at their local public house.

Now, though, look at them. All afraid to do more than look from the corners of their windows. No one laughing, no one coming to meet us. And the woods. Look at the woods. Ominous, dark, and deep where once they were bright and green.

What has happened to this place?

Scholars talk about the planes of existence, pointing to the astral and ethereal planes bordering on the material world, and beyond them the celestial and infernal planes of the gods. There are elemental planes, energetic planes, and so on. All of these, though, are places in themselves, places that a person of sufficient knowledge and power can travel to. In addition to these places, there are also Moods. A Mood is a type of plane-like entity that doesn’t exist in itself, but rather imposes itself on another place. When a Mood settles down, it changes the character of the place it comes to, making it more of one thing or another. There are Moods of whimsy, of joy, and of nihilism, among others. Most of all, though, there is the Dread Mood, the Mood of terror.

Like a plane, a Mood has inhabitants. Unlike a plane, these are not beings in themselves, but rather spiritual forces that possess those who live in the place that the Mood settles upon. Depending on the power of the forces in the Mood, these can simply change the personality of the place’s inhabitants slightly, or it can even alter their appearance and abilities. In many ways, a Mood settling on a place is like a demon possession, but happening to the entire area. It can be thought of as a new genius loci, a spirit of place, taking over for the one that naturally exists there.

When the Dread Mood settles on a place, the local ruler is edited out of existence, at least temporarily, and replaced by a manifestation of the Dread Mood. There are several of these manifestations.

The central figure of the Dread Mood is Dragos Lupei. One can think of him as the anthropomorphic manifestation of the Dread Mood as a whole. He does not necessarily show up whenever the Dread Mood settles on a place, as other manifestations may occur instead. Dragos, though, is the most feared manifestation of the Dread Mood’s ruling figure. The castle or ruling building of the area will be replaced with his castle of Dragoshani, the Citadel of Dragos. Dragos is a vampire, though he will attempt to keep that a secret for as long as he can.

When the Mood manifests Dragos, the woods will suddenly be inhabited by a pack of werewolves. Very soon, one or more of the villagers will also become infected. If there are no woods, then some similar group of outsider entities will come to exist. Perhaps a pack of ghouls in the desert sands, or weresharks will prowl the outer reefs. The point is that Dragos, as the centerpiece of corruption of the area, will be mirrored by figures outside the community as well.

Dragos will not always call himself “Dragos”, either. His name will usually be chosen to be resonant with the area on which the Mood falls, though often with an element of shadowy exoticism. He will manifest whatever characteristics are natural for the most powerful vampires in the area, or if there are no natural vampires to be found he will instead manifest the normal vampiric attributes. Similarly, his castle will conform to the normal architecture of a center of power in the area.

In addition to the normal creatures of horror and fear, an occasional Rom caravan will also appear in the area. It is not known for sure what causes these traveling folk to appear, but they always seem to have knowledge about the manifestations of the Dread Mood, and to be fairly willing to help in actions taken in opposition to those manifestations. However, sometimes they harbor or protect the outsider forces even as they try to find a way to prevent their depredations, and they are always distrustful of outsiders.

Once the Dread Mood settles on an area, it will remain for as long as the central figure manifesting at that time remains active. If that central figure is killed or destroyed, the Mood will immediately lift, all things returning to normal, for the most part. The locals will see it as having been like a dream, almost, though they will be aware that they did the things that they did and those who are dead will not return to life. Those who were infected by diseases like lycanthropy will remain affected. Notably, the former ruling figure who was replaced by the Mood's manifestation will die if that manifestation is killed. Perhaps there is another way? No one knows (except the Referee).

Game Effects

While the Dread Mood is settled on a place, regardless of which manifestation occurs, all saves vs. fear and fear-like effects are at -1. Similarly, all morale checks and reaction rolls are penalized by 1 point. In the daytime, the sky will remain constantly overcast, so that creatures affected by sunlight will not be penalized. At night, rolling fog will limit visibility outside, even by lamplight.

NPCs will act a little more frightened of everything, and will not usually express any sort of joy. The main exception will be the Rom caravans that will suddenly show up.

In the Rom encampments will be dancing, singing, and musical instruments. Rom will be led by a strong fighter, and will always include at least one aged magician-witch of great insight and power. The Rom will be slightly, but not greatly, different than the locals, depending on the area. In a European-type setting, they will resemble typical Romany “gypsies”, while in a desert they might be a group of wandering Bedouin or the like. They will always be slightly “off” for the area, providing a hint of exoticism while still seeming quite appropriate for the place.

Other Lords Of The Dread Mood

In addition to Dragos Lupei, there are other manifestations that can occur.

Baron Von Hofstedtler: His insane experiments into the creation of life frequently result in the formation of intelligent Flesh Golems. Unfortunately, such creatures are inevitably produced with the intellects of infants and the bodies of large, strong men. It only requires the destruction of the Baron to lift the Dread Mood. If the Baron were ever able to raise one of his Golems to intelligence, he would immediately set out to build an army of them in order to fulfill his dreams of conquest. However, the villagers are always terrified of his works and inevitably strike to destroy his creations, and, ultimately, him. In the process, though, they usually lose many of their people, and the place will be suffering for years as a result even after they lift the Dread Mood. Though there may be Rom when he appears, there are not usually any outsider entities.

Jaya: She, or he, is a Rakshasa. His, or her, palace is a place of decadent pleasures hiding the corrupting filth of the demon spirit. When she, or he, appears, the graveyards come to house legions of ghouls and ghasts.

Mab, The Queen of Air and Darkness: Unlike the other manifestations, she will not replace the area’s normal leader. Instead, she and her Court will appear in the wilderness nearby. She, herself, is a powerful faerie queen (treat as a dark elf if you don’t have a more suitable option). She will always have an entourage of changelings, young men and women stolen from their parents in infancy and replaced with polymorphed goblins (who live off their hosts until they pretend to die after a few months, in the meantime also causing ill-luck in the household – spoiling milk, unraveling weaving, and so on). The woods or wilderness will be filled with goblins, evil sprites and pixies, will-o-the-wisps, and the like. These creatures will try to hide from humans, in order to trick them into getting lost in the deep woods, running off of a cliff, or wandering into a swamp. Her Court consists of evil faeries, which can be dark elves or whatever else is appropriate in your game.

There are dozens of others, from Kheperkheperure the immortal mummy, who pursues his reincarnating lover Isetnofret (who does not remember him, and might even be a PC), to Blubolubdool the leader of the unaging Fishmen, who need human women to breed a new generation. Pretty much any horror scenario that can have a central figure can exist as a manifestation of the Dread Mood.

Designer’s Notes: When I first heard about Ravenloft, the boxed set, and the idea of a “demiplane” of Dread, this is approximately what I thought it would be. That’s why I was more disappointed than most seem to have been with that product line, since it turned out that a “demiplane” was simply a small plane. Obviously, the idea also draws from TORG, which included the idea of invading realities. Unlike TORG, though, I don’t envision these Moods as having a separate existence from which they come as invaders, but instead are only semi-real. They only exist when they manifest, and they don’t much change the map of the area (though some changes may occur, such as replacing the ruling building with Dragoshani). Another influence on the idea was the game Magic Realm, which included the idea that a tile could become Enchanted, which provided a constant source of magical power and shifted paths and locations slightly.