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Black Crusade

Author: Ari Marmell
Type: Novel
Format: free Internet publication
Release date: Ended May 2009
Other notes:
- Was set to be published in March 2008 as part of the Ravenloft: Dominion series, but it was postponed, then cancelled, then offered for free as a one-chapter-a-month mode, ending in May 2009
- Formerly titled A Crown of Ash
Domain: Malvosia


WotC has compiled all chapters into this PDF document: http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/4dnd/20090605


The following information was gathered on this novel from its author, when the novelís title and release date was announced.

Info on the new novels from the EnWorld board :

Ari : Don't get the wrong idea from the promos. This is still Ravenloft. It draws from historical periods in the real world, now, rather than D&D settings--and there are some other changes as well, which I can't yet get into--but it's still its own world. The bulk of my novel takes place in a brand new domain, but it is a domain, not part of Earth. (Roughly, oh, 15% or so of my own novel takes place on Earth. I think C.A.'s novel has a much more even mix of Earth and Ravenloft.)

Q Ari, will there be anything regarding game stats for any aspect of your novel?

Ari : Nothing that I'm aware of, though I've contemplated eventually writing up Malosia in the style of the other domains in the old books and submitting it as a web article. Wouldn't happen for a good long while after the book was out--if ever--but I've thought about it.

Two reasons to publish it long after the novel, primarily.

1) Any such writeup would almost by definition include spoilers for the novel. I'd want to make sure most people who wanted to read the book would have the chance to do so first.

2) I'm hoping for the chance to write more books in the line, and some of those might also be set in Malosia. I'd want to have a pretty solid idea of where I was going with the domain before committing to any info not included in the novel.

Q Also, given the Gothic Earth speculation, is there any hint of the Red Death or anything specific to the Masque of the Red Death campaign setting?

Ari : Nope, or at least, not in my novel. I guess it's possible such details could appear further down the line, though.

Q : Since the novels are drawing from Earth, and specifically very *religious-focused* periods of Earth's history, I assume the domain will feature Earth religions, or at least Earth-based characters will view everything through a Earth-religion lens, right?

Ari : The Earth-based characters do indeed tend to view things through the lens of Medieval Roman Catholicism. The primary religious institution of Malosia, the Empyrean Church, has some similarities to the Roman Catholic Church, but is also very different in many respects. IOW, I've done my best to ensure that while everything feels at least somewhat familiar, nobody should have any real reason to find offense.

Q The whole "weekend in hell" never set well with me to begin with, since it made the campaign world a one shot. I much preferred what Domains of Dread attempted to do - present it as a campaign world where natives struggled against the darkness.

Ari : In terms of RL in gaming, I agree with you. The best RL campaign I ever ran was about natives, and never was the concept of other worlds even brought up. In novels, I think a good mix is best. The trick is, when writing a novel about outsiders to Ravenloft, to focus on goals other than just "escape." Not saying that getting home can't be a factor, but it should rarely be the primary focus of the story.

From World of D&D

Ari : Well, I don't think I'm spilling anything to say that it's a single book, not the first of a trilogy--but it could have sequel potential, if people demand it.

Q Did you read much of the original Ravenloft fiction, and if you did what was the most memorable of the books?

Ari : Quite a bit of it, yep. I think the ones I liked best were the two I, Strahd novels by P.N. Elrod, and the anthology of short stories called Tales of Ravenloft. I thought the two Lord Soth novels were decent, but the story felt a little disjointed. (I've heard rumors that an entire chapter was lost from the second one.)

Q Also how much did you get to game in the original setting?

Ari : A decent amount, albeit not as much as I'd have liked. My best "mini-campaign" (defined, in this case, as a campaign designed only to run about five sessions) was set in Ravenloft, though.

Q Do you have any favourite adventure modules released by TSR?

Ari : Hmm... I tend to read modules for inspiration and to steal ideas/scenes, as opposed to running them directly, so my memory of them is fairly shaky. I know I read a lot of them, but they've sort of blurred together in my mind, honestly.

Q If you could go back and choose any of the original characters from the setting and write a novel about them, which would it be?

Ari : Well, let's see. Strahd's a cool character, but he's been done to death. I really like Anton Misroi (darklord of Souragne)--and indeed, I do hope to write a novel set in Souragne one day--but I don't think it would be about him, per se. He'd more likely be the villain.

You know, I think I have to say Rudolph van Richten. I know it's kind of a cliche to write about him, but at the same time, I don't think any of the novel-length stories ever focused on him. I'm a big fan of older protagonists who have to rely on their swift wits and knowledge, as opposed to their sword-arm, to overcome challenges. I think it'd be a blast to write a Ravenloft novel from his perspective.

Q Can you tell us about the guidelines you were given about any eventual cross-D&D setting features in these new novels?

Ari : None. The Ravenloft: Dominion line doesn't draw characters from other D&D settings. The characters are all either A) from historical periods of Earth, or B) natives to one of the Ravenloft domains.

From the FoS board :

Q I think the main question we all have is if you can disclose if this new line of RL fiction is actually accompanied by RPG supplements of any sort.

Ari : To the best of my knowledge, no RPG supplements are planned at this time. (If I'm not mistaken, RL always sold better as novels than RPG books anyway.) But who knows? If they do well enough, and there's a demand for 'em, I suppose anything's possible down the road...

Q The first book makes me a little nervous, actually--given the background and characters described, it's going to have to involve Christianity at least a little, and the way Christianity often gets treated in gaming circles leaves me uneasy. I don't know enough about Ari to make a judgement one way or the other, and I hope he doesn't take offense at this--I'm just a little hesitant.

Ari : I don't take offense at all. I think it's a valid concern. I'm not a fan of religion-bashing in any sense, honestly. I have a problem with what some people do in the name of religion, but I draw the line at blaming the religion itself.

Without getting too heavily into details (no sense in offering spoilers this far in advance ), I'll say this much. While religion obviously lurks in the background of the Earth-centric chapters, and the main characters clearly view the world through their own (often twisted) lenses of Roman Catholicism, those chapters are far more about the specific events occurring, and the specific characters' motivations, than they are about either the religion or the Church.

And while the primary religious institution of Malosia, the Empyrean Church, has some obvious and deliberate parallels to the Roman Catholic Church, it's also got some pretty major differences as well.

The upshot of all this? While I tried to make things feel familiar, and there are certainly some connections if people choose to draw them, I believe I've been very careful to avoid painting any real-world religions in any particular light, and I don't think anyone should find offense.

Q To bad the first two books don't appear to take place in pre-existing Ravenloft domains (From the sound of the second book, it doesn't even sound like the characters end up in Ravenloft). Still, no reason they can't add more domains. And of course, if these books are a success then there's no reason to think that future novels won't take place in more well known domains like Darkon or Tepest.  

Ari : Exactly. Since the new series does indeed have some differences from older RL fiction, it was decided to set the first batch of books in new domains, to provide a completely fresh start. However, it's been suggested to me that future novels may indeed take place in older domains. (I certainly hope so, since I'd really like to write more set in Souragne. I love that domain...)

Q Though rereading the press release, it sounds like the whole purpose of the Ravenloft: Dominion line is Ravenloft + Earth. So any chance we may see a THIRD line in the future? Ravenloft: The Covenant (Reprinted Ravenloft novels), Ravenloft: Dominion (Which connects Ravenloft to different eras on Earth), and a Ravenloft novel line which focuses specifically on Ravenloft on its own?

Ari : Well, yes and no. Any "outside" characters in RL:Dominion have to come from historical Earth. However, if I understand the new guidelines fully, it's perfectly acceptable to write a RL:Dominion book set entirely in Ravenloft, using native characters.

Q Hmm. You say the first novels are going to be in new domains. This begs the question, will those domains remain for further novels? and if so, will we (after a time) begin to see inhabitants finding out about the rest of the land of mists?

Ari : Oh, absolutely they will. (Or rather, I shouldn't make promises. I can't swear that these domains will appear again, but I know that they can. I'm sure I'll wind up writing in Malosia again, if I'm given the opportunity.)

Q So what's the deal with Malosia? Is it an island of terror? Is it part of a cluster? If so, how many domains border it? Or is it part of an entirely different core? And would it be an accurate assumption to say that the technology level is roughly parallel to that of the 1st Crusade? Or is it higher/lower? As for the Empyrean Church, is it a monotheistic religion? Polytheistic? Do their priests cast spells? Inquiring minds want to know.

Ari : Hmm... Now, I think, we're starting to get into specific details and even a few potential (albeit very minor) spoilers. I'm afraid I'm going to have to address most of the above with a "wait and see."

Sorry; I know that's not the most satisfying answer, but I'm already pushing the boundaries of my NDA pretty tightly as is.

From Ariís live journal

Q So is this a d20 Modern version of Ravenloft then?

Ari : Novels only. To the best of my knowledge, this incarnation of Ravenloft is pure fiction, not gaming material.

Q Oh, that sounds a-MAZ-ing! Congrats on such a fun premise and period. Can't wait to see what you do with it. Given the amount of AQ I wrote, though, you'll have to forgive me if I cheer a little for the Saracens.  

Ari : No worries. Al Qadim is, in fact, tied for Ravenloft as my favorite setting from old editions.  I will warn you, though, that only a relatively small portion of the novel actually takes place in Jerusalem/the real world. So you won't have too much opportunity to cheer for the Saracens this time. That said, I see no reason not to revisit the period in later works, if I'm allowed to write any, so hold the thought. 

From WotC's boards

Re: New novels

I'm not going to address every issue in the thread point-by-point. But I will say this.

1) Everyone working on the new line is a huge fan of the old line.

2) While the earlier novels in the Ravenloft: Dominion line revolve around new domains, that doesn't mean you won't be seeing familiar domains, and familiar characters, appearing in the future.

3) The elements that make Ravenloft Ravenloft--including, but not limited to, the Mists, the various domains, the Dark Powers, the Vistani--are just as vital to the new line as they were to the old. They play a big part in some stories, a small part in others, but they've been neither forgotten nor abandoned.

4) While the new line is more "gothic horror" and less "fantasy horror" than the old line, it's still got plenty of elements of both.

5) While the new line links Ravenloft to Earth, that doesn't mean these stories take place on Earth with "Ravenloft flavor." I can't speak to the second novel, but I can tell you that maybe 15% of Black Crusade takes place in historical Earth. The rest takes place entirely in Ravenloft; a new domain, yes, but very much the Realm of the Mists.

Oh, and I'll add...

Don't read too much into those blurbs. They do what they can, but it's difficult to summarize novels like this--particularly horror novels, with the requisite twists and turns--in a paragraph.  

Postulating a major change in the fundamental nature of the Mists based on the blurb for a future release would be--premature, to say the least.


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