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Ravenloft Campaign Setting

Author's notes

Andrew Cermak

There's a lot of backstory to the work that went into the Ravenloft Campaign Setting, and I'm not sure I can do it justice nearly three years after the fact, but I'll do my best.

Longtime fans of the Secrets of the Kargatane web site will no doubt remember that we, as the caretakers of Ravenloft's "Official Web site," were handed the creative reins to the setting after the line was canceled by Wizards of the Coast, back in 2000. As the new wardens of the setting, we proudly announced plans to release several canonical products later that year, namely Death Undaunted, Children of the Night: Demons, and Shadow of the Knife. Longtime fans will also remember that it didn't quite work out that way. Oops...

Besides the inevitable intrusion of real life, there were a few other factors that contributed to our inability to meet our own expectations that year. The Secrets of the Kargatane web site suffered a serious crash, and as it would happen webmaster Stuart Turner's computer would suffer a serious crash of its own around the same time, effectively putting the web site out of commission for no small period of time. Hubris was another factor; we actually thought we could do all these official products and put together the unofficial Book of Shadows that year without missing a hitch. As it was, none of the canon products got completed and the Book of Shadows ended up late.

In late 2000, when we were already well behind on our plans, a new delaying factor arose, one we had to keep under our hats. We discovered that White Wolf, through their Arthaus imprint, were going to be licensing the Ravenloft setting from Wizards of the Coast, and we'd been recommended as freelancers to get the line off the ground. Needless to say, we were all very excited by this news.

And then we heard nothing more for months. Months where we couldn't work on our planned releases because we'd have no idea whether we'd be able to release them, and couldn't tell anybody why because the official announcement of the licensing agreement hadn't been made yet. The upshot of this is that we got to spend a lot of time thinking and talking about what we wanted to do before we could actually get around to doing it. Even after we got the official word from Arthaus that the license was a done deal and we were their guys, there was still a lot of discussion between us and Arthaus about what the early releases would be and what they would contain before any actual contracts would be sent out.

Because of this, the first two books in the line can truly be labeled "collaborative efforts." We had many discussions over e-mail and ICQ, and countless ideas got bounced back and forth, some discarded and some developed. Only three of us did the actual writing, but all six of us were heavily involved in the idea-work and inspiration, and the mark of every member of the Kargatane can probably be found in every chapter to one degree or another.

John, Andrew Wyatt, and I had each been under contract for roughly one-third of the first book for, oh, maybe a month or two when we finally found out our release schedule, on April 3rd 2001. I remember this well, because this was the day we discovered our rough drafts for the RCS were due April 27th. There were many curse words e-mailed back and forth between the three of us that day, I promise you.

There was nothing to do then but plunge forward as quickly as we could. I ended up working on Chapter 5, and when that was nearly finished I picked up Chapter 6 as well. That's how informal the division of our workload was back then, a "system" that would continue through the first Gazetteer.

Chapter 5 was to be a chapter of monster rules, essentially a 3E update of the Van Richten's Guides that had been published for 2nd Edition, while Chapter 6 was to be a chapter illuminating Ravenloft's unique themes and offering advice on how best to evoke them. This left me working both ends of the crunch-fluff spectrum, which was both exciting and somewhat daunting.

Of the two, Chapter 5 proved the more intimidating, thanks to the sheer volume of rules that had to be squeezed into a relatively small space, and the difficulty of taking what amounted to nine different sets of monster rules and presenting them in a somewhat cohesive, coherent, and consistent format, all in a very short amount of time. While I would have done some things differently with more time, I think, I was very pleased with how the chapter turned out overall.

I should take this opportunity to thank Andrew W. for ideas on the Werebeasts section, and John for ideas on Vampires; Ethereal Resonance, though I wrote it up, was also John's idea. (I know many people complained about the presence of monster rules in a "player's book." While we very much wanted to make the RCS "player-friendly," it was also important to make Ravenloft a playable setting with the first release. Having rules for how the major types of monsters work differently in Ravenloft was an important element of establishing that kind of playability, more important than including, for example, prestige classes or statistics for Strahd. )

(Additionally, and speaking frankly, it simply doesn't follow that a chapter showing that monsters in Ravenloft can have widely varying characteristics from the norm amounts to unfair knowledge for the players. Certainly no player reading Chapter 5 could have outfitted his character to deal with every possible variation of the monsters that could be created with the rules therein. From a player's perspective, all Chapter 5 amounted to was a warning to be ready for anything, and a warning like that can only increase the levels of tension and suspense in a campaign. At least, that's this author's humble opinion on the subject.)

By comparison, Chapter 6 was a breeze, and a genuine pleasure to write. I will admit that there are a few sentences in there that make me cringe when I reread them today, but I won't tell you which ones. Suffice to say, that with a less pressing deadline I would have made revisions to my word choices in a few spots. Despite that, this chapter also contains some of the passages I'm most proud of in all my published work. The section subtitled "The Natural World" is chief among them; "Emerging from the Crucible" is another.

My work on the RCS would have an impact on my writing for future products; during the division of SotDR, I ended up with the (eventually cut) third chapter of DM's advice, as a companion to Chapter 6 or the RCS, and wrote Chapter 6 of Van Richten's Arsenal as a companion to my work on the RCS' Chapter 5.

John W. Mangrum

I wrote all of the vignettes save for the first, all of which were originally planned to accompany full-page splash illustrations; I didn't know that they wouldn't until the book was published, for sake of trivia. The first vignette (The Tome of Strahd), was obviously taken from I:6 Ravenloft, by Tracy & Laura Hickman. Every set of the RL core rules had included it, and since part of my focus was to "go back to the Black Box," distilling the best aspects of every incarnation of the setting that had gone before, I could think of no better tribute than to open the book with the Hickmans' classic prose.

(As a note, we were as unhappy as the slighted authors themselves when we discovered that Ravenloft's original creators hadn't been acknowledged, and immediately brought that issue to light, which is why thanks appeared -- with a bang -- in Denizens of Darkness.)

I also wrote Chapters One, Two, and Three. As a note, yes, calibans are a nod to twisted gents of Gothic (and related) tales such Quasimodo, Igor and, obviously, Shakespeare's Caliban from The Tempest. Using the name Caliban was my tribute to Shakespeare -- I simply assumed everyone would get the reference -- which is why it rankled when one guy said it had been cheap of us to crib from Shakespeare without acknowledging him.

The infamous giogoto/giomorgo goof also originates with me. Shame it wasn't caught further down the production chain.

I think Steve Miller contributed a feat, by the by.

Oh; in hindsight -- and this is just me; by the time I came to the decision, we weren't in a position to worry it, so I've never even mentioned this to the Kargatane -- I would make pistols simple weapons and muskets martial weapons. I would then tie the Exotic Weapon Proficiency feat into Cultural Levels; if you try to use a weapon from a CL you aren't familiar with, you need an Ex. Weap. Prof. feat with that weapon or suffer the normal penalties for non proficiency. To be familiar with a CL, you'd need to come from such a region or live in such a culture for a year. Parthian weapons still need the feat regardless, however.

Oh, and I think Andrew Wyatt wrote the Death by Pitchfork sidebar.

The Final Thoughts section of Chapter One is something I suddenly jotted up over lunch one day, refined from questionnaires I used in my own campaign, way back.

I contributed bits and bobs of text to the back half the book, though of course we tightly coordinated our efforts, so there's ideas from everyone in sections everyone else wrote.

Primarily I just performed my usual "shadow developer" work. You see, in our Kargatane roles, we were primarily an editing/developing team for netbooks, and we carried much of that structure to our Arthaus duties. By "shadow developer" work I mean I would go through everyone's chapters as they were completed, massaging them to fix errors, flesh out good bits, maintain a consistent tone throughout the book, etc. Essentially, I would habitually do a fair chunk of the developer's job, often to their consternation.


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