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Van Richten's Guide to the Walking Dead

Author's notes

John W Mangrum

I proposed this book (along with the upcoming Guide to the Shadow Fey; you can see the hint in VRA) and did my usual shadow developer work on Ryan's half of the book.

Ryan Naylor

Van Richtenís Guide to the Walking Deadis another milestoneóthe first book I designed. Yes people, I decided what would go into it and where. I can only thank Rucht for being patient enough to agree with me. I also found most of the literary quotes at the start of the chapters.

Amusing asideóall through the design process, I sent groveling e-mails to Rucht, apologizing for my lack of experience. It wasnít until years later (a month ago) I discovered he was as inexperienced as me. Oh how I laugh now.

From the start. The twins couldnít possibly remember their grandmother, since she died just after they were born according to the original RL boxed set. Who then is the woman terrifying Laurie?

Next, I wrote the Necrology chapter. In fact, you can see quite clearly which bits I wrote, because theyíre written as VRGs, while Rucht drafted in other narrators and other sources like VRA for his sections. The division into Obedient, Hungry and Restless Dead came from the original VRGttWD I wrote in Year Ten at school. Itís always good to recycle your work and make it official, although itís considerably expanded and revised here. This chapter follows the VRG pattern fairly closely. I spent a lot of my time in paranoid fear that Walking Dead would come out looking too much like Ancient Dead or Ghosts. I hope that didnít happen. Another production error- Composite Walking Dead (which was of course inspired by the spell Strahdís Malefic Meld) should be in a sidebar but isnít. The twins obviously know too much about game mechanics.

Moving on. Although Iím sure you donít need me to point it out, but Voracious is quite obviously a rip off of the movie Ravenous. Even the name is a joke. The in character text refers to a cannibalistic Sri Rajian cult which is based on a real Indian cult I had recently seen on TV. I also spent hours trying to find the Lovecraft quote from the start of the chapter; I knew vaguely where it was, but couldnít remember the name of the short story it came from, so I had to skim over hundred of short stories looking for it. By the way, muduat is made by taking the Egyptian words for death and water and cramming them together. That was inspired by Thrax (or was it Palik?), another recycled NPC from RLMCII.

The Restless Dead was co-written by Rucht and myself. I thought reviving Ratik Ubel would be cool, and Rucht liked the idea, so we did. I think Rucht was a bit annoy at the irreverent way Alanik Ray treats Ubel in his letters to the twins. Rucht had written really intense description of Ubel saying things like, ďWe both know what it is to look into the heart of evil.Ē I thought it would be funny if Ray didnít like the comparison, and put it down to Ubelís psychosis. I also remember Alanik calling Arthur ďdear, sweet ArthurĒ somewhere, but it seems to have vanished, so we no longer have that insight into their relationship and Hazlik is the only outed RL character we have. Iím a stickler for statistical representation.

It was just after writing this chapter I came up with the concept of the Craving. I went back and re-edited my chapters to include it, and forced Rucht to make some changes to this chapter, but I donít think he did to many of his other chapters. Which goes to show, have all the good ideas at the start of the book, or be prepared for a final product that looks odd in a couple of places.

I also wrote Weaknesses and Hunting, which are fairly standard retreads of the VRGs, although at one point I did have the twins telling people to be suspicious of hermits until someone pointed out that completely contradicted everything Van Richten had ever said and wasnít very nice. I like the interplay between the twins teasing each other about Xavier and Nikolas (both names I stole from friends of mine incidentally). The Glutton is based on a Dark Sun creature called a fael, although I had to mist-lead him to get him from GíHenna to the twinsí time frame. Also, everyone take note of another of my Valachan references: another scholar is mentioned, who I think pops up again in the Valachan gazetteer. Lovecraft and MR James are both known for the ironclad but imaginary scholarship in their works, which I think Iím trying to emulate. It help make RL look like a cohesive world. The Romance from Beyond the Grave book is in there for the same reason, and because I think itís funny that the twins read Mills and Boone. And the typo at the end is all my fault Ė the year is 747, not 737.

Finally, I would like to point out that, after weeks of number crunching, the creature creation lab at the end should be able to give the right CR for any walking dead from the MM or DoDark except the Devourer and the Valpurlieche (although I donít think it works for the new monsters in VRGttWD oddly enough). I would also like to point out that Iím as in awe of Toben the Many as everyone else is. He really makes the book.

Ryan Naylor adds in December 2009, when asked about the writing process of this book :

Please bear in mind this was all about 7 years ago, so my memory may fail on some details. Plus, I'm really self-centred, so everything is filtered through that lens.

First, I should say that I was very lucky to work with Rucht on VRGttWD. When we were talking about the basic ideas, we clicked really well and found we had very similar ideas about what we were going to do, which I think is reflected in the positive reviews the book got on release. He was particularly good natured about me demanding access to everything he'd written so I could edit it for tone and content.

The authors of most of the multi-author books written under Arthaus (in my experience at least) weren't really encouraged to interact with each other. The Kargatane did, obviously, because (a) we talked to each other (b) I wanted to steal any good ideas they might have had and (c) I thought it was a matter of professional courtesy, since we were all working on the same line.

Perhaps naively, we expected the developers to ensure that style, tone and characterisation were consistent between different authors. Then the Mordent Gazetteer came out and we all had a bit of a panic about it. So I was determined to make sure something like that didn't happen here.

And as I said, Rucht was very good about it.

I think Rucht originally just intended it to be a guide to skeletons and zombies, but I was slightly more ambitious. VRGtGhosts was essentially a guide to all incorporeal undead, so I decided that the time had come for VRGt the corporeal dead*. I crunched numbers for days to make sure that, using the creation lab in the Appendix, you could use the salient abilities to make every corporeal undead in the Monster Manual and Denizens of Darkness except the devourer. Certainly all the Ravenloft-specific undead ever mentioned anywhere are in there somewhere.

* Except liches, ancient dead and vampires, obviously.

So I sketched out the plan for the book and we divided it fairly evenly between us. You can actually tell who wrote what, I think, based on who the narrator for the chapter is. I was familiar with the VRGs, so I wrote as Laurie and Gennifer. Rucht was only familiar with VRA, and thought that other characters were meant to actually narrate the books, so his chapters are all narrated by people other than the twins. This is particularly obvious in the chapter on Restless Dead, where Rucht wrote all the bits narrated by Ratik and I wrote everything else as Alanik Ray and the twins. Rucht wrote really intense dialogue for Ratik, so I of course mocked him about it in Alanik's commentary.

Anyway, I get ahead of myself.

I wrote the Introduction and Necrology, which is where I came up with the idea of the Craving which drove all of the walking dead and the idea that DMs needed to hammer home the idea that the walking dead were once people, both of which came to permeate the book.

Rucht wrote the Obedient Dead.

I wrote the Hungry Dead, which, along with Necrology, was my favourite chapter, and the whole reason I wanted to do the book. Essentially, I'd just seen Ravenous and wanted to make a joke about it - and that's why this book exists, because I wanted to make a silly pun about a film title.

As I already said, Rucht wrote his half of the Restless Dead, then I wrote my half around what he'd written.

I wrote Weaknesses.

Rucht wrote Necromancers, which I've always thought is something that the twins in character probably wouldn't have published, but the book probably needed it.

I wrote Hunting the Walking Dead, and a tiny fraction of the Appendix, but Rucht did the lion's share.

Then I demanded everything he'd written and edited it. Or possibly just wanted to, not because it was bad but because I'm a control freak.

And the only thing that people remember from the book, Toben the Many, was completely and utterly down to Rucht.

Anything else anyone's curious about?

EDITED because I'm wrong: Rucht wrote the Introduction. So sorry.

Rucht Lilavivat

Working with Ryan

As an author, Iíve collaborated with other writers before. When you work on a joint project, sometimes thereís a meeting of minds. Everyone understands what to do, how to do it, and how everything should work. Then, there are times when people cannot agree, cannot see eye to eye, and cannot fit things together.

And thenÖthere are times in which every single thing falls into place. The light shines down from the heavens, and you discover new corners of your mind that you never knew were there. Thatís what it was like working with Ryan Naylor. Every time I got an idea, Iíd sent it to Ryan. Heíd get excited, and shoot another idea back to me. Then Iíd get ideas from what he sent me, and send him yet another idea. We never had writerís block.

Getting Started

When working on the idea of a Walking Dead book, Ryan came up with the great idea of dividing them up into the Obedient Dead, the Hungry Dead, and the Restless Dead. I immediately got on board and started brainstorming. I sat down and began writing short pieces of fiction, all based around the three new categories of undead that Ryan had invented. I wrote diary entries, short stories, and short scenes. Then, I sat back and looked at everything. I asked myself, ďokay, whatís good here, and what can we use for this book?Ē Ultimately, of the ten pieces I wrote, two of them ended up comprising the introduction to the book. The rest of it became my inspiration pieces for the rest of the book. For example, some of the short scenes in the book came from brainstorming pieces I had written.

I then wrote up a list of salient abilities. On the list, I tried to include every single thing I had ever seen the walking dead do in book, movie, comics, and video games. For example, Iíd seen a number of movies where zombies just exploded up from the earth, so I developed the idea of the Exhumation power. Everyone knows that creepy ability zombies have to be always one step behind you, so thatís where the Bending the Land power got its origins. Remember the invulnerable skeletons in the Voyage of Sinbad? They were the idea seed for the Deathless Warrior power, that and Lloyd Alexander.

I sent the list to Ryan and he bounced it back with his suggestions and a list of his own ideas. By the end of it all, we had a huge list. Ryan and I then divided up the chapters. I wrote the introduction, the chapter on the Obedient Dead, the Necromancerís section, and the DMís Appendix. Ryan wrote the parts of the Restless Dead chapter that was written by Alanik, and I wrote the portion written by Ratik. We thought it might be interesting to take ownership of different character voices in that chapter.

Getting Back to Basics

By the end of it all, I started to try to pull the concept of the book back down into the realm of Ravenloft. As we all know, Ravenloft is about Gothic Horror, so I tried to make sure that the Gothic Horror element wasnít lost in a big list of powers.

I knew that one of the tenants of Gothic Horror was that when one looked into the abyss, one should see a reflection. Every time someone faced off with a threat in the Dread Realms, they should be saying to themselves, ďthat could be me in three years.Ē

So, I started putting in the idea that the walking dead were really dark reflections of ourselves. That each time you were fighting the walking dead, you were fighting someone who was once alive. You were fighting something that you could one day become.

As someone who has worked with dead bodies before, I was keenly aware that a dead body can be a creepy experience. Looking at a dead body reminds one of their own mortality, and of the loss of possibility in the world. I hope that came across in the book.

About Toben the Many

Toben made his appearance early on in the process. Toben was a dear old friend of mine that had made an appearance in a number of my own short stories, gaming sessions, and other dark corners of my mind. I even submitted Toben to Polyhedron Magazine for one of their many publishing contests back in the mid 90ís, but he never made the final cut. When I started working on the Walking Dead book, I immediately thought of Toben. Itís actually a good thing that Polyhedron Magazine never published him, because I probably wouldnít have been able to use him for the Walking Dead book.

Why the Web Enhancement?

This bonus material is really more of a "director's cut. The reason it was not included in the original Van Richten's Guide to the Walking Dead was because it didn't really fit with the themes presented in the original material. The Obedient Dead are supposed to be creatures summoned from the grave by necromancers. So, having the "Wandering Dead" just felt like having another walking dead type out there. We didn't need that. The book was strong enough.

The fiction that I've included was the first fiction that I wrote up for Toben the Many. I was going to have it be the introduction to the chapter on the Obedient Dead. However, I decided to go with what is currently in the Guide to the Walking Dead - the scene where Laurie and Alanik confront Toben. In the end, this little bit of fiction didn't really fit anywhere in the guide, so I left it out. In my opinion, it's the weakest of all my fiction pieces that I wrote for the book.

The monsters included here were the monsters I first developed for the guide. I nixed these guys because, in the end, I didn't feel that they were disturbing enough. In my mind, a nemesis in Ravenloft should be downright disturbing. Slight dark isn't good enough for me. I did really want to include the skeleton archer, but there was no room. I'm glad he could make his appearance here.

All of this material just goes to show you what a writer does for a game supplement. Whenever I finish writing a gaming supplement, about 50% of what I write is cut out and mothballed. I still have a lot of left over material from the Guide to the Shadow Fey and the upcoming Guide to the Mists. I have countless pages of material from old modules that I've written as well. Most of it is total crap, so don't expect to see it any time soon. I put it away for a reason.

When it was told to me that I could release this material, I edited all of the fiction and stats together, so that it would flow like a mini-Van Richten's guide. Thus, we have what you see here. A belated Web Enhancement / Director's Cut of Van Richten's Guide to the Walking Dead.

You can download the web enhancement here.

 

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