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Van Richten's Arsenal vol 1

Author's notes

Andrew Cermak

I did chapter Six, and the write-up for Jameld. A companion piece to my work in the RCS.

John W Mangrum

This was the last book our original developer officially set on the schedule, as I recall. At the time, I must confess, I thought it was a really bad idea, though I couldn't be more pleased that we proved me wrong. Specifically, I was concerned that publishing Van Richten non-Guides would weaken the Van Richten "brand" (an over-reaction on my part), and that having to describe the game mechanics of spells and magic items in-character would be a nightmare. (On that count, I turned out to be right, and a few layout errors -- concerning material that should be in DM boxes but isn't -- are my only lasting regrets.)

Anyway; it was Andrew Wyatt who cracked the right approach to take with the book to distinguish it from the Van Richten Guides. (Namely, having the Weathermay twins compile multiple authors, as opposed to the guides, which they would write themselves, following Van Richten's style.)I wrote the Introduction, Chapter One, Chapter Four, and the NPC entries for Gennifer & Laurie Weathermay-Foxgrove, George Weathermay, and Agatha Clairmont, and the usual shadow developer stuff.

It was our plan to put out a VR book a year, with those four being the ones we envisioned doing. During the brief time the Kargatane were nominally in charge of the setting, we made plans to do WD and SF on our own. Van Richten's Guide to the Scaly Depths (actually, we never settled on a title for that one that all the Kargatane liked -- something I took as a sign that this would be a difficult topic) was grown from a seed Steve Miller had planted (in the Guide to Hags, I believe), and I tossed in the plug for Van Richten's Guide to Eldritch Horrors (mind flayers and their fleshcrafted spawn, presented with a heavily Lovecraftian bent -- think "The Man Who Lost His Mind") to fill out the list.

Of course, Van Richten's Guide to Shambling Mounds got kicked around a lot -- an old joke by William W. Connors I thought actually contained a good central concept. We never planned on doing the book, but the "good concept" eventually made it to print in Ravenloft Gazetteer II (the mandragora in Darkon's Boglands).

In effect, we were trying to use the early RL books to lay the foundation for future development. Writing a game plan, so to speak. Up until the end, the VRGs and the Gazzes were the two lines we managed to keep more or less on track; other plans never made it out of the stable.

You might also note that the book topics "scale up in difficulty level," so to speak. Unlike Van Richten himself, who started writing books only after he already had a long and distinguished adventuring career behind him, we wanted the twins to start with lowlier monsters and work their way up to more fearsome foes.

Ryan Naylor

Van Richten’s Arsenal was the first professional writing I ever did. At 12,000 words, it was also the longest thing I had ever written to that point, by about six times. (I was nineteen, for those who are keeping score). Despite all these problems—and believe me, I’ve found that lack of experience is a big problem—I was, and am, relatively happy with how my part of VRA turned out.

The chapter I wrote was Faith and Fury, the section narrated by Perseyus Lathenna on new spells. I volunteered for this chapter specifically because (1) none of the other chapters interested me, and turned out far better than if I had written them, and (2) because I wanted to address what I still see as a flaw in the D&D rules. I like heroic adventure; simple, everyday people struggling against great and powerful evil. In my experience, simple, everyday people don’t bludgeon everything they meet to death, like most PCs do. While this is probably a problem with my players, it’s also built into the rules themselves, from the ridiculous moral system to the combat rules to the spell descriptions. Of the first level spells, there are three times as many lethal offensive spells than there are non-lethal ones. This isn’t conducive to good gothic roleplaying (although it can be fun).

So, I set about filling the void with more non-lethal spells. When I wrote the chapter originally, it was still divided into the three sections (Investigative, Offensive and Defensive spells), but there was no in character description of the spells. I thought that was kind of amusing, because it implied the magical notations of the spells actually did involve level and range descriptions. John didn’t agree, and so I went back and separated in character and technical descriptions. The technical descriptions were meant to be in sidebars, but some production error meant they’re still part of the text Perseyus sent to the twins, so in the end, I still win. Ha ha! I have no idea who gave them all twee titles like “Know What You’re After”. I would have used the spell name, and their forced joviality still annoys me. I thought of most of the spells myself, drawing on gothic archetypes (e.g. Immerse Mind), bits from novels I liked (e.g. Danse Macabre even refers to Dance of the Dead, while Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax inspired Awaken Guilt, Insatiable Thirst and I think Reflect Pain), and monsters that there weren’t any spells to attack with yet (e.g. Deconstruction). Apparently the concept behind Dark Sentinels had previously appeared in a slightly different form in a Dragon magazine, but I have never seen it, and proudly claim I came up with it myself. A couple (Wall of Gloom, Mystick Cage, which is now phenomenally hard to survive) were recycled from 2nd edition, and a number of spells were recycled from SotDR after it was cut back to the bone—Suppress and Induce Lycanthropy, and Diminish and Augment Undead. I still don’t think the twins would have put the evil versions of these couplets into their book, but there you go. There was going to be a description of wild magic (called The Taint), but that got cut for that very reason—John couldn’t see the twins telling people about it. There was also a spell list by level which was cut for space, which I think the book could still use.

Finally, I’m quite happy with Perseyus herself. The character arc over the chapter is a bit hamfisted, but what can I say? I was young. I realised that there had never been a major gnome NPC, so I set about making one. She was a he until someone pointed out all of our narrators were male; then Perseyus and Agatha had sex changes. I always have difficult when choosing names, so I cheated: DoD says gnomish culture is Greek/Roman. I take Perseus, and add a “y” (so per-see-us becomes Per-sey-us—the stress pattern is different), and take Athena and warp it. I don’t know where to stick her, and then notice that nothing exciting ever happens in Valachan, and Valachan is full of gnomes, so I plant her there. That’s were the bit with Lady Adeline (not Adelaide, as RL3e says) came from, which is the first appearance of a true sexual sadist and tyrant in anything I’ve written. There have been quite a few; I don’t know why my villains are one or both of these.

Joël: For the cool spells part in VRA, where there spell ideas that you rejected for the final?

Ryan Naylor: I think all the spells I seriously thought about made it into VRA. I'm a bit retentive like that, and because it was my first professional project and I was 18 or something, I was too excited to leave anything out.

The only major idea that didn't go in was my desperate attempt to salvage something from Death of a Darklord. I devised what was essentially a Wild Magic table for Ravenloft to represent the warped magic the heroine of that book cast, and said it was a byproduct of the Grand Conjunction. I thought the Taint (as it was called) was a relatively innocuous thing to add, but the others didn't like it and gently suggested I get rid of it.


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