Domain of the Month
In our Sea of Sorrows project, hereís another stop, Ghastria! Stezen DíPolarno wishes to show you his latest art acquisitions!
Novel: Tales of Ravenloft (Objets d'Art)
Other selected interesting sources: Book of Souls (Marquis Stezen D'Polarno)
Unknown creation date
Darklord: Stezen DíPolarno
John Baker's "The Unauthorized Biography of the Marquis Stezen D'Polarno" in the Book of Souls. is a must read imho. It's a great article adding lots of detail, ideas and flavour.
Here are a few more fan articles from Alanik Ray's old site that (might) relate to Ghastria, courtesy of the wayback machine:
Portraits of the Darklords by C. Phibbs
Why not make Ghastria into a kind of resort island, where the nobles of Darkon, Dementlieu, Lamordia, Mordent, and Richemulot go on vacation?
I mean, DíPolarno can't kill every visitor that shows up or else the domain would get a rotten reputation after awhile.
I'm picturing fox hunts, quail shoots, and croquet. It could be a destination for artists who are tired of the city, or people who need to convalesce after recovering from an illness.
Turn D'Polarno into a Willy Wonka type of mythic figure. Everyone has a story about him, but for most of the year he is locked away in his manor and never seen. This makes his once a year celebration into a grand event.
That's all I've got now. Just thought I'd throw it out there...
While this should not necessarily be ruled out, it may need to be tweaked to render it plausable. A country renowned for its bland food is not an obvious jetset destination. The rich hang out in southern France and much of Italy for reasons other than just weather, which is to say the excellent food, both in terms of ingredients and preparation. A spa with imported food would not be entirely unfeasible, but would be very expensive (fresh fruit, for example, being shipped in as quickly as it is consumed/rots). Plausibly there would have to be a darkside to it to make it viable: perhaps advanced research into highly addictive hallucinogenic drugs, i.e., LSD or some such affording (artistic) inspiration.
Then again hotsprings are renowned as places where the old and creaky can be cured, and indeed invigorated, like the local lord himself. So perhaps something like Lourdes, minus the religion. Give the waters some (twisted) powers of treating (the illnesses of) aging. Really this should have been done for Borca, although perhaps its hotsprings labour under the taint of being poisonous.
An artist colony for the super rich, which in truth is as much a swingers club, is another possibility. But it might well be charged with the crime of 'modernity creep.'
Playing upon the artistic angle at least makes thematic sense, but (and I am not sure about this one way or the other) does the local lord want artistic rivals?
Giving him a court of kept artists, with their own dubious/nerferious projects, including an art school for the super rich, is another possibility.
Imported food keeps its taste, yes? If so, I can see imported food being brought in for not only Stezen, but his guests. This stuff would be too expensive for the poor folks of the island, of course. Game animals native to Ghastria presumably have the same bland taste as the veggies grown there. That would probably affect game hunting for the pot, but not sports like fox hunting.
Rotipher of the FoS
Perhaps a smaller island -- politically a Ghastrian possession, yet outside Stezen's domain border -- could provide such a "vacation getaway". It'd be just big enough to keep the resort stocked with its own fresh-grown (and flavored) spices, fruits, and vegetables, and fish caught in its waters would likewise be palatable. Unfortunately, such harvests are so delicate that they always spoil in transit if they're imported to Ghastria.
Only Ghastria's richest residents would be able to afford a visit to this resort isle, and d'Polarno can't reach the place himself, being hemmed in by the border. Still, he could own the resort even if he can't go to it, and use it as a lure for folk he wants to prey upon through his portrait, or influential mainlanders he hopes to manipulate politically.
Yaoi Huntress Earth
You could definately play into the horrors of degradation and hedonism as well as what "false beauty" is; kind of like the book, "The Torture Garden". Clara and the garden itself would fit in quite well.
In a way I could see the darklord taking the probable jealousy he has toward those that can feel by giving these bored nobles exactly what they want and taking a certain kind of joy as their hedonism enslaves, kills or makes them into shallow parodies of themselves. Which could play into the dark Wonka concept Jeremy16 had by having the occassional guest's folly be triggered by their own faults.
Nobles of ghastria quickly befriended an exotic stranger who eventually convinced them in joining in a pagan ritual that brings wellness of both being and soul. Ritual is to drive someone insane then cannibalize them, plus the meat not bland when it is a stranger to the land
A vastani troop is stuck in ghastria, their mistwalking abilities hampered. This cause them to blame the darklord for their condition and go to great lengths to be a constant thorn in his side. Both the vastani and Stezen use strangers to wage their war against each other, but is Stezen actually to blame for why the vastani are stuck, or could it lie somewhere else, perhaps a fellow vastani or a cursed artifact?
I am not sure how many rich there are on Ghastria, but those with lots of money and with a palate are going to import flavourful food, with little attention being paid to the price. Well prices start to skyrocket as suppliers go to war with each other to corner this lucrative market. Additionally, these suppliers declare war on the taxman and the legal authorities generally. In short, we have a drug war that is actually a food war.
Rock: Heck, throw the Boritsi and Carlyle trading companies into this stew! If rich folks are willing to pay for all sorts of luxuries, the big traders will want to sign exclusive contracts with them. Only problem is, they have each other's competition to deal with. Stezen could probably amuse himself by playing them against each other, capitalizing on their greed and sowing chaos. And due to the conflict between the two important merchant companies, the prices actually rise ...
If I were wealthy and lived in Ghastria, I'd just emigrate to someplace with better food.
I think the native Ghastrians could use a little more description. In my mind, they are vaguely related to the folk of Mordent and Dementlieu. What about their beliefs?
The ruined church in East Riding might have been a chapel dedicated to Ezra, in that case. Since it was destroyed and the priests killed, maybe the people of Ghastria are without the benefits of clerical support? Stezen wanted to get rid of the priests- but why? Were they spies from Dementlieu? Were the spreading unwelcome ideas among his subjects?
An idea- maybe Ghastrian food, though bland and flavorless, has the advantage of being less attractive to bugs, vermin etc [it doesn't have much scent to attract such critters]. Ghastrians make lousy cooks, but they produce some excellent [if exceedingly bland] trail rations for export. Maybe Stezen owns farms and a mill that produce the hardtack- ''Ghastrian cakes.'' Quartermasters and ships' pursers love them because they are cheap and keep practically forever, and sailors and soldiers hate them because they are edible 'rocks' without even a hint of flavor. The money from this trade all goes to Stezen and his cronies, of course.[/i]
Another question; What the heck do people make of Ghastria and its usually flavorless food? That's pretty bizarre, when you stop and think about it. How is this explained/ Curse of the gods/ Lamordians blame it on the soil chemistry? Something else? What do the natives think about the rare crops that do have flavor- a blessing from some fickle agricultural spirits?
Ken of Ghastria
I'm ashamed to say that I completely overlooked this thread -- inexcusable, considering my nom de geek on the boards.
Regarding what other folks think of the reason for Ghastria's tasteless food, some abnormality in the soil would be the easiest-to-swallow explanation (no pun intended). In modern times, we'd probably say that a "high pH level" or "abnornal zinc levels" were to blame for food that was nutritious yet bland. However, if the ruined church had been a temple of Ezra (as you suggested), there are probably hardliners in the Ezra hierarchy who are happy to attribute it to Ezra's anger at her fallen Ghastrian folk.
Other Ghastria thoughts/hooks:
I've always pictured Ghastria as attracting the finest chefs in the Land, chefs who saw it as a great challenge: the culinary equivalent of drawing blood from a stone. (The money from Stezen d'Polarno helps.) And if they have to import a few non-Ghastrian spices and foods to pull off their miracle dishes, so much the better. It could even be an annual contest. Perhaps the PCs are recruited as bodyguards for one master chef who has heard dark rumors that the "winners" of past contests ended up disappearing soon after...
Before the Grand Conjunction, Ghastria bordered Valachan. When the split happened, Von Kharkov and d'Polarno were happy to be rid of each other. But recently, there have been signs in Ghastria of ... panther attacks? One of Von Kharkov's vampires was on a mission in Ghastria at the time that the split happened. Since then, he's been content to keep a low profile in the fields of Ghastria, away from his harsh master. But Von Kharkov has learned that this wayward vampire still lives, and he's not happy about it. He wants the original mission completed, followed by the removal of the vampire's heart. The PCs could be hired by an agent of Von Kharkov to hunt down the vampire ... or perhaps hired by the former minion himself for protection in exchange for information about Valachan's mysterious baron -- information that Ghastrian agents would love to acquire as well.
One of the coolest things I ever read about Ghastria was in an old post (probably on the Kargatan site) that described the closing of the borders as possibly: a) The PCs sailing across the sea ... and hitting a full-scale backdrop of the sea and sky, a la The Truman Show, or b) The PCs sailing away ... and finding themselves gradually turning into two-dimensional paintings.
By the way, this Paizo Gamemastery module could be turned into a Ghastria story with a little bit of work.
A displaced Richemuloise noble is causing a stir. She's brought the decadent parties of Richmulot with her and she's proving a hit. Her food is always succlent, always tastes good and never disappoints. It's the meat, the vegetables are always bland and the fruit is often too soft and too tasteless, but her meat is to die for.
Truth is, her meat really is to die for. She's found the easiest way for meat to stay fresh; she serves people people. She hires new maids, footmen, stableboys and servants who tend to be faceless and never remembered from the poor houses of the core, brings them over, fattens them up and has her minions butcher them, literally. And in her experiments, she's discovered different races taste differently. The current favoured flavour is Caliban, who have a suprisingly spicy and tender taste. Unfortunately for her, calibans who come to the island are rare and their comings and goings are noticeable...
Lord Cyclohexane: IIRC, in either Gaz III or V there is a reference to a slave trade that starts in Richemulot and ends in Nova Vaasa, disappearing paupers from Richemulot's streets to have them pop up in the workhouses of Nova Vaasa. It wouldn't be too far a cry for some of those captured to be sent to Ghastria instead... and for this to cause some inter-domain conflict involving R and NV as slaves don't show up at the NV workhouses as they ought...
Food seems to be the fixation here. I remember bits of D'Polarno's stories from the texts (Darklords, ya?), and I'm trying to puzzle out what else he might put his mind to. But if memory serves, his vibrancy fades and while he's interested in restoring that, he might not have the energy to muster up for it. Gets his mojo back once each season... but in the meantime, is he crippled by apathy and pessimism?
I'm not sure that finding ways around the pervasive "blandness" is the best way to go for a hook. I still do think there's some great ideas here, especially the "noble's retreat". D'Polarno could always be a controlling interest in a resort located outside his borders. Intrigues or efforts at recovery might bring the party by one of these resorts. While there, they might be invited to attend a grand party - D'Polarno night of excess. That might tie back into the "Wonka" aspect - getting that golden ticket/golden invitation to visit. After all, he does need to bring in fresh blood.
Lord Cyclohexane: As I'm a bit too focused on Darkon, I'd like to take that "pervasive blandness" idea with the idea of the apathy that fell upon Darkon during the Shrouded Years. Conclusion: Darkonian old folks resort in Ghastria.
On the flipside, what if a monastary moved to the area, specifically because of the blandness? Something to help them distance themselves from material concerns? They may begin to notice the radical spike in flavors, colors, etc, on the days of D'Polarno's debaucheries and catch the parallel of "oh, hey, there's a lot of.. um.. corpses today..." They might look for someone to explain it, resolve it.
What happened to the artist? Or the magician who cast the spell? Were they the same? What would D'Polarno if one or the other appeared in his town - either them or a double (as in Strahd's Tatyana).
The Giamarga:The painter was Polarno himself. And the sorceress, the mistress of king oderic, who ensorcelled his self portrait is dead, and rumoured to have become a ghost. For the details on Polarno's history and on the Baron D'Marosso read John Baker's excellent "The Unauthorized Biography of the Marquis Stezen D'Polarno" in the Book of Souls.
An ascetic religious order makes a lot of sense, as per the previous post.
Having just reread "THE UNAUTHORIZED BIOGRAPHY OF THE MARQUIS STEZEN DíPOLARNO" from the Book of Souls, I would suggest that Baron Camar DíMarosso be given the Voracious feat and a role rivalling D'Polarno himself. For D'Polarno is described as being without the willpower, and most of the time without the personality, to exercise much control over his domain. Baron D'Marrosso seems to be the man of action and even of decision. What must be explained, on this view of D'Marrosso, is the barons loyalty to the Marquis.
The wider issue is the seasonal stream of petty nobility or would be nobility that is destined to never return. Someone is apt to notice, the Marquis is likely to acquire a very bad reputation, and the stream is likely to dry up.
A possible solution involves the cannabalism practiced upon the remains of D'Polarno's victims. What if D'Polarno or D'Marosso was the head of a secret lodge of mildly powerful nobility from the Western Core that are united by their hunger for power and perhaps the flesh of their fellow man? Take the Masonic Lodge or Opus Dei, or at least the wilder tales about them, as a point of departure. The visiting nobility would each bring with them one or more deluded individuals who would first be served up to D'Polarno and then served up for dinner. The disapperance of such minor persons would be easily wallpapered over or simply dismissed, if anyone even noticed. Perhaps the consumption of one's fellow man is the rite of passage by which a noble proves himself or herself ultimately worthy of membership, and so the rite is not attended quarterly by all the membership.
Members would only see D'Polarno in the full vigour of life and would strive to live so fully as he, with DíMarosso actually pulling the strings and exercising some power beyond Ghastria via the group.
Rotipher of the FoS
The aristocratic lodge idea is a good one, perhaps something along the lines of the pseudo-Hermetic Edwardian occultists, a la Aleister Crowley. Even if the lodge can't really deliver on its promise of power, such cultish groups were often more about sex and drugs and defiance of convention than about advancing personal or political agendas.
Rather than drug orgies (which Azalin's parties already cover), members might be lured in by rumors -- the existence of which has already been established, in Objets d'Art -- that d'Polarno holds the secret of eternal youth ... and, unlike other rumored immortals, is willing to freely share it with those who impress him.
Lord Cyclohexane: Why does this make me think of Jason and the Argonauts where Medea tricks the daughters into believing the cauldron bestows eternal life (by chopping up a ram, throwing it in, and a live lamb jumps back out) and the daughters slaughter their father, throw him in the pot and... nothing? Well, it makes a great soup, anyway.
Perhaps d'Morasso possesses a set of magical paints, with which he can temporarily erase the superficial wrinkles and flaws of aging? It doesn't actually make you younger, it just makes you look younger ... which is more than enough to convince the members that a permanent version of this treatment also exists. (Of course, those to whom the pair actually grant eternal life will have to give up their former identities, to maintain their anonymity and keep the secret from the unworthy; this handily accounts for their disappearances, in the surviving lodge members' eyes. )
Pale: These paints could offer a good hook in a lot of places. Perhaps the pigments can -only- be manufactured using materials grown or harvested during D'Polarno's fetes? Or perhaps they could be used to paint "lesser" versions of paintings that mimic some elements of D'Palarno's own curse. "Bring us a sacrifice, we'll get you pigments that can be used to make you immortal (through a painting, ie, Dorian Grey) or that can be used to make you young (ground up into cosmetics)."
Did a bit of poking around on D'Polarno's background. After he manifests his vitality, he gets an hour per person drained, to a maximum of 50. But that's still only once every 3 months or so. 50hrs of vibrancy every 3mo seems like a pretty difficult window of time to sell people on either his villainy or his ability to impart the same energy in others.
I'm not familiar with Camar DíMarosso, but I agree: if D'Polarno is so lethargic outside the small window when he's energized, I wouldn't be surprised if there wasn't some other hand at work in Ghastria - for good or for ill. Even if he is loyal, he very well might be the power-behind-the-throne.
Still, there's a lot of leeway with D'Polarno's curse. Is he lethargic and sluggish, or merely sullen and dispirited? Flush with life and uninhibited certainly lends itself to more chaotic tendencies and hungers - while able - but the rest of the time, is he so depleted that he's idle, or does he actively plan for his next ...unveiling. And if so, how would that mind work? He very well might be far more plodding and meticulous, trying to eek out the maximum benefits. Scheduling musicians, dancing girls, esteemed chefs, exotic materials... These might be booked or simply kidnapped.
My worry about using D'Polarno is that he has a limited amount of time to "manifest" and then there's a lot of down-time before the players might see him in that state again. He might be great for a "characters stumble across a bad situation", but he's harder to expand into a larger role.
There's the old chestnut of having the players work for the villain, too - they might be periodically working for him to gather materials or information, and always see the dour side. Arrive one day too early, and into debauchery? There might be a lot of questions there.
The Giamarga: Seriously, read the Book of Souls. article for more on Polarno and Marosso!
Rotipher of the FoS
True, when the actual darklord is too inactive and/or constrained to build a plot around, it's a given that somebody else ought to share the spotlight to keep things interesting. That's why Touch of Death concentrated on villains other than the passively-grim Ahnktepot, and why I promoted Colin Graben (who didn't even have stats in Ship of Horrors) to a full-blown villain: he takes up slack for Meredoth, who's too darn powerful to use regularly and who barely pokes his nose out of the laboratory.
Making d'Polarno the only source for d'Marosso's magic paints/cosmetics would help ensure that Camar won't openly try to usurp Stezen's status, remaining content with the influence he possesses whenever his superior is listless and bland. When he's enervated, the Marquis might essentially hand over the job of running Ghastria to d'Marosso; his relationship to his right-hand man could resemble that of Susanna Clarke's uncharismatic Mr. Norrell to his deceitful associates-cum-manipulators, Drawlight and Lascalles.
Ken of Ghastria: That's a great comparison. Drawlight and Lascalles recognized that Norrell had the power, but they also knew that the man who controls everyone's access to that power is just as strong, if not more so. I don't see Stezen as being lethargic during his "off" periods as much as he is cold, distant, scheming, and a little grumpy, kind of like a feistier Soth or (to use another pop culture reference) a Vorlorn without the enigmatic comments.
I don't have access just now to Darklords, so I can't verify the note that begins the Unauthorised Biography to the effect that Objets d'Art is a rather significant departure from the original description of the Marquis. But if there is any truth in that, I would be strongly tempted to not take Objets d'Art too literally. This is not to say that the Unauthorised Biography should be trusted word for word either. But do we really need an extra dimensional gallery (as opposed to a real one perhaps filled with a hallucigenic airborne drug) and a Marquis with magical transformative powers affording immortality (rather than the elixir of youth being just a useful myth, fostered chiefly by his lack of aging and perhaps as Roti said some effective - and perhaps dangerous - anti-wrinkle cream)?
Rotipher of the FoS
True, the extradimensional gallery was somewhat over-the-top. It might work better as a Dread Possibility than as an established fact. That way, DMs could choose whether to take Objets d'Art literally in their games, or to retcon that the narrator of the story had been drugged out of his mind at the banquet ... or, perhaps, sucked into the portrait and trapped in an unending oblivion, where his fraying mind makes up bizarre stories that account for his imprisonment.
(FWIW, I have a soft spot for that short story because it contains the first published reference to the Brautslava Institute, as well as to a previous "purge of illusionists" from Darkon's educational system. Yep, it's a veiled link to the in-game Fraternity of Shadows, that pre-dates Domains of Dread by three whole years! )
It is in these terms the Baron describes the Marquis:
"However, I found that the curses of this land do indeed infect him. Notice how he is out there, dancing, carousing, drinking, and playing games? Well, just earlier today, he told me that he plans to paint another picture while he has his creativity. He told me he plans to show himself to the people while he has his charisma. And, he told me that he will look for a wife while he has his personality. He says those things all the time, and yet he never does anything he says he will do while he is frigid. He wastes the time all away with his frivolous frolicking. When his vitality leaves him, he always enters a rage as he realizes that he missed another opportunity. That is his curse. He retains all his ambition, but he no longer has any willpower with which to get things done. And he knows that he only has himself to blame."
I do not know whether this contradicts or agrees with the portrait painted in Darklords. But it seems that if things get done, it is because the Baron takes the initiative. I grant there is an ambiguity, but I think the willpower is always absent, lost in gloom and sullen anger when the Marquis is without his dashing charisma and in revelery when he has his overflowing personality.
Took a bit of searching, but I dug up a copy of that Biography. Previously, I've only ever had the old Darklords supplement to work from. There, his portrait was merely described as "magically prepared". There's a lot of room to play between the lines on that. I think D'Marosso is an interesting addition, but I suppose I'm more inclined to the original Darklords text.
I've been thinking, and I really like the idea that pigments made from items gathered during D'Polarno's manic swings can be used in greater effects. I tend to try to shy away from radical magic manifestations, so raw immortality might be a bit much, but certainly some youth-granting salves could work - and attract more visitors to the realm. ...Not that I want to see D'Polarno become Ravenloft's Mary-Kay.
Another power behind the throne could be the ghost of the sorceress who originally cursed Stezen.
Hello! I'm John Baker. I wrote the Unauthorized Biography, Pigments of Immortality, and Juste Desserts. (I also just finished up the Paridon: The Dark Metropolis online game at ENWorld, starting a new chapter soon, but that's off topic.)
The Unauthorized Biography was my attempt to fill in a number of questions about Ghastria that were not originally satisfied. What happened to the portrait's artist and spellcaster? How does a remote island in a chartless sea have a reputation for the best parties? What are the consequences of having food with no taste? What happens to all the dead bodies?
I felt that D'Polarno was semi-active, fully capable of carrying out anything that did not require nuance, passion, or personality--like the burning of the church in East Riding. I made D'Marosso as his seneschal and main ambassador, so that there was a way of getting his word out into the rest of the world.
Even if Ghastria is bland, it might still be picturesque. Not much to do, but plenty to see. The only "rich" resident is D'Polarno, with everyone else pretty much stuck to farming. A beautiful landscape would make Ghastria a good destination and a great source of inspiration for artists.
The sorceress ghost was another source for me as to why the church was destroyed. She started manifesting and pretending to be a visitation of Ezra--essentially becoming Our Lady of East Riding. D'Polarno had the church destroyed before she gained too much influence in the domain. I've used Our Lady of East Riding as a campaign twist and adventure source, and it's a lot of fun.
I'll add more when I have time. If you have any questions about anything I've written, feel free to ask.
Hi John, good to have you back here for this topic. A few questions for you:
Do you mind if your material gets used/updated/altered in the Ghastria chapter of the next netbook?
Have you had access to the 2 RPGA tournaments featuring Ghastria? If yes, have you incorporated anything from them into your campaign?
One of you player characters happened to be the Marquis' daughter in your Juste Desserts campaign. How would you incorporate it into an article on Ghastria? How did your campaign end? Did the players ever leave Scaena again?
As for the incorporation of the short story, i.e. how did the rumour of Polarno having found the secrets of youth start and where do the living paintings come from, check out the following links above for the articles on Ralpuchio and on the Pigments of Immortality.
W.r.t. the Juste Desserts campaign idea: Was Scaena ever updated to 3E anyhwere? How about intertwining it with the Ghastria chapter or having a sidebar about this combination?
Juste Desserts was part of a campaign I ran: A Matter of Taste.
The party consisted of native Ghastrians who are suddenly transported to Borca. In Borca, the darklords discover that Ghastrian fare has no flavor, setting off a crazy-complex political game in which the PCs are the pawns caught in the center. Ivana Boritsi wants to plant a poison there that has a horrendously foul taste naturally, in an attempt to mask its flavor. Ivan Dilisnya is delighted to find something, anything that gets around his personal curse--instead of everything tasting ghastly, utterly bland is like heaven to him. However, of course, neither Ivan or Ivana wants the other to succeed--but the PCs are just the people to make sure that they do well.
The PCs do eventually make it out of Scaena--Nahasia utterly refused to step on stage, even when tempted with her dreams come true. Juste tried everything, from having her companions reappear and come off the stage to even having D'Polarno himself come forth, step off the stage, drop the "cold act," and explain with Juste that this was all simply necessary for the "second act" in the story of her life to be so rewarding. She recoiled from the warm, fatherly D'Polarno, declaring it untrue, no matter how pleasing it may seem. Juste howled that she knew nothing about truth, set fire to the theater, and let it burn. The party escaped--onto the streets of Levkarest.
Nahasia was able to escape with her "second act," which promised to tell her of her past and of the wonderful future she would have as the future Marquessa of Ghastria. Although she kept it as her most important treasure through thick and thin, she never read it.
Nahasia was interesting. She was, in fact, found at the church ruins and raised as a ward of D'Polarno. What she didn't know (although Juste figured it out) was that she had been Anneliese's (the sorceress mistress ghost's) daughter, preserved soon after birth by the Pigments of Immortality. Once her painting was found in the church rubble, D'Polarno was using Nahasia to spite Anneliese.
As for updates to my material for the next netbook, please, by all means, go ahead. I enjoy seeing parts of the Unauthorized Biography becoming intertwined with the Ravenloft canon, and I fully hope many others continue to build on what I've written.
It's funny how I never originally used Objets d'Art as source material for Ghastria, but then introduced the Pigments, which perform essentially the same function. The reason I stayed away from the short story is that the material presents a D'Polarno not tied to his own portrait, immortality as the goal for seeking out the Marquis (instead of just great parties), and took the focus off D'Polarno's story and onto the quest for immortality through art. I hadn't heard of A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Necromancer or its sequel at the time, so I hadn't used them. I'm still looking for a copy.
So, Ghastria is supposed to be a sort of destination place, while still being relatively uninhabited. Food is not a draw.
The Domains of Dread describe East Riding as four miles inland from a natural harbor. It would make sense for there to be a second village at that harbor (West Riding, perhaps?)
So, the island has some size to it. Although D'Polarno is described in vaguely Mediterranean terms, perhaps it is more Hebridean in character?
Okay, I just got back from a vacation in Scotland.
In any case, perhaps the Isle of Mull would be a suitable place to get an idea on how Ghastria might look. It's small enough not to be overreaching, large enough for the scale, beautiful enough to make it a good destination, and sparsely populated enough to make it fit with previous population estimates. It also has a couple castles that can be used as a basis for Anthrazit Hall, and the nearby island of Iona has a ruined abbey.
The town by the harbor [I'm assuming there should be such]....what about calling it something like Westport? It's plain and simple, but so is East Riding. Maybe East Riding is so called because the eastern end of the island has the best pastures and horses are traditionally raised there. These Ghastrian ponies are smallish horses, but hardy and tractable. They are used as mounts, cart ponies,etc. I'd suggest the Irish Hobby as a model. It's an extinct breed, but there are horses today that carry the old blood:
Nathan of the FoS
"Riding" in this context is probably based on the division of Yorkshire into West Riding, East Riding, and North Riding, and means "one third" in that context. So on that basis there should be two counterparts, which wouldn't have to be called "ridings" but could be. So, East Riding, Westport, North Point. Or whatever.
Ah! Place name fun!
In any case, I humbly suggest we keep the ponies. Just a passing mention of them might be nice. Domains aren't all darklords and dread possibilities- a little local color goes a long way.
Here's a great post from days past on Stezen & Gastria by John Baker:
Ghastria? Did someone say Ghastria?
As some members of the list know, I've been one of Ghastria's biggest fans. I've tried to come up with ways to include Ghastria in my campaigns, stories, etc. I'd like to share some of my thoughts about it here, and get some input from Ghastria's creator, Mr. Lowder, who I'm really glad to have joined the list! I've always enjoyed your work, Mr. Lowder, and look forward to seeing more of it.
I'd also like to pick your brain about your thoughts that went into the creation of Ghastria. Stezen D'Polarno seems to contain elements of both the Marquis de Sade and Dorian Gray. Is this what you were thinking? Were there any other literary references you had?
I do have a very crude sketch of some of my ideas in the expansion of Ghastria, which can be read in the "Unauthorized Biography of the Marquis Stezen D'Polarno" in the first netbook. Admittedly, it's little more than a skeleton, and it's poorly presented, but it lines up some of the ideas I had for the place.
Firstly, there's the issue of the change in location. Ghastria used to be connected by land to the Core, but it's now an island in the Sea of Sorrows. I assumed this means that the traffic to Ghastria is considerably less nowadays, greatly annoying D'Polarno. Even art's major patrons would be put off by a trip to Ghastria nowadays--can you even find the place? As a "consolation prize" for D'Polarno, IMC I gave him the power to see through the eyes and hear through the ears of any painting in Ghastria. As you can guess, D'Polarno remains a great patron of the arts.
In addition, the earlier border closing of huge paintings made sense while Ghastria was landlocked, but it makes considerably less sense now that the place is an island. There's a lot less one can do with a painting in the water than a painting of the land. Perhaps this should change? I suggest that anyone reaching the closed border suddenly gets a change of heart. He or she no longer sees any purpose in continuing, and simply stays in Ghastria because the drive to leave has dissipated. Any other ideas?
Also, I wanted to examine the reason D'Polarno burned down the church and slaughtered the clerics there. Since D'Polarno likes to keep the happiness of the people, such an action would have to be weighed against the resentment destroying East Riding's only church would cause. I decided to tie this in to D'Polarno's earlier curse of his soul in the painting. His soul was trapped by his king's mistress at the king's request. So, we have this majorly powerful mage who sees fit to increase her power base by sleeping with the king. She's clearly a good candidate for being in Ravenloft with D'Polarno. So, I had her killed at about the same time as when the remaining royal court was killed, and had her rise as a ghost. She had been leading the local clerics of the church to move against D'Polarno, but he caught wind of the plot and destroyed the church before she could have any effect.
Now with the development on the Church of Ezra, I've thought about taking this to a new level. I have a story idea where a band of Borcan merchants from Ivana Boritsi approach D'Polarno, asking for permission to grow a specific poisonous herb in Ghastrian soil so as to mask its otherwise putrid flavor. However, one or two of the merchants are actually working for Ivan Dilisnya, who would like to purchase Ghastrian produce (figuring no flavor is better than a bad flavor) and also make sure that Ivana's agricultural plans are ruined.
As the intrigue surrounding the deals grow, a direct representative of the Church of Ezra examines the ruins of the temple of East Riding. Here, he comes across the ghost of the mistress, who through cunning discovers the existence and purpose of the Church of Ezra, and convinces the cleric that she in fact is a vision of Ezra.
I'm not entirely sure I know where I want to take the story, but does anyone have any thoughts about it?
Rotipher of the FoS
With regards to the burning of the church, it occurs to me that there's no reason to assume d'Polarno wasn't justified in doing so. Even in a place as small as Ghastria, the darklord doesn't have to be the bad guy in every situation; if the priests were actually guilty of something very bad indeed -- something which even Stezen couldn't tolerate, if only due to the threat posed to his life-force supply -- that could be an interesting twist.
From the Book of Souls article Art in the Land by Chris Nichols:
"The most extensive collection of paintings and other art in Ravenloft, lies in the extensive collections of Comte [sic] Stezen DíPolarno of Ghastria. His collection contains art from all the ages of the Land as well as many pieces by todayís most coveted artisans. Visitations are conducted on a quarterly basis." -- from "Art in the Land" by Prof. Noah Morgan, Mordentshire University, School of Arts
Apparently the professor got D'Polarno's title wrong.
Rotipher of the FoS
Perhaps "marquis" isn't a title used in most of the Core domains, so the professor translated it into terms his readers would be familiar with. Or perhaps d'Polarno holds more than one title of nobility.
Both titles are in french. If we can trust this site then marquis =/= comte == earl/count.
Comte is a title of French nobility. In the English language, the title is count, a rank in several European nobilities. The corresponding rank in England is earl. A Comte ranks below a Marquis or Margrave (the French have two equivalent words for the same title) and above a Vicomte. --from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comte
Rotipher of the FoS
True, in France both "marquis" and "comte" existed in the same hierarchy of noble ranks. But the Core is nowhere near as big or heavily-populated as Europe, so I doubt if there's social space for as many ranks of nobles to exist in the Mordentish-speaking nations as in the real world. Plus, folk in Mordent don't seem to care much about specific noble titles, aside from the generic "Lord" and "Lady".
From my reading of history, titles mean very little in and of themselves. Look at European history and you will find many, many examples of the shifting nature of political power and how titles and ranks are not always a reliable indicator of relative power. The Marquis of Pombal was more powerful than the King of Portugal, at one point in that country's history. Barons like de Montfort forced King John of England to sign the Magna Carta. A count [graf] in the HRE might be the ruler of his own essentially autonomous principality, while a comte/count in early modern France might well be a shabby-genteel courtier who affected not to worry about his family's dwindling fortunes.
Ah, it occurs to me that perhaps we should make actually tables of peerage for several core nations? It wouldn't be hard, we could just cop stuff from real European nations.
Just make sure to not automatically assume that title/rank= political/military/economic power on a straightforward basis. Remember: the idealized 'feudal system' is a simplistic construct applied to complex and diverse societies by later generations, not necessarily the way people actually lived or operated.
How many nations are actually traditionally feudal, anyway, though? The only nobility in most of the Balok speaking nations is the ruler and his or her stooges. In the Mordentish speaking nations, it's more of an oligarchy than anything.
As for the religion in Ghastria issue, what if the main imported faith is, instead of Ezra, the worship of Zhakata. Now, Petrovna never seemed to be much the missionary type (enforce the faithful yes, but evangelize the unbelievers no), but Ghastria seems like a place where the faith of Zhakata could find a small foothold. Because the food has no taste, no one really enjoys eating, so periodic fasting wouldn't be considered as great a sacrifice as it might otherwise be. In addition, perhaps the one day a year when the food is fantastic is considered a gift from Zhakata the Provider (sure, Petrovna has banned all aspects except that of the Devourer, but it's unlikely the Ghastrians have had any contact with the G'Hennans since the Grand Conjunction, so they wouldn't know that).
Unfortunately, it doesn't make too much sense to have the Zhakatans being the ones running the church that was burned by the Marquis, as G'Henna only appeared in 702 and Sithicus in 720 (going by "The Unauthorized Biography..." the church burning took place sometime before Sithicus appeared), but if they were, it stands logically that the Zhakatans would have been horrified by the display of gluttony represented by cannibalism, which could be why the Marquis attacked them.
Rotipher of the FoS
I'm not sure if food being tasteless is enough reason for the Ghastrians to give it up lightly. If the only reason they ever have for eating is hunger rather than appetite (i.e. needing, not wanting), then wouldn't they see fasting as purely self-destructive instead of a mark of faith? They know food as an absolute biological necessity, not a pleasure to be forfeited; it'd be like asking someone to hold their breath for their religion.
Garudos Celestar: Not really; they also know fully well that one can go without food for an extended amount of time; individual people in Ghastria will have gone without food at some point in their lives for whatever reason. If they fast once a week, or every day from dawn to dusk every day for a month, or for scheduled holidays, etc., it won't be considered terribly threatening, even if being hungry is uncomfortable.
Plus, why would the G'Hennans expect Zhakata to want Ghastrians' tasteless food? If they're looking for converts, you'd think they'd go someplace where the food that'd be handed over to their deity would actually give him some pleasure. Flavorless food is hardly going to help sate the Devourer and bring about his conversion into the Provider.
Garudos Celestar: This assumes that all the priests are holding to the current doctrine in Zhukar - a doctrine that Yagno didn't declare until after his traumatizing encounter with Malistroi. Before Yagno banned the worship of all aspects other than the Devourer, there were many competing faces of Zhakata in G'Henna. In particular, if the missionaries place the Provider as their primary image of Zhakata, Ghastria's unique situation has a lot to offer.
Two thoughts in relation to tasteless food:
-cheaper than importing food with taste from elsewhere would be importing spices from elsewhere to lend the local food a semblance of taste; evidently not an option for the poor; so who exports spice to Ghastria?
-since Ghastrians can't tell by taste that a given food has started to rot, and might pose a health risk, a lot of food that would be thrown out in any other land makes it onto the table in Ghastria; consequently there may be fairly elevated instances of food poisoning, of which a visiting FoS member might be a victim . . . .
In a GURPS-based Ravenloft, I like the idea of Ghastrians tending to have the advantage Cast Iron Stomach...
Rotipher of the FoS
Certainly, this could be interesting as a plot device for the netbook. I'm not sure if it's something we should allow to go too far, however: if it's as hard to judge food's freshness as you're suggesting, that makes it sound like food has no smell, not just no taste. If that were the case, we'd wind up with all sorts of awkward questions by extension, like "Can a dog in Ghastria only track a rabbit if it isn't planning to eat it?" or "How can the ghouls sniff out where my character's hiding? I was born here, so I shouldn't smell like food!" or even "Are Ghastrians naturally immune to halitosis unless it's a Flavor Day?"
Rather, it'd be easier to rule that food's lack of flavor is something that only applies when it's placed in someone's mouth, not when it's sitting on the dinner table. That would be slightly meaner (because people can still smell what they're missing out on ), and vastly simpler to deal with.
How would a creature that regularly steals the senses of others as a means of pleasure react if it were somehow dumped on Ghastria and found itself unable to leave?
Say, an Illithid, as portrayed in Heroes of Horror; a hugely intellectual being that derives its only pleasure from the mind of beings under its control. If forced to endure Ghastria, with its dearth of pleasant sensations, would it go (more) insane? Would it try all sorts of deviltry to get to the source of the situation?
One thing to remember is that anyone born in Ghastria after it entered the dread domains has no idea that food is even supposed to have a taste. They may have a real hard time adapting to foods that have a taste. Even bread would be flavorful to them and it might be the equivalent of somebody who isn't used to spicy food inadvertently eating 5 alarm chili. This may cause them problems after they leave Ghastria, they may even think they are being poisoned the first time they try ordinary food.
ewancummins: Well- don't they have a chance to eat flavorful food during the periods when the Marquis has his joie de vivre returned to him?
Rotipher of the FoS
Here's a weird question: Is it just consumables that lack flavor in Ghastria, or is it everything? If you break your nose severely in Ghastria, would you be unable to taste your own blood in the back of your throat? If you're sailing into the domain, can you tell you've crossed the border because the seawater stops tasting salty? Is looking in a mirror the only way to tell if you need to brush your teeth?
Rotipher of the FoS
Logistically speaking, it's unlikely that Stezen could monopolize every bit of flavor-bearing food that's harvested during his "up" phases. It's not like the Ghastrians are growing their crops inside a Vegas casino or South African diamond mine: even if he tries to claim it all for himself and his parties, a portion of every tasty crop is going to get tucked into some peasant's sock or fall off the back of the wagon. Plus, there are bound to be plenty of foods that don't live up to his standards, like bruised apples or wormy turnips, that the lower classes would be allowed to salvage.
If they are used to tasteless food they might not even desire it. Their tastebuds are so used to tasteless food they are likely to be overwhelmed by anything that has a taste.
Rotipher of the FoS
Heh heh. How's this for a future SoS Survey sidebar...? The "Eh" Of Cooking: A Ghastrian Recipe Book
I'm telling you- Ghastrian hardtack- it's like rock in its hardness, and much like wood pulp in taste- but it ships and stores well. It can also be used as sling ammunition, and that's not all!
At the Second Battle of Ipswick, Ghastrians were again faced with an invading horde of pirates from Blaustein. The Ghastrians had run out of shot for their field piece early in the fighting, and things were getting desperate for the defenders. The timely arrival of a ration wagon saved the day, when the Ghastrian cannoneers [peasants with miminal training] loaded their cannon with hard biscuits and fired on the charging pirates, killing most of them in a single blast. Up Ghastria!
On the other hand, Ghastrian distilled spirits are absolutely the best mixers in the land. You can't even taste the burn!
What about beasties? http://www.wizards.com/dnd/images/MM35_gallery/MM35_PG119.jpg http://www.wizards.com/dnd/images/MM35_gallery/MM35_PG31.jpg
Carrion crawlers, ghouls, and ghasts would all fit well in Ghastria, I think. As for other monsters...I dunno. I wouldn't want to overload a small island domain with a gazillion types of horrible beasties, or humans living there starts to seem strange. Besides, a few thematic monsters can enhance a domain, but too many, and it loses focus. Just my humble opinion, of course. With three eating/hunger/decay themed beasties, maybe something art or emotion oriented would be a nice addition? Any suggestions?
Garudos Celestar: Hmm... glass golem, perhaps a living spell (from the Eberron Campaign Setting, using some appropriate figments and patterns to create living artwork), an intelligent bottle of Nolzur's marvelous pigments that's acting as the muse for an insane artist... maybe it's encouraging the artist to use strange and unsettling paints in his work, from umbral grey to human blood to liquified ghast gas.
I'd probably aim for a "Most Dangerous Game" scenario-given the food issue, something would be needed for Ghastria to become a resort. So why not take in the criminals of other domains for a "slight fee", and keep them imprisoned, only to have the ones not sating the darklord's appetites being hunted by the jaded aristocrats of the other domains?
Once again, a question regarding the tasstelessness of Ghastrian cuisine, or perhaps a comment-if the food is tasteless, doesn't that make it easier for a host to slip something into the mix? Poison of course, but I'm actually thinking along the lines of unknowingly becoming a cannibal for the amusement of Ghastrian nobles, or perhaps something like the Wendigo, where cannibalism opens a path to becoming something nasty. The old story of King Lycaon trying to pass off his son as haut cuisine to Zeus comes to mind immediately...
Actually, I think it might make it more difficult to poison someone's food, as the taste of the poison would stand out even more against the tasteless food. A poison would have to be tasteless itself to go undetected, and in reality, there aren't that many poisons that are tasteless. (Of course, a magical poison could enchanted to be tasteless.)
Rotipher of the FoS: If the poison comes from a plant that grew in Ghastria, it'd be tasteless no matter what its usual flavor is. Poisoners in Stezen's domain might have to cultivate their own herb gardens "for medicinal purposes", then conceal a few toxic plants among the others.
Now, cannibalism is another kettle of fish. If we presume that the tastelessness extends to meat from Ghastria then I would say that should include human flesh as well, which opens the door for the nasty situations you're talking about.
Rotipher of the FoS: Of course, that's presuming that a diner would recognize human meat if they could taste it. Unless they're a werebeast or something else used to preying on humans, how many people would have a clue that it's not just oddly-seasoned pork?
One character in the Unauthorized Biography I never did fully flesh out, but kept as an extra villain for Ghastria, was Anneliese.
Anneliese was the sorceress who originally cursed D'Polarno, and I brought her back as a ghost wandering the island. She can travel anywhere in Ghastria, including D'Polarno's private chambers. She knows all his secrets. Normally, she appears as a stunningly beautiful woman, usually teasingly provocative, extremely knowledgeable, and a quick wit.
She, too, has been cursed by the Dark Powers. First, she has fallen in love with the vibrant side of D'Polarno, and can speak with him while his personality is trapped in the portrait. Secondly, during D'Polarno's parties, she twists into how she looked when she died--a grey, dessicated, rotten corpse--and can no longer enter any part of D'Polarno's residence. During the parties, she can usually be found wailing at the walls and doors outside, trying to get in to see the man she betrayed.
She wants nothing more than to destroy the cold half of D'Polarno, but will not let the colorful half be harmed. She was the one who informed the priests about the bodies at the parties, and has learned about the Ezraite faith in the Core. She has been known to pose as Ezra for foreigners, and some faithful circles have heard of Our Lady of East Riding.
I have not written more about her, nor have I made stats. Anyone interested in adding to her story?
Well, I must say that I very much like what you've done with Annelise. That's good stuff! I have nothing to add, just now. If I think of something, I'll post it.
One thing I like to add to domains is history, false or otherwise. In fact, it would be dangerous to assume that most false history is simply made up- and not a distorted reflection of things past- IMC.
So, what of Ghastria's history? Who ruled before Stezen? Is the realm of King Oderic remembered by the people? If the language is Mordentish, what relation does the realm have to Mordent, to Dementlieu?
JoŽl of the FoS
Annaliese is indeed a fun NPC to add to Ghastria's rooster. How would you stat her? Cursed Ari?
The Giamarga: Beguiler! It fits her to the T. Witch-like but also a courtier, emphasis on enchantment spells. It even fits her Ezra impersonation scheme.
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