Dungeons & Dragons is taking the fantasy tabletop genre in a horrifying direction with Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft, the upcoming sourcebook that more fully introduces the classic Ravenloft setting into the game's Fifth Edition. Ravenloft, which first appeared in D&D lore back in the '80s, is a mystical realm that's not a "real place" so much as it's a collection of various horrifying Domains of Dread. The new book features several Domains, new and old, all of which highlight different aspects of horror — folk horror, cosmic horror, psychological horror, and much more. SYFY WIRE has an exclusive preview of one Domain, Lamordia, a snowy land in which a diabolical scientist stitches unwilling bodies together.
"Lamordia's one of the Domains of Dread that appeared in 1990's Ravenloft: Realm of Terror boxed set — the product that turned Ravenloft from a couple of adventures into a campaign setting," explains Wes Schneider, the lead designer of Van Richten's Guide. The new book takes the classic setting, expands on it, and dials up two sub-genres of horror, in particular: gothic horror and, of course, body horror.
Read on (if you dare) for more of SYFY WIRE's interview with Schneider, where he talks about how Lamordia and its ruler Viktra Modernheim are more than just a Frankenstein pastiche, how to make body horror work in an imagination-based game, and more. And, check out an early look at an exclusive piece of art from Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft by artist Robin Olausson ahead of the book's release on May 18.
When you hear "mad scientist making living corpses," you think of Frankenstein, obviously. Does Ravenloft's Lamordia use Frankenstein as a launching point? How is it similar and/or different?
Many of the Domains of Dread are inspired by some horror tale or piece of creepy folklore, and Lamordia definitely has its roots in Frankenstein. But while the Domain is inspired by that classic horror story, its elements are then shot through the lens of D&D adventures and explored to dozens of horrific extremes. Mordenheim's land isn't just about resurrection gone awry, it's also the Domain for all different types of science gone wrong, bizarre experiments, body horror weirdness, and grim tales of society versus a frigid land. Just as there's more to Frankenstein than a scientist who abandoned his child, there's more to Lamordia than stitches and semi-dead flesh.
Is Viktra Mordenheim your classic Mad Scientist-type character, or did you "D&D-ize the archetype?" What's her deal?
Viktra Mordenheim is a precise, obsessive scientist who created not just life, but immortality. She's a deliberate, efficient, and utterly amoral genius whose scientific masterpiece is an artificial heart that conveys non-magical immortality. The only problem is that the device is bound within the body of her former companion, Elise. Does Viktra seek to recover the heart or Elise? And what ends will she go to regain what she believes is hers? That's just where the story starts.
How do you make body horror work in D&D? How do you make players feel horrified about what's happening to their characters' (imaginary) bodies?
One of the terrifying possibilities explored by Lamordia is what happens when the players' characters wake up on Mordenheim's slab. We explore a few ways characters might find their very bodies held hostage while Mordenheim tasks them to fulfill her heartless whims. One of the new lineages in the book, the Reborn, even allows players to create characters who used to be dead, someone else, or maybe multiple something elses. Being one of Mordenheim's creations is just one way such a character might come into being, either for a time or for the rest of a campaign.
What, if anything, does Lamordia offer DMs and parties who are running a homebrew campaign or are otherwise only interested in borrowing, rather than setting their game in Ravenloft?
As a sort of micro-setting unto itself, Lamordia might slip into any setting — just as many Domains of Ravenloft found their origins in other worlds. So, it could easily shift into a homebrew game. Beyond that, Mordenheim as a character, her bizarre creations, and all the details on running adventures rooted in body horror and bizarre science could readily make an appearance in any setting when players least expect it.
What about Lamordia are you the most excited for DMs and players to experience?
D&D Senior Game Designer Amanda Hamon worked with me on writing this Domain and wove in tons of fantastically twisted ideas — many of which go far beyond Frankenstein. I'm jazzed to hear what readers do with everything beyond Mordenheim's lab, like the terrible radiations, what lurks in the glacial seas, and the mysteries of the mountains infamously called The Sleeping Beast.
Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft comes out on May 18.