I've been continually inspired by Tales of the Grotesque & Dungeonesque's revitalization of the Ravenloft setting, through their various posts, critical commentaries, and Strahd Loves, Man Kills zine.
One thing I've noticed is that while the various sub-settings of Ravenloft cover a number of sorts of horror - folk horror, body horror, spooky ghost horror, cosmic horror, etc. - one sort it seems to be lacking is giant monster horror, for example Godzilla, King Kong, Cloverfield, and all that.
Therefore what follows is an original Ravenloft domain in the 5th edition style I've come up with to fill that space:
Domain of Forces of Nature
Darklord: Father Llymic1
Genres: Kaiju horror & survival horror
Hallmarks: Ruination, hardscrabble subsistence, ants vs. elephants
Mist Talismans: Chunk of unmelting ice with a core that absorbs light into utter darkness, human skull in the process of warping into something insectoid, diary clutched in death-grip by frozen hand that lists recipes using limited rations that degrade into incoherent, cannibalistic madness in later pages
The sun has all but forgotten Madlendref, and all warmth is a fading ember. Ice chokes the thoroughfares. The squatting bulk of a glacier has buried the city's heart, its cracks and creaking echoing in the endless night like the shrieks of some impossibly vast living thing.
Frostbitten work-crews hew out shelters and tunnels, stalk elk across the crumbling rooftops. Too few return to the meager bonfires of looted furniture - lost to deprivation, despair, or the terrible things rumoured to lurk out in the dark.
Brutal utilitarianism seizes hold. Those who cannot contribute are cast out. Communities already strained to their breaking point are raided or subjugated. At last there comes a moment of sour hope, where it seems the cruelty was a necessary evil to survive until the long-awaited dawn - the sun is glimpsed (albeit a deadened red) and the ice begins to thaw, or a limitless wellspring of warm, fresh meat is uncovered. Then the earth shakes, the glacier shatters, and a great beast slouches from within to trample over all man's feeble works.
In the wake of its rampage the ice and the night return to Madlendref, a little colder, a little darker, and those left alive struggle on another day.
Those familiar with Madlendref know the following facts:
- Madlendref is a city stuck in a deep and lightless winter
- A camp of a few dozen people is a significant population there
- Leadership of communities tends to the terribly authoritarian
- The darkness hides monsters that may have once been human, which dwarf their former forms
Characters in Madlendref
What civilization is left in Madlendref has been stripped bare of comfort and civility. You are considered lucky if you can reliably meet the first two steps of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. When players create characters from Madlendref, consider asking them the following questions - though they need not originally be from Madlendref to have wound up in Madlendref - refer to 'Brood Fever' below:
What have you done to survive in this city? Food's scarce, fuel's scarce, decency's even scarcer than both.
What do you remember from before the eternal winter? Do you cherish the memory? Do you relish the freedom of the new and heartless world? Is there something or someone you'd rather forget?
Are you a leader, a follower, or a lone wolf? In harsh circumstances is your true self revealed, or is it just the stress getting to you?
Settlements & Sites
The Broken Clocktower
Once visible throughout the city. Its shattered face barely pokes above the snow now, its gears spilled out like eviscerated guts. A wizard has taken up habitation in it, and has turned its inner workings into simple devices that now seem wondrous in the convenience they bring to raw existence. The wizard has never been seen unmasked, and is accompanied at all times by silent giants in form-concealing robes. They'll trade away their devices only in exchange for corpses, or prisoners.
Once a renowned place of religious learning, now one of the vanishingly few sanctuaries left in Madlendref. Harried nurses flit up and down the crowded rows of beds, priests-in-training mumble last rites over the dying. Stocks of medicine dwindle, the gruel gets thinner by the day. The logic of rationing and triage grow more suffocating, and some among the volunteers whisper that the weakest should be sacrificed so that the strong might live.
Tents torn down, cooled ashes in the firepit, bodies cut and broken - or perhaps worse, no bodies left at all. The city's an unforgiving place, and communities survive in the smallest margin of error. There's as many failed settlements as there are catastrophes to befall them - quite a lot. Maybe there's something worth picking over in these, or maybe what's dead is best left alone - lest you get caught up in their doom.
The Hunter's Shell
By luck or frenzied violence a beast was brought to the slaughter - its carapace, hollowed out and still steaming, now a home to its killers. Drunk on rare victory and the liquor they extort, they range about in mobs to swarm more beasts - anything or anyone unusual, really, if they're far enough along.
Before his aborted ascension, Father Llymic was a scholarly priest who was inclined toward rationalism and reform. His studies drew him into investigating ancient mysteries, fallen civilizations, and recent discoveries about the nature of the cosmos. This in turn led him to cynicism, heresy, and total disillusionment with the power of human reason. He gathered like-minded students to him, and together they conducted vile experiments that would allow him to evolve beyond benighted mortality, while leaving the way open for worthy successors to follow.
On the precipice of their work's completion, the Mist crept into Madlendref. Rather than transcending it, the city was dragged along into Father Llymic's nightmare to become his prison.
Father Llymic's Powers & Dominion
His true form is a big monster. Really, really big. Use the stats of the tarrasque, or three ancient dragons stitched together, or whatever else you find fitting. When he awakens he's not something you fight, he's something you hide or run from.
The False Father: While his true form sleeps, he dreams that he is human again. He unconsciously projects an illusory body and forgets his fall from grace. Llymic does his best to help the desperate people of Madlendref, but the ruthlessness of life there slowly and inevitably leads him down his same, original path. When he is on the verge of remembering who he really is, the red sun rises over Madlendref and his mind returns to his body to wreak havoc before returning to hibernation.
Brood Fever: Where once Father Llymic hoped to leave behind a ladder to the heavens for the enlightened to climb, he now spreads a disease that drags others down to his depths of bestial idiocy. The disease is not fatal. In the world beyond the Mist, his brood fever is spread by his few students who escaped the final ritual. Those who seem to die of the disease outside the Mist are in fact plunged into Madlendref, shivering and ignorant - those in the know call these unfortunate souls "the orphans of Llymic". Those who catch it inside Madlendref begin an agonizing transformation into huge, hideous, insectoid beasts who are still minuscule compared to Father Llymic. Both the meat of his true form and the touch of his illusory form are vectors for brood fever.
Closing the Borders: Due to his perpetual state of half-consciousness, the borders of Madlendref are always half-closed (but on the bright side, they're also half-open!). Outside the city are towering, treacherous walls of ice, and a murderous cold. Get through that without going the way of the Donner Party, and you're out. Getting in is of course substantially easier than getting out.
Father Llymic's Torment
Father Llymic was an idealist embittered by being confronted with the upper bounds of human existence and the prejudice of his fellows. He came to believe that through inhumanity he could surpass humanity. Now he's a giant monster trapped under crushing ice, his intellect only truly his own in foggy dreams.
Personality Trait: "No knowledge is forbidden" / "Ya ih-ya hochabas! Caiphon! Gibbeth! Zhudun!"
Ideal: "I will discover the truth of this world and share it for the betterment of all" / "Ivuud'sakas la drak Imaskar. Toma la Thoon, drak'ya Thaan"
Bond: "I am an educator to all who are willing to learn" / His former students think he favours them. In fact, he only temporarily spares them because they keep bringing him food.
Flaw: "Those who disagree with me are simply too ignorant to be in charge of their own affairs" / Dumb, deranged, anger management issues.
1 Father Llymic's not an entirely original character, but one I've adapted from the 3rd edition book 'Elder Evils', wherein he's a giant monster from the Far Realm encased in ice who needs to spread his monstrous mutation to darken the sun, bring about an eternal winter, and be free to rule the ensuing wasteland. The idea that he was once human is my own invention2.
2 OK, you got me, it's the probably-too-derivative-of-Bloodborne domain. Dear reader, how would you do a kaiju horror domain differently?