Saturday, May 14, 2022

Ravenloft Riff: Kopurland

Been a real Ravenloft-head lately. Came across this webcomic: which is good yet sadly unfinished.

There's this kids' book series about a time-traveling treehouse, and one of the books had the protagonists go back to viking times, where they discover a corpse that had been blood eagled. Seemed very gory for a book that was for pre-teens. It's stuck with me ever since I read it many, many years ago. Anyways, the post:


The wind rakes its fingers down the hills of Kopurland. Its slopes once stripped of trees are again stripped of their rich, dark soil, pulled in hazy streams down to the water. Thralls tend to sheep in the muddy folds, while in the feasting-halls a raucous tension rises - ships go out, too few ships return, and the island lacks the resources to replace the ones lost. A cold fog drifts in from the sea, and no light seems able to banish it. Things creep from the dankest caves, no longer needing to fear the sun. Seals, as always, watch dumbfounded from its bays.

The land itself is flexing, in flux. Earthquakes have become commonplace - as if giants trample the world. Stone splits and geysers spray scalding from the sudden rifts. The upthrust earth exposes things long-buried: rune-stones dedicated to forgotten gods, the lairs of unwholesome beasts, pockets of blistering magma.

Skalds say that the Kopurlanders' ancestors came to the island fleeing the apocalypse of their old world. More and more of its inhabitants are coming to believe that the apocalypse has finally caught up with them.

The Darklord(s)

Kopurland is a nascent domain, not yet fully taken by the Mist. Ships can still get in and out from the mundane world - at least sometimes.

Its throne too, the position of its darklord, is not entirely settled yet either. Its strongest claimant is Sacrist Osmund, a monk who betrayed his fellows to a raiding party from Kopurland, trading their lives and the monastery's wealth for a privileged position on the island - this incident was what invited the Mist. However there are a few others on the island who have earned the torment of a lordship as well. Should Osmund die, or should their crimes well exceed his in Kopurland's darkest days, one of these claimants could usurp his place.

The Mist is being held at bay by the presence of the few other surviving monks of Osmund's monastery (kept as thralls), all genuinely decent and faithful people. If they were killed, fled the island, or corrupted, that would precipitate Kopurland's swift fall into the lands of dread.

Sacrist Osmund is craven, brilliant, and ruthless. A relentless social climber who believes accumulating power is the only thing between him and the absolute, impoverished brutality he was born and raised in. Has no friends, and no faith, only people and ideas he can use.

The Twin Torments of Kopurland:

The Oathbreaker's Curse

Kopurlander society - that is to say, the society of its raiders and killers who live off the work of their thralls - is big on honour. This honour is the sort that's violently defended and enforced in public, while violations in private are overlooked. While nominally opposed, this double standard of duels to the death over insults and underhanded schemes and affairs tends to in practice work for the overall stability of the status quo, like a tensegrity structure made out of people and their customs spoken & unspoken.

The first torment of Kopurland amends this. Anyone who breaks the word of a promise or sworn oath will die, bleeding from every orifice the next time they're alone. Those who break the spirit of the same will die slower, sickening and aging prematurely. While the tradition of oath-swearing on Kopurland is intricate enough to prevent easy or inadvertent breakage, enough deaths have happened that people are starting to catch on. The curse is taken to be another sign of the end of the world.

Conspirators like Sacrist Osmund are starting to sweat.

The Ilhvel

It's true that a monster haunts the waters around Kopurland: a whale-sized mass of corpses, their bloated, gelatinous flesh fused together, the mingled remains of those killed in the Kopurlanders' raids. It swims fast enough to catch a ship in full sail, and when the rain falls heavy enough it can drag itself a short distance onto land.

Kopurland produces enough food to sustain its population, yet the illhvel is still starving the island. The prestige and social ties of its high clans are maintained by raiding and the distribution of spoils from raids. With the dearth of raids, these ties are disintegrating. The slavering wolves deprived of prey begin to eye each other hungrily.

Among the island's thralls a suicide cult has taken root. They worship the illhvel in secret, slinking away to moldy grottoes to whisper by the light of whale-fat candles of the island's inevitable destruction. The most dedicated fling themselves into the sea as offerings to it. The illhvel accepts them.


The High Clans

Clan Ufrak: The self-purported greatest warriors of Kopurland - certainly its wealthiest. They were the ones Osmund collaborated with - the clan felt that strength of arms alone couldn't sustain its dominance, and that education, literacy, trade, and other modernizing efforts were becoming necessary - Osmund was taken on as an advisor in these matters. The clan projects an image of confidence, that it can weather whatever disaster is befalling the island while remaining on top, yet the clan is large, and fracturing under the pressure - there are many secret defectors who'd prefer to see their own star rise even if it meant the overall decline of Ufrak.

The clan head's second son, hoping to gain favour, set off to hunt the ilhvel with a few trusted comrades. The ilhvel caught them, sensed the son's dissatisfaction, and remolded them into a monster. On dim nights this monster stalks Clan Ufrak's elephant tusk-arched hall, picking off a few drunken stragglers each time. Its ultimate targets are its father, and its older brother. A fabulous reward is promised for whoever can return its head.

Clan Himnsker: Once famed shipwrights and raisers of rune-stones, masters of the forest of Kopurland's eastern side. As the forests were felled and turned to fields for sheep-grazing, the clan dwindled in esteem, becoming the butt of jokes that portrayed them as bumpkins and sheep-shaggers. The clan is split between its young and old.

Far from despairing over the apparent end of the world, the older members of Clan Himnsker sees it as the time for their glorious resurgence. They're slipping into a carnivalesque fundamentalism - human sacrifices in standing stone circles with beer and hallucinogenic mushrooms by the barrel, wrangling sheep and thralls from other clans while screaming bloody murder.

Clan Himnsker received several thralls who were once fellow monks of Sacrist Osmund, and many of their younger members have been swayed by the monks' quiet preaching. They believe that Kopurland is undergoing divine punishment for its violent ways, and that only societal reform can save them. They're conspiring with similarly-minded members of Clan Ufrak, yet discovery by either of their clans could get them branded as traitors and slaughtered.

Clan Maorija: Descendants of freed thralls who clawed their way into a position of power. They cultivate a reputation as scary motherfuckers, and the most wicked rumours surround them: cannibals, witches, poisoners, assassins. Some of these rumours are sometimes true. The clan has seen the developing situation on Kopurland and collectively decided to get the hell out of there. They plan to secure the island's remaining ships, grab everything that isn't nailed down, find some way to distract or eliminate the illhvel, and sail off to greener pastures.

The clan has developed a terrible weapon to see this plan to fruition: a vapourizing form of the noxious mixture drunk by the island's berserkers, which sends those who inhale it into an indiscriminate rage. The hamlet they tested it on had no survivors.

The Murder1: There's strangers on the island in black-feathered cloaks, perhaps a half-dozen, who know things they shouldn't. They showed up soon after the persistent fog rolled in. Superstitious fear and their excellent skill at arms has kept them from simply being killed. These strangers call themselves the Murder. They're interested in the island's rune-stones, in its old stories and new speculation. They're investigating Kopurland's drift into the Mist, and willing to throw their weight behind anyone who can provide them answers.

1 These guys are kind of my take on the Keepers of the Black Feather

1 comment:

  1. I like the structure of multiple competing potential Darklords and a slow slide into the Mist, if only because it opens up the possibility of the PCs being a) the most frightening people around instead of the least, b) becoming the Darklords themselves as warped parodies of Beowulf, or c) ending up in the Mist and starting a Ravenloft campaign from there.