‘Undead, Forever’ – Ravenloft and the Gothic in D&D

April 15, 2018 § 1 Comment

This paper was initially presented at the Gaming the Gothic conference, held at the University of Sheffield on April 13th 2018. The intial CFP is available here.

This is a transcript of the presented paper, edited with some last-minute changes made during the presentation itself and, where appropriate, links to external material.

Ravenloft - Presentation.001

So begins our journey into the Dungeons & Dragons adventure of ‘Ravenloft’ where Strahd von Zarovich, a centuries old vampire-prince, rules his terror-haunted realm without pity or remorse. ‘Ravenloft’ is riddled with deeply gothic imagery from the flying buttresses of the eponymous Castle Ravenloft to the tortured, endless nature of Strahd’s vampirism. Yet, like all gothic fiction, there is more to ‘Ravenloft’ than simple theatrics. There is a deep sense of horror that comes not just from the story but from how the story is told and, crucially, how it is not told.

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Pale Warders

March 14, 2013 § 2 Comments

A blackbird howls out through the night and here I am, waiting. There’s a faint hissing, like rain on a fire, as a soft blanket of snow starts to fall. The soil hardens, cracking. Cold seeps down to the roots. Walls close in. I hear children cry out from their beds, feel parents prickle with worry. There’s a storm close by.

Somewhere in the Fen, on a low hill next to a brackish pool, there is a cluster of wooden staves driven deep into the earth. Each is crowned with a human skull, held tight by twine and leather. Snow collects in their eye sockets. Ice hangs down from their jaws. Tattered ribbons flutter and crack. When the wind blows cold and fierce, sharp with dust from the Sleeping Cliffs, they sing out their ancient lament.

Long, bass moans. High, keening wails. The hollow voice of the unquiet dead.

Bone Watchers

No living thing can suffer to hear them, it is said, and even the proudly fearless Grimmelkin mark warnings in their hunters’ language of scratches and scent. A few creatures stray here, unwise or unthinking, hoping to find shelter in the lee of the hill. Their bones lie scattered around, shifting sometimes into strange patterns. Even in the far-off City, barely visible but for a faint smudge of colour on the horizon, restless citizens mutter of dark dreams, hobgoblins lurk under children’s beds and a certain few take up their knives. Against themselves. Against others.

I know these things, when few others do.

I have been there.

I am there now.

I am singing.

Artist’s impression reproduced courtesy Mr P. Warwick Wilson,
Department of Anthrochology, Constant University

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