Friday, January 18, 2013

The Benighted City of Lichtstadt

Ravenloft:  The megadungon

I hit a wall sometime last week; I've had some long days and work travel, the 6 year old is driving my wife nuts , and I got absolutely burnt out on reading history books.  I haven't had much time to write for the blog.   I switched over to reading some fiction, and I let my mind wander towards how my own "dungeon under the city" might look after ruminating over the last post.

Oh - before I forget - on the reading front; I motored through Jim Butcher's Cold Days in just a couple of days, and moved on to Chronicles of the Black Company.  It's super interesting, particularly because it's inspirational for how a tough group of D&D characters might operate if they were a mercenary group in a world populated with ordinary folks and a scattering of powerful characters.  It's not game fiction; you don't hear the dice rolling while you're reading.

With the oldest kiddo, we're halfway through the Earthsea trilogy (night time reading - I'm a good dad) with Elric of Melnibone lined up next.

Back to the dungeon under the city.

I'm envisioning the crumbling, central European city of Lichtstadt - home to corrupt guilds, blue-blooded patricians, and frightened peasants that cower from the things that go bump in the night.  Built on earlier catacombs and ruins, the city sits above a deep, sprawling dungeon where aristocratic undead vie for control of the various guilds and nobles of the surface world.  The sewers give way to catacombs and deeper dungeons where every figure from gothic horror gaming - stitched alchemical golems and undead, vengeful revenants; wrathful lycanthropes, and more vampires than can be counted, all scheme and lurk and wait for the sun to sink below the horizon.  Long have the erstwhile (mortal) rulers of Lichstadt turned a blind eye to the frequent disappearances on the streets after dark, and no one survives for long in the city jail.

The arrival of inquisitors from the great southern church to remote Lichstadt has upset the city's balance of power, and now manipulators meet in darkened halls to debate whether to move against the church overtly or marginalize it through politics and their human pawns.  But this much is true; the church has cast open the gates to the undercity, and it encourages any manner of cunning opportunist willing to risk life and limb in the sewers looking to pocket some gold while striking back against the night fiends.

Lichtstadt would require a serious overhaul to the standard D&D vampire.  Forget about the high level, energy draining monstrosities from the Monster Manual.  Lichtstadt Vampires drink blood through grappling and can die with a stake through the heart.  Vampires would fill a wide range of challenges in the dungeon, from bloodthirsty neonates that don't have many other vampiric powers (other than strength and toughness), to ancient vampire warlords and sorcerers in the depths that lead their own lineages and bloodlines.  Naturally, I'd raid the White Wolf catalog and create speedy vampires, shape-changing vampires, hypno-vampires, and so on.  There's something juvenile (yet funny) about taking all those World of Darkness archetypes and treating them as experience fodder for dungeon delving murder hobos.

If The Black City started out as Vikings: At The Mountains of Madness (before it went all sideways into gonzo sci-fantasy), then Lichstadt is Ravenloft: the Megadungon.  Parking this one in the The Junkyard for now, but my normal brainstorming notebook is quickly filling up with ideas for Lichtstadt.  It's almost too easy.


  1. It sounds like a good start. You might want to take a look at GURPS Blood Types, which is full of strange vampires, and GURPS Undead (which isn't as vampire-centric, but has a lot on death and death rites).

    By the way, I've come to the conclusion that the best starting point for Elric is Weird of the White Wolf. AFAIK that story is the first one, before he wrote the earlier stuff. But I like it as a starting point - who is this guy? Why does he want to attack his own city? What's with that sword? It's all stuff that's better when it's still mysterious. If you read the earlier books first, it's no mystery and it's more like the final scene of the movie instead of the true start of his adventures.
    IMO anyway. I'm biased, I started with WOTWW myself.

  2. I loved Earthsea so much as a kid. Still do.

  3. You and I have are operating from the same reading list, apparently.

  4. I love this concept! I would totally play in a game like this.

  5. Sounds great, though I would actually really like to see your take on a more Hammer horror vampire. I personally wouldn't go the World of Darkness route, as the various different kind of vampire powers always remind me more of super heroes, and less of dungeon delving fantasy or gothic horror.

  6. I had a similar desire to spread vampires across a range of challenges, and found the easiest way for me was just to reskin all the level-draining undead as vampires of various power levels, and developed a few "bloodlines" of vampires with special abilities and weaknesses. The bloodlines are slackjaw-simple: when stocking an encounter, a d6 roll tells me if this group came straight out of Buffy, Lost Boys, Dracula, Miyu, Subspecies, or the terrible Aaron Spelling-helmed Kindred.

  7. Sounds like great fun. I'd play in that campaign.

    How old is the oldest kid? I tried to read the Hobbit to my 7 year old and she thought it was boring. Considering how influential Elric has been for me, I just have to read it. But, when is a suitable age? Any ideas?

    1. My oldest just turned 11. He read The Hobbit on his own a few years ago, and we've been doing fantasy series along the way - Prydain, then The Once and Future King, now Earthsea. 7 is still pretty young, maybe try simpler YA fantasy like Percy Jackson or Fablehaven or Harry Potter?

  8. The Once and Future King bored me to death. :)

    We have started with the Harry Potter stories, but will probably hold off with some of the later ones. It's always interesting to compare these things. Elric just has to happen, but 11 sounds like a better age than 7.