Some time back, Kainenchen and I were talking about campaigns that pit multiple factions of antagonists against one another, and for the PCs it’s devil take the hindmost. We came up with two different takes on the same high concept: a Planescape/Ravenloft mashup. I’m going to discuss both of them a bit here. Just keep in mind that the first of them is my understanding of Kainenchen’s idea, so rough edges in the description are my fault and not hers.
The Darklord of Pain
The Dark Powers draw sufficiently evil mortals into the Demiplane of Dread, and shape a new domain around them. I’m not sure how much their criteria have been revealed in Ravenloft canon, but let’s assume there’s some wiggle room. Obviously, the Dark Powers can reach any part of the Material Plane. Their ability to reach other planes is, at least, not known to me. If it’s canonically barred for some reason, we’ll be ignoring that bit of canon.
The enigmas of the Lady of Pain and the Maze are extensive. The Dark Powers decide that whoever, whatever she is, she’s:
- evil enough for them to extract and create as the Darklord of new domain, and/or
- intruding on their cosmic role.
On the other hand, the Lady of Pain has incomparable power over Sigil, sufficient to stop even greater gods from entering Sigil with their full power. The Dark Powers are presumably more powerful than greater gods (so that evil greater gods can’t pop in to “rescue” their favored servants), but less powerful than the usually-non-interventionist creator powers (such as Ao). Where does that put the Dark Powers in direct relation to the Lady of Pain on her home turf? Figuring that out is the main thrust of the campaign.
As Kainenchen imagined it, you might well be playing beings of cosmic power in this campaign, with a lot of direct agency balanced by unusual constraints. Maybe you run this as a Nobilis game, where your Nobles are the Dark Powers. You intrude upon Sigil, investigate the limits of the Lady’s power, and figure out what you have to do to make her into a Darklord of her own domain.
There’s also a great disaster-movie-like campaign where you’re midlevel PCs living in the City of Doors, trying to survive their maneuvering, as the Dark Powers try to capture her or put her on trial, and she tries to banish them and patch up whatever cosmic loophole let them in. These kinds of actions are probably really unhealthy for the creatures that call Sigil their home.
Take either of these further by having the Dark Powers decide to extract one of the Wards as their new domain. Maybe you want to fold in a lot of lore about Aoskar:
- Do the Dark Powers hope to punish the Lady for his murder?
- Is there a deeper connection between Aoskar, as a god of portals, and the mists of Ravenloft?
- Or could Aoskar have been a Dark Power that abandoned his duty? Or was everything he did part of a plan by the Dark Powers that the Lady of Pain prevented?
In doing a little more research, I’ve just learned that there’s some canon that touches on Ravenloft and Sigil, as Ravenloft’s nature allowed Vecna to enter the city. It didn’t go well for Vecna, so to advance this idea within canon, you’d have to drill way down on the Dark Powers. (If you don’t have any deep PS lore nerds in your group, this is a non-issue.)
My concept assumes that the Dark Powers can’t extract people from planes other than the Material. On the other hand, denizens of City of Doors use portals to go to the Material Plane worlds all the time – intentionally or otherwise. All it would take is redirecting one little portal and constructing a reasonable facsimile of one or two Wards.
The Dark Powers are establishing a reflection of Sigil to make one of the faction heads or other important NPCs as the new domain lord. (It may become obvious that I’ve just finished watching The Good Place Seasons 1 and 2, and loved it right into the afterlife.) They don’t stop with extracting one person, though – they want to grab a number of people who are close to that character. The PCs get drawn in through connection to them, or through all the normal ways PCs wind up in Ravenloft. The Dark Powers create the impression that the smoke and fog of Sigil have grown thicker, sort of a Great Smog of London that goes a lot more than five days. (Uh, watched S1 of The Crown too.) Everyone’s portal keys stop working, so the Cage earns its name.
Maybe the Dark Powers want to establish a new self-sustaining, claustrophobic domain, where the pressures of being unable to escape the Cage causes continual power shifts. The illusion is the aim. The campaign, then, involves an extended investigation where you uncover the false clues the Dark Powers have set up to lead you astray. These lead to an awful reveal, where you find the flaws in the illusion. The rest of the campaign is an investigation into those flaws, leading either to escape or to becoming the new domain lord forever.
For example, maybe they also try to present the lie that the rest of the cosmos has fallen under a terrible shadow – sure, we can call it Tenebrous or Demogorgon – which is why the few remaining portals lead to horrible, undead-infested places. Really, though, it’s just that the Mists aren’t going to let you leave the Demiplane.
Now that I’ve written them out, I think Kainenchen’s idea has more interesting and surprising possibilities, many of which play with D&D canon. My hope is that my idea plays directly into horror themes more strongly, thanks to its slow reveals. I’m trying to develop a new and more creative relationship with the canon, using it to good effect rather than defaulting toward dismissing it. This is particularly inspired by how much fun I’m having in Stands-in-Fire’s Planescape game, where he balances canon and alternate timelines. I know have a decent foundation of Planescape lore, but no one else in the group does. He’s structured things so that it adds context and interest, but doesn’t answer any of the campaign’s questions.