Ravenloft: Mist Hunters, a fourteen-part D&D Adventurers League storyline, takes a terrifying look at the Domains of Dread. Settings with Darklords wouldn't be honest if we sugar-coated their abuse of power. In this horror campaign, violent despots and oppressive aristocrats abduct, enslave, manipulate, possess, and kill. We know these topics can be traumatic in fantasy and real life. Likewise, it can be empowering to play characters addressing these situations. But that empowerment can't happen if players and DMs are traumatized or retraumatized. Luckily there are many ways we can prevent that.
As writers and editors (including the Sensitivity Lead), we tried to treat each topic with respect to minimize chances of negative experiences. As event organizers, DMs, and players, you can prepare yourselves with tools and information to help get people on the edge of their seats and keep them at the table, having fun.
Content warnings respect the autonomy of all those involved in play, equipping you with more information and control. While the writing and editing teams couldn't anticipate every possible distressing theme, we are generous with the warnings listed on each adventure. They will also be listed in the DMs Guild's adventure description, readable before purchase.
These content warnings allow DMs more ease in choosing a game they'd like to run and gives them foreknowledge of subjects needing more mindfulness. Event organizers and DMs posting these details within the game's registration help players be more confident they are signing up for games they want to play. Knowing in advance gives them more time to discuss how they'd be most comfortable exploring these themes with the party.
Leading up to and on the game-day, give opportunities to talk about listed content warnings and any more the DM noticed during prep. As a group and privately, players and DMs can express what they want in the game and how to prevent situations that might take away from the fun. This is the moment to suggest any adjustments, make group agreements, and plan safety measures to prevent and prepare for worst-case scenarios.
With a few exceptions, these adventures run approximately 3 hours and are often heavier in roleplay than combat. This can make it easier for event organizers to plan timeslots that include discussion time. If online communication is available before the game, a minimum of 15 minutes of pre-game discussion at the table may work. Otherwise, 30 minutes or more may be ideal for sharing information and inviting group discussion.
DMs are empowered to adjust if it doesn't change major details of the story. For example (without spoilers), if an adventure includes an unwanted gruesomely detailed description of a dead NPC, the DM may choose to reduce, omit, or replace those details. They may reduce the description of wounds and viscera to a more general, "You find a dragonborn clawed to death by a large creature." If specifics about their injuries aren't needed to move forward, the DM may omit them, "You find a dead dragonborn." Or they may further the scene by replacing the dead dragonborn with a note, translating to "Beware The Claw." Players in this example can also adjust how they describe gore and violence.
A single table or larger event can benefit from discussing and coming to an agreement on behaviors. "Don't be a jerk," and similar mottos aren't specific enough for shared understanding. Outline behaviors you do and don't want, confidential reporting, and possible consequences. The "Creating a Code of Conduct" article can provide more help.
People in our TTRPG community kindly create, test, share, and update safety measures that can be useful in our games. Most are compiled in the TTRPG Safety Toolkit by Kienna Shaw and Lauren Bryant-Monk. Roll20 recently added a three-card safety deck. And Fantasy Grounds contributors like Halt and MatteKure made safety tool extensions available for download. Choose what safety tools best fit your group's needs.
Join the game because you want everyone to have fun. Share the spotlight with each person and care about their comfort. Openly and calmly listen to others' experiences even if you've not had them yourself or if you're the one that made their experience a negative one. None of us can make improvements without awareness of the problem. Consider requests for improvement and make sure it won't risk the welcomeness and safety of others.
Sometimes the best solution may have a significant impact on the game. If someone is more comfortable leaving the game, help them find what they need; don't guilt-trip or retaliate. In other situations, you may stop playing for the day or choose a different adventure. And for the safety and respect of the table, there will be times when the most suitable decision is to prohibit a person from returning.
The above are valuable skills to practice with social and cooperative games like D&D. Learning to be a more welcoming organizer, DM, player, and all-around more respectful person is a life-long pursuit. Regularly question and learn how to make yourself, your table, and your event more friendly, particularly to those who are commonly made unsafe in our societies.
Ravenloft: Mist Hunters requires players to level their characters up or down to fit the level requirements of an adventure. If, for example, a player with a 4th level character skips one adventure for content concerns and wants to play a 6th-level adventure, they may bring their character up to 6th level for that adventure. That player is not excluded from the rest of the storyline for opting out of one adventure. Expect to receive more details on these level adjustments soon.
Abuse of power often involves someone controlling, taking power away from others. When portraying a character whose power has been taken away by another, narrate their active role in protecting themselves, fighting back (not always physically), and getting help. A character with the highest passive Insight might notice even the most subtle or quiet rebellion.
The characters have opportunities to give much-wanted help to NPCs. And from time to time, characters need help too. Your narration of this assistance can be more dynamic and empowering if the final act of taking their control back is left to the affected character. For example, "Your chants rise, causing the possessing ghost to twist and squirm inside the goblin. With the help of your spell and all their effort, the goblin slowly pulls at the undead intruder and flings them to the ground with a sickening, inert splat."
Some language blames the victim like, "they were in the wrong place at the wrong time." But nothing a harmed character does justifies a Darklords' abuse of power. Instead, use language that holds the correct event or person responsible. Use the responsible party's name and be specific about what they did. If you can't name the perpetrator because of spoilers, you can still show accountability. For example, rather than only focusing on the victim, "They are being stalked," your sentence can at least acknowledge the stalker, "Someone is stalking them."
If you can save enough time at the end of the game for discussion, the table can process events and decompress. Spotlight notable play by each person, along with areas you can improve for your next game ("Stars and Wishes" by Lu Quade and mentioned in the TTRPG Safety Toolkit).
Event organizers can plan a minimum 15-minute post-game discussion, uninterrupted by new players arriving for the next game. The DM can also offer contact information for players who think of something afterward or for anything they’d rather share privately.
Mist Hunters Rewards
Players who read and use this article may add an Order of the Guardians ring and one anti-charm tonic to one of their Ravenloft: Mist Hunters characters.
DMs who run one or more Ravenloft: Mist Hunters adventures are also eligible for rewards. If the DM makes time for pre- and post-game discussions, uses a code of conduct, and implements safety tools, they may add one Order of the Guardians ring, an anti-charm tonic, and a mist hunter's magnificent cap to one of their Ravenloft: Mist Hunters characters.
Order of the Guardians Ring. This ring can deliver a dose of potion or poison under a creature’s skin. If targeting a creature, use an action to make a melee attack. On a hit, the liquid is delivered. If targeting yourself, use a reaction to deliver it into your system. This equipment cannot be sold, and the ring cannot be reloaded except by the Order.
Anti-charm tonic (potion, unique). Currently, the Order of the Guardian ring is loaded with an anti-charm tonic. When an attempt is made to charm or possess you, you may use your reaction to deliver the tonic into your system and gain advantage to your saving throw. This potion has one use, and the top-secret recipe is not known to you. This potion cannot be extracted from the ring until used.
Mist hunter's magnificent cap. This deerstalker, ear-flapped traveling cap, is worn by notable investigators. When worn, it functions as any other hat. At the investigator's whim, it transforms into a working magnifying glass and back into a cap, as needed. This common magic item cannot be sold.