As the Ravenloft: Mist Hunters series of adventures are published, we're chatting with the designers to learn more about their writing process, their experiences working in the Domains of Dread, and more! Today we hear from Alan Patrick. He is the designer of the fifth adventure in the Mist Hunters series, RMH-04 The Amber Secret.
Can you share a brief synopsis of the adventure in your own words?
This picks up immediately upon the conclusion of the prior adventure, and works best when played in immediate sequence (including via rules; ie: no rest between them). I'll attempt to provide a spoiler-free synopsis as best I can!
The characters have found their mark, but as the haunting strains of their efforts, and of those that they pursue, tickle their ears, they find that not everything is as it seems. The dead rise, some still clinging to the fading echoes of their lives now gone so far away. Delving into the darkly enchanted landscape that now surrounds them, the characters must determine fact from fiction, chorus from verse, and find that which has been locked away in the festering nugget of truth that lies at the center of all lies.
What does your writing process look like?
My process is... well, it's a thing. I mean, everyone's got their own method and I really hope that people find mine interesting but don't look at it like a how-to.
I like to do "scene work". Often I'll envision a scene that I'll scribble down; sometimes this scene is related to my current project but often it's more of a singular encounter that is setting-agnostic. I keep these individual scenes that are brainstormed outside of an ongoing project in a "notes" form and will sometimes drop them in later projects but to be frank, most never make it that far. When it comes to working on an ongoing project, I envision it as a series of scenes rather than a technical document or really even an overall narrative piece. I apply the narrative's tone and themes to individual scenes so that they can be properly informed, but I like to examine my playing field of D&D LEGOs for a while before I really get to work on assembling the rough draft of a product. I also like to include some ellipses, just because I know how much Travis Woodall loves them.
Really, I suppose this means that I work more with pudding than bricks and mortar (as it were), but ultimately I actually DO enjoy this type of chaos. It's more than once resulted in a small project spawning 2-3 additional-but-unrelated small projects!
Did any media influence your Mist Hunters adventure?
I fondly recall my time with the second Ravenloft PC game from many, many years ago where the characters are transported to Har'akir. This did influence me in a small way, sure; those that aren't familiar with it... well, just know that it hasn't aged well so I really only touched on slight shades of what it was. In a weird way, I also used a bit of influence from Judge (an oddball but narratively compelling anime from 1991) and Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol". I mean, this is no holiday tale but "effects of our actions" can really be applied here. All-in-all, these things are mixed together into a slurry of sensation and raw material, which is then worked into a writer's lather and slopped around by my and my keyboard.
Is there anything you'd include in a "director's cut" of this adventure, or anything that didn't make it past editing?
(this is hard without providing spoilers!)
I think that in a development space where time isn't a concern, each of the "mini scenes" would be fuller 1-2 hour experiences. There's potentially a lot to unpack in each one, and something that I originally wanted to include was a reference to a patiently waiting horde of zombies just outside the space where these all take place.
What Domain of Dread (from Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft or imagined) would you like most to visit?
There are a couple Domains of Dread that I'd love to explore in some fashion:
Scaena is a very small domain - it's really just a single theater and its darklord is a terrifyingly skilled illusionist. I think it makes for a really cool "domain within a domain" type of sidequest/ sidetrek experience, or even an example of a cursed location that can be easily dropped into any existing campaign from the Realms to Dark Sun to... well, whatever. I was a theater major and while I love performing, I really do understand the raw aspects of performance - the emotional nakedness, the pressure of performing in front of an audience, the self-imposed pressure to be "the best", all that jazz.
The Loam at Dawn.
This was something that was accidentally pitched to me by a friend several years ago. I haven't done anything with it, so if someone reads this and develops it, well, happy days and I hope it brings great joyous terror to your players! The Loam at Dawn is a retail establishment that is perpetually stuck in the hellscape that is known to us in the United States as Black Friday. The employees are permanent residents, and the unending waves of mindless thralls scour the interior of the facility in search of "the one true deal". Who controls the thralls? What deal are they seeking? Why is that when a character succumbs to the mind-breaking awfulness they arise as another one of the mindless thralls? This would all, of course, be scoped to be more "D&D" and less "real world", but the basic capitalist themes and tones would be applied in force.
I wanted to do something with Cyre 1313 and got as far as finding art to match up with some of my scenework, but ultimately I just ran out of steam (hah!) for the project. Maybe someday I'll go back to it, but who knows what the future holds.