With the wrap up of published Ravenloft: Mist Hunters series of adventures, we're chatting with our final designers to learn more about their writing process, their experiences working in the Domains of Dread, and more! Today we have the privilege of hearing from Jeremy Forbing and Ginny Loveday. They are the designer of the final epic in the Mist Hunters series, RMH-EP-02 A Darklord's Denouement.
Can you share a brief synopsis of the adventure in your own words?
After the exploration of Castle Avernus (in RMH-12 Beneath the New Star), Alanik Ray has finally identified the true threat his agents have pursued across the Domains of Dread. If this hidden mastermind's schemes come to fruition, they will destroy all of Darkon and every innocent soul in it. So Alanik and his allies call together an unprecedented gathering of Ravenloft's greatest heroes and marshal them to invade the King's Tear, the artificial star that hangs over Darkon. Investigators who make it into the star must traverse a crystalline labyrinth containing various mirror dimensions, dreamlike realities drawn from the mind of their revealed foe and his sleeping prisoners. Aided by an unlikely ally, they must confront some of their wildest fears and the mysteries of the infamous device known only as the Apparatus. In a race against time, they fight to prevent certain doom, but can they prevail?
What does your writing process look like?
For me, I start off with the outline Travis provides and then work from the beginning and end of the story towards the middle, filling in details to bring the story to life. For this particular project, I was working with an amazing co-author and we spent a LOT of time on calls just talking through various ideas for the mirror dimensions, how we could tie them back into the existing storyline and lore to really make this the EPIC finale that the Mist Hunters campaign deserves. We each took a stab at writing three of the six mirror dimensions that we ended up with, going through numerous iterations before settling on the ones that ended up in the final version. We thought that these really tied back into the backstory for the villain and helped showcase some of their own fears, which in turn helped add context to the mystery of how and WHY things have ended up this way, with the team in Darkon fighting to save an entire demiplane. Going back to the writing itself, Jeremy and I would send little tidbits of lore back and forth to help flesh out certain elements that we wanted to showcase. Similarly, we toyed with numerous iterations for various interactive elements to help get the teams invested in the story and to help give it the feel of something much larger than a normal quest happening. It's not every day that a demiplane is in danger of being destroyed after all! Writing an Epic adventure is particularly challenging since you have to take the usual hurdles of not being able to predict what any table of players will do and then multiply that manyfold. We threw a lot of ideas at the wall to see what would stick, some things were overly complicated for epic administrators and some things just didn't really add to the story in the manner that we hoped, so those all landed on the cutting room floor. Working within the confines of organized play also presents a pretty controlled format, so we ended up trimming a lot to stick to a reasonable page count so that DMs didn't have to spend countless hours reading before they could present a fun experience. In the end, I'm pretty happy with what we put together and hope that you all enjoyed it too!
Since this is my first time writing directly for AL, I was blessed to partner with a seasoned veteran like Ginny, especially when writing an Epic. I love Epics, but I've only ever done them as a player, never as a DM or admin, whereas she is an absolute expert on them from every angle. I came at this as a longtime Ravenloft fan who's spent years immersed in the lore, and my enthusiasm led me to try throwing in a lot of extra setting info and backstory, but my co-author's perspective reminded me that overwriting those elements makes things harder for someone trying to run the adventure. I had to cut a lot of words from my initial drafts! A part of our writing process that we had in common is that we both prefer to work from a clear outline, and in this case, we had a very strong one provided to us. Since our adventure concludes the whole Mist Hunters storyline, Travis Woodall already had a detailed framework for the beginning and the end, so building those parts out was just putting the flesh on a very sturdy skeleton. Most of the creative labor for Ginny and I was crafting the mirror dimensions that comprise most of the action. We did some long video calls defining those, making sure they shared certain themes but were distinct from each other, and that each one also represented some kind of dream, twisted memory, idea, or nightmare tied to our main villain. She and I both like to do a lot of research, and we happened to be writing about a classic Darklord who had been defined across many adventures, sourcebooks, and novels over the years, so we knew exactly who this person was right off the bat. So our research allowed us to root the entire story in their history, psychology, and motivations, and also guided us on things like how to portray the Apparatus. I also made sure each mirror dimension was set in a different, specific location in Darkon. Since the characters are called to save this vast, well-populated domain that has such a variety of regions, I wanted them to see as much of it as possible. That way they'd have a real sense of what they were fighting for. Being given the chance to answer some of the biggest questions raised in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft-- such as revealing the true nature and purpose of the King's Tear-- was a huge privilege, and I felt a lot of pressure to do this right.
Did any media influence your Mist Hunters adventure?
Absolutely! Not only did we take care to draw upon previous editions' lore from Ravenloft, but being able to put our creativity into the mirror dimensions allowed Jeremy and I to delve into a lot of other media influences. Some that stand out to me were Inception, Waking Life, and Oblivion, but I don't want to spoil what we pulled from each of those since you should be able to sort it out as you explore the mirror dimensions yourself!
I think a lot of it was just stuff we absorbed from the broader pop culture landscape, because there's so much film and TV now that deals with the idea of navigating someone's else mind or memories, or traversing dreamworlds. I think all the CW superhero shows do that multiple times per season! But for me, my main influence was an old D&D adventure: DL10 Dragons of Dreams, from the original Dragonlance series. I'm just a massive Dragonlance fan, it's probably the only setting I love more than Ravenloft, and while horror wasn't the main focus of the DL series, this adventure was genuinely scary. The characters had to delve through multiple layers of nightmares turned into reality, confronting alternate versions of themselves and people that they knew, never quite knowing which parts were real. It's probably the first horror adventure I ever read, and it really broadened my sense of what D&D could do. There's also one particular 30-year-old Ravenloft adventure Ginny and I both used heavily as a reference, but I think revealing which title might be a spoiler for anyone who googled it...
Is there anything you'd include in a 'director's cut' of this adventure, or anything that didn't make it past editing?
When I first came on board to write an Epic, I was imagining the giant, sprawling documents I'd read from the first couple Adventurers League seasons. But of course, AL's process has been refined since then, to produce extremely polished and well-organized final PDFs, so it's important to keep things concise. That said, I'm pretty happy with the published version.
Much like Jeremy, I’d envisioned something a bit grander on the intereactive side, akin to DDEP04 Reclamation of Phlan with teams moving around working on various aspects that affect what happens for other groups, but with most epics being run online nowadays, we wanted to make sure that it wasn’t burdensome for any of the admins to run!
While the mirror dimensions stem from the villain's dreams, they are being sustained by the minds of various sleeping prisoners. If the characters overcome and escape a mirror dimension, they can also awaken and free one of the prisoners who was dreaming it. As published, these prisoners are unnamed, but something that was cut was a list with names and descriptions of the individual prisoners. We just didn't have room for our original plan, which was that each different prisoner you freed would grant unique benefits (or even curses), and if you were playing this as a multi-table event, you could share these benefits with other tables. If we'd had room, we would've loved to include more of these interactive elements for multi-table play, and more information about the people you can rescue. Also, within the King's Tear, something rather unique happens to you if you're reduced to 0 hit points, instead of just waiting for someone to heal you, and that's another experience we would've been eager to expand on.
What Domain of Dread (from Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft or imagined) would you like most to visit?
As I mentioned, I'm a huge fan of Dragonlance, so one domain I'd love to spend time in from prior versions of Ravenloft would be Sithicus, the realm of Lord Soth, which was tied to the world of Krynn, inhabited by elves who shared the culture and beliefs of Dragonlance's Silvanesti, and even had a black moon like Nuitari! But I would also love to visit Darkon, because there's so much to see. It has a larger and more diverse population of fantasy creatures, peoples, and cultures than any other domain. I'd be especially eager to tour all of Darkon's great, atmospheric coastal port cities, such as Vradlock, which we got to describe in detail for the first time in our adventure. Perhaps I could even visit Alanik and Arthur for dinner and drinks in Martira Bay! At this point, I've spent so much time imagining Darkon that it would be worth risking all the death and danger there, just to see it come to life.
For anyone who knows me, you know that I love foxes, but coming in close behind that is my love of TRAINS! So the idea of taking a little visit to Cyre 1313, The Mourning Rail was cemented in my mind from the very first moment I heard about it. Seeing the amazing artwork from Van Richten's only added to the excitement. The passengers onboard were there for the Mourning! They might not be able to tell me what happened, and honestly, I don't think I'd want to know since that's part of the mystery of Eberron that I love, but they still have so much else that they could share about their lives and the fateful events that brought them to their final resting place aboard the lightning rail.