Monday, 8 October 2012

Ravenloft Props

The Expedition to Castle Ravenloft campaign I ran over two years ago was one of the first games I took time to craft props for. I like handouts and props in RPGs, they give you tactile immersion into the game that is hard to match with good oral description, background music, and/or images. They are in fact one of the things that really like about Call of Cthulhu, as so many of the scenarios are rife with player handouts. I wanted to bring that feeling into my Ravenloft game, so I made out a few handouts, with plans for a few more grander ones that I may create some day.

Letter from Barovia (closed)
Letter from Barovia (closed)
The very first handout I made was the letter (also the hook) that the PC's receive at the beginning of the adventure. I typed it up on an appropriate font and printed on a handmade printer-friendly paper, and created the purposefully indistinct seal by placing a large coin medallion underneath the letter and rubbing some charcoal over it. I then folded it up using a fern letterfold, then sealed it with sealing wax.

I originally wanted to handwrite the letter, but I also wanted it to be legible and look uniform as my handwriting was rather poor at the time (but I have been practising), so I went with a typed up version:

Letter from Barovia (open)
Letter from Barovia (open)

I wanted the player's/PC's to have a map of Barovia so that was next handout I fashioned. I took the map image from the book, photoshopped out the 'secret locations', and printed it lightly on the same paper. I then aged it a bit by crumpling and distressing it, tearing off the edges, rubbing with tea, and drying it in the oven. I then rolled it and tied it up with twine. I wasn't then nor am I now really happy with how it turned out, as the image I had available was of a small size and resolution, so on closer inspection you can notice a degree of pixelation from having to resize it larger. Also it printed lighter than I hoped, leaving the map a little too faded and lacking contrast. I decided it's not worth bothering posting an image of.

The next handout I really enjoyed making, though I'm not a 100% happy with the result. But I learned a thing or two for next time. After investigating a local church and dealing with what they uncover, the PC's find a fragment from the Liber Blaspheme, a terrible manuscript that the corrupted priest used in a attempt to revive his dead son. The result was the creation of an undead horror known as a Blaspheme, which the PC's had to deal with.

Liber Blaspheme fragment front
Liber Blaspheme page 69

As the fragment is not detailed much beyond the mechanical requirements for crafting a Blaspheme, I had the opportunity to add my own lore. I decided on and typed up the specific required materials/alchemical apparatus (which was simply provided in the book as 15,000 gp worth), the special reagent, and the required spells. After that I searched the web for a suitable Gray's Anatomy-esque image of a skull or jaw, and I blacked out the teeth (a bit too much though).

Liber Blaspheme fragment reverse
Liber Blaspheme page 70

On the reverse I outlined the gruesome process of creation that takes a week. I ended it with the chant 'My Blood, My Blaspheme' in an Infernal script (in a cthulhu mythos font I found). After printing I aged the paper the usual methods, but I made the mistake of splattering it with store-bought fake blood, which dried quite bright and didn't look natural. I also wrote the name of the priest's son on it in blood, using a mixture of sepia ink that dried the appropriate colour. Alas, both kinds of fake blood clash now. Oh well, live and learn.

I used full tarot deck for the scene of Madam Eva's reading of The Fortunes of Ravenloft. The book also suggests how to use regular playing cards or a Three-Dragon Ante deck, both which I had access to; the tarot deck seemed much more thematic. Initially, I was fortunate to come across a used copy of the AD&D 2E Ravenloft: Forbidden Lore boxed set, which contains a full Tarokka deck (the Ravenloft version of tarot). Alas, to might great dismay, when I opened the box I discovered whomever got rid of it kept the Tarroka deck (also the Dikesha Dice). I would have liked to incorporate those two accessories into my game.

The game ended before I had time to begin working on my most ambitious prop: The Tome of Strahd. The book that the PC's find is so old, damaged, and filled with small, cramped handwriting that much of it is entirely illegible, apart from the last page. I was intending that after the PC's find the worn tome and the nearby page, they would have the option to restore the book to a legible state via a Mending or Make Whole spell. The restored tome would be a copy of I, Strahd: The Memoirs of a Vampire by P. N. Elrod in hardcover that I own, with the final page written and printed to size to fit in the book's epilogue. Thus any of the players that wish to do so have the option of learning more about Strahd's history by reading an actual physical written account!
I, Strahd: The Memoirs of a Vampire by P. N. Elrod

Of course I also wanted them to have a decrepit copy to handle before restoring it. So my plan would require two hardback copies of I, Strahd; (which a local used bookstore has several): one in good condition, one in poor condition. The good copy would just be the linen hardcover book sans the dust jacket with select pages removed, anything not related to the story itself like publishing information or About the Author. If I was feeling really ambitious I also might've painted something on the cover and/or spine.

Now for the poor condition copy I had read some tutorials online on how to age/dirty whole books. I have since lost the bookmarks for those and would have to track them down again, but I do recall one method in particular: You essentially bury the book in the ground and leave it there for sometime, watering the area frequently. This method/result might be a bit too dirty, but it sounds effective for rending the book illegible. Plus the tome smelling of (grave)dirt would be awesome!

Cheers! ;{١