Shadows over Vathak

Sundays over Vathak - The Thing

Sundays over Vathak - The Thing

I feel like one of the great RPG traditions is the Halloween horror one-shot. Sometimes that's Ravenloft, sometimes it's a Vathak one-shot, sometimes you're terrorized by clowns, and sometimes it's one big call-back to your favorite horror movie.

But converting movies, novels, and other media is always a tricky prospect for a roleplaying game. Even if you give characters a freer hand than a scriptwriter would, not all plots are at their best in a roleplaying setting.

Which brings us to tonight's movie, released 35 years ago:

Before we get to the challenges, there's obviously a lot about The Thing that can work well. It presents a focused environment with a lot of NPC interaction. Characters with different skills all have chances to shine. There are enough action scenes and they're all unique. The stakes are high but understandable. And, of course, the monster preys on primal fears.

So, that's all great and several great adventures have been built from those inspirations. But can we play out the paranoia that made The Thing so famous around the kitchen table?

While games like Werewolf and Shadows over Camelot have proven having a player as the traitor can be effective, it's very much against the usual social contract of gaming and requires a lot of buy-in. If you have a group that's into it, that can make for a great one-shot, especially with secret rolls. Even if everyone can hear the GM's answers, they know who the traitor is and can tweak the answers appropriately.

But there are also less adversarial ways to play through that. A scenario like The Thing lends itself to small group play (or even a single player). If you're missing a couple of people for game night, you can make that into a strength.

Monsters like the insidious riven from the Silver Tower can take over entire communities, but for the full Thing experience I'd probably go for a disease in Ina'oth. Ghoul fever is already there, but a gut-churning custom multi-stage disease seems like the best bet.

Speaking of body horror, one more way The Thing can scurry its way into your games is by including even more body horror. You might, very rightfully, say "it's The Thing! Not enough body horror?"

But part of body horror is not knowing or trusting yourself. If none of the players know who the traitor (or disease vector or what-have-you) is, that levels the information back out as well and lets everyone talk freely at the table.

The trickiest part with that is to not force horror-movie logic onto the players. If one PC is a Thing or a werewolf or the like, let it play out with the rules you've established. Think about what happens when they figure it out on your first clue and lock up the Thing... and what happens if they miss all the clues.

My suggestion is not to start with a PC as the first infected, which brings us back to the introduction of The Thing and the climax. Even without the paranoia we're talking about evoking, even if that thread is tied up neatly by the players' ingenuity, there's still a threat for the PCs to face. And that's one last good, probably accidental, takeaway from The Thing.

Cheers!

Landon Winkler, Shadows over Vathak Line Developer

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Sundays over Vathak - The Silver Tower

Sundays over Vathak - The Silver Tower

One of the strangest sites in the Colonies, indeed in all of Vathak, is the Silver Tower. Forged or grown from an unknown metal, the tower has countless portals that ensnare the unwary from other times and places, trapping them in Vathak.

Now, we have a guide to three of its strangest species. In addition to their oddity, these creatures were chosen because they threaten to spread beyond the tower's walls and into Vathak.

Some groups will face off with cultists seeking the wisdom of the zworoam, others will deal with noble courts infiltrated by the riven, and an unlucky few will become trophies of the skrianix. But the Silver Tower is not silent and we only wish it were empty.

Cheers!

Landon Winkler, Shadows over Vathak Line Developer

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Sundays over Vathak - Grigoria

Sundays over Vathak - Grigoria

In a lot of ways, Grigoria is the heart of Vathak. Grigoria certainly thinks of itself that way and there's certainly some evidence in their favor.

Moorhaven and Sileasia bend knee to King and Church. Khrota is deeply contested with Grigoria on one side of that conflict. Not even the Colonies and Ina'oth can ignore Grigoria.

But what's it like living in Grigoria? Do King and König keep the terrors of Vathak at bay?

Player's Guide to Vathak

But the residents of Vathak would never be that lucky. The cults of the Old Ones and banal corruption alike rot at the heart of Grigoria, leaving a ground ripe for stories of Cosmic and Gothic horror with a very human spin.

And that's one of the defining aspects of Grigoria. Villains stand shoulder-to-shoulder with heroes, both ultimately human and flawed, both unsure who they can trust. The greatest threats to Grigoria, perhaps even the greatest in Vathak, are entirely internal.

Although that can mean intrigue and Gothic horror against the backdrop of vast cathedrals, Grigoria is as much a land of science as religion. The Wretched are only the most human of the horrors hatched in the crown's laboratories. Callous experiments can be nudged along by the influence of the Old Ones or driven by the human folly that lead to the Great Cleansing. And the war machine never sleeps, needing ever more people and weapons and technology to fight a battle that may ultimately be hopeless.

Something is very wrong in Grigoria and the Old Ones hardly need to nudge the scale, which may be the worst part of all.

See you next week,
Landon Winkler, Shadows over Vathak Line Developer

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Sundays over Vathak - Moorhaven

Sundays over Vathak - Moorhaven

Grigoria's closest ally, the nation of Moorhaven is deeply mired in the war with the Old Ones and shackled by its own police state. Few dare speak against Lady Moorhaven, particularly with the Old Ones knocking at their door.

Nations like this always pose an interesting question, a fun one to ask (and perhaps even answer) in games: when faced with a completely inhuman and existential threat, what line is still too far? Locked in battle against the Spawn of the Old Ones, how bad would Moorhaven's government have to get before a rebellion is worth it?

Even underneath that control, you have cities like Zanderburg: technically diverse but only due to the horrors of the slave trade. Much like the Colonies, anyone could show up there and new players have excuses for not knowing the ropes, but you also have the horrors of slavery on top of those represented by Moorhaven's government and the Old Ones themselves.

Player's Guide to Vathak

Moorhaven stands astride the themes of cosmic and gothic horror, the dual faces of the external and internal threats against humanity. But I think it's also a great place to play with psychological horror, with the control of Lady Moorhaven giving the opportunity for shades of The Prisoner.

Although perhaps not so under siege as Khrota, Moorhaven is another front for the Old Ones' war. With the leadership of the nation withdrawing to the Citadel, it could be that the Old Ones are winning... or the leaders have something to hide... or they are paralyzed by their own fear.

With the constant influx of support from Grigoria and the influence of the Old Ones, the cities of Khrota are a great place for open war between the inquisition and the cults they hunt. Although either side can form a fascinating campaign, perhaps the most challenging is the path of PCs that choose the middle, defending the people against threats on both sides.

See you next week,

Landon Winkler, Shadows over Vathak Line Developer

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Sundays over Vathak - Sileasia

Sundays over Vathak - Sileasia

Vathak is a land deeply tied to its history, but nowhere is that more apparent than Sileasia. Originally the home of the romni and their Vampire Lords, the romni were first liberated then betrayed by the vindari colonists.

Now, Sileasia is a country of crumbling castles, hidden vampires, vindari inquisitors, and homeless romni. It's a land perfect for Gothic horror, with physical ruins mirroring Sileasia's corruptions from its past under the Vampire Lords to its present under vindari rule.

Unlike Khrota or Ina'oth, Sileasia holds back on Vathak's cosmic and survival horror. There are hints, of course, but the horrors of Sileasia are more personal and more human.

Player's Guide to Vathak

Sileasia is a nice place to set a game that's not immediately threatened, where PCs can travel in a caravan or settle in a town because they like it and not because it's otherwise too dangerous to survive. This doesn't prevent it from being horrifying, just lends itself to a different sort of horror. Corrupt officials, vindari inquisitors, cults seeking to restore the Vampire Lords, ancient hags, romni extremists, slashers, and more can take their moment on stage.

Which is another important part of where to set a campaign, to me. You always want to choose somewhere that, even if it appears peaceful at the surface, has enough problems that you can throw some variety at the players. And Sileasia definitely has its array of problems... they're just not going to eat the PCs faces the moment they step out the door.

Sileasia is a great place to bring in horror when you want. The campaign could just as easily be about being wandering merchants or overthrowing vindari rule. And the elements of horror can lurk in the background until the players think they're safe, getting the slow build-up that is so central to Gothic horror.

Come back next week for another country where players might think they're safe, but they're really anything but.

Cheers!
Landon Winkler, Shadows over Vathak Line Developer

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