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Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Careless Whispers

For my Curse of Strahd run, I'm recording terrible things to whisper to each of the characters based on their chosen backgrounds, flaws, etc.

Maybe they will come up during a fortune reading; maybe whispered by a fragment of a barely remembered god from beyond time and space; maybe it appears on a slip of paper pinned to a tree by a dagger.

What I wish I knew how to do easily is formulate terrible, Dread- or Apocalypse World-style leading questions.

Other thoughts:

There is a problematic element identified in the "Curse of Strahd" adventure: "mongrelfolk." I'm opting to rename them as "broken ones", but there are elements of their existence in the setting which I am finding hard to reframe.

The broken ones, in Ravenloft, are specifically one degenerate family, the Belviews: a degenerate community of lepers and worse (echoes of Dunwich, Lovecraft country) who lucked out when an angel visiting the land decided to cure them of all diseases. Unfortunately, this didn't fix the consequences of generations of inbreeding, and when the angel set about to try and fix that, too, the Belviews said they wanted animal traits, so they could be better than normal people. The angel, in his pity, indulged their request, and began conducting horrendous magical experiments which ultimately jumbled the Belviews into random assortments of beast traits.

These first-generation broken ones can theoretically be restored magically to their original (albeit inbred) human forms. However, the setting indicates that they also breed true somehow, and later-generation broken ones essentially can't be restored to any semblance of normality.

The setting depicts them all as being more or less infirm of mind, so the angel has locked most of them up, Bedlam-style, where they are mistreated by the few functional broken ones entrusted with their care.

What the setting doesn't seem to do is have any sort of salvation for the Belviews.

It also doesn't establish whether or not the Belviews fall under the "souls v. shells" proviso (by which 9 out of 10 humans in the setting are mirthless, irritable shells of people with no souls, who cannot sustain a vampire's thirst and are immediately detectable as such by vampires - also, death is no escape, as no souls can leave Ravenloft, and are instead reincarnated after a few decades).

So... are the Belviews a colony of mostly shells?

Are there any with actual souls, and if so, are the merely functional, or do they have the capacity for grace?

Are they what happens when a community just keeps begetting shells and shells, with no soul-bearing progeny?

Some thoughts on redeeming this element of the setting:

Is it at all possible that the corrupt angel's ministrations are bringing new souls into Ravenloft when these broken ones have children? Could they be a new vector of souls that can get slotted into the pool of reincarnated souls which cannot escape? This may be good for vampires in the setting, but is it drawing these souls from somewhere else? Would that absence be felt, and would something start investigating?

Can the broken ones be reviled for their appearance, but instead of being all infirm of mind and incapable of living in society, could they instead be useful or industrious in some way? Waiting for someone to disrupt the cycle of revulsion and help integrate them anew into Barovian society?

Part of the setting is that the angel's continued failures with the Belview family has ultimately corrupted him, so making the Belviews redeemable feels like it would take away from that element: that Ravenloft is so bad, and Strahd so manipulative, that even an angel gets its wings soiled and drawn into the swamp

Should there be/can there be any hope for the broken ones? I can do what I can to remove the racist baggage that "mongrel" brings, but the broken ones are still an isolated community of inbred degenerates (like other fiction would set in the American Appalachians) which are essentially irredeemable and anathema to civilization, even with magical help.

Maybe a sacrifice is in order... maybe if the angel can be convinced to sacrifice itself for the Belviews, it can end its suffering, and bestow the Belviews with a better chance of integrating into society?

During a discussion on Google Plus, a friend suggested that we break up the continuous slog of bleakness by making the broken ones more or less "pure" souls, relatively untainted by the curse of Ravenloft, and to make the Abbey-cum-sanitarium a legitimately comforting (albeit alien) place where the weakest of the Belviews are fostered by the Angel. I would need to work to weave that back in with the established corruption of the angel's nature and its tragic attempts to redeem the land by finding a way to placate Strahd's terrible and cursed obsession with Tatyana.

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