This is the fourth in a series of blog posts offering ideas on how a DM running Empire of the Ghouls (or another Midgard campaign) can steal things from Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft to enhance their game by adding an extra touch of horror.
Survivors of Yarosbirg
In this post I describe how to combine two cool ideas from Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft to create a flashback scene you can run during The Holy Robes of Sister Adelind, the second chapter of Empire of the Ghouls. This post contains spoilers for the campaign, so don’t read on if you’re not the DM and have yet to play this chapter!
Falkovnia, featured on p. 100 of Van Richten’s Guide, is described as a “domain besieged by the dead.” Falkovnia is overrun by a zombie apocalypse, as every new moon thousands of zombies appear through the Mists and invade its lands. These incursions culminate in a monthly siege of Lekar, its only city, and the book offers guidelines for running one of these sieges, in which the characters fight alongside the townsfolk and attempt to beat back the zombie hordes. By substituting Ghost Knights and ghouls for zombies, we can adapt this material to the undead invasion of Krakova by the Blood Kingdom’s armies.
The second piece we are going to steal from Van Richten’s Guide is in Chapter 4: Horror Adventures. As well as a lot of useful material on running good horror games, this chapter contains some handy rules for survivors on p. 198. Survivors are pregenerated characters with simple stat blocks, similar to the sidekicks we’ve seen in the Essentials Kit and Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything. Easy to run, they are perfect for players to roleplay for a special session or two in place of their regular characters. There are four types: the apprentice, disciple, sneak and squire, roughly equivalent to the wizard, cleric, rogue and fighter; survivors can only reach 3rd level.
During The Holy Robes of Sister Adelind, the characters visit the ruins of Yarosbirg in search of the Spear Maidens of Hope. Yarosbirg was attacked by the undead armies early in the invasion of Krakova and subsequent razed to the ground after it fell. We’re going to add a flashback scene into the adventure to allow the players to experience this traumatic event firsthand.
I’d recommend running this scene when the characters spend their first night in Yarosbirg – after defeating the ruins’ current inhabitants, but before the Spear Maidens arrive. When the characters fall asleep, they share the same vivid dream of the doom of Yarosbirg.
Give each player a survivor to play. You can go for a mix of types, but disciples and squires are most appropriate. I’d suggest bumping them up to 2nd or 3rd level so they last a bit longer, and also so the players get to use fun survivor talents like Adrenaline Surge and Desperate Scream. These temporary PCs are defenders atop the walls and towers of Yarosbirg as the castle comes under nighttime attack from the undead hordes.
The characters will face Ghost Knight conscripts (guards), bloodthirsty warrior-priests of Mavros (cultists), and hideous ghouls in waves as they fight furiously on the ramparts alongside the Spear Maidens of Sif. You can use the Zombie Siege Encounters table and other suggestions in the Siege of Lekar section on p. 104 of Van Richten’s Guide to help you run the assault. Run as many short encounters as you like, with friendly priests of Sif on hand to provide healing in between each wave of attackers. Don’t be afraid to kill one or two characters – only the toughest (or luckiest) survivors will actually live to tell the tale.
As the battle wears on, the tide begins to turn in favour of the undead armies when Ghost Knight templars on incorporeal horses phase through the castle walls. Let the players witness one courageous Spear Maiden – Sister Adelind – stand firm as the vampire lord Otmar the Sallow bears down on her. She stabs him through the heart with her radiant spear, reducing him to dust, and the weary defenders of Yarosbirg cheer!
Seeing Adelind’s bravery spurs on the characters – give them all inspiration – but hope is short-lived. A pack of ghouls quickly surrounds Sister Adelind and pulls her to the ground. As the foul undead devour her, the characters must face an undead ghost knight (see Tome of Beasts) on a warhorse skeleton and his soldiers (veterans) in a deadly climactic battle. Perhaps one of his men is Aurel Taranu, the future Darklord of Korbozia?
Even if the characters survive this encounter, the battle and Yarosbirg are lost, but maybe one of the survivors has the opportunity to grab a scrap from Sister Adelind’s bright blue robe before fleeing into the night? Whatever happens, Adelind’s bravery will not be forgotten.
When you’re ready, draw the flashback scene to a close and have the regular characters wake up from their dream. Witnessing the events at Yarosbirg and Sister Adelind’s martyrdom should hopefully make obtaining the Holy Robes more meaningful to the players.
I hope you’re enjoying reading this series as much as I am writing it. There’s at least one more post to come. Comments and suggestions appreciated!
Main image by Craig J Spearing