This is the sixth and final article 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.
Ravenloft Monsters in Midgard
The last chapter of Van Richten’s Guide, Monsters of Ravenloft, begins with advice on how to restore mystery and menace to your monsters when running a horror game. There are some cool suggestions here for customising monster tactics and traits, and also building a sense of dread in your players by foreshadowing the threats they will soon be facing. In Empire of the Ghouls, having the players hear disturbing tales of the subterranean kingdom controlled by sophisticated, cannibalistic ghouls right at the start of the campaign allows the players’ own imaginations to fuel their fear long before they venture into the Ghoul Imperium. By sprinkling secrets and clues throughout your game sessions, you can both reveal useful information about the world and foreshadow upcoming dangers at the same time – such as the petrifying monsters of the Stone Galleries, the cursed hordes of walking dwarven corpses in Nordheim, the Ghul King of the Grand Necropolis, and the infamous Emperor Nicoforus the Pale and his dukes.
Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft also introduces a number of terrifying new monsters. Here are suggestions on how to fit some of these creatures into Empire of the Ghouls or another Midgard campaign.
This creature is described at the end of the section preceding the Bestiary, and is one of my favourites. The Bagman is a former adventurer who got lost in a series of extradimensional spaces after hiding from his enemies inside a bag of holding. Now a monstrous creature, he slips out of a random bag of holding each night and drags a victim back inside. Perhaps the characters hear stories of the Bagman a short while after finding the bag of holding in the Stone Galleries? You can have a lot of fun stoking your players’ paranoia! Whether the Bagman appears or not is up to you….
I have a soft spot for this Invasion of the Bodysnatchers style plant monster as it’s the 5e version of the doppelgänger plant which appears on the cover of Dungeon Magazine #38. This issue of the sadly missed magazine also contained my first ever published adventure, A Blight on the Land!
Anyway, back to Midgard…. The bodytaker plant is a creation of an unhinged group of mages from the now-vanished Empire of Caelmarath (see Warlock #1). Under the leadership of Melgrys the Etiolated they conducted a number of dangerous botanical experiments in the Gardens of Carnessa. Eventually their deadly creations turned on their masters and seized control of the peninsula.
Foolish adventurers and irresponsible herbalists sometimes travel to Carnessa to gather plant samples which they bring back home with unfortunate consequences. Maybe the characters wander into a small village populated by podlings in the Ironcrags, Dornig, or Krakovar during Chapter Two of Empire of the Ghouls? Their mildly erratic behaviour provides hints they are under the control of a bodytaker plant.
You can add one or two of these horrific animate skins to the abandoned alchemist’s laboratory in Chapter One. A boneless could slide under the door from the corridor while the characters are dealing with the gorelings and the gray ooze.
These disgusting tentacled larvae infest corpses and are found in graveyards and sewers, making them a perfect addition to Zobeck’s catacombs in Chapter One. Necromancers have also been known to deliberately animate corpses infested with these larvae, so they burst forth when least expected. A pair of zombies with carrion stalkers inside them would make a fun surprise nighttime encounter in Krakovar in Chapter Two.
In life, these headless undead warriors were wicked knights who died on the battlefield, so they fit well into Krakovar. The characters can encounter a dullahan who fought in the Order of the Storm against the invading undead armies. After the fall of Krakova, he swore allegiance to Mavros and the invaders, joining the fledgling Order of the Bloody Blade, but died in battle, beheaded by a reaver dwarf. Now, he haunts the border between Krakovar and the Wolfmark as a dullahan, searching for vengeance and his severed head.
Tormented undead that manifest at sites of execution, gallows speakers can be found at crossroads and on lonely hilltops throughout Krakovar and the Blood Kingdom. Because gallows speakers share their painful memories in combat as part of their Suffering Echoes attack, you can use an encounter with one of these undead to provide secrets and clues to your players.
Nasty cat-like creatures that react unpredictably to magic, gremishka are great for adding complications to encounters in Chapters One and Two.
These foul megalomaniacal creatures of living blood seize control of their victims by turning their own blood against them, and coerce these minions into carrying out their diabolical schemes. In Midgard, a necrichor makes a great leader for a group of Sanguine Path cultists (see Demon Cults and Secret Societies) or Red Sisters.
These vicious, undead predators thirst for blood as vampires do but lack their sophistication. The characters might encounter a nosferatu among the tombs of Siwal’s Necropolis in Chapter Four, or in the dank tunnels of the Underworld in Chapters Five and Six.
Star Spawn Emissary
Although not suitable for an Empire of the Ghouls campaign, the star spawn emissary is perfect of the Wasted West. Perhaps an emissary serves as a protector for one of the Dread Walkers or, much worse, emerges through a portal from the Void to herald the end of the Great Slumber?
Swarms of Maggots & Scarabs
The scarab swarm is ideal for recreating your favourite scenes from The Mummy (1999) as the characters explore the Catacombs of the Ghul King in Chapter 4. The maggots can appear anywhere with rotting corpses.
These nightmarish creatures make for awesome encounters on the Shadow Roads, and, judging by the illustration, could work brilliantly for horror adventures based on A Quiet Place.
You can never have too many zombies. The swarm of zombie limbs (CR 1), zombie plague spreader (CR 4), and Huge zombie clot (CR 6) can be encountered anywhere in Empire of the Ghouls.
Thanks very much for taking the time to read these articles! If you’ve enjoyed them, please do check out Parsantium: City at the Crossroads and my other game design work. If you have any questions about Empire of the Ghouls, let me know in the comments, or join the discussion on the Midgard Adventures Discord.