This is part of a continuing series. For part one, click here. For part two, click here. For part three, click here. And for part four, click here.
While the previous posts in this series have mainly been concerned with showing how to adapt Lamentations of the Flame Princess' various character classes to Castlevania-appropriate archetypes, this post will handle the setting of Transylvania itself. And while I dipped into Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse and Symphony of the Night to build a D&D style adventuring party with, neither game really offers much in the way of setting material outside the castle.
For that, I'm going to go back a little farther into the franchise's history, to the much-maligned proto-Metroidvania, Castlevania II: Simon's Quest.
Please, hold all torches and pitchforks until the end.
Just a brief side note: If I really were to run a Castlevania-themed campaign for a group of PC's, I'd probably lean heavily on Simon's Quest to do it with. While the 8-bit NES wasn't quite up to the developers' ambitions, the game has some good bones to build off of.
I would probably have the players roll up original characters, with at least one being the next heir to the Belmont line. I'd have the game take place a few years after one of the "major" Dracula battles outlined in the main series, and have the Belmont player character's relative be suffering from the same curse Simon did: The wounds taken in his battle against Dracula are not healing. He is slowly dying. As his condition worsens, he has visions of becoming a creature of the night. A fortune-teller reveals the truth. If he dies before the next full moon, he will become a vessel for Dracula to be re-born, stronger than ever. The only way to lift the curse is to bring Dracula's spirit back into its previous body. But Dracula's minions have scattered his remains, to ensure that his curse will run its course.
Honestly, the only major difference in the set-up would be that the "cursed" Belmont wouldn't be accompanying the PCs. I'd hole him up in the basement of a church, surrounded by garlic and crosses, with monks praying over him day and night. It would then be up to the group of relatively green and inexperienced adventurers to run a desperate race against the clock, with only minimal guidance from their mentor.
(I'd also make sure that the enemy kidnapped the cursed Belmont as the night of the full moon approached, giving the PC's one more thing to worry about. But that's just me...)
Anyway, there are a few resources I'd recommend using here. First and foremost is A Guide to Transylvania, which I mentioned back in my Alucard post. The PDF is available on DriveThruRPG for about eight bucks. The crunch inside is AD&D 2e specific, but everything else is system agnostic. This book details everything from Transylvanian history, to peasant superstitions, to secret societies. No other supplement will help you fill in the details of the Transylvanian countryside as well as this one.
The second (more expensive) resource is the current D&D 5e Curse of Strahd campaign book, which is an update and expansion of the original Ravenloft module. Why this one instead of the (many) older ones? First, it's widely available in hardcopy. And while I'm not completely in love with what I've seen of 5e's rules, you just can't deny that Wizards of the Coast puts out a high quality product these days. This thing will survive some wear and tear at the table. Second (and more importantly), it maps out and expands the land of Barovia far beyond what the older editions did.
The third (completely free) resource is the Transylvania map that appeared in the old NES Game Atlas. A high-quality scan is available here at castlevaniadungeon.net.
The simplest, easiest way to take care of mapping the Transylvania countryside is just to use the foldout map that comes with Curse of Strahd and swap out the names. For example, swap out the starting village of Jova from Simon's Quest with the Village of Barovia from Curse of Strahd. Swap out Yomi—the nearly-abandoned town just outside Castlevania—with the destroyed village of Berez.
While this won't be 100% faithful to the geography on the Castlevania map, enough of the landmarks in Simon's Quest have a rough Barovian equivalent to make it work. Below are some suggestions, with corresponding map and page references.
Castlevania Location / Barovia Location / Curse of Strahd Foldout Map Location / Curse of Strahd Page Reference
Town of Jova (Area 1) / Village of Barovia / Location E / Page 40 - 48
Town of Aljiba (Area 16) / Village of Valliki / Location N / Page 95 - 124
Yuba Lake (Area 14) / Lake Zarovich / Location L / Page 38
Town of Veros (Area 6) / Village of Krezk / Location S / Page 143 - 156
Town of Yomi (Area 48) / Ruins of Berez / Location U / Page 161 - 166
Laruba Mansion (Area 36) / Wachterhaus/ N/A (Located in Vallaki) / Page 110 - 115
Brahm Mansion (Area 21) / Argynvostholt / Location Q / Page 129 - 142
That should be enough to get the idea. That said, I'd probably also swap out some of the obviously non-European names with some real-world Transylvanian ones. Targoviste for Aljiba, for example.
One pro to this approach is that it requires relatively little prep time, especially for an inexperienced DM. Curse of Strahd has plenty of fleshed-out NPCs, side-quests, and description boxes for just about every building and room, if you decide to use them. You can use the encounters, too. Stat conversions from 5e to LotFP are simple: Just use the closest equivalent monster from the free Basic Fantasy Roleplaying Game, and add two to the creature's Armor Class. Don't sweat the other details.
Me? I probably wouldn't go that far. I'd probably just use the maps, crib or ad-lib all of the descriptions from the Transylvania Guide, and wing it with the NPCs and encounters. Similarities aside, Castlevania and Ravenloft are two different properties, with two entirely different feels to them. Relying too heavily on the published material just means you're playing Curse of Strahd. Which is okay. But it isn't Castlevania.
Which, of course, leaves open the question of Castlevania itself.
The Castle Ravenloft layout in Curse of Strahd is unchanged from the original I:6 Ravenloft module. It makes a perfectly serviceable stand-in for Dracula's Castle, provided you're taking your inspiration from the first couple of games. But if you want something closer to the sprawling, changing, living embodiment of Chaos featured in Symphony of the Night and most of the later games, you'd be better off creating your own funhouse-style Mega-dungeon. As with anything, which you choose will depend heavily on your group, their preferences, and their play style.
Before I close this installment out—and since I'm already mining Castlevania II for ideas—I'm going to give some sample stats for that game's two Boss monsters. For Carmilla, I used the Basic Fantasy Roleplaying Game version of the Vampire, with almost no modifications. For Death, I re-skinned the BFRPG Lich, added a bunch of Hit Dice, and swapped out his spell casting for a handful of specific, spell-like abilities.
If neither one seems challenging enough, both are easy enough to scale up in power. After all, when it comes to "end game" content, you're bound to have a pretty high level party. Watching them effortlessly steamroll the final bosses would be sort of anticlimactic. If that's a concern, my personal preference is to creatively choose the location for the encounter.
Instead of meeting Carmilla in her vampire lair right away, why not have the PC's encounter her at a masquerade ball, using the powers of her enchanted mask to appear as one of the living? Force them to use roleplaying and guile to maneuver her to a place they can fight her without harming innocents. What about having the PC's run into Death on the grounds of an old battlefield or cemetery? He could raise dozens of allies among the dead, forcing even the most powerful group of PCs into a pitched battle for survival.
Granted, if you're planning to use Castlevania II as your template, you could always just let the PC's walk right by them with no consequence...
(Note: the Lamentations of the Flame Princess rules assume ascending armor class and a base, unarmored AC of 12. If using these creatures with a system that has a base AC of 10, simply subtract 2.)
Armor Class: 21
Hit Dice: 9 (attack bonus +8)
No. of Attacks: 1 weapon or special
Damage: 1d8, or by weapon, or special
Movement: 40' or 60' (fly)
No. Appearing: 1 (Unique)
Save as: Lvl 9 Fighter
Treasure Type: Special
Beautiful, vain, and cruel, the aristocratic vampire Carmilla is one of Dracula's most ambitious servants. Famous for her inventive and sadistic tortures, she is best known for bathing in the blood of young women. She possesses Carmilla's Mask, a powerful, cursed artifact.
Like all vampires, Carmilla casts no shadow and no reflection. She cannot cross running water, and may not enter another's home unless invited. She cannot tolerate the strong odor of garlic, and will recoil from a mirror or from a cross presented with conviction (for more information on these weaknesses, see the Vampire, p. 124 of the Basic Fantasy Roleplaying Game).
Carmilla is immune to Sleep, Charm, and Hold spells. If unarmed, she will treat her hands like claws, raking her target for 1d8 damage. When armed, her vampiric strength gives her an additional +3 to damage when using melee weapons. Her bite (though seldom used in combat) inflicts 1d3 damage, and drains one level of energy from her target for each round she continues to feed. Feeding places her in a vulnerable position, and she suffers a -5 to her Armor Class.
Victims reduced to 0 hit points by Carmilla's feeding die, and they will rise as vampires during the next sunset. These new vampires are permanently under Carmilla's control, and always act as if under a Charm spell.
Carmilla can command common nocturnal creatures. Once per day, she can summon 10d10 rats, 5d4 giant rats, 10d10 bats, 3d6 giant bats, or 3d6 wolves. The creatures must be nearby to be summoned. Once called, they arrive in 2d6 rounds and obey her commands for 1 hour. If she chooses, Carmilla can also assume the form of a giant bat or a giant wolf at will.
In addition to the above abilities, Carmilla also shares the common vampire's Charm gaze, which her victims can save vs Spell to resist. Unlike her more common brethren, Carmilla's charm is exceptionally powerful, imposing a -3 penalty rather than the standard -2.
Carmilla cannot be harmed by non-magical weapons. Exposing her to direct sunlight for more than 1 round destroys her, and submerging her in running water causes her to lose 1/3 of her Hit Points per round for three rounds, with death occurring on the third round. Any other method of reducing her HP to 0 merely incapacitates her, causing her to fall into an apparently death-like state. But if her body is not exposed to sunlight, submerged in running water, or burned, she will begin to regenerate 1d8 hours later, at a rate of 1 hp per turn.
Carmilla's Mask (Artifact)
This artifact is a smooth, silver mask, closely resembling the kind commonly worn during masquerade balls. When the mask is placed onto a human or a dhampir, dozens of hollow, silver spikes appear in the inside, causing it to latch onto the victim's face, and inflicting 1d3 damage. Each round the victim is prevented from removing the mask, it drains 1 energy level, feeding as a vampire, until the victim is reduced to 0 Hit Points. Once dead, the victims do not rise as vampires.
If the mask is freshly fed, bloody tears will pool in the corner of its eyes, and for the next 1d12 hours it will convey several abilities on any vampire that wears it. While wearing the mask, the vampire casts both a shadow and a reflection. Garlic, holy symbols, and holy water have no effect. The vampire may enter any home with no invitation, cross running water, and even walk in the sunlight—although this last will still be uncomfortable.
Additionally, victims of the vampire's Charm gaze suffer a further -2 penalty to their saving throw.
Armor Class: 26
Hit Dice: 15 (attack bonus +10)
No. of Attacks: 1 touch, weapon.
Damage: 1d8 touch+drain, by weapon.
Movement: 30' or 60' (fly)
No. Appearing: 1 (Unique)
Save as: Lvl 15 Magic User or Cleric (use lower)
Treasure Type: Special
Death is Dracula's top lieutenant. Fiercely loyal to his master, Death will fight to protect him at all costs. Death's actual nature is unknown, although he is believed to be an evil manifestation of pure Chaos. His physical form resembles that of the classical "Grim Reaper," a skeletal body wrapped in a tattered cloak. He carries Death's Scythe, an artifact-level magical weapon.
Upon first encountering Death, all intelligent, living creatures must save vs Spell or flee in terror for 2d6 rounds. Even on subsequent encounters, Death's gaze is terrifying. All creatures that meet it must make a save vs. Spell or be paralyzed with fright for 2d4 rounds. Dhampirs, due to their half-undead nature, get a +2 bonus to this check.
Death prefers to attack with his scythe when possible. If forced to make a physical attack, his touch causes 1d8 points of damage and drains 1d4 points of Constitution, while simultaneously healing him for the equivalent amount.
The Constitution loss is permanent. It can only be healed by the casting of a Restoration spell, at a rate of 1 point per casting. If a character's Constitution score falls to 0, he or she immediately dies, and rises the following round as a lesser wight. This creature is identical to the wight described on p. 126 of the Basic Fantasy Roleplaying Game, except its attack causes 1d4 points of damage and 1 point of Constitution loss. All characters killed and transformed into wights are considered permanently dead, and cannot be Raised. They may still be Reincarnated.
Death is able to cast Speak With Dead, Animate Dead, and Raise Dead at will. And while he rarely feels the need to disguise himself, he is able to do so with the aid of Polymorph Self. Additionally, Death is always treated as having an active True Seeing spell cast on his person. For purposes of spell duration and saving throws, Death's caster level is 20.
Death is immune to all non-magical weapons. Like all skeletons, Death only takes half damage from bladed weapons, and only one point from arrows, bolts, or sling stones (plus any applicable magical bonus). Additionally, he is immune to Sleep, Charm, and Hold spells. Death cannot be turned by the cleric's Turn Undead spell.
Death cannot be permanently killed. When reduced to 0 Hit Points, Death's physical form is destroyed, and his spirit re-joins the primordial Chaos outside the world. After 1d10 months, Death will Reincarnate on the physical plane, although in a weakened form equivalent to a wraith (see Basic Fantasy Roleplaying Game, p. 127). He must then drain the equivalent life force of 2x his normal Hit Dice (a combined 30 levels) in order to regain his full strength and powers.
Death's Scythe (+3 Great Weapon)
Like Death himself, Death's Scythe is believed to be an evil manifestation of Chaos. In combat, Death's Scythe delivers 1d10 damage, with an additional +3 magical damage bonus. On any natural attack roll of 18 or better, the target must save vs Magical Device or die instantly. Any mortal being who attempts to touch the handle of Death's Scythe must make the same saving throw, but at a -4 penalty.
3 times per day, Death's Scythe can create 1d3 Phantom Sickles. These are smaller, ghostly sickles that spin out towards their intended victim. The sickles last for 1d4 rounds, continuously attacking, and causing 1d6+1 damage per successful hit.
Creatures killed with Death's Scythe may not be Raised, but they may still be Reincarnated.
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