I'd been itching to run a Halloween one-shot for a while, and when some of the players in Ebbs' Tuesday night game showed some interest in Ravenloft, I couldn't pass up the chance.
The thing is, though, we threw down some game on Saturday with a few twists. First off, we used 4e, rather than 3.5e, as Ravenloft was designed for. I was rather surprised to see that the system didn't really matter for us--the horror remained, even in a system that's a lot more player-friendly in that respect.
We also experimented with some new WotC rules--particularly the Artificer and the Barbarian, which are both available on their site as playtest builds. Nick played a warforged barbarian, while Dan took up the mantle of the artificer. The consensus on both was really positive: the artificer kept the party on its feet with temporary hit points, while using artifice and constructs to set up flanks and attacking enemies. The barbarian seemed a touch strong, as it was built around charging, but felt properly Conan-esque, dealing out massive damage with a greataxe.
Our scenario? A classic horror staple--the haunted asylum. So, as a treat to you, I present the true story of Birchcroft Sanitarium for the Mentally Deranged:
The real Birchcroft Sanitarium for the Mentally Deranged was found on the Prime Material, near the city of Port-a-Lucine. Its original director, Marcus Birchcroft IV, was a nobleman, who saw much of his family fall to the perils of mental illness. Hoping to help them, Birchcroft used his family’s considerable wealth to aid them as they fought off what modern psychologists would call Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, and other severe psychotic episodes.
Marcus was lucky, in many ways, as he was spared the horrors of the afflictions that so ravaged the rest of his family. His wealth was able to attract some of the greatest psychoanalytic minds from across the world, including two such doctors: Dr. Gregor Illhousen—a 53 year old doctor of Psychiatric Medicine from Nedragaard, and Dr. Roderick Wellsby, a 40 year old doctor of Neurological Surgery.
Serving as Chief Financial Officer and Chairman of the Board, Marcus’s decision-making was incredibly sound, as he let the doctors create their own administration, with his own board overseeing their actions. The doctoral board was elected by the entire medicinal staff, and often chose Dr. Illhousen as their leader, as he was progressive leader, eager to try new “therapeutic” treatments, coupled with low-doses of psychotropics and sedatives. Under his administration, the Sanitarium propered, as he got along particularly well with Marcus.
Wellsby, however, chafed at this sorely. He viewed himself as the equal of Illhousen, as his treatments were just as effective as Illhousens. However, as Wellsby often received the ‘terminal’ cases, upon whom he was able to experiment. Wellsby’s most infamous experiments dealt with a trephination along the top of the brain stem, and the direct injection of heavily psychotropic drugs into the medulla oblongata. The ‘patients’ of Wellsby’s experimentation typically died, screaming.
This continued until Marcus Birchcroft died peaceably, on his 62nd birthday. Speaking with Illhousen and the senior hospital staff, he left the hospital to Illhousen, whom he viewed as a great friend. While placid on the surface, Wellsby raged. In his new position as Chief Physician, he slowly began to subvert the staff into believing that Illhousen was not a fit leader, and that another should replace him. Illhousen and Wellsby argued constantly over methods, as more and more patients received radically invasive surgical treatments.
In the end, it was Wellsby’s surgeries that proved the Sanitarium’s undoing. Hiring some thugs, he captured Illhousen on his way home, and brought him back to the sanitarium…as a patient. Keeping him awake and screaming the whole while, Wellsby induced treatment after treatment, surgery after surgery…until, at last, Illhousen broke the restraints and ran gibbering throughout the asylum. As he ran, releasing the inmates as he went, he knocked over an oil lamp into a fireplace, catching the entire facility on fire.
Everyone inside died that night, some screaming and bound, in straightjackets and manacles.
Birchcroft Sanitarium is situated on an Island of Terror, floating throughout the mists. It occasionally appears to lure others in, and re-create its mass of terror.