Rucht Lilavivat of Gothic Earth Eternal
By Lawrence “darth_kwan-doh” Grabowski
Hello everyone! This is Rucht Lilavivat. Since this interview is about the Gothic Earth Eternal project, I thought I might give people a bit of background on GEE. Gothic Earth Eternal is a modern horror game. The game is an update of the Masque of the Red Death game which came out in 1994. The original Masque of the Red Death game was a gothic horror game set in 1890’s Gothic Earth. It was a setting where Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, and Dr. Hyde all co-exist, ruled by a mysterious entity known only as the Red Death.
Gothic Earth Eternal is set in the year 2013. All of those familiar gothic characters are still roaming the earth, but are each trapped in a special hell called a domain. Meanwhile, the Red Death is at war with another powerful entity known as the Jade Horror. Both of these unknowable forces fight for dominion over the Earth while humanity remains caught in the middle. It is up to the player characters to battle the darkness that arises from both the Death and the Horror and hopefully stem the tide of an apocalyptic event some call the Eternal Night.
Gothic Earth Eternal uses the Pathfinder system at its core, but has been specifically redesigned for investigative roleplaying. There are numerous tools which help players create their favorite tropes from horror series or movies. For the game master, there are design elements of the system which help GMs craft mysteries. Best of all, the fans are helping us craft the setting, because there’s a monthly Darklord contest for this project. Each month, you can submit your own 500 word write-up for a Gothic Earth villain and it may be selected to go into the final product. We’re tremendously excited about this!
Mr. Rucht Lilavivat, tell us about yourself.
Well, I’m a school teacher by trade, but I do freelance RPG writing on the side. I got the Ravenloft writing gig back around 2000 to 2001. After that, I worked on every one of their monsters supplements. After the Ravenloft right reverted back to Wizards of the Coast, I worked for Morrigan Press for a brief time. Then, I jumped to Paradigm Concepts. While I was at Paradigm, I worked extensively on Witch Hunter: The Invisible World, which is a colonial horror game. I’m proud of my work for them and I even got nominated for an ENnie!
After working on four of their books, I had the birth of my second child so I had to seriously turn down the writing fires for a while. I did manage to get a small production out – The Savage Foes of Solomon Kane. Right now, as my family has gotten a little older and my life is a little more in balance, I’m getting back into the freelancing thing. Which, in fact, is why I got invested in the Gothic Earth Eternal project.
Also, since you asked, I’ll use this opportunity to give a shout out to my own little project – Alpha Wolf Pack. AWP is a futuristic game in which the players take the part of colonial marines on the frontiers of our own solar system and beyond. It’s going to be an independent roleplaying game released with some of my friends over at the Minions of the Monster Master Podcast. If the development of this project goes well, we hope to roll this into a kickstarter project. We just announced the project officially over at Mik’s Minis: http://miksminis.blogspot.com/ It’s not a horror game, per se, but it’s a product of which I’m already very proud.
Could you go into greater detail about your involvement with Ravenloft and more specifically, Gothic Earth Eternal?
Sometime last year, Joel from the Fraternity of Shadows website contacted me. Joel had pre-ordered a copy of Unhallowed. Unhallowed was a full and complete horror RPG I wrote for Morrigan Press but had never seen the light of day, because the company folded not long after I finished it. Anyhow, Joel wondered if I still had a draft of it lying around. Unfortunately, I only happened to have an incomplete copy of it, having changed computers multiple times over the years. Joel offered to publish part of the work in one of the FoS’s issues of Quoth the Raven, which is their own magazine of Ravenloft gaming material which is released each year.
That just didn’t seem right to me. I’d be releasing an incomplete copy of an RPG, so it really wouldn’t be the best example of my work. Also, I felt that if I released something on the Fraternity of Shadows website, it should be related to Ravenloft somehow.
So, I thought about it for a little bit and told Joel that I could do him one better – I’d deliver him a complete RPG. Basically, I told him that we should “go big”. My idea was to develop an entire RPG based on the modern horror portion of the Unhallowed game that was never published. Of course, the setting I had developed had to be chopped out entirely. My thought was, if I was going to publish something on the Fraternity of Shadows website, it would need to be something attached to the World of Ravenloft. After all, that’s what their website is dedicated to – the preservation and enduring legacy of Ravenloft in all of its forms. So, I brainstormed up the idea of Gothic Earth Eternal – a modern update of the realm of Gothic Earth.
The original Gothic Earth was the base setting for the Masque of the Red Death game released by TSR back in the ’90’s. Masque of the Red Death was a gothic horror game. On their version of 1890’s Earth, all of the gothic horror stories like Dracula, Frankenstien, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde would be assumed to be true. The player characters would be heroes and investigators trying to stop these supernatural threats.
Gothic Earth Eternal, then, was a modern update of this universe. What excited me about this was the idea of seeing some of these very potent and amazing characters like Dracula or Frankenstein’s monster brought into the modern day with computers, cell phones, etc. To me, merging these classic villains with a modern backdrop sets up interesting tensions and possibilities.
To generate buzz and to get the community involved, we came up with the idea of having a monthly Darklord contest. Each month, fans could send in Darklord ideas. Then, at the very end, in October of 2012, all of the best fan submissions would be compiled together and published with the Gothic Earth Eternal ruleset. What excited me about this would be the idea of fan submitted work which talked about all of these great Darklords in modern settings.
Much of the promotion for Gothic Earth Eternal I have seen is going through Fraternity of Shadows. What exactly is FoS?
The Fraternity of Shadows is a group of dedicated people who maintain the largest and most comprehensive Ravenloft website on the net.
I understand Gothic Earth Eternal began as Mask of the Red Death. What was the inspiration for the updated setting?
What inspired me to work on Gothic Earth Eternal is a number of factors. I had explored the Masque of the Red Death setting pretty extensively already. I was heavily involved in the RPGA Living Death campaign, which successfully ran a 10-year long organized play campaign. I loved every moment I was involved with the Living Death game, but after 10 years of it, I felt I was done with that setting.
So, here comes Joel from the FoS who was asking me to publish some of my work from Unhallowed on their website. Unhallowed was mainly a modern horror game, not a fantasy horror game like Ravenloft. So, I thought, “How can I make this material a better fit for the Fraternity?” I looked at perhaps adopting Unhallowed to the Masque of the Red Death setting initially, but, again, I could see that I was done with that setting creatively.
That’s when I got hit by the thunderbolt. I could have my cake and eat it, too. I could explore my beloved Masque of the Red Death setting, but in a fresh and new way. And, hopefully, give something back to the Ravenloft and Gothic Earth community at the same time.
But the thing that excited me the most about Gothic Earth Eternal was not just the setting, but the idea that I could design a system that was meant specifically for gothic horror adventures. The Masque of the Red Death game was great, but one often had to fight the system to get to it work. After all, it was the D&D system re-skinned for a lower-magic universe. Instead of trying to fight the system, I decided to take the Pathfinder system and truly adopt it for an investigative horror game. The characters in this setting wouldn’t just be a Fighter who was fighting dark things, but an Investigator who could do things like Fox Mulder does on the X-Files. Or Sam and Dean from Supernatural.
How does the new Gothic Earth Eternal differ from previous iterations?
When we brainstormed Gothic Earth Eternal, we decided to bring the setting back towards its Ravenloft roots. In a traditional Ravenloft game, you have very strong gothic horror themes. Magic, knowledge, and power comes at a price – and that price is corruption. It’s also possible for your characters to get corrupted by their own hubris. Reinforcing these themes are the Darklords, tortured souls who paid the ultimate price for their pursuit of their own selfish goals. Each is trapped in their own private hell called a Domain of Dread. You also have the Dark Powers, which are the setting’s mysterious puppet masters.
In its previous iteration, Gothic Earth had the Red Death instead of the Dark Powers, but the Red Death seemed to be less inclined to pull strings than the Dark Powers did. Also, the Darklords of Gothic Earth were not trapped in their own private Domains. They were free to roam the land.
So, I had this idea that the Darklords in Gothic Earth Eternal would be trapped in Domains, like they were in the traditional Ravenloft setting. Storylines and plots could still take place, because modern communications being what they are – a trapped Darklord could still exert his or her influence through telecommunications or the internet. Sure, you might be able to escape from Dracula, but he could still send his minions after you and keep in contact with them the entire time. I also had this idea of bringing the Jade Horror into the setting.
Right before the Arthaus allowed the Ravenloft rights to revert back to Wizards of the Coast, I was working on a project called Masque of the Jade Horror. It was supposed to be both a stand alone project and one that might be compatible with Masque of the Red Death if so desired. The Jade Horror was going to be a powerful entity like the Red Death with all of these dark machinations in the Far East and the player characters would be adventurers caught up in conflicts over there.
I proposed to the Fraternity of Shadows that in Gothic Earth Eternal, there would be this war going on, between the Red Death and the Jade Horror. These two mysterious entities, with tremendous power, would be locked in a conflict and the entire Earth would be caught in the middle. They liked the idea as well and so we went with it. The reason that this particular bit inspires me is that it makes campaigns interesting. You’re not necessarily fighting the Red Death all of the time. You might be fighting the Jade Horror. Or you might temporarily ally yourself with one side for a time. Or you might get caught in the middle. It adds a lot of possibilities.
How does Gothic Earth differ from traditional Ravenloft?
Traditional Ravenloft is very much a fantasy horror setting. Gothic horror, yes. But it’s definitely a fantasy horror setting as well. Gothic Earth Eternal, while gothic, is more of a modern horror setting. There are no elves or dwarves. Wizards do not exist as far as most people know. The characters are not knights in armor so much as they are investigators in trench coats.
What is your favorite part of the Gothic Earth Eternal setting?
I have a lot of favorite parts to the Gothic Earth Eternal setting, so it’s hard to pick out one. But if I *had* to, I’d say it’s the idea we came up with called the Rule Unspoken. One of the Fraternity of Shadows asked me, “What do the people on Gothic Earth 2013 think of the supernatural? Who knows about it?” And the answer we came up with was, “Just about everyone.”
In a traditional modern horror game, almost no one knows about the supernatural. What I don’t like about this is that it starts to strain credibility after a while. After you and your buddies chase a werewolf out into the town square and shoot it with silver bullets…are people still going to not believe? How about when zombies attack the town? How do you keep a lid on all of that? What we came up with is the Rule Unspoken. And that is this: Almost everyone on Gothic Earth knows about the supernatural, but no one talks about it. They pretend it’s not there. The people who acknowledge its existence usually disappear during the night. This makes the Gothic Earth Eternal setting one about fear. True fear. Everyone in the setting lives trapped in a world where your best friend might not show up for work or school and you can’t talk about it. You always know that something is watching you, all of the time.
This idea turns the usual convention of the modern horror game on its head and allows for magical events to take place without completely disrupting the setting.
Can you go into detail about some of the mechanical differences between the settings?
For Gothic Earth Eternal, I decided to use the Pathfinder system as my baseline. Again, that was a conscious decision for the fans who might take a look at this product. I wanted to use a ruleset that most people were at least somewhat familiar. Asking Ravenloft fans to become familiar with an entirely new system would hurt the purpose of the book. Having said that, I certainly put my own spin on the Pathfinder system. Pathfinder is a game designed to allow the players to kick in doors, raid dungeons, and have fun. How much or how little roleplaying is done is entirely up to the group. The game expects nothing but what you bring to the table.
The Gothic Earth Eternal system, however, is one that assumes that you will be roleplaying quite a bit and be primarily focused on solving mysteries. The character classes reflect that. You have the Trooper, the Investigator, the Scholar, the Techie, the Hunter, and two of my favorites – the Wyrd and the Steady. In any case, what you’re going to see is six distinct classes. These aren’t analogs to the Fighter, Cleric, or Wizard. These are brand new classes specifically designed for a modern horror game.
Also, there are a fair number of neat, indie-style investigation mechanics as well. For example, there is a mechanic that actually allows your character to become more powerful the more he or she knows about their quarry. It literally takes the idea of knowledge as power and makes it a mechanical reality in the game. There are also mechanics which allow you to run mysteries more smoothly without having players get frustrated at your table because they can’t discern the meaning of your clues
How would a campaign in Gothic Earth differ from one in Ravenloft, aside from the different settings?
While both Gothic Earth and Ravenloft are gothic horror settings, there are major differences between how each game is played. For one, Gothic Earth Eternal is a modern setting. So, characters have access to smart phones and the internet. They also have access to modern transportation, so quick travel to different countries and places is possible. Furthermore, Gothic Earth is a setting where the big, over-arching dark powers are at war. In Ravenloft, the Dark Powers don’t have conflict with one another – they simply are.
I understand there is a Darklord-writing contest for Gothic Earth Eternal. Could you go into detail about that please?
Absolutely. As I stated before, each month, the Fraternity of Shadows posts a new Darklord to their website. Fans can then submit their own version of the Darklord in question. The best entries are picked by the Fraternity every month. Then, at the end of this project in October, the top entries will appear in the final Gothic Earth Eternal project. It’s a way for the fans help contribute to the updating of this classic setting.
Who is your favorite Darklord so far?
Probably Ching Shih. You’ve got this rich background as a woman who was a Pirate Queen. Now, you’re taking that archaic pirate concept and bringing it into the modern world. It makes it interesting.
What is the number one reason someone interested in Ravenloft should give GEE a try?
I don’t mean to toot my own horn, but let’s look at what Gothic Earth Eternal is. Here I am, an ENnie nominated game designer who has, for the past ten years, worked on horror games almost exclusively. I’m putting out a game system and setting for free. Free. None of this costs you any money. So, what do you have to lose? :)
One completely different note, let me say that right now, we are undergoing a revolution in horror. I belong to a horror movie club and we find ourselves going to horror movies about once a month, lately. And a lot of them have been really good. On TV, there are numerous solid horror shows right now. If you’re a horror fan, then the world is your oyster. This is a great time to be a horror fan.
So, let’s celebrate that with a dedicated setting and rules system that allows you to be your favorite hero from your favorite horror movie or series. You want to be Fox Mulder? Let’s make that happen. You want to be Sam and Dean? Let’s make that happen. You want to be in a campaign where mysteries don’t frustrate you? Let’s make that happen. And then, let’s take it to eleven and pit you against some of the most iconic bad guys out there. Dracula. Dr. Mengele. Frankenstein’s Monster.
That’s why people should give GEE a try – it gives you the setting and tools to write those iconic horror stories for yourself with a group of your friends.
Is there anything else you wanted to say?
I will throw in there that this is a fantastic time to be a horror fan. And people need to recognize this before it goes away. Right now, on TV, you can watch Supernatural, Grimm, Once Upon a Time, The Walking Dead, True Blood, Fringe, The River, American Horror Story and Alcatraz. In recent years, we’ve been treated to fantastic horror films like the Paranormal Activity series, Insidious, REC, Let the Right One In, Silent House, and The Cabin in the Woods. Hollywood is running, not walking, to the horror industry. And while 90% of everything is crap, there are really, really good horror shows and movies out there.
So, go take advantage of the revolution! Go watch some scary movies and then come back and play some Gothic Earth Eternal.