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by Mike on 1 August 2022
Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft is one of my favorite 5th edition D&D books. I think it's really well put together and it packs tons of setting material for many different worlds all in one book. You can watch my spotlight on Van Richten's Guide on the Lazy D&D Talk Show for a deeper look.
When I decided to run Wild Beyond the Witchlight I was intrigued by the idea that characters can get through the whole adventure without engaging in any combat but I also thought — what fun is that?
Then I had an idea. How could I mix in the cool Domains of Dread from Van Richten's Guide into Wild Beyond the Witchlight? Thus, the idea of Dreadful Incursions tore itself open.
Note, this article contains spoilers for Wild Beyond the Witchlight.
If you want to watch a bunch of videos where I talk about mashing up Dreadful Incursions from Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft with Wild Beyond the Witchlight check out my Wild Beyond the Witchlight YouTube Video Playlist.
So how does this idea work in the story of the campaign?
From Wild Beyond the Witchlight we know the freezing of Zybilna caused instability in Prismeer. The land is tearing itself apart, split in three lands separated by an uncrossable mist. Sound a lot like the mists of the Domains of Dread!
What if Zybilna's influence didn't just keep Prismeer together but also kept the Domains of Dread at bay? If you know Zybilna's true origin, it makes sense that one of her former jobs might have been keeping the Domains of Dread intact and aligned perhaps in some ancient pact with the Dark Powers. With her disappearance, these worlds get disjointed and start to bleed into Prismeer.
With Zybilna's inaction, various Domains of Dread collide with Prismeer. When they collide, rifts tear open between these domains and Prismeer. Sometimes these incursions might be small, a portal opened for only a few seconds (say 18 to 24 seconds — three rounds of combat) while some horror or horrors crawls out from its world into Prismeer where the characters must beat it back.
Other incursions might be larger. A twisted dungeon from Hazlan might bleed into Prismeer, where arcane runoff and swarms of gremishkas prowl in the shadows. The characters might pass through the haunted House of Griffin Hill to make their way through a blocked passageway beneath the mountains of Yon.
When the characters travel through the mists between the three domains of Prismeer they might walk through or fly over a Domain of Dread.
Dreadful incursions give us a chance to run fun dark combat encounters with the flavor of one of the worlds from Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft. And we can do so guilt free. Our players won't feel like they're picking the worst solution fighting a bunch of zombie plague spreaders.
When adding incursions, roll on the "Domain of Dread" table at the beginning of the "Other Domains of Dread" section in chapter 3 of Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft to choose a random domain. Use the result to flavor an encounter, a dungeon, or a whole adventure; adding rich details to push the imaginations of our players.
Objects from these other domains might connect a Domain of Dread to Prismeer, chaining the two together, and need to be destroyed or modified to break the connection and close the incursion. This anchor might be an object from the domain in question or an object from Prismeer lost in a Domain of Dread.
You can use the "Horror Trinkets" from the end of chapter 1 in Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft or the "Feywild Trinkets" in the beginning of Wild Beyond the Witchlight to pick such an item. Consider adding a random powerful spell to the item the characters can use one time.
Other more powerful magic items might also bleed through from a Domain of Dread into Prismeer. More powerful anchors, permanent magic items the characters recover, might require a quest to break the connection but one that still lets them keep their cool loot.
The unicorn horn, an important key on Wild Beyond the Witchlight might get lost in a domain itself, say the nightmare scape Bluetspur where it rests in the hand of a mind flayer vampire with little understanding of this strange object.
To take things further, one of the dread lords of a Domain of Dread may become aware of these incursions and seek it to escape their torment. Perhaps Vladeska Drakov of Falkovnia becomes aware of the incursions and plots her escape, sending her blood raven knights into Prismeer to find a stable incursion so she can escape the torment of her zombie-infested lands. In the end, the characters might face her on the very throne of Zybilna where the dark lord of Falkovnia nearly turns all of Prismeer into a new Domain of Dread.
The whimsy and wonder of Wild Beyond the Witchlight is joyous to behold. Adding the Domains of Dread from Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft creates a wonderful contrast. On one side you have bullywugs in frocks and top hats rowing small boats in a calm pond saying "good day to you fine folk". On the other you have the howling winds of Klorr where a dead world tears itself apart. Adding Domains of Dread to Wild Beyond the Witchlght creates a fun juxtaposition and a great way to shake up the atmosphere of both corners of the multiverse.
You also have great control over how such incursions affect the theme of your campaign. You decide if and when to drop in an incursion into Prismeer. You decide if it's a big incursion or a small one. You decide whether the darkness is too dark for the whimsy and wonder of Witchlight and turn it off. You decide if you want to add a new arch villain making their way into the lands of Prismeer. You decide how hard and how often to collide the Domains of Dread with Prismeer. It's a wonderful dial to have on the campaign.
If you want to add a fun combat-filled contrast of horror and dread to the whimsy and wonder of Wild Beyond the Witchlight, give Dread Incursions a try.
Each week I record an episode of the Lazy D&D Talk Show in which I talk about all things D&D. Here are last week's topics with timestamped links to the YouTube video:
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