I was recently contacted by angelsboi, because I have "Ravenloft" listed in my LJ Interests. (For those that don't know, 'Ravenloft' is a D&D campaign world with a horror feel...one of my fave settings) He said that he had tried running a RL campaign before, and it fell through, he didn't know why, and had some questions regarding how to make the best campaign possible. The DM in me loved getting to teach, so I responded at length, and after showing it to someone, they said "See, that's why you are such a great DM." SO, I wanted to post it...anyone that has gamed with me should get a kick out of this (especially you, discordian)...any gamer, I hope, would agree with it...
>Some Questions ...
>Ok so if you are in a CL 7 domain and you move into a CL 4 domain, how do you explain it?
Don't. The best RL stuff relies on atmosphere (or "atmosfear" as the case may be, LOL), and you'll always get a better setting with subtlties than with bright facts. You'll be desribing the areas as they are seen, so adjust your descriptions accordingl;y. Let the players realize the changes for themselves...if they don't "get it", then their paranoia will make their experiences more chilling.
>Also, how do the peasants explain the weird things that happen? Like the borders closing and such?
Most of them have no real idea. Keep in mind the average technological level of the farmers and peasants...no one travels, so rarely will any of them encounter the borders. Those that do, well, first off, they won't have any real idea what's happening, and secondly, it is a rare occurance, generally, so they may make superstitious assumptions, or just might blow it off as 'those damn mages' or whatnot. You can use that to your advantage, as players that ask about it will get either useless or faulty into. Could be the source of a good side plot. As for 'other happenings', again, most people don't really see that much, because their world is limited to their homes, farms/shops, and maybe the local town. To them, the land may be less fertile, or the sun may not shine as much, or their may have been a rise in (were)wolf attacks in the last few years, or whatnot, but they don't actually have much knowledge of the Land of Ravenloft. Some may remember that things used to be different, but most will slowly lose their memory of the past, and will assume that this is the way things are, and have always been. This just makes it worse for players, who just KNOW something is going on...
>What if the players get ballsy and decide to go after the Darklords anyway?
They fail. Darklords are not to be triflied with, and as a general rule are insanely powerful, not necessarily in physical strength, but in power. These are creatures who command the very land, they aren't going to be destroyed (or even more than momentarily inconvenienced) by a mere mortal. Besides that, the Powers That Be in RL have these creatures trapped here for their own dark reasons, and they DAMN sure aren't going to allow some weenie mortal to fuck with that. Darklords, in game terms, are a DM's excuse to be as mean as he likes...after all, if players haven't figured out that Darklords are the Head Honchos, then it's time they did.
>Does anyone know what a Darklord really is? Who they really are?
They are what they are...but they are so dark and/or twisted, that the Powers That Be have chosen to lock them away from the rest of the Planes. In doing so, they have been given great power...at the expense of not being able to move freely. Are they there for some nefarious reason, gathering the worst of the worst for some sinister plot, or are they jailed here, to save the rest of the Prime from their evil? Who knows...and who cares. Players have no way of finding that out, and you could potentially play both sides of that game, with different info coming from different (supposedly accurate) "informed sources".
>Why dont the peasants question about their leaders who never seem to age and die but yet the same Darklord has been ruling for AGES!?
Most peasants don't know the Darklord is in control. He doesn't necessarily make his presence known as the Guy In Charge. Most of them really don't. In the case of someone like Strahd Von Zarovich, well, he is nobility, and the peasantry has little actual contact with them. Also, remember that memory loss that occurs. After a while, they don't really know how long they've been doing what they are doing, and thus don't really know that The Guy In The Castle has been there for hundreds of years.
>If a PC starts doing bad things, draw up a 'path' they are heading down and start using that for the Dark Power gifts?
A few bad things here and there is no reason to bestow Dark Gifts and Curses. It's got to be a truly evil act, and one that is malicious in intent. The real kick here is that this means an Evil-aligned character will have a harder time getting powers in RL, since the acts he performs are second nature to him...there's no real amazing swing to evil for him, he's there already. A Good-aligned priest, though, causing harm to an innocent for an evil reason...the Powers That Be will sit up and notice. I was always loathe to ever allow this to be given to a PC, simply for the fact tjhat I wanted the charcters to be themselves, and not to try and become power hungry (I run a very "role" oriented campaign, 90% story, if you will; combat and dice are second to good gameplay, in my opinion). Always be sure that the Dark Gift you give is balanced by the Dark Curse they receive...and is one that they cannot just hide easily. A decent character that is "blessed" by the Powers That Be should probably feel pretty bad and not continue along such a path...and he'll realize this by the Curse he gets. Sure, maybe he can command rats now, and that's groovy and useful, but the fact that he now has to eat rotting meat should put him pretty off. Always start with very minor Gifts and Curses. If they are going to be truly evil, let them work for it.
>What if they start in Ravenloft? How would I do that? I had a REALLY cool idea for starting them out.
Starting in RL is a pretty tough concept, due to the various factors that affect residents of the Demiplane of Dread (the memory loss alone is a tough one). You could, though, have something happen to someone that reverses his memory loss, or something...but being dragged into RL is certainly a great start for the fear that they shoudl be experiencing. If you have read/can read the RL campaign "Dread Harvest", by the end it introduces the "Requiem" rules to RL, which allow undead PCs. I have used these for players a couple times, but I restricted it to only my best role-players, for what are probably obvious reasons. This is a nice touch for PCs starting in RL...perhaps they are an adventurer that died recently? *eg*
The best advice I can give you for a successful campaign is, again, atmosphere. I don't mean you have to turn down the lights and light candles (though that can be fun), but just that you have to set the mood. This is horror, gothic in the true sense (not vinyl outfits and black makeup, but true gothic horror). It's deep, emotional, passionate...and above all, creepy. Description is everything. You can say what a room's dimensions are, what's on the walls, and what furniture the PCs see, or you can describe the feeling of the room, how the colors lend it an air of despair, how the furnishngs make it feel cramped and claustrophobic. Don't be afraid to ignore the rules and systems...a good game is in the play, not the dice. Feel free to lie, cheat, and steal...just not for obnoxious power-reasons, but for setting and gameplay reasons. Be evil, but not an ass, you dig? Get inside the players' heads, not the characters' heads....a scared character played by a bored or goofy player is not played well. Make the players feel the oppression of the place, make them jump at shadows, make them worry about what's in the dark. Sometimes, what you CAN'T see is scarier than what you can...play on it.
Hope that helps a little, and if it did, feel more than free to pop up and ask me anything else that you need. I had players actually cry during my games, just becasue of how into it I made them get...you gotta love that.