“Now wait just a minute,” Mitchifer steps around the bar and holds up a hand. “Do you know where she’s taking you?”
The leather-clad woman fixes the innkeeper with her single good eye, and her smile tightens. “I thought this place had a strict policy of neutrality.”
“It is, er, it does, but—“
“This Inn has portals that lead to realms of fire, endless oceans, ice that will freeze a mortal solid within seconds. Do you warn people against going to such places?” She waves her cigarette around languidly in its long holder to punctuate her speech.
“Heavens that shatter sanity, bottomless abysses of immortal rage, hells that flay the soul into an ashen shell—your doorways lead to all of these places, yet you extend a warning against them following me to a rather ordinary city, to perform a rather ordin--. ”
“They need to know!” Mitchifer fumes, his wizened white beard twitching with each syllable, until he recalls his professionalism, turns stiffly away from Kazandra, and looks you in the eye.
“You need to know…there’s no coming back. To the inn, maybe…if you’re lucky. But follow her through THAT door…and even if you make it back here, all the others may be closed forever. That place doesn’t let people out. It takes countless people in every year, but the ones who get out in a century, I may not need both hands to count.”
The Land of Mists is infamous for pulling in hapless adventurers to play with, but sometimes the Mists themselves become too well known. Players familiar with the setting may start to get suspicious any time an ordinary fog rolls in, and if someone actually casts Fog Cloud they might throw dice at the DM. If you feel the Mists are too hackneyed to roll out the fog, consider one of these alternate beginnings to your Weekend in Hell:
1) (Un)Natural Phenomenon
If your PC’s are alert for fog, consider other natural phenomenon with an unnatural presence to it. Snowstorms work well in the winter, or in cold regions. A desert might have a sandstorm, heat haze, or a full mirage. But of course, all of these are just different ways to lose their bearings, so don’t rule out the possibility that they might just get lost in the woods.
2) All Aboard!
If your natural phenomenon is a storm at sea, you may want more than a little spinning compass action to evoke the Bermuda Triangle. Consider the Ship of Horror,* a cursed Mistway into Ravenloft in the form of a ship. Ships of any kind deserve special mention, though, because crew provide lots of redshirt opportunities, with some left over for more nuanced storylines. Nor is spacefaring immune to strange detours--the Spelljammer supplements specifically said the crystal sphere for the Demiplane of Dread was an unknown color, floating somewhere out in the phlogiston…
3) Stable Portal
People forget that the Black Box listed stable portals into the Demiplane, at least one in each of the popular settings of the time. Word might reach the PC’s of a misty doorway that no one has ever returned from, and even the greatest sages and diviners cannot see what is on the other side. If someone or something of exceptional value went through that doorway, the PC’s might be called upon to venture through after it.
4) Reading a Book
“Van Richten’s Guide to the Mists”** travels the multiverse outside the demiplane, appearing as a “Van Richten’s Guide” to whatever someone happens to be hunting. It’s just an ordinary book that gives excellent advice, but when someone questions its origins out loud, the reader and anyone within earshot is marked for the Mists. Solving the mystery of its accursed origins within the demiplane might allow someone to return home.
5) The Lonesome Road
The Headless Horseman’s endless road domain can extend into other worlds, making for an exciting introduction to Ravenloft when he selects the PC’s to attack. If defeat look imminent, consider allowing the PC’s to escape the Horseman by leaving the road. Normally this is not allowed, but since the goal is to get them into Ravenloft, it makes sense that they might escape the Lonesome Road only to arrive in another domain.
6) The World Serpent Inn***
This planar nexus-turned-saloon lends itself to scavenger hunt adventures throughout the multiverse. Doors throughout this structure lead to all the known prime, inner, and outer planes, and the ever inscrutable, always affable Mitchifer (servant of the even more mysterious Owner of the Inn) somehow maintains a strict neutrality that allows devas and devils to dine in relative peace. Of course, the DM will have to decide how the rules for such easy interplanar travel reconcile with the Dark Powers’ rules about leaving the demiplane.
7) Nightmares and Dreamscapes
Under most rules for lucid dreaming, it is possible for any dreamer to visit other dreamscapes, and even wander into the ethereal. Should an outlander dreamer wander into Ravenloft, that character might be condemned to return every night, even though their body remains in their home plane. Such a character might pursue adventures in two worlds until they find a way to reunite.
8) Sucked in With the DL
If you have a game villain whose story is drenched in pathos, why not have them become the demiplane’s newest Darklord? The PC’s might get sucked in when they fail to stop an Act of Ultimate Darkness--the atrocity that draws the attention of the Dark Powers and makes him a darklord. This gives them a second chance to stop the bad guy, but also a change of pace as they discover how the laws of magic and nature work differently. If the players enjoy it, they may consider staying in Ravenloft, but if not, defeating their old nemesis for good will win their freedom from the Mists in the tradition of the original Weekend in Hell adventures.
*The Ship of Horror was first introduced in the 2E module of the same name. It was updated for use post-Conjunction in the Nocturnal Sea Gazetteer, a netbook hosted by the Fraternity of Shadows.
**Van Richten’s Guide to the Mists is detailed in the Book of Secrets, a netbook hosted by the Kargatane.
***The World Serpent Inn was first introduced in 1E Tales of the Outer Planes, and updated in various supplements. A free download is available from Wizards of the Coast.
Matthew Barrett has been playing and writing for Ravenloft for over twenty years, starting with the Kargatane's Book of S series (as Leyshon Campbell). He married his wife on Friday the 13th after proposing to her on Halloween. By tradition, the first story read at birth to each of their three children was The Barker’s Tour, from Ravenloft’s “Carnival” supplement. He is currently working on a Ravenloft-based experiment in crowdsourced fiction using his “Inkubator” system at inkubator.miraheze.org.
Image from Skyrim, which may or may not be a Dread Realm.
I am become death, destroyer of worlds.