There are no spoilers here other than what you will learn within five minutes of starting the campaign, so have no fears!
The Curse of the VanGhaunts
12 Flamerule, 1374Some of the screenshots I've posted and comments I've made in various forums have hinted at the plot of the module, but this letter, which the PC receives at the campaign's outset, is it in a nutshell.
To the High Prefect of the Temple of Tyr in Longsaddle,Greetings in the name of The Maimed God! With much trepidation, I write to beseech you for aid. I am the last of my family, the ruling dynasty of Navatranaasu, located in the Vale of the Miracle in the Greypeaks near the source of the Delimbiyr. We have placed our faith in Tyr since the town's founding by our illustrious ancestor, Alred VanGhaunt, who earned great honor and fame against the demonic host at the Battle of Phlanon's Moor. Sadly, we have been enthralled by a curse for generations, and my town is now in ruins and my family threatened with extinction. Times are beyond desperate, and we can brook no further delay.
I have written several times to the major Tyrran enclaves requesting assistance but have thus far heard nothing. We are good Tyrrans and are brothers and sisters in the church. We are one with you in the favor of The Maimed God! In the entire church, is there not even one hero you can send to our aid? Is there no one who hears the anguish of their comrades? Has Tyr abandoned us to our misery?
In the name of Tyr I beg you to help us, for if you do not, darkness will prevail and the Light of The Just One will be extinguished from these parts forever.
Yours in Tyr,
The noble family, good Tyrrans all, from the isolated town of Navatraanasu has been cursed for seven generations with the latest incident happening only two months prior to the campaign's opening. The PC must journey to the town and discover what dark secrets it holds.
While I have obviously had the important details determined for a year or more, today I finally nailed down the family tree (see picture). Only the relevent names are included, by which I mean those that ruled and those that were taken by the curse (denoted by "C" for "Curse" and a date). This level of detail will not be necessary to solve the mystery, but I wanted to be able to include such details in dialogs, archives, and old journals without fear of contradicting myself.
And, of course, some of the people in that tree, though certainly not all, are crucial to the plot. Today I simply filled in all those who aren't... and I'm not telling which is which!
Act I is the journey to Navatranaasu. Act II takes place in Navatranaasu, and Act III I'll leave a secret for now. While all acts are heavy in Realmslore, Acts I and III should also "feel" Realmsian. Act II, however, should feel more like Ravenloft.
There's a part of Ravenloft that has always appealed to me. A world of foreboding evil with only occasional pinpoints of light... What better setting for a cleric-centric campaign! Though I'm not promising vampires, the town of Navatranaasu should feel run-down, dirty, and gritty; it's a bit lost in time and lost to the gods, though that won't be totally true. In fact, one deity very much has its eye on the town...
But Navatranaasu? What kind of name is that?
It's not the most Realmsian-sounding name, but if you're aiming for gothic horror, where better to go than Transylvannia? To get the name of my town, I actually pulled out a map of Romania and began searching for names that evoked the right feel. It's been over a year since I settled on the name, but I remember I elided two names in some way. Maybe there's a Navatra and a Naasa? I really don't remember, and I don't care enough to look now. I have my gothic-sounding name, and I'm sticking with it.
What about the name VanGhaunt?
Warning: medieval history ahead!
To see the origins of this name, look no further than John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the third son of Edward III and Philippa of Hainault. His mother's home, Hainault, is a Belgian province, of course, and John was born in the Belgian town of Ghent. ("Gaunt" is simply the Anglicized bastardization of the name of the town.) From his father's death in 1377 until about 1387, he was the central political figure in England and the power behind his minor nephew's throne. Some would even expand his years of influence from about 1370, claiming that he ruled in place of his aging father those last seven years, to his death in 1399.
Gaunt is such an interesting character to me not just for what he did, but for how he is seen today. One view is that he was one of the last of his generation and, as such, was determined to use his wealth and power to defend his family's name, his nephew's throne, and England's fortunes in its war against France. The other is that he was a greedy schemer constantly plotting to win a kingdom for himself.
To be honest, I tend to fall into the former camp, though I allow that he had tremendous personal ambition. Clearly, he propped his nephew's regime up, for when he left to go to Iberia in 1386, Richard II faced an almost immediate uprising from the Lords Appellant, one that was only quelled when Gaunt returned in 1389. Shortly after Ghaunt's death in 1399, his son, Henry Bolingbroke, would use the vast resources of the Duchy of Lancaster to overthrow Richard II and become Henry IV, the first of the so-called "Lancastrian Dynasty," the family that would form one-half of the War of the Roses.
Returning to The Maimed God's Saga, Gaunt is a perfect name for another obvious reasons; it elicits an image of emaciation and ill-health. Add an "h" to disguise the origins and a "Van" to make it sound more gothic, and boom, the family name is revealed.