Gothic Fantasy Setting - seeking advice

I’m working on a Gothic Fantasy setting using Burning Wheel Gold. I finally got the book itself (and having read the first 72 pages in anticipation) and recently read character burner, life paths (man life paths for the most part), traits, wounds and treatment, and a bit of the other sections of the book.

I’m still at a point where I’m working to keep rules straight, but I got the basics I think. So I’m trying to find out how to best modify the rules as written to create the setting and fictional world I’m trying to make.

I also picked up Torchbearer, but found that, for the time being, its rules were slightly different but close enough to the core rules that I found myself quickly getting the rules mixed up. So for now I set aside Torchbearer in order to get down the various core rules in Gold more clearly, and then mine Torchbearer for rules and material.

So part of what I’m doing here is wanting to share my setting and get further ideas. I’m also looking for feedback and suggestions on things I should look into further that would benefit and better capture setting flavor and play. I’m also looking for ideas and ways to modify (or use alternate rules like stuff in Torchbearer) the rules or material in the core rules to better represent the setting.

One thing about the setting I’m doing is having playable races be either human or human derived rather than the typical fantasy elf, dwarf, and orc. For example, things like vampires, werewolves, etc as playable characters, but all of them would start human. In contrast creatures like the setting’s elves are unplayable beings who are monsters that lure people into enchanted places and feed of their emotions, mind, or simply eat them. Inspired a bit by “Le Belle Dame Sans Merci” poem. Which you can read here if your interested:

Currently I’m torn between having things like becoming a werewolf or vampire be a lifepath type thing, or more of a template that gets added to a character. My current leaning is toward template of some kind, though I’m unsure how to best maintain balance with characters who are more mundane human figures.

Another element I’m torn about is the general feel of the time period. I’m leaning currently with a strong interest in having the setting having an 18th–19th century feel. I’m unsure however as to how to create a sense of that type of setting given the core rules seemingly strong leaning toward Tolkien medieval fantasy both in terms of lifepath mechanics as well as general mechanics (like guns, tools, and forth for example).

Ok, wow, you’re kinda looking at a large lump of changes to make. While it could be done (hypothetically), it may be difficult to set up.

Take a look at the Wiki and/or search the forums for hacks to represent RavenLoft. The D&D gothic horror 'verse is essentially gothic fantasy (if you want to oversimplify it), but even so there are alot of issues that arise for the conversion. For one, I don’t know how well it applies to Gold edition.

As for templates, what I recomend is barring/refrain from creating any and all life paths for characters that could result in vampirism/lycanthropy.

if they want to play as these types of characters, then a full monster burn may be in order. However, making a menu of Traits that can be earned (or, hypothetically, bought in character burning) which represent these monstrous transformation, is probably a better option.

Perhaps a trait called “Bitten.” Most likely a character trait, but it opens up other traits, or an emotional attribute that functions very similar to Corruption (Mabu). This way, a player can slowly progress into greater levels of monstrousity, before ultimately becoming unplayable creatures of the night. They gain other traits along the way, and get some benefits for tapping the emotional attribute, but eventually lose their character.

Are humans and vampires still reasonable player characters? I’d lean towards a lifepath with a big honkin’ trait.

If they’re not, Monster Burner all the way. Frees up your hands to do whatever.

I’ll explain some further detail here (There is a lot to explain about the setting, and I didn’t want to overload the first post). I have looked over Ravenloft related stuff, indeed Ravenloft was one of the inspirations for my setting ideas. I may actually create a website for the setting with lots of Burning Wheel rules changes for the setting down the road. I’m hoping to make something pretty interesting and unique.

I should also clarify I’m not set on doing the setting using 18th-19th century type setting. Really I just want to do something interesting. I think for now maybe just sticking with focusing on making the world a dark fantasy place should be more important than time period.

To clarify about vampires / werewolves I’m aiming at having people be able to play them in game, for example a vampire sorcerer or werewolf soldier would be viable player characters. However, I think I need to clarify by what I mean by vampire or werewolf as its somewhat different than say the D&D vampire for example.

See one of the themes in the setting is exploring transformation / corruption, but not in character ending sense. Becoming a vampire shouldn’t be the end of a character, but rather the beginning for exploring the ways in which monsters are reflections of humanity and our own anxieties about becoming something unacceptable to other humans.

I should touch on a few setting elements I haven’t mentioned yet so I can elaborate further. One element in the setting I’m imagining is “Shadow” as a “force” in the setting. Many characters in setting would see it as evil and corrupting, but shadow isn’t actually directly evil, but it carries with it aspects such as decay, feeling sinister, illusions, dreams, undeath, transformation into “new things,” and the sublime. The sublime here refers to things that create that experience of awe in humans, like a vast storm at sea or an unearthly jagged mountain range. Things that make us feel small before their grandeur.

In this setup “Shadow” isn’t the opposite of “light and good” in a cosmic sense. If a region is completely free of Shadow its simply in a state of natural order. A place suffused or influenced by Shadow becomes (to varying degrees) a bit darker, more sinister, and even a bit nightmarish like in places, but not barren or like Mordor in Lord of the Rings.

Another element of the setting are the Mists. Yes, a bit like Ravenloft, but rather than being a prison limiter for characters they are meant more as creating a sense of isolation to the various regions (which I call Realms). However, each of these regions aren’t as isolated nor as thematic as Ravenloft’s Domains. Basically traveling from one region or kingdom to another is tricky. You need guides to help you traverse them, and even with guides you can end up in lands you never intended to go to or that you were unaware of even existing. So geography and maps of the world only map various isolated regions like islands in the mists because entering the mists means entering an eerie and seemingly different mist shrouded landscape every time.

Another setting element is a few generations ago the world saw the spread of the Red Death, which is basically a plague like the Black Death in historical Europe, except it spread seemingly despite the relative isolation created by the mists. Since this was a number of generations back the disease itself isn’t a driving force directly, but it depopulated and left abandoned many places. As a result its not uncommon to find ruins and empty villages dotting a landscape.

I’ll touch on vampires and werewolves again in my next post.

But back to the vampires and werewolves. I’m not aiming at having vampires and werewolves have to be physically superhuman. Would perhaps use of gray shaded stats be useful here rather than changing numbers?

In some ways I think of Mina Harker in the original Dracula novel. She gets forced to drink Dracula’s blood which corrupts her toward becoming a vampire. For example she is burned by the Eucharist (communion wafer). But she doesn’t completely become undead either unless the transformation becomes complete upon her death.

My general idea is that people become vampires by either being forced to drink vampire blood, being cursed to become undead upon death, or perhaps sometimes because of things like suicide (something folklore actually believed was a cause for vampires).

I’m imagining these vampires as blending in with humans to be “the threat among us.” They don’t burn in sunlight, can cross running water, etc. But can still be repelled or turned (perhaps the equivalent to garlic requiring a Steel check?) At the same time they don’t have to have superhuman speed and strength (perhaps that’s something they gain overtime the same way characters can increase in strength over time?) I do want them to have some supernatural powers / traits and be able to gain more over time. I’m also unsure about how to handle being “undead” in terms of traits.

You have mentioned a shadow force or taint that alters thing from their normal state. That sounds a lot like an attribute to me.
Being different from the normal human stock usually requires some type of Trait. If the trait affects how a character looks or acts in a minor way, it’s usually a Character Trait. If the trait allows the character to break a standard rule or have access to abilities outside the norm (like Faith, Grief, Greed, ect) it’s a Die Trait. If the trait can be call on to break a tie, or otherwise affect the current situation, it is a Call-On Trait.
I would suggest that you make up a die trait that represents a human that has been infected by this shadow force (Bitten Dt ?) which then opens up their access to their own magical stat (Shade ?) That allows them to learn and use various spell like effects by rolling their current shade dice against the obstacles you set up.

The Mists, the Red Death, and “shadow” all sound like perfectly good setting elements. I don’t think they require a lot of rules, really. Maybe some Obs for someone with Aura Reading to detect shadow, or just Perception difficulties if everyone can pick up on that “not quite right” feeling. But it’s all flavor to explain the gothic world you’re creating.

Don’t give vampires or werewolves gray-shaded stats. Gray shading is a huge deal. That is superhuman. If you’re interested in exploring meaning rather than power, don’t alter stats at all.

In fact, BW already has a mechanic for exploring the powers and perils of embracing a nature that’s different from or more than human. That’s emotional attributes. Elves have their Grief, Orcs have their Hate, Dwarves have their Greed. Vampires and Werewolves, in turn, probably do require some die traits to express at least the very basic necessities and realities of the creature. Feeding on blood, changing into a wolf under the full moon, suffering from an aversion to the sacred or to silver, those are good die trait material. But beyond that you want something to encompass the power and the nature of this new not-quite-human, and that’s where I can see emotional attributes like Hunger or Feral Nature or Instinct. Names should be evocative, but the real meat is in what advances it and what it accomplishes for the character.

It’s a fair amount of work, but I think that’s the best system to get what I think you want: a balance between the appeal of turning to the character’s inhuman nature for power and the danger of becoming a monster rather than a person.

I agree with Wayfarer on this one. I checked into using grey skills and stats for a mage burn I was doing (He was supposed to be “special”), once you get into it, you begin to realize how over the top it really is. Sure, a heroic level of skill mastery is something to work towards, but right out of the gate it’s insane! Plus the fact that your characters can get a lot more mileage out of their Beliefs, Instincts, and Traits (BITs) then I ever realized when I began playing gold. Don’t rush into using grey shades, work with your characters BITs first and see how that goes.

Okay I’m curious, why Burning Wheel?