Monday 11 March 2019

New B/X Class: The Gothic Villain

My reading has taken me, once again, back to the Gothic fiction of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, where the villains have dark eyes, the heroines have white dresses, the castles have secret passages in every room, and the plots make no damn sense whatsoever.

This class is my tribute to the absurdist horror fiction of yesteryear. It should bring a touch of melodramatic lunacy into any campaign.

[Edit: Dandibuja has now drawn an illustration to accompany this class! You can view it here.]

Gothic Villain

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To-Hit and Hit Dice: As Fighter.

Saves: As Thief.

Weapons and Armour: Gothic Villains can use any weapon, but cannot use shields or any kind of heavy armour, as these would get in the way of their dramatic gesticulation.

XP per level: As Magic-User.

Dark Secret: All Gothic Villains harbour Dark Secrets, although at the beginning of their career they only know a fragment of the terrible truth. At level 1, roll 1d10 on each of the following tables to generate a secret, as follows:
  1. I...
  2. My husband / wife...
  3. My mother...
  4. My father...
  5. My brother...
  6. My sister...
  7. My son...
  8. My daughter...
  9. My whole family...
  10. My one true love...
  1. ...murdered...
  2. ...stole the inheritance of...
  3. ...committed adultery and/or incest with...
  4. ...was deliberately driven mad by...
  5. ...usurped the rightful title of...
  6. ...imprisoned and faked the death of...
  7. ...was ruined and degraded by...
  8. ...was tricked into committing treason by...
  9. ...was lured into heresy and blasphemy by...
  10. ...was seduced into a life of shameful vice and crime by...
  2. husband / wife.
  3. mother.
  4. father.
  5. brother.
  6. sister.
  7. son.
  8. daughter.
  9. whole family.
  10. one true love.
(If this results in something totally bizarre, like someone usurping their own title, then just roll with it. Maybe everyone involved was drunk and/or mad at the time.)

Every time the Gothic Villain goes up a level, they will discover another fragment of the horrible truth. Roll again on all three tables. If this results in something they should really have known already, like the fact that their own daughter murdered them years ago, then feel free to include however much amnesia and mistaken identity is required to make the whole thing work.

Example: Eduardo rolls 1, 7, 5, so his initial Dark Secret is that he was ruined and degraded by his own brother. When he reaches level 2 he rolls 6, 4, 9, and discovers that his whole family also conspired to drive his sister mad. On reaching level 3 he rolls 4, 1, 9, and learns that whole family - who he's been regularly interacting with since the campaign began - were actually murdered by his father. Maybe all these people are ghosts? Or impostors? Maybe they faked their own deaths? Or maybe he's just going mad? Just another day in the life of a Gothic Villain...

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The Home of My Ancestors: The Gothic Villain starts play as the owner of a decayed castle, abbey, or manor house, located somewhere horribly inconvenient, such as the top of a mountain, the depths of a forest, or the middle of a swamp. Bits of it keep falling down, and its once-fine furnishings are warped and worthless, but its staff of servants (all of whom are too old, inbred, sycophantic, and/or insane to leave) maintain it well enough to prevent it from actually collapsing. Although it is instantly obvious to everyone else that this building is a total liability, the Villain will be insanely proud of it, and must always devote at least 50% of all treasure earned to restoring their family home. No matter how much money is spent on it, however, the house will remain the same rickety deathtrap it has always been.

While on the grounds of their estate, the Villain may mobilise a number of family retainers equal to their Charisma multiplied by their level. These retainers are normal 0-level humans, but they are extremely devoted to the Villain (morale 10) and obey the Villain without question. They cannot be brought more than a day's journey from the estate, as the outside world bewilders and terrifies them.

If the Villain dies without naming an heir, the House will be abandoned by its servants and sink into utter ruin within 1d6 months.

Obey Me, Miscreant!: The Gothic Villain begins play with a single cringing minion, who obeys them out of greed and fear. Each time they go up a level, they gain an additional minion. If a minion dies, then the Villain will automatically obtain a replacement after spending 1d6 days in any inhabited area, as malcontent weirdos with strange deformities are attracted to them like moths to a flame.

Generate each minion by rolling 2d12 on the following tables.

  1. A fighter (half your level, round up) who...
  2. A thief (half your level, round up) who...
  3. A cleric (half your level, round up) who...
  4. A magic-user (half your level, round up) who...
  5. A slow-witted brute (STR 15+1d3, INT 2+1d3, HD equal to half your level, round up) who...
  6. A well-trained ape (HD equal to half your level, round up) who...
  7. A seductive harlot (equal chance male or female, CHA 15+1d3) who...
  8. A disgraced scholar (INT 12+1d6, has mastered a number of fields of knowledge equal to half your level, rounded up) who...
  9. A master infiltrator (capable of disguise, ventriloquism, imitating voices), who...
  10. A Scooby-Doo villain (dab hand at faking apparitions with aid of wires, phosphorous, and magic lanterns), who...
  11. A corrupt detective (capable of spotting clues and following trails, can try to frame people for crimes with a success rate of 10% per level), who...
  12. A band of ruffians (a number of 0-level thugs equal to your level+1) who...
  1. ...has hideous facial deformities.
  2. covered in distinctive scars.
  3. missing a body part (roll 1d4: 1 = eye, 2 = arm, 3 = leg, 4 = ear). 
  4. a dwarf, giant, or hunchback (equal chance of each).
  5. always drunk.
  6. addicted to horrible narcotics.
  7. ...has some kind of weird psycho-sexual obsession with you. 
  8. a kleptomaniac.
  9. a pyromaniac.
  10. a compulsive liar.
  11. a slave to their bizarre sexual fetishes.
  12. ...experiences irrational bursts of rage at inconvenient moments.
Minions will put up with most forms of ill-treatment, but will not obey orders that are obviously suicidal. Their base morale is 8, adjusted for Charisma as usual. 

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Dread Gaze: At level 2, the gaze of the Villain grows so powerful that it can leave people transfixed with fear. If the Villain catches the eye of an intelligent target (including animals), the target must save or be effectively paralysed for as long as the villain carries on staring at them. During this time the Villain cannot take any action other than walking, talking, and staring, and the effect ends at once if either the Villain or the target takes any damage. Once someone has successfully saved against this ability, it cannot be used on them again for the next 24 hours. 

Full of Scorpions is my Mind: By level 4, the Villain has uncovered so many Dark Secrets about themselves and their family that by brooding on them for 1d6 minutes they can throw themselves into a frothing rage, during which they gain a +2 bonus to-hit, damage, and saves vs. mind-affecting powers. This rage lasts for a number of minutes equal to the Villain's level. During this time the Villain will rant, rage, and literally chew the scenery, making any kind of stealth impossible until they have calmed down. 

Everything I Own Is Poisoned: At level 6, once per day, the Villain may retroactively declare that any object within their power or possession that someone has just interacted with - the dagger they just stabbed someone with, the glove they were wearing while shaking hands with someone, the doorknob someone just turned, whatever - was actually covered in poison. The person who touched it must save or take 1d6 damage per level of the Villain. If the poison was on something they ate or drank, then the damage rises to 1d10 per level. 

Illustration from the Midnight Assassin

Into the Oubliette! At level 8, once per month, the Villain may send a lettre de cachet to mysterious allies of his family. The next time the person named in the letter leaves their home, a band of mysterious masked men will attempt to abduct them. They must make a saving throw: if they pass, the attempt fails, and the lettre is wasted. If they fail, however, they will be dragged off with a bag over their head and thrown in a secret dungeon somewhere, where they will be kept for 1d6 days per level of the Villain before being pulled out and released without explanation at a random location 1d100 miles from their home. (Roll 1d8 for direction: 1 = 1d100 miles north, 2 = 1d100 miles north-east, and so on.) The location of their prison is so secret that even the Villain will not be able to locate them during their imprisonment. 

Ruin Has Come: At level 10, the Villain may enter some kind of institution (a castle, a temple, a university, etc) accompanied by his full retinue of minions, and simply... self-destruct. Unless the leader of the institution is higher level than the Villain, then over the next 1d6 days the institution disintegrates into crime, madness, factional warfare, corruption, and vice, before collapsing into spectacular ruin in a final institutional flame-out that consumes the lives of the Villain, his minions, and (1d6 x 10)% of the institution's members, including its entire senior leadership. All sane and decent people will abandon the institution immediately thereafter. 1d6 weeks later, one scion of this fallen institution will return home, seize control of whatever remains of it, and begin their career as a new level 1 Gothic Villain. 

Image result for mysteries of udolpho


  1. Very cool; I like that it has the reverse trajectory of most other classes. Instead of establishing a stronghold at 10th level, the gothic villain wrecks someone else's.

    Do you have any recommendations for some "absurdist horror of yesteryear?"

    1. Depends whether you're reading for actual quality or sheer loopiness.

      Crazy: 'The Castle of Otranto', 'Vathek', 'Horrid Mysteries', 'The Three Spaniards', 'The Mysteries of Udolpho'.

      Actually good: 'Confessions of a Justified Sinner', 'Bleak House', 'Uncle Silas', Poe's short stories, 'The Woman in White'.

      Crazy *and* good(ish): 'Melmoth the Wanderer', 'Wagner the Werewolf', 'The String of Pearls', 'Jack Sheppard', 'Varney the Vampire' (don't try to read the whole thing), 'The Mysteries of London' (REALLY don't try to read the whole thing).

    2. Also plays - a lot of the ranting and raving and staring associated with the Gothic tradition grew out of popular melodrama performances. 'The Castle Spectre' is a great example of early Gothic drama.

    3. How about 'The Monk'? I'd probably put it somewhere between "Actually good" and "Crazy _and_ good".

  2. Brilliant. For reading, try “The Castle of Otranto”; “The Woman in White”; and/or “The Fall of the House of Usher”. For an urban slant, some of the plotlines in “Bleak House” should do the trick...

  3. Besides being hilarious and actually pretty damn playable by the looks of it, this is actually surprisingly compatible with most common genres from Gygaxian quasi-Renaissance to 1920s lovecraftiana to sword and planet. Unless, of course, the group or the GM takes their campaigns very srs, in which case they'll blog about their most recent appalling "that guy encounter".

    1. Honestly, with some very minor changes, you could probably use it for anything from high fantasy to cyberpunk to space opera. Gothic villains never really change.

    2. Yes, indeed! A gothic villain would be so fun to play, or to witness its impact on everyone at the table.

    3. Another of your great posts bookmark'd!

  4. Thank you for now allowing me to fulfill my lifelong dream of playing Vincent Price.

  5. This is hilariously brilliant!

  6. I had a stupid grin plastered on my face the entire time while reading this.

  7. Awesome. Totally want this to be my next character.

  8. This would go perfectly with Ghastly Affair (or could be expanded with random tables from that game/blog, like the random feasts, random clothing, and random hairstyles).

  9. A well-trained ape who is a slave to its bizarre sexual fetishes sounds like a horror in its own right, innit?

    1. Nothing says 'Gothic horror' like a trained orangutan in a gimp suit.

  10. I loved this more with every line and actually cackled aloud at the reveal that their 10th level meltdown spawns a new Gothic Villain.

    1. This might even match The Extras as my favorite class you've written.

  11. Excellent. This cretin would fit in perfectly in The Black Hack, as well.

  12. So this is how you do a novelty class (takes notes).

  13. Wonderful Joseph!

    I love that the self-destruct ability spawns the replacement for the cursed estate. Woe betide those who lay siege to the estate of a Gothic Villain and his friend the Extras!

  14. I did some rolls on the dark secrets table and ended up with a whole bunch of NPCs

    1. It didn't occur to me to use them like that, but it totally works. You can just keep rolling to make the family more and more messed up. As you demonstrate, ten rolls gets you *plenty*.

  15. OH MY GOSH!

    This is amazing. I was choking and crying the entire read. Brilliant stuff. Thanks for writing this.

    1. whoops! Was signed into the wrong account when I posted that ^^^

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  17. Great concept! I drew an illustration inspired by it, I hope you like it.

    1. Perfect! I'll put the link in the main post!

    2. Thank you very much! I'm very glad that you liked it!

  18. This is gorgeous. Gothic Villain is one of my favorite character archetypes, and this is such a fun and clever way to adapt the classic tropes into a gameable shape.

  19. I love this! Also, I'm currently reading The Locked Tomb series and one of the protagonists fits this description quite well. The "ruin has come" portion is practically the plot of the second book in the series