A Buddhist Monk in Count Strahd’s Court

On the road to the Mists of Barovia

Having watched Netflix’s Castlevania series for probably the third time through, and as a way of “eating my own dog food” by applying my Dungeons and Dragons Hamato Islands setting to other environments, I started a recent thought-experiment: suppose I made a Japanese-style character, and suppose that character got transported to the classic gothic horror setting of Barovia from the Demiplanes of Dread. How would that look like?

Gothic horror, particularly the classic literature, arose from a specific time and place, so it’s inevitably tied to certain religious trends, cultural assumptions, monsters, etc. Dropping a samurai from, say, the 16th century Warring States period, or a Buddhist monk from the late 12th century Heian period into a such a setting would risk being nothing more than a “fish out of water story”. Fans might scoff and say “that would never happen”.

However, if you think about it, the demiplane Barovia, by its nature, keeps pulling people through The Mists to be trapped and fed off of by the vampire Dark Lord, Strahd von Zarovich. Strahd depends on a steady supply of incoming people because as a dark lord who’s been in power for many centuries, the native Barovians are broken spirits anyway and the land is practically devoid of life. As long as he brings more people through the mists, he could care less where they’re from; he just needs fresh blood, both literally and figuratively.

Strahd is a dark and brooding kind of guy

So, imagine some itinerant monk (cleric, Way of the Sage, in my setting) or a sohei warrior (probably a paladin, Oath of Vengeance) is traveling at night deep in the woods of some remote mountain path. Heavy mists close around him, and before he or she knows it, the forests look different. The fauna is ominous and unfamiliar and everything feels somehow threatening. Next he or she stumbles onto the next village only to find that it looks totally unfamiliar. The homes are sagging, timbers are rotten, the colors are faded and bleached, and the architecture is unfamiliar. The strange people gawking at him or her with haunted eyes look different. Worse, they probably wouldn’t speak the same language.1

Quite the culture shock, no?

But it goes further. The local deities would be unfamiliar for example. Such a character would probably not know the Morninglord (Lathander in Barovia), and might rely on their own deities instead even though they mysteriously can’t communicate with them. Since the Morninglord is the only non-evil deity in Barovia, would my cleric/sohei character try to find common ground, or would they hide their religion to avoid antagonizing the locals?

Folk customs, like garlic for vampires and holy water, would also differ. A character from another realm, such as medieval Japan, would use salt, sand blessed with a mantra, or chanting holy sutras to repel evil spirits. Would these religious practices work in Barovia?

If the character managed to survive long enough, I imagine that they would gradually encounter others who stand out. Such people might also hail from disparate lands: maybe from the tropical lands of Chult, the Al-Qadim setting (based on fantasy Arabic culture), or from the wider Asian-inspired lands of Kara-tur. Maybe even a Warforged from Eberron?

In spite of the diverse backgrounds, they’re all united by their common problem: they’ve been brought to the Demiplanes of Dread against their will, and they have to take Strahd2 down. Thus, I imagine the final showdown against Strahd would be a party composing of classic gothic figures like a priest of Lathander, a Simon Belmont like character, maybe a wizard or two, but also diverse characters from other lands. A kind of global super team.

Anyhow, this scenario probably isn’t interesting to other players, but it was just a fun thought-experiment about the challenges of dropping D&D characters from one culture into another culture, especially in a hostile environment.

P.S. Title inspired by Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. I hope Mr Twain is not rolling over in his grave. 😅

1 The idea of one “Common” language in D&D that all humanoids know might work for a single contintent, but once we start spanning different continents in the Forgotten Realms, the idea seems less and less plausible. For that reason, I made up “Kara-Tur Common” and “Faerun Common” to account for linguistic differences between continental settings, while still having a reasonably common lingua franca among locals.

2 Or, a different Dark Lord, of course. With the new D&D book Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, the other demiplanes are getting much needed attention and detail.

Published by Doug

🎵Toss a coin to your Buddhist-Philhellenic-D&D-playing-Japanese-studying-dad-joke-telling-Trekker, O Valley of Plentyyy!🎵He/him

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