Fantasy AGE Lairs: Getting More Than Gothic with the Ghoul Prince (Ronin Roundtable)

Fantasy AGE Lairs presents a set of places, situations, and possible scenarios revolving around a small set of signature antagonists. I may be Modern AGE developer, but I’m also a Fantasy AGE writer and player, and I was looking forward to this book for a while. Jack Norris did a fantastic job here and I want to get into it.

The great thing about The Ghoul Prince, one of the entries in the book that really grabbed me. I’m a big fan of Gothic horror. I read it, I used to study it academically, and, well, I have a *lot* of author credits with some well-known RPG intellectual properties that called themselves “gothic punk.” Gothic horror is more than a set of visual motifs or a black clad rogue’s gallery, however. The genre has specific themes. The Ghoul Prince does a great job of highlighting these while moving beyond stereotype with one simple, brilliant move: choosing ghouls as intelligent, organized antagonists, instead of going with either the MVP of Gothic undead, the vampire, or the most popular high level lairing undead in fantasy, the lich.

In playing against type here, Jack set himself up to explain why, and does an excellent job, tying things into genuine Gothic themes. The eponymous Ghoul Prince, Tropo, has a story that touches on one of the primary ideas of the genre: the recurrence of sin, especially in the way it corrupts family. Tropo becomes a ghoul after committing unspeakable acts (well, we’ll call them that to avoid spoilers, at least!). After attaining a new state of being, where his evil acts have distorted his physical and spiritual self, he creates companions, furthering these themes. While this lair features the expected horde of flesh-eating monsters, Tropo’s most powerful lieutenants produce a parody of a family, or at least a feudal household. One fills the role of child and protector; the other is a priestly confessor.

Reading this, you quickly understand that this isn’t just swapping in undead. It’s got to be ghouls. For one thing, this removes the pretense of romance from the scenario. Tropo and his creatures are predators held in check by his exceptional will, but made all the more dangerous by his intelligence. This is a monster who looks past the pretense of mutual obligations in feudal relationships and emphasizes the power imbalance at their cores, because the lord’s desire for the power of flesh, normally abstracted through labor, is made terrifyingly literal. Tropo and his creatures must feast—and not simply sip at blood in some mockery of romance.

Beyond these thematic touches, Tropo’s ghoul forces also make this lair suitable for long term, multi-level play. Tropo and his “family” are at the top of a pyramid supported by a hierarchy of lesser children, from ones who’d suit a tough encounter for low level characters, to bigger challenges which can be quickly grown into with advancement, up to Tropo himself, who in Fantasy AGE terms, stands at the top of the Major Threat Level. An adventure outline provides a progressive introduction to the lair, and it’s supported by further hooks—all enough to make the forces and eventually, the castle of the Ghoul Prince suitable for a major campaign arc which may prompt the PCs to take over once they defeat Tropo. Once the flesh-eating lord falls, who will take his place? It’s all great stuff, and why this is my favorite chunk of Fantasy AGE Lairs.

(Editor’s Note: Just a quick reminder that the Fantasy AGE basic rule book in PDF, is currently FREE to download from our webstore!)

After writing and designing games as a freelancer from 2000 on, Malcolm Sheppard is pleased to join Green Ronin as developer at large: the one who works on any number of games, from the Adventure Gaming Engine to Ork! Malcolm’s experience before Green Ronin includes Exalted, Mage: The Ascension, Onyx Path’s Chronicles of Darkness and Scion lines, as well as Shadowrun and Eclipse Phase. Outside game design, Malcolm’s worked in community development and education, and as a professional historical re-enactor, where he gave large metal swords to children. (They were blunt!) Malcolm lives in semi-rural Ontario, Canada.