Explore the gothic horror realm of Dungeons & Dragons in Ravenloft – Orphan of Agony Isle


Dungeons & Dragons is all about storytelling, and beyond the collaborative stories created by playing the classic tabletop RPG, there’s a whole universe of D&D stories in other media, including comics. IDW Publishing has released a whole slew of D&D comics in recent years, and the latest is Dungeons & Dragons: Ravenloft – Orphan of Agony Isle, which will take readers to the gothic horror setting of Ravenloft.

Writer Casey Gilley and artist Bayleigh Underwood lead the four-issue limited series, which also features guest designers in each issue. But ahead of Orphan of Agony Isle’s release, Newsarama spoke to Gilley about the evolution of D&D gaming lore from its ’80s heyday, and how sensibilities of modern games and stories are coming back to roost. in the new horror-themed fantasy. story.

Dungeons & Dragons: Ravenloft - Orphan of Agony Isle #1 cover

Dungeons & Dragons: Ravenloft – Orphan of Agony Isle #1 cover (Image credit: IDW Publishing)

Newsarama: Casey, full disclosure, what I know of Dungeons & Dragons is 80s high school kids in a basement on a Friday night and 12-sided dice. I know there’s obviously more than that, but what is the source of the D&D mythology you’re drawing from? Is it from game guides (whatever the term for D&D) or some other medium altogether?

Casey Gilley: No problem! It’s always fun to learn new things and Dungeons & Dragons has come a long way since the 80s!

Ravenloft is an alternate universe within the D&D world – I think they call it a “pocket dimension”. It’s basically those fearsome realms created and unified by a mysterious force known as the Dark Powers. Each area has an HBIC (known as Darklord) and they are all themed under different horror genres.

For example, one of the areas is Barovia and it was inspired by Bram Stoker’s Dracula, so it’s very European and very vampire. Our book is set in Lamordia, a domain inspired by Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein – think laboratory abominations, tomb raiding, reanimated corpses and all manner of ghouls. The Dark Lord of Lamordia is Viktra Mordenheim, a goth mad scientist determined to master the arts of flesh manipulation. Our book is inspired by Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, the 5th Edition campaign sourcebook released in 2021, but features Viktra and Lamordia in an all-new story.

In the mainline of Orphan of Agony Isle, Zoë Quinn, Bayleigh Underwood, and I were tasked with further exploring the world of Lamordia and showing what life was like for Viktra after the escape of her first creation, Elise. What did she do ? What is his next experience? How are things in this drafty and strange Schlöss she inhabits? We wanted to give more visuals, more inspiration, and more lore to the world, which has been incredibly fun!

Dungeons & Dragons: Ravenloft - Orphan of Agony Isle #1 cover

Dungeons & Dragons: Ravenloft – Orphan of Agony Isle #1 cover (Image credit: IDW Publishing)

Nrama: When D&D expands beyond sword and sorcery, is there still a common element that makes a D&D adventure specifically D&D?

Gilly: Well, I can’t speak for Wizards of the Coast or any other D&D player, but what I think is the common thread that ties Ravenloft to other D&D campaigns is player ability (and creators) to solve problems in a way that is empowering, inspiring, and fun. The magic of Ravenloft from my point of view is that there are very few rules. Yes, there are main characters and locations to honor, but it’s a horror world! I can find a reason to justify something as long as it fits the Ravenloft vibe. There are still swords and plenty of sorcery, and the same kinds of adventures and quests exist, but they do so in a realm where terror reigns supreme.

Nrama: IDW mentioned flashback footage in every issue by guest creative teams. Can you provide a bit more detail and mention one of the guest designers?

Gilly: Each issue will include a back-up story showing how scary and dangerous life can be in Ravenloft, as treacherous forest witches, deadly bog mummies, bloodthirsty sea hags and brain-hungry zombies keep residents on their toes.

These backup stories are beautifully rendered by artists Corin Howell, Vincenzo Riccardi, and Kayla Felty, who give each story a very different feel that still matches the setting and feel Bayleigh establishes in the main story. I’m writing two of these saves, and the other two are from Ryan Cady and Ro Mediavilla. I really think the backup stories are a highlight of the book and I’m so excited for readers to find them. Ryan and Ro are amazing writers and have done so many killer stories in just 8 pages.

Nrama: Without giving too much away, what do you think are the themes you hope to explore in Orphan of Agony Isle?

Dungeons & Dragons: Ravenloft - Orphan of Agony Isle #1 cover

Dungeons & Dragons: Ravenloft – Orphan of Agony Isle #1 cover (Image credit: IDW Publishing)

Gilly: I love exploring what makes a monster and Ravenloft was the perfect place to go. As a horror fan, I don’t cater to binaries of good/bad, good/evil, bad/good – I like to tell (and consume) stories that exist in the gray areas. They have real stakes and are much easier to understand than familiar archetypes, so that’s something I brought into the book. I also dance around ideas of how fears, traumas and past experiences inform how someone might perceive a helper and a hunter.

Nrama: What do you find most compelling about the character of Viktra Mordenheim?

Gilly: Oh, she’s terrible and I like that about her. She is singularly focused, self-obsessed, and utterly dismissive of anything that doesn’t interest her. That may not always make her a great person, but she doesn’t have to be. No one expects a Darklord to be a hero – or maybe heroism is just different in Lamordia?

I loved writing her because I wasn’t always sure what she was going to do – sometimes the characters surprise me and I find myself writing a scene that I had no intention of writing. because it just seemed more accurate to me. Viktra steered me a bit and I think (hope?) the comic is better for it.

Nrama: What do you hope Ravenloft fans take away from your work on this beloved goth universe?

Gilly: I hope they feel inspired and excited to return to Ravenloft and start a new game or play for the first time. I love how horror always opens the door to sequels, spinoffs, and more storytelling, so I wish someone would take away the desire to go on their own journey around the world. There are so many wonderfully upsetting things to play with (trees made of heads! magic eating goblin cats! boneless sacks of meat!) and I hope to return to writing Ravenloft in the future and see what disturbing and delicious things fans come up with.

And check out a three-page preview of Dungeons & Dragons: Ravenloft – Orphan of Agony Isle #1:

Dungeons & Dragons: Ravenloft – Orphan of Agony Isle brings classic horror sensibilities to D&D comics. here are the best horror comics all time.

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