Guest Blog: Reimagining Valachan in Van Richten's Guide to Ravenloft



Narrative Designer

What is more dreadful than becoming the monster you killed? What greater tragedy is there than succumbing to the gravity of violence, defeating your oppressor only to replace him? The nightmares you had become the nightmares you give. This is the fate of Chakuna, the Darklord of Valachan, and it could also be yours.

When I was tasked with bringing the story of Valachan forward, I thought hard about what it would mean to depose Von Kharkov. He tormented the Valachani for so many uncounted years, himself having a tragic, twisted history. What would it look like if the people of the forest truly rose up and took their land and their lives back? In the end, that’s the story that I decided to tell; that the peoples of Valachan turned the very land itself against their tormentor, finally shaking off an oppressive invader. However, the brutal acts required to defeat him only mired the new Darklord and her people deeper into the vicious cycle of trauma and violence that their oppressor had brought to their land.

In part this is a mediation on the real life consequences of colonial occupation; scars linger, the trauma can echo down the generations, find itself perpetuated by those it first hurt. Such is the coil that Chakuna finds herself in. The bravest of hunters, Chakuna tied her living heart to the land, becoming one with it in a moment of great sacrifice where she literally pulled her own heart from her chest after consuming Von Kharkov’s.

Every thorn and creature and blade of grass hangs upon her will. Her power is ultimate. To keep it, she must water the land with blood. For now that it is awakened, if the land is not bound to a ruler it will rebel utterly and loose its rage on every person within its bounds. You can run from Chakuna. You can even perhaps win one of her little games. But in the end, the only way to truly overcome her forever is to commit the same act that she did; consume her heart and place your own on a pedestal within a secret temple deep in the forest’s most secluded place. As the new Darklord you would have ultimate dominion, but you would also have to perpetually sacrifice lives to the living will of the forest. You win, but you lose.

Valachan is meant to be a setting of hard bargains and impossible choices. The horror is ultimately not what Chakuna will do to you, but what is in your own darkest heart. What will you do to survive? What will you do to gain power and control? Will you reach for that power even if it is poisoned? Do you even have a choice?

If you’re looking to run Valachan for your group as a true horror setting, slowly lure them into these harder and harder choices. Perhaps get them to simply ignore another imperiled competitor in the Trial of Hearts. Then, force them into a devil’s bargain. Then a bigger one. Keep them running, keep them scared and ragged. Dangle hope and then snatch it away. Drive them until they’re at their last hit points. Then, present the bitter salvation that awaits at Yaguara’s Heart. Let them choose their own dark fate.

Get Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft on the Roll20 Marketplace and journey to Valachan with your party.

Strix Narrative Designer

Whitney "Strix" Beltrán is an award winning narrative designer for TTRPGs and video games. She is currently the Project Narrative Director on an upcoming AAA Dungeons and Dragons video game title.