Guest Blog: Queen of Kings: Ravenloft's Newest Darklord

Ajit George

Ajit George

Narrative Designer

Ramya Vasavadan is one of the newest Darklords showcased in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft. She is not a reimagining of the past, but a response to various prior incarnations of Darklords and other D&D villains. Enormously powerful and ruthless, she is also very vulnerable.

As a teen, I loved certain villains because they were awe-inspiring and invincible. They could vanquish enemies with ease, and often their only limitation was self-imposed, or another super-powerful villain who was their rival. To defeat them, the heroes had to be extraordinarily powerful themselves, with tons of magical items and all sorts of preparation.

I was enamored with this type of villain, because it fed a teenaged wish-fulfillment. That desire for power, and near invulnerability. But as I got older, those stories held less allure. I wanted villains who were ominous and dangerous but were simultaneously cautionary tales—people we might fear, but absolutely did not want to be. In designing Ramya, it was important to me that she was powerful, but also a dark reflection of the societal structures that shaped her.

Ramya was a wise queen who ushered in a golden era for Kalakeri. But human connections were a lifelong struggle for her. The most successful in Kalakeri’s court were outgoing and charismatic, and Ramya was neither. She misread social cues, and in turn was often misunderstood, leaving her deeply alienated.

This isolation was damaging to her psyche—it fed into her belief that she was unlovable, and that no one could be trusted. She found herself alone, despite her wisdom and capabilities as a ruler. That isolation was compounded by the betrayal of the one she cared about the most, her sister Reeva.

Reeva and Ramya are both victims of patriarchy. Reeva’s backstory is complex, but her jealousy as well as the belief that her sister shouldn’t be queen is in part because she believes no woman should rule. Ramya has done the unthinkable and seized power where Reeva cannot; Reeva hates her for it. Simultaneously, Ramya is constantly filled with self-doubt as to whether she is truly queen. She needs external validation and markers of authority—in this case the Sapphire Throne. Her father ruled from the Sapphire Throne, as did her grandfather and great-grandfather before her. All the men of the Vasavadan dynasty sat on the Sapphire Throne. Without that symbol, she does not believe she is worthy.

Arijani, their brother and the third prong of this unholy triumvirate, is Ramya’s foil in every way. He is a man, and therefore a more fit heir in Reeva’s eyes. And unlike Ramya he is extremely charismatic and capable of reading others. He can win many to his cause, but neither charm nor manhood are substitutes for good statesmanship and decision-making. Tradition and charisma have a long history of masking incompetence, and that’s exactly the case with Arijani.

The pursuit of the Sapphire Throne is the pursuit of power. Ramya seeks it at all costs, conflating it with her own value. Arijani sees it as his inherent right, owed to him. Reeva stands with Arijani, beguiled by his charisma and caught in a destructive jealousy towards her sister.

Ramya isn’t an unknowable, invincible villain. When running this setting for your table, you’ll get the richest roleplay by playing off her very human flaws; distrust, insecurity, paranoia, and buried deeply underneath all of those things a desire for love and connection that can never be fulfilled. No matter how capable Ramya is, no matter how skilled she is, her own internalized fears and doubts are preyed upon by the Dark Powers. She cannot escape the vicious cycle, and instead of leading the kingdom she loves, she is destroying it.

Meet Ramya Vasavadan for yourself with Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, available on the Roll20 Marketplace now.

Ajit George Narrative Designer

Ajit George is the Director of Operations for the Shanti Bhavan Children's Project. He's on the Gen Con Guest of Honor advisory committee, and is an Advocate for Games at the Nebula Awards. He's written for numerous games, including Van Richten Guide to Ravenloft and a forthcoming unannounced book for D&D.