"They say, 'Evil prevails when good men fail to act.' What they ought to say is, 'Evil prevails.'"
- – Yuri Orlov, Lord of War
The Darklords are the rulers and prisoners of the plane of Ravenloft, from the D&D setting of the same name.
You might be wondering "How are they both rulers and prisoners at the same time?" The reason for this is simple: each Darklord was pulled into the plane by the nebulous forces known only as the Dark Powers after an especially heinous deed (known in-universe as a "Act of Ultimate Darkness"), which reshapes a part of the plane into a realm tailored to each Darklord's defining crime. In its own realm a Darklord is a BBEG to rule over all other BBEGs, with absolute power over everything except whatever they desire most - thing that is always dangled ever so slightly out of their reach by the dark Powers to amplify their torment further.
- 1 Common Characteristics of Darklords
- 2 Notable Darklords
- 2.1 The "Hammer Horror" Darklords
- 2.2 Other Darklords
- 2.2.1 Azalin Rex
- 2.2.2 "Death"
- 2.2.3 Vlad Drakov
- 2.2.4 Elena Faith-Hold
- 2.2.5 Dr. Frantisek Markov
- 2.2.6 Lord Wilfred Godefroy
- 2.2.7 Hazlik
- 2.2.8 Vecna
- 2.2.9 Gabrielle Aderre
- 2.2.10 King Crocodile
- 2.2.11 Lord Soth
- 2.2.12 Inza Magdova Kulchevitch
- 2.2.13 The Sisters Mindefisk
- 2.2.14 Baron Urik von Kharkov
- 2.2.15 Maligno
- 2.2.16 Addar
- 2.2.17 Yagno Petrovna
- 2.2.18 Captain Pieter van Riese
Common Characteristics of Darklords
The exact abilities and backstories of Ravenloft's Darklords have varied from edition to edition, but almost all exert considerable control over their individual domains, and many Darklords also rule their domains (assuming the domain has a population to rule), either openly or behind the scenes. Many Darklords are also extremely dangerous to confront in open combat, or otherwise have hidden powers up their sleeves that can neutralize entire groups of player characters even without combat.
Keeping in line with the Gothic Horror theme of Ravenloft, the presence and persistence of insidious evil on this plane is the rule and not the exception. By contrast, lasting triumphs of good are vanishingly rare possibilities. As such, PCs aren't really supposed to go toe-to-toe with Darklords and expect to come out on top like your average group of murderhobos in other D&D settings. Trying to storm through Castle Ravenloft or Castle Avernus (not the Avernus of Baator) and expecting to put Strahd's or Azalin's skulls on a pike by the end of the play session will most likely either end in a total party kill or a fate worse than death, assuming the Dungeon Master is at all trying to run the game in a thematically appropriate way. At most, the PCs' efforts might preserve a bit of light in the ever-present mists and hope their activities stay beneath the local Darklord's notice. Heroes in this benighted plane are not guaranteed a peaceful death in bed surrounded by family and friends, or a life of glory and deeds well remembered. Openly going up against a Darklord is one of the surest ways of ending your character's life and career for good.
A few things about Darklords have remained constant throughout Ravenloft's editions, however. First, unless the Dark Powers will it, Darklords are completely unable to leave their own domains (note that certain "pocket domains" are in fact mobile and can travel between larger domains, but the Darklord within is still powerless to leave its own pocket domain as any other). If PCs manage to leave a Darklord's domain, that specific Darklord is usually powerless to personally come after them (but see "Closing the Borders" below). Second, almost every Darklord has a weakness, usually in the form of something or someone they desire above all else that they would risk anything and everything for, or a personal vulnerability tied to its curse that is usually well-hidden and hard to figure out. Discovering and exploiting these weaknesses are one of the only ways to accomplish some good in spite of a Darklord's efforts, but if it comes to that you've likely already attracted (or will very soon attract) a Darklord's attention and are in deep trouble. A couple other abilities common to Darklords are discussed below.
Closing the Borders
The vast majority of Darklords have the ability to force others to share in their imprisonment by supernaturally closing the borders of their domains, usually leaving no way out even with the aid of magic. Trying to leave a closed domain border will just result in a grisly death or automatic failure, and teleportation magic won't work past a closed domain border either. As Ravenloft was an early AD&D product, the designers gave this handy tool to DMs so as to stop players from just up and leaving without going through the DM's plot. Improperly used it can smack of railroading, but it fits well within the Gothic Horror genre convention of having characters get trapped in sinister and dangerous locales with no safe passage out, until a situation is resolved (or the Darklord opens the borders again, as in the case of Ravenloft).
The few Darklords who cannot supernaturally close their borders either lack that ability as part of their curse, or are unable to do so as part of their nature. Vlad Drakov of Falkovnia for instance disdains magic and the supernatural, and in line with this attitude gained no supernatural ability to close his domain's borders upon becoming a Darklord. However, even these Darklords have more mundane ways of barring escape from their domains, such as sending their numerous lackeys to patrol the borders, though thankfully this doesn't impede magical methods of escape. An even smaller number of Darklords are completely unable to close their domain borders in any way, such as Haki Shinpi of Rokushima Taiyoo who was cursed to become a powerless geist upon becoming Darklord (rather than becoming a Death Knight as he originally planned) and was doomed to watch everything he built in his life's conquest literally sink into ruin through the squabbling of his sons.
Another reason to avoid going up against Darklords is that many of them have ways of returning from death, rendering all of your hard work moot. Even those who don't have explicitly mentioned methods of cheating death, like Strahd, generally have many contingency plans to avoid ever being at risk of getting truly destroyed. To make a bad situation worse, the Dark Powers appear to get occasionally "attached" to their playthings, and frown harshly upon attempts to take their toys away. In game terms, this means that certain Darklords are truly indestructible and can ever only be put out of commission temporarily, and even the attempt at doing so may end up drawing the Dark Powers' attention to whoever tries such a feat. Mercifully, these individuals are the exception, not the rule.
By contrast, some Darklords are fairly ordinary people with no significant combat skills and no more resistance to being killed off for real than their subjects. However, as mentioned above, even these seemingly vulnerable BBEGs often still have the means or minions to deal with a bunch of murderhobos, and most of these non-combat-focused Darklords are still savvy enough to be wary of any potential threats to their survival, and to nip those threats in the bud via underhanded means.
Outside of these extremes, permanently destroying most Darklords requires either killing one in a very specific manner and/or destroying a Darklord's means of cheating death (which in some cases might be nigh-impossible, such as killing every specimen of a very numerous type of creature in a domain before confronting the Darklord). Finding out this information is likely to require a good deal of questing and research to find out, but can make for a great campaign if properly handled. However, even accomplishing all this does nothing to stop the Dark Powers from "promoting" someone in the realm evil enough to assume the mantle of Darklord, possibly leaving the realm and its inhabitants in a worse situation than before. In fact, not a few of the "current" Darklords assumed their positions by killing the previous ones. In other cases, the title and sometimes even the personality of the Darklord is immediately passed down to another being on the moment of the Darklord's death, thus ensuring that their position is never lost.
What happens if you permanently destroy a Darklord somehow?
It's likely that some of you action-oriented elegan/tg/entleman reading this are just champing at the bit to claim a Darklord's skull for your trophy rooms, but as noted above, the odds and the themes of the setting itself are decidedly against you. Or maybe you're a DM who wants to run a Ravenloft campaign where good really can make a difference and want to know what happens when these Gothic Horror BBEGs finally bite the dust for real and no one takes their place.
Unfortunately, the rulebooks have historically been rather ambivalent and lacking in detail about the answer to this question and the resulting implications. Some Ravenloft rulebooks say that once a Darklord is permanently destroyed and no successor is forthcoming, the destroyed Darklord's associated domain might simply disappear, leaving open the question of what happens to all the people who were living there. If the people there simply disappear as well, were they never real in the first place, instead being undispellable illusions made up whole-cloth by the Dark Powers to torment the Darklord? That might work out just fine if your group stuck to playing Weekend in Hell style adventures in Ravenloft, but what would it say about PCs native to Ravenloft, or even native to the domain now without a Darklord? Or were the people in the Darklord-less domain no more real (and therefore no more morally troubling to harm in any way) than characters in a video game, making the whole "Powers Check" mechanic moot with regards to harming innocents? Is there now a gaping misty void where the previous domain used to be?
Canonically, the answer might be found in how two domains (Arkandale and Gundarak) where the Darklords lost their darklordship were absorbed by neighbouring ones, essentially meaning the people inside those domains just exchanged one insidious tyrant for another. This solution is probably the smoothest way to incorporate the plot element of Darklords being permanently destroyed in your campaign. On the other hand, geographically isolated domains (such as one of the numerous "Islands of Terror" that are completely surrounded by the Mists), or mobile pocket domains with no notable population of sentients can just disappear back into the mists with no larger consequences to other domains upon the permanent death of their Darklords. It still leaves open the question of what happens to the population of sentients in domains situated in the middle of nowhere that suffer a sudden lack of a Darklord, though.
Strahd himself is explicitly mentioned to be a special case with regards to permanent destruction, most probably due to his status as the posterboy of the entire Ravenloft setting (even in universe, it's noted that the Demi-Plane of Dread didn't seem to exist until Strahd's damnation). In 5e's Curse of Strahd module, it is said that in the absurdly unlikely event he is permanently killed with all of his failsafes destroyed or deactivated, the Dark Powers will intervene to resurrect him within a month because they refuse to allow the possibility of ending his torment. They're "possessive" about their favourite playthings like that.
Players crying foul about this should note that the Dark Powers are mighty enough to bar the gods themselves from coming to Ravenloft. In light of that, something like bringing a Darklord back to life looks like a trivial feat by comparison.
Bottom line? Hash it out with your DM beforehand, or if you're a DM yourself, make sure you have a sensible plot thread lined up if you choose to allow the permanent destruction of Darklords, while keeping in mind how important Darklords are to the themes of Ravenloft.
The "Hammer Horror" Darklords
With the horror films by Hammer Film Productions officially cited as a major source of inspiration for the setting of Ravenloft, the Darklords who are patterned after the horror monster archetypes featured in those films will be listed here.
Strahd von Zarovich
Darklord of Barovia, and the first Darklord to be introduced to the setting--in fact, it's named after his own castle. He is the archetypal vampire darklord in the setting, though by no means the only one, and his appearance is clearly based off of Christopher Lee's portrayal of Dracula in the 1958 Dracula film by Hammer Film Productions.
Originally the conqueror of a region called Barovia that he claims was the ancestral home of his family, Strahd came to lust after a woman called Tatyana who rejected him in favor of his younger brother Sergei. Strahd took this very badly; badly enough that at some point he made what he called "a pact with Death" that turned him into a vampire in a desperate attempt to restore his youth. This too failed to win her over, and on the day Tatyana was to be married to Sergei, Strahd killed him and drove her to suicide.
His realm is a copy of Barovia from the Prime Material plane (the original apparently still exists but nothing is said about its current condition or even which D&D setting it originated from), which he has absolute power over to the point where he can enter any private home uninvited in spite of the fact most vampires are unable to do so (since as he boasts, "I am the land"), and he can ignore the standard vampiric weaknesses to mirrors, garlic or holy symbols, none of which ordinary vampires can do. He isn't even "killed" when staked through the heart like ordinary vampires are (though he is effectively paralyzed while staked) and can resist up to ten rounds of sunlight exposure before being destroyed, though he has always a contingency spell cast on himself that will teleport him away to a hidden mountain sanctuary should he ever be exposed to sunlight or staked by a prepared party, much like Bram Stoker's own Dracula had many coffins to sleep in to make his final destruction more difficult. However, Strahd's curse is to have the events leading to his damnation repeat themselves forever--once every generation he will encounter a woman who he believes to be Tatyana's reincarnation, only to be rejected by her in spite of all his vampiric mind control powers, and become responsible for her death once more, all while being unable to simply give up on trying to win her love.
Darklord of Har'Akir, partially based on the monster from the 1959 film The Mummy by Hammer Film Productions. He is the archetypal Mummy-based Darklord in the setting, but he is not the only "Ancient Dead" (i.e., a preserved corpse animated into undeath) who happens to be a Darklord.
Ankhtepot in life was a hubristic ruler of a land also named Har'Akir, patterned after Ancient Egypt and sharing the same pantheon of gods. As the head priest of the sun god Ra, the chief god of his land, Ankhtepot was obsessed with death and became consumed with the desire to live forever. Despite sparing no expense (nor quite a few lives, for that matter) his efforts were in vain, and in his rage he razed several temples, stormed into the greatest one and cursed the gods for withholding his heart's desire. For this blasphemy, Ra contacted Ankhtepot directly and said that Ankhtepot would indeed live after death, though he might wish otherwise. Anhktepot was confused about this, but later discovered that he had received a dire curse (making him one of the few outlander Darklords to have received the majority of his curse before being taken into Ravenloft); anyone he touched was dead by nightfall, and those he killed in this fashion rose from their tombs to serve him absolutely as undead mummies. Taking this in stride despite killing many of his relatives, he used his new undead servants to tighten his grip over Har'Akir, but his fellow priests rebelled, killed Ankhtepot in his sleep, and mummified him, little knowing he was still conscious and going insane inside his sarcophagus during his month-long funeral. After being entombed in a remote area with one small village named Mudar, the mists of Ravenloft claimed Ankhtepot, his tomb, and the nearby village, leaving no trace of them in Ankhtepot's home plane.
As Darklord, Ankhtepot spends most of his time in a deathless dream of better days in his tomb, but he can roused from this state in a few ways, such as if his tomb is disturbed, or if the people of Mudar are anxious or otherwise distressed. His hubris and pride followed him into undeath, and similarly his greatest torment is his desire to be human again, as the god-king of a great empire he once was, while in reality he "rules" over a barren patch of desert with naught but a small mud-hut village. To frustrate him further, the Dark Powers granted Ankhtepot the ability to regain his human form and mortality by draining a human of moisture and life force in a dread sunrise ceremony, but this reversion to mortality lasts only from dawn to nightfall, and during those few daylight hours "under Ra's gaze" he loses all his supernatural powers, once again becoming a normal human with no appreciable abilities until nightfall, whereupon the transformation is undone. Knowing that he would face an eternity of solitude were he to sacrifice everyone in his domain to fleetingly experience mortality again, Ankhtepot generally prefers to wait and dream until he might rule a larger population, a time he seems unaware will never come.
With respect to his crunch, Ankhtepot can be an unholy terror in his Greater Mummy form. He retains much of the high-level spellcasting ability he had in life, his touch-delivered Mummy Rot is both more virulent and harder to cure than almost any other Ravenloft Mummy's, and those who become infected and are mummified alive become Greater Mummies under his total control. Other aces up his sleeve (or rather, his bandages) are the fact that he commands virtually every mummy in his domain, so if sufficiently provoked he can summon up an entire shambling army of mummies to do his bidding, and the fact that a certain item on his person allows him to heal lost hitpoints very quickly, even if reduced below zero, unless that item is removed from him or his downed "corpse." Ankhtepot can, however, easily be killed during his bouts of mortality (even though doing so might attract the attention of the Dark Powers since he poses no real threat during these times), but if he is killed while an ordinary human he can reanimate if he is mummified and entombed again. As a result of a possible oversight by the writers, no mention is made of how Ankhtepot might be able to return to unlife should he be defeated in his Greater Mummy form nor how he might be permanently destroyed, though he can simply reform in his tomb in the case of the former and the latter might simply require that both his tomb and his physical body be completely destroyed, resulting in the village of Mudar returning to its home plane and Ankhtepot's desert joining an adjacent domain.
Given the relative lack of sex appeal for mummies compared to the far more famous vampires and werewolves (unless you're a fan of the Tomb Kings or Mummy: The Curse), Ankhtepot and his domain more or less dropped off the face of Ravenloft canon after the AD&D version, and even in AD&D he was fairly passive. Even so, he did affect Ravenloft and D&D at large in one way by creating the first Greater Mummies (AKA "Children of Ankhtepot") to ever exist in a D&D system, though they have since significantly changed from their original incarnation. Ankhtepot has also been known to send his Mummy and Greater Mummy servants outside of his domain to track and kill grave robbers who defile his tomb and other unfortunates who incur his wrath.
Ankhtepot and his domain made his first appearance as the star villain of the classic Touch of Death Ravenloft module in 1991.
Darklord of Verbrek, and the archetypal werewolf Darklord of the setting, though by no means the only lycanthrope Darklord in Ravenloft. Alfred Timothy was born to Nathan Timothy (former werewolf Darklord of Arkandale) and an unknown mother. Disdained by Nathan for being frail and sickly in his human form, Alfred in turn disdained his father for his "overly human" interest in ferrying cargo and passengers with his paddleboat (in truth, Nathan was cursed as Darklord of Arkandale to become cripplingly nauseous with "land sickness" anytime he tried to set foot on dry land, but instead of suffering from this curse, Nathan grew so accustomed to boating and the company of his human passengers that he unknowingly lost his Darklordship during the Grand Conjunction, despite still being confined to river waters and remaining an unrepentant serial killer).
Leaving to find his own way and to escape the perpetual treatment as the runt of the litter, Alfred happened upon villagers in his father's domain who regularly made sacrifices to appease a savage being they called the Wolf God in the hopes of relief from continual attacks by bloodthirsty wolves. Taking inspiration from the sight of humans propitiating a lupine deity and perhaps indulging more than a little megalomania at the prospect of being an object of worship or leading a werewolf-centric religion, Alfred wandered the domains and interrogated clerics he met, sometimes lethally, on how he could become a cleric of this "Wolf God" and use its granted powers to inaugurate a werewolf-led reign of terror over humans. Unfortunately, his efforts and sacrifices were fruitless in provoking any response from this "deity," and he began to take out his frustrations on any clerics and religious buildings he could find whenever his latest interrogation target failed to provide the missing ingredient to contacting and receiving spells from the Wolf God. After one such iconoclastic rampage, Alfred incautiously fell asleep near the mutilated corpses and smouldering wreckage of his latest failure. Not content to "let sleeping dogs lie," Alfred was discovered, chained, and about to be burned at the stake by vengeful villagers, were it not for a mother-daughter pair of prescient Vistani who purchased his freedom and told Nathan that for this stay of execution, he must allow all Vistani safe passage in the future. Enraged at the possibility of being bound by a bargain struck with "mere" humans, Alfred promptly killed the Vistani mother, and the mists of Ravenloft claimed him for this betrayal, leaving him within his new domain of Verbrek, which eventually grew to encompass his father's former domain of Arkandale.
Now a Darklord, Alfred was initially delighted at having truly become a cleric of the Wolf God, receiving divine spells and being able to "converse" with it (assuming it exists, but if you decide to play with a nonexistent Wolf God, Ravenloft's Dark Powers have been known to grant divine spells and Alfred might just be hearing voices in his head). The price, as ever with Darklords, was an insidious curse. Alfred wants nothing more than to revel in the bestial fury and passion he once enjoyed as a werewolf, but as Darklord he is forced to transform back into his human form should he ever succumb to any kind of base passion: fear, rage, or lust. Having built a cult of savagery, wanton bloodshed, and debauchery among a large pack of werewolves as the chief priest of the Wolf God, his uncharacteristic unwillingness to practice what he preaches by frequently refraining from hunts and hesitance at finding a mate means his position is growing increasingly precarious. Realizing that widespread knowledge of his weakness would spell his doom (because "being an alpha means proving it every full moon"), Alfred is trying to divest himself of his humanity by commanding and occasionally participating in ever-greater acts of slaughter, dedicating and offering them to his god who has remained silent on this one pressing issue, with the only exceptions to his wrath being the Vistani as he still remembers what happened the last time he killed one.
Crunch-wise, Alfred is rather conventional as lycanthrope BBEGs go, aside from his cleric levels and being forced to fight in a calculating and tactical manner unlike most werewolves lest he be forced to return to his much weaker human form. He doesn't cast a shadow (since his domain is effectively the shadow he casts on Ravenloft), and can even teleport from shadow to shadow within his domain whenever the moon is visible. As an ironic reminder from the Dark Powers of his fundamental weakness, Alfred cannot even supernaturally close the borders of his own domain, short of sending his dire wolf and werewolf minions to patrol them, though the true nature of this additional curse is likely lost on him, since he probably doesn't know about other Darklords and their ability to close their domain's borders supernaturally. Though not specifically mentioned, Alfred's fluff implies that even harsh language might be one of the most potent weapons against him; if PCs can recognize him in either his wolf or hybrid forms and manage to enrage him through taunts, he will be forced to return to human form and at a minimum be robbed of the natural weapons of his alternate forms, or even be forced to kill any wolf or werewolf witnesses to his weakness with his clerical powers before turning his attentions to the PCs. However, even if Alfred is killed (and his crunch does not mention any method through which he could cheat death), it is likely the Darklordship (and possibly even Alfred's curse) will simply pass to whichever werewolf in his domain is evil enough for the Dark Powers' liking, preserving Verbrek as a separate domain unless every werewolf in the domain is killed or driven out before the current Darklord's death. Even then, the Dark Powers can always make more Darklordship candidates, though a more darkly ironic postmortem fate for Alfred's cult and domain might be for the Wolf God cult to scatter to the winds after Alfred's death, in essence metastasizing and spreading its cell members and evil elsewhere, while Alfred's father returns to Arkandale just in time to resume his old Darklordship and hear about his son's death, saying only "So that self-righteous runt finally bit off more than he could chew. No matter. Runts have always thought themselves to be bigger than they are."
On a side note, players who want to play a Ravenloft campaign set in Verbrek, but who also want to use D&D 5e rules instead of relying on older books, might opt to use the official Magic-the-Gathering-to-D&D-5e conversion Plane Shift: Innistrad book, using its rules to play a campaign set in Innistrad's Kessig province. Kessig is thematically similar to Ravenloft's Verbrek as both are "werewolf country" locations, minus Darklords and other Ravenloft-exclusive mechanics. Until the Ravenloft setting is more fully adapted for D&D 5e, the Innistrad conversion is probably the best foundation for playing Verbrek in 5e.
Dr. Victor Mordenheim/Adam
Co-Darklords of Lamordia, of a sort. Like the character of Victor Frankenstein (best known for creating Frankenstein's monster) he was based on, Dr. Victor Mordenheim sought to create life and was certain that a soul was not necessary for it to exist. To show him the error of his ways, the gods saw fit to endow the doctor's creation with a soul--specifically, an irredeemably evil soul. The newly created dread flesh golem was dubbed Adam, and it soon grew jealous of the love that his maker's wife Elise and adopted daughter Eva had for him. Adam's plan to kidnap Elise failed, and instead he killed Eva and wounded Elise so badly she went into a vegetative state. It was at that time that the doctor and his creation were taken together into Ravenloft.
The doctor himself resides in his own mansion named Schloss Mordenheim, spending most of his time obsessively trying to revive his comatose-but-alive wife (who has herself long since gone mad due to her life support system causing her constant pain simply by being active), up to the point of continually constructing new bodies out of exhumed or painlessly-killed female corpses for her, but is cursed to never succeed and to never stop trying. Note that this is not out of love, though Mordenheim still believes that it is--it has become nothing more than a compulsion that has become his only reason for living. Meanwhile, Adam is now the "ruler" of an inhospitable island aptly dubbed the Isle of Agony in the middle of Lamordia inhabited solely by himself, forever cut off from the acceptance that he sought, cursed to feel the doctor's pain as his own, and rejected by the very land that he supposedly controls. Adam's only form of solace comes from sabotaging Dr. Mordenheim's attempts at reviving Elise just to spite him. Player characters who meet Adam and treat him without pity or revulsion may be able to get some useful information out of him or even get him to open the borders of Lamordia, but he is very prone to anger and is virtually unstoppable once enraged.
So strong is Mordenheim's disbelief in magic that his own domain also (potentially) interferes with divine magic of any kind, making it unreliable, and may even block any magical attempts to heal Elise. Worse still, Mordenheim's attempts at training apprentices over the years in the vain hope that they might just achieve the necessary breakthrough to restoring Elise has unleashed quite a few mad scientist villains, or monsters born of mad science (such as the Living Brain, a disembodied psionically-empowered Brain in a life-support Jar), onto Ravenloft at large.
In a curious twist, Adam is the Darklord and is the one with the power to close Lamordia's borders, but both Adam and his creator are effectively immortal and ageless, and Mordenheim even shares his creation's immunities and regenerative properties. If either is killed and their corpse completely destroyed by fire, acid, or even disintegration, either will simply reincarnate into the nearest most recently deceased male corpse (for Mordenheim) or flesh golem corpse (for Adam, and there are a quite a number of these running around Lamordia, made either by Mordenheim as failed bodies for Elise and futile attempts to recreate Adam's "success," or Adam's frustrated attempts at making sympathetic company for himself), and will shortly thereafter shape their new bodies into looking just like their previous selves. The only way to destroy Adam and Mordenheim for good is to destroy them together at the same time. If DMs decide to allow the permanent destruction of Darklords (see above), then the fate of Elise and Lamordia itself is up to them; one appropriate denouement could be that the permanent deaths of Adam and Mordenheim might just be the spark Mordenheim's machinery needs to briefly restore Elise long enough to rise up and forgive their long-suffering spirits before leading both to their afterlives, just before the land suddenly twists and shifts to reflect the curse and nature of its new Darklord.
Adam and Dr. Mordenheim first appeared in the one-shot adventure in a 1994 boxed set named "Adam's Wrath," intended for outlander PCs to undertake a Weekend in Hell adventure.
Sir Tristen Hiregaard/Malken
The "Jekyll & Hyde" Darklord of Nova Vaasa. Sir Hiregaard is a staunch, gruff but sincerely righteous man who is dedicated to his people and his land. However, he also plays host to Malken- an alternate personality that takes over Tristen's body, warping it into a form so hideously ugly one can't recognize they're the same person and who delights in killing anyone who stands in the way of Hiregaard's repressed desires.
Strangely, Tristen did nothing at all to earn the position of Darklord; Malken is an entity born from a curse that was placed on Tristen's father by Tristen's mother Romir that compelled him to kill every woman he loved and any man who crossed him; Hiregaard Senior was an intensely jealous man and killed his wife and the man teaching her how to waltz in a fit of rage, thinking she was having an affair with him. When he killed himself to escape the curse, the curse passed to Tristen instead. Six years and nine killings after the curse first manifested itself in him, Tristen was taken into the mists and the secret jealousies and angers born from the curse coalesced into the being known as Malken. Tristen is only partially aware of Malken's existence, just enough to have his guards lock him into his personal chambers when he feels a fit of jealousy or anger coming on. For years he has assumed this has kept Malken in check, but as of late he is starting to suspect that Malken is too clever to be thwarted by mundane confinement despite the latter's attempts at keeping his influence a secret. Were he to discover the whole truth, he would be willing to do anything to end the curse.
This curse is the key to Malken's immortality; if Tristen is killed, then Tristen's eldest living male descendant will be possessed - and Malken will keep going down the chain each time his host dies, meaning that unless you find "the right way" to kill him, Malken can only be stopped by massacring Tristen's entire family line... which the players could potentially belong to. However, if Malken's host is killed by a woman genuinely in love with that man, then Malken will be dragged screaming into whatever hell-hole awaits him. And given that this would be a massive act of betrayal on that woman's part, she would likely end up becoming the new Darklord herself.
Darklord of Darkon. A powerful mage who inherited the rule of the city-state of Knurl, his draconian rule culminated in the execution of his son when he was caught freeing political prisoners. Soon afterward, Azalin became a lich and devoted himself to searching for a spell that could resurrect the dead; he believed that his son's sense of compassion was due to a mistake in his upbringing and assumed that if he could be revived that mistake could be fixed.
As soon as he was taken into Ravenloft he lost the ability to learn any new magic at all- a terrible thing for any magic user, and even worse for a lich like him who became undead for the sole purpose of gaining more knowledge. This power over memory affects anyone else who enters Darkon as well; staying there for more than three months at a time causes a visitor's memories to be erased and replaced with false ones of spending one's whole life in Darkon. Originally an ally of Strahd when he first entered the mists, their relationship soured quickly after a failed attempt at escaping the Demi-plane of Dread temporarily split the former into two separate beings and they've remained enemies ever since. Another ill-fated attempt at breaking free in which he planned to become a demilich backfired even more spectacularly. Instead of allowing his essence to be freed from Ravenloft, it dispersed his essence across Darkon and destroyed the domain's capital. It took five years for him to reassume a corporeal form and take control of his realm again.
Darklord of Necropolis (formerly Il-Aluk, the capital of Darkon). Originally a clone of Azalin made by him as part of a convoluted scheme to bypass his curse, he was transformed into a negative energy elemental by the prototype version of the "Doomsday Device" Azalin thought would make him into a demilich. When it backfired, the massive surge of negative energy it released killed the whole of Il-Aluk's population. "Death" then claimed the ruined capital and its remaining undead inhabitants as its own, and after Azalin reconstituted himself Necropolis became its own domain. A shroud of negative energy still remains over Necropolis, which instantly kills all non-undead which attempt to enter its borders.
Darklord of Falkovnia. He was originally the leader of a mercenary band called the Talons of the Hawk in Krynn. For their wanton brutality and bloodlust, they were taken into Ravenloft and claimed Falkovia for themselves (after a failed invasion of Darkon that was repulsed by Azalin's undead).
This rivalry with Azalin has since become part of Drakov's curse, though he seems unaware of it. While four other countries (that have themselves agreed to an alliance should Falkovnia ever attack one of them) surround him, Drakov considers them "women and fops" not worth the effort of invasion, obsesses over an enemy he has no way of defeating, and is forever unable to gain the approval and respect of the great military leaders that he has sought all his life. And even if he did somehow conquer Darkon, no Darklord can ever leave his own realm so he would never actually get to conquer it himself. Another factor in his defeats is that his way of doing war is distinctly and doggedly medieval (no gunpowder, no magic), so on the rare occasions he decides to try his luck at conquering other neighbouring domains than Darkon (all of which are at a higher technological level than Falkovnia) his forces almost always get shot to pieces by firearms or, more rarely, blown to pieces with magic. Oddly enough, his realm may in fact be, on the whole, a net benefit to the other domains of the Core, as his penchant for overworking his peasantry/slaves (when he's not busy having them impaled for his entertainment, of course) means that his realm produces large amounts of grain and foodstuffs which he sells for funds to equip and train his forces, unintentionally making Falkovnia "the breadbasket of the Core."
In addition, Drakov may be unique as the one of the most "conventional" Darklords in Ravenloft in the sense that he is statted like a run-of-the-mill fighter-class BBEG, and much like this archetype he has no magical abilities aside from a few magical weapons and armour at his disposal, coupled with no ability to cheat death, and no supernatural ability to close his domain's borders (all of which are in line with his disdain for magic and the supernatural), except for a good amount of inherent magic resistance that will also work against beneficial spells (so if he's ever in a tight enough bind to require magical healing, he's screwed). However, PCs and DMs shouldn't mistake his one-dimensional combat abilities as a sign that Falkovnia would be easy to liberate from his iron-fisted rule via a simple decapitation raid; the totalitarian and thoroughly abusive nature of his rule means that those he trusts enough to carry out his orders are all likely evil enough and think enough like him to instantly assume his mantle of Darklord should Drakov ever be killed, just like similar totalitarian regimes in real life can survive the deaths of multiple successive leaders. Truly liberating Falkovnia in a thematically appropriate way would require the PCs to either engineer a full-scale revolution, or otherwise ensure the complete destruction of his regime, much like truly destroying a cancerous tumour in real life requires removing or destroying every last cancer cell. And all of this says nothing about which neighbouring realm would end up absorbing Falkovnia on the off-chance it ever gets truly liberated, though at this point even Azalin would be a better ruler than Drakov given that the lich dispenses harsh but fair justice and otherwise leaves his subjects alone to continue his arcane pursuits.
Darklord of Nidala. Elena was a Paladin of the god Belenus, until she grew so fanatical that she turned her crusades against people who worshipped other gods in the Celtic pantheon. For this, Belenus withdrew his support, but Elena never realized that she fell because slaughtering people who hold slightly different beliefs than you is Lawful Stupid, not Good. Believing her fall to be only a test of faith, she grew ever more ruthless in purging the unclean, until she was eventually drawn by the Mists into the Demiplane of Dread. She didn't actually become a Darklord until later, when she started slaughtering villages because she saw more evil than good in them (not knowing that she was only looking at the worst parts of each town). At that point, she was given the domain of Nidala, which she runs as a dour police state, forbidding all practices she sees as evil. When she considers a town to be too corrupted, she and her followers destroy it, blaming the deed on the fictional Dragon Banemaw. Ironically enough, in her domain the true dogma of Belenus is considered Heresy, and her servant Theokos (a fiend masquerading as a Cleric of Belenus) strives to wipe it out entirely.
As a Darklord, Elena has her paladin powers back, except they're from the Dark Powers, so they're warped in ways that Elena is in severe denial about. Her unicorn steed is now fiendish, she commands undead instead of turning them, her Aura of Courage is an Aura of Despair, she can only heal herself or her steed, and most notably her Detect Evil power instead directs strong emotions that others feel towards her. She is cursed with periodic self-doubt, but it never lasts and for the most part she's stuck firmly in her denial.
Dr. Frantisek Markov
Darklord of Markovia. Originally a pig farmer from Barovia, he grew increasingly obsessed with the anatomy of the pigs he butchered and began to perform bizarre experiments on them that wouldn't be out of place in a Haemonculus's laboratory. When his "subjects" inevitably died, he simply sold the meat without telling anyone what he had done to it first. Eventually his wife discovered his gruesome hobby and threatened to expose him, at which time she ended up becoming one of his experiments as well. After three days of vivisection, she finally expired- her corpse was so horrifically mangled that when it was first discovered it was mistaken for the remains of a monster. When Markov's involvement in her death became clear, the mists claimed him and made him a Darklord.
Fittingly, Markov's curse allows him to shapeshift into any animal form he wishes (save for his head, which remains human), but is incapable of assuming his original human form. As a result, he normally takes the shape of a gorilla in order to continue his increasingly deranged experiments without being impeded by a lack of thumbs. Said experiments culminated in the creation of the "Broken Ones"- animals (and the occasional unlucky human) that have been surgically mutilated into a human-animal hybrid form and given a semblance of intellect, similar to the Beast Folk of The Island of Dr. Moreau. Like said Beast Folk, they too are highly prone to reverting to their primal instincts and bestial appearance after only a few days.
Lord Wilfred Godefroy
Darklord of Mordent (the same place from the old Ravenloft II module). A nobleman who murdered his wife when she was unable to produce a son for him as an heir, and then murdered his daughter for trying to stop him. Their ghosts came back to haunt him for a year until he killed himself to make it stop, and when Azalin and Strahd inadvertently drew Mordent into the mists Godefroy (now a ghost himself) became its darklord. His curse is to be continually tormented by the ghosts of his wife and daughter just as he was in life, who tear him apart every night as they curse him for murdering them.
While he was formerly known to be rather passive as a Darklord, in recent times he has taken to enslaving other ghosts to do his bidding. In particular, he's had the mayor of Mordentshire under his thumb for years by holding the ghost of his wife hostage.
Darklord of Hazlan. A gay Red Wizard of Thay who was publicly humiliated and stripped of his status by his female rival and her boyfriend, the latter of which he lusted after. As revenge, he murdered the guy, made his girlfriend eat his corpse, then tortured her to death as well, at which time he was then swept up by the mists. His curse is to suffer from nightmares of his now-inaccessible rivals defeating him with impunity and generally humiliating him every night, which has made him even more fixated on getting revenge against the Red Wizards. So he's crafting plans to cast a spell that will genocide all members of his race, the Mulan, throughout the multiverse. To escape being killed by said genocide spell himself, he's prepared to bodysnatch his female Rashemani apprentice when he's ready to use it.
Yes, THAT Vecna, the Maimed God; the guy whose eye and hand are still around for PC to mess (and being messed) with.
The whole tale of Vecna's ascension to godhood is complicated, but at one point where he was 'merely' a demigod, he and Kas were pulled into the Mists after a bunch of meddlesome adventurers thwarted one of his plans. Not one to be contained for long, Vecna has the dubious honor of being the only Darklord to force his way out of the Demi-Plane of Dread after being drawn in by the Mists. On top of that, he managed to get himself 'promoted' to full-fledged minor God in the process, which is how he got the Dark Powers to kick him out due to their ban on allowing gods to influence Ravenloft. (The full story is recounted in the modules Vecna Lives!, Vecna Reborn and Die Vecna Die!.)
Darklord of Invidia. A half-Vistani whose mother was raped by Drakov and was rejected by her fellow Vistani, she had always fantasized about her father's identity and resented her mother's unwillingness to speak of him, as well as her warning that if she bore a child it would end in disaster for everyone around her. When her mother was attacked by a werewolf, Gabrielle refused to aid her until she revealed the truth about her father. But when her mother did so, Gabrielle refused to believe it and left her to die. The mists took her after that, and she came to be cursed with an inability to cause direct harm to the Vistani, either physically or magically. Soon afterward she came to become the temporal leader of Invidia as well as its darklord, an opportunity that allowed her to begin persecuting the Vistani in spite of her curse.
She took many lovers as Invidia's ruler, though she only truly loved one of them, a wolfwere called Matton Blanchard. However, she was later seduced by the incubus calling itself "The Gentleman Caller" and left pregnant by him. Her son Malocchio soon proved to be one of the Dukkar- one of the rare males of Vistani blood with The Sight. On its own this would be a cause for concern among the Vistani, as the Dukkar is effectively the Vistani equivalent of the Antichrist; however, Gabrielle went even further and taught him to hate the Vistani as much as she did. Ultimately she taught him too well, as Malocchio betrayed Gabrielle and left her to die. She survived due to the intervention of Blanchard, but since then Malocchio has been the ruler of Invidia, persecuting the Vistani far more effectively than Gabrielle ever could have done. The only reason he has yet to kill her is because he knows that if she dies, he will inevitably inherit her title of Darklord.
Yes, Ravenloft even has Darklords that are talking animals! No, you cannot play as one yourself.
King Crocodile is the savage and bestial Darklord of the equally savage and bestial Wildlands, which is based on Rudyard Kipling's Just-So Stories and The Jungle Book. This talking crocodile was so bloodthirsty and ferocious to his fellow talking animals in the jungle, they begged the hairless apes (i.e. humans) to come and kill him, but instead of holding up their end of the bargain, the hairless apes just started destroying the jungle for resources and colonizing it. This drove the other talking animals into pleading for King Crocodile to kill the hairless apes, and he agreed on the condition that the other animals all loan him their powers, which they did with the exception of the Python (the "wisest of the animals") and the Fly (whom King Crocodile thought was too insignificant to matter).
King Crocodile did slake his bloodthirsty appetite on the hairless apes and drove them out, but instead of returning the other animals' powers when he was finished as he had promised, he instead returned to his old ways of gorging himself on the animal population even more wantonly and gluttonously than before. It was at this point that the Python told King Crocodile a prophecy, which was that King Crocodile would either be killed by one of the hairless apes or by something he thought was pathetic and beneath him. With this done, the Python and his fellow snakes left King Crocodile's jungle to its fate at the hands of Ravenloft's Dark Powers, who quickly claimed the land as their own.
True to the Python's words, King Crocodile is slowly dying of the sleeping sickness spread by the flies, and the only thing that might help him are the hairless apes. But he is unable to keep himself from attacking any who might cure his affliction, and might attack them even if they do help him. The other talking animals still live in fear of King Crocodile and will implore any player characters they meet to dispose of him, but the cycle of betrayal in this land is only doomed to repeat itself. As a result, even if the player characters succeed in killing King Crocodile none of the talking animals will honour their words and the other crocodiles will fight to the death to assume King Crocodile's crown (and his cursed fate), as "gratitude is not a quality well-known in the jungle."
The infamous Death Knight of Krynn was for a time the Darklord of Sithicus. More details can be found on his page, but suffice to say that the Dark Powers grew tired of him, and he was succeeded as Darklord by the Vistani Inza Kulchevitch.
Inza Magdova Kulchevitch
The current Darklord of Sithicus, replacing Lord Soth. She was born in Gundarak, on the night Duke Gundar was assassinated, and two years later, her caravan wandered into Sithicus, where they were trapped, although her mother Magda managed to bargain for protection with Soth.
Inza's dark mindset showed from a very early age. Even as a child she loved thieving and manipulating the giorgio of Sithicus, and for the most part stood aside from her tribe. Her only friend was Piotr, a boy 1 year her senior, and this wasn't such a good thing as Inza pushed him to join her in both emnity to the giorgios and bullying a boy named Nikolas for his kindness towards non-Vistani. Their friendship eventually came to an end when Inza allowed Nikolas to be brutally beaten and pinned the blame on Piotr. Inza also hated animals, since they were not fooled by her facade of innocence, and would torture and kill them on the sly. None of this disturbing behavior ever reached Magda, who doted on her daughter, but by adulthood her rampant kleptomania and unlikeable personality had alienated most of the other Vistani.
Inza became Darklord of Sithicus after betraying her mother and caravan to Malocchio Aderre, breaking the caravan's oath to Lord Soth in the process. She attempted to usurp Soth's power, but was foiled and as the surviving members of her caravan hunted her down, she leapt into a chasm to escape. The darkness within the chasm surrounded and embraced her, turning her into the new Darklord.
As Darklord, Inza exists as a force of corruption. Her curse is twofold- first, her form has become a mass of shadow, and she has to concentrate to look human. Second, she stole, manipulated, and was a general bitch because of her philosophy that everyone was as evil as her at heart. The presence of true heroes in her domain (to say nothing of the redeemed spirit of Lord Soth himself) has shaken her to the core, and despite all her efforts to stomp out the forces of good in her domain, they still exist as thorns in her side.
The Sisters Mindefisk
Darklords of Tepest, and based on hags in myth or "the three wicked witches" from folkloric stories. Three sisters who were left as babies for a humble farm wife who wished for daughters, but from their birth displayed mysterious traits. Most notably, after their mother died from the strain of caring for the three sickly girls (or possibly because they drained her life), their father (who had often voiced his dislike of "weakling daughters") tried to leave the three 2-year olds for dead repeatedly, but they always came back. Eventually he let them stay as long as they cooked for him and his sons. Growing up dissatisfied with their surroundings, they took to seducing, murdering, and eating travelers to build up a stockpile of money so they could ultimately leave the farm. This worked until one final traveler tried to turn them against each other, only to be murdered so none of the sisters could claim him as theirs. This was what ultimately led to their being taken into the Mists and stuck in the depths of a forest full of goblins and witch-burning, faerie-chasing bumpkins. They still lure in any unwary travelers to their cottage, taking advantage of the locals' blaming the goblins for their victims' deaths.
The sisters consist of Laveeda, an Annis Hag, Leticia, a Sea Hag, and Lorinda, a Green Hag. Though they can shapeshift, they are cursed to always see themselves and each other as their true forms no matter which shape they take.
Baron Urik von Kharkov
Considered one of the goofier Darklords, albeit not as bad as Tristen ApBlanc, and with a much more usable domain in Valachan. Baron Kharkov is basically half-Blacula and half-Werepanther; he was a black panther that a Red Wizard of Thay turned into a human being to use as an assassin. The Red Wizard arranged for him to fall in love with his rival, and then undid the transfiguration spell on him while they were together so he would tear her apart as a panther. When he was turned back into a human, he freaked out and ran off into the Mists. He found himself in Darkon, where he spent 20 years as a member of Azalin's secret police (turning into a Nosferatu in the process). He later escaped and subsequently became the Darklord of Valachan after entering the Mists again. We don't know what he did that turned him into a Darklord, in part due to his own fuzzy memories of what happened during that time, but he claims he killed many people while in the mists, including the Red Wizard that transformed him the first time.
Anyway, he's a blood-drinking black vampire cursed with yellow eyes (that turn into cat's eyes when he's pissed off) and with hands that resemble paws, being covered in fur and bearing retractile claws. He can still turn into a panther, in which state his bite turns people into werepanthers, and controls panthers instead of the normal wolves. His curse is to basically relive his most traumatizing event over and over again; he's constantly seeking a human bride, but once he has one, he can never trust her not to find out that he's not human, and inevitably murders her in a fit of paranoid fury.
Darklord of Odiare. In the same vein as Pinocchio, he was originally a marionette brought to life through his toymaker "father" Giuseppe's wishes for a son. Though beloved by the children of Odiare, the adults of the village did not consider him to be a "real" boy. He soon grew bitter over the discovery that he wasn't truly alive, and after terrorizing Guiseppe into making more carrionettes like himself he had them kill every adult at one of his performances. It was this act that drew Odiare into the Mists as an Island of Terror.
Later on, he planned to have the carrionettes steal the bodies of every surviving adult there so they would be forced to love him, but due to the intervention of the PCs in the module "The Created" he was forced to simply kill the adults off instead. The children now adore him only out of fear, and as they grow older they wonder when Maligno will come for them as well.
Maligno's curse is that he can never be human as he craves, as he alone among the carrionettes is unable to steal the bodies of others. Furthermore, he cannot kill Guiseppe because any injury he suffers is inflicted on Maligno himself. Instead, the old toymaker was driven insane and now exists solely to create more toys for his "son" to command. Should Maligno's body be totally destroyed, Guiseppe is compelled to rebuild it, with the foul puppet's spirit claiming the new body as its own.
The father of Shadow Unicorns and a Darklord of questionable canon. More info on his page.
Darklord of G'Henna. The Petrovna family was one of those taken by the Mists when Barovia was absorbed into Ravenloft, and although they avoided Strahd's attention by hiding away in the mountains this in turn led to inbreeding. As Yagno grew up, it became clear to all that he was insane- he conversed with imaginary people and cowered from beasts that weren't there. One day, he was locked out of his family's home and had to take shelter in a cave for the night. When he woke up, he saw the name "Zhakata" scrawled on a wall.
Yagno concluded that Zhakata was the name of the god that had protected him when he slept that night and created a shrine to his savior. (In reality, the name was written by his brother as a prank and meant absolutely nothing.) At first he merely sacrificed animals to Zhakata, but then he moved on to sacrificing people. When he was caught trying to offer his sister's newborn baby to Zhakata, he was chased out of Barovia by his family. The Mists welcomed him to the domain of G'henna, where he became the Darklord.
Yagno is cursed to constantly suffer doubts about whether or not Zhakata is real. No matter how many sacrifices he makes or how many people he commands to starve themselves in the name of Zhakata, he can never quite get rid of his nagging disbelief and the worry that all his devotion has been directed towards a lie. This eventually led Yagno to call upon a wizard who claimed he could summon Zhakata; as he could not summon a nonexistent god, a nalfeshnee by the name of Malistroi answered the summons instead and told Yagno that Zhakata was just a figment of his imagination. The Darklord immediately flew into a rage and killed the wizard, while Malistroi later escaped to ravage G'Henna. Since then, he has merely redoubled his fanaticism in a futile attempt to dispel his doubts.
Captain Pieter van Riese
Darklord of the Sea of Sorrows. Originally from Gothic Earth's version of the Netherlands, Pieter was a ship's captain obsessed with finding the legendary Northwest Passage. When his ship was sunk in an encounter with an iceberg, he offered his own life along with the lives of his crew to any being who could help them forward, and the Dark Powers answered him. Naturally, they didn't actually give him what he wanted.
Pieter is now a ghost, and the captain of the ghost ship The Relentless. He has the power to summon the ghosts of those who killed others and then were killed in the Sea of Sorrows to crew his ship, and can sail anywhere in his domain. However, he can no longer explore as he wishes, since the island domains in the Sea of Sorrows move around and he can only sail to land that he's chartered to go to.
Pieter is Ravenloft's answer to the legends of the Flying Dutchman, a ghost ship that is unable to make port and sails the seas forever. Most versions say that the curse is because of her captain, Hendrick van der Decken, refusing to go to port while crossing the Cape of Good Hope, declaring that he would not make port "though I should beat about here till the day of judgment". He got shipwrecked in a storm, and the ghost of his ship is now bound by his curse to never be able to rest at port.