The Carnival

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The Carnival is a secret society/location within the Ravenloft setting that can be best described as a kind of floating pseudo-domain in the Demiplane of Dread.


It's a traveling circus that mostly stands out for the fact its members are all incredibly warped, looking like calibans or planetouched or even outright monsters. It actually began as a combination of prison and freakshow in a now-lost domain called L'Morai, where those who were deemed criminals were mutated through fleshcrafting, given amnesia, and tossed into the Carnival L'Morai to serve as victims from the asshole denizens of the domain. The current Carnival began when the freaks rebelled and managed to escape by fleeing into the Mists, something recounted in the novel "Carnival of Fear", where they were found by the mysterious Isolde, who took them under her wing. The Carnival's most notorious feature is "The Twisting", a bizarre magical phenomena that causes anyone who stays overlong in the Carnival's holdings to mutate into a new form that expresses some inner truth about themselves.

In case it's not obvious, this is a full-plot reference to the 1932 film "Freaks," up to and including the Twisting bit.

The Carnival got its own dedicated splatbook/boxed set for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition called, literally, "The Carnival". Fans also f leshed out the Carnival's ranks in various Books of S and Quoth the Raven netbooks.

The Twisting[edit]

The Twisting is the most infamous attribute of the Carnival; those who stay in the Carnival's presence overlong spontaneously transform into mutants, physically warping into unpredictable forms. This effect has a lot in common with the Powers Checks, in that it clearly reflects upon the personality of the Twisted individual (and often-times upon their morality in the process) - the differences are that Twisting affects all individuals, regardless of their behavior or attitude, that the Twisting only manifests once rather than steadily mutating, the Twisting will not turn a character into an NPC, and finally this: the Twisting is curable... note that this doesn't make it easy to get rid of it. All of the Carnival's Troupers believe the Twisting to be irreversible, and in many ways it might as well be.

Basically, a Twisting gives the character a set of personality-base mutations, giving them enhanced abilities but at certain costs - most universally, the Twisted individual now looks like a freak, which isn't a good thing in the den of xenophobia that is the Demiplane of Dread. Some Twistings may even "upgrade" pre-existing deformities or mutations, though always at the cost of making them more noticeable. The one solid "rule" of the Twisting is that a Twisting never robs a character of their vital abilities. For example, a Twisted wizard would never mutated in such a way that they can no longer cast spells.

Ironically, there's very few mechanics to the Twisting itself; it's largely a matter of the DM inventing a Twisting and giving it mechanical advantages and disadvantages. So the rules for how the Twisting is gained and won can be easily ported from one edition to another... which is good because they only time they were ever visited was in the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2e splatbook "The Carnival", with issue 3 of Quoth the Raven offering some example Twistings for Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition.

How does it work? Well, the Twisting starts the moment that a character enters the Carnival's grounds, but it requires prolonged exposure to manifest. If a character stays in the Carnival for 5+1d8 days, they become Twisted. If they leave the Carnival, the Twisting will slowly fade... emphasis on slowly. It takes a month outside of the Carnival for each day spent within the Carnival (so even leaving immediately after the Twisting manifests on day 6 will require six months) before the Twisting vanishes, and it does so as suddenly as it appeared. A character can also brute-force the spiritual purification by casting Restoration spells - it takes one Restoration per week spent at the Carnival to remove the Twisting, and nobody in-universe is aware that this is even possible.

In AD&D, the freakishness of the Twisting results in a Twisted character halving their Charisma score when interacting with non-Twisted. In 3e, there's no official ruling, but a big boost to Outsider Rating - say, +5 at the least - is the most sensible equivalent.

Whilst the Carnival splat focuses on Twisted PCs and NPCs, the article "Growls in the Night: Creeplings, Fidgets and Crawlers" in Quoth the Raven #3 explains that the Carnival has developed its own ecosystem of Twisting-mutated small animals ], providing stats for them as creatures and even options for taking them as familiars under the Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition rules. Creeplings grant +2 Hide, Fidgets +2 Pick Pockets, and Crawlers +2 to Fortitude saves.

The original source of lore on Troupers, as the Carnival's resident NPCs are known, was the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition splatbook "The Carnival", although its foreman Hermos was also covered in Champions of the Mists. Ravenloft netbooks have added a few fanmade Troupers as well.

Carnival Members[edit]


The mysterious leader of the Carnival. Nobody knows in-universe who she is, although different Troupers have different ideas - Professor Pacali actually believes she's a succubus named Elsepeth, who escaped Van Richten, which is hilarious considering the "official lore".

Officially, Isolde is an eladrin of the Ghaele rank, who accepted exile to the Demiplane of Dread out of her drive to hunt her archenemy: the incubus known as the Gentleman Caller. The Twisting is the result of her Reality Wrinkle - long story short, Good-aligned Outsiders (or Angels or whatever your preferred shorthand is) disrupt the planar fabric of the Misty Realms, which results in them not only being able to breach Darklord domains like fiends can, but also mutating the mortals around them. Though not a Darklord herself, she does have a curse; the Carnival is always preceded by mysterious flyers advertising its upcoming arrival, which means the Gentleman Caller is forever able to escape her due to its advanced warning.


One of the original Trouplers from the Puppet Show of I'Morai. A literal gentle giant, having been warped into a gangly, ten-foot-tall man.


Not one character but a collective, the Skurra are former Vistani who have chosen to travel with the Carnival for whatever reason. To escape the Twisting, they wear enchanted black-and-white facepaints, but must also sacrifice their voices to make them magic work.

The Skurra's ranks consist of:

  • Madame Fortune
  • The Blade Brothers
  • The Crimson Rose
  • The Familiar
  • The Organ Grinder
  • The Fates Three

The Imp[edit]

Claude was born deformed with a vestigial twin attached to the left side of his face and neck; this, all the Troupers know. What only Isolde knows is that this vestigial twin, Importun - or "the Imp", was alive and sapient from birth. The Claude that the Troupers all know is actually Importun, granted control over the real Claude's body by the Twisting - a good thing, since the real Claude is a bitter, self-loathing psychopath just about ready to start lashing out at the world. The Troupers simply believe that the Twisting has let "Claude" see through the Imp's eyes and wave its single pitiful arm, and Imp has no intention of ever letting the real Claude, now driven absolutely mad with hate, retake control.

The Brute[edit]

An orc from the Kingdom of Thar on Mystara. Real name Tosk. Originally tried to run the Carnival per the usual orcish rules for dominance, until Isolde put him in his place.

The Illuminated Man[edit]

An Abber Nomad Shaman who seals away nightmares by binding them to his skin as living tattoos.

The Snake Mistress[edit]

Silessa began life as a snake dread familiar, but has been transformed into a Sithican elf... save for her ability to spit venom and commune with snakes. She's still linked to her former master, an evil Sithican elf named Sarlandril, but the magical energies of the Carnival allow her to survive being physically separated from him.


An Eremite, a wizard variant featured in Champions of the Mists which focuses on brewing potions over casting spells, who as an apprentice was made to drink an experimental regenerative elixir. On Wood'n-Head, it made him immune to all slashing and piercing damage; his flesh harmlessly parts around the intruding spike or blade, then flows back together like water when it's removed. The formula has never worked on anybody since, instead killing them in grisly ways.

The Living Skeleton[edit]

Mola Kravyan, an unassuming Rashemani who has been reduced to little more than skin and bones as a Twisting-induced commentary on both her "shrinking violet" nature and her overly submissive relationship with her exploitative brother.

The Hideous Man-Beast[edit]

Raja Sing is a wereleopard who spends most of his time trapped in his hybrid form and only regains his sanity and human form on the nights of the full moon. Whilst this might just be an effect of the Twisting, Raja secretly fears he may not be a Sri Rajian, but a leopard from the Wildlands warped into a humanoid form.

The Vampiress[edit]

Amelia is another member of the original Puppet Show. Her once vestigial bat-like wings have now grown large and strong enough that she can fly.

Mister ?[edit]

A wax golem who can steal the forms and memories of others, but who tends to literally lose himself in the forms he steals.

The Amazing Soul-less Man[edit]

The bombastic cynic Tindal is a skilled Illusionist who casts no reflection. He believes this is because of his Twisting. In truth, he's actually the living reflection of an evil wizard named Tindalfus, who has become trapped in the mirror world due to the same mistake that freed Tindal.

Professor Pacali[edit]

A petty schemer of an Arcanist, whose Twisting causes his dark thoughts to literally find expression through his flesh as he gives birth to deformed mutant babies. He's the only one who knows that the Twisting will end if you leave the Carnival for a sufficiently long period of time.

The Gargantuan[edit]

Rasulid Kravyan was a manipulative, exploitative, slothful bastard his whole life. The Twisting has punished him for it by giving him the power to control minds, but causing him to balloon in weight into a repulsively obese monster.

The Squid Woman[edit]

Tenira is a seawolf sent by the Kargatane to spy on the Carnival. Her Twisting has warped her hands into masses of prehensile tentacles.

The Geek[edit]

Roman Olzanik was cursed for his cruelty and selfishenss to only be able to eat disgusting garbage even before he stumbled into the Carnival. All the Twisting did was warp his features to make him look more like a ghoul.

The Fire Eater[edit]

Charlotte is another survivor of the Puppet Show. With fiery red hair and eyes, she wields flammable blood and breath.


The true "person" that Tindal unwittingly claims to be. Wants out of the mirror realm and revenge on his counterpart for stealing his life.

The Abominations[edit]

Chaos Spawn-like creatures created by Isolde, punishment for crimes against the Carnival.