The evils that haunt Etharis are many, though few can stand against a party of grizzled adventurers alone. In this series, Villains of Grim Hollow, I’ll draw back the curtain on some of those uncommon antagonists that can go toe-to-toe with your Grim Hollow campaign’s player characters. In addition to the relevant rules, each article in this series will dive into the villain’s backstories, provide plot seeds to incorporate them into your game, and of course, survey the sweet loot they drop if your party manages to defeat them.
Countess Renata Dolorez
“She’s stolen eternal life and plundered the City Below for the secrets of blood magic. It’s going to take more than fog to keep her from claiming the Ravencourt Sanctuary.”
Countess Renata Dolorez’s story begins with the Darkfall, an event in Ostoyan history that culminated in the leaders of the nation transforming into vampires. In life, Renata was a wizard of no small power. She had been born into the aristocracy but pursued the study of the arcane to ensure her future fortune and independence. When members of the aristocracy were first turned to vampires, she was not one of them. This perceived rejection caused her to refocus her arcane studies on the practice of sangromancy, blood magic. Through dutiful study she uncovered a ritual that allowed her to consume the blood of one of the Crimson Court, transforming herself into a vampire in the process. Although violence against members of the Crimson Court is typically responded to in kind, the combination of her magical prowess and viciousness impressed the other vampires and she was accepted as one of their own.
With no obvious rivals in the Crimson Court, Renata turned her attention to an even greater prize than immortality: the Ravencourt Sanctuary. Over the years Renata has dispatched numerous agents to the academy, most without success. She has fared slightly better in her efforts to infiltrate the inner circle of Mina Taliesin, an archmage in Raevo with strong ties to the sanctuary. The countess has remained patient while her plans have slowly taken shape but it is only a matter of time before she takes decisive action to usurp control over the Ravencourt Sanctuary.
Renata In Your Campaign
If you wish to incorporate Renata into your Grim Hollow campaign, consider using or drawing inspiration from the following plot seeds.
Crimson Conspiracy. After winning renown through a successful adventure, the player characters are approached by Master Dolan, a mid-level bureaucrat in the Ostoyan government. He requests a private meeting with the characters, during which he describes the many crimes against humanity and Ostoya; committed by the Countess Renata Dolorez. He offers the characters a large sum of gold and legal immunity if they end her reign of terror. In truth, Master Dolan has fabricated most of the allegations against the countess. He is operating at the behest of other members of the Crimson Court who have grown increasingly concerned that the countess’ actions against the Lady of Masks, Mina Taliesin, could provoke a violent conflict between themselves and Raevo that would leave them weak against the Bürach Empire.
Sanctuary Spycraft. The player characters are contacted in a written message by Mina Taliesin requesting their urgent attention. If they agree to a meeting, Mina explains that she has cause to believe that a member of the Ostoyan aristocracy has operatives inside the Ravencourt Sanctuary. She offers the characters access to rare spells and magic items if they investigate suspicious students at the academy and thwart any unfolding nefarious plans.
Renata is perfectly capable of playing the affable, civilized noblewoman. When encountered in her role as a member of the Crimson Court she exhibits all the social grace and civility expected of such a position. When someone crosses her, or attempts to thwart one of her personal plans, she quickly pivots to her true persona: ruthless and violent. Renata believes a great destiny lies before her but she is wise enough to keep that close to her chest until the opportunity to seize more power is within grasp.
Renata Dolorez’s Traits
Ideal. “I will wash away the warlords of this world with a sea of blood and crown myself; Etharis’ Arcane Empress.”
Bond. “All the world’s magical knowledge is mine for the taking.”
Flaw. “Everything, and everyone, is expendable in the pursuit of my goals.”
Renata in Combat
Renata makes full use of her arcane talents in combat. In a close quarters fight, she will use crimson lash to improve her ability to fight in melee. She prefers to fight from range, if possible, using her flying speed and undead companions (created by her animate dead spell and her bite attack) to create space.
When she is encountered in her lair, Renata uses her lair actions to create additional allies and restrain enemy creatures which she can then bite. Although Renata is a creature of grand ambition, she is not prideful. If she believes she is outmatched she will absolutely retreat, even if it means abandoning her manor. However, she is as vindictive as she is pragmatic; she may flee a losing fight but will relentlessly seek vengeance in the future.
Though she spends much of her time in Ostoya’s capital, Nov Ostoya, Renata’s lair is a sprawling manor just south of Raevo. The estate is largely in disrepair with overgrown gardens and broken stonework, but the numerous libraries are all kept clean, tidy, and well lit. Renata returns to her manor when she wishes to perform occult rituals, pursue her arcane studies, or keep closer tabs on her agents in Raevo and the Ravencourt Sanctuary.
Renata’s challenge rating is 15 (13,000) when she’s encountered in her lair.
On initiative count 20 (losing initiative ties), Renata takes a lair action to cause one of the following effects; she can’t use the same effect two rounds in a row.
- The monstrous owls that reside in the manor’s attics and the forest around Renata’s lair come to her aid. 1d6 giant owls appear in unoccupied spaces of Renata’s choice within her lair. They roll initiative as normal and join the combat during this round.
- Renata chooses a point on the ground within 120 feet that she can see. The area on the ground within 15 feet of that point is briefly flooded with blood which quickly becomes sticky and thick. Creatures within the chosen area must succeed on a DC 13 Strength saving throw or be restrained until the end of their next turn.
- One humanoid in Renata’s lair that died within the last hour rises as a vampire spawn under her control. The creature rolls initiative as normal.
The region around the countess’s lair is influenced by Renata’s supernatural nature, creating one or more of the following effects:
- The owls that live within 6 miles of Renata’s lair are great in size and intelligence. They can communicate with one another and with Renata, alerting her if they see travelers within the region.
- Blood spilled within 12 miles of Renata’s lair leaves stains that cannot be cleaned by mundane methods.
- Within 1 mile of Renata’s lair, sangromancy magic is more effective. When a spellcaster casts a sangromancy spell they may roll the hit dice expended to cast it twice, using the result they prefer.
If Renata dies, these effects fade over the course of 1d10 days.
If defeated outside her lair, Renata dissolves into a pool of coagulated blood and owl feathers. Nothing of value can be salvaged.
If defeated inside her lair, the countess is truly destroyed. She always carries two books of note on her person: her spellbook, which contains all of the spells in her stats above, and her journal. The journal contains the ritual she designed that allowed her to consume the blood of a vampire to become one herself. A character who reads the journal can perform the ritual on Renata’s body while making a DC 13 Intelligence (Arcana) ability check. On a success, the character takes the vampiric transformation. If the result of the ability check was 18 or higher, they also immediately gain a level in the vampiric transformation. Performing the ritual destroys the countess’s remains so only one character can benefit from it.
A search of Renata’s lair will also turn up a huge amount of gold and items of value plus several magical items, including a figurine of wondrous power (serpentine owl), staff of charming, wand of fear, and 3d6 random spell scrolls.
DC 12 Intelligence (History): Countess Renata Dolorez was a minor noble of little consequence in life. She rose to power when she utilized ritual magic she had learned when studying sangromancy to exsanguinate a member of the Crimson Court and become a vampire herself.
DC 16 Intelligence (Religion): The vampiric curse afflicting Countess Renata Dolorez is slightly different from the more commonly encountered version of vampirism. She has a greater affinity for owls than bats, must rest in the earth of her home, and is not forbidden from entering locations where she has not been invited.