Gothic D&D!: Ravenloft

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Gothic D&D!: Ravenloft

juny 19, 2019, 4:43am

I've been enjoying myself the last few nights. A couple of friends and I have decided to have a go at the new 5e D&D adaptation of Ravenloft, Curse of Strahd. Since I'm the one with the all Ravenloft lore and knowledge in my head, I'm the one who gets to run it.

For those not familiar with Ravenloft or D&D, it started with this (not in any way) innocent little adventure module written by Tracy Hickman and Laura Hickman. The author page is blank for the pair, but those familiar with the Dragonlance books will recognize Tracy Hickman.

This original module was later updated for 3.5e as Expedition to Castle Ravenloft and then to 5e as Curse of Strahd. This would be the wiki on the campaign setting which covers not just the adventure modules but the 3rd party material that padded the setting, and the novel series that draws from it. For an old Dungeons and Dragons adventure, it's got a lot of mileage.

The adventure circles around the character Count Strahd von Zarovich, the vampire Dark Lord of Barovia, who's been ruling under the guise of his own descendants for the past 400 years. His hang-up is unrequited love from a young peasant girl who loved his brother instead, leading to longing, death, murder, betrayal, dark bargains, and a very bloody wedding (sorry Martin, Elrod is three years ahead of you). I, Strahd is the book that details his story, in his own words, and has it's own tie to the adventure as within Ravenloft Castle, characters can find the Tome of Strahd, which Elrod's book is supposed to be. That plus Frankenstein are the start of my enjoyment of Gothic things.

Ravenloft itself is a neat environment in gothic terms since one could almost say it's sentient. It's not a normal plane, dubbed "the Demi-Plane of Dread" in lore and such. It builds itself as the "Dark Powers" (whatever they may be) bring in characters who do something so evil or horrific that some form of extra-planar punishment is in order. Strahd was the first to show up, brought in by the 'mists of Ravenloft' along with the territory he had conquered at the time. His punishment it to constantly see the reincarnation of the girl he loved but to always fail in gaining her.

I've been reading the 3rd party Gazeteers which aren't Ravenloft canon I don't think (neither were the novels), but I've found enough familiar stories to get my brain running on what other sort of Gothic matter I can bring into such adventures. I'm already thinking I need a place with some torn up tacky wallpaper. ;).

I haven't read Dracula, but I'm told Strahd's story is similar up to his 'death.' But, there's another Dark Lord named "Vlad Drakov" who has a penchant for impaling people. (I can never remember which Vlad Dracula was supposedly based on.) Along with him, there's an obvious Frankenstein substitute through Dr. Victor Mordeheim and his monster, "Adam." Naturally, material from the book as been reworked for the setting but I find it interesting to note that the Dark Lord of their realm, "Lamordia" is actually the monster and not the doctor, though there's tragedy behind both.
Death is around as well. Not the real one, but a person so messed up that he believes he is.

Madness, melancholy, supernatural nastiness, grief, at least one dark castle on a high precipice with gates unlocked only for invited guests or a black carriage. And mist. Lots and lots of sinister, potentially motivated, mist.

PS. as to the actual adventure, haven't yet finished our way through the haunted house but so far the wolves weren't a problem and the children's ghosts didn't do much, the paladin survives being tossed over the railing of the red marble stairs to land three floors down by a magical set of unoccupied armour, but the party nearly dies to an animated broom. Very dangerous, those linen closets.

PPS. It's late and I didn't proof-read any of this. I hope it's not that bad. I might clean up errors later.

Editat: juny 19, 2019, 9:46am

Oh, we had lots of fun, myself and some I played with over the years, in a variety of Ravenloft settings.

The latest foray was heavily inspired by Lope de Aguirre (or more precisely Werner Herzog's Aguirre, the Wrath of God), and we apparently weren't alone in earmarking this story for interest as a number of official and fan-made domains provided suitable material and ideas to draw from.

Editat: juny 21, 2019, 5:22am

I'm not familiar with the film but the name sounds familiar, and given I see Nosferatu in the recommendations list, that's probably why.

The party is all alive so far, but wearing down. It's not the most exciting haunted house we've been in, but it might also just be their bad luck that the one door that wasn't checked for traps happened to be the one with teeth.

The guy who encountered the teeth also happened to be the hemophiliac with a heart condition.

The party would like to rest now, but the paladin is concerned because she detected an incorporeal undead and she's not sure it's safe and wants to deal with it first. I'm a little concerned though, because there isn't one. There are five.

It's been said that the Death House start of the adventure that we're in now is especially deadly and poorly designed for low level characters. I believe it.

Right now I'm trying to decide if we want to play through the adventure as is and then go investigate other dark realms to reach level 20, or pad the adventure and make Strahd epic level. Sifting through the different company material does make for an exercise in editing.

ag. 13, 2019, 4:22am

Yes, the paladin did manage to summon all 5 shadows at once, and nearly got everyone killed. "Nearly" though, and an interesting twist to the house at the end (not spoiling!), though it's potential wasn't totally reached with this party.

I'm definitely going to change the adventure from what's written, as I feel it could benefit from some more Gothic coating. It just occurred to me that Mad Mary's bedroom would go well with some yellow wallpaper, but I don't think my players would get the reference.

New snag that also presented itself: the adventure is geared heavily towards a good aligned party. We are not. Might pose an issue with end game if the magic sword to kill the bad guy is hard to use because it's burning the skin off the Paladin's hand.(We have different rules for Paladin alignments). This makes for some interested options though. Strahd isn't just a boss to be killed, he's out to mess with the party and at least one character is highly corruptible. Rekindling the feelings of hope in the bleak landscape of Barovia is probably not on the party's to-do list.

In my adventure padding I'm also on the hunt for some new encounters, and am fishing through my reading for some ideas. The Yellow Wallpaper is a nice touch, but more an Easter Egg (I do like those!). Since most of the famous Gothic/Horror characters are already present in some way, I'm thinking of some others to bring in.

I listened to a vampire story recently, called "The Hound" if memory serves. I can probably dig it up again. It's vampire, but crosses into Weird a little with the inclusion of occult and Eldritch things the protagonist's liked to mess around with. The vampire can apparently take the form of a hound and it felt like a newer, or at least less common, approach to vampires than the Ricean sort, which Strahd himself already covers.

Now, how would I go about adding some Gothic flavour to an independent group of kobolds? (Small, bipedal lizard race distantly related to dragons). Is there a story around that involves an isolated group of somethings that are up to their own somethings?

Editat: ag. 13, 2019, 8:23am

>4 WeeTurtle: Maybe a play on their religion ? Either the true nature of some entity they end up serving is not who the kobolds think, or while still officially serving a relatively traditional choice for their race they end up doing it in particularly twisted and strange ways because they never received clear signs of that divine being's displeasure to correct them as they would have in most other parts of the multiverse, actually those responsible for the most egregious acts seemed to be granted boons for them.
One characteristic of Ravenloft is that the Dark Powers will substitute as the actual power source for many divinely endowed characters, see Elena Faith-Hold. And they seem less concerned with orthodoxy or upholding the original spirit of a faith, than poetically 'rewarding'/punishing flawed individuals on their downward spiral to utter damnation.

Or maybe the particular history of that tribe placed them under the open rule of some sort of mastermind. Some type of evil dragon (see Tymofarrar in the NWN:Shadows of Undrentide campaign for an example, possibly a relatively common situation for some kobolds tribes) ? Some stranded, moderately powerful evil or neutral being who (like Azalin) is not happy with being stuck in the demi-plane and uses them as a source of intelligence and labor in some scheme to escape ? Some similarly stranded evil outsider who hopes that if they make their particular corner of the demi-plane suitably, hopelessly hellish, it will end up actually shifting into Baator or the Abyss (as could happen in most other places of the Prime, but most likely not in Ravenloft I suspect) and free them to join the Bloodwar again ?

ag. 25, 2019, 6:38am

>5 Jarandel: A new being to worship would work since the group of Kobolds is an offshoot of an oppressed bunch from the neighbouring domain, which I think is/was Gundarak but I'm not sure. They could also be anti-god for the same reason.

I'm boosting Strahd so he'll be the end battle, since this is really all about him vs. the paladin who is very much of the mind that if it's undead, it dies, and that he can't be THAT bad. I've decided he's going to be that bad.

They know very little about where they are, so I'm working on trying to get the feel and atmosphere across. There are undead all around and the Paladin is of the mind that she really needs to just clean the place out, then problem solved, while the local is saying they have bigger problems (like getting the vampire charmed sister out of town). Encounters and events that show drama, power, and bleakness would be good here.

maig 28, 2020, 8:25pm

Since I skipped attempts of contributing to the Fraternity of Shadows, an older Ravenloft & Gothic fansite, the only hype I read on was the renewed Curse of Strahd. This post made me wonder, if a roleplaying group without mainstreamers would be a wise choice to me.

My regards

Andre M. Pietroschek

maig 29, 2020, 2:30am

I remember Fraternity of Shadows. I didn't post there, just on the Ravenloft wing of the old WOTC forums when they existed.

Not sure what you mean by "mainstreamers" but right now I'm playing with someone who has an idea of Ravenloft, and someone who knows nothing about it at all. They each have two characters because it's often only the three of us playing and I'm not the sort that can juggle a DMPC all that well. If you are referring to people who are familiar with Ravenloft versus those who aren't, I'm always wondering about that. It goes with the question "do you tell the players they are in Ravenloft?" It affects the atmosphere and tone of the game.

We're still playing the campaign, though a lot of that is me both being slow and also having a hard time working with the module as written. It's something that I think I should have read and examined in it's entirety before starting, rather than go with the chapters as they arrive. There's a lot of stuff to do, so much that I think a good part of the adventure has to do with general Ravenloft lore worked into the Strand adventure, rather than because it's needed for the campaign.

I have had some arguments with my friend over Ravenloft's mechanics when they differ from the regular game, and there are some. It's handy for mystery and suspense as things are suddenly different, but can cause issues. The biggest one, of curse, is that the gods in the regular DnD world have no presence in Ravenloft. Spells etc. still work but it's something else answering prayers and such. I like the concept, but my friend and I still argue about it. His idea of what makes sense vs. my idea of what makes sense. I try not to argue with "the book says so."

The soundtrack has been okay so far. We pull it up from youtube. It can get repetitive, but holds the mood. The piece for the Svalich Woods was rain, the occasional thunder, and crows.