Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Case for Strahd (Opinion)

I Was banging around on Twitter last night and saw the Chris Perkins was basically fielding questions from fans, so i tossed him one.  

ChrisPerkinsDnD What's your personal favorite TSR module to run? How about playing?

Chris, being the kind soul that he is, replied.

(((Chris Perkins))) Retweeted Zardoz Industries The answer to both questions is Ravenloft. #WOTCstaff

This spawned some other questions that followed along this line of thought, but i have to admit, Ravenloft is one of my favorite adventures from the TSR period of D & D.  (My absolute personal favorite is Expedition to the Barrier Peaks, but that’s a different movie).  Ravenloft has spawned a campaign setting of its own, novels, and has been a touchstone of the Dungeons and Dragons experience since its release in 1983.  This module does a couple of things that are a different way of looking at how adventures could be written, and i would argue that the Hickmans gave Dungeons and Dragons its first, major marquee villain in Count Strahd von Zarovich.

It is very much an homage to the horror genre, and it plays like a horror movie, complete with spooky castle, terrified villagers, gypsies, and one of the most iconic vampires that no one (outside of our gaming circles) has ever heard of.  Playing through this adventure feels like surviving a horror movie, (if you make it of course) and like surviving the Tomb of Horrors, it’s a badge of honor to say you’ve taken the challenge of Ravenloft and survived to tell the tale.  

So what does Ravenloft do that previous adventures don’t?  Well, for one Strahd’s motivations aren’t certain when the adventure starts.  By interacting with the gypsy folk of Barovia, (the fictional village where this adventure takes place) the players can learn the story of Strahd and begin their quest to find their way out of Ravenloft  (Did we mention the entire border is covered by a killer no saves fog?).  Players will get to experience a wonder of Gothic monstrosities on their way to find the secret weapons that can help them defeat Strahd.  

The other thing that we really like about this adventure is that Strahd will not wait around for you to come kill him.  He’s an active part of the environment that you can encounter anywhere in his domain.  With the statistics to kill an entire party of characters (if he gets the drop on them), he’s as serious as the grave.  Worse, he’s an intelligent monster who will use what he knows to his advantage.  For the first time, we see what a thinking, intelligent monster is capable of doing in a Dungeons and Dragons environment.  

He’s one of the earliest named villains that i can remember from Dungeons and Dragons.  Some folks might remember Tiamat, or Demogorgon (You Stranger Things kids are welcome to the party).  Very few old gamers will remember the name Eclavadra (she’s the bad girl in the Queen of the Demonweb Pits supermodule).  If you mention the name Strahd around a certain age of gamers, you will get a reaction.  He’s the first TSR created bad guy that could really make that claim.  (The Hickmans along with Margaret Weis would go on to create Lord Soth, the tragic dark knight of Dragonlance)

Ravenloft has spawned numerous adaptations and treatments, and is one of the touchstones of the horror genre Dungeons and Dragons games.  His most recent return comes in the Curse of Strahd book, released for the fifth edition of Dungeons and Dragons.  Conveniently, this book was written by Chris Perkins and his deep love of the setting shows in that majestic adventure.  

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