Wednesday, September 4, 2013

30-Day D&D Challenge - Favorite Gameworld: Ravenloft

So I've just learned about the 30 Day D&D Challenge, but that won't stop me from jumping in and giving my two cents on the most important topic of Dungeons and Dragons-ing!

Favorite Gameworld (Day 4)

Ravenloft!


Easily my favorite D&D gameworld has to be Ravenloft.  Specifically, AD&D Ravenloft from the mid-nineties, not the 3e+ "conversions" they tried to make in the early 2000's.  Something was lost in translation when the campaign book contains actual player Feats to gain a mechanical bonus to avoid being affected by Horror and the all-mysterious Ravenloft Powers Checks.  Instead of rolling strange percentiles to avoid fainting at the sight of the ghoul ballroom dinner, players get a +3 skill bonus versus horror (will) checks or are frightened (-4 to attacks and AC).  Meh.

I love Ravenloft not because its the most exciting for the players (few campaign settings will elicit such eyerolls from players as the Gothic Mists), and not because it has the smoothest mechanics (95% of the iconic Ravenloft-specific dark powers/mists mechanics are "because the DM says so"), but because of the loads of fantastic gothic fluff they crammed into every Domain splatbook and Van Richten's Guide that was printed in the 90's.  This is a campaign setting for those DMs who never actually get to play, but just love to read about settings.

And the Van Richten guides!  There were like 15 of those things!  Guide to Ghosts, Vampires, Constructs, Mummies, Demons, Lycanthropes...you name a gothic monster, they had a whole splatbook dedicated to it.  A splatbook that read like a series of journal entries (introducing the suggested plot hooks and ideas) from Van Richten's point of view!  They were superior to the Volo's Guides (of Forgotten Realms) because they had the overarching ominous tone of Ravenloft, where you read on to see what horrible thing will happen to Van Richten or his friends.  This is versus Volo just talking about drinking in Taverns and stuff, and just read like a rather ho-hum travel guide.

And then there's the novels.  Like many D&D novel, some were so badly written to be all but incomprehensible as to what was going on, but others introduced iconic characters and plotlines.  Vampire of the Mists, Knight of the Black Rose, and I, Strahd are three of the better novels set in the Ravenloft universe.  Vampire of the Mists introduced Jander Sunstar, the good-hearted elf vampire trapped in the mists who you wanted to root for even though he was a vampire.  Knight of the Black Rose gave us Lord Soth, a major Dragonlance character being transported to Ravenloft, showing us they were serious about the 'no one is safe from the mists' angle (they were willing to move a major character from another whole campaign setting!).  And I, Strahd gave us Azalin, the Lich arch-enemy of Ravenloft's Dracula, Strahd.

Ravenloft is the B-horror gothic movie setting of 2nd ed. AD&D.
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