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Author Topic: Thoughts on re-running Ravenloft  (Read 711 times)

jhkim

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Thoughts on re-running Ravenloft
« on: August 19, 2019, 09:01:28 pm »
So I just got back from a family vacation where I ran the original I6 Ravenloft module using 5E rules over several days for five players: my son, two nephews, one niece, and one brother-in-law. We'd done some role-playing before, but this was more gaming than we'd previously done.

From my teenage years until 5E, I had generally played other RPGs - only occasionally playing D&D. I've had renewed interest in 5E, though, mostly because of the increased popularity. So under 5E, I've been trying several twists on things. Previously I tried a post-apocalyptic campaign and then an alternate-races campaign. For this, though, I went back to an old 1983 module that still is a big departure from a lot of D&D tropes.

For one, the players all made characters that had strong connections to the gothic material. The PCs were:

- A conjuror entertainer who assumed the identity of his late Romani wizard friend. So a mysterious magician like Mr. Dark.
- A Van-Helsing-like cleric of light, dedicated to hunting down the undead.
- A guilt-wracked Shadar-Kai monk, who owed a life debt to a family in the region.
- A down-to-earth human ranger, defending his home and family.
- A gentlewoman arcane trickster, who steals from the nobility she poses among.

Other than that, I kept most of the Ravenloft material very close to as written - with a dynamic background based on the card reading, Strahd as the dynamic villain, and exploration of the complex castle map. They were interested in the setup, got into the whole castle exploration, and had three clashes with Strahd ending in his destruction. The Daylight spell in 5E was crucial for this, and might have made it a little too easy. Still, I had 3 of the 5 PCs down at different times, including an actual death just barely caught by Revivify. So I don't think it was too easy.

My main conclusions:

1) Having PCs who are really bought into a strong genre helps interest a lot.

2) There have been a lot of Ravenloft spin-off products over the years, but I think the original module is justly famous for good design. I think in particular the setup and the card reading combine with the castle exploration - which nicely merges the gothic horror genre with D&D action.

Spinachcat

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Thoughts on re-running Ravenloft
« Reply #1 on: August 19, 2019, 09:26:24 pm »
Ravenloft as a setting works extremely well if you have players who buy into the gothic horror tropes. Based on the good character concepts, its clear your players jumped into the genre with both feet.  

What did you do to explain the gothic horror genre before you started chargen and playing?

jhkim

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Thoughts on re-running Ravenloft
« Reply #2 on: August 20, 2019, 01:46:00 pm »
Quote from: Spinachcat;1100175
Ravenloft as a setting works extremely well if you have players who buy into the gothic horror tropes. Based on the good character concepts, its clear your players jumped into the genre with both feet.  

What did you do to explain the gothic horror genre before you started chargen and playing?
All the players were familiar with the original Dracula, but not much about the rest of gothic horror. So I talked briefly about The Castle of Otranto, The Italian, and The Monk -- emphasizing the dark ancient past as represented in the old manor or castle.

More practically, once they picked a class, I suggested some options for within that class that would fit the genre. So, for example, for my son's wizard, I suggested either the logical scientist/doctor type (like Doctor Seward) or the mysterious showman archetype.

Ratman_tf

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Thoughts on re-running Ravenloft
« Reply #3 on: August 20, 2019, 02:02:54 pm »
Quote from: jhkim;1100171
My main conclusions:

1) Having PCs who are really bought into a strong genre helps interest a lot.

2) There have been a lot of Ravenloft spin-off products over the years, but I think the original module is justly famous for good design. I think in particular the setup and the card reading combine with the castle exploration - which nicely merges the gothic horror genre with D&D action.

Great writeup. I've never played or run I6, and really want to someday.
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Aglondir

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Thoughts on re-running Ravenloft
« Reply #4 on: August 20, 2019, 09:51:00 pm »
Quote from: jhkim;1100171
The PCs were:

- A conjuror entertainer who assumed the identity of his late Romani wizard friend. So a mysterious magician like Mr. Dark.
- A Van-Helsing-like cleric of light, dedicated to hunting down the undead.
- A guilt-wracked Shadar-Kai monk, who owed a life debt to a family in the region.
- A down-to-earth human ranger, defending his home and family.
- A gentlewoman arcane trickster, who steals from the nobility she poses among.


What a great party! You mentioned the ranger was human; what were the races of the other characters?

Quote from: jhkim;1100171

2) There have been a lot of Ravenloft spin-off products over the years, but I think the original module is justly famous for good design. I think in particular the setup and the card reading combine with the castle exploration - which nicely merges the gothic horror genre with D&D action.


Have you seen the 5E version? I own it, but not I6, so I don't know how the two compare. I do have the 3E version, which had a completely different feel than the 5E. Less evocative? Hard to say, but it felt like it was missing something. The 5E version also has that feature where the cards decide the adventure, such as where Strahd can be found. It also has many side adventures in Barovia. You could spend half a year and not even get to the castle, which some people might consider a minus rather than a plus.
And thus it came to pass that the Silmarils found their long homes: one in the airs of heaven, and one in the fires of the heart of the world, and one in the deep waters.

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

jhkim

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Thoughts on re-running Ravenloft
« Reply #5 on: August 20, 2019, 11:11:17 pm »
Quote from: Aglondir;1100338
What a great party! You mentioned the ranger was human; what were the races of the other characters?
Adding in some more details... They were all 5th level at the start.

1) A conjuror entertainer who had assumed the identity of his late Romani wizard friend. So a mysterious magician like Mr. Dark. His assumed name was Spiros (I forgot his real name); he was half-elven, and he had the conjuror path of wizard. As magic items I gave him a Serpentine Owl figurine and an Orb of Darkness (darkness at will centered on the orb).

2) A Van-Helsing-like cleric of light, dedicated to hunting down the undead. He was named Heinrich Von Lutgher, a dwarf, and dedicated to Lathandar. As magic items I gave him a Staff of Healing and a Wand of Secrets.

3) A guilt-wracked Shadar-Kai monk, who owed a life debt to a family in the region. The Shadar-Kai are a sort of elves from the Shadowfell, in league with a demi-god, the Raven Queen. He had awoken without memories a few years earlier (common for his kind), and was taken on as a bodyguard by a young noble. However, he failed and was going to the noble's kin to offer his services. His name was Arai, and he had the Kensei monk path. For magic items, I gave him a +2 longsword.

4) A down-to-earth human ranger, defending his home and family. He had an older sister who had married someone in Barovia some twenty years earlier. His name was Beauregard, and he had the Natural Explorer path. For magic items, I gave him Bracers of Archery and a Lantern of Revealing.

5) A gentlewoman arcane trickster, who steals from the nobility she poses among. She was a high elf, and had a supposed connection to the local nobility. Her name was Katarina Belview. For magic items, I gave her Boots of Levitation and a Bag of Holding.

Their connection meant that I also gave them a bunch more starting information. The dwarf had been from the region, so he had ancestors who had built Ravenloft itself - so I let him roll History to remember architectural features. The wizard was welcomed by the Romani, so they gave him extra background. And I added in to the background that Ravenloft was originally dedicated to the demi-god that would later become the Raven Queen -- so there was a mystic connection for the Shadar-Kai.

Quote from: Aglondir;1100338
Have you seen the 5E version? I own it, but not I6, so I don't know how the two compare. I do have the 3E version, which had a completely different feel than the 5E. Less evocative? Hard to say, but it felt like it was missing something. The 5E version also has that feature where the cards decide the adventure, such as where Strahd can be found. It also has many side adventures in Barovia. You could spend half a year and not even get to the castle, which some people might consider a minus rather than a plus.

I've only briefly skimmed the 5E Curse of Strahd adventure at a store. Since this was an adventure for a two-week family vacation, I thought taking a year without getting to the castle was more of a minus. I had run I6 Ravenloft decades earlier - at least once during college and once during grad school. I still had my copy and had always liked it. The original has only a brief setup - there are a half-dozen locations in the village, then the gypsy encampment outside (half a page), and then the castle itself, which has 88 locations but many are uneven. It's pretty tightly put together, but has a lot of room for DM improvisation mostly in what Strahd does - which should be based on his plan.

What I really like about it:

- It's a dynamic module, one of the first of its kind that way. There are keyed locations, but the core of the adventure is playing Strahd as a mobile NPC with a goal and resources to achieve it.

- As mentioned, there is the card reading to tell where key items are and what Strahd's goal is. This doesn't give control to the players, but it gives them information. It also means that none of the encounters are designed around a particular storyline, because there are a bunch of different plot options.

- The flavor is excellent. It hits on a bunch of classics of gothic horror without feeling too forced.

- The maps are a joy, particularly in that they form a castle that makes some sense in architecture, so it's easy to convey more of the feeling of being in a real spooky castle. Spooky castles with a dark history are a central part of the gothic genre, that nicely merges with the D&D style of exploration.

I had bought a PDF that had battle maps for every room in the castle, which I had printed out. That made mapping/drawing quicker, and the rooms looked nice.

https://www.dmsguild.com/product/254681/Castle-Ravenloft-Battle-Maps

Pat

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Thoughts on re-running Ravenloft
« Reply #6 on: August 20, 2019, 11:50:14 pm »
Really like the random placement of the artifacts, where were they in your run? Did the party get into the crypts below the castle? That's the part that seems to kill a lot of parties, as well being a mix of tedious and interesting.

jhkim

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Thoughts on re-running Ravenloft
« Reply #7 on: August 21, 2019, 01:39:23 am »
Quote from: Pat;1100341
Really like the random placement of the artifacts, where were they in your run? Did the party get into the crypts below the castle? That's the part that seems to kill a lot of parties, as well being a mix of tedious and interesting.
The tome was in the study (appropriately enough), and Strahd was in the treasure room. Both the sword and the holy symbol were in Strahd's crypt, which made it pretty challenging.

There is one significant change I made from the module - I gave the player's cryptic warnings about the magical trap outside of Strahd's crypt. That's a killer, and I think there should have been some clue about it in the design. In my run, they successfully read the clues - bypassed the trap, confronted Strahd in his crypt. The cleric went down, but the others were able to drive him off thanks to the 5E Daylight spell - which is a huge pain for vampires since it's not even concentration and lasts an hour (!!). So he was forced to retreat from his crypt.

Even with the hint, though, the Shadar-Kai monk chased him -- then ran into the trap and died, but the others were on a roll and were quick in following up, so I thought it was reasonable for them to recover the body in time for Revivify. I gave the player a nice near-death experience scene where he got to talk to the Raven Queen while dead, which was very appropriate.

Aglondir

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Thoughts on re-running Ravenloft
« Reply #8 on: August 21, 2019, 04:20:19 pm »
Quote from: jhkim;1100340
3) A guilt-wracked Shadar-Kai monk, who owed a life debt to a family in the region. The Shadar-Kai are a sort of elves from the Shadowfell, in league with a demi-god, the Raven Queen. He had awoken without memories a few years earlier (common for his kind), and was taken on as a bodyguard by a young noble. However, he failed and was going to the noble's kin to offer his services. His name was Arai, and he had the Kensei monk path. For magic items, I gave him a +2 longsword.


When I read the earlier description, this was my least favorite-- but now it is my favorite.


Quote
I had bought a PDF that had battle maps for every room in the castle, which I had printed out. That made mapping/drawing quicker, and the rooms looked nice.

https://www.dmsguild.com/product/254681/Castle-Ravenloft-Battle-Maps


Those look amazing, If I run it again, I'll pick those up.
And thus it came to pass that the Silmarils found their long homes: one in the airs of heaven, and one in the fires of the heart of the world, and one in the deep waters.

― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion

Vic99

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Thoughts on re-running Ravenloft
« Reply #9 on: August 22, 2019, 09:41:36 pm »
Great topic.

Always loved I6 and I just rediscovered it in my basement.  Would be good to revisit.

Those map tiles look great too.

Looks like you did a good job overall of enhancing the flavor of the adventure.

BedrockBrendan

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Thoughts on re-running Ravenloft
« Reply #10 on: August 23, 2019, 07:11:56 am »
One of the cool things about the setting, beyond the original module if you are looking to do a long campaign, is its malleability. That you can create new domains, change existing ones, etc provides a lot of flexibility for the GM (particularly if your players end up going Domain lord hunting or something). I don't know how familiar you are with the original line but there are some well done modules (usually requiring a bit of modification but otherwise have plenty of useful material). One of the boxed sets also elaborated on the taroka deck and fortune telling concept (by the end of the line there was both a card and a dice method for doing futures and they came up with a few different ways to interpret the results). The Van Richten books are good for long term campaigns. For modules I liked Feast of Goblyns, Castles Forlorn, and Night of the Walking Dead. Book of Crypts also had a few cool entries (and some duds).