Wednesday, January 20, 2016


I started running Ravenloft as a setting right after the Black Boxed Set and Feast of Goblyns came out. Those were my two major introductions to GMing. I had played in campaigns for years to that point, but never run anything. So I cut my teeth on Ravenloft and continued with it as my preferred setting until at least 2003 or so (something about the d20 Ravenloft material just never worked for me). I even ran some recent campaigns using the 2E rules once again. 

So I was excited to see that WOTC officially announced the return of Ravenloft this week, with plans to release Curse of Strahd. It doesn't look like they plan to release the entire setting but I suspect they are laying the ground work for a potential reboot if module is a success. There is a blog post on it by Jack Shear that is pretty illuminating (HERE).

Jack mentions a Geek and Sundry interview with Chris Perkins (who wrote Curse of Strahd) and he covers many of the major changes. To me these all look like interesting and welcome expansions. The most important one for Gamemasters is they are making Barovia more detailed and useful as a sandbox. The original Ravenloft adventure had a pretty extensive map of Castle Ravenloft, and was great for dungeon exploration, but the Ravenloft material that followed wasn't particularly oriented toward sandbox play or detailed maps (though Castles Forlorn and Feast of Goblyns came pretty close). So it should be quite playable, no matter what your style. 

I'm of two minds here. On the one hand, I think it is great because it makes Ravenloft more useable for a lot of GMs and even if you don't run it as a sandbox, having those kinds of details can always be useful. On the other hand, I never ran my Ravenloft campaigns as sandboxes. They are always more character, investigation and monster hunt driven. So I don't know if it will play the way I would run a session (and I do run Ravenloft very differently from how I run many of my other
campaigns). I am hoping if they do revisit Ravenloft they consider plundering the old Van Richten books for ideas and adventure advice (for me Van Richten Books really formed the blueprint for a successful, long term Ravenloft Campaign). 

They also mention increased diversity, on a few fronts. Here is what Perkins has to say: 
In our stories… there are black people in Barovia. There are powerful women… Even Strahd’s tastes are more open-ended than they used to be. If you look at Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Dracula himself is not beyond romancing a man. Strahd the vampire is attracted to charismatic, magnetic people. Period.
These changes are, I think, actually in keeping with how a lot of people already ran Ravenloft. Because of its Gothic Horror and Horror roots, people who ran the game tended to include things like that. If you were a Ravenloft GM in the 90s, you were probably also a horror fan, and things like homosexuality were pretty common in horror films and novels at the time (especially anything to do with Vampires). This feels fitting to the setting for me. Also, the domain of Valachan (which is in the core) is populated by people with black skin (though this detail didn't appear in the original boxed set). So there is already a population present that could explain the change in an existing campaign. 

There is more good news as well. They brought in Tracy and Laura Hickman (who wrote the original Ravenloft Module) as consultants. And we will also be getting a new Tarokka Deck. For those unfamiliar the Tarokka Deck is basically like Tarot but there are few ways they can be used. One interesting method is to use them as adventure randomizers (so if the players have a reading done to find out about the Vampire they are chasing, the way the deck plays out actually impacts where things are located, goals, etc). It actually works pretty well if you are comfortable with such important aspects of an adventure being subject to a card draw.

Personally I am excited to see this announcement. I really don't know what to expect. They are attempting to satisfy both fans of the original module and fans of the complete setting. I can say, this prompted me to complete my purchase of the 5E books (I only had the Players Handbook and just ordered the Dungeon Masters Guide & Monster Manual). I may use this book, I may not, but at the very least it will give me a sense of how to update the old material to 5th edition (and also hope for more Ravenloft material to come). Right now I am leaning on using the new module, but setting it in Ravenloft (maybe using a conjunction if it needs to pull characters in from another setting). 

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