5E CoS - Strahd's background and motivation

EvilPheemy

Visitor
Count Strahd is irredeemably evil, and Damned.


And though he as been an Evil Man for the entirety of his adult life, he only becomes Damned once he seals his pact with Death and kills Sergei.


But why?  Why is Count Strahd von Zarovich an evil man?  He certainly sees himself as such now, as a Vampire and the undying Lord of Ravenloft and Barovia, but when he was a young man, Srahd did not see himself as evil in the least.  He saw himself a Hero of his people (not the Barovians, but the people of his Family’s lands) and a Ruler, a Prince.  Strand’s Arrogance and Greed were justified as his birthright, not only by himself, but his Father, Mother, Servants.. the very people who raised him taught him that HE, Strahd, had a destiny because he is a Von Zarovich, and because he is the Eldest Son of his father King Barov.


When Strahd led his armies on his conquests, he did so for his own Glory, and he Glory of his family.  He rode in the name of a Just God, but the concepts of Grace and Justice never crossed his mind.  To his credit, the Count Strahd was a mighty warrior and a bold, brilliant commander.  The armies he led went from victory to victory, and Strahd was loved by his men, and became the hero that he knew it was his destiny to be.


His last conquest becomes his Triumph. Strahd renames the land Barovia, and builds a mighty Castle atop a thousand-foot stone pillar above the valley’s largest village and names it for his Mother.  Castle Ravenloft.  He then calls for his family to join him.

But Count Strahd’s father has died during the years of blood and steel.  His mother has grown feeble and old, and his younger brother has grown into a bright soul, shining with all of the mercy, wisdom and justice that a life of dealing death and war had burned from Strahd’s soul. Strahd sees in his brother, the youth he wasted, the vitality, the LIFE that he squandered for brief moments of glory, now faded and cold.
Strahd comes to hate his brother because Sergei is what Strahd wishes he could be again, young, beautiful, and innocent.  Worse yet, the only person who could give Strahd wise counsel, his mother dies on the journey to her new home.  Strahd has no one to guide him from his path of darkness.


DO NOT FEEL PITY FOR STRAHD NOW!  Remember that Strahd had his time in the Sun and made much of it.  He Triumphed! Though in the years after his Prime, he sees his efforts as squandered, he lived a bright and brilliant career while on campaign.  And it lasted for years.  The point of Strahd’s history up to this point is that none of the Conquests or Wars are forced upon him. He’s not defending his people from invaders, or freeing them from tyranny. He’s in it for the fame, the glory and the fame. Strahd is the Tyrant, he’s done terrible things in War because he’s a terrible person.

Strahd writes his autobiography in the Tome of Strahd, and because of that, he’s trying to justify the actions of his youth, and place the blame for his despair on the passage of years. For lack of a better term, when Strahd seizes the lands of Barovia, he’s going through a mid-life crisis. Had Strahd been a contemporary and modern character, he might have even bought a sports car, joined a gym, and started hitting the nightclubs. But because this is D&D and it IS a Fantasy Gothic story, Strahd starts studying Necromancy and searching for ways to reclaim his youth, and preserve it forever. He starts looking into dangerous, forbidden magic and dark forces; Demon Lords, ArchDevils, Gods, Demigods and Spirits … even something calling itself “Death”.

While Strahd is looking for his eternal Youth Sergei finds Tatyana. She’s young and bright and very sexy. Now, this is very important to note, when Strahd says he “loves her with all his heart”, of course he doesn’t. Strahd wants her with all his desire. He wants a cute young thing to quicken him once more. Like the sports hero in high school, Strahd wants to be adored in his middle age. He doesn’t love Tatyana any more than he loves his conquests, or his treasures. She is a thing for him to possess. The Fantasy Gothic equivalent to a Trophy Wife.

And Tatyana is pretty innocent of all this. She’s falling for Sergei (you know.. the von Zarovich that’s her OWN AGE) and is fond of Strahd, as any reasonable person would be when meeting the S.O’s charming head of the family. Strahd is likely a fascinating host, with tales of far-away lands and a romantic, exciting past of adventure and excitement. Strahd is trying hard to impress her with his wealth and power.. and because Strahd is a smooth cat (16 Charisma in 3.5ed) he’s not coming across as a “dirty ofd man”. Yet. Tatyana is flattered and probably *likes* Strahd at this point, she’s respectful, friendly.. calls him “Brother”, and “Elder”. Which, is NOT WHAT STRAHD WANTS. Sergei is getting all of Tatyana’s “cuddley talk”. She’s sharing all the pet names and phrases with him, and Strahd hears them too, which is just driving home the fact that Strahd’s plan of dazzling the girl with all his money and might is failing. The young lovers are making Strahd feel old, and his Envy is consuming him.

Then Sergei and Tatyana drop the real outrage on Strahd. They become engaged to be married.

So Strahd makes a pact with Death. Whether it’s a God of Death, a Demon, Devil, Spirit, the Dark Powers, or another such entity is irrelevant. Whatever Strahd means by, “I made a pact with death, a pact of blood,” the outcome is the same. Strahd kills his brother on the Wedding day, going so far as to drink his blood. Then confronts Tatyana and chases her throughout the Castle and corners her. Faced with her fiancé’s murderer (likely still covered in Sergei’s blood) who’s babbling on about “being her true love” and “doing all this for her”, Tatyana takes the only route of escape left to her, and throws herself off the walls of the Castle into the thousand foot chasm.

At this point, the “pact” (or ritual, spell, contract…) is complete and sealed. Strahd becomes a vampire on the spot. And filled with rage and fury over losing the object of his obsessions, kills everyone in the Castle (the whole wedding party, the guards, the guests, the servants… everyone).

That is the tragedy of Ravenloft. The people of this valley, Tatyana, Sergei, all become victims of a monster, Strahd, who was a monster long before he became a Vampire. When bands of Adventurers are lured and/or tricked into Barovia, it is not to save Strahd, he sealed his Fate and Damned his soul the moment he sacrificed his brother and Tatyana. (In fact, it could be argued that he was on the road to damnation the moment he sought to become immortal).

The Horror of Ravenloft is that the adventurers are trapped there through no fault of their own. The characters didn’t wake up one morning and decide that Ravenloft would be the place to adventure this week. They were deceived, tricked, outright kidnapped BY STRAHD (or one of the minions bound to his will) and brought to Barovia.
 
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EvilPheemy

Visitor
Hokey Smokes my cut-and-paste did nothing to format my beautifully formatted post! Curse of Strahd indeed (That's right I'm blaming Strahd! It's all his fault).

Post editing - [MENTION=23]Ancalagon[/MENTION]; easier to read now yes?
 
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MonsterEnvy

Adventurer
So Strahd makes a pact with Death. Whether it’s a God of Death, a Demon, Devil, Spirit, the Dark Powers, or another such entity is irrelevant. Whatever Strahd means by, “I made a pact with death, a pact of blood,” the outcome is the same. Strahd kills his brother on the Wedding day, going so far as to drink his blood. Then confronts Tatyana and chases her throughout the Castle and corners her. Faced with her fiancé’s murderer (likely still covered in Sergei’s blood) who’s babbling on about “being her true love” and “doing all this for her”, Tatyana takes the only route of escape left to her, and throws herself off the walls of the Castle into the thousand foot chasm.

At this point, the “pact” (or ritual, spell, contract…) is complete and sealed. Strahd becomes a vampire on the spot. And filled with rage and fury over losing the object of his obsessions, kills everyone in the Castle (the whole wedding party, the guards, the guests, the servants… everyone).
Couple quick things corrections on these points. (They still don't really make him sympathetic or anything.) Tatyana did not know that Strahd was Sergei's murderer off the bat. Strahd murdered his brother in private and tried to blame it on an assassin, while trying to frame one of his guests and vassals as the assassin. Strahd goes to Tatyana in her grief and tries to dominate her using his new powers to seduce her, after she resists this and likely figures out what Strahd did before running and jumping out of the castle. At the same time a real assassin Leo Dilisnya one of Strahd's guards enacts his coup on Strahd with a bunch of treacherous guards. Murdering most of the guests and servants and loads the Strahd with arrows. (Which he survives thanks to being a Vampire now.) Strahd kills most of the Treacherous Guards, though Leo escaped the castle. (Eventually he is captured and killed and his remains given to the Watchters.) The Watchters and Rehadin are the most notable survivors of what happened. Rehadin because he was still Strahd's steward back then, and the Watchters cause their family is still around and loyal to Strahd. (Largely because he has always been kind to their family having saved the remnants of them from Leo and later delivering Leo's tortured remains to them. So Watchter children are raised to think Strahd is a noble being who has always favored them.)
 

evilbob

Visitor
"...those were the elements that truly defined Strahd von Zarovich - a selfish beast forever lurking behind a mask of tragic romance, the illusion of redemption that was ever only camouflage for his prey."

If you feel sorry for Strahd, then you have fallen into his trap - intentionally laid.
 

Mercule

Adventurer
The Horror of Ravenloft is that the adventurers are trapped there through no fault of their own. The characters didn’t wake up one morning and decide that Ravenloft would be the place to adventure this week. They were deceived, tricked, outright kidnapped BY STRAHD (or one of the minions bound to his will) and brought to Barovia.
I'm not sure why, but this paragraph makes me want to bring each character to Ravenloft separately, rather than as a pre-formed party. Add a combination of "they're trapped, just like me" and "who can I trust".
 
Castle Ravenloft was built by a Terg Warlord and captured by Strahd and his army. Strahd renamed the castle Ravenloft. The castles original name has never been printed.
 

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