D&D General The thread where I review a ton of Ravenloft modules

There was apparently Dark Tales and Disturbing Legends with five adventures:
I did forget that one! Yes, you're right. I flicked through it in the shop, but it didn't vibe with me at the time and i never bought it. It was, I think, the last book that Arthaus did for RL (other than the never-officially-published Van Richten's Guide to the Mists), and by that time the creative team that had generated all the best stuff for Arthaus had fallen out with Arthaus and the quality of the line was in free-fall.
 

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der_kluge

Adventurer
I appreciate threads like this as a Ravenloft fan even if it’s bashing the overwrought and outright bad portions of the modules, and hope that when you do start playing your campaign, you share what you changed. I love that stuff!

My hope is that others can benefit from A) knowing what to avoid and B) what is great, or at least what can be great with a little bit of work. There are just so few reviews online of this stuff (mostly because it largely predates the internet).

@der_kluge , if you don't mind me asking (and at the risk of opening the can it worms all Ravenloft threads end up) are you basing your Ravenloft on the classic era (Black box/red box), DoD era (Domains of Dread/3e Arthaus) or 5e era? The setting has different assumptions based on which one you use as the base.

I'd rather discuss things in the lens of which version you are using, because there is such a risk of using one versions assumptions to argue anothers.

Great question! When I started this process, my plan was to use black box. I used to actually own it, but I no longer do. I didn't even know about the red box until I started digging into a little bit. The grand conjunction stuff doesn't interest me in the least. But I really like VRGtR. It's excellent! It's such a concise, usable cohesive book! And what I love about it, ironically, is that it lacks a map. That, to me, speaks to the flavor of Ravenloft. Because when I was planning out my campaign, I was trying to figure out where certain modules were based, and I needed some sort of path through the domains in order to run the kinds of things I wanted to run. But just going with the idea that the borders are ephemeral and undefined is a perfect solution that works so well. So yes, I'm using the 5e book as my base.

Doubly ironic, because I'm actually not planning on using the 5e ruleset. I'm going to be using "Low Fantasy Gaming" (LFG) as my ruleset. I feel like it might work better to capture the flavor. I considered Savage Worlds as well, but that might be a bridge too far at this point for me.
 

Voadam

Legend
Howls in the Night ⭐⭐

This adventure takes place in Mordentshire, in a coastal town. Here, the PCs check into an inn, and learn a little bit about hounds prowling the countryside. At this point, the innkeeper passes a bowl around to collect a bounty to entice the PCs into killing the hounds, which qualifies for the flimsiest hook into an adventure, ever. Failing that, the sheriff will literally force the PCs to help the town or throw them into jail. Wow, ok. Assuming that doesn’t happen, the group follows the sheriff to investigate a murder of a local shepherd. Shortly thereafter, they fight a group of bog hounds. After that, they meet a gardener wandering around outside, who leads them to a nearby manor house. He then tells them that his master hasn’t aged in 50 years, and that the hounds seem to be getting closer. How convenient!

Because it wouldn’t be a 2nd edition module without some detailed map of some sort of structure, we get a room-by-room detail for the entire house, even though the PCs really have no business rummaging through the house in this manner.

I honestly gave up on this module by this point. The entire thing is completely implausible. The start is ok, but in 50 years, no one thought to check out this dude who never aged? And Westcote himself knows the history of the bog hounds because it’s his story. That never slipped to anyone in this town in 50 years? Also, no other adventurers have entered this town in 50 years to deal with this problem? There’s nothing in this entire adventure that would compel the PCs to care about it at all. And despite how original bog hounds are as a monster, they aren’t interesting to fight. The “story” basically just consists of ham-fisted attempts to lurch the party from one combat to another, and then for the GM to stitch it all together with an overly convoluted backstory that, again, the PCs are going to care nothing about.
Heh, I ran a bunch of 2e modules in the 90s and remember Howls in the Night being an excellent experience in my Ravenloft campaign. One of the best 2e modules I ran.

It has a really fun ghost story with multiple participants that gets revealed in play for the PCs with opportunities for joining different sides, having your perspective on stuff shift as you learn more, and options for the DM to have different parties be the actual problem or tragic hero/victim. Everything is sinister and ambiguous and could be the good guys or the bad guys of the tragic story and there is the real opportunity of thematically breaking a curse through PC choices and actions that I found very satisfying.

I thought it hit a lot of the good Ravenloft high points as investigating the tragic story is key, with lots of ambiguities and seeking out unknowns, it has D&D combat but is not just hack and slash for loot or save or die/aging/energy drain shenanigans. It is not a darklord focused adventure or super epic but something in tune with the Van Richten's guides with curses and ghosts and monsters and a very gothic story.

I do not remember the adventure hooks though. The group I ran this with were mostly good guy problem solvers so seeing an interesting problem they dove in and we were off with everybody on board.
 

Voadam

Legend
Hour of the Knife ⭐⭐

Hour of the Knife is a Jack the Ripper murder-mystery type module set in Zherisia. This domain only warrants a small paragraph in the 5e Ravenloft book. But it could be placed in just about any decent sized city fairly easily. It is patterned after London. The PCs are thrust into the city blindly and then are immediately witness to a vicious murder. At this point, despite no one even asking them, it is expected that they will begin solving this crime.

One of the first things the module instructs the GM to do is to outright murder any PC that is left alone with a doppleganger (there are many of them). No dice, no warning, just death to the PC, now you’re playing a doppleganger. Furthermore, that PC is then instructed to murder any other PC if they are given the opportunity to do so. I guess it doesn’t matter if the PC in question has 100 hit points, or not. They are just insta-killed and replaced. This is a sure-fire way to both end a campaign, and to also make your players hate your guts. It also doesn’t make a lot of sense. A Doppleganger generally tries to keep a low profile. They wouldn’t draw undue attention to themselves by leaving a trail of bodies everywhere. Also, what do they gain by randomly killing people? Fortunately, the module provides a way for these PCs to eventually be resurrected, but the taint of the heavy-handed and forced death this creates can’t be erased so easily.

Hour of the Knife was originally a tournament module, and it shows. There, the players won’t be as invested in their character, and the GM could get away with a lot more stuff than you can in your home campaign. As it stands, this module would require a fair amount of rework to make it usable. For starters, I would probably vastly decrease the number of doppelgangers and offer a very compelling reward for the capture or killing of the murderer. That would at least provide some level of incentive to the party for embarking on it in the first place.
I bought Hour of the Knife looking forward to a great Jack the Ripper Ravenloft investigation and came away from reading it specifically deciding not to use it for my campaign.

About a third of the Ravenloft modules had something where the PCs get no save screwed over and essentially lose their characters which I feel is generally terrible, especially for campaign play.

This is one of them with the "if you pair off with a disguised doppelganger at any point outside of the sight of the others in the party" you die and get replaced and this only gets revealed later after you have been mistakenly thinking you've been playing your character for a while but it turns out to have actually been an imposter who now backstabs the party in a fight and is an NPC and you are done.

While a "shock" reveal, I think that would play out terribly and is nothing I want to do to peoples' PCs in my games.

Knowing it started as a tournament adventure explains it a bit, but it would be terrible for most anything except a one-shot.
 

TiQuinn

Registered User
I bought Hour of the Knife looking forward to a great Jack the Ripper Ravenloft investigation and came away from reading it specifically deciding not to use it for my campaign.

About a third of the Ravenloft modules had something where the PCs get no save screwed over and essentially lose their characters which I feel is generally terrible, especially for campaign play.

This is one of them with the "if you pair off with a disguised doppelganger at any point outside of the sight of the others in the party" you die and get replaced and this only gets revealed later after you have been mistakenly thinking you've been playing your character for a while but it turns out to have actually been an imposter who now backstabs the party in a fight and is an NPC and you are done.

While a "shock" reveal, I think that would play out terribly and is nothing I want to do to peoples' PCs in my games.

Knowing it started as a tournament adventure explains it a bit, but it would be terrible for most anything except a one-shot.
I kind of feel like the overall plot of many of these adventures is salvageable, but they need work.
 

Ravenloft in 2e has many of the 2E era issues. but I will say Feast of Goblyns always worked great for me. I love werewolf movies and adventures and it was pretty solid (whether run straight through which is admittedly more of a challenge, or taken in parts ----pretty much all of the locations I have canalized into other campaigns with success). But with Ravenloft there are often hiccups or glitches you need to smooth over (or simply accept them as a conceit I suppose). Most Ravenloft modules, I tend to take portions of for parts. There are also some heavily railroaded adventures. They were written for a very different style of play. I recently re-ran Book of Crypts, which is an anthology adventure. And one thing I liked about meeting it on its own terms (I just ran it straight) was the sense of dream like atmosphere). But it did annoying things I normally wouldn't do in a campaign these days. Also with Feast of Goblyns you have to lean heavily into the "wandering major encounter concept" to get the most out of it I find

In terms of realism, they are basically aiming for hammer and universal levels handwaviness I think.

Some of the stronger entries for modules I remember were Night of the Walking Dead, Feast of Goblyns, The Created (this has serious railroad issues but is a cool adventure otherwise), and Castles Forlorn. Adam's Wrath had lots of cool parts but I wasn't as into the main adventure. Ship of Horror also had good parts but I recall not wanting to run the adventure straight through as much. I don't remember it very well, but I have fond memories of Dark of the Moon (not sure how well it holds up). Some adventures I remember enjoying with my group but the premise may have been overly heavy handed (From the Shadows for Example, if I recall requires the players have their heads cut off by the headless rider as the hook). A lot of the stuff was from that GM as storyteller era and came with the baggage that can have.

If you want good fodder for adventures, I suggest going with the van richten books and taking inspiration from them for monster hunts.
 

Expedition was a lot of fun, but it's clearly a I6 redux and cared nothing about the Ravenloft setting (Curse of Strahd was more respectful than Expedition). But boy did we have fun running that one. Strahd has a body count in that module that made him truly terrifying...

Some of this stuff boils down to expectation. I know people who loved this one. Expedition to Castle Ravenloft for 3E was my end point for buying WOTC modules. II think the heavy use of combat tiles and some of the gamier conceits just made it clear it was not what I was looking in Ravenloft. The line has had so many iterations at this point, there is an era for every approach to play it seems
 

Feast of Goblyns ⭐⭐



The jail scene at the beginning defies logic. Like, ok, a prisoner escapes, and the PCs are enlisted (rather, drafted) to aid the warden, and then after he locks them in the prison just... forgets about them??? WTF? The next section works whether the party is in jail or not, so the whole jail thing is completely unnecessary. You can skip it and it has no effect on the game whatsoever. It makes more sense to run "The Alley" section by having the PCs hear a commotion outside their room at an inn.
Skipping to the alley scene works well if you want. The main point of the jail encounter is to plunge the players into the howling mood I think. But jailer intentionally locks them there because he is worried they may be infected. So I don't think he simply forgot, he is paranoid the PCs or his men are infected with lycanthropy
 

Remathilis

Legend
Some of this stuff boils down to expectation. I know people who loved this one. Expedition to Castle Ravenloft for 3E was my end point for buying WOTC modules. II think the heavy use of combat tiles and some of the gamier conceits just made it clear it was not what I was looking in Ravenloft. The line has had so many iterations at this point, there is an era for every approach to play it seems
Oh absolutely. I didn't like it from a Ravenloft: The Setting aspect at all, but as a spooky castle with a vampire adventure, it was a lot of fun.
 

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