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


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Let's not forget how a guy single handedly beat Cthulhu by pumping into it a CRAPTON of Revolver rounds as well.

Or something like that, I can't remember the EXACT details.

It is possible you are thinking of a different story so if so, apologies, but if the Call off Cthulhu I believe it was a boat. But people get this one very wrong. He wasn't defeated. He simply plowed through him and was able to escape but part of the horror is he looks back and Cthulhu is already reforming, so his attack had no lasting impact.
 

Let me stop you right there... :)

Imagine my surprise when I see 4 new pages of posts in this thread this morning. lol You seem to have struck a nerve.

Yes, I am approaching these modules as if they should make sense. Why should Ravenloft modules be above this level of scrutiny? I have 5 players. One of them is getting her MBA, one owns his own business, one is disabled (and is also a GM), and one is a Veterinarian, and the other a pharmacist. Point is, these are smart people. The veterinarian, in particular, likes to really over-analyze plots and considers every angle. If there's a plot hole in the story, they are going to shred it to pieces. If I were to simply handwave something and go "I know this is dumb, just humor me here..." that's doing a disservice to them, and frankly I'm a better GM than that.

I would do the same thing if I were reviewing Dark Sun modules or Planescape modules. A plothole is still a plothole, and a railroad is still a railroad. And I don't think I'm finding a lot of disappointment with these modules. Oh sure, some of them are absolute stinkers, but I've honestly been pleasantly surprised at how good some of these are. As someone who was largely unfamiliar with this canon of work, I had my trepidations about what I was going to find when I embarked on this journey. I generally considered all 2nd edition modules (of any kind) to be absolute garbage. So yes, imagine my surprise when I read "Evil Eye" and actually got excited about running it and could visualize the scenes in my head and am looking forward to the day when we complete that. There is good stuff in here. Unfortunately, Feast of Goblyns isn't it.

And I am 51 years old. I lived through that time. I also recognize how much gate-keeping and misogyny was baked into the hobby back then. While I could run these modules using 2e rules (shudder), I can't replace them with people who are still living in the 90s. People have traumas, and some of my players definitely do. We cover things like redlines and x-cards because it's important for me to keep these people around. In my last session in my Sunday game, the PCs ended up buying a bunch of slaves at a market, and one of the bidders was a woman I described as a "madam" (i.e., a brothel owner) and the idea that some of these slaves could be sold into sex slavery was enough trauma for one of my players that she had to pull over on the side of the road on the way home so she could stop crying. I don't need that for my game, and I certainly don't want that for my player! I like my players, and would like to keep them around. So, if I can highlight potential triggers in these modules, I'm definitely going to do that. A lot of that stuff here can probably be avoided, but some of it is harder to do so. One of my own personal redlines is violence against children. Which makes the villain at the end of Evil Eye problematic for me. But we discussed it in my session zero, and everyone seemed OK with it, so I'm planning on moving forward with it (it'll take us a while to get there anyway).

(Incidentally, I retconned the madam as a spymaster, and my player was grateful for the change. They even agreed to give some of the slaves back to her because they knew they'd end up going into a good place, and have an interesting life) - in exchange for possible favors in the future.

I value your feedback here, truly. But I do feel like there's a lot of nostalgia around some of these modules. Maybe I'll go back and re-read Feast of Goblyns one of these days. Bleak House is another that people seem to view through rose-colored glasses. I was reading reviews online yesterday (what few there are), and someone had listed "Blood in Moondale" as one of his favorites - a module I gave 1 star! Thing is, when I read context around some of these (the Kargatane site is particularly bad in this case), people are like "yea, I changed a bunch of stuff" - well of course it was good, you removed all the bad!

I started this project because I'm running Ravenloft campaign. First session is on Thursday (6/13), and we had our session zero two weeks ago. I decided to try and lessen the amount of work I needed to do (ha!) by running prepared modules, and since I wasn't familiar with ANY Ravenloft module, and the corpus was large, that surely I could find stuff to run. So yes, my eye is towards usability for me, and how good it is. But I also realized just how few reviews there are of these modules. So, eventually I decided that I should write actual reviews (mostly because it helped focus my effort) and also because I knew other people could benefit from all these reviews. I smiled yesterday when this thread's link came up in my own search of reviews like 3 links in. I hope others find value here. That's the point.

Yes, my standards are high, both because I respect my players' time, and I'm a good GM who enjoys a good story. I don't have a specific metric for my reviews, and because I didn't have a half-star character in my word document, I decided to just stick with whole-star reviews. I've only reviewed 4 5-star modules at this point. Out of 42 modules, that's only 10%. But there are 13 4-star reviews, and I'm planning on running most of those. I might end up changing my impressions of some of these after I run them. But that's just life.

Lastly, I'll just add this. I gathered brief feedback on what reviews I could find, and I was really looking forward to Feast of Goblyns since it's so universally beloved, it seems. Imagine my dismay when I found it to be an utter railroaded disaster. Perhaps I judged it unfairly (I did stop reading it halfway through after all), but the problems were basically insurmountable in my mind. Every review just heaped golden praise upon this module, though I recognize that there are entire threads devoted to repairing the NPC's motiviations here. But in my mind, even that isn't enough. Finding some lost magical crown (which incidentally, is just in a canyon a few miles away) all because she wants to be with her "lover" in the next domain over feels like a plot written by a 9 year old.

The other one that really baffles me, and perhaps I should take another more objective look at, is Bleak House. This is another one of those people consistently (I mean, there are less than 5 threads in the world on this topic, but still...) rank as one of the best Ravenloft modules. Which, again, I find absolutely bonkers. Bleak House is a terrible module by every objective stanard of that word. So, I'm generally curious if I missed the mark on these two, since my reviews seem to be in the minority here.

Bleak House did inspire me, however, for my own first session. My PCs are going to start in an Insane Asylum with amnesia, and they'll want to find a way out of it. Maybe I'll gather up all my notes on it, I can post it here if others can find value in such a thing.

I apologize if our posts were too harsh on this front. I have been enjoying the reviews and discussion overall. I think a lot of us just have very different tastes and expectations when it comes to Ravenloft
 

Remathilis

Legend
I wanted to touch on this, because I think it's an important thing to consider.

I think the 2e rules, in general, were terrible. I've no interest in recreating that experience. I like 5e, but even 5e rules are overly-powered when it comes to Ravenloft, which is why I'm choosing to use LFG (Low Fantasy Gaming) for my campaign. Even those rules aren't entirely perfect, but they get me very close. One of the things that frustrated me in my last campaign was how easy it is for PCs to acquire magical attacks. The first major villain I had in that campaign was a succubus, which is an easy villain to kill if the entire party has a magic weapon in their hand. In Ravenloft (I'm looking at you, "Sea Wolf"), a werewolf isn't really a threat if the warlock can just shoot magic arrows at it from a circle of darkness with impunity.

But I think the other reason why D&D rules don't work super great here is because Ravenloft isn't a high fantasy setting. I wanted my Asylum doctor to use electric shock treatments, and Sea Wolf has a Steamboat in it for crying out loud. I opted for Renaissance-era technology, which makes a lot of this more plausible. While I would imagine that there would be some domains that are much less technologically advanced, the idea that I could have an actual printing press, and ruffled collars is quite appealing for this setting.
This is where I absolutely ruffle the feathers of my fellow Ravenloft fans.

D&D is a terrible system for true horror. PCs are too powerful, abilities are too consistent, and magic too plentiful, even in 2e, to replicate true horror. You cannot make Dracula (the novel, the play or any movie) work with Ravenloft. What you CAN make work is Castlevania. Dark fantasy with horror elements. And Ravenloft is best when it's trying to do that. It has to be D&D first, horror second. Trying to do that backwards is always an exercise in frustration. You either embrace that or you dice D&D up to the point it's unrecognizable.

I have opted to embrace the dark fantasy element rather than go pure horror. The horror pops up when the things they expect should work in fantasy doesn't. It requires a very particular mindset, but I feel it blends D&D as a heroic fantasy with the dark terror of horror rather than trying to make D&D into a horror system.

Ymmv and all that.
 

I value your feedback here, truly. But I do feel like there's a lot of nostalgia around some of these modules. Maybe I'll go back and re-read Feast of Goblyns one of these days. Bleak House is another that people seem to view through rose-colored glasses. I was reading reviews online yesterday (what few there are), and someone had listed "Blood in Moondale" as one of his favorites - a module I gave 1 star! Thing is, when I read context around some of these (the Kargatane site is particularly bad in this case), people are like "yea, I changed a bunch of stuff" - well of course it was good, you removed all the bad!

This may have been my review :) (HERE). Just to be clear about that one, it was one of my favorite adventures that I remembered running, but I also recalled needing to make a lot of adjustments to it to get it to function (it has a lot of issues, particularly with the way it structures things around its boxed text). Also the aim of those reviews were to run my players, who didn't live through that era, through Ravenloft as I remember running it at the time (to give them a sense of the history of play). So I was embracing even elements I would think of as bad today, like Railroads, while trying to extract the value that people would have seen in them in the time. Normally I am more of a sandbox GM. So going back and doing that, took a bit of discipline to run as written. What I learned was, even though this isn't how I would run things normally today, there were things the game could do well, if you leaned them (I think one thing I identified was the railroad in Mordenheim's Bride (the adventure that comes before) helps create a really strong sense of mood. Now that comes at the expense of player freedom, and at the cost of things being quite linear, so it isnt' what I would call ideal. But my aim was to approach the review more like history (so I wasn't saying if you take this adventure and run it as written with your current group it is going to be fire or anything)
 

TiQuinn

Registered User
This is where I absolutely ruffle the feathers of my fellow Ravenloft fans.

D&D is a terrible system for true horror. PCs are too powerful, abilities are too consistent, and magic too plentiful, even in 2e, to replicate true horror. You cannot make Dracula (the novel, the play or any movie) work with Ravenloft. What you CAN make work is Castlevania. Dark fantasy with horror elements. And Ravenloft is best when it's trying to do that. It has to be D&D first, horror second. Trying to do that backwards is always an exercise in frustration. You either embrace that or you dice D&D up to the point it's unrecognizable.

I have opted to embrace the dark fantasy element rather than go pure horror. The horror pops up when the things they expect should work in fantasy doesn't. It requires a very particular mindset, but I feel it blends D&D as a heroic fantasy with the dark terror of horror rather than trying to make D&D into a horror system.

Ymmv and all that.
I agree - though I would say that there's nothing wrong with restraining the options and the magic items in Ravenloft, even if you are keeping with the dark fantasy milieu. And sometimes even my approach undercuts some of the potential - one of my favorite concepts from the new Van Richten guide was the Bagman -- a boogeyman who lurks inside Bags of Holding and creeps out at night (shudder).

In a weird way, I still don't think I've seen my perfect Ravenloft incarnation. If I wanted to really focus on the horror and the investigation, I'd probably go with 2e Masque but bring those rules into Ravenloft itself.
 

This is where I absolutely ruffle the feathers of my fellow Ravenloft fans.

D&D is a terrible system for true horror. PCs are too powerful, abilities are too consistent, and magic too plentiful, even in 2e, to replicate true horror. You cannot make Dracula (the novel, the play or any movie) work with Ravenloft. What you CAN make work is Castlevania. Dark fantasy with horror elements. And Ravenloft is best when it's trying to do that. It has to be D&D first, horror second. Trying to do that backwards is always an exercise in frustration. You either embrace that or you dice D&D up to the point it's unrecognizable.

I have opted to embrace the dark fantasy element rather than go pure horror. The horror pops up when the things they expect should work in fantasy doesn't. It requires a very particular mindset, but I feel it blends D&D as a heroic fantasy with the dark terror of horror rather than trying to make D&D into a horror system.

Ymmv and all that.

I would actually agree with you the system doesn't lend itself to horror. Horror is easier to achieve when players characters die more easily. You are going to be afraid of a vampire if just getting near it genuinely risks death and becoming a vampire for instance. So games that give you less health, make you squishy, those will do horror movie horror better I think. I think Ravenloft does a good job of fitting horror to D&D and removing or changing things so there is still a sense of horror. But it is not the same as reading Dracula. Jonathan Harker can't cast cure light wounds. Also if you go with the earlier material I think they give you tools to tamp down many of the heroics. Still if you want full horror, you may be better off playing a different system.
 

Helena Real

bit.ly/ato-qs (she/her)
I want to add, once again, that I really appreciate your work and reviews @der_kluge While other people may want to bury their heads in the sand, metaphorically speaking, these reviews align with my own experience running some of these modules. I ran Feast of Goblyns as one of my first Ravenloft modules (after the brilliant Night of the Walking Dead) and it was an unmitigated DISASTER. That module is so bad that I agree with you to be unfixable without so much work that, in that case, you're better off writing your own.

Once again thanks for these reviews, as they really allow us to have a good perspective on whether these modules are usable (or not) in 202—
 

I have opted to embrace the dark fantasy element rather than go pure horror. The horror pops up when the things they expect should work in fantasy doesn't. It requires a very particular mindset, but I feel it blends D&D as a heroic fantasy with the dark terror of horror rather than trying to make D&D into a horror system.

Ymmv and all that.

I think of this as the black box and Domains of Dread divide. Domains of dread attempted to bring back some of the fantasy elements to Ravenloft. This is very much a preference thing. Not sure if that is where the divide began for you personally, but in my view both DoD and the black box are really great in their own ways. The DoD approach I think has greater popularity, and I think for good reasons. But I personally tend to run Ravenloft more with horror in mind. To do that you definitely have to lean heavily into the low magic approach, enforce all the altered spells consistently and use a lot of the advice and customization for monsters that is covered in rules and supplements. It still isn't Dracula but after years of playing that way, I like my D&D in that style
 

Helena Real

bit.ly/ato-qs (she/her)
Regarding D&D vs. Ravenloft I mostly agree but, if I had to use D&D for Ravenloft I'd use 5E as is (Level Up really, but you know what I mean) and, instead, make the monsters really tough. Werewolf? Resistant to all harm except from silver and regen 10 that can only be stopped by silver. Normal vampire? Immune to all physical harm that is not from fire or sunlight and regen 15 that can only be stopped by fire or sunlight. And so on and so forth. Make it so the monsters are really challenging to fight and defeat (and tell the tale) 😉
 

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