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

Sadly, a lot of these 2E adventures fail to do that.
I don't have many of those - I found much of the 2nd edition content was shovelware, and those I do have are horrible railroads. But it's very difficult to write this stuff. The only really good Ravenloft adventures I've played are ones I've tailored specifically to my players. And Curse of Strahd is more horror theme park than remotely scary.
 
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Remathilis

Legend
The group is lost in the woods (whether they are all rangers and druids is irrelevant) ...

I want to hone in on this specific aspect. (Not that it distracts from the rest of your otherwise salient points)
This is where Ravenloft "nightmare logic" comes into play. The Mists can distort things so that natural talents fail. A druid or ranger might know how to navigate a forest well (hell, it might be THEIR Forest!) but when the Mists get involved, reality distorts. Trees move, markings disappear, trails bend in on themselves. Why? Because the Mists are testing them. Or the presence of a powerful evil entity warps the area around it. Or maybe there is no why. And that is what is frightening, the idea that your otherwise infallible talent has just failed and you don't know why except the woods have gone strange and there is a crying girl somewhere in the distance...

Yeah, it's a cop out to have the Mists foil the PCs abilities, but as discussed before, D&D as a system was always too consistent to invoke fear without some neutering.
 

TiQuinn

Registered User
Sadly, a lot of these 2E adventures fail to do that. They're short stories written for the DM's entertainment and just don't play out with the same aura they're meant to evoke unless the DM is really good about evoking the proper framing to the players (and the players buy in, which I find they tend to be really resistant to).
This is why some of my favorite supplements from all of the TSR era are the Van Richten's Guides and the Darklords book. They are expressly written for the DM and very evocative of the genre. But it also shows how difficult it was to translate that into the actual game that you put before the players because I would rate Book of Crypts, for example, as one of the worst Ravenloft adventure books ever, and most of the initial adventures being only average at best, until the wonderful Night of the Walking Dead.
 

This is why some of my favorite supplements from all of the TSR era are the Van Richten's Guides and the Darklords book. They are expressly written for the DM and very evocative of the genre. But it also shows how difficult it was to translate that into the actual game that you put before the players because I would rate Book of Crypts, for example, as one of the worst Ravenloft adventure books ever, and most of the initial adventures being only average at best, until the wonderful Night of the Walking Dead.

The Van Richten books are really what taught me how to run Ravenloft more than anything else.

I think part of the issue with what you are observing is there was a real contrast between what the Van Richten books were striving for and the Zeitgeist of adventure design at that time (which tended to be very much grounded in this "GM is the storyteller" kind of mentality. The Van Richten books were different and offered you glimpses of his investigations, which felt like moments in a campaign. And the thing that was striking about them was how open they were. They were much more about investigation, monster hunting. They felt more like there was an ongoing situation the PCs might stumble into. And it took time to take those examples and the tools in the books (which were largely about monster customization) and figure out how to make that work at the table. Once I started to understand it, my Ravenloft sessions changed a lot. I still have good memories of those early models, and I can appreciate them on their own terms, but the van Richten books are what gave me insights and approaches that I still use to this day in virtually any campaign I run
 

der_kluge

Adventurer
Maybe normal silver is, what about moonsilver, the valued metal brought from the moon itself and highly valued by craftspeople and jewelers alike? It's fantasy, after all. We're supposed to invent and think outside the box, aren't we?

In my games, mithral is functionally the same as silver for triggering vulnerabilities- gives mithral weapons a reason to exist.

Yea, James beat me to it. Silver is there because it's canonical, but I like the idea of mithral being a nice substitute (or replacement) for purely silver weapons. Maybe the party acquires a silvered weapon and the werewolf just laughs at them and says "You've been listening to too many children's stories!"
 

In my games, mithral is functionally the same as silver for triggering vulnerabilities- gives mithral weapons a reason to exist.

One thing Ravenloft does here is while something like silver might effect many werewolves, it won't effect all of them. Many have unique vulnerabilities (so you may encounter one who is immune to silver weapons but only affected by gold weapons because he was a miser in life or something).
 

der_kluge

Adventurer
I want to hone in on this specific aspect. (Not that it distracts from the rest of your otherwise salient points)
This is where Ravenloft "nightmare logic" comes into play. The Mists can distort things so that natural talents fail. A druid or ranger might know how to navigate a forest well (hell, it might be THEIR Forest!) but when the Mists get involved, reality distorts. Trees move, markings disappear, trails bend in on themselves. Why? Because the Mists are testing them. Or the presence of a powerful evil entity warps the area around it. Or maybe there is no why. And that is what is frightening, the idea that your otherwise infallible talent has just failed and you don't know why except the woods have gone strange and there is a crying girl somewhere in the distance...

Yeah, it's a cop out to have the Mists foil the PCs abilities, but as discussed before, D&D as a system was always too consistent to invoke fear without some neutering.
I mean, you're not wrong. Perhaps I'm judging some of these too harshly. This is a pretty minor thing in that particular module, and I get that Ravenloft can just kind of do that stuff, but more often than not, it just ends up feeling heavy-handed - kind of like the deaths of various NPCs that die "and no amount of healing will save them". It just strikes me as weak story-telling.

Which is why I contend that a lot of these modules were probably written by creative writing majors right out of college who didn't have a clue how to actually write a D&D module, and they were basically just trying to write stories.

But your point is taken.
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
One thing Ravenloft does here is while something like silver might effect many werewolves, it won't effect all of them. Many have unique vulnerabilities (so you may encounter one who is immune to silver weapons but only affected by gold weapons because he was a miser in life or something).
Oh jeeze, the loup garou. It's like nobody ever realized how terrible a gold weapon would be!
 


Remathilis

Legend
I mean, you're not wrong. Perhaps I'm judging some of these too harshly. This is a pretty minor thing in that particular module, and I get that Ravenloft can just kind of do that stuff, but more often than not, it just ends up feeling heavy-handed - kind of like the deaths of various NPCs that die "and no amount of healing will save them". It just strikes me as weak story-telling.

Which is why I contend that a lot of these modules were probably written by creative writing majors right out of college who didn't have a clue how to actually write a D&D module, and they were basically just trying to write stories.

But your point is taken.
It's the issue when you design a module to be a scary story first and a game tool second.

One of my favorite scary modules is a DCC module called Cage of Delirium. The PCs are exploring the haunted ruins of an insane asylum that burned down years ago. As you explore the ruins, you encounter all manner of spirits. Some are hostile and want to attack you (it IS a Goodman dungeon after all) but many are willing to talk to you and inform you about the backstory as you help them find peace. Sometimes it's recovering their remains, finding a beloved item from their lives, or laying another inmate's spirit to rest. What is brilliant about it is each ghost you help earns you points and when you have earned enough, the door to the finale opens and you confront the final boss. And there are enough points you don't have to do everything. That way, the players control what they want to investigate and what leads they want to follow, and eventually they earn the right to finish the adventure. The module doesn't assume you will complete any specific story or talk to any specific ghost, except for the final boss.

It's a brilliant module, and I think it's the gold standard for running horror and investigation in D&D. You are allowed to discover the plot at your own pace and encouraged to help lots of different souls do a variety of things to find peace. It could easily have been a strongly narrative railroad, but it's brilliant in using nonlinear narrative.
 

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