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

It seems to me that the domain lord concept is, IMHO, the weakest concept in Ravenloft.

It is fair if you find it weak, but I honestly think the Domain lord concept is the very heart of the setting (and I would say very popular among most Ravenloft fans)

Yes, it works for Strahd, but I find it to be overly restrictive and problematic. It's quite anti-climactic if any domain lord can never be defeated.

They can be defeated. The point isn't that they can't be defeated. It is that beating one is like beating Dracula. It is a very big deal and will often take a lot of work and research. And it will be dangerous. And some are more difficult to beat than others

That's not to say that beings such as these shouldn't exist, but it's often left to the imaginations of the GM to determine what, if anything, happens to the domain if the lord is defeated. I know it's part of the shtick that the lords are often tortured subjects as well, though I'm not sure that really adds anything to the setting, really.

The idea is the domain is either going to vanish, become part of a neighboring domain, the people and the land will be freed and returned if they came from somewhere else or some stronger personality in the domain will become the new lord. I don't personally see the problem with this being determined by the GM.

Of the modules I'm planning on running, I don't know that I'm really going to lean into that concept at all, really. It seems burdensome and unnecessary to me.

In my opinion, just having run Ravenloft a lot over many years, making domain lords the focus of adventures isn't a good idea. They are important villains, they can become important and be occasional focuses of the adventures, but it is much better to use domain lords as models when creating villains (not make new domain lords but understand that what is happening to a domain lord happens to a regular monster on a much smaller scale). The best campaigns I ran were structured around monster hunts, and only occasionally would that involve a domain lord (often not as the focus of the hunt).
 

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I always forget that book but it also came at the end of TSR’s time so it never felt like it got a lot of follow thru.

It did come at the end, but it is also an important era of Ravenloft because it marks a very different approach to the setting. I think in general it may be more popular than either the black or red box. It isn't my favorite but I get why people like it. It is a more fully contained setting book (though they do crappy things sometimes like reducing information on the Vistani so you buy the Van Richten Guide to the Vistani)
 

Cohesiveness runs contrary to the nature of Ravenloft. Nightmares are not cohesive.

This is why I like the black box better. Also the nightmare lands are still part of the core there and less Somethingi Wicked this Way Comes meets a Nightmare on Elmstreet. Classic horror movies and gothic horror feel very dreamlike and surreal to me. If it is getting into detail on anything real it is the personality of the villains and characters. Their inner worlds matter. Modeling the real world matters a great deal less to me. I want it to feel like old hammer studio sets, the 92 Dracula movie (just in terms of atmosphere and world building), Universal Horror or like Reading Frankenstein or the Castle of Otranto
 

My view on horror is that it functions because it’s a counterpoint to the real world. It has to have a normal anchoring point to contrast with in order for the horror to have impact. At the Mountains of Madness works because it starts as a scientific exploration of Antarctica before pivoting into the Mythos and then going somewhere otherworldly. Ravenloft, for me, works better when the people who live there think they are in a normal, functioning world, only to find it’s twisted and wrong. This is why Masque of the Red Death always clicked for me better than core Ravenloft did, too. So yeah, I’d prefer a central core with some really weird stuff that one couldn’t explain rationally - like why there’s a big gaping pit called the Shadow Rift in the center of the map, or why ships that sail too far west drift off into the mist and are seldom heard from again — better to sail north to south.
Lovecraft is doing something a bit different, but he is important to Ravenloft as his advice is peppered throughout the black book. I still find there is a surreal element to stuff like the Mountains of Madness. But what i take from his approach is the idea that you have in gothic stories where the natural world inspires awe. To me that is less about modeling the physics of a mountain and more about taking something familiar like a mountain but giving it an eerie preternatural presence that dwarfs humanity. I would also say for me atmosphere is the single most important thing in horror. With lovecraft part of how he builds atmosphere is rooting what he is saying in real world ideas. That is fine. But the atmosphere in Frankenstein feels much more romantic in nature to me. Yes galvanism is clearly at work in the creature of the creature but the focus feels much more on the psychology of the characters, the mood, the sense of dread and beauty that the environment establishes (thinking here of all the scenes in mountainous terrain and the incredible chase scene in the end into the vast ice sheets). There is real world stuff at work here but also there are things that if you stop and take the kind of examination lens you are talking about to them, would make it fall apart. For instance the entire book we are reading is a letter written by the ship captain that he presumably sent to his sister----the guy literally wrote a book! that kind of verbosity stretches credulity a bit but it doesn't matter because it is a crucial framing device. Or that the monster just happens upon these books that perfectly align with the novel's themes and that he is able to learn to read Paradise lost, learn to write and learn to talk eloquently by watching villagers in a homestead getting lessons)
 

TiQuinn

Registered User
There is real world stuff at work here but also there are things that if you stop and take the kind of examination lens you are talking about to them, would make it fall apart. For instance the entire book we are reading is a letter written by the ship captain that he presumably sent to his sister----the guy literally wrote a book! that kind of verbosity stretches credulity a bit but it doesn't matter because it is a crucial framing device. Or that the monster just happens upon these books that perfectly align with the novel's themes and that he is able to learn to read Paradise lost, learn to write and learn to talk eloquently by watching villagers in a homestead getting lessons)

True, but not enough for most people to question or strain their suspension of disbelief. For instance, I never for once noticed that his letters were basically a novella before until you pointed that fact out. :ROFLMAO:
 

True, but not enough for most people to question or strain their suspension of disbelief. For instance, I never for once noticed that his letters were basically a novella before until you pointed that fact out. :ROFLMAO:

What we notice is pretty idiosyncratic. I picked up on the details I mentioned when I read it. Not sure why. But most people also don't notice things like whether the town is producing enough wheat to sustain its population either. A lot of times the realism criticisms of Ravenlfot involve that same kind of 'lets take an economists lens to the amount of blood a population of 2 vampires requires versus the town's population of 200). As a history student I loved that Braudelian approach to things. To building a more normal setting I love that approach. But for Ravenloft I don't really want feel like we are viewing this through he lens of The Wheels of Commerce. It is about the monsters and the atmosphere for me (those towns with their burgomasters in old Universal movies don't make sense either if you put them under a microscope).
 

James Gasik

We don't talk about Pun-Pun
I disagree about it being unnecessary. Characters of the correct level might still have magic items such as a luckblade or a ring of three wishes, since 2E was before the days of item levels or pricing guidelines. As far as I remember gaming back then, that's not an unreasonable possibility, and the author of this module offering a guideline for it is something I appreciate.
I suppose, but I've been converting a lot of older modules lately for my campaign, and it's still a bit jarring when an adventure for characters of levels 6-8 brings up the possibility of using passwall or transmute rock to mud.

1-You probably shouldn't let characters of that level be able to make wishes.

2-if that's intended to be guidance, it's fairly incomplete, as there's a whole swath of other ways access to any spell in the game at a given level band could disrupt an adventure.

But ultimately, I suppose it's better than good old adventure writer fiat, where you come up with some ridiculous excuse for why magic the players should have access to won't work.
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I love how the immense world-building consequences of anti-magic steel alloy is handwaved by "immense expense" in a world where adventurers are often sitting on vast reserves of wealth ("I want armor made of this stuff!"). Either way, a lot of effort was put into making sure Ninth to Twelfth level adventurers can't bypass a dungeon!
 

Directed Dreaming exists.

An air of unreality is an important element of the Gothic genre (including Romance etc as well as Horror). That's the point of using Ravenloft rather than putting your horror/grimdark story in a more "real" setting. It's much more horrific if your pod people are taking over Baldur's Gate, but it's more Gothic if it takes place in a land of mists and unreality. Literary symbolism is important in Ravenloft, and the mists are a symbol of uncertainty.

This. I have tried to run something in the style of Ravenloft, even down to using the rules for it, in a more real setting, and it always just feels more like dark fantasy to me. It just never gels. The mists and fog aren't there. The soundstage feel is important to me in achieving the feel. There is nothing wrong with wanting more grounded horror. But I feel like Ravenloft really loses something when it movies away from this dreaminess (and as you point out, it is very important to the genre).
 

der_kluge

Adventurer
Ok, @Bedrockgames and @Mark Hope help me understand, exactly, what I'm missing with Feast of Goblyns. Because I'm just not seeing it.

The jail scene makes no sense.
"The jailer knows that Jaconos is a loup-garou and is concerned that the party and his men may now be infected with lycanthropy. He will not explain this to the party, however, and they will not have further contact with him for some time. All of the other cells are empty except for the grime and stench produced by past occupants." Why? Why could he not explain this to the party. There's no reason given, other than, the jailer is a jerk, I guess?

The Alley scene makes no sense. The PCs could find a way to break out of the jail, so we're instructed to place the scene anywhere we want. But if the PCs are actually in jail, then we're just supposed to believe that Akrial puts on a performance in the alley behind the jail where she somehow magically knows that there are PCs there who might be sympathic to her story and are listening?

Akrial's Tale makes no sense. Akriel's story is insultingly stupid. Every review of this I've read online (and there are entire threads on Kargatane devoted to this) changes her story into something more plausible and, at the very least, believable. She's in love with Dr Dominiani in Gundarak, and the only thing that will help her plight is a magical crown. Are you kidding me right now? I should have given this review 1 star for the phrase "fraught with danger" alone. lol

There's nothing terribly askew with the "Woodland Encounter", but it adds nothing to the overall story. Though this, too, stretches believability. The PCs save a house from a wolfwere then, "The family will insist that the PCs accompany them to his farm where they can plunder whatever they desire in return for their aid." I mean, if my neighbor tried to kill me, and I only survived because random strangers showed up and saved me from them, it's only logical that I would suggest that the random strangers go next door and loot with impunity.

The Kartakane Inn is a mess. I don't even know where to start with this thing. Firstly, why are we here? Harkon, whom Akrial would very much like to avoid, I assume, is known to frequent this place. Harkon has a permanent room here. Akrial knows this. Why, exactly does Akrial want to come here so she could be so easily found out? Why are all the rooms of the inn detailed? The PCs have no reason to explore the entire place. There's even a room called "The Killing Room". Seriously? I'm starting to think this module was written by a 12-year old. The wolfweres here torment and possibly even kill the PCs for fun. "It is obvious that you could utterly destroy the entire party here, but that is not the object in a Ravenloft game. You should be trying to terrify the players." This is, of course after one of the wolfweres in the tavern picks a fight and "He will then fight until he (or the PCs) is slain." Did I mention that the GM is supposed to have wolfweres just burtst through the walls into the PCs room at night to further torment them? The module gives 5 (five!) different ways the woflweres can enter their room where they can just attack them with impunity, and even if the PCs flee the wolfweres are free to just stalk them all night long for fun. DM torture porn. No player is going to enjoy any part of this.

Into the Gorge. Evil giant crows. Really? The PCs can attack Radaga's spy tree, which starts a battle with 8 goblyns, and if that fight isn't enough of a problem, then Radaga can have them fight - and I sh*t you not - 180 skeletons. After that, there's a giant ribcage prison which curiously contains 13 humans, 10 zombies and 2 ju-ju zombies. It isn't explained why the zombies here don't attack and eat the humans. What's next, cats and dogs living together?

If I read any more of this, I'm likely to go insane. But please, for the love of Strahd, tell me why you love this thing so much. What am I missing here?
 

the jailer is a jerk
This. It's the trope. Also happens in real life.
Akrial puts on a performance in the alley behind the jail where she somehow magically knows that there are PCs there who might be sympathic to her story and are listening?
Part of the dreamlike quality of the setting. Also, she has access to magic.

We know about quantum ogres, but quantum quest givers are an even more common phenomena in D&D. It doesn't matter which inn the adventurers go into, there will always be a mysterious stranger with a gold exclamation mark sitting in a shadowy corner.
She's in love with Dr Dominiani in Gundarak, and the only thing that will help her plight is a magical crown.
It's a common enough story trope, and the real life customs of the nobility are pretty unfathomable to outsiders.
There's nothing terribly askew with the "Woodland Encounter", but it adds nothing to the overall story.
Stuff happens in stories, not all of it advances the plot. I'm in a dungeon, I open a door, fight and kill a few goblins. The plot does not advance. Happens in D&D all the time.

I can't be bothered to explain the rest. I'm not saying it's a good adventure or that I would ever run it (or any adventures from that period) but if you are tuned into the dreamlike logic and literary symbolism of the setting you can understand why it is how it is.
 
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