Once again, I was going to write about something else, and it was overcome by something I saw on the internet. My problem is that I spend too much time reading and trying to keep up with what is going on. So today I saw a post on Gorgnardia on Ravenloft, which I felt the urge to reply to. Since it is a rather lengthy reply, I thought I would post it here as well. I have added some additional content to what I posted over on Grognardia so that it would make sense reading as a stand alone blog. Let me also say that I consider this a mini-review, as I will have a more organized format for my full reviews. I am thinking about doing a full product review 1/week on the weekends.
Ravenloft is one of my favorite modules from 1st ed, and I think it is a very significant module on several levels. I will list out the key features that I think distinguishes it from earlier works.
1. 3D castle map
2. Introduction of a clearly identifiable story line
3. A workable tarot card reading mechanic which effected play
4. A notable BBEG
5. A very noticeable attempt at gothic horror
6. Improved production values
James' review was mostly positive, as I think he does like the module, even if it is mostly due to a nostalgic perspective. He did point out a couple of flaws in the module, and his biggest complaint with the module was that it served as a transition from old school design and mythology to new school story based design. Modules that would follow would possess even
With this in mind, I could not resist replying to his blog.
As someone that has read through the 1ed, 2ed and 3rd versions and has either played or DM'ed these version, I feel I should weigh in on the discussion. While I agree with most of James' post, I feel the need to quibble on a couple of items. I figure that a discussion in which everyone agrees is a rather short plain one, so I will offer some different opinions.
I actually have this module ranked higher up on my list of the most important modules, as I think that is was very cutting edge when it was released. It was very different than what had gone before, and offered several new features including the tarot deck, gothic horror, and a fully mapped out castle. I agree that this is a transition module and opened the door to new school story plots, and ultimately lead to the creation of the adventure path. I am not a fan of the storybook railroad adventure, and I do agree that this adventure has those tendencies.
At its heart, this is a dungeon crawl with a BBEG that is trying to kill the party. While the story is in the background, it does not have to overshadow the main elements of this module. When I played this one, I did not get carried away with the sappier story elements, but rather focused in on the castle exploration aspects of the module.
I really liked the castle maps. Looking at the comments, I may be in the minority on this. The maps are beautiful, and it is easy to become fixated on them. When it comes to castles, I like a certain complexity. When actually playing through this module, I did not find the maps that bad to navigate through. I do agree that it can get a little confusing, but as long as the DM stays oriented, it is very playable. I really liked the little things that they did with the castle map to give it a feeling that this was a "working" castle. The built in dumb waiter, and the servant quarters in the back along with the chapel, were nice touches. Even to this day, I would claim that there are very few castle adventures that include a castle layout that is this interesting and innovating.
Now I have to agree that there are some parts of this module that are very corny. Some of the names on the tombs are a little much. I also agree that Strahd is a bit over the top in several areas, which I think you have hit upon. I would say that as originally created, he is tough, but not impossible. Clearly the DM has the flexibility to tone him down depending on the strength of the party going through. I also agree with the poster above on the subject of overly sensitive, metro-vampires. A vampire should be a cunning foe, with a touch of aristocratic arrogance.
I want to go back to my earlier comment and state that when this was released it was cutting edge and was very different than what had proceeded it. I do not necessarily think this is a bad thing. I think that adventure designs should push the envelope, and be innovative, other wise we are left with going back to the same old creative fields. I have to applaud designers that go in new directions, and I think we need to encourage this. Now I do agree that some directions do not appeal to me, but I would rather see that then see more of the same.
To conclude with my post, I liked Ravenloft a lot. I do not think that the story overshadows everything, and I do not agree that it does not matter what the PC's do during the course of it. I think in the end it becomes a show down between the BBEG and the characters. If the characters win, the curse is lifted. If the PC's lose the curse remains.
I think I will wrap it up here. Feel free to post your comments here or on Grognardia.