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Ravenloft, I6 (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Official Game Adventure #9075) Paperback – November 1, 1983
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"Under raging stormclouds, a lone figure stands silhouetted against the ancient walls of castle Ravenloft. Count Strahd von Zarovich stares down a sheer cliff at the village below. A cold, bitter wind spins dead leaves around him, billowing his cape in the darkness. Lightning splits the clouds overhead, casting stark white light across him. Strahd turns to the sky, revealing the angular muscles of his face and hands. He has a look of power and of madness. His once handsome face is contorted by a tragedy darker than the night itself. Rumbling thunder pounds the castle spires. The wind's howling increases as Strahd turns his gaze back to the village. Fas below, yet not beyond his keen eyesight, a party of adventurers has just entered his domain. Strahd's face forms a twisted smile as his dark plan unfolds. He knew they were coming, and he knows why they came, all according to his plan. He, the master of Ravenloft, will attend to them. Another lightning flash rips through the darkness, its thunder echoing through the castle's towers. But Strahd is gone. Only the howling of the wind or perhaps a lone wolf fills the midnight air. The master of Ravenloft is having guests for dinner. And you are invited."
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The card reading allows for multiple outcomes and scenarios that change each time it is played, giving extra life to a module which normally only sees play a few short times. By merely relocating Key Items and changing Strahd's desires, player's won't know what to expect when they enter the castle's walls. When a player is done with Dwellers of the forbidden City, there's not much reason to go back. Ravenloft can have numerous configurations.
The themes are very similar to those in a Hammer Dracula Film. A tragic villain that needs to be put down after his selfish ambitions justify his cruel and evil means. Wolves howl and chase the party, and a haunting castle filled with dread creatures that are slaves to their dark master. Even when the players aren't in his Castle, Strahd will attack and torment them and adding to the suspense of the game.
The only downside I can say this module has is it's not properly reprinted enough to be in current editions. Conversions of the module are quite easy, but I'd love to see a 5th edition I6: Castle Ravenloft in print instead of hunting down the 30 year old Module.
The I6/Ravenloft module introduces a lot of the key concepts behind the Ravenloft gothic horror setting. Beefier vampires, the "once you're in Barovia, you aren't leaving till the job's done" trap, gypsies, wolves, gloomy forests you don't want to be in at night, evil dungeon traps and scary castles. It also has a unique twist: all the major plot elements, including the location of the Big Bad guy and the tools to understand and defeat him, are randomly determined by drawing cards at the beginning of the adventure (and reset in the middle if the PCs get their fortunes told). This makes each adventure different. Kinda. It's possible to get results that have several plot pieces in the same room. It's still a really good example of how to integrate fortune-telling and randomness into your campaign.
Other than that cool trick, I don't think this adventure has aged all that well. It's very short. If you already have the Ravenloft setting, you'll get very little from this module. Strahd's origins are barely sketched out, few NPCs are detailed, and little about the country is given other than "here's a town, here's the castle with the bad guy, good luck". For a one-off adventure, it has some pretty vicious traps and encounters. Some tinkering could turn this into a good basis for a longer campaign. Perhaps give Strahd more of a personality and have him orchestrate more dastardly deeds throughout the world, forcing the PCs to come to him rather than trapping them in his country and harassing them.
The product description and the other reviewers mentioned some of the key aspects of this adventure - which I don't think need to be rehashed by me. But if you do purchase this (and I HIGHLY recommend it), hopefully it will touch you like it did me 25 years ago.
This was the first Dungeons & Dragons "module" I bought and it has "haunted" me ever since. I have explored the Ravenloft campaign setting inspired by this book and even into "Gothic Earth" and later derivatives. But this was the first... and best of the best. To me, it was the first Dungeons & Dragons product that had a "soul".
If this is to be your first encounter with Count Strahd and the cold, haunted parapets of his dreary, forlorn home, I envy you. You're about to experience an astonishing story of dark romance, cursed magics and unspeakable horror. You're about to plunge through the mists of fear, madness and a "tragedy darker than the night itself". Like a lifelong, welcome friend, this melancholy adventure always calls and brings me back. It should be played every few years - the lights low with serious role playing friends on Halloween or chill nights in late December.
Trust me. If you have any intrest in role playing games and TRUE gothic horror - the original Stoker's Dracula or Shelley's Frankenstein you will not regret playing this. And like it has for me, it will haunt with you forever.