Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, March 20, 2013
I6 Ravenloft

The I6 Ravenloft D&D module from 1983 is a classic. It figures in pretty much every "top D&D adventures" list, and not only had several sequels, but also a complete campaign setting and a board game made from it. So how can one dare to touch such an iconic adventure and modify it? Well, you know how I feel about nostalgia: Often our selective memory gets into the way and makes us overlook the bad side of the "good old days". Just because the module is 30 years old doesn't make it perfect, and it is rather obvious that the game of D&D as well as we as players have changed since.

The main reason I wouldn't play I6 Ravenloft as written today, under my personal circumstances, is that the Castle Ravenloft has 88 rooms, one of which has 40 sub-divisions. My campaign is only played twice per month, with 3-4 hour sessions. I don't want my players to explore the same castle for a year!

Related to that is that I6 Ravenloft is AD&D 1st edition, while we are playing D&D 4th edition. 1st edition was still very much a game about crawling through huge dungeons with lots of trash mob fights. Ravenloft is a classic because it has far stronger story elements than the average adventure of the time, but kept the gameplay mode with lots of fights. D&D 4th edition moved away from lots of small fights, and rather does fewer, but grander fights. Overall time spent fighting per adventure remains the same, but the fights are somewhat more memorable. And Ravenloft very much lends itself to a transformation in that direction. In fact at the time critics remarked that the gothic horror theme of Ravenloft didn't mix well with the hack'n'slash dungeon crawling. Modifying the adventure to have less, but more epic fights ends up working rather well.

One iconic feature of I6 Ravenloft are the isometric maps of the castle. Everybody who played the module as a DM will remember them, they looked a lot better than the usual dungeon maps, and turned the castle into a true 3D experience. But I am not so sure how the people who played that module as players remember those maps. Probably they never saw them, because they weren't designed to be suitable as player handouts, showing lots of secret doors and connections. And the players who had to then to redraw those maps on regular graph paper presumably had a rather hard time of it.

4th edition maps in general look different than maps of earlier editions. They are designed to be used not just for showing how rooms are connected to each other, but also as battle maps. So unlike earlier editions, on 4E maps you are likely to find furniture and other terrain features marked, because they can play a role in the combat. Rooms tend to be a bit larger, some 1st edition dungeons tended to be rather cramped with small rooms full of lots of monsters. And unlike earlier editions, a 4E map says where exactly those monsters are standing in the room.

Now obviously I could have kept the I6 Ravenloft isometric maps, and just created battle maps of the relevant locations. But as I didn't want to play through 88 rooms and 40 crypts anyway, I did the unspeakable: I completely redesigned Castle Ravenloft, creating my own version from the bottom up. Not isometric, and just a quarter or so of the number of rooms of the original. That not only fits my campaign circumstances much better. It also avoids problems with the player who had DM'd the original years ago, or players who might be tempted to cheat and look things up on the internet.

In the end one has to realize that every group who played through I6 Ravenloft experienced it somewhat differently. Not just because the adventure is designed like that, with some random factors to the story, but also because every DM and every group of player interact with the adventure module in a different way, and end up telling a different interactive story. The iconoclastic rebuilding of Castle Ravenloft for my campaign will just be another different experience of that same adventure, hopefully true to the core of it, but different in the details.

Even if your players wanted to "cheat" or have experienced the original, chances are they played a different 'version' since the initial fortune telling can really mix the locations up.

Also you can tell if someone has played Ravenloft/House of Strahd before by observing their face when you announce the module. Those who cringe have previous experience. If played 'by the book', it can end the adventuring career of the party unless your players are just stellar.
One more thing: if you feel like going through some older horror themed modules, I highly recommend 'When Black Roses Bloom' and 'A Feast of Goblyns', both Ravenloft classics (imo at least).
You have a very different conception of D&D than I did when I played it.

I would have found modifying the castle totally unremarkable and just done it without second thought. Maps? Way too much work. The slightest concern for the rules or edition? Hell no. Hell, we barely used the dice.

Ironically while we did have the box to Ravenloft, we never actually played the campaign. Or any set D&D campaign for that matter.

My brothers loved making their own stuff up with Greyhawk as the background. :)
I agree on Feast of Goblyns! Way back when I converted that to 3.0 and played it with my group. It was one of the best adventures we had.

I will never forget that battle against an army of skeletons where the Paladin forgot she had Turn Undead :)

I have I6, but when I saw the book I link below, I had to have it. It had already been out for a year before I picked it up in the summer of 07. Your solution was smarter had more sense to it, though.

I always liked Temple better than Ravenloft.
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