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. Far 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.
I6: "Ravenloft," by Tracy and Laura Hickman, is the sixth module in the long-running Intermediate series of adventures for AD&D. It was released in October 1983.
Sources. "Ravenloft" describes itself as "a classic gothic horror story." Tracy Hickman says that he and his wife took particular inspiration "from the original Brahm Stoker Dracula text and the old classic films."
A Gothic Adventure. Prior to the release of "Ravenloft," TSR's D&D adventures were almost all straight fantasies - with a bit of the pulp genre slipping into adventures produced by David "Zeb" Cook and Tom Moldvay. Thus, the appearance of a gothic horror adventure for AD&D was something entirely new.
Of course that raises the question of how gothic the adventure really was. There's certainly a lot of great atmosphere - beginning with the gorgeous cover painting by Clyde Caldwell and continuing on through the descriptions by the Hickmans. However, "Ravenloft" also includes a dungeon (crypt) and a few monsters like rust monsters and red dragons that aren't really gothic in flavor. In the end, "Ravenloft" is probably best classified as a fantasy adventure with a few gothic trappings - just like Cook & Moldvay's modules were often fantasy adventures with bits of pulp.
DayStar Origins. The story of "Ravenloft" begins at DayStar West Media, the small-press company that the Hickmans ran before joining TSR. They published just two adventures - which TSR later reprinted as I3: "Pharaoh" (1982) and RPGA1: "Rahasia" (1982) / B7: "Rahasia" (1984).
However, DayStar had two other adventures underway when they decided to close up shop. One of them was "Vampyr." The Hickmans had started working on it after a friend ran an adventure where a vampire showed up in a dungeon room. Laura and Tracy felt like this didn't give vampires the proper respect (or motivation), so they decided to create an adventure built entirely around a vampire. The result was "Vampyr," which they playtested a few times at Halloween, but didn't publish... until after Tracy Hickman joined TSR.
A Dynamic Adventure. "Ravenloft" begins with a rather unique section called "Fortunes of Ravenloft." This is a "gypsy card reading" that determines where several things are located in Castle Ravenloft and also sets the goals of the Count himself. This reading clearly makes the adventure less prone to player spoiling and also makes it more replayable - but TSR hadn't really worried about adventure modules getting spoiled since the late 70s. The card reading is thus probably more notable because it allows the players to experience a non-stacked card reading that genuinely and dynamically predicts the future of the adventure.
A Different Sort of Adventure. When the Hickmans published their original adventures through DayStar West Media, they included a "manifesto" of adventure requirements that explained how their adventures would both expand the medium and stand out from the crowd. One of these requirements was "an intriguing story that is intricately woven into the play itself."
Here, "Ravenloft" delivers in spades. It's an adventure focusing on one NPC, "Count Strahd von Zarovich," who has his own goals and agenda, and who will spend the adventure both pursuing those goals and bedeviling the PCs. As a result, "Ravenloft" is a clear predecessor to the Dragonlance saga (1984-86) that would soon follow - and which would have an even greater emphasis on story. In turn, these adventures would help to define the adventure style of D&D in the 90s.
A Different Sort of Map. "Ravenloft" includes beautiful isometric maps by Dave Sutherland which depict an interconnected three-dimensional castle. These maps tied back to another of the Hickman's "requirements" for adventures: "dungeons with some sort of architectural sense." GMs would later get the opportunity to mimic the style when TSR included blank isometric maps in Dungeoneer's Survival Guide (1986).
Future History. "Ravenloft" was reprinted in RM4: "House of Strahd" (1993) and "Ravenloft Silver Anniversary Edition" (1999) - both of which updated and revised the adventure for AD&D second edition. A facsimile of the original adventure was also included in the TSR Silver Anniversary Collector's Edition slipcase (1999); it was the newest adventure in that box, which mostly included releases from the 70s.
The Hickmans outlined a sequel to "Ravenloft," I10: "Ravenloft II" (1986), but more notably this adventure led to an entire horror-oriented setting (1990-99) that was extensively supported during the years of second edition. More recently, the original castle has appeared in Expedition to Castle Ravenloft (2006) for 3e and in the Castle Ravenloft Board Game (2010).
About the Creators. Tracy Hickman wrote four of the I-series adventures in a row - from I3: "Pharaoh" to I6: "Ravenloft." Shortly afterward, he moved on to Dragonlance. Laura Hickman coauthored all three of the adventures which came out of DayStar West Media, as well as DL8: "Dragons of War" (1985).
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.