Ravenloft Campaign: Woven Fates

Tonight, I relate the story of a group of strangers that met here in the Land of Mists and, forced by destiny, wandered its roads in formidable adventure. Join us as I lead you from their first meeting along through their travels, their misfortunes and their shining moments. Grace them with your compassion in their losses; bless them with your support when the sky is dark and bleak. Do not forget to bestow your praise upon them as they vanquish terror and hold back the minions of darkness. Raise your arm to cheer for their victories!
And above all, share your glass with us for them, both in sorrow and elation, as you accompany them in the thorny road from lost adventurers to heroes of the mists.

Come, huddle with us by the fire here in the dark. The night is cold, but within the ring of Vardos, its evils cannot touch us. Tonight, you are a guest of the Vistani and nothing will harm you. Come, the Prastonata is over and now is time for the Doroq. Let the tales now unfold, let the revelations begin...

Thursday, November 11, 2004

What is Ravenloft?

Now, a few words about Ravenloft. Ravenloft was just another setting of Dungeons & Dragons, thus, a backdrop for medieval-fantasy RPGs. But it was a setting designed over one of the most successful modules by TSR, the very old I6: Ravenloft, still in 1st Edition rules. The point of I6 was to scare the players, to evince terror in them as they progressed through a strongly Gothic background.

Gothic literature thus came to be the main source of inspiration for the Ravenloft setting. At first, it was merely intended to be used as a place where PCs from other settings would be taken for a "weekend-in-hell" style of game: you were left in a hideous place, suffered to find your way out and left. Perhaps you could come back later, only the Mists knew.

But seduction is one of the major undertones of Gothic tales: the seduction of the vampire's kiss, the allure of the fleeting maiden that turns out to be a creature of darkness, the desire of knowledge that corrupts all good and heightened feelings, the irresistible urge of the wild being within you. These are all themes heavily explored in Gothic literature, and they are so pervasive in human lives that Horror stories never fail to entice and beckon the curious and the ambitious.

Thus it is that Ravenloft was too good to be merely a crucible for strong characters of other realms. And in time, the focus was now on native characters of Ravenloft. And I'm glad it was so.

The objective of a Ravenloft adventure is thus to focus on some themes more adult than the average medieval-RPG. For me, the most important is the moral ambiguity of the characters. Now longer have you Mr. Bad Guy. Now, there are unmistakeably evil characters, but they all must have that faint spark that says "you could be him, you have the failings that have led to his downfall. Watch him well, for he was your mirror image before he succumbed and was corrupted". Avoid, if you can, the tempation, or you'll be just like him: another monster". It is this familiarity, this proximity, this "perverted humanity" of Evil in Ravenloft that makes it enticing and fascinating. Ravenloft, far from being just a wild crazy run to destroy evil, is more a difficult journey to avoid it within yourself, identify the many shades of grey and separate them from the truly black. Many times do the Heroes have to side with Evil to destroy a greater evil, for no world can exist without evil in it. Full destruction is futile, but righting particular wrongs here and there is the true victory of the hapless inhabitants of this land.

At the same time, any light shines stronger in the dark, so the Heroes that truly survice the Land of Mists unscathed are the loftiest among all Heroes.

Apart from this morality that the players must contend with, and which makes Ravenloft immediately a game more adult-oriented, themes like sex and perversion have a long history in Gothic literature. Remember, this is about Evil that comes from human failings, not Evil of alien nature which can be frightening but not horrorful. What strikes aversion in our hearts is to comprehend that Evil can be done by your friend, your family or you! And that you feel remorse for it, for it will destroy those you love.

This is the spirit of Ravenloft: a fight for purity and consistency against temptations of all kinds. And this moral and many times psychological horror is what is sought in Ravenloft games. Of course, there is also space for joy and happiness; of course there's place for wild chasing and adventuring. But there won't be easy victories, nor unblemished delights that last for long. In a sense, Ravenloft is more like the real world.


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