Saturday, June 3, 2017

Best 2nd Edition Ravenloft adventures

Perhaps in part because I loved Curse of Strahd so much, or that it opened up Ravenloft to the DM's Guild, or maybe just as some macabre interest, I've been looking up a lot of Ravenloft stuff lately. I'm running more Ravenloft for RamaD&Dan this year. The setting wasn't really a favorite in the 90s, but I do still have the Masque of the Red Death box stashed away and collecting dust somewhere in my parents' house. Either way, I've been interested in which other old AD&D Ravenloft adventures were the best.

The obvious starting point is I6: Ravenloft / RM4: House of Strahd / Expedition to Castle Ravenloft / Fair Barovia / Curse of Strahd) for the original material and the revisions/reimaginings. Afer a few searches and having to look up the old Kargatane website on the wayback machine for reviews, I've come across five adventures that continually come up as good (in order of release):

I've now got my hands on all of these in some form (Bleak House only electronically, Castles Forlorn isn't on the DM's Guild yet), but each strikes me as fairly 90s and fairly Ravenloft. This isn't also to say that others are bad (though some almost certainly are). It's just that these seem to have generally positive reviews rather than mixed or negative (or positive with ways to fix it up) plus they are mentioned numerous times in threads discussing the best Ravenloft adventures. I wanted to base this top 5 list on some Enworld poll or the DM's Guild ratings, but there are some old modules that I'm literally the only one who's rated them there. Also, missing maps is a problem with the old TSR modules on the guild, and its hard to distinguish some of the ratings when people rate it poorly for missing maps versus being a stinking turd. In general, there just aren't enough people rating things to get a good sense of what's what.

I'll stick to first impressions here, and say barring Bleak House (which I haven't looked at as much because I've just got the pdf from the guild) I'd run any of these. The adventures in the setting tend to be much more about investigation and interaction than combats and dungeon crawls, which leads me to be a bit leery about 5e adaptations. I think D&D players expect a bit more combat, that the original Ravenloft and Curse of Strahd deliver on. Feast has the most dungeon to explore, probably because it's straddling the eras and was the first adventure for Ravenloft as a campaign setting. Given the weekend in hell nature of Ravenloft and the Sliders-like domain hopping, I wonder if they could be stitched together into a neat little campaign: Feast, Castles, and Evil Eye are all for levels 4-6ish, while Night is levels 1-3...

Another interesting note is how the railroads work in these adventures. They're quite event-based, eschewing random encounters ("No random encounters, only deadly ones") in favor of things that push the mood and story. I've become a fan of random encounters as they have their uses, but it is intersting to see these as examples of how different event-based sessions can be run. I don't thing this is the worst design ever, but might need some alternate paths so the events don't feel as railroady and player choices can be meaningful in a way that a game can't really go "off the rails" simply because there are no rails to depart from in the way of a good sandbox.

The other adventures that seem to be mentioned with some regularity are the mid 90s ones: Hour of the Knife (1994), Howls in the Night (1994), Circle of Darkness (1995), and Neither Man nor Beast (1995). Also maybe Servants of Darknes (1998) and The Shadow Rift (1998). These don't seem to be mentioned as much, and from the small number of reviews it's not as easy to see them floating up to the top of well-liked adventures.

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