by Mike Shea on 13 November 2012
The playtest of D&D Next works very well with old-school AD&D modules including the second greatest adventure of all time, Ravenloft. The fast nature of D&D Next and the simplicity of its core design makes it very easy to run traditional adventures using this system with very little conversion required. Today we're going to look at a few ways to run a great game of the original Ravenloft adventure using D&D Next's playtest material.
According to Wikipedia, Tracy and Laura Hickman ran Ravenloft every Halloween for five years before its publication. This adventure is built to run in a single session. That said, you'll want to plan for a long adventure and tighten things up a bit if you plan to run it in one sitting.
Even with D&D Next's faster combat, you'll want to plan on about six hours of game time. There are eighty-eight rooms in Castle Ravenloft alone, not including the areas in the lands of Barovia. That's a lot of potential exploring and, if your group gets off track, it could take even longer.
There are ways to streamline the game to run it in less time and we discuss these later. Streamlining will take some planning and preparation however, which can be difficult when using Madam Eva's predictions which drive the location of Strahd and the three artifacts.
You have a few options available when building characters for Ravenloft using D&D Next. Characters in Ravenloft should be level 5 which makes it difficult to build characters at the table. You can either build pre-generated characters beforehand or come prepared with characters they built beforehand. There are advantages and disadvantages to both of these options. Players tend not to be as committed to pregenerated characters. When players generate their own characters, they begin to understand them and build out details of those characters we wouldn't likely see in a pregenerated character.
If you have your players generate characters before the session, you might end up having to shoe-horn their characters' story and background into the Ravenloft module's story. Now all that depth of background might get tossed out the window the minute the PCs step into Barovia and the gates lock behind them.
That said, having players build their own characters beforehand tends to get the best results.
Which ever form of character creation you choose, you will want to tie four quests into the backgrounds of the PCs. There are four primary drivers in Ravenloft: recovering the Sun Sword, recovering the Tome of Strahd, recovering the Icon of Ravenloft, and slaying Strahd himself. We can use a simplified Fiasco-style relationship list to tie PCs together and build in these quests. We can start with a very simple list that lets players build the details of their backgrounds themselves. Here are some loose quest ties:
Slaying Strahd and saving Ireena are both main drivers in the story so most important is that the PCs have ties to recover the icon, the tome, and the sword.
If you want more complicated relationships, you could use a list like the following:
These might be a bit much when you stack them on top of D&D Next's backgrounds, and the stories the players tie to them. Better is simply to give them the plot seed that their PCs are interested in recovering one of the three items and leave it to them to decide why.
There's a lot to do in Barovia, even in this simple 32 page module. You could probably stretch Ravenloft out to two to four sessions without difficulty. If you plan on running Ravenloft as a single session adventure, however, you will want to streamline things.
Start by streamlining the town of Barovia itself. Focus the PCs attention on the inn and the Burgomaster's house. Have them meet the Kolyana family quickly and skip most of the stuff involving the church, the cemetary, and Mad Mary. Your primary goal is to get the PCs underway with Ireena in the party and the threat of Strahd hanging over their heads.
Madam Eva's fortune telling is one of the most memorable moments in the adventure. We don't want to railroad our PCs too much but if they miss this scene, they miss out on a lot of fun. Find a way to steer them to the fortune teller.
One of the best props you can get for your Ravenloft run is a set of Ann Stokes Fantasy Art playing cards. These cards are beautiful and perfectly themed for Madam Eva's fortune cards. Spend the $6 and you won't be disappointed.
When you run Madam Eva's fortune telling, help your players understand the resulting predictions. The wording as written can be a little weird. Ask your players what they believe they heard and have them build their checklist of potential locations where they will recover the items built into their character's background. It's quite possible two items will be located in the same place, so that streamlines things further.
Finally, if you take some time to prepare ahead of time, you can have entire sections of the the castle locked up or simply not there. Feel free to reduce the eighty eight locations of Ravenloft down to just those needed for the locations of the artifacts. This will take a bit of practice since the castle is complicated and you don't want to cut off potential paths that take them to the items they seek.
Another way to add a sense of urgency to the adventure is to make it clear that Strahd will be attacking at a specific time. Choose a time about 45 minutes to an hour before your session needs to end and make it clear that Strahd will be attacking at that time, regardless of their progress. This gives your PCs a bit of a poke to ensure they move forward towards their goals. It also makes for a fun bit of randomness since you don't know exactly where the PCs will be when Strahd attacks.
The current iteration of D&D Next's playtest includes enough monsters to fill out just about any creature you'll need in this adventure. Simply replace the monster stat-blocks in the original module with those included in the playtest document. For those few monsters that aren't listed, find a similar creature and reskin it to fit the monster you need. This works well for every monster except one: Strahd himself.
There isn't a great way to rebuild Strahd. He's a magic user who makes use of a lot of spells. We can steal bits of mechanics from a few different monsters to make him solid. He should have damage resistance to non-magical weapons. He should have spells like a 10th level wizard. He should have decent armor since he uses mage armor and likely a free melee attack since he'll have haste going. You'll have to wing the hit points but somewhere between 60 to 100 is about right. There's really no great way to build Strahd yet, so just wing it and you'll be fine.
Ravenloft is one of the most iconic D&D modules of all time. It's a fantastic adventure written extremely well and one of the best designed modules ever published. Thanks to the simplicity of D&D Next, we now have a clean system capable of running this deep module in a single session. With these ideas in hand, give this module a run and you won't be disappointed.
If you enjoyed this article, you can give back by using this link to purchase a used copy of Ravenloft from Amazon. You can also take a look at Sly Flourish's Dungeon Master Tips and Running Epic Tier D&D Games.
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