D&D Alumni10/31/2006

A Look Back at Ravenloft

As the tagline reads: “The master of Ravenloft is having guests for dinner—and you are invited.”

Sound familiar?

The line appears on the back of this month’s Expedition to Castle Ravenloft—as well as on the front of 1st edition’s version of this adventure: 16: Ravenloft, penned back in 1983 by Tracy and Laura Hickman.

For this D&D Alumni, we wanted to take a look back at how Count Strahd von Zarovich, master of Ravenloft, compares from his 1st edition self to his most recent incarnation. First off, if you haven’t yet heard the most recent podcast, designers Bruce Cordell and James Wyatt discuss their approach to this classic adventure. And while they drop mere hints of Strahd’s powers, we’re offering his full statistics: Strahd von Zarovich.

After you’ve had a look, compare 2006 Strahd to 1983 Strahd. Through the years and the game’s editions, stat blocks themselves have necessarily changed (including within the same edition, as James Wyatt discussed in Design & Development), which we’ve annotated below.

Count Strahd Von Zarovich (The First Vampyre)
FREQUENCY: Unique (1)
MOVE: 12”/18” (3)
HIT DICE: 10 (55 hit points)
DAMAGE/ATTACK: 5-10 (1d6+4)
SPECIAL DEFENSES: +1 or better weapon to hit

Description: Strahd is a slightly above-average vampire (7). He has the normal 18/76 strength (8) and his blows drain 2 life levels from his opponents. Strahd has the usual vampire abilities. He can only be hit by magical weapons and can regenerate 3 hit points per round. He can assume gaseous form at will or shape change into a large bat. He can charm person at will by gazing into a character’s eyes, causing that character to make a saving throw vs. spells with a penalty of -2 (9).

Strahd is also a 10th level magic-user. He learned his magic from studies during his life and from subsequent studies over the centuries. His available spells are:

First level: comprehend languages, hold portal, protection from good, sleep.
Second level: invisibility, locate objects, mirror image, ESP.
Third level: fireball, gust of wind, suggestion.
Fourth level: polymorph other, polymorph self.
Fifth level: animate dead, distance distortion (10).

There are, of course, other differences between the two adventures besides a fully updated Strahd. I6, designed for 6 to 8 characters of levels 5 to 7, weighed in at a mere 32 pages long, for example. But the foundation was there for today’s much expanded Expedition: the surrounding lands of Barovia, the famed maps of the castle, the gypsy fortunes… and, of course, the master himself!

(1) Frequency referred to the likelihood of a creature being encountered in its inhabited area, and Number Appearing referred to how many such creatures could be expected in a given encounter. But there was, and remains, only one Strahd.

(2) Ah, THAC0 (aka, To Hit Armor Class 0). The chance to hit varied depending on your character class and level, all described on much-consulted attack matrixes in the 1st edition DMG. To hit Strahd’s -1 AC, for example, a 5th level fighter needed a 17, a 7th level fighter needed a 15… and 5th level thieves and magic-users needed a 20!

(3) Land speed, followed by flying speed (while in bat form). Strahd could walk/run a staggering 120 feet per round, or fly 180 feet.

(4) What could be more important than treasure? Each monster was given a letter code, corresponding to a chart at the back of the 1st edition Monster Manual. Type “F” meant that the creature had percentile chances to have the following treasure:

1-20 1,000s of silver pieces (that is, 1,000 to 20,000 sp): 10% chance
1-12 1,000s of electrum pieces (1,0000 to 12,000 ep, etc.): 15%
1-10 1,000s of gold pieces: 40%
1-8 100s of platinum pieces: 35%
3-30 gems: 20%
1-10 jewelry: 10%
Maps or Magic Items: Any 3 except swords or miscellaneous weapons, plus 1 potion & 1 scroll: 30%

How does that stack up? A 1st edition red dragon, by comparison, boasted Treasure Types H, S and T:

5-30 1,000s of copper pieces: 25%
1-100 1,000s of silver pieces: 40% chance
10-40 1,000s of electrum pieces: 40%
10-60 1,000s of gold pieces: 55%
5-50 100s of platinum pieces: 25%
1-100 gems: 50%
10-40 jewelry: 50%
Maps or Magic Items: Any 4 plus 1 potion & 1 scroll: 15%

S: Maps or Magic Items: 2-8 potions: 40%

T: Maps or Magic Items: 1-4 scrolls: 50%

(5) According to the 1st edition Monster Manual: Sleep, charm, and hold spells do not affect vampires. Neither do poison or paralysis. Vampires take only half-damage from spells based on cold or electricity.

A vampire can be slain by the following methods: exposure to direct sunlight kills the creature in 1 turn, and it becomes powerless immediately. A vampire immersed in running water for 3 melee rounds is killed. If a wooden stake is driven through a vampire’s heart it is killed, but only for so long as the stake remains; to finish this task the vampire’s head must also be cut off and its mouth filled with holy wafers.

(6) Again, according to the 1st edition Monster Manual, these ratings roughly corresponded to the following Intelligence scores:

0: non-intelligent or not ratable
1: Animal intelligence
2-4: Semi-intelligent
5-7: Low intelligence
8-10: Average (human) intelligence
11-12: very intelligent
13-14: Highly intelligent
15-16: Exceptionally intelligent
17-18: Genius
19-20: Supra-genius
21+: Godlike intelligence

(7) I’m sure Strahd would have something to say about this. Slightly?

(8) 18/76 was the standard Strength for vampires, according to the Monster Manual. Curious about the “76”? The 10/04 Ask Wizards goes into these percentiles a bit deeper, with 18/76 corresponding to +2 hit and +4 damage.

(9) As with THAC0, saving throws varied by class and level, categorized by: Paralyzation, Poison or Death Magic; Petrification or Polymorph; Rod, Staff or Wand; Breath Weapon; and Spell. Thus, a 5th level fighter would need to roll a 16 vs. Strahd (normally a 14), a 7th level fighter would need a 15, and a 5th level magic-user would need a 14.

(10) Rounding out our Top 10 Annotations, we find this spell in Strahd’s old spellbook:

Distance Distortion (Alteration)
Level: 5
Range: 1"/level
Duration: 1 turn/level
Area of Effect: 100 square " per level
Components: V, S, M
Casting Time: 6 segments
Saving Throw: None

Explanation/Description: This spell can only be cast when the magic-user has an earth elemental conjured up, but the elemental will not react hostilely to co-operation with the spell caster when he or she announces that his or her intent is to cast a distance distortion spell. The magic places the earth elemental in the area of effect, and the elemental then causes the area's dimensions to be distorted in either of two ways: 1) the area will effectively be one-half the distance to those traveling over it, or 2) the area will be twice the distance to those traveling across it. Thus a 10' X 100' corridor could seem as if it was but 5' wide and 50' long, or it could appear to be 20' wide and 200' long. When the spell duration has elapsed, the elemental returns to its own plane. The true nature of an area affected by distance distortion is absolutely undetectable to any creatures traveling along it, although the area will radiate a dim dweomer, and a true seeing spell will reveal that an earth elemental is spread within the area.

Material needed for this spell is a small lump of soft clay.


Have you own tales of playing 16: Ravenloft? Thoughts on how Expedition to Castle Ravenloft compares? We'd love to hear about it, either on the message boards or sent directly in to us at: dndfeedback@wizards.com.

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