In this month's exclusive interview, Bruce Cordell and James Wyatt, authors of the new Expedition to Castle Ravenloft discuss the return to Barovia--and it's most famous inhabitant: Count Strahd von Zarovich!
In the interests of better involving the player community with the D&D website, questions for this interview were solicited in part via the message boards. Our thanks to everyone for their participation.
Wizards of the Coast: Expedition to Castle Ravenloft: A chance to once more face Count Strahd von Zarovich! Folks are plenty excited, and also curious--why return to Ravenloft?
Bruce: If we're going to return to vintage adventures of earlier years, Ravenloft is near the top of the heap when the time comes to choosing. As you said, a chance once more to face Strahd--who'd want to give that up? But, maybe not with your favorite character.
James Wyatt: The original Ravenloft adventure (I6) is widely remembered as a classic--both in its own right as an adventure and as the seed that spawned a campaign setting. With this new adventure, we're hoping to recapture some of the feel of both the original adventure and the setting, providing a mini-campaign that you can drop into any ongoing campaign and devote as much (or as little) time to as you desire.
Wizards: Is there any comment you can make about the history of the Ravenloft property. At one point, it was transferred from TSR to White Wolf. How was the decision made to regain it, and is there any inclusion of material generated by Ravenloft's tenure with White Wolf?
James: Wizards of the Coast licensed White Wolf to publish Ravenloft setting material. All licenses come with expiration dates, and when that date came up, both parties agreed not to renew it. It was an amicable agreement. The new adventure relies heavily on the original adventure, rather than on any material generated since its publication--whether by TSR, WotC, or White Wolf.
Bruce: That said, Expedition to Castle Ravenloft is a reimagining of the original Ravenloft module, and doesn't pull in additional Ravenloft material from sources other than new design that complements the original from James and me.
Wizards: According to the catalog description: "Expedition to Castle Ravenloft is a deluxe adventure that updates the original 1st Edition Ravenloft module, retaining the Gothic flavor and familiar elements while expanding and reimagining some of the locations to create a deeper, richer adventure experience." So, what "familiar" elements have been retained (the 3D maps, the fortune telling elements)?
I mean, yes, the 3D maps have been recreated in a similar style, and the fortune-telling aspect is also incorporated, with a few twists. The entire castle should look and feel pretty familiar to fans of the original adventure, but things outside the castle might feel quite different.
Bruce: The 3D maps of course! And yes, the fortune-telling, the village of Barovia, Strahd, and probably every single other element of the original is retained, though expanded and fleshed out into 3.5 rules.
Wizards: Although it's "Expedition" and not "Return to" Castle Ravenloft, which route does the adventure take? Is it designed as a sequel for what's come before, or a reimagining of a party's first expedition to the castle?
Bruce: It's not a sequel, it is meant to convey the original experience.
James: Not a sequel, though it's pretty easy to imagine it could be. The plot of the adventure follows the plot of the original pretty closely. But if you want to say that the Ireena currently living in Barovia is yet another reincarnation of Tatyana, you could play it as a sequel.
Wizards: Speaking of the castle (and its occupant), what can you tell us about its changes? And of Strahd--how has he been updated as an opponent, in stats or otherwise?
James: The map of Castle Ravenloft has changed very little. Much of our map turnover consisted of the original maps with a few post-its and scribbled notes. The contents are different in places--drastically different in some places--to form more interesting, and hopefully more horrific, encounters.
Bruce: The castle retains the original floor-plan, with perhaps a few modifications. However, many empty rooms now are occupied. James probably has more to say about Strahd...
James: Strahd is completely updated for the new edition of the game, of course, using his stats in the original adventure as a starting point. He also has some features that are designed to give PCs an incentive to adventure outside the castle (other than "We'd better find some more XP so we're ready to face Strahd!"). There are a couple of changes that are almost cosmetic, just to highlight the kind of horror experiences we'd like players to have in the castle.
Wizards: As far as setting Ravenloft, does Barovia still exist as a strange, independent world-within-a-world, or does it physically reside within known campaign settings? In which case, are there means to incorporate it into the Forgotten Realms and Eberron ?
Bruce: This module doesn't assume any location for Ravenloft, other than mountainous, wooded territory. Thus it is ideal for a one-shot or for incorporation into any campaign with forested mountains.
James: We haven't shunted it off to its own little demiplane--it's simply a mist-shrouded mountain valley. Of course, in your campaign, you can explain it any way you like... We included adventure hooks that are specific to the Forgotten Realms and Eberron , as well as d20 Modern , if you're looking for something really different. (All the rules content is 100% D&D , however.) In the case of FR and Eberron , we did suggest specific locations in those worlds where you could drop Barovia, but you don't need to take our recommendation.
Wizards: Is Expedition to Castle Ravenloft designed as an adventure, or a complete campaign arc? In other words, will the characters be making it a campaign goal to hunt down the devil Strahd?
Bruce: The design incorporates guideposts for either style of play.
James: You can use it as anything from a one-shot Halloween special to an eight-month campaign, and we've tried to give as much advice as space allowed for all the options in between. I'm going to be running the one-shot version this weekend, as a matter of fact...
Wizards: At a 224 page count, Expedition to Castle Ravenloft is significantly larger than the original 32 page adventure. What other material does Expedition to Castle Ravenloft present, in addition to the adventure itself?
Bruce: First, adventure opportunities are significantly expanded from the original, and include challenges to overcome in the village of Barovia and surrounding lands. Plus there are a few new monsters, a prestige class, weapons of legacy, an organization complete with alternative class features for PCs who want to focus their undead-hunting skills, alchemical items designed for similar purposes, and many new magical items PCs are likely to find while adventuring.
James: We expanded the adventure pretty significantly. The village of Barovia has some problems of its own (which may or may not be related to Strahd's interference), and the surrounding lands present some interesting challenges. We tried really hard to make sure the PCs have some good reasons to explore the valley rather than traipsing right into the castle. (I have a pet peeve, deriving from a 2nd-edition adventure that shall remain nameless, about plot points that amount to an NPC telling you, "Well, you should adventure some more before you go address the real problem--you need to be higher level!" So the adventures in the surrounding lands will contribute materially to your success in facing Strahd.)
Of course, you can also use the book in other ways. If you want to run the one-shot adventure, you can still bring the PCs back to face Baba Zelenna another time. There are a bunch of adventure sites you can modify and use as you see fit--it's chock full of interesting encounter maps.
Finally, there's a lot of material that we thought of as sort of the Player's Guide to Ravenloft. There's a prestige class you can take if you talk to the right NPCs, and some substitution levels you can take if you want to associate yourself with other NPCs. Two of the key magic items from the original adventure are presented as legacy items, so they can grow along with the PCs over the course of a campaign. Lots of useful stuff.
Wizards: An obvious component of the original adventure was the element of horror. How does Expedition to Castle Ravenloft look to bring this into the game? Any advice for DMs interested in creating the proper sense of fear among characters?
James: There are lots of atmospheric tricks you can use to set the proper tone, and those are important. I actually think they're most important for communicating the expectation that the players should allow themselves to get scared! Don't just treat it as a normal D&D adventure and expect the players to do anything but approach it the same way.
That said, there are also some mechanical ways to really put the fear of Strahd in your players, and we've included a lot of these in the book. If you're running a campaign using action points, for example, be sure to check out the sidebar on the topic of action points in Castle Ravenloft. (It's on page 20.)
Bruce: How about: better to slowly suggest things are not as they seem than simply attack PCs with Strahd immediately. A face outside the window, a blood stain that keeps returning, other tiny bits that heighten fear prior to combat. Because once combat begins, anticipation gives way to getting the job done, usually.
Wizards: Finally, a few questions for Count Strahd: What have you been doing all these years?
Strahd: Have you not heard that those who enter Castle Ravenloft rarely leave?
Wizards: And do you plan to have guest over anytime soon?
Strahd: Yes, I would love to have you up to the Castle. I have a room reserved for you in one of the towers even now. And if you hear strange noises coming from the closet in the dark of night, I advise you not to open the door.