Monday, June 20, 2011

Old is New - Ravenloft

One great thing about D&D is that its venerable history ranges across almost the full breadth and depth of my entire lifetime of experience in geek culture, from its inception in the 70's all the way to its current iteration, as heavily influenced in style and aesthetics as it is by the mult-imedia fantasy experience that has become such a polished marketing tool.

Anyway, I've recently had the good fortune of getting my local Saturday group back in to AD&D 2nd edition (not a difficult task, as most of the Saturday gang is very much into the pre-3rd edition iterations of AD&D). I snagged a copy of Domains of Dread (the last 2nd edition campaign book revision for AD&D 2nd edition) and promptly started everyone off in Ravenloft, specifically in Barovian-occupied Gundarak. Lot of fun stuff here, and its reminding me of just how much stuff has been published for Dungeons & Dragons over the years that has never been tapped. I've managed (on average) to run at least 1 and sometimes 2 games a week for most of the last 21 years, with only occasional hiatuses...and honestly have gotten more gaming done in the last ten years than I had in the previous twenty (although on average more actual "adventuring stuff" got done in those games prior to 3rd edition--as opposed to flipping through rule books looking stuff up--but I digress). I mean, I ran Ravenloft fairly regularly in 2nd edition and had a continuing campaign that carried right on through into the early 3.0 days--and yet, for all those games, I never once used Strahd and Barovia in any games! So now's my chance to fix that issue.

So session two of the AD&D 2nd edition campaign met Saturday, and the party is deep in Strahd-land, plunging into the heart of the Balinoks in search of a missing girl, believed to have been kidnapped by a Barovian man with unknown intentions. Were they unrequited lovers, one of Gundark descent and the other of Barovian who stole away to marry against their parents' will? Has she been kidnapped into some sort of white slavery scam? Is there an even more dire unknown purpose? The PCs only know her father wants her found, and he worries that a young man who came courting her a summer back is the one responsible for her disappearance. Meanwhile, the adventurers have to pass under the shadow of Castle Raveloft itself to get to the remote mountain village and its dreadful secrets...

To make things even more fun, my Wednesday Paragon level D&D 4th edition group is also getting to visit the domains of dread, and will indeed be passing through Barovia as well. It's going to start this week, and its going to be a lot of fun; the experiences of a batch of low level AD&D adventurers who are terrified of meeting Strahd will be in direct contrast to the 4E campaign, where a bunch of mid-paragon tier level 15 adventurers are about to boldly stride through Strahd's turf, and its almost going to be impossible for them not to meet the dark lord of Barovia himself....

Anyway, good stuff, and I'll be using Domains of Dread to support both. DoD is a great book, and reminding me of just how awesome the many campaign settings for 2nd edition were; these books offered such a great economy of information, offering enough detail to make great adventures in exotic locales, loaded with inspiring ideas for the DM, yet not overloading the DM with too much content (as, I felt, the later White Wolf-licensed Ravenloft books for 3rd edition tended to do). For me, the best settings were always evocative, giving you an impressive outline of a region painted in broad strokes with slashes of detail, letting the DM riff off of the outline to make it his own. Later campaign settings (especially in the 3rd edition era) had an unfortunate habit of filling the entire picture in, often in elaborate and laborious prose, to the point where the DM felt less like he had a broad painting from which to develop his own adventures from so much as an elaborate painting in which all the details were already painted in and all the DM had left to do was spend many, many hours memorizing every single details and then seeing if he passed the quiz.

So...yeah. Definitely enjoying this revival of AD&D both in reality (Saturdays) and spirit (for 4E) with Ravenloft. I might just have to start hunting down more classics on Ebay in the future. Maybe in a a few years I'll be able to break out the old AD&D books and introduce my kid to that edition!

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