Sunday, October 19, 2014

Ravenloft: Strahd's fifth motivation

 I am the ancient. My beginnings are lost in the darkness of the past. I am not dead. Nor am I alive. I am undead, forever.
Count Strahd von Zarovich

The Ravenloft module (I6) written by Tracy and Laura Hickman in 1983 is my favorite published D&D adventure. Every Halloween I try to run it at least once for those brave souls able to attend. The module has excellent replay value because the villain Strahd von Zarovich has multiple potential motivations. Additionally the castle is massive so it’s quite possible to only explore a small percentage every Halloween. Strahd is a vampire and quite possibly the most iconic villain ever published in a TSR adventure.

Before the adventure begins there are four possible motivations of Strahd for the DM to choose from. Without spoiling them for any players who may be reading this I thought what if there was a fifth motivation? And what if it had foundation in Bram Stoker’s Dracula? In chapter III of the story we get a unique glimpse into Dracula’s motivation when he proclaims, "We Szekelys have a right to be proud, for in our veins flows the blood of many brave races who fought as the lion fights, for lordship.” With that theme in mind it is very apparent that Dracula craves the days of yore when battles and the associated glory were still commonplace.

Strahd, as master of his domain in Barovia has little in terms of challengers. Long gone are his mortal days as a warrior and leader of good armies. Perhaps as a fifth motivation Strahd wants nothing more than a taste of those old times and to be exhilarated again. Decades of wallowing in his tragic self-pity over the murder of his brother and subsequent suicide of Tatyana has boiled into a calculated rage. Strahd uses the mists to bring what he believes may be great warriors to Barovia for no other reason than to unleash his anger and challenge his abilities.

This motivation will be good to use if you are running Ravenloft and have a shortened time frame. Additionally if you have players that are itching to test their mettle against the legendary vampire then this motivation is for you. That being said, there is plenty of room for creative role playing also with this fifth motivation scenario. Clever players may be able to parlay with Strahd if the DM leaves enough clues warning of why they have been summoned.

Conceivably the players learn some of the tragic story of Tatyana and Strahd’s curse and are able to use it to their advantage. In chapter II of Dracula at one point he proclaims, “I long . . . to be in the midst of the whirl and rush of humanity, to share its life, its change, its death, and all that makes it what it is. But alas!” Although it would be extremely difficult some excellent role playing may be able to understand Strahd’s desire to feel alive again even though it may be misplaced with combat and glory. Maybe the silver tongue of some adventurer and a steely nerve is able to win the day so the party can escape the castle and Strahd’s wrath.

Regardless of Strahd’s motivation the dark gothic story of Ravenloft is always such a memorable experience. If you decide to run Ravenloft this Halloween I wish those gallant enough to help tell the tale the best of fortune. Just warn them that garlic, wooden stakes, holy water and prayers are not included and that black carriage mileage may vary!