Excerpts 10/06/2006


Expedition to Castle Ravenloft
By Bruce R. Cordell and James Wyatt



One of D&D's most infamous villains awaits destruction -- and your character can be the one to bring it. Count Strahd von Zarovich is a foul being with vile goals, and now you can face him down in Expedition to Castle Ravenloft. Take a look at a few excerpts, worthy DMs, and see what horror you can bring to the table. Below you'll find the introduction, Strahd's statistics, some information about the adventure, plus part of the adventure itself.If you're curious about the sections in this adventure, please take a look at the Table of Contents we provided earlier!

Adventure Options

You're holding a 224-page book in your hands, and that's a lot of adventure material. To make this book as useful to you as possible, this section presents several options for using the encounters in the way that best suits you, from one night of horrific adventure to a minicampaign lasting for months.

One of the amazing things about the original Ravenloft module is that its fans never grew tired of running or playing in it. Thanks to the random element of the Fortunes of Ravenloft, the adventure was different every time, and we've tried to replicate that replayability. Even if you play the entire minicampaign, there will likely be some encounter sites that you don't use, treasures the PCs don't find, plans Strahd never has a chance to execute. You can flesh these out into later adventures (perhaps increasing the EL of encounters to challenge more experienced PCs), or even build a new campaign featuring Strahd, returned from apparent death, threatening the world with a new scheme.

The nonlinear nature of this adventure means its encounters are largely self-contained, a feature that encourages "plundering." If you like a given tactical encounter, you can drop it in almost as written into a different adventure, or string several encounters together into your own storyline.

These ideas are a starting point. What you do from here makes Expedition to Castle Ravenloft your own.

MINICAMPAIGN

This model uses all the material in this book to form a minicampaign lasting around fifteen to twenty sessions, or roughly five months of real time (assuming you play weekly). The PCs come to Barovia at Strahd's invitation and remain there for weeks, exploring the lands surrounding the village before attempting an assault on the castle itself. The entire adventure contains enough encounters and treasure for characters to advance from 6th level to 9th level by its conclusion.

The minicampaign takes place in three acts that roughly correspond to the next three chapters of this book. Act I takes place in the village of Barovia, Act II in the surrounding wilderness, and Act III in Castle Ravenloft itself. The order of the PCs' explorations, however, is fluid. They might spend time in the wilderness in both Acts I and II, they're likely to return to the village repeatedly, and they might enter Castle Ravenloft one or more times during Act II. As a minicampaign, Expedition to Castle Ravenloft can be demanding: The DM must maintain a sense of horror and dread over a long period, while the players must take the initiative to seek out clues and information that helps their characters rid Barovia of Strahd.

PROLOGUE

To start the adventure, the PCs receive a letter, ostensibly from the burgomaster of Barovia. Combined with other rumors and information, this letter brings them to Strahd's domain and plants the seeds of their adventure. The nature of the letter depends on Strahd's secondary goal, if any.

ACT I: INAUSPICIOUS START

Upon arriving, the PCs find the village of Barovia under siege from a sudden zombie infestation. To make things worse, anyone infected by zombies becomes a zombie if killed or severely injured. The PCs are called on to quell the incursion, if only to save themselves. Over the course of approximately three sessions of play, they fight the zombies (with the help of a band of zombie-hunting mercenaries), encounter the new burgomaster and learn of the death of his father, and meet Ireena Kolyana, the object of Strahd's monstrous obsession. Finally, they track the source of the zombie scourge to the church and the village priest, driven to madness by the death of his son. These encounters and events appear in Chapter 2, along with descriptions of the people and locations in the village of Barovia.

During their adventures in Barovia, the PCs discover a number of leads pointing to various locations around the countryside. The Vistani in the village suggest having their fortunes told at the Tser Pool encampment. Ireena tells the PCs about the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, a powerful defense against Strahd. One of the mercenaries has a notebook that describes the Sunsword, a legendary weapon she has been seeking to aid her fight against the undead. The villagers speak of witches and werewolves that haunt the surrounding wilderness. And from the journal of the mad priest Danovich, they can learn of the Tome of Strahd, a book in Ravenloft's library that illuminates some of the vampire's weaknesses. If nothing else, the PCs have a clue in the letter they received from Count Strahd. Any or all of these clues might lead the PCs into the events of Act II.

ACT II: ILL FORTUNES

At the start of Act II, the PCs should be following several lines of investigation. Only one advances the storyline, though: visiting the Tser Pool encampment. There, Madam Eva can read the PCs' fortunes and give veiled hints about the other information they seek. (See the Fortunes of Ravenloft section on page 56.) The PCs might decide to follow clues on their own, and even learn some important details, but any Vistani they encounter become increasingly insistent that Madam Eva is expecting them at the encampment. If the PCs set off without having their fortunes told first, you'll have to deal and interpret the cards secretly.

Reading the Fortunes of Ravenloft reveals important clues about where the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind and the Sunsword can be found, and how to awaken the powers of both of these legacy items. The fortune-telling also reveals where to find the Tome of Strahd. The results of the reading randomly determine these details: The items might lie hidden within Castle Ravenloft or somewhere in the surrounding wilderness. The fortune-telling also gives the PCs some information about the secondary goals of Strahd, to assist them in their eventual showdown with the vampire. Finally, the lay of the cards casts omens about their path, which translate into combat penalties and bonuses within certain areas of Castle Ravenloft. Armed with these clues, the PCs can track down the Holy Symbol and the Sunsword. Acquiring the legacy items, and awakening their powers, is central to the adventure. The Tome of Strahd reveals that some of Strahd's power derives from his connection to the land of Barovia itself; severing this connection will weaken him further.

As they pursue these leads, the PCs must deal with the dangerous inhabitants of the region, including the werewolves of the Svalich Woods, Varikov the crazed trapper, and the three hags. Their investigations might also bring the PCs into the castle -- where an attack by the count himself should drive home the message that they must be adequately prepared before they can hope to defeat Strahd. Wilderness encounters are described in Chapter 3, and Chapter 4 details Castle Ravenloft.

ACT III: THE FACE OF EVIL

Once the PCs are armed with the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind and the Sunsword, and they have cut off Strahd's connection to the land, they are as prepared to face the vampire as they're ever likely to be. By this time, they should be at or near 9th level, which should enable them to explore Castle Ravenloft and ultimately challenge Count Strahd von Zarovich. In order to make best use of the Sunsword, however, the PCs must first destroy the Dayheart, which gives Strahd immunity to sunlight. Madam Eva's fortune-telling determines where this final showdown will take place -- the one spot from which Strahd will not flee a battle that turns against him. If Strahd is to be truly defeated, however, the PCs must venture into his crypt far beneath the castle to find his body and destroy it utterly.

LONG ADVENTURE

If you'd rather not sidetrack your entire campaign for several months, you can select some elements of the minicampaign to put together a long adventure lasting about eight sessions. In this model, Strahd starts off a little weaker -- he lacks his legacy abilities from his connection to the land, so the PCs do not have to discover the Tome of Strahd and visit the three wilderness fanes. Other than that fact, the general outline of the adventure remains the same as described above. Strahd still has a secondary goal.

Because the PCs do not have as much opportunity to gain experience before facing Strahd, they should begin at 7th level. This makes their encounters in the village easier, which also speeds their progress toward the castle and the final confrontation with Strahd.

SHORT ADVENTURE

If you so desire, you can truncate the adventure even further, so that it takes about four sessions to play through. In this model, the PCs need to find or awaken only one of the two legacy items. They do not need to destroy the Dayheart -- Strahd has not yet managed to draw on its power to ward himself from sunlight.

If you use this model, the PCs should begin at 8th level in order to have a chance against Strahd by the climax. Strahd has only a single goal in the short adventure.

SESSION 1: WELCOME TO BAROVIA

As in the minicampaign, the PCs receive a letter from Strahd to begin the adventure. They arrive in Barovia and discover the zombie infestation. In this model, the PCs spend less time combating the zombies: Ashlyn and her comrades have had some success already, and have already found clues pointing to the village church as the source of the infection. The PCs should have one good fight in the streets of the village (you might need to increase the numbers or strength of the opponents) before entering the church to find Danovich and the blaspheme. They learn of the existence of both the Sunsword (from Ashlyn) and the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind (from Ismark and Ireena), although they need find only one of the items. Danovich's library contains no mention of the Tome of Strahd.

SESSION 2: GETTING AT THE ROOT

Time is of the essence -- you might have to tell the players outright that visiting the Tser Pool encampment is the most expeditious way to learn more. Madam Eva reads the PCs' fortunes, but she does not deal a focus card for the Tome of Strahd. She provides information about only one of the two legacy items -- the other, she says, is "hidden in shadow." Armed with information from Madam Eva, the PCs strike out to a single wilderness fane (you decide which one) to recover the legacy item. Their assault on the castle has a specific room as their objective -- the place where they can awaken the item they have retrieved.

SESSION 3: ENTERING THE CASTLE

The PCs brave the castle gates and make their way into Strahd's home, seeking to awaken the hidden powers of the legacy item. Their first encounter with Strahd occurs in the dining hall as normal (see encounter area K10 on page 132) and ends with either the PCs or the vampire fleeing. The PCs find the room in which to perform the ritual and arm themselves with one effective weapon against the vampire.

SESSION 4: DEFEATING STRAHD

Ready for the final confrontation, the PCs explore the rest of the castle until they encounter Strahd again in the room foretold by the Fortunes of Ravenloft. This time the vampire does not flee. Assuming they win the battle, the PCs must still venture into the crypts to prevent Strahd from ever returning.

ONE-NIGHT SESSION

Perhaps you want to observe Halloween in classic style by taking a break from your regular campaign and venturing into Castle Ravenloft. Or you just need to fill a night of adventuring. In that case, you can select material from this book to build one long session that comprises five or six encounters. For a one-night session, the characters should be about 9th level. They bypass most of Barovia and the surrounding lands, heading straight to the castle. In this model, Strahd has neither his fane-signs nor immunity to sunlight. The PCs do not have time to acquire either the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind or the Sunsword, so they must rely entirely on their own abilities. The Fortunes of Ravenloft do not come into play in this short session, and Strahd has no secondary goal.

INTRODUCTION: THE VILLAGE OF BAROVIA

As in the minicampaign, the PCs receive a letter from Strahd to begin the adventure. In this scenario, the village of Barovia is entirely free of zombies. The PCs quickly meet Ismark and Ireena, and Ireena pleads with them to destroy Strahd before he can finish what he has begun and make her his vampire bride.

ADVENTURE: CASTLE RAVENLOFT

The PCs enter the castle. Strahd attacks immediately after their first combat encounter and fights them just long enough to get their measure. He launches his next attack at what he feels is the most advantageous moment, and this time he fights to the death. Allow the PCs to explore the castle freely for most of the time allotted for your session. Then have Strahd attack about an hour before you want to end the game. Simply defeating Strahd in combat is a significant accomplishment, and you can end the adventure at that point if you desire. Alternatively, the PCs can descend into the crypts to find Strahd's tomb and destroy him utterly, but that has the potential to expand the adventure beyond a single session.

ADVENTURE HOOKS

Characters could become entangled in Strahd's machinations through a wide variety of methods. The adventure works best if the PCs have at least two distinct reasons to visit Barovia -- in addition to feeling properly motivated, they'll have plenty of questions to ask once they arrive. Regardless of the length of the adventure or Strahd's secondary goals, one hook is always the letter purporting to be from the village's burgomaster. (See Letter from Barovia, page 21.) If you are running Expedition to Castle Ravenloft as a one-night session, this alone should be enough to draw the PCs to Barovia -- you don't want them wasting time chasing down other leads. For longer adventures, choose at least one hook from the options presented below (or create one of your own, drawing on these for inspiration).

SMUGGLERS' DEN

A constable, duty collector, or other official in one of the regions near Barovia asks the PCs to help root out a group of smugglers operating in the area. The nature of this official's concern is up to you to determine: She might be pursuing them for evading duties on luxury goods (such as fine wine or rich cloth), be outraged because they are supplying weapons to bandits or insurgents, or be trying to locate a stolen treasure. Evidence provided by the official or rooted out by the PCs points to the valley of Barovia -- conveniently situated outside the jurisdiction of any larger government -- as the smugglers' headquarters. The official believes the human and halfling "gypsies" who travel throughout the region are transporting the contraband goods.

GRIEF'S PLEA

The PCs encounter Helene Maurgen, the grieving wife of an adventurer who was last seen entering Barovia three months ago, armed with silversheen and wolfsbane. She begs the PCs to find her husband, or at least his body. If he is dead, she would like them to return his wedding ring to her as a memento. This lost adventurer, Jeref Maurgen, is now a trophy in the cavern home of Varikov the trapper (see encounter area H2 on page 82). Jeref had been hunting werewolves at the outer edge of the Svalich Woods, and came home to stock up on silversheen before fighting the beasts. Varikov found and killed him first.

SEARCH FOR THE SUNSWORD

In response to the threat of a powerful undead creature (which could be other than Strahd), the PCs must seek out the legendary Sunsword. The mighty weapon disappeared from knowledge centuries ago, but the PCs' research indicates that it was last used in the remote mountain valley of Barovia.

CALL OF THE LIGHTBRINGERS

This hook works well if any of the PCs have adopted a prestige class focused on combating the undead, such as the hunter of the dead (Complete Warrior), master of radiance (Libris Mortis), radiant servant of Pelor (Complete Divine), or sacred purifier (Libris Mortis), or if the party includes a cleric of Pelor or other devotee of that god. An organization known as the Lightbringers, dedicated to fighting the undead, sends out a call for help -- a call that reaches the PCs' ears. (See the Appendix for more about the Lightbringers organization.) A group of Lightbringers journeyed to Barovia, where they found the village plagued by zombies. The leader of this expedition, a paladin named Ashlyn, sent a message to her Lightbringer superiors asking for reinforcements.

RACE TO THE TOME

If Expedition to Castle Ravenloft takes place in the Eberron setting, consider using this hook instead of or in addition to any of the others included here. "Race to the Tome" adds a layer of Eberron-flavored intrigue to the adventure.

The PCs learn of an ancient tome of lore dating from the early days of Karrnath, in the years of Karrn's conquest leading up to the formation of Galifar. Besides its obvious historical value, this volume -- the Tome of Strahd -- is said to contain necromantic secrets unknown to modern spellcasters. Such knowledge is certain to be attractive to the Order of the Emerald Claw. Evidence points to the tome being somewhere in Barovia, a small valley nestled between the civilized heart of Karrnath and the forbidding mountains of the Mror Holds.

The PCs might learn of the Tome of Strahd on their own and seek it out, or some patron (such as a knight of the Silver Flame, a disguised dragon of the Chamber, a wealthy member of the Aurum, or an agent of the Emerald Claw) might hire them to find it. Enemies are also after the tome -- most likely agents of the Emerald Claw, but possibly of another organization that better suits your campaign. Example opponents include the Emerald Claw necromancer Demise (at 8th level) or Halas Martain the mercenary (at 9th level); these characters are presented on pages 252-253 of the Eberron Campaign Setting. See the Action Points in Ravenloft sidebar for information about adjusting the adventure for an Eberron campaign.

RELICS OF THE MORNINGLORD

If Expedition to Castle Ravenloft takes place in the Forgotten Realmssetting, consider using this hook instead of or in addition to any of the others included here. "Relics of the Morninglord" ties the adventure more closely to the people and places of Faerûn.

An earnest young priest of Lathander contacts the PCs. Gevyen Tallmer is a scholar, not an adventurer: A 5th-level cleric (or at least one level below the lowest-level PC in the party), he has more knowledge of ancient texts than contemporary monsters. His field of study is relics of the Morninglord, and he believes he has stumbled across an important text. According to Gevyen's research, a small sect of Lathander's church is active in a remote region of Damara, largely isolated from the rest of the world. This sect is served by a small priesthood and two slightly larger orders, the Ecaterine monks and the Knights of the Raven. The short passage Gevyen discovered mentions three holy shrines dedicated to saints of Lathander in the same remote region, as well as two powerful artifacts. One is a holy symbol that shines like the sun, and the other is said to be the first sun blade.

Gevyen's proposition is fairly straightforward: The road to Damara is long and dangerous, and he seeks an escort of powerful adventurers. His destination is Barovia, a small realm nestled in the eastern reaches of the Galena Mountains, a few days' journey from Ironspur. The priest doesn't anticipate any trouble once he reaches the remote valley.

NEXUS OF SHADOW

For a real twist, Expedition to Castle Ravenloft can be a horrific experience for a group of d20 Modern characters. Most of the preceding hooks work just as well in a modern setting as they do in a traditional D&D setting. Consider using this hook if your campaign has the PCs investigating paranormal phenomena, such as in the Shadow Chasers model or the Urban ArcanaCampaign Setting.

The PCs learn of a remote European castle that is said to be haunted. In contrast to most such stories, however, none of the rumors about this place deal with events inside the castle -- rather, the tale goes, no one has entered and survived to tell about it. So great is the evil of this place that it extends beyond the castle walls to encompass the surrounding valley. Monstrous wolves, ghostly spirits, giant bats, and bestial ogres are said to terrorize the area, known as Barovia, tucked away in an isolated part of eastern Europe. If the PCs work for Department-7 or a similar organization, they are sent to investigate this mysterious castle; otherwise, they learn of it during their own investigations.

Depending on the nature of your campaign, you might want to downplay the nonhuman humanoids in the adventure. When an encounter describes halfling Vistani, use the human Vistani statistics instead. The elf werewolves in the Svalich Woods use the statistics presented but appear more human, though slightly feral. Similarly, Varikov looks more or less human (if short and stocky), but his statistics are unchanged.

ACTION POINTS IN RAVENLOFT

In an Eberron or d20 Modern campaign, having a pool of action points might diminish the sense of horror in this adventure, since the element of risk is less. To restore a mood of dread, a special rule applies to the use of action points within Castle Ravenloft. Whenever a PC spends an action point for a bonus on a d20 roll but still fails the check, Strahd immediately gains 1 action point. If the PCs are fighting Strahd when this occurs, the corners of his mouth twist into a wicked smile. The following readaloud text conveys the sense that something is terribly wrong.

You make a heroic effort, but luck still fails you. A chill passes briefly through your body.

Strahd begins with 5 action points. Action points "stolen" from PCs can raise his total without limit. Strahd can spend action points just as characters can -- and he does so freely, knowing that his supply will quickly be replenished. Action points spent outside Castle Ravenloft cannot transfer to Strahd. Only within the castle can he benefit from the ill luck of others.

See the Action Points in Ravenloft sidebar for information about adjusting the adventure for a d20 Modern campaign.

DEALING WITH DEATH

Expedition to Castle Ravenloft is a dangerous adventure, and one or more PCs might well die over its course. If the characters are lucky, their friends are merely dead; if things go poorly, former allies might become vampire slaves of Count Strahd. Barovia is isolated and the village cleric, in addition to being only 5th level, is entirely mad. Thus, the characters probably do not have access to resurrection magic (unless their own cleric reaches 9th level by the end of the adventure). How, then, should you deal with dead characters -- and, more to the point, their players?' A few NPCs could make good replacements for fallen characters. These include Ashlyn the Lightbringer (whose statistics appear in tactical encounter E3, page 36), Sir Urik (tactical encounter F, page 74), and possibly even Ireena Kolyana (entry E11, page 30). All three of these characters have equipment appropriate to PCs of their level -- though Ireena starts with a handicap, in that she has already failed her saving throw against Strahd's dominate ability and lost some Constitution to his blood drain.

Of course, you can also allow players of dead PCs to bring new characters into the adventure. A new character should start at the beginning of the level one below that of the dead character (DMG 42); for example, if a 7th-level character dies, the new character should start at the beginning of 6th level. You should choose a suitable adventure hook to draw that character to Barovia (see Adventure Options on page 17), which can be the same as the original one or a new one. (A new hook is useful if the PCs are floundering and could use a new direction to explore.) Alternatively, the new character's previous adventuring companions all met horrible ends, and she barely managed to stagger into Barovia with her life.

If a PC is transformed into a vampire, it's best to take over that character as an NPC and let the player create a new one. Another possibility -- especially effective in a one-night session -- is to let the player join you on the other side of the screen, roleplaying the new vampire's service to Strahd against her former allies. This approach enhances the mood of horror by creating a sense of growing isolation in the remaining players' minds. On the other hand, it contributes to an antagonistic relationship between the DM and the players, which is not a good dynamic for an ongoing campaign.

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