Like many others who learned to play the D&D game in the 80s and 90s, adventure module I6, Ravenloft was one of my first and most memorable experiences as a young player. The adventure was classic, not only because of the themes that drew on commonly accepted gothic horror tropes but also because of its built-in replayability -- the locations of the major events were dictated by drawing cards from a mysterious Vistani woman. Now Expedition to Castle Ravenloft updates the classic adventure and surrounds the Barovian countryside with more mysteries while maintaining the primary foe -- the vampire Count Strahd Von Zarovich.
Ravenloft was so popular that it spawned an entire campaign setting, called the Demiplane of Dread -- a place where fear and despair were more pervasive than in a typical world. The gray mists that encircled Barovia were expanded upon so that they also held other realms, pulling from existing adventures and campaigns. Other classics such as X2, Castle Amber and characters such as Lord Soth from the Dragonlance setting migrated into their own places within the demiplane. To help players understand and make sense of the world, a character was created to be a guide -- not necessarily a guide to the places and locations within the Mists but a scholar and mentor who could speak from experience on the horrors of the land and its denizens. That character's name? Dr. Rudolph Van Richten.
Unlike Bram Stoker's Professor Abraham Van Helsing, who fought the vampire Dracula in that 1897 novel, Van Richten hasn't yet fought Strahd. Until now. Next March, the Unhallowed D&D Miniatures game expansion includes both of these Ravenloft icons.
Count Strahd Von Zarovich, Vampire
A hallmark of a memorable Ravenloft game is the melodrama within the gothic horror setting. Keeping with that theme, Strahd's pose is very dramatic and dynamic, his cloak billowing as he rushes toward his chosen prey. In the D&D Miniatures Game, Count Strahd provides a Lawful Evil commander who can be the centerpiece of an all-undead army (even including Chaotic Evil undead). He has compelling spells that indicate his power over the living and the dead, such as night's caress, which deals damage to living creatures but may cause an undead creature to rout, or undead torch that grants an undead creature bonus damage when attacking a living creature (which he might choose to use on himself). The most interesting abilities to me are his commander effect and Gaseous Form. Like all vampires, Strahd is hard to kill, and he has one use of Gaseous Form, an ability designed to capture the flavor of pinning the vampire in his coffin. The Count is also terrifying. When you've decided to run away, you want to run very quickly. Therefore, his commander effect grants +4 Speed to routing creatures (even his own, which might not be an issue if he's running with undead).
Van Richten and Strahd are opposing sides of a living-vs.-undead mechanical theme prevalent in the set. Where Strahd has the ability to decimate living foes, Van Richten has great power over the undead. Van Richten might not be able to take down Count Strahd in a one-on-one fight, but he's also over 30 points cheaper when building him into your warband. His Greater Turning ability can destroy an undead creature outright (except for Strahd, whose level is just a bit too high), and Undead Bane ensures that he's effective in melee against the unliving. His selection of spells helps keep his allies alive but also threatens undead creatures. Make manifest, for example, makes a target lose its incorporeality, and holy smite is good against undead and outsiders alike. Van Richten also helps spur on his followers in times of need, granting a damage boost to allies that have lost half their hit points.
Next week, we're going to take a stone-cold look at a couple of classic D&D monsters. One of these has seen an incarnation in a previous set, while the other may provide an answer to Clara Peller's immortal question. If, like me, you're not sure where I'm going with this, then tune in next week!
About the Author
Stephen Schubert is a Developer in RPG/Minis R&D, Lead Developer for the D&D Miniatures Game, and has worked on a variety of D&D game products, including Monster Manual IV, Tome of Battle, and Magic Item Compendium. He is the author of the upcoming Eberron super-adventure Eyes of the Lich Queen.
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