Ravenloft: Realm of Terror (1990)

The week before Halloween, it seems only fitting to cover Ravenloft, the AD&D fusion of fantasy and horror.

This is the black box, Realm of Terror, that came out in 1990 as an expansion upon ideas from the 1983 D&D module I6: Ravenloft. The idea is simple: when someone evil enough from any other TSR campaign setting catches the attention of the Dark Powers, the mists come and bring them to Ravenloft, where they lord over a domain that reflects their psyches and moral failings. Many of these Darklords are riffs on classic horror characters – Strahd is a play on Dracula, Mordenheim on Frankenstein, etc. The trappings are gothic and the result is ghoulish fun, so long as you don’t look to closely.

If you do, paradoxical questions arise. Is Ravenloft a kind of hell for evil-doers? It would seem so, as the Darklords at best seem trapped and at worst seem cursed (Drakov, a villainous mercenary commander, for instance, is doomed to fail at every campaign he embarks on). But if that is the case, then why do innocent people live in the realms of the Darklords? Why do the mists sometimes transport unsuspecting bystanders like the PCs to the Demi-plane of Dread? And, for that matter, why don’t all the great evil powers wind up there? Lord Soth, from Dragonlance, does (though he eventual escapes), but why not Manshoon of the Zhentarim or whoever the great big villain from your homebrew game is? Once you start thinking about it, Ravenloft might seem a little silly.

It never looks silly, though. The best part of this week’s posts is that they are essentially a celebration of illustrator Stephen Fabian’s work (I particularly enjoy his Langella-esque Strahd). Fabian is prolific and almost impossibly good – I would say a good 80% or more of Ravenloft’s feel and atmosphere is derived from his illustrations. More on him in the next few days!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *