Thursday, June 3, 2021

I6: Ravenloft

A few days ago, Sir Rob asked me if I'd review I6: Ravenloft, not to critique it so much as to analyze whether or not I thought it truly was the Hickmans who started the "Adventure Path" trend (with I6 and/or Dragonlance), and ALSO how I might go about making the game more "player-centric" while still maintaining its "gothic vibe." In other words, how would I un-couple the thing from its railroad aspects while not killing the mood. Being the gracious (and egomaniacal) type of guy I am, I said 'sure, why not?'


But first, allow me to say this: when they look back at their lives, I'm going to guess that the Hickmans (Tracy and Laura) are going to say that the greatest thing they ever did for their careers, was to take a job offer at TSR and move from Utah to Wisconsin. Had they not done that...had they instead taken other gigs locally, gotten help from their parents, continued to raise their kids in the same town they'd grown up...I just can't see them going on to having the success they managed to achieve. Without the backing of TSR (and the built-in fan base)...would they have ever been much more than independent publishers of the occasional D&D module? Would they have even continued to do that?

The fact is, Hickman wasn't a great writer...and I say that as someone who has read the first six Dragonlance novels (multiple times!) and enjoyed the hell out of them. Maybe I'm wrong but I don't think Hickman becomes a famous, bestselling novelist without TSR. Steinbeck he was not.

[sorry, I've had Steinbeck on the brain a lot recently, considering the parallels between The Grapes of Wrath and our current pandemic-enhanced homeless crisis. But I digress]

What he was...what both the Hickmans were...were rather good adventure designers. I have no experience with Rahasia (one of two modules that got the Hickmans hired by TSR), but I've run I3: Pharaoh two or three times, I4: Oasis of the White Palm at least three times, and I5: Lost Tomb of Martek once or twice...both as "one-offs" and as part of on-going campaigns. While I have a notable soft-spot for anything Arabian Nights related, the adventures were quite interesting, filled with ingenious dungeon design, evocative situations, and (yes) whimsy (the floating tomb of Martek was written/published a year before the rather paltry knock-of appears in DL4: Dragons of Desolation). I especially like the combination of ancient Egyptian mythos with Golden Age Islam fairy tale stuff (this is best seen in I4: Oasis of the White Palm)...but skating over a sea of glass with light-powered sky-ships, avoiding sunspots and purple worms...I mean, come on, that shit is cool!

But it's been twenty years since I've read those modules and it's certainly possible I'd see them today in a less favorable light. The clever intertwining of adventure sites (with actual treasure!) is a bit of a "railroad" but the idea of needing to "solve an adventure to escape" (as in I5) has been around long since before the Hickmans came on board at TSR: Moldvay did this with X2: Castle Amber in 1981, and there's a bit of that in 1980's Q1: Queen of the Demonweb Pits as well. Likewise, there are other examples prior to the Hickmans' career of both "backstory" and forced compliance with the adventure (a common gripe with the I3-I5 series): you see the former in modules like N1: Against the Cult of the Reptile God and B3: Palace of the Silver Princess, and the latter in the introduction to the G-series...all adventures that (generally) receive high praise and/or are considered "classics."

So, now...Ravenloft. For me, I think Ravenloft is best understood (and judged) by looking at what the adventure was and why it was designed. Published by TSR in 1983, the Hickman's wrote the adventure circa 1977 (long before they joined the company) as an adventure to be played on Halloween. It is thus best viewed as a one-off theme-style adventure, NOT something to be viewed as part of an existing or on-going campaign. It is NOT a regular, ordinary adventure.

Viewed in this light, many of the design choices not only make sense, they are...quite frankly...brilliant. The well-themed card mechanic that randomly determines locations of important artifacts, the adventure's antagonist, and the overall motivation of said-antagonist? THAT is an elegant method of ensuring the annual "spooky adventure" is different from year-to-year. Yes, we already know that the living tower is going to attack us with halberds if we aren't careful, but Strahd (or some needed McGuffin) might be up there this year! 

It's almost like a tournament challenge: will we get Strahd this Halloween, or will he get us? Who knows?!

Many of the adventure's problems, I think, can all be laid at the feet of publishing the thing as an ordinary "I-type" adventure, and the changes made thereof. People attending an annual themed get-together are already going to be on-board with the spirit of the adventure...there's no need to add all the heavy-handed stuff that forces a party to act in a particular way (2 hit die villagers, 5 and 6 hit die gypsies, impassable mists, etc.). In a "true" adventure module, there's no need to randomly pull cards to determine locations of important items and adversaries...they should simply be placed in the most suitable, appropriate locations. You can still "read the tarot cards" (or whatever) but with all the "signs" fixed, i.e. set in place. Even though Ravenloft was never run at tournament, it would have fit well with the C series (there's a lot of 1980's C1: Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan in this adventure in Ravenloft), and probably would have benefitted well from a set of pre-generated characters, rather than mandating one PC "must be a fighter with a longsword" or other stipulations.

So then, what if you WANT to make Ravenloft an "actual adventure" for insertion into your campaign?

Well, the module has another rather large issue (besides being purposed for something other than it is) and that is a matter of scale: Ravenloft really wants to be a low-level adventure rather than a mid-level one. I think there are three main reasons it is written for levels 5-7, and they lead to a host of cascading problems:
  1. Being placed in the "I" (intermediate) series suggests mid-range (though suggested levels fluctuate wildly across I modules).
  2. Having a big, bad Vampire suggests a higher level of character (because vampires are one of the most powerful forms of undead...THE most powerful undead in OD&D and Basic play).
  3. General survivability: more levels mean more hit points, which means a longer game experience (especially appropriate in a one-off, theme-night adventure).
The adventure would have been served better by writing it for levels 2-4. This mitigates a lot of issues: the treasure is more appropriate for this level of party (it's pretty slim for any adventure this size, but downright criminal for a 1E adventuring party of levels 5-7...again, remember this was not designed for an on-going campaign!!!). Villagers can be level 0 in stead of 2 hit dice (otherwise, we're going to cast charm person on that 9th level fighter with the intelligence of 3 and retain him FOREVER). The "evil gypsies" can be re-scaled as ordinary bandits rather than wandering minotaurs. Madame Eva doesn't need to be a 10th level cleric (I mean "she never gives aid and never needs any" so why does she need to have spells like raise dead or cure serious wounds available to her? Just make her high enough level to curse insolent players!). Get rid of the wandering specters, banshees, and ghosts (all too powerful as is), maybe substituting a wraith or two, knock the Strahd Zombies down to 2HD (and have them turned as zombies not mummies), and re-do trap damage where appropriate.

[actually the traps are all pretty good, even for low-level parties. The sleep trap at #38 doesn't need to carry a -4 penalty...low level characters fail saves just fine...and the crushing trap at #31 should probably just be an auto-kill anyway (how are they going to pull a party member out that survives the damage?!). Most of the killer traps (thousand foot falls and whatnot) simply need to be telegraphed better to give players a choice of risk/reward]

But what about All The Vampires, JB?! First off, vampires DO have vulnerabilities. Garlic, mirrors, and holy symbols will hold a vampire at bay, and don't require a cleric "turning" roll (would a 7th level cleric really have much chance anyway?). The module gives specific ways that Strahd will attack the party and stipulates he will only attack three times (once each of three methods)...and only ONE attack will be direct combat. 

[of course, the module appears to assume that the adventure will be completed in a single 24 hour time period. Remember! The thing was designed to be played one night (Halloween) per year!]

Whatever happened to half-strength undead? Why are all these "brides of Strahd" full hit dice vampires? Is that not a thing in AD&D? Oh, is (page 119 of the DMG). As I wrote when first exploring the Dragonlance stuff, the Hickmans come off as DMs used to only using OD&D + Greyhawk, and here's another example. Half-strength (4 hit die) vampires are fine opponents for low-level characters, assuming they don't attack in packs (they don't in Ravenloft)...I might even rule they only suck one level on a hit, rather than two, which puts them on the same footing as an encounter with a single wight, right? Except that they have all the extra (vampiric) vulnerabilities, too. Give them a lesser charming ability (no save penalty) if you like.

As for Strahd ("The First Vampyr"), parties have multiple resources for aiding in their fight, including the Icon of Raveloft and the Sunsword (just allow the entire sword to be found, instead of only the hilt) while using normal preventative measures (listed above) for holding him off till they can find the artifacts. OR they could just use that time-honored method of hunting vampires: wait till daytime and hunt for his coffin, stake in hand. Even low-leveled parties can handle that, and properly hit diced monsters can serve as great guardians. 

Strahd himself isn't all that great shakes as an antagonist. He's not the earliest "classed" vampire to appear in a TSR module (Drelzna the fighter vamp in Lost Caverns of Tsojcanth might be the first) nor even the first magic-user vampire (see Vlad Tolenkov in Q1 or Sakatha in I2). He's not the first antagonist to have a "motivation" that involves more than killing every murder-hobo that enters his lair. He's a Dracula knock-off (much as Vlad was) and there's nothing wrong with that...for an annual Halloween adventure. But there was nothing particularly original or outstanding about Strahd, even in 1983. Regrets over a dead sibling? Unrequited NPC romance plots? See X2 and B3 respectively.

All four of Strahd's possible goals are pretty lame, actually. If he wanted to switch identities, why do so now? What's so special about the PCs? Would a genius level intelligence really make the mistake about the black opal spell component (never mind the fact that a 10th level magic-user is incapable of manufacturing magical items!)? The missing sunsword is pretty dumb, unless you set this up in an earlier adventure with the thought of later running Ravenloft...and the "reincarnated love" living in the local village...I mean, this thing worked for Bram Stoker's Dracula when she was living in faraway London, but do you really need the machinations for the local damsel? And would such an adolescent ploy ever work better than simply offering her a castle and immortality? And didn't we say this guy has genius intelligence?

[just by the way, can I just say I HATE the whole polymorphing undead thing? A walking corpse...or incorporeal NOT an animal to be polymorphed, so should fall under the purview of polymorph any object, if such transformation is possible at all. The idea of Strahd polymorphing a PC into a vampire is! That is NOT how one makes vampires!And even if it was, why not do that with one of your willing gypsy henchmen?!]

In the final analysis, I think the best way to uncouple Ravenloft from its story is to treat it as a straightforward monster hunt. IGNORE Strahd's "motivations." Who cares what turns his crank...what is it that motivates the PCs? The Hickmans' original impetus for writing Ravenloft came from playing in a dungeon that had some random vampire sitting in a room next to the oozes and goblins for no good reason. Yeah, that's dumb: but that's not what you have here. This vampire has a reason for being in this room: it's his castle! He's been the lord of the realm for a couple hundred years! The villagers are his prey! Etc. Etc.

[I actually really like the idea of Strahd being a greedy bastard. If you draw the card that says Strahd is in his treasury, you find him gleefully "counting his ill-gotten gains." That's motivation right there! The guy is milking the surrounding territory...and any would be passers-through (like the PCs) add to his ever-growing treasure hoard. He's the undead equivalent of a miserly dragon! Love it...probably killed his brother over some piece of treasure. Oh My Precious!]

To run Ravenloft for a NORMAL campaign adventure (as opposed to a one-off) I'd do the following:
  • First, decide on a motivation for the party to confront Strahd. Maybe they are looking for an artifact that he's rumored to have in his hoard. Maybe they're looking for a friend, relative, or colleague ('what's up Jonathan Harker?') that's being held in the castle. Maybe they've been sent to collect outstanding back taxes due to a greater lord. Maybe their deity visited them in a dream and told them they had a sacred duty to stamp out the undead fiend (or face excommunication). Whatever. If nothing else, appeal to their greed (that guy's been sitting on a load of loot for generations, people!) IS AD&D, after all.
  • Next, figure out why the villagers remain in this cursed locale. Look, Dracula had his peasants, too, and they weren't sticking around because of some magic, poisonous fog. There are many reasons why a community might decide that sticking it out is better than the alternative: persecution in other lands, friends and relatives, food supply, the devil you know versus the unknown. Vampires only attack at night, right? So as long as you're indoors after dark (and have your garlic/cross nailed over the door) you're safe to go about your daily farming business during the daylight hours and only need worry about the occasional gypsy abduction. Treat Strahd like any other nobleman/lord and his "gypsy servants" as his equivalent of patrols and men-at-arms (which they basically are anyway).  Decide who might be helpful/sympathetic to the PCs, and who is firmly in the pocket of Strahd (for example, the town mayor or anyone else who benefits from Strahd's magnificence...i.e. not being exchange for cooperation and spying). Remember that Strahd has some human servants, who may actually be "hostages" of village families. Other village families might have made "deals" with Strahd (given over daughters to be his "brides" in exchange for concessions). We are talking a campaign game, not a Sunday night movie!
  • Re-write the thing for a low-level party. I'd say 3rd or 4th would be best (because one vampire hit to a 2nd level character is going to end her adventuring career), but definitely nothing 5th or higher (no need to be flinging fireballs and lightning bolts around your gothic castle mood piece). Gypsies as bandits, villagers as villagers, village idiots as strong villagers (not 9th level fighters...dude should have his own castle!). Shadows and wraiths in place of banshees and ghosts and specters. Half-strength vampire wives instead of full strength ones (treat as wights in all regards). Strahd zombies exactly as written except they only have 2 hit dice and turn as ghasts (inside the castle...outside, they should turn as normal zombies). Probably get rid of the 12 HD trapper (make that the lair of the wandering rust monsters, if you like...clever PCs will find a way to use those on the iron golems). Much as I like the jack-in-the-box of three hell hounds in a crypt, they'll probably destroy most low level parties...knock 'em down to two at 4 HD, if you want to keep Strahd's "hunting dogs" (who wouldn't?). And I kind of love the nightmare (Strahd's "steed") and like the idea of him riding through the streets, bellowing challenges and calls for vengeance the night after the party's first foray into his home.
  • Figure out where you want to put the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, the Tome of Strahd, and the Sunsword; I would not stash any in his crypt, but you could still draw cards to figure out where they are, if you don't have a preference (I would not use the bonuses/penalties associated with card suit). Since Strahd (presumably) moves around a lot during the night, I'd just roll a D6 whenever the party enters one of his possible encounter areas, perhaps with a cumulative chance of finding him (1 in 6, 2 in 6, etc.). I would NOT have Strahd in his crypt except during daylight hours (when he'll always be present).
  • Treasure: the total value of monetary treasure in Ravenloft is a bit more than 120,000 g.p. -- close to double what eight 4th level characters need to level. However, in an adventure with this much expected energy drain, I don't mind the extra experience points. Magic items range from good (helpful scrolls and potions) to weird (three maces +3 in the treasury?) to wow (a deck of many things!). Probably needs some modification with regard to the blander magic weapons. 
  • Stocking: however, the distribution of treasure needs work. In a dungeon this size, I'd expect to find some type of treasure in around 30 encounter areas, not 10. Monsters should be in one-third of the areas, not one-fourth. Around 56% of the castle is EMPTY...just box text description...and while there's fairly good interactivity (especially for DMs that don't mind doing some improvisation when they see "carriage room," for example) I'd want to spread things around a bit more, and probably add a couple more encounters (gypsy henchmen and the like...especially during the daytime). The crypt area especially is a little bland...I can see PCs simply knocking down tombs, one after another, which is more-or-less the same as the (often lambasted) Kick-In-The-Door style of dungeon. Rather than an empty tomb with a bag of coins, I'd prefer to furnish the castle a bit more with golden candelabrum (never lit) and decorative china- and silverware (never used)...maybe a well-stocked wine cellar full of expensive vintages. Maybe figure out where the vampire wives go during the nighttime hours and what the witches are doing when they're not brewing in Ye Old Cauldron. Maybe give the witches a few potions, and give their 42,750 g.p. spellbook to Strahd (they only peruse it when they need to memorize a spell). Hell, put it in his study...simple enough.
With regard to RUNNING the adventure, I'd want to make sure I was keeping excellent track of time, because sundown and sunset becomes VERY important when you're hunting vampires. Party encumbrance and movement rates are going to be essential for tracking time, and every ten minute turn spent searching for secret doors is going to bring the party closer to the witching hour. Probably need to prep some sort of graph beforehand, just to make it all go smoothly. The adventure lists "types of attacks" for Strahd, but they're kind of nonsensical for a character with genius intelligence and centuries of experience. A situational list of actual tactics (based on party location, party defenses, level of vampiric ire, etc.) probably needs to be mapped out and available to the DM so that your players aren't asking 'hmmm...where did these 15 Strahd zombies suddenly appear from when we locked ourselves in this tower room?'  Anyway...

It is doable. That is, it's an adventure one could run FAIRLY EASILY with MINIMAL MODIFICATION. Nothing nearly as extensive as what I'm doing with the Dragonlance modules, because Ravenloft IS a fairly straightforward adventure. It was not the advent of (or precursor to) the Adventure Path or "story driven" adventure design, with its railroads and plot-protected NPCs. Heck, you can't even blame box text on the Hickmans, as that was certainly showing up as early as 1980 (see C1: The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan as Exhibit A). Ravenloft is not some sort of linear rail path requiring specific action from the PCs (besides destroying Strahd, of course). Nothing compels the PCs to deal with (lovely NPC) Ireena Kolyana in any particular fashion...or even keep her alive! The fact that she only has six hit points (as a 4th level fighter?) and no CON score (um...) means she's probably not long for the world anyway.

There is no way in hell I would ever rank Ravenloft "the second greatest adventure module of all time." I wouldn't even call it the second greatest adventure module written by the Hickmans!  But it's not's pretty great as a light-hearted one-off played for a spooky theme night. And considering it was written by the Hickmans in their early 20s (they weren't even 25! Just kids!), it is a remarkable testament to their abilities as game designers that they were able to craft something that touched so many people and launched an entire game line and setting.

Then again, it may be that people just love vampires. 
; )


  1. The one time I ran I6, that's exactly how I did it. It was a Halloween special "one shot" that turned into about four sessions because we didn't finish and everyone was having so much fun.

    I did stick Castle Ravenloft in my West Marches, though, and it has been visited briefly once.

    1. See? That's why I don't throw the "review" label on these posts...I haven't actually played/run the adventure so I have no inkling of whether or not it's actually "fun."

      It LOOKS like a fun, Scooby-Doo meets old school horror film: the werewolf prisoner, the animating gargoyles, the organ-playing vampire. It's missing a hunchback and a flesh golem (Frankenstein monster) in some alchemical laboratory, but otherwise it's pretty good. And like DL1, it has a great map.

      I'm actually thinking of re-skinning and running it myself (as a low-level adventure), though I'd like to finish my DL reworks first. Jeez, my campaign setting is quickly turning into "Hickman World!" Just need to add the Desert of Desolation (I guess I could put it in Idaho...).
      : )

  2. I put Ravenloft in with the Tomb of Horrors. It is one of those modules that plays better if it is a one shot and the players are game to plow through it. I think much like Tomb of Horrors, it works better if the players are in on the joke.

    Maybe an "S" code would have been better.

    Both are fun as one shots, and both would be better served with pregens tailored to the adventure.

    I am not sure how people take this adventure so seriously? They read the terrible puns on the tombs right?

    1. Quite a bit of the adventure is absurd or nonsensical, and only makes sense in a "funhouse" way. The mannequin illusion, the witches, the crypt, the servants (why is there an accountant?). At times, the castle is supposed to be incredibly ancient...Strahd's been alive for so many centuries he's forgotten his own magic...while at other times in seems things "just happened" (the wedding cake of his brother is still in the dining hall gathering dust).

      It really doesn't make sense for the "I" series, though it's not really clever enough (or weird enough) to be an "S" module. I actually think it might have worked best as part of the "X" series...nothing here requires the thing to be an Advanced D&D product, and the design shows a conspicuous lack of knowledge on AD&D rules (the witches familiars, for example, or the lack of half-strength undead). Nothing here requires a nine-point alignment system or AD&D classes. The thing feels like it could EASILY have been a BECMI module for Expert (4-14) level characters.

      But maybe TSR felt that the complexity of the map (it's taken me a few reads to see where everything goes) made the adventure inappropriate for the "kiddies" they started marketing BECMI to in 1983 (when Ravenloft was published). Still, it's moral simplicity is RIGHT IN LINE with what one finds in the Mentzer rule sets.

    2. I reread it last year building a section of my campaign that was a "homage" to Ravenloft (with a ghoul lord and family not a vampire). It didn't help as this was a long running campaign and I6 was not serious enough to take much from.

      A B/X Ravenloft would be great. But I am for almost anything B/X.

      I guess my follow up would be that I6 came out the same year as UK2. Thoughts on which is a better D&D module to run? Assuming the DM is going to fiddle with both.

    3. @7B:

      You know, it’s tough to find info on the UK branch of TSR and what exactly was going on at the time. My feeling as they were developing their adventure design sensibilities parallel to each other (with less cross-pollination)...but, as I wrote above, a lot of things considered “hallmarks” of Hickman design (background stories, NPC motivation, box text, linear designs) had already been present in earlier modules. Both the USA and UK designers of 1983-85 had source material to draw upon.

      I meant to write more about UK2 and UK3 and never got around to it. We liked them quite well, and they worked for the most part. Much of our difficulties came from having a smallish party, but the PCs were smart and conservative (not overextending themselves). A larger group probably would have only had more deaths.

      UK2 was pretty solid, so long as you don’t worry about the “plot” - there’s plenty of trouble for the PCs to get mixed up in and opportunity for adventure. Treat the Sentinel more as a “treasure map” (or a high ego magic weapon) leading the PCs to adventure. Allow the events of UK3 to play out with or without the PCs (the burning of villages, etc.) and let them
      Decide if and when they want to get involved (though the Sentinel might force their pun intended). Don’t worry about the fire giant scenario unless the PCs do get involved. Everything flows naturally from there. And very little fiddle was needed at all (for either module).

      [since I haven’t run I6, I can’t say if it’s “better,” though it looks a LOT shorter. I’d LIKE to run it now, and probably will, but as a low level side-piece with the adjustments I wrote about above.]

  3. Good thoughts. I have never actually played any of Hickman's adventure's, but from reading some and reading about them, I do think he gets a bad wrap.

    1. I think context is important.

      Ravenloft was originally written in 1977 (before AD&D proper was established) by two kids aged 23 and 22. It appears to have been written for their "home game" as they never attempted to publish it (unlike Rahasia and Pharaoh). After they came on board at TSR as adventure writers, they trotted this out, polished it a bit, and "updated it" for AD&D for any one of a number of possible reasons.

      And here's the thing: it struck gold! In 1983 there was nothing like this on the market. The Hickmans HAD BEEN DEVELOPING THEIR OWN VAMPIRE GAME, called "Vampyr" based on this. But Call of Cthulhu was probably the only "horror type" RPG on the market in '83, and its Weird Alien Horror doesn't have the mass market appeal of the vampire mythos (look at Anne Rice hitting it big at the same time). When Vampire the Masquerade comes out in 1990, it picks up a hefty chunk of marketshare for White Wolf and launches a huge number of game lines...but when Ravenloft entered the market, there was nothing but un-tapped potential.

      Ravenloft enjoys this beloved place in the hearts of many folks who wanted some vampire porn in their RP lives and had nothing else on tap. It's an okay adventure...right around the level of Castle Amber (a module it greatly resembles). And it has really nice production values for the time (the maps, the artwork). It showed the Hickmans weren't slouches in design.

      But there's a LOT of room for improvement, if this wants to be a serious adventure. I have the advantage of having played D&D for more years than the Hickmans were the time they penned this.

  4. JB, thank you so much... fun read! Never knew you took requests!
    I never knew I6 was originally designed as a Halloween one-off, or was written a while before the Hickmans even joined TSR.
    Your ideas on ways to run the game and mitigate some of the kludgy/forced aspects are great. The idea of reducing the power level makes a lot of sense... would definitely make it easier to maintain the "fear" vibe that should go with the gothic nostalgia, and make play easier and faster.
    Most helpful is the suggestions on Strahd's motivations. I think the module's random options for his motivations is the main flaw in I6, and directs DMs into serious gameplay flaws.
    (I ran this once in my early 20's with the option that Strahd would abduct one of the characters, and infiltrate the party via polymorph self. I pulled the player aside and let them know what was going on, and then play as Strahd. Total fail... the rest of the party knew something was up and were suspicious right away. Nice thematic idea... doesn't work in actual gameplay.)

    1. You’re welcome. It was fun analyzing the module and I learned quite a bit by doing so.

      No, I don’t think any of the motivations for Strahd work particularly well...and I don’t think it’s necessary for Strahd to have a specific “driving goal” in order to run the adventure fact, such goals tend to make the thing more “cartoony” in the Saturday Morning Episode kind of way. Better to cast it as a normal arrogant lord / malevolent immortal with some human foibles. The point remains: it is the *PCs* that need to be motivated, not the NPC! If the PCs are motivated none of the railroad stuff (the mists, the unkillable villagers) are necessary.

      Low-levels are definitely advisable: I’d say 3rd to 5th (I know I said 4th in my post but I’ve revised the cap to 5th with a little extra thought). Yes, doing this will make everything (including the “vibe”) much easier.

      Good luck with your game!
      : )

  5. Been maybe 20 years or so since I last used the setting. I modified it and the castle a good bit. Simplified some things about the map. I had set it near Krakesborough from Dungeoneer (the place that featured Walking Wet, Borshaks liar, etc). Its proximity sort of promoted all the undead and demons and such there.

    Anyway, I got players involved by doing that classic things where one of the female player characters one of the vampires old loves reincarnated. They got lured there and fun ensued. I think it was a total of three sessions, with a good bit of it being weird encounters in the nearby countryside and village. A werewolf on the prowl, skeletons attacking farmers in the fields in broad daylight...