Monday, June 7, 2021

Ravenloft Numbers

Man, this D&D subject...always something to write about, huh?

I've been continuing my examination of the I6: Ravenloft module the last few days, even checking out a little bit of its sequel I10 (which is a terrible hash of an adventure...oh my goodness!). Talk about "going back to the well," Ravenloft must have sold an awful lot of copies (and/or received a ton of fan mail) to necessitate that particular publication. I shan't be discussing it any time soon, but I think it's interesting to note that it includes pregenerated player characters for use in both modules (including one whose secondary weapon is a normal longsword), and that some...mmm..."liberties" have been taken with the AD&D rules when it comes to their construction. 

One of the reasons I continue to poke at this thing, is that I'd LIKE to have a fun "vampire adventure" to throw at my players, and Ravenloft is more than halfway there. A while back (like years back...around the time I finished my first book) I had this idea to write a vampire adventure module of my own, somewhat modeled after Palace of the Vampire Queen, but I never got around to it...and the thought of re-purposing Ravenloft honestly never entered my mind. Now, though...well, there's grist here to work with. 

So...let's talk some numbers with regard to tackling Ravenloft as a monster hunt.

I'll admit that when I read through the adventure before, I glossed over a lot of the "getting there" part of the module, instead focusing on the dungeon (castle) proper. It's mostly box text anyway, and I don't really "do" box text these days...I don't even read it when looking at an adventure even (since I'm not planning on reading it when running), unless it's necessary to explain just what the heck an encounter area IS (there's a lot of this issue in the Dragonlance modules). It's...straightforward enough, if full of typos and inconsistencies. We are told the mayor has been dead ten days, then (in the same paragraph) we're told he's been dead "nearly a week." Sometimes the gypsies are listed with 4 hit dice, sometimes 5, sometimes 6 with no explanation. Ability scores are dropped altogether from NPCs. Just some glaring errors...not sure who "Curtis Smith" is, but he wasn't much of an editor.

But I'm getting side tracked again (per usual). As an adventure hook, it's not a terrible lure of the "false pretense variety." Promises of obscene wealth is actually better than usual (certainly better than the "we have nothing to offer you please help us out of the goodness of your hearts" story found in adventures like N2: The Forest Oracle). 'Oh, look, we can do a good deed AND get paid.' Simultaneously play to the party's compassion (or desire for fantasy heroism) and greed. Problem is, once they find out about the false pretenses, it becomes apparent why the magical poison mist is needed to keep the party in place (because otherwise, they'd just blow off the joint). And while that might work to incentivize a vengeful group of players into launching a raid on Strahd's castle, the adventure is designed to be a spooky/scary mood piece with creepy narration and jack-in-the-box scares. What we want (well, what I would want) is an adventure that draws players to it like moths to a flame...and then creeps them out along the way. Thus heightening the player tension, despite their incentive to press on. Also, it'd be nice to make them sweat a bit.

All that means juggling the risk-reward factor of the thing. Now for D&D players of all stripes, vampires should strike some fear into their hearts. In going over this module, I constantly struggle with NOT trying to tinker with the vampire monster as written in the MM...the urge to "improve" the thing (making it more sensible or more in-line with a particular movie version of Dracula) is immense. And it's totally unnecessary: the D&D vampire is its "own thing" and works just fine as written for putting the fear of the God into players (with good reason! They're vicious!). At the same time, they have some solid weaknesses that a prepared party can exploit...which can make the risk seem low enough to attempt bearding such a beast, given a reward that is high enough.

Does a hundred and fifty thousand gold pieces worth of treasure PLUS ownership of a dilapidated castle sound like a decent enough reward? For a party of 3rd to 5th level characters? Especially if it was known that the current owner was a powerful sorcerer with a decent-sized spell book (AD&D magic-users are always looking to add to their spell lists, right?)...yeah, it sounds pretty hefty. It's not really (for reasons related to castle ownership), but it's still a tasty hook for players to bite on. So what's the risk?

Sunrise in Transylvania on October 31st (a good enough place/date as any) is at 7:21am. Sunset the same day (and same location) is 6:15pm. That gives players a nearly eleven hour window of time in which to hunt up Strahd's coffin and kill him in the traditional fashion (stake through the heart, etc., etc.). All well and good...except  that PCs aren't going to be camped outside the gates, ready to break in at first light of dawn. I mean, they could be...if they don't mind being food for the immortals.

The village of Barovia is about one-third of a mile from Castle Ravenloft...if, like Strahd, you can fly. Otherwise, the road is from the village to the castle gates is 2.7 miles long. A horse with a rider can trot/canter about 8 miles in an hour, which puts Strahd's stronghold about 20 minutes away by horse. Assuming a party is really on the ball, they can probably be up, saddled and ready to go within 10-15 minutes of sunrise (since it only takes Strahd six minutes to fly home from the village...three when mounted on his nightmare...smart adventurers won't want to poke their heads out till first light of day). That means the earliest PCs can expect to get to the mountain stronghold is 7:50am, with 8am being more likely...if they are as expedient as possible, working like a well-oiled machine.

Let's assume they are pretty good and are thus able to arrive by 8 (there are always delays). The party will (hopefully) want to give themselves some time to get back to the safety of the village, just in case they aren't able to locate the vampire lord's coffin. 5:50pm would be a good mark to exit the castle, giving the adventurers a full 25 minutes to get back to Barovia, get the horses unsaddled, and get under cover (i.e. into a house that the vampires can't enter). Such speed will only be possible, of course, if the party brings along one or two henchfolk to hold/guard the horses (while they explore the castle interior), and make them ready for departure (upon their swift exit).

8am to 5:50pm is nine hours and fifty minutes...the equivalent of 59 turns for exploration. Ten torches worth of time (or two and a half flasks of lantern oil). That is all the time the party has to locate Strahd's tomb and end him. 

Every thirty minutes they are inside the castle, they have a 2 in 6 chance of facing a wandering monster. On average, they can expect to face 20 encounters. Each encounter will cost them one turn of exploration time. With only 39 turns to work with, a conservative group of adventurers will leave themselves at least half the allotted time to return to the front door (20 turns). 19 turns of movement to penetrate into the heart of Strahd's lair, where the monster lies sleeping.

As one might expect, Strahd's coffin is [SPOILER!] located in the castle's crypt. There are only two entrances into the crypt area, unless characters have the ability to assume gaseous form (like Strahd) or have thought to bring pickaxes for tunneling through a masonry wall and thirty feet of rubble. Assuming such isn't the case, the shortest distance to travel is 770' from the front door of the castle. It involves avoiding two traps (neither of which is deadly, but both of which will derail the party's exploration), a secret door, an encounter with a crazy (human) servant, a fight with a shadow demon that automatically attacks, and a puzzle involving two iron golems which might also result in combat. If the party wears no armor heavier than chain (9" movement) the distance could be covered in nine turns...plus three turns of searching (assuming success) for secret doors and traps, and another three turns to deal with other encounters. Finding the entrance to Strahd's specific tomb is no easy feat (there are 40 possible crypts to open), but the party will have 40 extra minutes to search.

The second method of entering Strahd's tomb is 980' from the front door, and includes a 390' drop down a smooth stone shaft. So long as the party brought 60 pounds of good rope, this might be the "easiest," most viable and most obvious means of entry. At only 11 turns, it leaves them a bit over an hour to locate the correct tomb in the crypt (assuming the same movement rate as above), but returning the way they came (a nearly 400' rope ascent?!) may take longer than the initial entry time, depending on the generosity of the DM. Doubling the time to descend (43 minutes) would make it a nine turn climb.

None of which is accounting for mandatory rest breaks; parties "should be required to rest one turn in six" (per the DMG; bottom of p.38). Unlike B/X, AD&D does not provide specific penalties for fatigue...but then it doesn't say DMs must give PCs an option regarding rest. Knock one turn off the trap/secret way in, or two turns off the rope climb method. That would STILL leave enough time for a well-organized, well-prepared party to make a deep foray into Castle Ravenloft and stake Strahd while he sleeps. A party with any way to spy out his location and map a route ahead of time (via a crystal ball, scroll with wizard eye, etc.) would be able to execute a true surgical strike with minimal losses, even at low level...depending on how well they deal with the wandering monster encounters.

Of course, Strahd isn't the only vampire on the premises. There are both two "brides" (one located in the crypts, one acting as...a maid?!) and the possibility of encountering 1d4 on the wandering monster tables ("hapless past victims" of Strahd). All of these should be half-strength vampires (per the DMG, page 119), but presumably the death of the Count would launch them into a feeding frenzy, as they drained the other living inhabitants of the castle (gypsies, witches and such) bringing them up to full hit dice. The possibility of the dungeon suddenly containing half a dozen, free-willed vampires, plus their newly created "half-vamp" minions, should be a daunting situation for ANY party of adventurers, regardless of level. Under Strahd's yoke, they did little more than bemoan their fate (and scrub his floors). But now...hoo-boy! What's been unleashed!

That's the ugly truth of Ravenloft. Strahd might be an evil undead creature (or "Creature" as they call him in I10), but at least he maintains control over the situation; he IS still 'lord of the manor,' after all. His continued existence allows him and Barovia to live in a state of perpetual detente...taking him out is, in many ways, a "nuclear option." Perhaps, to some degree, the villagers even realize this; perhaps they don't want the party to exterminate "the Devil Strahd," understanding that the county would face a worse fate should their liege and tormentor meet the final death...being overrun by a horde of undead monsters!

Welcome to vampire country.

[assuming there are "only" six half-strength vampires in Ravenloft...the two ladies and up to four encountered wanderers...a total of 24 hit dice would have to be drained to get all six up to full-strength. 7 witches would provide 21 hit dice and three 0-level humans would provide 1 each. Wandering (6HD) gypsies can also be encountered in the castle...up to eight at a time...but these others are all known and sedentary and would thus probably be targeted first. That makes a total of sixteen vampires (six master, ten thrall) for Barovia...and possibly the PCs...to deal with]

Um, yeah. Real ugly.

All right, that's enough number crunching. Lots to do this week (last full week of school for the kids). Hope everyone has a good one!
: )

2 comments:

  1. Did you ever see Seth Skorkowsky's video (YouTube) on how to run I6 in one evening? He suggests compressing a lot of the encounter areas since there are so many empty ones with just atmospheric description and nothing else.

    Of course, if your goal is to make it a race against time to find the crypt, this would go against that. But he does have some interesting suggestions on modifying the module to make it play more smoothly.

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    Replies
    1. I have not watched ANY video reviews on Ravenloft (though I've watched plenty of other reviews on other modules). In all honesty, I have no more than passing interest in the adventure till a week ago. "Horror-themed D&D" isn't really my thing.

      For the record: my objective isn't to make I6 a "race against time to find the crypt;" my objective is to make the adventure something fit for a D&D campaign. The adventure isn't all that suitable for a mid-high level range: first off, there's not enough treasure and (thus) not enough motivation for PCs (unless forced by the railroad elements of the module). Second, Strahd is too easy a mark for high level characters, and his minions too difficult for mid-level characters. Run as written (and properly adjudicated), I6 should result in a TPK for characters level 5-7, long before they get close to Strahd. It *might* prove a decent challenge for a party of 9-11 level characters (the suggested range given per the later I10)...but what incentive is there for such a group to wade through this scary castle? 10,000 silver and 10,000 gold? Seriously?

      Really the only way I can see to uncouple it from its railroad is to make it a low-level adventure (where the stakes are worth the risk)...and the BEST way for such characters to succeed is by giving them a chance to find Strahd's coffin during the daytime (when he's dormant) because vampires are pretty tough when they're up and around.

      I'm starting to wonder...like really wonder...how many people have actually played I6 as written. Without serious "fudging" on behalf of the DM. How many of the people who love-love-love this adventure actually played through, using the AD&D rules, seeing those D4 Vampires or D6 Specters or D8 6-HD gypsies hit the board, and yet still slogged through to the end with their characters intact. Really...how many people played this adventure "straight" and came away with a coffer of gold and a generic sword +2 and said "The was one of the greatest adventures of ALL TIME!"

      I really want to know: who played this adventure as written and had a blast? Because the hype surrounding it says A LOT OF PEOPLE. I'd like to meet some of them.

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