Was not intending to write a post today (extremely busy today), but hot on the heels of yesterday's post, I started going through Ravenloft to make it a playable, B/X one-shot.
Oh, boy, is it awful.
And I feel a little bad writing that after giving it some (faint) praise in my prior analysis, specifically I wrote:
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 terrible...it's pretty great as a light-hearted one-off played for a spooky theme night.
Perhaps I wrote that in one of my "come to Jesus" moments of trying to see things in as positive a light as possible. Because it IS terrible...back to front. It's not ALL terrible, but much of its individual parts (and the sum of its whole) is pretty bad.
At least from the perspective of D&D adventure design.
[before I dive any farther, understand there'll be *spoilers* and I will be writing this from a B/X orientation as there is substantial evidence to suggest that the original adventure was written with OD&D as the designers' frame of reference...for an "AD&D" adaptation of an adventure penned in '77, it shows quite a few missteps and misunderstandings of basic PHB/DMG/MM systems. B/X being largely based on OD&D+Greyhawk, I'm fine with using a more lenient view based on its systems]
Let's look at some of the raw data:
Total Number Encountered Areas: 128
Total Monsters Encounters: 25
Total Encounters with Treasure: 16
This does not include Strahd or the random artifacts (the Sunsword, the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, the Tome of Strahd)...none of which have any monetary (x.p.) value...that will be encountered within the castle.
That's a lot of nothing. Mmm...scratch that. It's a lot of empty padding. Every encounter area has a read-aloud bit of boxed text that will (presumably) help "set the mood" for an atmospheric dungeon crawl. Assuming your players don't get bored and start punching their DM. Even making a list of emptyrooms that had something INTERESTING in them (creaky stairs, hanging skeletons, bronze doors, a bathtub, etc.), I still find upwards of 45 numbered areas that have NOTHING WITH ANY INTERACTION AT ALL. And, I'm not counting the double "nothing" entries as multiples (for example there are two separate encounter areas marked K12 and K13 on the main floor, both with zero going on, but I'm counting those as "2" not "4" despite the potential for a party encountering the same useless box text twice).
Remember your Moldvay instructions on dungeon stocking? Here's a quick refresher: after placing special monsters and treasures in appropriate rooms (for I6, this would include Strahd and the aforementioned artifacts), the ratio should be roughly:
- one-third monsters (half with treasure)
- one-sixth traps (one-third with treasure)
- one-sixth special (one-sixth with treasure)
- one-third "empty" (one-sixth with treasure)
With 128 numbered encounters, I'd be expecting more than 40 areas with monsters (and a similar number with some type of treasure). But maybe such wasn't wanted because of the scope of the adventure (as discussed, meant to completed in a single evening's play). In which case the adventure site may simply be too large for its intended purpose?
Let's work backwards for a moment. Throw out the living tower and guardian portrait (both of which might be considered "traps" or "specials" despite having monster stats being countered with combat), and we've got 23 monsters. Still probably too many for a single evening's play, but let's go with it for the nonce. That would indicate some 69 encounter areas. Throwing out the nothing descriptions of corridors and stairways (i.e. the 45 worthless entries listed above) gets you down to 83. Remove the outer courtyard from the encounter areas (are PCs really going to explore the garden?) and you're down to 76. Toss the closets, smokestacks, slippery roofs, creaky stairs, and "mechanism" rooms (or incorporate them as part of existing encounter areas) and we're down to some 68ish, which would be just about right. Heck, I could probably shave more off (and probably will) but as I said I'm running low on time today. And, anyway, looking at the scale of a number of medieval castles, it's not terribly off, except for its height: the tallest castle tower in the world is 55m (about 180'), and Ravenloft has three that top that (190', 260', and 360').
Treasure is awful. A bag of coins here, a coffer of coins there, a scattering of coins under the accountant's paperwork, or a crypt with "three pieces of jewelry valued at 5,000g.p." The magical Icon of Ravenloft in the castle chapel (area K15) is described as "a small statue;" that's it. Statue of what? Doesn't say. The box text tells players that a piercing shaft of light "falls directly on a small statue." The DM text tells us "the small statue is the Icon of Ravenloft." It is carved from "purest silver" (no value given). "It is 12 inches tall and 6 inches across." Gar. Bage.
I already wrote that the total treasure amounts to a bit more than 120,000g.p. total, but I was including the witch's spell book in that total (about 47K worth of spells for the AD&D game). For OD&D or B/X this wouldn't be worth anything and the total monetary value found is very, very low. Too low to justify PCs (of the requisite levels) exploring the cavernous emptiness that is vampire Strahd's castle. And nothing about the stuff here is tempting in any way...it's placement is just an afterthought. 'Oh, here's a bag of platinum coins sitting under a chair on a balcony." Um...is this asking us to risk anything? Is it rewarding PCs for taking the time to sit down? What the hell is this?
The monsters are crappy; here's the list:
4 small (18hp) red dragons that are sometimes statues
8 gargoyles that are sometimes statues
2 "Strahd" zombies (4HD, turn as mummies)
1 vampire "maid" scrubbing floors
5 giant spiders
3 black cat "familiars"
7 "witches" (2 HD magic-users)
3 normal zombies
1 shadow demon (immediately attacks)
1 werewolf (befriends and betrays party)
6 "Strahd" zombies
2 iron golems (!!!)
1 ghost (jack-in-the-box)
1 spectre (jack-in-the-box)
15 wights (jack-in-the-box)
1 vampire "wife" (jack-in-the-box)
1 banshee (jack-in-the-box)
3 huge spiders
1 trapper (12 HD)
3 hell hounds
[a "jack-in-the-box" monster is one that jumps out after the party pops the lid off a crypt. There's a bunch of these in the catacombs]
This is...uh...not great stuff, and it's all over the board. Huge spiders? Black cats? Skeletons? Waaay too weak for the expected character levels. And yet iron golems, ghosts, and banshees are far too powerful. I won't even go into the wandering monsters, but they are fairly ridiculous...in addition to being rather bland.
All right, I really have to go now (I'm actually 30 minutes past were I expected to cut off). I apologize for the bashing of a beloved favorite adventure of many, many folks. I still give a lot of credit to the authors for writing this when they were just kids (and creating a whole franchise from a movie Dracula knock-off)...that's, frankly, amazing. But I6: Ravenloft is bad. Really bad.
I have my work cut out for me.
|He's laughing at me. I can tell.|