Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill – Best ‘Freak Out’ Module Ever?

Before the Ravenloft Campaign Setting was a twinkle in TSR’s eye, the original Ravenloft module had already proven itself to be a classic.  Although it was originally intended as a stand-alone module, Ravenloft proved popular enough to warrant a sequel: Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill.  Like many sequels, this module never quite reached the classic status that the original did.

Strahd always had an eye for the ladies I think Ravenloft II gets a bad rap.  It is definitely not as tightly woven a storyline as the original Ravenloft, probably a result of the many authors who were working on this project simultaneously.  It also doesn’t help that Strahd seems shoehorned into a storyline that would likely have worked better with a brand new villain.

Despite these flaws, I feel the storyline of Ravenloft II is rich and provides many opportunities for roleplaying.  It was also one of the first modules I remember where time was a major factor.  The Creature’s timeline would would progress whether the players worked to foil his plots or not.  The concept that the plot would not wait for you was novel and helped to build a sense of urgency among my players.

Taken separately from its predecessor, I feel Ravenloft II is a decent module.  However, I think the “Dreams of Bavoria” option presented in the module gives it the potential to be the greatest “freak out” module ever.

I suppose I should explain what I mean by “freak out.”  Many longstanding Sci-Fi and Fantasy series (especially TV series) have had at least one episode where a main character questions his or her sanity.  To list just a few of my favorite examples:

  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine had an episode where Captain Benjamin Sisko found himself caught between a reality where he was the captain of a space station and a reality where he was a struggling sci-fi writer in the 1950s.  This episode was revisited later, and it was revealed that “Benny Russell” had ended up in an insane asylum because of his delusions.
  • Farscape had (multiple) episodes where John Crichton found himself on Earth as if he had never left it.  In each of these episodes he had to puzzle through what was happening and if his life in space had just been a hallucination.
  • Buffy: The Vampire Slayer had an episode where Buffy found herself waking up as a troubled girl in an insane asylum.  Her doctor explained that she was delusional and prone to violent outbursts while in that mental state, while ranting about being a “vampire slayer.”

I could go on, but I assume you get the picture.  Used sparingly, the “freak out” story can be an interesting way to explore a character’s psyche. 

However, the concept is a difficult one to transplant to Dungeons & Dragons.  The disorienting effect of shifting between two realities is a difficult sell to people already playing a fantasy roleplaying game.  If you have the characters wake up in a parallel world, it is likely they will just try to return to the “real” one as soon as possible.

The “Dreams of Bavoria” option in Ravenloft II solved this problem by presenting the characters with two “equal” realities that are very different but obviously linked.  The delirium built into Ravenloft II provides an easy mechanic to shift the characters back and forth.  Best of all, the two modules already had characters who were familiar but different. This adds to the disorienting and dream-like nature of the two worlds. 

I would love to get an opportunity to run these modules together.  While many of my long-time players know the plot of Ravenloft by heart, I am certain Ravenloft II is a much less certain and distant memory for them. 

Linking these two modules may just be the way to breath new (un)life into an old classic.


David The Archmage said...

That sounds like fun, especially with Halloween coming up!

Medraut said...


I enjoy running Halloween themed adventures in the month of October whenever possible. Then again, I have been told that my DMing style favors a Gothic Horror feel anyway.