The Ravenloft logo.
|Designer(s)||Bruce Nesmith and Andria Hayday, after Hickman (the I-6 and I-10 adventures)|
|Publisher(s)||TSR, White Wolf, Wizards of the Coast|
|System(s)||AD&D 2nd Edition, d20 System|
Ravenloft is a campaign setting for the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game. It is an alternate time-space existence known as a pocket dimension called the Demiplane of Dread, which consists of a collection of land pieces called domains brought together by a mysterious force known only as "The Dark Powers". Each domain is mystically ruled by a being called a "Darklord".
Ravenloft is primarily a Gothic horror setting. Dungeon Masters are encouraged to use scenes that build apprehension and fear, culminating in the eventual face-to-face meeting with the nameless evil. Characters have a much greater significance attached to their acts, especially if they are morally impure, as they risk coming under the influence of the Dark Powers (through the game process called "dark powers checks") and gradually transforming themselves into figures of evil.
The magical mists of Ravenloft could appear anywhere in the Dungeons & Dragons universe, drawing evil-doers (or player characters) into the Ravenloft setting. One exception is the 'phlogiston' of the Spelljammer setting. The phlogiston blocks all planar travel, but the mists can appear in deep space inside crystal shells, according to the Complete Spacefarer's Handbook.
The Dark Powers
The Dark Powers are a malevolent force who control the Demiplane of Dread. Their exact nature and number are deliberately kept vague, allowing for plot development in accordance with the Gothic tradition of storytelling—where the heroes are frequently outclassed and outnumbered by unknowably evil forces beyond their control.
The Dark Powers most frequently serve as a plot device for Ravenloft, especially concerning the Dark Lords, the de facto visible rulers of the Ravenloft Demiplane. Where the players are often tormented and opposed by the Dark Lords, the Dark Lords are themselves tormented and opposed by the Dark Powers. Of course, the difference lies in order of power—while many D&D adventures focus on allowing a band of heroes to prevail over a Dark Lord (much as in the spirit of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula), no such victory over the Dark Powers is conceivable. Vecna, (a demi-god and darklord) and Lord Soth "escaped" Ravenloft, but are the only two known to have done so.
Most frequently, the Dark Powers make their wishes and intents known through subtle manipulations of fate. Thus, Barovia's vampire lord Strahd von Zarovich's many attempts to win back his love, Tatyana, are doomed to failure, but the Dark Powers arrange such that he never truly loses hope. Each time, for example, Strahd's own actions may be partially culpable for his failure, and as such he may go through crippling self-recrimination, rather than cursing the gods solely and giving up. Most other Dark Lords have similar tales of frustration, kept all the more unbearable because the flicker of the possibility of success is never truly extinguished.
Not all Dark Lords acknowledge the Dark Powers directly, however. Strahd, for example, in his own memoirs, speaks only of a force known as "Death," who mocks him with the voices of his family and former colleagues throughout his life. Vlad Drakov, the Dark Lord of Falkovnia whose military expeditions are doomed to constant failure, seems even to be totally oblivious of any non-mortal factors in his repeated defeats.
The Dark Powers also seem capable of non-evil manipulations. Although their machinations are often directly responsible for the misery of many of Ravenloft's inhabitants, they also appear to play a role as dispensers of justice. Some tales of innocents who have escaped Ravenloft for happier environs are attributed to the Dark Powers, who have judged a being worthy of reward and release from their misty domain.
The precise nature of the Dark Powers of Ravenloft is never explicitly described in the game material, with the exception of a few of the novels based on the setting, and even those are considered non-canon. In a sense, the Dark Powers are intended to be eternal unknowns, an array of mercurial, unforeseeable, and inscrutable wills whose motives and actions the player characters cannot hope to understand.
The first appearance of the setting was in I6:Ravenloft, a stand-alone Advanced Dungeons & Dragons adventure module published in 1983. It was popular enough to spawn an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Gamebook and a 1986 sequel (Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill). Ravenloft was launched as a full-fledged campaign setting in 1990, with the Realm of Terror boxed set, popularly known as the "Black Box". The campaign setting was revised twice during Second Edition — first as the Ravenloft Campaign Setting "Red Box", then as the Domains of Dread hardback. In 1994 Ravenloft spun off into sub-setting called Masque of the Red Death, set on Gothic Earth, an 1890s version of Earth where fantasy creatures exist only in the shadows of civilization. The "Black Box" won the Origins Award in 1991 for Best Graphic Presentation of a Roleplaying Game, Adventure, or Supplement of 1990.
TSR also published a series of novels set in Ravenloft. Each was typically focused on one of the darklords that inhabited the Ravenloft world, with several focusing on the figure of Count Strahd von Zarovich. Many of these early novels were by authors who would later receive wider fame as horror/dark fantasy authors. These authors have included Elaine Bergstrom, P. N. Elrod, Christie Golden and Laurell K. Hamilton.
Ravenloft was licensed in 2000 to White Wolf, Inc., which published through the Sword & Sorcery Studios imprint versions of the setting for Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition (as Ravenloft Campaign Setting - Core Rulebook) and Dungeons & Dragons v.3.5 (as Ravenloft - Player's Handbook - v.3.5 Core Campaign Setting). White Wolf's license to the Ravenloft setting reverted to Wizards of the Coast on August 15, 2005, but Sword & Sorcery retained the right to continue to sell its back stock until June 2006. The timing of this reversion meant that the Ravenloft supplement Van Richten's Guide to the Mists did not see print. Instead, it was released as a free download in late September 2005.
The campaign setting published by White Wolf introduced a number of alterations, many based on conflicts with existing Wizards of the Coast intellectual property. Lord Soth, a character created for the Dragonlance setting, was removed, and the island featuring the demi-god Vecna and his rival, Kas, was likewise excised due to the characters' origins in the Greyhawk setting, and any references to D&D pantheon gods have been replaced with Ravenloft-specific names (for example, Bane is referred to as "The Lawgiver").
In October 2006, Wizards of the Coast released Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, a hardcover version of the original 1st edition adventure updated for the Dungeons & Dragons version 3.5 rule set. The 2006 version includes maps from the original Ravenloft adventure, and new character generation options. Expedition to Castle Ravenloft is a stand-alone supplement set for any D&D worlds, and only requires the three core books for usage. This book is completely distinct from the Ravenloft of the White Wolf product line.
In September 2008, it was announced on Wizard of the Coast's Digital Insider #6 that Ravenloft would be reintroduced to 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons in the October issue of the Dragon online magazine. In 2007, Wizards of the Coast announced the printing of two new Ravenloft novels for 2008, Black Crusade and The Sleep of Reason, fueling more speculation. A short story by Ari Marmell, "Before I Wake," based on the realms of Darkon, Lamordia and Bluetspur was released on October 31, 2007 on the Wizards of the Coast website as a special for Halloween and featured characters inspired by H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith.
The Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition supplement Manual of the Planes established that in the 4th Edition cosmology, the Domains of Dread (and by extension the Ravenloft setting) are now located within the Shadowfell, a mirror-world of death and gloom lying adjacent to the mortal realm. A standalone Ravenloft Roleplaying Game using the 4th edition rules was scheduled for publication in late 2011, but the product was never released.
A new adventure for the game's 5th edition, entitled Curse of Strahd, was released in March 2016. It was developed in-house by the Wizards of the Coast team, led by Christopher Perkins, with story contributions by original creators Tracy and Laura Hickman.
A number of tie-in novels were released, set in the Demiplane of Dread:
- Vampire of the Mists (September 1991), by Christie Golden, (ISBN 1-56076-155-5)
- Knight of the Black Rose (December 1991), by James Lowder, (ISBN 1-56076-156-3)
- Dance of the Dead (June 1992), by Christie Golden, (ISBN 1-56076-352-3)
- Heart of Midnight (December 1992), by J. Robert King, (ISBN 1-56076-355-8)
- Tapestry of Dark Souls (March 1993), by Elaine Bergstrom, (ISBN 1-56076-571-2)
- Carnival of Fear (July 1993), by J. Robert King, (ISBN 1-56076-628-X)
- I, Strahd: The Memoirs of a Vampire (September 1993), by P. N. Elrod, (ISBN 0-7869-0175-6)
- The Enemy Within (February 1994), by Christie Golden, (ISBN 1-56076-887-8)
- Mordenheim (May 1994), by Chet Williamson, (ISBN 1-56076-852-5)
- Tales of Ravenloft (September 1994), Edited by Brian Thomsen, (ISBN 1-56076-931-9)
- Tower of Doom (November 1994), by Mark Anthony, (ISBN 0-7869-0062-8)
- Baroness of Blood (March 1995), by Elaine Bergstrom, (ISBN 0-7869-0146-2)
- Death of a Darklord (June 1995), by Laurell K. Hamilton, (ISBN 0-7869-4122-7)
- Scholar of Decay (December 1995), by Tanya Huff, (ISBN 0-7869-0206-X)
- King of the Dead (March 1996), by Gene DeWeese, (ISBN 0-7869-0483-6)
- To Sleep with Evil (September 1996), by Andria Cardarelle, (ISBN 0-7869-0515-8)
- Lord of the Necropolis (November 1997), by Gene DeWeese, (ISBN 0-7869-0660-X)
- Shadowborn (March 1998), by Carrie Bebris and William Connors, (ISBN 0-7869-0766-5)
- I, Strahd: The War Against Azalin (June 1998), by P. N. Elrod, (ISBN 0-7869-0754-1)
- Spectre of the Black Rose (March 1999), by James Lowder and Voronica Whitney-Robinson, (ISBN 0-7869-1333-9)
- Before I Wake, by Ari Marmell (October 2007) A short story released for free on the Wotc website with the announcement of new novels in publication.
- Heaven's Bones (Dominion) (September 2008), by Samantha Henderson, (ISBN 0-7869-5111-7)
- Mithras Court: A Novel of the Mists (Dominion) (November 2008), by David A. Page, (ISBN 0-7869-5068-4)
- Black Crusade, by Ari Marmell released for free on the Wotc website
- Ravenloft: Strahd's Possession (1994)
- Ravenloft: Stone Prophet (1995)
- Iron & Blood: Warriors of Ravenloft (1996)
Game designer Rick Swan commented in 1994 that when the Ravenloft setting first came out, it "just didn't seem special, a Forgotten Realms variant with a few more bats", but after supplements like Forbidden Lore, The Created, and the Van Richten's Guide series, Swan felt that "the Ravenloft campaign has proven to be a credible adventure alternative for players interested in the dark side of the AD&D game. Though it lacks the flamboyance of Call of Cthulhu and the, er, bite of Vampire, the Ravenloft setting remains the hobby's most enduring fusion of horror and fantasy."
- Hite, Ken (1999). Nightmares of Mine (1st ed.). Iron Crown Enterprises. p. 171. ISBN 1-55806-367-6.
- D&D 2nd Edition, also issue #151 of the Polyhedron magazine
- Complete Spacefarer's Handbook
- "The History of TSR". Wizards of the Coast. Archived from the original on 2008-10-04. Retrieved 2005-08-20.
- Connors, William W. (1994). Masque of the Red Death and Other Tales. TSR, Inc. ISBN 1-56076-877-0.
- "Origins Award Winners (1990)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2007-11-05. Retrieved 2007-10-29.
- "Golden, Christie 1963–". Contemporary Authors. January 1, 2007. Retrieved September 27, 2012. – via HighBeam Research (subscription required)
- Melton, Gordon (1994). The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead (1st ed.). Detroit, MI: Visible Ink Press. p. 852. ISBN 0-8103-2295-1.
-  Archived July 23, 2006, at the Wayback Machine.
- Kenson, Stephen (March 1999). "Profiles: J. Robert King". Dragon. Renton, Washington: Wizards of the Coast (#257): 120.
- Swan, Rick (May 1994). "Role-playing Reviews". Dragon. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: TSR (#205): 100–101.
- Hickman, Tracy; Hickman, Laura (1983). Ravenloft. TSR. ISBN 0-88038-042-X.
- Hickman, Tracy; Hickman, Laura; Cook, David "Zeb"; Grubb, Jeff; Johnson, Harold; Niles, Douglas (1986). Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill. TSR. ISBN 0-88038-322-4.
- Nesmith, Bruce; Hayday, Andria (1990). Realm of Terror. TSR. ISBN 0-88038-853-6.
- Henson, Dale; King, J. Robert (1991). Book of Crypts. TSR. ISBN 1-56076-142-3.
- Hayday, Andria; Connors, William; Nesmith, Bruce; Lowder, James (1991). Darklords. TSR. ISBN 1-56076-137-7.
- Connors, William; Nesmith, Bruce (1992). Forbidden Lore. TSR. ISBN 1-56076-354-X.
- McComb, Colin; Scott Bennie (1992). Islands of Terror. TSR. ISBN 1-56076-349-3.
- Nesmith, Bruce; Hayday, Andria; Connors, William (1994). Ravenloft Campaign Setting. TSR. ISBN 1-56076-942-4.
- Connors, William; Miller, Steve (1997). Domains of Dread. TSR/Wizards of the Coast. ISBN 0-7869-0672-3.
- Cermak, Andrew; John Mangrum; Andrew Wyatt (2001). Ravenloft Campaign Setting (3rd Edition). Arthaus. ISBN 1-58846-075-4.
- Cermak, Andrew; John Mangrum; Andrew Wyatt (2001). Secrets of the Dread Realms. Arthaus. ISBN 1-58846-076-2.
- Cermak, Andrew; John Mangrum; Chris Nichols; Andrew Wyatt (2002). Ravenloft Gazetteer Volume I. Arthaus. ISBN 1-58846-080-0.
- Mangrum, John; Ryan Naylor; Chris Nichols; Andrew Wyatt (2002). Ravenloft Gazetteer Volume II. Arthaus. ISBN 1-58846-830-5.
- Mangrum, John; Brian Campbell, Carla Hollar, Rucht Lilavivat, Anthony Pryor, Peter Woodworth, Andrew Wyatt (2003). Ravenloft Dungeon Master's Guide. Arthaus. ISBN 1-58846-084-3. Cite uses deprecated parameter
- Mangrum, John; Stuart Turner; Peter Woodworth; Andrew Wyatt (2003). Ravenloft Gazetteer Volume III. Arthaus. ISBN 1-58846-086-X.
- Lowder, James; John Mangrum; Ryan Naylor; Pryor, Anthony; Veronica Whitney-Robinson; Andrew Wyatt (2004). Ravenloft Gazetteer Volume IV. Arthaus. ISBN 1-58846-087-8.
- Cermak, Andrew; John Mangrum, Steve Miller, Ryan Naylor, Andrew Wyatt (2004). Ravenloft Gazetteer Volume V. Arthaus. ISBN 1-58846-964-6. Cite uses deprecated parameter
- Fraternity of Shadows - Founded in 2003 after the Secrets of the Kargatane site closed, this is the most important setting fan website.
- Mistipedia - The Fraternity of Shadows' Ravenloft wiki.
- Secrets of the Kargatane - no longer updated, this website was once one of the largest sources of Ravenloft information on the Internet, as well as being the Official 3rd Edition site as designated by Wizards of the Coast, until the Ravenloft setting was licensed to Arthaus Games.
- TSR Archive AD&D 2nd Edition Ravenloft product list
- TSR Archive D&D 3rd Edition Ravenloft product list