Strahd von Zarovich
|Count Strahd von Zarovich|
Strahd von Zarovich from the cover of I, Strahd: Memoirs of a Vampire
Count Strahd von Zarovich is a fictional character originally appearing as the feature villain in the highly popular Advanced Dungeons and Dragons adventure module I6: Ravenloft. Later, this character and his world would be explored in follow-up modules, novels, and a campaign setting called Ravenloft.
Strahd was named as one of the greatest villains in Dungeons & Dragons history by the final issue of Dragon magazine. Strahd is also the featured villain in the 2016 release Curse of Strahd for D&D fifth edition.
Fictional character biography
A man of noble birth, Strahd spent much of his life serving causes of goodness and law, most notably as a warrior and leader of armies. Years of such service took their toll upon him however, and by the time he reached middle age, Strahd came to believe he had squandered his life and his youth. With this dark mood upon him, he came to conquer the region known as Barovia, and assumed lordship there, taking as his residence the pre-existing castle known as Ravenloft. From this position of power and security, he called for members of his family "long unseated from their ancestral thrones" to join him, including a younger brother named Sergei.
Some time after this reunion, the Count himself fell in love with a young Barovian woman, Tatyana, though she rejected his affections in favor of the younger Sergei. Filled with despair and jealousy, and brooding a growing hatred for Sergei, Strahd sought magical means to restore his youth. In a moment of desperate frustration, he "made a pact with death - a pact of blood." On the day of Sergei and Tatyana's wedding, Strahd murdered his brother and pursued the grieving Tatyana until she flung herself from the walls of Ravenloft. Strahd himself was shot down by the arrows of the castle guard. Even so, he did not die, but went on to rule the land of Barovia as a vampire.
The adventure itself takes place centuries after these tragic events, and centers upon the efforts of the player characters to help a young Barovian woman, Ireena Kolyana, escape the dreadful fate of so many others on whom "the devil Strahd" has cast his eye over the generations. The setting includes not only castle Ravenloft itself, but also the nearby village of Barovia, and a camp of gypsies led by one Madame Eva, who had formed a kind of alliance with the vampire. Through the course of the adventure, players have the opportunity to learn Strahd's backstory and discover that Ireena is herself the reincarnation of Tatyana. Strahd von Zarovich himself is noted as being the first truly well-developed villain to appear in the AD&D game system, being fully capable of changing the course of events to suit his own evil ends.
The immediate popularity of Ravenloft proved sufficient to warrant a sequel, I10: Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill, again casting Strahd von Zarovich in the central, villainous role. Set in the quiet, seaside town of Mordentshire, players of this adventure are confronted by two Strahds—the same monstrous vampire from Ravenloft (now referred to as the Creature), and a very human counterpart, known as the Alchemist.
Much more ambitious in scope than the original, the plot of Ravenloft II focuses on the players' attempts first to discover the true nature of the vampiric threat afflicting Mordentshire, and then to discover the secret identity of the Creature and destroy him. Nothing of note is added to original nature or history of Strahd von Zarovich in the course of the adventure, though a number of characters of lesser importance, including the lich Azalin make their first appearance in this publication as well. The two Ravenloft adventures, taken together, represent an analog of the Bram Stoker classic, Dracula. Ravenloft, set in a remote, mountainous land inhabited by superstitious peasants, gypsies and the gothic castle of the vampire himself, mirrors the early, Transylvania-based chapters of Stoker's novel. Similarly, Ravenloft II draws its inspiration from the English setting of Dracula, and even duplicates in considerable detail the pastoral geography of Whitby.
Though Ravenloft II did not enjoy the wide acclaim of the original, the phenomenon of Ravenloft proved sufficient for TSR, Inc. to place it and Strahd von Zarovich at the heart of a new product series released in 1990 -- Ravenloft: Realm of Terror—an entire game world based on the Gothic horror theme of Ravenloft. With the release of the Ravenloft setting, Strahd became one of the most popular and enduring villains of the AD&D game. Game designer Rick Swan commented on Strahd: "A high-level necromancer of incomparable cunning, Strahd holds his own with Count Dracula as one of horror's most memorable bloodsuckers."
Within this new setting, Strahd is the first and best-known of Ravenloft's darklords. He is a powerful vampire (in D&D terms, an Ancient class vampire, having been a vampire for 400–499 years). He is also a master necromancer, a skilled warrior, and the unquestioned ruler of the domain of Barovia. Strahd's backstory was further refined for the new setting such that he unwittingly became a vampire as a result of a "pact" between himself and an unknown entity (Strahd claims it to be Death). He promised to kill his younger brother, Sergei, in return for the chance to woo his brother's fiancée, Tatyana. Strahd murdered Sergei on his wedding day and confessed his love to Tatyana, but overcome with grief, she fled from him, hurling herself to her death from the balcony of Castle Ravenloft. Immediately afterward, the Mists of Ravenloft drew Strahd to the Demiplane of Dread. His official "autobiography" has been presented in two novels by P. N. Elrod, I, Strahd: Memoirs of a Vampire and I, Strahd, the War Against Azalin.
Strahd has ruled his domain for the longest of any darklord, and as such his knowledge of the workings of Ravenloft are without equal. When Strahd chooses to close the borders of his lands, poisonous mists arise and suffocate anyone attempting to pass through them. There are only two ways to avoid the poisonous fog: immunity to poison (magic does not help, but creatures that are innately immune to poison, like elementals, constructs, and undead, have nothing to fear), or by ceasing the attempt to escape. In addition, the Vistani know a secret antidote which renders the drinker immune to the closed border. This fog permanently rings the village of Barovia as well.
Strahd's curse is that although he is absolute lord and master of Barovia, to the point where he can enter private homes unbidden because he owns them, once every generation he will meet a woman whom he believes is Tatyana reincarnated. He always tries to woo her, but the scene of his damnation is replayed, and the woman inevitably dies. Strahd is perhaps the most difficult of all darklords to face. His mastery of necromancy is so great he has produced a kind of "super-zombie," one that is capable of seeing invisible, regenerating like a troll and whose appendages continue to fight on when severed. Strahd has had to battle at least two darklords who had entered his domain in the past; Azalin Rex the lich, and Lord Soth the death knight.
When Lord Soth was in Barovia, Strahd realized that Soth's power as truly a match for his the moment Soth arrived in Castle Ravenloft. Armies of Strahd's servants fell before Lord Soth, and the havoc and damage caused by Soth caused even Strahd to waver. To be rid of Lord Soth from Barovia, Strahd had to give that which Soth had searched for, the traitorous retainer Caradoc, for fear of Lord Soth causing more damage to his beloved land. When the Ravenloft campaign setting was developed, the events of Ravenloft II were retconned so that Strahd was present and disguised as a human alchemist, and did not die at the module's conclusion.
There are many similarities between the character of Strahd von Zarovich and that of fellow fictional vampire Barnabas Collins from the American 1960's-1970's soap opera Dark Shadows, as P.N. Elrod mentions on her personal Livejournal blog. Both slay close family members (Barnabas kills his uncle Jeremiah Collins and Strahd slays his brother Sergei) in the pursuit of their own love interests. Both of these women (Tatyana in Strahd's case and Josette du Pres in Barnabas') leap to their deaths once they learn of the dark circumstances behind their lovers' motivations. Both Strahd and Barnabas are tormented by identical reincarnations of Tatyana and Josette in their futures. Both fictional vampires share a unique history of similarities and have become tragic dark heroes as well as reviled villains in each of their respective fictional settings.
With Strahd as the main character
- Details how both Strahd became a vampire and how Ravenloft originally formed.
- Presented as the diary of Strahd von Zarovich written during the period of war between Barovia and Darkon.
- Caretaker A Strahd short story by P. N. Elrod in Tales of Ravenloft (Sept. 1994) edited by Brian Thomsen (ISBN 1-56076-931-9 ISBN 978-1-56076-931-6) : Details how Strahd handles things when bandits invade his realm.
- Caretaker script adapted by P.N. Elrod, to be released as a comic book, Devil's Due Publishing 2009 (Release date approximate.)
- Ravenloft's first full novel provided a clear link between the Forgotten Realms and Ravenloft.
- 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). Ravenloft: Realm of Terror. TSR. ISBN 0-8803-8853-6.
- Connors, William; Nesmith, Bruce (1992). Forbidden Lore. TSR. ISBN 1-56076-354-X.
- Nesmith, Bruce (1992). From the Shadows. TSR. ISBN 1-56076-356-6.
- Haddock, Eric; David Wise (1993). Roots of Evil. TSR. ISBN 1-56076-597-6.
- 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; Campbell, Brian; Hollar, Carla; Lilavivat, Rucht; Pryor, Anthony; Woodworth, Peter; Wyatt, Andrew (2003). Ravenloft Dungeon Master's Guide. Arthaus. ISBN 1-58846-084-3.
- "A Look Back at Ravenloft". Wizards of the Coast. 2006-10-31. Retrieved 2007-03-06.
- Cordell, Bruce; Eytan Bernstein; James, Brian; Laws, Robin; Snead, John (2008). Open Grave: Secrets of the Undead. Wizards of the Coast. p. 224. ISBN 978-0-7869-5069-0.
- Bulmahn, Jason; Jacobs, James; Mike McArtor; Mona, Erik; Schneider, F. Wesley; Todd Stewart; Jeremy Walker (September 2007). "1d20 Villains: D&D's Most Wanted; Preferably Dead". Dragon. Pazio. 32(4) (359): 54–69.
- "Curse of Strahd | Dungeons & Dragons". dnd.wizards.com. Retrieved 2017-02-19.
- "The History of TSR". Wizards of the Coast. Archived from the original on 2008-10-04. Retrieved 2005-08-20.
- Swan, Rick (May 1994). "Role-playing Reviews". Dragon. Lake Geneva, Wisconsin: TSR (#205): 100–101.
- 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.
- Elrod, P.N. "Personal Blog". livejournal.com. Retrieved 14 March 2011.