Dungeons & Dragons Goes Goth

Vampires Return to D&D with 'Curse of Strahd.'

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Jan 21 2016, 6:00pm

The vampire Strahd and the mysterious Madame Eva. Illustrated by Ben Oliver. Photo courtesy of Wizards of the Coast

A troll crashes through a heavy wooden gate as a wizard casts a spell from her huge spellbook. While these classic fantasy tropes make up a large part of Dungeons & Dragons, the tabletop roleplaying game, there are also plenty of other published realms and settings in which the game can take place. A “setting” in D&D refers to a set of customizations laid over the core set of (fantasy-based) rules for D&D, which allow players to play the game in an entirely new way. From a Mad Max-inspired apocalypse setting, to the weird and wonderful Spelljammer: Adventures in Space, the traditionally fantasy-centric D&D is always looking to break out of its Tolkienesque trappings.

One of the more popular settings to break the mold is Ravenloft, a 1983 gothic-horror inspired set of rules and adventures that revolve around the powerful vampire Count Strahd von Zarovich. With the launch of the newest edition of D&D last August, the team now announces that they’re returning to the setting with Curse of Strahd in March. 

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Curse of Strahd cover. Illustrated by Ben Oliver. Photo courtesy of Wizards of the Coast

Principal story designer Chris Perkins and the original creator of Ravenloft, Tracy Hickman, told The Creators Project about the enduring appeal of the gothic game. Of all the various settings, Ravenloft is definitely a fan favorite. “The adventure is always in people’s top ten lists,” says Perkins. “When I first saw Ravenloft in 1983 it was sort of a revelation. It showed just how elastic and versatile D&D could be.”

Hickman, now director of story development at Virtual Reality theme park, The Void, created the original setting with his wife Laura, and the two were brought back to consult, as Hickman explains, “There have been many other incarnations of Ravenloft over the years and nobody bothered to ask me about it at all. So when Chris Perkins gave us a call last year and said ‘Would you be interested in helping us with Ravenloft?’ just the fact that they would even bother to ask was so impressive to me, that they considered that the roots were important for this project, and that kind of won me over. I had never expected to come back.” The Hickmans return to the company to consult on the new adventure, and are instantly moved by the work. “What was wonderful,” says Hickman, “was when we got together and began weaving this amazing tapestry together, we came to a real understanding of the foundations of the story that’s there, and the tragedy that’s there, and the dark romance that takes place there.”

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Strahd loses his cool. Illustration by Ben Oliver. Photo courtesy of Wizards of the Coast.

Perkins describes the classic horror feel of the game: “I think that there are always new people pushing the bounds of what horror is, but inevitably people gravitate back to certain forms. And I think the romantic, gothic horror films, the Universal Pictures, they never lose their appeal. They might seem campy at times but there’s something there, beneath the surface, that we as human beings respond to. And I think that’s true of Ravenloft as well. In Curse of Strahd, we tried to preserve the integrity of the original story but expand it in fascinating and very deep ways.” So is this game actually going to be scary? “The best scares will come out of the DM [dungeon master] having fun while playing all the various characters and scenarios.”

Protect your neck and dive into the world of Curse of Strahd here

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