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YMMV / Ravenloft

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  • Base-Breaking Character:
    • Falkovnia is one of the biggest domains, being an important part of the Core, but is also one of the most contentious in the entire setting. The reason is its combination of Humans Are the Real Monsters and Military Horror, which some fans find admirable — emphasizing that one does not have to have dark powers to be a complete and utter bastard — and other fans loathe. Haters of the domain derisively describe Falkovnia as a ham-fisted medieval-flavored land of Nazi Commies being run by a one-dimensional Vlad the Impaler rip-off.
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    • The Vistani; some love them for their usefulness as convenient plot hooks and sources of things that the party needs at the moment, others dislike them for their perceived connection with Ravenloft's reputation for railroading, and others still loathe them for their perceived Creator's Pet stats. And then there's the ongoing cold war between those fans who defend the Vistani's existence because they are literally lifted wholesale from the "magical Roma" who featured repeatedly in the Universal Horror and Hammer Horror films that are the backbone of Ravenloft, and those fans who find the Vistani to be too on the nose as ethnic stereotypes.
  • Broken Base: It goes without saying that Ravenloft is both loved and hated amongst fans of Dungeons & Dragons. Some love it for its attempt to be a Gothic Horror Fantasy setting, others loathe it and deride it for its reputation as the Nintendo Hard setting that encourages Railroading.
    • Even within the fandom of Ravenloft, there is a split between those who prefer to run it as more of a Castlevania style "High Fantasy with Gothic Backdrop" setting and those who favor a more purist, fantasy-downplaying straight Gothic Horror setting.
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    • The various changes to spells in an attempt to preserve the ability to offer mysteries and moral ambiguities (as well as to aid in railroading) are either loved or hated.
    • By extension, the Powers Checks mechanics; some love them as being very thematic and a good way to reinforce the "descent into damnation" setting element, others think of them as a Scrappy Mechanic that straightjackets roleplaying with an arbitrary and random "morality" meter.
  • Complete Monster: See the section here.
  • Cry for the Devil: It would be wrong to show any sympathy for any of the darklords (if they were capable of redemption, they would not be darklords), but some did, indeed, have tragic pasts. A few notable examples:
    • Hazlik was once a member of a tyrannical society of wizards, but was really no worse than the typical member. But when he was framed for rape by his rival, he was stripped of his position and all his possessions, forcibly marked with tattoos that only women wear, and exiled with a warning that they not only had the right, but a legal obligation, to kill him on sight if he ever showed his face. In revenge, he killed his rival by ambush, cut his heart out, fed it to the woman he had been accused of raping, and then murdered her as well, thus crossing the line and causing him to be drawn into Ravenloft.
      • Third edition retconned that Hazlik's rival was female and the apprentice he lusted after, and was subsequently framed as raping, was male.
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    • Esan the Mad of Vechor was a benign wizard who opposed evil, until he was taken prisoner by the cruel tyrant Iuz the Old. Esan told Iuz, to paraphrase, that Evil Cannot Comprehend Good. Iuz agreed, and in order to learn more, bound a demonic spirit to Esan’s soul. How much Iuz learned from this is unknown, but Esan was slowly driven mad by the demon, and trying to find a cure by using technology and studying spirit magic only made it worse, driving him Axe-Crazy and causing him to commit horrendous acts, eventually drawing him into Ravenloft.
    • The best example may be Sir Tristen Hiregaard of Nova Vaasa. He never really did anything wrong his entire life. The curse that turns him into the murderous madman Malken was inherited from his cruel father. (Of course, technically, Malken is the true darklord of Nova Vaasa, not Hiregaard, and he is a different entity entirely. And killing Hiregaard would not kill Malken; if that happened, the curse would be passed to Hiregaard’s eldest son. Short of killing every male member of the family, Word of God mentions that Malken can be laid to rest if his current host was slain by a woman who truly loved him.)
    • Althea of Demise, a medusa who once wanted a child more than anything in the world, trapped in an horrible, abusive relationship to a maedar who wanted a maedar son, refusing to use his power to unpetrify any of their many human children, forcing her to watch them die over and over again, and harshly punishing her for trying, in desperation, to seduce a human so she could have a medusa child who would live. In the end, her sanity stretched to the limit by decades of his abuse, she murdered him, and found he'd left her Someone to Remember Him By. Althea was ecstatic, at first, to finally, finally have the child she desperately wanted to love... and, cruelly, this time, she gave birth to a maedar. Seeing this, coupled with post-partum depression, shattered her sanity, since she could no longer meaningfully distinguish between her husband and all maedar, so she lashed out and tried to murder her own son, damning her for eternity. She now wanders an alien labrynth, gaslit and tortured by her abusive husband's shade, cursed to long forever for a child that she will never have.
  • Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy: For some people, the more they read about the setting, the more they wish for some Demon Horde or Omnicidal Maniac to just come in and end everyone's misery. It's truly one of the biggest Crapsack Worlds in all fiction.
  • Ensemble Dark Horse:
    • Elena Faith-hold is very popular for a character who only really appeared in one book that was generally regarded as sub-par. She is seen as a well-written example of a different kind of evil than most other Darklords.
    • King Crocodile and the Wildlands, a dark world of talking animals and jungle horror, are so popular that many later characters, and even Darklords, are from the location.
  • I Am Not Shazam: The product line is called "Ravenloft", but the place is called "the Land of Mists" by those of its inhabitants who actually call it something other than "the world". To them, "Ravenloft" is just a big old castle in Barovia. Those elsewhere in the multiverse that know anything about it call it the "Demiplane of Dread".
  • Magnificent Bastard: Count Strahd von Zarovich, ruler of Barovia, is the first Darklord of the Land of Mists, and a powerful vampire. Having killed his brother when he became a vampire and lost his love Tatyanna, Strahd lurks in Barovia where he zealously guards his territory to defend his food supply and out of a shred of noblesse oblige. Strahd is well known to be a charming, manipulative and dangerous man, constantly playing his enemies and outwitting them, with many who enter Barovia to defeat him never leaving. Strahd is able to defend Barovia from outside enemies with his own strategic brilliance, constantly demonstrating why he is one of the most dangerous and charismatic figures to lurk in the Mists.
  • Les Yay: Nostalia Romaine is a Female Misogynist who hates all other women due to a recurring nightmare about the first woman she ever killed. Everyone except Ivana Boritsi, whom she's absolutely devoted to, to the point where she committed her first murder because Ivana asked her to. She only uses her Kiss of Death on men, not because of sexual preference, but rather because she has nightmares about the first and only time she used it on a woman, her first murder.
  • Moral Event Horizon: Notable Acts of Ultimate Darkness by the setting's dreaded Darklords include:
    • Count Strahd Von Zarovich's Deal with the Devil to become a vampire, and his murder of his brother Sergei over Tatyana, the woman both men loved, on their wedding day, leading to Tatyana throwing herself off the wall of Ravenloft as Strahd pursued her.
    • Lord Soth committed several major acts that would qualify as Acts of Ultimate Darkness:
      • He and his first wife, Lady Korrine of Gladria, had been trying to produce a son to be his heir, and Korrine had consulted a witch about the problem, who had agreed to help them, but had warned her that the child would be a representation of Soth's soul. Unfortunately, Korrine didn't know about the bad shit that her husband had done, including ordering the murders of his half-brother and sister by his seneschal Caradoc, else she would have known what would eventually transpire of the birth and would be of a mind to curse the witch. When she gave birth to the son in question, it had a face similar to that of dragon-kin with two arms on one side and a leg on the other, with the last leg placed at the bottom of the buttocks as if it were a tail. To say that Soth was pissed about this was a massive understatement, and thinking that she had cheated on him with some kind of demon, Soth murdered both Korrine and the monstrous child.
      • After marrying a second wife named Isolde, he set out on a quest to stop the Kingpriest from unleashing the Cataclysm upon Krynn by forcing the Rod of Omniscient Wisdom into his hands (according to Isolde's vision, it would take many tries, and each time he was killed, he'd rise with greater power) in return for redemption. When Soth and the thirteen knights with him found the Rod, he left his soul due to the curse on the coffer, and was now a type of Lich, with his soul residing in the coffer like a phylactery, astrally projecting into his body, and unaware of this new state. On his way to Istar, he came across three elf-maids who proceeded to poison his mind about Isolde, telling him lies about her infidelity and saying that she had sent him on this quest to die in order to get rid of him. Soth got pissed again, returned home and confronted his wife just as the Cataclysm began. A chandelier fell on Isolde and their newborn son, and she begged for him to save their son, but Soth stopped himself from doing so, just to prevent his own son from growing up as he himself had. With her final breath, Isolde cursed him to live the lifetime of every soul that he had caused to die on that day, and as Soth's keep burned down, Soth became a Death Knight, and his retainers became undead.
    • Azalin Rex's execution of his own son after catching him freeing political prisoners.
    • Lord Wilfred Godefroy beat his wife and daughter to death with his walking stick because his wife hadn't given him the son he wanted.
    • Harkon Lukas abusing his position of the "Grandfather Wolf" in order to bring civilization to his homelands, driving out his own people in the process. Interestingly, that Act wasn't enough to catapult him to Darklord-dom. Rather, it was using the colonists as a food source, which isn't normally a powers-check worthy act for wolfweres - it was the betrayal of trust that was the main reason for his fall.
    • The original Darklord of Invidia, Baron Bakholis, became a werewolf after his lust for a young woman drove him to have her lover maimed and eaten right in front of her while several of his soldiers raped her, and when he personally killed her, she laid a Dying Curse on him that resulted in his lycanthropy. Both he and his domain was taken by the Mists soon after. Its current Darklord, Gabrielle Adarre, was taken by the Mists after willfully leaving her mother to be ripped apart by a werewolf, believing her mother's story about Vlad Drakov being her father to be a lie.
  • My Real Daddy: Malus Sceleris's original write-up was simultaneously a one-dimensional Captain Planet-esque "pollution villain" with no real curse and an inferior rip-off of the Borca Darklords. Later writers are responsible for everything about him that makes him unique and compelling, including his backstory, his motivations, and his realm being larger than a single city with no reliable trading partners.
  • The Scrappy:
    • Tristen ApBlanc isn't too well regarded by fans, who regard him as one of the most ridiculous and stupidly complicated of the Darklords. The fact that his domain is almost solely empty of everything besides goblyns and beasts (as well as being conveniently small and out-of-the-way) means most simply avoid Forlorn, in universe and out.
      • The Arthaus Gazetteer entry for Forlorn attempts to undo some of this by adding a modest population of humans — many who are druids trying to undo the damage the goblyns do — and a third faction of baddies (an evil druid circle of treants), as well as having possibly-desirable resources to harvest in the plants.
    • The darklord Death's domain is nigh-unusable due to the fact it's surrounded by a barrier that kills and reanimates the victims into an undead monster under Death's control. In general, he is seen as an inferior spin-off villain to Azalin.
    • Tsien Chiang, Darklord of I'Cath, is a bland, super-powerful villainess with no curse, no ability to seal her tiny three-building realm, and no reason for the PCs to remain once it becomes clear it's a dangerous place. Her backstory is weak, her motivations unexplained, and her write-up requires a lot of supplementary books for Asian and Middle Eastern expansions to play.
      • To wit, her Ravenloft-based writeups are almost entirely based on metaphor. For instance, her home tower is described as having been constructed 'from the broken promises of men', with very little clear historical information about her. The information from her Forgotten Realms sources are little better, as she was a very minor bit player even there.
    • Maligno makes most Ravenloft fans roll their eyes; his entire characterization can be summed up as "what if Pinocchio was evil?" and his name is literally Italian for "evil".
  • Scrappy Mechanic: Several prominent examples.
    • The Arcanist kit for wizards is a specialist wizard who can turn undead like a cleric, which is a very handy trick in Ravenloft. The problem? It only has decent access to two schools of magic, Divination and Necromancy, and both of those are effectively unusable in Ravenloftnote . Plus, it has to make increasingly difficult Powers Checks every time it gains a level. The result is a class with an awesome theme that is literally unplayable in its native setting.
    • The Class Weaknesses mechanics introduced in the 3.5 Ravenloft Player's Handbook are such a strong example of this that they have universally been rendered Fanon Discontinuity. Except for a handful of classesnote , all of these weaknesses revolve around an increased vulnerability to Powers Checks in some way — Clerics and Paladins double their chances of failing Powers Checks; Druids, Fighters, Monks, Rangers and Rogues have a chance of automatically having to take a Powers Check whenever they level up, and Sorcerers & Wizards have to make Powers Checks whenever they learn a spell from the Enchantment, Evocation or Necromancy school.
  • Serial Numbers Filed Off:
    • The Japanese and USA covers of Castlevania II: Simon's Quest clearly copied the original Ravenloft cover image in the background, only replacing Strahd's head. The background was removed entirely from the European cover, making it obvious that someone realized what was going on at some point.
    • Many of the Darklords are blatantly ripped off from Gothic Horror novel characters. Dr. Mordenheim and Adam are Dr. Frankenstein and his Monster, Tristan Hiregaard and Malken are Jekyll and Hyde, Markov is Dr. Moreau, Dr. Dominari is Dr. Caligari... Bluebeard is literally the same Bluebeard as in the fairy tale.
  • Spiritual Licensee: Ravenloft got often compared to Silent Hill, being a horror flavoured game set in a world full of mists where the characters get psychologically tortured for the sins they have committed.
  • Values Dissonance: Some of Ravenloft's backstory and thematic elements are... problematic in the modern age.
    • One could argue that the underlying Gothic Horror morality the setting depends on is a case of this, as many of its defining elements and moral rules now fall under this trope, as what was acceptable (and encouraged) in Gothic Horror's heyday is not acceptable now.
    • The Vistani are heavily stereotypical Roma straight out of black & white horror film. They're enigmatic, mysterious, mystical beings who hold truck with dark powers and are connected to supernatural forces beyond the comprehension of outsiders, who have a reputation as thieves, kidnappers and willing agents of evil. Add in that being half-Vistani is treated as being as inhuman as being, say, a half-elf, complete with traits like going mad on nights of the full moon, and they are just full of problematic elements.
    • By extension, the existence of a "Gypsy kit" for thieves was very swiftly dropped and has been staunchly ignored since third edition.
    • Baron Kharkov, the most prominent "African" Darklord, is basically "What if Blacula was also a were-panther?" He's a panther who was turned into a man by an evil wizard that used him to assassinate a woman. Through a long string of events, he wound up as a panther who turns into a man, who is also a vampire, who constantly seeks human brides, but invariably murders them out of paranoia that they've figured out he's not human.
    • Hazlik is a non-heterosexual man who was framed for raping another man, punished with stigmatic tattoos that denounce him as effeminate, and is plotting to avoid being caught in his spell that will commit genocide on his own race by switching bodies with his female apprentice. His depravity and his homosexuality aren't connected, and he's a rare inversion of the Trans Equals Gay trope, but still, a lot of people find him rather uncomfortable.
  • The Woobie: Althea, good lord. As a medusa, she accidentally kills all her children, even though all she really wants is to have a child to love and to love her back, and her abusive monster of a husband, the only one who can undo the petrifying variant of her sight, refuses to do it out of Fantastic Racism and, again, because he's the most abusive monster this side of fiction. Every attempt she makes at having a child that won't be petrified (wearing a blindfold, blinding the child, etc.) fails miserably, and when she finally had a child that wouldn't be petrified, it turned out to be a Maedar, like her husband, and she was so traumatized by his abuse that she tried to kill it. Worse, players that encounter her will most likely not think twice about killing her, since all they'll know about her is that she's a medusa, and she tried to kill her child.


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