Monday, April 1, 2013

Ravenloft: Revisiting Barovia

The last two entries detailed what happened during the original campaign where I ran Expedition to Castle Ravenloft. I talked about how things progressed over the course of the campaign and have mentioned how I feel it necessary to revisit the setting with a new adventure and bring some resolution to the story of the original party members and the villain, Count Strahd. This time, I'm going to talk about some of the changes I've made to the land of Barovia and how it differs from the stock setting in the original source material.

(If any of the people reading this are those who may be part of the new adventure -- which I'm guessing is going to be many, if not all, of my actual readers -- don't get too excited: I'm going to try to censor myself to not ruin any of the biggest surprises I have in store. The stuff you do learn from these articles are most likely going to be things that it's okay for you to know ahead of time, even if your characters won't.)

Picking Things Up...

The best way to start explaining what preparations I've made thus far is to pick things up where they left off at the end of last adventure. The original campaign ended with each party member being thrown into some sort of disastrous circumstance: Marvin MacDavid, evil-crushing cleric of Pelor, was overwhelmed by undead creatures and fell down a well, zombies careening after him; Jack Vitous, the werewolf-hunting ranger, befell an ironic fate when he turned into a werewolf and took off into the woods, not to awake until the next morning; and Usopp Sogeking, conniving (and slimy) gnome wizard, found himself face-to-face with Count Strahd himself in a battle that became quite the intense exchange.

Where did things go from there? Well, I can't give everything away -- some things have to remain surprises until they are discovered, and what happened to Marvin MacDavid is one of those surprises -- but I can tell you what happened to Jack Vitous and Usopp Sogeking.

The Fate of Jack Vitous

This is how Valicia was originally envisioned...
Jack Vitous awoke in a camp of werewolves where he was introduced to the dryad Valicia, as well as the leader of the werewolves, Dmitri Fyodorev. For the majority of the original campaign the party were under the impression that the werewolves worked for Strahd and were carrying out his will about Barovia. Jack discovered that this was not the case; though the werewolves had worked for Strahd decades ago, they had since become more autonomous and sought to overthrow the vampire lord who was oppressing them all these years. Strahd did not take kindly to this betrayal and, in turn, sought to stomp out this rebellion of werewolves.

Jack, having spent much of his life hunting down and killing werewolves, struggled with his new nature as one of the creatures he hated. Despite this internal conflict, Jack felt that the struggle the werewolves were suffering was a noble one; he had long believed all werewolves to be heartless killers who were prey to their instincts but these werewolves were in control of their abilities and their rage, able to transform from human form to wolf form and back at will. Because of all of this, Jack decided to aid the werewolves in their fight against Strahd.

And this is more how she would appear now.
Definitely a bit different.
Valicia and Dmitri led Jack to speak to the Greenspeaker, a primordial being bound to the nature of Barovia, who explained to the ranger the true nature of Strahd and what the vampire lord had done to the land around them. The Greenspeaker is a member of the Five, a portion of the adventure I will explain at a later date, but suffice it to say that this conversation gave Jack a new path to follow, one that he seemed to embrace.

Though Jack was an inflicted lycanthrope, usually resulting in a lack of control of his transformations, through the tutelage of the Greenspeaker, Valicia and Dmitri, Jack learned how to control his abilities allowing him the same freedom to switch forms at will. In time, Jack became a core component of the werewolf pack, achieving a status that rivaled even Dmitri as leader of the pack. With the help of the Greenspeaker, the werewolves remained hidden from Strahd's forces and were able to wage guerrilla warfare against the vampire lord, harassing him wherever able. It has been a long few years since Jack joined the werewolves but he doesn't regret a day, having even struck up a relationship with Valicia (if such things could be possible) and followed a noble path the whole time.

The Fate of Usopp Sogeking
(And yes, I realize that the character's name is the same as a character from One Piece; I blame the player for that one.)

At the end of the original campaign, Usopp was left face-to-face with Count Strahd von Zarovich, the ultimate villain of Barovia. Instead of attempting to kill the vampire, however, Usopp instead negotiated for a place within the vampire's court; Usopp would allow Strahd to take his prize (Ireena) so long as the gnome could gain a place within the court of the vampire. Strahd, intrigued at the prospect -- and having already traded correspondence with the gnome in secret -- agreed to the proposal and brought Usopp into the fold. He tasked the gnome with discovering the location of Jack Vitous (and, as a byproduct, the Greenspeaker) and reporting back, giving Strahd the information he would need to finally destroy the werewolves. Though the gnome did discover their location, the Greenspeaker, Jack and the rest managed to escape before Strahd could crush them outright.

Usopp still works for Strahd, having traveled all across Barovia on behalf of the vampire lord to help
A map of the Demiplane of Dread, the plane
Barovia exists within (according to the original source material).
consolidate his power. The gnome seeks power above all else and, with the aid of Strahd, has been able to find such power and study it for his own desires. Though he had traveled abroad for many of years between the original campaign and the new one, he has recently returned to Barovia at the behest of Strahd; though the reason for his presence is yet unknown, Jack and the werewolves perceive it as a bad omen for the near future.

How Things Have Changed

Considering Strahd achieved his ultimate goal from the original campaign (managing to capture Ireena Kolyana and bring her back to the castle to be his bride), he is no longer distracted and has been keenly focused on dealing with the threat of the werewolves. Despite his focus and power, however, the Greenspeaker breaking free has allowed the werewolves to hide from Strahd and to even strike out at the vampire from the shadows; the Greenspeaker has great power at its control, though most of it is subtle in its application making a direct confrontation against Strahd impossible. At least until the rest of the Five have been freed, and their collective power can be brought to bear to destroy Strahd for good.

Despite the werewolves being a thorn in his side, however, Strahd has established a strengthening hold over Barovia and is even starting to let his power surge over into neighbouring territories. How that will play out is an integral part of the adventure so I won't get too much into it here, but it promises great conflict to emerge should the threat not be dealt with in a timely fashion.

In short, things have changed for the worse: Strahd has retained his hold over Barovia and has even increased his power to the point where he is a threat to nearby innocents. And, despite the werewolves forming a cohesive rebellion against the vampire lord, they have yet to do any real damage against him or his minions -- at best, the werewolves give Strahd a minor headache; at worst, they are little more than an annoying fly that Strahd can't seem to swat.

Questions to be Answered

What actually happened to Ireena? Who are the Five and how can they be freed? Why haven't the werewolves attempted to free them yet? What sort of power do the Five wield? How can Strahd be stopped? How will other territories deal with Strahd imposing his power on their land?

All of these are questions that will be answered, whether here or throughout the extent of the campaign. Next time, however, I am going to talk a little about the Five and what part they play in Barovia.

Previous: Ravenloft: What Happened Before

Next: Ravenloft: The Five

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