Strahd is regarded as one of D&D's greatest villains. The adventure he first appeared in, Ravenloft, is considered one of the best of all time. He was so popular that he spawned an entire setting - second edition's "Ravenloft" campaign. Most recently Strahd is the star of what is probably 5th edition''s most popular adventure - Curse of Strahd.
You can buy Curse of Strahd or the original Ravenloft adventure on Amazon
Curse of Strahd: A Dungeons & Dragons Sourcebook (D&D Supplement)
Ravenloft, I6 (Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Official Game Adventure 9075)
I'm sure I've missed some stuff. Feel free to let me know, and if I can I'll track down the material and add it to this post.
Real Life Origin
According to this interview, Tracy Hickman made up the original Ravenloft adventure (initially titled "Vampyr") in the '70's and ran it for his group on Halloween. He continued to run it every Halloween for 5 years, each time tweaking and developing it more.
The original idea came to him when he was playing in his friend's D&D campaign. The heroes were going through a dungeon, and in a room was a vampire. Tracy thought to himself that a vampire was worthy of being a main villain, and it didn't feel right as a random monster in a dungeon. He read Bram Stoker's Dracula and got to work. Eventually he and his wife sold the finished version to TSR.
The Essential Information
- He calls himself "the first vampire". The villagers of Barovia call him "The devil Strahd."
- He lives in Castle Ravenloft.
- He is served by bats, wolves and "Strahd" zombies.
- He is cursed to always pursue a woman who looks like his unrequited love Tatyana, but he is never able to marry her.
- He rules a kingdom called Barovia. He can control choking fog that surrounds the place.
- In most editions, he is unaffected by garlic and mirrors. He usually has some sort of protection against sunlight, whether a natural resistance or an artifact.
- In life, his younger brother Sergei was about to marry a woman named Tatyana. Strahd was in love with her, but she thought he was too old. Strahd killed his brother and tried to profess his love to Tatyana. She fled and jumped off a balcony to her death (or she plunged into a mist, depending on the edition). "Death", or the dark powers of Ravenloft, took notice of Strahd's evil act. Strahd turned into a vampire and went on a rampage, killing his guards and the wedding party. His realm of Barovia became shrouded with mist and he became cursed. Over the many years, women would be born in his domain that looked and acted like Tatyana. When he discovers this "reincarnation", he tries to make her his bride but he always fails.
- In 4th edition, Ravenloft is in the Shadowfell.
When I got the 2e Ravenloft boxed set, I ran a Ravenloft campaign. I saw that Strahd had 55 hit points, and felt my hack and slash heroes would destroy him in a fight. I didn't feel capable of running him, as he had so many powers and spells to keep track of. Not wanting to make a mockery of a major NPC, I never used him.
AD&D 1st Edition
The Plot: There is a woman in Barovia named Ireena who looks like Strahd's beloved Tatyana. Strahd wants her, the heroes get involved. It's a classic tale of a vampire living in a castle looming over a sad village. Most of the plot points are variable, determined by a random card reading....
Fortunes of Ravenloft: The DM does this card reading before the adventure begins or during the session when the PCs meet the gypsies. There's instructions on using a deck of cards to do the reading. This reading determines major plot points of the actual adventure, including:
- What Strahd's goal is. One goal possibility includes polymorphing a PC into a vampire (!) and putting them in a coffin. Strahd joins the party, impersonating the PC
- Where the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind is.
- Where the Tome of Strahd is.
- Where Strahd is located in the castle for the final battle.
- Where the Sunsword Hilt is.
Strahd is a complicated villain to run. He has a lot of powers and abilities. He is meant to pop in, hurt the heroes, and then flee back to his castle. This is a tricky thing to do in D&D. Here's some of his traits:
- He has 55 hit points and an AC of -1 (which is the equivalent of a 21 AC in 5e terms).
- When he hits an enemy, they lose two levels!
- There is a 60% chance he knows where the heroes are throughout the adventure, thanks to a network of spies and servants.
Book Found in Strahd's Lounge: "Life Among the Undead: Learning to Cope"
Magic Items: A good portion of this adventure involves the heroes tracking down items that are essential to learning more about Strahd and defeating him. These items appear in many subsequent adventures over the editions:
- Holy Symbol of Ravenkind: It basically paralyzes vampires for d10 rounds once per week.
- Sunsword: +2 sword, glows when undead are close, does +10 damage versus vampires. This item is weird. It's just the blade. When the group finds the blade, it magically attaches to the hilt of a hero's sword, supplanting the previous blade.
- Tome of Strahd: A diary written by Strahd that reveals his origin. It's written in a weird shorthand so PCs only have a 30% chance of understanding.
The Carriage: The heroes come upon a carriage with two horses. The door is open. If the PCs get in, the horses pull the carriage to Castle Ravenloft.
Strahd Zombies: These monsters lose a limb whenever they take 5+ damage, but the limb continues to attack.
I've never run this module, but it looks like a lot of fun. After going through all of the subsequent remakes and sequels, none of them really measure up to this one.
I10 Ravenloft 2: The House on Gryphon Hill
It has a lot of great ideas. The whole concept of a device that switches the souls of monsters and villagers is really fun. Also, hypnotism has never really been explored in D&D, and seems like it could lead to cool things.
This blog points out that the adventure was only outlined by the Hickmans, and that other designers filled in the blanks. Ravenloft 2 seems to be pretty reviled.
The Plot: The soul of Strahd has split into two creatures, one good ("The Alchemist"), one bad ("The Creature"). One half is searching for the other half. This takes place in a village called Mordentshire. There is this giant device which is being used to switch souls between people and monsters.
Hypnotism: This adventure uses the fortune teller random placement gimmick again, but this time instead of using a tarot card reading, it involves "The Mersmerist's Pendulum". The heroes get hypnotized, and the DM rolls on a random chart to determine the location of items and Strahd's goal.
- The Ring of Reversion: Can restore the rightful spirit to a possessed body.
- The Rod of Rastinon: This can be used with the Apparatus to drive out the evil Strahd.
- The Soul Searcher Orb: This can reveal the true nature of a creature.
Murder in Mordentshire: If a hero kills a townsperson, a mob of villagers comes and gets them and they are put on trial for murder. The character could be sentenced to slavery or death.
Black Cat: There is a black cat that, when it crosses a PC's path, forces a saving throw. Fail means that the PC suffers a -1 to rolls in the next encounter and "...will also suffer one unfortunate accident of the DM's choice."
Climax: The whole story of the adventure is meant to culminate in a scene where the two Strahds are in the apparatus. Lightning strikes the place and the two Strahds run out into the rain and fight each other. The heroes can only see five feet ahead due to sheets of rain. There's these flashes of lightning that illuminate the scene and trigger encounters, like battling zombie versions of themselves, etc.
|The slightly complex tracking chart|
Azalin the Lich: This NPC went on to big things. He gets his own domain of dread in 2nd edition, is featured in a series of novels, and is part of the 2nd edition Ravenloft pseudo-adventure path. In this adventure, he's an ally of Strahd. Fun facts:
- He has a -14 comeliness. That's the most 1st edition sentence ever.
- He has a quasit named Tintantilus, who can take the form of a bat or wolf.
- His body is decaying, and he needs a new one.
Ravenloft Boxed Set
complete campaign setting boxed set. Ravenloft is this demiplane of horror that people get drawn into and are trapped in by the Ravenloft mist (an ethereal plane fog that can reach into the Prime Material and pull people into Ravenloft).
The demiplane is divided up into islands and other 'domains', each bordered by the mists of Ravenloft that keep people in. Barovia is one such domain. Once in a while, there is a "conjunction" where the borders of two domains overlap. At those times, people can travel between those domains.
Strahd's Domain: Barovia is detailed. We learn:
- Anyone entering Strahd's castle uninvited will be put to death
- There's a choking fog similar to the stuff in the 1e adventure. Anyone who tries to leave Barovia through the fog loses 1 point of constitution per hour until they die or come back. Strahd can lift the fog if he chooses.
- The Vistani (gypsies) are Strahd's spies.
- His hit points have dropped to 55.
- He can cast 8th level spells! He's got finger of death and limited wish.
- He can stand 10 rounds of sunlight and you need a +2 weapon to hit him.
- He can appear in any area of Barovia at any time (!).
- During the day, he falls into a coma and appears dead.
Ravenloft 2 Was a Dream: There's an interesting note that in 579, Azalin the lich transported himself and Strahd to a domain called "Mordent". This is apparently where Ravenloft 2 took place (Mordentshire). Mordent was annexed into Barovia, and neither Strahd nor Azalin the lich remembers what happened there. Azalin the lich ended up ruling his own domain, and he hates Strahd.
From the Shadows
- Feast of Goblyns: An adventure about a wolfwere.
- Ship of Horror: The heroes sail to an island to battle a necromancer.
- Touch of Death: A desert trek and mummies.
- Night of the Walking Dead: Zombies!
The Plot: Azalin the lich wants to know more about how the demiplane of Ravenloft formed. He's trying to undo it, so he can escape. He sends the group back in time and, I guess, to the prime material plane to steal the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind right after Strahd first became a vampire.
His thinking is that this will cause the Grand Conjunction to take place (it does). This Conjunction causes the lands of Ravenloft to return to the Prime Material plane.
The Adventure Wants to Make Your Players Angry: The heroes appear in Castle Ravenloft just 5 rounds before Strahd chases Tatyana and she jumps off the balcony to her doom. Once she dies, Strahd flips out and goes on a murderous rampage. So.. he attacks the PCs.
Look at this DM advice here:
"The rest of this encounter is a merry chase in which Strahd kills all the characters one by one. The DM should be cruel; none of the players are losing their real characters."
When I ran this way back when in my early teens, even I knew to alter all of this. Once all the PCs are slain or if they crossed a certain drawbridge, they appear back in Azalin's laboratory.
The rest of the adventure involves the group exploring Azalin's castle. It leads right into the final adventure in the Grand Conjunction Cycle...
Roots of Evil
gigantic adventure. It's the final part of the Grand Conjunction Cycle. The story boils down to the fact that Azalin is trying to use the heroes to kill Strahd. Strahd made a pact with yugoloths that didn't go well, and now yugoloths are trying to kill him and get their Book of Secrets back.
The heroes kind of travel around and watch NPCs do things. Strahd bosses them around. Here's some Azalin dialogue:
“I challenge you!” he hisses your way, his dried lips drawn back in a sinister smile.
“I challenge you to catch me! If even one of you survives -- an amusing idea -- I shall revive you all and give you the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind (and the Icon)!
“Now, to use a quaint mortal phrase, tag -- you’re it!”
Double Your Magic Items: This module has a massive dungeon full of very creative rooms. There is actually one room where magic mirrors create ghoul doubles of the group.. and their magic items:
"They have the same clothes and items as the PC, but the undead creatures lack the intelligence to cast spells or use magical items that must be activated. They will, however, use the weapon carried by the PC."
So... the heroes kill 6 ghouls and double their magic items?
More Time Travel: Then Azalin sends the heroes back in time. They possess the bodies of Strahd's foot soldiers (they have basic soldier stats with 18 hit points). Then they ruin his deal with the yugoloths and come back to present day.
This Dissolves The Demiplane: Doing this fulfills the prophecy, and Ravenloft ceases to exist. There's just mist and monsters.. and Castle Ravenloft.
The Climax: In the end, Azalin, Inajira (the yugoloth who wants his yugoloth-summoning book back) and Strahd fight. Strahd's wife, a queen (who is an incarnation of Tatyana), helps the heroes destroy the book. They place Azalin's phylactery and the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind on an altar, and Ravenloft is reformed and the bad guys are sucked back into their domains.
The party appears wherever the DM wants, be it Ravenloft or some prime world.
House of Strahd
This adventure is a "remake" or "update" of the original 1st edition adventure. It updates everything to the 2e rules and adds in the Ravenloft fear and horror checks. I really like the way it is condensed and formatted. It's very easy on the eyes (though I'd imagine that the pink boxed text sections might melt some sensitive retinas) and looks worthy of being run.
Van Richten's Guide to Vampires
This vampire-centric supplement has a few pages devoted to Strahd. It tells the tale of a bard named Greggori Kolyan. Strahd captured him, told him his origin, and had the bard write it down. The bard was then allowed to leave, to spread the word of Strahd.
This is basically a re-telling of Strahd's story, slightly altered. There's a guard who figured out Strahd's plan to kill his brother. Strahd killed him but was mortally wounded. That is when Strahd made the dark pact.
Dragon Magazine 205
A woman named Dori Hein writes a bit about Strahd. Check out this little nugget:
D&D 3rd Edition
Dragon Magazine 315 - Ravenloft: The Return of Strahd
There's notes on running Strahd as a villain who strikes at the heroes, and then gets away. "When you run Strahd, think of two escape plans he can use if the PCs get the upper hand."
Here's some tips we are given:
- Listening: Strahd is always eavesdropping with his crystal ball and invisibility.
- Test With Minions: Strahd sends his bats, wolves or zombies after the group to observe their tactics and capabilities.
- Slow Them Down: Use symbol spells to block doors and buy time.
- Separate: Strahd should try and isolate a PC, drain their blood and make them his vampiric thrall. Alternately he could dominate them.
Dragon Magazine 348 - The Tome of Strahd
(lvl 4) Bloodstone's Frightful Joining: Your soul attempts to invade the body of an undead creature, leaving your own body lifeless. This lasts for one hour per level
(lvl 2) Curse of the Gypsies: You can choose from three curses..
- Bad Luck: Whenever the target rolls a natural 20, they must re-roll and take the second result.
- Mark of the Gypsies: The victim has a permanent mark on their forehead that's invisible to all but the person's closest family and companions. This mark causes negative reactions, and some NPCs may shun them.
- Unnatural Aura: Animals can sense the victim from 30 feet away. They panic and regard the victim with fear.
(lvl 4) Strahd's Baneful Attractor: You cause spells to divert from their original paths to strike a new target. So, magic missile or scorching ray would be diverted.
(lvl 4) Wraithform: This is like gaseous form, except the target can move faster. Mindless undead do not perceive you as a threat.
Expedition to Castle Ravenloft
hardcover adventure by the great Bruce Cordell. It is basically just a 3rd edition remake of the original 1e adventure with a lot of extraneous additions. There is a lot of free stuff and previews pertaining to this adventure on the wizards site.
3rd Edition Strahd: Strahd is a CR 15 monster, and he looks more Castlevania-y than ever. Also:
- He has 70 hit points.
- He has an artifact known as the dayheart. It makes Strahd immune to sunlight.
- There are three sites in the woods where he performs rituals that give him special powers.
- This adventure calls The Sunsword "the original model for all sun blades".
- He has a minion named Kavan the Grim, who is a "daywalker" created by Strahd. He is a savage berserker.
- Zombies attack Barovia. Those who are bitten become zombies.
- The heroes meet Ireena, who is the reincarnation of Tatyana.
- The group tracks down the source of the zombies (a necromancer).
- The group visit Madame Eva at the Tser Pool encampment.
- She does a card reading, which works quite like in the original 1e adventure.
- The group tracks down the Sunsword, The Tome of Strahd and the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind in the lands of Barovia.
- While doing so, they'll face off against werewolves, a crazed trapper and three hags.
- The group goes to Castle Ravenloft to battle Strahd.
"At the end of the table, his back to you, sits an elegant gentleman in the fine clothing of a nobleman. As you enter, he turns to face you, revealing a gaunt but aristocratic face with prominent cheekbones and a high forehead. His piercing eyes take you in, then he slowly smiles. "Welcome to Castle Ravenloft", he says."
He invites the heroes to eat with him The wine is laced with vampiric blood! Drinking it gives a hero a penalty to save against his domination ability.
If/when a fight breaks out, he assumes gaseous form and flees.
Organizations: The book also contains a prestige class and a guild:
- Knights of the Raven: Champions of evil against the undead. They ca speak with ravens, and they have a celestial raven as a companion. The raven ally can give an enemy a penalty to AC, or prevent attacks of opportunity, that kind of thing. Higher level knights can see through their eyes and cast spells through them. The ghost of one of these knights is in Castle Ravenloft (on page 146). She is Lady Vey Rallen, now a ghost powered by positive energy.
- Lightbringers: A guild of undead hunters. Not much to it, really. The guild helps them out, loaning a member NPCs or casting restoration once in a while for free.
Vampire Hide Armor: Yes, armor made from the skin of a vampire! It's just regular magic leather armor +3, and it gives a bit of damage resistance to silver and magic.
This adventure looks fun, but it definitely feels overloaded with unnecessary encounters. There's all sorts of weird monsters in the castle that feel really out of place, including a gibbering mouther, a barlgura and giant ants.
Dragon Magazine 359
Strahd's Skeletal Steed: It's an undead skeleton horse that can breathe noxious gas five times per day. It also has the ability to revert to a pile of bones when not in use.
D&D 4th Edition
- Guess what? No more 55 hit points. 4e Strahd has 930 hit points!
- When he drops to 0 hit points, he doesn't die. He turns to mist and must reach his coffin within 2 hours.
- For 27 years Strahd warred against the savage and barbaric Tergs, "..leading his troops with a combination of bravery, tactical genius and unrivaled charisma."
- He claimed an enemy stronghold and renamed it Castle Ravenloft in memory of his mother, Ravenia.
- In 4e, apparently Strahd sought a ritual hoping to restore his youth so that Tatyana would find him appealing. Frustrated, he ended up using a necromantic ritual to turn into a vampire.
Dungeon Magazine 207 - Fair Barovia
Leo Dilysnia: He was one of Strahd's soldiers who attempted to overthrow Strahd on the night of the wedding of Sergei and Tatyana. Strahd turned him into a vampire and trapped him in The White Sun Monastery, home to monks who quietly oppose Strahd. Leo has turned the monks into vampire spawn and Strahd now wants to manipulate the heroes into going there and slaying Leo.
The story of Leo is actually detailed in the novel I, Strahd.
- Falstan Mitrache: A halfling who is amiable and competent. He is haunted by a memory - his beloved, Yera, fell from a boat and perished. She has become a ghast and attacks people near the Tser Pool.
- Arabelle Zarovan: She is a vistani and a great source of rumors and information. She's a fortune teller and can perform object reading rituals.
We even get details on what happens if the group tries to go to Castle Ravenloft. The drawbridge is up and a horde of monster lurk in the gatehouse - 2 gargoyles and 10 zombies. Here's the flavor:
"The air is clammy and a cold wind brushes past you as you approach Castle Ravenloft. The drawbridge connecting to the gatehouse to the castle is raised. A stone ledge juts out over a misty chasm, which plunges to a depth of nearly one thousand feet."
Patrina was a witch who willingly became Strahd's vampiric bride. But when she tried to feed on an elf child to complete her transformation into a vampire, she was stoned to death by a crowd that included her own brother, Kasimir. Now she is a banshee looking to exact her revenge, turning the elves into her undead servitors.
Leaving Ravenloft: Once Leo is slain, Strahd sends his carriage for the heroes. Two black stallions pull a luxurious coach decorated in silver filigree. The driver is Vasilt von Holtz, who tells the heroes he will take them to the border of the land so that the heroes may go home.
Vasilt is actually Strahd masquerading as a mortal servant. Awesome.
Vampire of the Mists
The premise to this one is interesting. An elf vampire named Jander of the Forgotten Realms falls in love with an insane woman. She blames Barovia for her madness, and dies. Jander kills everyone in the asylum and is sucked into Ravenloft and basically Jander goes through the 1e Ravenloft module. It turns out Anna is actually the original Tatyana (!).
Knight of the Black Rose
This book stars Lord Soth (of Dragonlance fame) in a tale about how the dark powers of Ravenloft brought him to Barovia. This book is all about Lord Soth vs. Strahd, which sounds very cool.
This is a retelling of Strahd's origin, written in memoir form. People seem to like it. You can buy this on amazon here:
I, Strahd : The Memoirs of a Vampire (Ravenloft Books)
I, Strahd: The War Against Azalin
I, Strahd: The War Against Azalin
Dr. Van Richten
Metus got revenge by killing Van Richten's wife. Dr. Van Richten closed up his practice and devoted his life to slaying Metus, vampires, and assorted undead.
Dr. Van Richten destroyed Metus and wrote a series of guides on supernatural monsters.
As of 4th edition, Van Richten owned a herbalist shop in Darkon (Azalin the lich's domain).
Lyssa Von Zarovich
Thoughts of Darkness, a high level adventure in the domain of mindflayers. In the adventure, she creates vampire illithids for a mind flayer trying to overthrow an elder brain. In exchange, she wants the mind flayers to attack Barovia.
In this adventure, she actually steals the Tome of Strahd and learns how to build the apparatus from Ravenloft 2. It is further revealed that there is a group of psionic monks called the Brotherhood of Contemplative Monks living in Barovia.
Lyssa is the granddaughter of Sturm Von Zarovich, one of the few people to survive Strahd's wedding massacre. Lyssa despises Strahd and plots against him.
In order to become a vampire, she made a dark pact. She slew her fiance and taunted his ghost. The ghost used its aging ability to age her 200 years (which was a way to explain how powerful she was. She had more hit points than Strahd).
Fraternity of Shadows: A complete Strahd chronology.
Official 3e stats and info on Ireena
Let's Play Ravenloft: Strahd's Possession - A playthrough of an old Ravenloft video game.
A Review of the Castle Ravenloft Board Game
Check out the official Strahd D&D miniature