The module proved to be very popular, so much so that there was a direct sequel (Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill), and, some time after that, an entire Realm of Horror called Ravenloft in which Strahd and his machinations were but one of many evils.
Then came Third Edition D&D, which differs quite significantly from the prior editions, and so there was a need to modernize the adventures. Expedition to Castle Ravenloft is that updating, and it's So Bloody Cool that I bought it, and I decided to do something I hadn't done for, oh, 20 years: run a straight-out-of-the-box dungeon crawl.
I specifically made this decision in order to run my son Christopher in a long-running game; he's not yet ready to play in our current games, which involve a lot of complex character interaction and possibly mature themes. However, I also wanted him to learn something about playing with adults rather than the kids he currently games with, so I invited a few other people to play. I wasn't sure what kind of response I'd get, since the game will be run on Tuesday nights and it's going to be the old-fashioned D&D sort, but I in fact now have four players (possibly five; Kathleen's considering playing)
I ran the beginning session last night. The Dramatis Personae and their players:
Zekros: Played by Christopher, Zekros is an 8th level sorcerer. He's a 15-year-old blond prodigy with an impulsive streak and a bent for Alchemy. Raised in the Great Forest by an irascible old wizard named Darrial Davan, Zekros has had a few prior adventures, but this is the first one he's been sent on solo. As a sorcerer, his greatest strength is of course in sheer unadulterated firepower.
Camillus: Played by Eric Palmer. Camillus is a pure fighter, a Gladiator/Guard from Aegeia, a pseudo-Grecian civilization. One of the Twelve Saints of Athena, his patron Leo, has charged him with attempting to locate and return to civilization a lost artifact, one which Athena assisted in the creation of: the Sunblade. Brown-haired and dark-eyed, Camillus wears Roman gear and skillfully wields two gladii in combat; he is a one-man death machine.
Carl Steivensen: Played by Joe Lalumiere, Carl is a priest of Terian, one of the most revered gods of Good. He has been sent from the Temple due to a vision by the high priest, who sees him going forth into a shadowed realm. Blue eyed, with brown hair, Carl is the classic cleric type, capable of taking care of himself in combat but most useful for his healing and support capabilities.
Serena: Played by Dana Lajunesse Lalumiere, Serena hails from a barbaric mountain tribe living near Thologondoreave, Serena attracted the attention of the Dwarves for her instincts for combat and strong, if somewhat crude, sense of right and wrong. She was initiated into the Order of Thor at an early age and has become a great champion of the Thunderer. Serena is a Paladin (with a level of Barbarian), and wields a bastard sword one-handed. With her strength and formidable skill backed up by the blessings of the God of Thunder, she made an ideal choice for Odin to perform a little task for him: retrieve a lost artifact dedicated to him and his twin Ravens, Hugin and Munin, the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind. And smite a lot of evil along the way, of course.
The four followed their directions; eventually they all ended up in the same inn, when a Gypsy-like man entered, glanced around, and marched over to Camillus after examining each of them, mentioning that Barovia needed heroes and that "you'll do as well as any". He left a sealed letter in front of the nonplussed gladiator and left without another word.
Three of the four had been told the name of Barovia previously, so it was not long before all four of them realized that they were headed to the same place with similar missions. After some initial caution and back-and-forth verifying of bona fides (especially by Camillus), the four began to discuss the situation. They were joined by a voice from the floor, which turned out to be an Intelligent Toad by the name of Poplock Duckweed; he'd been doing research which led him, also, in the direction of Barovia.
The next day they set out; the day began as fine and sunny, but the closer they approached Barovia the more gray and gloomy the day became. More eerie, perhaps, was the shift in terrain and life. The forests around Barovia were cool and dank, and filled with strange trees not found commonly in Zarathan (which is mostly tropical) such as pines, oaks, maples, and so on. Eventually they reached an immense set of iron gates, which opened mysteriously as they approached, and passed on into the countryside of Barovia. All this time they had seen no sign of people and few signs of animals.
A short time later they approached the actual village of Barovia; by now mists had rolled in, so thick that visibility was severely curtailed. The sight of the village was not comforting; homes appeared abandoned, windows broken, some appearing to have been barricaded. Slowly, a vague shape ahead resolved itself into an overturned haycart.
Zekros noticed something lurking behind the cart, and a moment later the Somethings realized they had been spotted and emerged. Even in the mist the lurching gait warned the party that what they saw were abominations, walking corpses.
The young sorcerer reacted instantly, and the haycart and everything around it was enveloped in a searing ball of flame. Two zombies, and two other, smaller, faster creatures were enveloped in the blaze; the zombies staggered out, scorched but still mobile, but whatever the other creatures were... they no longer would concern the party. Sounds and movement warned them that more attackers were on the way. The fighters charged forward (Poplock clinging to the crest on Camillus' helmet).
Camillus reached the zombies, but was struck by some mystical energy that froze him in place. A new adversary was visible down one of the intersections, a skeletal figure clearly more intelligent than the shambling zombies. Zekros fired a volley of magic missiles that took down one of the injured zombies and Serena engaged the next one. A total of four more were converging on the party.
The sharp eyes of the Priest of Terian had noticed Camillus' plight, and he stepped forward with a prayer. The paralysis broke, and Camillus sprinted towards the skeletal figure, which smiled and raised a hand.
But it had badly misjudged the gladiator's speed and strength; a double blow from the shortswords separated its head, still smiling, from its body.
One zombie shambled past the others, collecting and ignoring a blow from Poplock, in order to attack the sorcerer that was killing them from distance; on his way in it met a fan of flame that seriously damaged it. The fighters now engaged the rest of the zombies, taking them down in rapid succession. Zekros was finding that hand-to-hand combat was a bit more difficult, when suddenly with a tiny-voiced war-cry the little Toad backstabbed the zombie with a four-inch "sword", a blow so precisely placed that it severed the spinal cord and sent the head rolling.
As suddenly as that, the battle was over. And the first session had finished at 11:05, exactly 5 minutes later than I'd planned. Not bad.
Everyone's looking forward to next week!