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Looking Back: Ravenloft

The latest trailer for Dungeons and Dragons: Daggerdale, the smaller, downloadable title for the 360, PSN, and PC has been released. Watching it made me recall fondly other D&D PC games I have played in the past, with the majority of them being under the publishing eye of Strategic Simulations, Inc., which churned out quite a few titles, particularly in its gold box series. It also made me realize how dreadfully tired I am of the generic fantasy settings we keep getting out of D&D, and made my mind wander to other offerings. While my favorite were probably the Dark Sun titles (the idea of a post-apocalyptic fantasy world just really appeals to me, and there's so much you can do with the themes in that world), I also remembered the Ravenloft series they released, the intro for the second being featured above.

I believe the problem is that when given a generic fantasy setting, which Forgotten Realms typically tends to be, people go default and generic in their writing as well. The villain for Daggerdale seems to be that typical evil mage type, who shows some nudity (man nipple) while wearing black, so is Evil. What happened with the Ravenloft games SSI published, and DreamForge developed, wasn't horribly much better in exploring story, but the setting was trying for something different enough, that it seemed a breath of fresh air (back then).

The first was your typical Transylvanian vampire story, heavily influenced by Dracula, as Strahd seems only a slightly more despondent version of that chap. Therefore, that setting wasn't wholly something new, but different enough that, along with its engine, I was happy to tromp through it. The way the setting was used was well-done, however: the music, graphics, and design lent it a sinister feel that never fully frightened, but did keep me enthralled and wrapped up in its setting.

However, in the sequel, Stone Prophet, they showed how they could explore more worlds. The gist of Ravenloft is that it is made up of a number of fractured worlds, each controlled by a villain, whose will is reflected in the lands he or she owns. Therefore, the villain Ankhtepot reflects an Egyptian theme, where the onus is more on survival in a desert than pure horror (though it does keep the macabre elements).

Naturally, these games being made in the mid-90s, I'm sure a lot of my fond memories are caught up in nostalgia, and given my penchant for games that tell story in an intriguing manner, I'm not entirely sure how well they hold up. The settings though? The settings seem like they have so much more to offer, particularly since Ravenloft can create various horror-themed settings to suit its purposes.

Therefore, what I would really like to see is more of an exploration of the other worlds that have been made under the banner of D&D, particularly ones not focused on the same fantasy worlds. Give me Ravenloft, Dark Sun, Spelljammer, Planescape, Al-Qadim, and some other modules I'm sure to have forgotten by now. If I'm going to have fairly mindless hack and slash, I would really like to at least have a different setting, rather than just cashing in on the same names and places (and shocker of shockers, it would likely open up their games to possibly not only being focused on white people).

2 Comments

[dave] said:

I am co-signing with you so hard right now...

Rhihad said:

Agreed, I totally forgot about The Stone Prophet! Loved the RPGs at the early and mid 90s. Don't remember if most were of D&D origin but still loved Anvil of Dawn, Thunderscape, Lands of Lore and the likes.

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Rhihad on Looking Back: Ravenloft: Agreed, I totally forgot about The Stone Prophet! Loved the RPGs at the early and mid 90s. Don't remember if...

[dave] on Looking Back: Ravenloft: I am co-signing with you so hard right now......

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