Today’s guest post is from DDOCentral’s Matt, who wanted to give Bio Break’s readership a deeper look into Dungeons and Dragons Online’s newest expansion. Thanks Matt!
Dungeons and Dragons Online (DDO) released its third paid expansion on December 6th, 2017 titled Mists of Ravenloft. The two previous paid expansions for DDO are Shadowfell Conspiracy, released on August 19th, 2013, and Menace of the Underdark, released on June 25th, 2012. These earlier expansions are placed in tabletop Dungeons and Dragons’ most famous campaign setting, Ed Greenwood’s Forgotten Realms.
Mists of Ravenloft explores the popular Gothic horror-themed Ravenloft D&D campaign world created by Tracy and Laura Hickman and the vampire Count Strahd von Zarovich’s domain Barovia on the Demiplane of Dread within that world.
This article is the first in a series of three articles on Mists of Ravenloft, the latest addition to DDO’s growing multiverse. The article will provide an overview of Ravenloft in the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game, the story and lore of Ravenloft, the expansion’s vast wilderness area of Barovia, the two new Aasimar player races, and the new Sentient Weapons system. The second article will look at the Mists of Ravenloft’s quests (twelve in all) and the third and final article will conclude the series with a review of Mists of Ravenloft’s two raids.
From Tabletop RPG to Desktop PC
The Ravenloft setting has a long history in D&D, going back to 1983 with the release of the I6 Ravenloft module for the 1st edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons rule set. This initial publication in the Ravenloft universe was followed by a second module I10 Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill in 1986 and then by a boxed-set in 1990 called Ravenloft: Realm of Terror which adapted the Ravenloft game mechanics first promulgated in the 1st edition I-series modules for the 2nd edition AD&D rule set.
Now that Ravenloft had its own campaign rules for 2nd edition AD&D, the boxed-set was soon joined by a number of new companion modules, a campaign rule set revision in 1994, as well as a series of full-length novels with the Demiplane of Dread as their milieu.
An update for the 3.5 edition rule set was published in 2006, followed by more Ravenloft novels over the next several years, and finally a Castle Ravenloft board game which was produced in 2010. In 2016, Dungeons and Dragons revisited Ravenloft with its hardcover-bound Curse of Strahd which reworked Ravenloft for the 5th edition rule set. The I6 module written by the Hickmans that started it all is considered one of the best if not the best D&D adventure ever written, and is always ranked among the greatest D&D modules in any list of all-time classics.
Count Strahd von Zarovich was locked away in the Demiplane of Dread by The Dark Powers, mysterious entities who formed this pocket dimension to hold puissant,yet also evil, prisoners. Each notable inmate shapes their own realm within the Demiplane of Dread and bends its surroundings to their individual personality and whims.
The only catch is that these monstrous rulers can never leave, held back by the all-encompassing Mists. The Arch-Lich Azalin Rex is a prisoner here as well, along with as many as several dozen other exceedingly wicked luminaries. Unsuspecting victims on the Prime Material Plane are enveloped by the Mists and unrooted to one of the Dark Lords’ personal domains in the Demiplane of Dread such as Barovia. Once trapped, these unfortunate souls cannot leave without choking to death on the lethal poison within the Mists that block safe passage home.
In life, the Count Strahd von Zarovich loved a young woman named Tatyana Federovna. Tatyana rejected Strahd and instead fell in love with Strahd’s brother, Sergei. Unable to win Tatyana’s love, Strahd murdered his brother in a jealous rage on the day of Sergei and Tatyana’s wedding. Crushed by the death of her beloved Sergei, Tatyana flung herself from Castle Ravenloft’s towers that ended her own life.
Strahd had beforehand made a pact with diabolical forces to live forever as a vampire in the event of his demise. Strahd arose from the grave after having been pierced by many arrows shot from the bows of the castle guard and ruled Barovia as an undead potentate. Soon afterward, Castle Ravenloft and its encircling countryside were shrouded by the Mists and transported to its present-day sphere within the Domains of Dread. It is at this point in the Ravenloft lore where DDO’s Mists of Ravenloft expansion begins its tale, telling the story of Strahd’s quixotic quest to be reunited with the long-deceased Tatyana Federovna. Strahd believes that Tatyana has been reincarnated in the person of Ireena Kolyana, the adopted daughter of Kolyan Indirovich, the Burgomaster of Barovia.
The Land of Barovia
DDO hasn’t had a new explorer area added to the game since The Ruins of Thunderholme, which was released as part of the ‘Update 21: Shadow Under Thunderholme’ adventure pack in 2014. The Land of Barovia wilderness explorer area is by far the largest in DDO, surpassing both The King’s Forest from Menace of the Underdark and The Storm Horns region from Shadowfell Conspiracy. Soaring coniferous trees, brooding mountains, and deep, murky lakes are all sheltered under a perpetually gloomy sky streaked by lightning striking far off in the distance.
The Barovia explorer area and its related content can only be accessed once the short introductory quest ‘Into the Mists’ is successfully completed. ‘Into the Mists’ can be reached via an enigmatic, mist-ensconced portal found either in House Jorasco on the Eberron side or near Eveningstar Cavern on the Forgotten Realms side. Once the quest is done and the gates at the end of its dark forest are opened, the player(s) can then proceed to the village of Barovia and the area’s first public hub, the Blood on the Vine Tavern. Castle Ravenloft looms large in the background.
Dangers are close to the village as creatures from the woods nearby encroach on its edges. A single road leads out into the barren forests and then splits into several pathways. Anyone daring to leave the relative safety of the village will find themselves quickly set upon by Vistani bandits, a Roma-like people and possible agents of Strahd. The Vistani know a secret antidote which renders the drinker immune to the effects of the Mists and allows them to pass freely out of the domain of Barovia.
Quite a few new monsters have been added to DDO with the Ravenloft expansion and can be found in The Land of Barovia, including the long-requested Shambling Mound, the repulsive Vargouille, and the Scarecrow from 1st edition AD&D’s Fiend Folio supplement.
A feature common to every DDO expansion explorer area in addition to Slayers and Rare Encounters is a Journal (or Missive) achievement system which tracks the number of lore-related journals found by players in the explorer area. Ravenloft has three sets of fifteen journal pages in The Land of Barovia: Strahd’s Journal, Tatyana’s Journal, and Ireena’s Journal. Each journal can randomly spawn in one of three locations on the map and reward experience points per journal located, with a final reward for locating all the journals in a set. The text of the journals is fully voiced by the appropriate character (Strahd, Tatyana, or Ireena) when picked up by a player.
Deeper into the explorer area’s map are the two remaining public hubs: the Blue Water Inn at the town of Vallaki and Van Richten’s Tower. Each of the three hubs contains a separate story arc from the expansion with three or more quests/raids and each hub area has a Vistani guide which will transport players to other locations throughout the map. There are two instances of The Land of Barovia explorer area: Heroic (level 10) and Legendary (level 30).
Aasimar Player Races
Ravenloft expands the roster of player character races with two new offerings: the Premium Aasimar race and the Iconic Aasimar race. Aasimar are plane-touched humans with the blood of a celestial ancestor flowing through their veins. This heritage gives the Aasimar an often otherworldly appearance as well as certain powers derived from a Bond to their supernatural patron.
The Premium or standard Aasimar can be rolled with either a Protector Bond (light angel) or Fallen Bond (dark angel) and different cosmetic wing effects based on these two Feats. The Iconic Aasimar Scourge’s chosen class is a dual-wielding Ranger, whose Favored Enemy is the undead and whose Bond is the Bond of the Scourge. Both variants of the Aasimar race gain an ability bonus to the Wisdom stat, which is useful in many builds such as Monk or Cleric class characters.
The Sentient Weapon system is a new game mechanic introduced with the Ravenloft expansion. Sentient Weapons allow the players to upgrade select weapons with sentience, gaining gameplay-related benefits such as increases to various abilities as well as roleplay effects (i.e., fully voiced weapons comment on your actions as you play). A weapon imbued with sentience will make comments to the player as the weapon is held and used in combat. There is a gameplay tab option to turn off voice, text, or both for Sentient Weapons.
Only minimum level 20 or higher named weapons can gain sentience. Sentient jewels need to be slotted in a Sentient Weapon to awaken its sentience. Players can obtain an initial Sentient jewel (Hopeful, Inquisitive, or Resolute) by speaking to Tobar the Smith, a Vistani Trader, inside the Barovia Legendary level wilderness area.
The Best DDO Expansion Yet
The Ravenloft expansion may very well be the best content ever developed in Dungeons and Dragons Online’s eleven years as an MMORPG. One advantage of DDO’s lengthy tenure is that so much content has been produced over time; new content, therefore, has a depth and polish newer MMOs can’t match due to their shorter existences and less storied histories. The high quality of this third expansion is the result of a mature development team with many updates under its collective belt.
The Mists of Ravenloft effectively captures the essence of the pencil and paper D&D Ravenloft campaign’s setting and atmosphere. The expansion’s artwork, voice acting, storyline, and attention to lore detail evoke what tabletop gamers experience when running a full Ravenloft campaign with a Dungeon Master. The next article in this series will look at the core content of the expansion: eleven quests divided into a three act play of sorts.