The Ravenloft logo.
Designer(s) Bruce Nesmith and Andria Hayday, after Hickman (the I-6 and I-10 adventures)
Publisher(s) TSR, White Wolf, Wizards of the Coast
Publication date 1990
Genre(s) Gothic horror
System(s) AD&D 2nd Edition, d20 System

Ravenloft is a campaign setting for the Dungeons & Dragons roleplaying game. It is an alternate time-space existence known as a pocket dimension called the Demiplane of Dread, which consists of a collection of land pieces called domains brought together by a mysterious force known only as "The Dark Powers". Each domain is mystically ruled by a being called a "Darklord".



Ravenloft is primarily a Gothic horror setting. Dungeon Masters are encouraged to use scenes that build apprehension and fear, culminating in the eventual face-to-face meeting with the nameless evil.[1] Characters have a much greater significance attached to their acts, especially if they are morally impure, as they risk coming under the influence of the Dark Powers (through the game process called "dark powers checks") and gradually transforming themselves into figures of evil.

The magical mists of Ravenloft could appear anywhere in the Dungeons & Dragons universe, drawing evil-doers (or player characters) into the Ravenloft setting. One exception is the 'phlogiston' of the Spelljammer setting.[2] The phlogiston blocks all planar travel, but the mists can appear in deep space inside crystal shells, according to the Complete Spacefarer's Handbook.[3] Another exception is in the Inner and Outer Planes, which for some reason they never appear in.[4]

The Dark Powers

The Dark Powers are a malevolent force who control the Demiplane of Dread. Their exact nature and number are purposely kept vague, allowing for plot development in accordance with the Gothic tradition of storytelling—where the heroes are frequently outclassed and outnumbered by unknowably evil forces beyond their control.

The Dark Powers most frequently serve as a plot device for Ravenloft, especially concerning the Dark Lords, the de facto visible rulers of the Ravenloft Demiplane. Where the players are often tormented and opposed by the Dark Lords, the Dark Lords are themselves tormented and opposed by the Dark Powers. Of course, the difference lies in order of power—while many D&D adventures focus on allowing a band of heroes to prevail over a Dark Lord (much as in the spirit of Bram Stoker's novel Dracula), no such victory over the Dark Powers is conceivable. Vecna, (a demi-god and darklord) however plans not only to escape Ravenloft but destroy the Dark Powers as well.

Most frequently, the Dark Powers make their wishes and intents known through subtle manipulations of fate. Thus, Barovia's vampire lord Strahd von Zarovich's many attempts to win back his love, Tatyana, are doomed to failure, but the Dark Powers arrange such that he never truly loses hope. Each time, for example, Strahd's own actions may be partially culpable for his failure, and as such he may go through crippling self-recrimination, rather than cursing the gods solely and giving up. Most other Dark Lords have similar tales of frustration, kept all the more unbearable because the flicker of the possibility of success is never truly extinguished.

Not all Dark Lords acknowledge the Dark Powers directly, however. Strahd, for example, in his own memoirs, speaks only of a force known as "Death," who mocks him with the voices of his family and former colleagues throughout his life. Vlad Drakov, the Dark Lord of Falkovnia whose military expeditions are doomed to constant failure, seems even to be totally oblivious of any non-mortal factors in his repeated defeats.

The Dark Powers also seem capable of non-evil manipulations. Although their machinations are often directly responsible for the misery of many of Ravenloft's inhabitants, they also appear to play a role as dispenser of justice. Some tales of innocents who have escaped Ravenloft for happier environs are attributed to the Dark Powers, who have judged a being worthy of reward and release from their misty domain.

The precise nature of the Dark Powers of Ravenloft is never explicitly described in the game material, with the exception of a few of the novels based on the setting, and even those are considered non-canon. In a sense, the Dark Powers are intended to be eternal unknowns, an array of capricious, unforeseeable wills whose motives and actions the player characters cannot hope to understand.


Since 2001, Ravenloft has used the d20 System, with a few modifications. Additional new saves are used within Ravenloft: Fear, Horror and Madness, as well as the standard Fortitude, Will and Reflex saves. New Prestige Classes, spells and feats have also been added.


First published in 1983 as a stand alone Advanced Dungeons & Dragons adventure module, I6:Ravenloft, was popular enough to spawn an Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Gamebook and a 1986 sequel (I10: The House on Gryphon Hill). Ravenloft was launched as a full-fledged campaign setting in 1990,[5] with the Realm of Terror boxed set, popularly known as the "Black Box". The campaign setting was revised twice during Second Edition — first as the Ravenloft Campaign Setting "Red Box", then as the Domains of Dread hardback — before Wizards of the Coast cancelled the line after acquiring TSR. The "Black Box" won the Origins Award in 1991 for Best Graphic Presentation of a Roleplaying Game, Adventure, or Supplement of 1990.[6]

TSR also published a series of novels set in Ravenloft. Each was typically focused on one of the darklords that inhabited the Ravenloft world, with several focusing on the figure of Count Strahd von Zarovich. Many of these early novels were by authors who would later receive wider fame as horror/dark fantasy authors. These authors have included Elaine Bergstrom, P. N. Elrod, Christie Golden and Laurel K. Hamilton.[7]

Ravenloft was licensed to Arthaus Games for Dungeons & Dragons 3rd Edition and Dungeons and Dragons v.3.5 and published by White Wolf Game Studio through the Sword & Sorcery Studios imprint. Arthaus' license to the Ravenloft setting was allowed to revert to Wizards of the Coast on August 15, 2005, but Sword & Sorcery retained the right to continue to sell its back stock until June 2006. The timing of this reversion meant that the Ravenloft supplement Van Richten's Guide to the Mists did not see print; instead, it was released as a free download in late September 2005.[1]

The campaign setting published by White Wolf introduced a number of alterations, many based on conflicts with existing Wizards of the Coast intellectual property. Lord Soth, a character created for the Dragonlance setting, was removed, and the island featuring the demi-god Vecna and his rival, Kas, was likewise excised due to the characters' origins in the Greyhawk setting, and any references to D&D pantheon gods have been replaced with Ravenloft-specific names (for example, Bane is referred to as "The Lawgiver").

In October 2006, Wizards of the Coast released Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, a hardcover version of the original 1st edition adventure updated for the Dungeons & Dragons version 3.5 rule set. The 2006 version includes maps from the original Ravenloft adventure, and new character generation options. Expedition to Castle Ravenloft is a stand-alone supplement set for any D&D worlds, and only requires the three core books for usage. This book is completely distinct from the Ravenloft of the Arthaus Games product line (and doesn't acknowledge it whatsoever).[2]

In September 2008, it was announced on Wizard of the Coast's 'Digital Insider #6' that Ravenloft would be reintroduced to 4th Edition Dungeons and Dragons in the October issue of the 'Dragon' online magazine. It was noted that it would be 'folded into the core [story]', implying that it would not be a campaign setting of its own, and instead become part of the canonical Dungeons & Dragons universe. In 2007, Wizards of the Coast announced the printing of two new Ravenloft novels for 2008, Black Crusade and The Sleep of Reason[3], fueling more speculations. A short story by Ari Marmell, "Before I Wake," based on the realms of Darkon, Lamordia and Bluetspur was released on October 31, 2007 on the Wizards of the Coast website as a special for Halloween and featured characters inspired by H.P. Lovecraft and Clarke Ashton Smith [4].

The Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition supplement Manual of the Planes establishes that in the 4th Edition cosmology the Domains of Dread (and by extension the Ravenloft setting) are now located within the Shadowfell, a mirror-world of death and gloom lying adjacent to the mortal realm.


A number of tie-in novels were released, set in the Demiplane of Dread:

Video games

  • Ravenloft: Strahd's Possession (1994)
  • Ravenloft: Stone Prophet (1995)
  • Iron & Blood: Warriors of Ravenloft (1996)

See also


  1. ^ Hite, Ken (1999). Nightmares of Mine (1st ed.). Iron Crown Enterprises. pp. 171. ISBN 1-558-06367-6. http://www.amazon.com/dp/1558063676. 
  2. ^ D&D 2nd Edition, also issue #151 of the Polyhedron magazine
  3. ^ Complete Spacefarer's Handbook
  4. ^ Domains of Dread
  5. ^ "The History of TSR". Wizards of the Coast. Archived from the original on 2008-10-04. http://www.webcitation.org/query?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.wizards.com%2Fdnd%2FDnDArchives_History.asp&date=2008-10-04. Retrieved 2005-08-20. 
  6. ^ "Origins Award Winners (1990)". Academy of Adventure Gaming Arts & Design. Archived from the original on 2007-11-05. http://web.archive.org/web/20071105015050/http://www.originsgamefair.com/awards/1990. Retrieved 2007-10-29. 
  7. ^ Melton, Gordon (1994). The Vampire Book: The Encyclopedia of the Undead (1st ed.). Detroit, MI: Visible Ink Press. pp. 852. ISBN 0-8103-2295-1. http://www.visibleink.com/title.php?id=41. 
  8. ^ a b Kenson, Stephen (March 1999). "Profiles: J. Robert King". Dragon (Renton, Washington: Wizards of the Coast) (#257): 120. 
  • Hickman, Tracy; Laura Hickman (1983). Ravenloft. TSR. ISBN 0-88038-042-X. 
  • Hickman, Tracy; Laura Hickman, David "Zeb" Cook, Jeff Grubb, Harold Johnson, Douglas Niles (1986). Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill. TSR. ISBN 0-88038-322-4. 
  • Nesmith, Bruce; Andria Hayday (1990). Realm of Terror. TSR. ISBN 0-88038-835-6. 
  • Hensen, Dale; J. Robert King (1991). Book of Crypts. TSR. ISBN 1-56076-142-3. 
  • Hayday, Andria; William Connors, Bruce Nesmith, James Lowder (1991). Darklords. TSR. ISBN 1-56076-137-7. 
  • Connors, William; Bruce Nesmith (1992). Forbidden Lore. TSR. ISBN 1-56076-354-X. 
  • McComb, Colin; Scott Bennie (1992). Islands of Terror. TSR. ISBN 1-56076-349-3. 
  • Nesmith, Bruce; Andria Hayday, William Connors (1994). Ravenloft Campaign Setting. TSR. ISBN 1-56076-942-4. 
  • Connors, William; Steve Miller (1997). Domains of Dread. TSR/Wizards of the Coast. ISBN 0-7869-0672-3. 
  • Cermak, Andrew; John Mangrum, Andrew Wyatt (2001). Ravenloft Campaign Setting (3rd Edition). Arthaus. ISBN 1-58846-075-4. 
  • Cermak, Andrew; John Mangrum, Andrew Wyatt (2001). Secrets of the Dread Realms. Arthaus. ISBN 1-58846-076-2. 
  • Cermak, Andrew; John Mangrum, Chris Nichols, Andrew Wyatt (2002). Ravenloft Gazetteer Volume I. Arthaus. ISBN 1-58846-080-0. 
  • Mangrum, John; Ryan Naylor, Chris Nichols, Andrew Wyatt (2002). Ravenloft Gazetteer Volume II. Arthaus. ISBN 1-58846-830-5. 
  • Mangrum, John; Brian Campbell, Carla Hollar, Rucht Lilavivat, Anthony Pryor, Peter Woodworth, Andrew Wyatt (2003). Ravenloft Dungeon Master's Guide. Arthaus. ISBN 1-58846-084-3. 
  • Mangrum, John; Stuart Turner, Peter Woodworth, Andrew Wyatt (2003). Ravenloft Gazetteer Volume III. Arthaus. ISBN 1-58846-086-X. 
  • Lowder, James; John Mangrum, Ryan Naylor, Anthony Pryor, Veronica Whitney-Robinson, Andrew Wyatt (2004). Ravenloft Gazetteer Volume IV. Arthaus. ISBN 1-58846-087-8. 
  • Cermak, Andrew; John Mangrum, Steve Miller, Ryan Naylor, Andrew Wyatt (2004). Ravenloft Gazetteer Volume V. Arthaus. ISBN 1-58846-964-6. 

External links

  • Fraternity of Shadows - the largest Ravenloft fansite, with many Ravenloft netbook, information, official book errata, etc. The site also has a large FAQ section, should you need more game information on Ravenloft.
  • Mistipedia - The Fraternity of Shadows' Ravenloft wiki.
  • Secrets of the Kargatane - no longer updated, this website was once one of the largest sources of Ravenloft information on the Internet
  • Midway Haven Alchemical Observatory - another popular Ravenloft fansite that supplies netbooks and features light-hearted takes on Ravenloft in general. The Midway Haven website is expected to expand in early 2007, when its in-game storyline takes its characters to new and bizarre directions.
  • The Lonesome Road - Original source for Ravenloft material.
  • The Mordent Cartographical Society - This website contains maps and information on the Domains.
  • White Wolf Downloads - a page where you can download extracts of d20 System Ravenloft products and the entire unpublished Van Richten's Guide to the Mists.
  • Barovia.de - dark fantasyart, and adventures of Ravenloft
  • TSR Archive Ravenloft product list
  • Ravenloft Prisoners of the Mist - A Persistent world based in the Ravenloft setting for a game called Neverwinter Nights.
  • Mistfinder - A fan conversion of the 3.5 Ravenloft rules to use the Pathfinder RPG.

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