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Partial cover of the 2016 Curse of Strahd adventure module by Ben Oliver. And yes, that is Strahd.

Partial cowl of the 2016 Curse of Strahd journey module by Ben Oliver. And sure, that’s Strahd.
Picture: Wizards of the Coast

Welcome to Ravenloft, boils and ghouls! The place it’s at all times a darkish and stormy night time, the place monsters are at all times underneath your mattress, and your blood at all times curdles in horror—proper earlier than a vampire sucks it out. So what the hell is a gold elf from the Forgotten Realms doing right here? Brief reply: Not having a very enjoyable time.

Vampire of the Mists is the very first novel set in Ravenloft, D&D’s gothic horror realm. First debuting in 1983, Ravenloft started as merely an journey module (by eventual Dragonlance authors Tracy and Laura Hickman) the place gamers tried to destroy the evil vampire lord Rely Strahd in his huge scary fortress, additionally referred to as Ravenloft. It solely grew to become a full marketing campaign setting in 1990, after AD&D had exploded in recognition with 2nd Version, which is probably going why writer TSR was able to capitalize on its new horror setting with a novel the very subsequent 12 months.

Written by Christie Golden—who has achieved a ton of novel tie-ins to properties like Star Wars, Star Trek, and World of Warcraft—Vampire of the Mists is about Jander Sunstar, a gold elf and self-loathing vampire who finds himself transported to the land of Barovia within the Demiplane of Dread after having a very dangerous day—er, night time. He’s taken in by Barovia’s ruler and fellow vampire Rely Strahd, who’s mainly Dracula with a semi-tragic backstory and the power to solid spells.

As you may count on from a D&D vampire novel printed in 1991, it’s quite a lot of Bram Stoker’s Dracula with a wholesome dose of Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire ennui, courtesy of Jander. It’s a less complicated, extra primary model of each classics, in fact, however I completely don’t maintain that towards the e-book. In truth, Vampire of the Mists is the very best D&D novel I’ve read so far—the very best written, the very best plotted, and simply probably the most advanced. That’s not saying a ton, however the e-book reads much less like a sport going down and far more like an genuine story, with assist, little question, from the vampire fiction it attracts from.

The original cover of Vampire of the Mists by Clyde Caldwell. So Dracula, you guys.

The unique cowl of Vampire of the Mists by Clyde Caldwell. So Dracula, you guys.
Picture: Wizards of the Coast

Mists is primarily about Jander and Strahd and their uneasy camaraderie, since Jander doesn’t actually have anyplace else in Barovia to go, but Strahd can be immensely evil now and again. Nevertheless, it’s additionally a thriller story as Jander searches for the one that magically destroyed the thoughts of Anna, a girl he falls in love with originally of the e-book. Does her tragic story have something to do with the one locked room Strahd calls for Jander by no means enter or ask about when the gold elf first arrives at Fort Ravenloft? I’m not telling, but in addition, sure, clearly.

There’s one thing genuinely compelling about Strahd, presumably as a result of he’s, once more, a Dracula. He’s received the driverless carriage and chateau doorways that open on his personal. His fortress is totally decrepit apart from his library and research, as a result of he’s stylish like that. He performs an enormous organ. He delights in Jander’s firm, however he additionally delights in performing horrific acts of cruelty in entrance of Jander, as a result of Strahd is aware of the gold elf hates it. He’s fast to anger, however fast to settle down once more. Strahd additionally invents an insane board sport referred to as Hawks & Hares, which incorporates gameplay that in some way leads Jander to say, “The Doe has reached the warren. In keeping with the foundations, that offers me 5 extra Kittens to introduce into play.” He’s technically a posh character, it’s simply that the complexities themselves aren’t advanced.

Though Mists spends most of its time with the 2 vampires (maybe slightly an excessive amount of time), a handful of attention-grabbing human characters weave out and in of the story, evolving over time, actually, because the e-book primarily takes place over 25 years. Jander’s actions and inactions have an effect on a number of generations, and Golden does a superb job bringing them collectively, resulting in a pure development the place Jander, the priest cum vampire hunter Sasha, and the thief Liesl try to take out Strahd and his coven. Mists isn’t scary, per se, however Strahd wreaks sufficient horror and carnage to drive dwelling that Ravenloft is way, far more sinister than the Forgotten Realms. All of it comes collectively right into a strong narrative.

That’s to not say Vampire of the Mists doesn’t have its issues—in fact!—it’s, in any case, a D&D novel. Jander’s tragedy is fairly overwrought; his final title is Sunstar as a result of his household was simply so into the solar; Jander beloved the solar a lot he worshipped the solar/rebirth/and many others. god Lathander Morninglord, however now he can by no means see it; and for some motive Jander additionally actually beloved locations of worship normally, which he now can not enter. There are some actually dangerous plot gadgets on the finish, probably the most egregious of which is how Jander enters the magically locked room, which is by tricking Strahd’s simply manipulated werewolf girlfriend into studying after which casting “A Spell to Unlock Magically Sealed Doorways” one night. (That spell title is verbatim, by the best way.) Additionally, the timeline of the e-book is…let’s simply say “loosey-goosey” and in some way, nobody in Barovia realizes Rely Strahd is a vampire, regardless of the actual fact he’s been ruling for 250 or so years.

Alas, Vampire of the Mists can be a D&D novel printed within the early ‘90s, which suggests hunks of it have, as common, aged slightly poorly. There’s the Vistani, a race of Romani analogues repeatedly referred to as by the previous slur, which isn’t nice. Strahd is completely excited about making a coven of horny vampire girls, which suggests quite a lot of feminine characters exist solely to be victims. Particularly, Anna may be very a lot a girl in a gothic horror fridge who dies solely to set Jander on his quest for revenge, though that’s not the worst half. Jander finds her in a psychological asylum, the place he goes to feed when he can’t stand ingesting animals, which suggests he falls in love with an successfully trapped lady with extreme psychological well being points. Nothing bodily occurs, thank the Morninglord, but it surely nonetheless looks like this could have been flagged as extraordinarily icky even in 1991, and of all of the problematic issues which have popped up within the D&D&N sequence thus far, I’m fairly certain it’s the worst.

...and the cover of the 2006 re-release by Jon Foster.

…and the quilt of the 2006 re-release by Jon Foster.
Picture: Wizards of the Coast

And but, it’s nonetheless the finest D&D novel I’ve revisited thus far. I do suppose a part of this is perhaps as a result of I remembered virtually nothing about Ravenloft going into the e-book apart from that it was gothic horror and Strahd was its evil poster boy, which I feel is as a result of I by no means knew something about Ravenloft as a D&D-obsessed teen. A horror marketing campaign setting simply appeared much more restrictive to me than a standard Forgotten Realms fantasy marketing campaign, which nonetheless had vampires and werewolves, but in addition one million different issues.

I’m not going to insult both of us through the use of the io9 Spoiler Bar for a 30-year-old novel you completely aren’t going to learn, however spoiler: Clearly, Strahd is the one who messed every little thing up. The Rely, bitter that he was compelled to waste his mortal life defending Barovia from goblin armies, desired immortality. He lusted much more for the good-hearted Anna (actual title Tatyana) and hated his effortlessly charming youthful brother Sergei for being betrothed to her. So Strahd made a darkish pact with some unknown entity to turn out to be Ravenloft’s first vampire and murdered his brother; Anna went insane and tried to kill herself however was secretly transported into the Forgotten Realms for Jander to seek out. Within the current, studying the reality lastly propels Jander to kill his host, however the gold elf can solely wound Strahd grievously, forcing the Rely to enter hiding for a couple of years, earlier than Jasper decides to look at the dawn one final time.

It feels like fairly normal stuff, however what’s attention-grabbing is Strahd isn’t the principle villain in Ravenloft. Jander figures out he, Strahd, and Anna have all been manipulated by the Demiplane of Dread itself. It feeds off distress and hatred, so it used Anna to create Strahd, it despatched Anna to Jander to deliver him to Ravenloft, and it inspired Strahd’s cruelty and Jander’s need for revenge. It even reincarnates Anna sometimes after which kills her to maintain Strahd depressing. It additionally metafictionally explains the Rely’s plot armor; the forces of the airplane won’t ever permit Strahd to be actually destroyed as a result of he’s their instrument in making Ravenloft a spot of worry and ache. It’s an ideal approach to justify a dozen novels starring Strahd, the place the protagonists nonetheless must defeat him to inform a satisfying story however permits the depend to at all times return to promote extra Ravenloft merchandise.

It seems the malevolent sentience of Ravenloft is all a part of the marketing campaign setting. Golden is drawing this straight from the supply materials, so perhaps I shouldn’t be so praiseworthy of Vampires of the Mists and extra praiseworthy of the sport. However I can’t assist however really feel regardless that the novel received a serious help from the sport, it nonetheless made for a neat finish to a really readable novel. As such, Vampire of the Mists rolls a 10 on a 1d20… however with an unlucky -1 modifier for the Anna badness, which simply can’t be handwaved away.

I be ok with placing Vampire of the Mists across the center. It’s neither genius nor rubbish. It’s received some flubs however continues to be written by somebody who clearly knew what they had been doing, which can’t be mentioned of most of the earlier entrants on this sequence. When you’re on the lookout for vampire story, you would do considerably higher than Vampire of the Mists, however when you’re somebody rereading a bunch of 30-year-old Dungeons & Dragons novels, you would do a lot, a lot worse.

Partial cover of the 1983 AD&D adventure module Ravenloft. Art by Clyde Caldwell.

Partial cowl of the 1983 AD&D journey module Ravenloft. Artwork by Clyde Caldwell.
Picture: Wizards of the Coast

Assorted Musings:

  • Ravenloft (and I assume Forgotten Realms) vampires have all the tropes: They’ll flip into bats, wolves, and mists, and so they don’t solid reflections. They’ll management animals and enthrall folks, to a level. They’ll’t cross operating water, and so they need to be invited into a house to enter. Except they’re an especially highly effective vampire like Strahd, natch.
  • When you’re interested in Jander’s dangerous night time, it’s when Anna is dying of a fever within the psychological asylum. In desperation, he tries to show her right into a vampire, however Anna declines and dies peacefully. Jander goes berserk and kills a lot of the completely harmless folks within the asylum, sufferers and guards alike. When he comes out of it, he has to set it on hearth to maintain everybody within the place from changing into vampires themselves. This, suffice it to say, actually bums Jasper out.
  • When you’re interested in why Jander has endured depressing centuries as a substitute of simply killing himself, it’s as a result of he’s scared he’ll flip into an excellent deadlier Crimson Death—a purple, blood-sucking mist that ranks amongst D&D’s scariest and extra highly effective monsters. It’s a legitimate concern for useless vampires, but it surely clearly doesn’t cease Jasper from making an attempt to kill Strahd or committing sun-icide on the e-book’s finish.
  • Within the locked room is a big, rotting marriage ceremony cake from Sergei and Anna/Tatyana’s marriage ceremony from two and a half centuries in the past, shattering the document as soon as held by Great Expectations’ Miss Havisham.
  • Jander says the Forgotten Realms has weredolphins, which blew my thoughts. It seems this can be a supremely goofy concept that solely existed throughout 2nd Version, when TSR was churning out new Dungeons & Dragons sourcebooks far quicker than High quality Management may check out them.
  • We’re meant to suppose Jander dies on the finish of the e-book, however I checked him out on the ol’ Forgotten Realms Wiki to see if he managed to pop up anyplace later. He does! And his story does not finish effectively.
  • Subsequent up: Nicely, I’m extending my trip from the Forgotten Realms for some time. I’d like to learn among the Greyhawk novels, particularly those by Gary Gygax, however they appear to be uniformly unavailable in e book type. If in case you have them and wouldn’t thoughts lending me a couple of, e-mail me at rob dot bricken on the ol’ gmail place. For now, I’ve chosen The Legend of Huma, the primary Dragonlance novel not written by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman.

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Rob Bricken on io9, shared by Kaitlyn Jakola to Gizmodo