Ravenloft or Ustalav


Advice


So, I want to start a new campaign for some friends of mine, but I'm torn between running a Ravenloft campaign using Pathfinder rules (taken from the Sword & Sorcery/Arthaus ed.s) or just running an Ustalav campaign.

Now, I know that Ustalav is designed to accommodate anything that could be done in Ravenloft, but my only contention is the "high-fantasy" of Ustalav as opposed to the grittier gothic ambiance of classic Ravenloft. For example, I liked the idea of Outsider Rating penalties to classes other than human, and magic penalties and spell levels.

Does anyone have thoughts on this?

Grand Lodge

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Run your game in Ustalov but adjust it so that it's more low fantasy. Take some scenes & encounters that show the grittier gothic ambiance of classic Ravenloft and put them in Ustalov.

Shadow Lodge

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I'm not sure I see the Ustalav = high fantasy? I might even say it is lower magic, as it is more superstitious than most other settings (while Ravenloft can literally be anything).

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Beckett wrote:

I'm not sure I see the Ustalav = high fantasy? I might even say it is lower magic, as it is more superstitious than most other settings (while Ravenloft can literally be anything).

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Well, I think the entire Golarion setting is high fantasy, something comparable to Eberron or Forgotten Realms; hence, I think Ustalav is by default in a high fantasy setting. For example, in Prince of Wolves, set in Ustalav, we see magic everywhere, from riffle scrolls to tieflings, etc. Whereas in D&D's Ravenloft non-human races were rare (half-orcs were even absent), and they experienced an "outsider rating," which worked as a penalty to social rolls, and magic itself was often performed at a penalty.


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I'm currently running a Ravenloft game using the Pathfinder rules. Can't really comment on Ustalav but you do have some highly magical places found in Ravenloft too.

Where in Ravenloft are you envisioning your game?

I'm playing in Dementlieu/Port-à-Lucine and my players are having a blast with the renaissance setting.

Grand Lodge

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Keep in mind that there's the REAL Ravenloft of 1983 and then the faux/ crap "dork-ravenloft" that we started to see here and there in 3E, culminating in the uber-shi+ Expedition to.

The real Ravenloft is OMG low magic, low fantasy.


Ravenloft hands down no contest.


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legallytired wrote:

I'm currently running a Ravenloft game using the Pathfinder rules. Can't really comment on Ustalav but you do have some highly magical places found in Ravenloft too.

Where in Ravenloft are you envisioning your game?

I'm playing in Dementlieu/Port-à-Lucine and my players are having a blast with the renaissance setting.

I was thinking of a gothic science fiction epic in Lamordia or Mordent.


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W E Ray wrote:

Keep in mind that there's the REAL Ravenloft of 1983 and then the faux/ crap "dork-ravenloft" that we started to see here and there in 3E, culminating in the uber-shi+ Expedition to.

The real Ravenloft is OMG low magic, low fantasy.

By "dork-ravenloft," are you including the Sword & Sorcery/Arthaus 3.5 PHB? Most of my exposure to Ravenloft has been from this material although I do have a few of the AD&D books as well.


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Ravenloft only became interesting with the 3rd edition/Gazetteers imo..not sure what is the faux/crap Ravenloft.
Replacing the weekend in hell with players being native to Ravenloft is much more interesting.

Shadow Lodge

Exp to Castle Ravenloft was and is and always will be amazing.


Beckett wrote:
Exp to Castle Ravenloft was and is and always will be amazing.

I'm actually surprised to hear you say that Beckett since most of the Ravenloft fans I've encountered didn't care for the Expedition book.

Grand Lodge

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I6 is the greatest adventure in D&D history.

In the 90s Ravenloft was pretty hit-or-miss; most of the supplements, adventures and novels are utter crap. There are a handful of real gems, though.

In 3E there are again a few supplements that are strong -- but can't stand on their own without I6 and 3 or 4 of the novels.

And Expedition is so far removed from being Ravenloft that it doesn't deserve to be in the discussion. Expedition is to Ravenloft what Return of the Living Dead is to Night of the Living Dead.

Shadow Lodge

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I have never gotten that. It has amazing (better than Pathfinder in my opinion) art and maps (which I think where Paizo). It is not in Ravenloft, but rather is the original module, but extremely expanded upon, (but also not to the popint that you can't do the original one with 3E rules).

It adds a lot without taking away anything.

It goes into a lot of mythology like the order of the Raven Knights, the Symbol(s) of Ravenloft, the history of the lands nobility, the history of the land, the origins of the Sun Sword, etc. . .

The only thing I can think of that people dont like is that it didn't use any of the White Wolf Material and did try to incorporate a few things (as options) that are kind of so-so (Ravenloft Modern, the Dragon Ante deck, and Eberron).

Shadow Lodge

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W E Ray wrote:
And Expedition is so far removed from being Ravenloft that it doesn't deserve to be in the discussion. Expedition is to Ravenloft what Return of the Living Dead is to Night of the Living Dead.

So it's good, but you hate it? Confussed.

:) (joking)


legallytired wrote:

I'm currently running a Ravenloft game using the Pathfinder rules. Can't really comment on Ustalav but you do have some highly magical places found in Ravenloft too.

Where in Ravenloft are you envisioning your game?

I'm playing in Dementlieu/Port-à-Lucine and my players are having a blast with the renaissance setting.

By the way, are you using the Ravenloft specific rules, such as Fear/Horror/Madness rolls, Dark Powers Rolls, etc?

Shadow Lodge

But, i all seriousness, I completely disagree. I honestly would like to know why you think this, though.

Have you read through EtCR, or more glanced and read reviews? The only things that changed where in the mechanics from 1st/2nd to 3rd edition. The flavor is still there (just more of it), the adventure is still 100% there (again just more of it), and every aspect of the original adventure (and some that came from later materials) is still there, just with more options. I really don't get it.

Just like the original, it has multiple different ways to play through, (want to say six base), and the group can rush through it in a night or two (real time) or spend almost a campaign on it.

What is it that you think the original had that EtCR doesn't? I don't mean that as mean, maybe I just didn't notice it, and I honestly would like to learn.

Scarab Sages

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I have played a lot of Ravenloft in the 1st and 2nd edition days and love it.

To answer the OP. I do not see Ustalov as in the same area as Ravenloft because Ravenloft has the added feature of the pocket dimensions and being able to control things in that way. If you just want a gothic feel then Ustalov is fine but if you want more of what Ravenloft brought to the table as another world essentially then you have to go with Ravenloft.

But you just got me thinking about running the Walking Dead kind of Ravenloft module for my Pathfinder group.


Shem wrote:

I have played a lot of Ravenloft in the 1st and 2nd edition days and love it.

To answer the OP. I do not see Ustalov as in the same area as Ravenloft because Ravenloft has the added feature of the pocket dimensions and being able to control things in that way. If you just want a gothic feel then Ustalov is fine but if you want more of what Ravenloft brought to the table as another world essentially then you have to go with Ravenloft.

But you just got me thinking about running the Walking Dead kind of Ravenloft module for my Pathfinder group.

Yes, some of the old modules would be fairly easy to import to the Ravenloft setting I think. I'm looking at the Carnival supplement now. With that being said, I think you're right; Ustalav will not be able to supplant Ravenloft. More importantly, Ravenloft provides a vehicle for something neither modern D&D, nor Pathfinder, has put forth an effort to do, and that is create a low-fantasy setting.


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Deleon wrote:


By the way, are you using the Ravenloft specific rules, such as Fear/Horror/Madness rolls, Dark Powers Rolls, etc?

I'm using the "power checks" mostly as written but I don't play up too much the Fear/Horror/Madness rules (they just don't come up that often in a political intrigue). Horror and Madness checks can get really bad really fast so I tend to use them very sparingly.

Liberty's Edge

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I am shocked, shocked that people are under the impression that Ravenloft (original recipe or new flavor) is a low-fantasy setting. It took place on a magical demi-plane inhabited by most evil people from the most evil planes, contrived and controlled by powers unknown. It was a kitchen sink of fantasy tropes separated by a thin wall of mist, each with little or no connection to each other, containing everything from Transylvaniaish terror to blasted Lovecraftian wastelands to industrial hell-holes to Egyptian necropoli to near-duplicate of Victorian earth.

I suppose the biggest difference is that all of that high-magic is working against you...

Anyway, to me, Ustalav is as appropriate a setting for a grounded low-magic campaign as Barovia. So long as you isolate both from the greater weirdness, they'll work just fine. I've played Ravenloft since the 2nd Box set and I'm playing Carrion Crown now, and both are great.

Shadow Lodge

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brreitz wrote:

I am shocked, shocked that people are under the impression that Ravenloft (original recipe or new flavor) is a low-fantasy setting. It took place on a magical demi-plane inhabited by most evil people from the most evil planes, contrived and controlled by powers unknown. It was a kitchen sink of fantasy tropes separated by a thin wall of mist, each with little or no connection to each other, containing everything from Transylvaniaish terror to blasted Lovecraftian wastelands to industrial hell-holes to Egyptian necropoli to near-duplicate of Victorian earth.

I suppose the biggest difference is that all of that high-magic is working against you...

Anyway, to me, Ustalav is as appropriate a setting for a grounded low-magic campaign as Barovia. So long as you isolate both from the greater weirdness, they'll work just fine. I've played Ravenloft since the 2nd Box set and I'm playing Carrion Crown now, and both are great.

I think they mean low magic in the sense that one doesn't just go about tossing fireballs around and no one blinks an eye. No magic street lamps like in Eberron, no magic flying ships like in every setting, or floating cities. More along that nature.

Grand Lodge

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Keep in mind, the "Demiplane of Dread" and the pocket dimensions and the Mists whisking PCs away are NOT original Ravenloft. Neither Azalin nor Soth existed in I6. I think it's important to define "Classic Ravenloft"; it's not 1990s! With the exception of one pure early-1E encounter, I6 is very low magic, low fantasy.

Also, many of the novels that came out in the 90s, 2E, are very low magic, low fantasy. Azalin and Soth, among others, are exceptions of course.

When I say "Ravenloft" I mean 1983, and then the most respected of the novels, low magic/ low fantasy Vampire of the Mists by Christie Golden and I, Strahd by P N Elrod.

There are a handful of 2E Ravenloft products that are solid but, as you can imagine, an idea that awesome is going to produce tons and tons of glut -- crap that does nothing but tarnish the original. The same goes for 3E material though some of the White Wolf products are solid. They can NOT, however, stand up by themselves without the original I6 and Chrisite Golden's novel.

As far as Expedition goes, we hate it because the flavor is ALL wrong. It is pulp fiction -- it is melodrama. It is not remotely subtle horror.

Madame Eva is an old, enigmatic gypsy; see Maria Ouspenskaya's Madame Maleva. She IS NOT some lame ass pulp fiction brutish green hag witha Hill Giant. She's not even a combat encounter for cryin' out loud.

Strahd is equally ALL wrong in Expedition's version.

But the worst may be the overall plots -- though I think one of them was more subtle horror -- roving zombies killing all humans, hag covens murdering everything in sight, Strahd making some pulp fiction artifact that lets vampires walk in daylight are you friggin kidding me?! All crap. Not remotely Ravenloft.

Now, might Expedition have been a solid campaign had they not put the name, "Ravenloft" on it -- I dunno, there IS afterall a time and place for an occassional "Old Man Katan and the (Incredible Marching) Mushroom Band" adventure; but don't dare call it Ravenloft.

The Exchange

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Deleon: I'd say it depends very much on how fully you want to integrate horror into your campaign. Golarion's a world in which evil beings are active - not yet victorious, but free to pursue whatever agendas they like. The demiplane of Ravenloft, on the other hand, is an immeasurably vast prison. The forces of evil are "victorious" and yet their victories have all been rendered futile (which does not make them particularly pleasant roommates).

A group of players who trust you not to abuse the existence of such Inescapable Dooms as the Mists and the Dark Powers can quite enjoy characters who win small, temporary victories against the all-consuming darkness. However, if you're dealing with players you don't really know or a group who aren't willing to forgive the occasional railroading for the sake of story, you'd be better off sticking with Golarion, where people aren't so darn doomed.

(P.S. Either way, you might want to acquire 3.5's Heroes of Horror. Some of the ideas therein will not please you at all, but there's a little something in it for everybody. I particularly liked the optional rule that allowed a failed save vs. fear to produce effects other than Shaken, Afraid, Panicked in that order...)


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Now, don't get me wrong. I love the original Ravenloft--still have shivers about that bloody drawbridge. But I was also pleased with having the updated maps in EtCR. That nonsense with Madame Eva and the various 'plot pieces' I just simply threw out completely. I used the book and the maps and the updated 3.5 stats and ran the original I6 module. Worked beautifully.

Of course, I never run a module without tweaking it (sometimes changing it to where it doesn't even resemble the original).

Master Arminas

Shadow Lodge

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I still think it's more an issue with the mechincs conversion from 1st/2nd to 3rd and playstyle rather than the module itself. We didn't have any "pulp" in our go through, and I'm honestly not sure what you are referring to. We pretty much went stray from the book, (though sadly didn't complete it), and it was primarily horror and mystery.

The thing that made Strahd so awesome in 1E was that he was a

Ha ha J/K:
Vampire with class levels
, which didn't actually exist in that rules set. It is common in 3E, so that would have been pointless. It is also designed (like the original) for the option of not having the players (or their characters) actually know
OMG!!!!:
Strahd is a VAMPIRE, oh no
.

My guess is the Madame Eva thing was because some groups did want to fight her and her rogue band, it was not manditory. And the fact she was a hag, I thought was great, especially for the mystiscism and social issues it introduced, (again, still very in line with the original).

So again, in my opinion, EtCR was a near perfect updating of Castle Ravenloft to the 3E rules, but not to the Ravenloft Setting, which it is not suppossed to be, and legally could not be.

Grand Lodge

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@ Lincoln
I second your post.

@ Arminas
Yes,
The maps in Expedition are FANTASTIC. Absolutely.

@ Beckett
It's all good. I know that lots of groups enjoyed Expedition; that's obviously the only thing that matters anyway.

But, yeah, tons of gamers really don't like it. As for pulp, all the NPCs, settings and encounter plots are pretty melodramatic & pulp -- in the writing -- whether a DM sticks with that in a Campaign, well, your mileage may vary. (But, for example, Madame Eva as a Green Hag -- that's pulp.)

Dark Archive

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Sorry, I just couldn't control myself.

W E Ray wrote:
Strahd making some pulp fiction artifact that lets vampires walk in daylight are you friggin kidding me?! All crap. Not remotely Ravenloft.

Isn't this in the original? Page 5 of I6?

Tracy and Laura Hickman wrote:
"Strahd is trying to assemble a magical item that casts a continuous sphere of darkness. Such an item would greatly extend the range of his travels."


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While there's a difference between day walking and darkness sphere, I think your point stands. Saying it's not remotely Ravenloft when it's clearly in the flavour of the original adventure motivations is misleading.

To the OP. Ustlav is a very underused and awesome setting, and allows exploration into Golarion in a new way. Plus there's an AP set there so you can pull elements from that for your game.


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Ustaval. Lepidstadt inspector. Candle on the table. Drawings from the crime scene. And the rustle of the wings of the vampire in the night outside the castle window.


How about a third option? Boldavia on Mystara? Vampiric Magi commanders with undead soldiers in a valley surrounded by desolate hills and wild expansive grasslands.


Necroing a Ravenloft thread feels strangely appropriate.

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