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The story involves a party of player characters (PCs) who travel to the land of Barovia, a small nation surrounded by a deadly magical fog. The master of nearby Castle Ravenloft, Count Strahd von Zarovich, tyrannically rules the country, and a prologue explains that the residents must barricade their doors each night to avoid attacks by Strahd and his minions. The Burgomaster's mansion is the focus of these attacks, and, for reasons that are not initially explained, Strahd is after the Burgomaster's adopted daughter, Ireena Kolyana.
Tracy Hickman and Laura Curtis married in 1977. Soon after, while living in Provo, Utah, they wrote the adventures Pharaoh and Ravenloft. When they began work on Ravenloft, they felt the vampire archetype had become overused, trite, and mundane, and decided to create a frightening version of the creature for the module. They play-tested it with a group of players every Halloween for five years before it was published in 1983 by TSR. The plot combined elements of the horror genre with Dungeons & Dragons conventions for the first time. At the time of Ravenloft's release, each Dungeons & Dragons module was marked with an alphanumeric code indicating the series to which it belonged. Ravenloft was labeled I6: the sixth in a series of intermediate-level modules for the first edition of Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (AD&D). It consisted of a 32-page book, with separate maps that detailed locations in the adventure scenario. Tracy Hickman once ran the adventure as a Dungeon Master. According to him, the experience was like an old scary movie, with "the obligatory castle high on the craggy cliff with the wolves howling in the woods. Sure enough, the vampire was up there in the castle. To most of the players it seemed like a straight forward task: find the vampire and kill him." One player discovered Strahd's backstory and was so affected by it that when it came time to kill the vampire at the end of the adventure, despite having a sword capable of dispatching Strahd, he refused, and his companions were forced to complete the task. Afterwards, Hickman asked him why. "He deserved to die better than that," his friend said, to which Hickman replied "Yes [...] But that is how it is with people who fall from greatness. He chose his end when he first chose to kill his brother. How could it be any different?". According to a Wizards of the Coast article, Strahd has become one of the most infamous and well-known villains in the Dungeons & Dragons game, and he has appeared in a number of novels and rulebooks since his debut in Ravenloft. In an introduction to an online edition of Ravenloft II, author John D. Rateliff described Strahd as a then-unusual fusion of a monster with the abilities of a player character class; that is, a vampire magic-user. This design enables him to combine his own powers with the surrounding environment, making him a difficult opponent to defeat. To celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Dungeons & Dragons game in 1999, two additional versions of the Ravenloft module were released. The first was a reprinting of the original adventure made available in the Dungeons & Dragons Silver Anniversary Collector's Edition boxed set, with slight modifications to make it distinguishable from the original (for collecting purposes). The second was the silver anniversary edition of Ravenloft that was adapted for use with the second edition Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (Wizards of the Coast periodically alters the rules of Dungeons & Dragons and releases a new version).