Ravenloft (5e)

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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.


5e Ravenloft Articles[edit]

(43 — 5th ed. Ravenloft articles)
Strahd's Animated Armor, Bodytaker Plant, Podling, Boneless, Brain in a Jar, Carrionette, Carriorn Stalker, Curse of Strahd, Death's Head, Dullahan, Gallows Speaker, Gremishka, Swarm of Gremishkas, Unspeakable Horror, Swarm of Scarabs, Jiangshi, Loup Garou, Wereraven, Wereraven (5e)/CoS, Wereraven (5e)/VRGtR, Swarm of Maggots, Mongrelfolk, Necrichor, Priest of Osybus, Ravenloft, Relentless Killer, Relentless Juggernaut, Relentless Slasher, College of Spirits, Star Spawn Emissary, Greater Star Spawn Emissary, Lesser Star Spawn Emissary, Strigoi, Ulmist Inquisitor, Inquisitor of the Mind Fire, Inquisitor of the Sword, Inquisitor of the Tome, The Undead, Nosferatu, Zombie Clot, Zombie Plague Spreader, Strahd Zombie, Swarm of Zombie Limbs

5e Ravenloft Publications[edit]

Sources and Notes[edit]

  1.  (1999). Nightmares of Mine. (Iron Crown Enterprises), p. 171.
  2. D&D 2nd Edition, also issue #151 of the Polyhedron magazine
  3. Complete Spacefarer's Handbook
  4. Domains of Dread
  5. from Canon:Ravenloft