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Curse of Strahd Interview

This interview of Christopher Perkins was conducted in February, 2016 in anticipation of the March 15 release of Curse of Strahd.

We here at fraternityofshadows.com are all longtime fans of all things Ravenloft, and have always tried to use our netbooks, forums, and other resources, to do our small part to keep the Ravenloft flame alive. So of course, we're always excited to see our favorite setting come to life (or unlife!) again with new official products such as the upcoming Curse of Strahd. Today we present an exclusive Q&A with the writer of Curse of Strahd, Christopher Perkins....

Hi Chris, thank you for chatting with us. To kick things off, for our readers unfamiliar with you, can you introduce yourself?

I'm Chris Perkins, principal story designer for Dungeons & Dragons. My job at Wizards is to create stories that drive all of our D&D entertainment offerings.

How did you first discover Castle Ravenloft? Do you have any memories of either running the adventure or playing in the setting?

I bought my first copy of the classic Ravenloft adventure in 1983. The first thing that struck me was the mood of the cover and the illustration of Strahd on his balcony (painted by Clyde Caldwell). I remember thinking how awesome it was, at last, to have a published adventure featuring a vampire! I also remember being amazed by the interior presentation, the use of cards to randomize adventure elements, and the maps of the castle (by David C. Sutherland III). I ran the adventure a few times and always had a good time playing "the devil Strahd." I'm not sure all of my players had as much fun as I did!

When the first Ravenloft boxed set released, I was intrigued by the "domains of dread" concept and even created a few dark domains my own.

Back in 1992 - during your freelance days - you wrote an adventure in Dungeon #38 called "Horror's Harvest" and set in Ravenloft. How did that adventure come about? Any chance of seeing a monstrous plant from out of space in Castle Ravenloft's garden? :)

"Horror's Harvest" was pitched as "D&D meets Invasion of the Body Snatchers." Barbara G. Young, the editor of Dungeon magazine, liked the idea and asked me to submit a manuscript. My first draft was 24,000 words, and Barbara asked me to cut it down to 15,000. A couple rewrites later, she was finally happy with it, and I was glad to be done with it. Somewhere in there is a cautionary tale about overwriting.

There are monstrous plants in Curse of Strahd, but not of the pod variety, thank goodness.

Can you share anything about how Curse of Strahd relates to the Ravenloft campaign setting as we know it from 2e and 3e? For example, is Barovia alone in the Mists or assumed to be part of a larger world?

As in the original Ravenloft adventure, Barovia is a sequestered domain surrounded by a wall of mist. Whether it's alone or part of a larger world or demiplane is entirely up to the Dungeon Master. In Curse of Strahd, we don't explore any other domains of dread. However, at least one character in the story hails from the land of Darkon, so we know the other domains are out there somewhere.

Without getting into spoilers, does Curse of Strahd assume the events of I6: Ravenloft occurred? Is it a sequel or more of a reboot/re-imagining?

Curse of Strahd takes us back to the original story and incorporates nearly all of the material in the original Ravenloft adventure. With the Hickmans' help, we've shone a flickering light on various other locations in Strahd's domain and made them important to the story of Strahd and his fall from grace. In other words, it's a revamp (heh heh). We're telling the original Ravenloft story again, and adding new elements, many of which were born out of Tracy's experiences running the original adventure for his friends and family on Halloween nights.

Several smaller stories surround and buttress the main story of Curse of Strahd. For example, it might surprise you to learn that Strahd's manservant, Cyrus Belview, has a family. The Belviews figure prominently in a creepy little side story set in the Abbey of Saint Markovia, near the edge of Strahd's domain.

The original Ravenloft adventure, when it was released in 1983, blew us away with its high quality 3D maps. What can we expect on this matter in Curse of Strahd?

We've redone the maps of Castle Ravenloft while preserving their 3D perspective. Doing so gave us a chance to make a few minor corrections and render the maps in a digital format. The other maps in the adventure were rendered by Mike Schley in a more traditional top-down format, for ease of use. Several of the maps, including the castle maps and the map of Barovia, appear on a fold-out poster map that comes with the book.

In the planning and writing of the new adventure, how would you describe the input of the Hickmans, the famous original writers of the I6: Ravenloft adventure? Was it exciting to collaborate with the original writers?

We wouldn't have done this book without the Hickmans' involvement. I had last worked with Tracy on a Dragonlance adventure titled "Anvil of Time" (Dungeon, issue 86), and that was a wonderful experience. When Wizards decided that the time was right to revisit Ravenloft, I wanted to involve the Hickmans as much as possible, and they were keen on helping us out. Working with the Hickmans was a highlight of my career. They are tremendously invested in Strahd. For them, I think, it was like revisiting an old friend they hadn't seen in thirty years. A very old friend, they might say.

Tracy and Laura loved the idea of exploring the depths of Strahd's character and seeing more consequences of his actions and decisions. We talked about characters whose lives were damaged or destroyed by Strahd, and what they could bring to the story. We talked about what it means to be a Barovian trapped in Strahd's domain and what it means to be a Vistana. Our dissection of the classic adventure yielded some new foils and enemies for Strahd, including a castle chamberlain previously not identified.

Not everything we discussed made it into the final adventure, of course. For example, we talked about including "flashback" encounters that would allow characters to witness events from Strahd's past, such as the building of Castle Ravenloft or the wedding of Tatyana and Sergei. However, we couldn't come up with an execution that felt satisfying, so I abandoned the idea.

In your talks with the Hickmans, was any discussion made of their I10: Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill and how elements of that might be incorporated? What about Expedition to Castle Ravenloft or the Castle Ravenloft Boardgame?

Tracy had some interesting stories to tell about The House on Gryphon Hill, for which he and Laura wrote an outline. Tracy left TSR soon thereafter, and the project was handed off to other writers. The published adventure bore little resemblance to what the Hickmans originally envisioned. I didn't use any of it (to the best of my knowledge) in Curse of Strahd, but I didn't invalidate it either. I have mixed feelings about The House on Gryphon Hill. I felt the story contained a lot of imaginative ideas, but the adventure was a nightmare to run. I felt like we had enough material to flesh out the Curse of Strahd story without returning to Gryphon Hill, particularly since we'd made the decision to stay in Barovia and not visit other domains.

I gave Tracy a copy of Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, which he hadn't seen before, and managed to pull a couple nuggets out of it and incorporate them into Curse of Strahd. The Castle Ravenloft board game had no influence the adventure.

To long time gamers, the infamous Count Strahd is an icon of D&D. What were some of the challenges involved in taking such a beloved, classic product and bringing it to a new, modern audience?

Our biggest challenge was the look of Strahd himself. The Lugosi-like image of Strahd felt a bit dated, and it isn't exactly what the Hickmans had envisioned when they created the character. They showed us a daguerreotype of a handsome man with remarkable eyes, and I remember Tracy emphasizing how important the eyes were to capturing Strahd's character. He's a predator, a wolf in noble's clothing. Daarken, one of our illustrators, perfectly captures Strahd's wolflike countenance in one of the full-page illustrations in Curse of Strahd.

Curse of Strahd shows our titular character to be even more of a monster. Everywhere you go in Barovia, you're reminded of the evil Strahd has wrought and the danger he represents. In writing Curse of Strahd, I was careful to make sure that all of the new material we added to the story reflects back on Strahd in some unflattering way. That being said, the Ravenloft story is timeless. Its story revolves around a man so arrogant that he allowed his lust for power and obsession with beauty to consume him. It's the kind of cautionary tale that, like many Shakespearean plays, echoes through the ages.

In the past, Ravenloft has shifted between Gothic Horror and Dark Fantasy. Where does Curse of Strahd fall on the spectrum?

There's a lot of Gothic horror with a dash of dark fantasy.

Famous Ravenloft character Rudolph Van Richten has been name-dropped a few times in relation to the Curse of Strahd. Can long-time fans of the Ravenloft Setting look forward to any other nods to the past products?

Curse of Strahd is a bloodstained love letter to the Hickmans. I was more interested in exploring their creation than the various other works their adventure inspired. However, Dr. Rudolph van Richten is featured in a most unusual way. Depending on where fate takes the player characters, they might never meet him, and if they do, they might not recognize him at first. And like most of Barovia's inhabitants, he has some serious emotional problems. Most of the other supporting characters you'll meet in Curse of Strahd were created by my story team (Adam Lee, Richard Whitters, and myself) in collaboration with Tracy and Laura.

Tracy Hickman's other most famous villain is Lord Soth. Which one wins in a fight, Strahd or Soth?

Depends. Does the battle take place in Barovia or Sithicus? :-)

That's all the questions we have for today. Thank you very much, Chris, for taking time out of your undoubtedly busy schedule to do our e-interview, and we're sure you're anxious to get back to wrangling flail snails and wrestling froghemoths, or Dungeon Mastering for the stars. Everyone else, be on the lookout for Curse of Strahd available on March 15, 2016!


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