Thursday, September 5, 2019

Review & Commentary on Advanced Dungeons & Dragons - I10: Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill For Your Old School Campaigns

Your screams still echo in your room. Cold sweat soaks the bedsheets and trickles down your back.
It seemed so real! The great towers of a darksome place called Ravenloft ... it's misty vales and the terrible tragedy of a man who had sold his soul to unlife. Now the sunlight streams through the window with the promise of a new day. The dread nightmare at last is over.
In the cold sunlight of a dying autumn, you step from your room at the inn and stroll along the friendly streets of Mordentshire. But, from the back of your mind the dream creeps forward to haunt you. Why do the faces of those who have befriended you now seem those of strangers? Why do those who called you here in terror, now seem to dismiss your task as a folly?
More .. why are you advised so strongly, to forget about the House on Gryphon Hill ... the domain of the fair haired Count Von Zarovich, a name that cries out from your dark nightmare?
You halt, as the swirl of events grow more confusing with every passing minute. Which is the dream ... and which the reality?"

After yesterday's review I decided to dig out my copy of the other Ravenloft module that no one speaks about. Yes I'm talking I10: "Ravenloft II: House on Gryphon Hill" (1986). If there's a forgotten module that defines Ravenloft then this is it.  Let's get the back history out of the way first ;" I10: "Ravenloft II: House on Gryphon Hill" (1986), by Tracy and Laura Hickman, is the tenth module in the long-running Intermediate series of adventures for AD&D and the second Ravenloft adventure. It was released in September 1986." Tracy & Laura Hickman are at their best here but the other authors on the adventure made this a very uneven adventure in places.
  But I10"Ravenloft II: House on Gryphon Hill" (1986) does is lay the ground work for later Advanced Dungeons & Dragons forays into the Ravenloft setting. Yep, I said that.   Why?! Because of the time line of the main villain & monster. The monster is the central axis of this  adventure & as a squeal to the original module as whole cloth its gotten a very bad reputation. But I don't really think that its a fair assumpition at all  & given Tracy Hickman's history on  I10  "Ravenloft II: House on Gryphon Hill" I can see why. According to the Drivethrurpg entry on the I10  "Ravenloft II: House on Gryphon Hill" ;
 "Origins: It's Alive!. After his success coauthoring the Dragonlance Chronicles (1984-1985) and Dragonlance Legends (1986) novels, Tracy Hickman decided to leave TSR and try his hand as a professional freelance writer. His last month at TSR was April 1985, a short three years after his arrival there.

However, before his departure Hickman put together an outline for a sequel to his classic adventure, I6: "Ravenloft" (1983). A team of four writers then actually wrote the book: David Cook, Jeff Grubb, Harold Johnson, and Douglas Niles. Hickman says that not much of his original outline survived, but nonetheless a sequel to "Ravenloft" was born"

Now I had said that 
I10  "Ravenloft II: House on Gryphon Hill" is important for the Ravenloft setting; "Exploring Ravenloft. Strahd from "Ravenloft" is back, but he's now a recent arrival to the new setting of Mordentshire. So how does that fit with his original adventure? As it turns out, the answer is "not well". "Gryphon Hill" suggests that the original "Ravenloft" could be a dream. Or maybe this one is. Or maybe they're alternate realities. Combining them into one chronology doesn't seem possible. (The original "Ravenloft" has been the favored background for Strahd in more recent appearances.)

Despite that, "Gryphon Hill" is a critical historical link between the original I6: "Ravenloft" (1983) and the later Ravenloft: Realm of Terror (1990) and Ravenloft Campaign Setting (1994). It introduces Mordent, the second of the demiplane's domains — and in fact remains the best source of information on the domain thanks to its extensive maps and background for Mordentshire"

I10  "Ravenloft II: House on Gryphon Hill" is the House of Frankenstein 1944 of the Ravenloft modules. That is to say a huge number of NPC's & monsters with the potential for lots of great opportunities for role playing. The module even employs some of the classic elements of horror & science fiction including the ever popular 'body switching' trope. All of the adventure elements here would come into play later on in the classic 1990 Ravenloft box set.  This includes some of the most important NPC's of Ravenloft. In fact I'd go one better & use this module as an unofficial Ravenloft campaign setting  adventure  add on. A powerful module critical to the personal campaign setting  history  that PC's might experience.

These include  Count Strahd of course & the lich Azalin, but also Germain d’Honaire, Nathan Timothy, and the Weathermays all of whom are vital to the action of Ravenloft's power structure. But even given all of that I10  "Ravenloft II: House on Gryphon Hill" is not an easy module to get through let alone survive. This is the perfect opportunity to test the mettle of high level player characters.   I10  "Ravenloft II: House on Gryphon Hill" has a ton going for it if taken on its own. The sheer variety of monsters in this module makes it a very interesting mix  from skeletons, zombies, even  werewolves, spectres, and a very powerful  lich. That brings me to the end of the road here where I caution on not using  I10  "Ravenloft II: House on Gryphon Hill" unless you're a really well versed dungeon master. The module's Gothic adventure elements  & ideas seem solid & well done but in the hands of someone's whose expecting a typical AD&D adventure this isn't going to end well. Four outta of five in my book. 

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