View Full Version : Three Hundred-Sixty Five Degrees--Burnin' Down the House...on Gryphon Hill

05-31-2009, 07:03 PM
This thread is hereby opened in response to a few points brought up in regards to the House of Gryphon Hill supplement produced by TSR, which served as the genesis of the Ravenloft Realm. Written by Hickman and Weis in 1986, dealing with a mysterious figure known as 'The Alchemist' and his travels through Mordent, culminating in the Haunted Mansion of Gryphon Hill...dealing also with the Weathermays and the Darklord of Mordent himself.

In addition to being an adventure, the module raises and interesting, if not contradictory stance, that 'The Alchemist' is none other than Strahd von Zarovich...having had his persona severed by the Mists, 'The Alchemist' represents his benevolent half, while the darker side, resides in Barovia...the subject of this thread not only will be about the module, but different errata that have come up through the nearly twenty years of material and other schenanigans of quantum mechanics related to the Demiplane of Dread...

Fight Fire with Fire!!!

06-03-2009, 09:04 PM
The Truth Behind the Apparatus and the Origins of Ravenloft!
(or Recipe for the Destruction of the Domains of Dread!)
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All right here we go...the much anticipated solution to the Gryphon Hill Paradox. Pretty catchy title, eh? Okay, I know with a beginning like that everything that follows is bound to suck. But its too late now - I'm committed. So here it is:

From the beginning of my Ravenloft campaign I struggled with how to deal with the events that occur in Ravenloft II: House on Gryphon Hill and how they relate to the rest of the campaign setting hoping that one day TSR would publish something that would make sense of it all. They never did, and as far as I know no one else did either. So, several years ago, when I had a player who made a character that wanted to spend much of his time researching the Apparatus (even though the player knew very little about it himself), I decided to do as much research as I could on the device as possible and perhaps, at long last, come up with a possible solution to what I think is the greatest enigma in the Ravenloft setting. This is what I found:

According to the original boxed set (Realm of Terror pgs. 56, 77, 91, 97, 117), the Apparatus was believed to have been built by an alchemist (no name given) in Mordent, who experimented with it. When it splits a personality into good and evil, the dark side is so evil it could become a Darklord, possibly gaining great powers and physical change. It will also try to destroy the other half. Strahd and Azalin found passage to Mordent as the land became a part of Ravenloft. They became entwined in the alchemist's experiments. Then the Apparatus was believed to have been destroyed. Lord Godefroy became the Darklord when Strahd and Azalin left. Neither Strahd or Azalin can remember what happened there.

The second boxed set (Domains and Denizens pgs. 24, 99) adds that the devise, according to some, can take the soul away from any being and cast it into oblivion. It also says that it was Azalin who transported he and Strahd to Mordent.

Domains of Dread says almost nothing about the Apparatus.

The third edition Core Rulebook (pg. 15) adds only that, according to folklore, the alchemist was a human, and that Strahd and Azalin visited Mordent.

The novel, Kind of the Dead (pg. 250), skips over the whole event.

The novel, I, Strahd: The War Against Azalin (pgs. 223 - 226), talks only about the portal that Azalin creates, that, unkown to them, leads to Mordent, and which sucks he and Strahd into. Then it skips to the point where they find themselves back in Barovia, unable to remember anything about where they went, or what happened to them while they were gone.

Obviously, the best source of information comes from the module, Ravenloft II: House on Gryphon Hill. But it is very contradictory with the original Ravenloft module and even more so with other published material. There is too much material in this module to fully detail here. But in brief it gives an alternate background for what it refers to as The Creature (Strahd the Vampire) saying that it is the evil half of Strahd the Alchemist which was separated from him by the Apparatus. The module gives some suggestions on how it can be used in conjunction with the original module including the idea that one of these modules represents reality while the other one represents a sort-of dream world. Part of the problem is that the campaign setting assumes that both are reality and does not explain how this can be.

So, as stated before, the question then becomes: How can a human alchemist named Count Strahd von Zarovich (Rav II:HoGH), move to a land in the prime material version of Mordent, in the year 578 (Barovian Calendar) where he builds a machine, that one year later, in 579, splits his personality, thus creating The Creature (Count Strahd Von Zarovich the Vampire), who already has a history of being a vampire, and the Darklord of Barovia, for the previous 229 years, as well as a human warlord for the previous 51 years before that? All of these dates concur with all of the books listed above including the timeline in Domains of Dread and the timeline posted on the Fraternity of Shadows' website.

Clearly this is a rather puzzling enigma - one that I don't think the original creators of the campaign setting intended to have. I thought about this dilemma for a long, long time and I could find no way to just change a few dates here and there, or come up with some time alteration, or a dream-world, or anything that would, in my opinion, satisfactorily solve the problem. The thought occured to me, in fact, that perhaps this was the reason many of the authors said that Strahd and Azalin can't remember anything about their time in Mordent, or simply avoided the subject altogether. It appeared to me that none of these authors wanted to touch it with a ten-foot pole!

This was the point at which I was stuck when the third edition Gazetteer Vol. III was published. It goes into much more detail about Mordent and in it (pgs. 46 - 48) it basically repeats and agrees with everything ever written before about the alchemist and his machine - but still it doesn't really provide a logical explanation for any of it.

Here, however, was when that little light went on in my head. A thought occured to me that we (I include here my fellow fans as well as numerous personalities of Ravenloft) had been looking at that matter from the wrong perspective. I then came up with an idea that would rock the foundations of Ravenloft itself! And although it went contrary to my original tastes, I eventually realized, that for me at least, it was the only solution that made any sense. Now of course, there may be other solutions out there that I just haven't thought of. So keep an open mind and remember its just an idea:

A Possible Answer
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First of all - forget, for the time being, what you may know about the unversally accepted background of Count Strahd the liberator of Barovia. Ravenloft doesn't start with him. The true beginning of Ravenloft starts with Strahd the Alchemist, a normal and caring young man who moved to a land called Mordent, fell in love with a woman named Virginia Weathermay and moved into a mansion known as the House on Gryphon Hill. This young alchemst, wishing to divest himself of his darker half, built a device known as the Apparatus and did in fact split his personality. His dark half, as the alchemist believed, was cast into some other world unknown to him. This other world was a nether region in the Ethereal Plane; a demi-plane created by higher powers to imprison the so-called Dark Powers. But the dark half was now stripped of much of his psyche including most of his memories - these memories had been nearly fully retained by the alchemist whereas the dark half consisted only of rage and other negative aspects.
The Dark Powers of the nether region however, were curious about the being that suddenly appeared in the midst of their lonely prison, and decided to use the creature to amuse themselves. First they delved into what was left of the creature's mind to gain a better understanding of its nature and its homeworld. Then, using that information, they gave it life and made it human once more. Finally, they provided it with a lifetime of memories and created a kind of psuedo-world for it to live in based on a world familiar to the Dark Powers and the scant information gleaned from the creature itself. Then the Dark Powers waited and observed. Occasionally they made additions to the world they had already created, in order to see how the creature reacted.
The world of Strahd of Barovia then was nothing but an illusion and false memories. His true life, and therefore his true memories, did not actually begin until what he believed to be the year 320 of the Barovian Calendar, when he decided to take up arms against the Tergs, whom he was led to believe had invaded his ancient homeland. For this was the first test that the Dark Powers had put before him. Every decision he has made since then was his and his alone.
But, though the Dark Powers had made every effort to make their "game" a fair one, in the end, Strahd the warlord was doomed to fail, for deep down inside, his soul was pure evil. And eventually, one day, his true nature would again resurface.
And so it was that thirty years later, Strahd made his pact with "Death", which was just another aspect of the Dark Powers themselves. As a result, he was sentenced with his curse, and the Dark Powers forever changed him and the world they had created for him. Strahd had failed in the eyes of the Dark Powers, and so like the Dark Powers, he too would now become a prisoner.
In time, the Dark Powers became aware of beings whom they felt were just as deserving of imprisonment as Strahd. These other beings were then drawn into Ravenloft, followed by other lands. And Ravenloft began to expand.
Then finally one day, the Dark Powers, as they searched other worlds for beings both good and evil to draw to their realm and amuse them, they came across one that caught their attention: the original home of Strahd. They recognized it from the mental images that Strahd The Creature had retained, when they first discovered him. And from their vantage point, the Dark Powers could see across, not only planar boundaries, but vast distances of time as well. And there in that world, they could see both the Apparatus that had spawned their first Darklord, and it's creator, of whom he was once a part.
This, they decided was an opportunity they could not pass up . And so they arranged to let Strahd meet back up with his other half by drawing Mordent, across both time and space, into the realm of Ravenloft. Then they granted Strahd and his ally Azalin, access to the land. And to make things more interesting still, they also drew in a band of adventurers to mix things up. Then, as always, they waited and observed.
When Strahd the Creature saw his other half he too suddenly recognized him from mental images and vague memories that were long suppressed by false ones. Strahd was then filled with an overwhelming desire for revenge. And so he began his reign of terror upon the village of Mordentshire using the Apparatus as the key instrument of his grand schemes. Azalin however, saw it as an opportunity to acquire a new body to replace his withered and decayed one.
Of course, things did not go as Strahd and Azalin had hoped they would. Eventually, the Apparatus was destroyed. The Rod of Rastinon, which was needed to operate one of its functions disappeared. And Strahd and Azalin were sent back to Barovia having lost all memory of what had occurred there due to the explosion and the mental strain of being hurled back through the portal.

Here then is my "solution". Cool idea or just wacky nonsense?
But wait there's more! In my next installment I will discuss the intersting ramifications of all this including how this information could be the key to the destruction of the domains of dread. Stay tuned...

06-04-2009, 07:42 PM
The Truth Behind the Apparatus and the Origins of Ravenloft! Part Two
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As stated above I will now point out some of the ramifications as well as some of the loose ends to this "solution" to the Gryphon Hill Paradox.

First of all, as the Dread Possibility in the Gazetteer Vol III points out, there is a question of what happened to Strahd the Alchemist. He reportedly just disappeared. Quite likely he was killed in the explosion that destroyed the Apparatus. If you have played out the module Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill you may have a very good idea what happened to him. On the other hand, there may still be the possibility that he is alive out there somewhere. Now considering that it has been well over a hundred years (in most Ravenloft campaigns) since he disappeared, the chance of him still being alive might be rather remote - he WAS just a mortal man. However, there is also the chance that, like Strahd (the Creature) and Azalin, he may have have been hurled into another plane of existence in the explosion that destroyed the Apparatus, perhaps even into another time, in which case, he could still be very much alive. Then again, if he was hurled into another plane of existence, it doesn't really matter if he is still alive at this point, since there is always the possibility that he could be retrieved from the past. And if for some reason, it is determined that he died in the explosion (or by some other means) he could still be resurrected, provided of course his remains can be found. So why does it matter if Strahd the Alchemist is alive you ask? I'll get to that in a moment.

Now however, I want to turn to another related topic: Strahd's Journal. Over the years I've noticed a tendency for people to think of Strahd's Journal as one book, when in fact there are two completely different versions of "Strahd's Journal". There is the one which is presented in the original Ravenloft module, where he confesses to making a pact with death and killing his brother and which Dr. Van Richten gets a good look at in the novel I, Strahd. But there is another entirely unrelated journal that Strahd the Alchemist kept when he was working on his creation the Apparatus. In the module Thoughts of Darkness, a distant relative of Strahd the Vampire's, another vampire by the name of Lyssa von Zarovich, somehow acquires what the module calls "Strahd's Journal". This journal however, clearly has to be that of Strahd the Alchemist rather than Strahd the Vampire because Strahd the Vampire's journal would have no information whatsoever about the Apparatus and Lyssa uses the journal to reconstruct the Apparatus. Remember that Strahd the Vampire remembers nothing about his time spent in Mordent - so, at best, he only knows of the Apparatus from second hand reports, if he knows anything about it at all.

Now then, switching gears once again, I will ask the question: What is the one thing that both Strahd and Azalin have wanted and have sought after since they have found themselves prisoners in the Domains of Dread? Why, to excape of course! And all this time they have always thought that Strahd the Vampire, or the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, or something else in Barovia, was the key to holding Ravenloft together. I however, would put forth the suggestion that during all this time they have been looking in the wrong place. It is my proposal that the true key that binds Ravenloft together is none other than the Apparatus itself! For it is what created Strahd the Vampire in the first place and got this whole thing started. But, of course, how could Strahd and Azalin know this when they have lost all the memories of their time spent in Mordent?

Here, at last, is where I reveal how all of this information could be used to destroy the domains of dread... if it hasn't already occurred to you. According to Ravenloft II: House on Gryphon Hill, the process of splitting personalities can be reversed! So all you have to do is: 1) acquire the journal of Strahd the Alchemist (last seen in Bluetspur in the module Thoughts of Darkness, or a copy of it if one exists); 2) use the journal to reconstruct the Apparatus; 3) oh yeah, acquire either the Rod of Rastinon (last seen in Mordent attached to the Apparatus just before it exploded) or the Rod of Houtras (last seen in Bluetspur in the module Thoughts of Darkness where it was likely rammed through the illithid tadpole body of the High Master and into the Elder-brain, the Darklord of Bluetspur) or another unknown magical rod which could serve the purpose provided by the other two rods of powering the Apparatus; 4) get both Strahd the Alchemist (where ever he is and why he must be alive) and Strahd the Vampire (who by the way, will be overcome with the desire to kill his other half) to stand in the Apparatus while you flip the switch and Presto! No more Ravenloft! Easy enough to do right? Oh, but wait, there is one more problem: finding someone who could put all the pieces of this puzzle together. Much of this information would be extremely rare and while some people might have a couple of the pieces needed, it is very doubtful that anyone would ever gather them all and put them together. Still, I'm sure that someone like Azalin would try...if only he knew what to look for.

One more thought: the above scenario of Strahd the Darklord being effectively created right alongside the land of Barovia, might also help to explain Strahd's connection to his realm. When he says, "I am the Land", he quite literally is.

06-06-2009, 01:27 AM
*stands up and applauds*

"Damn, that's really all I can say at this moment"....

First off, your arguments, your thoughts, as well as your concepts ARE INDEED radical...but I gotta hand it to you...looking at it from your perspective (whether you agree or not), is a GREAT tale to be sure. I didn't even consider trying to run Thoughts of Darkness till now honestly (I didn't know they tied in with Strahd).

I gotta say...you know about Ravenloft. I will be the first one to say that though I am a HUGE fan of Ravenloft...my love of the realms is what brought me in to roleplaying...and sadly by the time I knew how much I enjoyed ravenloft...most of the stuff was going out of print. So this, to me, helps out so much trying to make sense out of something I didn't have no clue how to approach. I don't own a single Ravenloft product other than the Domains of Dread Book and the 3.5 Ravenloft book...(sad huh?...but I did own more...they just are now...sadly...gone to where I can never get them back unless I repurchase them).

This also got me thinking about how I'd approach Ravenloft differently if I were to restart it. There's so many really awesome modules....you got the Grand Conjunction series, the Grim Harvest series (which I own all but Requiem), as well as all those other ones (the Created comes to mind) that I never got to run in before...The other problem (not so much a problem if I was to do it from scratch because I'd have to convert and redesign everything anyway for 4th Edition) is that a lot of these adventures were out of sequence and have different level tiers. I know they did a Grand Conjuntion fix, and grim harvest isn't so bad...but how would I throw in Thoughts of Evil?....lol...who knows I'll figure it out...I do definately think I gotta get away from the focus of Strahd for our next Ravenloft game session and I was even thinking a domain more "original" and homebrewed....see how that flies and if they can sink their teeth into it...then run House on Griffon Hill or From the Shadows (or Roots of Evil...which ever one is the first part of that 2 part adventure).

Again, Great Job though...I REALLY enjoyed reading it..and it really gave me some great insight on how to approach some of those "holes" in the campaign.

06-06-2009, 03:42 PM
Thanks for the kind words. I am hereby declaring you to be my new best friend (just kidding of course). I did warn you that some of the above might be considered controversial. And there are some aspects of it that I'm not crazy about. But I have yet to see anything that makes any more sense to me. If someone does have what they think is a better idea I'd like to hear it - but be forewarned that you might start a debate about why I don't think it works. And I have to admit that part of my solution's appeal for me is that it IS my idea and that it IS so far out there that none of the Darklords have thought of it, which helps to explain why they're still trapped in Ravenloft.

In the meantime, I have been reviewing the many modules and adventures that I have run over the years and thought that a list of them might help you decide in what order to run your adventures as well as give you an idea of what's out there that you don't have or haven't seen before. I typically run Ravenloft for the last 4 or 5 months of the year though some have run longer while others ran shorter. In addition to the names of the modules I have the names of the adventuring groups that we ran through them to give you an idea of how I worked through the "out of sequence and different level tiers" problem. The 'Wanderers' and the 'Seekers' are the names of two groups that we ran long before these names were coincidentally used for other groups within the published works of Ravenloft. 'The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen' (or The League for short) is obviously a name that I borrowed for a secret society in my campaign formed by Dr. Van Richten:

'93 - Ravenloft - An outlander group (whose name I can't recall) from the Moonshae Islands in the Forgotten Realms
'94 - Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill - An outlander group based in Cormyr in the Forgotten Realms called the Knights of the Dragon
'95 - Feast of Goblyns - The Wanderers; an outlander group from the Dalelands in the Forgotten Realms and our first strictly Ravenloft group. This is the first of the Grand Conjunction modules.
'96 - Ship of Horrors - The Wanderers. This is the second Grand Conjunction module. Incidentally after the completion of this module we turned the now vacated estate into a base of operations for a secret society called The Keepers of the Vault which included at various times the Wanderers, the Seekers and the Shadowwalkers.
'97 - Bride of Mordenheim (from the Book of Crypts), Night of the Walking Dead (I switched the order of this Grand Conjunction module with Touch of Death because of the level problem), Horror's Harvest (from Dungeon Mag #38), Touch of Death - The Seekers. All but one member of this group believed they were natives of Darkon and only later discovered that, for most, their memories had been altered by the memory altering effects of that domain and that they were actually outlanders from other worlds such as the Forgotten Realms.
'98 - I started this year off with the Wanderers making a deal with Dr. Dominiani to kill the Darklord Duke Gundar of Gundarak (after reading somewhere in one of the books that the group which had gone through Feast of Goblyns was suppose to have killed him). During this adventure the group acquired an artifact that I had created which played very prominently in the future. This artifact was called the Knocker of the Vault and it was a large ornate doorknocker that could summon a large extra-dimensional vault. It was later used to store the wealth of knowledge that each of the adventuring groups accumulated in addition to some powerful magic items and was the basis for the secret society, The Keepers of the Vault. The Wanderers then went though the final two Grand Conjunction modules From the Shadows and Roots of Evil.
'99 - Thoughts of Darkness - the Wanderers; before going through this module the group was forewarned by a gypsy that they would not be returning from Bluetspur. Realizing this the group's mage cast a Drawmij's Instant Summons spell on the Knocker so that the Seekers, whom they had met on Graben Island, could summon the Knocker (and therefore the vault and its contents) to them when the Wanderers were done with it. At the conclusion of this module, the Wanders, believing that they had found the means to open a gate back to their homeworld, left the Knocker buried in Bluetspur, and this group was retired. I then ran the Seekers through Blood in Moondale, The Dark Minstrel and The Cedar Chest from the Book of Crypts.
'00 - Monette (from Darklords) and Adam's Wrath - the Seekers
'01 - The Living Brain (from the Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium Appendix II: Children of the Night) and Web of Illusion. Following this the Seekers returned to Graben Island, and some time later, mysteriously vanished from the island (and were effectively retired).
'02 - The Created and the beginnings of the boxed set Castles Forlorn - The Shadowwalkers.
'03 - Castles Forlorn - the Shadowwalkers. This adventure was so extensive that this year we played Ravenloft the entire year long.
'04 - A Light in the Belfry, Bane of the Shadowborn (from Dungeon Mag #31) and Nidala (from the Islands of Terror) - the Shadowwalkers
'05 - The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh (a UK module that I adapted to take place in Mordentshire), A Matter of Trust (from Children of the Night: Ghosts), Through Darkened Eyes and Undying Justice (the later two from Chilling Tales) - The League
'06 - Family Feud, Gazing into the Abyss (both from Chilling Tales) and Corrupted Innocents (from the Book of Crypts) - The League
'07 - The Surgeon's Blade and The Scarlet Kiss (both from Chilling Tales) - The League
'08 - Ancient Dead and the Taskmaster's Leash (both from Chilling Tales) - The League
The above does not include the many homebrewed side adventures and encounters that we had, particularly over the last four years where the group was involved with many character specific stories and adventures including the gradual collecting of the four Timepieces of Klorr described in the second campaign set and Forged of Darkness.

I'm hoping to post some of the material I've written over the years in the Baron's 'Turn the page' thread and may also put some of it in a blog.

Nikodemos (called Torch)
06-14-2009, 03:39 AM
U know whats awesome Russ, is that I got to play all of those from '95 to '07 I think. So much fun looking at all those modules and remembering how they all went down. I was a member of the Wanderers, the Seekers, and the Shadowwalkers...lol.

FINALLY! The truth about that damn Jekyl-and-Hyde Apparatus! Curse the day I went after the Rod of Houtras in the Bluetspurs!!!!! But we spent almost a year playing the Castle Forlorn boxed set.....ahh good times, good times.

06-14-2009, 08:50 AM
Ah, correction my friend - we spent well OVER a year going through the Castles Forlorn boxed set. And yes they were good times. But I thought I had told you my theory on the apparatus and such. Hmm. Perhaps not. Anyway, if you keep looking here in the gardens and in my blog, you'll get to relive more of our times in Ravenloft.