[Let's Read] The Ravenloft Gazetteers

VoidDrifter

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#1
While I have my problems with the Ravenloft setting, I do love the Ravenloft Gazetteers. Coinsidering that WotC has teased the possible existence of Ravenloft still existing as a "world" beyond Barovia in their obligatory 5th edition adaptation of I6, "Curse of Strahd", would anyone be interested in my doing a Let's Read of them? Maybe also a Let's Read of the Van Richten's Guides?
 

VoidDrifter

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#5
Alright then. The Van Richten's Guides I'll save for their own Let's Read, so let's start things off with a general overview/opening thoughts, shall we?

Opening Thoughts:
Born from the unexpected popularity of the module I6: Castle Ravenloft, the setting of Ravenloft was TSR's attempt at doing a "dark fantasy" spin on the typical D&D world, using the tropes of Gothic Horror to frame their world and create a piecemeal, horror-slanted D&D sort of world. It had its devoted fanbase, but it also had a number of problems that arguably kept it from finding a wider audience. Its most prominent problem was, ironically, its very lore as a piecemeal assortment of different lands created as prison-paradises for different villainous Darklords. Even in TSR's days, this lore resulted in some decisions that were, on hindsight, rather foolish - like placing the land with a theme of "religious horror" rooted in a deranged cult that demands its population starve to death to win the favor of a non-existent god right next to the land that was literally the "core's" breadbasket, which led to them publishing a second, metaplot-inspired version of the setting book specifically to fix mistakes like that. But that's not the specific issue I'm talking about.

No, the problem I'm talking about is this: for many players, it was extremely hard to get invested in adventuring in Ravenloft. The number one problem for many players (aside from "why is this setting so railroady?") was "why should I care about these NPCS?" A good horror story works because you actually care about the people being victimized; when you don't care, that's when you get the stereotypical slasher movie. And because Ravenloft in AD&D focused on the idea that players would originate from other settings and then be brought into Ravenloft and spend their time there looking for an escape route home until they either succeeded or died - a concept that was enshrined in the fanbase's personal lexicon as "the weekend in hell". Now, this did not give players much of a reason for to care about the NPCs they were passing by during their adventures - indeed, many fans began to take the "dread possibility" raised in the setting lore that Ravenloft HAS no native denizens, only unaware simulacra crafted to order by the Dark Powers from the demiplane itself, as canon.

Then third edition rolled around. The Ravenloft setting was licensed to White Wolf, by way of their "Sword & Sorcery" subdivision, and they decided they wanted to take a different approach. Their goal was to focus on Ravenloft as a "living" world, to make players invest in it more than they did back during the days of the weekend in hell being the norm. Instead, the norm was now that the players would be natives of Ravenloft, putting an end to the feeling of the world being nothing but demigod-crafted simulacra in oversized theaters.

It probably bears mentioning that Sword & Sorcery also had run into some legal issues; they were uncertain, at the least, if they could legally get away with directly referencing other D&D settings, and so they minimized and obfuscated the details wherever possible. This, honestly, was, in my opinion, a very good step, as it helped Ravenloft feel more "real" as a setting - downplaying the outlander origins of the Darklords and replacing the borrowed gods with more organic "native" deities put the focus on the Demiplane of Dread, diminishing the "artificiality" of the world.

The Ravenloft Gazetteers were born out of this desire for a more self-supporting setting, as well as a way to slip in new content for players and DMs that simply couldn't be placed into other splatbooks. Like the ancient Known World Gazetteers of BECMI, the Ravenloft Gazetteers examine a distinctive chunk of the "core", the default playable region of the setting, acting as a kind of atlas for several distinct countries. Like most non-core Ravenloft splatbooks released under the S&S brand, the Ravenloft Gazetteers exist in-universe as a set of reports written by a mysterious Darkonese agent, a scholar of practical and arcane sciences who has been charged by Azalin, the wizard-king (and secret lich) who rules Darkon to conduct a survey of the different lands of the Core. For what purpose, our nameless author doesn't know, but you don't refuse Azalin, so she has undertaken her mission. Five Gazetteers were written, covering most, if not all, of the Core; whilst Sword & Sorcery had plans to expand the Gazetteers to cover the Clusters and Islands of Terror that make up the rest of the setting, sadly, they lost the license before such books could be written.

Each Gazetteer consists of Foreword, which recaps the mechanical layout and in-universe backstory of each report, reports on several countries (4 in the first, second and fifth volumes, 3 in the third, five in the fourth), and a DM's Appendix that contains an assortment of mechanical goods for players and DMs; new monsters, new spells and magic items, new Prestige Classes, and a sub-appendix called "Who's Doomed" which provides 3.5 mechanics and a backstory for notable NPCs from each of the countries covered in that volume, most essentially the Darklord of each country.

Each report is broken into several segments; Landscape, History, Populace, the Realm, Sites of Interest and Final Thoughts, alongside an assortment of sidebars unique to each country's report, save for the "Domains at a Glance" summary sidebar and the "Native Hero" sidebar, which directly addresses appropriate race/class/skill/feat combinations and names to represent a native from that country.

My current plan, unless others suggest otherwise, is to read one chapter of each volume at a time, covering all of these segments myself, including the sidebars. When I reach the DM's Appendix, I'll summarize it as well, though I won't go into too much mechanical detail there, for sake of my sanity.

So, does this sound good to folks? If so, then our journey will begin with Gazetteer #1, in the Domain of Barovia...
 
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JasonK

Sweet Babboo
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#7
This sounds amazing! I lived the TSR Ravenloft line, but never read any of the S&S stuff, so I’m eagerly new to this take!
 

Crinos

Next to me you're all number two!
Validated User
#8
As the guy who did a lets read of all three of the Ravenloft MCA's (which ran over like four years), I feel like I can't not listen in on this lets read.
 

VoidDrifter

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#10
Ravenloft Gazetteer #1: Barovia
My Opening Thoughts

Ah, Barovia; the iconic Ravenloft domain, the first of its kind and the one most indelibly etched in the D&D player's consciousness, thanks to the original I6: Castle Ravenloft module being revisted and reinvented for every single edition of D&D, from AD&D 2nd through to 5th.

In a nice little nod to it, the opening paragraphs conclude with the notation that the Vistani's name for this domain is "Anda Thema", which translates as both "Heart of the World" and "Edge of the World".

Barovia at a Glance + The Barovian Hero
Barovia has a Medieval Cultural Level, a Full Ecology, and a Temperate Climate. Its dominant Terrain types are Forest, Hills and Mountains. Humans make up 98% of the population, with Half-Vistani and a nebulous "others" making up 1% each. The humans are divided into the following ethnic groups, which make up different percentages of the population: Barovians (44%), Gundarakites (50%), Forfarians (3%), Thaani (2%), Other (1%). Its local religions are The Morninglord, Ezra Hala and Erlin, its Government is a Feudal Hereditary Monarchy, and its Ruler and Darklord are one and the same: Count Strahd von Zarovich.

The "Other Races" of Barovia are predominantly calibans, whose births are blamed on the influence of vampires, demons, wizards and hags. If you use the Brutes & Banshees article from Quoth the Raven #8, which I thoroughly recommend for its excellent fleshing out of a race that is just a reskin of the mechanically underwhelming Half-Orc in canon, I would suggest an emphasis on Banshee, Cannibal and Witchspawn breeds over the also-present but more cliche Brutes and Bestials. Other demihuman races include halflings (who exist in ghettos amongst the larger villages of Western Barovia), Dwarves (deep in the Balinoks) and Wild Elves (in the Tepurich Forest).

Classes from Barovia are most likely to be Clerics (admired for their healing powers, but distrusted), Fighters and rangers (both widely respected), Rogues (reviled, forced into a life of banditry), and Sorcerers (feared and hated). Druids and Wizards are present, but treated in much the same way as Sorcerers. Paladins are thought of as mad by most people, except amongst the cult of the Morninglord, which is the source of most of them. Bards are uncommon, but respected, and focus on mournful ballards and lullabies. Barbarians are usually wild mountain men, whilst monks are all but unknown, and presumably found amongst the Thaani, as we'll get to.

Landscape
The Domain of Barovia lies in the south-central Core, straddling the heart of the Balinok mountains. Traditionally, the domain only reached as far as the mountains themselves, but since the annexation of the Gundarak foothills, it has stretched out into the west. Whilst the goods it produces are of modest trade value, it claims respect because of its strategically vital location; Svalich Pass is the only way through the Balinoks to be found south of the Shadow Rift, and that makes the domain's stability key to the fortunes of many southern realms.

The Balinoks themselves are enormous, rugged and torturous peaks; the most notable of the mountains are Mount Baratak (the highest, at 7,440 feet), Mount Sawtooth (Terestrau Dinte in Balok, 7,170 feet) and Mount Ghakis (4,620 feet). The high passes are choked with ice for nine months of the year, whipped by frigid winds and home to crevasses and gorges that make lightlessly black maws. In addition to the plentiful normal dangers, the Balinoks are reputedly haunted by supernatural monsters, such as snow demons, frost spirits, and the ghosts of travelers who froze to death amids the icy peaks.

On all their sides, the Balinoks are surrounded by rugged foothills and rolling dales. Whilst the different upland regions surrounding the Balinoks have distinct names, the distinctions are vague at best; it's rare to get two Barovians to agree where one ends and another begins. Northwestern Barovia is home to the Dreadmount, which stretches from the foot of the western Balinoks to the Tainted Wood of Borca. Traffic is heavy here, drawing brigands and vampires to prey on the plentiful merchants. The south is home to the Bloodfang Hills, which stretch down to Forlorn and consequently have been fortified with watchtowers to guard against raiding bands of goblyns. The eastern region stretches down to the grassy steppes of Nova Vaasa, and is known as the Hills of Bleak Vistas.

Whilst the landscape is dotted with dark woodlands, the only notably pristine forests are the Svalich Woods, a small pocket of dense, old-growth beech-fir forest in the Old Svalich Pass that most Barovians assume is reserved as Count von Zarovich's private game reserve, and the Tepurich Forest, which blankets Southwestern Barovia. The name "Tepurich" is the Balokian for "Scarred", and derives from the strange preponderance of galls, bliught and twisted scars that mar the local trees; this area was formally part of Gundarak, and has an evil reputation, even amongst the locals.

Three river basins define the major waterways of Barovia; the Gundar, the Ivlis, and the Luna. None are navigable for heavy traffic, but they can be circumvented with ligth river vessels and rafts. The Gundar River drains the Southern Balinoks, flowing west into Invida to ultimately join the Nharov River from Kartakass, ultimately ending in Invida. The Gundar and the Nharov run through some of the wildest and least-traveled parts of the whole realm, including right through the Tepurich Forest, and have an accordingly sinister reputation. The Ivlis River runs to the east from the Old Svalich Pass into Nova Vasa, paralleling a second river, the Saniset River, which emerges from further south along the Balinoks. Nobody travels either of these rivers, which are studded with rapids, jagged outcroppings and gravel bars, amongst other hazards. The Luna River also drains the southern Balinoks, meandering west through the Dreadmount toward Borca. Whilst gentler than the Gundar or Ivlis, it's not much better, and its banks are a favored haunt for bandits.

The largest freshwater body in Barovia is Lake Zarovich, which is nestled in the heart of the mountains, just north of Svalich pass. It has no major outlet, with the locals claiming its depths drain into the very abyss. It's noted for its plentiful supply of fish, and Barovians brave the bitter winds of Lake Zarovich for its bounty year-round, even ice-fishing during the winter.

The other most notable freshwater body is Lake Krezk, which lies in Northwestern Barovia alongside the Tainted Wood of Borca; faint wisps of maroon visibly seep into the waters from the northwestern, earning it the nickname "The Lake of Veins". This mysterious toxin results in yearly poisonous blooms, resulting in much of the lake's fish stock dying horribly during the autumn. The stench of the banks choked with rotting carcasses, and the understandable fear of consuming such obviously tainted meat, keeps people away from the place.

The most significant of the handful of true highways is the Old Svalich Road, which penetrates the Balinoks completely and connects Borca in the west to Nova Vaasa in the east. This route is the main artery of trade in Barovia; virtually every southern realm in the Core sends its merchants along this ancient highway. The stretch of the Old Svalich Road that crosses Svalich Pass, between Vallaki and the Village of Barovia itself, has a reputation as being haunted; few make the journey along it at night if they can avoid it. It's most notorious for the ancient gateways that stand at each end of the pass; stone archways with swinging gates of iron, flanked by twenty foot tall iron statues in the guise of armored Barovian soldiers, faces concealed behind helms and bearing warhamemrs and shields adorned with the von Zarovich coat of arms. Though not officially used anymore, the gates have been known to open and shut of their own accord, seemingly without reason.

The other major highways of Barovia are:
* The Crimson Road, which runs south-southeast from Borca along the edge of the Tepurich Forest into Kartakass, which was originally known as the Gundar Road and is reputedly haunted by the screaming spectres of people murdered along its length for Duke Gundar's amusement.
* The Warlock's Road, which leads south from Immol in Southeastern Barovia into Hazlan.
* The Dreadpass, a short road that connects Vallaki with Zeidenburg, and which has recently been expanded since the annexing of Gundarak.

Most buildings in Barovia are the same basic brick-and-timber style common throughout the Core, with plaster on the exteriors and interiors. The roofs are thatched and constructed quite steeply. Paint is usually neutral, earthen tones, tending to alternate between deep russet and pale dun. Barovians decorate their homes quite extensively; the facades are adorned with neat rows or decorative curls and florals of colorful pebbles pressed into the plaster, doorways tinkle with silver wind chimes, the gables are often graced by tiny leaden rose windows, and window boxes of full of brightly colored, delicate mountain flowers are the norm. Most Barovians hang bunches of dried herbs from their eaves or roofs, and during the harvest time, pumpkin lanterns and cornhusk moppets are plentiful.

The mountains are littered with numerous crumbling ruins, divisible into three distinct types. Ancient abandoned monasteries, with the Monastery of the Silver Threads on Mount Baratak being the most notable, make up the first type. The second are the ruins of ancient keeps and towers in the foothills. Finally, there are mysterious stone circles, prehistoric-looking haphazard rings of menhirs, which reputedly grant a strange sense of tranquility to those who sit within.

Here is where we get our first two sidebars: the first is a Dread Possibility about The Tomb of Leo Dilisnya, which ties into the novel "I, Strahd" by explaining that Leo Dilisnya, patriarch of the Dilisnya family, still exists as a starving, mad vampire imprisoned in the crypts beneath the Monastery of Silvery Threads. The second sidebar is about The Stone Circles, which explains that the interior of a Barovian stone circle is under the effects of a permanent Hallow spell, though only granting the three basic effects of that spell.

Flora
The lower hill country of Barovia is dominated by hardwoods, predominantly beech, oak, cherry and hazelnut. The higher elevations are full of forests of mixed evergreens. The dales are home to bountiful green meadows, which blossom with short grasses and wildflowers like lilac and daffodils during the warmer months.

Of particular note, several Barovian plants are values by the Vistani for their magical properties, specifically Bitterblot, a large, pale green fruit related to plums, with a weak, slightly tannic sweetness, which is useful in Vistani divination and cursing rituals, and the Vistan's Tears, a delicate alpine flower resembling a dull white-colored bluebell, which is reputedly the basis for the Vistani's legendary curative elixir.

These two plants are the subject of a sidebar. Whilst the Vistani divination ritual of bitterblot (cut the fruit in half with a savage chop; if the pit breaks cleanly in one strike, that's a good omen) is up to the DM, it is useful in cursing rituals. A Vistani using a bitterblot as a focus gains a +1 bonus to their Curse check, +4 if they're using it for a curse that reduces Dexterity. Non-Vistani can also use bitterblot in this way, but only for a Dexterity-draining Curse, and only with a +1 bonus, and only if they are taught how to make the ritual cuts, which is extremely unlikely to happen. Vistan's Tears can be used to brew a tea that functions as a Potion of Cure Serious Wounds so long as it's hot, which a person can benefit from only once per week. Only a pureblooded Vistani can brew this tea, and they almost never give it to non-Vistani.

...Can I just take a moment to complain that, whilst I think 3e's Ravenloft is a leaps and bounds improvement over AD&D Ravenloft, I really hate the Vistani?

Fauna
Barovia is home to a wide variety of creatures, including deer, elk, wild boar, chamois, wild cats, lynx, otters, badgers, weasels, red foxes, gray wolves, dire wolves, bats and rats.

On the supernatural side, Barovia is home to countless legends of vampires, ghouls, revenants, the walking dead and lycanthropes, although our author "S" notes that the distinctions between vampirism and lycanthropy are often hopelessly muddled in Barovian folk tales.

Other creatures unique to Barovian folklore include the Veela; a river nymph that lures men to drown themselves with her charms, the Nocnitsa; a blood-sucking crone with traits of both a vampire and a witch, the Poludnitsa; an orchard nymph who jealously beheads trespassers with her sickle, and the Mahr, a bizarre "moth demon".


History
Barovia is the oldest domain in the Core, if not in the Demiplane of Dread, and has the longest continuous historical record, which even our author "S" notes indicates that Barovia is probably the Core's most ancient region.

The Barovian Calendar is the primary calendar in use throughout the core, and is widely known to derive from the nation's foundation by the von Zaroviche family. Many Barovians, though, also mark this date as what they call "the First Revelation", when the Mists first parted to create the world. "S" believes that this legend is fallacious, stating that her research indicates that Barovia was originally part of some other world entirely, and that it didn't become part of the Core until the infamous doomed wedding of Sergei von Zarovich in the summer of 351 BC.

The first 350 years of Barovia's history are murky and incomplete. "S" admits that she's not sure if this is due to that period being "false history", or just an extension of the backwards provincialism of the Barovians, who often act as though the world ends at their country's borders. Barovia once possessed a state church, dedicated to a solar god named Andral (also spelled "Ahndrel" and "Eundrel"), but his faith somehow died out in the fourth century, and his few remaining temples have been converted into places of worship for Ezrites and the cult of the Morninglord.

The first most significant event in Barovian history was the invasion of the Neureni Horde in approximately 230 BC, a precursor to the more well-remembered invasion of the Tergs. They pressed deep into the Balinoks through the Svalich Pass as far as Vallaki, only being pushed back after a three-month siege. The main legacy that the Neureni left after their defeat by the legendary General-Princess Nicoleta von Zarovich is that the word "Neuri", a corruption of their name, is synonymous in Balok with werewolves and shapeshifting wizards. That said, some tantalizing historical evidence suggests that the Neureni may have been the ancestors of the Gundarakites, most notably the theory that "Erlin" is a corruption of "Irlek-Khan", a demon lord that the Neureni supposedly worshipped.

The next major historical event was the two-year-long War of Silver Knives, a bitter fued between three aristocratic families; the Dilisnya, the Katsky, and the Petrovna. Though ultimately quashed by the von Zaroviches, this turbulent, chaotic period of time (between 314 BC to 316 BC) saw revenge murders and sabotage become endemic.

This proved devastating in 320 BC, when the Tergs invaded; Barovia had been weakened by the War of Silver Knifes, and the Tergs ultimately conquered the land, pushing the von Zaroviches to flee westwards in less than a month. Fueled by religious fervor to a demon-god they called "Zagaz", or maybe "Za'far", they settled in the land they had conquered, seeking to convert the locals to their faith. It wouldn't be until Strahd von Zarovich the 1st came of age that Barovia's fortunes reversed. In a campaign that lasted twenty-seven years, he rebuilt his family's forces and drove the Tergs out, finally finishing the battle in the year 347 BC. He rebuilt the fallen ruins of the Terg's warlord, Durukan the Unstoppable (Dorian, to the Balokians), naming it "Castle Ravenloft", in honor of his mother Ravenia, who had been slain - alongside Strahd's father, Barov - just a year before Strahd's final victory.

In contrast to the resentment with which they hold his descendants, Strahd the First is adored by the modern Barovians, who uphold him as a savior and the true founder of present day Barovia. Tales paint him as mighty in battle, keen of mind, virtuous in spirit, and stunningly handsome, with his victories attributed to a brilliant combination of fearlessness, tactical genius, and a matchless charisma. There is even an apocryphal legend in which the Tergs attempt to sway Strahd the First through the devices of a demon named "Inraji", though he fails to sway Strahd.

Upon the completion of Castle Ravenloft in 349 BC, Strahd the 1st settled in and called his scattered brothers to join him in ruling Barovia, taking the effective role of king. It was not to last; Ba'al Verzi assassins would make a failed strike on Strahd in the year 350 BC, and in the summer of 351 BC, Strahd, his youngest brother Sergei, Sergei's bride-to-be Tatyana, and all of their guests would be murdered as part of an attempted coup by the Dilisnya family. Legend has it that this event was so monstrous that it cast the land into an accursed shadow from which it has never escaped. "S", quite rightly, observes that this must have been the seminal event that brought Barovia to the Core of the Land of Mists.

The von Zaroviches rallied under the leadership of a survivor, Sturm von Zarovich, who drove out the Dilisnyas. Still, Strahd the 1st's victories marked the zenith of Barovian glory, and the land has declined steadily ever since, with Strahd's namesake heirs growing increasingly despotic. The realm itself began plodding onwards in a kind of dismal stagnancy.

The first Vistani vardos appeared in 470 BC, sealing a mysterious pact of allegiance with Strahd the 4th.

In 475 BC, a young outlander boy named Martyn Pelka stumbled out of the Svalich Woods, rambling about being saved by a "golden morning lord". He would grow up to found the Cult of the Morninglord, which found a surprising place in the hearts of the naturally suspicious and cynical Barovians.

Outlander mercenaries attempted to beseige Castle Ravenloft in 528 BC, having heard tales of horrible acts and black magic being carried out within its depths. They disappeared without a trace, which only heightened the dark rumors about the fall of the von Zaroviches into evil.

Two successive waves of refugees poured into Barovia from the south in the early sixth century, becoming the foundations for two of the four ethnicities within the realm. Survivors of the druid-led peoples of Forlorn began settling in Immol in roughly 550 BC, having been driven from their land by the goblyns. In 585 BC, the Thaani followed, claiming to have escaped from the hellish caverns that lay underneath the then-Core realm of Bluetspur. Both of these ethnicities have been absorbed into Barovian society, though they maintain their own distinctive languages and smaller aspects of their cultures.

The major turning point in Barovian culture began in the year 593 BC, when first contact was made with the domain of Gundarak.

Most of Gundarak's history is, in the eyes of "S", false, a part of history that was made up by whatever mysterious entities rule over this world; it speaks of the domain's founding some time between 251 and 263 BC, and three successive bloody civil wars collectively called the Unwise Rebellions, in 425, 437 and 501. These wars were based on confederations of minor noble families attempting to seize control of Gundarak from the Gundar family, which found the domain, and were ended once and for all when Duke Boldiszar Gundar cemented his victory by executing every last remaining noble not related to his house by marriage. This dreadful ruthlessness eventually spun into capricious bloodlust, excaberated by the generations of inbreeding, which turned the Gundars into degenerate tyrants prone to violent fits of madness.

Count Strahd the 8th and Duke Gundar loathed each other from the moment they first came into contact. But war never broke out; the Barovians didn't consider the Gundarakites worth the effort, even if they were descendants of the ancient Neureni. Reports of the bloodthirsty capriciousness of Duke Gundar cemented Barovian disdain for Gundarak's people.

This aloof disdain changed when Duke Gundar was assassinated in 736; four years later, in the wake of the Great Upheaval, Count Strahd the 11th ordered the boyars of Western Barovia to annex Gundarak. After nine months of bloody fighting against the ragtag Gundarak partisans, what portions of Gundarak hadn't been claimed by Invidia were officially made part of Barovia. This was cemented by the Teufeldorf Massacre, when the treacherous Captain Abel Ivilskova used the pretext of negotiation to bring the partisan leaders to the table, only to capture and behead them.

In the modern era, a decade and a half of armed occupation has brought Gundarak firmly under Barovia's control, but has breed deep resentments that seem to be sliding irreversibly towards ethnic bloodshed. In 748, a Gundarakite separatis named Ardonk Szerieza became the center for a modern Gundarakite revival movement. Charismatic and driven, Ardonk blatantly engages in historical revisionism to fan the flames of hatred and ethnic pride within his fellows, and is suspected of being connected to the widespread cells of "freedom fighters" that throng Western Barovia. At the very least, they eat up his vision, and yearn to restart the battle for Gundarakite independence. Most Barovians suspect Ardonk and his followers to be connected to the remnants of the Gundarakite army and, by extension, Gabrielle Aderre in Invidia. Within the last year, a band of such rebels blew up the Barovian garrison in Zeidenburg with a wagonload of gunpowder.


Populace
As touched upon at the start of this report's Let's Read, there are four distinct ethnicities within Barovia; the ethnic Barovians, the Gundarakites, the Forfarians, and the Thaani.

Ethnic Barovians descend from the original settleers of the Balinoks. They remain most dominant in their original lands, but have spread throughout the realm; only in the most distant western provinces, those areas taken from fallen Gundarak, are they in the minority, making up the boyars, the boyars' agents, and the Barovian miltias.

Ethnic Gundarakites, inversely, are concentrated in the western regions, and rarely found east of the Balinoks, although their populations tend to be much denser and so they actually outnumber the Barovians by a small margin.

Ironically, despite their deep hatred for each other, most outsiders couldn't tell them apart - and woe to the fool who reveals that trait. Barovians and Gundarakites are both thick and stocky in their builds, with broad shoulders, meaty limbs, and wide hips/ Their appearance is best described as "dusky"; pale olive-tan to light brown skin, coarse and wavy hair of a light chestnut to deep glossy black color, and pale hazel to rich brown eyes. Men wear their hair to just above the shoulder, whilst women grow their hair long throughout their lives, with younger maids often braiding their locks in a single or double tress. Nearly all men wear the distinctive drooping mustache common to the region, but only young men tend to wear beards, which they usually consider a sign of virility (something that "S" says they are quickly disabused of when they marry).

In comparison, the Forfarians and the Thaani stand out like sore thumbs, as they have avoided intermarrying with either ethnicity. Forfarians are more average and athletic in build, though they tend to be husky about the waist. Their skin is always very pale, and frequently densely freckled, which contrasts their reddish hair, varying from deep brown with auburn highlights to a striking carrot orange. The Thaani, meanwhile, have no one defining look, seemingly being more an amalgamation of different ethnicities brought together by their former slave masters. A few Thaani do possess striking physical abnormalities, like an entirely hairless body or white irises - possibly a nod to the DM that one could easily slip an elan, maenad or maybe even a kalashtar into Ravenloft as a Thaani.

Regardless of ethnicities, Barovians dress pretty similarly. Male attire begins with heavy breeches, a loose white shirt, and a signature sheepskin vest; woolen within and exquisitely embroidered without. Women dress quite plainly; a loose, shapeless blouse, loing skirt, and heavy wool shawl. One of the minor, petty differences between Barovians and Gundarakites is the custom of a head kerchief for women; Barovian women wear it to show they're married, Gundarakite women wear it to show that they're unattached, which fosters more than its share of brawls. Apart from the aforementioned vests, clothing tends to be plain and unpatterned; Barovians favor somber, earthy shades such as black, gray and dark brown (ethnic Barovian women are expected to wear black for five years following the death of any relation, so pretty much never wear anything other than black), whilst Gundarakites prefer a brighter apparel in muted shades of yellow, green and blue. Ornaments and jewelry are rare, save for necklaces of garlic and belladonna, though the growing Gundarakite nationalist movement has led to an increase in stag-shaped brooches of oak and amber - a symbol of the deposed Gundars.

The ethnic Barovian tongue is Balok, whilst that of the Gundarakites is Luktar. The former has a thick and guttural sound, whilst the latter has more of a "sing-song" cadence (though "S" likens it to a hive of angry wasps). Barovians tend to know at least a little Luktar, and Gundarakites return the favor by learning at least a little Balok. Forfarian and Thaani languages are unheard outside of Immol.

The vast majority of Barovians are rural impoverished; subsistence farmers, herders and fishermen who live day-to-day on whatever meager resources they can wring from the land. Serfdom is still widespread, with freeman farmers and herders being quite rare. In the villages, free tentants of the Count are commonplace; most craftsmen and merchants owe nothing the von Zaroviches beyond their monthly rent and the occasional kickback to a burgomaster's agent. The noble families are a vanishing breed; only the von Zaroviches still hold land, and the former rule of hereditary aristocrats has been displaced by the authority of the burgomasters and boyars, who are appointed to their positions by the Count von Zarovich. The Old Families - Buchvold, Ivilskova, Katsky, Petrovna, Romulich, Triksky, Velikovna, Wachter - are slowly dying out; ironically, the only one of their ranks to be prospering is the treacherous Dilisnyas, who have claimed dominion over the realm of Borca.

Because Barovia is dominated by agriculture, naturally, it is a land that depends on sizable families to serve labor. Barovians marry young; boys by sixteen and girls as early as thirteen. Though arranged marriages are not commonly observed, even amongst wealthy merchant families, the social and economic boons pressure youngsters to wed their sweethearts... a recipe for potential disaster when you take into account that divorce and, for widows, remarriage are both forbidden by custom. Barovians once advertised the availability of their daughter's hand by hanging a wildflower wreath on their front door, but the practiced has been abandoned for ages; the girls had a tendency to vanish into the night.

Obviously, women start bearing children as soon as they can, and have as many as they possibly can. Which is rather dangerous, as medicine in Barovia lags far behind the rest of the world. Even with the aid of the clerics, Barovia has a whopping 20% average fatality rate for birthing mothers, especially in the remote regions. Thanks to plagues of scarlet fever, pneumonia and cholera, the infant mortality rate is also appallingly high, with a significant (but unnamed) percentage of babies failing to survive their first 2 years.

Education in general is lackluster in Barovia. Formal schooling is practically unknown; most children will have learned the basic skills needed to shoulder their parents' livelihood by the age of 8, supplemented with fundamental (and often erroneous) lessons in reading, writing and arithmetic from their parents. Even wealthy nobles and merchants hire tutors or send their children away to Borcan or Richemulotese schools rather than build formal academies in the Balinoks. True scholarship is limited to a handful of dedicated sages with private libraries and the rare temples to Ezra.

Because of the arduousness of journeying through Barovia, between the rugged terrain of the mountains and the shallow, treacherous whitewater rivers, most Barovians are especially sedentary. The average Barovian will never leave the village of his or her birth. That said, they're not entirely housebound; the Gundarakites in particular have a thriving tradition of horsemanship, with the Barovians using oxen and draft horse-drawn plows, sledges and wagons. Lake Zrovich has a rich freshwater nautical tradition, which can easily be seen during the warmer months.

Now we come to the topic of food - a topic that not all of these reports will actually cover, sadly.

The Barovian commoner lives on a miserable subsistence diet; grains and vegetables, supplemented by goat and sheep's milk dairy products, are the daily staples, bolstered by hearty vegetables such as cabbage, turnips, beets and onions, usually stewed or served in thin, sour soups. These are served alongside a wide variety of coarse breads baked from wheat, corn, barley, potato flour, oat meal, and sunflower meal. A cornmeal mush called mamliga is practically ubiquitous; commoners will usually eat mamliga at least once a day. Cold potatoes with goat cheese, and cheese omelets, are a particular treat.

"S" bluntly calls this fare miserably bland and heavy, saying it gets tiresome by the third meal.

The wealthier Barovian eats a diet much heavier in meat, consisting of pork, lamb, chicken and freshwater fish, all of which is usually stewed, grilled, or made into sausage. Popular dishes for those who can afford them include pork liver, trout balls, smoked herring smelt, chicken broth, a dish made of pork wrapped in cabbage or grape leaves called sarmale, a pork, onion and garlic stew called tocana, a grilled meatball dish made of mixed pork and lamb called mititei, and a grilled sausage called patricieni. Sweets are luxury in Barovian cuisine, but a pastry and fruit turnover known as a placinte is the darling of those Barovians with the money to spend. Wine accompanies finer meals, and tsuika, a Barovian plum brandy that is a speciality of the region, is enjoyed both before and after eating.

Finally, despite their ethnic differences, all Barovians share a common unifying element: a thoroughly frosty demeanor. They are harsh, private, suspicious people, who uphold the notion of "mind your own business" as a virtue. They reject strangers, rebuff questions, and generally keep to themselves. Utterly unapologetic for their backward mentality, they focus almost exclusively on the simple matters of daily survival.

Their characteristic grim cheerlessness may be stoked by the all-pervading, almost crippling fear of the supernatural that pervades Barovia. Especially when it comes to the undead; nothing terrifies a Barovian with fear quite like a blood-drinking, flesh-devouring, soul-stealing creature of darkness. All Barovians are brought up from childhood on the most wildly imaginative and elaborate folk tales of the undead, which "S" notes may contain traces of truth, but also include plentiful and patently false object lessons regarding the actual weaknesses of the undead - which is doubtlessly why so few Barovians actually survive a genuine encounter with such creatures.

The realm's daily rituals are colored by this pervasive dread. Doors and windows are dutifully and securely locked the moment the sun drops below the horizon, and a Barovian mother wouldn't dare to open her door after nightfall even to save her own shrieking babe from hungry wolves.

Magic in Barovia
Barovian attitudes towards magic are pretty standard for the Demiplane of Dread; arcane magic is practiced only in secret, as it is believed to be an unholy art that stems from demonic entities. Wizards and sorcerers take their life into their hands by revealing themselves, as even the agents of the boyars and burgomasters will rarely discourage violence against suspected arcane casters. Even bards had best be careful, because if they are discovered to be "witches", they will be treated as such.

Divine magic, in comparison, is seen as spiritually pure. What's unusual is that Barovians are often just as fearful and suspicious of divine magic as they are of arcane magic - indeed, they believe druids worship the same demonic entities that they believe empower wizards and sorcerers. This is furthered by the fact that the Barovians as a people are suspicious of organized institutions, and have little love for clergy. Most ethnic Barovians are not religious, with many believing that the nebulous gods of antiquity are literally missing or dead, their churches now serving as sanctuaries for pretenders and fools. Most churches are only frequented to host funerals; marriages are typically held in the local inn, with only the most optimistic young couples arranging for a church wedding.

In regards to the specific faiths present in Barovia...

Ezra: Unusually, this aggressively spreading faith has made little inroads into Barovia; the commoners tend to reject it due to its ties to Ivana Boritsi, whilst the boyars and burgomasters are leery of the notion of "temporal Church power", and are quick to stamp on any Ezran enclave that gets too wealthy or ambitious for its own good. Still, despite these facts, and despite lacking Strahd's formal blessing, the Ezran faith still maintains a tenuous foothold in Barovia, and dedicates itself to spreading its message.

Hala: As it does in virtually every realm, the Church of Hala maintains a fragile and unobtrusive presence in Barovia, relying on the good reputation its hospices have engendered amongst most of the population to obfuscate the fact that the details of their faith would be regarded as profane and unholy by the anti-arcane folk beliefs of the Barovians.

The Morninglord: This is Barovia's only native religion, having sprung up seemingly overnight in the fifth century. Every Barovian has some sort of opinion on the church. Ethnic Barovians tend to regard it with bemusement or cynicism. Gundarakites, in contrast, have flocked to it, which has inspired some burgomasters to seek proof of a link between the church and violent Gundarakite rebels.

Sidebars here detail an expanded version of the information on the Morninglord, first presented in the Ravenloft Campaign Setting (and its 3.5 update, the Ravenloft Player's Guide), and on a secret society: the Dawnslayers. This is a hidden branch of the Morninglord's cult dedicated to hunting down and destroying vampires.

Erlin: A Gundarakite death god characterized as a malicious, scatter-brained trickster, whilst Erlin's worship was originally sanctioned and encouraged by Duke Gundar, it has waned over the years, only recently experiencing a strange revival as he has become a symbol of Gundarakite ethnic pride. A sidebar presents "The Resurrection of Erlin" as a Dread Possibility, allowing DMs the option to add true Clerics of Erlin to their version of Gundar, complete with a basic deity writeup.

Regardles of their professed faith, all Barovians adhere to a simplistic and somewhat muddled cosmology, dividing the universe up into the mortal realm, a heavenly realm called Refugia, and a hellish realm called Iadul. This is not a core, defined faith, but more an amalgamation of various folktales. Refugia is a vague and mysterious place, said to lie above the firmament of the stars, where the weariness of the mortal coil is shed for eternal spiritual slumber. In contrast, Iadul is a fetid pit of disease that stretches deep into the bowels of the earth, the abode of demons, who sometimes claw their way into the mortal world to wreak and engender destruction and perversity for their own dark desires. Such is the simplicity of Barovian beliefs that they view most souls as going to Refugia; only the most foul of mortals end up going to Iadul, and their damnation was entirely self-earned, devoid of any divine judgment.

Barovians also celebrate all of the same seasonal festivals widely observed throughout the Core's temperate regions. The Forfarians regard the four solar holidays as especially holy.


The Realm
Barovia has but one ruler; Count Strahd von Zarovich the 11th, the most recent heir to the title and the name in a long and terrible lineage. Known to his people as "The Devil Strahd", the Barovians simultaneously despise him and equate their cultural identity with him. He is a harsh lord who keeps a noble distance from the petty affairs of the realm; his edicts are few, his public appearances even fewer, but he demands strict obedience from his subjects.

To the Barovians, Strahd is the latest of several corrupt von Zaroviches who have turned to black magics to extend their lifespans unnaturally. To anyone who has actually studied the simplistic pattern of the Zarovich "dynasty" - a Strahd rules Barovia without pity or frailty, takes a bride who produces a single heir and then vanishes, with the son appearing only when it is time to succeed his father - it's obvious that Strahd is a vampire. And a rather lazy one at that, given how clumsily he actually puts his "charade" into action - "S" and Azalin (via the latter's insert commentary) even lampshade that Stahd's deception probably wouldn't work in a realm that wasn't as illiterate and ignorant as Barovia. Indeed, Strahd has gone so far as to bar Dr. van Richten's books specifically because his Guide to Vampires spells out plain as day that Strahd has to be a vampire.

Government
By Barovian law, no one but a direct male descendant of Strahd may call Barovia their demesne, and their rule is absolute.

As a ruler, though, Strahd is hands off, entrusting the bulk of Barovia's daily running to the hands of the burgomasters (vassals personally selected by Strahd to administer to villages) and boyars (rural landholders). Though these positions are technically hereditary, there is a shockingly high turnover, with many of both classes either being directly replaced or falling victim to suspicious deaths... especially those stupid enough to engage in acts of sedition. The peasantry, obviously, has a low opinion of both classes, viewing them as cruel, scheming figures obsessed with pleasing the Count and enriching themselves.

A burgomaster or boyar can rule as they see fit, so long as they obey Strahd's three ancient laws: no one may enter Castle Ravenloft without Strahd's permission on pain of death, theft from the state is treason and punishable by death, and spilling the blood of a Vistani is punished by death.

This latter one is the one law that Barovians find curious, since the Vistani openly speak harshly of Strahd and even curse his name.

On sporadic occasions, a levy is called down from Castle Ravenloft, representing the accrued debts of the previous months or even years. More regular local taxes are collected by Strahd's vassals to fund the maintenance of civic order. Most settlements are patrolled by a mixture of loyal career soldiers and mercenaries; the growing discontent and ethnic violence in the occupied western regions has seen a corresponding increase in efforts to lure ethnic Barovians into the militias. Ethnic Gundarakites are prohibited from owning weapons larger than a common dagger, to try and control them better.

The primary role of the burgomasters and boyars is twofold; maintain the military, and maintain the economy. Taxation, the regulation of trade, and watching the guilds occupies the bulk of their daily dealings. Local magistrates are appointed by both to handle petty civil disputes, whilst military officers, who act as judges juries and executioners, carry out criminal justice in swift, brutal fashion.

Despite his apparent indifference, every Barovian knows that Strahd is well-aware of what's going on in his realm. The common wisdom is that he has spies everywhere, mostly in the form of the Vistani.

Economy
Barovia is not a major economic influence, certainly not when compared to the likes of Darkon or Nova Vaasa. Still, its exclusive control over the passage into the south and its strong agricultural base has led to a triangular web of ventures and alliances between merchants in Barovia, Kartakass and Invidia. This has seen the growth of wealthy merchant families, and whilst Strahd seems content to ignore this for the time being, "S" wonders how long that will remain the case, since one day the merchants may well have more power than he does.

The agriculture of Barovia consists of a wide spectrum of cereals - which barley, oats and wheat dominate - alongside hardy vegetables (potatoes, turnips, cabbages, onions), maize and sunflowers. In fact, the latter two species grow surprisingly well. Everybody who has the land will grow vegetables to pad out their own meals. In terms of meat, Barovians herd sheep, goats, and chickens virtually everywhere, with cattle and hogs in the lower country. Although Lake Zarovich produces a wide bounty of fish species, including lake trout, pike, smelt and gray mullet, demand for these is sparse; the biggest money-maker is sturgeon and its caviar.

Other food-related industries in Barovia consist of lamb sausages, hard goat cheeses and, most famously, brandy. Barovian plum brandy, the aforementioned tsuika, is prized, although some distilleries have begun experimenting with Borcan apricots and Nova Vaasan apples and peaches. Though vineyards are common in Barovia, especially in the hill country of the Gundarak Region, it's a pale shadow of the brandy industry; Barovian wine is generally regarded as unacceptably sour and earthy compared to its Borcan and Invidian counterparts.

Timber is exported, although not as heavily as it perhaps could be, mainly due to the competition in that field from Kartakass or other neighboring realms. The Balinoks are an abundant source of salt, coal and iron ore, but the comparatively rare deposits of native silver and copper seem to be growing sparser; productivity has fallen sharply at many mines in recent decades, and some have been abandoned altogether. Mine engineers across the Balinoks have cynically speculated that these resources may have been almost entirely exhausted. Small comfort to the countless miners who have perished in the unsafe working conditions.

Whilst there's not so much demand for its timber, Barovian woodcarving is particularly prized throughout the southern Core. Particularly sought are signature local works; sumptuous wardrobes covered in dense floral carvings, massive throne-like dining chairs with a wolf motif, and sensible wooden toys.

The Barovian currency consists of copper, silver and gold pieces, with the "head" side consisting of the von Zarovich arms ringed with the Balok words "Never Again Conquered, Home Forever More", and the tail-side adorned with a rat, raven or wolf, respectively. Hence, the local names for the coins; the copper Rat-Tooth, the silver Raven-Claw, and the gold Wolf-Fang. Barovian merchants will almost always take any other realm's coin, so long as the weights match, but are quite uncouth about examining them. In the remote regions, barter is still practiced.

Diplomacy
Generally speaking, Barovia has little interaction with the other realms. It has a reputation as a dull and backwards place, despite its strategic trade route, and Strahd himself doesn't seem to care about forging alliances.

Borca: Ironically, despite the fact that the Dilisnyas and the Boritsis dwell here, Barovia's relationship with Borca is cool yet peaceful, which the Barovians themselves can't understand.

Forlorn, The Shadow Rift, Sithicus and Hazlan: All of these places are regarded by the Barovians as forsaken, unholy places. Forlorn is an empty wilderness of monster-infested forests. The Shadow Rift is regarded by almost everybody in the Core as hell on earth. Sithicus is a fearsome, unhallowed land of haunted forests that makes the Tepurich Forest seem tame, and Hazlan is both so tyrannical it makes Barovians uneasy and actively ruled over by wizards, which Barovian wisdom holds are agents of evil. Still, the village of Immol conducts constant trade with Hazlan, prospering mightily by doing so.

Invidia: Though the Barovians mostly view this land as a steady and reliable trading partner, the rise of Malocchio Aderre and his attempted genocidal pogram against the Vistani has complicated matters. Vistani-hunting mercenaries have often chased their quarry into Barovia - and never lived to regret it.

Kartakass: Like Invida, this domain is one of Barovia's closest friends and allies. Stronger ties are impossible, due to political differences; the decentralized system that governs Karatakan villages is strange and alien to the monarchistic Barovians, and prevents there from being an "equal" to Strahd who might seek to establish stronger ties between their nations.

Nova Vaasa: Despite sharing a very long border, the Barovians hold Nova Vaasa at arms length. As a later Ravenloft Gazeteer will touch upon, they actively look down on the Vaasi, especially their supposed nobles, who are viewed as the worst sorts - greedy, exploitative dilettantes. Moderate trade does exist, but Nova Vaasa prefers to occupy itself with the Mordentish-speaking realms beyond Barovia to the west.
 
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