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Count Strahd von Zarovich is a fictional character originally appearing as the feature villain in the highly popular Advanced Dungeons and Dragons adventure module I6: Ravenloft. Later, this character and his world would be explored in followup modules, novels, and a campaign setting called Ravenloft. Strahd was named as one of the greatest villains in D&D history by the final issue of Dragon.[1]


A man of noble birth, Strahd spent much of his life serving causes of goodness and law, most notably as a warrior and leader of armies. Years of such service took their toll upon him however, and by the time he reached middle age, Strahd came to believe he had squandered his life and his youth. With this dark mood upon him, he came to conquer the region known as Barovia, and assumed lordship there, taking as his residence the pre-existing castle known as Ravenloft. From this position of power and security, he called for members of his family "long unseated from their ancestral thrones" to join him, including a younger brother named Sergei.

Some time after this reunion, the Count himself fell in love with a young Barovian woman, Tatyana, though she rejected his affections in favor of the younger Sergei. Filled with despair and jealousy, and brooding a growing hatred for Sergei, Strahd sought magical means to restore his youth. In a moment of desperate frustration, he "made a pact with death - a pact of blood." On the day of Sergei and Tatyana's wedding, Strahd murdered his brother and pursued the grieving Tatyana until she flung herself from the walls of Ravenloft. Strahd himself was shot down by the arrows of the castle guard. Even so, he did not die, but went on to rule the land of Barovia as a vampire.

Development history

The adventure itself takes place centuries after these tragic events, and centers upon the efforts of the player characters to help a young Barovian woman, Ireena Kolyana, escape the dreadful fate of so many others on whom "the devil Strahd" has cast his eye over the generations. The setting includes not only castle Ravenloft itself, but also the nearby village of Barovia, and a camp of Gypsies led by one Madame Eva, who had formed a kind of alliance with the vampire. Through the course of the adventure, players have the opportunity to learn Strahd's backstory and discover that Ireena is herself the reincarnation of Tatyana. Strahd von Zarovich himself is noted as being the first truly well developed villain to appear in the AD&D game system, being fully capable of changing the course of events to suit his own evil ends.

The immediate popularity of Ravenloft proved sufficient to warrant a sequel, I10: Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill (Tracey and Laura Hickman, TSR, Inc., 1985), again casting Strahd von Zarovich in the central, villainous role. Set in the quiet, sea-side town of Mordentshire, players of this adventure are confronted by two Strahds -- the same monstrous vampire from Ravenloft (now referred to as the Creature), and a very human counterpart, known as the Alchemist.

Much more ambitious in scope than the original, the plot of Ravenloft II focuses on the players' attempts first to discover the true nature of the vampiric threat afflicting Mordentshire, and then to discover the secret identity of the Creature and destroy him. Nothing of note is added to original nature or history of Strahd von Zarovich in the course of the adventure, though a number of characters of lesser importance, including the lich Azalin make their first appearance in this publication as well.

It bears noting that the two Ravenloft adventures, taken together, represent an analog of the Bram Stoker classic, Dracula. Ravenloft, set in a remote, mountainous land inhabited by superstitious peasants, Gypsies, and the Gothic castle of the vampire himself, mirrors the early, Transylvania-based chapters of Stoker's novel. Similarly, Ravenloft II draws its inspiration from the English setting of Dracula, and even duplicates in considerable detail the pastoral geography of Whitby.

Though Ravenloft II did not enjoy the wide acclaim of the original, the phenomena of Ravenloft proved sufficient for TSR, Inc. to place it and Strahd von Zarovich at the heart of a new product series released in 1990 -- Ravenloft: Realm of Terror -- an entire game world based on the Gothic horror theme of Ravenloft.

Within this new setting, Strahd is the first and best-known of Ravenloft's darklords. He is a powerful vampire (in Dungeons & Dragons terms, an Ancient class vampire, having been a vampire for 400-499 years). He is also a master necromancer, a skilled warrior, and the unquestioned ruler of the domain of Barovia.

Strahd's backstory was further refined for the new setting such that he unwittingly became a vampire as a result of a "pact" between himself and an unknown entity (Strahd claims it to be Death). He promised to kill his younger brother, Sergei, in return for the chance to woo his brother's fiancee, Tatyana. Strahd murdered Sergei on his wedding day and confessed his love to Tatyana, but overcome with grief, she fled from him, hurling herself to her death from the balcony of Castle Ravenloft. Immediately afterwards, the Mists of Ravenloft drew Strahd to the Demiplane of Dread.

His official "autobiography" has been presented in two novels by P. N. Elrod, I Strahd, Memories of a Vampire and I, Strahd, the War Against Azalin.[2]

Strahd has ruled his domain for the longest of any darklord, and as such his knowledge of the workings of Ravenloft are without equal. When Strahd chooses to close the borders of his lands, poisonous mists arise and suffocate anyone attempting to pass through them. There are only two ways to avoid the poisonous fog: immunity to poison (magic does not help, but creatures that are innately immune to poison, like elementals, constructs, and undead, have nothing to fear), or by ceasing the attempt to escape. In addition, the Vistani know a secret antidote which renders the drinker immune to the closed border. This fog permanently rings the village of Barovia as well.

Strahd's curse is that although he is absolute lord and master of Barovia, to the point where he can enter private homes unbidden because he owns them, once every generation he will meet a woman whom he believes is Tatyana reincarnated. He always tries to woo her, but the scene of his damnation is replayed, and the woman inevitably dies.

Strahd is perhaps the most difficult of all darklords to face. His mastery of necromancy is so great he has produced a kind of "super-zombie," one that is capable of seeing invisible, regenerating like a troll and whose appendages continue to fight on when severed. Strahd has had at least two darklords under his sway in the past; Azalin Rex the lich, and Lord Soth the death knight. Both eventually escaped, but that he could control such beings speaks much of Strahd's power.

Some arguments state that the two darklords, while in Barovia, were merely tolerating Strahd for their own benefit; as each were in a foreign land and needed allies to help them achieve what they required. Their powers were a match for Strahd, some more so.

Even Strahd realized that he could defeat Azalin physically but when it came to a contest of magic, it was clear who was the stronger among the two. It was made known when one of Azalin's experiment exploded and both he and Strahd were knocked unconscious. Strahd awoke first and saw Azalin as he truly were; a lich, due to Azalin's illusion being dispelled when Azalin was knocked unconscious. Also, when Azalin was transported by the Mist to his own land, it was mentioned that Azalin's domain of Darkon was much bigger than Barovia. The size of the domain is in a way linked to the power of the darklord, although this is not a predictable or linear relationship, as many inarguably (in terms of power) weaker darklords have domains that are similar in size to Barovia. A more accurate description of domain size might be that the domain of a darklord reflects that darklord; the size may be a reflection of force of personality, narrowness of focus, raw power or even simply a facilitation of the darklord's curse - as in Barovia, where Strahd's intimate knowledge of his lands facilitates his search for the newest incarnation of his lost love.

When Lord Soth was in Barovia, Strahd realized Soth's power as truly a match for his the moment he arrived in Castle Ravenloft. Armies of Strahd's servants fell before Lord Soth and the were-badger and the havoc and damage caused by Lord Soth caused even Strahd to waver. To be rid of Lord Soth from Barovia, Strahd had to give Lord Soth that which Lord Soth was searching for; the traitorous retainer Caradoc, for fear of Lord Soth causing more damage to his beloved land.

When the Ravenloft campaign setting was developed, the events of Ravenloft II were retconned so that Strahd was present and disguised as a human alchemist, and did not die at the module's conclusion.

There are many similarities between the character of Strahd von Zarovich and that of fellow fictional vampire Barnabas Collins from the American 1960's-1970's soap opera Dark Shadows[citation needed]. Both slay close family members (Barnabas kills his uncle Jeremiah Collins and Strahd slays his brother Sergei) in the pursuit of their own love interests. Both of these women (Tatyana in Strahd's case and Josette du Pres in Barnabas') leap to their deaths once they learn of the dark circumstances behind their lovers motivations. Both Strahd and Barnabas are tormented by identical reincarnations of Tatyana and Josette in their futures. Both fictional vampires share a unique history of similarities and have become tragic dark heroes as well as reviled villains in each of their respective fictional settings.


With Strahd as the main character

REPRINTED (Nov. 2006) (ISBN-10: 1560769319 ISBN-13: 978-1560769316)

Details how both Strahd became a vampire and how Ravenloft originally formed.
Presented as the diary of Strahd von Zarovich written during the period of war between Barovia and Darkon.
  • Caretaker A Strahd short story by P. N. Elrod in Tales of Ravenloft (Sept. 1994) edited by Brian Thomsen (ISBN-10: 1560769319 ISBN-13: 978-1560769316) : Details how Strahd handles things when bandits invade his realm.
  • Caretaker to be released as a comic book, August 2008

Including Strahd

Ravenloft's first full novel provided a clear link between the Forgotten Realms and Ravenloft.
Featuring Lord Soth of the Dragonlance setting in the Demiplane of Dread.

See also

External links


  1. 1d20 Villains: D&D's Most Wanted; Preferably Dead, Dragon, p.54-69. September, 2007. (Temporary fix for {{cite journal}}, please update to use {{cite dragon}} and similar templates.)

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