Ravenloft

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Ravenloft is a campaign setting for the Dungeons & Dragons tabletop roleplaying game, focusing on themes of Gothic Horror and dark fantasy. Events take place in a pocket dimension called the Land of Mists. The enigmatic Dark Powers have cobbled together a patchwork land of diverse kingdoms, each hiding their own foul secrets and held in thrall by a hideously corrupt being—its darklord—for whom each domain is both a sovereign territory and a prison.

Many of the individual domains of Ravenloft, along with their inhabitants, are directly inspired by classic Horror and Gothic literature, infamous historical figures, and twisted versions of Fairy Tales and other stories. Dracula, The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Pinocchio, The Island of Doctor Moreau, Shakespeare's Macbeth, and the historical Borgia family among many others comprise only a few examples. There is also the Spin-Off setting, Masque of the Red Death, which takes place on an alternate version of Earth that has been under the influence of some entity called the Red Death. It features many of the above mentioned classic characters that Ravenloft drew inspiration from as villains.

Warning: Unblocked spoilers ahead! As the Land of Mists is a setting built upon suspense, players looking for creepy surprises in a Ravenloft campaign should not read farther, lest they Be Disappointed By The Revelations.


Tropes used in Ravenloft include:


  • Adaptation Expansion: The game-setting itself is an expansion of an extremely well-received 1st edition adventure, also called "Ravenloft", and its sequel, "Ravenloft 2: The House on Gryphon Hill".
  • Affably Evil: Some of the Darklords can be like this, most likely so the PCs can sympathize with them, even if just a little.
  • All There in the Manual: Like most other D&D settings, most of the setting info is in the sourcebooks.
  • Exclusively Evil: Even if 3rd edition Dungeons & Dragons moved a lot of monsters from the always Chaotic Evil to usually Chaotic Evil, the Ravenloft setting adamantly keeps its critters and other nasties in the always evil section. Don't look for Friendly Neighborhood Vampires.
    • Enforced even, for lycanthropes—normally nonevil lycanthrope types (such as werebears, who in other settings are Always Lawful Good) are evil in the Land of Mists.
    • Heck, even the likes of treants and unicorns are evil there.
  • Ancient Tomb
  • Animate Dead: Where else did all those skeletons and zombies come from?
  • Arc Welding: The six-module Grand Conjunction Story Arc was belatedly welded together into one apocalyptic plotline, using a poorly-worded Vistani prophecy as solder.
  • Armed with Canon: James Lowder wrote Knight of the Black Rose, which brought Lord Soth from Dragonlance to Ravenloft. Tracy Hickman complained incessantly until TSR had When Black Roses Bloom made, removing Soth from Ravenloft. Despite that, Hickman still insists that Soth never went to Ravenloft, even plugging a non-action, non-dialogue cameo into Dragons of Summer Flame for the sole purpose of conflicting with the Ravenloft timeline, necessitating a fair amount of Fan Wank to deconflict the two.
    • The most common theory was that Soth really did get sucked into Ravenloft, where he spent several decades forming one of the worst Villanous BSODs on record. After about a decade continually locked in his "happy place" caused his realm to literally begin falling apart around him, the White Rose appeared in Sithicus to snap Soth out of his reverie. Once he recovered, the Dark Powers let the White Rose take Soth back with her to Krynn, realizing that there was nothing they could do to Lord Soth that his own memories and haunting spirits couldn't do worse. When he came back, he returned to Krynn only an hour/a day/five minutes after he left, leaving him available for any Dragonlance events that came along in the meantime.
  • Audio Adaptation: I, Strahd got an audiobook release.
  • Battle in the Center of the Mind: What happens if the Nightmare Court decides your mind looks tasty.
  • Bedlam House: Dr. Heinfroth's asylum on the domain/island of Dominia.
  • Big Boo's Haunt: Castle Ravenloft, Necropolis even more so, and given the nature of the setting, probably some other places as well.
  • The Big Easy: Souragne is a Southern Gothic Fantasy Counterpart Culture version of New Orleans/Louisiana.
  • Big Fancy Castle: Castle Ravenloft. Although some parts are pretty much falling appart from age and neglect.
  • Bigger Bad: The Darklords can play this role in a game, or, depending on the GM, the Dark Powers themselves can be in this role.
  • Black Knight: Lord Soth.
  • Blessed with Suck / Cursed with Awesome: Just about any darklord has inherited incredible power along with his punishments, with which to further inflict evil upon the denizens of Ravenloft. Which trope it happens to be for any given villain is probably a matter of interpretation...
    • They are definitely The Punishment. Every darklord's domain is designed so that it is unbearable to them specifically, even if it wouldn't sound like a bad deal to some other people. Strahd, for example, is immortal and has absolute power over everything in his domain, but he can never have the one thing he absolutely wants and needs to have: He is madly, obsessively in love with a woman who will never love him, whose existence he will only ever be able to make miserable (Ensuring she never even likes him), and is destined to reincarnate in Barovia periodically to torment him. He can't even leave. Same thing for all the other lords.
  • The Bluebeard: The man himself, trapped as a darklord.
  • Brought Down to Normal: Werewolf darklord Alfred Timothy's curse causes him to revert to human form if he ever starts cutting loose in his furred shape, forcing him to restrain his own feral impulses or else expose this weakness to his pack. This is particularly sucky (for him) when you realise he's a high priest for a Religion of Evil whose main tenet is that lycanthropes must indulge in their bestial urges.
  • Cain and Abel: Strahd and Sergei.
  • Came Back Wrong: While resurrection magic can be performed in Ravenloft, it's very damn hard, and if you were an evil bastard in life, you might instead come back as a zombie lord. Admittedly, that sounds like a good reason to be evil, but still...
  • Canon Discontinuity: The novel Lord of the Necropolis explicitly stated the nature of the Dark Powers; both book and explanation were stricken from canon, as the Dark Powers are intended to be left undefined. Of course, one can always interpret that LOTN did happen, but Azalin only thought he discovered the true nature of the Dark Powers and he was mistaken at the time.
    • Also, the novel The Enemy Within, and the backstory of an NPC (Desmond LaRouche) were declared non-canon because they contradicted the origin story for Malken. Malken was given yet another origin story in Ravenloft Monstrous Compendium Appendix II: Children of the Night where he was even more of an espy of the scientist in The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
  • Canon Immigrant: In its early days, Ravenloft was designed as a catch-all holding cell for villains across the multiverse. This even included the player characters, when early adventures were designed to have the Mists take them to Ravenloft, let them complete the plot, and then whisk them back home. It wasn't until the Domains of Dread revision that more emphasis was made on making Ravenloft an actual "home base" campaign setting, with rules and ideas for creating native player characters.
  • Captain Color Beard: Bluebeard
  • Cartwright Curse: Van Richten used to have everyone he came close to die horribly due to a literal curse put on him.
    • Might better be called "Odysseus Syndrome", since it wasn't just close female friends who died.
  • Celebrity Resemblance: Dr. Rudolph Van Richten looks exactly like Van Helsing as portrayed by Peter Cushing; this is intentional.
  • Children Are Innocent: Subverted in a number of modules.
  • Circus of Fear: subverted with the titular boxset "The Carnival", played straight by the original Domain of The Carnival l'Morai.
  • Constructed World: The world is a construct of the Dark Powers, and they can rearrange it however they please.
  • Corrupt Church: The Darkonian sect of the Church of Ezra.
  • Creepy Child: The supplement Darklords has Merilee, a vampire child similar to Claudia from The Vampire Chronicles. The feral children of Sebua can also evoke this trope, if seen watching from a distance.
  • Creepy Doll: Doll golems and the Carrionettes.
  • Creepy Souvenir: One of the villains collects the still-living heads of her victims.
  • Crossover: Many of the darklords originated in published campaign settings, plus there were a few novels and adventures that bridged the gap with other settings.
    • Knight of the Black Rose crossed Ravenloft and Dragonlance.
    • Die, Vecna, Die! was an epic crossover between Greyhawk, Ravenloft, and Planescape.
    • Castle Spulzeer was a Forgotten Realms module that ended with both the PCs and its villain being swept up by the Mists, kicking off a follow-up adventure in the Ravenloft module The Forgotten Terror.
    • Averted in the case of Spelljammer: although one SJ module ended with the option of having its villain swept up by the Ravenloft Mists, the Ravenloft design team never followed up on this, probably because Spelljammer's style of gaming was so much goofier than Ravenloft's as to be thematically incompatible.
    • The domain Odiare is from Gothic Earth.
  • Crossover Cosmology: The slate of deities worshiped in Ravenloft is a grab-bag of historical pagan deities (Belenus, the Akiri and Rajian pantheons), deities imported from other game-settings (the Morninglord and Lawgiver from Forgotten Realms, the Eternal Order's death-gods from Greyhawk), and deities made up for (Ezra, Hala) or even by (Zhakata, the Overseer) natives of the Land of Mists.
  • Crystal Dragon Jesus: The Church of Ezra.
  • Curse Escape Clause: Cursing someone with undeath or another torment is very easy to do as long as you include one of these. A lot of modules revolve around figuring out and fulfilling a clause.
  • Dark Is Not Evil: Very, very debatable, but the Dark Powers are known to reward some people that pass their tests. They also are suspected of powering clerics' and paladins' class abilities, as it's unclear whether or not gods can influence events within the setting in that way. Of course, the Dark Powers also torment people who don't remotely deserve it. Dark is not good, but may be closer to Chaotic Neutral. Or blue.
  • Death World: Ravenloft has this reputation from what little bits people not living there have learned. The 2nd Edition products played up how dangerous Ravenloft is, but the 3rd Edition products eased off of this and even stated that a person can live their whole life without encountering any horrific monsters. There are some locations, like Necropolis, that still play this trope straight (any living creature that tries to enter Necropolis is immediately killed), and Necromantic magic is much stronger in Ravenloft than it is elsewhere in the multiverse.
    • In all editions, the core domains of Ravenloft are ridiculously tame compared to how things usually are elsewhere. No evil armies regularly sweeping across the land to kill and enslave all in their path. No monsters that are so powerful they don't need to hide and can lay waste to entire towns for fun. Your darklord might be a tyrant, but at least you have a stable tyranny. World-shaking wars and catatrophes are not nearly as common as in many other campaign worlds, in fact, the only real example is Azalin blowing up most of his domain. In island domains life can be much worse, though.
  • Decade Dissonance: Each domain being tailored to its Darklord, the Demiplane of Dread is composed of a patchwork of small countries of very different civilization levels. Some are medieval, others Renaissance, and some even display a touch of Victorian London.
  • Depraved Bisexual: Ivana Boritsi is strongly implied to be one of these.
  • Detect Evil: Averted, as such spells don't work in the Land of Mists. Subverted in the case of ex-paladin darklord Elena Faith-hold, who only thinks she can still Detect Evil, but actually senses any strong emotion (fear, outrage, or even love) directed at her.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The Dark Powers grant vengeful curses as a sort of hobby, and aren't really concerned about whether the punishment fits the crime (or whether there was even a crime in the first place.)
  • Does Not Like Magic: Lamordians even deny that magic exists at all, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And their land follows suit, draining power from magical items and causing spells to be more likely to fail just for starters.
    • The Church of the Lawgiver falls under this too; their doctrine teaches that arcane magic is an abomination created by Mytteri, their religion's equivalent of Satan, and is an embodiment of pure rebellion and nihilism. Any arcane spellcaster, no matter how devoted they may be to the Lawgiver's tenets, is destined for the Hell of Slaves.
    • Practicing arcane magic in front of Tepestanis isn't a good idea, unless you'd like to play out the Burn the Witch trope. Or rather, Burn The Fey, but that's hardly an improvement.
  • Dogged Nice Guy: Strahd in I, Strahd acts like this toward Tatyana, even though he knows she is already his brother Sergei's fiance.
  • Down the Rabbit Hole: Oftentimes the earliest adventures have player characters being plucked up from their world by stumbling into the fog or somehow sailing into the Tractless Sea.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: The map of Ravenloft's Core in the first release was very...patchwork, to say the least. For starters, Bluetspur, a lightning blasted wasteland filled with underground tunnels of Mind Flayers, was directly adjacent to domains with temperate forests. The Nightmare Lands, an almost completely featureless desert (as long as you're awake) and Vechor, a domain ran by an insane Reality Warper whose terrain changes by the hour, were right next to relatively normal domains filled with wheat fields. Another domain centered around a religion based on starvation as holy was smack dab in the middle of the Core's breadbasket, surrounded by lands of plenty on all sides. The opportunity to fix this came with the Grand Conjunction, which, as a side effect, rearranged domains to correspond with roughly similar ecologies and created Islands and Clusters, domains separate from the Core that correspond with each other without seeming too out of place.
  • Evil Albino: The bakhna rakhna are a breed of deformed, albinistic goblins. Not all that tough as villains, but they're nasty, thieving little creeps.
  • Evil Versus Evil: Many published Ravenloft adventures involve feuds between darklords, or lesser villains' attempts to seize power from an incumbent lord. Strahd and Azalin have been feuding for centuries, and several other rivalries (Sodo vs. the Hive Queen; Ivan vs. Ivana) are well established. Plus, the Dark Powers are considered evil by many gamers, making their imprisonment and tormenting of darklords an example of this trope as well.
  • Exiled From Continuity: When White Wolf got the license to do Ravenloft for third edition, they only got Ravenloft, not the other D&D settings, so all references to those settings had to be removed—though Lord Soth was still implicitly referred to as "the death knight" or Black Rose on occasion.
  • Exposition of Immortality: Dr. Van Richten realized that the fiend Drigor had been manipulating a particular family for generations when he looked at the family journals, and realized their writing styles hadn't changed for the past two hundred years.
  • Expy: Though they're not direct analogues, many of the darklords take direct inspiration from popular gothic literary figures. Strahd is Dracula, Mordenheim is Frankenstein and Adam his Monster, Tristan Hiregaard and his alter ego Malken are Jekyll and Hyde, Markov is Dr. Moreau, Rudolph Van Richten is based on Van Helsing and so on. As well as Alanik Ray and Doctor Arthur Sedgewick.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: Initially, Ravenloft was a one-adventure module with Strahd as the Big Bad, whose defeat by the hands of the PCs was the conclusion. Since then, the setting evolved and Strahd is still alive and well (or should we say undead and well). The Canon timeline of Ravenloft even says "528: powerful heroes assault Castle Ravenloft and are killed".
    • Also in keeping with this theme, certain aspects of the rules tended to make victory nearly impossible or at least very, very difficult. Most darklords had various means of resurrection that were almost guaranteed to succeed (Azalin's phylactery, Strahd's contingency spell to teleport to a hidden coffin in the mountains if he was ever killed, Harkon Lucas' mind jumping to any nearby wolf when his domain is covered in them, etc) unless the players were extremely clever. Likewise, a closed domain border pretty much meant the players were trapped, and any mundane or magical attempts to get out would fail automatically.
      • Finally, a trend that ran through many of the adventures involved the deaths of PCs as integral parts of the plot, usually as an excuse to resurrect them later as monsters or so the villain could force them to do something. Hour of the Knife involved any player who wandered away from the group getting killed 'off camera' by dopplegangers who promptly replaced him, Adam's Wrath forced the PCs to die so their brains could be transplanted into golems, From the Shadows had Azalin behead the PCs to fulfill a prophecy...the list goes on.
  • The Fair Folk: The shadow fey, of the Shadow Rift. These range from benign pixies to savage redcaps to cruel sidhe lords, all psychically manipulated by an Eldritch Abomination.
  • Fantastic Science: The Van Richten's Guides are presented as being written by Dr. Rudolph Van Richten (or later the Weathermay-Foxgrove Twins, his heirs) and are written to be scientific sounding.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: Apart from Darkon, which looks like (almost) a standard Elves-and-Dwarves Fantasy setting, each inhabited Domain is based on a real-world historical or literary country, as summed up on this webpage.
  • Fantasy Gun Control: Averted, because it just wouldn't be a classic werewolf hunt without a Silver Bullet or two.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: Ravenloft could be considered a "Horror Kitchen Sink". It was originally meant to be a Gothic Horror setting, and for the most part mostly is, but it also incorporates elements of Cosmic Horror and other horror genres as well.
  • Fisher Kingdom: Darkon will, over the course of three months, rewrite your memories so that you think you are a native. It's easily reversable though-one day outside its borders, and one migraine later, your real memories will come back. This is a lesser version of Azalin's curse, which prevents him from learning new spells.
  • Fluffy Tamer: Paladins in other settings can eventually summon an intelligent good-aligned steed or other magical beast to serve as a mount. In Ravenloft, the Powers send you an evil, dire animal instead. Then sit back and chuckle as you deal with a mount that may actively try to make you lose your paladin-hood (depending on how much the DM wishes to torture you.)
  • Flying Dutchman: Several, most notably Captain van Riese (a Captain Ersatz of the original).
  • Fog of Doom: The Mists that often pluck people from other worlds and deposit them into Ravenloft.
  • For the Evulz: Averting this trope was one of the setting's original selling points, as most of its villains were among gaming's most complex, three-dimensional NPCs of their era. Played straight in a few cases, such as Falkovnia's Vlad Drakov or Tepest's Three Hags.
  • Friendly Neighborhood Vampire: Jander Sunstar, who may be the only one in the entire setting.
  • Functional Magic: Wizardry operates under Rule Magic and Vancian Magic, Clerics use Theurgy (which may or may not be granted by the Dark Powers themselves) and Vancian Magic, Sorcerers have an Inherent Gift, and Psionics can be considered...Psionics.
  • General Failure: Vlad Drakov. The first time he launched an invasion, his armies were devoured by the undead. He's launched at least three more, with similar results. It's part of his curse as a Darklord to want to be a great conquerer and be surrounded by those too strong to conquer.
  • Genius Loci: The Demiplane itself may or may not be sentient.
  • Gothic Horror
  • Great Detective: Alanik Ray
  • The Grim Reaper: The minor darklord Death claims to be this, but in reality, it's a former servant of Azalin's.
  • Gypsy Curse.
  • Hammer Horror.
  • Haunted Castle.
  • Haunted House: Several of them. The module Bleak House being the best example.
  • He Who Fights Monsters: Rudolph Van Richten, author of the guides to Ravenloft's monsters, is a subversion: He started out angry and vindictive, but mellowed out as time went on, even learning to forgive the Vistani who had stolen his son. He still has nothing but vitriol for liches and willing vampires, but in those cases, they were evil before they became monsters.
    • Although one of the possible endings for the final module suggests that Van Richten finally became a darklord in his own right.
      • Or was locked in an oubliette within the Mists, if the 3E product-line is accepted as canon.
  • He Who Must Not Be Named: Lord Soth became such because of the copyright issues (see Exiled From Continuity above) and is mentioned only as a "Black Knight" or a Blackguard. In Secrets Of The Dread Realms, it is said that "no Sithican will speak his name for fear of calling him back from whatever abyss claimed him".
    • To a lesser extent, many of the gods such as Bane and Lathander got renamed to the more generic The Lawgiver and Morninglord.
  • Headless Horseman
  • Hereditary Curse: Some of the noble families are saddled with these, such as the propensity to madness displayed by the Hiregaard clan in Legacies of the Blood. One of the most powerful spells introduced as part of the setting allows the caster to inflict this trope upon an enemy and their descendents.
  • Heroic Albino: Helping an innocent young albino girl find refuge from prejudice among other human oddities is one of the sample scenarios from the supplement Carnival.
  • Horny Devils: The setting has relatively few demons (well, for D&D anyway) but one of the more prominent, the Gentleman Caller, is an incubus who has fathered one pseudo darklord and a couple of younger villains of the setting...
  • The Hunter: Dr. Rudolph Van Richten. The PCs may also take on this sort of role depending on how the GM is running the setting.
  • Identity Amnesia: Do not stay in Darkon longer than a few weeks. You did? Oh, never mind, of course you can stay, because you're suddenly convinced you were born there.
  • Ignored Epiphany: Lord Soth is the poster child for this in Knight of the Black Rose. Some of the other darklords seem to do their best to avoid confronting and dealing with the truth as well.
    • Strahd, ever notice that ever since that night, a reincarnation of Tatyana shows up every generation? It's only been...how many centuries?
      • Notice it? Strahd anticipates it. What he's refused to notice is that her repeated appearances—and repeated tragic deaths—might be trying to tell him something.
      • Arguably, if Strahd, Soth and all the others were the sort of people (or monsters) capable of letting go of something or compromising their ambitions then the mists would never have chosen them. Also arguably, this is a theme that ties back into the gothic genre in general, in which the villain refuses to let go of something or someone long after they should have.
        • It's stated in some of the source material that this may be intentional on the part of the Dark Powers. To prolong the suffering of the Darklord, the Powers will always ensure that a glimmer of hope remains: It is never solely a twist of fate that prevents success, but also a failing on the Darklord's part (or the intervention of another). Thus the Darklord will always be left with the hope that "next time", it will be different, as long as they don't make the same mistake again (of course, they will simply make a different mistake).
  • Infant Immortality: Subverted, new mothers need to keep a VERY close eye on their babies. And even that's not always enough.
  • Informed Ability: Especially notable with Darklords whose superpowers are social influence or cerebral. E.g. Azalin is hailed as a genius-level spellcaster able to use spells creatively in combat. Yet in the two official adventures where he features prominently as a combat Big Bad, the writers presumably realized there was no way to do him justice. In one adventure they write in a plotline justifying a death wish so he's "intentionally" not using any of his brilliant strategies, and in another adventure they simply ignore it and write ultra-generic description text of a battle raging in the background. See also Take Our Word for It.
    • Being fair, in the one plotline where he wants you to kill him, that's because he's running a Xanatos Gambit where your destroying his current body is part of how he will escape Ravenloft. And if Strahd van Zarovich hadn't interfered, Azalin would have made it too. No, his genius was entirely functional during that one.
  • Informed Flaw: Each Darklord has a curse of sorts, but some of the curses are abstract or far-reaching to the point where they have little practical effect in the scope of a typical adventure. One darklord's curse is that he cannot learn any new spells, but the game designers struggled to reconcile this with his Informed Ability of being a top-notch spellcaster. Later game supplements all but tell Dungeon Masters to ignore the original curse.
    • Azalin is a top-notch spellcaster. It's just that he's only top notch at the spells he currently knows and will never be able to expand beyond that. From time to time, his stats and spell lists are updated to take into account new spells created in those supplements. In effect, they are a Retcon of the stats released in earlier products. As for the curses of other darklords, they are not usually there for PCs to take advantage of in battle, but instead are there for the darklord to live a life of 100% pure sucktitude.
  • Innocence Lost: A game mechanic. Every character has an "Innocence" stat which provides limited protection from the Dark Powers. The problem is, witnessing the horrors that occur in Ravenloft tends to erode it over time, even if the character lives a life of unparalleled virtue.
  • Ironic Hell: Each domain is tailored to its darklord. All are given great power but at the cost of what they truly desire. Strahd is an immortal warrior-wizard and unquestioned ruler but can never possess the woman he loves. Azalin rules the largest domain in Ravenloft and is probably the most powerful Darklord there is, but cannot learn new magic. Others include a werewolf who hates his human side but will become human if he acts like an animal, a sadistic killer whose presence removes pain and whose touch cures all ills (including death), and a wolfwere who wants to rule his domain but whose people acknowledge no ruler.
  • Jerkass Genie: The MO of the Dark Powers is to grant a person's wish in the most horrible manner possible, landing them in an Ironic Hell.
  • Karma Houdini: Nope, won't find any here. Moving along...
  • Karmic Transformation.
  • Knight in Sour Armour: The demiplane might as well have a Cynical Messiah Factory.
  • Knight Templar: One darklord, Elena Faith-hold, is a former paladin.
  • Kryptonite Factor: Virtually any monster is likely to have one, and identifying the Factor of an individual creature is often the only way to defeat it.
  • Literary Agent Hypothesis: Van Richten's monster guides are presented as documents written by Rudolph Van Richten (and later his heirs, the Weathermay-Foxgrove twins). The Gazetteer series, spotlighting the demiplane's domains, is presented as a research project by the scholar 'S' for a mysterious patron. Both of them have Out of Character side bars explaining the (admittedly very few) factual errors.
  • Load-Bearing Boss: Depending on how the GM wants to run things, the Darklords could end up being load bearing bosses for their whole domain.
  • Looks Like She Is Enjoying It: Cover of Van Richten's Guide to Lycanthropes.
  • Lord British Postulate: Gwydion, an Eldritch Abomination, has only been given stats for his tentacles, not his body.
  • Love Makes You Evil: Strahd's backstory.
  • Mad Doctor: Doctor Mordenheim (a Captain Ersatz for Doctor Frankenstein), and Doctor Heinfroth (keeper of the resident Bedlam House). Darklord Frantisek Markov (a Captain Ersatz for Doctor Moreau) has no medical training, but he doesn't let that stop him experimenting on any animals, or humans, unfortunate enough to cross his path.
  • Magic-Powered Pseudoscience: It is possible for non magic using characters to create Dread Golems or even Undead, but it is stated that these creations gain their dark lifeforce from the Dark Powers granting it to them.
  • Magical Library: The lich-king Azalin has a library which houses the self-updating life stories of every sentient being who has ever been born in his domain of Darkon, or who's entered it and stayed long enough to lose all memory of their previous life. Destroying your own book is one of the few ways to recover from Darkon's insidious Identity Amnesia effect.
  • Micro Monarchy: Ghastria, until the Great Upheaval.
  • Monster Mash
  • Moral Event Horizon: In-Universe - The term for this in Ravenloft is an "Act of Ultimate Darkness," and it's a requirement for becoming one of the setting's dreaded Darklords; a near-perfect blend of Hypocrisy, depravity, cruelty, and selfishness. The clincher, though, is absolute refusal to acknowledge that what they did was wrong. Indeed, that's part of The Punishment for darklords—that if they worked up the moral strength to admit that what they have done is inexcusable and that they reaped what they sowed, their curse would be moot. Then again, the books pretty much say that if they were the sorts of people who'd be able to do that, they would never have become darklords in the first place.
  • Mummy: Mummies got their own rules supplement back in 2E called Van Richten's Guide to the Ancient Dead.
  • Necromancer: Strahd is a Necromancer Specialist Wizard, as are the darklords of I'Cath and the Nocturnal Sea. There are likely tons of others lurking around, due to the nature of the setting.
  • No Campaign for the Wicked: Even if there is no strict obligation for Player Characters to always be goodie do-gooders, morally questionable actions tend to attract the attention of the Dark Powers. After five failed "Power Checks", the character becomes an NPC; the sixth sends them headlong into darklord territory.
  • Ominous Fog: The Mists of Ravenloft are iconic setpieces, and are out and out said to work for the Dark Powers. The Mists are often used to block various domains from each other, and to transport unsuspecting characters to wherever the GM pleases.
  • One-Winged Angel: Everyone has a chance of doing this—ding the local Karma Meter too often, and you'll find yourself turning into a literal Complete Monster. Too bad it's a real curse though...
  • Only Shop in Town: Bildrath's Mercantile is this, not only to the village of Barovia, but to the whole domain.
  • Our Demons Are Different: All evil outsiders usually come to the demiplane by possessing someone, or by being summoned in by powerful spellcasters. They become trapped like everyone else once they are in. A powerful Incubus named the Gentlemen Caller is trying to escape by creating a child capable of escaping from the Demiplane. Fiends even got their own rules supplement dedicated to them called Van Richten's Guide to Fiends in 2nd Edition.
    • Due to their rarity, Van Richten himself is under the impression that All Demons Are Different, i.e. every one is unique in its powers and appearance.
  • Our Goblins Are Wickeder: A local variant are called goblyns, and they are humans mutated into monsters by dark magic.
    • And they're all Violent Glaswegians to a Goblyn.
    • There are also plenty of conventional D&D goblins in Ravenloft. Even they are Different from most game goblins, being closer to their fairy-tale roots.
  • Our Monsters Are Different: The iconic creatures, as described by Rudolph van Richten in his monster hunters' guides, have unique features that must be researched in order to properly fight them.
  • Our Orcs Are Different: To set it apart from traditional fantasy settings, there are actually no orcs in Ravenloft at all. There's a record of one single orc who was brought to the Land of Mists as part of a twisted carnival, but the Dark Powers warped him into a grotesque ape-man.
    • The setting thus doesn't have half-orcs as Player Characters, but Calibans—humans deformed in their mothers' wombs by curses or evil magics—fill that role.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: Although individual vampires' powers can vary, Ravenloft for the most part played the "standard" vampire as close to the (Hollywood) archetype as possible, at least where the strict avoidance of Friendly Neighborhood Vampires is concerned.
    • The setting has literally TONS of variants (even though the regular ones are most common): a racial variant for each race (e.g. elven vampires kill vegetation and are harmed by moonlight), nosferatu that can walk around in the daytime, vampyres (who aren't undead but living creatures that suck blood), and about a zillion others.
  • Patchwork Map: Justified by the very nature of the world. The Dark Powers have even been known to add, subtract, or rearrange the patches from time to time.
  • Path of Inspiration: The Eternal Order, Darkon's official religion, is a Religion of Evil in disguise and a tool of political control of the population in the hands of Azalin.
    • In G'henna, the Church of Zhakata also fits this trope.
  • Poisonous Person: Ivana Boritsi and her Ermordenung.
  • Popularity Power: In Knight of the Black Rose, Count Strahd lures Soth into attacking Gundarak, a neighboring domain, on the promise that a portal there may lead him back home. Soth singlehandedly breaks into Duke Gundar's castle, murders his son, and uses his blood to open the portal while the Duke, supposedly an all-powerful Darklord in the seat of his power, takes one look at Lord Soth and vanishes until the scary man goes away. When the portal doesn't work as advertised, Soth intends to do the same to Strahd, but gets sidetracked by the Sorting Algorithm of Revenge and trapped in his own domain before he get the chance.
    • Partially justified in game stat terms as Soth was both higher-level and a Death Knight, a very powerful type of undead warrior who as such was impervious to most of a vampire's bag of tricks.
  • Powers That Be: The Dark Powers. No one is sure what they want, or why. Only that they tend to do dramatic things, and stay strictly off-camera.
  • Promoted Fanboy: The 3E Ravenloft products produced by Arthaus were written, in part, by fans who'd come to the attention of White Wolf with their high-quality netzines about the setting.
  • Railroading: A lot of early Ravenloft adventures forced the party to go from Point A to Point B. Some even recommend the party die in order to get where they need to go. Also, the nature of the setting makes this very, very easy for a GM. Characters going in the wrong direction? Have undead hordes keep attacking them out of nowhere—it happens all the time here. They want to visit another domain? Just close it off, problem solved.
  • Ravens and Crows: Just about the only potentially good-aligned creatures in Ravenloft, they sometimes help The Atoner.
  • Razor Floss: Spider-like monsters called Head Hunters spin razor-sharp near-invisible webs that can decapitate the unwary.
  • The Renfield: Naturally, since the setting has every classic vampire trope, there's plenty of these running around.
  • Religion of Evil: The setting has quite a few of them, evil cults and dark religions being quite a natural aspect of gothicism, but the most notable one is the Church of the Lawgiver, which is the state religion of both Nova Vaasa (which is generally regarded as a self-centered backwater, even in Ravenloft) and Hazlan (where the Mulan desperately cling to it as a further way to control the Rashemani who they persist in treating as subhuman chattel despite the slaves outnumbering the masters by about nine to one). Being that the Church of the Lawgiver is basically the worship of Bane, Faerunian God of Tyranny, with the serial numbers filed off, it's not surprising that its membership is comprised solely of Lawful Evil and Lawful Neutral types—its dogma revolves around preaching that Status Quo Is God, those who are socially inferior must obey, and rebellion against one's superiors in even the slightest way warrants eternal damnation in the Hell of Slaves.
  • Riddle for the Ages: The true nature of the Dark Powers is this trope, both among scholars in-universe and among gamers.
  • Roma: The Vistani assume the part of the stereotyical Gypsy Fortune Teller of classic Gothic (or rather, Universal Horror) tradition.
  • Saharan Shipwreck: Why sailors traveling via Mistways prefer to avoid the Jackal's Ruse.
  • Samus Is a Girl: Most fans assumed that S was a man until Gazetteer III, when she mentioned trying to wear all the corsets, skirts, and petticoats that were popular in Dementlieu.
  • Scenery Porn: It is mentioned in the 3.0 setting book that the Demiplane of Dread is actually a beautiful land filled with lots of pretty scenery.
  • Secret Police: The Kargat who serve Azalin.
  • Shadow Dictator: The Dark Powers.
  • She's a Man In Japan: Kalid-Ma, portrayed as female in early Ravenloft appearances, is a male sorcerer-king in Dark Sun and in his/her corrected later appearances.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: Entire bloodlines can be cursed. In one or two realms, Darklord status is passed on generation to generation.
  • Small Secluded World: The entire demiplane.
  • So Beautiful It's a Curse: More literal than usual, if a Ravenloft woman is gifted with unusual beauty, it's generally so the Powers can torment her with particularly vile suitors that think "No" Means "Yes" and Rape Is Love.
  • Super Weight: Even a minor darklord of a small domain is going to be at least a 3. Major ones are the high end of 4, and would be 5 except the Powers regularly remind them exactly who's in charge here. As for the PCs, they'll be whichever tier the Powers decide for that adventure and like it.
  • Tailor-Made Prison: The entire setting is just a grouping of Oubliettes for the Darklords, along with all of the people who have to live in the domains, or those who get pulled in by the Mists from other worlds.
  • Tarot Motifs: Tarot exists in Ravenloft as "Tarokka", which is used for fortunetelling by the Vistani. "Real" Tarokka decks have been released to support the game.
  • Title of the Dead: The novel Dance of the Dead by Christie Golden.
  • Twice-Told Tale: The novel Mordenheim is a re-telling of Frankenstein.
  • Überwald: Barovia
  • Unholy Matrimony: A vampire can create a special version of The Renfield, exchanging the Mind Control aspect for becoming Mindlink Mates. The ritual has to be done in bed. With lots of panting and sweating, and both left helpless for a while afterwards. Strahd keeps trying to do this to the reincarnations of his lost love, but his curse keeps foiling the attempt.
  • Unstuck in Time: Castle Forlorn is an example of a /place/ that's unstuck in time. While the wider domain of Forlorn is temporally concurrent with the rest of the demiplane, people who enter the castle can find themselves shuttled between at least three different eras in its history.
  • Uplifted Animal: Urik von Kharkov is a panther-turned-human-turned-nosferatu. Also, the Wildlands do this to animals that stay there for long, and Markov cranks them out via vivisection.
  • Unwitting Pawn: Darklords and especially vampires like arranging these. There's a very good chance that by the end of a module the players will end up fighting whoever asked them for help in the first place. On a larger scale, the Powers are the ones that are really "playing" Ravenloft—all the characters, PC or not, are basically toys for their amusement.
  • Van Helsing Hate Crimes: Pretty much averted here; the premiere hunter of the setting, Rudolph Van Richten, is usually quite sympathetic to monsters who honestly have no choice in the matter, saving his vitriol for ones that like what they are.
  • The Von Trope Family: Strahd von Zarovich, for starters...
  • The Wall Around the World: The Misty Border that surrounds every domain, although they can also take the form of heatwaves or blizzards.
  • What Do You Mean It's Not Awesome?: The process for electing a new mayor of Skald, capital of Kartakass. The whole thing basically consists of several minutes of the candidates all explaining their platforms and issues, followed by several hours of a battle royale singing competition that's eventually decided by voice vote(read: applause). That fact that Harkon Lucas has won every "election" for the past few decades doesn't preclude, say, a PC from throwing their hat into the ring. Say what you will about it, it's still the closest thing to democracy in the Core by a long shot.
    • Your Mileage May Vary, as once you realize the final sing-off is actually designed to let the candidates shower one another with really nasty backhanded compliments, it's a lot more interesting.
  • Who Dunnit to Me?: Ratik Ubel, a revenant who seeks to identify and take vengeance on his own murderer.
  • Winter Royal Lady: Jezra Wagner, a spectre who haunts the high mountains of Barovia.
  • Wolverine Publicity: No fewer than a half dozen different darklords have visiting Barovia and being chased off by Count von Zarovich as part of their background. Lord Soth got around this by already having as much Popularity Power as the Count, who only escaped with his undead hide intact by kicking out one of Soth's ghostly servants who'd sought shelter with him. Soth cared more about getting revenge on his disloyal servant than on repaying the insults the Count had visited on him, and so chased his servant all the way to the Misty Border, where he eventually caught and killed him (again), but not before being caught by the Mists and trapped in his own domain.
    • Played straight and averted in the Domains of Dread core rulebook, which introduced Vecna and Kas as darklords. Unlike the Lord Soth example, Vecna's entrapment was explicitly acknowledged by various Greyhawk sourcebooks when he was described as missing and/or trapped. Played straight as Vecna and Kas were two of the most famous Greyhawk characters in the setting and introduced some measure of celebrity to Ravenloft, but averted when the two were given a pair of domains adjacent to one another and in their own separate cluster where they could war against each other eternally, effectively making their appearance a sideshow that wouldn't disrupt the Core domains as a whole. Vecna, already a demigod at the very limits of the Dark Powers to hold and contain, managed to escape within a few years in an insane Gambit Roulette scheme that involved luring Iuz to Ravenloft, absorbing his essence to become a true god, and using his power to warp the Mists into shunting him into Sigil where, as a true God within the Cage, his very presence began breaking down the rules of reality (and replacing them with those of 3rd edition). Problematic for violating the explicit rules of three different settings? Or Crowning Moment of Awesome for violating the explicit rules of three different settings? Your call.
  • World Half Empty: You have no idea.
    • It is noted that this was done deliberately: If the world is pitch-black, the actions of the heroes will shine all the brighter. Despite its World Half Empty aspects, it's actually pretty far along the idealistic scale.
    • Debatable, since canonically, the heroes can't do much to actually change anything. You can never get rid of a Darklord unless the Dark Powers allow it (which they won't), at best you might (temporarily) save half a dozen people out of millions that are suffering.
      • But to paraphrase the old parable about starfish, it still makes a difference to them.
      • You can get rid of a darklord, actually. And in at least one published adventure, you do.
    • The Domains of Dread campaign book and 3rd Edition products from Arthaus both eased off on this trope, as these products adapted the setting for native player characters, not Mist-imports from other game settings. Rather than a blatant Crapsack World, they made it feel more like an entire Demiplane With A Dark Secret, in which the masses are largely unaware that their world is any grimmer than normal, the average person never knowingly meets a monster, and the existence of darklords is unknown to all but a handful of occult scholars.
  • World's Most Beautiful Woman: Tatyana
  • Yank the Dog's Chain: The Dark Powers' favorite modus operandi.