Wizards of the Coast, $14.95, ISBN 978-0-7869-4123-0
Fantasy Horror, 2006 (Reissue)
In the Gothic horror fantasy roleplaying game world of Ravenloft, Count Strahd von Zarovich is supposed to be one of the most powerful fiends in that setting. Unfortunately, this character is created to mirror too faithfully the character of Count Dracula… that is, the Count Dracula that was played by George Hamilton, more like a campy desperate lech than a genuine villain.
You see, while King Azalin in neighboring Darkon schemes and plans to avoid his wretched fate, while Malocchio Andarre does an ethnic cleansing on the Vistanis in Invidia, and while even the losers in Sithicus are feuding, Strahd is content to mope in his castle until he hears news that his beloved Tatiana has been reincarnated. He will then pursue this woman until cruel fate – usually involving the likes of the damsel leaping to her death from the balcony or something – takes her away from him. Strahd can control the deadly mists surrounding his domain of Barovia, he can mind charm people, and he can control wolves, but all he does is to mope like a dope in his castle when he’s not chasing after some woman young enough to be his daughter. Pathetic, isn’t he?
PN Elrod was commissioned by TSR to give Strahd a larger-than-life personality in this, Strahd’s “memoirs” I, Strahd. Don’t ask me why our dopey mopehead decides to write a memoir – maybe he is inspired by Stephenie Meyer and Anne Rice to flex his literary muscles. Strahd’s life story is actually widely told and retold in various Ravenloft core books and supplements, so if you are familiar with them, you may find the synopsis familiar as well.
Okay, before he becomes a vampire, Strahd is a middle-aged conqueror of a distant land. He lopes a few heads, raises taxes to a crippling rate, and generally behaves like a bored old man. And then his brother Sergei comes to join him, and Strahd barely has any patience for his brother. That kid is destined to be a priest, after all, and he and Strahd barely know each other despite being brothers. When Sergei falls for a young woman named Tatiana, that’s when Strahd’s jealousy causes him to do really bad things.
Supposedly bad things, anyway. While there is no denying that the things Strahd does in this story are far from noble, there is nothing here that is truly evil enough to deserve his elevation into being one of the most evil beings in the Ravenloft universe. So he’s a tyrannical ruler who is mad in lust for a woman half his age – show me any aging creep from Ming the Conqueror to Oda Nobunaga who isn’t guilty of such things. Maybe I’m expecting too much, but I’d like to see something truly and horrifically heinous on a wide scale – such as widespread ethnic cleansing using horrific methods of execution or something – anything that justifies Strahd being a cut above the rest when it comes to villainy.
Instead, I get a boring cruel bloke who spends the whole story moping like an emo brat and wringing his hands in petty jealousy. He has no sense of humor, no charm, no hint of some kind of charisma that allows him to command the loyalty of so many followers despite being a tyrant. There are even moments after Strahd has been turned into a vampire when Ms Elrod attempts to turn Strahd into some kind of hero who rains retribution on his betrayers. This development has me scratching my head, because I find Strahd too much of a humorless douchebag to play a convincing antihero.
For someone unfamiliar with Ravenloft lore, he or she may read this book wondering why such a boring over-the-hill killjoy guy is given his own “memoirs”. For anyone who finds Strahd a larger-than-life icon of that setting, I, Strahd actually damages the mythos of that fellow by exposing him as a whiny twit with a huge stick up his rear end. Poor Strahd: try as he might, he can’t avoid being typecast as a hammy mope. At least he doesn’t sparkle, I guess.