What is it about the Ravenloft campaign setting that draws my attention, decades after I was introduced to it? What strange magic fascinates me with the moors and dark forests of Barovia, the glittering waterfalls and unforgiving peaks that circle around the rustic towns where villagers fear the coming of the night? Whether it's forgotten tombs or haunted country lanes, or even the the dread castle of Baron Strahd von Zarovich itself, the setting is replete with locales and ambience that just cannot be beat.
Perhaps it is because there is a strange simplicity to be had there. The old gothic setting is very clear about good and evil: the forces of darkness are vast and powerful and it is not a question of how the good guy will win but whether he shall simply be able to survive the night. There is evil, there is vast amounts of fear and indifference, and then there are a few scattered pockets of good fighting an impossible battle against a foe that cannot be defeated. True heroism, in other words, and true monsters.
Ravenloft harkens back to the old Hammer horror films, where Bela Lugosi intoned how he did not drink wine, where heroines ran in terror through the woods dressed only in white camisoles, where brave doctors and men of science would venture out into the night to face the unspeakable.
This world of good and evil soon gave way to camp mockery, as vampires began to be taken less seriously, which in turn gave way to the vampire of the early '90s where Anne Rice and White Wolf redeemed the vampire by making him post modern--no longer were they monsters, but now they were sexual predators, they were human yet more, scorning crucifixes and garlic and wearing leather jackets and sporting pony tails. Count Dracula was a product of human foolishness, our attempt to understand the real monsters that were modern and feral and seductive in our midst. All the old laws were transgressed, and in that act of transgression, in the ridicule for such ancient beliefs as their not being able to cross running water, we found a new paradigm that compelled our faith in these monsters of the night.
And yet. Despite our modern take, something about Ravenloft calls me back. That old fear, that old traditional take on good and evil. That's why the moors of Barovia will always sing a siren song for me, because 21st century man that I am, something about Ravenloft is truly rock n' roll.