I’m on Reddit a lot.
Like… a lot. I’m not even sure there are other websites out there at this point. Besides this one, of course.
With all the time that I spend on the “front page of the internet”, I see a lot of weird things. And because I frequent the r/curseofstrahd subreddit, some of those weird things overlap with my favorite Dungeons & Dragons adventure.
One thing I see again and again are reports of players whose want to romance Strahd von Zarovich. They espouse his “dreaminess” or the allure of his dark and brooding nature. They aspire to redeem him and lead him back to the light—as if the former warlord would shake off his past misdeeds and settle down to an idyllic life of running a frozen yogurt stand.
Putting aside the problems inherent with believing that any individual can be “fixed”, let’s take a look at why romantic entanglements with Dungeons & Dragons’ “First Vampire” is a horrible idea.
Strahd is horrible
Tracy Hickman—Strahd’s co-creator—described Strahd von Zarovich as:
… a selfish beast forever lurking behind a mask of tragic romance, the illusion of redemption that was ever only camouflage for his prey.
Even Strahd’s real dad thinks that he’s a piece of crap. At no point during his conception, or any of his subsequent official appearances in Dungeons & Dragons lore, was Strahd ever intended to be anything but a monster with a pretty face. He was always, without exception, a horrible being.
As if coveting his brother’s girlfriend to the point of murdering said brother wasn’t bad enough, this is a guy who flooded an entire town (Berez, Curse of Strahd), killed a family of travelers in the night (Vampire in the Mists), his own best friend (I, Strahd: Memoirs of a Vampire) and took many a maid to his castle, never to return. I’m sure I’m leaving out some canonical heinous deeds both pre-and-post life.
Beyond what he did in the past, Strahd is a horrible being in the present. He manipulates those around him. He is physically and mentally abusive. What he calls “love” is more akin to an unhealthy obsession and fascination. And, when his playthings begin to bore him, he locks them in crypts to waste away and die.
He’s just not very nice.
Strahd is not a person
I don’t mean this in the literal sense that he’s a fictional character rather than a real-world person.
Strahd is a collection of bad ideas and toxic personality traits made manifest, held together by malice and maladjustment. He is the personification of envy and a lust for power over others. He is more a literary symbol than a three-dimensional character.
A person is so much more than a collection of ideas. People are complex and multifaceted. They’re even contradictory. They are capable of change and development. Strahd, on the other hand, is none of these things beyond some superficial façade put on to fool the characters in your game.
If portrayed as written, Strahd’s goals are simple and he is single-minded in his pursuits. Every part of his being aligns toward these goals, with no contradictions. His follies and faults remain constant throughout his history (which is what keeps him trapped in Barovia). And most importantly, he is incapable of meaningful change—either is it below him or it is beyond him.
Strahd’s isn’t simply “not the kind of person you love.” He simply isn’t a person at all.
Vampires are metaphors for rape, abuse, and other societal woes
I’m no folklorist, but I’m well aware that the concept of a vampire—or some form of life-draining undead—is a universal concept that can trace its roots back for millennia. In every corner of our planet, living individuals independently came up with the idea that the dead may rise up to gain succor on the lifeforce of those who still live.
Throughout our shared history with the legend of the vampire, the exact thing that they symbolize has changed quite often. In early times and cultures, the vampire represented death, decay, and a fear of what lies beyond our own mortal experience. In more recent times, they became a symbol of abuse and spousal murder.
That modern version of the vampire didn’t come about until 1819 when it was put onto paper by John William Polidori in his short tale, The Vampyre. In this story, the primary antagonist—Lord Ruthven—was modeled after one of Polidori’s close friends, Lord George Gordon Byron.
Yes, that Lord Byron.
Lord Ruthven goes on to murder several characters in the story, ostensibly the woman he aims to marry at the story’s end.
Later on in the same century, Bram Stoker took the imagery of the noble aristocrat several steps further with his titular character, Dracula. In addition to being a charming and suave nobleman, Dracula was blessed with many a supernatural power, such as shape shifting and hypnotism. In the book, Stoker uses vampires and blood to explore the societal and sexual issues that pervaded Victorian England at the time. Once again, spousal murder is the order of the day with Dracula causing Lucy Westerna to be killed at the hands of her fiancé, and also aiming to make an undead bride of Mina Harker.
Count Strahd von Zarovich is, of course, based closely upon Count Dracula. They both ooze charm and charisma, have brooding castles and three “brides”, and both have a penchant for young and beautiful women. His single-minded obsession with Tatyana and his penchant for locking away brides that bore him touch on the abusive side of the vampire metaphor.
None of this makes for a particularly pleasing paramour, especially given that these tendencies will be unleashed upon any who engage in a romantic entanglement with Barovia’s dark lord.
But take this with a grain of salt
Seriously, feel free to ignore all of what I wrote up above for two reasons.
First, your game is your game. You control it, and Strahd is whoever you say he is. If you want him to be a redeemable edgelord with a troubled past, then that’s perfectly valid!
Secondly, Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft has provided Strahd with an alibi—of sorts—by way of the Priests of Osybus. They’re my least favorite addition to the Ravenloft lore, in that they excuse Strahd’s actions. According to the book, Strahd wasn’t such a bad guy until these Priests of Osybus began to work on his mind in secret, turning him down a dark path for their own ends. I much prefer my Strahd to be “Grade A Asshole” without any external factors weighing in, but that’s just me.