“D&D Did You Know’s” is another open-ended series that I’ll be doing. In this case, it’s going to be short posts wherein I highlight tidbits of D&D lore that I think are interesting, quirky, or otherwise worth noting.
Ravenloft was always my most favorite of the AD&D campaign worlds. The gothic horror atmosphere of the setting was always very evocative to me, particularly with how it wasn’t afraid to rewrite the rules of the game to be less friendly towards the PCs. Fear and horror checks systematized how sometimes a character’s reactions aren’t under their control. Powers checks punished immoral behavior with physical corruption. And of course, magic was altered in ways that diminished the forces of good and heightened the powers of darkness.
But to me, one of the most iconic aspects of Ravenloft was that it could snatch you up at a moment’s notice…and once it did, getting out was almost impossible. Portals out of the Demiplane of Dread were exceptionally rare and always temporary (albeit typical fare at the end of the early Ravenloft adventures), meaning that characters that went to Ravenloft could usually count on being there for quite a long time.
…just like with Dragonlance.
It’s easy to miss, but if you look at the AD&D First Edition book Dragonlance Adventures – the first formal campaign setting for the world of Krynn, being published just after the original fourteen adventures that made up the War of the Lance – there’s a little note on page 12 (under the “Travelers from the Beyond” section) that reads as follows:
Those who come to Krynn from other worlds may find more than they bargained for. The gods of Krynn have secured their world against such incursions for fear of upsetting the balance of the world. There is a 1% per day cumulative chance that a character visiting Krynn from other worlds cannot return across the void to his home world. This percentage is checked any time an attempt is made. Those failing this check remain on Krynn. This percentage never gets any higher than 98%.
Now, that’s not quite the same as Ravenloft’s near-unbreakable ban on leaving, but it can be quite daunting to characters that spend weeks or months on Krynn before trying to leave. Especially when you consider that they have no way of knowing that this is a percentile roll rather than just a blanket ban; when the first five or six plane shift spells fail, is it really unreasonable to think that whatever’s going on is insurmountable, rather than just playing the odds?
Of course, all of this is only true in AD&D First Edition. No such provision shows up in the AD&D Second Edition or D&D Third Edition incarnations of the Dragonlance campaign. Heck, Second Edition even had an entire supplement about spelljamming there.
We can catch a faint glimpse of that old rule, however, in Chronomancer, an AD&D 2E supplement about time-travel. It has an appendix talking about how that works in specific campaign worlds, and notes that Krynn’s timeline has several points that branch off into alternate realities:
Should a chronomancer enter Temporal Prime at one of these “nodes,” he may be shunted into a reality other than his own (75% chance, or DM’s choice). When this happens, the trip becomes one-way, and the chronomancer cannot return to his original timeline, instead being confined to this new reality even if he returns repeatedly to the node.
Dragonlance is the sort of campaign world that, once you go there, you just can’t pull yourself away from it…literally.