The nightbound realm of Sithicus is dying!
The grey forested crags scarred by jagged rifts echo with the laments of the dying elven nation. But the lord of the land sits uncaring on his blackened throne in the charred castle of Negragaard, lost in ancient memories. Through his passion and hatred the nightmare haunted death knight, Lord Soth, permitted catastrophe to befall his native world of Krynn. Now trapped in the Realm of Terror, Soth has once more brough calamity to his home. Abandoning rule of his twisted realm of Sithicus, Lord Soth has retreated to a still more distorted domain: the mad fantasies of his own history.
To save the land and themselves, the heroes must venture into banshee-haunted Nedragaard Keep, and there into the warped mindscapes of a tormented darklord. The history of the greatest villain of the DragonLance Saga is at last revealed in the Realm of Terror.
For fans of DRAGONLANCE and RAVENLOFT adventures alike. This grand adventure is suited for four to six player characters of levels 4-6. No prior knowledge of Krynn or the DRAGONLANCE Saga is necessary. You must have the RAVENLOFT boxed campaign set to use this adventure.
"When Black Roses Bloom" (1995), by Lisa Smedman, is the sixteenth Ravenloft adventure. It was published in February 1995.
Continuing the Ravenloft Adventures. The Ravenloft line concentrated on adventures after the release of its updated Campaign Setting (1994). "When Black Roses Bloom" thus followed "The Awakening" (1994), "Hour of the Knife" (1994) and "Howls in the Night" (1994).
Adventure Tropes. It was common for Ravenloft adventures of this era to center on the lord of a domain, and that's the case here: "When Black Roses Bloom" is all about Lord Soth of Sithicus. There's even a brief crawl through his Keep in the middle of the adventure.
However the keep crawl (which is somewhat sparsely detailed) is the exception in this adventure, not the rule. Like most AD&D 2e (1989) adventures, "When Black Roses Bloom" is largely event-driven. The adventure's heart is a series of encounters through magic mirrors, each of which details a fantastical version of a vital juncture in Lord Soth's history. It's a rather unique twist for an AD&D adventure, but still a variant of the event-driven encounter format.
The ending of "When Black Roses Bloom" originally had the goddess Takhisis appearing in Ravenloft. She would have given players the chance to escape Ravenloft … but they would have ended up in the Abyss instead! Project coordinator Harold Johnson didn't like this ending and had author Steve Miller rewrite it; now it's all about Lord Soth. This also kept any deities from manifesting in Ravenloft, which the Dark Powers surely appreciated!
Expanding Ravenloft. "When Black Roses Bloom" provides extensive details on Lord Soth's home, the Ravenloft domain of Sithicus. It reveals an elf-peopled land that'squite different from the gothic visions of most of Ravenloft's domains. However, elf doesn't mean happy: the elves are pale reflections of the Silvanesti of Krynn, depressed and depressing. (Nonetheless, the high fantasy theming is unusual for the setting.)
Much of the focus of the adventure is on Nedgregaard Keep, including maps and scattered details of the castle. This is largely based on "Dargaard Keep", by Michael Gray, from DL16: "World of Krynn" (1988). Though the plot of Gray's Dragonlance adventure adventure was largely non-canonized, it still presents the best maps of Dargaard (and thus a good reflection of Nedgregaard as well).
Expanding Dragonlance. Thanks to its memory mirrors, "When Black Roses Bloom" contains some great details on the world of Krynn too — albeit, viewed through Lord Soth's warped desires. Not only do the mirrors reveal Soth's history, but they also touch upon crucial points in Krynn's history such as the Cataclysm and the conquest of Palanthas during the War of the Lance.
Of course, the mirrors show alternate histories, not the real thing, but that ties nicely into the Dragonlance saga too. The mage Raistlin experienced alternate visions of his own past and future in the Legends trilogy (1986), and years later Sovereign Press published a sourcebook all about alternate histories on the River of Time, called Legends of the Twins (2006).
NPCs of Note. Ravenloft was TSR's second great campaign setting to focus on crossing over their many worlds. Ravenloft: Realm of Terror (1990) was thus full of characters from other settings, but only one of them had previously appeared: Lord Soth, from the Dragonlance saga.
Soth first appeared, briefly, in DL8: "Dragons of War" (1985), then returned in minor roles throughout the later Dragonlance adventures. His biggest spotlight was in DL16: "World of Krynn" (1988) … where he died. But that adventure (which also featured a tarrasque in Soth's basement) was quickly non-canonized.
Soth then made the jump to Ravenloft: Realm of Terror, and was quickly lined up as the star of the second Ravenloft novel. The original writer for the novel fell through. Tracy Hickman was offered a shot at the novel and declined because he and TSR were on the outs at the time. Other authors wrote proposals, but they all suggested big changes to Soth's character, which Ravenloft fiction line editor Jim Lowder refused, because he wanted to be able to hand Soth back to Krynn intact when Ravenloft was done with him. In the end, James Lowder himself was commissioned to write Knight of the Black Rose (1991), which more fully introduced Soth to the demiplane of Ravenloft.
Lowder also wrote a short story about Soth, "The Rigor of the Game". It appeared in the tenth book of Ravenloft fiction, Tales of Ravenloft (1994) and was later adapted as a comic in "The Worlds of Dungeons & Dragons #3 (July 2008).
"When Black Roses Bloom" thus marked Soth's third major appearance in Ravenloft, following the Lowder novel and short story … but he was already becoming a bit of a political hot potato. Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis had returned to the company to write new Dragonlance novels, and they were unhappy with Soth's use in Ravenloft. Reports say that as far as they were concerned, Soth had never gone to Ravenloft, and he even appeared in a cameo in Dragons of Summer Flame (1995) … which just confused the matter — though Wizards of the Coast has made it clear that Soth's sojourn to Ravenloft is a canon part of D&D lore.
Future History. Lowder wrote one more Soth novel, Spectre of the Black Rose (1999), with help from Voronica Whitney-Robinson who followed his outline. It was rushed out because Weis & Hickman had (again) returned to Dragonlance and wanted Soth back. The novel returned Soth to Krynn, but he was then promptly killed in Dragons of a Vanished Moon (2002).
At the time, Lowder had two other pieces of Soth fiction in process. "All the Colors of Sorrow" was a short story that would have fit between the two novels. Wake of the Black Rose would have been a third novel; it's been suggested that it would have followed the story of Sithicus after Soth's departure. Unfortunately both stories got caught up in Wizards' cancellation of the Ravenloft fiction line (1991-1999). Lowder later proposed the novel to White Wolf when they published Ravenloft for 3e (2001-2005), but that possibility didn't pay out either. Lowder would return to Sithicus one more time, when he wrote a report on the domain for White Wolf's Ravenloft Gazetteer: Volume IV (2003).
About the Creators. Smedman was Ravenloft's most prolific adventure writer for Ravenloft in the mid '90s, following her debut on Castles Forlorn (1993). Her work would continue into 1996 with the Grim Harvest trilogy.
About the Product Historian
The history of this product was researched and written by Shannon Appelcline, the editor-in-chief of RPGnet and the author of Designers & Dragons - a history of the roleplaying industry told one company at a time. Please feel free to mail corrections, comments, and additions to firstname.lastname@example.org.