Bleak House

Bleak House: The Death Of Rudolph Van Richten is a 1996 adventure boxed set released for the Advanced Dungeons & Dragons setting of Ravenloft. As its name suggests, it chronicles the doom of Van Richten, the most famous monster hunter in the Demiplane of Dread, with the party taking part in the whole affair.

As an adventure-proper, Bleak House is more properly a mini-campaign, consisting of three interlinked adventures; "Whom Fortune Would Destroy", "The Baron", and "Homecoming". The boxed set consists of three books; Sea of Madnes (containing the first two adventures), Homecoming (containing the final adventure), and Heroes, Monsters & Settings (stats for Van Richten, the Thinker, Dr. Heinfroth, Heinfroth's cerebral vampires and minions, Baron Metus and Madame Radanavich, basic info & maps for Dominia and Martira Bay).

The campaign's plot is fairly simple: when Van Richten destroyed the Radanavich tribe of Vistani, its raunie's self-righteous rage at her fate allowed her to return from the grave as a vengeful ghost, animating her dead kin as ghouls and cannibal zombies. Roaming the mists, she settled in Richten Haus, the ancestral estate of Van Richten himself, the good doctor having abandoned it in heart-sickness after the deaths of his wife and son. Here, for many years, she used her powers to spy on Van Richten, delighting in watching his trials as her curse worked. But then Van Richten made peace with the last living Radanavich (an adventure detailed in Van Richten's Guide to the Vistani), and she was thwarted in her vengeance. But then, the Gentleman Caller came to her, this malevolent incubus providing her with advice on dark magics normally beyond her means. With his tutelage, she managed to raise some of those slain by her curse as ghostly minions, and furthermore to resurrect the slain vampire, Baron Metus. Together, they plotted to destroy Van Richten.

Baron Metus sought out a Vistani Psionicist, known now only as The Thinker. Hewing off his limbs and torturing him relentlessly, the baron forced the psionicist to bedevil Van Richten's mind with nightmares, pushing him to the very brink of his sanity. With a little extra manipulation on his own part, he had the doctor sent off to the island insane asylum of Dominia, known to the outside world as a place of great healing and care for the mentally disturbed... but, in reality, the larder of a sadistic cerebral vampire (a bizarre vampire subtype that feeds on cerebrospinal fluid instead of blood), Dr. Heinfroth, obsessed with torturous experiments into the nature of insanity. Needless to say, Dr. Van Richten's sanity soon grew even thinner.

The adventure begins with the party being stranded in the Sea of Sorrows, where they are picked up by the caravel Mercy - the cerebral vampire-crewed ship that brings Heinfroth fresh victims. Brought to Dominia, they must escape Heinfroth's clutches, and rescue Van Richten in the process.

After escaping from Dominia, the party arrives in the Darkonese port city of Martira Bay. Here, they must avoid attracting the suspicions of the law, lest they be sent back to Dominia, whilst ultimately learning that Baron Metus resides in a black tower close to the city. To save Van Richten's sanity, they must slay the vampire once again and free his tormented captive.

Finally, in "Homecoming", the party and Van Richten are drawn through the mists to the cursed Richten Haus, where they must battle against Madame Radanavich and her minions. In this struggle, they have unusual allies; the ghosts of servants who died in a tangled web of passion gone awry in Van Richten's childhood, and the nascent spirit of the house itself.

This final adventure has a strange touch to it. Van Richten's doom is inescapable. However, in what is perhaps an homage to I6: Ravenloft and I10: Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill, there is a level of randomness to it. Early in "Homecoming", the party randomly generates one of four special artifacts that they must retrieve; which one is chosen determines which of the four "good" endings they can get (as opposed to the universal "bad" ending of running away from the house or being killed to the last).

If the artifact determined by the Tarokka Reading was Casimir's knife, then Van Richten suddenly stands up strong and bold, denouncing Madame Radanavich and declaring she has no power over him, for she is now nothing more but a victim of her own evil. Merging with the spirit of Richten Haus, his words spell her doom, causing her to fade away into nothing before Van Richten collapses, physically dead, spiritually merged with the spirit of the house and determined to imprison Radanavich's corrupt soul for all time.

If the artifact determined by the Tarokka Reading was the young Van Richten's medical satchel, then Madame Radanavich possesses Van Richten's newly youthened body. This prompts the spirit of the house to manifest itself, and the ghost to try and commit suicide; if the party doesn't stop her, then the outraged house-spirit will recreate all of the destroyed undead and set them on the party, killing them to the last. If they prevent Van Richten's death, the house banishes Radanavich and sends them away, as Van Richten's best hope is to grow up again here.

If the artifact determined by the Tarokka Reading was Josef's Ledger, then Van Richten suffers a fatal heart attack. Once they have slain the Vistani ghost, Van Richten rises as a non-evil shade himself, forever tied to Richten Haus.

If the artifact determined by the Tarokka Reading was Gretta's Doll, Van Richten's wrathful spirit merges with the house, even as Madame Radanavich kills him; the undead Vistani start to be consumed by the house itself, and the party must make a fighting retreat - which ends with the house devouring Madame Radanavich, trapping her evil within its walls forever. Van Richten's ghost then manifests to explain what has happened and how he must now guard the evil spirits of the Radanaviches before wishing them well.

Thus ends the story of Van Richten. This adventure can be used to complete either a Weekend in Hell or as part of an ongoing Ravenloft campaign, especially if the party got the ending where Van Richten has been given a new childhood; after all, they could help shape the restored Van Richten to be an even greater hero than he already was.