The featured image for D&D 5e Curse of Strahd Ravenloft Barovian Souls is from Wizards of the Coast in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft.
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Curse of Strahd is an intriguing module with many mysteries for players to unravel and DMs to develop. One core mystery is the matter of soulless Barovians. What happens to a soul in Curse of Strahd? Why are some Barovian souls missing?
What the Books Say about Ravenloft Souls
D&D 5e’s Curse of Strahd module describes how some Barovians are born without souls. They lack color and emotion, acting dead inside. Why does this happen? I’ll offer my musings and findings on the topic. Sometimes the Domains of Dread are cruel, and that may be the only reason there is (if there is a reason at all). However, let’s see what other reasons we can conjure.
Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft points out that nothing makes sense in the Domains of Dread. There are different versions of places and people. The book also says it is unclear whether a Dark Lord may have died before, allowing some souls to escape. I think those souls are people who have escaped, leaked out, or ceased to exist without the dark tether.
Darklords may have subconsciously created many inhabitants of their respective domains. Van Richten writes about people and bodies formed from the lands or the Mists, though seeming normal to mundane and magical inspection (no way to tell). In this way, people may function as “living puppets” for a Darklord’s status quo. Curse of Strahd also suggests that some subjects of Barovia are created by Strahd’s ego to fill out the population (read about it on page 25).
Death in Ravenloft
Dying in a Domain of Dread is a soul trap, denying a proper trip to the afterlife that a soul should enjoy. Returning to life can come with a stressful experience as the person may realize their soul remains trapped in the mists. Imagine the panic when your character’s soul is lost in the mists!
Reincarnation within a Domain of Dread can take decades, but the soul definitely remains trapped (unless you decide otherwise, but I recommend keeping that detail). The truth about death in Ravenloft should increase a player character’s stress levels. The land should suffer from spiritual stagnation that does not resemble existential bookkeeping. I had to have this conversation with a player who wanted to “starve” Barovia of its souls by taking over as Darklord and denying the Amber Temple its supply of desperate souls. It simply doesn’t work that way.
Custom Ideas for Ravenloft Souls
Souls may leak out of one Domain to another between lives or if they were harvested and set free. Hags may bag and tag souls to sell in the Blood War, but the Hags met their demise at the hands of “adventurers” first. Aside from leaking out or being smuggled, souls could also become obliterated entirely. Maybe souls become lost in the mists for a time.
A Darklord’s defeat may allow souls to leak out. Living souls may physically escape. It would be interesting to see that a person has escaped a Domain of Dread to live on the Material Plane, but an echo or shadow of them remains in the Domain of Dread to continue a Darklord’s grand charade. After all, a Domain of Dread is a reflection of the Darklord’s atrocities that created a domain in the first place. It stands to reason (or something like reason) that the domains would perpetuate themselves somewhat despite being starved of “actual” people.
A practical reason for a person to be born without a soul is that there is a surplus population (to quote Michael Caine as Ebenezer Scrooge). If there are fewer souls in the realm than there are warm bodies, some bodies must go without souls.
I really latch on to the idea that Barovia shouldn’t make sense. The population, the commerce, the crops… none of it makes sense. I recommend embracing the otherworldly dread that goes beyond mortal comprehension. VGtR points out how inhabitants are compelled to rationalize and normalize their circumstances.
Night Hags and Souls
Morgantha’s coven can become an easy scapegoat for this mystery. They are harvesting the souls of listless adults who become addicted to their dream pastries. The young souls of children might also be harvested if you want to go that route, but Night Hags typically focus on adult souls they can corrupt.
You can make a whole quest out of getting Morgantha’s bag of souls. You can read about Night Hags and their “Soul Bags” briefly in their Monster Manual entry. Claiming such a prize could be useful to the party for crafting magic items with souls (evil), releasing souls back into Barovia (neutral/good), or bartering with people and monsters of the realm.
Jaded, Not Soulless
If you don’t want to deal with the sadness of portraying soulless people, an alternative could be to describe the souls as burnt out and jaded. They’ve been through too much, lacking what was once a spark of life in their demeanors. Some souls will be more resilient than others, so I don’t recommend describing a threshold where a soul burns out or anything like that.
What Are Your Ideas?
Why do you think people can be born without souls in Barovia? I’d love to hear your thoughts and research on the topic in the comments section, so cast Message below.
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