The Lost History of the Zarovich Family
Date: Fri, February 08, 2008
Topic: Heretic's Nest

Once in a while we see a fellow gamer ask, "Where in the Flanaess is Ravenloft?" Gracious Greyhawkers always offer great places on where to set Strahd's famous castle in the World of Greyhawk. I have taken answers given over the years and shaped them into an interpretaion I used to run "Expedition to Castle Ravenloft". Consider the Lost History of the Zarovich Family one of many possible themes for Barovia in your Greyhawk.

Edited by Don (Greyson)

Reconciling Barovia to the Flanaess has never been a big issue or concern for the Greyhawk community. But, every year or so somebody asks, “Where would Barovia/Ravenloft be in Greyhawk?” And, every time the question comes up, Greyhawkers share their thoughts on where in the Flanaess is the best fit for this small county. This article is an effort to take all of the great advice Greyhawkers have provided and gives Barovia a home in our favorite setting. Nothing original is presented here, and all of the credit for this idea goes to online Greyhawk community members over the years. Their screen names and links to the most ubiquitous threads are detailed at the end of the article. I have only taken what has been posted over the years and distilled it down to something most plausible and accommodating - specifically what worked well in my blending of Dungeon's Age of Worms and Wizards of the Coast's Expedition to Castle Ravenloft. I am only a messenger of Greyhawk minds greater than my own. And, I have given both settings complete respect.

In brief, the County of Barovia is in the extreme reaches of northwestern Bissel. It is nestled in the highlands of the Barrier Peaks in the narrow stretch of mountainous terrain between Bissel and Ket. The outside world understands the small county to be governed by Starhd von Zarovich the IV. The Zaroviches have always sent their taxes in full and on time to Pellak. And, the family has never failed at guarding the narrow neck of mountains that Castle Ravenloft surmounts. So, Bisselite and Gran March leadership over the centuries have never questioned, second-guessed or otherwise bothered the remote county. How the Zaroviches came to this rugged and far-flung area begins at the founding of the Flanaess’s eldest non-Flanish kingdom.

The Lost History of the Zarovich Family
The original Zarovich progenitors hailed from two disparate cultures. It began with an Oeridian warrior-chief named Arlor from the Keogh family of Sedenna. Family tales say that Arlor fell in love with a Suel woman of House Neheli named Varovia. Arlor is often quoted as saying, “She was the most beautiful creature to tread the Oerth,” when he first saw her. He caught his first glimpse of her while serving under an Oeridian Heldenmeister at the Council of Niole Dra, but would not meet her until five years later. Tempers and prejudices of the time kept him from approaching her for several years. Eventually they met, made their courtship and entered a union of marriage.

The Zarovich name was born from one of the offspring of Varovia and Arlor a couple of generations after their passing. The family produced a forceful and charismatic personality named Zarovich. So loyal was he to king Nyhan I that his contemporaries called him the Suel-blooded Oerid. Zarovich led many successful efforts to push Flan peoples into the eastern valleys of Hellfurnace Mountains. He spent his later years using his personality and trade acumen to amass much of the wealth the family would rely on for the next couple of centuries. King Mandros would use some of the connections that Zarovich established on his way to the Keoish throne many centuries later. People began to refer to his family as the Zaroviches because of him, replacing the use of the names Arlor and Varovia.

Zarovich would be the last great personality of his family for many generations. The family and its name fell into obscurity after his death. The family was transplanted from the central Sheldomar to Hochoch by King Mandros. The Zaroviches eagerly supported and aided the new Count of Hochoch in various low-level administrative and economic efforts.

The Zarovich family, somehow, managed to avoid becoming involved with the Vecna cult during and after the Yaheetes rebellion in the south and the unrest that followed in Hochoch. They were open supporters of King Senestal and quietly offered to help broker a peaceful ending between the king, the Knights of the March, and the angry Oeridians of Hochoch. They revived the lines of communication established by the original Zarovich that allowed the King to enlist the help of the Oeridians of the heartland to avert a potential civil war. The Zaroviches eventually left Hochoch with the rest of the Oeridians when the whole matter was settled.

The Zarovich family quietly existed in Sterich for about one hundred thirty years. The olive complexion of the Oeridian side of the family dominated the outward Zarovich appearance. The family never grew too large in size. A couple dozen cousins and grand children were as extensive as the family got at any time. Some family members cited the plaque that struck the Kingdom, especially the Neheli, for keeping the family small. They pointed to the strain of Suel blood brought to the family by their first matron, Varovia. Critics of the Zaroviches say that Varovia brought frailty and dainty frames to the family, instead of pale skin and red hair. But, marriage between Suel and Oeridian was common in the family. So, no single source can be determined for bringing the plaque into the family.

Many of the females born to the family are named Varovia and males were named Varov in honor of the founding matron. The family determined early that if none of her children bear her likeness, they shall at least have her name. The spelling and pronunciation of Varovia’s name was subtly corrupted over a couple of centuries. The “V” sound was turned to a “B” sound as Keoish and Common emerged in the kingdom. The result was that the names of many Zarovich children were pronounced Barov and Barovia by the time the kingdom was fighting its first wars with the Toli.

The Zaroviches remained relatively unknown in -2 CY when the wife of Barov Zarovich, Ravenia, gave birth to the couple’s first son. They named him Strahd, and it was hoped that this new scion would bring recognition to the Zaroviches that had been missing for many generations. Barov and Ravenia spared no expense in young Strahd’s education and training. He learned history, etiquette and politics from Sterich’s noble courts. He also learned to fight and to lead. He was in awe of the Knights of the March in the north and longed to join their ranks. Strahd’s chance came during a visit to Hochoch in the summer of 22 CY. An aging Knight of the March named Lord Zecker was taken by young Strahd’s exuberance and his thorough knowledge of all things war. Lord Zecker sought Barov’s permission to take Strahd as a squire to train the young man as a knight. Barov needed little persuasion – Strahd did not return to Sterich that summer. He joined Lord Zecker and never looked back.

Strahd and Zecker waged a low intensity war alongside other knights against Vecna cultists and other evils in the kingdom’s northern hinterlands for several years. While Keoland’s Explorer Kings fought with the Toli in the distant south, the Knights of the March battled surreptitious enemies in the Occluded One’s former empire. Zecker fell in battle near the headwaters of the Realstream River after four years of mentoring Strahd. Strahd’s commanding presence and fearsome determination made him the obvious choice as Zecker’s battalion sought a new commander. Strahd insisted that he be called von Zarovich, embracing the nobility his family had humbly taken for granted for so long. Nobody on the remote plains of Gran March dared to call him otherwise

Strahd von Zarovich spent the next twenty-three years fighting Vecna cultists, Baklunish and Flan bandits and other scourges to civilization in the north. Everywhere he looked he saw lawlessness, abomination and evil. He used the names of the gods, the king and any other name he could invoke as he ran down and drove out any threat he perceived. Strahd spent the last third of his war years fighting a foe just as relentless and aggressive as him, a Baklunish bandit-lord named Durukan. He was called Durukan the Unstoppable, because nobody in the north was able to stop him or break his rogue armies. The Duke of Dorlin directed Strahd to stamp out Durukan and ensure that he would never threaten the kingdom again or give refuge to Vecna cultists and other evil-doers. Knight Commander Zarovich inched his army up the Realstream River, territory he was intimately familiar with from his days with Lord Zecker. But, Durukan was just as cunning and wicked as Strahd was fearless and just. Strahd bought every inch of ground he gained with gallons of blood. Violence of this scale had not been seen since the days of Nolhast and Malv II. But, these bloody fights would not be recorded in historical records of the time, as they were just too far away from civilization for anyone to care about. But, Strahd and his men would never forget these horrifically bloody days.

Durukan made the awful affair entirely personal near the end of the conflict. He sent assassins to Sterich and they slew Strahd’s father and mother and had their heads delivered to Strahd’s camp near the Tser Pool, a cold, fog-shrouded marsh that formed one of the Realstream’s headwaters. It was the last stupid thing Durukan would ever do. Strahd assaulted Durukan’s mountain citadel the next summer. The hate and malice of the Knights of the Watch that had only been reserved for Vecna cultists in battles past poured into the castle’s baileys and courtyards when they breached its gate. There was neither mercy nor negotiation that day. There was only ferocious slaughter.

Strahd, his fellow knights and their squires and footmen were the victors that day. Strahd used the castle as a temporary barracks for his knights so they could recuperate before the march out of the mountains before the autumn season. Word came from the duke of Dorlin that Strahd should permanently inhabit the keep as count. While many of the other Knights of the Watch were called to service elsewhere before winter, Strahd and a small contingent of regular soldiers were to guard and watch over the few trails that wound through the narrow neck of mountains between the duchy and Ket. It was a remote and inhospitable place to abide, but Strahd was its new master. He bound the land to him and summoned his family to live in his new fief. He called his county Barovia, after the family’s founding matron. He named the keep Castle Ravenloft in honor of his mother, Ravenia.

Strahd could finally enjoy peace and quiet, he thought, from this day forth. It was 49 CY, and the new count looked forward to sharing his new home with his family. But, something of Durukan remained. Something dreadful clung to the keep’s walls after the bodies had been dragged out and the blood wiped up. A foul spirit dwelt in Castle Ravenloft and its surrounding forests, swamps and highlands. Something dark, certainly derived from the keep’s former master, and perhaps fed by the violence of the keep’s final battle, could neither be cleaned up with mops nor covered with new paint. Something else unseen and poisonous secretly entered into the blood oath that Strahd made when he bound the lands of Barovia to himself.

Special thanks to Rasgon (for the original knight of the watch idea), Cebrion, Ivid, Kirt, Wes Clough and Woesinger for additional input and ideas. Their great ideas that shaped this article are presented in the following threads at Canonfire!’s World of Greyhawk Discussion and Wizards of the Coast’s Greyhawk boards, respectively:

Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, by Bruce Cordell and James Wyatt; Wizards of the Coast, 2006.
I, Strahd: The Memoirs of a Vampire, by P.N. Elrod; TSR, 1993.
I6 Ravenloft, by Tracy Hickman and Laura Hickman; TSR, 1983.
Living Greyhawk Gazetteer, by Erik Mona, et. al.; Wizards of the Coast, 2000.
Ravenloft Gazetteer Volume I, by John Mangrum et. al.; Arthaus, 2003.

This article comes from Canonfire!

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