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When in Ravenloft, would the town in question know that the Dark Lord is indeed, say, a vampire? That he or she would be the real ruler of that Domain?

For example: Barovia. Strahd has been there for a long, long, very long time. How do the villagers see him? Simply an undying ruler (if a ruler at all)? For what he is, a powerful vampire? The real ruler of Barovia? His castle… simply a haunted castle that's been there since the beginning of Barovia? Or that the Castle Ravenloft is the home of the Vampire Dark Lord?

I guess it could vary from DM to DM, but I have always wondered how would you explain it. Are the people in each domain in denial, would they know by now, etc.?

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You should generally wait 24 hours before accepting an answer. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton May 5 '13 at 23:52
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The waiting time is because of two reasons: (a) you want to hear more than one answer, and people are less inclined to post an answer when one is already accepted. (b) you want to leave time to hear possibly better/contrary answers - even if the first one sounds right, maybe someone will come along and it will turn out the first wasn't so good, or was actually wrong! Then, after you have a range of answers - you pick. –  Jonathan Hobbs May 6 '13 at 1:43
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2 Answers

It Depends on the Darklord

Not all Darklords are also the temporal rulers of their Domains (though some are), and not all of them reveal or flaunt their true natures. Indeed, some Darklords are deliberately denied political rulership of their domains (such as the Darklord Adam) as a way to isolate them and make them lonely. Of those who conceal their true natures, some do it out of habit or convenience (Azalin, Strahd), others out of necessity (Harkan Lucas, the Hive Queen) and still others because they hate what they are or have become (the ruler of Saragoss is one example). Oftentimes a Darklord still has feeding requirements, peccadilloes, or both that are easier to fulfill if the populace doesn't know what they are.

In Barovia's Case

According to Darklords and the Ravenloft Campaign Setting none of the citizens of Barovia believe Strahd to be human, but most of them have no idea what he truly is. They refer to him as "The devil Strahd" and fear him greatly; he rules with a casually brutal hand, ignoring them except when they get out of line. The Vistani know what he is, but Strahd long ago cut a deal with those wanderers and they are unlikely to inform others of his nature - let alone help them - without being paid the right price.

A Note

As noted in the Ravenloft Campaign Setting, education standards in Ravenloft are pretty low. With a few rare exceptions, it is a rural place without major centers of learning (a notable exception is the massive domain of Darkon, ruled by Azalin, with several urban centers) and riddled with racism and xenophobia. Often natives of Ravenloft will identify anyone unusual - a non-human race, magical abilities - as being "evil" and react with terror or, worse, a lynch mob. Even if you told one point-blank that the local Darklord was a vampire they might have no true idea what that signifies and simply attempt to protect themselves with ineffective superstition. Help from the locals is not a likely thing and might end up harming everyone involved; would-be heroes are not advised to seek it.

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The villagers of Barovia definitely know what he is: if you look at the letter from the Burgomaster to the PCs, published in the House of Strahd adventure, it says:

"[my daughter] has been bitten by a creature calling its race "vampyr". For over 400 years, he has drained this land of the lifeblood of its people..."

They also recognise him as a threat to all the realm:

He has become too powerfull to be fought any longer. Go I say to you, give us up for dead and encircle this land with the symbols of good. Let holy men call upon their power that the evil one may be contained within the walls of weeping Barovia. Leave our sorrows to our graves, and save the world from this evil world of ours.

Of course, the PCs dont get to see this letter until they are trapped in Barovia.

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Did this change between the original adventures and the campaign setting, or is the Burgomaster merely one of the few people who know the truth? I'm much more familiar with the original Ravenloft module than anything that followed. –  Bradd Szonye May 8 '13 at 2:31
    
I do not know, unfortunately, that is why I only focused on Barovia in my answer. However, throughout the whole adventure of House of Strahd (which should be based on the original Ravenloft module) I feel hints that the Burgomaster is not the only one to know: I think that a big part, if not the majority of the village know of it. –  kravaros May 9 '13 at 7:08
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