If the original Ravenloft module, published in 1983, represented a shift away from the presentation and design of the modules of the Golden Age, what is one to make of its 1986 sequel, Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill? Whereas I think there are some legitimate grounds on which to defend module I6, module I10 has no such grounds. Ravenloft II is a textbook example of brandification: emphasizing the importance of familiar names over actual content.
According to the cover credits, Tracy and Laura Hickman were the authors of this module. Inside, however, the credits tell a different story: "Based on an Outline by Tracy & Laura Hickman." I'm certain this isn't the first time a D&D product was created based on the outline of someone who otherwise had nothing to do with the product in question. Nevertheless, I think it telling that TSR, who, after all, owned the Ravenloft brand, felt the need to promote the Hickmans' involvement. The actual "design team," as the credits call it, consisted of David Cook, Jeff Grubb, Harold Johnson, and Douglas Niles, along with whatever actual contributions the Hickmans provided in their outline.
Even more interesting is the fact that, despite its name, Ravenloft II isn't a direct sequel to its predecessor, except perhaps thematically. Indeed, all the indulgences of the original module -- high melodrama, boxed read-aloud text, a heavily NPC-dependent plot -- are here in abundance. Indeed, they are, in many cases, much worse this time around, as the text is, for example, peppered with lots of words like "should" and "will" when describing the actions of the PCs as they meander around the module's "story" -- a word the module itself uses to describe its contents. Moreover, that story is a strange one, as it casts the events of the original module as possibly a delirious dream rather than having actually happened. Similarly, the identity and true nature of pet NPC Strahd von Zarovich is also called into question by suggesting that he might be an evil sub-conscious "twin" of a kindly alchemist given life through a magical experiment gone wrong.
The end result is an incoherent mish-mash of characters, elements, and themes that, frankly, bear very little connection to the module with which Ravenloft II shares its name. As I noted, the original Ravenloft, for all its faults, at least includes a cleverly designed vampire "lair." The module could, with some work, be run in a largely old school fashion, with the PCs rather than the NPCs taking center stage. Ravenloft II, by contrast, isn't so easily adapted, mostly because it's unclear what the adventure is supposed to be about. There are some intriguing ideas about split personalities and body swapping that could, I suppose, be re-purposed, but so much of the rest of the module is filled with confused -- and confusing -- attempts at creating a NPC-driven Gothic novel in D&D dress that I'm not sure it'd be worth the effort.
More distressing, I think, is the way that many of the surface elements of Ravenloft have just been transported to a different module in the hopes that that alone would be enough to create something memorable. It's almost as if the writers of Ravenloft II didn't understand the appeal of the original and instead focused on whatever bright, shiny bits most attracted their attention. So we get random placement of items and NPCs, for example, with the associated information imparted not through a Gypsy card-reading but by a trip to the local mesmerist! The result is not only ludicrous but uninspired, a repetition of an idea that once was fresh but now so often imitated as to become hackneyed.
The whole of Ravenloft II feels as if no one's heart was really in it, as if TSR was simply looking for a way to catch lightning in a bottle a second time and figured "re-imagining" one of their most popular modules was the way to do it. Unfortunately, resorting to such a formula proved insufficient. Ravenloft, while not to my taste, was indeed revolutionary -- it offered up something new for D&D. Ravenloft II, on the other hand, offers nothing new and what little cleverness it does display is largely overshadowed both by its own defects and the reflected glory of its namesake.