The Dark Master/The Devil
Boy, Strahd has a terrible curse. Seeing his love reborn in every generation, only to lose her, over and over again… wait a minute. Why exactly is Tatyana dying again? Because it’s usually Strahd’s own fault. So what precisely is the “curse” here, the fact that Tatyana exists? What would happen if Strahd… stopped? Didn’t go after her, or at least, didn’t try to force her into vampirism to make sure he got her? It’d spare him the pain of losing her for the 200th time, it’d spare her family the pain of losing their daughter. But he never does that, because he’s too fixated on her, and he’s determined to have her. He’s the warden of his own prison, the executioner of his own sentence, and there’s no one to blame for the evil he causes except himself.
The Dark Master is a card of temptation, and being enslaved by giving into it. Because you are not recognizing your own role in your imprisonment, you’re unable to free yourself. Certainly, some manner of external temptation is involved – you can’t cave in to your desires if you have no opportunities to indulge them. But it’s you who is choosing to act. You are allowing the tempters to control your life, and while you might be a victim, you are a victim of your own actions. So long as you fail to realize this, you will never be free. If you continue to blame the people who tempt you, then you give them complete control over you. When you realize you are the one at fault, you have the power to stop caving in every time.
(This isn’t to say that enabling people is cool, however. And while AA has that unofficial motto of “the first step of solving a problem is to admit you have a problem”, it also suggests that you should get help. Don’t take this to mean you can quit heroin cold turkey and it’s going to work out for you. What it means is that no one can make you quit if you don’t want to quit.)
The most important lesson the Dark Master teaches you is that you can free yourself from whatever restrictions are holding you back… so long as you are willing to give up the thing that’s enslaving you. If you look at the card, the key to the chains is hanging right there! But the imprisoned man cannot see it, or perhaps he knows it is there, but it too proud to use it.
I… AM…. FREEEEEEEEEE
Unchained! You’re loose! You’ve seen through the trap, you’re fed up with of it all, and you’re ready to leave your chains behind you. At it’s best, this means you’re tired of the whole charade, and ready to let go of what had previously been binding you. This is Ravenoft, though, so be careful of taking this as being unequivocally good. I’ve seen this be taken to mean “breaking free”, which is all well until you ask “what precisely is breaking free here?” Some things you probably don’t want unchained. Like Gwydion. If you see this card show up inversed for him, run.