Feel the Horror in ‘The Curse of Strahd’

Reading Time: 4 minutes

The Curse of Strahd

Available starting today, The Curse of Strahd is a revisiting of a Dungeons and Dragons’ classic adventure, Ravenloft, for players 1-10. For various reasons, your party might find themselves drawn into a world of gothic nightmare and sanguine stains. With little knowledge of the realm of Barovia, the party must find a way to escape the evil grasp of Strahd von Zarovich, the dread vampire lord of the land. With a little help from a fortune teller of unknown motivation, and the few remaining zealots, the adventurers must find the means to defeat Strahd, the only path to returning home.

Maps of Krezk. On the left, included removable map. On the right, the book's copy.
Maps of Krezk. On the left, included removable map. On the right, the book’s copy.

Strahd is a centuries-old vampire with many of the classic traits of the horror genre. With powerful regenerative abilities, the ability to shape-change into bat or cloud of mist, and a trio of legendary abilities, Strahd is the nightmare you’ve been looking for. His obsession for power, victory, and domination have made him a cruel master with a Lawful Evil disposition. But his passion for his one true love has kept his heart seeking her reincarnation at every turn. He is not afraid of the party, as it was his will that they journey to his realm, for his own sinister purposes.

Fair warning: the book features a lot of death, blood, and general horror. Descriptions and events can be too much for young kids, so beware running this campaign with little ones. For groups that ride the thrill of horror and intrigue, however, this is 100% the book for your party. My kids have a hard time with some of the key features, so I modified the particulars that were too much for them. YMMV.

The horror features that made The Curse of Strahd most appealing to me include:

  • The Mongrel Folk– These twisted, corrupted creatures are part humanoid, part bizarre monstrosity.
  • Monsters–Zombies, revenants, ghosts, ghouls, spiders, constructs, and more wait in the dark.
  • Shapeshifters–Wolves, bats, and even ravens turn into men and women who aren’t quite human.
  • Madness–The loss of reality permeates Barovia.
  • The Specter of Death–Who will die next? Who’s already dead, but hiding it very well?
  • Despair–The sun refuses to shine properly, there’s nowhere to go, and there are monsters everywhere.
  • Mystery–Why does no one tell the whole truth?
  • Fear–What’s to be afraid of? Everything.
  • Romance–When you’ve lost everything, love conquers all. Or does it?
The NPC standout? Clovin, a mongrelfolk musician. Image: Wizards of the Coast
The NPC standout? Clovin, a mongrelfolk musician. Image: Wizards of the Coast

Reading through The Curse of Strahd was a thrilling visit to the tortured land of Barovia. As with many pre-written adventures for D&D, it was a bit like reading a choose-your-own-adventure book from front to back, rather than following the breadcrumbs. The land of Barovia is expansive, its threats varied, and its characters hauntingly horrid and harrowed. It made me want to run a party through it as soon as possible.

Highly detailed maps allow for DMs to create maps useful for their campaigns, bringing the castle to life.
Highly detailed maps allow for DMs to create maps useful for their campaigns, bringing the castle to life.

Play is easy, and intuitive, given you’ve familiarized yourself with the adventure ahead of time. If the DM hasn’t read the full adventure, be prepared for a bored party. There’s too much intrigue to wing your way through this adventure. With piles of maps, NPCs with great descriptions (and tips for roleplaying them), and challenging puzzles of various difficulties, there’s no lack of material for the DM to run a fantastic campaign. Players will enjoy a low-combat adventure that focuses on goals, rather than experience.

The adventure runs at about $49.99, but can be found much more cheaply on Amazon. The cost might seem like a blow to the gut, but the DM can easily run a long-term campaign through Barovia, with players accumulating between five and ten levels. With a removable map and pre-designed handouts for players, DMs need to prepare very little for their own adventure. DMs might also be interested in a deck of Tarokka cards, but a regular deck of cards does just fine, and there are clear directions in the first chapter if you need them. Thanks to the role Tarokka cards play in determining the locations of key treasures and story points, the campaign is always slightly randomized, lending itself well to replaying.

For details on how a DM might make the most of this adventure, check out the spoiler-filled content below.

Image: Wizards of the Coast
Image: Wizards of the Coast
Spoiler alert!

A copy of this adventure was provided for review purposes, but it’s still a totally awesome module, and I will be playing it multiple times.

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