Curse of Strahd – a review from a player perspective

Curse of Strahd is the best published adventure that I’ve ever played in. The atmosphere is fantastic, the locations, NPCs and villains are interesting, tragic and funny and the campaign requires you to play skillfully. And I must say, played in, not played to the end, because we TPK’ed about half-way through… I will keep the review spoiler free. Perhaps you will buy it for your DM? DM’s like that kind of sucking up (you can buy it here)!

Curse of Strahd can be improved (or modified) though, and I hope any DMs who run it will consider my perspective. As a reviewer, my challenge is that I haven’t read the campaign. I’ve only played in it, and therefore my DM’s choices, awesomeness, mistakes, additions or oversights is reflected in my opinion.

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Cover of the original 1983 module.

The sand-box campaign is a remake of the original Ravenloft module. The original mainly focused on the dungeon – the castle itself. The remake is bigger and contains Strahd’s domain of Barovia and several locations and many NPCs living there.

We played with the Rest Variant – Gritty Realism (DMG pg. 267), with the change that you could use HD to regain spell slots. I think this added a lot of tension to the whole story, and helps create a more realistic timeline.

What I really liked:

  • Lore, which is important to your survival, is scattered all over. Every time you speak to an NPC or find a new location, you have a sense that there is more pieces to recover for the grand puzzle. It made the world feel important and alive, and exploration and paying attention to detail was essential.
  • It is difficult. It is hard to judge what locations are the most dangerous, and you feel very vulnerable in the beginning. We got somewhat overconfident though, which was stupid, and partly led to our demise. It feels like Skyrim without the save functionality.
  • Loot and good equipment is scarce. The supply of goods in Barovia is limited, and stuff like armor and spell components are hard to get. It added a fun dimension that we had to struggle for items even at level 5 and 6.
  • The mood is awesome, and there are some great stories and people and sub-plots in the adventure.
  • dnd_curstrahd_tarokka
    The Tarokka cards help define the adventure, for example who you can expect to be your ally or Strahd’s weakness. But they are cryptic ofcourse.

    The card mechanic that helps define the campaign (and was in the original, I believe) adds re-play-ability, which is good for us, as we never reached the end.

What I disliked or would want changed:

  • Everyone we met, basically said that everywhere was dangerous (and it was compared to the villagers). But after you survive the first few locations that description becomes less meaningful, and led us to misjudge the location where we TPK’ed. Only one NPC hinted that one location was beyond us, until we were significantly more experienced. I would like a little more indicators as to the danger level, because let’s face it, it will be years before we try the adventure again.
  • The Curse of Strahd (and Storm King’s Thunder) use milestone XP, and we didn’t like that. We don’t find it satisfying as players to walk up to a new location and then the DM tells us we get a level, because the adventure says so. We want to earn it. But on the other hand, it seems like there isn’t enough material in the adventure to progress to the required level the old-fashioned way. Thus, the DM would have to add a few more locations and plots.
  • I would like even more minor locations and sub-plots.

We TPK’ed, after we had visited Castle Ravenloft once to steal an important item. The heist was an evening full of tension, and I wished there were more direct hints to go to a part of the castle to complete a specific task during the adventure. It seems like many save the castle to last, but that is not necessarily the right thing to do.

One of the things that was a bit mysterious to me was the fact that one of the cards we drew led us to the encounter where we TPK’ed. At 6th level we were completely outmatched. And I mean completely. We were all dead at the end of round two. We may have missed something obvious, but I’m not sure directing us there, to something that is clearly evil (and we are mainly good guys), and expecting us to come out ahead, is good design.

We only saw a small portion of Castle Ravenloft, and I assume there is a lot of interesting material in there.

We will try again…

After our wipe, we talked about picking the adventure up again after a couple of years, and perhaps starting at level 5, with the initial elements of the story completed, narrating that part together with the DM, and drawing fresh cards. I know for sure that I would like to return to Castle Ravenloft and face the Lord of Barovia.

For now, though, we’ve begun a game, where we play low level mobsters (or petty criminals who know some mobsters, really) in Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay in the glorious city of Luccini. It is going to be great fun!

 

 

8 thoughts on “Curse of Strahd – a review from a player perspective

  1. Interessant læsning. Hvor mange spilgange havde I med kampagnen/scenariet før TPK’et?
    Hvilke spådomskort trak I, og fik I ‘opfyldt’ nogen af dem?

    – og en sidebemærkning. Ideen med spåkortene har været med i alle versioner af scenariet siden 1983. 2’eren, House on Gryphon Hill, har desuden en interessant variant, hvor ‘spådommene’ er erstattet af en hypnose, og adskillige Ravenloft-setting scenarier gjorde siden brug af det på forskellige måder.

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  2. Hej Morten

    Jeg laver lige en *spoiler alert*!

    Så vidt jeg lige kan se TPK’ede vi på 12. spilgang – eller deromkring. Vi var på nippet til at blive level 7 og var startet på lvl 1 med Death House.
    De kort vi trak var The Monk, the Shepard, Avenger, Horseman og Mists. Vi havde løst de tre – fundet viden om Strahd på riddernes gamle slot, stjålet det gamle Sun Blade på klosteret og vakt den gamle Lord Watcher til live, som var vores ally. Det 2. kort kunne vi se havde med The Mother of Evil at gøre, så vi drog ned til heksen. Vi var ikke forsigtige nok, og hytten kunne nærmest nakke os alene, men hendes Power Word Stun, hjalp ikke… Hvis hun havde virket som totalt ‘optional’ havde vi måske sprunget hende over, inden vi tog op på slottet igen, men da et kort ledte os derned, var det ikke vores opfattelse at hun var helt TPK-farlig.

    Derudover havde vi rodet rundt med Irena, besejret druide-kulten og fundet knoglerne til kirken. Vi havde også ordnet møllen, men havde ikke været ude hos troldmanden ved søen, eller besøgt Amber Temple – som vi var blevet advaret stærkt imod.

    Det skal dog siges, at vi vidste at der var en risiko for TPK, og det var en del af spændingen i scenariet.

    Og mente nok det var en gammel idé med kortene 🙂

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  3. I’m DMing Curse of Strahd at the moment. My players have worked their way through the entire adventure and are now up to the final confrontation at Ravenloft. I used NPCs to give them plenty of warning about what was too hard for them, which helped them avoid TPK, but a number have been killed and raised or replaced (The Ruins of Berez were almost TPK, but one PC survived and was able to recover most of the party). It’s been going for 6 months now, and everyone has had a great time. I agree that it is one of the best of the current crop of D&D campaign adventures available from WOTC. 🙂

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