5E Curse of Strahd: Just the Castle as a One-Shot


So I've managed to rope a few friends into joining me in October to do a one shot raid of Castle Ravenloft.

However, I feel like there's a lot of stuff in here that really looses oomph without the story threads in the surrounding valley, and my goal is to go light on plot, heavy on action (jokingly calling the game Ravenloftvania).

I definitely want to remove a few things from the encounter table (and roll/determine them before game anyway): Esmerelda and the Barovian mob definitely have to go. The Vistani turncoats are a maybe. Rahadin... really not sure; a living character feels out of place in a plot-light/free Castle Ravenloft, but he's kinda cool in a way; he might even work to get my Renfield on.

If I want to keep some semblance of the plot, I might put Ireena in Gertrude's place.

I'm tempted to raid the 3E and original versions of the Castle to pad it out a bit, but I worry about adding in too much.

Players are going to be Level 10, no leveling up, because it's a one shot, so I want there to be magic items about for them to get and feel good about. I already know I've got a Twilight Druid (UA Druid Circle).

Mostly, I just want to make sure the game feels appropriately action-packed without bogging down and could use some help.


Hi, I'm a Mindflayer, but don't let that worry you
I really don't think it's possible to run Castle Ravenloft as a one-shot unless your players are speed-demons and you have 12-hour sessions. It's just too big.

Rather than remove encounters, I'd probably remove whole floors.


I ran the original Ravenloft adjusted for 5e in two 4 hour sessions with lots of goofing around, but my players stumbled into a critical path almost immediately. I think one session for the new castle sounds lofty as heck, but some people get through stuff waaaay faster than my players so who knows?
I ran the original module in 1e in a single long session. I really regretted the decision to do so after the fact. Don’t get me wrong, people had fun. But it all felt too compacted to me, too rushed.
If you want to run it as a one shot, it needs to be done as a "hotel california" or "haunted mansion murder mystery" sort of fashion.

Don't make it 100% confirmed that it's ravenloft or even strahd. Just make it a random vampire in a random castle. Have the players stumble across the castle randomly in the wilderness (chased in by a stormy night and wolves maybe), or have them be invited to dinner (perhaps the Lord of the castle, the vampire, has something they want, or offers the players something valuable).

Then have the castle as written, except remove all random encounters and any scripted encounter (i.e. most of the crypts) that isn't heavily roleplaying or thematic (i.e. leave the spiders in the belltower, but nowhere else in the castle, leave bats in the crypts only but make them less combat and more scenery).

I would leave the following in off the top of my head:
1) Radhadin as the butler and the mongrelfolk with his lantern in the basement, neither should fight except to defend themselves, and probably consider making the former weaker to save time if combat hapoens. Make Grenhilda(? The charmed girl in strahd ' chamber) the castle's clumsy maid who covers up the bite marks on her neck (foreshadowing the vampire)
2) Leave spiders in the belltower if they head that way
3) Leave bats in the crypts and make them more scenery than combat.
4) Make the wights in the one crypt skeletons or zombies to quicken up the fight.
5) Leave all traps
6) Leave the witches in the tower, but again try to make them non combatants.
7) Leave the armor patrolling the ramparts, but again only have it defend itself if attacked.
8) Leave strahd ' brides and either have them appear at dinner or wander the halls. The brides (any floor), strhad (any floor), Radhadin (1st or second floor), and the mongrellfolk (the basement levels) sould be the only real random encounters.

The name of the game is to have him invite the players to dinner for *insert reason here* and basically let them stay the night in the guest sweet in the tower near the witches. Alternatively have him offer his very quarters. Have him warn the players that the halls are dangerous to roam at night and that they should stay in their room. This is important because it makes them willingly damn themselves by disobeying.

If they obey, do NOTHING to them. They have a good night of sleep, and are sent on their merry the next morning after a good dinner and breakfast.

Otherwise, they will experience the castle as they roam. If they are staying in the guest sweet, the witches can either mess with them in their sleep, or just have weird sounds and smells come into their room from the witches below. The latter us better because again it sticks with them not being harmed if they don't disobey. If they stay in strahd's quarters, have the brides try to tempt the players in either the bath chamber or the study. Make them try to split the party up suggestively before pouncing. Imagine the playboy rogue of the group coming across them bathing, only to realize too late they are bathing in blood, or one of them teasing the wizard by reading a rare book in the study. Multiple ways to handle it.

Strahd should ideally be found in his coffin and fight there, but don't even worry if they don't even have that encounter, just focus on the experience of the creepy setting and playing with the expectations of the cliche night in a creepy castle. Worry less about funneling them anywhere and just let them roam as they will. Maybe they see the creepy witches? Maybe strahds brides attack them? Maybe they go looking for treasure and find the spiders? Just run it as a sandbox for them that night with no real expectations of a big showdown. The point is for them to just survive the night.


The Castle in Curse of Strahd is almost 100% the same as the original module, so you won't find anything in the original that's not in the 5e update (just a couple of minor additions / changes in 5e).

I think a "castle only" approach would be fine, it's still pretty big and interesting to explore, I wouldn't trim anything out and it doesn't need adding to. In my experience, the main problem with a fixed timeline approach, is you'll be forced to rush the ending, instead of letting it play out at its own speed. For example in my game I under-estimated the time required to complete it, tried to rush what I thought was the final session, then found we could fit in one more session before the end of the year, but even that session (final show-down with Strahd in the crypts) was rushed to be honest it could have gone longer. From memory, we spent something like 5+ sessions of 3 hours per session, just in the Castle.