log in or register to remove this ad

 

5E Curse of Strahd - What am I missing? (Possible spoilers?)

Out of curiousity, how is the Tome of Strahd supposed to help the PC's? It's great that they found the truth behind Strahd's sordid past, but I don't know how that helps...
It's up to the DM to incorporate understanding Strahd's personality into the story. Otherwise, the book's only listed power is to piss Strahd off and tag whoever is carrying it as his favored target.

As earlier, in my campaign, understanding Strahd's obsession was key to undoing him. This meant, in some form or another, taking Ireena from him, and doing so in such a way that his rage would be instant so that he would abandon his "invincible tactic" (of running through walls, healing up, then repeat).
 

log in or register to remove this ad

Retreater

Legend
…. you don't want Sunblade to be found too early).
So my party discovered the Sunblade was held in a location they are directed to visit early in the campaign (level 5-6) - the Wachter House. They just completely botched their attempt to get it in a failed assassination attempt and raid on the home - with half the party and no real plan. So it would make sense while they are licking their wounds for it to be removed and re-hidden?
I'm considering having the Wachter's Vistani allies camped in the woods take the Sunblade and put it elsewhere. Any suggestions of a good location: challenging to get to and that's thematically appropriate that the Vistani could get it there?
And additionally - what the heck does it do? It's not statted up in the module besides a personality in the magic item appendix.
 
Last edited:

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
So my party discovered the Sunblade was held in a location they are directed to visit early in the campaign (level 5-6) - the Wachter House. They just completely botched their attempt to get it in a failed assassination attempt and raid on the home - with half the party and no real plan. So it would make sense while they are licking their wounds for it to be removed and re-hidden?
I'm considering having the Wachter's Vistani allies camped in the woods take the Sunblade and put it elsewhere. Any suggestions of a good location: challenging to get to and that's thematically appropriate that the Vistani could get it there?
Does Lady Wachter know the PCs are our to kill Strahd and need the sun blade to do it? If so, the place it would make the most sense to take it would be directly to Strahd. Then he could put it in the treasure vault in Castle Ravenloft. If you don’t want it to be quite that difficult to find, you could have it get intercepted by some Silver Dragon Knights on the way to Castle Ravenloft and be brought to Argynvostholt instead.

Note that it is ok if the players never acquire it. It’s helpful against Strahd but not essential to defeat him. Much like Breath of the Wild, you don’t need to do any of the plot stuff to beat the final boss, it just makes it easier if you do.

And additionally - what the heck does it do? It's not statted up in the module besides a personality in the magic item appendix.
Other than the personality, it’s just a sun blade. Stats in the DMG.
 

Retreater

Legend
Does Lady Wachter know the PCs are our to kill Strahd and need the sun blade to do it? If so, the place it would make the most sense to take it would be directly to Strahd. Then he could put it in the treasure vault in Castle Ravenloft. If you don’t want it to be quite that difficult to find, you could have it get intercepted by some Silver Dragon Knights on the way to Castle Ravenloft and be brought to Argynvostholt instead.

Note that it is ok if the players never acquire it. It’s helpful against Strahd but not essential to defeat him. Much like Breath of the Wild, you don’t need to do any of the plot stuff to beat the final boss, it just makes it easier if you do.


Other than the personality, it’s just a sun blade. Stats in the DMG.
Yeah. The party has made it pretty clear they want to kill Strahd. They told her in their first meeting with her.
 

So my party discovered the Sunblade was held in a location they are directed to visit early in the campaign (level 5-6) - the Wachter House. They just completely botched their attempt to get it in a failed assassination attempt and raid on the home - with half the party and no real plan. So it would make sense while they are licking their wounds for it to be removed and re-hidden?
I'm considering having the Wachter's Vistani allies camped in the woods take the Sunblade and put it elsewhere. Any suggestions of a good location: challenging to get to and that's thematically appropriate that the Vistani could get it there?
And additionally - what the heck does it do? It's not statted up in the module besides a personality in the magic item appendix.
Charlaquin ideas are sound.
However, Sun Blade gives HUGE boost against vampires. In my campaign, vampire fights went from "thank to the Morninlord, we prevailed" to "geee, I wonder when Counts runs out of Spawns." Take that into consideration.
Btw, in my campaign, Wachter Brothers stole Sword from the Rictavio wagon, while freeing tiger, and players tried to steal it back, but instead stole Wachter's dead dad. Then they managed for exchange of goods with Lady Wachter (sword for dead husband). We had ton of fun!
 

If I was the villain I would take the sword apart and scatter it all over Barovia. Put the blade in the Castle Ravenloft crypts, toss the hilt over the Tser Falls, and put the scabbard in the Amber Temple. Or, you know, give it to some of the Vistani and have them leave it somewhere safe outside of Barovia. Why would I keep such a weakness near me?
 

Retreater

Legend
If I was the villain I would take the sword apart and scatter it all over Barovia. Put the blade in the Castle Ravenloft crypts, toss the hilt over the Tser Falls, and put the scabbard in the Amber Temple. Or, you know, give it to some of the Vistani and have them leave it somewhere safe outside of Barovia. Why would I keep such a weakness near me?
I'm assuming he doesn't have the power to destroy it?
 



Eltab

Hero
If I was the villain I would take the sword apart and scatter it all over Barovia. Put the blade in the Castle Ravenloft crypts, toss the hilt over the Tser Falls, and put the scabbard in the Amber Temple. Or, you know, give it to some of the Vistani and have them leave it somewhere safe outside of Barovia. Why would I keep such a weakness near me?
If I Was The Evil Overlord ...
That Sword would go in my safe deposit box at the bank, wrapped against prying eyes, with a (mostly-true) cover story about being a family heirloom.
The bank of course has coated the vault of safe deposit boxes with the requisite 3" of lead, and taken the other precautions against magical intrusion, so I don't have to.
 

If I Was The Evil Overlord ...
That Sword would go in my safe deposit box at the bank, wrapped against prying eyes, with a (mostly-true) cover story about being a family heirloom.
The bank of course has coated the vault of safe deposit boxes with the requisite 3" of lead, and taken the other precautions against magical intrusion, so I don't have to.
Will the final step of your plan be "Push the button"? ;)
 

Stormonu

Legend
If I was the villain I would take the sword apart and scatter it all over Barovia. Put the blade in the Castle Ravenloft crypts, toss the hilt over the Tser Falls, and put the scabbard in the Amber Temple. Or, you know, give it to some of the Vistani and have them leave it somewhere safe outside of Barovia. Why would I keep such a weakness near me?
Whatever you plans, the Dark Powers will be sure to unravel them. They're not there to make the PCs lives miserable, they're there to make the Dark Lord miserable - fearful, never sure of his own abilities or powers.

I've run Ravenloft since 1E, and whenever I mention it to players, there's always that wild, wide-eyed and fear-struck response of "No, never again." (Not in a hateful way, but a "you're too damn good at making it spooky").

A well-run Ravenloft requires going beyond the words on the paper. It involves getting into your player's heads, finding what makes them uncomfortable or frightened and bring it out to show (not in a mean-spirited way). Strahd and his minions don't work on the PC's timeline. Strahd and his minions throw the rulebook out the window. He doesn't play fair or politely, he toys. He is actively driving the players, teetering off-balance, to his ultimate goal. It means there's never a moment of quiet, never a truly safe place and that the players are never really in a position of power - even if, unknowingly, they are.

Sanity and Dark Power checks aren't required. It's the simple feeling of depriving characters (not players!) of control. That this place is beyond their ability to predict, control and bolster. They are on the run, not him, and he's just breathing over their shoulder.
 

Strahd is too weak. Barovia is this lair. He should have lair actions everywhere.
He is a Darklord. He should have Darklord abilities.
I agree he should have Darklord abilities, but disagree that he is too weak. I could destroy almost any party with him. I really recommend @toucanbuzz approach, since making Strahd emotional and reckless is the key to beating his tactics, and makes for a nicely tragic moment.
 

Whatever you plans, the Dark Powers will be sure to unravel them. They're not there to make the PCs lives miserable, they're there to make the Dark Lord miserable - fearful, never sure of his own abilities or powers.

I've run Ravenloft since 1E, and whenever I mention it to players, there's always that wild, wide-eyed and fear-struck response of "No, never again." (Not in a hateful way, but a "you're too damn good at making it spooky").

A well-run Ravenloft requires going beyond the words on the paper. It involves getting into your player's heads, finding what makes them uncomfortable or frightened and bring it out to show (not in a mean-spirited way). Strahd and his minions don't work on the PC's timeline. Strahd and his minions throw the rulebook out the window. He doesn't play fair or politely, he toys. He is actively driving the players, teetering off-balance, to his ultimate goal. It means there's never a moment of quiet, never a truly safe place and that the players are never really in a position of power - even if, unknowingly, they are.

Sanity and Dark Power checks aren't required. It's the simple feeling of depriving characters (not players!) of control. That this place is beyond their ability to predict, control and bolster. They are on the run, not him, and he's just breathing over their shoulder.
As I said, the campaign went from scary (How are we going to survive this!) to silly (Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!). And as the campaign progressed and it started to show that Strahd didn't care how much we wrecked his stuff we went from trying to be stealthy to just acting out in the open. Early in the game he would show up, toss off a one liner, and maybe bully us a little. But then he sort of disappeared until the end of the game.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
I ran CoS for two groups simultaneously and enjoyed my time doing both. That being said... running it has impacted how I feel about the way the adventure book is structured and set up, and were I to run it again, I think I would make some structural changes to the adventure to increase the tension.

Having run it, the biggest issue I discovered is that having the visit to Madam Eva occur so soon after the characters' arrival changed the atmosphere for the players. Receiving word about all these McGuffins that would allow them to destroy the Lord and escape the land immediately changed how they saw and experienced Barovia. They were now like participants in a Saw movie, where there were bound by puzzles that had solutions and which kept them motivated to move forward. Thus the suffocation of the land's atmosphere never affected them that much. There's less depression and malaise when you have definitive direction and reason to constantly push forward. You don't notice the horrors around you if you just have tunnel-vision towards the things you need to solve your puzzle.

Now it's obvious why the adventure is set up this way... it mirrors the original I9 module where there's much less exploration. It's get in, get told how to get out, find the methods to get out, and then get out. And meeting Madam Eva almost immediately upon arrival was a part of that. But for this longer and more expansive campaign... I think the adventure might be better served by NOT giving out the solution so soon after arriving. DON'T have the party get told immediately after arriving in the Village to go find Madam Eva and have their fortune told. Instead... force the players to live within the Valley for a while and experience what the claustrophobia and suffocation is like. Give Strahd more opportunities to toy and play with the party before they are told about or given the ways to defeat him. Really put the screws to the NPCs in the various villages of the Valley, especially after the party befriends some of them. Make things more hopeless for the party before learning about the Sunsword or the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind and then giving them hope. Thus you build Strahd up as a true and seemingly invincible villain before having the party discover the secret into possibly overcoming him.

And having thought about it further... I suspect there's also one other thing I think I'd need to do to truly make this adventure into the horror play that it truly should be...

...give Strahd von Zarovich Level/Experience Point Draining.

I think all of us know that the actual 5E game is not designed to be truly balanced for the larger gaming populace. Instead, it is designed and balanced to work best for the newest of the new players-- 4 PCs using Basic Rules. If you have a Champion, Thief, Evoker, and Life Cleric and that's it... the monsters in the Basic Rules can be credible threats at the levels / CRs as listed. But if you add any player-facing material from the PHB beyond that, they begin making incremental changes towards being easier. Barbarians getting Resistance when they rage, Paladins gaining immunity to diseases and removing poisons while Smiting everything under the sun, Rangers making exploration trivial, Bards giving bonuses to people left and right, etc. etc. Couple that with adding in more PCs above 4 and suddenly we discover that the monsters in the MM don't really hold up as credible threats anymore because there's too many hit points to fight through and too much healing to keep PCs from being killed. And when you start LEVELING all these PCs with all their bizarre class combinations... pretty soon there's nothing they can't start steamrolling unless you really force yourself to re-work all the monster stat blocks. After a certain point, HP damage is not high enough to seen as much of a threat an longer.

But what COULD be seen as a true threat to jaded D&D players? Not being able to level up. Being stuck at 3rd level trying to deal with the horrors of the realm over and over and over again. What better way to truly make Strahd the scary villain he is than to have him show up on the scene just as the PCs are all ready to gain just enough XP to level up, only for him to attack them and drain them of XP to send them spiraling back down to the bottom of the level? That might be the only credible way to truly freak players out-- Strahd not letting them become more powerful. Yeah, it does run the risk of alienating them if it's done unwisely... but I think if you leave it merely as a Strahd ability... then at least the players could feel like they have a fighting chance.

After all... what's the reason for Strahd to attack the PCs otherwise? Unless he's just intending on killing them (which of course is a possible motivation if you want to go in that way)... he doesn't necessarily gain anything by doing so. Knocking off their hit points? Okay, then they take a long rest and that problem is solved. Slow them down on their search for the McGuffins? It assumes Strahd knows about them or knows the group is after them, and at that point why not just kill them outright to stop them? Especially since forcing these attacks on them just garner them more XP towards leveling and becoming more powerful. It's hard to toy with someone who just gets potentially stronger every time you do.

But if these attacks of Strahd stop the PCs from becoming more powerful (and they keep getting stuck at a level where zombies and wolves still cause them problems)... the players now have to operate differently while in the Valley. Things like not inviting people into their houses just in case one of them is Strahd in disguise become a thing again. Trying to sneak around and do things without drawing attention to themselves (in order to gain XP in hopes of leveling up before Strahd notices) becomes paramount. And not letting them gain an audience with Madam Eva until they have sufficiently proven themselves by actually reaching a certain character level (and only then do they discover the objects that allow them to try and defeat the Lord and escape the land.)

Having now played 4E and 5E for all these years... I now truly see what Level Drain (and by extension Magic Item saving throws) was meant to accomplish-- hitting players where it truly hurts... how cool they are with all the stuff they have and what they can do. Killing them is too easy. Keeping them mediocre is way worse. :)

**********

Now in my first two runs of CoS, I had incorporated the Fanes of Ravenloft (which come from the Expedition To Castle Ravenloft adventure for 3.5). This gave the players additional locations to go after and shut down, in order to reduce Strahd's overall power in the valley (for every fane destroyed, Strahd got less powerful). That worked to keep the players motivated to keep exploring and it extended the campaign story beyond just quickly beelining to the Sunsword and the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind and then storming the castle to kill Strahd. But it didn't solve the problem of the PCs just becoming too powerful for their own good and eliminating most threats in the Valley because they out-leveled and overpowered everything.

But if I can use Strahd to de-power the PCs when they play poorly and make him a truly frightening foe again because of it (while simultaneously making sure to just not demoralize the players such that they fall out of the game)... it can bring the setting adventure back up to its scariness level that it truly deserves to be.
 
Last edited:


Stormonu

Legend
I ran CoS for two groups simultaneously and enjoyed my time doing both. That being said... running it has impacted how I feel about the way the adventure book is structured and set up, and were I to run it again, I think I would make some structural changes to the adventure to increase the tension.

Having run it, the biggest issue I discovered is that having the visit to Madam Eva occur so soon after the characters' arrival changed the atmosphere for the players. Receiving word about all these McGuffins that would allow them to destroy the Lord and escape the land immediately changed how they saw and experienced Barovia. They were now like participants in a Saw movie, where there were bound by puzzles that had solutions and which kept them motivated to move forward. Thus the suffocation of the land's atmosphere never affected them that much. There's less depression and malaise when you have definitive direction and reason to constantly push forward. You don't notice the horrors around you if you just have tunnel-vision towards the things you need to solve your puzzle.

Now it's obvious why the adventure is set up this way... it mirrors the original I9 module where there's much less exploration. It's get in, get told how to get out, find the methods to get out, and then get out. And meeting Madam Eva almost immediately upon arrival was a part of that. But for this longer and more expansive campaign... I think the adventure might be better served by NOT giving out the solution so soon after arriving. DON'T have the party get told immediately after arriving in the Village to go find Madam Eva and have their fortune told. Instead... force the players to live within the Valley for a while and experience what the claustrophobia and suffocation is like. Give Strahd more opportunities to toy and play with the party before they are told about or given the ways to defeat him. Really put the screws to the NPCs in the various villages of the Valley, especially after the party befriends some of them. Make things more hopeless for the party before learning about the Sunsword or the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind and then giving them hope. Thus you build Strahd up as a true and seemingly invincible villain before having the party discover the secret into possibly overcoming him.

And having thought about it further... I suspect there's also one other thing I think I'd need to do to truly make this adventure into the horror play that it truly should be...

...give Strahd von Zarovich Level/Experience Point Draining.

I think all of us know that the actual 5E game is not designed to be truly balanced for the larger gaming populace. Instead, it is designed and balanced to work best for the newest of the new players-- 4 PCs using Basic Rules. If you have a Champion, Thief, Evoker, and Life Cleric and that's it... the monsters in the Basic Rules can be credible threats at the levels / CRs as listed. But if you add any player-facing material from the PHB beyond that, they begin making incremental changes towards being easier. Barbarians getting Resistance when they rage, Paladins gaining immunity to diseases and removing poisons while Smiting everything under the sun, Rangers making exploration trivial, Bards giving bonuses to people left and right, etc. etc. Couple that with adding in more PCs above 4 and suddenly we discover that the monsters in the MM don't really hold up as credible threats anymore because there's too many hit points to fight through and too much healing to keep PCs from being killed. And when you start LEVELING all these PCs with all their bizarre class combinations... pretty soon there's nothing they can't start steamrolling unless you really force yourself to re-work all the monster stat blocks. After a certain point, HP damage is not high enough to seen as much of a threat an longer.

But what COULD be seen as a true threat to jaded D&D players? Not being able to level up. Being stuck at 3rd level trying to deal with the horrors of the realm over and over and over again. What better way to truly make Strahd the scary villain he is than to have him show up on the scene just as the PCs are all ready to gain just enough XP to level up, only for him to attack them and drain them of XP to send them spiraling back down to the bottom of the level? That might be the only credible way to truly freak players out-- Strahd not letting them become more powerful. Yeah, it does run the risk of alienating them if it's done unwisely... but I think if you leave it merely as a Strahd ability... then at least the players could feel like they have a fighting chance.

After all... what's the reason for Strahd to attack the PCs otherwise? Unless he's just intending on killing them (which of course is a possible motivation if you want to go in that way)... he doesn't necessarily gain anything by doing so. Knocking off their hit points? Okay, then they take a long rest and that problem is solved. Slow them down on their search for the McGuffins? It assumes Strahd knows about them or knows the group is after them, and at that point why not just kill them outright to stop them? Especially since forcing these attacks on them just garner them more XP towards leveling and becoming more powerful. It's hard to toy with someone who just gets potentially stronger every time you do.

But if these attacks of Strahd stop the PCs from becoming more powerful (and they keep getting stuck at a level where zombies and wolves still cause them problems)... the players now have to operate differently while in the Valley. Things like not inviting people into their houses just in case one of them is Strahd in disguise become a thing again. Trying to sneak around and do things without drawing attention to themselves (in order to gain XP in hopes of leveling up before Strahd notices) becomes paramount. And not letting them gain an audience with Madam Eva until they have sufficiently proven themselves by actually reaching a certain character level (and only then do they discover the objects that allow them to try and defeat the Lord and escape the land.)

Having now played 4E and 5E for all these years... I now truly see what Level Drain (and by extension Magic Item saving throws) was meant to accomplish-- hitting players where it truly hurts... how cool they are with all the stuff they have and what they can do. Killing them is too easy. Keeping them mediocre is way worse. :)

**********

Now in my first two runs of CoS, I had incorporated the Fanes of Ravenloft (which come from the Expedition To Castle Ravenloft adventure for 3.5). This gave the players additional locations to go after and shut down, in order to reduce Strahd's overall power in the valley (for every fane destroyed, Strahd got less powerful). That worked to keep the players motivated to keep exploring and it extended the campaign story beyond just quickly beelining to the Sunsword and the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind and then storming the castle to kill Strahd. But it didn't solve the problem of the PCs just becoming too powerful for their own good and eliminating most threats in the Valley because they out-leveled and overpowered everything.

But if I can use Strahd to de-power the PCs when they play poorly and make him a truly frightening foe again because of it (while simultaneously making sure to just not demoralize the players such that they fall out of the game)... it can bring the setting adventure back up to its scariness level that it truly deserves to be.
I couldn't disagree more. I will never use level-draining abilities in D&D again, even if I go back to older editions. I may use something that makes PC's slighter weaker until they can recover (exhaustion, temporarily lock off abilities, etc.), but the both the book-keeping nightmare of level draining and the "nyah-nyah" of permanently undoing PC's progress - I'd rather just kill their character and have them start new ones, honestly.
 


COMING SOON: 5 Plug-In Settlements for your 5E Game

Advertisement2

Advertisement4

Top