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5E Enhancing "Curse of Strahd" (and DDAL adventures)

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
I really appreciated [MENTION=9789]evilbob[/MENTION]'s Points of Light idea. Hoping he'll repost it here.
 

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evilbob

First Post
I really appreciated [MENTION=9789]evilbob[/MENTION]'s Points of Light idea. Hoping he'll repost it here.
I'm pretty sure jayoungr caught it at some point in the thread (wow, is this thread 6 months old?) but here it is again if you'd like:
http://www.enworld.org/forum/showth...-structure-in-CoS-(spoilers-also-really-long)

Although I have to say again that I wish I could remember who actually came up with the idea originally - someone on this board - and all I did was expand it out a bit. Glad it's helpful!
 

Daern

Explorer
Great advice. That's basically what I've been doing. They fought spawn, then rested, explored a bit but were afraid to mess with anything. Then Rahadin came and demanded that they go with him to the guest quarters to await the "wedding". (Ireena is somewhere in the castle)
Their mission at the moment is to escape the castle with the silver dragon skull.
The group is very aware of their fragility and want to escape and get more help. On the other hand, I really want to wrap up the module!
 

Daern

Explorer
Well, they escaped, then went right back in again.
The group got some intel from Ascher the bitter vampire spawn. They made it down to the cold fire room with all the colored gemstones. The poem had them convinced they could escape the castle but they needed the Dragon skull they'd left in the Ossuary. Climbing the stairs they encountered Rahadin the Chamberlain and his Shadow Demon minion. Rahadin tore them apart. Between his scimitar and his aura of horrid whispers the whole group turned tail and fled after I think two rounds, escaping the castle without their skull objective.
The next session to group deliberated with the Abbot a bit then traveled back across Barovia (meeting a revenant knight who gave them skeletal mounts). After finally finding the Tome at the crossroads, they discovered the village abandoned. They decided to try to find a secret entrance to the castle dungeons, which they did, using spiderclimb and fly to break the windows and sneak into the tomb of King Barov. They are 7th level, have all the relics, but no support from Argynvost. They know Strahd is marrying Ireena at midnight. They are very scared!
I had no idea it would go like that, but there you go!
 

Rils

Explorer
Quick question for those who keep track of these things - there used to be a thread here called (I think) "CoS Tome of Strahd Additional Excerpts". I had copied some stuff from there awhile back, but my link to the thread doesn't seem to work anymore. Forum search doesn't seem to find it either. Any ideas if that thread is still around? The OP had some good ideas going... Thx!
 

MrHotter

First Post
Quick question for those who keep track of these things - there used to be a thread here called (I think) "CoS Tome of Strahd Additional Excerpts". I had copied some stuff from there awhile back, but my link to the thread doesn't seem to work anymore. Forum search doesn't seem to find it either. Any ideas if that thread is still around? The OP had some good ideas going... Thx!
I had not seen that thread, but I like the sound of it.

I also wanted the tome to be more important than just having a page to read. I thought about randomizing some of the vampire powers and letting the tome tell you what vampire strengths/weaknesses Strahd has. If sunlight just made Strahd sparkle instead of burn it would be nice to know that before starting a fight with him.


I ended up just going with having the original architect's map fall out when the players pick up the tomb. That lets me just drop the poster map of the castle on the table when the players are ready to enter. I felt that letting the players know where the secret doors are would be a small price to pay for me not having to figure out how to map the place as the players explore it.
 

pukunui

Hero
Has anyone given any consideration to incorporating content from Volo's Guide to Monsters into their Curse of Strahd campaign?

The section on hags, for instance, seems like it could be useful for spicing up Morgantha's coven and/or Baba Lysaga.
 

DrVillainous

First Post
After a homebrew conversion of the original Ravenloft resulted in a near-TPK that ended the game prematurely, I decided to DM Curse of Strahd and added occasional references to the previous PCs having come through a few decades ago and meeting their doom. I think that stuff like finding the overgrown remains of the house their previous characters burned down and stumbling across the reanimated skeleton of one of their old PCs has been their favorite part of the campaign.
 

Daern

Explorer
Finished the campaign last night!! Huzzah! Such an accomplishment having a stable dedicated group, wow!

They heroes had been in and out of the Castle for awhile, having collected all the artifacts, but they did not at all feel confident of tackling Strahd himself. For a couple sessions I had them running scared through the castle, harassed by the vampire and his minions. Last night they were shown to the Chapel, where the Lord himself was speaking to a zombified Ireena (she killed herself AGAIN rather than marry the monster).
Final battle was pretty quick. Multiple uses of Counterspell, Daylight and Protection against Evil nullified most of Strahd's threat. The Sunsword struck him down and his mist form drifted through the floor. They group went down into the crypts, found the coffin, opened it and staked his heart! (I improved a little thing hiding behind a door, so when they opened it I was in vampire coffin pose. I opened my eyes dramatically and a player jumped in with the stake. Epic. No rolls needed.)
I told them the that the stake in the coffin pinned Strahd in, though he could still be seen he could not be touched. This disturbed the group as they realized that it was not possible to destroy Strahd, and that a miscreant merely needed to remove the stake to bring him back. After much discussion they decided to bring the coffin to Argynvostholt where they had established the silver beacon, and where they had been attempting to foster a community of good. They helped to rebuild the fortress. Izek (who was the Ally but had sort of disappeared into the castle) reappeared and offered to guard Strahd's prison. He asked for his devil arm to be severed, which the fighter did, then gave the sunsword to the grim defender.
The druid reincarnated Irena as a half-elf. The Abbot of Kresk came to pay his respects and tell them he was leaving to. Then the roc (which they had battled a few sessions earlier) landed and bore the team off over the mountains and through the mists.
I believe they want to go to Waterdeep, keeping mostly the same characters.

On the Strahd fight: I thought about having him retreat earlier, but finally had him dive into melee and his doom (he had been casting fireballs from the ceiling of the chapel). He was really depressed and I was kinda over it. Honestly, the campaign has been really satisfying, so no one was killed and the final battle was a bit underwhelming, but on the whole the end of the campaign was awesome.

Best campaign I've ever run, for sure.
 

evilbob

First Post
Quick question for those who keep track of these things - there used to be a thread here called (I think) "CoS Tome of Strahd Additional Excerpts". I had copied some stuff from there awhile back, but my link to the thread doesn't seem to work anymore. Forum search doesn't seem to find it either. Any ideas if that thread is still around? The OP had some good ideas going... Thx!
There was a huge server crash where something like 3 or 6 months or something's worth of threads got lost. It's possible that was in there.

Finished the campaign last night!! Huzzah! Such an accomplishment having a stable dedicated group, wow!
Sounds awesome! :) I love how if you have 100,000 groups running this game you're going to get 100,000 different endings. And grats on actually finishing! Our group is still just level 5... /sigh
 

Sloblock

Explorer
So our group is just about to leave Barovia and head to Vallaki. Thanks to posts on this thread and its associated links I have managed to get the journey planned out.

My question is around Vallaki, with so much potentially to go at here, I am struggling what to fit in and what to drop. How did others manage this?
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
So our group is just about to leave Barovia and head to Vallaki. Thanks to posts on this thread and its associated links I have managed to get the journey planned out.

My question is around Vallaki, with so much potentially to go at here, I am struggling what to fit in and what to drop. How did others manage this?
I improvised based upon what the groups decided to focus on. I knew what was available for quests but didn't isolate any of them until the groups made a strong indication of their path and intentions.

One of my groups had a druid in it, and when I mentioned a raven was flying by he immediately tried to speak with animals. That led to a convo about other ravens at the Blue Water Inn, and thus they decided to go straight there. Once there, they obviously spoke with the Martikovs and that led them to taking the quest to the Wizard of Wines.

For my other group, they had gotten from Madam Eva that the Holy Symbol was in the possession of Lady Wachter. So while they did go to the Inn as well, they made no questions about the wine situation and were instead focused on going to Wachterhaus. As a result, the Lady Wachter/Baron Valikov feud took precidence once they began speak to the applicable parties.

Truth be told... most of the time a group will follow the first or second breadcrumb you throw at them. So if you'd like them to go to Wizard of Wines first, just emphasize ravens and the Martikovs. If you'd like the Mad Mage involved early, have Arrigal and the rest of the Vistani on the road leading into Vallaki looking for Arrabelle-- that leads to the Lake, and that leads to having an appearance of the Mad Mage. If you want the group to head to Kresk early, have Ismark convince the group to take Ireena straight there.

But at the end of the day, what has sparked the group's interest will usually be a pretty good indicator of which parts of Vallaki you can focus on.
 

Rils

Explorer
@DEFCON - it's funny, I totally did the opposite. I just picked three or four threads that interested ME, and dropped those plot hooks to my players. Of course if they did other things the other stuff was there, but I didn't emphasize it. For instance, I really wanted them to follow up on the Martikov/Winery/Raven thread, the Rictavio thread, and the Church/Coffinmaker thread. So I emphasized those plot lines. The stuff about the Wachters, Arrabelle, the Vistani camp in general, etc I glossed over unless the opportunity came up to present it.

Which, players being players, it totally did. Once player with the "noble" background decided to ask around town about hobnobbing with other nobles - which took him to the Wachter's house, where they tried to indoctrinate him into the cult. The Halfling character wandered off to the lake, where he was promptly mistaken for a little boy, tied in a sack, and offered as a sacrifice to the lake by the drunk fisherman. The party left Ireena at the reconsecrated church while they did the whole winery/Yester Hill arc, and when they came back for the Festival, she'd been noticed by Izek and kidnapped - which led to an infiltration of the Baron's house and rescue mission. I hadn't planned on doing any of that. But it's funny how things work out once the players show up at the table... :)
 

Famebearer

First Post
Hello, new member here joining to discuss CoS. I've been enjoying this and other threads a great deal, and they helped me clarify the tweaks I'm going to make for running the campaign. Probably not as much as some people here:

1. I expect to use a hook based on ‘Plea for Help’ just so the party get both versions of the letter. I will probably ask all players to roll up two characters each, and make it very clear to them that this is because of the deadly nature of the campaign. I might even assume that all the PCs are in fact present at the start, with players able to swap between their two. ‘Inactive’ PCs are assumed to be waiting in the nearest inn, or if travelling then they are an hour behind on the road following with mules or a wagon, guarding NPCs etc.

2. I'm going to move Death House so that it sits just outside of Barovia Town to the East (which I might rename Barov Town because my players are easily confused) on the Old Svalich Road. This should mean that the party come to the house just before they enter Barov Town proper. With the appeal from the two children I very much doubt the party will just pass on by. I am concerned about lethality but not certain yet whether I will replace the shambling mound (maybe with a shadow demon or black pudding) or just introduce some hazard, weapon or scroll etc that the PCs can use to gain an advantage over it. If I do stick with the shambling mound (eww) then I will probably re-skin it as a mound of decomposing bodies. I also like the idea of giving more clues to the identity of the ghasts. Also I underlined the point in the adventure notes that the PCs can sacrifice any creature, not just another PC. They could kill a rat and it would still satisfy the ritual.

3. I will most likely replace the Night hags with green hags. Not only are the night hags ridiculous for supposedly level 4 area but I think green hags better fit the gothic theme better. Having said that I do think this area is designed to force the players into finding a non-combat solution (maybe trying to offer a trade for the children), so the hags will not go down easily. What they will do is try to forcefully eject and humiliate the PCs using hold person etc rather than kill them (at least until the PCs are higher level). The party try to kill them and don’t retreat they will most likely find themselves regaining movement in a ditch beside the Old Svalich road, the cruel laughter of the hags fading into the night…

4. I will probably downplay the Amber Temple, but keep it there if the party wants an “encore”. Personally I interpret the vestiges as being “middle men” for communicating with the Dark Powers, rather than being the Dark Powers themselves.
(Oh point here – to me the Amber temple seems to be heavily inspired by The Tombs of Atuan by Ursula Le’Guin – an incredibly atmospheric fantasy novel that I cannot recommend highly enough, and could be very useful for running the temple).

5. Encounters with Strahd will most likely be RP-based unless players are foolish enough to attack him. Eg Strahd turns out to be standing beside them at a shop, in the street, or sitting next to them at an inn. He proceeds to have a friendly chat with them with casual threats thrown in as non-sequiturs. As he leaves he says “oh and my friends want a chat with you too” – cue wolf attack.

6. Barovian souls are 1 in 4. The existence of the soulless is not a creation of Strahd but due to the spiritual amputation of Barovia – dead souls can’t get out, but neither can new souls get in. The existence of the soulless should be a major horrific revelation. I will be making the husks quite creepy, along the lines of the ‘Innsmouth Look’.

7. I like Baba Lysanga and will probably give her a lot more to do. Maybe correspondence with the hags and witches.

8. Mongrelfolk will be merely be deformed so that body parts resemble the animal parts, rather than actually having animal limbs (eg rather than having the foot of a duck, the foot is deformed so it is three toed and webbed). I find the “animal parts” to be a bit goofy and think the deformations are more horrific and believable.
As for the Abbott – Strahd is so damned that he is completely invisible to the Abbott. The Abbott knows that Strahd exists from talking to the Barovians but cannot perceive him in person (might be a great opportunity for Strahd to turn up while the party are talking to The Abbott.). This really scares the Abbott.

9. The werewolves will be stealing teenagers (youths of about 13 years old) rather than children. Two reasons for this:
a) too many dead and kidnapped children gets repetitive (I have no problem with the horror aspect, just pacing) and
b) the werewolf transformation is a really great metaphor for adolescence (see the excellent film The Company of Wolves, also Ginger Snaps and early versions of Red Riding Hood). Opportunity here for one of the youths wanting to stay a werewolf as part of discovering adulthood.

10. I don’t think any party is likely to ever discover Madam Eva’s backstory, but in any case I am making her a non-immortal, but very old and wise Vistani who is unhappy with the gradual corruption of her people and who genuinely wants to help the party destroy Strahd (but won’t take direct action for fear of his wrath). I am happy with the random nature of the card reading as written (I think it’s a pretty integral part of the feel of the module). I’ll probably use playing cards, although I’m tempted to get some blanks and design my own Tarokka in the style of the Aquarian Tarot.

11. Argynvostholdt – I will try to work I opportunities to avoid or at least delay battle with the revenants, continuing to support Ravenloft as an “R-P first, combat second” campaign.

12. The Heart of Sorrow seems like the best candidate for the champaign wine stone. Oh, and I will be changing the stupid names of the wines to something closer to real Romanian wines (there are wines that translate as “grandmother’s black” and “maiden’s black” for pete’s sake!)

13. I think Rahadin is far too similar to Strahd himself in lots of ways, so I think I will make him horribly scarred (actually even as I write this I’ve had the thought of making him bald and scarred by fire – the party may well mistake him for a Count Orlock style vampire!)
I will not be using any of the optional re-uniting of Sergei and Tatyana. Whilst I am happy with Ireena being a reincarnation, Sergei is lost forever – no cheesy happy endings here!

I will no doubt make other tweaks, as it will still take a few weeks before I can get the campaign started.
Thank you for this inspiration!
I'm curious if anyone tried to make the first gem of WIzard of wines winery be the heart of Abbots "Golem-Bride". I'm planning to make it happen with my party)
 

jayoungr

Hero
Supporter
For my second 1,000th post (the first was lost in the Great Data Munch last fall), I thought I'd restore some information that I was able to retrieve from Google cache.

Below is a list of DM's Guild supplemental resources for Curse of Strahd. Please note that I have not read any of them except The Crumbling Wall. This is just to bring these items to the attention of DMs who may be interested in them. (You can find more CoS resources here.)

A Guide to Curse of Strahd
Chapter by chapter DM notes, story outlines to help you connect the material into a stronger narrative, and a chapter to help new DMs get their bearings. Platinum best seller.

Ravenloft Archetypes I: Nightmares of Barovia
New archetypes, spells, feats, subclasses, monsters, and subraces for Barovia. Platinum best seller. If you're on the fence about it, one section is available as a free preview: Dusk Elves: A Ravenloft Subrace.

Ravenloft Archetypes II: Core Domains Adventurer's Guide
Setting, story, and character options for Barovia and the larger Domains of Dread. Platinum best seller.

Ravenloft Backgrounds
Six new Ravenloft-related backgrounds: The Returned, Investigator, Occultist, Medium, Touched, and Witch-Hunter. Silver best seller.

Heroes of Shadow 5E: Vampires and More! (Pay What You Want)
A vampire class with three subclasses, plus new races and a new warlock patron. Copper best seller.

Heroes of the Mists
New magic items, expanded madness rules, and a new "dark shadows" option, as well as races, subclasses, backgrounds, and advice on running horror games. Gold best seller.

Children of the Night
New monsters for Ravenloft, many of which are updated from previous edition guidebooks. Electrum best seller.

There's Something Wrong in Stonefall (Pay What You Want)
An investigative adventure providing an alternate way into Ravenloft.

Cursed in Barovia
Another alternate way into Ravenloft, designed at a game store as a launch event for CoS.

The Crumbling Wall (Pay What You Want)
A short, creepy encounter with a mysterious bard sitting on a crumbling wall. It would make a perfect "welcome to Barovia" encounter after the PCs are transported there by the mists.

Gregorio's Traveling Emporium and Menagerie (Pay What You Want)
A short drop-in encounter for second-level characters, by the authors of The Crumbling Wall.

Baby's Breath: A Souls and Shells Scenario for The Curse of Strahd (Pay What You Want)
A scenario exploring the implications of Souls and Shells in Barovia. It hooks into the adventure through a couple of characters that can be dropped into any tavern.

Eldritch Wild Magic for Ravenloft (Pay What You Want)
A new wild magic surge table, reflavored to fit Ravenloft.

Gothic Inspired Agitations (Free)
Weird phenomena to keep your players on edge. Some of them have mechanical implications.
 
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jayoungr

Hero
Supporter
Some more resources from the lost portions of this thread.

First, a link to Plane Shift: Innistrad. This includes information on bringing the M:TG world of Innistrad into D&D and a guide on how to reset Curse of Strahd there.

Next, some resources from @Entsuropi:

As my own contribution, I present a pdf of Magic Item Handouts. I went through the Curse of Strahd book, found all the magic items that the players could find, and then typed them up into a pdf. In my games, I print these out, cut each item onto its own individual piece of paper, and then physically give them to my players; I find that it really helps them to remember the rules (and existence!) of their magic items, and I'm not forced to dive into the DMG when the players find it. I did this for my own benefit, but I figure that some people might find it useful, so have a look if you think that is true for yourself.

Do note that it isn't in order - I went for ease of printing over keeping them in a particular order - so you'd need to sort them into chapter-specific folders or something for your own sanity.
I have also - at the request of someone on Facebook - uploaded a version of my private notes for this module. It includes my Tarokka reading - but also a list of every monster and magic item that you'll find, along with where you'll find them, and my understanding of how all the different plots and locations fit together. It might be useful, I don't know.

+1 Guide of Clarity
Thoughts from @Rils:

I'm also toying with the idea of the Fanes. There are three noted in the text - Yester Hill, Berez, and an un-named circle of menhirs at Old Bonegrinder. The quickest thing in my mind is to equate that last one to Lysaga Hill, tie in the hags, and voila. Specifically looking at the mention of the "leftovers" the hags leave in the circle, lots you can do there with connections to youth, vitality, longevity, etc.

As for the other two, just run the areas as-is, but maybe include some sort of cleansing ritual as a special encounter. I'd personally probably have an NPC like VR or Ezmerelda or one of the village priests do the actual ritual, with the PCs either guarding or assisting during the 10-minute cast time. You don't want to lock out one player by making them the caster stuck doing nothing while waves of twig blights/zombies/etc or strange necrotic/elemental/primal phenomena are going on.
And finally, @Sammael offered these updated stats for Rictavio:

Playing with Rictavio's stats - he really shouldn't be a cleric (as per all prior edition lore). Here's what I have so far (a bit of assassin, a bit of inquisitive):

"Rictavio"
Medium humanoid (human), LG
Armor Class 12 (leather armor)
Hit Points 77 (14d8+14)
Speed 30 ft.
----
STR 9 (-1)
DEX 12 (+1)
CON 13(+1)
INT 16 (+3)
WIS 18 (+4)
CHA 16 (+3)
----
Skills Arcana +9, Insight +7, Medicine +7, Perception +7, Religion +6, Sleight of Hand +4
Ear for Deceit (cannot roll less than 15 for Insight), Infiltration Expertise (see rogue class)
Senses passive Perception 17
Languages Abyssal, Common, Elvish, Infernal
Challenge 5 (1800 XP) <- probably should be higher now
----
Special Equipment: sword cane, monster slayer’s kit, hat of disguise, ring of mind shielding, scroll of raise dead
----
Multiattack: Rictavio makes two sword cane attacks

Sword cane: Melee Weapon Attack: +4 to hit, reach 5 ft., one target. Hit: 4 (1d6 + 1) bludgeoning damage or piercing damage (silvered sword)

Sneak Attack: +3d6 damage once per turn if Rictavio has advantage, the enemy is distracted, or if Rictavio succeeds at Insightful Fighting (even if he has disadvantage)
Undead Slayer: +3d6 damage against undead

Bonus Action: Dash, Disengage, or Hide; spot hidden creature or object, discover clues

Insightful Fighting: As an action or as a bonus action, Rictavio can make a Wisdom (Insight) check against a creature he can see that isn’t incapacitated, opposed by the Target’s Charisma (Deception) check. If he succeeds, he can use Sneak Attack against that creature. This benefit lasts for 1 minute.

Reaction - Uncanny Dodge: Halve the damage from an attack if Rictavio can see the attacker
 
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OGIHR

First Post
new member; hoping to run Curse of Strahd for his friends

New member; first post; so on and so forth. And yes, I am aware that I talk too much...

Years ago, before I could really consider myself a grownup, I used to run a lot of RPGs, and I've been meaning to get back to running one again. When D&D 5th edition came out, I was quite enthused because it looked to be far more similar to what had worked well about 2nd edition than the grand messes which either 3rd or 4th had become at the points I'd lost interest in each of them.

Then Curse of Strahd was announced, and I was positively giddy. I bought it as soon as I could, read the whole book twice through, and lamented that I didn't have any players willing to engage the premise of it being a gothic horror story. Now, a little over a year later, I have a regular online group formed of my fellow Trekkies, who have done games of both LUG's Star Trek RPG and 5th ed Shadowrun. And I am sincerely hopeful that they'll be on board with me running Curse of Strahd for them.

However, in the interests of emphasizing the gothic horror, I am going to be using a few of the optional rules in the DMG, one replacement rule of my own creation, and quite a few story changes. Most of the latter came from reading this most brilliant thread, and I hope that my imitation of your ideas is taken as sincere flattery. At least, I'm pretty sure they were all mentioned in this thread; my apologies if I prove to be remembering incorrectly.

I actively seek the input of those who have walked this path before me, critiquing my ideas and telling me what problems they foresee.

First off, I want the tone to be horror rather than "find stuff to kill, then we get XP and maybe treasure too". Therefore, I won't be using XP at all; strictly using Milestone Rewards instead. My original plan for this was very simple (resolve a major storyline, get a level-up; either resolve a minor one or significantly advance a major one, earn a resource replenishment), but I'm now pondering the "X objective points to earn level X" mechanic mentioned here.

As a corollary, I will definitely be using the "gritty realism" setting for rest and recovery, so that a good night's sleep lets you spend Hit Dice to recover HP, and a week off in the safety of town lets you refresh your vast cosmic powers (and properly study any mysterious thingamabob you seek to understand). This way, every spell slot used on random encounters is actually depleting the resources available for dealing with the villains proper. And thus, I hope, a feeling of horror can be infused into the game.

Fortunately, I also plan to cut out a lot of the "XP filler" combats from the book, since I'm having combat itself contribute nothing toward leveling up (as opposed to tricking another monster into killing this monster for you, which resolves the storyline just the same without any of the damage rolls).

I also intend to use a custom Initiative mechanic I've been tinkering with, to remove the assumption that your movement happens nearly-instantly during your own turn, then you sit around bored and distracted until it's your turn again. Because I believe that boredom is the enemy of fun. But that's still in progress (for example, I haven't figured out how to fit Reactions or Bonus Actions into the architecture), and might need to be scrapped.

For story points, I knew from the start I didn't want to use any published campaign setting in any D&D game I run. In my own opinion (which I have no cause to push on anyone else's games), each canon heroic archmage scrying for plotlines to intercede in is an insult to the efforts and abilities of the PCs; so I want a generic world with none of them waiting in the wings. And while I didn't mind the original flavors of Greyhawk or Dragonlance back in the TSR days, the Forgotten Realms has always left me cold, because it seems to just be a license to regurgitate out of print material all shoved together whether it makes sense or not. That said, I can't help but feel that Greyhawk and Ravenloft are like chocolate pudding and lasagna; two great tastes that turn the stomach together. So I won't be using either the Mad Mage or the Amber Temple, instead having the (living) Barovian army split up to fight separate wars on both the northern and southern borders, which is why Strahd finds these mortal heroes to be useful catspaws against the rivals to his power.

So I shall have Strahd appearing in two different identities: the fictional "Strahd XI" living ruler of Barovia (who finds foreign travelers to be intriguingly exotic and provides the heroes with quests that are often benign or even virtuous), and the monstrous-looking "Strahd the First And Only" (who is stalking Ireena and openly contemptuous of his alleged heir). The heroes will meet Strahd XI on the road before they reach the village of Barovia, and be invited to a feast in their honor before they know anything about his family's reputation. I haven't decided yet which face will be an illusion, but obviously one of them will.

And bear in mind, with Strahd XI as a quest-giver, the heroes can come visit the castle repeatedly, with most of the castle's staff beginning to assume that the heroes' presence on any given occasion is by the Count's invitation. Unless they start "heroically" killing and looting.

Also, I won't be modeling Strahd as a wizard, because according to his backstory he was a fighter until he made his pact with "Death" to acquire arcane mojo. Thus my version of Strahd will be a Fighter/Warlock (with a unique Pact), and I'll have to build his spell list from scratch to suit (using monster-traits to fill in the gaps, of course).

Contrasting Strahd XI's opinion of outsiders, the common people of Barovia are openly fearful, because it's well known that people from distant lands attract all sorts of attention from things that no good honest Barovians want to be noticed by. And things are even that rosy only for the human PCs; the Barovians are 100% human (goodbye dusk elves; Rahadin becomes a High Elf former adventurer who betrayed his cohorts to serve Strahd) and view any demihuman PCs with severe suspicion at best. Any races with innate spellcasting abilities, or an outwardly monstrous appearance (drow, dragonborn, half-orc, tiefling) are much more likely to find a lynch mob than any room available at the inn.

‎I do like the notion of re-incorporating the three mystic fanes from the 3rd ed version, but rather than have them each add a new layer of bookkeeping for Strahd's statblock, I want them to frame the campaign's narrative. This, coupled with my need to replace the dropped Amber Temple with something else indicative of Strahd's origins, led me to decide that Strahd's descent into damnation began well before the wedding day massacre; instead beginning with his conquest of Barovia in the first place.

In my version, Barovia was the homeland of the Tergs, whose society was dominated by berserkers and evil druids (thus my Dark Powers being much more primal/elemental in the manifestation of their gifts, and locations Y+Z fitting better into the overall narrative). When Strahd's army laid siege to the primitive town which served as their capitol, he ordered his men to encircle it and then burn it to the ground, with the inhabitants trapped inside. It was this act of evil which drew the Dark Powers' attention, and yielded Strahd his first gift of supernatural power (details to be determined). The site of this slaughter is still marked by the standing stones near Old Bonegrinder, and the hag's oven draws on the residual magic of that fiery night to bake her dream pastries.

Afterward, he captured a Terg druid and forced the man to help him gain more powers; in the last stand of the Tergs the traitorous druid set up a ritual sacrifice to have the earth rise up to kill Strahd's forces. But Strahd slit the druid's throat on the altar, and so both armies were buried alive, leaving a twice-empowered Strahd the only survivor to climb out of the newly formed Yester Hill.

With the last of his current enemies slain, Strahd declared Barovia conquered, and brought his family there to enjoy their new holdings. But during the tour of the realm, young Sergei met a beautiful young (formerly Terg, now Barovian) woman named Tatyana in the village of Berez (Tatyana herself, rather than Marina the first reincarnation), and in his jealousy at his brother "stealing" the prize he'd done all the work to earn, Strahd called out to the Dark Powers directly this time. They listened, Berez was flooded, Tatyana's entire family was drowned, and Strahd received the gift for his third elemental sacrifice. By which point he'd definitely aquired the ability to steal a person's life-soul-strength by drinking their blood.

Three down; one to go. The last set of standing stones I have retroactively placed in the wall of the overlook at K6; the idea being that Strahd had his artisans build his castle atop and inward from that existing place of power at the cliff's edge. So on the wedding day, Strahd had expected the masacre to serve as a fourth sacrifice completing his acquisition of magical powers of the land. But he failed to understand that the sacrifice of winds needed to be more than his blades cutting down the wedding guests during a storm. And the power did not come to him until Tatyana threw herself over the ledge to escape him, and the winds took her.

Only then did the fourth gift come to Strahd, cementing his power over the land and permanently binding him to it, tormented by the fact that he had needlessly sacrificed everything else in order to lose the only thing he truly wished for.

In this interpretation, Strahd's goal of reclaiming some version of Tatyana is not just a matter of being a possessive jerk, but rather the theory that if he turns her into a vampire, throws her off the overlook, and forces her to turn into a bat, her survival this time will disrupt the magical-resonance of the original sacrifice and allow him to escape his prison with most if not all of his powers intact. But he may well be deluding himself.

Thus, when the heroes overcome the threats at the respective "mystic standing stones" locations, it won't be a matter of them gaining a magical power or Strahd losing one, but rather a matter of the "prophetic dream monkey" gaining insight into the makings of the monster that Strahd became (possibly just by visiting the location, without needing to fight the villain). And while the final battle against Strahd will take place at the Overlook (K6), the card of the Executioner won't come up in any readings, because I won't allow the final confrontation to occur without the players understanding the story of that spot. The mists shall obscure all, even from Madam Eva's gaze.

To that end, I plan to write a replacement text for the Tome of Strahd, wherein Strahd recounts his realization of just how it all went wrong, and resolves that as soon as the opportunity presents itself, he shall do whatever is necessary to correct the circumstances of Tatyana's death. And thus the Tome actually becomes a useful tool in this edition, by unlocking access to the final confrontation after one of them spends a week (a long rest in the "gritty realism" optional rule) studying the text.

I know that Ireena's death (by anything other than Strahd's fangs) would derail my campaign pretty thoroughly, so I'm planning her to be a capable swordswoman, with an added supernatural effect that Strahd's wrath befalls any creature (living or otherwise) that damages her: all attacks against the transgressor have Advantage, and the transgressor has Disadvantage on all saving throws or ability checks. Permanently. None of the intelligent monsters / villains will dare to bring Strahd's wrath down on themselves that way, but animals / mindless undead / poor stupid unlucky bandits won't know any better.

I plan to use the werewolf-hunter plot hook, to better focus on the primal vibe of my Dark Powers, and to have the PCs focused on fur rather than fang when the black carriage with excessive silver trim pulls up behind them on the road. ‎Plus I can then use the werewolves in random wilderness encounters to give the players clues that they're more likely to follow up on, since that's their primary mission.

Regarding the soulless inhabitants of Barovia, I had explained that to myself as being a direct result of Strahd's ages of predation. The souls of those he drinks to death get devoured by him, and thus he actually has only one chance to enact his escape plan using the real Tatyana. Which is also why he's rehearsed it so many times on so many other beautiful women (and some men). Many of whom have then been led up onto the castle roof and mesmerized not to move from that spot or to make any noise, and then left for the sun. Only his favorite pets get a place in the crypts when they first fail to amuse this proper monster of a main villain.

A few other random points that jumped out at me from reading over this thread:

For the Tarokka reading, I'm quite certain that I'll want to stack the deck for maximizing the story impact the first (and likely only) time I run this campaign for these players. To maximize the players' investment in interacting with the whole setting, I figure the three treasures should be split up between the castle itself, a wilderness location, and one of the four enclaves of the (non-monstrous) living. But I need to figure out what order I want them found in, to get more specific than that. I definitely don't want the heroes' ally to be so powerful as to overshadow their own capabilities (so Van Richten will be modeled as a Rogue because he's Van Richten, and the other super-duper spellmonkeys either don't appear or get unceremoniously executed for sneaking around invisibly in the lair of a monster who can tell exactly how many heartbeats they hear in the room), but I haven't settled in on any of the options yet. And I've already stated that Strahd's climactic location is obscured from the Tarokka, but revealed by study of the Tome.

I love the idea of the longest-missing gem from the winery having been used to power the flesh golem. And I can just see the heroes getting the wedding dress, the abbot sending the bride to the castle, and then the heroes finding her in either K67 or K76, laid out on a table, her chest cavity splayed open, and the gem lying in a basin of water next to the body. It could have been taken up to the castle treasury, but I imagine that the vibrant-health magic of the gems is of little value to Strahd. Besides, I like the idea of Rahadin coming over to the heroes and asking them to return the gem to the winery on the Count's behalf. It should be a delicious juxtaposition of monstrosity and beneficence.

Regarding the hags at Old Bonegrinder, I'm sorely tempted to have Morgantha as the only proper hag (of whichever subtype), making the other two into just Barovian witches studying under her. So that the Coven rules for triple lightning bolts on round one are a non-factor.

The notion of the Vallaki weekly festivals actually having the potential to serve a purpose (with or without the "points of light" campaign arc) is a nice one, but it doesn't mesh well with the "souls and shells" element for me (which is the basis for the heroes largely being on their own, rather than calling in the LG authorities for backup). Then again, lighting the beacon at Argynvostholt might well tip the scales in this notion's favor. I shall have to ponder this point further, and decide what sort of ending I want ‎my campaign to have if the heroes are victorious.

So, that's what I have in mind. What do you all think?
 
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DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
You have a lot of great ideas on how to make the story of your campaign your own, so continue working in that direction.

I can't necessarily critique your specific plans, because as is the case with every campaign... plans are great until the players get involved, at which time most plans go up in smoke. ;) So it's great to have plans and ideas in mind, but it's also good to be ready to let some of them fall by the wayside once you find out both who your PCs are (and what ends up being important to them) and what interests them once they start playing. I'm currently running two different groups through CoS right now, and I've changed up the story (in some cases by whole cloth) based upon who the PCs are and what they've decided to focus on. One group has a blood hunter who made a pact with Mother Night (who is actually the archfey Queen of Air and Darkness rather than a goddess in my campaign) and a paladin of the Morninglord... so the hag guardians and cleansing of the three fanes have become an exceedingly important plot for them. The other group is very family oriented (all members of the party are siblings, spouses, best friends of each other) so Madam Eva was revealed to be the missing mother of the brother and sister (from their backstory). And neither of these individual decisions is true in the other game (Mother Night has had no impact on the family group, and Madam Eva was just Madam Eva in the fanes group.)

So being able to adapt and change the story based upon the needs and interests and backstories of the character can really help tie things together. Don't force your own ideas and changes on them, let their actions dictate which changes and stories become prominent. Other than that... I can give you some of my own perspective on what could result from what you have planned, because some are similar to what I've done (and have now already been played through):

The placement of the three artifacts-- stacking the deck is fine. I did a modified deck (removing most of the castle and Amber Temple locations), and still ended up with two artifacts in the castle and one in the wilds for both groups. Looking back I do think stacking the deck so that the Tome of Strahd especially was more easily accessible would have worked better. Because as it turned out... I ended up passing on much of the information and history about Barovia via NPCs they met, because they had no intention of going after the Tome (down in the mother's crypt of the castle) where they ordinarily could have learned it. My opinion is that if you intend on re-writing a lot of the Tome so that many of your changes to the history are in it (which is indeed what I did, not that it mattered by the time both groups finally got it)... that should be the one artifact that is most likely to be the first one found. So stack the deck so that it's in a location easier and earlier to get to-- the Wizards of Wines, Lady Wachter's house, Rictavio's wagon. That way they can learn a lot of the basic story of the land and give them their plot moving forward. After that... either the Sunsword or the Holy Symbol can be found next, and which one is placed as next to likely be found you might want to determine based upon who your PCs are. If you have no cleric or paladin, then the Holy Symbol has much less value to the group so making that third and hidden in the Castle is fine. By the same token, if you do have a cleric or paladin (especially one who worships a sun deity and will then transfer over to the Morninglord) having the Holy Symbol be #2 found would make sense. No matter which one you have second, putting it in one of the three standing stone locations (Yester Hill, Berez, or Old Bonegrinder) makes sense. Of the three I'd probably go with Morgantha and Old Bonegrinder because Yester Hill will likely be an early location the PCs go to (coming directly out of the Wizard of Wines plot, an early-game story pick-up) and Baba Lysaga is a much more powerful entity so the Ruins of Berez could be a location of difficulty even by the mid-game.

But then again... there's nothing saying you can't call an audible during your campaign. If your PCs DO go to the winery first, and DO grab the first gem from Yester Hill, and DO learn from the Martikovs that an old crone by the name of Baga Lysaga came to the winery with her scarecrows and took the second gem, and the PCs DO decide to go to the Ruins of Berez and confront her early to get it back (especially if you've placed the second artifact in her possession)... there's no reason why you can't just swap the statblocks of Lysaga and Morgantha. Make Lysaga a night hag, and give Morgantha Lysaga's statblock. Indeed, you might very well end up not even bothering to cover the whole "Lysaga raised baby Strahd" hook, so it doesn't really matter just how powerful Lysaga should or shouldn't be. And thus, the PCs going to the Ruins of Berez doesn't end up being as much of a potential slaughter as it could be were you to keep Lysaga's statblock on her. This is the kind of thing you can decide mid-game once you see what your PCs' focuses are on.

For other plots... I personally found that the "souless" people walking around Barovia to be a "Really? Oh, okay, whatever." point for both groups-- a slightly interesting notion, but nothing either group really cared about (since it has no real impact on the story.) Same thing with the third winery gem-- once they re-acquired the first one from Yester Hill and gave it back to the winery, there was nothing really inspiring either group to go looking for the other two. They both figured that having at least one would allow the winery to stay open, and they each took the barrels that were available and went off to deliver them, leaving the story of the Winery behind. If you however really focus on the gems (and the PCs do go to Lysaga to acquire the second one earlier in the campaign)... then the third gem be inside the golem at the Abbey might come into play and could be a cool idea.

With how you have things set up-- the four fanes at Yester Hill, Berez, Bonegrinder, and the Castle overlook... the focus on the werewolf hook to get the PCs into the campaign... the three gems possibly having an important part to play and being found at Yester Hill, Berez, and the Abbey... I might have your game start by coming in along the western road outside of Kresk and just avoid the eastern part of the valley and the Village of Barovia entirely. That way you can go straight into the Winery plot once the party can't get into Kresk, and they are on their way. Then either Ezmerelda can give them a reading when they find her (perhaps at Van Richten's wizard tower), or you can move Madam Eva and the Tser Pool Encampment site away from the Tser Pools itself to perhaps the lake that the werewolf caves and the tower is on. Then you have the Tome of Strahd at the Abbey or the Winery or the Tower, the second artifact in Lysaga's possession, Argynvostholt, or somewhere in Vallaki... and then the third in the Castle itself. So that the party slowly makes their way east accomplishing all that you want them to.

Best of luck with your campaign!
 

jayoungr

Hero
Supporter
Welcome to the board, @OGIHR! Have some XP.

It sounds like you've put lots of thought into what you want to do with the adventure and the setting; thanks for sharing that with us! The main suggestion I have is to check out some of the DM's Guild resources linked above to help you put your ideas on the table. For instance, the "Gothic Inspired Agitations" (which are free) can be used to contribute to the atmosphere, and the "Baby's Breath" scenario can be used to flesh out the souls-versus shells plot thread ... er, no pun intended!
 
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OGIHR

First Post
You have a lot of great ideas on how to make the story of your campaign your own, so continue working in that direction.
Hooray; I made sense.

The placement of the three artifacts-- stacking the deck is fine. ...
My thinking has been to put the Holy Symbol inside the castle (likely at K60 so that the heroes have to climb past what I think of as the single coolest creepy feature in the whole book), the Tome in either Vallaki or the Winery or maybe not until Kresk (haven't re-read those chapters yet to decide for certain), and then the Sunsword likely in either Berez or Tsolenka Pass (with the heroes being given a new reason to bother going there despite my decision to excise the Amber Temple). Unless I change my mind as I continue re-reading the book.

I've been figuring that my prologue would include "Strahd XI" would invite the heroes to dinner in the castle (thus obviously I won't be using the wedding cake gag), and then allow them to spend the night safely in K49-K51. With both Escher and the Witches in K54-K56 commanded not to show themselves to the Count's guests. And if the heroes have already been to Madam Eva under this scenario, it's a simple trip up the K48 stairs to the bridge over to K20, then further up to the prophesized location of the Tome. And when Strahd discovers that the heroes are carrying the treasure, he'll be secretly pleased that they've demonstrated that measure of worth as potential successors. And quite self-assured that he'll be recovering his property soon enough, one way or the other.

So the heroes could feasibly acquire the Holy Symbol first, if the players are so inclined. Assuming anyone wants to play a Cleric or Paladin, I'll make that character's "spooky bit" the dreams of the raven's eye view of the landscapes, so that I can give the players access to the overland map with minimal metagame thinking involved. In addition to the canon crossroads hallucination, and the various character-particular suggestions on the "Marks of Horror" page. And if nobody does, I'd still let the Holy Symbol itself have the Turn Undead feature, although I won't allow Turn Undead to work on Strahd himself, both because of the "you sent him to his room; we're standing in his room" factor and because of Darklord's privilege (in my mind, all of Barovia is Strahd's room, thus he is far less dependent on receiving an invitation in than any other vampire would be).

With how you have things set up-- the four fanes at Yester Hill, Berez, Bonegrinder, and the Castle overlook... the focus on the werewolf hook to get the PCs into the campaign... the three gems possibly having an important part to play and being found at Yester Hill, Berez, and the Abbey... I might have your game start by coming in along the western road outside of Kresk and just avoid the eastern part of the valley and the Village of Barovia entirely. That way you can go straight into the Winery plot once the party can't get into Kresk, and they are on their way. Then either Ezmerelda can give them a reading when they find her (perhaps at Van Richten's wizard tower), or you can move Madam Eva and the Tser Pool Encampment site away from the Tser Pools itself to perhaps the lake that the werewolf caves and the tower is on. Then you have the Tome of Strahd at the Abbey or the Winery or the Tower, the second artifact in Lysaga's possession, Argynvostholt, or somewhere in Vallaki... and then the third in the Castle itself. So that the party slowly makes their way east accomplishing all that you want them to.
Wow. I had not considered that at all. Making the Winery into the first quest would probably necessitate raising the party's level at the start of the game; and it would mean drastically reduced focus for Ireena's storyline, unless I had her already smuggled out of the village and being sheltered by the wereravens until the heroes come along. And if I start the heroes on the opposite side of Barovia, it would make it more difficult to utilize my intended dichotomy between "Strahd the First And Only" as the master villain and "Strahd XI" as a quest-giver; but that notion might be a pipe-dream in the first place...

I shall continue to ponder, as I take advantage of my days off to re-read as much of the module as I can manage. And put together a more-complete picture of which pieces of Barovian civilization I wish to focus on in my campaign.

Welcome to the board, @OGIHR! Have some XP. It sounds like you've put lots of thought into what you want to do with the adventure and the setting; thanks for sharing that with us! The main suggestion I have is to check out some of the DM's Guild resources linked above to help you put your ideas on the table.
Thank you very much. I'll check that out once I've finished re-reading the module.
 

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