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

jayoungr

Hero
Supporter
Wow, I haven't done a links roundup since the Great Data Munch of last September! There are so many that I'll have to group them by subcategory.


Running the Adventure:
Death House question (Using Death House as the transport to Barovia)
Sammael's Curse of Strahd Extravaganza (A grab-bag of ideas)
Slightly Confused About Curse of Strahd (The chapel, the castle, tactics for Strahd)
Questions on Play that May Be Broken ("What-if" scenarios)
How Long Did the Castle Section Take You?
Curse of Strahd: How Long Start to Finish?
Quest XP (Suggested XP rewards for certain tasks)
Trip to Barovia: Starting CoS at Level 8
Other Gods in the Demiplane of Dread (Can they intervene?)
Tarokka Treasure Locations
Curse of Strahd Death Options
CoS Light on Magic Treasure?
Curse of Strahd Post Script (Playing in Ravenloft after the adventure ends)


Individual Campaign Situations:
Running CoS: Tell Players in Advance?
CoS: It's a Meat Grinder for My Group
Curse of Strahd Help (Various questions)
St. Andral's Feast


The Amber Temple:
Amber Temple Questions
Amber Temple: Any Tips?
Plot Help Request (NPC accepted dark gifts)
Help Running Amber Temple


Strahd Himself:
Strahd's Background and Motivation
Is Strahd a Campaign Killer?
Dread of Strahd (Jenga tower as attitude tracker)
DM Help! My Players Killed Strahd Too Easily!
Need Some Rules Lawyers (Creative way of killing Strahd)
Roleplaying as Strahd


Other NPCs:
Donavich the Useful Ally
Enemy of Strahd (Playing Rictavio as Strahd's enemy)
What Do Animals Know?


PCs:
PC Wants to Be a Werewolf
Wereravens, Wereravens Everywhere
Aasimar Too Potent for Curse of Strahd?
PC Gone Darkside
CoS and Clerics
Curing Lycanthropy (In case someone gets bitten)


Potential New Monsters to Add:
Dire Ravens: Expand Your Army of Evil!
Giant Raven vs Giant Bat (A flying servant for Strahd)
Living Spell: Sickening Sleep
Vampiric Vines: Undead Plants
Vampiric Dragon Template


Rules Questions:
Revenants (How to run them)
Vampire Bites (Mechanics and how they interact with charm spell)
Sun Blade vs Darkness Spell


DDAL Adventures:
Chelimber's Descent, DDAL05-07


Related Topics:
Thinking on Horror
Which Ravenloft Setting Book? (Discussion of various options on the DM's Guild)
 

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robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
[MENTION=6702445]jayoungr[/MENTION] - awesome stuff on the mega index. May I suggest that you update your first post to include it too - so new people (coming from the "best of" thread don't have to read to the end of the thread to find this great index :)
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
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.
What is great about this adventure is that you can toss it and turn it any which way to give you that kind of story you want. And there's nothing wrong with that. So for instance, if you did want to come in from the west but still needed to get the PCs higher in level and have Ireena involved, there are many different ways you can do it.

First off, you can place Death House wherever you like.... up to and including being by itself on the road leading up to Barovia. Party starts "off map" wherever they are... they get the letter from Strahd XI inviting them to dinner, and as they travel the mists envelop them and they travel for many hours lost in the mist until the finally break through and come upon this lone house. They then hopefully naturally stop for the night (especially if you had them travelling for 8-10-15 hours lost in the mists), and they can then do Death House to get to level 3. Once that adventure is finished they continue on the road until the arrive to the sign that has Kresk pointing north up a small road. You then take it from there.

As far as Ireena is concerned... you can absolutely move her from the Village elsewhere if it would help. Heck, you could basically up-end the dead Burgomaster and his two kids and the house out of the Village and move that plot to Kresk whole-cloth if you wanted. After all, the actual Burgomaster Kreskov and his wife that live in Kresk are rather inconsequential to the story, so taking them out and replacing them with Ireena and Ismark and their dead dad doesn't matter a whole lot.

I'd recommend you read the whole book and see what different pieces and flavors are available to you, and then have fun mixing and matching them, moving plots and people around as necessary to cultivate the kind of story you want. And then once you've done that... prepare yourself for your players to basically not do a single thing you've set up and go off on weird tangents that you have to improv around. LOL! ;) Have fun!
 

jayoungr

Hero
Supporter
@jayoungr - awesome stuff on the mega index. May I suggest that you update your first post to include it too - so new people (coming from the "best of" thread don't have to read to the end of the thread to find this great index :)
Thanks, and I'll think about it--but that "mega index" only dates back to last September. I'd have to comb through all the other threads to make a truly complete listing.

ETA: I also think the links are supplements to the discussion in this thread, not the main thread itself.
 
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hastur_nz

First Post
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.
Yes, that is in fact what Chris Perkins recommends and it worked well for my group. There will always be random encounters, side-treks, role-play for its own sake, etc. But the players all know, that to level up, they need to accomplish actual goals. In my game, they didn't always know exactly what they needed to do to level-up, but it wasn't exactly hard to have an idea, and it drove a decent amount of focus instead of just being a random walk in a sandbox. It can also help avoid the usual 'kill things, take their stuff' of D&D, because killing people doesn't get you any closer to leveling up (and 5e doesn't need much loot, except magic items of which CoS doesn't have a lot lol).

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.
That sounds quite extreme, but if you've thought about the pacing of the adventure, and can make it work, sure why not. Personally I run all my games now with a simple variant from the DMG, where you just don't recover any hp from an overnight rest, so you have to use spells and hit dice before going to sleep; that doesn't slow the game much at all, but at least makes resource management a little more relevant and means PC's can't always steam-roll the adventure on a completely relentless and unrealistic schedule. I'd just wonder that if you slow the game down to a weekly cycle, how do you deal with what everyone does on their weeks off - not just the PC's, but all the NPC's - as written, the adventure is pretty static, and you have to start making up a lot of "what's next" - if you slow it down from days into weeks, then you've got a lot more work to do, or it all become static again i.e. NPC's all just sit around waiting for the PC's to be ready again...

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.
I'd recommend you scrap that idea immediately. I can't see how it could enhance the experience, vs the risk of making it worse. D&D is a game, with some abstractions, to keep it simple and fun enough for everyone.

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.
Personally, I don't think it matters one bit where the PC's 'home world' is, it's completely irrelevant to the actual adventure. In my game, I said it started with PC's from Forgotten Realms (not my favourite setting, by any means), and then the only time it ever featured in the game was a couple of vague mentions from me, as back-story elements, which made zero difference to the players or the rest of the game. The adventure assumes the PC's are drawn into Strahd's Domain, and their main focus is to escape; once they escape, it's game over; the whole campaign effectively starts and ends in Barovia. So whatever back-story elements the players come up with, should be focused on what might actually be relevant in the adventure. For example, here are some from my game, which the players made up with minimal change from me:

1) human knight, experienced leader of a large company; fell battling evil, waking up (in Barovia) with amnesia accompanied only by his flag-bearer, bugler, and squire (and went back to level 1, as he'd largely forgotten his skills and training etc). The back-story of how he got to Barovia wasn't important - what was important was that he spent the campaign slowly getting himself back into fighting shape (i.e. leveling up), finding his henchmen who had scattered earlier (then watching them die lol), and basically trying to get back home.

2) goliath warrior, the 'local monster' of the central forest, who found the hilt of the sun-sword, which compelled him to 'not be evil'; he became a bit of a folk hero type, joined the other PC's, and tried to activate the sun-sword's full abilities (which finally happened late in the game, and lead to his death, after which he came back a revenant). Again, the back-story was only important in that he was a local but non-human; his motive was to activate the sun-sword (which got him killed, twice, lol)

3) the rest were basically drawn in against their free will, somewhat motivated to help people and/or just help themselves get back out - the fact they came from somewhere in the forgotten realsmwas completely irrelevant, except for one (the warlock) who we said was an old associate of the knight; except that the knight didn't even remember him; so who knows, in fact that warlock ended up turning evil and joining Strahd, after their time in the Amber Temple, so he ended up and NPC then (of course) eventually was dead.

Lastly, @"DEFCON 1" made a very good point - try not to plan out the whole adventure before it even begins. The best thing I ever did when running this campaign, was making sure that I spent a few hours in between every session, thinking about what went on prior, and what might happen next. And by next, I primarily mean what might happen next session.

To start with, I skim-read the adventure book, then focused purely on Death House (which, for us, was all but finished in one three hour session, BTW). I had just enough knowledge of the Village of Barovia, to help make sure I understood the context of Death House, before and immediately after. For the next session, I re-read the Village of Barovia, the bit about Madame Eva, Random Encounters, and that was about it; enough for the next session or two. And so on. Every session, I'd need to re-read a chapter or two of the book, and think about what the important NPC's were doing, what their plans were, responses to the PC's, and so on. I never had a grand plan, it unfolded as we went along, and it was pretty good. It was hard work at times, but spending that time in between sessions, re-planning, is a part of DMing that I really like.
 

OGIHR

First Post
That [8hr short rest / 7day long rest] sounds quite extreme, but if you've thought about the pacing of the adventure, and can make it work, sure why not. Personally I run all my games now with a simple variant from the DMG, where you just don't recover any hp from an overnight rest, so you have to use spells and hit dice before going to sleep; that doesn't slow the game much at all, but at least makes resource management a little more relevant and means PC's can't always steam-roll the adventure on a completely relentless and unrealistic schedule. I'd just wonder that if you slow the game down to a weekly cycle, how do you deal with what everyone does on their weeks off - not just the PC's, but all the NPC's - as written, the adventure is pretty static, and you have to start making up a lot of "what's next" - if you slow it down from days into weeks, then you've got a lot more work to do, or it all become static again i.e. NPC's all just sit around waiting for the PC's to be ready again...
Well, I've always enjoyed coming up with the narrative for the background elements like that, so it doesn't feel like a hardship to me. Most NPCs have their respective career-responsibilities or associated sycophants to keep them occupied while the heroes are elsewhere, so all I really should need to do is carefully watch the time-pressure on the various NPC storylines* and cut way back on the "XP filler" combat encounters, since I'm not using XP at all for this campaign.

* Most notably Mad Mary, who is written to be pushing the heroes to get killed for breaking into Strahd's home before they've even met the main plot of the book! Thus I won't have Gertruda's abduction occur until I feel ready for the heroes to enter the castle without the protection of Strahd's declared hospitality, and therefore Mad Mary will live in whichever settlement the heroes next visit at that point in the campaign.

And while I am questioning for myself whether a 7-day Long Rest is a better option than the 3-day variant I've read that another DM (I don't recall who) used in their own game, I am certain that I want a Short Rest to be an 8hr sleep, so that the heroes learn early on that avoiding the "wandering monsters" is always the smarter tactical decision, except when they actively want to capture a particular monster for interrogation purposes. It's a genre consideration for me, just like handing out Inspiration like candy for players who volunteer for their characters to become Frightened in the interests of forwarding the horror of the game's story (per "Genre Emulation" on DMG page 241).

That's the other thing I really like about Milestone Rewards; having minor rewards that give instant replenishment of a measure of the party's resources when they advance the story. Keeps the players on-genre, as well as on-mission.

I did give serious consideration to DEFCON 1's notion of starting my campaign with Krezk and the Winery, thereby bypassing the village of Barovia pretty much entirely. But given that neither I nor half my players have ever played this edition of D&D (and the druid's player has never tried any version of D&D before), I chose to ease into this edition with the lower-level venue of Barovia village.

I shall start the heroes at L2 (so that only Cantrips and L1 spells need consideration), and my prologue will have zero combat encounters from the moment the curtain rises until after the heroes are already inside the Death House. The way I see it, my version of Strahd takes the time to introduce himself to these new visitors in his realm, and to invite them to a dinner in their honor at his home, so he definitely wants their capabilities tested out under controlled circumstances. And therefore his various servants (of every variety) will find that his wrath burns like hot coals under their feet if they get too close to the delicious morsels in question.

I am also severely cutting back on the combat inside the house, with the animated armor relocated down to the previous floor, and only animating if heroes try coming down the stairs from room 11 back to room 6. And freezing in place again if they return to the third floor landing, making it an area denial threat, rather than a "wandering damage" provider. Similarly, the animated broom in room 14 gets turned into a jump scare, making a single attack roll with the likely benefit of surprise, then falling to the ground inert, leaving the players to wonder if it was even a monster or just a borrowed bit of game mechanics modeling their characters' imaginations running away with them.

The specter of the nursemaid I plan to be fully vulnerable to the heroes' silvered weapons (as I'm using a variation of the werewolf-hunters hook with a LG community outfitting them with abundant resources before they set out on their quest), and the various combat encounters in the dungeon level I also plan to severely cut back on. The centipedes and grick and mimic are tossed out completely, while the four ghouls in room 29 become skeletons, and the two ghasts at 34 become ghouls. Then I add back in a few swarms of rats that bubbles up from the well in 25 if any of the treasure chests are opened, so that clever players can run back to fetch one to use as a sacrifice if they so desire.

I should point out that I use a different interpretation of Turn Undead, which drives the undead monster in question back to its grave (or other "home" location), rather than simply whatever geometrical direction is 180 degrees away from the holy symbol in question. Which means that having a Cleric on hand is far from a sure counter to undead, especially when you're standing between it and its grave. And of course, the whole domain of Barovia is Strahd's prison, so he's completely immune to Turn Undead, except when delivered via the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind.

That leaves only the insanity of putting 2nd level heroes up against a CR 5 brute with resistance/immunity to the full trifecta of fire/ice/lightning and no weaknesses that can be exploited. Which I estimate as a 75% likelihood of a TPK. Honestly, I'm not sure what I can do to make the shambling mound less-inappropriate a threat; whether it's a matter of dropping all its resistances, halving its HP or damage output, or what else might be viable. I welcome any advice on that point.

After Death House is resolved, that leaves just the potential combat encounters of Morgantha (who could easily be decided not to take any children while the heroes are watching just yet), random murder-hoboing of rats or zombies, Doru in the undercroft (who's been starving for months, and would reasonably be very low on HP as a result), and whatever Strahd the First And Only chooses to bring to Kolyan Indirovich's funeral.

Since I don't expect these players to be eager for random murder-hoboing (particularly when they know there's 0 XP to be earned by doing it in my game) to deplete their strength beforehand, it should be pretty simple for a foursome of L3 heroes to overpower one starving vampire spawn without taking any casualties. Then the funeral itself becomes strictly a social encounter to show that Strahd the First And Only and Strahd XI have very different personas, with Strahd acknowledging that the due to the dead is worthy of giving Ireena time to mourn her father. After which time, she WILL be his.

And that evening (when some of the heroes are likely running on fumes), the black coach arrives to bring the heroes to their dinner party at the castle, at which Strahd XI tactfully answers questions about the "other" Strahd, and gives the heroes their first quest (for him), where I take the C3 tactical encounter map from Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, and place a mad druid who's convinced himself that he's lord of all wolves. And he emphasizes that they should take their own time to recover their strength before setting out, with a Vistana guide and some riding horses that he shall provide for them.

Because this way he can always use Scrying focused on the horses to keep track of their movements across his domain.

Meanwhile, back in the village, Ismark is attempting to step into his father's mantle as Burgomaster and pull the community back together, which will involve the heroes leading the effort to clear the zombies out from some of the village's houses (which I'm interpreting as the fallout from a TPK of the previous group of adventurers lured into Barovia, per EtCR's "Undead Legions" secondary goal) so that those villagers who've fled the recent badness can have a reason to return to their homes. And afterward, I plan Ismark to stay for the rebuilding of Barovia Village while the heroes, who've already proved their valor several times over by that point, take Ireena to the hope of safety in Vallaki or Krezk.

That's what I have in mind for the Barovia Village chapter of my campaign, with Morgantha's kidnapping antics only coming up either at the tail end, or perhaps when the heroes return later to see how the village is recovering with the bulk of Strahd's attentions directed elsewhere.

So, what do you all think of my plan?
 

hastur_nz

First Post
Well, in my game only about half of what's in the book ever got used, maybe even less, and it was all good. So I think don't sweat trying to change too much, because it feels to me like you expect your players to turn everything inside out, find everything possible, and so on. Yet in reality, you might find they play the game more like mine did, and just focus on what they thing "the plot" might be, and ignore all the other stuff, especially as side-trecks do not get them levels, achieving goals do.

For example, Death House is chock full of interesting combat and/or traps, but most of them are "off the plot rails" i.e. only found if you players are rummaging around all over the house. In my game, the players listened carefully to the children out front, then headed straight for the top level, no detours really except briefly when trying to find the way up that wasn't clear. From there, they dealt with the ghosts, and went straight down to the dungeon level, found a way to put the ghosts to rest without too much side-trecking, found the end-boss pretty quickly, killed it easier than I expected, then ran out as fast as possible when the house tried to kill them. It was done and dusted in around 3 hours of play.

Now I know that's unusually quick, and others might have spent twice that time and got killed or close to it from finding random stuff that was very dangerous. But I guess I'm just saying don't assume your players will turn over every stone, especially if you're using milestone level advancement.

For another example, in my game the PC's never even met Mad Mary; they heard her as written early on, focused on other stuff, and I didn't force the encounter on them, so that was that.
 

pukunui

Hero
Yes, that is in fact what Chris Perkins recommends and it worked well for my group.
That one time when we gained two levels in one session was a bit weird, though.

For my game, I chose to use XP, even though I usually don't, and it's been working just fine as well. The players can generally see that accomplishing a particular goal will give them the XP they need to hit the next level, whereas grinding through stuff just for XP doesn't really work. At one point, they joked about going around killing cats in order to get enough XP to level, and I pointed out they'd have to go into business as moggy exterminators if they wanted to level up that way, as cats are only worth 10 XP each.
 



OGIHR

First Post
Having now taken the time to carefully study the cross-connections between the various NPCs and storylines in Curse Of Strahd (and then more time to read the novel "I, Strahd" which I found through a used-books seller online), I find myself fascinated by two points in particular of the module. First, that for every pair of same-level chapters in the book, the order presented on page 6 is precisely the opposite of the natural flow of the plot (with S requiring W for entry, V's combat-event providing directions to Z, and both T and O respectively being en route to X and N). An inversion so uniform it could only have been by design. 

Secondly, I can't shake the feeling that there's an entire page worth of content missing from Vallaki. Izek Strazni has a barbed devil's arm that shoots magical fire. The climax of the chapter comes when the rain extinquishes the Burgomaster's mundane torch. Magical fire. Diobolic arm. Diabolic cult seeking to usurp the Burgomaster. Izek doesn't know where his new arm came from. Diaboic cult summoning devils. But instead of tying these threads together, all we get is a note that Fiona Wachter plans to have Izek killed during the process of her seizing power. 

It seems obvious to me that the mysterious devil's arm and the only person in the whole book explicitly summoning devils are supposed to be connected. So when my game gets to the Festival of the Blazing Sun, I see it playing out very differently (asuming the heroes do nothing to interfere). The rain puts out the torch, Izek's diabolic arm tenses up, Izek looks at it in horror because he's not controlling it, the flame is hurled, the Burgomaster is ignited, he staggers into the wicker effigy, the effigy is ignited, Izek drops to his knees and screams, as his devil-arm bulges obscenely. The arm tears free of his body, forming a full barbed devil that emerges from the stump, cue the battle-climax while Izek kneels on the ground, not even crying, because his devil-arm was the only part of him that had soul-type feelings.

On the up side, I've also worked out where exactly the three treasures and fated ally will be to fit the game I have in mind. The Tome will be in the main room of the Abbey (S13), so that the Abbot's fall from grace is tied in to his buying the "I'm so tortured and sympathetic" routine hook line and sinker. The Sword will appear at the Beacon of Argynvostholt (Q53) only when the dragon's skull is returned and the Beacon is lit. And the Symbol lies in the iron chest above the Heart Of Sorrow (with a 240' drop to the stone floor offering a not at all subtle option for breaking open the iron chest, if the heroes are willing to risk destroying its contents), for the heroes to be able to sneak off to after the dinner party they were invited to by "Strahd XI" before they knew anything about his family's reputation. ‎

On the ally side, I have no tolerance for vastly omnipotent signature NPCs inviting themselves along on the heroes' quest so that they can effortlessly resolve crises and reduce the (lower-levelled) PCs to mere cheerleaders. And given that most of the available Allies are entirely recruitable by an L5 party, even a "merely" L9 NPC spellcaster is too omnipotent for my particular tastes. But I also don't want the fated ally's only use being to provide Inspiration during the final assault on the castle. So  after much consideration, I settled on Viktor Vallakovich, the (less than competent) amateur wizard of Vallaki. Strip down his spellcasting omnipotence a bit, and he'd make a good loremonkey to study the Tome in the Abbey while the heroes travel the land dealing with more combative problems. And, when the time comes to assault the castle, he'd certainly be able to make himself useful with the various ingredients in the witches' upper apartment suite. 

But in the course of picking my Tarokka reading content, I looked back over the equivalent section in the 3rd ed "Expedition to Castle Ravenloft", and was amazed that it was literally triple the narrative content. Five questions yes, with three cards each. And I find myself wanting to expand the 5th ed reading similarly; with a Focus card for the question, a Covering card for the location/purpose of the answer, and a Crossing card for the complication thereupon. 

(Focus card) "You must seek the knowledge of the Devil's secrets..." (Covering card) "Hidden behind the sun, in the house of a saint..." (Crossing card) "But it is held by a man who does not see that his hands are already covered in blood; he will not relinquish those secrets until your own hands are equally unclean."

That sort of thing. And I invite suggestions for cards to fit the following meanings:

Tome / 1 Glyphs=S13 / unclean hands
Sword / 4 Stars=Q53 / restore the light
Symbol / 1 Stars=K60 / brief window of invitation
Ally / Donjon / ??? (haven't figured out a suitable complication for Viktor yet)
Location / Mists / history repeating
Werewolves plot hook / stealing children / they believe sweet lies
Lord of the castle / seeks security for his domain / minions serving two masters (seems to paint my "Strahd XI" and "Strahd the First and Only" as adversaries, but actually refers to the heroes' desire to be heroic while they're eliminating rivals on his behalf)
Master of the land / seeks to escape his well-earned fate / needs Ireena's soul to get freedom

Also, has anyone else tried opening the floodgates to player-generated questions for Madam Eva's cards? And if so, what questions did they ask in your games?
 

hastur_nz

First Post
Well, I was a player in the 3rd ed "Expedition to Castle Ravenloft", and none of us got terribly invested in the Reading, beyond the usual "clues to get the McGuffins, then we can go kill Strahd". YMMV, it depends on your players, but as DM and Player, I've never really found many people, if any, that get super-excited over overly complicated clues, mainly because what seems obvious to the DM just isn't to the players, so they tune out easily. When I was DM for Curse of Strahd (5e), I also don't remember any of the players getting overly excited about Madam Eva's cards, beyond the obvious "clues to get the McGuffins".

As for Izek, I really like your thinking, in my game I found there were too many potential plot threads in Vallaki, and only some struck a chord with the players; certainly the "Festival of the Blazing Sun" fell pretty flat; your idea is a good addition. I'd just say, make sure you add on the "so what" for the PC's, i.e. when you say "cue the battle-climax", what exactly does that mean? Is the Devil going to make sure the Burgomaster dies, along with Izek, so Lady Wachter can take over as the new ruler? (meaning, the PC's have the opportunity to get involved, assuming they care?) By all means, keep that idea up your sleeve for later, it's a decent one, however from my experience the most important thing about running this adventure, is to be flexible, and 'pre-plan' every single session as you go along, as you really have no idea what directions your players will end up running in, so to speak... They will, most likely, go through Vallaki a few times during the campaign, so there's plenty of opportunity to meet NPC's, have encounters, and so on, and you never know up front how your players will perceive the NPC's etc. until you get there. So when I say 'pre-plan' every single session, I mean before every session, go through what's likely to come up in that session, and think of some likely scenarios, so you have pre-thought some of the ad-lib that will be required.

p.s. mainly I'm saying "don't over-plan" - Curse of Strahd is definitely more "sandbox" than "railroad", on a session-by-session basis, so by all means add some notes in the margins for the future, but most likely by the time you get there, you'll need different notes...

For example, in my game, Izek actually became an Ally, of sorts, to the PC's. I really wanted to try and play out the hidden-brother-sister thing, but I couldn't see how without forcing it upon the players. Lady Wachter didn't feature until the last time the PC's were in Vallaki, where she tempted them and they politely refused. All up, most NPC's in Curse of Strahd followed my preferred approach to NPC's in my games - they are somewhat Grey, not obviously Good nor Evil, and not obviously breaking any laws, so the PC's don't just kill them. I don't think my players thought much of the Baron, or Lady Wachter, but eventually they moved on to the main objective - Strahd's Castle, and left everyone in Vallaki to their own devices.
 
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OGIHR

First Post
I'd just say, make sure you add on the "so what" for the PC's, i.e. when you say "cue the battle-climax", what exactly does that mean?  Is the Devil going to make sure the Burgomaster dies, along with Izek, so Lady Wachter can take over as the new ruler?  (meaning, the PC's have the opportunity to get involved, assuming they care?)
What I meant by that was the specific plot turn at which the protagonists are expected to retain the moral high ground while they resort to murderous violence to claim the opportunity to dictate the resolution of the current narrative thread. If the heroes do nothing, then yes Lady Wachter's barbed devil clears the board and she asserts control over Vallaki. And if the heroes get involved, then they shape the narrative from there. 

I plan to start my game at L2 with a shortened version of Death House (still no clue what if anything to do about the TPK risk inherent in the shambling mound), then offer the village of Barovia as a base of operations through the heroes' tenure at L3, with a handful of side-quests presented to justify them getting there. I have probably already mentioned these, but there's the canon plotline of Kolyan Indirovich's funeral arrangements (where I'll have Strahd show up to advise them that he respects Ireena's need to mourn her father, but after the due to the dead is satisfied, he will return to claim her), plus Morgantha's pastries at some point, plus the dinner party at the castle with Madam Eva's reading up front and the option to explore the castle a bit at the tail end (with Strahd showing back up to politely nudge his invited guests away from the more lethal areas of the castle), plus the random houses infested with zombies (after a TPK in a Expedition to Castle Ravenloft campaign with the Undead Legions secondary goal), plus a false lead on the werewolves from my chosen plot hook (a lone mad druid in the eastern Svalich woods who's declared himself lord of the wolves and Strahd wants the heroes to get rid of this pretender for him), plus a real werewolf encounter (using EtCR's Tser Falls Cave as a storehouse for werewolves operating on this side of Mount Ghakis) on the heroes' eventual trip to Vallaki. Should be more than enough for the heroes to take some, ignore others, and still earn L4 before they arrive at Vallaki. 

I have only rough plans in place for any of those listed after the dinner party, and even less detail planned for Vallaki or beyond. All I know for sure is that I'm not interested at all in areas M, V, or X, so the Vistani did find the Mad Mage's body last year, the werewolf attack will be shifted to Krezk when the heroes are ready to learn what their Ally Viktor has gleaned from the Tome of Strahd, and there's a war on the southern border which could require a visit to Tsolenka Pass at some point (or not). 

Sense making?
 

Rils

Explorer
It's obvious you've put a lot of thought and creativity into this, which is awesome! However, I'm going to echo [MENTION=40592]hastur_nz[/MENTION]'s comment not to over-plan this. I made that mistake, and wasted hours upon days upon weeks planning out stuff that my players never did anything with. For instance, early on I had them witness the hag trading pastries for a child, and they were appropriately upset about that - but when they got to the windmill and smelled baking pastries, even with the deed to the windmill in hand, they walked right on by. That shot my plans for that night's game, I even had voices ready and everything! And so on and so on. Just about every hook I expected them to take, they didn't. Even up to last game - they have all three artifacts, there's very few loose plot threads left, they have an invitation to dinner with Strahd - and when I conveniently had his coach waiting for them at the crossroads, they walked right on by. No reason, other than to blow Strahd off. That was the end of last game. Now they are going to spend the night in VR's tower and walk to the Castle in the morning. So much for the exciting coach ride I had in mind.

There's pages and pages of notes I made which are all for naught, and as the voice of experience, I can say - take it maybe two games at a time. There's nothing wrong with outlining the main story beats, but leave it at that - an outline. Based on what your player's do, plan maybe two games worth of content - one you expect them to do, and the following one for if they skip that. Otherwise, don't get too far ahead of it, as you'll inevitably find yourself constantly re-working things like I did. Save yourself the wasted time. :)

And ultimately, it'll inevitably be more fun - because it's the group's story you came up with together, not the DM's story that was bestowed upon the players. Enjoy!
 


robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
I put my index in the first post, but my goodness this thread is a shadow of its former self. :( We lost so much with the crash...
 

I am running it now. I am using a planes-hopping motif for the overall campaign theme, where the party has to do some scavenger hunting to assemble the components to make a legendary artifact, and one item is in Ravenloft. I have in my cosmos that Jergal is the one responsible for the Mists and he is the one responsible for Strahd being there. The party had to go to find Velsharoon's skeleton, and they showed up on Gehenna to find Velsharoon's palace and by "entering" the palace, they were going into RL. Strahd is actually guarding the remains, and the party needs to get a piece of that. So I am interweaving the land, and some of the encounters (The Amber Temple, meeting the Vistani, and meeting Strahd himself) as part of the adventure. They aren't expected to necessarily face Strahd, but if/when they go to the castle, we'll see what happens.
 

Sloblock

Explorer
after a bit of a break we are heading into Argynvostholt, and the joy that a spooky mansion brings. so far my PCs are outside of the mansion and just about to go in....

I was wondering how others have played this, did you add anything extra? did you hand wave the empty rooms?
 

Ganymede81

First Post
after a bit of a break we are heading into Argynvostholt, and the joy that a spooky mansion brings. so far my PCs are outside of the mansion and just about to go in....

I was wondering how others have played this, did you add anything extra? did you hand wave the empty rooms?
Fill the empty rooms with visions/hallucinations of the fall of Argynvostholt. I narrated Argynvost's final moments in the Foyer.
 


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