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

evilbob

Visitor
I was wondering how others have played this, did you add anything extra? did you hand wave the empty rooms?
I hand-waved a huge chunk of it, yeah. By the time my players got there, they were all about level 8 and nothing was really a challenge, so they mostly explored it and got a lot of flavor text and not much else. Plus there is oddly about 4 or 5 different ways for them to figure out about getting the dragon bones and foolishly I didn't cut any of them so by the 3rd or 4th time I was just summarizing things - I would definitely cut all the extra clues once the players figure it out and have acknowledged the quest.

If your players are lower level you could use it as a pretty decent mini-dungeon but it really depends on how much your group enjoys dungeons, especially given the castle is just one famously huge dungeon.
 
I hand-waved a huge chunk of it, yeah. By the time my players got there, they were all about level 8 and nothing was really a challenge, so they mostly explored it and got a lot of flavor text and not much else. Plus there is oddly about 4 or 5 different ways for them to figure out about getting the dragon bones and foolishly I didn't cut any of them so by the 3rd or 4th time I was just summarizing things - I would definitely cut all the extra clues once the players figure it out and have acknowledged the quest.

If your players are lower level you could use it as a pretty decent mini-dungeon but it really depends on how much your group enjoys dungeons, especially given the castle is just one famously huge dungeon.
My players are 8th level now, and yeah there aren't alot of challenges for them. They will be meeting Strahd in the next few sessions, but other than tht, they are rolling through pretty much what is there
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
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?
One of my groups had Sir Godfrey as their 'Ally', so I really wanted to make the location one to mess with their heads. So I turned Argynvostholt into a deathtrap for the revenants, as though Strahd was like Jigsaw and locked them all in this house of death. So I filled it with every sort of magically animated object or deceptive masked creature I had available, all ready to snap and trap any creature that wandered through the house. Rugs of Smothering, Animated Armor, Flying Swords, Bags of Devouring, Helmed Horror statues, Brooms of Animated Attack, Grey Oozes, Mimics, so on and so forth.

The theory being that Strahd was playing and torturing the revenants by locking them in this building (I also had a magical ley-line cage surrounding the house that zapped any non-living thing that passed through it) and filling it with things that the undead couldn't tell were real or not. As a result, the revenants basically have remained stationary in their respective locations because if they moved anywhere they were liable to trip up an item/creature and have their corporeal body destroyed (and would then have to wait a certain amount of time before they could inhabit a new body eventually.)

The group were experienced D&D players so as soon as they entered through the front door of Argynvostholt and saw a large carpet in the center of the front hall with a body-sized lump underneath it, they kind of expected it to come alive (which it did, and which they dealt with)... but they just didn't expect every else to come alive as well as they explored. Yeah, most of the items/creatures were more speedbumps than actual threats (based upon the party level), but it was just that it happened so many times to them that they were royally pissed off when they finally got to Horngarde and Sir Godfrey, which then made the roleplay with them even more fun. Trying to negotiate when you are tired and angry makes for some enjoyable repartee.

Now granted... doing what I did is in some ways a duplicate of what is written in the Castle Ravenloft section so if you were going to have brooms and rugs and swords there too then doing it in Argynvostholt might be a repetitive slog. But for me personally, I use the Castle for more NPC interaction and combat than using the animated objects, so I had no issue moving all of it to the manor house instead.
 

texastoast

Visitor
Has anyone ever fleshed out what exists at the bottom of the cliffs off Castle a Ravenloft? One of my PCs was kicked off the bridge by Strahd while unconscious, so he fell to his death. But he had taken the Amber Temple dark gift that causes him to automatically reincarnate, so a new body appears for him to inhabit 10 feet away. I want something interesting down there for him. He also took the gift that granted him the power of flight, so he can just fly up back to his companions, but he has to at least spend the time to recover his items (Sunsword!) from his former body. So what features/inhabitants/challenges would you put at the bottom of the cliff?

Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-G891A using EN World mobile app
 

evilbob

Visitor
Has anyone ever fleshed out what exists at the bottom of the cliffs off Castle a Ravenloft?
This is sort of a boring answer, but according to the map it's just forests, and then after a short ways you can get to the village or to the pool encampment. So really any forest encounter would be appropriate: werewolves, dire wolves, a trinket, bandits, a revenant, etc.

If you're asking for ideas to make it interesting, maybe there's a cave with Tatyana's original skeletal remains, still in her wedding dress, that was somehow covered up until this PC's body fell through and opened it up again. I'm sure Strahd would give pause at least for a moment upon seeing those. Maybe you could rip off the (terrible, horrible) movie version of Sleepy Hollow and there's an ancient twisted tree where the skeletal rider lives and where he comes out to ride the valley. Or if you wanted to be short but creepy, the character fell into a shallow grave with a gravestone that already had their name on it. Maybe the new body was someone who had been digging the grave. (The Amber Temple never promised the body wouldn't already be inhabited... It IS sort of pure evil...)

Oh, what if the new body 10' away was Tatyana's original body? HA! That would make for a bizarre and potentially gratifying twist! Or it could make it super creepy. YMMV!
 

texastoast

Visitor
You're much better at this than I am! At least when it comes to horror tropes. I leaned into the dense fog that fills the ravine and made the bottom into a bone strewn wasteland of cold, clammy, visibility impairing fog. That made it harder to locate his previous body's (scattered from the 1000 foot fall) equipment. I put some will-o-wisps down there, which led him to a cave with a young black dragon. Which he tried to befriend, because he has a 7 intelligence. He had to beat a hasty retreat (good thing he has wings from the Amber Temple too, and I forgot about the dragon's blindsight). They haven't realized it yet, but they'll have to go back down there, because he didn't find the sunsword he'd been carrying. Better believe the dragon will by then!

Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-G891A using EN World mobile app
 

hastur_nz

Visitor
Link to a detailed analysis of the Amber Temple:

The Amber Temple--A TPK Machine?
YMMV, depends on your players. Personally, it was one of my more favourite parts, with the group only exploring about half of it. Inside the temple was fine, but they struggled with the Roc that attacked them on the bridge as they were leaving; one PC got grappled, crushed, and flown off with. That was the PC who got corrupted inside the temple, so I had Strahd's elf-friend turn up and offer to save him and he could come work for the dark lord,... which he accepted. So later, that PC came back and helped Strahd get a near-TPK. The player involved ran his PC in that fight vs the PC's, then next session he ran a new PC and his old one was an NPC (and hated on by the players!) I thought it was a great moment in the campaign, quite fitting; the player involved agreed - his PC had walked a fine line towards evil, got too temped, and fell (player choice, not mine). Eventually, those who didn't succumb to temptation, prevailed.
 
I did the following to spice up Death House...

Characters will encounter a "normal" looking house and no encounters until they reach the attic room and study the doll house. At this point the house takes on its "true" form and all possible encounters are open. Once characters enter into the basement area they must sacrifice a character every so often (depending on how many people are in the party...potentially getting the party down to just 2 when they enter into the final room). This sacrifice isn't real and is simply an illusion and as soon as Death House is exited the "sacrificed" characters appear. Whomever survives will gain a flaw stating that they participated in the death of their entire party.
 
Greetings,

I am just starting out as a DM and attempting to run Curse of Strahd

I personally planned a lot of changes including:

-Starting players in Beregost (You know...near the Forest of Sharp Teeth...to help explain the werewolves in area) instead of near Daggerford

-First area in Barovia is Death House. Characters will encounter a "normal" looking house and no encounters until they reach the attic room and study the doll house. At this point the house takes on its "true" form and all possible encounters are open. Once characters enter into the basement area they must sacrifice a character every so often (depending on how many people are in the party...potentially getting the party down to just 2 when they enter into the final room). This sacrifice isn't real and is simply an illusion and as soon as Death House is exited the "sacrificed" characters appear. Whomever survives will gain a flaw stating that they participated in the death of their entire party.

-Including an NPC Paladin that is joins you in Beregost and is killed after Death House by Strahd and whose body is later repossessed by a revenant.

-Automatically placing the artifacts and allowing a large group to potentially assist the party (compared to a single entity).

-Possible Allies include: The ghosts of Thorn and Rose, Stool (see below), Ezmerelda and Rictavio, Pidlewick II (Found in Vallaki, I have made it not so evil and more like a Pinoccio figure that wishes to be reunited with the remains of his maker), Wereravens, Emil and Zulekia (Werewolves), the possessed NPC Paladin I mentioned above and finally Mordikadian if he is cured.

-Strahd's possible allies: Rahadin will summon a shadow demon, Hell Hounds, Kiril and evil werewolves (if not dealt with earlier), 2 of the witches from inside the castle as well as the hags from the Bonegrinder if they were not dealt with, Baba Lysaga in her flying skull (if she was not dealt with...I actually made her retreat if she takes too much damage so she can protect her "son"), an invented leader of the evil druids from Yester Hill, Potential for Strahd to animate the shadows of party's allies to attack them, Strahd's Animated Armor is being worn by Strahd (giving him the resistance and AC from the armor as well as his normal attacks and the armors attacks [after all it is animated]) as well as the fact that Strahd is on his Nightmare.

-Due to the large amount of allies and Strahd's allies I have also written up a potential "Final Confrontation" where the party and allies storm the castle. If Strahd begins to lose he will cast Fireball to potentially destroy the bridge.

-Adding in "The Hidden Grove" from "Into the Abyss" as it happens to be my favorite to simply include as a side adventure. Also having mushrooms help you fight Strahd sounds AWESOME!

-Strahd will save Polymorph until he is almost defeated and then transform into a large bat monster (with stats of Giant Ape).

After reading

http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthr...16#post7515516

-Added an alchemist shop in Village of Barovia where Dr. Ulbrek Jekzinkle works as an alchemist. When Strahd came to power the Doctor was working on several alchemical processes that Strahd became interested in. After winning the Doctor over, Strahd took him to the Amber Temple to learn of dark alchemical processes. One such potion backfired and allowed for an evil and massively powerful split personality, Mr. Kebrel Harkus to assume control of the Doctor. If the party is interested, Dr. Jekzinkle asks them to collect any alchemical items that they find and he will gladly pay them. He also offers to travel with the party.

(Names straight from Vistani Name List...except for Kebrel with is Ulbrek backwards minus a U)
 

jayoungr

Hero
Looks like I haven't done another thread link roundup in quite a while! I'll organize by sub-categories again.


Prepping the Adventure (general):
Curse of Strahd Questions (backstory changes)
Advice for Extending or Expanding on Curse of Strahd
Suggestions for a 2-Person Campaign
High-Level Strahd Adventure (14+)
Curse of Strahd "Edits"
Werewolf Den


Crossovers and Resettings:
Crossover: Curse of Strahd meets Evil Dead / Army of Darkness
Where in the Realms or Greyhawk?
Lost Mine of Phandelver into Curse of Strahd
Mining Curse of Strahd for My Non-Horror Homebrew Setting?
Orcus vs. Strahd Plot Help
Curse of Strahd + AL modules?


Artifacts:
Strahd-Related Artifacts and Relics
Sunsword alternative
Random Ravenloft/Curse of Strahd Thought (fooling players with decoy artifacts)
Looking for DM Idea related to Strahd & Amber Temple (adding an artifact)
How can Strahd separate PCs from Sunsword, Icon and Symbol?


Tarokka:
Alternate Uses of the Tarokka Deck
Tarokka Deck Excel Sheet


Running the Adventure (general):
How to Handle XP?
A Strahd Fear Variant
What Is Strahd von Zarovich's Title?
Strahd Visitations
Curse of Strahd and Strongholds


Side Quests:
Curse of Strahd Advice (how to handle side quests)
Side Adventure Help (idea for an interlude)


The Hags:
Need Some Advice for Curse of Strahd (running the Bonegrinder hag encounter)
Playing the Night-Hags in Curse of Strahd: Nightmare Haunting


The Castle:
Just the Castle as a One-Shot
Slightly confused about Curse of Strahd (castle questions)
Architect's Room Questions (castle model)


The Finale:
Endgame Plot Help
Finale Help
Is Strahd Hard to Defeat?
My Players Defeated Strahd in One Round and It Was Glorious!
Final Showdown (beefing up the final boss fight)


Ending the Adventure and What to Do Next:
Curse of Strahd and Then?
Curse of Strahd Post Script
Curse of Strahd help (lots o' spoilers) (players want to rule Barovia)
Curse of Strahd Redux High Level (sequel campaign idea)


Actual Play:
Lenora's Journal for Our Phandelver Campaign Transition into Curse of Strahd
I'd Really, Really Like to Hear about Some Fights with Strahd!
Podcast: Listen to us play "Curse of Strahd"


External Resources:
http://slyflourish.com/sly_flourishs_vampires.html
https://www.elventower.com/curse-of-strahd-guide
 
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Weeble1000

Visitor
Hey everybody! This has been a fantastic thread.

I just started running CoS . I have been really impressed with all of the resources available, and some of the suggestions in this thread have been extremely helpful.

It's been a loooong time since I ran a table top game, and this is my first time running 5e D&D (which I'm now convinced is the best edition thus far), but classic Ravenloft is old hat from the days of my youth ;).

I started my group of four players at 5th level and brought them in on the western end of the Old Svalich road. It's a little bit beefy to start them at 5th, but being my first time running 5e I figured it would be easier/safer to bump up encounters than tamp them down.

Brining the group in from the west has been really interesting. They got turned away from Krezk and nudged toward the Wizard of Wines, which is just right for 5th level. They tackled the winery and then went to Yester Hill.

I wanted to introduce them to Strahd early on, and so I had his encounter there be genial and non-combative. Strahd came down to meet the party as they walked up the hill. He introduced himself, called them all by name, etc. etc. (They had met a Vistana in the mists coming into Barovia who I had one of the PCs play as if it was her character, so Strahd had gotten the DL on most of the characters). One of the characters noticed the ritual going on up at the top of the hill and realized Strahd was probably just trying to delay them. Strahd, of course, charmed one of the PCs during that conversation, which has already started to sow seeds of doubt and suspicion amongst the players. So things are going swimmingly ;).

I expect the players to head to Berez next, and then either Krezk or Vallaki.

I've spent some time smoothing out some of the more overtly misogynistic elements of the story, which has led to some really interesting adaptations that I'm excited to play out.

I also love the idea in this thread of the characters working to restore hope to Barovia, so I'm including that in my campaign. In my mind, the characters will be able to escape Barovia once they've loosened the hold of the 'dark powers' by combating the pervasive dread in Barovia, culminated by slaying Strahd himself. The dark powers weaken, the misty borders of the land become permeable, and the character make good their escape.

I figure the powers brought the characters into Barovia (like they have with so many others) to foster new hope for Strahd to destroy, thus encouraging the cycle of dread and despair. Strahd, for his part, is trying to escape Barovia by finding a new penultimate plaything for the dark powers. All in all, not too different from the adventure as written, but it all fits together nicely in my head.

I'm cutting out the Amber Temple and the pass, as well as the dusk elves. Don't need none of that. It's extraneous to the story, in my opinion, and I don't need a dungeon crawl. The characters will have enough trouble with Strahd and the other areas of Barovia.

One big thing I've done is to design a whole new set of encounters in Berez, centered around the church. I like the idea of each community in Barovia having a sacred space that is tainted and which the characters can ultimately redeem. I also dislike the idea of women being killed by their family/friends/community over and over and over and over again in the story.

For me, the whole Tatyana story works better if the 'tragedy' is repeated again and again and again. So for Berez, rather than Marina killed by her own people, I decided to reverse it and have her commit suicide. Lazlo and Grigor know that Strahd has designs on Marina, but instead of killing her they and the people of Berez decide to defy Strahd. They try to reason with him, which fails, and so they prepare to fight him. Grigor does some special priestly voodoo and hallows the church to heck and back, and everybody gets ready to throw down with the Devil Strahd.

Marina knows that this effort is futile, and will only see her family and friends get killed, and so she flings herself into the Luna river. Strahd, however, is royally pissed, not only because 'Tatyana' has once again drowned herself in a river to escape him, but also because the folk of Berez has defied him so blatantly. He's also upset about Grigor's thing with the church, so he floods the town, kills every mother's son, and leaves it as a ruined wasteland to remind folk in Barovia what's what.

Now, Baba Lysaga (hate the name, changed it) doesn't want that sacred space in Berez coming back, so she moves into the marsh to keep a lid on it, which she does by going down into Luna Lake, finding the body of Marina, cutting out her heart, and using witchy magics to further desecrate the church.

This is a secret she keeps from Strahd because, of course, the method might piss him off a bit.

So Marina's "Heavy Heart" is placed on the altar of the church, and it causes the structure to sink preternaturally deep into the mire of Berez, and at a bit of a jaunty angle, too. Only the bell tower is protruding drunkenly from the surface of the marsh.

The characters can access the church through the bell tower, and then have to make their way down into it, going through an attic, then a second story loft, and finally the main floor, which is filled with water. Because of the angle, the water gets 1 foot deeper for every ten feet, making it 10' deep at the far end of the 100' long nave.

The Heavy Heart is protected by a Drowned Maiden, the cursed spirit of Marina, and Drowners (zombies that grab you and try to drown you) created from the people of Berez who took shelter in the church and died in the flood. Marina's goal is to get someone to take her heart off of the altar, but because the altar is submerged in brackish water in a pitch black church buried 40 feet in a bog, her efforts seem a whole lot like she's trying to drown you. And let's be honest, she kinda is.

In the loft is a Caller in Darkness, formed from the masses of people who died in the church, as well as a few Necrolytes, born from some pregnant women who were among those slain. A few shadows haunt the attic, and a trio of Will-o-Wisps hang around the church, trying to entice folks to go down into it and die horrible, harrowing deaths.

Rounding out this horrendous house of worship is the Heavy Heart itself, which exudes an aura of fatalistic despair that gets stronger the closer one gets to the heart. Mechanically, this requires Charisma saves of increasing DC, which when failed cause Exhaustion and a roll on the madness table. All in all, it's probably too stiff of an encounter, but it all goes kaflooey once the heart is off the altar.

The church rises out of the mire, all exhaustion levels go away, the Drowned Maiden is put to rest, the water drains out, and true rays of sunlight bathe the church, killing any other surviving bad guys save for the wisps, who book it for greener pastures.

The characters now have a hallowed church that is bathed in true sunlight during the day, and the Heavy Heart, which is a sweet new magic item that can cast a bunch of useful spells.


The wisps will try to draw the PCs to the church. Lazlo's ghost will give the PCs the whole story and drive them to the church. Baba Lysaga will also 'drive' the PCs to the church if they encounter her (flying in her skull, tossing scary spells, PCs chased by the walking house, etc.). She'll leave them be if they enter the church, figuring that they'll die in there.

Once the church is dealt with, the PCs have a place to rest up, and a handy base from which to take the fight to Baba.

The Heavy Heart is subsequently useful not merely for its cool magic powers, but also for the story. The heart is a strong weapon against Strahd, because it can be used to make him behave irrationally. Once he knows its source and nature, he will want it, and it'll make him angry that the PCs have it.

The Heavy Heart is also something that the Abbot would definitely want to get his hands on for his flesh golem.

That's enough for now. I expect that my players will find their way into Berez in our next session, so we'll see how this goes!
 
[MENTION=6983498]Weeble1000[/MENTION], that's a pretty cool enhancement to Berez. My group is heading to Krezk and just learned about Berez from the Martikovs at the winery. I'm sure they'll be heading there soon. I may have to steal some of this!
 

Weeble1000

Visitor
[MENTION=7151]Dax Doomslayer[/MENTION], thanks!

Now I've just got to figure out how to handle moving through progressively deeper water and learn all the swimming and drowning rules. Yay!
 
[MENTION=6983498]Weeble1000[/MENTION], I'm curious to see how it plays. Please come back and update this thread as to how it goes with your group!
 

Weeble1000

Visitor
My group played last night, but the characters did not make it to the Church in Berez. They got into it with Baba Lysaga, and that ate up the whole session.

While the characters were traveling back to the Winery from their fight with the Druids on Yester Hill, Strahd went ahead of them and charmed two of the Martikovs, Davian and his youngest grandchild.

Strahd composed a letter to the PCs and put it into a package along with 100 ep, one of which was enchanted with Nystul's Magic Aura to detect as divination magic. He had Davian place the package into the kitchen cupboard and come back, at which point he erased Davian's memory of the encounter. Strahd charmed Davian's granddaughter (Yolanda, who I put at 5 years old), instructing her to collect hair from one of the characters and a button from the clothing of another.

Davian had sent his sons to Krezk with a shipment of wine, and they were expected to be bringing back a sheep with which to make a modest feast for the characters. In the meantime, Davian offered to have his daughter and grandchildren wash the characters clothes and clean their armor. Not wishing to refuse such hospitality the characters agreed. Yolanda used this opportunity to pilfer her button (DC 10 Perception check to notice it missing, and the character failed :) ). During dinner, Yolanda crawled into one of the character's laps, precipitating a discussion about children, personal history, etc. etc. Yolanda pulled the character's hair and ran away laughing. The characters, not yet being insanely paranoid, let the incident pass with a laugh at the precociousness of children. Strahd now has hair from one character, and a button from another's clothing.

When honey was fetched from the cupboard as a special treat to liven up desert, Davian's daughter noticed the plain, unmarked package. Davian did not recognize it, but I had him remember that it was definitely for the characters. The PCs took the package outside to open it, using Detect Magic and being careful. They discovered the enchanted coin (as Strahd assumed they would), and felt a false sense of security thinking that they had foiled an attempt to spy on them.

Strahd's Letter:

“To my honored guests:

It pains me that our interview was so brief.

A noble lord such as myself might be inclined to take umbrage at such brusque treatment from a band of armed strangers abroad in his dominion. I am, however, in a magnanimous disposition in light of your heroic actions.

The druids, it seems, were up to no good. I must therefore offer you thanks in lieu of rebuke, and forgive your impertinence. I trust that you will be comfortable among good Davian, his children, and his children’s children. A man as blessed as he has good cause to be generous, as do I.

Be welcome, therefore, to Barovia. You are free to travel my roads and mingle with the populace. I hope and trust that your actions on Yester Hill bespeak of good intentions. I cannot, nor will not, suffer vagabonds to molest my peoples.

May chance offer us a more genteel meeting in the future.

Yours very truly,

Strahd von Zarovich”


The characters stayed the night in the Winery, preparing to head to Berez at first light. Davian was given the enchanted coin, as well as the task of digging up the stump of the golthias tree on Yester Hill and burying the coin in the hole.

They party had one random encounter with four Dire Wolves along the way, and took a short rest at the crossroads. They used Water Walk to cross the river and meet Muriel in the ring of standing stones. After getting the DL on Lysaga and the rough layout of Berez they concocted a plan to aggro the witch by setting the goats free (not knowing the skulls would set off an alarm, but it is what they were aiming for in any case). They used water walk to make the marsh normal terrain snuck their way to the goat pen, evading a scarecrow or two on the way, and then smashed the fence setting off the alarm.

This would have put them in a TPK, because fighting the scarecrows, the hut, and a flying, skull-protected Lysaga all at once is a hideous fight even if the characters had been much higher level.

TPKs are BS, so here's how it went down. The characters made stealth checks to set up a little ambush. This worked for the closest scarecrows, who went to the empty goat pen. The characters cast locate object to track the gem while they were waiting, which was nifty. It pinged the hut which was advancing slowly toward them, directed by Lysaga, whose passive perception beat the characters' stealth check. They assumed the flying skull Muriel told them about was animated by the gem (wrong, but pretty close to the mark) and waited while it came toward them.

Lysaga swooped down from the obscuring storm clouds and mist and dropped a fireball to get their attention. She ate about 60 damage from the PCs before she got out of sight again (a couple of maximized fireballs and well-aimed arrows). Bloodied and unhappy, Lysaga left to let the hut do the work of killing the dangerous intruders.

I tamped down the hut's stats, and played it gently. The characters used some magic missiles to knock down the raven cages and opened them up. The ravens kept the scarecrows at bay, who were starting to trickle into the fight. After getting the crap knocked out of them, a couple of characters climbed up into the hut, smashed up the floor, and after a few attempts (getting tossed out of the hut, bitten by the floorboards, etc.) managed to secure the gem.

Fight over, but they accidentally triggered the Glyph of Warding looting the hut, which slowed them down. Meanwhile, Lysaga, seeing her hut defeated, started working up a mirage arcane that would flood Berez and drive the characters toward the evil church, where she hope they would meet a horrible death.

The characters' time in the hut and race back to the river gave enough time for Lysaga to get through her ten minute casting time, and the characters found themselves in a bad way as the Luna River appeared to overflow its banks in a rush of icy flood waters (that their Water Walk spell did not work on, piling confusion on top of confusion). They panicked and split the party, with their Paladin booking it toward the standing stones and the other party members heading toward the higher ground of the Burgomaster's mansion. Lysaga seized her opportunity, swooped in on the Paladin, and dropped a geas on him to "Take the gem into the church of Berez." It took two tries to land the charm on the slippery paladin, and she had to eat a smite in the process, but with a little less than 40 HP remaining Lysaga polymorphed into a cloud of flies and made good her escape.

The Paladin, tapped, wounded, and now under a potentially deadly enchantment made his way back to the party to give them the bad news.

Now, the party couldn't handle the church without a long rest, which was a problem, and TPKs are BS. Luckily, Lazlo's ghost was Johnny on the spot to give the party the backstory of the church and the low down that it is a hella dangerous place. The characters now realized Lysaga's plan.

Which they foiled with a Dispel Magic because my wife's sorcerer always keeps spell slots in her back pocket.

But Lazlo's ghost managed to get the Paladin to swear an oath to cleanse the church, so that is where the party will be headed next week!

The characters have the second gem, the hut is deactivated, and the scarecrows have been destroyed, but Lysaga remains alive! She will surely return later to vex the characters, but she will be wary. She still believes her geas has gone home, and so she will lay low, hoping her accursed church will do the hard work of killing such savvy and potent heroes.

I very much like the idea of Lysaga being a going concern. It also gives me a very handy mechanism for punching up the difficulty of locations such as Vallaki, The Village of Barovia, the Werewolf Den, and Old Bonegrinder.
 

toucanbuzz

Adventurer
We're getting close to finishing up one of the best campaigns I've ever ran in 20+ years of DMing, so kudos to Curse of Strahd. I used and modified Sean McGovern's Curse of Strahd guide (it's online but paid for the DM Guild version, it was a good investment). I'm not attaching my full notes but here's some materials:

1. Character creation guide. The campaign is all about despair and dread. If your players aren't on board, it's not going to be as good. We emphasized getting to gothic characters, using Slavic/Romanian/Russian names and human, elf, and dwarf rather than exotic races that would make less sense for Barovians to interact with. The hope and despair dynamic needs to be the center of your campaign, not combats. The Ravens eventually explain why they do what they do to the party, and it really can be overlooked or glossed over, but it's the major theme. Again and again I hit the players with "give up" dilemmas. Just leave Ireena, you don't owe her anything, and you go home. The fog will lift. [sblock] Strahd shouldn't be a villain who pops in, attacks and taunts, then pops out. That's stupid. He's an ancient god, and the party no more than another obstacle in his eternal quest. He's played this game before, and the land keeps winning, but he knows the rules and he knows he can win, this time. In my game, he needs to emotionally wear down Ireena so she comes to him willingly, and if he can convince the party to convince her, all the better. There would be less chance of the follies of his past, like her committing suicide or villagers lynching her. He hates having to bury villages or kill off an entire race when he is frustrated. He has a ticker, a timeline, in which the marriage has to happen, recreating the age Tatyana was when she was to marry Sergei. If Strahd really wanted Ireena, he'd just come down and grab her, and there isn't a thing the party can do. But it doesn't work that way. Despair.

And, it's not just Strahd. Despair fills everything, and if the party can briefly bring some hope to people, it's worth it. But the bad guys, they need to be more than simple combat stats. See the last spoiler as it involves the Abbott. The bad guys can't ever see a different perspective, and the twisted nature of Ravenloft is when you understand why they see things the way they do, why they firmly believe with all their nature they're right and that will never change. It's horrifying because it lets them do horrifying things without batting an eye, and it's horrifying because some tiny part of you might begin to nod, and begin to say "I see why you're doing what you do." That's horror.[/sblock]

2. Tarokka conversion. We used an actual Tarot deck. I did a 6 card telling by modifying the Sun Sword, returning it to its original crystal sword version (partially because we had a sunblade in our previous campaign and partially because I hate light sabers in D&D). The party had to find both. I also used a DM Guild publication, "Tarokka Deck Unleashed," wherein Madame Eva's deck had attuned to the party. They could flip a card and gain its benefits or hindrance as listed, mostly minor effects unless one drew a High Card, at which time it was a moderate hindrance until the despair could be shaken (a 50/50 during a long rest, affected by luck). It took minor work to make the "Unleashed" publication work for my campaign.

3. Magic Item handouts. I turned the major relics into legacy items that require a quest and ritual to unlock additional abilities beyond the basic one. They're not listed on the items and you can create your own to give an incentive for players to venture to unexplored areas, so long as they make sense. For example, to activate the Sun Blade's extra damage, I had it so the user must damage a creature of darkness (such as a vampire or specter), then beseech the Morninglord for 8 hours to restore the blade.


4. Extended Gifts. This is simply the free AL expansion. Ravenloft handles death a little differently, and there's always a price. If you're not pulling punches, characters will die in this campaign. These gifts are amazing additions to the creepiness of the campaign. [sblock] The ultimate "horror story" ending awaits my players as those who accepted the dark gifts of resurrection or were raised by someone "blessed" in the Amber Temple is that their soul is now eternally tied to Barovia, and they will be reincarnated again and again here.[/sblock]

I have a ton more in my campaign notes, but it's a mess right now. I adapt things as I go, and certain things I never anticipated became key to my campaign. [sblock] The Abbott is my creepiest character, and once he learned about Ireena and the party, he implored them to drown her (it's better coming from friends) and explained Strahd was blinded by her harlot nature so he couldn't see the true beauty of his homemade bride. He threw an engagement party that the party was invited to (Strahd didn't show), and when the party didn't kill Ireena, he calmly accepted it, prayed again, and came up with more options, always believing the Morninglord works in mysterious ways to show him the truth. Our finale involved the party returning (after it was revealed the Morninglord didn't require her death, he had been shown the truth) and finding the Abbott took Ireena's face, then healed her ruined mass so she was permanently disfigured. In his mind, that worked, and he calmly explained (I used a creepy low calm voice with hands always clasped in front of me, head slightly bowed) that he was inspired by the party because of their physical changes (thanks to accepting dark gifts). [/sblock]
 

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