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

Weeble1000

First Post
Sorry about the delay in responding. My group has gone to a bi-monthly long session instead of a shorter weekly session.

Last session my group tackled the Church of Berez. With the typical friendly BSing, players screwing around, and plenty of combat, the church was all we got through, but we were able to do it start to finish in one session.

The party Long Rested in the circle of Menhirs across the Luna River. They did a bit of exploring ahead of this as they had plenty of daylight remaining. Picked through a few of the remaining cottages, talked with Lazlo, excavated the mansion's cellar, etc.

During their Long Rest, Baba Lysaga visited the Church and gave her 'granddaughters', the two Necrolytes, a head's up about the party and their likely forthcoming visit. The Necroytes' goal was to delay the party as long as possible so as to expose them to as much of the mentally exhausting effects of the Heavy Heart as possible. They quickly installed a false wall blocking the hallway to the stairs and prepared to use their alarming beauty and apparently living appearance to delay the heroes. Other than that there wasn't much preparation to do. Lysaga was close to tapped on spells and severely injured, so she flew her skull to Old Bonegrinder to pay a call on the Hags and begin working on her plan B for reclaiming the gem and destroying the PCs.

At first light the party frustratingly cast Water Walk again and made their way to the Church, worried about a possible attack by a fully rested Baba Lysaga and geared up to deal with the Will-o'-Wisp(s) that were obviously still lurking in the Church.

They crept into the bell tower and the pall of anguish and despair radiating from the Heavy Heart settled onto them. Everybody passed their initial round of low DC Sanity saves, and they proceeded down the spiral stairs into the Attic.

[One save when entering a new level, one additional save every 10 minutes; Bell Tower DC 10, Attic DC 13, Loft DC 15, Nave DC 18; Failure causes 1 Level of Exhaustion and temporary Madness; A Paladin with Aura of Courage can expend a Spell Slot to remove 1 level of Exhaustion and the attendant Madness for each spell level from a target within the Aura.]

In the Attic they found a confusing jumble of crates, barrels, and sacks stacked and organized to break up the space into semi-private nooks and crannies, with ropes strung between hung with old blankets, swatches of burlap, and bits of clothing. The floor was thick with rude, improvised sleeping pallets. The party correctly guessed that this was the result of the villagers who had taken refuge in the Church, though the lack of bodies, and the apparently complete lack of molds or fungus (despite the damp atmosphere) was concerning. They all passed their slightly more difficult Sanity saves. So far, so good.

The party crept carefully through the cluttered attic and was attacked by a group of Shadows as they approached the densest part of the clutter. Although not terribly dangerous, the Shadows managed to do decent damage to some of the characters' Strength Attributes, and they were loath to attempt a Short Rest in the midst of the crushing despair suffusing the church.

Once the Sorcerer opened the trap door to the next level down things started to get much worse. The Sorcerer failed her now DC 15 Sanity Save, lost the ability to cast spells for 8 minutes, and took 1 Level of Exhaustion. The Cleric attempted to jump down through the trap door, critically failed a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check, and twisted an ankle. Then two more Shadows attacked. The Cleric critically failed an attack roll and dropped his weapon, which went clattering 1D10 feet in a random direction, bouncing into the darkness of the balcony, but luckily not plunging into the flooded Nave.

After causing some more Strength damage the Shadows were dispatched, and the Paladin cleared up the Sorcerer's madness. The slow drain of critical resources had begun in ernest.

The party collected into a tight knot around the Paladin, keeping within his Aura of Courage, but this of course placed a great deal of weight onto rickety and sodden balcony. After a broken board almost dropped the Sorcerer into the black waters of the Nave, they party spread themselves out. They discovered a dining room in reasonably good repair, though the pantry was stocked with a collection of polished human skulls. The Fighter pressed them to move quickly, but his reasonable pleas for cautious haste went unheeded by his curious companions, who found themselves in a door-lined, dead end hallway.

They all biffed their Perception checks to spot the false wall, and explored a comfortable-looking library with no other doors. The Fighter immediately began searching for a secret door whilst the others explored the remaining rooms. Opening the first door they found a modest bedroom... occupied by a lovely, and quite nude, woman, the Necrolyte Isabella.

Isabella greeted them genially and asked their business. The Paladin determined that she was Undead, but our wonderful Cleric critically failed his Religion check and was convinced she was a living being. Isabella kept the party talking for several minutes while the Fighter frantically searched in vain for a secret door, although he did discover a hollow space behind one wall.

While the Cleric conversed with Isabella, and the Sorcerer attempted to end the conversation, the Paladin checked the remaining rooms, finding three more bedrooms and Katarina, twin sister to Isabella, right down to her startlingly pale birthday suit. He also failed to notice the suspiciously new and hastily constructed false wall. perhaps it was Katarina's charm.

The Fighter again urged haste, which was an excellent time to hit the party with another DC 15 Sanity save. And with the party so spread out, none of them were within the Paladin's Aura of Courage...

Everyone passed but the unlucky Cleric, who, unable to bear up against the soul-crushing despair of the Church, retreated into his happy place. Isabella seized the opportunity, quickly dragging him into her bedroom and barring the door with the strength of the undead.

Cleric catatonic and trapped in a boudoir of evil, Fighter frantically pulling books from the shelves of a library to find a non-existent secret door, Sorcerer struggling to open a door held fast by one thrice her diminished strength, and Paladin at the opposite end of murky corridor, about to be entangled with an undead monster. And as planned by the sisters and their spectral progenitor, this is when the Caller in Darkness phased through the back wall of the Library and plunged the area into magical darkness. Ya-hoo!

With pluck, daring-doo, and well-honed strategy our heroes nevertheless prevailed.

The Paladin, of course, was instrumental. He disengaged from Katarina and felt along the wall until he found our Sorcerer, now struggling with a strength-sucking shadow instead of the door. He drew the plant-hating axe recovered from the Golthias Tree, imbued it with holy fire, and pulled a 'Here's Johnny' on Isabella's door (I figured that given how stupid this item is in general, he might as well get the extra D8 against the door - I'm also a rule-of-cool DM). Not inclined to put up with Isabella attempting to chew his face off, he tagged her with a nat 20 Smite and poor, Radiant vulnerable Isabella instantly crumbled to dust under the righteous flare of holy light and the vengeful edge of our Paladin's axe. RSVP Isabella.

The Caller worked some serious damage on the Fighter, who also got the business from Katarina and a second Shadow. The Sorcerer dispelled the magical darkness, revealing the hideous form of the caller, upon which the Sorcerer and the Fighter began to unload, (conveniently?) setting fire to the hollow wall of the library in the process. The Paladin's bracing aura snapped the Cleric out of his fugue, and the we-have-the-best-saves-against-your-BS duo promptly engaged the Caller while the Fighter and the Sorcerer polished off Katarina and the Shadows.

Out of immediate danger, the party doused the burning Library and made their way through the ruined wall into a narrow hallway, finally noticing the false wall that they were now on the other side of. This led to a staircase and one more inviting doorway...

Again failing to heed the Fighter's desperate pleas for haste, the curious adventurers explored the dusty master suite once inhabited by Brother Grigor, Thus provoking a new round of Sanity Saves, rapidly followed by another round of DC 18 saves when the party started down the stairs. With the Sorcerer and the Fighter failing at least one of these, the Paladin was getting pretty close to tapped out.

The party crept into the flooded Nave, still (frustratingly) imbued with the power of their Water Walk spell, rousing the ire of the zombies and Drowned Maiden lurking in the waters around the altar, upon which sat a black human heart oozing a tenebrous mist.

The Cleric destroyed most of the zombies by means of a brace of Turn Undead, but was then grappled by the J-Horror hair of the Drowned Maiden. Far too weak to escape the lashing tentacles, he was dragged him inexorably toward the Maiden and her beating heart. The Sorcerer was grabbed by a remaining zombie and dragged into the water, beginning to suffocate while the Fighter poured damage into the Maiden, who soaked it up like a sponge. The Paladin tried in vain to destroy the heart, which proved impervious to physical harm. Marina's spirit pleaded with the Cleric to take her heart before starting a soul-sucking makeout session.

Out came the Paladin's Wand of Magic Missiles, which rescued the Sorcerer, and with the party clued in on what they must do, they began trying to lift the Heavy Heart off the altar. Attempting to touch the Heart provoked another DC 18 Sanity Save (no longer required once successful) and a DC 20 Strength check to lift the Heart free (see previous strength-draining encounters). The Fighter and the Cleric failed their Sanity saves, which the Paladin removed with his last remaining spell slots. With liberal use of Inspiration, the party managed to pass their Sanity saves, and working together finally succeeding in wrenching the Heavy Heart free of the altar.

Unbeknownst to the party, two of the three invisible Will-o-Wisps had been Turned by the Cleric, and the third one took the opportunity to skedaddle, so the party wasn't assaulted by a trio flying, lighting shooting, soul-sucking undead who had planned to pounce at the most advantageous moment.

With the Heavy Heart lifted from the altar, the church rose out of the mire, and the first rays of pure, natural sunlight the adventurers had seen in Barovia folded the now-hallowed edifice in its warm embrace. Marina's spirit was put to rest, and the Heavy Heart became a (creepy & gross) but exceedingly useful relic.

The characters leveled up to 7, and there the session ended.

Heavy Heart (requires attunement by a good-aligned humanoid) - This warm, continually moist human heart exudes a palpable sense of hope and determination despite its grisly appearance. The bearer of the Heart has Advantage on Sanity saves. The Heart has 6 charges, which can be used to cast the following spells, and regains 1d3 +1 charges at dawn:

Calm Emotions (1 Charge); Heroism (1 Charge/Spell Level); Sickening Radiance (3 Charges); Greater Restoration (6 Charges).


Pretty freaking good, but there's a lot of situations in CoS in which a Greater Restoration would really move the story along, and few opportunities to collect the necessary material components. I can counterbalance the awesomeness a bit by giving it a little harder to the PCs in future encounters.

The Heart is also an intelligent item, containing Marina's spirit, so it has some potential storyline-nudging drawbacks that the characters aren't yet aware of.
 
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Weeble1000

First Post
So what do y'all think about stacking the deck for the Tarokka reading?

When I first started my prep for the campaign I did it randomly, but there are some potentially hokey results. I've since decided to choose the results (which is fine since my players haven't had their reading or encountered any of the artifacts), and I think that will work out a lot better for the campaign.

Stacking the deck helps make a good story, and can be a way to drive characters towards areas you want them to go that they might otherwise miss or avoid.

I also wanted all of the items to be found outside of Castle Ravenloft, because I think the campaign works better if the castle itself is the penultimate area/encounter of the campaign.

Choosing the results has also allowed me to beef up the fluff of the reading, which is nice. With so many results the amount of text in the book is understandable, but I wanted something more substantial, and I'm not the best at ad-libbing that kind of stuff in the midst of all the other organizational crap that goes into the prepping and running a game.

I'm having the PCs encounter Esmeralda first thing in our upcoming session, which I expect will lead to a tarokka reading. Here is what I've done:

Note that I like the idea of breaking up the Sunsword into the hilt and the blade, and having the characters reassemble it. The hilt is with the Hags in Old Bonegrinder, and the blade will be behind the secret panel of Van Richten's Tower, which makes sense to me if the Archmage was not able to actually destroy the blade, and merely separated it from the hilt and hid it.

Tome of Strahd: Rictavio’s Carnival Wagon 5N5 – (7 of Stars – Illusionist - Reversed)

“This card tells of history. Knowledge of the ancient will help you better understand your enemy.”

“The Illusionist… but upside down. This card shows deception; pointed, deliberate, malicious. This is a land of deception, of mists and shadows. Many will seek to deceive you. Many will wear masks to hide their true forms. Many will lie to you, and many more will lie to themselves about what they have become. But I see one whose deception is not meant to harm, but to protect. I see a man who will lie to you. He will tell you false tales and wear a false face. He will do everything in his power to deceive you, but he is not your enemy. Within his lair of lies, his house that moves, his menagerie of one, is the truth that will guide you toward salvation.”


* * *

Holy Symbol of Ravenkind: Watcherhaus Master Bedroom 5N4o – (9 of Glyphs – Traitor)

“This card tells of a powerful force for good and protection, a holy symbol of great hope.”

“The Traitor… a dangerous card in any reading. Here the land itself is bent against you. The eyes of the enemy are everywhere. They peer at you from forests cloaked in darkness and craggy peaks shrouded in mist. They gaze down upon you from the roiling clouds and from beneath the silent surface of abyssal pools. They stare at you through the eyes of innocent children and twisted souls alike. You will be betrayed by those you most trust, at times you least suspect. There is one, however, who will betray all around her; her neighbors, her friends, her loved ones, and her children. She grasps at power for the sake of vengeance, and she will not shrink from betraying strangers, no matter how dangerous they may seem. She keeps this treasure under lock and key, mingled with the bones of an ancient enemy, kept for the sake of one who even now betrays the one everlasting fidelity she keeps.”


* * *

Sunsword: Old Bonegrinder (7 of Glyphs – Charlatan - Reversed)

“This card tells of power and strength. It tells of a weapon of vengeance: a sword of sunlight.”

“The Charlatan… upside down. The Charlatan is always a card of deception, even in reverse. The Charlatan brings false hope; hope of knowledge, skills, and power he does not truly possess. The Charlatan can show a lack of knowledge, it can show self-deception, it whispers of hubris and vainglory. But here I see true power, terrible power, purchased at an unspeakable price. I see false hope, hope of escape from the terrible, grinding wheel of life. Grinding, grinding, grinding, even after death. Lifetimes upon lifetimes ground to dust beneath the black millstone of life! They seek an escape, as do you, from the constant, grinding despair of Barovia, but there must ever be grist for the mill. A lonely mill…on a precipice. Seek your weapon there, but know that it is a false hope, a charlatan’s hope. You will find a spear with no haft, an axe with no head, a sword with no blade. Let the wizard’s name and servant guide you to the edge you seek against your foe. Only with knowledge, skill, and selfless desire will you be able to forge a weapon of light to restore hope to the people of Barovia!”


* * *

Enemy: Sir Gregory 7Q37 – (Ghost)

“This card sheds light on one who will help you greatly in the battle against darkness.”

“The Ghost… This is a haunted land, filled with the ghosts of the past, tormenting the living who can do naught but close their eyes and cower in darkness… alone, afraid, forsaken. You will encounter shades, specters, and spirits of all descriptions, forever haunting this accursed realm and forever tormented by a past they cannot escape. If you would avoid this same fate, you must be a guiding light in this darkness. You must open the eyes of those around you and show them that they are not alone. I see many spirits, but one in particular whose love and duty has kept him slumped in darkness and despair. I see a knight in silver armor, a sleeping dragon, lost in a nightmare of grief. It is your valor alone that can awaken him. Let the strength of your resolve be a beacon of hope to chase away the shadows of his anguish. Remind him of the true meaning of the oaths he holds so dear, and he will wield a cold blade of vengeance against your common enemy.”


* * *

Strahd: Castle Overlook – (Executioner – Reversed)

“Your enemy is a creature of darkness, whose powers are beyond mortality. This card will lead you to him!”

“The Executioner… reversed. This is a dark card. It is a card of untimely death, woven not by fate, but wrought by the hands of men. Though the Executioner is always an omen of violent death, it is normally tempered by justice. Reversed, it speaks instead of cruelty and iniquity. It speaks of death undeserved, unjust, and unconscionable. I see a woman… a woman running. Her face streams with tears, tears of grief, tears of agony, tears of terror. Her tears are washed away by the rain as she runs through a garden, pursued by a creature shrouded in darkness, the flowers wilting in its wake. The woman is on a balcony, in a sea of mist. Her fingers grip the stone railing as she stares down into an unknown abyss. She looks back as he glides toward her, cloaked in a mantle of rage and desire. Her features are twisted into a mask of horror and desperation. He reaches out to claim her, but she flings herself over the balcony, plunging down, down, down, into the welcoming arms of death. I see him now, on the rain-slicked stones, staring down into the swirling mists, willing death itself to return his rightful property. Here is where you will find him, lost in the mists of the past, defying death and cursing life.”
 
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I stacked the deck. I did so, so that the group would go to areas they normally wouldn't need to go for the most part. The sword is in the Amber Temple; the Holy Symbol is with the Abbot and the book is in Argynvostholt. I figured that otherwise the Temple and Argynvostholt would never really be used so I wanted to change it.
 

Weeble1000

First Post
I ditched the Amber Temple. Well, technically I could put it back in, but I don't like any bit of it.

My group has a hardon to go to Argynvostholt, and so I wanted to make it a bigger part of the story. I'm placing the skull in Death House, and cranking Death House up to 11 so that it'll be a challenge for 8-9 level characters.

I also chose Godfrey Gwilym as the ally to give Argynvostholt and its attendant sidequest with the skull more punch. He'll also be a good source for background if he accompanies the party around Barovia.
 

I kind of like the Amber Temple premise of this is where Strahd went to commune with the dark powers and it's in this far off, cold, wintery place. I can see how people don't like it though. I think when my group goes to Berez, that I'll have Baba Lysaga flying around in the skull like I think someone mentioned somewhere on these boards. I thought that was a cool image...
 

Weeble1000

First Post
My biggest problem with the Amber Temple is that it is too concrete.

I like things to be ambiguous, which my players would probably say is weird given how I'm not comfortable doing stuff unless it has a logical explanation even if they'll never figure out what that explanation is.

In my opinion, ambiguity is an important element of horror. The best X-Files episodes, for example (in my opinion) are the ones in which the rules are clear, but the ultimate cause or origin is mysterious.

This is how this creature works, this is what we need to do to fight it, this is how we win, but where did it come from? How? Why? Those answers are left tantalizingly mysterious.

Strahd is already very concrete, being a capital "V" Vampire. He's a monster type, with the basic stat block of that monster, right? On some level, the players know that, even if they don't already know how 5e vampires work and even if they refrain from finding out. They still have a good idea.

Given this, I prefer to have Strahd's origins be ambiguous. I want his relationship to Barovia to be mysterious. I want the 'dark powers' to be mysterious. How? Why? This way, Strahd is a little "v" vampire and a capital "V" Villain. What rules does he actually follow? We have to figure that out through hands on experience and guesswork.

And in the end, even though we feel confident we know what the rules are, we're still not entirely sure. Can Strahd ever really be killed?

The Amber Temple also contradicts long established Ravenloft lore. I just finished re-reading I, Strahd. Where's the Amber Temple in that? Strahd makes a deal with "Death." He is transformed into something more than just a monster, through a process that he himself really doesn't understand.

This leaves room for players to draw their own conclusions, to speculate. Is Strahd even a reliable narrator?

What we do know, or will discover, is that he breaks some rules about vampires, but he follows other rules. Rules about his motivations, desires, morality, and state of mind.

I want my players to get to know Strahd, not the mechanisms of his creation. And I especially do not want those mechanisms to be accessible to the characters.

I want them to discover what his boundaries are. What is he willing to do, how far is he willing to go, and why? Does he have moral/ethical/emotional limits? Absolutely, otherwise he would just kill the PCs. What are those limits? Where do they come from? How can we use that against him?

If the players wind up getting desperate and are willing to embrace dark power to survive, it is easy to introduce that on the fly.


Especially considering how I have the PCs moving through the campaign, from West to East, essentially, the subplot of Tatyana needs to be the big reveal. Rather than husbanding Ireena throughout Barovia, the players are almost certainly going to be encountering her after they've heard the story of Marina, met the Abbot, encountered Izek and his dolls, and gotten a glimpse into Tatyana's fate through the Tarokka reading.

In this context, Ireena suddenly becomes possible leverage. THIS is something we can use against Strahd. Hopefully, by the time the PCs put all this together they'll be at their wits end, afraid to trust anyone, with innocent blood on their hands courtesy of Strahd's manipulation. Will they use Ireena as leverage? Will they try to protect her, even if it puts their possible escape from Barovia at risk?

I think the Amber Temple distracts from this.
 

I don't think that it's necessarily too concrete. With regard to the mystery type of thing, I think there are different ways to attain that. It could be that 'legend had it' type of thing and the group needs to explore and a place so foreign to them (using the odd Dusk Elves to spur this) that it creates that mysterious type of feel. That said, I understand people's reservation about it. I do. I don't share the same reservations but that's why this game is great. Everyone can experience the same things and have different ideas/thoughts etc. As for the lore, I never get too hung up on that. I've been playing since 1975 and lore from edition to edition changes and I just kind of roll with it...That's my two coppers for whatever it's worth.

I will say that I'm enjoying your take on the module! : )
 

jayoungr

Hero
Supporter
When I started this thread, I was under the impression that the DDAL adventures for the season would integrate more closely into the Curse of Strahd storyline, and that it would make sense to discuss them all together. It seems there hasn't been much overlap after all, but still, I'll add this link to a thread I recently started:

http://www.enworld.org/forum/showthread.php?657625-Running-DDAL04-Adventures-as-a-Campaign

It's about my experiences running the season 4 DDAL adventures as a campaign of their own.

I'm placing the skull in Death House, and cranking Death House up to 11 so that it'll be a challenge for 8-9 level characters.
I'd love to see your conversions for doing this! There are so many good low-level adventures, and I am always sorry when my players out-level them. It's nice to have ways to make them relevant again for higher-level PCs.
 


fobia

Villager
I'm going to resurrect this for some comments on my experience as a DM.

I DMing Curse of Strahd for the second time now and this is what I feel can be helpful to keep in mind:

- There is, if you play as written, a lot of combat that can subtracts from the gothic horror atmosphere of the game. It can at times become a quite typical heroic fantasy adventure, no matter how eerie and atmospheric your storytelling is. The "What might lurk behind shadows?" atmosphere is often lost when it's at most foreshadowing of a new potential foe. This gets old after a few sessions, even though it works wonderfully at the beginning. If gothic horror is your focus, it can help to reduce the encounters and plot hooks and make them more mysterious and dangerous. Instead of having multiple encounters in the village of Barovia for example, you could have 1-2 quests that need to be resolved which require the characters to investigate and learn about Barovia and it's threats and how to defeat them.A kind of Monster/Mystery-of-the-Week approach, similar to the old X Files episodes.

- Character death can limit the party's cohesion if too many of the characters that got the reading from Madame Eva perish. This is true for every adventure, but here the Tarokka reading is a kind of breaking point imho. The option to turn at least one of the character into a revenant is awesome. But at some point they need to be resurrected, which is difficult until you find the Abbot or learn the required spell. If they need to be exchanged with new characters, it can be helpful to have a native Barovian in the party. But the original party's reason to go on with the plot is the escape from this dreadful lands. With a growing number of new characters, it can be tricky to have the same cohesion and goals that players want to achieve. I had my group basically forget what they needed to do in order to defeat Strahd and had NPC remind them of their original goal. If you introduce new characters it can be very helpful to tie them to the plot in a more serious way than normally, and maybe remind the remaining party of the urgengy of their quest and the unpleasantness of their surroundings.

- There can be too much content if you have a slower play style. My group often needs hours for things others do in 30-60 minutes. For example, I had a group that took three sessions between 2-3 hours to finsih Death House. Next to a lot of curiousity, they have a RP-heavy approach, which I like and support. But if you play a content loaden campaign like Curse of Strahd, this can also lead to fatigue and the impression that nothing gets done. Especially the big dungeons, Argynvostholt, Amber Temple and of course the Castle itself can be a lot for some groups. I as DM also disliked the tombs in Castle Ravenloft, that included a lot of very bad puns and jokes that didn't go well together with the usual tone of the adventure. Be confident in cutting content that isn't essential for your approach to Curse of Strahd.

tbc. maybe. ^^
 




jayoungr

Hero
Supporter
I've recently discovered a new resource for prepping adventures: YouTube. Fred Weller has a whole series on prepping Curse of Strahd, which included some great ideas for using the Blinsky dolls that I'll definitely be stealing. Here's a compilation of his suggestions, drawn from this video and particularly this one:
  • Have the dolls move around or change position without anyone seeing them move or shift.
  • Eventually, the players can see them move slightly.
  • Give them glowing eyes.
  • Have their facial expressions change.
  • Make them look creepy, but familiar. Make some of them resemble the PCs. Make one resemble Strahd.
  • Have them climb out of a backpack and just STARE at the PCs.
  • Once the players have started to expect the dolls to do weird things, have some of them do NOTHING AT ALL.
  • Have them just disappear from wherever they were stowed, possibly along with some of the PCs' mundane equipment.
  • Have the dolls talk to the PCs, possibly just saying a single word. Give the dolls morbid and odd personalities. Have a doll become a "friend" to a PC and offer advice.
  • If a doll is destroyed, have it turn up again later, completely intact.
  • Don't have the dolls attack the PCs except as a last resort. They're pretty small, so if they do attack, make it a large group.
He said it eventually got so that whenever his players saw a Blinsky doll, they'd run in the other direction and/or set it on fire.

Mwahahahaha ...
 

jayoungr

Hero
Supporter
My group just played through the Festival of the Blazing Sun. They attempted to humiliate the burgomaster by making him repeatedly fall off his horse when he was trying to punish the guard. That was interrupted by the screams of the Wachter brothers, who had let the tiger out of Rictavio's wagon. While searching for the tiger (which they did find), the PCs managed to rescue Arabelle, the Vistani girl, and took her back to her camp. But I've got a few dilemmas that I'd love some input on, if you have any thoughts.

1. Rictavio rewarded the party for saving his tiger by giving them the gems from the box in his wagon. While it was open, they noticed a holy symbol and a bundle of silver-tipped crossbow bolts in the box. This is their first hint that he isn't just an entertainer, but of course he's not going to just blurt out "I'm actually a famous vampire hunter." I have a feeling the group isn't going to be staying in Vallaki much longer. Any suggestions on how they might find out who Rictavio is? (He wasn't drawn as their ally from the tarokka deck.)

2. Rictavio also probably won't be staying in Vallaki much longer due to the tiger, so where does he go after that? I thought of having him go to his tower, but the Tome of Strahd is there, and it would also kind of spoil the entrance puzzle. Also, then you have to deal with him meeting Ezmeralda, and it could just wind up being a big exposition dump.

3. When the group went to the Vistani camp, they saw the Dusk Elf houses but had no reason to interact with the elves. Any idea how I can introduce Kasimir Velikov? I do want the group to go (back) to the Amber Temple, since they have already been there in the DDAL season adventures, and he adds a good story hook for that area.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I’ve heavily revised the Tarokka reading. It started from wanting to use a real Tarot deck, but expanded quite a bit from there.

I use the suit of the first card (from the low deck) to determine where the third Wizard of Wines gem is from four options:
Swords -> In the nest of the Roc of Mt. Ghakis
Wands -> In the Old Bonegrinder
Cups -> Animating Vasilka
Pentacles - The Heart of Sorrow

The second card (from the high deck) determines the identity of the ally, and I’ve removed Sir Klutz, Perriwimple, Clovin Bray and No Ally as options, replacing them with Muriel Vinshaw, Izek Strazni, a special option where the ghosts from the March of the Dead event in Barovia can Inspire the party instead of an ally, and an “unknown” option where I roll randomly for the ally.

The number of the third card (from the low deck) determines the location of the weapon, while the suit determines what the weapon is:
Swords -> Sunsword
Wands -> Gulthias Staff
Cups -> Thighbone of St. Markovia (in this case it doesn’t break after hitting a vampire)
Pentacles -> Holy Symbol of Ravenkind

The number of the fourth card (from
the low deck) determines the location of the Icon of Ravenloft

The number of the fifth card (from the low deck) determines the location of the Tome of Strahd.

The sixth card (from the high deck) determines Strahd’s starting location for the final battle.

For all the locations of the weapon, tome, and icon, instead of 40 options shared between them, each has 14 possible options (one each for ace-10, plus Page, Knight, King, and Queen) with no overlap. That’s a total of 42 possible treasure locations, so I added 2 new ones to the existing 40. But this allowed me to insure that each treasure can only appear in a location that is thematically appropriate to the treasure. No more sunsword shoved in a busted wine casket in the castle or tome of strahd in the hidden cache in the Abbey, the treasures can only show up in places it makes some semblance of sense for them to be in (some of them were still a bit of a stretch, but I did the best I could with what I was given).
 

jayoungr

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My group just left Van Richten's Tower with the Tome of Strahd and is now on their way to Krezk. Once they figured out how to control the guardian armor, they decided to take it with them. Any suggestions on how to handle that? It's not like they NEED another tank--they already have a near-unhittable paladin and two fighters (it's a large group). So the armor is expendable, if there's some cool way for it to go out.

Also, I tossed in a random encounter with druids and minions, from the random table in the book. I just meant it to be a time-filler and provide some combat in an otherwise all-roleplay session, but the party decided to keep the druids alive and question them. We're going to start off the next session (Saturday) with that. I'm sure the druids are part of the Yester Hill group, but to be honest, I didn't bother to come up with a reason why they attacked the party. I thought maybe they wanted to feed the PCs' blood to Wintersplinter, but I'm a little worried that if I hint too heavily at Yester Hill, the PCs will abandon everything to go straight there, and I think the adventure will flow better if they visit the Wizard of Wines first. Any suggestions?

(ETA after running the session: I did end up using the "feed your blood to the tree" explanation after all. I had forgotten that the path to Yester Hill leads past the Wizard of Wines unless the PCs are foolhardy enough to leave the road and go directly through the forest, so there's not much worry about them skipping the winery after all.)
 
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jayoungr

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There's been some CoS discussion on another thread, and I'm moving my replies here to keep from derailing it...

anyone made barovia a neighboring country in their campaign world? Made it a country next to the starting box set area?
I'm running CoS in a world that my players have been playing in since AD&D, and Barovia is just a country on the map there. Is there anything you'd like to know about how they handle it?

I LOVE Curse of Strahd, it's the most intricate and flavorful of all the 5e campaigns I've seen so far. But as you mention, the prep to run it properly is bonkers. I'm also using Reddit walkthroughs to help. And doing it on Roll20 allows me to easily add maps above and beyond what the core book comes with, so that's an additional prep step. And some of the artwork I don't like, for instance, for Izek Strazni, but a quick Google search finds art much better. If you're gonna have an NPC with a giant demon hand, please make that obvious in the picture.

That Izek picture is great! Now I hope my players encounter him again so that I can show it to them.

Nebulous, can you recommend some good places to find additional maps for Curse of Strahd? And similarly...

If you wait! I found some brand spanking new animated MP4 art on a patreon for CoS, and that only came out years later. I used this last session, and holy crap did it set the mood.

Which patreon has this stuff? Is it all CoS, or is there other stuff as well?

And I'm also going to park this quote here as a reminder of a resource that people might want to check out:

I was also aided listening to the excellent podcasts by Red Moon Roleplaying on the CoS too.
 

Nebulous

Legend
That Izek picture is great! Now I hope my players encounter him again so that I can show it to them.

Nebulous, can you recommend some good places to find additional maps for Curse of Strahd? And similarly...


Which patreon has this stuff? Is it all CoS, or is there other stuff as well?

And I'm also going to park this quote here as a reminder of a resource that people might want to check out:
I'm making Izek the lost brother to the only human PC in the group, rather than a brother to Ireena. The walkthrough advises this because it creates a much richer backstory and bond. My Izek is going to be kind of a madman, but not a total psycho killer, but a lonely man haunted by the loss of his family and the loss of his arm, ripped off by a dire wolf during childhood.

This Reddit walkthrough has some additional maps, but I've been making own in Roll20 as well. In Valliki I now have a map for the Church, Blinsky's toy shop, the Refomation Center, the Orphanage and the Town Square. The town square is especially cool, I sprinkled it with .png tokens of prisoners in stocks, as described in the text.




The patreon is here: James’ RPG art is creating Animated Artworks for D&D and RPG Adventure Locations | Patreon
 

jayoungr

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Mythological Figures & Maleficent Monsters

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