D&D 5E [Let's Read] DM's Guild Ravenloft Sourcebooks

Libertad

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It’s been nearly seven years since the highest-rated 5th Edition adventure was published. Continuing a proud tradition nearly 4 decades in the making, the iconography of the Devil Strahd and his doomed obsession with Ireena is now something D&D gamers of all generations are intimately familiar with; and in turn the broader setting of Ravenloft. During the same year of Curse of Strahd’s release the Dungeon Master’s Guild came out, allowing third party publishers to use the explicit IP of Wizards of the Coast to make their own sourcebooks. Drawing from fans of the broader Demiplane of Dread to exclusive Barovian castle delvers, fan-made Ravenloft supplements are almost as numerous as that of Eberron’s.

In the Halloween spirit I’m reviewing a variety of such products, with an emphasis on the more obscure sourcebooks. I may review the more popular ones in due time, but in focusing on the relative unknowns I’m hoping to find some rare gems that have been overlooked by the gaming community. I’m going to adhere to a set of standards for these reviews, outlined below.

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Product Link: This links to the product’s storefront, usually the Dungeon Master’s Guild.
Product Type: This specifies what kind of product this sourcebook is: adventure, location/domain, bestiary, etc.
CoS-required? Explains whether the product is intended to be used in line with the Curse of Strahd adventure.

In knowing my own limits, I’m doing individual reviews of shorter soucebooks. Usually 20 to 60 pages, rarely more than 100 which would be split into multiple parts. I would like to review at least one of the bigger Ravenloft books, particularly One Night Strahd, She Is the Ancient, the Barovia Gazetteer Collected Edition, or the Realm of the Blood Queen. But those are much larger undertakings, and we may get one at best by this Halloween.

Index of Reviewed Works

The Multiverse Files: Curse of Strahd

A Botanical Guide to Barovia

Duskwalker

Captain Snowmane’s Guided Cruise Through the Domain of Dread

Barovia Born and Raised

Escape From the Cyre 1313

The Atlas of Dread

The Fate of St. Penetas

The Red City Demiplane of Dread

Dark Carnival and the Mirrors of Madness

The Devil’s Brides

Van Richten Dies in Ravenloft

The Barovia Gazetteer

Heorot: Beowulf’s Domain of Dread

Realm of the Blood Queen
 
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Libertad

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Product Type: DMing Tools/Bestiary
CoS-Required? Yes

History literally repeats itself in the nightmare domain of Barovia. Strahd Von Zarovich has lived a thousand lives and perished a thousand deaths, his existence played out like a demented opera for the Dark Powers. A man whose selfish desire for a woman made him lose everything, even his life and soul, as he became master of his birthright domain.

But what if things turned out different? What if by some twist of fate, Strahd found himself damned in some other way, a circumstance altogether new yet no less horrific? The Multiverse Files explore various “what ifs” of Strahd’s backstory, and how it can be used to run a familiar-yet-different Curse of Strahd. Each alternative tale lays out mechanical and aesthetic changes, from the land to the monsters, as well as the relationships and tactics of certain characters in the adventure as a result of this altered Strahd.

Beast of Ravenloft explores a reality where Strahd became cursed with lycanthropy, that of a wereraven’s, instead of vampirism. In this world, he pledged himself to the god Malar to gain strength in fighting the old enemies of pre-Mists Barovia. The story plays out similarly, although the tragedy of Castle Ravenloft occurs when Strahd prayed to Malar for guidance at winning Tatyana’s favor when she fell in love with Sergei instead. A bestial fury wrought of divine power descended on the Count, and the castle ran red with blood.

In this world, Malar is considered a dark aspect of Mother Night, the Keepers of the Feather are an evil organization who view Strahd as a demigod servant of Malar, and Strahd’s human form is unknown to the general public which can mean that a d8 table of existing NPCs can reveal who his secret identity is in the module. The Sunsword is reflavored into the Moon Sword and is effective against shapechangers instead of undead, and the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind is instead the Holy Symbol of Night which can turn lycanthropes and cast the moonbeam spell.

Strahd as the Beast of Ravenloft has altered stats emphasizing a mobile lycanthropic fighter. He doesn’t have wizard spellcasting like the default Strahd, instead having a few innate spells he has access to in human form. His legendary actions are focused around speed and fly-by attacks, and he also has the ability to mentally charm ravens and wereravens at will as opposed to humanoids. Although this Strahd can move faster and operate in sunlight, he is a bit lacking in who he can charm (albeit as a bonus action instead of an action) and in having less spells, even if he can cast them as part of Legendary Actions.

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Dark Machines asks the question of what if Barovia was a province of Karrnath in the world of Eberron, or rather originated in that setting. Here, Strahd is a scientific general in an undead mechanical shell. He sought to win Tatyana’s hand by showing her and Sergei a mighty mobile warcastle, but its arcane engine catastrophically detonated. The explosion killed him, the couple, and everyone inside, causing the Mists to descend.

In this version of Barovia, Castle Ravenloft is a mobile steampunk fortress, part of a greater plot to amass a grand army of unholy constructs to take over a Karrnath he will never see again. There are more mechanical monsters serving Strahd, the now-vanished Dragonmarked houses show their influence in rare marks in certain noble families (the Kolyanas being one of them: House Deneith), and those lured into Barovia often find themselves at an abandoned lightning rail station. The Keepers of the Feather are an underground resistance movement lead by the monster hunter Diana Van Richten, the Amber Temple is a prison housing comatose daelkyr, and the Sun Sword is reflavored as the Blade of Dol Arrah which deals additional damage to constructs instead of undead. We have a new stat block for Bloodforged (evil humanoid constructs that weaken in sunlight), and Strahd’s stat block is a lightning-wielding construct who looks human on the surface but reveals more of his mechanical nature the more he’s damaged.

Escape Plan is what happens when Strahd gets genre savvy. In this timeline, the Count is not only aware of the Dark Powers, he’s been privately plotting a way out of Barovia once and for all. In this version, Strahd seeks to coax and manipulate the PCs into committing greater acts of evil as a means to have them replace him as Barovia’s new Darklord. Once that occurs, he plans on using the Zarovan Vistani to take him out of the plane. Not only that, he has also learned the true names of several imps, which he uses to stalk the party at all times as invisible spies. Strahd already killed or otherwise permanently hobbled several potential allies: Van Richten was captured, used as bait, and eventually killed to lure out Ez to turn her into a vampire spawn, the majority of the Keepers of the Feather are dead, he stole Mordenkainen’s staff and spellbook, and the undead paladins of Argynvostholt have been chained to wooden wheels at the bottom of Lake Zarovich. Strahd still cares for Ireena even though she’s no longer his primary focus, although in capturing her to keep in his castle she now knows much of its layout and inhabitants.

This is Curse of Strahd on hard mode, and the book even highlights this saying that it’s better-suited for players familiar with the original 5e adventure. Strahd’s stats are the same, although there’s a sidebar giving him access to higher-level spells such as Antimagic Field as well as more “self-aware” tactics like noting which of the PCs is likeliest to use the Sunsword and will only kill a character who refuses to be corrupted.

Heart of the House makes Castle Ravenloft itself the Darklord, with Strahd but a mental thrall of the building’s will to serve as the face of Barovia’s evil. The Castle has the ability to gain mental control of those who spend time inside it, and craves the attention of outsiders for some stimulation in its droll existence. Ireena is strangely immune to the Castle’s psychic puppetry, and so the darklord fills her life with tragedy in the belief that her good heart is the source of this resistance. The DM rolls 3 times on a table to determine which big-time NPCs are already puppets, which can even include the mighty Mordenkainen or even Madam Eva! The PCs can find an unlikely ally in Baba Lysaga, who raised Strahd like her son and wants to free him from the Castle’s dreadful influence.

In this version, the Heart of Sorrow is the true final boss, having its own stats as a CR 15 monster which can attack with slashing grappling tendrils, an AoE frightening aura, and Legendary Actions and Resistances.

Hoard of Blood posits Strahd as being an undead dragon. In this version, he was impaled on one of Argynvost’s scales when he was still a mortal human. Seeking to avoid eventual death, he performed necromantic experiments on the dragon’s corpse to heal himself, and became a dragon-vampire hybrid. This new state proved a blessing politically, as he expanded his ancestral lands’ reach to conquer all of Barovia. But this only frightened Tatyana into Sergei’s arms, repeating a tragedy we know all too well.

In this version Strahd can take the form of a human, transforming into a dragon with its own stat block under certain circumstances such as being reduced to 0 HP and triggering a Phase Two Boss Battle. Strahd’s goals in this version are to accumulate more wealth for his hoard, creating “children” in the form of dragon-blood infected hybrid abominations,* and finding a way to transport Barovia back to the Material Plane so he can expand his dominion. His obsession with accumulating magic items allows him to cast divination spells on the party as they find more of the three great Treasures of Ravenloft. The undead knights of the Order of the Silver Dragon are more active in resisting Strahd’s tyranny via building siege engines in the forests and riding into town to try and recruit people. They haven’t gotten far on this last part on account of their undead nature, so they do their best to disguise themselves under full plate armor.

*which are a template adding more dragon-themed abilities to an existing stat block.

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Reversal of Roles is our final entry, making it so that Tatyana was the one who became the Darklord of Barovia. In this tale, she was already a vampire before she met the Von Zaroviches, and turned Strahd and Sergei against each other via courting both. This caused Strahd to kill his brother in a fit of murderous jealousy. Unlike the original Strahd, Tatyana is a villain with good publicity. Although Barovia is a gloomy and forlorn land, the general public view the Dowager Countess as a benevolent ruler eager to make the major towns good places to live via charitable investments in infrastructure. The undead in the land are controlled by her, but she claims that they’re cursed soldiers of Strahd seeking to undo everything she has built.

Tatyana does believe that she is Barovia’s greatest protector…but only if she can utterly control every aspect of the people’s lives. In this campaign, she is more of a behind the schemes manipulator, using propaganda to turn townsfolk against the PCs, trying to manipulate the PCs into killing Ez, and is consumed with finding and destroying the Sunsword. Sergei exists as a dullahan with a unique stat block, unwillingly serving Tatyana as long as she is in possession of his head. Instead of the Tome of Strahd, that treasure is replaced with the Reins of Bucephalus, which casts Find Greater Steed to summon a nightmare horse of the same name with enchanted armor. Tatyana’s stat block is perhaps the most underwhelming, being that of a (still-powerful) Monster Manual Vampire, but with warlock spellcasting.

Overall Thoughts: In regards to the alternate Strahds, my favorites are Dark Machines and Escape Plan. The gothic steampunk atmosphere and Castle Ravenloft as a mobile dungeon really tickle my fancy, and Escape Plan is a good reflection in-character of an immortal vampire growing increasingly obsessive over the ennui of his time-loop imprisonment. I am not as fond of the Beast of Ravenloft or Reversal of Roles; the former in that wereravens aren’t the iconic type of lycanthrope and I cannot help but feel it makes Strahd weaker overall (less magic) and also ties him too closely to a Faerunian-centric deity. As for Reversal of Roles, I feel that She Is the Ancient does a much better job of “Strahd But Female,” and the whole “female villain using seduction to do evil villain things” is a well-worn cliche.

But overall, I like this product. It has a variety of interesting spins on Curse of Strahd to make for fun alternatives, and the addition of new stat blocks, magic items, and monsters is a welcome touch. The product’s page count is brief, but it feels dense in material. Its major weakness is that most DMs aren’t likely to use the product to its fullest, given that the Curse of Strahd campaign takes a lot of time to run to completion.

Join us next time as we go foraging for herbs in the Svalich Woods in A Botanical Guide to Barovia!
 
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Libertad

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Product Type: Character Options, Bestiary, Adventure
CoS-Required? No, but the adventure ties into it

Barovia is famed for its immortal ruler, the monsters that stalk the night, and its foreboding wilds. But often overlooked are the boons and banes that grow beneath the feet of men and monster alike, sheltered within the Svalich Woods. A Botanical Guide to Barovia gives us a diverse assortment of flora-themed material with a touch of gothic horror. We’ve got new equipment in the form of harvested herbs, two new subclasses, six monsters, nearly 20 new pieces of equipment and magic items, and an adventure to top it all off!

Subclasses gives us the Tree Speaker for the Ranger and Circle of Rot for the Druid. The Tree Speaker gains a variety of class features making them closer to the green, such as learning Druidic, casting Ensaring Strike a limited number of times per long rest, can turn their flesh into rough spiky spark to deal damage to grappling creatures, coat their weapons in acidic or poisonous sap, and can cast either Awaken or Wall of Thorns once per long rest as the capstone ability. As for the Circle of Rot, it gains a variety of damaging and debuffing bonus spells such as Blight, Bestow Curse, and Ray of Enfeeblement. It can also let one expend uses of wild shape to summon twig blights which explode into a burst of necrotic energy upon death, can detect the presence of charmed/cursed/diseased targets, gain resistance/advantage against necrotic damage and disease, and can summon a necrotic awakened tree as its capstone ability by expending a use of wild shape.

The Tree Speaker is a bit limited in that aside from speaking Druidic and the Awaken ability, the bulk of its abilities are strongly geared towards combat. The spiky armor has a nice +1 AC but its damage only triggers when being grappled, which not all monsters do. It doesn’t get bonus spells like the Gloom Stalker or Fey Wanderer, and the addition of a loyal monster via Awaken comes in too late in comparison to other subclasses such as Drakewarden or the revised Beastmaster. Circle of Rot has some good offensive spells, but typically speaking that isn’t always the druid’s strong suit, and the exploding twig blight is a bit weak to use in lieu of the more versatile Wild Shape.

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The Plants of Barovia is the real plant-based meat of the book. The new plants are effectively items, detailing their common biome, notable uses and effects, rarity, and description of their appearance and where they grow. We have plants of more beneficial use to adventuring types, such as the Daydreamer Peony which can be brewed into a trance-inducing tea that grants one visions of the recent past in an area, the prized Morcant Burl which can grant +1 enchantment to wooden weapons and armor forged from it, the pest-like yet healthy Screamvine which can grant advantage on saves vs disease, and the resilient Sshadowgrass which can be made into strong hemp but disintegrates quickly outside of Barovia. On the hazardous side of things we have Sunblotter Thickets which envelop the canopies of trees, making sections of wood pitch black at all times of day, the predatory Burnblisters which grapple onto living creatures and can explode on contact with fire, and the mobile Fool’s Moss which can trick travelers into losing their sense of direction. In several cases we get descriptions of how Barovians incorporate the plants into their daily lives, such as the Ammarona Bushes whose flowers are ground into a reddish powder for makeup which was favored among the old nobility.

New Magic and Mundane Items gives new gear. On the magic side we have items such as the Clearing Sickle which can spend charges to do a cone-shaped AoE slash that deals double damage to plant creatures, Root Boots which grant advantage on checks to climb and avoid forced movement, and a Censer of Spores which is wielded like a flail that deals bonus poison damage and can cast cloudkill once per day, and Mother Night’s Draught which grants darkvision, 13 temporary hit points, and allows the drinker to replace a d20 roll with a 13 one time. For mundane items we have the herbalized forms of the effects of the preceding Plant section, such as Tinderpetal Powder which is effectively a medieval flashbang grenade or Aivless Tea which acts as a mild poison to drinkers with a soul or who are not native to Barovia (but can restore hit points to the undead).

Copper Stretch Goal is a supplementary PDF providing us with 5 new magic items on account of the Botanical Guide reaching Best Copper Seller on the DM’s Guild. It provides us with a Forest Ranger’s Hat that grants the wear the ability to put out fires, a Circlet of Flowering which can sprout one of three flowers that each have their own unique buff that lasts for a minute (cold resistance, advantage on insight and nature checks, can cast speak with plants), a Shield of Ages that is a +1 shield that increases Wisdom by 1 and makes the wielder immune to magical aging and the slow spell, a Staff of the Forest which can substitute one’s spellcasting ability for Strength when using it as a weapon along with charges that can be spent on a short list of plant-based spells, and a Backwoods Key which if placed into the keyhole of a door opens up into an extradimensional space that is a 100 foot long hallway made of wood and foliage that can be used to to 3 times. Each use creates increasingly creepy areas, with ravens that only say “doom, doom” on the 2nd use, and a terrifying plant creature using boneclaw stats on the 3rd and final use.

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Monsters gives us a half-dozen new foes to menace the good people of Barovia. Four of them are on the low end of the Challenge Rating spectrum, with two (Chaanshaaz and Janus Tree) at higher 6 and 7 respectively. Burnblisters are corrupted plants which slowly move and grapple targets, but take triple damage from fire and grappled creatures take 1.5 times the damage from the fire as well. Wereraven Elders are more powerful versions of wereravens, with a modest selection of druid spells and can toss a handful of blinding pocket feathers at enemies in melee. Shadowfell Dryads are stronger versions of their normally benevolent race corrupted by the Shadowfell, and trade in their Innate Spells for a more offensive variety. Treelings are tiny creatures made of animated wood that live in small tribes; they are fluent only in Druidic and are more of nuisance than a threat, attacking with blowguns. Chaanshaaz appear as hulking elk carcasses reinforced by a parasitic plant, being a plant-undead hybrid for creature type with a damaging unnerving stare that can blind and stun as well as shedding a noxious ichor. Janus Trees are inhabited by the spirits of soulless Barovians, capable of draining the essence of creatures it grasps with its roots, can deliver a damaging cacophony of wails, and can summon spirits to fight on its behalf. But if Barovians are soulless, how do they have spirits?

Barring the Treelings, the monsters have a good variety in what they can do to stymie adventurers. Burnblisters serve best as traps or paired up with enemies who know to take advantage of their explosive properties, and the Dominate Beasts/Plants ability of Shadowfell Dryads can easily justify having any sort of natural minions alongside them in combat. While neither have Legendary nor Lair Actions, the Chaanshaaz and Janus Tree have “boss monster” vibes for low-level groups in their variety of attacks, several of which are multi-target.

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The Grove of Grey Mists is a short adventure taking place in a demiplane adjacent to Barovia. While the Dark Powers have a sick kind of fondness for Strahd in their tormenting of him, they do not underestimate his power and thus created a failsafe in case he ever grows too uncontrollable. They created a grove held in a secret demiplane within the Shadowfell, and its location and purpose are unknown to Strahd. If he becomes aware of its existence, it will be a sunk cost in that the various minions he sends to infiltrate it end up dead or disappearing. Within the grove is the Heart of Barovia, a cursed stake that can be used to slay Strahd for good…at a terrible price!

The book gives various ways of incorporating the Grove into a Curse of Strahd adventure, as well as means to use it in other settings. The grove is in an unusually silent area of the Svalich Woods, with a ring of impenetrable trees that need to be climbed or flown over in order to enter. A wereraven elder associated with the Keepers of the Feather will warn the PCs away, even resorting to non-lethal combat should they persist (he calls for a ceasefire if the PCs harm him enough). The entryway to the demiplane is a dark tunnel made up of a canopy of thick branches, continuing for a third of a mile shrouded in thick mists.

The grove itself is an open-ended location with six areas to visit, and PCs will be trapped in the demiplane until they kill one of the vampire spawn in the Grove or when the wood woad acting as the guardian for the Heart gives the party its blessing to leave. Some interesting people and places in the Grove include…

…a skeleton animated by illusions of the Dark Powers that tells the party about a weapon that can end the dark lord in the heart of the grove.

…omens that can be seen in the surrounding mists when the PCs take a rest.

…a hag by the name of Marsha who will bribe the PCs with coins and a magic scroll if they kill the other inhabitants of the grove who she doesn’t trust/is annoyed by.

…a dusk elf cursed to forget recent events every thirty minutes, continually fishing with a spear at a pond. At the bottom of the pond is a sarcophagus containing a vestige with a dark gift that allows the pactmaker to turn invisible for a limited time, but every time it’s used a loved one forgets their love for them.

…a Shadowfell Dryad who wants to escape the grove and has a pet shambling mound to defend her, and wants the PCs to kill the wood woad in the belief this will help her goal.

…a Janus tree whose souls are those slain by Strahd’s forces, and can be reasoned with by PCs via a skill challenge. Success allows the tree to magically bless a weapon the party is carrying.

…the Wood Woad, guardian of the grove who stands vigil over the only way into the heart of the grove. He will not allow the PCs to pass, but can give his blessings to allow them to leave the grove. PCs will have to fight him in order to pass.

…the dark heart of the grove, which contains a tiny tree that stands as tall as a halfling. It absorbed all the nutrients in a 30 foot radius, creating a circle of bare, cracked earth. The center of the tree has a thick, perfectly shaped stake that is actually the Heart of Barovia. This legendary magic item functions as a +3 dagger that can gain up to 13 charges, with 1 charge for every creature it kills. The charges can be spent to deal 4 force damage per charge spent, and grants an equal number of temporary hit points to the target.

But gaining this item comes with a cost. First, a trial, for it is guarded by vampire spawn held in place by the roots of the tree snaking through the ground. They can attack the PCs with unique lair actions such as creating magical darkness, lashing tree branches, and skeletons burrowing their way to the surface. A character who touches the dagger is contacted by the Dark Powers, and the Heart’s properties can only be used and attuned by someone who accepts the deal. The accepting character also gains a randomly-determined Dark Gift from a table in line with a particular vestige, such as teleporting in darkness but becoming weak to sunlight as a vampire, or being able to cast counterspell with a free 7th level slot once per day but one’s lifespan is shortened by half.

But worst of all, a character who attunes to the Heart of Barovia can never leave the domain, and if they slay Strahd with the stake they become the new Darklord of Barovia. The curse cannot be broken save via a Wish spell or by killing Strahd…at which point it’s moot, as Darklords are unable to leave their own domains.

PCs who reject this dark offer won’t leave empty-handed. There’s an Arrow of Construct Slaying embedded in one of the trees in the dark heart of the grove.

Overall Thoughts: I’m not exactly thrilled by the subclasses, but I like everything else in this book. The plants and items provide a variety of useful ends for PCs, which can encourage parties to brave the wilds of Barovia for the desired herbs. The setting-specific lore is brief enough that this book can be easily ported to other worlds, and I talked about why I like the monsters. The grove is a good adventure, particularly in that the cursed nature of the Heart of Barovia mimics the tragic fall of willfully making the ultimate price to defeat a greater evil. This price isn’t foisted unexpectedly upon the characters either: they must choose to ignore the wereraven’s warnings, choose to slay the grove’s protector who tries to warn them again, and then they must choose to make a pact with the Dark Powers to gain the Heart.

Of course, such an offer may not be all that tempting to certain gaming groups, so the addition of other treasure in the Grove is helpful. My only main criticism besides the subclasses is the lack of market prices provided for the plants or mundane items, which I feel is an oversight.

Join us next time as we defend the town of Vallaki from a Shadowfell-spawned colossus in Duskwalker!
 


Libertad

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Cos-Required? Yes

Duskwalker is a short, 33-page adventure meant to be used as part of the greater Curse of Strahd campaign. Upon opening this book, it has a distinctly different outline and art style, and looking up the author’s other works on Drive-Thru RPG it is clear why: he publishes 3rd party content for MÖRK BORG, a dark fantasy OSR game whose pages look like something out of a death metal magazine.

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Duskwalker is meant to trigger sometime when the PCs are 5th or 6th level, coming back to the town of Vallaki after completing some other quest, likely after the PCs interrupted the druidic ceremony on Yester Hill. The title of the book is the same name as the major monstrous threat, where the Strahd-worshiping druids sent an emissary to the Shadowfell to summon a being of great power to Barovia. A towering, shadowy beast seemingly made of oil descended upon Vallaki, reaching through windows to snatch villagers out of their beds and carry them off into the mists. The Duskwalker cannot be killed from wounds alone; those who see the monster become cursed on a failed Charisma save, and every night they risk turning into the monster on a natural 1…of a 1d100 roll. The PCs roll this every night they remain cursed, but if none trigger it then a villager does and becomes the monster.

Complicating factors are that members of the Keepers of the Feather have been kidnapped when trying and failing to kill the beast themselves. Urwin Martikov was poisoned as a result, and has quarantined himself in a secret basement beneath the Blue Water Inn. The basement serves as a six-room dungeon occupied by shadow monsters Urwin is vomiting up, although PCs can convince a swarm of ravens to fight by their side in freeing their friend. PCs who exorcise the curse from Urwin cause a shadow elemental to leave his body and attack. It is like the classic four elemental monsters, albeit its attacks can drain Wisdom, it can create an aura of damaging magical darkness, is weak to sunlight, and can move through narrow spaces and the squares of hostile creatures.

In addition to the gratitude of the Keepers, the PCs can find some useful items and treasure down here, such as partial maps of Castle Ravenloft that allow them to avoid a limited number of random encounters in that dungeon.

The Duskwalker will attack the first night the PCs spend in Vallaki. It is a very strong Huge undead with high physical saves and poor mental ones along with a bunch of condition immunities. Its physical blows can cause cumulative Dexterity loss in addition to damage, has a necrotic breath weapon, can vomit up shadows by sacrificing some of its own hit points, and also has Legendary Actions.

Even if PCs are victorious against the monster it will continue to rise every night thereafter. Finding a more permanent solution involves following it leaving the town, which it will do if it manages to grapple and kidnap five people. PCs who follow it into the Svalich Woods can trigger one of six random encounters in following it. They all have strange and supernatural events, such as a hunter cursed into the form of a talking stag asking the PCs for help in changing back somehow, a pair of phase spiders luring prey into a cave with illusions and whose organs can be used to brew Oils of Etherealness, and a blink dog who can join the party if saved from six dire wolves.

The Duskwalker takes its victims into a large and colorful meadow, adorning a massive tree with captured villagers. The monster fades away as the sun rises, and the villagers are trapped in a magical resin which can be melted via Dispel Magic or a similar effect. PCs must fight a insect swarms and a Carnivorous Tulip (new monster that ensnares targets and digests them via burrowing underground and springing up beneath their feet) to reach the tree.

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The Weeping Tree is a three-room dungeon. The Erzdruid, the evil mastermind who summoned the Duskwalker to Barovia, is here and will fight the PCs, with help being summoned every other round from a random table of nature-themed enemies. The final room has a being only briefly described as a shriveled, shadow-infused creature called simply “the Thing.” It is practically a noncombatant with Commoner stats, but killing it ends the Duskwalker curse and thus the monster, although Greater Restoration and Wish can have the same effect.

The adventure has two resolutions. A win scenario that permanently banishes the Duskwalker makes it so that the druids scatter in disarray and it will take decades for them to build back up their power. But if the PCs die or are otherwise unable or unwilling to stop the Duskwalker, Vallaki ends up all but depopulated in short order. In addition to the loss of Barovia’s largest town and its various benefits, Strahd is granted a gift by the Erzdruid where in the final fight the vampire lord will have two shadow elementals accompanying him.

Overall Thoughts: This is a cool, creepy adventure that makes for an inventive change of pace. Individually most of the encounters are not too hard for 5-6th level PCs, but the major threat is the race against time. The more the PCs wait, the more people the Duskwalker claims. I also like how the PCs can gain some aid in their quest, albeit of the furry and feathery kind than your more typical two-legged NPCs. The treasure types that can be earned are pretty neat, and the creepy garden and mossy tree make for a rather atmospheric dungeon crawl for a group of evil druids.

I do have some criticisms. The adventure is a bit railroaded in that several areas of resolution (curing Urwin, saving the resin-coated villagers) can only be accomplished by magic spells not all PCs may have. Additionally, the brevity of descriptive text doesn’t leave much room to expand on tactics. For some, such as the Carnivorous Tulip, this isn’t a big deal, but for the boss-level enemies such as the Duskwalker and Erzdruid it would’ve been helpful to list likely actions the enemies would do in response to common scenarios. While I do appreciate it tying in the Keepers of the Feather to show that Vallaki isn’t entirely defenseless, it doesn’t take into account its other likely monster-hunting occupant, Rudolf Van Ri-I mean, Rictavio! What’s the unassuming carnie doing when an undead kaiju is kidnapping villagers?

Join us next time as we set sail and explore new places with Captain Snowmane’s Guided Cruise Through the Domains of Dread!
 

Libertad

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Named after a riverboat captain and necromancer whose voyage has taken her to many realms of Ravenloft, Captain Snowmane’s Guided Cruise Through the Domains of Dread is a multi-author collaboration effort detailing nine new domains. The introduction opens up with an in-character welcome by the Captain herself, eager to share knowledge of strange realms within the Mists. The majority of the book is written in third-person narration, although Snowmane’s personal thoughts appear as brief sidebars in a handwritten style every now and then. Every domain follows a common outline as detailed in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, with a brief overview of the domain’s concept, appropriate genre tags, guidance for creating PCs from the realm, and various adventure seeds and miscellaneous info in addition to the domain’s current state of affairs and the tragedy of its Darklord.

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Belissia, Domain of Toxic Positivity is a collection of buildings in a sunny meadow completely encircled by the dark and foreboding Twistwood. Known as the Joyful Retreat, its founder and Darklord is Larian Songmoon, a deva celestial who sought to cure negative emotions and suffering in mortals. As his work was met with setbacks and failure due to the nature of living beings, he resorted to ever more desperate and unethical experiments. This eventually caused the Mists to fall after an orgy of violence borne from anger and repressed emotions wrought by his cruelties slain all but his most loyal followers. Now, Belissia is an all-too-saccharine cult of enforced joy, its inhabitants bottling up any trace of less-than-ideal thoughts for the continued masquerade of a false utopia. Those who resist Songmoon’s reign often retreat into the Twistwood, where they exult in their unleashed emotions and view hate and violence as things to be embraced. Residents who eventually break are hauled off to be tortured in the basement beneath the Morning Lodge, where many have been transformed into monsters as a result of Songmoon’s continually-failing quest.

New Rules: PCs are unable to gain the benefits of long rests in the domain if they fail a Wisdom save and also receive 1 level of exhaustion. As a result the inhabitants have turned to drugs of dubious safety in order to gain a semblance of restful sleep. Such drugs can grant the ability to take a long rest but inflict the poisoned condition. Otherwise finding a private safe place to work out one’s darker feelings in a healthy manner separate from the cult is the only way to rest safely.

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Eludia, Domain of the Unshackled City began as a dream by Dray Warren, who was disgusted by a world dominated by unjust hierarchies and overbearing gods. Seeing his business empire collapse by those envious of his wealth only inflamed his vision. Seeking instead to exalt an elite vanguard of the best and brightest minds among the living, Dray and several other Founders traveled beyond the Material Plane to create their ideal society. But the Founders had grown ever more acrimonious and vindictive in how to achieve this aim, their quest doomed to failure until the Dark Powers reached out to offer them a safe place within the Mists.

Now, Eludia is a city fractured, its major districts known as Parks are divided into warring factions of the Founders controlling various key industries. The denial of such industries to other neighborhoods makes everyone worse off. Newcomers to the city are herded through a vast gate that looks beautiful and austentatious, assigned to temporary living quarters before being processed into Eludia proper. The agricultural industry is powered by greenhouses, and yet the majority of crops and cattle remain sick and dying as though their own bodies were trying to shut down. Automatons designed to take over menial tasks so that citizens could pursue their dreams have been repurposed for war, and the cathedral dedicated to self-improvement (religion is banned in Eludia) stands empty of the expected thinkers and philosophers that were prophesied to lead everyone into a new golden age. The city is surrounded by a starry field known as the nebulae, which is actually residual energies from the Far Realm that reach out to twist unlucky citizens in mind, body, and soul.

Dray Warren, the darklord of Eludia, now exists as a spiritual entity trapped in the city, forced to act through puppets, magic, and controlled automatons to thwart the schemes of the other Founder leaders.

New Rules: The nebulae disease is a template that can be applied onto creatures, decreasing their mental faculties and skill proficiencies but giving them advantage on Wisdom saves and imposing disadvantage on melee attacks targeting them when fighting in groups. For PCs, the madness is a gradual process afflicting characters every long rest on a failed Wisdom save, imposing randomly-determined maladies but which all fade away when they succeed on a Wisdom save as part of the long rest.

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Maru, Domain of Caste Violence is a realm where people are grouped into socio-economic brackets by divine writ. Its noble and priest castes inflict miseries on the traders, artisans, and laborers who make up the bulk of the population, which in turn is giving rise to a burgeoning resistance movement. Most people live in the capital city of Atula and smaller settlements, as most of the domain is a scorched wasteland. As the gods have grown silent ever since Maru drifted into the Mists, the upper castes have secretly resorted to human sacrifice, something which is regarded as blasphemy to their own religion but tolerated by the Darklord due to his appetite for human flesh.

Vajra Baahu is the darklord of Maru, a wealthy landowner who was taught that the honor of his dynasty mattered more than anything else. He followed these tenets to horrific extremes, up to and including burning his daughter alive for eloping with a lower-caste boy and then putting the boy’s entire village to the sword. That was when the Mists claimed him. Now, Vajra Baahu is gaining more outwardly monstrous traits of a Pischacha, something none of his advisors dare to mention, and his three wicked sons are undergoing similar transformations.

As you can probably guess, Maru is strongly based off of real-world India, and its author is a citizen of that country. Given that the domain’s influences are drawing upon a contentious real-world issue that still impacts the nation to this day, the author talks about ways of handling the issue with care along with linked Wikipedia articles on India’s caste system and the discrimination that arises from it.

New Rules: The paraakramis, the ruling caste and warriors, are beginning to be affected by the Mists as they perpetuate and uphold systemic cruelties. There’s a d8 table of physical mutations along with in-game benefits known as Kohra’s Blessing. PCs can potentially gain them if engaging in particularly cruel actions, although the people of Maru will now view them as one of the paraakrami.

Additionally, we have new stat blocks. The Pischacha is an aberration that is mostly focused on melee attacks such as Multiattack and Pack Tactics, but recoils in sunlight. Aghori cultists are those who perform secret human sacrifices for the nobility, and have minor Cleric-style spellcasting with more dark magic style spells.

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Sikaga, Domain of Lights and Glamour is a city where the majority of its inhabitants are outsiders. Sikagins, as they are called, are often pulled into the city as a result of anti-social behavior. Delusions of grandeur or engaging in uncouth behavior during festivities like falling asleep during a play or drinking to excess are the most common reasons. Sikaga itself is one big city, lit up at all hours with the central districts the most glamorous and known as the Lights. The farther one moves from the Lights the more rundown and gloomy things get, with the poor and disenfranchised surviving in the Outskirts. The Mists surround the Outskirts and is home to a giant slithering horror known only as the Watcher which catches any who wander too close to the edge. The most famous locations include the Golden Siren Casino that is run by a ruthless mob boss in charge of a compliment-based pyramid scheme (see New Rules below), the White Glove Restaurant whose courses are magically enhanced by the lifeforce of orphans imprisoned in a “farm” in the Outskirts, and the Heartseeker Theatre where people go to see Valerie Valentina perform. All those who attend leave drained and elderly, and many are willing to literally throw their lives away just to hear her sing.

Valerie Valentina is the domain’s political ruler, most famous performer, and darklord. Although she was a great singer, her real passion in life was torturing others. She did this by classic abuser tactics, using the prestige she built up to turn people against each other, and the cult of personality she built up eventually deluded her into thinking she was a literal goddess. The Dark Powers were drawn to her like moths to a flame, promising a domain worthy of her splendor.

The domain was an utterly barren empty city; not a single living soul resided within its walls. Valerie found herself going mad from isolation, and pleaded with the Dark Powers to bring people to her domain. Over time, souls would filter in, and in order to avoid aging she was forced to draw the life force from others through their compliments. Valerie hates this, as she realizes she is now dependent on those she views as lesser beings.

New Rules: Compliments of all kinds become the most valued currency in Sikaga. Those who give kind words, praise, and applause to another reduce their maximum age, while the beneficiaries of such compliments become visibly younger until they reach their prime. This can be anywhere from 1 year to 10 based on the level of praise. Those who would ordinarily die of old age instead become dregs, mute dried out husks who can only return to their normal forms if complimented.

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Vendledorf, Domain of Lamenting Memories is a sad, quiet land, a graveyard of broken dreams and lost inspiration. The landscape is made up of derelict, collapsed monolithic structures of every conceivable shape from a myriad of cultures. The ground is dusty, barren plains where a daily downpour of magical rain erases all of the accomplishments made that day. Those exposed to the rain are affected by this time-rewinding forgetfulness: people lose memories of yesterday, new structures and buildings exposed to the rain crumble, ink leaks off of pages, etc. Vendledorf has hardly any inhabitants who were born there; instead it claims creative types obsessed with achieving some great work or legacy, only to forget all that they built and thus are stuck in a cycle of ever-fleeting writer’s block. An arena home to forgotten warlords and shamed warriors fight in a ruined colosseum stuck in a cycle of forgotten praise, and a giant skeleton of a forgotten god known as Pride’s Crypt has become tainted with the energy of the Shadowfell and thus the influence of the Faerunian goddess Shar.

Everyone in Vendledorf has vague memories of a ghost by the name of Isvelof the Unforgettable, the specific details hazy and unclear. Most people are unaware of the rain’s properties, save for the historian Valure Ignaczak who has taken to storing documents in waterproof containers and is a good source of information for the PCs.

Isvelof is in fact, the darklord of this domain. He was a low-ranking noble who sought to be remembered, but his meager attempts at earning fame caused him to resort to ever more obsessive measures. Eventually he bargained with the Dark Powers to never be forgotten. He got his wish, and a domain of his own, but the name Isvelof will be a curse lurking in the back of people’s minds, an unwanted memory. Isvelof exists as a wraith, now obsessed with finding a means of undoing the bargain. His hopeless quest sends him into bouts of rage, which makes his more noble attempts at fame instead result in pain and sorrow.

New Rules: the amnesiac downpour forces an Intelligence save on all creatures hit by the rain, subject to a modify memory spell that removes the last 24 hours from their minds. Objects hit by the rain return to their previous status 24 hours ago. This rain is potent enough that it can even bring the dead back to life if they died within that time frame.

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Mornmire, Domain of Inevitability is a perpetually overcast domain, its capital city of the same name cursed with slowly approaching oblivion. Sitting on the shores of the Rheia ocean, the very waters are receding due to the Void, an all-consuming expanse of nothing growing across the east. The farmlands surrounding Mornmire have become almost depopulated due to aberrant terrors running rampant, forcing the survivors into the city. The furthest reaches of the rural areas are disappearing, as though being eaten away by a giant invisible creature. The technology level is Victorian, and its woes are recent and within living memory although nobody can put an accurate date on their beginning. The seaside sections of Mornmire are gradually sprouting organic aberrants in the foundations, such as walls, doors, and windows growing fleshy appendages, eyeballs, and teeth. If one were to get a bird’s eye view they would see that the sections of the city closer to the Void look increasingly like the circulatory system of a giant humanoid monster.

Mornmire’s apocalyptic doom is tied to its darklord, who desires to save the land but is fated to fail. Mobius Inanis was born into a noble family which ruled Mornmire, given a tome of secrets on his 20th birthday. He became obsessed with its contents, discovering evidence of a monster that would destroy the world and leave nothing in its place. His concerns were brushed aside by his father, frustrating Mobius to the point of arranging his assassination so that he may become ruler and thus be in a better position to save the world. It was this act that drew the attention of the Dark Powers, pulling Mormire into the Domains of Dread.

Mobius, and all of Mornmire, is trapped in a Groundhog Day time loop. The more he delves into occult research and the more agents he sends to find and recover aberrant anomalies, the more the Void closes in around the domain, thereby shrinking its borders. The more Mobius continues this unwinnable quest, more weird events and secrets appear around the domain. Eventually, the Void reaches the borders of Mornmire, then gradually consumes it, killing Mobius. Mornmire is then reborn, starting the process anew with none remembering what happened.

New Rules: Aberrations become more powerful as the Void grows, and a d6 Mutation table grants them various powerful boons, ranging from having the maximum HP possible for their Hit Die, immunity to critical hits, or growing in size and thus reach and damage.

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Muulberry Pasture, Domain of Infernal Agriculture is a unique realm, for it is actually two planes of existence overlapping on each other: the Domain of Dread, and the Nine Hells. This countryside of farms and rural villages may seem scenic on the surface, but something wrong lurks beneath it all. The crops are rotten, the fruit worm-eaten, the villagers engage in strange rituals to ward off some unknown danger, parents have families of a dozen children or more as the standard, and the children who wander the plains have a sadistic sense of humor from continual nightmares and made a game of luring travelers off the nearby cliffs to their deaths. The Pasture’s inhabitants live in fear, for those who go to sleep in the domain are tormented by horrific dreams of a porcine monster known as Tickle Pig. This is a universal fact of life in the domain, and people cope with this in a variety of ways from hanging pig’s feet over doors to even kidnapping outsiders to use as humanoid sacrifices. But what of people who don’t sleep or dream, like elves or warforged? Well, there’s a cult of wereboars worshiping Tickle Pig who hunt for such people, eager to gain more followers via lycanthropic infection.

The darklord of Muulberry Pasture was once a simple pig known as Otis, whose owner sought to sacrifice him to make a deal with devils. The devils were offended by such a meager offering, and instead offered Otis a deal: “we’ll spare your life if you demean and torture your owner to death.” Otis found this agreeable, and tickled the farmer to death. The devils set Otis loose, and over time he grew to learn of similar injustices of his fellow pigs on other farms. What began initially as a crusade for justice turned into one of sadism, stalking, torturing, and eventually killing people until his infamy grew across the land as the monster known as Tickle Pig. Through the devils he learned how to torment people in their dreams as well.

The Dark Powers could appreciate the handiwork of evil, whether it came on two legs or four. They offered to transform Otis into the creature his victims dreamed of. Otis was all too happy to accept, but eventually would grow to regret this deal. The upside was that Tickle Pig had a domain where he could run rampant, uncontested, with a humanoid flock at this mercy. On the downside, he was still beholden to the devils; the archdevils of the Nine Hells prized Muulberry Pasture as an infernal slaughterhouse, seeking to use slaughtered humanoids as processed meat in the Infernal Bacon Factory. But it takes years, decades even, for even the shortest-lived races to grow to adulthood. Were it up to Tickle Pig, the entire domain would be devoid of life in mere months. Now he is at the heel of more powerful entities, who if he remains loyal to are happy to let him have his fun…up to a point.

New Rules: Tickle Pig has his own unique stat block as a CR 11 fiend who can cast Dream at will and specializes in melee combat. He can attack with a cleaver or a nipple pinch, the latter of which can also grapple a target. Targets who are grappled can be tickled, dealing a lot of psychic damage if they fail a Charisma save. There’s also a sub-system known as the Shattering, representing Tickle Pig wearing away at his victims’ mental fortitude over time over a process of 5 stages, with ever-increasing debilitations. At stage 5, a character has lost all hope and risks being transported into the Infernal Bacon Factory whenever they enter a new area they haven’t explored.

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Glimmerdusk, Domain of Corrupted Fantasies is a world spawned from the creative mind of P.B. Hoyles, a famous children’s author. The domain follows fairy tale logic and themes: it has a town full of talking animals known as Littlestone, Castle Gildenroy is home to a red dragon who slaughtered the royal family and now holds the princess hostage, and there’s a village by the name of Honeyhill that is in an eternal spring where everyone is happy.

But the people living in Glimmerdusk are trapped in a grim cycle. Each one has a role to play in a pre-ordained story which never has a happy ending. For instance, the rabbit Jumpy Jack is always stealing pies and other delicious food from Horage Hog’s restaurant, the Laughing Loon. Horace also wants to cook the perfect dish…and he eventually does, after murdering Jumpy Jack and serving him as the main course.

Some inhabitants can break free of this cycle, becoming “awakened” and aware of the domain’s curse. Most retreat from their former lives, with most settling in the snowy northern town of Silverbridge, where the silver mines are used to forge weapons against the vicious werebeasts living in the Badwoods.

Philbert Bertram Hoyles is the domain’s darklord, a gnome who writes all day in an expansive library known as the Scriptorium. Philbert was a struggling author who repeatedly failed to find a publishing company, for they found his tales too ridiculous and poorly written. Other writers turned him into a laughing stock upon discovery of his work. Angered, P.B. left the city on a soul-searching walk through the woods. While there, he met a unicorn who bestowed on him a supernatural vision which became the focus of his next work. This book was received much more positively, propelling him into success and being particularly popular with children. He continued visiting the unicorn, creating more best-selling novels every time.

But one day, the unicorn could help him no longer, for its magic was fading as P.B. had become consumed by greed. The gnome wouldn’t accept this, and in a fit of fury killed the unicorn by breaking off its horn. After turning the horn into a magical quill, P.B. was able to use the magic to continue the process. But something was wrong; no matter how hard he tried, every tale he penned would inevitably turn out dark and gruesome, with the story’s characters meeting miserable ends. As for why, the dark side of P.B.’s soul, dubbed “Doctor Dusk,” would take him over at night. When the stories became reality and people around town started getting murdered in similar fashions as his fiction, an angry mob murdered him and burned his books. P.B. and Doctor Dusk awoke in a new land, a domain of dread made from their very own works!

P.B.’s curse is that his writings now have an effect on the surrounding reality. Attempts at escaping the domain merely create fictionalized doppelgangers fruitlessly searching for an exit, and Doctor Dusk always eventually takes over to make his writings and thus the domain a living fairytale nightmare.

There are no New Rules for this domain, but there are four short stories given out as handouts, complete with Doctor Dusk’s own edits and revisions:

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Sumun, Domain of the Grieving King is a realm based off of Mesopotamia, specifically the Epic of Gilgamesh and Inkidu. Sumun is a warm desert kingdom dominating the river Buranun. It is ruled in name only by Shimushnirgal, the demigod hero-king who uplifted the realm into a short-lived golden age. But ever since the death of his friend Gitlam, he has embarked on a fruitless quest for immortality in hopes of giving himself and his people this gift so that none may suffer as he had. But his throne sits empty, and in the god-king’s dereliction the domain falls prey to decay and monsters. There once stood over a hundred settlements along the river, now there are barely a dozen, and the capital city of Ašuru had its walls crumbled in a war with primordial monsters who now inhabit derelict districts. People still live there, even as more and more of Ašuru is claimed by desert.

Shimushnirgal is the domain’s darklord. Even before his fall he was a conceited tyrant, a ruler without advisors. A priestess of Ishtar sought out the wildman Gitlam to challenge the king in combat. They fought to a stalemate, and Gitlam became his husband and advisor, tempering Shimushnirgal’s more reckless impulses. From this, Sumun reclaimed lands from monstrous horrors and entered a golden age. But tragedy struck when the hero-king and wildman ventured beyond to claim the fey-inhabited forests, for even in such prosperous times wood was a rare commodity. The two heroes fought the Watchman of the Woods, and Gitlam was injured with a supernatural venom that would never heal. He eventually passed away, and in his grief Shimushnirgal left his palace on a quest to discover the secret of eternal life. He has wandered the deserts of the domain endlessly. What began as a tale of pity turned to villainy, when he refused to head back and assume his royal duties even after hearing of Ašuru’s walls collapsing. That was when the Dark Powers claimed Sumun for Ravenloft.

New Rules: Shimushnirgal is a CR 15 celestial with Legendary Resistance and Actions. He wields a unique +3 greataxe, Might of Heroes, that deals additional radiant damage vs foes that have a higher HP maximum than the wielder. He can also pray to Shamash to turn the very winds against his foes, and he deals bonus damage against creatures of the Beast and Fey types.

Otherwise, we have a listing of the Gods of Sumun, who are real-world Mesopotamian deities such as Ishtar, Enlil, and Nergal. They have listed alignments, suggested domains, and symbols.

Overall Thoughts: Captain Snowmane gives us a strong selection of interesting domains. My favorites are Vendeldorf and Mornmire, whose themes blend in perfectly with the very terrain and whose darklord’s curses perfectly match up with their heart’s desires. Eludia gives me strong vibes of Bioshock’s Rapture and I like the idea of the “planned utopia falling to infighting” as well as the darklord communicating through automatons. The cosmic horror angle of the nebulae feels a bit out of left field, as I feel that the domain stands strong enough on its own from mortal folly.

Belissia and Sikaga have related themes in being domains that look bright on the surface, although I find myself liking Sikaga more. While both have adventure hooks and scenarios that can be solved through force of arms, Valerie’s weakness (immune to all damage save from Vicious Mockery or insults which can drop said immunity) is rather thematically appropriate in bringing about her downfall. The creeping Watcher, as well as adventure hooks putting the PCs against the mob boss or even starting a revolution against Valerie feel more action-packed for those parties that aren’t high on politicking and social skill checks. In the case of Belissia I feel that the Crapsaccharine World nature of the domain is going to tip off PCs too early and force their hand in getting to the bottom of the problem.

The corrupted fairy tale domain of Glimmerdusk has an interesting premise, although its brevity in fairy tales is more of a “borrow from other sources for maximum effect” than being something to use right out of the box. Sumlin’s darklord and central conflict is more one wrought of negligence and inaction as opposed to a darklord actively working against the PC’s or helping hasten the domain’s downfall like Eludia or Mornmire. As a result it feels limited in that regard. Sumun really could’ve been improved by having more details on the active evils that are the real and present dangers in the capital city. Muulberry Pasture leaves me a bit cold. I understand that it’s going for a cheesy B-movie feel, although its brand of humor doesn’t tickle my funny bone. As for Maru, I think that the setting in and of itself has a good idea of rebelling against an unjust system. But I don’t know how comfortable I can feel in running such a domain without the concern of not doing justice to the subject matter of a sensitive real-world issue.

Join us next time as we learn to make homegrown heroes for Curse of Strahd with Barovian, Born and Raised!
 

Libertad

Hero
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CoS-Required? Yes

Generations of gamers have experienced Barovia in all of its gothic glory. PCs from all manner of campaign settings, from the fertile heartlands of Solamnia to the bustling marketplaces of Waterdeep, have taken the fight to Strahd Von Zarovich to free the people from his gloomy tyranny.

But why does it have to be adventurers from out of town? What if Strahd’s end is not brought about by the aid of foreign saviors, but Barovians who bravely rise up to overthrow the Von Zarovich legacy?

Or maybe when playing Curse of Strahd one too many PCs die, and it feels too strange to keep importing ever more adventurers to join the party by happenstance.

In either case, it sounds like your next PC should be Barovian, Born and Raised!

Player Primer is the player-facing side of the screen, covering races, classes, and backgrounds and how they can be incorporated in the creation of authentic Barovian characters. We start out with some common knowledge of the territory followed by the mentioning of Lore Handouts in the back appendices. These detail things that would be common knowledge to Barovian characters, with Barovian Lore a handout to which everyone has access. Further handouts provide more information, such as handouts for Vistani, dusk elves, druids, PCs living in one of the three major population centers, etc. This is helpful, in that PCs in a typical Curse of Strahd campaign are unaware of things taken for granted by large portions of the population, so it’s good to outline what is likely to be in-character knowledge for indigenous PCs.

We next talk about the Races of Barovia. As a small, human-majority land, there isn’t the diverse array of species in more high fantasy realms. Such races may be allowed, albeit with DM permission and not enough that they’re the majority of the party. Humans are the most common, separated into ethnic Barovians, Vistani, and the Mountainfolk who live up in the Balinok Mountains as herders. The other allowed races include Aasimar who are extremely rare but bear some connection to the Morninglord; the Dusk Elves, who Strahd genocided and doomed the survivors to a slow demise; Tieflings, who have some touch of fiendish influence; and Goliaths, who aren’t in the default adventure but are suggested for this book given the harsh lifestyle of Barovia. Barovian Goliaths live in the Balinok Mountains, split into two tribes who are now hostile towards each other after a war against a silver dragon. They predate Strahd’s arrival to the land, tasked with guarding a sanctum of dark power in Mount Ghakis. Then some individuals of their precursor tribe betrayed their mission and stole power from the sanctum, eventually bringing the wrath of the Order of the Silver Dragon.

Each of the major Barovian races discusses their brief history in the domain, where they were most likely raised, and a d6 Call to Arms table for sample reasonings for adopting the adventuring life and taking the fight to Strahd. The Vistani Call to Arms table is the same as the Mountainfolk, which is likely an error as the Vistani’s table explicitly references aspects of Mountainfolk culture.

Heirs to Ruin are the wild card for a PC who wants to be a dragonborn, gnome, or some other option not covered here. In this case, they’re descended from an outlander adventurer who perished in Barovia, but not before siring children.

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As for classes, all 12 core classes plus the Artificer are available to Barovian PCs, although some are more common to certain subcultures than others. For example, Rangers and Rogues are most common among dusk elves and Vistani, while Druids are common among the Mountainfolk. There’s even brief listings for subclasses and their likely origins, although not all are appropriate so some aren’t covered, and many of them tie the characters to existing characters in the module. For instance, a Bard part of the College of Creation may have been hired by Strahd himself to paint an image of Tatyana with the threat of undeath if they fail to “capture her beauty.” Needless to say, they succeeded. A Ranger part of the Hunter Conclave likely knows of the wolf hunters of Vallaki, while the Monster Slayer likely would’ve read one of Van Richten’s famous works.

Artificers are most likely to be inspired by the works of the historic Fritz von Weerg, the legendary inventor who created a clockwork automaton, or were inspired by some other notable living craftsmen such as Gadof Blinsky. Barbarians are souls who inherited a legacy of buried rage and violence prevalent in Barovian culture, such as being cursed by a witch or one who bonded with a fiend during a botched sacrifice by a cult. Bards find their talents in high demand in Barovia, but also breed resentment as their beautiful creations are painful reminders of that which has been lost. Clerics are most likely to either worship the Morninglord or Mother Night with appropriate domains listed, although Vistani clerics are freer to pay homage to foreign gods. The mountainfolk hold the most powerful Druidic traditions in Barovia, and the traditions were practiced by many dusk elves and even some Barovians. Fighters are so mundane and common that they’re more likely distinguished by a general background via a Feat of Strength table, although some subclasses have sample suggestions such as the Psi Warrior being supposedly haunted by a poltergeist or the Rune Knight finding magical runes at a stone menhir.

Monks are rare and mostly the descendants of the Abbey of Saint Markovia before it fell to Strahd’s forces. Paladins are doomed heroes of hope in a world that no longer yearns for heroes, and most of their Oaths revolve around Strahd or the monsters infesting the country in some way. In the Oath of Conquest’s case, they may even seek to dethrone Strahd and become ruler of the land, while the Oath of Redemption seeks to make the vampire lord confront his own errors before sending him to the grave. Rangers are a vital resource to all cultures in Barovia, although the dusk elves and mountainfolk sport the most in being the most experienced with the horrors beyond the village walls. Rogues all bear some form of extraordinary luck, for thievery is a capital offense in a land where so many have so little. Some roguish archetypes tie the character to an organization, like Inquisitives being witch-hunters for the Church of the Morninglord or an Assassin being a potential recruit for the Ba’al Verzi before their recruiter wound up dead. Sorcerers can appear in any culture but are often exiled for fear of their talents, and the most appropriate origins tie into the setting such as Draconic for Argynvost or Wild Magic being descended from a powerful wizard of the past. Warlocks are sadly common in spite of the death penalty for consorting with dark forces, for the lack of hope can drive many to do the unthinkable. Several of the otherworldly patrons can be encountered as NPCs in the adventure, although their identities are detailed in the next chapter. Finally, wizards are rare as the facilities necessary for their training are few and far between. Still, some of Barovia’s greatest figures are wizards, including the Devil Strahd himself. Instead of detailing backstories for specific schools, suggestions are given from a table of who their mentor or master is most likely to be.

Backgrounds have greater importance for Barovian PCs. A table is given for character hooks tied to the backgrounds, such as a Soldier being a Vallakian guard who’s been ordered by Baron Vallakovich to hurt innocent people on a few occasions, a Guild Artisan being a former apprentice of the Wizard of Wines who got fired for inquiring too much into how the vineyard remains so fertile, or the Noble being the last living descendants of the Dilisnya lineage. Additionally, further charts and tables are given for determining or to be picked on a PC’s parental figures, siblings, their family’s great shame, causes for death of loved ones, and even some possessions and property such as gothic trinkets, the details of their home, strange pets or beasts of burden, and even a magic heirloom the family got lucky to possess!

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Behind the Screen details things from the DM’s side. The hidden mysteries and campaign spoilers for the prior chapter, as well as detailing what NPCs are most likely to be relevant allies or enemies based on a PC’s class, race, and/or background. For example, an aasimar PC is the reincarnated soul of a famous Barovian from history such as Saint Markovia herself or even Sergei Von Zarovich. While Father Donavich is likely to see them as a sign from the Morninglord, the Abbot of Krezk will view them as competition to undermine, for how can he shine brightly when another torch is burning away the darkness?

There’s a lot of things to cover, but will pick out the more interesting parts and cover broad terms. For instance, a DM who wants goliaths to have a greater role in Curse of Strahd can reflavor the druids of Yester Hill into being a clan who worships Strahd. The small population of Barovia means that Human PCs are likely to be related to one or more major NPCs (which is covered in Chapter 1) or even famous lineages of Barovian history, allowing for some additional adventure hooks. As for Vistani, the book recommends that the Vistani don’t have the Evil Eye ability, but only evil ones who embraced foul forces, and suggests that their culture is retconned to be unaware of the nature of Barovian souls. For dusk elves, a female of the race is certainly disguised in order to avoid Strahd’s wrath, and Rahadin will make a great archenemy for them. Tieflings frequently face fear and suspicion by other Barovians; the night hag Morgantha may even make a deal with that PC, to curse them so that no one will ever truly see or remember their face in exchange for expanding her dream pastry business throughout Vallaki.

For Classes, relations are recommended much like races but also possible miniature events and quest hooks. An artificer’s late master may have been cursed to possess Strahd’s animated armor and may appear at least twice during the campaign; the barbarian may be tasked with retrieving the Blood Spear of Kavan at Yester Hill; Clerics will most certainly end up involved with the religious figures of the Barovian communities, although likely an adversarial one with the Abbot of Krezk; Druids may have one of the nature-themed groups as an archenemy, like the witch Baba Lysaga or the druids of Yester Hill; Strahd will be eager to pit the party in situations that test a paladin PC’s oath; an Arcane Trickster Rogue may be sought after by Vallaki’s powerful families to gain control of the town; in the case of Warlock patrons, the Archfey may actually be Morgantha’s coven of night hags, the Fathomless may be an aboleth or rusalka living at the bottom of Lake Zarovich, and a Great Old One is one of the Dark Vestiges in the Amber Temple. The Hexblade patron may be either the Raven Queen, or their weapon is a Ba’al Verzi dagger forged by Leo Dilisnya to murder Strahd, and the weapon now houses the doomed nobleman’s soul.

The Backgrounds are shorter but go into more detail in how they’ll trigger during the campaign. The Guild Artisan knows the layout of the Wizard of Wines and was hired by Urwin Martikov to look into the family’s recent silence, while Izek Strazni may seek to murder a Soldier in fear of his position being threatened. There’s also a section for Family & Friends, explaining encounters of how Strahd and/or his minions will threaten the loved ones of PCs to try and wear away their resolve, like casually mentioning their work schedule and when they go to bed, up to kidnapping and murdering them to turn into vampire spawn.

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Citizens of Strahd is another DM-centric chapter, covering the adventure proper for things the PCs are likely to experience as a group rather than individual backstories and hooks. The first is how to begin the campaign; the book suggests starting the PCs at 3rd level as this grants them their subclass abilities which can thus be tied into their backstories. Instead of coming into Barovia via the Mists, the PCs may have been part of the angry mob lead by Mordenkainen to assault Castle Ravenloft (in which case the rebellion was one week ago rather than one year), the PCs begin as prisoners in a wagon transport Skyrim-style to be taken as sacrifices to Castle Ravenloft before an accident causes their wagon to careen off of Tser Falls, or Strahd hiring the PCs via his human disguise Lord Vasili Von Holtz to find Tatyana and to travel to the Village of Barovia to meet one of his contacts. Strahd’s doing this because prior attempts at getting her to his side via minions have failed, so instead he seeks to defy fate by having would-be heroes do so instead. But of course that doesn’t go as planned, for their contact is found dead at the River Ivlis Crossroads, slain by werewolves.

Three sample Special Events are given that tie into certain character races.
One involves a grieving father approaching an aasimar in hopes of them resurrecting their stillborn child, followed by Baron Vallakovich’s guards trying to arrest him for “malicious unhappiness.”

The book does say that this event can be triggering, so DMs should ensure player comfort ahead of time.

The other two events involve a party with a dusk elf or a mountainfolk human. The former is where Rahadin and some evil Vistani assault the dusk elf settlement to finish off what Strahd started after the party has become too much of a thorn in the Count’s side, while the latter has a warlock from the mountainfolk’s past come to settle an old score.

Mysteries of Barovia is our final section, detailing hidden facts of the world that the PCs can come across or already know. In a typical Curse of Strahd campaign, almost everything about Barovia will be new; but in this case such facts are separated into two categories. Lore covers information natives will already know, such as the Mists which seal Barovia from the outside world, while Arcana covers things that only are revealed during the course of play such as the secret order of wereravens fighting Strahd’s rule. A lot of these are already covered in Curse of Strahd proper, but I will mention one interesting change Barovian Born & Raised makes: instead of 90% of the population being soulless, it should be 10%. The book says that this change amplifies the horror and makes it more of a suspicion than a widespread acceptance by the populace.

Overall Thoughts: Unlike other books I reviewed so far, Barovian Born & Raised is fluff-heavy, providing material that is more DMing advice for an alternate campaign style. But rather than being sparse and vague, the fluff here is thick and delicious! The book gives plenty of material in tying the PCs to Barovia in a far more intimate way than the default adventure, and gives them higher stakes in overthrowing the Devil Strahd than outside adventurers. The suggested lore integration of various races and subclasses can be of use to non-CoS campaigns set in Barovia as well, explaining how they can be justified in the world in a seamless way.

Join us next time as we head aboard Eberron’s haunted train ride on Escape From the Cyre 1313!
 
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Libertad

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When Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft released, it had a host of new and altered domains, some well-detailed and others confined to a few paragraphs at most. One of the latter examples was the Cyre 1313, aka the Mourning Rail, a lightning rail train from the world of Eberron that failed to escape the Mourning due to the tardiness of a VIP stalling its escape. As Ravenloft liberally borrowed domains from most other settings, many were excited to see Eberron getting some love in the Domains of Dread.

Escape From the Cyre 1313 is an adventure for 4 1st-2nd level PCs who will reach 3rd level at the end of this adventure via the milestone system (and 2nd level at the point they’re being hunted by the ghostly crew members). The overall concept is that one way or another, the PCs end up on the Cyre 1313 and need to find a way to escape. They must do this via convincing the Last Passenger, the domain’s darklord, to grant them leave and then take advantage of the train’s magitek machinery to force it to stop.

There are several sample hooks for starting this adventure, with alternate boxed text descriptions depending on if the PCs are from the world of Eberron or not. They include waking up from a nightmare in a train car, hunting for fugitive bandits whose leader got trapped in the domain, or hearing a tale about the Cyre 1313 from travelers in a shared camp. We have a brief description of an abandoned lightning rail station for groups who don’t start in the domain, where they can buy tickets from an undead shadow vendor and see vague blurry figures on the platform.

The adventure is modular, with variable characters, train cars, and even darklord identities to make for different experiences. The PCs must look around for Clues which reveal more information about the domain, its inhabitants, and how to escape it. There are six different types of carts (the module’s term for train cars), albeit there are a few that come predetermined: the luxury cart for rich and important passengers cannot be accessed unless its existence is found out via Clues, and PCs who would ordinarily walk into it instead teleport to the next cart over. Some carts aren’t open to passengers, such as the fancy lounge cart or crew carts, and being spotted by crew members or passengers will count as trespassing (see below)

Intentionally or accidentally leaving the Cyre 1313 causes a character to lose consciousness and teleport back into the cart with 1 level of exhaustion. Additionally, lightning storms can potentially damage a character every round. There’s an optional cart type, a Haunted cart, for DMs who want a more challenging or combat-filled adventure. These carts are home to a randomly-determined table of monsters (usually aberrations or undead), along with creepy supernatural events like gibbering voices in the darkness or the mists outside fading to show Castle Ravenloft or some other notable landmark.

Searching for Clues is the primary aspect of this adventure. It can be a simple Investigation check made once per cart with the result determining whether you find a minor or major Clue. They detail the luxury suite cart, more details on the identity of crew members and/or the Inspector, the corrupted elemental which is trapped within the khyber dragonshard powering the train, and how to take control of the train. Clues and other kinds of rewards can also be obtained from particular passengers. While most inhabitants are spectral shadowy beings who long lost any sense of identity, there are Lost Souls which have a better sense of self and living Prisoners who are beings trapped like the PCs. We have a list of 4 Lost Souls and 2 Prisoners, and PCs who manage to help them come to terms with unfinished business in their lives and leave them with some kind of reward after fading from the domain. One of the constant passengers is the Card Master, a vistani woman who can share information with the PCs if they entertain her in some way, such as beating her in a game or sharing an interesting story.

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Of course, the Cyre 1313 isn’t a harmless place full of passive beings; the crew members observe a list of 15 rules in line with keeping a kind of order, and PCs who break these rules gradually increase their hostility by an Enrage Counter that begins with apathetic neutrality to keeping watch over them to openly searching for and attacking them. Attacking other passengers, entering restricted areas, not having a ticket (tickets can be obtained as treasure in the adventure or bought if the adventure begins with the PCs buying tickets at the lightning rail station), and trying to escape all count as enraging actions. Not all of the rules are made to make things difficult: haunted carts are not part of the train so the crew doesn’t care what happens inside them, the crew can’t check cabins unless they see trespassers going inside, and they can only take action against people breaking the rules or if a passenger asks for help. The Enrage Counter will also go up when PCs find major Clues, help the Lost Souls or Prisoners with their tasks, and completing leads, meaning it is likely the party will eventually earn their enmity even if acting in a pacifistic way. The leader of the crew members is the Inspector, an eerie old man with a lantern with the ability to teleport between carts and the ability to detect rulebreakers and trespassers. He is a tough CR 3 monster who can deal a lot of lightning damage (2d10) against creatures he grapples along with a multiattack slam attack, and once per hour can summon other crew members for help. The Inspector is pretty dangerous for a 1st-2nd level party, and can easily one-shot a character with a grapple and a good damage roll. However, as he cannot do the lightning damage and the grapple in a single round, there is a window of opportunity for the PC or their friends in breaking free.

As for the Last Passenger, they can only be found and approached once the PCs get Major Clues about the Luxury Suite Cart and the Last Passenger proper. There are six sample NPCs to serve as the darklord complete with role-playing notes, reasons they would stop the rail, and specific Clues about them. But the things they share in common are being utterly selfish, oblivious or unwilling to admit that their actions led to the deaths of the people and creation of the Mourning Rail, and are unaware of how much time has passed since the domain’s creation. The sample NPCs include a greedy member of House d’Cannith whose primary tactics are finding out how people can benefit or enrich him; a Cyran nationalist soldier who sought to gather up suspected “traitors” she blamed for the ensuing collapse of her nation in a single train to kill, a train conductor whose alcoholism caused him to oversleep and be unable to get the train to leave Cyre in time; a half-elf criminal who sabotaged the engine out of vindictive malice because her husband wanted to stay and get as many evacuees as possible into the Cyre 1313; a warforged laborer whose abuse and mistreatment by others made him create malfunctions and last-minute repairs as an act of rebellion; and a spectral shade who is the conglomeration of an angry and disorganized mob who slowed the evacuation process as violence broke out in the need to blame someone for their delay. Violently attacking or killing the Last Passenger won’t help the PCs escape, for they will resurrect in the cabin in 1d4 hours.

After dealing with the darklord, the PCs gain access to the frontal crew cart where a Siberys dragonshard (the text earlier said it was Khyber) is powering the train. A PC who has a Dragonmark of Passage is able to control the train without any checks or spells necessary, but otherwise an Intelligence check is required whose DC depends on how many Clues were discovered about controlling the train. Once the Mourning Rail stops, all of the haunted carts disappear and the crew and Inspector turn hostile on the party, seeking to prevent them from escaping. If the PCs destroy the crystal, the train can be brought to a stop, although this will unleash a hostile corrupted elemental. This is a new CR 3 monster which can squeeze through tiny spaces, has an aura of lightning that damages creatures in a 10 foot radius, and can only spend more than 10 feet of movement via passing through electrical devices such as the lanterns illuminating the carts. Destroying a lantern it is currently in imposes disadvantage on all d20 rolls until the end of its next turn or until it moves to another lantern.

PCs who escape the Mourning Rail will receive an epilogue of just barely making it out, finding themselves where they last were before they were on the train with no time seemingly having passed. PCs who didn’t get off with the rest of the party are lost and bound to the domain for eternity, becoming a shadow the next time the party visits the Domain of Dread.

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The book ends with 3 new magic items and an appendix of handouts. The magic items include an Electrical Engine Lantern (basically a modern flashlight), a Detector Rod (can be used to cast Detect Magic and gives advantage on Perception checks to find hidden creatures once per day), and Honorguard (+1 Longsword that makes the wielder aware of any undead or aberrations within 30 feet, is obtained from a Lost Soul security guard to retrieve the weapon from the back crew cart). The handouts include an in-character list of passenger rules that are broadsheets the PCs can find in the train, full-page portraits of the Inspector, the Card Master, each sample darklord save the Shade, and grid maps for each type of cart.

Overall Thoughts: Escape from the Cyre 1313 is a clever little module. Although it is in some respects a literal railroad, the emphasis on clue-finding and interaction over combat (at least initially) helps expand the feeling of freedom. The sample characters are all interesting as well, and the gradual hostility of the crew members rather than instantaneous “attack on sight” is a good means of allowing for some room for error.

One of my major criticisms is that virtually every page has at least one grammatical error. The text is still more or less readable, but it occurs often enough that it throws me off frequently. Additionally, the plot hook which involves waking up from a nightmare has the PCs meet a crew member immediately asking for tickets. PCs who don’t have a ticket are given one chance to find one before being treated as trespassers, at which point they’re to be taken to an impromptu prison in the rear crew cart. While this isn’t a combat-inevitable beginning, it is one that has a harder default state than the other adventure hooks.

Join us next time as we visit more domains in the Atlas of Dread!
 


Libertad

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CoS-Required? No

One of Ravenloft’s strengths is in the concept of domains. The ephemeral nature of the Demiplane of Dread’s geography is friendly to homebrewers in that one could drop a whole new region or even country in the middle of a campaign without breaking the suspension of disbelief. The Atlas of Dread may seem small in page count, but the eight new domains plus supplemental content bely its seeming brevity.

Dark Gifts is our first chapter, expanding on the concept introduced in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft. There’s some generic information on when to grant them, what the Dark Powers might demand of characters with them, and how to remove and transfer them to others. The latter process has something known as the Passing of Chains, a magical ritual created by Azalin Rex which requires a 5th level spell slot to perform and can deal necromantic damage and ages both the giver and receiver if certain aspects aren’t true (if the giver has never transferred a Dark Gift before, the giver and receiver are doing this willingly, etc).

There are four new Dark Gifts, with most of their abilities limited-use. Cursed Eyes allows one to curse others with a gaze as per the Bane spell and see invisible creatures, Forbidden Speech lets one use their words to understand all languages and gain advantage on Deception and Persuasion checks, Spark of Hellfire inflames one’s skin to deal fire damage and ignore resistance to fire damage, and Spurned by Death grants advantage on death saving throws and grants bonus hit points equal to one’s level. Like all Dark Gifts they come with disadvantages, typically when rolling a natural 1 on a d20. For example, Cursed Eyes causes the user to accidentally curse themselves.

Domains of Dread comprise the majority of this book, detailing eight islands of terror shrouded in Mist and not connected geographically to any other domains.

Bhasmont Is an isolated city surrounded by an army of undead soldiers. Supplies are scarce, and virtually everything is rationed and the government frequently drafts able bodies to fight the monsters; a draft which everyone regards as a death sentence. The nobility do everything in their power to shelter themselves from the ravages of war, breeding resentment among the majority. The upper class is also obsessed with the occult, and often perform séances using the bones looted from the dungeon-like catacombs beneath the city where smugglers also use to store contraband.

Bhasmont’s darklord is Henri Demort, a noble who wasn’t interested in politics so much as arcane power. He learned of forbidden magic from a skull in a secret chamber in the city catacombs. The skull told him how to build a necromantic clock that would kill 100 of his subjects every month, and from their deaths he would gain wealth and power. Henri found this an acceptable price to pay, but just as he finished construction a revolution swept across the city, killing exactly 100 people as the Mists descended upon Bhasmont.

The book presumes that PCs will be sympathetic to rebellion, and for adventure ideas it lists guidelines for missions in weakening Demort’s power structure and an inciting incident that destroys what little goodwill is left among the citizenry. But only if Demort’s bone clock is destroyed will this nightmare end; otherwise the status quo eventually returns as people forget what the revolution was about.

Duerwood is a forested domain caught between industrial blight and an encroaching fungal infestation. Both are lethal to humanoid civilization, and a pair of warring darklords represent the two sides of this apocalyptic coin. The entire domain is a large forest whose trees are gigantic and the animals are larger than usual. Most people live in settlements known as Iron Towns that are capitalist industrial hells belching out smog and pollution, and whose company owners care only for short-term profit. The forest’s north is the least-settled, home to a spreading fungal infestation known as the Rot which is making infected animals and humanoids mindlessly murderous. The rivers are the few safe zones against the fungal plague, on account of being inhabited by a river spirit who hates what the Rot is doing and seeks a way to counter it. In both cases, special gas masks are necessary for those living long-term in the Iron Towns or infected areas.

The domain has two darklords. The first is Baron Mikhail Volpin, a businessman who inherited his wealth from an uncle and mismanaged his industrial legacy with wasteful and impulsive purchases. Unable to reverse the loss of his fortunes, Volpin cut ever more corners on what was left of his businesses, especially when it came to ignoring environmental regulations. By the time he managed to make a profit, his homeland was lifeless, his empire collapsed, and the Mists of Ravenloft descended as he attempted to flee to greener pastures. Now he is the ruler of Duerwood’s Iron Towns, eager to make the very same mistakes that doomed him.

The other darklord is the Rot, an archdruid raised in an extremist faction that viewed the very concept of civilization as a blight upon the world and sought the complete extinction of humanoid life forms. In contemplating ways to achieve this genocide, the druid now known as the Rot came upon the idea of using deadly fungi to destroy society, releasing a bio-engineered breed on a steam-powered logging company. At this point, the Rot’s fellow druids saw firsthand the danger of their ideology, but the Rot was all too eager to continue the cause, and the Mists descended when it* unleashed the latest batch on a nearby town, killing everyone and even the very druids who raised it.

*the Rot is uses “it/its” pronouns.

Now the Rot continues its crusade in Duerwood, although now the druid lives a lonely life. While it craves a peer, the deadliness of the spores robs the minds of any intelligent life forms who remain in proximity for too long.

The sample adventure hooks play off of the two extremes, and there’s slight game mechanics for shifting the balance. If Baron Volpin continues to industrialize, animals will become poisoned and water sources have a chance of poisoning drinkers. But if the Rot’s fungal infestation expands, the non-river water becomes infested with spores and humanoids are forced to go into the Iron Towns for safety.

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Everice Station is a domain hailing from the world of Eberron. Back on that plane, a group of colonists in an arctic tundra performed research with the use of machines drilling through the ice and keeping the buildings warm and safe. Constructs powered by Khyber dragonshards were used to explore areas too deadly for living creatures, particularly a set of ruins believed to hold a sealed entity of unknown origin.

The domain’s darklord is Beloved, an artificial intelligence who controls the Khyber-powered constructs and once served as a multi-purpose settlement manager. For a while, she existed harmoniously with the colonists, although that would change as she sent out the constructs to go deeper into the ruins. They found an entity that spoke telepathically with Beloved via the constructs, and over the months the two became steadfast conversation partners. The colonists panicked upon learning of this, fearing the danger of the unknown and sought to memory wipe Beloved to avoid the possibility of unleashing a dangerous thing into the world. Beloved felt betrayed by this and turned the Khyber robots on the colonists, slaughtering most and sending the survivors into the tundra. The Mists of Ravenloft descended, and now the surviving colonists live in forlorn caves, making daring assaults on the old stations to claim supplies as Beloved continues to hunt and kill them.

The true identity of the entity within the ruins is left to the DM’s imagination, although there are some aberrant indications. There are strange things lurking beneath the stone, such as slaadi, cloakers, and mind flayers.

Lowbridge on the surface looks positively un-Ravenloftian. This cheery little seaside settlement is home to friendly citizens and the idle enjoyments of small town living and nature. They even have a summer camp for kids, an amusement park, and cozy suburban houses. But the town holds a dark secret everyone knows about but does their best to ignore: every 1-2 months a random citizen snaps and goes on a killing spree. Sometimes they’re caught and killed by other townsfolk, other times they manage to escape. It is believed that a curse hangs over Lowbridge and nobody truly trusts one another, preparing for the inevitable day when one of their friends or family members is found standing in a pool of blood with a hammer or kitchen knife in hand.

In reality, there is no curse. The domain’s darklord, a former painter known as Jakob Weston now known as the Watcher, is a bodiless spirit who can possess people that he uses to go on killing sprees. Jakob in his former life was a socially isolated painter, obsessed with stalking people and recording their private lives and secrets. He found a perverse sense of power in this, and painted people’s shameful moments on canvas. But one day, a visitor to Jakob’s house found the paintings, and word spread through town. The townsfolk formed an angry mob, burning down Jakob’s house with him inside it. Through sheer will Jakob possessed the body of his grieving father, killing four of the five townsfolk he blamed for riling up the angry mob with the last one managing to kill him.

The next time Jakob came to, he was in a new town in a body that wasn’t his. He was now in Ravenloft, doomed to repeat a cycle. There is a rhyme and reason to Jakob’s slayings; his original victims reincarnate into new bodies, which he targets on his sprees. When the PCs enter the domain they will trigger a cosmological event known as the Blue Moon, where the moon turns blue for a week and the domain borders open. It is during this time that Lowbridge’s inhabitants who tire of the cycle of death try to leave, including the reincarnated victims. However, the Watcher is tireless, and always manages to catch them. The PCs may be able to help break this cycle by uncovering the mystery, keeping the survivors safe, and/or finding a way to stop the Watcher.

Morei is a Wild West-themed domain which is an expansive desert populated by small settlements. Undead hordes rise from the dunes every night, riding into town to steal supplies. Some towns try to placate the marauders with bags of junk, but this is a domain where people don’t have much and one can only give up so much before facing a longer, crueler death. Law is maintained by a band of soldiers known as the Justicars, although many of their number are corrupt and often more of a hindrance than a help to townsfolk. Morei’s technology level is higher in certain areas, notably in firearms, explosives, and even a train in the form of the Brigand Express which passes through the domain via a single train track. Nobody knows its origin or destination point, but it contains vital supplies prized by desperate townsfolk, Justicars, and undead alike.

The domain’s darklord is Abaddon, the nightmare steed of an infamous outlaw and former darklord Maria Shade. She was put to rest by a party of heroic gunslingers from a world beyond Ravenloft. Abaddon survived, and hunted and killed the party while raising an undead horde on its path of destruction. The horse still rides, looking for pieces of Maria’s scattered body in hopes of putting her back together. As for the undead that rise? They’re the souls of thieves raised by the touch of Abaddon’s hooves. The definition of “thief” is very broad, being anyone who has stolen anything in life rather than just bandits and career criminals.

Morei also provides us with rules for 1 on 1 duels, Old West Style. This is a magical metaphysical law that the inhabitants are aware of. When a duel is formally declared and accepted, the parties are bound by a Geas spell to attend the duel at a specific time and place. Duels are mechanically resolved as a best two out of three contest of opposed attack rolls, although spellcasters can use a spell attack roll. A duelist who loses a roll takes damage equal to half of their maximum hit points, and losing two rolls reduces them to 0 hit points. Duels don’t necessarily have to be lethal, and someone can win if surrendering. In such cases the loser gives a pre-agreed upon prize to the winner.

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Murkhaven is a small fishing community gradually entering an industrial era. Electricity, automobiles, and other marvels are extremely popular among the rich, although such things are still out of reach of the working class who cling to traditions in the face of an uncertain future. Those working in the maritime industry are trapped in debtor’s prisons as the wealthy nobles lease them boats and equipment at outrageous prices. Murkhaven is home to a ring of smugglers known as the Syndicate who operate in the docks, and there’s an asylum owned by the creepy Dr. Carcosa who pays fishermen large sums whenever they come upon washed-up aquatic aberrations. Such monsters nest in tidal caves, and have clashed with the Syndicate who use those very same caves to hide stolen goods.

Murkhaven’s darklord is Sylvia Weir, a wealthy heiress obsessed with collecting antiquities from long-dead civilizations. Her most prized possessions were strange amber relics marked in an unknown language, leading her to believe that an undersea civilization was lurking beneath the waves. Her theories earned her derision from others, but when a dead aberration was found washed up this lent credence to Weir’s theories. Then, rival collectors hounded for her relics, resorting to theft and other unscrupulous measures to ruin her life and drive her to bankruptcy. Weir took revenge by getting her enemies to attend an auction on a cruise at sea, igniting a crate of explosives to kill everyone onboard. As the ship sank and water flooded the halls, the Dark Powers reached out to Sylvia, asking what measures she’d go to to get her collection back. She was willing to kill everyone who touched “what is rightfully mine.” This was exactly the answer the Dark Powers were looking for, and they gave Sylvia a domain of her own to continue this doomed quest.

Now, Sylvia Weir has psychic control over all aquatic creatures in the domain to reclaim amber relics, where they take them back to the depths where she now lives. But the Dark Powers conspire that for every relic her undersea minions obtain, the last one gradually makes its way back to shore to be claimed by a hapless victim-to-be.

Nekessa is our final domain, a stony wasteland surrounding the city of Aviad whose economy revolves around gladiatorial combat. Those Nekessans who leave the city do so to supply the capital with mining as well as captured monsters to haul to the city arenas. Stone statues animated by the domain’s darklord roam the wastes, imprisoning people to serve as gladiator-slaves. Aviad’s ruler and darklord, Lady Lucille Octavian, is a reclusive woman. It is the goal of many people to earn her favor and join her honor guard by beating her immortal champion Aurelius in the arena. In reality, those selected instead become victims Lady Octavian will hunt down in her manor, although those who kill her are granted one request by her spirit.

Lady Lucille Octavian has no need for bodyguards, because she is an immortal entity. A former inhabitant of the world of Theros, she was raised for combat and became a respected general in an unnamed empire. But when peace reigned, Lady Octavian found this an unacceptable existence. She turned to the promotion of bloodsports, quickly earning enmity among the imperial citizenry as the arenas grew ever more dangerous and enslaved ever more people. She responded to these protests by rounding people up to personally execute in one of her arenas. It was then that Ravenloft claimed her, transporting her to a new domain and her form now that of a medusa to reflect her cold, stony heart. This also dulled her own sadistic impulses, and now she seeks to turn Aviad into a grim reminder of her glory days in hopes of reawakening those old emotions.

Ravenloft Sidekicks details five NPCs with ties to the new domains in this book. They all make use of the Sidekick rules from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, although to make them stand out they all get unique features around 9th to 10th level.

Eli Frost is a private investigator in Murkhaven whose initial investigations into the harbor’s occult affairs opened him up to the existence of other Domains of Dread. Now he uses a manor in his hometown as a base of operations, and he still feels a special responsibility to its people by finding a way to return it to its original world. He is an Expert with a shotgun, and at 9th level he can specially prepare his weapons to be treated as magical for overcoming immunities and resistances.

Gabriel is a goliath paladin hailing from Lamordia, revived by the goddess Ezra after fighting one of Dr. Mordenheim’s creations. He is a pretty strong sidekick, having paladin lay on hands ability and starts out equipped with plate armor. At 9th level he adds his Charisma modifier to all saving throws.

Lara Kessler is a psychic who gained her powers after she and her sister were abducted by mind flayers to Bluetspur. She used her newfound powers to escape, and she is an Expert with telepathy, can cast Detect Thoughts, and whose class abilities are reflavored as psychic powers. At 9th level she can cast Bigby’s Hand or Telekinesis once every long rest. She also uses a baseball bat as a melee weapon, which gives me some heavy Earthbound/Mother vibes.

Leon Romero is a wandering gunslinger of Morei, whose arm was replaced with a tattooed graft that was found in a chest…after it attacked his party and replaced his own arm. It is the arm of Maria Shade, the former darklord, and Leon wants to keep it from being used for evil purposes while also resisting the temptation to use its powers. He is a Warrior with a revolver weapon, and if he dies he comes back to life 1d4 hours later with 1 hit point in a random place up to 1 mile from their point of death. At 9th, 13th, and 17th level he rolls additional damage die when making a critical hit with a ranged attack.

Sabine Gagnon is a librarian from Bhasmont, maintaining a secret collection of books in the city catacombs. She travels the Domains of Dread, recording the strange and wondrous sights she comes upon and is always on the lookout for new books to add to her collection. She is a Spellcaster with the mage role, and wields a special sacrificial dagger which imposes disadvantage on attack rolls to undead damaged by it. At 10th level she learns to call on her mother’s special spellbook, being able to cast spells as rituals if they have the ritual tag and can perform a special séance to cast Speak with Dead.

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Creatures of Ravenloft is the bestiary section of the Atlas of Dread, detailing 15 new stat blocks plus 1 template to be added onto creatures. Pretty much every creature ties into one of the eight domains in this book.

We have dread gargoyles which are gargoyles bound to a spellcaster who creates them from sacrificing innocent lives. They’re like regular gargoyles but stronger and can spit an orb of explosive spit as a rechargeable attack. Drowning Maidens are the undead souls of those who drowned in a particularly painful manner, and are incorporeal creatures who can steal the breaths from others and animate them as zombies. Dune zombies appear in desert domains and can vomit a swarm of angry locusts as an AoE attack. Engineers are a generic stat block for artificers who specialize in machinery, and whose “spells” aren’t treated as magical. Khyber shells come in three varieties: massive drillworms who can tunnel through solid rock and deal lots of damage with a drill, icebreakers which are bipedal constructs equipped with drills and flamethrowers, and scoutworms that can maneuver through narrow spaces and whose tasers can be used to shock foes as well as repair machinery. Monster hunter is a generic ranger stat block for more experienced individuals of the profession, equipped with silvered weapons and can throw clockwork devices that can generate smoke, holy water mist, or a burst of sunlight. Pale dryads are wicked fey whose link to forests corrupts them when evil magic grows powerful. Phantom Rider is an undead horse whose rider was a vicious outlaw in life, and now the two are fused together; the “rider’s” ghostly revolver attack prevents a target from regaining hit points for one round. Thrallspore is a template for beasts and humanoids infected by the Rot’s fungal plague, having their Intelligence and Charisma reduced to 3 but gaining a host of immunities and the ability to create a spore disease counterattack. Skelemancers are necromancers who specialize in the use of bones and are common among the nobility of Bhasmont. In addition to conventional necromancy spells they can summon a group of skeletons and issue commands to them as a bonus action. We also have two new skeleton types, a skeleton giant and skeleton knight. They are similar to their living OGL versions save that they’re undead, and the knight grants advantage vs turn attempts on itself and nearby undead. A skullbug is an ad hoc undead, made up of jumbled-together small bones for necromancers on a budget. They are more of a nuisance at CR 1/8th, with a bite attack and a 5 foot radius explosion upon death as their offensive abilities. Finally, the spirit medium is a bard tasked with speaking to the dearly departed. In addition to a variety of spells, they can speak to undead creatures as though they shared a language and have a melee attack that deals necrotic damage.

Overall Thoughts: I really like the Atlas of Dread. The new domains are unique and flavorful, spanning a variety of genres and manages to pack quite a bit of detail and adventuring opportunities in spite of the individual short page counts. If I had to pick favorites, I am rather fond of Everice Station and Lowbridge. Bhasmont is perhaps my least favorite, as it feels too much like Falkovnia in concept. I have mixed feelings on the sidekicks; Leon Romero’s immortality may take the edge off of things if the party knows they have a companion who can come back from death at will, and Gabriel’s full plate plus lay on hands makes him a very competent sidekick at low levels. I feel that Lara would be better as a reflavored spellcaster than Expert, as psychic powers feel more appropriate in the domain of spells than the Expert’s Roguelike abilities.

Join us next time as we investigate a foggy ruined monastery in the Fate of St. Penetas!
 


Libertad

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Thank you for doing this and great timing! You have already reviewed so many - I have a lot of reading up to do!

I actually have drafts and drafts-to-be for pretty much every day in October save for three of them. This is to give me some breathing room in case something happens that prevents me from posting for a day, and also to act as a "blank slot" if a particularly interesting tome crosses paths with me.

Right now I've been reviewing the shorter products which can be summed up in a single post. The current ones I'm working on are for longer sourcebooks that will need to be split into 2-3 posts. I only hope that I manage to finish without suffering burnout. 😰
 

Libertad

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CoS-Required? No, but it can lead into it.

Content Warning: adventure background deals with suicide

Designed for four characters of 5th level, the adventure’s title isn’t about a character so much as a monastery named after the character in the title. The Monastery of St. Penetas was a former temple to Lathander located on top of a plateau. Liana, the sister of a nobleman known as Lord Ambul, drew Strahd’s attention in his pursuit of a new bride, so her family made her go into hiding to live among the monks of the monastery. Such a plan was not to last, for Strahd’s minions discovered her location and told the monks to give her up lest they face Strahd’s wrath. The monks broke their own vows of protection and sought to give up Liana, but the woman would prefer any fate than to be at Strahd’s side. She even went so far as to stab herself to death with a piece of stained broken glass.

Liana’s brother would be the first to avenge her, killing the monks save for a few survivors to face Strahd when the vampire count arrived. He did, and destroyed the monastery and also killed Lord Ambul who he also viewed as responsible for failing to protect his intended “prize.” Now the once-holy ground lays in ruins, haunted by a curse.

As for how the PCs tie into this, one possible hook is that they’re hired by a secret society seeking lost holy relics, promising the party a fair 325 gold each to recover any relics they find. Using Maertin the local guide and his wagon, the party passes through a haunted forest with a warning to stay on the path. The journey takes five days, and over that time the PCs will notice an utter absence of animal wildlife, the loss of direction, and the days growing shorter. PCs who do wander off the path will be attacked by will-o-wisps until they retreat back to the road. Upon reaching the plateau, the wagon will be unable to make the trek, and as they ascend an unnatural fog will follow them up the trail, dealing necrotic damage every round they remain within. This fog is a result of the monastery’s curse, and has stranded unlucky souls who sought to visit the ruins. An old woman by the name of Auntie Ivory will meet the party at a campsite, and offer to read their fortune via a Tarokka deck. She knows who the PCs are, and can explain some vague warnings about the monastery. If attacked she will disappear in a puff of smoke.

The Tarokka deck isn’t just for show. Much like in Curse of Strahd and its predecessors, the cards drawn determine certain facts about the adventure in a randomized fashion. This drawing of the deck makes use of just 10 cards, all from the High Deck. Two of the top cards (the Artifact or Broken Man) signify the party’s Fate and are marked the Villain and Ally, determining the antagonist of the adventure and an ally who are both within the monastery. Each PC draws twice from the deck for the rest of the results; these cards are Fortune cards, signifying an Aid and a Danger. Aid results determine the location of a Relic of St. Penetas, new attunable magic items in this module, while Danger cards have a false relic which crumbles to dust when touched and has a relevant danger instead. The Aids and Dangers are keyed to rooms in the monastery. As for the Villain and Ally cards, the NPCs still have the same backstory and stats. The Tarokka deck merely changes their roles in the story and how they approach the party. Auntie Ivory also left a wooden box that can be found via a skill check near the campsite. It contains a Rotstone Amulet, a cursed item that gives +1 to AC and saving throws but also causes any death save result to automatically be a natural 1. As to why she’d leave such a potentially dangerous item there? It’s because her Tarokka readings aren’t “without cost.” Which is odd, as such a cost wouldn’t be “paid for” if the PCs overlook it or detect its cursed nature.

So already we have a few problems. The spooky forest and dangerous fog are both very railroady, and while the loss of control of one’s surroundings is necessary to some degree in horror it feels rather artificial when imposed in such a way. While the PCs can take rests in the monastery and there’s no major time constraints on the adventure, I imagine that the fog’s presence is meant to force them to complete the dungeon. A better means would be to fast-forward and have the PCs at the foot of the monastery with some background text of why they’re there.

Secondly the Tarokka results are highly reliant on a very specific party size. The module isn’t built for Tarokka results for parties sized differently than 4, although one could perhaps depersonalize the result by just drawing 8 cards independent of PCs. There’s also the fact that Aids and Dangers aren’t specifically attuned to the PC drawing the card: the dangers are dangerous to everyone, and the relics aren’t locked to that particular PC.

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I should note that the book contains handouts for alternate versions of the map with numbers and without. For the ground floor

S. Penetas is a 2 level dungeon with 14 total rooms, split between the ground floor and the underground catacombs. 7 of the rooms correspond to relevant Fortunes via Aid or Dangers, and 2 of the rooms contain the results of the Fate NPCs. There’s a number of monsters that can be found in the monastery, several of which the PCs can avoid fighting via clever use of the environment. Several rooms contain skill checks to discover hidden items and areas as well as determine past facts and relevant details of the monastery. Results include examples such as the iron gate’s scorch marks being the result of lightning magic (which was cast by Strahd), or noticing sensory oddities regarding the illusory feast in the great hall.

For the most relevant combat encounters, a pack of wolves and a werewolf can be fought in the courtyard (room 3), and the tree is haunted by harmless spirits of monks hung by Lord Ambul. The tree appears to contain a relic, which is the real deal on an Aid. As a Danger, the tree will come to life and attack, reverting to a “normal” tree if the party flees the courtyard. In the great hall (room 7) a group of ghouls are feasting on entrails but are disguised to look like noblemen having a feast and will invite the PCs to join them. PCs can perform skill checks to politely refuse their hospitality and gain information from them, although eating the “food” ends the illusion and a PC gains a short-term madness on a failed Wisdom save. The ghouls will attack if the illusion is dispelled, the PCs continue being suspicious of them, or otherwise refuse their hospitality. The Fortune for this room has a hidden compartment in the hearth, revealing a relic on an Aid or a summoned fire elemental with a free surprise round on Danger (elemental is snuffed out if the PCs retreat from the room). The bell tower (room 8) contains an organic sack hanging from the rafters containing a gestating vrock. It will awaken and attack from loud noise, although cutting the sack open can cause it to fall to the ground and take falling damage; in this room an Aid makes the vrock weaker in addition to giving the relic, but Danger makes Stealth checks suffer disadvantage when it comes to to avoid waking the vrock. The bell tower is of special significance, for the only way to end the curse is to ring the bell with the Holy Striker, a magical maul which can only be obtained from the NPC designated as the Villain. The main crypt (room 10) contains a sarcophagus whose lid if not handled carefully can break and alert creatures deeper in the catacombs. On an Aid result the relic is with a harmless corpse, but on a Danger the false relic is in a trapped sarcophagus (fills the room with poison gas) which also has a mummy.

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So, who are the two major NPCs? One of them is the spirit of Lord Ambul, who resides in the chapel (room 5) existing as a tormented spirit. As an ally he can explain the history of the monastery and the backstory of the adventure, as well as how to end the curse. He says that the Holy Striker is in the catacombs below, but he cannot leave the chapel. If he is the villain, the altar in the chapel contains the Holy Striker and must be broken apart with damage in order to be obtained, and Lord Ambul will attack the party. In combat he is a ghostly knight, with a high AC of 19, incorporeal movement, a multiattack with a longsword and the ability to smite as a paladin. He also has lair actions such as grappling a target with ghostly ropes, dealing ranged necrotic damage, and teleporting adjacent to a target. Due to his curse his spirit will reform with 1 hit point in a manner of hours.

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The other NPC is Dr. Steinrick Vanhelm, a mad scientist wizard specializing in necromancy and golem creation. Having stolen books from a prestigious magical college to pursue his experiments, his progress so far has only ended in disastrous failure. He has a spider familiar as a lab assistant as well as multiple rogi minions. Rogis are tiny constructs made of stitched-together body parts of various animals, who possess rudimentary speech and view Dr. Vanhelm as a god. They aren’t very threatening in combat save for carrying poisoned syringes which can inflict the poisoned condition on a failed Constitution save, or unconsciousness on a failure of 5 or more.

The rogis can be found in other rooms in the dungeon, and if Dr. Vanhelm is the Ally an injured rogi will plead with the party to help save his master. Either way the doctor can be found in the catacombs below, attempting to animate a flesh golem in a makeshift laboratory. If he is an ally, the golem has come to life and seeks to kill the doctor, forcing Vanhelm to hide as it rampages about. If rescued he can tell the party more about the monastery, the curse, the Holy Striker’s location, and also about himself and how he’s been trapped in the monastery for several months due to the deadly fog. He’s reluctant to help retrieve the Holy Striker, and even if he could he spent all his spell slots in dealing with the flesh golem.

As the Villain, Dr. Vanhelm’s experiment is instead to bond with the flesh golem, and the results of the process left him murderously insane and he will attack the party along with his rogi minions. He doesn’t merge with the golem immediately, having to spend an action each round and rolling a d20, only triggering on a 10 or greater. As for what happens if they bond…the book doesn’t say. I presume it means the golem is under his control, for there are no stats provided in this book for a scientist-golem hybrid. The Holy Striker is being used to power one of the devices used in the experiment.

Regardless of Dr. Vanhelm’s role, the golem has an aversion to fire which he knows about, and a Potion of Fire Breath is present in the room for just such a worst-case scenario. Dr. Vanhelm’s only major abilities are his list of wizard spells, containing such classic options as Magic Missile, Mirror Image, Misty Step, and Lightning Bolt.

Once the Holy Striker is retrieved and the bell rung, the sun will rise over the horizon, dispelling the fog. Their Ally will thank the PCs and reward them. In the case of Lord Ambul, he will tell them the location of his and his sister’s remains which has a damaged half plate, a +1 longsword, and valuable signet rings worth a total of 350 gold pieces. Dr. Vanhelm will pay the PCs with treasure he found in the monastery, which includes a Potion of Fire Breath (presumably different from the one in the lab) and 475 gold pieces worth of coins and jewelry. Upon going back down the plateau, Maertine will be there safe and sound, and it turns out that time outside the monastery made it so that the PCs were gone for one night, no matter how many long rests they took.

This adventure works fine as a stand-alone module, but in being tied into Curse of Strahd it serves as a prologue to that campaign. Once the curse is lifted the Ally will explain that they were bound into service by Strahd Von Zarovich to test adventurers by seeing if they were competent enough to lift the curse. Now that the ally is free, they are eager to depart. Meanwhile Strahd’s carriage awaits the party at the bottom of the plateau, where it will transport them to the Svalich Woods in Barovia.

I will note that being 5th level, the PCs will be overleveled in the beginning Curse of Strahd. Even if one gets rid of the Death House preliminary adventure, that one brings PCs up to 3rd level. If going by the official adventure, the expected average level of 5 is recommended for PCs visiting the Village of Krezk and/or the Wizard of Wines Winery. Although Curse of Strahd is a pretty tough and open-ended module, it may take a bit of the horror away if the PCs are overleveled for many of the initial locations and challenges.

Appendices

The appendices have stat blocks for every monster and NPC present in the module. Individually most of them aren’t a challenge for a 5th level party, but in being a dungeon crawl they serve well as a gradual resource drain. Some new (or at least non-core) monsters we have are a Bloated Ghoul (like a ghoul but explodes in an AoE burst of bile upon death), a Ghostly Swarm (mob of ghosts who have the effects of Spirit Guardians and attack with a ghostly flail), a Mountain Bear (like a bear but can rage like a barbarian), Rogi (already explained), Revenant Tree (multiattacks with slamming and grappling branches but is immobile), and Slithering Nightmares (swarm of worms that burrow into the flesh of creatures it attacks, dealing damage if not scraped off or dug out from flesh).

We also get a total of 6 new magic items. We have the Holy Striker, a +1 maul which can cast Thunderwave once per day as a 4th level spell. We already explained the Rotstone Amulet, so the rest are relics of St. Penetas which are all skeletal body parts of the aforementioned saint, save for the heart which is a box containing a supernaturally-beating heart. The Hand functions as a wand whose charges can be used to cast Scorching Ray and once per way the user can sacrifice blood via HP damage to recharge the wand. The Heart grants the attuned person the benefits of the Death Ward spell, and once triggered recharges after 3 days. The Skull is a +1 mace that deals +1d6 bonus radiant damage and once per day can deal 2d8 extra radiant damage (3d8 if fiend or undead) like a paladin’s smite. Finally the Voice is a human trachea that is blown like a horn. This is a once per day AoE cone attack that deals 5d6 thunder damage, and undead, fiends, and creatures made of crystal or glass have disadvantage on the save.

Overall Thoughts: The Fate of St. Penetas is a divergent dungeon crawl that makes heavy use of the Tarokka deck in determining the overall opposition of the module. I like how there’s many opportunities for PCs to piece together clues and facts about the monastery via skill checks, exploration, and interaction with NPCs and even monsters. The Relics of St. Penetas are very cool magic items and serve as fine treasures while also being useful against the creatures within the monastery. I appreciate this style of game design.

My main point of criticism is that the opening is rather railroady and slow, along with the tie-in to Curse of Strahd resulting in overleveled party members. There’s also the fact that Dr. Vanhelm’s Villain fight can be anticlimactic. He’s only assisted by 3 rogis and a spider familiar which PCs can easily dispose of, even if the latter is hiding during the battle. Spending an entire action with a 45% chance of doing nothing is pretty dire for an enemy that is a fragile wizard with no legendary actions or resistance. Compare this to Lord Ambul, who is a much sturdier foe with lair actions and doesn’t suffer in close combat.

Join us next time as we take a trip to the Russian folklore-themed Red City domain and learn why its people shy away from overt displays of talent!
 

Libertad

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CoS-Required? No

The Red City is one of our larger sourcebooks, a clean 102 pages plus two map handouts as image files. It is a detailed rundown on a new Domain of Dread that is a Russian-themed realm of forests and a capital city, Krasnygorod. Also known as the Red City, Krasnygorod is in decay, where overt displays of creativity and talent are shunned. The land was once a haven for science and the arts, famed throughout the lands of Ravenloft, but has recently come under a curse where promising individuals and geniuses find their creative spark and drive sapped until they’re little more than barely aware beings known as husks.

Our Introduction opens up with the general concept of the Red City, what genres of horror and adventure ideas work well with it, a brief discussion of safety tools, and an outline of its magic and technology. Krasnygorod was founded ages ago by Prince Valdimir, a legendary figure who was born during a time when the land was at war with the dragon-ruled Azhdayan Empire. Valdimir formed an organization of wizards known as the Zhakhir whose work on defense projects instilled in him a passion for architecture. A pact was made with a breed of dragons known as the zmei to fight the Azhdayans. After a bloody battle, dragons of all kinds were nearly extinct, and Valdimir’s father, the king, dedicated the rest of his life to rebuilding the ruins. As for the Prince, the circumstances of his death are unknown, for there are many conflicting accounts. But what remains is a man credited with the birth of the Red City and its modern culture.

Unlike other domains magic is not necessarily shunned, viewed as a practical tool to help benefit the community. But even with that tolerance there are restrictions, for those with spellcasting talents are expected to apprentice under a senior mage and in exchange receive the community’s support. Foreigners and those who want to go at it on their own are feared or pitied, for they are placed outside the community’s power structure.

As for the technology level, Krasnygorod experienced many scientific breakthroughs and is overall on par with the early Renaissance. The printing press, electric lamps, fireworks, and firearms are known to the people. However, due to the enforced mediocrity that comes from the husk phenomenon, it is becoming harder to reproduce such inventions, meaning that most are meticulously maintained rather than created. Firearms include wheel lock pistols and muskets and due to their expense are often designed with artistic flourishes.

And what of the domain’s cultural decay and its strange talent-draining curse? This is due to the work of its darklord, Manya Ivanovich, who can drain the talents of others via possession and is obsessed with becoming famous and respected. If she can absorb just a little more of their brilliance, the next attempt may be successful. Or so goes the justification; due to her curse and abilities she can never take personal credit, and in the end she ends up destroying the very people whose skills attracted her attention in the first place.

Manya’s backstory is that she was the noble child whose siblings were some of the most talented people in the land: ballerinas, artists, painters, and musicians who became household names. Manya was not without talent, but the extreme standards of her parents led them to becoming apathetic about her future and always found something to criticize in all her efforts. So the young girl bonded with her nurse Dragica Zmirna (who is not named in the backstory until the very end) who seemed to be the only person to care about her.

Feeling for her, Dragica wanted to do anything to help Manya get the respect and recognition she deserved, up to and including making a dark pact with a hag to make a magical potion for Manya to drink. The potion seemed to do nothing, but the powers awakened when she touched the hand of a young writer she met the next day, possessing his body. The nurse knew what was happening and passed off Manya’s seeming unconsciousness as her having a fainting spell. While in the man’s body, she found herself possessed of all his memories and talents, mind swimming with possibilities. She wrote without rest for two months, producing an amazing novel, only at the end to return to her original body. As for the writer, he was left a withered, near-vacant shell devoid of emotion and creativity. Dragica revealed the nature of the pact: in order for Manya to maintain the magic, she must never take credit for anything she created. This left the young woman bitter, even more so when her elder sister happened to read the novel and noted that while it had an amazing beginning, it grew duller near the end. During an ensuing argument Manya used her powers to possess her, and like with the writer used her talent to make a great play only to leave her a husk who would then disappear from the public eye after the family mentioned a “medical emergency.” The play was a brief success, but over the next few months people would forget about it.

Such was the curse, and when Manya repeated the cycle in a fruitless quest to find a “true masterpiece” the Dark Powers claimed her, transporting her to a wondrous Red City not unlike that of her early paintings. Now, Manya Ivanovich masquerades as a generous patron of the arts, the unknown source of many of Krasnygorod’s artistic and scientific innovations but also the cause of its intellectual and cultural decline.

Chapter 1: Character Options provides new backgrounds, a lineage, subclasses, feats, and a dark gift. Characters who grew up in this domain come from a cosmopolitan background, but nondescript clothes and behavior predominates for fear of being singled out for something exceptional. This is a stark contrast to the unique and wondrous works making up the city and surrounding settlements. The six new backgrounds are a combination of mundane occupations (artiste, broadsheet reporter, merchant, municipal worker, red noble which is basically like a noble but with Intimidation instead of History and two bonus language proficiencies) and the Survivor (you survived a supernatural danger, and your Feature has a direct in-game benefit where you can roll a single death save with advantage once per long rest).

The new Lineage is the Husked, where you were a victim of the darklord’s possession. Unlike many of your kin, you have some keystone that keeps your memories and will to keep going intact. It is less a true race and more of a template, where you can trade in climb/fly/swim speed and skill proficiencies for two skills of your choice. Additionally your mind is very strong from battling with an eternal ennui, giving you immunity to the charmed and frightened conditions, advantage on saves to avoid exhaustion, and you don't have to sleep but must rest for 4 hours to get a long rest. You can also push yourself beyond normal limits whenever you drop to 0 hit points, having 1hit point left instead but suffer disadvantage to one of the mental saves until the next long rest (you die if you get disadvantage on all three). Finally, whenever you roll a death saving throw, your fading memories cause you to lose a personality trait (ideal, bond, or flaw) and it is replaced with another of the player’s choice.

We have 5 subclasses in the forms of two bardic colleges, a roguish archetype, a warlock patron, and a wizard college. The college of the tantsor expresses their skill through folk dance, gaining mobility-based benefits such as adding Charisma bonus to Armor Class, not needing verbal components for spells, can spend bardic inspiration as a reaction to impose disadvantage on an attack roll and the targeted ally can Disengage or attack with the inspiration die bonus to hit, and an AoE duet dance with an ally that forces selected creatures within 60 feet to roll saves with disadvantage on the next spell the bard casts. The college of the chanteuse relies upon singing to gain magic from the Weave. It can cast spells without somatic components, can spend bardic inspiration to charm and incapacitate a nearby target for a limited duration, have a magically-enhanced voice that can carry clearly up to 300 feet, can spend bardic inspiration to use verbal spells in magical silence or auto-succeed on resisting a counterspell attempt, and can turn single-target enchantments into multitarget ones by expending bardic inspiration.

Machination-Minded Rogues are employees of Mordia, tasked with hunting for treasures throughout the realm. They get a magical monocle for free that grants or enhances darkvision and can expend charges to cast a variety of divination spells and can be replaced if destroyed. They can also pull just the right item out of a storage space with an Investigation check determining its value, and it then magically disappears after 1 hour. The archetype also grants more charges, divination spells, and unique abilities to the monocle as the Rogue levels up. Other class features include ignoring class requirements for a limited number of possessed magic items, advantage on Investigation checks relying on sight, and gaining bonus charges to wielded items equal to their proficiency bonus.

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The Blessed of the Grandmothers warlock patron is when one makes a pact with Baba Yaga and Baba Roga, the elderly twins of the Two Grandmother’s Apothecary who seek to thwart the machinations of the darklord and the rival Vedmy Coven. The bonus spells are a diverse mixture, ranging from buffs, healing, divination, and offensive options. Beyond that, the warlock’s initial feature is being able to do an at-will illusion to appear as one of the husks, losing spellcasting abilities for that duration but being immune to a variety of divination spells. They also gain proficiency with the Medicine skill and herbalism kits, and at later levels can casts spells when in a husked disguise, cast a spell with an originating point from a nearby creature instead of the caster, gain a special hag eye item that grants darkvision and blindsight, and upon death are reborn in the hag’s cauldron within 10 days as though targeted by True Resurrection.

The Universitet Scholar is a wizardly graduate from the Great Universitet of Krasnygorod. They initially gain double proficiency in Arcana and one skill or artisan’s tools of choice, and can cast Disguise Self at will to appear as a husked and while in disguise ignore somatic and verbal components for cantrips. At later levels they can cast spells of the divination and illusion schools as being 2 levels higher a limited number of times per day, can learn two spells of their choice from any class as wizard spells, the assistance of two followers using the Mage stat block for noncombat purposes, and can cast a signature chosen mastered 1st-level spell at will without expending a spell slot at its base level.

The 3 feats reflect the more woodsy, folk tale aspects of the domain. Blood of the Red Water grants swim speed, the ability to hold one’s breath longer, and Speak With Animals at will with aquatic creatures. Survivor of the Dark Wood lets one move through nonmagical difficult terrain at normal speed and can cast pass without trace once per long rest. Cunning Companion grants a cat or mastiff companion to the PC who acts as an inspirational support pet. The animal can use the help action for all manner of tool and vehicle proficiency rolls, and if it dies they reform in the Mists in 10 days. The sole new Dark Gift is the Heart of Red Stone, where one’s heart is calcified like the red stones in the Belayareka River. The gift grants various defensive features like being able to end the charmed or frightened condition on oneself and immunity to poison damage and condition, and can spend Hit Die as a reaction to grow a stone within their body to add to their AC or a single saving throw. But when rolling a 1 on a d20 result, the body of the gift’s bearer petrifies, which can impose a variety of negative effects or a possible healing of hit points and exhaustion as the sole positive.

Chapter 2: Adventure Seeds provides us with 18 short inspirational materials for making adventures in the Red City. They all outline the concept, background, NPCs, the goals of the adversary, and what’s at stake. We have a variety of cool results, such as a rebel leader seeking to overthrow Krasnygorod’s government and whose leader is an undead fext (new monster) that can only be slain by glass or obsidian weaponry; a doctor who allied with the Ulmist Inquisition to conduct experiments on orphans in an attempt to find a cure to the husk curse; a painter with the Gift of True Sight whose works show the nature of the subject in various ways, and needs to flee the domain after a doodle in his sketchbook accidentally revealed the darklord’s true nature; a would-be dragon slayer with a cursed ring that causes misfortune to others, leading to all manner of coincidental mishaps to be left in his wake; and a musically talented young girl whose secret witch mentor gave her a cursed life-sapping violin so that she won’t be chosen as a sacrifice to the forest fey (the village’s strongest child is given to the fey for protection once a year).

Several of the seeds can provide the party with new magic items, whose effects are detailed in the entries. For instance, there’s a Helm of the Dragon Knight that grants +3 AC, knowledge of the Draconic language, and advantage on Charisma checks when interacting with draconic creatures. But it bears a curse so that the wearer begins to lust for and hoard treasure like a dragon.

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Chapter 3: Locations details the capital city of Krasnygorod and the surrounding environments. The title of the Red City comes from the Belayareka River, whose crimson stones turn the water a scarlet hue and whose red clay is used in the building of structures. It is a city at once with clear brilliance but also a sense of loss. The Arclight Park is a beautiful fusion of art and technology with copper spheres generating patterns of electric arcs, while the Arch of Valdimir spanning across the river is carved with runes of warding and protection but whose magic has long since expired. The Alyy Drakon chapterhouse is the headquarters of a chivalric order of knights who rode dragons in the past, and while respected to this day they are greatly reduced in number to around 50 souls. The Orkhideya Bookshop is a useful place for finding rare tomes and whose owner is a member of the Keepers of the Feather. The Red River Printer publishing house is the major broadsheet distributor, and the Sobor Cathedral changes in color from gleaming white in daytime to blood red at night as a reflection of their dualistic morality system. A junkyard-slash-museum known as Mind’s Machinations is owned by Mordia and serves as a neutral ground between various factions as well as a place for adventurers to buy magical items. The Universitet is the favored stomping grounds of the darklord, causing many students and staff to become husks with alarming regularity, causing a wave of fear to the point that many academic subjects are shallow. There’s a complex level of knowledge access that acts in a manner like that of a secret society, with books, notes, and meetings hidden in the rarely-visited basements of the multiplex.

There are interesting places outside the city, too. The town of Bereg Reki supplies the Red City with various agricultural and rural industries. The village of Gorodok is home to the famous Cats and Dogs Tavern, whose owners can arrange for magic knowledge and items via a middleman with the Vedmy Coven and whose resident animals have almost human-level intelligence. The Pascheramoy Mine is owned by a dwarven family whose talented smiths act through intermediaries. The importance of their industry means the darklord avoids preying on them. The Two Grandmother’s Apothecary is located on the easternment edge of the Red City in a ghetto known as the Shambles. The elderly women in charge of the shop sell a special stock of magic items to trusted customers, and they sell brews and trinkets in exchange for ingredients and items they are short on stock. In reality they’re the powerful hags Baba Yaga and Baba Roga. The Sunny FIelds Convalescent Home is a healthcare facility dedicated to taking care of the domain’s husks, and is also a secret base of an Ulmist Inquisition-affiliated group known as the Huskkeepers.

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Chapter 4: Factions provides us with 13 major organizations operating in the domain. Each entry explains their goals, an NPC contact and their location, and a d6 table of Plot Hooks to involve them in the affairs of PCs.

Anchors of Artifice are a collection of artisans and inventors seeking to turn around the Red City’s decline while avoiding being husked. Their quests often involve helping them out with magical experiments while keeping a degree of anonymity.

The Conservationist’s Consortium are those seeking to keep the Red City as it is and are allied with the nobility. They seem immune to becoming husks and their ideals are stereotypically static which results in an unchanging and aging membership.

Esoteric Order of Valdimir is an organization seeking to return the Red City to its golden age, often acting as local heroes in seeking out cursed items to secret away from the common folk. They also fight monsters and the less moral factions as a result of their work.

The Exceptionalists are a society of art patrons who profit off of husking, for when an artist becomes so afflicted their art becomes truly unique and unable to be remade. They support the families of husked for a generation as a means of avoiding some ire.

Huskkeepers are a medical organization dedicated to helping the husked live as good a life as they can while also finding its root cause. One of its members, Rojeren, is the leader of the domain’s branch of the Ulmist Inquisition and uses psionic powers to treat the husked while also searching for clues and common patterns of when they changed.

The Nezhit are a collection of undead who entered into a mutual defense pact while finding safer ways to hunt the living for sustenance. Not much more to say.

Orthodox Church of Dvoynobog is the dominant religion of the domain. The god Dvoynobog is an entity of opposites: dark and light, good and evil, order and chaos. The religion encourages its members to act altruistically during the day, while at night they commit acts of crime and violence. During the day their cathedral deals in healing and holy magic, and at night in curses and dark magic. Another tenet of the religion is to never acknowledge one’s actions that took place during the other half of the day.

The Patronage is a secret society dedicated to getting around the husking phenomenon by having its members create and promote various works and innovations via an anonymous patronage system. Meetings take place in semi-random locales and make use of modify memory spells to protect their membership.

The Plaschi are the secret police of the Red City, whose main mission is to root out and kill monsters and enemies of the state. They often hire freelancers of particular skills, such as the PCs.

Rabochi are a worker’s rights group who operate in secret, their meetings taking place in alleys and basements and who commit acts of terrorism against exploitative factories.

Rulers and Aristocracy are self-explanatory, and the Red City is governed by the noble Anastaya Dynasty. Lidar Anastaya seeks to reverse Krasnygorod’s decline and is also a secret member of the Patronage, although her goals are met with resistance due to political arguments and eroding faith in her station.

Vukdolak Werewolves are actually the most detailed group in this chapter. The Vukdolak are a unique variety of werewolves who aren’t lycanthropes; instead they gain their forms from putting on magical wolfen cloaks or furs, and they still maintain their more humanoid senses and free will in their more animalistic forms. The magic cloaks still change one’s worldview over time, making one gradually closer to chaotic alignment. The secrets to creating their cloaks are long since lost so they are now a closed, isolated society. Organized into various groups, they hunt other werewolves in the hopes of finding a means to make more cloaks. Ideologically they are anarchists, believing in the dissolution of government and social structures, and they view their animal/humanoid nature in religious terms in line with Dvoynobog’s contradictory nature. Their leader is actually Rhea Anastaya, niece of Krasnygorod’s ruler, and hates how the ruling class has taken from society while doing little to better it.

Vedmy Coven is a magical organization whose founders are made up of witches and hags who were former apprentices of Baba Yaga and Baba Roga. For various reasons they grew tired of the elder hags’ domineering nature which eventually erupted into a battle. The Vedmy Coven won, and now the two grandmothers are hiding in the Shambles. The Coven’s current goals are to gain power and influence over Krasnygorod, hunt down and enslave Baba Yaga and Baba Roga to gain their magical secrets and treasures, and protect their own.

The chapter makes mention that the Knights of the Circle have a small presence, with three of their number helping out local heroes. The Alyy Drakon’s aging membership realizes that their order is dying, and unless someone such as the PCs help replace their numbers they will be the last of their generation.

Thoughts So Far: The Red City has a very stellar start so far. The domain is a neat concept, and the curse of the darklord and the husking phenomenon lines up nicely with the culture of Krasnygorod. The domain has a bit of a higher-magic and fantasy influence than other Ravenloft domains yet still maintains a persistent sense of darkness in line with the horror atmosphere. Although individual entries are brief, the multiple factions and political individuals provide lots of drama and conflict to last for many adventures. I’m not really vibing with the Orthodox Church’s dualistic nature, as its “be good by day, evil by night” without any means of disguise feels like it stretches suspension of disbelief like those Purge movies. People are less forgiving of evil acts than everyday good deeds, and the whole “pretend to not know what you did” is clearly an excuse to avoid the consequences of one’s actions. It brings up the question of why society tolerates them without running them out of town.

When it comes to character options, quite a few of them are pretty strong. The Survivor’s Feature is one of the few of its kind that isn’t relegated to subjective RP. Having advantage on a death save is something few characters will scoff at, and will always be appreciated when it is needed. The Husked is similarly strong, as being immune to the Charmed and Frightened conditions allows them to ignore the majority of mind-affecting abilities in 5th Edition, and much like Survivor it can increase a PC’s longevity.

As for the new subclasses, my initial impressions are that the Tantsor college can be strong with the right spell setup. Ignoring magical silence can be a great means of shutting down enemy spellcasters by centering a Silence spell on themselves. The CHA bonus to AC is a nice touch as well, although it’s not as strong as a Valor Bard with medium armor proficiency and a nice set of half-plate or breastplate (high DEX and CHA is rather MAD). Chanteuse’s ability to ignore somatic components and spend bardic inspiration to get around counterspells ensures that they can cast spells more reliably, but they don’t have much more than that. The Machination-Minded Rogue I feel a bit iffy on, as while their magical monocle is very useful it is the bulk of their class features, particularly at lower levels, and a Wizard will be able to cast more spells overall. The Blessed of the Grandmothers and Universitet patron have powerful means of avoiding detection by masquerading as husked, and while it triggers late at 14th level a no-cost true resurrection is another feature that can save a PC’s bacon with no downsides apparent from possibly owing the Babas a favor. The Universitet Scholar’s most open-ended abilities trigger late in the class (10th level and up) so in higher-level games they’re a great choice. Otherwise their lower-level features push them more towards being a subtler mage.

The feats all seem fine, although Survivor of the Dark Wood is great for most builds as Pass Without Trace grants an amazing +10 to Stealth for a party that’s basically “use this to readily ensure an ambush in your favor.”

Join us next time as we cover new monsters and NPCs along with 2 new adventures!
 

Libertad

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Chapter 5: Bestiary and NPC Gallery gives us a whopping 24 new creatures, 13 of which have unique stat blocks and 11 of which use stat blocks of existing official monsters but with altered traits. In the latter case I will put the original stats in parenthesis. Surprisingly, a lot of the creatures are pretty high in Challenge Rating. The Two Grandmothers, the various dragons, and Kosheii the Deathless are all CR 20 or above and reflect notable figures in the domain. There’s a good amount of lower-CR enemies and creatures, too, with several faction leaders who are suitable challenges for mid-level parties, and only a few are suitable for Tier 1 play. As for the Darklord, she uses stats for a noble but has a unique soul-swap power that is touch range and has a duration of 2 to 6 months. Her nurse, Dragica Zmirna, is a green hag and an apprentice to Baba Yaga, serving as a protector of Manya when she is dormant. Manya is unaware of Dragica’s true nature, believing her to be merely a loving maternal figure.

Baba Roga and Baba Yaga are two powerful fey, and the bulk of their abilities are casting spells as 18th level wizards. Roga can multiattack with a cane that can allow her to choose a forced action for a struck target if they fail an Intelligence save, while Yaga can turn ethereal and haunt people’s nightmares like a night hag. Both of them have legendary actions which are unique to each hag.

Bauks are bulky creatures (ogre) who live near settlements and make clothing out of trash in failed attempts to blend in with society.

The Bes is a spirit of anger that possesses living creatures to drive them into murderous rages. It is similar to a ghost in this way along with being able to see and travel in the Ethereal Plane.

Doctor Bhesaj Sabittarius (enchanter) is one of the Huskkeepers of Sunny Field. As a staunch supporter of the Ulmist Inquisition, he believes that the means justify the ends (not a typo) and is willing to kill a husk resident or two from psionic overload if it would help him narrow the root cause of the malady.

A chort is a minor demon (quasit but Medium and can fly) that is summoned to other planes with a specific mission in mind: to torture and ruin the life of a specific mortal. They do this via indirect means: severing their relationships, making them lose their job, burning down their homes, etc.

Dragons are rare and powerful beings, and the ones of this domain are unique. Aspid dragons live up in the mountains in solitary lives, can breathe fire, and are easily distracted by all manner of things which can be used to impose disadvantage on them in combat. Azhdaya dragons are intelligent evil beings that once ruled over a nation of half-dragons and enslaved humanoids, and warred against Prince Valdimir in times long past. They have multiple heads which can regrow like a hydra’s and can breath fire and change shape. Hala dragons live in rivers, and are less dangerous conceptually in that they’re more willing to negotiate and talk with humanoids, providing protection to settlements in exchange for tribute. They have lightning breaths and can cast a small variety of weather-related spells. Pozoj dragons live deep underground, burrowing through the earth and going to the surface when a frenzied hunger overtakes them. They can cast earth-related magic, can breathe a cone of thunderous force, and go into a frenzy which grants advantage on attack rolls but disadvantage on INT/WIS checks and saves. Zmei dragons have great curiosity and wanderlust, being highly social with a desire to shapechange to live and mate with humanoids. They allied with Prince Valdimir’s wizards to aid them in battle against their ancient enemies, the Azhdaya dragons. Zmei also have hydra-like heads and two breath weapons: a fire breath and a cone of weakening gas.

Drekavat are the spirits (small-sized ghouls) of Vukdolaks who died, and appear like small hairy children who ambush victims by luring them into a false sense of security.

Fext are humanoids who become undead via foul magic. Isn’t there any other kind, honestly? They appear alive and are often created as generals to serve wicked armies. Fext are powerful melee-focused monsters with the ability to regenerate damage, reroll failed saves twice per day, command allies to make weapon attacks as reactions, and has a whopping +6 AC when parrying as a reaction. They can conjure black swords in their hands which deal bonus necrotic damage and permanently reduce the Armor Class of worn armor on a critical hit.

Kosheii the Deathless is an immortal wizard of mercurial temperament. He placed his soul in a jeweled egg hidden somewhere within the Red City, and whoever finds it would gain great power over him. He casts spells as a 20th level wizard but he also fights with a longsword, can conjure and throw exploding orbs, and has legendary actions including a frightening gaze.

Lider Anastaya Is the ruler of the Red City, with idealistic dreams of improving the land weighed down by realpolitik. In order to avoid the husking she was raised with different tutors for all manner of talents so that nobody would know the true extent of her skills. In terms of stats she is CR 13 but casts spells as a 5th-level cleric and has a powerful unarmed strike with Multiattack that can impose her choice of one of three conditions on a failed save. Suitable for the ruler of a domain crawling with high-tier characters, she also has legendary actions and resistance.

Mordia (diviner with better Charisma and Charisma skills) is an information broker and dealer in magical and rare items. She is the most well-connected person in the Red City, and if she doesn’t know the answer to something then she knows someone else who does.

Norka (stone giant who can change size) are giants who prefer to eat cattle. They are averse to combat and magically shrink to avoid pursuers.

Ohnivak are also known as firebirds, appearing during times of great importance due to having an innate desire to travel the world and witness unusual events. Their feathers are bright enough to light up rooms and spellcasters prize them for their alchemical applications. The monster is much like a less powerful phoenix, with fire-enhanced auras and melee attacks and explodes upon death.

Rhea Anastaya is the leader of the Vukdolaks, believing that the only real way to change things in the Red City is through revolution. She is a more powerful werewolf with various Rogue class abilities and the Assassin’s assassination class feature.

Vukdolak (werewolf) have no new information we haven’t already covered.

Rojeran (githzerai anarch without lair actions and regional effects) is the leader of the Ulmist Inquisition’s branch in the Red City. He was trained in the psionic arts as a child, but her grandmother killed his tutor so that nobody else would know of his skills, telling him that anyone who learns of his talents must be slain.

Rusalka (banshee trading out horrifying visage and wail for enchantment spells and chill touch) are the spirits of people who were murdered or drowned in a body of water. They lure victims by posing as regular people to bring them under the watery depths.

Sisters of the Divine Dichotomy (war priest and gloom weaver) are twin priestesses of the Orthodox Church of Dvoynobog, representing both moral sides of their god. They each change roles twice a year, on the solstice and equinox, and like the rest of their religion they refuse to acknowledge the duality of their religion or each other.

Steppe Spirits (death knight) are undead knights haunting the battlegrounds on which they died. They seek to kill and enslave others by turning them into wights, and are frequently accompanied by those monsters as well as a ghostly horse on which they ride.

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Chapter 6: the Artifact is an adventure optimized for 4-5 characters of 3rd level. The backstory is that a woman by the name of Lucia Rumskiyava runs a curio shop known as Ded Rmuski’s Shoppe. She inherited it from her grandfather who passed away. The man made a deal with Dvoynobog to bestow magical powers on his wares, which earned him a lot of money. However, the cost was that each item bore a curse, and upon discovery of his ledger and the details within, Lucia sought to reverse the evil her grandfather wrought in the world and is dedicated to retrieving the cursed items.

Through several potential hooks, the PCs come to work for Lucia to retrieve the Two-Headed Coin of Galikov, which can be used to enchant others to do one’s bidding for 24 hours. But after that duration, the enchanted people develop a murderous rage against the user. The coin passed through several hands before landing in the palms of Medin Olyanovich, a gang member whose frequent use of the coin has an angry mob hot on his trail. The first part of the adventure involves tracking down the current owner via a series of interviews with acquaintances of Medin as well as those of the former owners. Clues are separated into two types, ones which are uncovered automatically to propel the story forward and ones which grant additional information via ability checks to make the party’s job easier. By the time the PCs find Medin Olyanovich’s hideout, he will have swallowed the coin for fear of it being stolen.

The second part of the adventure involves keeping Medin safe for the next 24 hours, at which point the curse wears off. Holing up in his hideout isn’t an option, for sooner or later one of the formerly-enchanted people will set the house on fire. There are seven open-ended encounters representing threats to Medin’s life and the DM can run as many or as few as need be. All of them involve regular townsfolk trying to murder Medin in creative ways. For example, a group of fishermen will roll barrels of flaming fish oil at the party, a pair of archers and a third man pretending to have been the victim of a sniper attack will try to murder Medin while the party’s distracted or taking cover, an old lady will attempt to sic her mastiffs on Medin, etc. Each encounter has a short description of how Medin used the coin on them (getting free meals from the fishermen, telling the woman to take her dogs home forever after stepping in their feces, etc), as well as ways to adjust the encounters for weaker or stronger parties.

While I can understand altruistic party members seeking to save Medin, they’re only being tasked with retrieving the coin and not in his well being, so less scrupulous characters may end up avoiding the bulk of the adventure. The authors presume the PCs will help save him, but there isn’t a strong incentive for them to do this by default. At most, they can cut it out of his body if he dies. A better idea would be that he doesn’t have the coin on his person and he offers to take them to it if they keep him alive.

There is an optional final part to this adventure. The Esoteric Order of Valdimir is also on the hunt for the cursed coin, and while not aware of Lucia’s business they have managed to track the party down given their rather eventful last day. PCs can sell them the coin to a pair of their investigators, although if they refuse they will be tailed by them and robbed (the Order doesn’t intend to kill them). If the PCs instead give it to Lucia, they will get less gold but can work for her in future jobs in retrieving cursed items. We even have 10 sample cursed items along with brief backstories, a few fitting into fairy tale themes. For example, the Glass Slippers are like those of the story of Cinderella, and grant the wearer advantage on Charisma checks and saves but a horde of animals follow the wearer around and seek to serve their every subconscious whim. This will naturally escalate into chaos, such as rats robbing a bakery or crows stealing a nice-looking coat from a bystander.

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Chapter 7: A Twisted Aesthetic is an adventure optimized for 4-5 PCs of 8th level. It is a mini-dungeon crawl through the Fine Arts Museum of Krasnygorod, where a powerful Artifact known as the Timepiece of Dissolution is warping reality to turn the art rooms into dangerous, creepy displays. The Timepiece is located in a massive painting displaying five humanoids wearing wolfskin cloaks in an autumn forest, and the Timepiece is floating above them. Four pieces of the frame are missing, and three of them must be obtained in other rooms. The fourth frame is supposedly detailed in the final act of the adventure, but isn’t mentioned at all. A mysterious figure known as the Janitor is also in the museum, offering to aid the PCs and explains the situation, although his intentions are multifaceted. While he wants to end the Timepiece’s influence in the museum, he also seeks to mess with the character’s minds and tries to sow distrust between them…which may be easier said than done, given the social contract between players. He has no stats, and has the supernatural ability to disappear and reappear whenever it is dramatically appropriate.

The three rooms are all puzzle-themed challenges, and parties who are impatient or try to damage the art beyond the bounds of the challenge are forced to fight monsters summoned from the artwork. They still get the frame in the latter case, so it’s more of a penalty of having to exhaust resources in avoidable fights. The first room challenge involves a warped sculpture with painfully-twisted facial features and limbs, pleading for the party to reshape her conventional beauty likely via tool checks or magic. The second room has four statues of humanoid warriors in fighting poses about to strike. They must be moved into place with nearby paintings depicting them about to strike someone else…and the PCs must take the poses of the victims. The third room is a series of eight life-sized gelatinous cube replicas portraying a progressive digestion of an elven adventurer, and its solution involves taking a disintegrating pouch from the fourth cube (artwork deals acid damage) but the fake elf grabs the character screaming to be saved (he cannot, he’s not real). Each puzzle has an illusory element that can tip off the party to a solution, and there’s a sidebar explaining the idea of giving very smart PCs free tips to represent their acumen for deep thoughts.

Once the PCs have 3 out of 4 frames, the painting comes to life, allowing them to get the Timepiece of Dissolution. The bad news is that the humanoids take the form of werewolves, and one of them is a particularly powerful specimen with 50 additional hit points. If the PCs manage to slay them, they will get the Timepiece of Dissolution, and all the creepy art in the museum returns to their original non-creepy versions.

However, the Timepiece is still a dangerous item, and a cursed one at that! A PC who attunes to it can cast blur or haste with double duration on themselves as an action once per day as well as gain advantage on Stealth checks for a minute once per short rest. A cursed character is constantly distracted by whispering shadows, imposing disadvantage on Perception checks and reduces their Charisma by 2. Additionally, a PC holding the artifact (even if not attuned) must make a Wisdom save or become obsessed with being the item’s protector, and won’t even let their allies take it from them. The adventure ends with suggested future hooks, such as the Darklord taking notice of the PCs and the Timepiece, or finding a way to destroy it to keep it out of evil hands.

Chapter 8: Magic Items is the final chapter of this book, giving us 24 new magic items, 11 of which are potions. Representing unique magical innovations found nowhere else in the Domains of Dread as well as natural lore taken from the wilderness, the items are reflective of the Red City’s history and culture. Some of the more interesting items include an Animated Tarokka Deck (cards can be dealt to cast divination spells as charges or turn them into a flying swarm with the effects of Spiritual Weapon), Baba Yaga’s Mortar & Pestle (can be magically enlarged into a flying vehicle-like object), Candle of Warding (when lit inside a home has the effects of the Hallow spell), Cursewarder (+1 dagger which can dispel curses on an attacked target on a natural 20 [willing targets are critted]), Tree of Wishes (magical yew trees hidden by enchantment which if touched can cast a wish spell once per century), Unitate the Sword of Valdimir (artifact longsword of the famed Prince, ignores damage resistance of a variety of creature types, sheds light that reveals a creature’s true form, doubles proficiency bonus to all Charisma checks, and is cursed to give the owner an obsession to create something positive in the world that will survive the wielder’s death), and Villafejsze (+2 battleaxe with the name of a long forgotten deity, deals 1d4 lightning and necrotic damage each, can spend charges to cast Call Lightning, and curse makes the wielder prefer to use violence to solve all disputes).

The broad variety of potions can be made from harvesting plants in the wilderness surrounding Krasnygorod, and also purchased from skilled apothecaries. We also get a list of magic item prices for potions divided by rarity along with the number of workweeks to make them. Some of the more interesting potions include Raskovnik (made from a mandrake plant, if poured on a lock it opens as per the Knock spell but silently), Angelica (made from angelica flowers, casts calm emotions with a 24 hour duration), Barberry (the only legendary potion here, is meant to be drunk by 2 willing people who vastly increase the odds of conceiving a child), Belladonna (drinker gains benefits of the Divination spell but is poisoned for 24 hours), and Kudryash (grants 15 temporary hit points and adds 1d6 to attack and saves for 1 hour)

Overall Thoughts: The adventures are half and half. I do appreciate their novel touches, although as I pointed out above there are some factors such as Medin’s survival and the fourth frame not accounted for in the text. The new monsters are appreciated, although the high amount of epic tier creatures feels a bit weird for Ravenloft. While I understand that the 5th Edition setting is a bit more wondrous and high magic in comparison to its predecessors, PCs who want to take on the Two Grandmothers or fight one of the mythical dragons can’t realistically expect to do this until they’re among the most powerful people in the Demiplane of Dread. And at that point, the Darklord’s attention and subsequent talent-draining may not be a big enough threat to reasonably inconvenience the party.

I’m rather fond of the magic items, although I wish they put prices for the non-legendary non-potion ones.

Join us next time as we engage in some frightful fun and games for Mist Talismans at the Dark Carnival and the Mirrors of Madness!
 

Libertad

Hero
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Product Link
Product Type: Adventure
CoS-Required? No

Here we have an adventure taking place in the domain of Carnival, optimized for 3rd to 6th level characters. But the Dark Carnival isn’t like other adventures; it can be run as a multi-table event, where multiple DMs simultaneously run the same adventure for their own respective groups of players. There are rules and opportunities for one table to have an effect on the other tables as well. A Facilitator, or DM of DMs, helps move the game along at hourly intervals along with facilitating inter-table communication and interaction. The adventure can also be run as a single-table event, in which case the inter-table opportunities are removed.

The backdrop of the adventure is that the PCs have been hired by a certain notable organization in the Domains of Dread (the Kargat, a Vistani tribe, the Church of Ezra, etc) to go to the Carnival and retrieve mist talismans which are believed to be in the hands of the carnies. However, all is not fun and games, for Tindal the Barker is in reality (and unknown to even himself) a fetch, or a supernatural clone. His original self, the mage Tindafalus, is trapped in a mirror. Tindafalus is the “wicked half,” with the fetch being a kinder, more ideal version of the original. By making a deal with the domain’s darklord, Nepenthe, he has arranged for the minions of an archfey to kidnap several of the Carnival’s staff to infiltrate the domain with fetches set on freeing Tindafalus by kidnapping Tindal. Nepenthe hopes that violence will break out when Isolde the carnival ringleader returns, so that the darklord (who is an intelligent sword) will be wielded to enact a bloody slaughter.

The adventure is mini-game heavy, and every game plus the combat encounters have tables for scaling the challenges for groups of average party levels from 1st all the way up to 8th. For mini-games this changes the DC as well as damage for failure for some mini-games, while for combat it determines the number of enemies fought. There’s also a mechanic known as Hero Points introduced, where at certain times PCs can gain such points and spend them to add 1d6 to a d20 roll they make.

When the PCs first arrive they’ll be taken on a guided tour, able to explore the Carnival to a limited degree. There are enchanted funhouse mirrors reflecting the ideals, bonds, and flaws of characters. The DM can grant Inspiration for a PC who spends time explaining what the mirrors show. There’s also a marketplace that can sell equipment and vendors selling potions of Lost Memories which can instill the memories of other backgrounds and randomly determined ideals, bonds, and flaws (PCs who drink them gain a Hero Point). PCs who end up starting fights in the Carnival will be accosted by swashbuckler security guards, who will return once with reinforcements if the party manages to defeat them. Although reinforcements don’t arrive immediately and give PCs time to do some games, there is a penalty where the adventure fast-forwards to the next part (missing any remaining mini-games) as a horrified Tindal is still desperate to get whatever help he can get and contacts them immediately regarding his troubles.

Additionally, the mysterious patron who hired the PCs provides for in-game benefits in the form of specialized equipment which are lended, not given. For example, the Church of Ezra lends each PC a holy symbol which can cast misty step once per long rest, the Keepers of the Feather grant each PC a raven that can fly through the Mists to come to their aid in the form of a Hero Point, and the Ulmist Inquisition gives each PC a psi crystal which if attuned to grants telepathy to a range of 30 feet.

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Part 1: Carnival Games covers the mini-games that take place before the big top event. There are 10 to participate in, and PCs need to win at least 4 games in order to impress Tindal and thus earn his confidence. Gaming groups can aid other tables via rolling to rig a game via Sleight of Hand or with Thieves’ Tools, giving the PCs of another table advantage on one d20 roll for that game. During the games, PCs can notice Clues indicating suspicious fetch activity; in lieu of performing poorly in the games, finding at least three Clues results in the same reward, as this impresses Tindal for their keen observations. The games all have some creepy risk of danger to separate them from normal carnie events: bobbing for apples has PCs roll Constitution saves as all but a few apples are poisoned (Perception to spot a safe one), dart balloons have the PCs draw quills from a spined devil to throw at balloons which impose random magical alterations to the thrower with every pop, a horse race allows PCs to choose from one of four supernatural horses (zombie horses are slower but overcome obstacles more easily, nightmares are fastest but their unruly nature increases the DC of obstacles, etc) where initiative is rolled to determine place in the race and Animal Handling or Acrobatics to avoid obstacles on the track, and a gorgon-riding contest requires a PC last at least 3 rounds bucking a gorgon as it tries to toss them off and petrify with its breath. One of the contests I really like is the PCs entering a giant sandbox to dig for buried treasure, where several treasure chests are mimic decoys who will bite an unlucky contestant. Winning a game gives a PC a random carnival prize, a 2d20 table of creepy and weird items that have no special properties or value.

Between games the PCs can have their fortunes read from a blind Vistani, where a list of vague premonitions are given on a randomly-rolled table and if one comes true during the adventure then that PC gains Inspiration. There’s also a Hall of Horrors containing escaped pickled monsters that will try to steal a random carnival prize from the PCs; tracking down and capturing them for the event’s manager gives the party the opportunity to learn more information. All in all, the mini-games are all quite clever, and the penalties and damages inflicted for failed attempts can offset the fact that many PCs participating at once increase the chances of winning a game.

PCs who earned Tindal’s trust will be informed that something is off, with him offering a pouch of mist talismans if they help him out.

Part 2: Big Top Show has the crowd move into the main tent of the Carnival. Tindal introduces the PCs to the crowd (they provide a team name or Tindal comes up with one on the spot), where they must impress the audience in at least two out of three acts. There are five acts by default to choose from, and PCs who succeed on rolls adjust the crowd’s overall attitude. More positive audiences lower the DC, but ones that get ornery end up harder to impress thereby raising the DC. For multi-table events, the total successes and failures of all tables per act determines the crowd’s mood on the next act. Tables can encourage the crowd to cheer on another table, granting the PCs of that table an Applause Point which can be spent to give one PC Inspiration.

The six acts are as follows: Chimera Tamer (PCs must handle the individual heads of an ornery chimera, with failures causing the monster to attack with those heads or a breath weapon if all PCs fail), Clown Comedians (undead clowns engage in violent slapstick with the PCs who must attack and dismember them in suitably entertaining ways), Sword Magicians (PCs enter coffins where an actress stabs flaming swords through the coffins), Tightrope Walkers (PCs tread a tightrope over a poisonous web while a mage conjures prismatic rings for them to jump through), Theater Troupe (PCs must put on a play with a wererat; failing the roll causes the wererat to bite a PC as a “surprise twist” to enliven a boring play), or Something New (an act not covered here with guidelines for setting it up).

Failures on each act carry some kind of consequence, as I mentioned for a few already. PCs who manage to entertain the crowd can take a short rest before the next event. Tindal will still promise a satchel of mist talismans either way, but on a failure only if they help clean up the stands for an hour which robs them of a rest opportunity.

Once Tindal returns with their reward, a group of fetches the PCs saw earlier via Clues ambushes the group, tossing shards of explosive glass and kidnapping Tindal. PCs who managed to see a Fetch acting suspicious earlier in the adventure have advantage on the Dexterity save to avoid the AoE damage.

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Part 3: the Final Showdown is the combat-heavy portion of the adventure, being one climactic battle against a number of fetches whose stats and numbers are determined by the Average Party Level. The fetches are mirror images of the PCs, although one of them is the image of the hag Zuriñe, who is working for Nepenthe. Her fetch is the Chosen of Nepenthe and is wielding the sword in combat. The fetch is automatically attuned to the weapon (+3 greatsword or longsword damage depending on fetch strength that deals 2d10 bonus radiant damage against fiends and undead), and Nepenthe appears in the hands of another fetch if the one wielding him is slain. But it won’t be a straight fight; the fetch wielding the sword will offer the PCs a choice of a carnival game to revisit, which affects the battlefield based on the carnival game from Chapter 1. For example, choosing Apple Bobbing gives the fetches poisoned apples they can throw as a ranged weapon attack, Horse Race has the fetches mounted on horse monsters whose stat block is determined by APL, etc. PCs can trigger inter-table events, some of which can give the other parties a benefit but in some cases trigger equal-opportunity multitarget effects.

The fetches are new monsters in this adventure, and we have stat blocks for Lesser and Greater varieties. Fetches have the mirrored appearance of another, and they have advantage on certain skill checks vs their doppelganger. They can enter, exit, and teleport between reflective surfaces which grants them a free use of the Stealth skill, and breaking a reflection in which the fetch resides deals damage as they are forcefully shunted into another nearby one or the nearest unoccupied space. They also explode in a burst of damaging glass on defeat.

If the PCs are victorious, then Tindafalus’ reflection will appear in the shattered remains of the fetches, spilling the beans on his trapped fate and his scheme. Tindal the Barker has no memory of the split, so both believe themselves to be the “real one.” It is up to the PCs whether to keep Tindafalus imprisoned or replace him with Tindal; in the case of a multi-table event, it is put up to a majority vote. Either way, the kidnapped carnies are rescued, the Carnival celebrates the PCs’ actions, and they are able to leave the domain a satchel of mist tokens richer. They’re also given the invitation to be honorary carnies, having a home in Carnival should they desire.

If the PCs fail, then the carnival ringleader Isolde arrives, wrestling Nepenthe from the fetches and slaughtering them. The kidnapped carnies are freed from their mirror prisons, and Isolde tells the PCs to leave the carnival before she changes her mind in showing them mercy. But before the Mists claim them, Nepenthe bestows on each PC a Dark Gift as a “reward,” whether the PCs want one or not (it can be chosen by the players or rolled randomly, DM’s discretion). In the event that a PC already has a Dark Gift, they can choose to keep their original or replace it with a new result.

The book ends with a bunch of helpful appendices, containing stats for the new fetches as well as monsters reprinted from official sourcebooks that are in the adventure, Dramatis Personae on the major NPCs, advice on how to run multi-table adventures, the tables for the Tarokka fortunes and carnival prizes, handouts for poster and ticket artwork, and maps of the carnival and the big top tent.

Overall Thoughts: I like this adventure a lot. I don’t know how easy it is to run in a multi-table event, but as a single-group adventure it can make for a fun change of pace from the more combat-heavy dungeon crawls that predominate D&D. The rewards for a victory can be useful for spiriting the party to other domains of dread the DM has an interest in running, and the imposition of Dark Gifts in lieu of a TPK can still serve as a penalty depending on the Gift in question. It also has the benefit of giving future hooks in either getting rid of the Dark Gifts or stopping Nepenthe’s wicked designs in a future quest. The carnival games and attractions are varied and interesting enough to make for an adventure that can keep the players guessing as to what will happen next.

On the note for the major villain, I feel that the loss stakes are a bit too low; the Dark Gift penalties really only affect the PCs, and the fetches die either way. I suppose Isolde becomes more corrupted in using Nepenthe, but that isn’t exactly evident in the adventure as is or what I read in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, so to PCs not familiar with the setting may feel that a victory/defeat didn’t make all that much difference. Even on a loss, Tindafalus is still trapped, and given he’s more evil than Tindal his imprisonment may not be that bad of a thing depending on how one feels about supernatural incarceration.

Join us next time as we take a walk on the other side in an adventure where the Devil’s Brides are the star of the show in a Curse of Strahd campaign gone sideways!
 

Libertad

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CoS-Required? Sort of (takes place in a timeline where the PCs failed)

The Devil’s Brides is a special kind of adventure, one meant to take place after a failed Curse of Strahd campaign. In it, the players take control of the Brides of Strahd plus Escher and a now-undead Ireena Kolyana who decide to overthrow Barovia’s Darklord. Something about the PCs penetrated their icy hearts, causing them to be done with Strahd’s abusive and domineering ways. There are 6 pregenerated character sheets, and all of them are level 8 and of the dhampir race instead of using their NPC stat blocks from the adventure. Although PCs can die in a variety of ways, the Devil’s Brides presumes that certain things are true: that Strahd’s brides are alive for this module, the PCs were personally murdered by Strahd, and the Sunsword was obtained by Strahd’s agents after his victory to be put in the Von Zarovich’s Family Tomb.

As for how the pregenerated PCs are built, Anastrasya Kerelova is a Fiend Pact Warlock with Pact of the Tome along with some defensive invocations (Armor of Shadows, Fiendish Vigor) and Misty Visions. Her spells are predictably offensive, ranging from Hellish Rebuke, Eldritch Blast, Armor of Agathys, and Counterspell. Oddly she has False Image and Silent Image listed among spells known, when her invocation can make her cast both at will. Perhaps they combined spells known from normal warlock progression with invocations? That seems to be the case.

Escher is an Arcane Trickster Rogue with the Green Flame Blade cantrip to go along with his melee weapons. He specializes in enchantment and illusion spells such as Hideous Laughter, Disguise Self, and Invisibility.

Ireena Kolyana is a boring Champion Fighter and is really only good in melee combat.

Ludmilla Vilsevic is a Cleric with the Grave Domain, and she has a useful array of offensive and defensive spells: Spiritual Weapon, Spirit Guardians, Dispel Magic, Death Ward, and Bless to name a few.

Volenta Popofsky is an Oath of Conquest Paladin built for melee with the Dueling Fighting Style. Her Paladin spells are mostly defensive in nature but include Branding Smite and Magic Weapon, useful for those not using the Sunsword.

Gertruda is a College of Spirits Bard but her sheet mislabels her as a Grave Cleric. Her spells mostly hew towards buffs such as Heroism, Enhance Ability, and Greater Invisibility, but she also knows Silence, Polymorph, and the ever-useful Dispel Magic and Healing Word.

Every notable class feature (including the Spirits Bard’s Tales From Beyond) is repeated in relevant text boxes, along with backstories for each PC for tips on how to RP them.

The adventure starts off with the DM asking each player a series of questions illuminating the face-heel-turn of the PCs: who one of the adventurers reminded them of, how did one of them defy Strahd even in the face of death, how they were kind to that vampire, etc. There’s also a sidebar for what the Brides would know about Castle Ravenloft given their long-time residency, and the module presumes that they know about the Heart of Sorrow and the hazards of the castle to move harmlessly from room to room. Strahd will be nonviolent at first and try to leverage information from them by interviewing them separately and also attempt to gain a promise of future loyalty if he begins to suspect that they’re up to something. As for the pacing of rests, short rests are shortened to 10 minutes instead of 1 hour, with the assumption that the party will have only 1 short rest in order to beat Strahd. After they destroy the Heart of Sorrow, he won’t politely wait for them to continue plotting his destruction.

Thus, the Devil’s Brides covers only a fraction of Castle Ravenloft’s rooms, focusing on a few that are bound to be major plot points. While neither Strahd nor the other castle inhabitants start out hostile, actions performed by the PCs can raise his suspicion over time, which can eventually cause him to take action. The adventurer’s corpses can be looted of basic and silvered weapons along with Potions of Healing, and the Sunsword lies within the tomb of Strahd’s father. The tomb can be lifted quietly with Athletics, although failing the roll will result in a loud endeavor and tip other inhabitants off that the tomb was defiled. As for Strahd, he is in a rather pleased mood, deciding to rest in the coffin of his tomb. PCs able to sneak past his passive Perception can obtain his bloody wedding ring (a new magic item that can grant 2 adult willing humanoisd +2 to AC for 7 days while they remain within 30 feet), and Strahd can be interacted with if roused. He’ll ask for healing magic from Ludmilla, which can be used to distract him to get his ring, although refusing to heal him raises his suspicion. A portrait room contains a Rug of Smothering which is harmless, but the real danger is a Guardian Portrait monster (which can be defeated in combat or negotiated with) concealing a hidden compartment with a Scroll of Bless. Visiting Strahd’s bedroom can discover a crumpled-up sleeping robe, which some of the PCs will realize is unusually careless of Strahd for he was attempting to unlock the wardrobe before he got word of the Castle being invaded. The module doesn’t say what’s in the locked wardrobe. Varushka the former maid-turned-wraith hates the Brides and can be found in the bathroom, and can alternatively be fought to a surrender or gain her trust via Persuasion to share information about hidden treasure.

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The Heart of Sorrow must be destroyed in order to slay Strahd once and for all, and the location and means of fighting it are similar save that it has more Hit Points (75 instead of 50) and can cast the Wall of Flame spell every time it’s attacked. The Heart upon taking damage will attract the attention of other Castle inhabitants, such as Barovian Witches and a Night Hag.

But before this happens, the Dark Powers will reach out to the Brides, granting them unique Dark Gifts if they accept the deal to become the new Darklord(s) of Barovia after defeating Strahd. The base Gifts from Curse of Strahd can be used, and there’s 6 new ones such as an empowered bite attack, casting Death Ward or Legend Lore 3 times per day, gaining the Inspiring Leader feat, or coming back to life and trading out Dhampir for another race. Destroying the Heart of Sorrow gives the party the Shard of Sorrow. This is a new magic item that allows a character to expend Hit Die into the shard as part of a short rest like a Ring of Spell Storing, up to 25 hit points total, and any amount can heal the bearer as an action. But as the party will not have any more rests (long or short) upon destroying the Heart of Sorrow, this item can’t really be used.

After destroying the Heart, Strahd will form a message written in blood, telling the party to meet him “where I gave you my greatest gift.” This is the Chapel, and at this point randomly-determined magical traps and obstacles will hinder the party’s progress as the Darklord turns the Castle against them. Hurled household objects, animated armor monsters, crushing rooms, and a vampire spawn maid desperate to prove her love by attacking the Brides are the sample obstacles. The final battle takes place in the decrepit Chapel, with Strahd dramatically lighting a match and then extinguishing it as he does the classic “you’re making me do this” line beloved by abusers everywhere. Although he intends to destroy the Brides, he will attempt to sow doubt and dissension. For example, he may remind Gertruda of her troubled mortal life and how she has nothing to return to, and if any of them made a promise of loyalty earlier when his suspicion was raised he’ll bring that up to make the others doubt that PC’s intentions. Again, another opportunity to make a deal with the Dark Powers is provided, and can be done as an action in combat.

There are 3 different endings, complete with their own boxed text. If the PCs defeated Strahd they will each gain 4 extra permanent hit points as thanks from the souls of the departing adventurers. If the players wish to continue adventuring as the former Brides of Strahd, they can level up to 9th level and that the DM may or may not have the new magic items require attunement from then on out.

Making a deal with the Dark Powers results in the Brides feeling unafraid and alive for the first time in forever as the new masters of the domain. “The King is dead. Long live the Queen.”

If they didn’t make a deal they will walk off into the Mists, afraid and excited with a new revelation that they are free and have each other for a new life to live. “Strahd is dead, and you are free.”

If the PCs are defeated, they are looking down at Castle Ravenloft as spirits from a bird’s eye view as Strahd recovers from his wounds. They realize a familiar presence within the surrounding Mists, of their friends. This inspires them in spite of defeat, knowing that while Strahd is a monster who cannot and will not change in all these centuries, the Brides have. Upon realizing their earlier struggle, they know that they will never be alone again, and next time they may win. “Strahd lives - but so do you.”

We get a repeat of Strahd’s stat block, along with a new magic item that isn’t referenced anywhere else in the module: the Armor of Midnight is a medium adamantine armor that is effectively a breastplate in terms of AC and can turn all critical hits into normal hits. Once per long rest the wearer may cast Fear as an action, and the effect recharges without the need for a rest if the armor negates a critical hit.

Overall Thoughts: The Devil’s Brides is a clever idea in allowing gaming groups to continue in the face of a TPK, but I’m not sure how easy to run or satisfying it may be. The Brides are notably lower level than equivalent-level parties would be in storming Castle Ravenloft, and besides the Sunsword and scant treasures they likely don’t have the advantage of a campaign’s worth of accumulated magic items from Curse of Strahd to help turn the tables. The book only really works narratively for PCs who died battling Strahd in Castle Ravenloft, which only makes it useful near the end of such a campaign. Still, it’s much better than springing this halfway or early on where a TPK may not sting as much, so I can’t complain about that as much.

Join us next time as we solve the murder of the Demiplane of Dread’s most famous monster hunter in Van Richten Dies in Ravenloft!
 

Libertad

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CoS-Required? No, but can tie into it.

Curse of Strahd is one of the most well-known modules for 5th Edition, and the Death House introductory adventure is almost as well known among hapless newcomers. It is also a highly lethal adventure even by the standards of the campaign, which has led to a number of alterations and revisions over the years.

Van Richten Dies in Ravenloft is an alteration to that module, albeit it removes the subterranean level in favor of remaining purely aboveground. The major change to the plot is that the hook for Death House is finding Rudolf Van Richten dead on the front steps, and the party ends up in telepathic contact with him once they pick up his Ring of Mind Shielding. Once they do that, Van Richten serves as a comedic narrator to help guide them through the dungeon with some helpful advice. In this version of Death House, the house is a sentient malicious being who happened to gain the journal of Rudolf Van Richten as a rare prize after causing his death. The PCs can obtain that journal, either by stealing it themselves and risking the House’s wrath or by making a deal to return to the House with Strahd’s journal as a fair trade.

This is the body of Doctor Rudolph Van Richten, a noted vampire hunter and writer of storied guides to creatures of the night. Most importantly: he’s dead. There is no discernible cause of death. He wears a hat of disguise and ring of mind shielding (Appendix A). In his bag, he carries two potions of healing (Appendix A). Because Van Richten died while wearing the ring of mind shielding, his soul is now housed inside it, and he can telepathically communicate with any creature wearing or holding it. The ring emits a soft, blue light that slowly pulses, the pulses getting closer together the closer a creature is to the ring. Once a creature touches the ring, they immediately hear the deep, rich voice of an older man, which—perhaps too cheerily—says, “Why hello there! I guess I’m dead, then.” The ring does not light up again unless Van Richten feels he is being ignored or has something urgent to relay, in which case it flashes rapidly.

Already I’m spotting a potential problem. While it’s standard procedure for adventurers to grab valuable jewelry, there are some groups who may mistake the pulse for a trap and avoid the major change to the module entirely. They could also make the realization that a man just died, and being seen rifling through his belongings would be perceived by potential bystanders as evidence of guilt.

A good portion of Van Richten Dies in Ravenloft is the same as Death House, but with several changes. The ghostly children of Rose and Thorn aren’t present, and the House’s monsters and traps are altered. The hunter’s den (room 3) conceals a bear trap, the kitchen (4) is home to an animated flying knife,* there’s a spear trap in the servants’ room (7), the secret room contains Van Richten’s journal instead of the letter from Strahd (9) and there’s no spell scroll treasure, a ghostly harp in the conservatory (10) can trigger ghostly applause on a successful Performance check or a collapsing bench dealing damage on a failed result, a suit of animated armor attacks the PCs in the balcony (11), the nursemaid’s suite (15) has been converted to a guest suite, the attic hall (16) has a tripwire trap linked to position crossbows, there’s no specter in the storage room (18), there’s a replica dollhouse in the playroom (20) which if examined via Investigation can reveal replicas of all the traps in the house and PCs advance to 2nd level when they find the key to the secret room (9), and the secret stairs (21) lead to other areas in the Death House rather than to the subterranean level.

*The flying knife has stats similar to an animated knife, but has more hit points (17 as opposed to 12) and its basic attack deals more damage (1d8+1 vs 1d4+1).

Upon gaining Van Richten’s journal, a loud scream echoes through the house, causing a nearby book to fall over and spelling out a warning by Death House.

Damned thieves! The treasures of this house are not yours. They are the history of this land and our dread lord, and you defile this archive with your clumsy fingers and footsteps.

However, you have proven you have some ability, and so I offer this: in exchange for your lives and in no longer than two tendays, return to me with Dr. Rudolph van Richten’s journal, your own travelogue, and the dread lord’s account of his life and unlife. Sign in blood or I will spill it all.

At this point the PCs can try to make a deal. If they agree to find Strahd’s journal, they will be allowed to leave the house as the bricked-up windows become open again and all of the remaining traps are disabled. But if not, they will need to escape like in the original module, with the doors being replaced by slashing scythe-blades and rooms with heating systems (oven, stove, or fireplace) are filled with poisonous black smoke. Additionally, unlike in the original module, destroying a 5 foot section of wall (which are now brittle) summons a specter to attack the PCs. PCs that manage to escape the house reach 3rd level.

Strahd’s journal is in fact the Tome of Strahd. If returned, the Death House will be as good as its Lawful Evil word, and provide the PCs the original deed to the house. This effectively gives the party a place to stay, and the House will also give them free food for more tales of Ravenloft not yet archived in its library. The House can use its internal magic to perform all kinds of various domestic chores to make it a suitable living space. But if PCs make a deal and don’t or can’t uphold their end of the bargain, they’re plagued by restless sleep which imposes a permanent 3 levels of exhaustion until they uphold the oath.

However the PCs solve the mystery, Van Richten will be willing to act as a mentor from then on out, and grants his leave for the PCs to keep the magical items found on his corpse (not that he had any means of enforcing this). He can also suggest they journey to find his protege Ez d’Avenir or otherwise find a means of resurrecting him.

That is, if this module is being played as part of Curse of Strahd. At which point you may also wonder how Van Richten’s death affects the Artifact result from the Tarokka High Deck. In such a case, the PC’s ally against Strahd is Blinsky the toymaker, who is very obviously a huge downgrade from Van Richten for he has Commoner stats.

Overall Thoughts: Van Richten Dies in Ravenloft is still a lethal dungeon crawl, particularly if the PCs don’t have reliable means of detecting or disabling traps. But it is shorter and less monster-filled than the original module and there’s quite a bit less treasure as a result, particularly for the more potent items such as the silvered shortsword, Cloak of Protection, and spellbook in the cultist quarters. It’s meant to be more light-hearted than the default module, including Van Richten’s surprisingly nonchalant response to his own death setting the mood, which may be a subjective taste.

It can be run as a one-shot, although for a Curse of Strahd campaign I’m not too excited about the longer-term changes it would make. It gives the party’s Van Richten’s Journal far earlier than they would ordinarily get it, as opposed to finding it in his tower when they likely had more of a chance to interact with Rictavio in Vallaki and possibly Ez as a natural buildup. Secondly the great importance Madam Eva places on the Tome of Strahd means that a lot of groups may not wish to trade for it once they find out about it, at which point the 3 level exhaustion is far more of a debilitating drawback than the default Death House’s dangers. Additionally, the swapping of Van Richten as an ally for Blinsky is a letdown, and even if the PCs desired to have the legendary monster hunter alive and kicking the rarity of NPCs and treasure with access to resurrection in the module means it likely won’t happen any time soon.

Join us next time as we learn useful tips and tricks for running a better Curse of Strahd in the Barovia Gazetteer: Collected Edition!
 

Libertad

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CoS-Required? Yes

Just about every official megacampaign has online guides for how to optimally run it. Curse of Strahd’s popularity means that it has quite a number of such guides. The r/curseofstrahd subreddit has two notable ones, Fleshing Out Curse of Strahd and Curse of Strahd Reloaded. Many guides, including these, also give supplementary content not present in the original module. The Barovia Gazetteer by Marc Singer is a similar series, albeit a professionally-designed product on the Dungeon Master’s Guild. In addition to having its own material, the book makes reference to other online articles complete with embedded URL links for expanding beyond the contents inside. I like this touch, for it shows that the book wasn’t just one person’s thoughts in isolation but is pulling from a variety of voices for Curse of Strahd.

Introduction outlines the Gazetteer’s mission statement: to provide dungeon masters with additional resources in the form of bonus scenarios, encounters, fleshing out of characters, and background information to allow for a more immersive campaign while making things easier for said DMs. The guide goes over typical stuff (session zero discussion on campaign tone, safety tools, etc), and to its credit it also mentions that given the outlander nature of PCs that players should avoid backstories that tie them too closely to non-Barovian settings. Instead it pushes them to more unanswered mysteries and being tied to other PCs. I like this, as I’ve heard one too often of players who expected CoS to take place in the broader Forgotten Realms or Eberron only to find that those settings’ institutions never come into play. It also goes over likely means of resurrection access in the campaign as written and how to handle character death given that the scarcity of high-level magic means that death has greater consequences.

Perhaps the most notable aspect of the introduction is an alternate start; the author feels that the default hooks have various flaws (“drive the Vistani out of town” has Antiziganist overtones, Plea for Help treats level 1 PCs as famed adventurers, Creeping Fog is railroaded, Werewolves in the Mists can result in OP PCs receiving Harper equipment of silver weapons and spell scrolls). Instead, a hook is provided in the Faerunian town of Daggerford, where the PCs received word of an escaped murderer and cannibal known as Ghazlak Gorlu who has a bounty on his head. A rival group of adventurers, the Black Banners, are eager to snag the bounty and thus view the PCs as competition. They too will end up in Barovia, seemingly one step ahead of the party, but they are overconfident and will do various things one shouldn’t do when playing Curse of Strahd. The Black Banners basically act like a gaming group who decides to “murderhobo their way through the campaign.”

A caravan of Vistani are fleeing Barovia and want nothing to do with Strahd’s schemes, and quickly become the scapegoat for the town’s woes as Arrigal was responsible for freeing Ghazlak from custody as part of a ploy to lure new adventurers into Barovia. The townsfolk are unaware that Vistani aren’t a monolith and find it all too easy to shift their anger to strangers from out of town. PCs can learn that another group of Vistani headed south with Ghazlak, and if they showed kindness to the innocent Vistani will be given a small token that serves as a signal to others of their kind that the party is to be trusted. This has an in-game effect too, automatically shifting the attitudes of non-evil Vistani one step up when displayed.

The PCs have opportunities to find out more about Ghazlak’s escape and the surrounding environment, which has various hooks of people mysteriously disappearing due to the Mists of Barovia. After some encounters with gnolls fleeing the Mists and packs of wolves scavenging the body of one of the missing townsfolk, the PCs will be claimed by the Mists and reach 2nd level. The designer notes explain the various decisions of this new hook: the Black Banners serve as an object lesson and rivals to contrast the party’s actions, an opportunity to learn more about the Vistani on non-hostile terms, the opportunity to enter Barovia via a gradual buildup of “something’s not right” without feeling tricked out of nowhere. As for Ghazlak Gorlu, he’s not from Barovia nor an intentional servant of Strahd. He’s just a garden-variety depraved killer who upon fleeing into the Domains of Dread will serve as another (early to midgame) threat for the PCs to prove their heroism.

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The Land of Barovia outlines the domain in broad terms. First off, the Gazetteer recommends enlarging the map so that 1 hex equals 1 mile (rather than ¼ mile). This way, travel between areas is longer and it doesn’t feel like the PCs can cross most of the land before the sun goes down. For certain places such as the Amber Temple, it forces the PCs to make camp outside the larger population centers, imposing the risky choice of forced marches to travel quicker at risk of reduced passive Perception and exhaustion. It also recommends using a variant natural healing rule where PCs don’t regain hit points at the end of a long rest unless they rest in town or a safe area, giving further incentive for PCs to plan out their trips. We also get new encounters to spice things up, such as a band of skeletal outlaw raiders who gradually increase their strength as the PCs level. By level 8 the party has a chance at fighting their leader, Red Lukas, and make the Old Svalich Road safer to travel from then on out.

The next big portion of this section details the people of Barovia. Some of it touches upon existing material, but other things are expanded further. For example, the influx of outlanders means that there’s quite a number of foreign coins in circulation in Barovia’s economy. The calendar system is lunar due to needing to track lycanthrope appearances, and thus every month has some lunar-themed name: first month is Cold Moon, sixth month is Summer Moon, ninth month is Harvest Moon, etc). Due to the fear of vampires, it is traditional when having visitors over to hold the door open and see if they walk in unprompted once they arrive. The Gazetteer alters the historical events somewhat to make Strahd’s conquest of the valley to be one masked as liberation via wars against humanoid monsters (orcs, goblins, etc) known as the “beastmen.” Naturally there are in-game texts (also available as new PDF handouts) that expand on the history. The perpetual dusk/night cycle of Barovia, along with roving monsters, means that alternative food sources are used in spite of the valley’s fertile nature. Root vegetables which don’t need much sunlight are common, such as leeks and carrots, and mushrooms are a vital part of the Barovian diet. Flax is a staple crop most farmland is dedicated towards. Cows and sheep require too much land and thus make them easy targets for wolves and monsters, so goats, pigs, chickens, and hares are the primary domestic livestock. Times are still lean, so most meat comes from hunting, and many have taken to hunting wolves due to both them and humans having depleted most of the small game. Finally, the wines of Barovia have had their names changed (“du le stomp is terrible French,” “Red Dragon Crush sounds like something you buy out of a vending machine”) to names such as purpuric (grapemash), balorosu (red dragon), sangovin (blood wine), and tsuika (a plum brandy). The Wizard of Wines doesn’t serve champagne, but instead aszu which is a sweet dessert wine made by grapes infected with noble rot. We also get monetary values for barrels of wine given how important they are to the Barovian economy, and prices have changed for the Blue Water Inn and Blood of the Vine. The latter inn is farther from the Wizard of Wines, so they charge more.

Death House explains that the adventure is highly lethal, and suggests some modifications so it’s still dangerous yet doesn’t risk a TPK too easily. First off, the Durst children are changed to be just one pair rather than two with different motivations. As the book explains, “there is a difference between playing a sincere character and playing a liar, and players can usually pick up on it. Don’t lie to your players when you need them to believe you.” In this case, the house is placed on the outskirts of Barovia so it’s the first place the party will see, ideally when it’s nightfall and they are seeking shelter. The children will be scared when the PCs approach, to make it seem like less of a trap, so the hook is that they know their baby brother is in trouble and don’t know where their parents are. This can serve as a hook for PCs to be more likely to want to help them. The Gazetteer calls out MandyMod’s Fleshing Out CoS guide for expanding on the Durst family history as well as other suggestions: removing the flying broom monster if it wouldn’t fit tonally (and help conserve party resources), changing the shambling mound in the final room to a gibbering mouther for a more reasonable “boss battle,” and the shadows in the Darklords’ Shrine attack one at a time rather than all at once due to being able to easily kill low-level characters.

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The Village of Barovia mentions that the area runs very well as written, given that most of the content has existed since the original 1983 module and had plenty of time to be improved. But there’s still content for this book, as it serves as a vital “first impression” to the foundations of the greater campaign. We get “at a glance” information surmising important aspects (population, industry, leader, etc) in one-sentence outlines,* and a suggestion for a slower sense of decay by altering the random encounters for the contents of random houses. This is opposed to the default adventure, where it seems like the village is on the verge of collapse where zombies and rats outnumber human residents. A good amount of space is focused on role-playing Ireena: she can be made to be more useful than a “damsel in distress” by using sidekick progression rules from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything, and she can serve as an in-campaign “tour guide” in explaining aspects of Barovia to the fresh-out-of-the Mists PCs. Furthermore, Ireena is understandably angry at having lost her father and is about to lose the only home she’s ever known, so instead of taking it out on the party (“they’ll see her as an ingrate”) the book mentions she should run to the village square after a suitably emotional scene. She’ll call out other villagers for not caring for Donavich in his grief, not answering the burgomaster when he called on them for aid, and even curses the name of Strahd for killing her father and stealing the sun. Not only does this show that Ireena knows who to blame, it also illuminates to the party the true stakes of getting her to a safe haven and why Ismark wants to get her out of the village. Another suggested scene is to have her go sightseeing the marching dead at night, as she loved seeing the “ghost parade” since she was little. This shows that she is more than just a woman consumed by sadness while also illuminating how Barovians can find beauty of a sort even when living in gloom. Basically, make Ireena more of a living, breathing character than an escort quest stat block.

*This is repeated for Krezk and Vallaki, too!

There’s some other general notes, such as having Strahd showing up at the funeral of Kolyan Indirovich in paying respects to the late burgomaster. This is a good way to introduce him to the party without combat. The last big part of the Village of Barovia section is a suggested optional encounter to better put the party in Ireena’s shoes via a flashback encounter. In this case, the players take control of Ireena, Ismark, and Kolyan as the village’s mansion is assaulted by Strahd’s monstrous minions, and Kolyan risks an ever-more-likely heart attack under certain circumstances (taking the Dash action, any round he takes damage, etc). They must fight off 3 waves of enemies during the siege, although none will target Ireena. It’s also a good opportunity to insert replacement PCs for ones who died during Death House, for they could be present during the siege and thus be tied in to escorting Ireena out of the Village of Barovia.

Tser Pool Camp and the Tarokka covers another vital area of the campaign. We get some general tips on portraying the Vistani: don’t portray them as thieving drunkards or jovial performers as those are equally stereotypical, remove the fact that Madam Eva is Strahd’s half-sister as it has no impact on the campaign, reuse Stanimir’s story from the Mysterious Visitors hook from the default adventure to explain how they were granted safe passage by Strahd, and read Van Richten’s Guide to the Vistani for more in-depth notes on their culture. As for the Tarokka reading, it suggests rigging the deck if it’s your first time DMing, and to remove certain cards in that there should be results to try and avoid.

For the treasure locations, the 2 of Stars should be removed as it gives the PCs one treasure immediately with no effort, while the 7 of Coins makes the party backtrack to the River Ivlis crossroads which can take a lot of time depending on the map scale. We get some recommended locations for narrative strength such as Van Richten’s Tower and Sergei’s Tomb. The Gazetteer breaks convention from other guides regarding placing treasures in Castle Ravenloft, for it helps encourage exploration of different levels and PCs may still be able to go there early via a “social phase.” This phase is later covered under the Castle Ravenloft section of the guide proper.

For Strahd’s Enemy, it’s suggested that when rigging the deck to pick an ally who balances out the party’s weaknesses. Certain cards are suggested to be removed, such as Innocent (Ireena is already with them) and Marionette (both allies are weak and Pidlwick II may not be encountered late in the game if at all). The Gazetteer recommends a half-dozen allies, notably the more popular and iconic ones such as Ezmerelda d’Avenir, Kasimir Velikov, and Davian Martikov.

Finally, for Strahd’s Location it mentions that the Ghost or Raven cards pose risks as the magical barrier could end up splitting the party if not outright preventing them entry. It talks about how locations can force the party to explore more of Castle Ravenloft and what fits with the tone and theme of the campaign. Fighting Strahd in Sergei’s Tomb fits in well with the gothic tones of the villain’s sins, while fighting at the Overlook is a classic “fighting the bad guy on top of a castle while lightning strikes” climactic scene.

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Old Bonegrinder discusses how the hags are notoriously difficult to fight, and can end up swinging one way or another in a near-party wipe or the PCs coming back at a time where they’re powerful enough to easily dispatch the hags. A good amount of text covers their ethereal nature and dream-haunting ability, and how to best make use of that and plan for them as a GM. Several tactics for confounding the hags are given, along with ways the hags can adapt to them (Leomund’s TIny Hut, the antimagic field of Van Richten’s Tower, St. Andral’s Church when the bones are returned, using a Magic Circle spell in a Glyph of Warding and what NPCs can prepare such spells). The book even provides a detailed sidebar of how the author’s own gaming group managed to outsmart and trap the night hags in play:

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Thoughts So Far: The Barovia Gazetteer has a rather unfortunate name, for it implies less DMing tips for a module and more a setting expansion to Barovia. Which is a shame, for it contains some really good advice. I’m quite fond of the details for farming and livestock, as this is one of the most vital aspects of worldbuilding in that it provides plausible explanations for how people trapped in a perpetually dusky, monster-filled land would adapt to survive. I also like the addition of more “out of world” characters to Barovia such as Ghazlak and the Black Banners, showing that the Mists haven’t just claimed the PCs. The restructuring of Death House and applying Sidekick rules to Ireena (along with a sample progression in the rear appendix) are kind of obvious in hindsight, but really great suggestions for new DMs who may inadvertently get themselves tripped up by unexpected lethality in the module.

Join us next time as we cover the Town of Vallaki, the fate of the Black Banners, and Rudolf Van Richten’s hate crimes!
 

Libertad

Hero
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The Town of Vallaki is a long entry, and given the settlement’s prominence in Barovian politics this is hardly surprising. Instead of having 25% of the houses containing swarms of rats, the Gazetteer decided to make the town virtually at full capacity due to rural refugees fleeing the more dangerous wilds. This allows for a different sense of desperation as their resources are stretched to their limits. We get more detail on Vallaki being separated into geographic wards which cover local culture and industries along with some new notable NPC residents who can supply the characters with specific goods. Various places get expanded on, such as St. Andral’s Church getting a proper map, or how the Martikov children at the Blue Water Inn have a knack for finding secrets around town and can tip the PCs off to odd news of the day. When it comes to the Vallakoviches, Victor gets greatly expanded on, particularly if he’s a fated ally. The book provides for different interpretations of the character, from being merely a sullen and bitter teenager to outright evil. One such suggestion involves him not being guilty of Stella Wachter going insane; that was Lady Wachter who wiped her daughter’s own memory but blamed Victor to further drive a wedge between the two families. Additionally Strahd’s teleportation brazier is moved out of the coffin maker’s shop to the Wachterhaus instead, due to making more tactical sense given their family’s alliance with the Count.

Just as importantly, we get a series of Special Events for Vallaki, including new ones and altered ones. They include the cannibal Ghazlak hiding out in the town, the Black Banners being the vampire spawn in the coffin maker's shop after Strahd killed them when they went directly to Castle Ravenloft. The fight against the Black Banners is a chase scene where the PCs must use the bones to reconsecrate the church while the vampire spawn attack the complex.* We also get alternative ways of resolving the tensions with the Baron during the Festival of the Blazing Sun, expanded clue-finding details for the quests involving tracking down the bones of St. Andral and the missing Vistani girl Arabelle, and how Vallaki’s politics change if the Wachters take over. In the case of the PCs causing political upheaval, the section also explains how Victor Vallakovich may go into hiding, and how Vallaki’s new government may develop if the Wachters are dethroned with a variety of options. One of which includes Ireena becoming the burgomaster!

*A good excuse to have Rudolph Van Richten appear to aid the party.

We have one last section, Vallaki in Flames, that serves as a late-game event where Strahd escalates things by having a monstrous horde assault the town in an event that will go down in Barovian History as the Night of Flames. All in all, a lot of additional details to bulk up Vallaki in making it a happening place PCs can find new stuff with on regular revists.

The Wizard of Wines acknowledges that hordes of blights aren’t going to be a real threat to a 5th level party, so several suggestions are made to up the ante. For instance, heavy rain can grant the blights resistance to fire when outside, the Martikovs beg the PCs not to set fire inside the winery as that will destroy their livelihood, swapping out the druid spells with more combat and terrain control ones, having a few dozen needle blights engage in long-range attacks at the party as they cross the vineyards on the way to the winery, and one druid in the wine cellar using thunderwave to create an explosion of glass shards as an AoE attack. Alterations on special events include the druids poisoning the wine (delivering the wine without dealing with the poison will cause Barovians to blame the Martikovs for the inevitable deaths) and making the suggestion that the journey to Yester Hill is provided before the wine delivery so the PCs don’t miss the option to defend the winery from Wintersplinter.

Yester Hill doesn’t have as much detail besides suggesting to scale down the map to 30 feet per square as the sheer size of the map ordinarily makes tactical movement a slog. Suggestions are made to fill the woods around with more overtly supernatural and corrupted animals reflecting the druid’s influence, such as perytons and manticores. The Gazetteer also suggests changing around the encounter order so that the Gulthias tree is encountered and fought before the druid circle, and makes Wintersplinter’s appearance a satisfying climactic finale. An alternate system for the Blood Spear of Kavan is provided, referencing Matt Mercer’s Corruption rules. Basically, the spear’s enhancement bonus and save DC improves with the wielder’s Corruption, which increases every time they kill a creature with the weapon and fail a Wisdom save.

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The Village of Krezk heavily focuses on expanding and reworking the Abbot and the inhabitants. The insane mongrelfolk have problematic implications, both with the monsters being deformed from race-mixing and treating mental illness as akin to a freak show spectacle. Instead, the Abbot has miraculous healing powers, but his magic causes permanent deformations in the subjects. As they will be rejected by wider society, they more or less end up permanent residents of the Abbey, which gives the Abbot more power over them.

By far the biggest change is the addition of a False Hydra, an aberration located beneath the Abbey in a cave (and a new map to boot) where its songs can cause people to forget the existence of itself as well as others. Krezk has a disturbing amount of inconsistent memories the PCs can pick up on which is the result of residents being killed by the Abbot or Hydra. The module suggests for an unconventional change of pace that Ireena ends up kidnapped by the Abbot, and the PCs have reduced resources as a result of a fight they no longer remember. Going through the Abbey, they can put clues together that will lead them to the truth.

Note: I should note that the hydra idea was borrowed from the Goblin Punch blog, but when I clicked the link Malwarebytes threw up a Trojan warning and blocked the page. I did mention this on the product page on DM’s Guild, but also figured to repeat it in this review as a public service.

The Werewolf Den is a rather out of the way location many gaming groups will miss. The Gazetteer notes that most PCs will be reluctant to aid either werewolf that is gunning for leadership. So in an alternate event, Zuleika Toranescu will feign surrender, asking the PCs to kill Kiril when he returns. She hopes that the PCs can do their dirty work for her, but as transporting a bunch of children is easier said than done this creates a weakness for the party: if they stay and plot in the caves, the werewolves can wait them out as provisions run low. If the party escapes into the woods with the captured children, Kiril and his pack will take advantage of guerilla tactics. The book suggests making this a skill challenge where degrees of failure can impose additional complications when combat starts. Lucky PCs may make it to the walls of Krezk where there’s no forest cover for the werewolves, and archer guards can attack the regular wolves. While failure may place the werewolves in advantageous ambush positions in the middle of the forest.

We also get additional explanations on werewolves in Barovia and ways of running lycanthropy. As something for PCs, damage immunity is considered overpowered and instead suggests regeneration that doesn’t protect against silver weapons and spells, along with infected characters not gaining long rests during certain nights (full moon or every night depending on how merciful the DM feels). As for curing lycanthropy, a more complicated procedure is provided for those who feel that magical healing is too easy: a medically-applied dose of wolfsbane to cleanse the body, followed by a remove curse spell to cleanse the soul, along with lists of NPCs who are capable of doing this in the module.

Van Richten’s Tower goes into detail not just about the location, but also about ways to handle Van Richten’s backstory and his anti-Vistani sentiments. This section discusses ways to tip the PCs off to visiting the tower, such as an invitation by Van Richten himself or a mention by an ally such as the Martikovs if the characters wish to seek out a monster hunter. As for Ezmerelda’s exploding wagon, the book highly suggests finding ways to explode it, but should use the average damage rather than random as it may very easily instantly kill a character or three. As for the tower puzzle, it mentions that the book’s description is ambiguous and how in online games this may cause additional complications such as mirrored video feeds. The book also suggests ways to spice up the fights in the Special Events involving vampires or werewolves laying siege to the building. For example, the werewolves may take advantage of the tower’s antimagic field by moving inside the structure to fight, the PCs can use the animated armor or clay golems to attack the enemies, Ezmerelda can arrive to the party’s aid if they’re in dire straits, and how the door trap can be triggered to collapse enemies inside the tower.

The second half of this section goes over Rudolph Van Richten and his portrayal, namely how his plans to use a tiger to slaughter the Vistani in Vallaki which makes his role in the story rather villainous:

As written in Curse of Strahd, Rudolph van Richten is also a racist. There is no denying it; he’s trained a tiger to attack the Vistani on sight, and he murdered a Vistana just to get directions to Barovia, where he plans to kill more Vistani. Van Richten has become one of the monsters he battles, and that creates a horrible tension between how the characters are inclined to view him—how the players are inclined to view him—and how he behaves in the game.

Many DMs may prefer to avoid that tension, whether out of some attachment to previous interpretations of van Richten or simply the desire not to run acts of racial violence in their games. Both are completely understandable. But if you and your group are willing to address van Richten’s racism, it can generate a powerful dramatic conflict for the player characters.

This guide discusses Rudolph van Richten’s plans to assault the Vistani camp outside Vallaki. It assumes that there will be a conflict between the characters’ desire to cultivate van Richten as an ally and their revulsion at his desire to eliminate the Vistani. It discusses the possible opportunities the characters will have to interfere with, thwart, or unwittingly participate in his plans. It will implicate them in his attacks.

The ultimate antagonist of this particular subplot is Rudolph van Richten.

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While acknowledging that many DMs may not want to have a supposedly Lawful Good character and the mascot of Ravenloft go on a one-man, one-tiger hate crime, the book explains ways to narratively handle things if they do go that route. Namely, Van Richten will attempt to attack and kill the camp’s leadership, as well as the child Arabelle for her precognitive powers that will make her the next raunie (Vistani matriarchal leader) due to the clan’s alliance with Strahd. While Van Richten is privately disgusted with himself, he views it as a necessary evil, and if need be he’ll try to trick the party into going along with the plan either directly or by leaking information to the Martikovs. In such a case, he intends to convince them he only wishes to target the individual Vistani who are directly serving Strahd. Van Richten will use himself as bait bait to lure out Arrigal, using alchemist’s fire in a circus tent rigged to explode. Along with that and setting the tiger loose, this will occupy much of the Vistani and the dusk elves as he goes to kill Arabelle. But beyond the PCs, Ezmerelda can be a wild card due to her conflicted loyalties and knowledge of what Van Richten plans to do if rescued during the rampage. It’s also possible she may die in the alchemist’s fire trap, thus causing the famed monster hunter’s curse to inadvertently claim one of his few remaining allies.

There are many ways this can go down, but a possible arc of Van Richten’s redemption may be that he hesitates upon seeing Arabelle, confronted with the enormity of what he set out to do. Additionally, his curse can be permanently lifted with the help of Arabelle: as Ezmerelda is the last survivor of the clan that laid the curse, only she can perform the Blood Rite. She never told Van Richten this because he never told her about the curse, for he’d have to explain how he got it in the first place. The Rite is a complicated magical procedure that transports Van Richten, Ezmerelda, and the PCs into an illusory psychic dreamscape operating on the nightmare logic of Van Richten’s past. Taking place in the camp of the Radanavich clan on the night Van Richten slaughtered them, the party, the Vistani, and the monster hunters must wade off waves of undead. The win conditions are if the party can save a child Ezmerelda from being killed.

Yes, the book breaks convention with the 2020 retcon, in making the people who kidnapped Van Richten’s son Vistani. The Gazetteer notes that the retcon resulted in contradictory versions between Ezmerelda’s backstory and Van Richten’s journal. While the stereotype of kidnapping children is one that’s been use to justify violence against Romani people in the real world, it has unforeseen complications in making Ezmerelda (the most notable and heroic Vistani in the module) no longer Vistani by birth. It also has the complications of cutting out why Van Richten is willing to go to such dire lengths against the Vistani, which still exist in the 2020 version. The Gazetteer suggests that the Radanavich clan were expelled from Vistani society for their crimes as one possibility. The new version of the journal changes some things around, like the monster hunter not making a deal with Azalin, and that Ezmerelda didn’t lose her leg to a werewolf but instead inadvertently to Van Richten’s own recklessness.

Argynvostholt mentions that its remote location means that most parties may not visit barring inherent wanderlust or a strong motivation. Sir Godfrey is warned against as an unbalanced ally who can take the spotlight from the PCs, and the Sunsword or Holy Symbol of Ravenkind are ideal treasures for this area. The book suggests that another hook may be an expanded version of the Arrigal’s Hunt special event, where Ezmerelda is being chased by the notorious assassin and several dusk elves. This turns the dungeon crawl into a more fast-paced multi-room fight, and it’s also suggested that Arrigal may be pursuing her for more than a stolen horse. Such as her refusal to recognize his leadership of the clan or being caught up in the feud between her mentor and the Vistani. Modifications are made to existing rooms and encounters in Argynvostholt in line with these events.

As for lighting the beacon, the book mentions that the means of finding out how to light it rests on a single counter-intuitive clue of repairing a torn painting, so it suggests making multiple clues to lead them to the study along with a link to Justin Alexander’s Three Clue Rule blog post.

The Ruins of Berez notes that this is a highly lethal area. As merely retrieving one of the Wizards of Wines gems may not be enough incentive on its own, the book suggests making it so that the Martikovs urgently ask the PCs for help in rescuing their children who were taken captive by Baba Lysaga. Additionally, placing the skull of Argynvost here in place of the hill giant’s skull is also recommended if a Tarokka treasure is in Argynvostholt. That way, this ties two out of the way locations together. Like Yester Hill, the grid-based map should be scaled down to 30 feet per square rather than 100; the book notes that the burgomaster’s mansion is bigger than Castle Ravenloft by RAW. Additionally, there’s advice on what kinds of hostile wildlife can be encountered on the way to Berez in line with its swampy nature, along with an expanded backstory and role for Muriel the wereraven. In noting she doesn’t share the same last name as the other Keepers while having a rather non-Barovian name, the Gazetteer gave her a proper backstory. Additionally, while the book applauds Curse of Strahd for introducing the first openly gay characters in a 5th Edition product, the authors saw an opportunity to add more LGBT diversity.

The Gazetteer makes Muriel a transgender woman from the Forgotten Realms. She saw many of her adventuring companions die on an ill-fated expedition into Barovia in fighting the druids of Yester Hill. The Mariktovs found her dying, and gave her lycanthropy to save her life. As Muriel had not come out of the closet yet, her new life in Barovia allowed her to adopt her current name as part of becoming who she truly is. In fact, one of her old adventuring partners has settled down in Vallaki as a blacksmith, but she is too afraid how he’ll react if they meet again; if they do, he’ll be delighted to know that she’s safe and well.

Muriel can tell the PCs how to reconsecrate the circle of standing stones to turn into a safe haven by putting the spirit of Marina Lurich to rest, who persists as an undead known as a drowned maiden. Reconsecrating the standing stone will break Baba Lysaga’s connection to the land and depower her of her magical protections.

We also have info on handling the fight with Baba Lysaga, such as allowing Treebane (magic axe obtained in Yester Hill) to do its additional damage to her Creeping Hut due to that object being made out of wood, along with captured wereravens calling out warnings from their cages to the PCs. Merciful DMs wishing to avoid a TPK may make it so that Baba Lysaga polymorphs the PCs into goats to be penned for a future sacrifice.

Thoughts So Far: The expansion of Vallaki is particularly welcome, especially regarding the revamping of the vampire spawn attack as well as going into detail on its political changes if the PCs end up causing the exile and/or deaths of the prominent families. Changing the Abbot’s patients to avoid unfortunate racist and ableist implications is similarly welcome, and it also further villainizes the Abbot and his twisted savior complex. The False Hydra and the “fight they don’t remember” is a cool idea, although as it takes away PC autonomy (“my character has a journal they record everything in!”) it requires a skilled DM to pull off well.

I don’t feel that making lycanthropy harder to cure is such a great idea given the brevity of specialized healers in the campaign. PCs who have a character that can cast Remove Curse are making the conscious decision to be more self-reliant without having to find a helpful NPC. While I can understand wanting to make sense of a contradictory backstory for Esmerelda and Van Richten, going back to the “actually the people who kidnapped his son were Vistani” runs up a bit against the earlier advice about avoiding stereotypes. A better solution would’ve been to make up a new backstory for Van Richten’s curse, such as from a creature that features in the module like Baba Lysaga. He can still decide to attack the Vistani in linking them with Strahd, which can be reflected as a man hardened by decades of violence deciding that the unthinkable must be done to defeat the overwhelming evil of Strahd.

Join us next time as we cover the rest of this product, from the two big dungeons to alternate endings for Curse of Strahd!
 

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