Tsolenka Pass focuses on using the expanded map scale to turn the journey to the Amber Temple into a perilous wilderness adventure. This section references Curse of Strahd Reloaded for various environmental hazards. Things the Gazetteer itself provides is a 2d6 random encounter table for threats specific to Barovia’s mountains, using Kasimir Velikov as a guide to help them survive the journey, and an upgraded Stat block for the goat monster Sangzor among other things.
The Amber Temple hints on how the dungeon is notorious for killing PCs even by Curse of Strahd standards, but not to pull punches given the party likely heard all sorts of warnings about it for quite some time. It talks about how the placement of threats in the temple can make the party engage in one big battle or a series of smaller ones to drain their resources. For changes, the Gazetteer says that the berserkers should be expanded on as being Mountainfolk seeking shelter. They can be persuaded to not fight the PCs, and this attempt auto-succeeds if one of them displays Sangzor’s pelt. Additionally, the possession feature of the Staff of Frost should come with a warning or remedy along with a saving throw to resist, given permanently changing a PC’s personality is kind of a dick move. Diamond dust is added to the Lich’s Lair so that it can be used to cast Greater Restoration in order to restore Exethanter’s memory or unlock the command words for the volumes in the library. The library itself is greatly expanded on, containing a book that can help restore Exethanter’s memory as well as wandering allips haunted by the secrets they discovered in life. A new Special Event is added to this section as well, in having Ezmerelda show up as a general counterweight to whatever the PCs have done so far to shake things up.
Last but not least, the Gazetteer goes over the Dark Gifts, mentioning that by RAW the PCs can lose control of their characters via a single bad die roll if they turn evil. Otherwise, many of the gifts’ consequences may be cosmetic and encourage them to treat the vestiges like a grocery store for permanent buffs. The Gazetteer makes mention of Curse of Strahd Reloaded’s alternate system along with Matt Mercer’s Corruption rules for a more gradual multi-stage corruption process.
Castle Ravenloft goes into detail on this dungeon crawl. Instead of being a “final dungeon” for PCs to put off until the end, it can be made into a two-parter. An earlier “social phase” may have Strahd invite the PCs to dinner, and his intentions at this point are non-hostile. As long as they observe Barovian guest law, the party can explore the castle in relative safety, providing a great opportunity to interact with the castle inhabitants out of combat. If a treasure is to be found in Castle Ravenloft, the PCs may even mount a daring heist and the Gazetteer suggests the Treasury being perfect for such an event. PCs can stay in the guest room during this phase, and if they take a long rest a group of green hags (who replace the Barovian Witches) attempt to steal personal articles or locks of hair from the PCs for spell components. PCs who catch them in the act won’t earn reprisals from Strahd, as due to his Lawful Evil nature he will denounce the hags for violating the guest law.
The bulk of this section deals with changes and additional guidance to various rooms in the Castle. For instance, details are given in the Chapel if Strahd seeks to wed Ireena, giving outlines for characters who would be involved. Such as Rahadin being the Count’s best man, and Van Richten or Ezmerelda (if still alive) are lurking in the shadows for the perfect moment to strike the darklord.
Although it’s detailed later in the Appendix, Lifting the Curse expands on an alternate ending idea addressing DMs who may feel that the cycle of Strahd’s saga makes victory hollow if the domain will inevitably reset. This section provides more background details and “win conditions” for PCs to break the domain’s curse for good: one of the PCs is Sergei’s reincarnation, resulting in a dramatic reveal when Strahd welcomes them as his sibling during dinner at Castle Ravenloft.
In this scenario, Strahd seeks to find atonement by gaining the forgiveness of Tatyana and Sergei. How? By doing the classic drop to one knee and ask Ireena to marry him. He will then ask the reincarnated-Sergei PC to bless their union. Of course this plot is doomed to fail, for Strahd is making everything all about himself. Additionally his means of “atonement” don’t involve him giving up anything material, like his power over Barovia or allowing Ireena to live her own life on her own terms. The curse befalling Barovia can be broken by reuniting the spirits of Tatyana and Sergei…but neither of them must have accepted a dark gift from the vestiges at the Amber Temple. In such a case, the reincarnation will instead become Barovia’s new darklord.
Epilogues provides one more post-game victory which incorporates the “good ending” from Lifting the Curse where the reincarnated souls of Tatyana and Sergei are reunited. It has a detailed boxed text of the sun returning to Barovia, describing its rays shining down on the various locations explored during the campaign. Additionally, a massive celebration will be thrown for the party in the Village of Barovia, giving PCs time to tie up loose ends and say farewells to friends if they wish to leave. If Ireena ends up married, another epilogue happens nine months later as she delivers a baby. PCs who left Barovia are heading back in Ezmerelda’s wagon for the news, and as the baby cries the midwife does as well, for this is a sign that souls have returned to the land. If Ireena didn’t survive or otherwise isn’t looking to have kids, another character can be substituted, such as Stefania Martikov at the winery as Urwin is reunited with his family.
Strahd Von Zarovich: A User’s Guide is a three-page course of how to run Strahd. It’s a mixture of role-play and tactical advice. For example, it expands on his disguise as Vasili von Holtz and how being able to walk the land under an alternate identity allows him to gain a second set of impressions when people don’t know he’s Strahd, and also because he likes it:
Vasili also offers something even more important to Strahd: a chance to be among people again. In Castle Ravenloft, he’s surrounded by sycophants and mindless undead. As Vasili, he can walk the streets of Vallaki without sending the crowd running away in terror. He probably appreciates this aspect more than he would ever let on.
And then there’s the fun of it. Strahd likes being Vasili because he enjoys fooling everyone and knowing something they don’t. Not to put too fine a point on it, Strahd is a sadist whose only remaining pleasure lies in tormenting others. While you don’t want to run anything just to be sadistic to your players, there is something so inherently cruel about his betrayal of the characters’ trust as Vasili that it speaks to an essential truth of his character even as he is pursuing other goals.
The section also goes over tactics where the DM can be more lenient with the use of metagame knowledge (to a limit) given Strahd’s control over Castle Ravenloft combined with his scrying and spy network. Additionally, it recommends two combat guides on Reddit for running him when initiative is rolled, so the book instead focuses on his strategist aspect while also making it narratively satisfying without abuse of wall hacks.
Monster Hunter’s Gear provides new equipment which is notably owned by Rudolf Van Richten. It includes a modified crossbow with an underslung that can fire alchemical vials, including new powdered silver that can blind and poison lycanthropes as well as remove their damage immunity. He also has 3 doses of ether which he can use to poison and knock unconscious a target for 4 hours. Finally, an intact copy of Van Richten’s Guide to Vampires can give the PCs metagame knowledge of the traits of vampire and vampire spawn from the Monster Manual. Depending on the campaign, the Guide may also have hints of Barovia’s cyclical nature with passages of Van Richten killing Strahd in a fashion similar to the original I6 Ravenloft module.
Monsters & NPCs includes the stat blocks of new and remodeled creatures not present in the base Curse of Strahd module. We’ve got stats for individual Black Banner adventurers as vampire spawn (as the base monster but with some minor racial and/or class features to individualize them), a buffed-up stat block of Clovin Belview (bard spells and a taunt debuff), a False Hydra (like the normal one but has a rechargeable song that causes a humanoid to become incapable of noticing or remembering its presence on a failed Wisdom save), Red Lukas (undead bandit boss monster specializing in mounted combat who can summon vargouilles and has legendary actions), a buffed-up version of Sangzor (a CR 6 beast with a Legendary Action to perform a mobile kick attack), a new Warlock of the Undead (a CR 7 NPC who can turn into a more frightening visage of their patron), a Werewolf Pack Leader (like a werewolf but stronger), a unique stat block for Kolyan Indirovich for the flashback sequence in the Village of Barovia, and stat blocks for existing monsters such as Allips, Bodaks, and the Gulthias Tree.
This section ends with a unique, buffed-up CR 17 version of Strahd for more experienced and larger parties. Beyond higher stats where it counts, he can cast up to 6th level spells and has a unique 21 AC for when he’s wearing his animated armor as the major differences.
Handouts is our final section of new and altered in-game texts the PCs can find. They’re also available as their own individual PDFs for sharing with gaming groups. They include the religious history of the Abbey of St. Markova* detailing how it was brought down when one of the saints to which it is named led a doomed rebellion against Strahd with the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind; angsty writings of Victor Vallakovich’s private diary; a reworked account of Van Richten’s Journal; and a Tome of Strahd with a slightly altered backstory in line with Lifting the Curse, where Strahd was killed by his guards and rose as a vampire before Tatyana’s death.
*The Gazetteer mentions that -ovia typically denotes a place name and that Markovia is already the name of another Domain of Dread. Markova is in line with Barovian naming conventions.
Overall Thoughts: The Barovia Gazetteer is a stellar guide for DMs seeking to run Curse of Strahd. It has just a little bit of everything, from expanded details on Barovian culture and economy for increased verisimilitude, rebalancing of problematic encounters and events, and fun suggestions for adding interesting twists to virtually every location. The “social phase” idea for Castle Ravenloft is a great idea in making the dungeon more “explorable” given that most gaming groups won’t get to experience the place in its entirety.
Overall I don’t have many complaints for this, and those that exist are rather minor. I would recommend its purchase for DMs both old and new seeking to run Curse of Strahd.
Join us next time as we sail the Whale Road, seax in hand, to visit Heorot: Beowulf’s Domain of Dread!