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



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Product Type: Adventure (Mini-Game)

CoS-Required? Yes

Besides being the largest population center in Barovia, Vallaki is known for its many mandatory festivals. While the Baron’s poor attempts at enlivening community spirit is a major part of resentment against his regime, the traveling bard Rictavio is of a different bent. Vallaki’s Got Talent is an additional scenario that takes place before the Festival of the Blazing Sun, where Rictavio invites the PCs to perform with him for the upcoming festival.

But wait, you might ask? Rictavio isn’t actually a Bard, and his Charisma and Performance modifiers are a mere +0 each! That is true, but Rictavio compensates for this by substituting cantrips that can pass for sleight of hand and illusory entertainment, giving him a +5 modifier. We even have a sidebar of how he can use his cantrips, such as using Thaumaturgy to perform a ventriloquist act with the monkey Piccolo and make it seem like they’re talking to each other.

For the event itself, the players are encouraged prior to the session to come up with various performances of their own, ideally playing off of the talents of their PCs. Each performance is a Performance check or another skill based on DM permission, and the result of the roll affects the Aplauda-Meter measuring the crowd’s overall enthusiasm and good spirit (or lack thereof). The Aplauda-Meter ranges from -10 to 10, and begins at -3 given that the people of Vallaki are not eager to be there.

Vallaki’s Got Talent can be resolved in one of two ways: the PCs genuinely trying to uplift the people’s spirits and have a good time, or use the performances as an opportunity to turn public sentiment against Baron Vallakovich. In the former case, the evening can resolve from Rictavio and the party being forced out of town by an angry Baron at worst (-3 or below), to people warming up to the Baron and reducing Lady Wachter’s influence in town (+10 and above). Middling results can earn Rictavio’s trust (2- to +5). Better results can net discounts and free gifts for goods and services from townsfolk, while the party may possibly learn Rictavio’s true identity as well at the best result (+6 to +10)!

In the event that the PCs wish to incite rebellion, the worst result involves a resentful crowd relieved that the Festival is over, causing Lady Wachter to doubt the party’s capabilities (0 or below). A middling result causes dissent to spread, the Wachter cult gains more momentum, and the Baron orders Izek and the town guard to remove the party from Vallaki (+1 to +5). The best result puts the town on the edge of a riot, causing the Baron to send Izek out to arrest the party which angers the townsfolk even more, to the delight of Lady Wachter and Strahd (+6 and higher).

The final part of this short supplement says that these rules can be used for generic performances outside of the Curse of Strahd adventure. There’s also an in-character story based off of Tolstoy’s the Crane, the Crab, and the Fish, but adopted for Barovian fauna which is told by Rictavio during the festival.

Overall Thoughts: For a supposed carnival ringmaster, Rictavio doesn’t really do much entertaining in the default adventure beyond sharing tales with regulars at the Blue Water Inn. So I appreciate the idea of him participating in some pre-Festival festivities as a means of strengthening his carnie persona, and I do like the clever use of cantrips for putting on a show. I also like how it gives an otherwise underused skill in 5th Edition some love. I do feel that one of the initial results is a bit sudden in terms of narration: Rictavio revealing his true identity to who may as well be strangers feels very out of character. Sure they can Perform well, but that doesn’t prove they can keep his secret safe from Strahd!

Join us next time as we take on the role of the Knights of the Silver Dragon going to war with Strahd in the prequel adventure, Assault on Castle Ravenloft!

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Product Type: Adventure

CoS-Required? Yes

This one-shot adventure is designed for 4 5th-level PCs. But unlike other adventure products designed to supplement the base Curse of Strahd campaign, this one is a prequel where the players take on the role of Knights of the Silver Dragon attacking Castle Ravenloft before Strahd became a vampire and Barovia fell to the Mists. The adventure is separated into a Prologue and three Acts, and makes three changes to the base CoS canon: Castle Ravenloft’s construction was completed before Strahd destroyed the Order of the Silver Dragon, the Order assaulted Castle Ravenloft on the same day as Tatyana and Sergei’s wedding, and Sir Godfrey Gwilym can possibly die during the siege rather than at Argynvostholt.

With all that out of the way, the adventure goes over the major players and their changes. There are 3 NPCs present who are not in the original adventure but do exist in greater Barovian lore: Gralmore Nimblenobs, Khazan, and Sir Leonid Krushkin, who fight and die for Strahd during the siege. Rahadin is also one of the fighters, but since he’s present in the actual adventure he will be claimed by the Dark Powers to teleport him to the Amber Temple if he’d otherwise die. Quite a bit of NPCs in this adventure have plot armor as a result or have their destinies predetermined via non-interactive boxed text cutscenes. If anything, the only real changes the PC knights can effect are having their equipment show up around Castle Ravenloft during Curse of Strahd proper as mementos of the past. Sir Godfrey Gwilym has stats for this adventure, but instead of the S-tier undead companion he is currently, he instead uses NPC Knight statistics but can cast spells as a 16th level paladin.

The Prologue starts out with the PCs attending a war room meeting with Argynvost in human guise* and Vladimir Horngaard laying out the political situation of Barovia. Reports of an internal coup in Castle Ravenloft resulted in the death of Sergei, and Argynvost judges that such dissension is the perfect time to strike. They have Strahd at his weakest, and such an opportunity may never come again. The PCs are to ride ahead of the main force, to secure Castle Ravenloft’s drawbridge before it can be pulled up.

The DM is encouraged to ask the players how they came to join the Order and when they first met Sir Godfrey, along with a sample table of Knightly Mementos which are akin to Trinkets but tied more into the Order’s history.

*None save Vladimir or Godfrey know he is actually a dragon.

Act I begins with the PCs riding on warhorses along the Old Svalich Road. They come across Madam Eva, who at this point in history is known as Katarina, Strahd’s secret half-sister. She fled the Castle along with other servants to escape the massacre at the wedding. PCs who manage to calm her with Persuasion can learn more about what happened at the Castle, notably the death of Sergei and Tatyana and Leo Dilisnya’s failed assassination attempt of Strahd.

The drawbridge of Castle Ravenloft is an encounter, complete with a gridded and nongridded map.* A mixture of guards, scouts, and veterans man the walls, and when the guards start to close the gate the PCs must make Athletics checks to jump onto it. They still make it on a failure, but lose an important piece of equipment or Memento as it falls off.

*Each Act has an appropriate map, although Act II uses Ravenloft’s existing courtyard.

Act II has a larger force of soldiers come out to defend the castle: Rahadin plus the aforementioned Kruskhkin and Nimblenobs and two dozen soldiers. The nameless minions aren’t relevant to the fight, as the Order of Silver Dragon will come into the courtyard to do battle with them. During the conflict, Khazan will appear on the battlements to conjure a storm, which creates intermittent AoE lightning strikes targeting the PCs. In order to deal with Khazan, Argynvost enters Cutscene Mode by transforming into a silver dragon to fly up and kill the archmage with an arctic breath. Argynvost, who has accumulated years’ worth of wounds in dragon form, falls to the ground dead in human form.

Act III is the climax of the adventure, when dusk falls and the Mists truly descend upon Barovia. Godfrey’s failure to heal Argynvost’s wounds is remarked by him as feeling “cut off from the Divine,” which is some ominous foreshadowing of Barovia shifting planes. Horngaard leads the remaining forces to the main doors of Castle Ravenloft, which swing open to reveal Strahd who will be broody and unmoved by the paladin’s proclamations of justice. The now-vampiric darklord will cause the courtyard’s fallen to rise as undead, prompting a skill challenge representing a larger defensive battle against the creatures of the night. Some checks are given, and each failure will eliminate 20% of the order’s remaining forces. Sadly these checks have no narrative consequences for the rest of the adventure or even Curse of Strahd proper.

After the challenge is completed, Strahd will fell Godfrey with a Blight spell, and the PCs will fight Strahd directly and have a chance to save the paladin if they can reduce Strahd to 100 or less hit points or otherwise secure Godfrey to safety. Like the skill challenge, this has no narrative consequences, as Strahd will use another unnamed spell to blow back the party with no saving throw allowed. Godfrey will either be dead, at which point Horngaard loses all will to continue fighting, or is too weak to assist them in the next fight. The PCs thus pursue Strahd further into the castle, confronting him alone at the altar with him standing over Sergei’s corpse.

Strahd will give a melancholy speech of his conflicted feelings over his brother and how he “took” Tatyana from him. He ends the speech by proclaiming that Barovia is his, where not even death can pry it out of his cold, undead hands. Initiative is rolled as normal, but it is expected that the PCs will fall in battle to Strahd. He may spare one survivor to leave and spread what happened at the castle so as to warn others who think to act against him.

The Epilogue ends our adventure with the PCs regaining consciousness in a Barovia now lost in Mists, where they become undead ghosts filled with an all-consuming thirst for vengeance. They find their fellow knights in a similar state, including Vladimir Horngaard who says that their watch is not yet over. Not as long as Strahd still stands.

Overall Thoughts: Prequel adventures aren’t very common in tabletop RPGs. I am not against the concept in and of itself, but the actions of the PCs in the prequel must have some tangible impact on the present. Otherwise they feel like padding, content for the sake of content.

Unfortunately, Assault on Castle Ravenloft’s railroad tracks are downright magnetic, for the player’s agency and meaningful choices are more or less rendered moot. It doesn’t matter if they save Godfrey or fail, he’ll end up as undead in Argynvostholt. It doesn’t matter if the PCs succeed or fail in the skill challenge to repel Strahd’s undead, for the Order of the Silver Dragon will be reduced to literal ghosts of their former selves one way or another. The only NPCs who don’t have plot armor are people who have no real impact on the current timeline besides historical footnotes.

One could argue that Assault on Castle Ravenloft can give the players some meta-knowledge on things before the campaign begins, like knowing the impact of Argynvost or why Strahd is obsessed with Tatyana, but these are things that can be learned in the actual adventure. The Knightly Mementos aren’t meaningful items in and of themselves for the plot, being little more than discarded items that act as a metagame shout out to players who end up in Castle Ravenloft.

It is for these reasons that I cannot recommend this adventure.

Join us next time as we turn Barovia’s ruler into a Dragon Ball Z villain in the Real Devil Strahd! A CR 27 Version of the Devil!



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Product Type: Bestiary

CoS-Required? No, but presumably meant to be used as a replacement for the default CoS Strahd of that book.

As an iconic D&D figure who has existed across editions, the capabilities of Strahd Von Zarovich have differed between incarnations. In the original I6 module, he was a powerful vampire and a 10th level magic user. A fearsome foe to be sure, but not on the tier of a cosmic horror or demigod. In the 2nd Edition House of Strahd update to the adventure, his arcane knowledge expanded exponentially, becoming a 16th level necromancer versed in all but the most powerful magic as well as several magic items equipped on his person. Third Edition saw two versions: Expedition to Castle Ravenloft returned him to his roots as a 10th level wizard, enhanced with the powers of the Fanes of Barovia that gave him various persistent benefits as long as he remained connected to the land. A CR 15 foe, but one that could be reduced to 12 and plausibly defeated by a group of mid-level adventurers. In the Ravenloft Campaign Setting published by White Wolf, we saw Strahd at his most powerful, as a 4th level Fighter/16th level Necromancer, putting him (in theory) as a foe that only PCs nearing maximum level could fight and hope to win.

Curse of Strahd harkened back to the 1st and 3rd Edition adventures, positioning the vampire as a learned wizard but not archmage-tier. Of someone more in line to be a dire threat to heroes that can still be troubled by earthly concerns, who haven’t yet graduated to being the most powerful heroes of the Material Plane. At a time before said heroes grow bored of earthly pursuits and yearn for epic level quests beyond time and space.

The Real Devil Strahd, in its own words, finds Curse of Strahd’s portrayal of the vampire to be weak in comparison to the novels and descriptions of him in the adventure, notably drawing upon the fact that he beat Mordenkainen and how his stat block is too close to that of the standard Monster Manual vampire. The author suggests that with Strahd being the first of his kind, that should lend him to being far more powerful than the average Monster Manual Vampire. This product rewrites Strahd’s stat block to be an epic-tier CR 27 monster, and advises not to use this stat block save “during the final encounter.” Which makes me presume it’s meant as a replacement for the stats in Curse of Strahd and not just for some alternate epic-tier Ravenloft campaign.

In spite of this product’s brevity, I’ve managed to spot a lot of spelling and grammar errors. The book misspells Mordenkainen twice in the same paragraph as well as other words elsewhere, sometimes there would be no spaces between words, certain proper nouns not being capitalized, and the use of a winky face emoji. This reads less like a professional product and more like the first draft of someone’s homebrew.

So, what are some of the bigger changes for Real Devil Strahd in comparison to his base stats? In short, he is empowered by the three Fanes, which give him persistent benefits. Furthermore, the Heart of Sorrow gives him a safe bank of 100 hit points instead of 50. He wears his Animated Armor at all times, wears a +3 Ring of Protection, fights with a +3 longsword, and has a ring of counterspell and bead of force.

The Real Devil Strahd basically has more of everything across the board. His AC is a massive 29, with 6 of that coming from the Mountain Fane that “protects him against incorporal attacks and also applies when Strahd is in gaseous form.” Which if this were 3rd Edition, would make sense, but in 5th Edition Armor Class is Armor Class. Unless a specific ability is called out, attacks by incorporeal creatures or when in gaseous form don’t alter one’s AC.

Surprisingly Strahd still has a low amount of hit points at 161, but can regenerate 30 hit points per turn instead of 20. Several of his values are mathematically wrong; at CR 27 he should have a +8 Proficiency Bonus. He is proficient in Perception and has a 14 Wisdom, so he should have +10 Perception. But it’s +8, and his Passive Perception is 21. He’s actually less sharp-eyed than the default Curse of Strahd! This holds true for the rest of his proficient skills and saving throws, who are off by a value of at least 1 lower or higher than they should be.

Perhaps to make up for his dulled senses, Strahd has something called Blood Scent where he senses living creatures with blood or blood-like vital fluids within 240 feet. He’s outright immune, rather than resistant to, nonmagical weapon attacks as well as poison, and with the Swamp Fane he has resistance to the big elemental energy types. Strahd is also immune to all turn undead attempts unless it’s from the “Icon of ravenkind.” Ravenkind is lowercase in the book, and I presume that the author means the Icon of Ravenloft magic item.

Interestingly this Strahd not only has a regular Children of the Night feature, he also has a Feral Swarm which gathers a swarm of bats but as an AoE damaging cone that recharges on a 5-6 on a d6. He also has a Beguiling Gaze he can use as a bonus action, which is a gaze attack that grants him advantage on all attack rolls against a target that fails a Wisdom save, and lasts until they take damage or until the start of Strahd’s next turn.

The final Fane, the Forest Fane, grants Strahd constant benefits of a Nondetection spell as well as the ability to listen in on and know the location of anyone who mentions his name.

As for his spellcasting capabilities, they’re a mess. Some spells are capitalized while others are lowercase, and some that are more than one word have some of the words beginning in uppercase and the others not. Combined with the inconsistent use of spacing, this makes Strahd’s spells a pain to read. You probably won’t be surprised to hear that his save DC and spell attack rolls have the incorrect modifiers, too. Additionally, two of his defensive spells have (active) in parenthesis next to them, which I presume means he cast them before battle. They are Mirror Image and Guards and Wards. In the former’s case it has a short duration meaning that it’s unlikely to be in play should the PCs get the jump on Strahd. The latter spell only affects up to 2,500 square feet of floor space, and there’s no mention in this book if the spell moves with Strahd if we presume a mobile final fight taking place throughout Castle Ravenloft. Strahd can cast up to 8th level spells, with a penchant for offensive and “dark magic” style spells like Finger of Death and Maddening Darkness. Finally, unlike the basic CoS Strahd, this one makes use of various non-core magic, including one Unearthed Arcana spell (Puppet).

And what of his Legendary and Lair Actions? Well on the Legendary Side Strahd gets a bunch more abilities on top of his CoS base abilities, such as a use of his Charm, shooting lightning bolts dealing 3d6 damage courtesy of his animated armor, can make a claw attack that is an automatic critical hit if it connects and imposes a Lingering Injury* on the target, a gaze attack that can frighten targets, and can teleport a short range. As for his Lair Actions, Strahd can generate supernatural darkness that dims the light level and grants vulnerability to necrotic damage on living creatures and resistance to radiant damage to undead in it, and finally psychic impressions of the screams of prior victims that impose deafness and disadvantage on Perception checks on a failed Wisdom save.

*This is an optional rule in the DMG, so I hope that any DMs using this stat block have bookmarks ready!

But wait, you may ask. “This Strahd isn’t strong enough!” “This stat block needs more book-keeping!” “I want Strahd to feel more like a video game boss battle!”

Well, it just so happens that this Real Devil Strahd has a secondary Monstrous Form! Don’t worry, it’s not a whole new stat block, just some more alterations to the basic stats if he’s not in sunlight and below 50% health. For 10 minutes he grows to Large size, gaining an additional attack or Dash once per turn, a flying speed of 150 feet, resistance to all damage except radiant damage, advantage on all melee attacks against creatures not at full health, and cannot shapechange into other typical vampire forms.

In order to fit all of this onto his stat block, it is split into one and a half pages with a very small font.

Now this sounds like a lot of things to juggle for a DM, and you’d be right. But it’s all for making a stronger Strahd. And for those who think that animated armor and a +3 longsword aren’t enough, don’t worry, this book has got you covered! They are both unique items, with the longsword having several abilities such as a crazy base 3d10 slashing + 2d8 necrotic damage, is invisible to divination magic,* and can store the necrotic damage dealt as charges to heal oneself. The animated armor grants a bunch of condition immunities and the lightning blast legendary action. But since PCs don’t have legendary actions, does a PC who dons the armor get one free use per turn? The book doesn’t say.

*The book says invisible instead of undetectable, which asks if a diviner with the means of seeing invisibility can detect the sword. The book doesn’t specify this case.

Our book ends with four new spells specifically for Strahd. Ground Fog is a 2nd level conjuration spell that is like Fog Cloud but has a much larger radius (the Range says 120 foot radius but the text says 50 foot radius) and only goes up to 2 feet high; Rain of Terror causes rain that can take on various forms from blood to writhing snakes, making it easier for foes to be frightened like advantage on Intimidate checks and disadvantage on saves vs fear; Shadowbind is a 4th level spell that targets up to 6 creatures whose shadows merge on a failed save, forcing them to remain adjacent to each other and only acting on their lowest initiative order together; and Strahd’s Baneful Attractor, a 4th level spell that creates a 15 foot diameter invisible force that can divert spells aimed at another nearby creature to the person who cast the spell instead.

Overall Thoughts:


This entire product is a mess. Beyond just the poor formatting and grammar, running this Strahd in combat would require a bunch of unnecessary book-keeping as well as the use of optional rules and non-core sources. There’s no way I would use this on a typical end-game Curse of Strahd party. Even if I was running for an extremely optimized group, juggling this along with the confusing mapping of Castle Ravenloft would give me a headache, and if using the hit and run tactics the default Strahd uses this will be too difficult for even optimized groups. And even in spite of all this, Strahd’s low hit points and typical vampire weaknesses still means that the old Wall of Force plus Sunsword trick can still take him down.

Now, I haven’t read novels such as I, Strahd, so I can’t say how faithful this is to his power in the literature. However, Mordenkainen in the base adventure is an archmage. Still very powerful, but lacking several things that Strahd has: namely Legendary Actions, the ability to noclip through the walls of Castle Ravenloft, a bunch of evil minions, the ability to regenerate from most attacks without consuming precious resources, and a high enough Stealth to get the drop on Mordy’s meager 12 Passive Perception unless he pops a valuable spell slot on something like Foresight or Enhance Ability (Owl’s Wisdom). Default Strahd can still plausibly take on the (admittingly depowered) 5e Mordenkainen via his home terrain advantage.

I am not against the concept of an epic-tier Strahd villain. We saw a saner stat block for this in White Wolf’s Ravenloft, but it has to be done well. I’m honestly surprised that this product got mostly positive ratings and reviews; we should aim for a higher standard for the Dungeon Master’s Guild.

Join us next time as we spice up Curse of Strahd’s haunted countryside in Barovian Nights: 101 Random Encounters!



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Product Type: DMing Tool

CoS-Required? Yes

Another Oliver Clegg* product, Barovian Nights looks to spice up Curse of Strahd’s overland travel with a lot more random encounters. The default adventure has 25 different overland encounter types, but the only real variance is whether it’s day or night and most involve hostile monsters or NPCs. Barovian Nights replaces the default encounter table with its own 101 random encounters, plus supplemental material such as new and altered mage familiars and Dark Powers checks brought in from prior editions. For 33 pages, you get quite a bit of content!

*Oliver Darkshire is his other pen name.

101 Random Barovian Encounters is the meat of this book, consisting of 2/3rds of content. The Encounters use 1d100 tables with 5 different terrain types (roads, woods, lake/river, mountain, and wetlands), meaning that some encounters only occur in certain places or more/less frequently depending on where the PCs are in Barovia. Quite a bit of the encounters don’t involve combat, or at least not as a first resort, sometimes setting the mood for Barovia’s creepy atmosphere or providing hints at its history and other locations.

Some of the interesting mood-setting encounters include a Shrine to Mother Night (perform a sacrifice to her to receive Inspiration, good-aligned clerics are attacked by a rot grub swarm, destroying the shrine curses the iconoclast), Feed the Birds (a druid feeding a flock of ravens the clothes of children killed by the hags of Old Bonegrinder), Full Moon (characters receive temporary immunity to hexes, curses, and Dark Gifts until sunrise, but all lycanthropes trigger their transformations), and Witch Hunter (archers from Vallaki who are hunting for occultists at the behest of Baron Vallakovich).

I like these kinds of encounters. Quite a few tie into other characters and quests, which is a pretty nice touch and makes Barovia feel like a more lived-in place. And to feel like something more than just speed bumps to chip away at party resources.

A few encounters are straightforward combat scenes involving monsters, and even the ones that aren’t typically Gothic are still given an appropriate mood-setting or have a kind of B-Movie horror vibe. Such encounters include Red Riding Hood (a redcap harvesting the organs of dead humans who looks like a child clutching a dead body in grief from a distance), Mist Tendrils (the Mists come to life as the extension of some great and terrible power, uses modified Roper statistics such as being Gargantuan, undead, is insubstantial, and deals necrotic damage), Woodbreaker Dryad (dryad corrupted by the druids of Yester Hill and uses her powers to create falling tree traps to attack the party), and Dripping Trees (a cluster of grey oozes slide off surrounding trees as it rains to attack the party).

Several of the encounters involve meeting Strahd personally, or one of his spies tailing or inconveniencing the party. In the former examples, Strahd is given a modified list of prepared spells to be used in line with said encounter. Some examples include His Master’s Voice (Rahadin appears to ambush a party member before retreating, Strahd is scrying upon him so he can see how the PCs perform in direct combat), Lost Cat (kitten left on its own in the wild by Strahd, hoping that a PC with a soft spot takes it so that Strahd can scry upon it), Death From Above or the Pack (Strahd takes the form of a mundane bat or wolf in a much larger Children of the Night Swarm as they attack the party), and Wolf Spy (normal wolf attempts to Stealth against the party’s Passive Perception, will report back to Strahd in 2d4 hours to stage an attack 24 hours later).

Personally speaking, the Strahd and spy encounters feel kind of uninspired. They mostly involve Strahd directly attacking the party or sneaky scouts tailing the party. I do understand they can’t be too involved given the brevity of the book, but I would’ve liked to see more non-combatant examples. There are two such examples, but they’re very vague, like Strahd appearing in an armchair to pretend to agree to a truce in order to manipulate the PCs.

There are a few encounters that I feel are real stinkers, or shouldn’t be deployed given they can have some unintended repercussions down the campaign line or can ruin how the party interacts with certain characters in a way the DM may not have intended. They include Devil on the Water (an airborne Strahd ignoring the Concentration limitation of the Fly spell musters a horde of Strahd zombies to attack the party near a body of water and will attempt to kidnap Ireena if she’s with the group), Arrigal (the PCs meet a nice old man who is then killed in boxed text by Arrigal for the fun of it), the Demon in the Wood (PCs come upon a a black stone with a devil face in the woods, evil voice offers a PC a Dark Gift if they reach into the face, destroying the stone summons a Balor who will attack everyone and everything “until Barovia is a smoldering cesspit of hubris”), and the Magic Cow (a hedge witch is having trouble getting her stubborn cow to move, PCs who help her out will be rewarded with a Bag of Beans magic item).

Devil on the Water not only makes Strahd outright ignore one of the rules of the game without any explanation as to how, his blatant kidnapping of Ireena can be an escalation that puts the PCs on a perpetual overtly hostile footing with him. Some campaigns have degrees where Strahd goes from toying with the PCs like an interesting diversion to treating them as an overt threat. Kidnapping Ireena isn’t something he does immediately, and many online guides for DMs advise against this. Additionally, while Arrigal is an evil man, him acting like a murderhobo as a potential first impression can color the PCs of encountering him later in the Vallaki Vistani Camp, and perhaps by extension Luvash and the others. That’s presuming he even gets away at all. Demon in the Wood can end up plopping an epic-level horror into Barovia that alters significant parts of the campaign if it starts running roughshod over locations and population centers. Finally, the Bag of Beans are a rather unpredictable magic item in and of itself.

There is one encounter I do like that is a throwback to the 3rd Edition Gazetteer series. The PCs come upon a traveling female scholar known as S who is working on a Gazetteer for a benefactor. She is curious about what the party thinks of Barovia and their experiences in the domain, taking notes before moving on. She otherwise has no time for heroics and typical adventuring stuff, but may be tempted at the prospect of solving an intricate puzzle or fun riddle. Another encounter has the party come upon a unicorn skeleton (unicorn stats but undead, no healing touch or legendary/lair actions) within a desiccated section of forest, who in spite of its undead nature hates Strahd for turning Barovia into such a dismal realm. The unicorn will accompany the party if they prove themselves to be enemies of Strahd, and will prioritize attacking Beucephalus should the two ever meet.

The following sections later are short 1 or 2 page articles providing new material beyond just the random encounters. Unfamiliar Familiars gives a short list of unique familiars and their names for PCs who cast Find Familiar in Barovia. We even get a new familiar type: the Wisp, a tiny good-aligned celestial who is basically a floating ball of light that provides illumination and can deal 1d4 lightning damage as an attack. Dusk Until Dawn expands on the Charms in the Dungeon Master’s Guide with 8 new ones corresponding to either the Morninglord or Mother Night for PCs who manage to please them. The Morninglord charms include various “white magic” and light-based stuff like casting Dispel Good and Evil or spending a charge to make a corpse permanently immune to becoming undead. Mother Night’s charms hew closer to “witchcraft” such as being able to cast Find Familiar as a ritual up to 3 times before the charm vanishes, spending a charge to cover Barovia in a moonless night for 24 hours, or summoning a swarm of rats who treat you as an ally.


Vicious Circles brings a modified concept of the Honor system house rule from the Dungeon Master’s Guide into Ravenloft, where an Honor saving throw is renamed a Dark Powers check. Such checks are rolled whenever a PC does something in line with general evil stuff, with the DC based on the severity of the sins. Failing the save reduces a character’s Honor score, and the Honor score provides mechanical changes based on how morally pure or impure they are. There are three d6 tables of Dark Changes that are akin to Dark Gifts when Honor is lowered to certain thresholds, granting mechanical benefits but with some kind of drawback, such as growing claws that deal 1d4 damage but grant disadvantage on checks requiring fine manipulation. A PC whose Honor score falls to 0 becomes an NPC, enslaved to their evil passions and claimed by the Dark Powers.

Death Wish grants new rules for PCs who come back from the dead. If a PC dies and they’re 4th level or lower, the Dark Powers can offer to resurrect them. This is a one-time offer, and when a PC comes back this way they aren’t exactly alive, gaining 2 traits in line with an undead type. They detect as evil undead to divination and they no longer need to eat, sleep, or breathe. Each pair of traits are positive and negative: for instance, the zombie gains the Undead Fortitude as the monster of the same name, but they appear and smell like a rotting corpse and reduce all movement speeds by 10 feet. A ghost can see into the Ethereal Plane and can attempt to possess a creature as the monster ability once per day, but they become effectively insubstantial and unable to affect or be affected by anything in the Material Plane.

Jinxed gives us two new house rules. The first is Bad Luck, a new value that accrues during play when a character performs superstitious things such breaking a mirror or having a black cat crosses their path. A Bad Luck score causes an unfortunate consequence to occur on d20 rolls by 1 per point in the score. Such consequences happen on natural 1s no matter the character, but increase by 1 for every point in Bad Luck. For example, a character with a Bad Luck score of 5 automatically fails attack rolls on a natural die result of 1 to 6.

The other rule is for Curses that make suggested changes to the Remove Curse spell in Curse of Strahd to better fit the horror atmosphere. Honestly it’s nothing special, mostly suggesting against it: it’s a 3rd level spell slot and doesn’t remove curses from cursed objects and only breaks attunement, so even then it’s still limited. But DMs who wish to reduce its power are suggested to make it require specific material components for unique kinds of curses.

Gifts Ungiven provides 10 new Dark Gifts for PCs to gain at the Amber Temple. While the Dark Gifts aren’t exactly meant to be balanced and are end-game level features, a lot of the new ones here feel quite broken, often in favor of the player. Some of the more interesting Gifts include the ability to cast Knock as an action at will but the caster becomes trapped in the Ethereal Plane from sunrise to sundown each day, another gift makes them become more like a rakshasha in granting immunity to the effects of all spells of 6th level or lower but their hands turn backwards, a third gift grants a climb speed equal to their walking speed but they sprout seven spider legs from their spine, and a fourth gift can let the user teleport up to 500 feet between mirrors by spending 5 feet of movement to enter and exit each but their skin becomes permanently reflective. There are some Gifts that provide personality-altering flaws, such as gaining immunity to cold damage as well as nonmagical piercing and slashing damage, but in exchange emotion of any kind causes them pain.


Dealing with the Devil is a short rundown of sample tactics for Strahd to use when fighting PCs near the end of the campaign. As it’s one page, they don’t go into detail, saying things like using Charm against classes without Wisdom save proficiencies, almost always using lair actions to phase through walls, using shadow monsters to drain a Barbarian’s strength, and staying out of melee range of high-damage classes like fighters and paladins.

Strahd Magic Tricks has a sample list of prepared wizard spells based on particular tactics. For instance, a Strahd who wishes to prioritize defense will make use of Fog Cloud to block line of sight, cast Greater Invisibility on himself to avoid being counterspelled, and setting up a Leomund’s Tiny Hut to phase through the floor into when he needs to regenerate hit points. These include quite a number of clever tactics I’ve seen on the Curse of Strahd subreddit, such as using Polymorph to turn one of his minions into a T-rex, or using Scrying on the party while in Castle Ravenloft to combine this with the Summon Spectre lair action to harry the party with said monsters even while far away.

Dinner with a Vampire provides an alternate CR 20 stat block for a more challenging Strahd than the one in the base CoS adventure. This stat block more than doubles his hit points to 346, increases his AC from 16 to 19, grants him increased bonuses in saves and skills in which he is proficient, immunity to necrotic and poison damage, is immune to the charmed, frightened, and poisoned conditions, has truesight up to 120 feet and a Passive Perception of 24, has 5 uses of Legendary Resistance instead of 3, is still a 9th-level wizard but has more combat-ready spells by default such as Counterspell, Danse Macabre, and Shield, can summon a greater number of animals via Children of the Night, can now cast a spell with 2 Legendary Actions or transform as per his Shapechanger ability with 1 Legendary Action, and the shadow he can summon with a Lair Action is now a shadow demon.

I’m of several minds when it comes to attempts at beefing up Strahd. When played well, he is more than capable of whittling down a 9th or 10th level party, but his hit points and Armor Class are very low for a CR 15 creature which has led to a few anti-climactic battles involving him. On the other side, DMs who use his stats and tactics to the fullest can make it all but impossible to win against him as the party’s resources are whittled down throughout the dungeon crawl. Being able to noclip with Lair Actions and regenerate lost hit points in places a party cannot easily reach is perhaps his most powerful ability.

This CR 20 stat block shores up several of Strahd’s larger weaknesses; this version more or less cannot be fooled or overcome by the vast majority of illusion and enchantment spells, and his poison immunity makes certain Fated Allies such as Arrigal far weaker in the final battle. The ability to Transform as a legendary action, combined with phasing through solid features of the castle as a lair action, expands his maneuverability considerably. He can still be confounded by the classic Wall of Force/Sunsword trick, however. Or using a Luck Blade’s Wish to entrap him in a Forcecage.

Overall Thoughts: Overall I like Barovian Nights. While I’m not a fan of all of them, there’s enough interesting random encounters that I’m definitely going to use in my current Curse of Strahd campaign. The new house rules and materials are a mixed bag: Dark Powers checks work best with anti-hero parties and will be rare in campaigns with typical heroic adventurers bar the token dark mage/dark knight PC. The Bad Luck score is something that I can only see causing frustration in actual play. The Unfamiliar Familiars are a cool way to set the spell apart and give some flavor and motivation to what would otherwise be summonable afterthoughts for many players. I like the alternate magic spell lists for Strahd, and while the sample tactics are passable some online guides have far greater detail on how to use this vampire BBEG. At the price I got it for, I’d say this product is a worthy purchase.

Okay, I pretty much posted every draft that I have ready for my Ravenloft reviews. It may take some time for me to get the next one ready.

Until then, join us next time as we meet other stranded adventurers in Orphans of the Multiverse: Lost in Barovia!



Product Link

Product Type: DMing Tools

CoS-Required? Yes

Of the various innovative ideas in Curse of Strahd, one of the more notable ones is the concept of the Destined Ally, a randomly-determined NPC in Madam Eva’s Tarokka reading who will aid the party in their fight against Strahd Von Zarovich. Orphans of the Multiverse is a product which provides five more allies for that campaign, but what separates them from the others in the default adventure is that they’re all like the PCs in being adventurers from other campaign settings. And like adventurers, they are built using the rules for PCs save for one, and three of them have different stat blocks reflecting different levels of power at 3rd, 7th, and 10th level.

Orphans of the Multiverse writes from a standpoint that all such Orphans are present in the adventure and some can affect each other’s personal stories. Additionally, new Tarokka entries (but no card graphics) are provided for each of them for Madam Eva’s reading, as well as a general “Orphan” card if only including one such NPC from this book in the campaign. We also get a Quick Reference table outlining each Orphan’s basic details, their goals, personality traits, and where to find them in the module. We also get a table for an Example Basic Adventure Sequence outlining the Orphans’ various quests and what the PCs could do to earn their respect and trust. Additionally, virtually every NPC here has a weapon capable of overcoming the damage resistance and immunities of various monsters in the module, particularly silvered weapons. Even the less martial characters, such as Omiros the bard or Myriani the rogue, both have +1 weapons.


Kaylee Forestwatcher (Firbolg Twilight Domain Cleric) comes from the Forgotten Realms setting, having grown up in Luruar.* Although not an elf, her fascination with the moon led her to becoming a cleric of Sehanine Moonbow where a temple of wood elves helped train her into a priestess. She ended up in Barovia after reports of werewolves caused the temple to send out an investigation party to research and deal with the threat. The plan didn’t survive contact with the enemy, and Kaylee’s allies were picked off in hit and run tactics before a mysterious hooded figure told her to follow a path to survive.

*or the Silver Marches depending on the timeline.

Kaylee could be a recent arrival to Barovia, like the PCs, or has been there for a while. This also affects her mental state based on the Seven Stages of Grief, where an early entry will have her trying to stay positive, but this would wane over time as the cruel realities of Barovia sink in. Kaylee and her goddess have no love for Strahd’s monstrous servants, and she is interested in finding a way to end his threat and heal the land. Her personal quest involves finding her friends and giving them a proper burial, as well as hunting down the werewolves who killed them who happen to be from the Werewolf Den. Should she not be a Fated Ally, she may wish to stay in the Village of Barovia and help out the locals or travel through the land of her own accord.

In terms of stats Kaylee is a Twilight Cleric, meaning that she is extremely strong. Others elsewhere have talked about why it’s so powerful, so I won’t repeat myself. Even at level 3 she is a great utility character, possessing a good assortment of spells, limited invisibility, can grant one other creature advantage on initiative, and has a good general-purpose Channel Divinity. She also comes equipped with a silver longsword, providing the party with a means of bypassing the werewolves’ physical damage immunity. At higher levels she gains bonus equipment in the form of diamonds for casting revivify or raise dead.


Myriani Reymaer (Astral Elf Thief Rogue) was part of a pirate crew of the spelljammer galleon known as the Pelican. Everything fell apart when they crash-landed in Lake Zarovich after encountering a strange misty formation in Wildspace. Over time the local horrors saw the rest of her crew go missing or dead, and Myriani went insane and started hallucinating that they were still with her on the ship. The Pelican is inoperable and requires a spellcaster to fly it (which Myriani is not), and even if it became fully functional it won’t be able to part the Mists. PCs can find her on the boat offshore in Lake Zarovich, and while she will initially hide from them should they board the ship, the elf will express interest in who they are once it’s determined they are not monsters. Her personal quest involves helping repair the ship and finding someone to fly it. She may also venture out onto dry land in search of treasure in Barovia, particularly the Tarokka treasure results which can put her as a rival if she’s not the Destined Ally.

At this point in the book we start to see what I refer to as padded page count. The book gives an overly-detailed explanation of what Myriani does should the party steal anything from the vessel, which is a 4 step process involving multiple skill checks on both the PC and her side which occur over the couple of in-game hours, along with an entire page’s worth of quote boxes for sample conversations with each dead crew member. While Myriani is perhaps the most egregious example in this book, Orphans of the Multiverse suffers in having its text being needlessly detailed, like mentioning that Jovie’s abandoned cabin will require a light source or darkvision to see inside…when the preceding boxed text notes that there are no lights or signs of current habitation inside. Or being stilted, where a list of facts and events are separated into their own individual sentences where they could be easily combined into one.

In terms of stats, Myriani is a 10th level Rogue with the Thief subclass. She has proficiency in quite a lot of thief-related stuff and has high modifiers to such rolls, meaning that she is an excellent scout. Perhaps moreso than Arrigal due to her darkvision, and being an astral elf she has limited-use short range teleportation ability.


Jovie (Warforged Champion Fighter) is a warforged fighter who was built during the tail end of the Last War. When they could not be used as a soldier, they found new purpose as a city guard in Stormreach, and ended up in Barovia in a similar manner to Kaylee: investigating werewolf attacks in the jungles near town. But their failed sojourn into the domain took a turn for the worse when they were attacked by druids, who murdered the warforged’s allies and stripped them of parts to use as grim trophies. Jovie managed to survive by playing dead in the mud. Unable to return to Stormreach, Jovie found an abandoned shack near Lake Luna which they inhabited for a long time. Growing depressed, they find their rest periods growing longer, with nothing more than woodcarving to whittle away the time, until they effectively “shut down.” In its current state the shack is full of small wooden statuettes of warforged, druids, blight monsters, and Jovie who appears as a strange armored figure in the corner. PCs who touch or interact with Jovie will have them reactivate, attacking in a panic but can be reasoned with via skill checks. Jovie currently has no purpose, and the PCs need to give them one, but making a logical connection between defeating Strahd and being able to return home is necessary to convince the ally that this is more than a fool’s errand. The warforged’s personal quest includes hunting down the druids and blights who killed their fellow constructs, and to give them a proper burial.

Jovie is a Fighter with the Champion subclass. Due to this, they are really only good at fighting, but interestingly Jovie has something that neither warforged nor the subclass has: blindsight out to 10 feet as well as a higher-than-usual amount of skill proficiencies at higher levels: 8 skills at 7th and 10th levels, to be precise. That being said, Jovie is really only good for melee combat, as their Dexterity is a meager 10 and their Fighting Style is Great Weapon Fighting.


Omiros (Satyr College of Eloquence Bard) is a satyr from the world of Theros, who married an alseid known as Dori. They both became local heroes of their homeland, the Scola Vale, and entered Barovia unexpectedly after the Mists settled in a sunny clearing they were resting in after one of their quests. Dori, whose essence was tied to the land itself, found herself dissolving as she was forced into this new plane of existence, leaving Omiros alone and devastated. The satyr eventually made contact with the people of Krezk, winning them over by using his musical and magical talents to help out the people. But he found himself unable to sing some of his old joyful songs, and when Strahd himself paid a visit to the village out of curiosity for its newest inhabitant, Omiros decided to lay low and keep his presence a secret from all but a trusted few. He was afraid of attracting the darklord’s attention again after the many dreadful stories he heard of Barovia’s ruler.

PCs can encounter Omiros if they manage to gain the trust of the village’s Burgomeister, likely after spotting a goat-footed person leaping clear over the wall and bringing it to the guard’s attention or via mentioning Madam Eva’s Tarokka reading. The satyr’s personal quest involves finding and retrieving a hand drum given to him as a wedding gift; it was stolen by the Belview family and is currently being held in the Abbey of Saint Markovia.

As an Eloquence Bard, Omiros makes a great face for the party, where his Expertise is in Performance and Persuasion skills. He is overall a great support character, ranging from his new and improved uses of Bardic Inspiration from his subclass plus spells such as Faerie Fire, Enhance Ability, and Invisibility. He also has two unique abilities not present in either his default race or subclass: Boon Aura grants adjacent allies advantage on saves vs the charmed and frightened conditions, and Companion’s Protection lets him take the blow of an adjacent ally once per long rest.


Zrevek (Kapak Draconian Assassin, unique stats) is our final Orphan in the book. He is a kapak draconian in the service of the Red Dragonarmy, part of a special task force charged with extraplanar exploration to give Takhisis’ servants hidden refuges to bolster their forces. Upon discovering Barovia, he was the first, and last, scout through the dimensional portal as it closed behind Zrevek. Separating him from the rest of his team, he happened to meet Strahd early on in Barovia. While the vampire count made pretenses of respectful friendliness, the draconian is fearful of the man and has taken to camping out on an island in the middle of the Ivlis River due to knowledge that vampires cannot cross running water.

Zrevek is very much lawful evil, and hopes to relay information about Barovia to his commander in the Red Dragonarmy so that they can mount an extraplanar invasion. While the idea has crossed his mind, Zrevek is aware that Strahd’s single-minded pursuit of Tatyana and general arrogance means that he will never submit to Takhisis.* He is encountered extra early in the campaign, being in the River Ivlis southeast of the Village of Barovia, and will hide his true motives from the PCs by claiming that he ended up in Barovia while on a patrol to protect his hometown. If he is not a Destined Ally, then he may be a competitor in seeking out the treasures from Madam Eva’s readings in hopes of using them to overthrow Strahd himself. Should Strahd be defeated, Zrevek will pull an Arrigal and use a Sending Stone to make contact with his superiors, who will open a Gate spell sending through draconian soldiers. If Myriani and the Pelican exist in the campaign, they will attempt to destroy the spelljammer vessel to prevent it from leaving and spreading knowledge of Barovia’s existence to other planes.

*Takhisis is the Dragonlance cosmology’s Tiamat equivalent and the primary goddess worshiped by chromatic dragons and the Dragonarmies.

In terms of stats, Zrevek is a CR 8 kapak draconian. He is pretty hardy, with 87 hit points, 17 AC, and proficiency in a variety of Rogue-like skills such as Deception, Investigation, and Stealth plus Religion and Survival. He can’t fly, but he can glide, and also has a natural climb speed. In terms of offense Zrevek’s main feature is that he can multiattack with two daggers which can deal bonus poison damage and paralyze targets on a failed Constitution save should both daggers hit. He gains Legendary Actions and 2 uses of Legendary Resistance only when fighting the PCs after Strahd is defeated. And he can explode into acidic chunks upon death, but that’s really an afterthought given it does a measly 2d6 damage.

As far as Destined Allies go, Zrevek is pretty formidable. He starts play being quite strong, and he is very good at being a scout with darkvision, a good array of skills, and alternate movement speeds. His base movement is pretty fast at 40 feet, and while he can’t deal the raw damage output of Arrigal nor will he be as broadly useful as major spellcasters such as Victor, drawing Zrevek as a result is by no means a dud like it would be with Clovin Belview or Stella Wachter. That being said, the alternate ending may be of an acquired taste. Should the Dragonarmies invade Barovia, the book says that they will be even more ruthless than Strahd, which both kind of nullifies the PC’s victory over the Count and also downplays his status as major threat in the campaign by going “there’s an even worse baddie right around the corner, but the campaign’s over!”

Overall Thoughts: I’m of two minds when it comes to this product. On the plus side, I do like the idea of populating Barovia with outlander adventurers who haven’t yet joined the March of the Dead, and unlike some of the weaker or more overpowered choices in the default adventure them being in line with existing PC creation rules means that they are less likely to feel totally useless or outshine the party. There is an exception regarding Kaylee being a Twilight domain cleric, but the other Orphans are pretty good at what they do and will be welcome additions to the party.

On the minus side, this book has rather stilted text that feels off when reading, and Zrevek is encountered far too early for a being of his power as a Destined Ally. Additionally, using full PC rules results in some rather bulky stat blocks, which gives the DM more to juggle in combat unless a player volunteers to run them. I’d recommend this product if any of the Orphans sound intriguing enough to put in your own Curse of Strahd campaign. If not, I’d give this book a pass.

I’m going to take a short break for the time being. I want to take some more time to work on a book I’ve been meaning to review for quite a while now…

Join us next time as we Rule 63 the Curse of Strahd campaign with She Is the Ancient!



Product Link

Product Type: DMing Tools

CoS-Required? Yes

Curse of Strahd is a popular campaign; perhaps one of the most popular. But it suffers from poor organization, some encounters of questionable balance, and less-than-progressive holdovers in portrayal of certain groups, among other things. There’s a cottage industry of what I like to call “overhaul guides” for this adventure, which are basically online advice articles and revisions for making a DM’s Curse of Strahd campaign the best it can be. There exist both free and paid-for overhaul guides, and given that Wyatt Trull’s Curse of Strahd Companion is currently a best-seller on the front page of the DM’s Guild, such products are a hot commodity.

She Is the Ancient, abbreviated SitA by me for brevity, is similar to such guides in that it makes changes and revisions to the campaign along with some general advice. But beyond just these details, it adds a rather interesting thematic change throughout the book: not only does it make Strahd Von Zarovich a woman, it changes up the genders of most NPCs in the module. These aren’t just surface-level changes, either. Motivations, backstories, and even personalities for various characters have been altered as well, albeit the crux of the module still remains the same. The PCs get stranded in an alien gothic valley ruled by a cruel vampire, and they must defeat her (plus or minus a few magic items and Destined Ally) should they hope to escape.

Unlike some other overhaul guides, SitA alters characters, and sometimes relevant subplots and stats, first and foremost. Each significant area has an NPC Map showing how most named characters connect to each other as well as organizations and locations. Additionally, most of them have full-page write-ups giving artwork and physical description, locations of interest where they can be found, their relationships with other NPCs, and common mannerisms.

Another strength of the book is that we have personally illustrated portraits for many NPCs, including ones that didn’t get unique art in the default adventure. SitA also isn’t stand-alone; beyond just needing the core rules and Curse of Strahd, regular references are made to Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft. While there are helpful links to DND Beyond, it is a tad pricier in requiring the addition of the 2021 setting book on top of this product and the base adventure.

She Is the Ancient opens up with covering the most important NPC of this entire adventure. Female Strahd’s reimagining is intended to move her away from the traditional patriarchal male abuser/predator that is the original character while still maintaining her as a villain. In this version, Strahd von Zarovich* was still a fearsome general who helped colonize the valley that would become Barovia, but she sought to have her brother Sergei carry on in her example. Sergei sought another path, a path of settling down to a more peaceful life by marrying the woman of his dreams, a commoner by the name of Tatyana. Strahd seethed with anger that Sergei would give up all they fought for “a woman he barely even knows.” Strahd’s advisors reinforced her negative sentiments with conspiracies, such as ideas that Tatyana was after the family name and prestige and could even be plotting to overthrow her! At the advice of Kasimir, Strahd visited the Amber Temple to make a deal with a being known as Vampyr to cement her rule eternally over the valley, and soon she’d grow colder and more overtly resentful to her brother and his beloved. In the belief that Sergei was being brainwashed by Tatyana, Strahd did the unthinkable and murdered him, drinking his blood as she became a monster in every sense of the word, starting the massacre at Castle Ravenloft that saw the kingdom claimed by the Mists. Instead of jumping off the tower walls, Tatyana was killed by Lea Dilisnya, one of Strahd’s soldiers who sought to use the chaos to take power, only to become Strahd’s first vampire spawn and starve to death in a stone coffin.

*Should be Strahd von Zarovna, if we’re following typical Barovian surname conventions.

History proceeded much as it did in Barovia’s default timeline. However, Tatyana’s reincarnations were met with pure hate rather than lust and longing, with Strahd growing increasingly hateful and resentful as the Dark Powers taunted her, bringing Tatyana back every lifetime in some other form. But over time, realizing what she had lost, Strahd’s hate transformed into something else: a warped sense of love, now seeing something in Tatyana that her brother did. And so, like male Strahd, she tried courting her, only for the Dark Powers to kill Tatyana in various fashions.

Female Strahd’s main goal in SitA is to find a means of escaping Barovia’s imprisonment, as well as a means of raising Sergei from the dead as something other than an undead abomination. She still wants Tatyana (now Ireena) to love her, but as a controlling tyrant with anger issues she doesn’t trust anyone else to keep her safe like she can, and will find ways to separate Ireena from the PCs. Should Ireena continue to reject her, Strahd will default to her prior goals of resurrecting Sergei and expanding her iron grip over Barovia.

Another big change is that Strahd’s consorts-turned-vampire-spawn are treated much better. The consorts at Castle Ravenloft are given their own luxurious rooms rather than coffins in the crypt. Female Strahd takes the carrot over stick approach as a means of encouraging loyalty and incentives to serve her. This is a particularly big change that the book espouses. It has this quote near the beginning:


Jayden King

Which is then repeated regarding the treatment of her consorts:

Vampires understand consent well, being unable to enter a home without permission from its owner. This trait is prominent in Strahd von Zarovich. She will not take on a new partner as a vampire spawn unless they enthusiastically consent.

In a way, this is lessening the implied sexual predation and power imbalances that come with a vampire and their spawn: FemStrahd only wants people who know exactly what they’re in for to become vampire spawn and romantic partners. However, this approach kind of opens up some holes. As the head vampire, there’s still a power imbalance in their relationship dynamics. Secondly, there are cases where Strahd turns others into vampire spawn in this book against their will, but not to make into romantic partners. The consent in this case is speaking of a romantic/sexual nature, but in mentioning the “can’t enter homes without permission” this then ties back into the concept of consent in a non-sexual context. Which is then muddied, given that FemStrahd is still a brutal dictator who turns unwilling people into vampire spawn and commits other atrocities.

Female Strahd has her own stat block. It takes a lot of cues from default Strahd, but with some prominent changes: she’s Challenge Rating 20, is proficient in Intelligence saves, has a variety of immunities to common conditions (notably charmed and frightened), has Blindight out to 60 feet, can use an Arcane Burst as a ranged or melee spell attack dealing cold and necrotic damage she can combine with her Multiattacks, and has access to some higher-level magic than default Strahd such as Finger of Death and Power Word Pain. FemStrahd also has unique reactions, able to take up to 2 of them a round, and a potential third if she spends 2 Legendary Actions: Mistbound Counterspell is like the spell of the same name but is line of sight, and Unkind Rebuke lets her teleport after being hit by an attack as a flock of ravens damages the attacker with necrotic damage.

But the most important change from regular Strahd is her complete lack of Lair Actions. Default Strahd’s dreaded noclipping through solid surfaces ability isn’t present in SitA, which alters her tactics in the final battle in Castle Ravenloft considerably. If anything, it makes FemStrahd weaker to the Wall of Force/Forcecage + Sunsword tactic, as she has no means of escaping with the abilities she has. While she can teleport away as a reaction, the specifics of that ability’s wording mention “being hit by an attack.” Taking damage from sunlight requires no attack roll and comes from the item’s environmental effect, not requiring a roll to hit.

FemStrahd is stronger in several areas, like a higher proficiency bonus, more hit points, and a more damaging ranged attack than Ray of Frost, but she is far less mobile and can’t easily summon additional undead like male Strahd can.

The next section provides revisions for two of the sample hooks leading into the campaign, such as Arrigal’s forged letter mentioning Ismark being threatened by a vampire rather than Ireena, or having a random encounter with wolves near the dead messenger in the Svalich Woods. An additional introductory hook, Between the Mists, is provided. It opens with each individual PC having dreams about a land covered in mists along with glimpses of the other PC’s faces. During their travels, the PCs end up crossing paths as they’re taken by the Mists, appearing in front of a twenty-house settlement known as Hapry Village. The place seems virtually abandoned, but they can find a dying man in one of the houses should they hear his pleas for help. Should they seek him out, he will tell them that it’s too late and they should save themselves. A procession of cultists worshiping Strahd (but don’t refer to her by name) come into the village square to conduct a human sacrifice in the belief it will keep monsters at bay. Instead, a pack of werewolves falls upon the cultists, and PCs have the opportunity to run away via Athletics checks. The book advises not infecting PCs with lycanthropy so soon in the campaign. And should the PCs fall in battle, they will wake up outside the road leading to the Village of Barovia.

Personally speaking, Hapry Village feels like filler. Death House is still used in She Is the Ancient, and while there’s some freedom in how the PCs can go about things there is some oversight in that the victims don’t have any possible information to share should they be rescued or healed.One could argue that this is a safe means of showing the party that not all fights in Barovia should be engaged, but there are other means of illustrating that in the default campaign itself.


Village of Barovia is our first big section. The backdrop to much of the town is the same as it is in Curse of Strahd. However, it is Ismark and not Ireena (their genders are still the same) who was adopted by Kalya (genderswapped Kolyan) after being found lost in the woods. We first cover Durst Manor, aka Death House, which has some revisions to both its background and the dungeon itself. Elizabeth and Gustav Durst still had a death cult sacrificing people, but were inspired by the Priests of Osybus to gain Strahd’s favor. Strahd didn’t approve of this, as it deprived her of newcomers to tease and torment as well as part of a deal with the Hags of Old Bonegrinder.* The Dursts had already grown addicted to the curse of cannibalism, so they continued despite her warnings, and Strahd and her vampire spawn descended upon the manner to kill everyone inside. Including the innocent Durst children. Based on the author’s personal notes, she removed the elements of miscarriage and child neglect given it was a topic most of the people the author gamed with didn’t want in their elfgames, and also placing Strahd partially at fault for the house’s curse helps cement her villainous nature. Some smaller changes to Death House include replacing the nursemaid ghost with a dead adventurer’s spirit, finding out how the Dursts drugged their guests via Investigation in the dining room, and replacing the shambling mound with a pair of new monsters who are the Durst parents. They are reduced Nosferatu, like the 5e monster of the same name but weaker CR 3 versions.

*Which as far as I can tell is never elaborated on in the rest of the product, try as I might with a CTRL + F search.

And what of the rest of the village? Well, the PCs first meet Ireena and Ismark in the Blood on the Vine Tavern. In SitA, Ismark is a 12 year old boy, and given that the Village of Barovia is no longer safe for families or children Ireena wishes the PCs to help escort her and her brother to Saint Andral’s Church in Vallaki. The church will pay 200 gold upon arrival, so PCs don’t get the money upfront. While she’s technically the Burgomaster, between monster sieges, fleeing people, and the hags kidnapping folk, the Village of Barovia is now virtually a ghost town. Ireena still wishes to bury her mother Kalya at the local cemetery, so that plot point remains the same.

In regards to stats, Ireena has a big upgrade to her default counterpart. She is effectively an Oath of Redemption Paladin, starting play at 39 hit points, comes equipped with splint mail, a longsword, shortsword, and heavy crossbow. Her highest stats are in Strength and Charisma, and she happens to add double her proficiency bonus to Persuasion checks, making her an effective party face. She can use a 2d8 healing touch twice per day, smite twice per day, cast 4 1st-level spells once per day each (bless, detect evil and good, sanctuary, sleep), use the Rebuke the Violent channel energy once per day, and has the Interception Fighting Style from Tasha’s that recharges on a 4-6 on a d6 during battle but she only use it when wielding a martial weapon. This Ireena has much more staying power than the default character and can hold her own against some of Barovia’s native terrors.

As for little Ismark, he is a noncombatant escort who still has the optimistic and naive outlook of a child in this dreary realm of Barovia. Ismark is aware that he’s adopted, but is unaware that his biological sister is still alive in Vallaki.

Regarding the other locations of note, Arika the barkeep is actually a conduit for Strahd’s scrying spell, who will be using this connection to check in on Ireena while she interacts with the PCs in the tavern. The three Vistani owners of the tavern have one of their own slowly dying from exhaustion by the night hags’ influence from Old Bonegrinder, and can share some general knowledge about the town with the PCs. Morgan the night hag still sells dream pastries to townsfolk, but when kidnapping people* he transforms them into toads which he keeps in jars at the bottom of the pie cart. The book says that the author still tries to make Morgon look and act unintimidating by making him like a “sweet grandfather with a gentle older man’s voice.” But the first scene the PCs see is him pricking a child with a needle to transform them into a frog after their parents standing in the doorway bring him out in exchange for pastries. I don’t care how nice someone acts, most gamers witnessing this are going to know that this guy is bad news and likely try to intervene. Unless of course this narrative characterization is meant to stand as a creepy contrast, to show that the worst monsters in Barovia are the ones that smile the widest. But like the original module, this risks pitting the PCs against a disguised night hag!

*Adults as well as children are used for dream pastry ingredients.

Mad Mary has become Miserable Marek, whose son Geralt ran away from home and got kidnapped by the night hags. Marek’s body is inhabited by a gibbering mouther that will attack the party. Later on in the book it mentions that ravens will squawk at the PCs as they approach Marek’s house like they do in Old Bonegrinder, but this relevant information isn’t present in SitA’s Village of Barovia chapter.

Bathilda’s Mercantile has a full-page menu of items for sale, which are still wildly inflated. Penny, the female version of Parriwimple, has the text mention she has “low intelligence but a +10 to Strength.” +10 to the Strength score of default Parriwimple, which would be a 28? Or +10 Strength modifier, which would be a score of 30? Either way, this makes Penny an amazing Destined Ally. If I had to guess it’s a Pippi Longstocking reference, as SitA also makes her a redhead with braids.

The village’s church is managed by Mother Dona, whose daughter Sashenka trained alongside Ireena to become a knight. It was this mindset that inspired her to join Mordenkainen’s failed siege of Castle Ravenloft, and came back as a vampire spawn. Who, much like the default adventure, is locked in the church’s basement. What separates Dona from her male version is that she wants the PCs to spare her daughter’s life rather than asking them to kill her. Mother Dona hopes to find a cure for vampirism as a means of saving her daughter, but if Sashenka loses hope for a cure she will break out of the church and return to Castle Ravenloft in the belief this is the best way to protect the ones she loves. PCs who show Sashenka mercy can have her tell them a bit about the grounds and layout of said castle, an addition I rather like.

Another big change SitA does that many in the CoS fandom do is having Strahd show up at the former burgomaster’s funeral. This is a very brief outline, and the book says it can unfold in several ways, from a brief “I’m sorry for your loss” speech by Strahd, to her disappearing back into the Mists, to summoning 1d12 wolves or a released Sashenka should the party initiate hostilities.


Tser Pool Encampment and Faction: the Vistani goes into detail on the nomadic culture that features prominently in the Ravenloft setting. The author gives a quick shoutout to DragnaCarta’s Curse of Strahd Reloaded document for adding details to Tser Pool.* The largest change SitA makes to the Vistani is that barring Arrigal they’re not allies to Strahd, having more of a nonaggression pact with her. They’re also not prone to alcoholism, a change that WotC themselves incorporated. The book also briefly touches on some examples of antiziganist rhetoric to avoid, like their ability to place curses on people with magic derived from their ethnicity, and mentioning that the g-word is a slur. The Vistani in Barovia are but small groups that regularly pass through the greater mist-shrouded lands, acting as traveling merchants, performers, shepherds, and other occupations that can differ between bands and caravans. In the SitA rewrite, Madam Eva isn’t just a wise mystical leader of the caravan at the Tser Pool Encampment: they’re nonbinary and also one of the Ladies Three, a trio of archfey who managed the lands of Barovia before the Dark Powers claimed it. The other archfey are Baba Lysaga and Nana Vodnici, with the latter being a rusalka that lives beneath Lake Zarovich. The book also mentions taking a page from MandyMod’s Fleshing Out Curse of Strahd, which gives Eva an alliance with the wereravens to better connect her to the fane domain of air.

*And shouts out several other ideas they wrote up in other places in this book, such as the Fanes of Barovia.


We got some kickass artwork of Ezmerelda d’Avenir standing over a werewolf corpse, which is amusing to me. For in SitA, Ezmerelda is a male simply known as Ez and has a different-looking unique portrait. Ez’s backstory is in line with the one in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, where Ez’s family weren’t actually Vistani but instead posing as them while committing evil deeds. Additionally, while Van Richten is a woman in this version, she still has the masculine name Rudolph but has a female half-elf guise known as Rictavia. She’s still racist against Vistani in SitA, believing that all of them are in league with Strahd, but there’s no mention of that harebrained tiger plot.

The twist that SitA throws into Ez’s backstory is that when he lost his leg to a werewolf, he was also infected with lycanthropy and was offered by a disembodied whisper the means to cure it. That mysterious voice belonged to Azalin Rex, the Witch Tyrant, inadvertently binding Ez to her in a pact. The very same Azalin who Van Richten entreated to kill the Radavich clan, Ez’s original family.

Ez also gets a reworked stat block. He’s still a CR 8 martial spellcaster with proficiency in a lot of skills. However, instead of having Vancian casting like a wizard, he has several at-will cantrips and 1st level spells (including detect magic, protection from evil and good, and silent image) and can cast clairvoyance, greater invisibility, and magic circle once per day each. Instead of the typical Curse and Evil Eye of Vistani, Ez has a Dread Curse that deals 1d8 extra damage of a struck weapon type against the target, and has two bonus actions where he can use said curse in conjunction with either teleporting or dealing AoE psychic damage to nearby targets. Ez also has a special ability called Blade Swarm, generating an AoE cone of spectral blades dealing piercing and force damage to targets.

In terms of stats SitA’s Ez gets a power boost, much like Ireena and Penny. Blade Swarm deals a pretty good amount of damage, averaging more than his multiattack provided that targets fail their saves. Additionally, at-will Detect Magic and Silent Image are incredibly good for utility purposes, and given that this Ez uses Charisma as his casting modifier I presume that he’s a warlock rather than a wizard in this version. That being said…

What was that about Vistani using curses being a stereotype to avoid? I mean, it’s renamed and different from the curse ability that shows up in Vistani stat blocks, but there’s no indication in SitA Ez’s backstory where he learned this ability if it’s not tied to “Vistani magic.” Azalin, if I had to guess, but its vagueness is another thing that jumps out at me.

The Vistani section ends with an in-character tale of one of them talking about being witness to the battle between Strahd and Mordenkainen. The latter referred to merely as “a mighty wizard” in the tale.

Thoughts So Far: She is the Ancient is one of the most popular DM’s Guild products I’m reviewing, and it is a pretty faithful overhaul on a popular idea of making Strahd a woman. But it goes much farther than a simple genderswap, seeking to make a modified campaign with more progressive representation and messaging, detailed NPCs, and an Ireena who can hold her own in battle at middle-to-higher levels.

That being said, this initial foray into the book is quite rough. Like the original module, some of the information is either not where it needs to be or mentions something that doesn’t exist elsewhere in the product. And while the table of contents can take you to the pages clicked on, there are no bookmarks throughout this product which hurts navigation. Playing Strahd up as being less sexually predatory and who “cares about consent” feels less than successful for the reasons I mentioned above. Avoiding child neglect and miscarriage as triggers for Death House is a good idea, but it still has murdered children which can still be a common trigger for parents and others. Finally, the guide incorporates the Fanes of Barovia as a plot point as suggested by MandyMod and DragnaCarta’s overhaul guides. But given they both take different approaches to use of the Fanes this is a setback in that such a vital part of draining Strahd’s power is not in the book itself, but hyperlinked online resources with two different interpretations.

Join us next time as we visit the three old men at Old Bonegrinder, see the genderswapped NPCs populating Vallaki, and an alternate Lake Zarovich encounter!
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Old Bonegrinder is perhaps one of the most infamous TPK areas in Curse of Strahd. It was so bad that when running it Chris Perkins himself replaced the night hags with green hags. In SitA, the night hags are Morgon, Gregor, and Ophelia, the last of whom still retains her original gender. Also in this version, Barovians with souls are tastier than those without, which is who they make their pies out of. The coven plays the role of an unassuming family of bakers and will attempt to avert the party’s suspicions by supplying them with useful information about Strahd and his minions. Especially so should the PCs offer to spare their lives if battle turns against the hags. They also have two unique magic items: a Heartstone that grants +2 on a saving throw or cure a disease once per use (10 uses total), and a soul bag which collects the souls of people they kill via dream hauntings. There’s also a leather tome beneath the windmill’s bed which can reveal additional information to the PCs via Arcana or Investigation checks, such as the deadly secret behind dream pastry recipes or the hags’ inability to harvest one of the Vistani owners of the Blood of the Vine Inn.


The Town of Vallaki is one of the larger sections of SitA. So large in fact, it takes up a little less than a third of the book by page count. Which makes sense, as it’s the main hub of civilization in Barovia and home to the most NPCs. Some of the bigger changes include making Gadot Blinsky wear full clown and jester makeup, and her ownership over Piccolo is temporary as the animal isn’t allowed at the Blue Water Inn and thus Rictavia must find someone else to watch over it.

As for the reigning noble families, Victoria, the Vallakovich’s daughter, has the most changes. Resentful at being pressed into an arranged marriage, she tried to polymorph Nikolai Wachter into a cat, which only worked on his mind and not his body. Additionally, Victoria’s spells are warped, causing her damage whenever she casts them with various body horror results, and instead of skeletal cats she has a swarm of gremishkas as pets in the attic. The Baroness Lydia Vallakovich* is still a tyrannical woman unable to take criticism, and is much more prone to resorting to capital punishment rather than time in the stocks like her default male counterpart. Her husband, Vargas Vallakovich, takes the role of a meek victim who pretends that all is well behind a smiling facade and tea parties with villagers.

*Once again, it should be Vallakovna.

As for Lydia’s chief enforcer, Isabel Strazni is a part tiefling, part human woman due to making a deal with the Dark Powers. So no, Ismark wouldn’t also have a tiefling heritage as a result of this. As Ismark is her sibling and not Ireena, she’s obsessed with him instead, and upon the party’s arrival in Vallaki will attempt to kidnap him. Isabel’s stat block is thus a bit different than Izek’s, having tiefling fire resistance and the bonus spells of the default race.

As for the Wachters, Fiona Wachter’s replaced by Lord Karl Wachter Senior, and he’s still a demented devil-worshiper eager to please Strahd. His stats are different, being that of a Priest of Osybus whose stat block is reprinted from Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft. This version of the Wachter leader trades in the mostly non-offensive cleric spells of Lady Wachter for more directly offensive options, such as the ability to multiattack with either a Soul Blade that causes tattoos to appear on Karl’s body with each kill, or a ranged Necrotic Bolt that is like Chill Touch but does more damage. The tattoos can be expended as a rechargeable ability to summon shadowy duplicates of the slain victim to fight on his behalf. Not only that, Lord Wachter has a stage 2 battle where if he drops to 0 hit points, he rises back as undead which has half hit points and a randomly-determined d6 buff. Between these buffed-up stats, the skeletons and cultists in the basement, and the imp, this makes Lord Wachter one of the deadliest fights in Vallaki were it not for the vampires in the coffin shop.

For Saint Andral’s Church, SitA’s author makes mention of Saint Andral’s Orphanage, a new location that was created by people doing online guides for Curse of Strahd as a means for PCs to find a safe haven for rescued children in the module. SitA simplifies the process by giving the church itself living space for orphans. The characters and relevant plots are more or less the same save for genders being reversed, plus some deeper details on role-playing them is is par for the course for this book.

Something else I’d like to cover: the author incorrectly cited DragnaCarta of CoS Reloaded fame as the one who came up with the Orphanage idea, but it actually originated by MandyMod of Fleshing Out Curse of Strahd. Dragna incorporated Mandy’s idea into his own guide, but he isn’t the originator. I spoke with Dragna to make sure I got the information right (I’m on his Discord server/Patreon) and he confirmed that the original idea was Mandy’s.

The Coffin Maker’s Shop has a suggestion that the vampire spawn within are former adventurers from a doomed journey into Barovia, and to make them PCs from prior campaigns you’ve run with the gaming group for that intended emotional gut punch. SitA also suggests that the players of PCs who are not present with the rest of the party at the moment should run a vampire spawn sans regeneration abilities in a literal Player vs Player match. Otherwise, the author suggests removing the spawn’s regeneration in general if you want to make them less powerful.

I admit that I’m not exactly a fan of these changes. Players taking on the role of the enemy are going to subconsciously pull their punches, and will not wish to cause resentment from killing a PC, much less causing a Total Party Kill. Even without regeneration, the 6 vampire spawn are still an incredibly deadly encounter due to action economy and their abilities. Personally when I ran this encounter, I had half the spawn escape the coffin shop with the intent of going to Saint Andral’s Church to cause a massacre . Meanwhile, the remaining three stayed behind to fight the PCs. This gave the group a better fighting chance while also maintaining dramatic tension.

Henrika Van Der Voort in SiTA differs in that she doesn’t know that there are six vampire spawn upstairs, but she has strong suspicions.


The Bluewater Inn is Vallaki’s primary drinking hub and center of quest hooks, as is RPG tradition. The PCs can automatically spot the ravens perching on the roof, who in not squawking at the party is an indirect means of showing that there’s no danger waiting for them within. SitA has the good advice of not having every NPC be present in the Inn at once, as this can overwhelm players and waste time, so the narrative focus should be on just one or two NPCs at a time while saving the others for future events and quest hooks. The character with the most changes is Rictavia, aka Rudolph Van Richten who is a woman in both her real and disguised identities. In fact, Rictavia’s appearance is like that of a female version of her deceased son Erasmus. While she still is (wrongly this time) suspicious of the Vistani outside town as possible agents of Strahd, she’s no longer training a racist tiger. Right now she’s trying to gather information on wereravens and their allegiances, and is also planning an eventual trip to the Ambler Temple. PCs have the opportunity to encounter Van Richten there or on the way up via Tsolenka Pass. Statwise she’s the same as her default Curse of Strahd counterpart.

Ez and Van Richten’s relationship is better in SiTA, too. They are currently separated, but that’s because Ez is currently out patrolling the Barovia countryside rather than Van Richten cutting off ties with her protege due to not wanting to harm others with her curse.

However, we get a new NPC not present in the original module. Erasmus is an incorporeal undead subtly tailing his mother on the other side of the Ethereal Plane, and while he can appear to onlookers for a few minutes at a time Van Richten is unable to see him due to repressed trauma. Even in undeath, he is still an optimistic artist, and has a good friendship with Ez. He even has his own stat block as a regular ghost.


Van Richten’s Tower is covered a bit out of order, being between two Vallaki-centric locations. Given that there aren't really any characters here that can’t be encountered elsewhere, the only change of note includes the circumstances of Yan’s death. Instead of Yan being a Vistani killed for trying to steal Van Richten’s wagon, he was Arrigal’s ex-partner. When Van Richten found this out while the two were traveling together, they came to blows. Due to this, Van Richten believes that all Vistani are in league with Strahd and is using Yan’s decapitated head to gather information on them. PCs who cast Speak with Dead on Yan can learn more about the foul plots of Strahd and the druids, such as the druid’s plans to steal the last gem from the winery and how werewolves are kidnapping people to infect with lycanthropy. Van Richten’s personal journal has been changed around to reflect the altered backstory, most notably removing the Vistani elements from Ez’s family.


The Northern Vistani Camp actually spends more word count on the Dusk Elves than the Vistani, which I suppose is due to the latter getting a full write-up earlier at the Tser Pool encampment. In SitA, the roles (and stat blocks) of Kasimir Velikov and Patrina Velikovna are switched, where it is Patrina who is found in camp and her brother needs to be revived at the Amber Temple. As I mentioned earlier in this review, SiTA ties these two dusk elves more closely to the Temple’s history, where it was Kasimir who revealed its secrets to Strahd who then made a deal with Vampyr once there. Kasimir had a more platonic friendship with Strahd, and was stoned to death due to the other elves fearing that his interest in Strahd and the Dark Powers made him a danger. Thus, Strahd’s genocide was motivated by the dusk elves killing her long-time friend, where she and Rahadin targeted the men rather than the women, telling the survivors to never reproduce lest they too be slain.

As for Luvash and Arrigal, the latter is the only real Strahd loyalist in camp, and Luvash and the others aren’t fond of her views and forbid her from talking about the Countess around the children. Due to this, Luvash’s worry over her missing son Ari produces a red herring where she wrongly believes her sister to have filled his head with lies, causing Ari to run off to find the vampire.


Lake Zarovich gets a massive expansion in SitA. Most notably, it is home to Vodnici, a fey caretaker of the lake who is fighting a losing battle in halting the lake’s decay after the Mists claimed Barovia. There used to be other rusalkas helping her with this, but over time they all died off. The fish have all but disappeared, contributing to Vallaki’s food crisis. This plot point has three acts: the Vistani Encampment, where the PCs can learn about Ari’s disappearance, the Lake’s decline, the fisher Bluto who has been selling strange murkstones found in the lake which are actually fragments of petrified rusalka, and a mysterious creature sighted on the surface. PCs can find Bluto in a hovel on the lake shore or selling murkstones in town.The PCs can join a search and rescue team to look for Ari, who is found holding a basket overflowing with fish but soaking wet. Later that night, the PCs can find a possessed Ari and others being lured to the Lake via Vodnici’s magical influence. Those adjacent to a murkstone increase the Wisdom save DC to resist by 5, and it’s not just this particular group of Vistani who are heading to the lake. The rusalka spirits, in calling for their fallen kin to return to the Lake, are causing those in possession of the murkstones to bring them back despite the fact that this will kill them.

As Ari disappears into the lake, the PCs must fight four rusalka spirits who are entrancing the Vistani and townsfolk. The party hears a child’s scream from Bluto’s shack, where they can find the fisherman cowered, Luvash’s form turned to stone, and Ari glowing with moonlight coming from his eyes and mouth as stones float around him. Vodnici is hoping to turn Ari into a magical slave to recover the rest of the rusalka, even though this influx of energy will kill him eventually. The PCs thus can either resort to violence and killing Vodnici to save Ari, or try to make a deal in a non-violent way of returning the murkstones to the Lake. In fact, the peaceful option is the best route: killing Vodnici will destroy all the murkstones and accelerate the toxic decay in Lake Zarovich, dooming Vallaki in the long term. Working with Vodnici grants rest to the rusalka spirits, causing the Lake to mend itself and provide a less toxic environment for fishing. PCs who die in battle with Vodnici will have not only many Vistani and Vallakians drown, the rusalka spirits will still be restless and adopt a violent attitude towards all humanoids, which will cause Vallaki to be depopulated from people fleeing over time.

Statwise, the rusalka are CR 1 undead who are slow on land (10 feet) but fast in water (60 feet). They are also invisible when fully immersed, and take necrotic damage should they be forced to leave the waters of the Lake. They can deal bludgeoning and necrotic damage with a touch, and grapple and restrain Medium and smaller targets as part of the same attack. They can deal further bludgeoning damage as a bonus action via Strangling grappled targets, and alternatively they have a Rusalka’s Tune which is akin to a harpy’s Luring Song but the range is also extended to humanoids within 150 feet of a murkstone. In fact, the text forgot to replace one mention of “harpy” with “rusalka,” given it’s almost word for word the same as that monster’s song ability.

As for Vodnici, they are also a rusalka but with a unique stat block and abilities: a much tougher CR 7 with an array of Innate Spellcasting with a preference for nature-based AoE magic like fog cloud, plant growth, and thorn whip. They’re also immune to scrying and similar magical detection abilities, primarily fight with a bite attack that can swallow Medium or smaller targets, polymorph into humanoid forms, and has a rechargeable Water Jet AoE line attack that damages and pushes away targets. Unlike regular rusalka, Vodnici can move normally on land and doesn’t have any weaknesses from being away from the lake. However, this weakness is traded in for susceptibility to lightning damage, where their speed is halved and they suffer disadvantage on Dexterity saving throws until the end of their next turn.

Thoughts So Far: I like Lord Wachter’s souped-up stat block, as the default Fiona doesn’t have many reliable means of directly harming the party and can feel anticlimactic in that sense. I’m more iffy on the PvP idea involving the vampire spawn in the coffin shop, and don’t think that removing their regeneration is enough to even the odds of this extremely difficult encounter. Victoria having gremishka pets instead of skeletal cats feels a bit less classically gothic, but her self-harming spells are a good alternative to showing that she’s messing with stuff she shouldn't be. Personally speaking, it still feels weird to keep Van Richten as an anti-Vistani racist in spite of going with the new backstory in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft. Particularly when SitA makes clear that the Vistani as a whole aren’t really allies with Strahd so much as an arm’s length relationship. This makes Van Richten look unreasonable and paranoid, which if she’s drawn as a Fated Ally can cause the PCs to doubt her judgment. Then again, I can see this confirming that the PCs are Barovia’s best hope, as the other people with the capability to defy Strahd have their own major flaws.

I do like how Yan’s head has more information to give the PCs for future hooks elsewhere in Barovia. I also like how the Bluto/Arabelle encounter on Lake Zarovich is more or less reimagined and expanded upon. While it still has the potentially triggering material of child death, it’s less of a one-and-done encounter and more an involved side quest with multiple outcomes and consequences. I do feel it’s a bit railroady in how the events trigger: PCs who hear a rumor about a mysterious creature in the lake may choose to investigate ahead of time, bypassing the search for Ari. Additionally, Luvash being turned to stone in the shack is purely a Cutscene Power. Neither Vodnici nor the rusalka have the means of petrifying targets.

Join us next time as we finish up this review with a tour of Castle Ravenloft and the rest of Barovia!
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I have to say, your attention to detail here is impressive.

And inspiring to be honest. I would love to try my hand at doing something like this.

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