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D&D 5E Players think Strahd isn't actually so bad. (Spoilers)

Plutancatty

Explorer
So I've been running Curse of Strahd with my group lately, and the players are not very keen on going up against him. And it's not that they're scared; let me recap.

-Players get lost in the mists after running away from a village attacked by a giant pack of wolves and get picked up by Vistani that drop them off in Barovia Village. Players befriend Ismark and Ireena (or rather are hired by Ismark and decide to follow along bc Ireena is hot) fight with Doru, who escapes into the mist only to be murdered by Strahd in front of the party's eyes.

-Players reach madam Eva's tent, get their cards read, then reach Old Bonegrinder and try to explore it. Get absolutely destroyed by the Hags, (who I kitted out with a better spell list to make sure they'd be around to antagonize the players later) They get tied up and agree to start selling dream pastries for the Hags (knowing almost for sure that they are made out of children).

-Reach Vallaki, try to set up a food license for the dream pastries with the Baron, then attack his mansion upon discovering that Ireena was kidnapped by Izek. Knock out the Baron, force feed him a dream pastry, and then get absolutely devastated by Viktor after triggering his Glyph of warding and getting a Lightning Bolt to the face while he was invisible. Cleric calls for divine intervention and I let him roll for it even though the party was level 4. Passes the roll and gets the party teleported to St Markovia.

-The players get healed up a bit by the Abbot, meet Ezmeralda, who develops a (mutual) distrust for them, then discover the Abbot murderer Ireena to use her parts to "upgrade" Vasilka. Strahd, whos interest had been piqued by the teleportation, was on his way to the Abbey, when he sensed Ireena's death. He rode in on his Nightmare in a towering rage, burst into the Abbey and proceeded to beat the Abbot half to death in front of the party's eyes before ripping out his heart and chucking him off the cliff. He then left, but Rahadin, who was to follow his master in meeting the foreigners and then mostly just told them not to get in the way, stepped up and invited them to dinner in Ravenloft before leaving himself.

-The players clear out the madhouse, murdering all the mongrelfolk, then travel down to Krezk, discover their wine problem and go check out the winery. They meet the Martikovs, who explain the winery was attacked, and proceed to clear it out. Then Davian tells them about the magic stone stolen by the druids, so they go to Yester Hill. Here they meet Strahd who is out gazing at the misty city in a contemplative mood, and he tells them that Barovia is his prison, that he is very distraught over the loss of Ireena, and that he is looking for a worthy heir for his bloodline. The party attacks and kills all the druids, Strahd watches them, drop an Animate Objects just for lulz, and the leaves after seeing the short work they made of his minions (very satisfied with this party so far).

-The party meets a Vistani spy outside of town that was looking for them on behalf of Lady Wachter, who wants their help in overthrowing the Baron. While two players talk with her, the other two wait outside Vallaki and are accosted by a disguised Strahd, who tells them he is the vampire's enemy and can give them information on the Devil if they meet at Tsolenka Pass. The party shows little to no interest at this. So, as the Festival of the Burning Sun plays out, the players ride in on their wine wagon, attack the baron, kill Izek, down Viktor, and leave them to the crowd (as of the very end of the last session, but there are plans to save them at least temporarily).

So, now the party plans on running Vallaki and just making money by selling dream pastries while possibly finding a way to catch Strahd's attention. Their only real beef is with the Hags, and the "main" player of the party says himself that Strahd seems like an alright person. While I'm glad my deceptive Strahd is going so well, I fear that in this way they will just be picked off one by one as they go forward. While I wouldn't mind them getting killed for allowing the Devil to act at his leisure, I'm also pretty sure I haven't stressed the negative effects of his rule enough.

How can I make the players mad at Strahd without targeting them directly (he has no reason to do so yet)?
Or how do I handle a CoS campaign where the players do not engage Strahd? Does he just grow tired and dispatch them at a certain point?
 

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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Have him show up in one of the towns the PCs are in to make some kind of dark pronouncement during which he repeatedly kicks a lovable dog.
 

tglassy

Adventurer
Well…you kind of took away most of why Strahd would want them dead. Them helping Ireena is usually a good reason for Strahd to attack them, and getting her to the well and saving her seals the deal, but you had an NPC kill the NPC that would have baited the BBEG to have a beef with the party, and then had the BBEG kill the NPC who killed the NPC. It was all basically one big cut scene for them. And it sounds like you’ve got a real Murder Hobo group going, who don’t really care about anything except their own power and greed.

If I were Strahd, I’d be offering them a job.

Make Strahd a quest giver instead of a BBEG. Have Strahd offer them power, prestige and riches if they work for him, then have them go across Barovia killing all of Strahd’s enemies. Once Strahd has no more enemies in Barovia, he can have them leave and do missions for him in other realms, as Barovia touches every realm.

Also, you can have something with the Amber Temple, with the Vestiges wanting Strahd gone for one reason or another. Or perhaps some other creature wants Strahd dead and offers the group a reward if they can do it. It doesn’t sound like your group cares about how bad Strahd is, so making Strahd more evil isn’t going to make them want to kill him. You need to give them an incentive to kill him if you really want them to go after him. Power, riches, all that. Do they know they can’t leave Barovia without Strahd’s permission? Once they’re tired here, they’ll have to deal with him if they want to leave.

All in all, let them play the game they want. If they all decide to start the Order of Strahd and become his lackey’s, kudos to them.
 

TheSword

Legend
Hmmm, read the introduction again by Tracey Hickman.

Strahd is a violent sexual predator who uses mental domination to force women (and men) to submit to him before murdering them and turning them into his eternal slaves.

This ain’t no twilight

This ain’t no angsty The Originals

Strahd is a nasty piece of work. He is the epitome of #Metoo

What’s more every evil in Barovia in some way ties back to Strahd. Everyone who is there in some small way is as a result of Strahds evil.

That said it’s not a problem the party thinking he’s cool. He is cool, at first then his true colors are revealed. My advice would be...

... the abbot is an angel so have him re-corporate at dawn the next day. Strahd knows this will happen because the abbots soul is bound to barovia. Have one more soulless be born in Krezk as the abbots rebirth consumes another innocent.

... create a new NPC to replace Ireena or have Strahd force the abbot to resurrect her (or have Vasilka take on Ireena’s personality, appearance and memory etc)

... have the Strahd compels a character into doing something pretty heinous. Domination, blackmail or simple intimidation.

... have the Pcs work for Strahd as discussed above only to realize that the stuff they are doing is leading to true evil (awakening of the tree blights, the werewolf murder of children, the devil worship of lady Wacther, the dream pasty souls). Make it clear that Strahd is influencing and benefiting from each of these evils.

... if the Pcs do all this but have no qualms about it then they have effectively turned evil then to be honest you’re playing the wrong campaign and should have been clearer that ravenloft isn’t for evil players. Start a new campaign.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
To continue what the glassy one started. Have the Big man work through minions. It sounds like your players are on the dark side even with out the offer of cookies. Let them continue their kiddy pop tarts business. Until Mr. S hints they are the reason all the bad stuff is happening.
Ravenloft can be for evil players but like a certain hotel; they will never leave!
 

Plutancatty

Explorer
What of the hags? or Baba Lysaga, for that matter? I would have liked them to feature a bit more prominently than they usually (to my knowledge) do. The hags will continue to be problem for sure, since all they want is to turn the party evil to devour their souls. Lysaga I don't quite know how to fit into the story, since she doesn't want Strahd to know of her really (she also has Argynvost's skull in my version, which is an incentive to go seek her out).
I can think that everyone and their dog will be out to get Van Richten, but other than that, there isn't much to do in Barovia on the evil side...
 

tglassy

Adventurer
Well...once you determine the party has been turned evil, have the hags devour their souls. You can even have some new, “good” adventurers come and try to stop them/give them a chance to repent, but evil gets what is coming to it. If they get their souls devoured, just point to all the crap they did and say they deserved it.

Also, there's plenty for evil players to do. Kill the Werewolves that want to break from Strahd to strengthen their ties to him. Help said Werewolves invade Vallaki. Spread those pastries. Kill the Mad Mage. Kill Rictavio, and Esmerelda. Destroy all the wereravens. Basically the opposite of what would normally be expected.
 
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I think there is an issue with matching adventure type to player type. If your players are inclined to the dark side then an adventure with a "good versus evil" narrative might not be the way to go. Gothic Horror is as much about good v evil as heroic fantasy is - possibly more so. You might wrap up the current plot line with the party all becoming vampire minions of Strahd and start something more in a more Sword and Sorcery vein.
 

Graylion2018

First Post
OK several routes

One of the player characters wakes later than expected in the morning and the sun burns very bright only to him. Inspection shows fang marks. Is he on the road to becoming an NPC? Does Strahd see something of a kindred spirit in these darker PCs. Make it clear any PC that goes Vampire becomes an NPC under your control, and now the clock starts. Is it Strahd turning them or a rogue vampire looking to challenge them.

Or

One or all of the PCs represent a cogs in a ritual that Strahd could use to pierce the mists of Ravenloft and escape the dread domain (incorrect). Is it turning them, killing them, using their blood, parts, life essence, spell slots, each morning the casters wake and they are missing their lowest spell slot? Oh Crap start the clock. Do something to inject urgency or a count down.

I still remember being a player in the original I7 Ravenloft and the 3.5 Remake. I have also ran the adventures numerous times including the Domains of Dread boxed set. Love Ravenloft.

Best regards
 

Plutancatty

Explorer
... the abbot is an angel so have him re-corporate at dawn the next day. Strahd knows this will happen because the abbots soul is bound to barovia. Have one more soulless be born in Krezk as the abbots rebirth consumes another innocent.

I really like this, I'm definitely going to use, it, thanks! :) It seems like a really good way to introduce the soul prison thing to them. Also the fact that the Abbot, a literal angel, can't do anything against Strahd is sure to give them even more pause, which might galvanize them into action if they believe him to represent a danger they can't bargain with.
Apart from that,
... if the Pcs do all this but have no qualms about it then they have effectively turned evil then to be honest you’re playing the wrong campaign and should have been clearer that ravenloft isn’t for evil players. Start a new campaign.

This... I'd rather not, if it came to that I'd just make them Strahd's minions, giving them the ability to move in and out of Barovia like the Vistani, with of course some sort of insurance held over them by Strahd, because, after all
there's plenty for evil players to do. Kill the Werewolves that want to break from Strahd to strengthen their ties to him. Help said Werewolves invade Vallaki. Spread those pastries. Kill the Mad Mage. Kill Rictavio, and Esmerelda. Destroy all the wereravens. Basically the opposite of what would normally be expected.


Plus, I already had plans for what would happen after the PCs defeated him, but I can make the later transformations gradual so they know he is gaining power rather than have him reform after a timeskip, making them the instruments of his ascendance... which could turn into a really good evil campaign or even have them drop their old PCs and start fighting him and their old party with a new group.
Or I can run the campaign as planned and have Strahd kill them all, which would kind of be a gotcha, but doesn't seem fun for the group.
 
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Plutancatty

Explorer
... the abbot is an angel so have him re-corporate at dawn the next day. Strahd knows this will happen because the abbots soul is bound to barovia. Have one more soulless be born in Krezk as the abbots rebirth consumes another innocent.

So I was prepping tonight's session (dinner at Ravenloft!) and was thinking about all the parties still in play in Barovia, so this thing about the Abbot made me think of what he would do when he reformed. At I realized: he would probably be pissed, because the party killed all of the mongrelfolk in the abbey. And then, thinking about Abbot's powers, I realized: he can make flesh golems. And if there's one thing he now has in abundance, it's body parts. I'm just not sure what he would do with this army of golems, since it's clear his original plan with Vasilka failed... maybe he could mount up an expedition to the Amber Temple, but I'm also not sure how he should feel towards the PCs... my first take is he'd attack them on sight, but he knows Strahd brought them here for a reason, so he wouldn't want to incur in his wrath; maybe he could help them in the first stages, and then turn on them when he believed he could pass their deaths off as accidents (I'm thinking his pride, which brings him to try to save Strahd, would also justify going against someone who might help him because he has to be the one).
 

TheSword

Legend
I would have guilt be the overwhelming emotion suffered by a returned abbot. He knows how he was restored. Probably because it’s happened before.

Have them witness a soulless birth if they haven’t seen it already and time this with the ringing of the bells to signify the return. Maybe a shaft of light strikes the monastery.

The abbots guilt convinced him to approach the party and explain some of the evil of Strahd. Bring it home.

If you make him a continuing enemy of the party then you are negating their previous victory which I would avoid. However they should realize that killing the abbot doesn’t help in the long run. He is a pawn of Strahd as is everyone. The party might not realize this at this point but once they’ve met the vistani camp and the dusk elves and the hags a picture should start to form.
 

Plutancatty

Explorer
I would have guilt be the overwhelming emotion suffered by a returned abbot. He knows how he was restored. Probably because it’s happened before.

Have them witness a soulless birth if they haven’t seen it already and time this with the ringing of the bells to signify the return. Maybe a shaft of light strikes the monastery.

The abbots guilt convinced him to approach the party and explain some of the evil of Strahd. Bring it home.

If you make him a continuing enemy of the party then you are negating their previous victory which I would avoid. However they should realize that killing the abbot doesn’t help in the long run. He is a pawn of Strahd as is everyone. The party might not realize this at this point but once they’ve met the vistani camp and the dusk elves and the hags a picture should start to form.

It was Strahd killed the Abbot in my campaign (in OP). He only ever helped the party (well there was that whole -I wanted some grimdark so the Abbot murdered Ireena and used her to make Vasillka prettier- but e did heal their wounds)
 

S'mon

Legend
I think you have a great Descent Into Darkness Evil-PCs campaign going. I'd definitely have Strahd look to make the PCs his minions if they seem amenable. If they don't get a reality check at some point then eventually it's

"And the band played on ...FOREVER!"

or

"...And the PCs realised, they had found their TWILIGHT ZONE."

And you end the campaign with the PCs as soulless vampire thralls of Strahd, ready for the next bunch of Heroic Adventurers to come along. I love this stuff. :D

But really, there ought to be a new female N/PC for Strahd to fixate on. Maybe the PCs will protect her better.
 

Plutancatty

Explorer
(Realize this might be getting out of hand for a sinple advice thread, what with all the context and whatnot. Should I turn this into a Storytime?)


Alright, so last night we played the dinner at Ravenloft (which the players loved) and I have a couple new ideas running around in my head.
But let's start at the beginning. The players tie up the Vallakovichs in their house (locking Viktor in the shackle room after stuffing a Dream Pastry in his mouth to pacify him) and sleep through the night (an unfortunate accident occurred, but is not relvant to this post). My cleric took the magic mirror out of the house after casting Nondetection and buried it behind the manor (the Hags had asked them rather forcefully to use it to take out Van Richten).
After this, they toured the street for a little, seeing what I assume would be normal after a coup d'etat, spiced up by the fact that Lady Wachter is actually a cutist leader (so broken windows and doors, dead bodies, exctatic cultists copulating in the streets, and the town square filled by a crowd who brought forth "Vallakovich loyalists" for a group of shirtless fanatics with stars carved into their raw flesh to execute and toss into a pile at the side of the square.
The party recoils from this, ordering the murders to stop at once and announcing a city-wide trial come noon. They go to speak with lady Wachter, who is oversseing things gleefully. They invoke the deal they made upon planning the baron's overthrowal: they want to be appointed supreme Judges and Commanders of the Guard of Vallaki. Wachter agrees with no problem (shaking off a Suggestion casted by the Cleric) knowing full well her legitimacy stems from the capillary control derived of her cult and not the rule of law).
The party then brings the Baron and his wife onto the stage (Viktor wasn't properly contained and Misty Stepped out of his shackles during the night, fleeing to brood on his revenge), before a crowd of Vallakians chanting for their death. Through some very good roleplaying and rolls (including a nat 1 for the malleability of the collective villagers) the players manage to downgrade the death sentence of the Baron and all his "loyalists" to an exile: the loyalists due west (picked up by Van Richten and the Keepers of the Feather), the baron and his wife to Lake Zarovich on a rowless rowboat (picked up by the Mad Mage).
After this the party decided (as they had announced preciously) to go take up Strahd's dinner invitation. Dinner went well, with the Strahd's biggest fan in the party (the sorcerer) starting to doubt him somewhat, the cleric having his faith put in question and almost throwing it away (with that still being a distinct possibility, since Strahd told him to verify what he had said by giving him a scroll of Commune -and everything that implies), the barbarian clearly not trusting Strahd very much at all but being brushed off by the others since he is actually crazy and suffers from grave pseudo-PTSD, and the druid actually seriously considering joining Strahd, since he considers all the things they have done to be bad enough already that becoming his chief druid would just be another drop in the bucket.
The main thing that surprised me were the sorcerer's continued efforts to protect the innocent population of Barovia, both in Vallaki and as he bargained the conditions of his support to Strahd. So Strahd agreed to keep the innocents out of this, but that actually seems really out of character, not only for his tendency to use hostages (which will undoubtedly come up at some point) but for the fact that he revels in tormenting Barovians in his free time. So I came up with a way of rationalizing what is going to happen (that being Vallaki is going to absolutely degenerate into a tyranny, with lady Wachter and her close circle snorting fantasy coke all the livelong day as the inhabitants slave in newly established mines to get the fancy bling and in the fields, as peasants do. All this backed by the hags, who produce a constant stream of Dream Pastries to keep the population subdued. The Abbot might play a role in this, augmenting the city's reproductive capacities, since the hags can only work with souled children). The explanation Strahd would give for this is simple: all this suffering is not only not really happening to his people, but he is shouldering its burden, since the city would reserve the heavy jobs and menial labour to the soulless, and being the soulless a manifestation of his own will, he is the one paying the price for the wellbeing of Vallaki (obiously mistreating the soulless is still evil, but he doesn't think that at all and in fact will try to convince the party of the opposite).

Thoughts?
 

S'mon

Legend
So Strahd agreed to keep the innocents out of this, but that actually seems really out of character

Well he's a charming sociopath - he'll happily lie, and certainly sound convincing. He'll even believe himself - in the moment - that's what the best liars do. I very much like the "shouldering the burdens of rule" angle. And his enjoyment in tormenting the Barovians is more about toying with individuals, while making sure everyone is afraid of him and ultimately controlled by him. But he's not averse to them having high levels of comfort and safety by D&D standards - he's not Orcus. In fact plump well fed sheep are easier to fleece (or suck). :D
 

SnipetheLibro

Villager
"Strahd von Zarovich is a very complex individual, it’s easy to think that this BBEG is just an evil overlord, that is to say, the quintessential representation of evil. If it were like this, then Strahd would be predictable. But Strahd like a real person, comes in layers of history and moments of success and failure. He should never be portrayed as an always evil, always ruthless, always savage individual. Yes, he can be all that, but he is also many other things. "

 

Strand is a tyrant, a fallen angel, and he is rejecting all offered opportunities for his redemption, the true key for the end of the curse. He is too selfish to notice she will reject him for all damage he has caused, the monster he has become. If he really had loved her, he had tried to be the pure heart she would feel proud to be as partner.

But Strand can't be roleplayed like the evil guy from the children cartoons in Saturday morning. He is not the night king, Jeffrey Baratheon, Peter Baelys or Ramsay Bolton but more like a Tywin Lannister with fangs, superpowers and an obsession. Strand von Zarovich can't be only a Patrick Bateman(the main character of American Psycho) with fangs and superpowers, but it would be more interesting with some pieces of gray-zones and anti-villain, maybe as the symbol of the punishment for your sins. Strand is the perfect example to explain the reason I hate Nietzsche's Übermensch. The Übermesnch doesn't obey the "slaves' values" like mercy or solidarity, but good or bad is according only to his own interests. Strand is the kind of person who doesn't doubt to cut the tallest poppy that stands out above the rest.
 



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