5E Running DDAL04 Adventures as a Campaign

jayoungr

Adventurer
I've begun running season 4 of the DDAL adventures ("Misty Fortunes and Absent Hearts," the ones corresponding to Curse of Strahd) as a short campaign for a home table (i.e., not worrying about being AL compatible). There are 14 adventures in the season, and while they basically fit together into a single storyline, they're designed as discrete incidents that can be played in any order, so there isn't a lot of interconnectivity or foreshadowing. There are also some aspects that wouldn't be noticed when playing the adventures one at a time but that raise some questions when they're strung together campaign style. So I'm making this thread to record my process in turning the adventures into a campaign. I'd welcome suggestions and tips from others on the board as well.

Order of Adventures:
DDAL04-02: The Beast
DDAL04-06: The Ghost / DDAL04-01: Suits of the Mists (blend)
DDAL04-03: The Executioner
DDAL04-04: The Marionette
DDAL04-05: The Seer
DDAL04-08: The Broken One
DDAL04-07: The Innocent / DDAL04-11: The Donjon (blend)
DDAL04-09: The Tempter
DDAL04-10: The Artifact
DDAL04-12: The Raven
DDAL04-13: The Horseman
DDAL04-14: The Darklord
 
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GlassJaw

Explorer
I'm definitely interested in your experience. I'm thinking about running CoS for my group and have looked at other sources to add to the campaign. I don't play in AL but and I've looked closely at the adventures and have read many posts on how others have ran them.

The general consensus is that the overall story is good but some of the adventures are absolutely awful and require a lot of editing (and cutting) to make them work. If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend Merric's blog:

https://merricb.com/category/curse-of-strahd/

If you search, you can find some other threads in here on them as well.
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
I'm definitely interested in your experience. I'm thinking about running CoS for my group and have looked at other sources to add to the campaign. I don't play in AL but and I've looked closely at the adventures and have read many posts on how others have ran them.
If you have any links to posts or blogs about other people's experiences, especially external links, please share them! I'd love to read them.

The general consensus is that the overall story is good but some of the adventures are absolutely awful and require a lot of editing (and cutting) to make them work.
Oh yes. I'm grateful that my players are taking a detour to the Quivering Forest because it gives me time to figure out how to handle the notorious DDAL04-03, "The Executioner."

If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend Merric's blog:

https://merricb.com/category/curse-of-strahd/
Yes, I have been checking it! Very useful.
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
DDAL04-01, "Suits of the Mists"

I skipped DDAL04-01, "Suits of the Mists," because it's essentially just an excuse to get the characters to Barovia via the mists. My players have a longstanding tradition that Barovia is a known location in their homebrew world, so the mists aren't necessary for that. (Things still work oddly in their Barovia, though--Strahd keeps returning no matter how many times he's killed, for example.)

This is going to have some ripples for the rest of the campaign, starting with the fact that Gur aren't a thing in the world where we're playing. I'm thinking of changing Sybil to a Vistani. Similarly, at least some of the other elements that are supposed to have come from Faerûn will need to be modified.

I'm also planning to cannibalize "Suits of the Mists" for some later encounters to insert into other adventures. For example, I'm planning to put the encounter with the mad elves into DDAL04-06, "The Ghost."
 
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GlassJaw

Explorer
After all the edits and cuts, I'm not sure how much content will actually remain. For starters, a couple of the adventures aren't in the same timeline so I'll definitely be cutting those. There is also a lot of repetition in the battles and monsters, many of which feel like filler because of the AL format. I also won't need Suits of the Mists because the players will already be in Ravenloft (although some is probably worth salvaging).

I like the idea of a village in the northeast corner of Barovia that has been cutoff from the rest of the land. Not sure how to get the players there though... I'm considering adding an overgrown and forgotten path that leads from the Village of Barovia through the woods along the edge of the base of the mountain (hmm, could also be a place for one of the Fortunes of Ravenloft). There are also some cool role-playing opportunities and situations with multiple ways for the players to solve. Plus, Jenny Greenteeth is an awesome NPC.
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
After all the edits and cuts, I'm not sure how much content will actually remain. For starters, a couple of the adventures aren't in the same timeline so I'll definitely be cutting those.
Which ones are you thinking of?

There is also a lot of repetition in the battles and monsters, many of which feel like filler because of the AL format. I also won't need Suits of the Mists because the players will already be in Ravenloft (although some is probably worth salvaging).
At minimum, I'm going to use the Mist Zombies from that adventure whenever zombies turn up. They're a different flavor from regular zombies, which my players have already fought before.

Plus, Jenny Greenteeth is an awesome NPC.
She is, but as I read through the adventures, am I right in thinking that she only shows up at the very beginning and the very end? Seems like the main purpose of including her earlier on is to make her available for spellcasting services.
 

GlassJaw

Explorer
Which ones are you thinking of?
The Donjon and The Raven. As I understand, they were sort of an "interlude" to the main storyline. As MerricB states on this blog:

"Both it and The Donjon suffer from being irrelevant to the main plotline, bringing in elements that don’t matter, and letting the tension that has been growing through the actions of Esmae and the Burgomaster drain away."

She is, but as I read through the adventures, am I right in thinking that she only shows up at the very beginning and the very end? Seems like the main purpose of including her earlier on is to make her available for spellcasting services.
She shows up in The Ghost as well. But yes, I definitely would introduce her earlier. Ideally, I would want the players to build an uneasy relationship with her. Certainly not one they feel good about one out of necessity.
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
The Donjon and The Raven. As I understand, they were sort of an "interlude" to the main storyline.
Yeah, those are going to be at minimum heavily edited and rearranged for me too. Or I might outright cut them.

She shows up in The Ghost as well. But yes, I definitely would introduce her earlier. Ideally, I would want the players to build an uneasy relationship with her. Certainly not one they feel good about one out of necessity.
I'm tempted to go the opposite route and just not bring her into the story at all until she actually plays a part. I'm not running an AL game, so spellcasting services aren't important in the same way. It would mean running "The Ghost" without the ghost, which is a shame because that's a pretty cool encounter, but there's no real payoff for it. The PCs have nothing they want from her at this stage in the story and no reason to consult her. Maybe I could put it in at the end (suitably ramped up) as something she wants them to do before she'll consent to help out with the main storyline.
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
DDAL04-02, "The Beast"

I started with this adventure because of the strong story. I originally intended just to run it as a one-shot, but the group's response to it was positive, so I decided to extend to the rest of the series. Had I known that I was going to run the campaign from the beginning, I would definitely have taken more time to introduce the town of Oraşnou and its inhabitants. I would also have run the four-hour version of the adventure, with some extra encounters. But missing those is not all bad; it means I have a bunch of easy random encounters that I can toss in anywhere.

The encounters I did use were "It Stirs in the Thickets" (the twig and vine blights) and "Bad Dogs" (the death dog encounter). My party are very genre-savvy when it comes to Ravenloft, so they made sure to burn the body they found in the first encounter. They were going to burn Laszlo's body too, but fortunately, they forgot about that part. If they had tried, I was going to remind them about the storm moving in, and if they still wanted to try, I was going to have the body dissolve into black mist, "taken by the Dark Powers."

Speaking of the storm, giving it the right amount of narrative weight is tricky. You want to use it to keep the group moving and stop them from having a long rest, but you don't want to play it up so much that they refuse to set out on the mission at all. It's supposed to be such a deadly storm that it even endangers a pair of experienced trappers like Alina and Laszlo, but then why should a bunch of low-level adventurers risk it? Also, my group wanted to find some shelter and take a long rest after finding the campsite. I had to prod them by reminding them that the storm would obliterate the trail of the wolf tracks if they did that. I did make it clear that if they didn't want to follow the tracks, they didn't have to, though.

If I'd known this was going to be a campaign, I might have also cut the encounter with the elves. They're mostly useful as eyewitnesses to confirm that Alina is a werewolf, but my group figured that out anyway. However, it does give me an excuse to send the group to the Quivering Forest next session, since they need to escort the elves back there.
 
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jayoungr

Adventurer
A Trip to the Quivering Forest part 1: DDAL04-01 & DDAL04-06

Since Barovia is in my group's homebrew world, the Quivering Forest just another location there, and Jeny Greenteeth came from somewhere else in the same world. In my group's world, elves don't typically live in Barovia, so I changed the history of Greenhall: it's an enclave of druids working to heal the forest, which includes some elves who have traveled there from other areas. I greatly reduced the size of Greenhall, making it only a couple of dozen or so strong.

I also threw out everything about Aya Glenmiir except her name. She's now a scout from Greenhall, using the elven scout statblock. The explanation for how she and the two boys came to be lost near the Vaduvas' camp was that thick mists had suddenly descended on the Quivering Forest about ten days earlier, when the boys were away from the camp. Aya went looking for them, but when she found them, they were unable to find their way back. They had been wandering ever since, without seeing a familiar landmark or another living soul except for Alina and Laszlo, who were beginning their violent quarrel when the elves happened on their camp.

(Note: Logically, the elves should have ransacked the camp for food and taken that salted ham in Laszlo's backback, since they were so hungry. If I were to run this again, I'd include that detail--unless I just cut the elves entirely.)

I transitioned from the last adventure by saying that the roads were impassable for several days, but since it was still early in the season, there was enough of a thaw after the storm for them to make the journey. I also included the detail about the snow disappearing when they reached the Quivering Forest.

This Does Not Belong Here

On the road, I inserted "This Does Not Belong Here," the encounter with the Vistani wagon with a tree growing through it, from DDAL04-02 "The Beast." That's a nicely atmospheric vignette, and it's annoying that there is no follow-up to it. I figured that the occupants of the wagon became some of the victims of the giant spiders, although I don't know if my players figured that part out. The bard took the tambourine.

Fire Thistles

Then, to get to the forest, they had to climb the icy hill with the fire thistles from DDAL04-01. I think the players enjoyed this. The bard and rogue picked two thistles each, and although I stressed that they wouldn't keep their power for long, I let them use them against the spiders later. The paladin and cleric lost their footing on the hill and slid into the fire thistle bush. Here's where the rules, as written, will annoy players like mine: each of them got three thistles stuck to them. The module only allows for a PC to try to carefully remove one thistle in the round before they explode. But the players wanted to use their actions to drop and roll in the snow to keep all the thistles from exploding. It would have felt really cheesy saying "No, you can't do that," so I let them make an acrobatics roll to save for half damage.

Mad Elves

Next, upon entering the Quivering Forest, they encountered the mad elves from "Suits of the Mists." Aya recognized them and called out to them, but they were too crazed to recognize her. The party wanted to use the cooshees against the elves, but none of them were trained in animal handling. I offered to give them advantage on the animal handling check if they made it when within melee range of a cooshee--with the downside that if the check failed, the cooshee could then make a melee attack when its turn came.

Meeting with Derali

I changed Derali and her guards to humans. They came on the scene as soon as the fight with the mad elves was finished. Derali explained to Aya that the mists had continued to descend since they were lost from the camp, having varying effects on the druids. Each time the mists appeared, more of the druids disappeared. Some turned up later, completely mad, like the scouts the party had just fought; others seemed to have disappeared completely. The druids had varying theories about where the mists came from: some thought they were caused by Jeny Greenteeth, and others thought Strahd was creating them. Derali sent her guards to accompany Aya's companions and the mad scouts back to Greenhall. She asked Aya and the PCs to help her look for more of the missing druids.

A Sticky Situation

I ran this encounter without changes. After it was over, the PCs were invited back to Greenhall for a long rest.

The group reached level 2 in this session.
 
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MerricB

Eternal Optimist
Best of luck! I've run through the entire series twice, and it needs some work to make it all hang together. Some of the adventures are awesome, others less so.

There's a couple of things in it that were included to set-up details for future seasons of the DDAL adventures, but then they moved away from the Moonsea and that work was wasted - and leads to some unsatisfying material in this season.

Cheers!
 

GlassJaw

Explorer
Best of luck! I've run through the entire series twice, and it needs some work to make it all hang together. Some of the adventures are awesome, others less so.

There's a couple of things in it that were included to set-up details for future seasons of the DDAL adventures, but then they moved away from the Moonsea and that work was wasted - and leads to some unsatisfying material in this season.

Cheers!
Hey Merric, your blog is great! Very helpful.

Just wondering if you had a quick & dirty outline of what you would change/cut/edit to run the AL modules in series? Basically, I'm thinking of including Orasnou as a side trek questline in a normal CoS campaign.

I like The Beast and the Laszlo-Alina storyline and the impending storm. It creates a very foreboding backdrop. I like the idea of the players arriving in town and suddenly becoming trapped in a sense. That said, I'm really unsure how to make the leap to The Executioner, especially the elapsed time that's assumed to have passed. I can justify hand-waving that the storm forces everyone inside for a week or so but more than that starts to feel very forced. My players would definitely call BS because it's a storytelling crutch.

I definitely like your idea of having Gregori from the Hare & Hair to kick things off and lead the players to the Burgomaster's house. The adventure states that Arik/Lazslo and Fillar have been conducting business together for a length of time but the scene in the Eyes of Midnight shop don't indicate that at all, or at least doesn't seem to depend on it.

I'm ok with Laszlo escaping but the part with the angry mob also seems forced and tacked on, as does the ending with the Burgomaster. This whole adventure feels like one scene of a larger adventure rather than an adventure on its own. Because of that, as you pointed out in your blog, it tries really to come up with a beginning, middle, and end but fails. On top of that, the adventure suffers from some continuity mistakes and
confusing writing.
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
Best of luck! I've run through the entire series twice, and it needs some work to make it all hang together.
Any tips that aren't covered in your blog? Also, just so you know, your review of DDAL04-04, "The Marionette," doesn't have the "Curse of Strahd" tag, so it doesn't show up on the link above. (I left a comment there too.)

That said, I'm really unsure how to make the leap to The Executioner, especially the elapsed time that's assumed to have passed.
Orasnou is right next to Vallaki; maybe have them do stuff in Vallaki after "The Beast" and then come back for "The Executioner" a bit later?

To ensure that my players will come back to Orasnou, I had Gregori promise them that the burgomaster would pay them for finding Alina and Laszlo, but the burgomaster was out of town. They'll go back to get their payment. Might work for your group too.

ETA: Oh, also, if your party is level 1, I'd suggest making one of the encounters before the werewolf's den a non-combat one. I used two combat encounters, and the party was quite low on spells and HP when they reached the werewolf's den. This contributed to them talking Alina out of attacking them, which is fine, but anticlimactic.
 
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GlassJaw

Explorer
So as I read (and reread) these adventures, I'm struggling with whether I should embrace the newly-acquired Quivering Forest or ignore it.

Since I will be running CoS as written, my concern is that the creatures foreign to Barovia that come up in the later adventures (orcs, trolls, yuan-ti, etc) will be jarring and break immersion. Heck, even the appearance of the elves early on might raise some eyebrows.

That said, one idea I had to address this is that the northeast corner of Barovia is unstable. For some background, I plan to run Barovia like a "simulation" a la The Matrix, Westworld, or The Truman Show, with Strahd playing the role of Truman and the "Dark Powers" running the show. The mists in this area would be slightly "ajar" so things are getting pulled in haphazardly, sort of like a glitch in the Matrix. Going to Orasnou might give the players some clues as to what's going on, or at least a glimpse behind the curtain.
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
So as I read (and reread) these adventures, I'm struggling with whether I should embrace the newly-acquired Quivering Forest or ignore it.

Since I will be running CoS as written, my concern is that the creatures foreign to Barovia that come up in the later adventures (orcs, trolls, yuan-ti, etc) will be jarring and break immersion. Heck, even the appearance of the elves early on might raise some eyebrows.
I'm probably going to change the orcs and yuan-ti to something else. As mentioned above, I already came up with an explanation for the elves.
 

GlassJaw

Explorer
I'm probably going to change the orcs and yuan-ti to something else. As mentioned above, I already came up with an explanation for the elves.
That's an option but what I'm noticing is the second half of the CoS AL adventures are really convoluted. As MerricB mentioned, they shoehorned in more FR stuff because it would going to be a tie-in for things to come but then that plan got abandoned. It shows in the second half of the modules. In addition, 11 and 12 have very little to do with the storyline.

I also HATE the premise of the The Artifact (#10). It might be ok in the AL where the adventures are more "stand-alone", but in a continuous campaign it's completely jarring to have the Burgomaster, who's been portrayed as a lazy coward up to this point, suddenly need the players to escort him to the Amber Temple. What?! Nevermind that the Amber Temple is completely on the other side of the map. I know the Burgomaster isn't all that he seems but it would be a major head-scratcher.

My point is that the second half of the modules need a massive amount of rework, at least for my purposes. So I don't know. I'm starting to lose motivation in making them all work.
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
Rant: Oraşnou Makes No Sense

The village of Oraşnou is described as very small and isolated. The expanded background information packet, "The Mist and the Wood," says it has only about three dozen residents and they rely on monthly trading visits from the Vistani, who are the only ones to bring them news and goods. The only nearby town is Vallaki; the village of Barovia is geographically close, but anyone going there would have to pass by Castle Ravenloft, so in practice people rarely make the trip.

In "The Beast" (DDAL04-02), Grigori Wurlbach says the Vistani visit every other month, and they rarely see travelers, especially in winter. On the other other hand, there are two places in town where travelers can stay: the rooms at the Hare and Hare, or at the Seven Tables. Grigori's shop even sells adventuring gear; it's clearly for gameplay reasons, but realistically, who are his customers?

Let's call the population 40--slightly more than three dozen. Think about how small that is! You could put the entire population of the town into two high school classrooms, or one if you squeezed. If we assume the average household is four people, that's ten buildings for the whole town. But the map of the town shows about 40 buildings total. Even if you assume some are outbuildings (chicken coops, etc.), that still means each household consists of several structures, which is at odds with how small and poor the place is supposed to be.

And what do they all eat? As described, the village is surrounded by woods and there aren't any outlying farms, unless there are some attached to either of the local noble estates, but considering that both of those noble estates have supernatural shenanigans going on, that explanation raises its own questions. There could be vegetable gardens and chickens in town, but would that be enough?

Then there's the fact that an extremely poor, isolated town of 40 people with no visitors somehow supports a general store, an inn, and a curio shop. Not to mention that they generate enough wealth for the burgomaster to live high and have an entire basement stacked full of things he has taken from the other 39 inhabitants. And the owner of the curio shop regularly sells things pilfered from the burgomaster's basement, and apparently nobody recognizes them.

Also, a random stranger suddenly shows up frequently with new things to sell and nobody thinks that's suspicious? The explanation is that he's getting all these things by robbing and murdering travelers, meaning that he must be killing a new group every few days, despite the fact that supposedly hardly any travelers come through this area. And the owner of the curio shop apparently is rich enough to keep paying for non-essential trinkets like jewelry, which means he must have a pretty good turnover of his items, which means he must be selling them to the villagers or possibly Vistani (since, again, no travelers to speak of). If he's selling to villagers, how do they afford these baubles when they're being taxed into poverty by the burgomaster? And if he's selling to the Vistani, why does he maintain a shop instead of just meeting their wagons when they stop in town every few weeks?

This just doesn't add up.

I think the only way to make sense of this is to assume that Oraşnou is larger and less isolated than it's described as being. Say the population is maybe 100-125, and they do see travelers regularly, but not much in the winter due to the harsh weather. Possibly say that the burgomaster's territory includes some outlying settlements in addition to the village proper. (Like, where do the rest of the Vaduva clan actually live? Do they pay taxes?) And add another reason besides the lack of furs for why supplies are so tight with the coming winter. Maybe there was a blight on the vegetables, or avian flu hit the chickens. The locals could attribute it to Strahd's anger, just as they do with the bad weather.

ETA: To add to the confusion, the intro to DDAL08, "The Broken One," describes Oraşnou as "a humble medieval village of two hundred souls."
 
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GlassJaw

Explorer
This just doesn't add up.
None of the ecology or economy of Barovia makes sense. The population is part of that but the larger issue is that it's a closed system (aside from the Vistani). I addressed it in this thread.

There are LENGTHY and detailed discussions on the issues of Barovia: for example.

While it's interesting to think about, it's largely a waste of time. That Ravenloft doesn't make sense is a feature, not a flaw. It further adds to the alien and unsettling nature of what's going on. It's also what led me to my "simulation" concept. Barovia is a prison for Strahd and the Dark Powers are the wardens. They keep the gears turning so to speak.

It's better left unexplained.
 

jayoungr

Adventurer
While it's interesting to think about, it's largely a waste of time. That Ravenloft doesn't make sense is a feature, not a flaw. It further adds to the alien and unsettling nature of what's going on. It's also what led me to my "simulation" concept. Barovia is a prison for Strahd and the Dark Powers are the wardens. They keep the gears turning so to speak.

It's better left unexplained.
For some tables, maybe, but I know my players and I know that won't fly with them. They're the types who will ask these questions, and they won't be satisfied with "A wizard did it" for an answer. Also, like I said above, Barovia is a physical location in their homebrew world, so that cuts down further on the amount of handwavium I can use. They have decades' worth of expectations for these things to make at least a modicum of sense.

That's an option but what I'm noticing is the second half of the CoS AL adventures are really convoluted.
I've only gotten up to part 7 in my prep, but the basic structure seems quite simple: we try to foil Esmae as she assembles the four artifacts of Tatiana. Anything else can be switched or cut as needed.

I haven't decided yet for sure what I'll do with adventures 11-12.
 

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