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D&D 5E Sanitizing Curse of Strahd (+)

Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
I'm thinking about running Curse of Strahd for my friends, but I know that there are aspects of CoS that are objectionable*. My plan is to go through the adventure and make edits as if I were acting as a sensitivity reader. Here's what I've got so far.

*Note the (+) in the thread title. It's okay if you disagree with this statement; this thread is not for you.

1) The Vistani. This is probably the biggest one. There are so many negative Romani stereotypes here. My plan: turn then into more modern Wiccans, and portray them more positively. Replace the drunken degeneracy with joyous revelry. The tarot already fits. Some can still be corrupted by Strahd, an off-shoot that is less "Mother Gaia" and more "LeVayan Satanism".

2) Dead Children. I think I can sell my friends on Gothic Horror, but killing kids is almost certainly a step too far. I'm reframing Death House entirely, so no worries there. I'm running of turning the hags' victims into the elderly of the communities. Not quite as grotesque, but maybe a family gets desperate enough to sell a child, to push the heroes into action.

3) Dusk Elves. Their "curse" and the "solution" are extremely gross. The former, as a symbol of Strahd's misogyny, is justifiable. The latter is not. I still haven't figured out how I want to resolve this; maybe some type of infertility curse, or something unrelated entirely to reproduction. I do want all want the Amber Temple to house the solution to it, in any case.

These are the big ones, but I'm working on some other issues as well. How have any of you approached these subjects?
 

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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I'm thinking about running Curse of Strahd for my friends, but I know that there are aspects of CoS that are objectionable*. My plan is to go through the adventure and make edits as if I were acting as a sensitivity reader. Here's what I've got so far.

*Note the (+) in the thread title. It's okay if you disagree with this statement; this thread is not for you.
An admirable goal!
1) The Vistani. This is probably the biggest one. There are so many negative Romani stereotypes here. My plan: turn then into more modern Wiccans, and portray them more positively. Replace the drunken degeneracy with joyous revelry. The tarot already fits. Some can still be corrupted by Strahd, an off-shoot that is less "Mother Gaia" and more "LeVayan Satanism".
This is similar to how I treat them. I use something similar to the 4e take on the Vistani, where they are a group of interplanar nomads, and are more of a culture than an ethnicity - though you do generally have to be born into it or marry into it. But they’re more ethnically diverse than Barovians, having picked up people (including people of different lineages) from all over the multiverse. They’re big in revelry and hospitality, but they face a lot of prejudice within Barovia.
2) Dead Children. I think I can sell my friends on Gothic Horror, but killing kids is almost certainly a step too far. I'm reframing Death House entirely, so no worries there. I'm running of turning the hags' victims into the elderly of the communities. Not quite as grotesque, but maybe a family gets desperate enough to sell a child, to push the heroes into action.
Yeah, there’s a lot of violence against children in CoS. I would just excise the cannibalism element from the hags. Drugging people into a deep sleep with the dream pastries and astrally feeding on them is reason enough for the players to want to do something about them, without having the pies be made of kids. If you still want to have someone sell a kid to them, maybe make it a girl (maybe even a member of the new Hexborn lineage?) whom they plan to raise to be a part of their coven and eventually turn into a hag.
3) Dusk Elves. Their "curse" and the "solution" are extremely gross. The former, as a symbol of Strahd's misogyny, is justifiable. The latter is not. I still haven't figured out how I want to resolve this; maybe some type of infertility curse, or something unrelated entirely to reproduction. I do want all want the Amber Temple to house the solution to it, in any case.
I actually had to rework the dusk elves for another reason, which is that I don’t like elves living for a bajillion years. So, my take on the dusk elves is that they were the native inhabitants of the valley before strahd conquered it. He basically just did a genocide against them the old fashioned way. They can still have children, there are just relatively few of them, and they are marginalized and oppressed by the colonial Barovians.
 


Azzy

KMF DM
They changed a couple sentences related to the Vistani, but their overall portrayal is barely changed, and they did nothing to address all the child murder or the grossness with the dusk elves.
As someone that doesn't have CoS, what's up with the dusk elves?
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
As someone that doesn't have CoS, what's up with the dusk elves?
To summarize, the dusk elves (and really, one dusk elf in particular) earned Strahd’s wrath, so in retribution he set out to exterminate the entire race. But he wanted to extend their torment, so he had all of the female dusk elves killed, but left all the men alive. With their long elven life spans, they were stuck slowly going extinct over hundreds of years, knowing that with no women, they couldn’t reproduce.

Personally I don’t find that particularly upsetting, though I could see it meriting a content warning for sure. Mostly it shows Strahd’s cruelty and misogyny, which I don’t think is a bad thing as long as your players are ok with the subjects of genocide and violence against women being broached in the game.

Where it does get kind of icky for me though is that the particular dusk elf who pissed Strahd off so much is an NPC in the adventure, and one of the player’s potential prophesied allies against Strahd. His goal is to go to the amber temple, where a bunch of ancient evil vestiges are trapped, so that he can make a deal with one of them to resurrect his sister, to save his race. And since their doom is caused by the inability to reproduce... the implication is that the dude wants to resurrect his sister to become a literal baby factory. Also, if you succeed in resurrecting the sister, it turns out she’s evil and in love with Strahd.
 


Eltab

Lord of the Hidden Layer
Barovian elves have never heard of Tanis Half-Elven? That concept solves the Dusk Elf problem but then you are stuck explaining why nobody thought of it before the PCs showed up.
Other curses:
  • One line in the musical Phantom of the Opera states that more than just the Phantom's face is marred by his skin disease. Stradh did similar in a fit of pique, to humiliate the Dusk Elves; they are physically incapable of siring / bearing children.
  • Stradh cursed the original elven survivors of his military wrath to all become Mordenkainen Elves hard-wired into a between state, neither male nor female, hence no mothers no fathers and no children.
 

Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
Here's the official Curse of Strahd errata: https://media.wizards.com/2020/dnd/downloads/CoS-Errata.pdf

You'll see they have made an attempt to "fix" the Vistani.
They tried, but it's not nearly enough. Frankly, "fixing" the Vistani involves removing them entirely, Roma stereotypes and all, which WotC would frankly, depressingly, never get away with. That the "Roma" are part in parcel with the Gothic Horror genre is depressing enough, the fact that they're so inextricably linked with the setting is worse.
 

Faolyn

Hero
I've mostly ignored the Vistani, except for the initial tarroka reading. I've never liked them much, even before I realized how they're problematic. I haven't gotten to the dusk elves and would probably just make them either humans or fey, because I run Ravenloft as humans only. I don't have a problem with dead kids, as long as there's nothing sexual about it.
 


Azzy

KMF DM
To summarize, the dusk elves (and really, one dusk elf in particular) earned Strahd’s wrath, so in retribution he set out to exterminate the entire race. But he wanted to extend their torment, so he had all of the female dusk elves killed, but left all the men alive. With their long elven life spans, they were stuck slowly going extinct over hundreds of years, knowing that with no women, they couldn’t reproduce.

Personally I don’t find that particularly upsetting, though I could see it meriting a content warning for sure. Mostly it shows Strahd’s cruelty and misogyny, which I don’t think is a bad thing as long as your players are ok with the subjects of genocide and violence against women being broached in the game.

Where it does get kind of icky for me though is that the particular dusk elf who pissed Strahd off so much is an NPC in the adventure, and one of the player’s potential prophesied allies against Strahd. His goal is to go to the amber temple, where a bunch of ancient evil vestiges are trapped, so that he can make a deal with one of them to resurrect his sister, to save his race. And since their doom is caused by the inability to reproduce... the implication is that the dude wants to resurrect his sister to become a literal baby factory. Also, if you succeed in resurrecting the sister, it turns out she’s evil and in love with Strahd.
Yeah, that's rather ick. Thanks for answering my question, though.
 

Zardnaar

Legend
Dusk elve can go the half elf solution.

I'm fine with most of the ick although you want to communicate that.

Vista I need fixed, the other adult stuff is fine as it's the villains being villains. Ymmv though.

I own the adventure, never liked the Vistani even in the 90s.
 

In our Curse of Strahd West Marches game, I've flipped the dream pastry dynamic on its head. The children will be selling out their parents.

For the Vistani, I'm playing them as a group which just prefers to roam and not settle in the towns/villages in the valley. Some of them work as merchants alongside Barovians. Some of them are evil, just as some of the Barovians are evil. But most are just living their lives - I like the "joyous revelry" angle. Only a few work for Strahd (along with a few Barovians). The Vistani, however, have no involvement with bringing unsuspecting adventurers into Barovia. They do maintain their special powers, though, including the curses and fortune telling.

Haven't figured out the dusk elf issue yet. Yikes, I totally had missed the implication that she was going to be the Eve of the new Dusk Elf population. As Alexis would say: Ew David. We've already come up with an idea that an ancient elven city lies buried under what is now Barovia, so perhaps more Dusk Elves are trapped down there in stasis or something... need to think about that one more.

I like that the "Revamped" Ezmerelda takes pride in her prosthetic leg rather than hiding it.

Looking forward to reading more suggestions in this thread. Thanks for starting it @Gradine!
 

Davies

Adventurer
Reviewing the Dusk Elf story, I'd agree that cursing them with childlessness -- with neither elves nor half-elves as possible offspring -- and then killing all the elders of their people, denying them both their past and their future, is an honestly grimmer fate than just killing half of their kind; I'd also revise Patrina so that she's Kasimir's loved one rather than his sister, and stress that he believes she has repented of her wicked ways and can help against Strahd, possibly undoing the curse through magic, rather than having some disturbing plan for her. Sadly, he's wrong about her motivations.
 
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Iry

Hero
I sanitized the dream pastries by making children (but not adults) who eat them slowly fall asleep and begin to have bad dreams. Then the hags whisk them away back to their home, and begin to feed on the fear of the children. But they treat the children really well, caring and feeding them lovingly, and even claim to be "saving" them from the dangers of Strahd and Barovia.

So the kids are in a bad spot because they can't wake up and escape the bad dreams. But they are physically just fine and in no danger. If the party saves them, they don't really remember the dreams except that they were bad, so no long term emotional trauma. That might not be far enough for you, since it does mean frightened children, but it might work?
 

ccs

41st lv DM
I think a whole lot of these problems would be fixed by just jettisoning about 75% of the theme-park-of-horror content TSR & now WoTC have packed onto the classic I6 adventure.

Almost all of this crap? Exists in the adventure for the sole purpose of dragging a relatively straight forward vampire hunt though a haunted castle out & turning what should be several good sessions worth of play into an entire lv 1-10+(?) campaign. Ugh. It doesn't need to be this complicated.

So just drop most of the content, scatter the plot mcguffins throughout the castle, & run what remains as a Lv.10(?) adventure.
Your players will thank you {even if they don't outright say it} as they can just get on with what they really signed up to do - go fight the vampire - without wasting months & months of real time.
 

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