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D&D 5E Sanitizing Curse of Strahd (+)

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Something I've noticed:

I've listened to at least three actual play games for CoS. All of them have dealt with the hag. None of the DMs ultimately alluded to or revealed that children were being baked into the dreamcakes. Two of the three groups made jokes about it though. Of those two, one of the DMs lapsed into a long silence before carrying on.

I think not using the cannibalism is pretty widespread.

Which gives me hope for humanity.

Anyone else remember the turn of the century where cannibalism was the thing in comics?
The cannibalism part of it actually wouldn’t bother me if it was adults.
 

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Vaalingrade

Adventurer
Cannibalism always bothers me. It's one of the warning signs of late stage edgelorditis, right before your yes permanently narrow to the point of being completely closed, your feet shrink to the size of thimbles and a series of vestigial pouches grow across your chest, waits and ankles.
 

MGibster

Legend
If the Abbey is a place laden with "crazy people," that's awfully close to Bellevue, which IIRC is/was a notorious insane asylum. I might be wrong, or @Gradine may be thinking of something else.
Notorious is a strange word to describe what has been described as one of the top hospitals in the United States.
 

TheSword

Legend
Notorious is a strange word to describe what has been described as one of the top hospitals in the United States.
It’s in poor taste. I also revise my earlier statement that the mongrelfolk brought the alterations on themselves. Their ancestors did but most of the remaining are thoroughly locked away. Funny how ones own alterations to the script stick closer than the originals!
 

D1Tremere

Explorer
The proposed revisions sound fairly solid to me. I would suggest setting it in the Forgotten Realms instead of Ravenloft though, as the dark deeds necessary to get yourself a domain in Ravenloft are necessarily dispicable beyond normal sensibility.
 

MGibster

Legend
The cannibalism part of it actually wouldn’t bother me if it was adults.
I'm cancelling any dinner plans we might have.

I actually like cannibalism and considered writing about medical cannibalism for my senior capstone class when I was an undergraduate. I ended up writing about medical ethics among barbers, surgeons, and apothecaries in the 17th-18th centuries.
Cannibalism always bothers me. It's one of the warning signs of late stage edgelorditis, right before your yes permanently narrow to the point of being completely closed, your feet shrink to the size of thimbles and a series of vestigial pouches grow across your chest, waits and ankles.
Cannibalism is a part of common fairy tales like Hansel & Gretel. The hags in CoS don't strike me as being particularly edgelorditis to me.
 

Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
Notorious is a strange word to describe what has been described as one of the top hospitals in the United States.
Nowadays. It does have a past of serving as the model for the traditional "insane asylum", both in the actual, real-life institutions (which were notoriously abusive) and in the horror trope institutions that generally pray on the fear of the mentally ill. Neither is a thing I particularly want to allude to.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Notorious is a strange word to describe what has been described as one of the top hospitals in the United States.
My recollection--apparently faulty--was that it was notorious. The very little bit of digging I did at least indicated it was something revolutionary. So ... famous, not infamous (though, as I understand it "notorious" can connote either, it is more frequently used to indicate infamy). I apologize to those more knowledgeable on the topic than I.
 

G

Guest 6801328

Guest
My recollection--apparently faulty--was that it was notorious. The very little bit of digging I did at least indicated it was something revolutionary. So ... famous, not infamous (though, as I understand it "notorious" can connote either, it is more frequently used to indicate infamy). I apologize to those more knowledgeable on the topic than I.
You might be confusing it with Bedlam. Maybe?
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
You might be confusing it with Bedlam. Maybe?
I didn't think I was. I mean, I had specific thoughts on the lines of "at least the family name isn't Beddlamm or something." And it's plausible that while it was revolutionary in a good way when it was opened, and it was run with the best of intentions, it was still a horrorshow for the patients (and for any outside observers).

That said, two-syllable names, start with "B." It's certainly possble.
 

Nebulous

Legend
I didn't know about that dusk elf thing. I'm running Strahd now actually, but the dusk elves haven't had much to do with the plot. That might even be something I leave out, but who knows. The party is 6th level so they've got quite a bit of adventuring left to do.
 

evilbob

Explorer
Hello, OP! I haven't read this thread - I got to page 2 and skipped to the end - but I have thought... a lot... about how to modify Curse of Strahd, (which remains one of my favorite D&D games of all time,) and how to remove problematic elements. Since you asked for advice...
  • Here is a not-too-long thread about removing dead children, which wraps up and focuses on the first bit, and then the rest of the oddly many places you find dead children in the book.
  • This is a post about all the ways I ended up changing the core material for my last playthrough. In short: there's no need to keep any part of the Dusk Elves. The book gives you way too much material, so you can have lots of different experiences over many different playthroughs - but that also means it's really easy to cut huge swaths without impacting... anything. (Unfortunately some of my references have been lost to the digital sands of time...)
  • I like your ideas for the Vistani! Great thoughts.
Also, you didn't ask for this, but if you haven't played this adventure before, I'll link my hopefully helpful list of all the places your players will die, and - just for kicks - this overly wordy idea about tweaking the entire narrative structure of the campaign.
 

Retreater

Legend
Sorry, I haven't read through all the posts in this thread, but wanted to just give a bit of background to when I was running the campaign (which was Spring/Summer/Fall 2020).
"Death House" had to get changed a bit. It didn't hit me until I had already started running it that a player's wife had just miscarried and having dead children be a focus of the adventure would be a sore spot. I back-tracked and said that these were the memories of the children who were frightened in the house and provided clues that they were later adopted by relatives to save them from their weirdo parents. I didn't have the characters come across the bodies of the kids or empty crib in the nursery.
In hindsight, I would've likely just picked another intro adventure to start CoS instead of Death House, but we were already playing when I learned of this event.
When we got to the Dusk Elves, presenting it as a group of men who can't have offspring was just off the table. So, instead, I focused on their servitude to the evil Vistani as thralls to Strahd. I didn't get into the reproductive issues at all.
As the DM, you can focus on what you want. If you are set on running Curse of Strahd, don't give them the background information if it's problematic. There are plenty of reasons to take out Strahd besides making him a killer of children.
My players had no issue with the way I presented the Vistani. I don't know if it's that I portrayed them more well-rounded than the adventure, or if my group just isn't as sensitive to cultural issues. I didn't use the "g" term to describe them. I tried to show them as real characters with real motivations. Many were friendly to the party. The ones who drank to excess usually had a reason to do so (I mean, they're in Barovia and life is awful, so many NPCs did.) Use your discretion - if the players would have a problem with their depiction, I would consider removing their cultural trappings that make them analogs to real-world cultures.
However, in the case of all published adventures, my primary suggestion is to consider it this way: take what works for you and leave the rest. Don't try to modify the rest to fit what you want to do. If the Death House bothers you, cut it out and replace with another 1st-3rd level adventure. If the dream pastries bother you, just remove them and have the hags terrorizing the town through nightmares (if you want to use them at all - which is a big "if" for me, because they are a TPK waiting to happen). Same with the Dusk Elves. There is plenty in CoS that you can't (and shouldn't) use it all. Have the items and allies in places that avoid these problem areas.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
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.
No. You can represent people in fiction without being racist.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
No. You can represent people in fiction without being racist.
You can . . . I do think it's possible. But it's not easy, even when your deliberate aim is to be anti-racist. Of course, treating this sort of thing as a constant process rather than a goal that can be completed helps. Not letting the perfect get in the way, always striving to do better.

But still, if someone decided to remove a problematic aspect, like the Vistani, entirely rather than modify them . . . it's a solution also.
 

Talltomwright

Explorer
I just had a thought on the issue of wanting an unambiguously positive ending if the PCs can defeat Strahd: Barovia returns to it's native world on the Prime Material Plane and all the trapped souls (I'm only on session 3 in my campaign and we've already got 1 dead PC) are freed to go to the afterlife. Mordenkainen or a God can then transport the PCs back to their native planet but it's really clear that the entire valley is now free of the Domains of Dread forever. I can see why they didn't write it that way in the book - they want to keep Strahd as cannon for further potential stories, but in my home game, that's where I would go with it.

Sidebar: Strongly agree with the idea that perfect gets in the way of better! Very well put @Dire Bare
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
You can . . . I do think it's possible. But it's not easy, even when your deliberate aim is to be anti-racist. Of course, treating this sort of thing as a constant process rather than a goal that can be completed helps. Not letting the perfect get in the way, always striving to do better.

But still, if someone decided to remove a problematic aspect, like the Vistani, entirely rather than modify them . . . it's a solution also.
If anti-racism is the goal, and it obviously should be, then removing diverse representation, simply making the place whiter, isn’t a solution at all. They need to fix the representation.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
Supporter
If anti-racism is the goal, and it obviously should be, then removing diverse representation, simply making the place whiter, isn’t a solution at all. They need to fix the representation.
I agree that the better choice is to modify the Vistani's portrayal rather than eliminate them from the story . . . but again, it's also the more difficult choice and we are talking about somebody's home game.

Now when it comes to WotC and how they've handled this so far . . . not impressed.
 

Retreater

Legend
If any of my players had a problem with my portrayal of Vistani (even though I would do my best to make them believable characters and not harmful stereotypes), I would either remove them from Curse of Strahd or just not play Curse of Strahd. I do this thing all the time. One of my players' mothers died while we were playing a very undead themed campaign, and I changed the tone quick. Another player's husband died, and I changed the tone of another campaign to something more whimsical rather than gritty fantasy.
I think there's a baseline of acceptability in campaigns. Undead (with the exceptions of a player mourning the loss of his mom or something similar) should be okay. I think racist caricatures and harm to children are a few themes that most of us don't want included, pretty much ever. It's certainly not a baseline of acceptability.
 

Gradine

Final Form (they/them)
If anti-racism is the goal, and it obviously should be, then removing diverse representation, simply making the place whiter, isn’t a solution at all. They need to fix the representation.
You are right of course. I was just wondering, with all the baggage surrounding the Vistani, how far WotC would even be willing (or even able) to go. Can the Vistani play their usual role in Ravenloft without relying on negative stereotypes of the Romani? Can they play any role without relying on those stereotypes? I'm sure that it's possible. I'm very unsure how WotC is up for that task. Hell, I'm fairly certain I'm not up for that task, which why is I'm changing them the way that I am.
 

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