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Strahd Returns with Curse of Strahd Revamped: An In-Depth Review

Curse of Strahd Revamped (CoSR) follows in the footsteps of last year's revised reissue, when Wizard of the Coast released Tyranny of Dragons, the combined version of the first two 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons hardcover adventures, Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat. However, CoSR doesn't just modify the text of the Gothic horror adventure. This is a deluxe edition with several extras.
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Welcome to Ravenloft​

Originally introduced in the 1983 module Ravenloft, the vampire Strahd von Zarovich is the villain and ruler of Barovia. He was created by Tracy Hickman (also known for co-creating Dragonlance with Margaret Weis) and Laura Hickman. Ravenloft is also known as the Demiplane of Dread and is a pocket dimension that contains and traps Strahd as punishment for his evil acts and depravity. That begs the question of why his innocent subjects were trapped with him, but that's another issue. The setting was so popular it launched several novels and videogames.

Ravenloft was the first of D&D's classic settings to be revived for 5th Edition, and it was a good choice. Distinct, evocative, and self-contained, Curse of Strahd had a flavor and mood unlike any of the 5th Edition adventures released to that point, or since. While Chris Perkins is the lead designer on CoS, it was created in consultations with the Hickmans, incorporating material they refined in their own games in the decades since its commercial launch.
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What’s Inside​

Every part of CoSR has been carefully considered, starting with the over-sized, coffin-shaped box. The press photos made it look like the box was just a variant of the original Curse of Strahd cover. Turns out, that's just a wraparound. When slipped off, it reveals an attractively moody design made of gray ink and matte black with raised glossy black ink. The top of the box features Strahd's coat of arms and a smoky candle design on the sides along with the D&D logo ampersand.

Inside are two, heavy cardboard inserts to prevents the contents from bouncing around. The production design team, headed by senior art director Kate Irwin, put care and thought into CoSR's contents and packaging, such as including ribbon lifters so the snugly fit contents can be easily removed.

This deluxe set includes a tarot-like Tarroka Deck, which was originally sold separately. The silver-ink embossed deck isn't just for mood or flavor. To create variables to the adventure, key aspects of the plot depend upon cards drawn to determine the location of three treasures that are necessary to defeat Strahd, a powerful ally who can help, and where to find Strahd for the final confrontation. These locations can also be determined with a regular deck of playing cards substituting for the Tarroka Deck or a DM could just select an option from the list, but since this set comes with the Tarroka Deck, why not use it?

I was a D&D Adventurers League store organizer and lead DM when Curse of Strahd originally came out and learned a few tricks in running this adventure. When you draw cards to customize your version of the adventure, take some time to make sure they work together cohesively for your game and tweak if necessary. That may seem obvious, but I've had DMs wing it and then feel that the adventure flow was a bit disjointed.

CoSR includes 12 postcards from Barovia (three each of four designs) that can be used to invite people to the game. They're cute, clever, and a nice touch. That said, I wish they had used the same space for cards with the NPCs' images. They included such a thing with the D&DAL adventure, Scourge of the Sword Coast when 5th Edition was still in its play test stage, and it was both handy for me as a DM and appreciated by the players.

Player handouts from the adventure are included so the DM doesn't have to make copies. They're beautifully done on heavy paper. The set also includes an adventure-specific DM's screen with the player side of the panels showcasing images of Barovia. The DM side includes the usual information, such as conditions, as well as setting-specific information like daytime and nighttime random encounter tables and lists of Barovian names.

The Tarroka Deck is accompanied by an 8-page supplement for easy use, especially if the DM does readings as Madam Eva. A full-color map with Barovia on one side and Castle Ravenloft on the other is included, as is an over-sized single sheet with Strahd's stats on the back and artwork of the vampire on the other. The new creatures in the adventure are given a separate 20-page supplement called Creatures of Horror.

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About That Hardcover​

That last item is very helpful but highlights the one thing that annoyed me about the set—the included version of the Curse of Strahd adventure is a square-bound softcover, not a hardcover like the original. The Creatures of Horror supplement then helps save the book from some wear and tear.

From a business standpoint, swapping the hardcover for a softcover makes sense. It makes the already heavy package lighter, which decreases shipping costs and overhead. Including a hardcover version would also tip the price tag over its $99 MSRP.

Still, as a DM, I prefer hardcovers for an adventure this size because it's more durable. DMing at home, the square-bound softcover might last if careful, but if I was still going back and forth to a store to run the game, wear and tear would be hard to avoid.

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Changes from the Original​

Curse of Strahd Revamped was announced around the time that Jeremy Crawford, senior game designer for D&D, shared changes WotC planned to make in regard to the depiction and handling of orcs, drow, etc. going forward, especially in regard to intelligent species being labeled “evil” as a group and ability minuses or debuffs. Curse of Strahd and its depiction of Vistani were mentioned as being part of those revisions.

The Vistani were singled out because they are an obvious riff on the stereotypical depiction of the Romani used in Gothic horror and the like. The original version of CoS even included the g-word, which is a slur for those of Romani heritage.

The text changes in CoSR turned out to be limited. The Vistani are still there, but references to them as evil or lazy were removed, as well as using the specific Romani word for a type of wagon. So “evil Vistani” become “Vistani servants of Strahd,” which actually makes more sense since even in the original CoS, not all Vistani did.

Another change to eliminate bias involves Ezmerelda d'Avenir. Previously she was depicted as taking great care to hide the fact that she has a prosthetic leg and even the paragraph mentioning it was labeled “Ezmerelda's Secret.” Now it's just presented matter-of-factly—Ezmerelda lost a leg fighting werewolves but wasn't infected herself. She trained herself to resume her monster-hunting activities once she became accustomed to her prosthetic. All told, only seven items were changed.

A few other changes were made to correct mistakes or improve game logic. For example, Strahd's unarmed combat description was updated to citing “Vampire or Wolf Form Only” instead of just in vampire form or tweaking details in the Haunted One background to reflect the dual influence. A few spell citations were also tweaked.

So really, extremely little changed in the actual adventure and none of the changes alter the plot, making CoSR a deluxe package rather than a revision. When you add up the cost of purchasing the hardcover book, the Tarroka Deck, and adventure specific DM's screen (Gale Force 9 also produced one when CoS was originally released) the $99 MSRP for CoSR isn't bad.

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The Adventure​

As for the adventure itself, it's my second favorite of the plots released so far (Storm King's Thunder is my favorite). It sets the Gothic horror mood well, and provides tips for DMs to do so. The card-deck to determine specific plot details adds a bit of variance so that one group of players can't spoil it for the other.

Curse of Strahd, original or Revamped, does one thing well that Tomb of Annihilation botched—letting players explore the new environment. While they have incentive in CoS to accomplish their goals so they can be released from Barovia and return home, the story also allows enough time and space for the players to get the full Barovian/Ravenloft experience. A huge mistake ToA made, in my opinion, was presenting this huge area to explore and tying the story to a Death Clock, which removed incentive to wander and explore the country. At the time I reviewed ToA I thought a balance could be struck. Actually DMing ToA proved how hard that could be.

At its core, CoS is a simple adventure—the players are whisked to Barovia for mysterious reasons. The only way to get home is to defeat Strahd. As they wander his kingdom prison, he plays with them like a cat plays with mice. Barovia contains all the elements you expect from a Gothic horror adventure—ghosts, werewolves, hags, creepy toys, and, of course, the titular vampire. I'm not a fan of reincarnated love interests, but a tragic love story is part of Strahd's backstory and downfall.

One thing I found weird in the original CoS is that Death House, the initial scenario if your players are starting at first level, was placed in the back. Having it upfront with a note that if your players are starting at 5th level to skip the Death House chapter and start with the Village of Barovia information instead would have made so much more sense. It's minor but the new edition would have been a great opportunity to make the entire plot flow better.

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Actual Play (SPOILER WARNING for Players)​

Speaking of Death House, DMs might want to prep some hints for their players. This starter adventure is set up so that the players have to end up in the basement, but that can't be done from the first floor. Instead, the players have to go upstairs to find the secret passage down to the basement. Should be simple, right? Not necessarily.

My players figured out quickly that there was a basement they needed to visit, but heading upstairs to go down never occurred to them, and they brushed off a subtle clue. Instead of exploring upstairs they decided to smash their way into the basement by destroying a chunk of floor. It wasn't just my group either. Other DMs have told me their players did something similar. Another group just waited on the first level, not doing anything, until their frustrated DM added an entrance from the first floor. Having a way to nudge them upstairs if your players behave similarly might make everyone happier.

Fortunately for DMs, everything else is more straightforward. It's a good, spooky adventure where you're not always sure if you can trust the natives, and has a compelling, charismatic villain who is totally evil, but has a tragic backstory. If you're a DM who likes to do voices and emphasis the role-playing and interesting NPCs, CoS gives you a lot to work with. And if your players just like action, there's a lot of genuine evil to smite.

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Should You Buy It?​

If you and your group like Gothic horror, this is definitely the adventure for you. At this point it’s likely if you’re a fan of that genre, you probably own the original. Should you buy the deluxe edition?

Unless you're a completest, no. CoSR is very nice, but if you already spent around $50 for the hardcover, another $99 doesn't really make sense. If you don't own CoS but want to run it, deciding on which version will depend upon your budget. CoSR is lovely, well thought out, and high quality. The only drawback is the fact that the book is softcover. If you don't want the extras or on a tighter budget, just the hardcover is fine.

Either way, if you like spooky adventures that feel like a Hammer Horror movie or classic Universal monster movie, then Curse of Strahd, Revamped or regular, is for you.
 
Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

I wonder about the future plans about this franchise, and I mean about the until now frozen metaplot and the rest of the demiplane of the dread. If my theory of a future multiverse crisis event is true, we can bet it will linked with the demiplane of the dread and Vecna, and maybe also Sigil/Planescape and Spelljammer. Maybe even a new dark domain based in the walking dead serie (not all evil characters have to die, someones only disappear). And some franchises are easier to allow a crossover thanks Ravenloft (why are you thinking about Albert Wesker? He didn't appear any more after the fifth game, and now why about "Dead by Daylight" monsters?).

After this title, I guess we will see an update and expanded version of the modules "house of the gryphon hill", "Bleak House: the Death of Rudolph van Richten", and after a compilation of the modules about the grand conjunction event. Also a player handbook about gothic horror, not linked only to Ravenloft, but also with Innistrad.

Other theory by me is in a future the dark powers will cause troubles in zones with modern-age technology, not only the gothic earth of the spin-off "the mask of the Red Death" but also pulp-age and XXI century. Why? Because it is easier for action-live productions, Entertainment-One producing its own version of "American Horror Story", stories where nothing about the lore is necessary to be known by the watchers. Some stories will be enough suitable for +10y children, as R.L.Stine's "Goosebumps" or the cartoon "Tales from the cryptkeeper", and others more mature plot. Other stories will be supernatural romance with some wicked touch. (and don't dare to read cursed Hunter B.'s diary or you will suffer an horrible fate caused by the deep powers).
 

Great review! I have the hardcover version for CoS so I think I'll skip this if I'm not missing on anything big. And thank you for pointing out the changes to the Vistani and Ezmerelda, I'll be sure to incorporate those whenever I run this campaign :)
 

Chaderick

Explorer
After all the whining and fussing, maybe now all the conservative snowflakes can stop with the "Help! Help! We're being oppressed!" nonsense over changes to the Vistani. Removing labels on an entire society as being "evil" is a minor change in the text that goes a long way towards normalizing a normally marginalized group. It won't impact that game for most, but it makes a big difference to those who were directly impacted by the original.
 


imagineGod

Adventurer
This is one of those "if-you-never-purchased" then this is so worth getting. Luckily, I fall into this group.

However, if you have the original 5th Edition version of Curse of Strahd, then this is only for those not affected by the financial loses in the world of today and have the spare income to throw at this revamped version.
 

imagineGod

Adventurer
Thank you for the in depth review. Glad they didnt add too much, that makes it easy for me not to want it. But it sounds like a great product for thise who dont already have the book and want to jump into the campaign.
I did not read your comment before replying, but yes, you are spot on. A great product for those who never got the original 5th Edition version.
 


The tension between these big world-ending threats and the need to both level up and allow a degree of player freedom has definitely been something Wizards has struggled with in their modules.

Curse of Strahd, original or Revamped, does one thing well that Tomb of Annihilation botched—letting players explore the new environment. While they have incentive in CoS to accomplish their goals so they can be released from Barovia and return home, the story also allows enough time and space for the players to get the full Barovian/Ravenloft experience. A huge mistake ToA made, in my opinion, was presenting this huge area to explore and tying the story to a Death Clock, which removed incentive to wander and explore the country. At the time I reviewed ToA I thought a balance could be struck. Actually DMing ToA proved how hard that could be.

I'm mostly getting this for completion's sake, and to support the updates they've made to the adventure to make it more inclusive. But if I'm honest about it to myself, it's all about the foil leaf tarokka deck and the coffin-shaped box.
 



I do wish there had been more revisions, both to the Vistani and the adventure generally, although maybe they didn't want to get someone in to lay large parts of the book out again. Still, this feels like a missed opportunity.

I will likely pick up the new printing of the hardcover, once I hear that it's been spotted in the wild.
 

Chaderick

Explorer
The tension between these big world-ending threats and the need to both level up and allow a degree of player freedom has definitely been something Wizards has struggled with in their modules.



I'm mostly getting this for completion's sake, and to support the updates they've made to the adventure to make it more inclusive. But if I'm honest about it to myself, it's all about the foil leaf tarokka deck and the coffin-shaped box.
I have to admit, the coffin-shaped box struck me as awesome at first, and then way too gimmicky, and then kind of cool...

...and then the foil-leaf tarokka pushed me back over the edge again!

Mine arrived a short while ago, but I have to wait till the kids are in bed to open it. Can't wait to see its insides on the outside!
 



Is the softcover book the same size as the hard cover one? Box seems a little small for it?
The softcover book is the same size as a standard D&D book in terms of the height and width of the cover. It’s not quite as thick as the original CoS because the monster/NPC section was removed and put in another booklet (also included in the box).

The box itself is massive. I was shocked at how big and heavy it is. It definitely will not fit on most standard book shelves.
 



imagineGod

Adventurer
The softcover book is the same size as a standard D&D book in terms of the height and width of the cover. It’s not quite as thick as the original CoS because the monster/NPC section was removed and put in another booklet (also included in the box).

The box itself is massive. I was shocked at how big and heavy it is. It definitely will not fit on most standard book shelves.
No, this was not a good look.
 

mykediemart

Explorer
This is a missed opportunity. It doesn't feel like a deluxe product. It feels like a half measure.
The changes to the Vistani and Ezmerelda, The Vistani sure some of the descriptions seemed stereotyped from a real culture. But DnD has a lot of that, not all serve a Vampire, Ezmeralda, hiding her injury makes sense to the setting.
What the book really needed was fixing some of the layout, and editing.

And again make it a real deluxe product.
 

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