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.
 

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Beth Rimmels

Beth Rimmels

Zander

Explorer
Beth Rimmels: ‘The original version of CoS even included the g-word, which is a slur for those of Romani heritage.’

...in the US (and possibly some other countries) but not universally. In the UK, ‘Gypsy’ and ‘Gypsy Roma’ are endonyms. The removal of ‘Gypsy’ has more to do with CoS/Ravenloft being a US product than anything inherently offensive about the term.
 

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Dire Bare

Legend
Beth Rimmels: ‘The original version of CoS even included the g-word, which is a slur for those of Romani heritage.’

...in the US (and possibly some other countries) but not universally. In the UK, ‘Gypsy’ and ‘Gypsy Roma’ are endonyms. The removal of ‘Gypsy’ has more to do with CoS/Ravenloft being a US product than anything inherently offensive about the term.
Perhaps. But nonetheless, the term "gypsy" is sometimes used as a slur, and is sometimes found offensive by Roma or other Travelers in the US and in other parts of the world. So, a term best avoided.
 

ajevans

Explorer
I can't help feel that this was just a cheap excuse to cash in again on a product on the flimsiest of pretexts.

I'm curious to know if they did a proper job or whether this was just a bit of "look at us, we're doing good, buy the same product again at inflated prices".

Can someone who's got the new version say whether:

1. "Hags" are still in there?
2. Is the thing that can be imbued with a Vampires soul still called a "Phylactery"?
 

Dire Bare

Legend
I can't help feel that this was just a cheap excuse to cash in again on a product on the flimsiest of pretexts.

I'm curious to know if they did a proper job or whether this was just a bit of "look at us, we're doing good, buy the same product again at inflated prices".

Can someone who's got the new version say whether:

1. "Hags" are still in there?
2. Is the thing that can be imbued with a Vampires soul still called a "Phylactery"?
Oh good lord. I hate the lame criticisms of "cheap excuse" or "cash grab" folks sometimes throw around.

This isn't marketed towards gamers who already own Curse of Strahd. I'm sure WotC would love to catch some of those gamers with this product, but that's not it's intended audience. This is for gamers who don't yet own the module and would love a deluxe version of it, and for the few completists out there who need everything. Not sure if the original book is still in print, but it's not super hard to find out there in stores and online, if the deluxe version doesn't do it for you.

This boxed set rocks! It's also expensive. If the value of the boxed set isn't high enough FOR YOU to justify it's price . . . that's fine, this sort of thing isn't for everybody. The "important parts" of the boxed set are the module itself (in a different format than the hardcover) and the deck of Tarokka cards. The maps, posters, and handouts are a very nice bonus. Add up the price of the hardcover adventure and the Tarokka deck, and you are not far from the price of this boxed set anyway.

You're curious if they did a "proper job" . . . commenting on a review of the product? Did you read the OP review?
 


ajevans

Explorer
Oh good lord. I hate the lame criticisms of "cheap excuse" or "cash grab" folks sometimes throw around.

This isn't marketed towards gamers who already own Curse of Strahd. I'm sure WotC would love to catch some of those gamers with this product, but that's not it's intended audience. This is for gamers who don't yet own the module and would love a deluxe version of it, and for the few completists out there who need everything. Not sure if the original book is still in print, but it's not super hard to find out there in stores and online, if the deluxe version doesn't do it for you.

This boxed set rocks! It's also expensive. If the value of the boxed set isn't high enough FOR YOU to justify it's price . . . that's fine, this sort of thing isn't for everybody. The "important parts" of the boxed set are the module itself (in a different format than the hardcover) and the deck of Tarokka cards. The maps, posters, and handouts are a very nice bonus. Add up the price of the hardcover adventure and the Tarokka deck, and you are not far from the price of this boxed set anyway.

You're curious if they did a "proper job" . . . commenting on a review of the product? Did you read the OP review?
I read the review I think it's fair to throw it around when they've done a half-assed job.

I'm not a sensitivity reader, but having ran it, I can pick out a few issues. As it stands it still contains the misogynistic descriptor "Hag", and what I'd argue is the anti-semitic usage of "phylactery", a small leather box containing bits of the Torah worn by Jewish men at prayer - or in The Curse of Strahd's case the soul of the undead.

So if your going to make a press release in which you emphasize that Diversity is in your core values and promote the use of inclusive language, and in that very same press release promote a reprint of a product which you believe now enshrines those values, perhaps you should make more than a half-assed token effort. In that context I feel cynicism is justified.
 

Dire Bare

Legend
I read the review I think it's fair to throw it around when they've done a half-assed job.

I'm not a sensitivity reader, but having ran it, I can pick out a few issues. As it stands it still contains the misogynistic descriptor "Hag", and what I'd argue is the anti-semitic usage of "phylactery", a small leather box containing bits of the Torah worn by Jewish men at prayer - or in The Curse of Strahd's case the soul of the undead.

So if your going to make a press release in which you emphasize that Diversity is in your core values and promote the use of inclusive language, and in that very same press release promote a reprint of a product which you believe now enshrines those values, perhaps you should make more than a half-assed token effort. In that context I feel cynicism is justified.
You're shifting goal posts here, or your earlier post was not clear. The review didn't mention a "half-assed job", although opinions vary of course. "Cheap excuse" for a new deluxe boxed set has nothing to do with any potential sensitivity issues. WotC has made it crystal clear what this boxed set is all about, the adventure has minor edits, it includes extra "stuff" like the cards, maps, posters, postcards, DM's screen, and comes in a fancy box. That's not half-assed or a cheap excuse, it's just a deluxe version of the module.

Did WotC go far enough with the edits for sensitivity reasons? That's a good question and debate, but very unclear in your earlier post.

I agree that the D&D monster of the "hag" is a sexist and ageist trope . . . pulled directly from real-world myth and folktale. Ugly old women are evil monsters to be feared. Should D&D get rid of hags from this adventure and the game itself, or somehow revise them so they no longer represent problematic tropes? I haven't read Curse of Strahd for a while, but how is the hag character in the adventure portrayed? I don't have an opinion on what potential changes need to be made there, but the basic monster concept of the hag is definitely problematic.

Do phylacteries even show up in Curse of Strahd? In D&D, they are usually associated with liches, not vampires. But again, it's been a while since I've read the adventure. You are right that the idea of a phylactery is appropriated from Jewish culture out-of-context and given a sinister tone. Should these be removed or revised from D&D? I don't have an opinion here either, but I think the conversation's worth having.

Since WotC hasn't, to my knowledge, addressed, removed, or revised references to hags and phylacteries from Curse of Strahd and D&D at large . . . is Curse of Strahd Revamped "half-assed"? No. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The edits they've made are overdue and good, but that certainly doesn't mean more can't be done. We're all learning and trying to be better, without being considered failures, lazy, or uncaring.
 

This is a tricky thing to answer, but the origin of the word phylactery is Greek (though some posit it is based on an even earlier language), meaning amulet (specifically magical, I think). The Latin descendent in turn refers to a reliquary. Now, whether Gygax knew of the term from there, or its use as another term for Tefillin, I could not begin to hazard a guess. Gygax had an interest in both religion and Greco-Roman legends. Golems certainly come from Jewish lore (though entirely possibly, he could've just watched Der Golem and Jason & the Argonauts back-to-back). D&D is magpie hodgepodge of different cultures and legends.

But at the least, it appears that the use of phylactery to refer to an amulet predates that of its use to refer to Tefillin. I think using phylactery as a evidence of antisemitism is a stretch.

what I'd argue is the anti-semitic usage of "phylactery", a small leather box containing bits of the Torah worn by Jewish men at prayer - or in The Curse of Strahd's case the soul of the undead.

Inclusion is a continuum. Striving for it means making mistakes as our understanding grows. People that try to hold the slightest misstep as evidence that the whole thing is a wash miss the point.

Since WotC hasn't, to my knowledge, addressed, removed, or revised references to hags and phylacteries from Curse of Strahd and D&D at large . . . is Curse of Strahd Revamped "half-assed"? No. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The edits they've made are overdue and good, but that certainly doesn't mean more can't be done. We're all learning and trying to be better, without being considered failures, lazy, or uncaring.
 


Retreater

Legend
I haven't read Curse of Strahd for a while, but how is the hag character in the adventure portrayed?
Well, they live in an old windmill, kidnap children, and cook them into baked goods that they then feed to the children's parents. All of them are described as old, ugly spinsters.
 


Retreater

Legend
Regarding the phylactery, I feel it is a general enough fantasy term to not be widely associated with a particular culture or faith. The same thing with angels, golems, devils, demons, etc.

Now if you had a fantasy race that had traditional Jewish stereotypical characteristics, described them as Jews (or in the case of the Vistani, a derogatory term), and described them as cheap, etc., I think that would be problematic.
 

ajevans

Explorer
It's not so much me shifting the goal posts, as my views not fitting your projections of them from my original post.

I was commenting on the product that was being reviewed, not commenting on the review.

I don't buy that the boxed set had nothing to do with potential sensitivity issues, when they mention it's upcoming release in the exact same press release. It wasn't a coincidence. As a hypothetical examples it'd be like Ford issuing a press-release saying that they're dedicated to improving the environment, and releasing new electric vehicles like the Mach-E Mustang - and then arguing that the subsequent release of the Mach-E Mustang had nothing to do with press release extolling their green virtues.

If companies extol their green virtues don't properly follow through they're accused of greenwashing.

I feel WOTC is doing the equivalent of greenwashing. It's promoting itself and products on the back of something I don't feel it's really following through on.

In my heart of hearts I know I'm being harsh, so totally except if you feel otherwise.
 

ajevans

Explorer
Regarding the phylactery, I feel it is a general enough fantasy term to not be widely associated with a particular culture or faith. The same thing with angels, golems, devils, demons, etc.

Now if you had a fantasy race that had traditional Jewish stereotypical characteristics, described them as Jews (or in the case of the Vistani, a derogatory term), and described them as cheap, etc., I think that would be problematic.

Is it though? It's pretty solidly associated with the Jewish Faith, and it's origin's in fantasy appear to be D&D as far as I can tell. And then associating them with ancient evil undead creatures is not a great look.

If WOTC accepts that it's depiction Orcs are racist, I feel that associating phylacteries with evil undead creatures being anti-semitic is far less of a stretch.
 

Retreater

Legend
Is it though? It's pretty solidly associated with the Jewish Faith, and it's origin's in fantasy appear to be D&D as far as I can tell. And then associating them with ancient evil undead creatures is not a great look.

If WOTC accepts that it's depiction Orcs are racist, I feel that associating phylacteries with evil undead creatures being anti-semitic is far less of a stretch.
A common and easily found definition for phylactery is "amulet." It is a synonym for amulet. I doubt most readers/gamers are even aware that it is a term used in Judaism.

Here are some words and symbols used in Roman Catholic ritual, if you'd also like to strike them from the game: chalice, censer, vestments, and Fleur-di-Lis.
 

Remathilis

Legend
Vampires were a misunderstanding of how consumption (Teburculosis) worked as well as how a dead body rots when buried. Vampires should be removed from the game as it is a negative and abelist attack on terminally sick people perpetuated by ignorance and fear.
 

The word phylactery is not exclusively used to refer to Tefillin. It's origins are Greek. I wrote a thing about it a few posts up.

Is it though? It's pretty solidly associated with the Jewish Faith, and it's origin's in fantasy appear to be D&D as far as I can tell. And then associating them with ancient evil undead creatures is not a great look.

If WOTC accepts that it's depiction Orcs are racist, I feel that associating phylacteries with evil undead creatures being anti-semitic is far less of a stretch.
 

ajevans

Explorer
A common and easily found definition for phylactery is "amulet." It is a synonym for amulet. I doubt most readers/gamers are even aware that it is a term used in Judaism.

Here are some words and symbols used in Roman Catholic ritual, if you'd also like to strike them from the game: chalice, censer, vestments, and Fleur-di-Lis.
I think you're missing the point. It's most strongly associated with a people who have been the subject of serious persecution. Those terms aren't just used in Roman Catholic rituals, they're common across other denominations, and there's not the same history of persecution there.

Most gamers didn't realise there was a problem with any of the original Curse of Strahd. You could argue that none of this is that big a deal. The point is around promoting a product on the back of supposed values that don't appear to hold up to scrutiny.
 



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