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

Growing up, we just called them Tefillin. The entirely unscientific method of comparing the Google results of phylactery lich vs. phylactery tefillin comes up with 146,000 vs. 12,800, so I'm not sure that it is predominantly used to refer to Tefillin. Heck, most people don't even know what a phylactery is.

Yes, the root of the word is Greek. The overwhelmingly common usage of the word however predominantly refers to Tefillin.
 

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Windjammer

Adventurer
This is a missed opportunity. (...) What the book really needed was fixing some of the layout, and editing. And again make it a real deluxe product.
I’ve come to accept that WotC’ approach to revising 5e adventures is not that of Paizo redoing existing adventures into deluxe hardcovers. The latter are a product of many years’ worth, going over fan reviews and additions with a fine comb, creating superb new content, and bringing together a campaign that really plays significantly better than the original.

WotC‘ revisions of Tyranny of Dragons or Strahd clearly are nothing like that. There exist improvements to both adventures on DM‘s Guild by fans and amateurs that are worth a lot more than whatever small, mostly cosmetic, details WotC adds to its reprints.

It’s just two different philosophies and folks should purchase accordingly. Given that my preferences focus on improving game play and campaign cohesion, I know my money is better spent on the awesome content produced by fellow DMs.

I am happy that WotC does reprints but I’ve come to accept I’m not their target audience. Folks DM’ing 5e wanting a superb campaign revision should perhaps save their money for Kingmaker v2.
 

Remathilis

Legend
I think the issue was that they wanted the ReVamped joke in the title, but it implies more than errata and some goodies in a box set. And it's cut both ways, with some calling this a "PC rewrite" (ignoring the fact the changes to Vistani are minor text edits only) while others upset the changes didn't go far enough to fix the issues and weaknesses in the original design. (See ToD chapter 1 as a good example of our expecting rewrites and getting minot text edits).

Calling it a deluxe or collectors edition might have been more accurate and gotten expectations lowered, but they would lose that quirky pun. Don't think it was worth it though.
 

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