Drawn in and trapped by a mysteriously impenetrable fog, your party finds themselves guests in Barovia–a land ruled by the mysterious Strahd von Zarovitch. A world of vampires, ghouls, ghosts, and other dark creatures faces the party. Will you make it through the Death House and begin to unravel the story of Strahd and his descent into darkness? How will your party handle its first encounters with the blood drinkers of the land? Is there more than meets the eye when it comes to the Vistanti, the only travelers permitted to leave the borders of Barovia?
What is Curse of Strahd about?
Curse of Strahd is about the adventures and mishaps available to a party in the land of Barovia. At its heart, the adventure does focus on the conflict between Strahd himself and the party. Strahd intentionally draws in adventurers, traps them, and then toys with them. There are other opportunities for side plots and adventures, but the adventure as a whole is always building up to an eventual conflict encounter with Strahd himself. The adventure pushes characters to unravel Strahd’s backstory, meet his enemies and allies, and engage in a quest to defeat Strahd and escape Barovia.
The adventure is designed for a party of four to six characters and can take PCs from level 1 to level 10 (provided they survive). The module says that a balance of classes is best, and all classes should find times to shine in the course of the adventure. In terms of preparing the adventure, the DM will do the lion’s share of the work by reading and understanding the entire module. There are maps provided in the physical copy, and depending on your level of involvement there are some character minis available to the specifications of the module. One major tool for immersion is the Taroka cards. The physical module comes with a page of the cards that can be taped or glue to playing cards, as well as a handy shortcut for using just regular playing cards for the shuffling. There are also sets of the Taroka cards ready made that you can usually find online or at a local shop that carries TTRPG supplies.
Curse of Strahd was one of the first campaigns I attempted to play. I constructed two characters (my first two PCs ever) and played across the DM who operated to PCs that were more like NPCs with more skills. I had a lot of room to move about in the campaign but it led to a fun approach to the module. Later, I was meant to plan a campaign for the module and I downloaded and read the entirety of the book as a result. Since then I have almost succeeded in running the module, but the timing fell apart before it moved forward. Thus I’ve studied and read the module more than once.
Ravenloft as a setting is delightful for the internal goth. Vampire fans and fans of the uncanny alike will enjoy the setting and atmosphere in many ways. The idea of a campaign set up as almost following in Jonathan’s footsteps in Dracula is definitely an interesting one! Some of the side characters, objects, and built in encounters are equally fascinating, and when played right, this module can be super fun! However, this module can’t be played blindly, as I’ll explain in the next two sections.
I’m not a huge fan of super strict rules in D&D. If a rule doesn’t make sense or has multiple interpretations, I’ll choose the way that makes for a more fun experience with the group I’m working with. I’ll always try to prioritize the roleplay experience of my players and how much fun things are for them over obeying the rules. This module isn’t as strict in terms of progression through, but there are certain themes and moments that the narrative of the module insists on and are crucial to the story. The story being told will ultimately be crafted by your players, and I think more DMs should be willing to bend the needs of the story away a little bit in favor of their players’ comfort and enjoyment.
Curse of Strahd has some racism issues. The Vistanti are crafted out of racist stereotypes of Romani people and cast in a negative light by the writers and plot of the module. Any considerate playthrough of Curse of Strahd absolutely needs to reconcile with the racism involved in its plot and some of the NPCs. Personally, I would rather do the work to create a homebrew group of antagonists adapted to suit Strahd’s needs but otherwise sharing nothing with the module’s Vistanti.
There are also valid criticisms of the story of Strahd, which could potentially be harmful in content for some people. Ultimately, this issue is one to be discussed as a table in order to determine limits and boundaries to guide how Strahd’s behavior should appear and how much of the story discussed explicitly.
I love the idea of the aesthetics in this module, and the story of Strahd can be compelling and interesting if done right. The ultimate approach to this module can be interesting and fun for everybody so long as the major issues are addressed and all the players are comfortable. I’m a sucker for the aesthetic and having already done most of the work, I’m still hoping to one day run this campaign module with significant tweaks.