On most Sunday nights, a group of friends and I gather to play Dungeons & Dragons. This is the chronicle of their tale. (This post contains possible spoilers to “Curse of Strahd”)
I was very excited to hear that Wizards of the Coast was releasing an updated version of the classic Ravenloft campaign, and picked up the book as soon as possible. “Curse of Strahd” is an excellent revision using 5th Edition rules, written by DM-extraordinaire and actual wizard Christopher Perkins. So, without telling my friends exactly what we’d be playing, I gathered them up and had them roll new characters.
I decided to choose the “Mysterious Visitors” adventure hook found in the CoS campaign book. I liked the idea of having the characters come from Faerûn – a decision that I would later come to regret (more on that another time) – and starting in a town with which I’m familiar: Daggerford.
The characters assemble, invited to dine with the Duchess Morwen in her keep.
Seth plays half-orc cleric of Torm Khurz Whitescar.
Mark plays human bard Vash.
Aubrey plays elven rogue Cairie.
Dawn plays elven monk Gilrean.
They are all level 3, and have been adventuring for a short time together, doing tasks mostly for Daggerford and the Duchess. They learn of a group of travelers camped just outside of town, harassing locals. Duchess Morwen asks that the group get rid of them.
The travelers are Vistani, a nomadic people who tell the adventurers about their homeland, Barovia, and how their once-kind ruler is under some curse that’s turned him into a malevolent tyrant. Their leader, Stanimir, requests the group’s help in trying to lift the curse. The group agrees, and so they spend some time celebrating with the relieved, joyful Vistani.
As most of the group slept, Khurz took the final watch of the night. The Vistani slept in or near their wagons. Khurz sat beside the doused campfire, and – failing a Wisdom saving throw – became intently focused on the swirling wisps of smoke.
The group awoke to find themselves sitting in the middle of the road, campfire gone, wagons and Vistani gone, with a dense forest pressing in against it. Daggerford was nowhere to be seen. They decide to follow the road to try and find Stanimir, assuming some trickery on his part.
They find a letter on a corpse from the village’s burgomaster, requesting the aid of noble heroes, and they make it to a small village, where they learn they have arrived in Barovia – the land of the tyrant ruler Stanimir spoke of.
Within the Blood of the Vine Tavern, the group finds the burgomaster’s son, Ismark Kolyanovich. They learn that the burgomaster’s letter is a forgery, likely a trap set by “the devil Strahd.” He takes the adventurers to his father’s home, where his sister – Ireena Kolyana – mourns their father’s recent death. Ismark fears for his sister’s life, for Strahd comes for her every night, and attempts to take her to his castle.
Ismark’s plan is to take Ireena away from the village of Barovia – out from beneath the eye of Strahd’s castle, Ravenloft – and to a nearby town called Vallaki. Ireena, however, refuses to leave unless her father receives a proper burial. So, the adventurers help carry the burgomaster’s coffin to the local church.
There, they meet the priest, Donavich, who prays madly at the altar, as the pained wails of something unseen echo throughout the holy place. Donavich reveals that, after joining some wizard on an insane march to Ravenloft to confront Strahd, his son returned with an affliction. Donavich keeps him locked in the church’s undercroft, and begs Khurz – the cleric – to help him.
Our first session was fairly cut-and-dry. Nothing crazy or out of the ordinary. I imagine it’s fairly similar to several D&D groups starting the Curse of Strahd campaign – barring any differences in the adventure hook. Once you arrive in Barovia, though, I feel it’s pretty cookie-cutter until you get more into it.
My take on it, to add to the mystery and power of the place, was to have the adventurers wake up – exactly as they had fallen asleep – within the dark realm instead of wandering through a sudden mist or something like that. That uneasy feeling of not recognizing your surroundings upon waking up is pretty powerful to me.
No combat this session, though I was ready for it in a couple of places. I was aiming for a more atmospheric and RP-heavy session anyway, to get the players into the mood of the campaign. Yes, there will be plenty of combat for them, but I wanted to build up the realm first, and establish the mystery of Strahd.
At this point, I hadn’t outright told them the nature of Strahd von Zarovich, but a couple of my players were already guessing he was a vampire. Kind of a bummer, because I didn’t want to spoil the surprise of learning that they’d be dealing with vampires ahead of time, but I suppose that’s a credit to the campaign and how it’s written…that it lends itself to believing there will be vampires.
What did you do differently when you started Curse of Strahd? Are you running/playing Curse of Strahd and have run/played the original Ravenloft campaign? What do you think of the 5E translation? Any advice for future sessions, having already run the campaign?
Thanks for reading. Next time, the party reaches a realization in “Darkness in Barovia!”
Until then – Well Met!