Curse of Strahd (2016): Greatest D&D Adventures Since 1985—Number 4

Curse of Strahd (2016) is a fifth-edition Dungeons & Dragons adventure for levels 1-10 by Chris Perkins with Adam Lee, Richard Whitters, and Jeremy Crawford.

Fifth-edition hardcover adventures like Tomb of Annihilation pull inspiration from a catalog of classic modules. Curse of Strahd just draws from just one: Ravenloft (1983) by Tracy and Laura Hickman. Ravenloft’s 32 pages spawned a campaign setting, so it easily brings enough inspiration to fill a hardcover. Ravenloft ranked second on Dungeon magazine’s list of the 30 greatest adventures, beaten only by a compilation of 7 adventures.

Curse of Strahd captures everything we loved in I6 Ravenloft, and expands it into a full campaign,” writes Mike “Sly Fourish” Shea. “Of all of the published campaigns, this one is the most solid, with a clear motivation and excellent locations.”

While Ravenloft mainly stayed in a castle, Curse of Strahd gives players the freedom to roam the cursed land of Barovia. Most of the fifth-edition hardcovers aspire to play as a sandbox, but only Curse really succeeds as one. Credit a foundation borrowed from Ravenloft. To defeat Strahd, characters must collect 3 artifacts. Early on, the party gains clues to the items’ locations. This structure gives players a goal and a sense of direction.

Curse of Strahd borrows another brilliant device from Ravenloft. A card reading from Barovia’s version of a tarot deck reveals the location of the magic items and the roles of key non-player characters. This gives the story a random element that feels vital.

Although Curse of Strahd features a strong design, the vampire Strahd and the fearful gloom of his domain make the adventure’s best parts.

Strahd’s history sometimes makes him seem relatable—or even capable of redemption. But that lie just makes him more horrifying. Tracy Hickman calls Strahd “a selfish beast forever lurking behind the mask of tragic romance, the illusion of redemption that was only ever camouflage for his prey.”

The adventure never lets characters forget Strahd’s threat. “Stahd isn’t a villain who remains out of sight until the final scene. Far from it—he travels as he desires to any place in his realm. The characters can and should meet him multiple times before the final encounter,” the text explains. “When Strahd wants to terrorize the characters, he pays them a visit, either under cloak of night or beneath overcast skies. If they’re indoors, he tries to charm or goad a character into inviting him inside.”

Strahd’s presence taints his land with dread. “Many of the locations and towns seem to be quite ordinary or mundane at first glance…until you dig deeper,” explains Tyler Biddle. “The imagery is at times hauntingly beautiful and tragically grotesque. Barovia’s characters as well as its horrors will stay with you long after you’ve left the table.”

Wary of making the adventure too gloomy, the authors added notes of twisted humor. No player will forget Blinsky’s toys.

“Creepiness abounds, with locations and characters who just drip gothic horror,” Chris Stevenson writes. “Groups that hate being ‘railroaded’ will love the sandbox nature of Barovia. Curse of Strahd is the best 5E campaign book yet.”

After playing the adventure, the author of the Mindlands blog summarizes the experience. “Curse of Strahd is the best published adventure that I’ve ever played in. The atmosphere is fantastic, the locations, non-player characters, and villains are interesting, tragic and funny.”

Next: Number 3

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8 Responses to Curse of Strahd (2016): Greatest D&D Adventures Since 1985—Number 4

  1. Dave Dalrymple says:

    I enjoyed our run through Curse of Strahd, even if the setting felt a bit limiting at times.

    I created a Beastmaster Ranger with a Stirge companion solely so I could have the opportunity to suck Strahd’s blood. I was not disappointed.

  2. Pingback: Dead Gods (1997): Greatest D&D Adventures Since 1985—Number 5 | DMDavid

  3. Sapphire Crook says:

    The more I run COS, the more I lose my… appreciation(?) for it. There’s just so much… weird and wrong about it, that pops out the more I engage with it (from the way the Dark Powers are implemented to the weird use of a large, sprawling map that doesn’t really serve a good purpose). It’s still an Official 5e topper, but it scares me that I can say that without reconsidering.

    • Sapphire Crook says:

      Explanations that aren’t COS being bad might just be Hype Deflation and the fact my first engagement was with a GM who ran a pretty mean (as in good) game, and I was just overwhelmed at what WASN’T in the book.

  4. Joe says:

    Curse of Strahd, while good, cannot hold a candle to Storm King’s Thunder. CoS appeals greatly to ascertain mindset. SK appeals to all with whom I have chatted. To me Dungeon of the Mad Mage comes in second.

    • rasmusnord01 says:

      That surprises me. I can see it is useful as a sourcebook. But the plotting seems rather ham-handed and random. Although, to be fair, I have only read it, not GMed it. I listened to the http://www.thetomeshow.com/ and their Behind the DM screen, and it seemed to need a ton of work to run well.

  5. Matt says:

    I think CoS is amazing, but you really need to have a party who is willing to buy in to the style of gothic horror. You also need to have a play environment that sells the dark nature of the game. The players need to be afraid of everyone and everything, and for good reason. If you can pull that off, you’ll have an amazing time

  6. rasmusnord01 says:

    Thanks for the reference, David. It can be surprising when people read your little corner of the internet. Loving the series so far. I will definitely give the Madness at Gardmore Abbey a look.

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