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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Orc in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

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    Default I'm about to run Curse of Strahd

    I'm not a very experienced and I was hoping that I could get a few tips from anyone who has ran this module before or tips in general to make sure I don't end the PC's lives too soon.

    The party: Hexblade Warlock, Grave Cleric, Rogue and Paladin. There will potentially be a Barbarian joining the group but that hasn't been guaranteed yet. They're starting at level 1 using the Death House, the Rogue plans to be a hand crossbow Assassin and the Paladin will be going Oath of Ancients.

    Even just reading through the monsters found in the Death House, there's the potential for the players to be killed outright before they even make it to the attic for the level 2 milestone.

    Any tips to make sure I don't tpk session one would be appreciated.

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    Pixie in the Playground
     
    PirateGuy

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    Default Re: I'm about to run Curse of Strahd

    Just remember, you're the DM. You can make things as easy or hard as you want, the book is a guide. That being said, if the adventure doesn't include a chance to die it wouldn't be fun. I haven't run curse of strahd but I've played through it, it can be tough!
    1. Include warning signs to encourage the players to come back at a later time if they're not strong enough.
    2. Modify the monsters' stats to make it easier or more interesting.
    3. Include an interactive environment to help players out. Don't say that dropping the chandelier will knock off a good chunk of hp but maybe casually mention that an intricate but rickety chandelier hangs above and is tied off on the wall. I love when a DM does this because it encourages players to think outside the box instead of saying I'm going to smash. It takes more work on your part but makes combat so much more interesting.
    4. Bring in NPCs to help them. (Then possibly betray then :p)

  3. - Top - End - #3
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    Zejety's Avatar

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    Default Re: I'm about to run Curse of Strahd

    I'm almost done running CoS and here are some very rough/general pointers.

    1. Agree with your players on the tone you want to run this in. The adventure is written as a horror scenario but horror doesn't work in every group and I find the adventure plenty enjoyable if run as a beer-and-pretzels type of game.

    2.Some stuff in this is notoriously deadly: Death House is one such thing. Old Bonegrinder is another. Strahd himself could pop out at any time and murder a low-level party.
    a) The most dangerous thing in Death House may be the Specter of the maid. Her life drain makes it so that an unlucky player will instantly die instead of just dropping unconscious. There is no guiance given on where exactly it appears and whom it will attack. I ruled that it attacks whoever opens the door that triggers her, but you may want to have it just focus the tank. An alternate way to nerf it would be to guarantee it goes last in initiative order.
    The basement has some tough fights against 4(?) ghouls and one against 2(?) ghasts that can be dangerous depending on party resources. My group dealt with them pretty well but I can see it going worse with unlucky rolls. Depending on the lethality you desire, you may want to reduce the number of ghouls. The Shambling Mound is tough but slow. My players kited it to death but even if your group won't or can't do that, they can run away from it.
    The most dangerous thing about Death House might be that the creatures in there have no reason to leave a defeated party alive as opposed to just capturing them...

    b) The hags in Old Bonegrinder are infamous for being ridiculously high CR, especially if you take the recommended party level for that chapter into account. There have been a few suggestions to reduce their power over the years, that can be mixed and matched depending on what difficulty you desire and at which level your players show up at their door: Use green hags instead of night hags; lower CR and can't go etheral (sth. low-level players have barely any answers to). Have there be just be just two hags presents for the encounter; this also takes away their access to coven spells.
    You can also make the encounter non-lethal by having the hags not intend to kill the party but instead corrupt them or trick them into a bad deal. (Volo's has good resources on hags!)
    Good-aligned characters will have a hard time just leaving the hags alone, as they are literally killing children.

    c) The books itself solves the Strahd thing by explicitly stating that he wants to test the group, so you are pretty good. You might not want to overdo it though - it may strain some players' suspension of disbelief if they are kept alive too often without an obvious in-game explanation.

    One thing I've adapted when one PC died to the specter: The AL rules for the Barovia arc have a clause that a character who dies before level 5 is brought back to live by the Dark Powers because they have plans for him/her. They are resurrected with some creepy trait and you might be able to tie it into the narrative later, especially in the Amber Temple. Some players might view this as a cop-out though.

    Edit: And brief your players about the nature of this adventure beforehand. Let them know that some fights might be too hard for standing their ground and encourage them to run away or avoid trouble when low on resources.
    Last edited by Zejety; 2018-01-02 at 10:12 AM.

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    Ogre in the Playground
     
    RangerGuy

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    Default Re: I'm about to run Curse of Strahd

    I had Strahd show up fairly early and completely humiliate the group (made them kneel to him). I think it helped set the tone that there were opponents here they couldn't just attack their way through (until they were considerably stronger).

    I did something similar with the hags, let the party know they were in over their heads, but gave the hags ulterior motives not to just destroy them. One started doing the night hag ethereal dream attack the next long rest which led to a quest to appease her (until they are strong enough to go back and destroy her).

    Watch that dang grave cleric ability that lets them know all the undead in a one mile radius, sounds like a ribbon but it is a real pain in this campaign.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    AssassinGuy

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    Default Re: I'm about to run Curse of Strahd

    So I am about to finish that campaign today though I am not the DM. I can however get the_brazenburn to give you some advice (he was DM). I also have a link to the posts about our experience if you want to know what NOT to do http://www.giantitp.com/forums/showt...or+brazenburns. Hope this helps.
    Come to the dark side; we have pop-tarts.

    "Is no fun. Is no Blinsky" "He is... FIZBOP THUNDERTOES!!!!!"

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    Quote Originally Posted by DivisibleByZero View Post
    We, as humans, have incisors. Those are made for tearing flesh and meat.
    Meat tastes good.
    If we aren't supposed to eat people, then why are they made of meat?

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Titan in the Playground
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    Default Re: I'm about to run Curse of Strahd

    A pretty good strategy for not having your level 1 party wiped out in Death House:

    Start them at level 2.

    No, seriously. Our DM did this, and we were properly challenged but didn't get wiped out (we almost lost a guy to the Shambling Mound, though). Level 1 is already too swingy to begin with, and Death House is just bonkers when you add in several Deadly encounters on top of each other.

  7. - Top - End - #7
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    BardGuy

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    Default Re: I'm about to run Curse of Strahd

    When I ran CoS, the party encountered a green hag in Barovia Village and two sea hags at the windmill. That worked out really well.

    I skipped the Death House intro and tossed the party into Barovia proper, starting at level 3 instead of 1 and using the Werewolf Hunt introduction. That also worked well I think.

    Good luck to you.
    "No, she's already given her epic one-liner! We're committed now!"

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    Kobold

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    Default Re: I'm about to run Curse of Strahd

    Best advice:

    1. Be very, very stingy with your monster toolkit. There are some very, very nasty things hanging around Barovia, and if you do anything to tweak the carefully balanced monster economy, the situation will go off the rails very quickly. If you subtract from the monsters, it'll be too easy and you'll lose the horror feel. If you add monsters, the forecast shows imminent TPK. The exception to this rule is, as people have mentioned, some of the stuff in Death House and the hags in Old Bonegrinder.

    2. Use the random encounter tables. Your players will hate you for it, but they definitely help with the horror. The wolves are particularly nasty for lowish level parties, and there's nothing creepier than hearing distant howls before your campfire suddenly dies with a guttering shriek.

    3. Have Strahd appear as much as possible. Each time, have him come at night, humiliate the players, make deals and pacts with them, then knock them out cold and steal something from them. I had him poke twin holes in their necks with a needle to make them think they were turning into vampires; the group paranoia is very fun to play off.

    4. Develop your NPCs carefully. Make sure there's at least one that they really, really care about (for our group it was Blinsky, the mad toymaker in Vallaki). Then kill that special person horribly. There is really no better way to get them in the spirit of despair that CoS runs off of.

    5. Teach an old dog new tricks. Make sure that the players can't figure out a foolproof way to beat anything. Are they running into a lot of wolves? Give them the idea to climb a tree. This will work two or three times, just long enough to lull them into a false sense of security. Then hit them with flying, climbing, or werewolves.

    I probably sound like the biggest jerk DM in the world with this advice. The funny bit is that Curse of Strahd requires a DM to be more than a little ruthless. It's not a task for the faint of heart.

    Best of luck to you, and may your players die horribly !

  9. - Top - End - #9
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    BardGuy

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    Default Re: I'm about to run Curse of Strahd

    Quote Originally Posted by the_brazenburn View Post
    Best advice:

    1. Be very, very stingy with your monster toolkit. There are some very, very nasty things hanging around Barovia, and if you do anything to tweak the carefully balanced monster economy, the situation will go off the rails very quickly. If you subtract from the monsters, it'll be too easy and you'll lose the horror feel. If you add monsters, the forecast shows imminent TPK. The exception to this rule is, as people have mentioned, some of the stuff in Death House and the hags in Old Bonegrinder.

    2. Use the random encounter tables. Your players will hate you for it, but they definitely help with the horror. The wolves are particularly nasty for lowish level parties, and there's nothing creepier than hearing distant howls before your campfire suddenly dies with a guttering shriek.

    3. Have Strahd appear as much as possible. Each time, have him come at night, humiliate the players, make deals and pacts with them, then knock them out cold and steal something from them. I had him poke twin holes in their necks with a needle to make them think they were turning into vampires; the group paranoia is very fun to play off.

    4. Develop your NPCs carefully. Make sure there's at least one that they really, really care about (for our group it was Blinsky, the mad toymaker in Vallaki). Then kill that special person horribly. There is really no better way to get them in the spirit of despair that CoS runs off of.

    5. Teach an old dog new tricks. Make sure that the players can't figure out a foolproof way to beat anything. Are they running into a lot of wolves? Give them the idea to climb a tree. This will work two or three times, just long enough to lull them into a false sense of security. Then hit them with flying, climbing, or werewolves.

    I probably sound like the biggest jerk DM in the world with this advice. The funny bit is that Curse of Strahd requires a DM to be more than a little ruthless. It's not a task for the faint of heart.

    Best of luck to you, and may your players die horribly !
    You would only be a jerk if CoS didn't encourage this. Do you have any other devious tips and suggestions on how to make the players go mad? I'm planning on running this someday.

  10. - Top - End - #10
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Kobold

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    Default Re: I'm about to run Curse of Strahd

    Quote Originally Posted by Spiderguy24 View Post
    You would only be a jerk if CoS didn't encourage this. Do you have any other devious tips and suggestions on how to make the players go mad? I'm planning on running this someday.
    I certainly do.

    For CoS, one of my favorite plots to use is spelled out in the introduction. Whenever they enter a new room, choose one object to describe in detail. This will instantly make players suspicious, and you'll be laughing as they waste numerous spells, Perception checks, and valuable time investigating a completely irrelevant object.

    Then hit them with the revenants once they enter the next room.

  11. - Top - End - #11
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    AssassinGuy

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    Default Re: I'm about to run Curse of Strahd

    Blinsky, the mad toymaker in Vallaki). Then kill that special person horribly. There is really no better way to get them in the spirit of despair that CoS runs off of.


    For CoS, one of my favorite plots to use is spelled out in the introduction. Whenever they enter a new room, choose one object to describe in detail. This will instantly make players suspicious, and you'll be laughing as they waste numerous spells, Perception checks, and valuable time investigating a completely irrelevant object.
    That wasn't bad but the worst was the first werewolf encounter. That gave me paranoia every time we went into the woods. It instills fear and makes it so no one trusts anyone.
    Come to the dark side; we have pop-tarts.

    "Is no fun. Is no Blinsky" "He is... FIZBOP THUNDERTOES!!!!!"

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    Quote Originally Posted by DivisibleByZero View Post
    We, as humans, have incisors. Those are made for tearing flesh and meat.
    Meat tastes good.
    If we aren't supposed to eat people, then why are they made of meat?

  12. - Top - End - #12
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    GnomeWizardGuy

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    Default Re: I'm about to run Curse of Strahd

    Fun idea:

    Have Strahd write each party member a letter with a dinner invitation when they are considering taking on Ravenloft itself. The letter specifies that a glass of red wine and a glass of white wine will be set for them. If they wish to join him, they raise the one glass in toast, if they do not, they raise the other.

    Then give one or two players the opposite instructions.

  13. - Top - End - #13
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    ElfWarriorGuy

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    Default Re: I'm about to run Curse of Strahd

    Simply warning your players in advance that the campaign can (and will) kill adventurers (and parties) helps tremendously. Doing so keeps the players on their toes, and also lets them know they may not want to get overly attached to their characters. I went so far as to suggest the players create back-up characters so we could easily introduce them when their original characters died.
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  14. - Top - End - #14
    Orc in the Playground
     
    PaladinGuy

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    Default Re: I'm about to run Curse of Strahd

    Quote Originally Posted by Mith View Post
    Fun idea:

    Have Strahd write each party member a letter with a dinner invitation when they are considering taking on Ravenloft itself. The letter specifies that a glass of red wine and a glass of white wine will be set for them. If they wish to join him, they raise the one glass in toast, if they do not, they raise the other.

    Then give one or two players the opposite instructions.
    This is probably the most evil DM trick I've ever read.

    I'm definitely going to consider this one. It falls pretty well in line with how the warlocks backstory (completely unintentionally from the player) has left him with a significant amount of things in common with Strahd.

  15. - Top - End - #15
    Ogre in the Playground
     
    GnomeWizardGuy

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    Default Re: I'm about to run Curse of Strahd

    Quote Originally Posted by ProsecutorGodot View Post
    This is probably the most evil DM trick I've ever read.

    I'm definitely going to consider this one. It falls pretty well in line with how the warlocks backstory (completely unintentionally from the player) has left him with a significant amount of things in common with Strahd.
    I would also say that the invitation also is parchment that crumbles to ash once read, and perhaps a more subtle wording of "keep this information to yourself OR ELSE." sort of thing. If the players share the information, they cannot be deceived, but Strahd's going to hit them really hard.

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    Goblin

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    Default Re: I'm about to run Curse of Strahd

    Couple of things to keep in mind:

    1. Barovia is deadly. This is a dark place, with few bright lights of goodness standing out in a fog of darkness. It's supposed to be filled with despair, punctuated with bizarre creatures and characters that would stand out in a different world yet only serve to highlight the horror of Barovia.

    2. Strahd wants several things from the players. He wants to toy with them for his amusement, so he won't kill them right away (remember he brought them here, so why would he want them dead right away?). He also wants to prove that they are just as corruptible as he was, that they are not better than him. He wants to break them, to make them despair, and when they have totally given up and succumbed to despair and are boring to him, kill them off.

    3. The people of Barovia should largely be unfriendly to the party. They are outsiders in this realm, and very different from the normal citizens. And different is deadly. Aside from exceptions noted in the campaign, there should be a general sense of distrust, apathy, and fear.

    4. Mood is everything in this. The ambient feel should be gloom and darkness. If you have background music (some tables do) it should be creepy music. This is a horror story, after all.

    5. Most importantly, make sure your players understand just what sort of campaign this is. This is one that can be very quickly "not fun" if you have players that do not enjoy horror.

  17. - Top - End - #17
    Orc in the Playground
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    Default Re: I'm about to run Curse of Strahd

    Since Death House is essentially a tutorial mission (both in introducing players to the basics about fighting, roleplay, and exploration, and in introducing players to the lethal nature to Barovia), I'd allow your characters an "out" regarding any deaths running it.

    I had two deaths in the final confrontation. One of the players was resurrected via possession by Rose; he had to roleplay his doughty cleric as a stubborn little girl until Madam Eva was able to right things. The other player was resurrected by the Night Mother as a quasi-revenant, and to deal with a deathly pallor and had to roleplay a deep despair.

    In either case, they both had to deal with a significant roleplay obstacle as punishment for death, but they still got to play their characters and were able to remedy the situation if they wanted (they could have also just rolled with the roleplay obstacles, but they weren't down with that).

  18. - Top - End - #18
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    Zombie

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    Default Re: I'm about to run Curse of Strahd

    Iím about to run CoS again and here are my recommendations:

    1. Plan things out. There are numerous spins you can put on Strahd and the storyline in general. Read the whole book and figure out what story you will be able to tell the best. Realistically, you may run 60% of the book or so; figure out the best path for you the lean the party on.

    2. There are some real black and decker pecker wrecker fights in the book. Scale them with level. Bone grinder can be an easy TPK, pull back a bit there. Wizard of Wines can out resource a party that thinks they can take Wave after wave; drop progressively less subtle hints. For Baba Lysaga and Amber Temple, let loose... make them feel like the build up towards Strahd.

    3. Give consistent reminders of how Strahd can and will kick their ass, but donít over do it. Strahd should be a returning cameo not an every episode character. In that regard, youíll likely need to empower Strahd a bit for the final showdown as heís surprisingly easy to kill for his CR.

    4. Give them time to explore in Castle Ravenloft. Half the fun is finding the story and thereís loads of it in the Castle. Thereís loads of potential tension there to be had, make sure to give it time.

    5. Remember CoS is about building tension (story-wise). But you canít just build and build. Make sure you work in release valves at points where they can see things getting slightly better while realizing itís at best only temporary.

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    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Re: I'm about to run Curse of Strahd


  20. - Top - End - #20
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Re: I'm about to run Curse of Strahd

    On my own experience, I went with the optional level advancement not from xp. Which for Death House mean, doing the house at 1st level, once they find the secret stairs they get to level 2, and they get to 3rd level once they are done. The house itself shouldn't be a problem, when it come to the basement they were 2nd level, and as long as they fight smart it should be easy enough. Fighting was done in corridor when undeads could only attack our paladin one at the time. The Shambling Mound could be a problem specially if the group is low on hp and spells, if that happen you can lower the monster hp.

    On the story, this is an horror tale, one playing saw himself getting old in a mirror, another saw his shadow moving like to attack him, let your imagination go wild. Have the cleric see the shadow of the rogue stabbing his.

  21. - Top - End - #21
    Dwarf in the Playground
     
    ElfWarriorGuy

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    Default Re: I'm about to run Curse of Strahd

    Quote Originally Posted by agnos View Post
    3. Give consistent reminders of how Strahd can and will kick their ass, but donít over do it. Strahd should be a returning cameo not an every episode character. In that regard, youíll likely need to empower Strahd a bit for the final showdown as heís surprisingly easy to kill for his CR.
    I agree. Granted, my party over-prepared, and I leaned a little to heavily into Strahdís overconfidence, but still I felt the Strahd fight was somewhat anticlimactic. If I run it again, I will at a minimum have him make better use of the home field advantage.

    Quote Originally Posted by SirGraystone View Post
    The Shambling Mound could be a problem specially if the group is low on hp and spells, if that happen you can lower the monster hp.
    Looking back on it, I think the Shambling Mound is supposed to be nigh-unbeatable, and that the players should run from it. That way it becomes the creeping horror that will kill you if it catches up to you, forcing you into the house proper.
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