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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Pixie in the Playground
     
    Imp

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    Default First Time running Curse of Strahd

    Alright everyone, we're coming up to October and what would be better than Curse of Strahd for Halloween-esque campaigning?

    Anyways, I've been DMing one shots and short campaigns for a while, but I've never done a module before, so if anyone has tips on that, that would be helpful, but more importantly I'm looking for tips for Curse of Strahd, in order to make it turn out great for my players.

    From looking around on youtube and other forums, I've already got a few tips such as doing the Tarroka reading ahead of time that way it can be properly immersive by knowing what the cards mean and not having to flip through the book, and another tip I saw was to make sure Strahd was ever present, that the party knew he is watching and they are his toys.

    If anyone has tips on how they ran Curse of Strahd or how they wish their DM ran Curse of Strahd, I would love the feedback. Thanks everyone.

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    DwarfFighterGuy

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    hehehe well... It's easier said then done. Curse of Strahd was a lot of work but totally, thoroughly worth it. It's a lot easier to help you by answering specific questions than just a broad "help me" question, but here's a tip I found super useful.

    There's absolutely nothing wrong with stacking the deck a little. Just remove the cards that correspond to places you aren't a fan of, which in my case was anything castle related or non-thematic. A couple of them are decidedly lamer or easier than the others, so pull those too. That way, the party will have to travel and get the most out of Barovia.

    I ran Curse of Strahd with weekly sessions for about 8 months. It was an absolute blast! If you have specific questions or would like to chat, send me a PM and we can set up a meeting.

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    I had two of my players take Ireena and Ismark as their characters (that is to say, they used the names and backstory and had to be human but got to choose everything else normally), which helped really anchor the group to the storyline.

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    WolfInSheepsClothing

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    I'd love to have some suggestions on how to run this module as well.

    The group is now playing Lost Mine of Phandelven, but they will finish it soon enough and I was thinking of running Curse of Strhad as their next adventure. The party will be at level 4 by the end of Lost Mine, but since they are a group of 5 players (Half Orc Barbarian Berserker, Dragonborn War Wizard, Vhuman Tempest Cleric, Human Kensei Monk and Gnome Divine Soul Sorcerer) I'm a bit scared that they will just waltz through the first chapters instead of being genuinely scared of what's going to happen...

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    GnomePirate

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    Really, really commit to the setting. Everything should be gothic, and unnecessarily creepy. The bread should be darker than normal, the chairs should creak ominously, roll for random encounters and describe rustling in bushes, followed by an undead turtle wandering across the path.

    If you do your job right, by the end they shouldn't trust anyone, or anything. I enjoyed having Strahd responsible for most 1's rolled at the table- as you go to swing, a bat flys into your hair. When you go to clear it out, nothing is there but a cold, damp patch.

    Pull party members aside and describe nightmares. Pass out sticky notes, only one of which has anything on it. When they ask shake your head sorrowfully and roll. If they push it tell them they'll find out later. a half hour later, tell the player they start coughing and can't stop. That lasts a minute, and then is gone. Watch them freak out and seek a cure disease spell before this curse gets worse. There is nothing wrong with them.

    Nothing needs to be explained. More than any other adventure your job is to mess with the party. Have Strahd plant a journal in their allies pack, talking about how they're getting ready to betray them. Or, just have the colossal jerk walk up and loudly and proudly start thanking the NPC allies for bringing the party here, to Barovia, for his amusement. Even if they know this is probably not true it generates that tension and distrust you need. When they finally kill the old vampire(and they ought to, the gear they'll have by the end is ridiculous) they should want to burn the whole castle down just in case that was a dummy vampire, or a dummy corpse.

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    Commit to the tone of the setting is wonderful advice. Details are everything.

    Everything in Barovia sucks, its a very bleak world. Even getting a 'win' usually comes at a cost.

    Stack the deck a little. Look, having the Sunsword appear in the same place where you're supposed to have the showdown with Strahd is just.... dumb. Don't let that happen.

    Oh, one tip: The Winery will ask the party to find three gems, three 'seeds'. The book only ever details where two are, and never details the third. It does a poor job of telling you that its up to you where it should be placed. IMO, place it in an area to guide the party toward a particular destination you think they should go to next. Its a very open sandbox style adventure, and its quite easy for the party to waltz into an area they have no chance of surviving. Use that third seed to steer them away from wandering into a deadly area before they're ready.

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    Quote Originally Posted by Aergentum View Post
    I'd love to have some suggestions on how to run this module as well.

    The group is now playing Lost Mine of Phandelven, but they will finish it soon enough and I was thinking of running Curse of Strhad as their next adventure. The party will be at level 4 by the end of Lost Mine, but since they are a group of 5 players (Half Orc Barbarian Berserker, Dragonborn War Wizard, Vhuman Tempest Cleric, Human Kensei Monk and Gnome Divine Soul Sorcerer) I'm a bit scared that they will just waltz through the first chapters instead of being genuinely scared of what's going to happen...
    Good news on that front-- the first couple levels of CoS are mostly just nosing around the two main settlements; level 4-5 is when you're ready to start touring the various adventure sites. And it's a deadly-ass module; at level 3-4 you can easily walk into a fight with three Night Hags, for instance.

    That said, don't be afraid to up the difficulty of encounters if your party is coming in at a higher level. Two Vampire Spawn hidden in the attic? Nope, surprise, there's five!

    Edit: jaappleton makes a good point; it's a very open module, and there's very little hint of which way to go once you hit Vallaki. I promoted the three gems to a larger role in the story, so that recovering them helped drive the narrative. In my campaign, they were imbued with the power of the sun. Arganvostholt had the last gem, and was using it to keep some semblance of daylight in the valley. As the party recovered the rest, days got brighter until true sunlight was back.
    Last edited by Grod_The_Giant; 2019-09-23 at 09:13 AM.

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    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    - Read the whole book before starting the campaign.

    - The Torraka reading, I had my players rolls dice for it so it would appear random then ignored the rolls and picks the card I wanted. That let me plan better the place I wanted them to visit and the NPC who would help them.

    - Strahd could easily kill them early, but he's very old, and bored, so he play with them.

    - The horror part is very important, the campaign give suggestion for sign of horrors, seeing yourself as an old man in a mirror, your face in a scarecrow, a friend hanging from a tree, anything to spook them. Or it can be a sound the howling of wolves, or just telling they notice that the forest is completly quiet...

    - If you have a cleric or paladin in the group, suggest to them to have a God having to do with the sun, Pelor, Lanthader, that will link to some of the place found.

    - If you have an human or half-elf rogue or bard, think of making him Vistani, even if they are not aware of it at first. (maybe his grandmother was one), Strahd has an history with the Vistani, they saved his life (when he was alive) and he has a debt to them.

    - Ask the players dark secret desire, it may come handy if they visit the Amber Temple and the dark powers when to try to bribe them. We had a gnome ranger who wanted to be human size, so she made a pact for it and changed into something like Morticia Adams, with the white skin and black hair.

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    I actually recommend against doing the reading beforehand.

    The reading is like the ultimate random encounter. It lets you create a campaign full of unique situations that wasn't planned for. Discovering this with the players and letting the chips fall where they fall in vital for this.

    One thing I would recommend is to read through the cards and remove any that you don't want to deal with. From what I remember I removed a couple of the castle cards as I didn't want there to be a high chance of everything in the castle and a couple of the allies.

    - I removed that one high level dungeon from the adventure as I don't think it fits Ravenloft at all. The castle is more than enough to engage the characters when they get to higher levels.

    - Random encounters on the road should be used mostly for flavour. Each adventure site is designed to be completed in a long rest, but as usual, overland travel falls short here. There is no challenge to having 1 encounter. Thankfully there are lots of great atmospheric encounters.

    - Allow the players to explore it as a sandbox. Make it very clear though that their characters could easily all die.

    - Play Strahd with intelligence and guile. I've heard people complain that he is too easy but in fact he is very difficult as the PCs are on his territory. Fights with Strahd should feel unfair because they are. He can dominate a PC and have them throw the Sunsword out a window for example (and then phase through the floor again). That's unfair but that's how it is in Ravenloft. The only chance the PCs have of taking Strahd down is to find the location of his last stand (revealed by the Tarroka reading). That way he won't hit and run.

    Quote Originally Posted by SirGraystone View Post
    - If you have an human or half-elf rogue or bard, think of making him Vistani, even if they are not aware of it at first. (maybe his grandmother was one), Strahd has an history with the Vistani, they saved his life (when he was alive) and he has a debt to them.
    The Vistani are supposed to be mysterious people with special powers. They are the only ones that Strahd permits to come and go from Ravenloft. None of the characters should be Vistani. It ruins their whole thing.
    Last edited by ad_hoc; 2019-09-23 at 02:16 PM.
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    Pixie in the Playground
     
    Imp

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    Quote Originally Posted by SirGraystone View Post
    - If you have a cleric or paladin in the group, suggest to them to have a God having to do with the sun, Pelor, Lanthader, that will link to some of the place found.

    - If you have an human or half-elf rogue or bard, think of making him Vistani, even if they are not aware of it at first. (maybe his grandmother was one), Strahd has an history with the Vistani, they saved his life (when he was alive) and he has a debt to them.

    - Ask the players dark secret desire, it may come handy if they visit the Amber Temple and the dark powers when to try to bribe them. We had a gnome ranger who wanted to be human size, so she made a pact for it and changed into something like Morticia Adams, with the white skin and black hair.
    Those sound pretty fun, I'll trying reading the book to see if I can figure out some other connections to the story like these.

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    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    Quote Originally Posted by VonKaiserstein View Post

    Your post, but mostly...

    More than any other adventure your job is to mess with the party.
    I have real heartburn with COS and VonK succinctly described why. Nothing personal Von, I'm just using you as my foil because you accurately summarized what the module seems to be about and this is also what I have against it.

    In any other setting a DM that consistently screws with the characters and arbitrarily inflicts grief would be derided. For good reason, D&D is described as being a non-antagonistic game between players and DM and when it devolves into DM vs. players things usually fall apart. Frankly, COS seems to just be an excuse for the DM to be a #*&%. This module encourages bad gameplay.

    When a player backstabs the party, betrays them to NPCs, ninja loots treasure, goes off on their own monopolizing game time and then tries to defend it by saying "I'm CN, that's what my guy would do" they are usually roundly chastised and sometimes excluded from play. COS formalizes the equivalent behavior out of a DM and then tries to excuse it in similar fashion.

    I'm about to quit a COS campaign because of this lameness. Upon reaching 5th level wizard, I am informed by the DM that I cannot take Counterspell, Fireball, Haste, Leomund's Tiny Hut, or Remove Curse because Strahd controls this plane of existence and won't allow those spells. Say what? Those literally are my top 5 picks for 3rd level spells.

    So basically the entire module, and presumably months of play to get from 1-10th levels, consists of having your party perpetually screwed with by a nearly omnipotent evil dude. If done by the DM in a regular setting it would get squashed as bad DMing and people would bail. But the DM just says "That's what Strahd would do, that's the way he is" and supposedly that makes it all good.

    No, it's not all good. This is no more ok than the #*&% player using CN as an excuse for bad behavior. What's amazing is that WoTC put this out. I hope new DMs don't get the idea that this is the way a campaign is supposed to be run. I brought a new player with me to this campaign and am frankly pissed that this experience is their intro to D&D.

    And spare me all the "killing Strahd at the end is so much more satisfying because you hate him so much now." I don't hate Strahd at all. I am just disappointed with a commercial module that institutionalizes bad DMing practices. And I'm definitely not gonna be around for the end.

    Seriously, what do you think would be the response if someone posted for advice and said: "My DM instigates PC vs. PC conflict, throws completely OP adversaries against us and generally finds ways to make the gaming experience miserable. What should I do?" The overwhelming response would be "bail on that *@#% DM!". But it all gets excused because COS dontcha know.
    Last edited by Shabbazar; 2019-09-23 at 08:22 PM.

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    DwarfFighterGuy

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    @Shabbazar- That would seem to be your DM, not the module. It suggests reworking spells to be more thematically horrifying (raise dead brings people back screaming, find steed summons an undead version, etc.) but it absolutely doesn't say rewrite the rules of magic. I mean, a DM can do that, but they should announce it in the beginning.

    @OP
    According to my players, one of the things that they most enjoyed about Curse of Strahd and Barovia was that, with few exceptions, there were no good, helpful NPCs. The party had to get to know them, earn their trust, put up with their... eccentricities. As such, they were free to make allies and enemies as they saw fit.

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    Quote Originally Posted by Shabbazar View Post
    I have real heartburn with COS and VonK succinctly described why. Nothing personal Von, I'm just using you as my foil because you accurately summarized what the module seems to be about and this is also what I have against it.

    In any other setting a DM that consistently screws with the characters and arbitrarily inflicts grief would be derided. For good reason, D&D is described as being a non-antagonistic game between players and DM and when it devolves into DM vs. players things usually fall apart. Frankly, COS seems to just be an excuse for the DM to be a #*&%. This module encourages bad gameplay.

    When a player backstabs the party, betrays them to NPCs, ninja loots treasure, goes off on their own monopolizing game time and then tries to defend it by saying "I'm CN, that's what my guy would do" they are usually roundly chastised and sometimes excluded from play. COS formalizes the equivalent behavior out of a DM and then tries to excuse it in similar fashion.

    I'm about to quit a COS campaign because of this lameness. Upon reaching 5th level wizard, I am informed by the DM that I cannot take Counterspell, Fireball, Haste, Leomund's Tiny Hut, or Remove Curse because Strahd controls this plane of existence and won't allow those spells. Say what? Those literally are my top 5 picks for 3rd level spells.

    So basically the entire module, and presumably months of play to get from 1-10th levels, consists of having your party perpetually screwed with by a nearly omnipotent evil dude. If done by the DM in a regular setting it would get squashed as bad DMing and people would bail. But the DM just says "That's what Strahd would do, that's the way he is" and supposedly that makes it all good.

    No, it's not all good. This is no more ok than the #*&% player using CN as an excuse for bad behavior. What's amazing is that WoTC put this out. I hope new DMs don't get the idea that this is the way a campaign is supposed to be run. I brought a new player with me to this campaign and am frankly pissed that this experience is their intro to D&D.

    And spare me all the "killing Strahd at the end is so much more satisfying because you hate him so much now." I don't hate Strahd at all. I am just disappointed with a commercial module that institutionalizes bad DMing practices. And I'm definitely not gonna be around for the end.

    Seriously, what do you think would be the response if someone posted for advice and said: "My DM instigates PC vs. PC conflict, throws completely OP adversaries against us and generally finds ways to make the gaming experience miserable. What should I do?" The overwhelming response would be "bail on that *@#% DM!". But it all gets excused because COS dontcha know.
    Your DM's gone way beyond what anything in the text says about Strahd's powers. He's not a demigod. He controls who can enter or leave the valley (though he.himself can't leave) and commands a lot of loyalty from various factions, including a lot of animals, some of which can be win away from him. That's it. Otherwise, the text says he has to spy on you using more conventional means: getting reports from his agents, stealthily observing you directly, or scrying spells. And if he wants to control or influence you, he has to do it the old fashioned way: charm spells, violence and intimidation, trickery, bribery, extortion, etc. None of this "veto power over your spell list" stuff.

    It really sounds like he massively misunderstood the intent. Yes, Strahd is screwing with the players, but he's got his limits, most of which are fairly conventional, at least for a D&D character. He's not freaking Q from Star Trek.

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    Quote Originally Posted by Shabbazar View Post
    I [hate Curse of Strahd].
    Curse of Strahd should not be marketed as a regular D&D module. It is a horror game, or about as close as D&D can get. Part of horror involves being made to feel unsafe, even helpless. Tension rises, and is then released as the terrible thing the player has anticipated finally comes to pass. It is cathartic because, ultimately, the player is safe at home and not in Barovia.

    Horror is not for everyone, and requires player buy-in to work, no matter the type of horror. External horror requires being helpless before either things of greater power and/or the unknown. Personal horror involves a willingness to explore things about one's character (and by extension, the player themself) which may be uncomfortable. Psychological horror involves a bit of both. When one buys into the gothic horror of Ravenloft, they are buying into a setting that is anywhere from starkly uncaring to actively malicious towards their character (and easily rewards malicious or callous behavior on part of the character). Strahd treating the party like toys is one of the many things that is used to present this atmosphere/mood.

    There are wrong ways to go about it certainly - there is a distinction between horror (especially gothic horror, which classically holds to the existence of some ultimate justice) and misery porn. Your GM is certainly going about it wrong, by using "Strahd" as an excuse to ban spells he or she might find troublesome.

    Quote Originally Posted by Grey Watcher View Post
    He's not freaking Q from Star Trek.
    Last edited by RifleAvenger; 2019-09-24 at 12:07 PM.

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    Quote Originally Posted by Shabbazar View Post
    I'm about to quit a COS campaign because of this lameness. Upon reaching 5th level wizard, I am informed by the DM that I cannot take Counterspell, Fireball, Haste, Leomund's Tiny Hut, or Remove Curse because Strahd controls this plane of existence and won't allow those spells. Say what? Those literally are my top 5 picks for 3rd level spells.
    whaaaaaaaaaaat? I'm playing in CoS, and Fireball and Counterspell are among my party's most commonly used spells. I don't think Strahd controls this plane - he just controls those *in it* like a lord, but he's not a god. If he was, I'm pretty sure he wouldn't be as much a prisoner himself. He's very much as trapped as everyone else, he's just in a position of power above them all - but he's no grand controller of spellcraft. Sounds like your DM is inserting a lot of their own preferences into how they want their players to act.

    So for generations did the sainted skull of Caius Anicius Magnus Furius Camillus ∆milianus Cornelius Valerius Pompeius Julius Ibidus, consul of Rome, favourite of emperors, and saint of the Romish church, lie hidden beneath the soil of a growing town. At first worshipped with dark rites by the prairie-dogs, who saw in it a deity sent from the upper world..
    - H.P. Lovecraft, "Ibid".

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    I'm currently running a CoS campaing. I actually asked my party (without spoiling particulars, just in general) if they wanted the reading to be random, or for me to choose- they decided to go with random. They even turned down a retconn when the reading turned out very challenging for them. When in doubt, check with your players!

    Shabbazar, IMO your DM is doing it wrong. Strahd isn't all powerful, but he is centuries old, very smart, and very experienced in thwarting valiant heroes (it is his, like, number one hobby). They PCs shouldn't have a list of allowable spells handed out to them, but they should be scared to openly use their best spells in case Strahd discovers what they can do and prepares countermeasures.

    The first time my party encountered Strahd, he sicked a pack of dire wolves on them, commanding them with military precision to test the party's capabilities and ethics (by deliberately trying to send a few wolves in an end-run around front line to murder a fairly helpless, sympathetic NPC), while he stood on a branch of a tall tree and observed, usually out loud (*pc smites the pack's alpha* "Oh a paladin eh? That's excellent, paladins are always fun" *pc wildshapes into a bear* A druid? It is always great to have more worshipers. After all, you worship nature itself, and in Barovia- I am the land"). My PCs never tried to confront him directly, but if they did, his first move would have been to charm the closest attacker with his gaze, and then openly hold an extended interview with the charmed PC (about the personality, abilities, and weaknesses of their companions) while using legendary actions (for free movement), defensive / control spells, and the dodge action to thwart the rest of the party (they were level 3 at the time, so he would have probably been able to avoid any serious damage almost indefinitely). His nightmare was circling about 400ft overhead the whole time; if things went unexpectedly sideways for any reason, he would have just used dimension door to teleport onto his steed for a quick escape and rethink.

    A few quick tips:
    If you don't have a good Transylvania style accent, try pulling a page out of Buffy or Supernatural villains and have Strahd speak in sarcastic modern slang, only switching to formal / archaic speech patterns when very impressed or very angry. The dude has been around for a long, long time, and I tend to imagine that many pretenses have been eroded by time. Just look at the state he keeps his castle in!

    RAW, Strahd has access to a library with every spell in the PHB in it. If he has any particular plan or goal for the day, it is reasonable to assume he will adjust his spell list to suit that purpose. I plan to treat his default spell list as a "reward" if the PCs ever manage to actually sneak up undetected and surprise him. If Strahd plans to spend the day frustrating and messing with the PCs, defending his castle from the raid his spies told him about, or murdering the so-called heroes who just let his one true love escape his grasp forever, I assume he memorizes the best spells for that particular purpose.

    Strahd will use animal and human minions, as well as magic, to spy on the PCs. Play this out, let it become a bit of a paranoid mini-game with the players. My PCs have very mixed feelings about the Vistanni, for example- they are generally more-or-less friendly and cheerful, but they also try to sneak a piece of hair or personal item from the PCs to sell to "the Lord in the Castle" every chance they get (Strahd has a long-standing policy of paying well for personal items from "newcomers", since it makes his scrying so much more effective). Try to keep a rough track of what Strahd actually learns through scrying or spying, and reward the PCs when they manage to keep important things secret- if the party's wizard manages to hide his good fire spells until the endgame, then Strahd won't have a potion of fire resistance brewed up and ready to drink before the final confrontation.

    Others have said how important it is to play up the horror of the setting, and they are absolutely correct, but I also recommend mixing in a fair bit of gallows humor and/or a few somewhat sympathetic NPCs. Endless horror and despair runs the risk of producing genre fatigue or reducing engagement, especially among players who might not be huge horror fans to begin with.

    If you have the time, there are plenty of good podcasts / youtube live plays out there, which can really help with inspiration and and ideas, and tons of great in-depth written guides with extra scenarios and recommendations. Both have helped me greatly.

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    GnomePirate

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    Shabbazzar, I am so sorry that was your CoS experience. As other posters have said, Strahd should at no point in time be a god- what I was describing was mostly flavor texting anything that goes wrong in the world to be caused by Strahd- an opinion the populace will certainly help with. You're absolutely right- it has to be fun. It's a module where the DM has to understand the environment, the populations, and most importantly the limitations of Strahd. He shouldn't automatically know what the party's doing at all times, he's got to work for it as well. Sure, he'll know when you leave any town, and if you're foolish enough to discuss your destination he'll know where you're going, but otherwise he's got to plant a spy in your midst. For mine, I dropped a magical dagger early on, and let their attempts to identify it reveal it was bound up with Divination magic. The dagger was Strahd's, and he was using it to eavesdrop on them and see their surroundings. They realized it a week or so later when they noticed he was carrying a sword with similar jeweling on the hilt, and ended up trading it to the Baba.

    For a game to be fun and challenging, even in a punishing campaign, the worst that can happen should always be avoidable, and there should always be some clue that leaves the players' kicking themselves.

    Again, I'm so sorry your DM let the power go to his head.

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    Quote Originally Posted by Shabbazar View Post
    I have real heartburn with COS and VonK succinctly described why. Nothing personal Von, I'm just using you as my foil because you accurately summarized what the module seems to be about and this is also what I have against it.

    In any other setting a DM that consistently screws with the characters and arbitrarily inflicts grief would be derided. For good reason, D&D is described as being a non-antagonistic game between players and DM and when it devolves into DM vs. players things usually fall apart. Frankly, COS seems to just be an excuse for the DM to be a #*&%. This module encourages bad gameplay.

    When a player backstabs the party, betrays them to NPCs, ninja loots treasure, goes off on their own monopolizing game time and then tries to defend it by saying "I'm CN, that's what my guy would do" they are usually roundly chastised and sometimes excluded from play. COS formalizes the equivalent behavior out of a DM and then tries to excuse it in similar fashion.

    I'm about to quit a COS campaign because of this lameness. Upon reaching 5th level wizard, I am informed by the DM that I cannot take Counterspell, Fireball, Haste, Leomund's Tiny Hut, or Remove Curse because Strahd controls this plane of existence and won't allow those spells. Say what? Those literally are my top 5 picks for 3rd level spells.

    So basically the entire module, and presumably months of play to get from 1-10th levels, consists of having your party perpetually screwed with by a nearly omnipotent evil dude. If done by the DM in a regular setting it would get squashed as bad DMing and people would bail. But the DM just says "That's what Strahd would do, that's the way he is" and supposedly that makes it all good.

    No, it's not all good. This is no more ok than the #*&% player using CN as an excuse for bad behavior. What's amazing is that WoTC put this out. I hope new DMs don't get the idea that this is the way a campaign is supposed to be run. I brought a new player with me to this campaign and am frankly pissed that this experience is their intro to D&D.

    And spare me all the "killing Strahd at the end is so much more satisfying because you hate him so much now." I don't hate Strahd at all. I am just disappointed with a commercial module that institutionalizes bad DMing practices. And I'm definitely not gonna be around for the end.

    Seriously, what do you think would be the response if someone posted for advice and said: "My DM instigates PC vs. PC conflict, throws completely OP adversaries against us and generally finds ways to make the gaming experience miserable. What should I do?" The overwhelming response would be "bail on that *@#% DM!". But it all gets excused because COS dontcha know.

    .....WOW.


    Wow. This is...

    This is amazing. I've never seen someone bash the module so much before, and at the same time have completely valid points across the board.

    From what I've seen, CoS is fairly universally loved and heralded as one of the best, if not the best 5E module, and I've never seen anyone have these complaints against it.

    And at the same time, I own the module, I've read the module, I am currently playing the module, and I absolutely see Shab's train of thought here. And they're right.

    Never saw it from their point until now, I just kinda accepted that's what the module was. Never saw just how flawed it was before now.

  19. - Top - End - #19
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    Quote Originally Posted by jaappleton View Post

    .....WOW.


    Wow. This is...

    This is amazing. I've never seen someone bash the module so much before, and at the same time have completely valid points across the board.

    From what I've seen, CoS is fairly universally loved and heralded as one of the best, if not the best 5E module, and I've never seen anyone have these complaints against it.

    And at the same time, I own the module, I've read the module, I am currently playing the module, and I absolutely see Shab's train of thought here. And they're right.

    Never saw it from their point until now, I just kinda accepted that's what the module was. Never saw just how flawed it was before now.
    WotC idea of a challenge has always been more along the lines of most extreme elimination challenge or wipe out than ninja warrior. Most players are so accustomed to it that they are conditioned to believe that it's the only mode of play.
    what is the point of living if you can't deadlift?

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    BlueWizardGirl

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    If you run Curse of Strahd, you're going to need to decide if you're going to run a Gothic game with soft horror elements, or a full fledged horror game.

    If you (and your players) feel like running a Gothic game then run the module as written.

    If you want to run a strait horror game you're going to need to make some changes. A constant oppressive atmosphere detracts from the horror. Give your players time to decompress. Give your players things to laugh about. Make the townsfolk a little more goofy. Don't refluff the player's spells from the start. When Strahd shows up, pull no punches. Remember that Strahd can enter any building in his realm at any time, and don't let your players forget it either. The overworld is dangerous, the towns dreary and strange, but the adventure sites are where the horror happens- unless Strahd decides shows up at the town festival to personally congratulate the PCs on thwarting his plans.

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    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    Quote Originally Posted by ad_hoc View Post
    The Vistani are supposed to be mysterious people with special powers. They are the only ones that Strahd permits to come and go from Ravenloft. None of the characters should be Vistani. It ruins their whole thing.
    You should have a look at Dice Camera Action on youtube when Chris Perkins DM Curse of Strahd, Paultin the Bard do have Vistani parents which he doesn't know at the start of the adventure.

    And Perkins should know what he's doing, he wrote Curse of Strahd

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    BardGuy

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    Quote Originally Posted by jaappleton View Post

    .....WOW.


    Wow. This is...

    This is amazing. I've never seen someone bash the module so much before, and at the same time have completely valid points across the board.

    From what I've seen, CoS is fairly universally loved and heralded as one of the best, if not the best 5E module, and I've never seen anyone have these complaints against it.

    And at the same time, I own the module, I've read the module, I am currently playing the module, and I absolutely see Shab's train of thought here. And they're right.

    Never saw it from their point until now, I just kinda accepted that's what the module was. Never saw just how flawed it was before now.
    Except they're not right. They very clearly show they have a DM directly antagonizing them to win and cheating while claiming that they're following the module (Strahd says you can't learn fireball...)

    None of his points are correct.

    "Throw overpowered encounters at the party"? Doesn't happen, what you do have is a sandbox that allows the party to go off rails and into bad stuff and the module saying this makes the world organic that it doesn't always match player strength and sometimes you have to retreat.

    "Encourage PC vs PC"? Doesn't happen. It encourages you to tempt the PCs and allow such plotlines. That's not remotely the same as actively encouraging.

    None of their arguments are even unique to CoS. Lots of modules and home games are sandboxes where the party can go wrong. Any game can have a PC go rogue.

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    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    Thanks for the feedback guys. Obviously I don't own the module and just know what I pick up in passing from different forums and playing in this one campaign.

    It's a shame too. I like the other players and the DM puts a good amount of effort into finding props, photos and background music. But the way the campaign is playing out is pretty heavy handed. I have read posts where people extolled the sandbox features of COS, but have found it anything but. Given the DMs other efforts, I assumed the problems were with the module, not necessarily him.

    I'm probably going to give it another session or two and then bail.

    As far as advice for running COS the first time? I haven't DM'd it so I can't say, but it looks like you got loads of it in the responses to me!

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    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    Quote Originally Posted by Pixel_Kitsune View Post

    "Throw overpowered encounters at the party"? Doesn't happen, what you do have is a sandbox that allows the party to go off rails and into bad stuff and the module saying this makes the world organic that it doesn't always match player strength and sometimes you have to retreat.
    What do you call encountering Strahd before the party reaches about 8th level? We encountered him at 3rd and he fireballed everyone. One member was left above zero and managed to heal everyone up to 1 HP and we all straggled back to town. But even the descriptions other people give of him charming low level characters and fighting off the rest of the party with impunity while he interrogates the charmed character is OP. What else would you call a character the entire party has zero chance of killing and who tracked down and encountered the PCs on his own, not their, volition? The PCs didn't track down Strahd at these low levels. He just shows up to screw with them. Strahd himself is the OP encounter I'm talking about. I guess he never fully kills you outright, but he endlessly #&$@'s with you from a position of impunity.

    In a sandbox campaign your 1st level character hears about a vampire in the castle on the hill. Because the player has a double digit WIS he decides to go fight kobolds in the valley or do other things for awhile. But in CoS the vampire leaves his castle to follow the low level PCs around, taunt them and engage in intermittent combat with them. How is that not OP? In a sandbox the character has some choice in what they engage with. In CoS you have no choice. The vampire chooses to engage you.
    Last edited by Shabbazar; 2019-09-24 at 10:33 AM.

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    GnomePirate

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    Oh man. Yeah, when my players first encountered Strahd they were taking a coach to another town, trying to save someone from Strahd (intentionally vague to avoid spoilers).

    They found him sitting at a table, with a carafe of wine and the perfect number of goblets for the party members involved in the escort. They attacked, he dodged even every scrap of the spilled wine, then charmed them and talked them out of their victim, before roughing them up to imply he'd beaten them. (They were a CE cleric and Warlock, so it really didn't take much more than offering to pay twice what they were being paid to keep the poor girl safe- the charming was total overkill)

    The whole thing made it clear he was out of their league, that they were being toyed with, and Strahd knows all. A very useful impression for a tyrant to project, but ultimately quite harmless to the party. A duel that leaves behind a horrible scar, perhaps an 'S' on a cheek of the strongest fighter, is also a really cool initial encounter, but don't go have Strahd take them seriously. The module even says Strahd is amused by the player's resistance, and delights in tormenting them, or recruiting them.

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    Quote Originally Posted by Shabbazar View Post
    What do you call encountering Strahd before the party reaches about 8th level? We encountered him at 3rd and he fireballed everyone. One member was left above zero and managed to heal everyone up to 1 HP and we all straggled back to town. But even the descriptions other people give of him charming low level characters and fighting off the rest of the party with impunity while he interrogates the charmed character is OP. What else would you call a character the entire party has zero chance of killing and who tracked down and encountered the PCs on his own, not their, volition? The PCs didn't track down Strahd at these low levels. He just shows up to screw with them. Strahd himself is the OP encounter I'm talking about. I guess he never fully kills you outright, but he endlessly #&$@'s with you from a position of impunity.
    Expecting every encounter the party meets to not exceed their ability (or, inversely, to actually be challenge) seems unreasonable if you want the world to feel like more than the backdrop to a game. Otherwise more powerful monsters and NPCs seem to spring out of thin air as the party levels. There are tables and modules for gamey campaigns, and story driven campaigns where the party should never be outmatched because of the narrative trying to be fulfilled, but I don't think Curse of Strahd is meant to fill that game'y niche nor is its narrative well served by giving the party the sense of security that they can handle whatever they come across.

    This isn't to say every game needs AD&D module design where nearly every dungeon would randomly have some massively stronger monster loitering around for no reason. Rather, occasionally having stronger or weaker enemies reminds the players that the setting exists outside of "CR appropriate encounters." I'd even say it was a design goal of 5e, since bounded accuracy allowing weak enemies to retain relevance stops them from needing to vanish from the gameworld or suddenly get jacked stats once the party is past X level.

    In Ravenloft, that "stronger character" giving verisimilitude to the setting/scenario is Strahd (among possible others). Artificially isolating him and his power from the party really harms a lot of his supposed characterization and place as the unquestioned lord of Barovia. The GM can sliding scale how directly he messes with the party early on (actually throwing a fireball at them isn't how I'd run him), but he should introduce himself to his new playthings and at least begin instilling paranoia if nothing else.

    Quote Originally Posted by Shabbazar View Post
    n a sandbox campaign your 1st level character hears about a vampire in the castle on the hill. Because the player has a double digit WIS he decides to go fight kobolds in the valley or do other things for awhile. But in CoS the vampire leaves his castle to follow the low level PCs around, taunt them and engage in intermittent combat with them. How is that not OP? In a sandbox the character has some choice in what they engage with. In CoS you have no choice. The vampire chooses to engage you.
    How do you think the kobolds feel about you?

    Ok, that's a bit misleading. After all, the game should be focused on the PC's so it doesn't waste the players' time. They're the heroes of their own stories. My point though is that running into "OP encounters" is a daily thing for many of a campaign setting's residents. Therefore, though shielded by the bounds of the narrative and their key role in it, the party should run a similar risk if the world is at all to feel real and consistent (unless you have a particular goal, such as the party being truly exalted above the rest of the world - not the case in CoS).

    However, major NPCs are their own characters too, with their own power, plans, and agency as would befit (the GM's best attempt at) a real person. Thinking from an in-universe perspective, of course Strahd would take an active interest in either amusing his (very bored) self with you or actually trying to thwart the party's plans when they're a viable threat to his own. For the latter, he'd have to be stupid not to. The players are the heroes of their own stories, but that doesn't mean they always get a choice as to what they face or what the antagonists do.
    Last edited by RifleAvenger; 2019-09-24 at 12:44 PM.

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    DwarfClericGuy

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    Quote Originally Posted by Shabbazar View Post
    What do you call encountering Strahd before the party reaches about 8th level? We encountered him at 3rd and he fireballed everyone. One member was left above zero and managed to heal everyone up to 1 HP and we all straggled back to town. But even the descriptions other people give of him charming low level characters and fighting off the rest of the party with impunity while he interrogates the charmed character is OP. What else would you call a character the entire party has zero chance of killing and who tracked down and encountered the PCs on his own, not their, volition? The PCs didn't track down Strahd at these low levels. He just shows up to screw with them. Strahd himself is the OP encounter I'm talking about. I guess he never fully kills you outright, but he endlessly #&$@'s with you from a position of impunity.
    I would call that a bad DM, first Strahd doesn't have to follow the group around he has minions for that, he has ears and eyes everywhere. There's no challenge for him to just kills PCs so he wouldn't bother with them, only when they become more powerful should he meet them. Even an invitation from him to the castle can be done with a meal and some civil talks with the group.

    If your group of level 3 PCs meets Strahd and decide to just attack him, he should turn into fog or something and leaves while laughing at them, while wolves or something come out of the forest to attacks them.

    Strahd goal are to recover his love, and facing an interesting challenge against the group to relieve his boredom. Just murdering a bunch of nobody adventurers is such a waste.

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    BardGuy

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    Quote Originally Posted by Shabbazar View Post
    What do you call encountering Strahd before the party reaches about 8th level? We encountered him at 3rd and he fireballed everyone. One member was left above zero and managed to heal everyone up to 1 HP and we all straggled back to town. But even the descriptions other people give of him charming low level characters and fighting off the rest of the party with impunity while he interrogates the charmed character is OP. What else would you call a character the entire party has zero chance of killing and who tracked down and encountered the PCs on his own, not their, volition? The PCs didn't track down Strahd at these low levels. He just shows up to screw with them. Strahd himself is the OP encounter I'm talking about. I guess he never fully kills you outright, but he endlessly #&$@'s with you from a position of impunity.

    In a sandbox campaign your 1st level character hears about a vampire in the castle on the hill. Because the player has a double digit WIS he decides to go fight kobolds in the valley or do other things for awhile. But in CoS the vampire leaves his castle to follow the low level PCs around, taunt them and engage in intermittent combat with them. How is that not OP? In a sandbox the character has some choice in what they engage with. In CoS you have no choice. The vampire chooses to engage you.
    At the risk of repeating things already said I call it a bad DM.

    Strahd is written to show up frequently. He's meant to terrify by being a BBEG who doesn't wait on his throne for the PCs.

    That doesn't mean he goes for the kill. He's written as being ancient and Bored. He lures heroes to Barovia as sport. You don't enjoy sport by aiming a missile at it.

    A good DM does things like what a poster above said. Sends minions while watching, maybe charm and interrogate. Or engage in a sword dual not using his whole power set.

    As for calling all that OP. No, only OP if it was meant to be a combat encounter. It's not meant to be a combat encounter. Anymore than standing in the church of the silver flame in front of the level 17 high priest is a combat encounter.

    The game is not all fights and you're not always guard a "fair" chance to kill something you encounter.

  29. - Top - End - #29
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    Beholder

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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    Quote Originally Posted by ad_hoc View Post
    I actually recommend against doing the reading beforehand.


    - I removed that one high level dungeon from the adventure as I don't think it fits Ravenloft at all. The castle is more than enough to engage the characters when they get to higher levels.
    I don't agree with this point, everything else you said was spot on though.
    The Amber Temple is the ULTIMATE mind**** opportunity for a DM, tempt your players and trick them with promises of power without ever revealing their costs.
    My party just waltzed around accepting every dark bargain they could/found intestesting. AND NOW THEY'RE ****ED.
    I even dropped in a deck of many things just for ****s and giggles very well hidden in the temple.
    They feel powerful and they got lots of insight on who Strahd really is and why he behaves like he does.
    The information found in the temple really binds all together as to why and how barovian history took the turn that it did, the fall of Argynvost, the death of Tatiana and Sergei and the following slaughter of Strahd at his guards' hands.
    It even explains the party how the castle was made and gives them important information about a certain room on the top of the main tower with a certain Heart they would have no business knowing about otherwise.

    A proficient and lucky party usually manages to raise a whole army against the Baron, there's LOTS of people who hate him and would be willing to aid the characters even in direct confrontation which could make the final showdown almost trivial without DM interference. Be wary of that and play Strahd as he should be, a genius tactician and a master manipulator, divide and conquer his enemies, pitch them against each other, don't be scared of charming npcs so they eventually fight one another. Be evil, be everywhere. Make people lose hope, for there is no hope to be found in Barovia. SCARE your players.

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    Retired Mod in the Playground Retired Moderator
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    Default Re: First Time running Curse of Strahd

    I will say that COS isn't as new-DM friendly as it's marketed to be. Not impossible for a new DM, but definitely on the steep end of the learning curve. Getting that balance between making things dangerous and deadly and scary while keeping them reasonably close to fair is hard.

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