curse-of-strahd

Review by Art Schmidt

Count Strahd von Zarovich is having guests for dinner – and you are invited.

The latest storyline in Dungeon & Dragons 5th Edition debuts this Tuesday, March 15, 2016, and much like the three previous storylines (Tyranny of Dragons, Elemental Evil and Rage of Demons), it takes a tried-and-true theme from the original edition of the “world’s greatest roleplaying game” and re-vamps it, adding in more flavor, updating the theme, and expanding it with many more areas to explore.  Curse of Strahd takes one of the most beloved adventures from 1st Edition D&D’s Castle Ravenloft and presents a large, in-depth and exciting reincarnation of the classic adventure for players and game masters of all levels of expertise.

The campaign book for the Rage of Demons storyline, entitled Out of the Abyss, was an excellent adventure, but that manual is thick with rules and can be difficult to run in several places, lending itself to a more experienced game master and players.  Curse of Strahd is just as well thought-out and immersive an experience, but can be handled by those with less experience and even, dare I say, newbie game masters looking to cut their teeth on a meaty adventure.  And CoS has the meats!

Waaaay back in the first iteration of Dungeons & Dragons (before anyone thought to call it “First Edition” because, hey, that’s all there was!), adventures were typically narrow of scope and limited to a couple of locations.  They were meant to be played in a single or handful of sessions, and then the game master would have to look elsewhere for another challenge for their players.  And most of these adventures were the stuff of pulp fiction; simple goals, thin plots and lots of monsters to hack your way through in order to gain the treasure and gold.  And everyone loved that.

RAVENLOFT

Then along came Tracy Hickman (of Dragonlance, Darksword Trilogy and Death Gate Cycle fame) and he had the audacity to think “Why are these monsters here?  Why are they trying to defeat us?  What’s their story?”  Tracy and his wife Laura came up with Count Strahd von Zarovich, a tragic but thoroughly evil and menacing figure modeled after the original vampires of Bram Stoker’s Dracula novel and Nosferatu of early cinema.  Then they wrapped an immersive story around this figure, with NPCs (non-player characters, for the uninitiated), locations and lesser foes who made sense, who thoroughly belonged in the adventure and had more depth than a set of statistics to be overcome by the power-hungry party of adventurers.  To top it off, they added a groundbreaking 3D map (shown below) and guidelines for adding an ambience to the story that no other adventure had ever provided before.

Thus was born Ravenloft, one of the most popular and loved adventures (and then series) in all of tabletop role-playing game history.  It has been re-created and expanded in almost every edition of Dungeons & Dragons ever since, for better or worse (as these things always go, more worse than better).

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