The newest Dungeons & Dragons adventure supplement, Curse of Strahd, hits the stands at gaming stores around the world and brings the classic Ravenloft gothic horror setting alive for the 5th edition.
The game is built around the classic 1983 Module 16: Ravenloft adventure, written by Tracy and Laura Hickman. Ravenloft centered on the land of Barovia, one of the Domains of Dread that has been pulled from its home world and now exists in a cross-dimensional form within the Shadowfell region of the Dungeons & Dragons multiverse. One key aspect of this is that any world, any setting, can have contact with Barovia, as the barrier between the “normal” world and this dark gothic realm become weak. Adventurers become lost in a bizarre mist and find themselves in Barovia, the village that is home to Castle Ravenloft and the realm’s mysterious ruler, Count Strahd von Zarovich. This makes Curse of Strahd a potential resource for any campaign.
Curse of Strahd is really a mix of setting manual and adventure module in one, with a storyline that is extremely open-ended, with endings that (assuming the players survive) allow for continued adventures centered around the consequences of the players’ actions in Castle Ravenloft.
One key element of the game is the Tarokka deck, a Tarot-like deck of cards that are used to randomly determine certain key features of the campaign: the ultimate location of Strahd, locations of necessary tools for victory, and the identity of a powerful ally. The Gamemaster performs a random “reading” in advance to determine these elements, and then in game the players have the opportunity to get this reading themselves, providing them with the clues they need to determine where to go. The result is that the players can be drawn in many different directions trying to get all of the components they need for their final confrontation in Castle Ravenloft.
There are rules within the manual for how to use regular playing cards for the reading, but there are also pages showing the Tarokka deck that you could copy and cut up to create a deck of your own. Alternately, for those really looking for authenticity, Gale Force Nine is producing a full set of Tarokka cards, due out in April, as an accessory to the adventure. Based on their previous Spellbook Card sets, I expect these would also be a good, useful accessory to the game, though certainly only for those who can afford the extra expense. Looking at their website, I am surprised to find that it looks like the Tarokka deck will be entirely black and white, but I suppose for a gothic-themed game that only makes sense. The Tarokka cards shown in the module itself are also black and white. There’s a brief description of what each card means, but I would hope that the accessory deck from Gale Force Nine includes some additional suggestions for how to do a reading, so that this can be incorporated into a wider variety of game situations.
Though the back cover says the game is for characters of level 1 to 10, the main adventure assumes the characters are starting at level 3. There’s a brief adventure included as Appendix B that is intended to set the mood and take characters from level 1 to 3, if needed. There is also a brief section that includes a “Haunted One” gothic background, as well as personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws, along with a list of potential “gothic trinkets” to replace the standard ones from the Player’s Handbook. At a glance, my favorite of these gothic trinkets is “A switch used to discipline you as a child,” though in some respects that’s possibly one of the least creepy ones.
- Buy Curse of Strahd at Amazon
- Pre-order the Tarokka deck from Gale Force 9
- Get the Curse of Strahd Player’s Pack for D&D Adventurer’s League
- Castle Ravenloft board game (Amazon)
- Check out previous Ravenloft supplements and modules at DriveThruRPG
- Previous article: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition
Disclaimer: The publisher provided a copy of Curse of Strahd to the author for review purposes.
Andrew Zimmerman Jones is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. In addition to being a contributing editor to Black Gate magazine, Andrew is the About.com Physics Expert and author of String Theory For Dummies. You can follow his exploits on Facebook, Twitter, and even Google+.