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.
The rollout of Dungeons and Dragons 5th edition has not been a rapid release of materials, as in some past editions, but a slower and more steady release of consistently good products, which focus on telling great stories over inundating players with new rule options.
I’m currently running my 10-year-old son and his friends through the Rise of Tiamat storyline – the first adventure released for 5th edition, spread across the two volumes of Hoard of the Dragon Queen and Rise of Tiamat. One of the more intriguing aspects of the storyline is a month-long caravan trip north to Waterdeep, with intrigue and subterfuge as you spy on the dragon cultists in the caravan without giving yourself away. Not necessarily the most natural storytelling option for a group of 10-year-olds, but they handled it well, and it gave an interesting change of pace for those who were used to more shoot-em-up style adventure play from video games.
While considering where to go when the dragon-themed plotline finished up, I was thinking of continuing with one of the other adventure books that’s been released so far: either the Elemental Evil storyline in Princes of the Apocalypse or the Rage of Demons storyline told in Out of the Abyss. Then came today’s press release that Dungeons and Dragons is releasing a new adventure module, Curse of Strahd, that returns to the classic Ravenloft setting.
Ravenloft is the classic, gothic horror setting for Dungeons and Dragons, and has long been a fan favorite. While the traditional enemies encountered are thought of as orcs and goblins, in Ravenloft these enemies look like pussycats (very ugly pussycats, to be sure), as dark forces and undead take a far more prominent role. Ravenloft is a realm where even an orc fears the sounds that come from the dark of the night. …
Dungeons & Dragons has transformed itself lately, and that trend continues with the upcoming Elemental Evil storyline set to hit the Forgotten Realms in pen-and-paper, board, and digital formats starting in March and continuing through the summer. In the words of the press release:
Heroes are needed in the Forgotten Realms to discover and defeat secret cults that threaten to annihilate the Sword Coast by harnessing the powers of the elements of fire, water, air, and earth.
Certainly sounds impressive, but before diving into Elemental Evil, let’s quickly review the status of the world’s most iconic fantasy gaming line.
The Road to Now
Back in 2012, Dungeons & Dragons hosted the keynote event at GenCon. Everyone knew that Dungeons & Dragons was in the process of releasing D&DNext (they were avoiding “5th edition” at that time). Among a lot of experienced gamers, their 4th edition was viewed as a step in the wrong direction. This 2012 keynote was the event where they were going to lay out their strategy for the gaming public. And, I am proud to say, I was there. Since then, I’ve been closely watching the evolution of this process and have been incredibly impressed with what I’ve seen coming out from Wizards of the Coast.
In addition to the fact that they were releasing a new core rule set (which we all knew already), they also announced at this time that Dungeons & Dragons was focusing their entire attention on the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, rather than splitting their attention among a myriad array of different worlds. As the start of this, they released a series of 6 novels from August 2013 through June 2014, each by a different author and depicting how the world-shaking event “The Sundering” (also the name of the book series) was impacting the Forgotten Realms world. The 2013 GenCon keynote coincided with Drizzt Do’Urden’s 25th birthday, and also with the release of the first The Sundering book.
Throughout fall of 2014, after the final Sunderingbook, Dungeons & Dragons finally began releasing their new set of 5th edition core books. These have been covered fairly extensively at Black Gate. Here are some of the highlights for those interested:
For the last two years, Wizards of the Coast has been getting feedback on their new “5th edition” set of rules from playtesters all across the world. July 15 marks the official release of the Dungeons & Dragons Starter Set, giving the world the first glimpse of the final version of these rules. Unfortunately, the D&D Starter Set provides only pregenerated characters with some advancement rules through level 5, and some basic mechanics, so it doesn’t consist of a full set of game mechanics or character creation rules.
In other words, it’s not enough to give us a full idea of what the final rules for 5th edition will look like … but it does provide enough information to get some hints about how the upcoming edition of the game will be structured. In general, the goal seems to be to streamline the system, making it very accessible to new gamers, but still providing enough substance and versatility that more experienced gamers will find the system desirable. It’s a tough balancing act, but looking over the D&D Starter Set, I feel a growing sense of confidence that the new system will achieve these objectives.
Setting the stage for the release of the newest set of Dungeons & Dragons rules, Wizards of the Coast today announced that August 2014 would mark the start of their Tyranny of Dragons campaign. In addition to the core manuals for the Dungeons & Dragonsgame system, the campaign will feature adventures within the Dungeons & Dragons setting, both in printed books for tabletop play and also as a new game module released for their Neverwintergame. The adventure begins on August 14 and winds its way through a number of key releases that are looking to modernize the game.
Tabletop fans will be able to join in on the Tyranny of Dragons adventuring action (also released on Aug. 19) with the adventure supplement Hoard of the Dragon Queen, for $29.95 ($35 Canadian):
In an audacious bid for power the Cult of the Dragon, along with its dragon allies and the Red Wizards of Thay, seek to bring Tiamat from her prison in the Nine Hells to Faerun. To this end, they are sweeping from town to town, laying waste to all those who oppose them and gathering a hoard of riches for their dread queen. The threat of annihilation has become so dire that groups as disparate as the Harpers and Zhentarim are banding together in the fight against the cult. Never before has the need for heroes been so desperate.
Geoff Gander is a dark fantasy writer and D&D module-creator living in Ottawa, Canada. Geoff and I met over early morning coffee to talk gaming.
Derek: So, you write Basic D&D modules. You’ve had 2 modules printed by Expeditious Retreat Press. Even when I was a small town teenager, I could still get my hands on a variety of role playing games, especially AD&D, making Basic seem like yesterday’s news. Now, twenty-five years later, people are paying you money to write modules for Basic. Where’s that market coming from?
Geoff: We’re seeing the rise of old school gaming in classic pen-and-paper RPGs as well as computers. Many old schoolers who played D&D and similar games in the 80s are now introducing the games to their children, or they may have followed the general flow of gaming culture towards the latest products on the market, and have grown nostalgic for what got them into the hobby in the first place.
There are also people like me, who grew dissatisfied with the quality of mainstream gaming products and stayed with the systems they enjoyed, long after they went out of print.
At about 5:00 pm, I headed a couple of blocks over to the Indiana Repertory Theater for a Dungeons & Dragons press conference I’d been invited to. Following the press conference was to be the big Dungeons & Dragonsparty, which was celebrating not only the launch of The Sundering … but also the 25th anniversary of Drizzt Do’urden. (We even had cake!)
So, let’s lay it out here: Dungeons & Dragonsis going through some massive shake-ups. Last year, I liveblogged from their keynote address, where the Powers-That-Be formally announced their intention to tie the D&D Nexttransformation of the rules in with a Forgotten Realms storyline called The Sundering.
This year, we got a lot more information about exactly what this will look like on the implementation. Plus … there was an open bar and a murder! But first, the gaming news.
GenCon isn’t called the biggest four days in gaming for nothing. As Howard Andrew Jones recently pointed out, it’s easy to go for several years and completely miss major tracks of programming (such as the fantastic Writers Symposium programs). One thing that’s easy to overlook amidst all the games are the great crafting booths…
Goblin Road’s stuffed Hob Goblins
Black Gate has always been about finding the lesser-known sides of the fantasy world, and the Goblin Road line of products definitely fits the bill. They make dolls and masks, but let’s focus first on the dolls – such as this fun little guy shown to the right. These Hob Goblin toys are handcrafted in Ohio.
These things were just adorable and, as a gamer who has young gamers-to-be in the family, I thought they were awesome. The one flaw that I can see is that there isn’t a ton of diversity. There are three colors of vest, but all of the dolls had tan skin. I’d love to see some diversity in skin tone, as well as hair styles, and so on, to help mix it up a bit.
One fun little feature is that each Hob Goblin comes with a goblin adoption certificate, sort of like the ones that used to be included with Cabbage Patch Kids dolls, indicating that the goblin has been adopted by a kind human for their care and feeding.
In addition to the Hob Goblin dolls, Goblin Road produces molded leather masks of various styles, and some other accessories, such as horns. These were fairly impressive and reasonably priced as well, but aren’t currently listed on the website, though I’m told that the website will be updated to include these products in the relatively near future.
For the first time in GenCon history, the week began with a keynote event on Thursday evening. And who gave the keynote? None other than the folks behind Dungeons & Dragons.
For the last several months, Dungeons & Dragons has been undergoing a transformation into their Dungeons & Dragons Next format (which they are loathe to officially call 5th edition).
The event was delayed a bit due to rain and venue change, but once things are moving, I’ll be liveblogging about the event. I know I won’t catch everything, but I’m sure there’ll be a link to video of the event online shortly and I’ll post it (and other background links) in an update over the next day or so, when I have more stable net access.
The Event Begins
7:25 pm – Peter Adkison, founder of Wizards of the Coast, runs onstage and discusses how this inaugural keynote came into being. Basically, Adkison strong-armed Greg Leeds (current CEO of Wizards of the Coast) into doing it, and made it clear that he expected Greg himself to get on stage and start the event off. So, with that ….
With the release of Dungeons and Dragons 4th edition, there came the opportunity for independent game companies to introduce whole new lines of products that focused on expanding the gaps left in the core materials presented by Wizards of the Coast. In this review from Black Gate #14, I look at supplements from two of these product lines, published by the fine people at Goodman Games, covering various races and character classes.
Since the review was written, Wizards of the Coast has filled many of those gaps with their own materials, such as the D&D Player’s Handbook Races series, which includes the official supplements for both the Tiefling and Dragonbornraces.