I must create a system, or be enslaved by another man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.

- William Blake

Tuesday, August 04, 2020

Curse of Strahd Guide - Part I - Getting started

There is a lot to be said about Curse of Strahd. The good, the bad, the ugly... even the beautiful.

I won't bother you with long reviews. In short, it is a great campaign, with many AWESOME ideas, but also confusing as hell, badly organized, and full of problems. The atmosphere is top-notch - some of the best I've ever read. The execution is flawed. Many people consider it 5e's best campaign - and, from what I've read so far, I am inclined to agree.

So, if you want something cool, read on. If you want something EASY - skip this one, probably (or read on, and I'll make it easier for you!).

But anyway - I had lots of fun playing it. If you want to play it to, I'm sure you could use some help (I certainly appreciated all the help I could find!). If this advice is useful, this will become a long series. Otherwise, I'll probably write about something else.

So, here is a bit of information and advice to getting started on CoS. I might expand on this bit as I write the series and remember more stuff, or as people make suggestions and corrections (well, it is a popular campaign!). Anyway:


* READ THE WHOLE THING before starting. Its easy to get lost when GMing this thing for the first time.

* BAROVIA IS HUMANOCENTRIC. If your players want to create dragonborn, tiefling, goliath or lizard-people characters, they'll seem out of place. everyone in Barovia is human, elf, os some kind of gothic monster (vampire, werewolf, were-raven, golem, etc.). My advice: re-skin everyone as some gothic trope. You want to be a goliath? Fine, you are just a big human with some form of gigantism (you can still use a goliath's stats). Tiefling? You are a human whose parents made a pact with devils. Your eyes are slightly different, but that's it. And so on.

* CERTAIN CLASSES/ALIGNMENTS ARE EXPECTED. The book assumes you'll find certain items during the game. But, if you're playing by the book, you´ll need a cleric or paladin of good alignment to make some of the most powerful items to work (maybe too powerful, but that's another post). Other item requires good alignment only. So, decide if you're going to change these rules, or tell your players right from the start that "good" heroes - especially paladins and clerics - have the best change in this campaign.

If you want some dark characters instead... well, you can always check my Dark Fantasy Characters.

BTW, a WIZARD is also expected... kinda. There are some instances in the book that seem to require specific spells to solve (or at least there are not many explicit alternatives). I ran the campaign just fine with a druid and a warlock, but I felt a wizard would do better.

Maybe the best party would be something like paladin / cleric / wizard ... and maybe rogue or fighter. The rogue needs a magic weapon to fight effectively and these are not that easy to find. Maybe he gets the sunsword instead of the paladin. A fighter might get better magic items (mace, spear, heavy armor). An undead-fighting ranger could work.

The cleric is probably the most important one here, because of healing, resurrection, turn undead, etc.

BTW - if you want to start with "dark" characters to fit the gothic feel of the campaign, take a look at my Dark Fantasy Characters, it is full of ideas.

* MATURE THEMES. This campaign contains mature themes. I've never worried about this stuff before, since my players like gritty and violent games - but in this case I think this is worth mentioning. The atmosphere is depressing, if you play it right. You can play it for laughs if you prefer, but CoS has some awesome horror fodder and it would be a waste not to use it. Anyway, you've been warned.

* YOU DO NOT NEED THE TAROKKA DECK. The deck is just a gimmick. Use a common deck of cards instead. A deck of encounters (and maybe items) would have been a lot more useful.

Hey. WotC - if you end up making a lot of money based on my advice, consider giving me some of it ;).


There's more, a lot more. Do a "foreshadowing" session - a prologue of sorts. Get a decent map. Then, ignore the map. Rethink the whole list of encounters. Divide the campaign in three acts. Tie Strahd to his allies. Make him more powerful. Keep track of NPCs and factions.

But that's after the campaign begins. AND there are a couple of sessions to make before that happens... This advice are enough to get you started.

For now, I'd appreciate to know if you're interested in this. Please let me know in the comments.


  1. I'd be interested in reading more about running Curse of Strahd. I bought is when I was recovering from surgery and I was thinking about running it but I'm not sure if my players would go for it.

  2. Always interested in reading about Curse of Strahd. I ran it a few years back and was a bit disappointed with how it turned out. Past of it was from the group I was running, they were not interested in side-quests or on picking up some of the hints an threads throughout. They thought "My job is to kill Strahd all else in unnecessary." I could've helped with that myself so its not all on them.

    Going back to some Actual Plays of CoS opened up a lot of different, better ways to run the book as well. I do love CoS. It is the best of the 5E books, but sometimes those books seem convoluted for no real reason except to make a campaign out of an adventure.

    Long Story short, More Please!

    1. Thanks! I had problems with the side-quest issue too, and I have a decent solution.

    2. Awesome, There's a very real possibility that I will be running this adventure again soon. Just in time for the Halloween Season. So I'm very much looking forward to hints, tips,a nd solutions.

  3. yes please. I actually started CoS two years ago, but the group didnt work out. Now I‘m giving it another try and would appreciate all help I can get

  4. Having only recently experienced playing 5e I’m thinking in the future I’d like to try running one of the published campaigns - so if this is one of the better ones I’m certainly interested in seeing more of how to run it better.

  5. I am reading this campaign, it seems very promising. Thanks for your post, definitely it'll help