Curse of Strahd - a retrospective on Ravenloft


Staff member

Count Strahd von Zarovich awaits
I'm just starting to read Curse of Strahd for 5th Edition D&D in preparation for running the campaign online, probably starting in October 2019. As I've dug into the book while I'm away on holiday, it's bringing back fond memories of my past history with this module and setting.

The Original... and best?
My introduction to the Count and his minions came, like many others of my age, when I ran the original I6 Ravenloft module by Tracy and Laura Hickman. It was back in the 1980s, while I was still at secondary school. I'm pretty certain I ran it using 1e AD&D the first time that I dropped it on unsuspecting players. I think that it was during a 24-hour roleplaying charity event. If memory serves me well, the characters prevailed, just. We ran the whole module as it was meant to be run, straight out of the text as written. The set up was randomised with the Tarokka deck, and I recall several situations where the characters were pretty scared.

I10 - like most sequels complex and disappointing

I later ran the I10 Ravenloft II - The House of Gryphon Hill sequel. My recollections were that it was messy, confusing and disappointing, especially after the effort I had gone to in finding it. I think that this was 1e AD&D again, but there's a chance I may have hacked it into 2e.

Realm of Terror

Despite the disappointment, I couldn't keep away, and I bought the Ravenloft: Domains of Dread setting soon after it was released for 2e AD&D. This was a massive retcon-ing of Ravenloft as originally conceived, but I kind of liked it.

Metaplot and no recommended levels!
I ran the RA1 Feast of Goblyns adventure for my group, once I'd got around the confusion of what level it was aimed at (answer - no guidance was given). I don't think we finished playing it though as it was towards the natural end of the group's lifespan.

I did roll out I6 again, hacked into 2e AD&D for another 24-hour charity event when I was up in Cumbria on my year out working as an engineer at Sellafield. It went down well and it's a scenario I'd happily bring out again.

I picked up I6 as a PDF once it became available and have fondly looked it several times, but D&D moved on to 3rd edition and beyond and I moved away from it until Dungeon World triggered nostalgia in me for the style of play. I started to look at porting it to the Powered by the Apocalypse engine, but then I discovered The Black Hack. Graham Spearing's focussed take on this, Heroic Fantasy, looked like the way to go.

Returning to a more recognisable form

I'd mentioned my love of this setting to Dr Mitch in the bar one Furnace, and he told me he'd love to try it. The arrival of Curse of Strahd for 5e D&D made me determined to get a group together and explore this sandbox full of horror, especially as it draws much more on the original scenario than the subsequent iterations. As I start to prepare, the lure of the electronic version of the module using Roll 20 is calling and I may end up using 5e rather than Heroic Fantasy as originally planned. But first, I need to read the whole book completely.

What keeps on drawing me back? I think that the darkness and tragedy at the heart of the setting, combined with an intelligent and powerful villain in a setting that draws on recognisable tropes lies at the heart of it. The setting looks very clear in its differentiation between good and evil, but the reality is so much more shades of grey. How do you accommodate the darkness of a realm controlled by a supremely powerful and present creature? As a GM, you have the chance to allow the players to have their characters hold a candle up against the darkness, or chose to embrace it.

20 August 2019

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Nice review from the first original to the latest 5th Edition adventure.

I only played through Expedition to Castle Ravenloft for the 3rd Edition Dungeons and Dragons, along with Expedition to the Ruins of Greyhawk.
I won't lie, I tend to find D&D pretty bland - the exception being Ravenloft. I could quite happily play any game that takes place n this setting - I even have a bunch of the old novels collecting dust on my bookshelf at the moment.


The Guvnor
Staff member
Nice personal recollection and overview.
I think I could get into this as a Hammer Horror game or get deeper into the tragedy of doom. 5e please.