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Saturday, February 20, 2016

Curse of Strahd - Death House


You can download this adventure for free right here in Dragon Plus Issue 6

Wizards just released a .pdf of Death House, a 1st level adventure that is part of Curse of Strahd - the new adventure that comes out next month. I'm going to read and review it right here for you so we can get a look at what Curse of Strahd is going to be like.

This is an adventure that will be run in game stores, so there's spoilers in here. If you're a player, you should really skip this article as you're just going to ruin it for yourself and possibly everyone else.

You can buy Curse of Strahd and the Tarokka Deck on amazon here:

Curse of Strahd: A Dungeons & Dragons Sourcebook (D&D Supplement)
D&D: Curse of Strahd Tarokka Deck

The Story

The Death House is in the village of Barovia. It has burned to the ground many times, only to rise from the ashes time and again. It was once home to a cult slain by Strahd. Their spirits still lurk in the dungeons underneath the Death House.

The heroes are pulled from their world into a forest in Barovia by the mists of Ravenloft. They come upon a village at night and meet two little kids named Rose and Thorn. The kids say that there's a monster in their house and that they won't go back in until it is gone.

The truth is that these kids are illusions made by the house. Here's the deal with them:

"The children died of starvation centuries ago after their insane parents locked them in the attic and forgot about them. They were too young and innocent to understand that their parents were guilty of heinous crimes."

How about that? Yikes. Later, the heroes might come upon their skeletons and even be possessed by their ghosts.

Exploring

Haunted House: Running the exploration of the Death House is going to require finesse on the DM's part. There's a whole lot of rooms with nothing in them. Some players might be hungry for combat and may get turned off by the lack of action. Remember that this is an adventure that ramps in intensity from start to finish. The beginning is slow and the horror builds all the way to the frenzied escape at the end.

Once the heroes begin exploring, the mists of Ravenloft surround the Death House. Basically, the group is trapped into the Death House and they can't leave until they've gone through it. I'm not sure exactly what happens if they go into the fog. I suppose that's elaborated on in the hardcover book.

Trinkets, Clues and Loot: Each room has interesting little things, like a top hat, or suits of armor with visored helms in the shape of wolf heads. These kind of things are cool, because some players might latch onto something and use it to help define who their character is.

Here's an example of the weird little details spread throughout the Death House:

"Oil lamps are mounted on the oak-paneled walls, which are carved with woodland scenes of trees, falling leaves, and tiny critters. Characters who search the walls for secret doors or otherwise inspect the paneling can, with a successful DC 12 Wisdom (Perception) check, notice tiny corpses hanging from the trees and worms bursting up from the ground."

Possession: There's a chance the heroes will be possessed by the ghosts of Rose and Thorn. If so, they gain flaws. Thorn's is "I'm scared of everything, including my own shadow, and weep with despair when things don't go my way." I can see some players having trouble with this, so I think you should be mindful of how you use it.

Nice Treasure: There's a lot of cool loot in one of the final areas, including a bunch of trinkets. Who wouldn't want a hag's severed finger? Imagine the hijinks the heroes could get into with a bag full of guano.

There's also an aspergillum carved from bone. I have no idea what that is, so I googled it. An aspergillum is an implement for sprinkling holy water - a perforated ball at the end of a short handle.

Final Room is Decent: The final encounter involves a dais and chanting ghostly voices. They demand a sacrifice. If the heroes don't provide one, a monster lurches up to attack them. It's kind of cool, though I don't really like the choice for the final monster and I think I might change it when I run this.

The Best Part of This Adventure: My favorite part of this adventure occurs at the end. Once the heroes have either made a sacrifice or killed the monster, the Death House itself tries to do them in. The doors are all replaced by slashing scythes. How awesome is that? Every room with a fireplace or oven is filled with poisonous black smoke. You have to roll initiative and everything - it's the group vs. the Death House. Awesome.

Once the heroes escape, they will be 3rd level.

Overall Thoughts

Building Tension: This is a severe change of pace from the previous adventures, and it will require a different set of skills from the DM. Running your heroes through a haunted house means in theory you want to build tension, which is very tricky in a game where the players are likely to be joking around.

You might want to use the Fear and Horror Check rules in the DMG on page 266 for a few scenes.

I'm a little concerned that players will get bored exploring so many empty rooms. You'll need to be very mindful of pacing. If you let the group linger and sift through each room, it could really drag. Don't be afraid to say "That's all that's in there."

Resting: You should also think about what to do if the group wants to take a long rest. They could hole up in a room. Does anything happen overnight? I think something should. Maybe they have weird nightmares, maybe the specter comes to haunt them, who knows. I think one cool idea is for them to hear rats in the walls, to foreshadow the final "escape" section.

Combat: If you have a group that is combat-oriented, you might want to throw one or two battles at them when they first arrive in Barovia. They could fight Strahd's bats or wolves in the woods, perhaps. Or you could run a variant of the vampire spawn encounter in the Volo story in Dragon Plus. This way, the group has scratched the itch and will be more inclined to accept the opening exploration.

Foreshadowing: I think it might be helpful to foreshadow the final escape portion by trying to creep the players out. As the players explore, have the PCs smell smoke, maybe have them hear a scythe cutting through the air as they pass through a door, that kind of thing. It's always nice to plant legit clues and give the group things to speculate about. Just remember that if they correctly guess what's being foreshadowed, don't punish them. They were clever, let them reap the rewards.

This seems like a decent adventure. I'll be interested to see how it goes when people run it.

For more, check out my Guide to Strahd.

6 comments:

Benji said...

Looking at the text this isn't actually from the Curse of Strahd but from the AL adventures that you can choose to use as prequel for Curse. They're kind of like what Expeditions used to be compared to encounters. (Except we don't use that wording any more).

pukunui said...

It's going to be in the back of the book (like "Tomb of Moving Stones" in PotA).

Benji said...

That makes sense. Although I think tomb of moving stones should have been at the start, so I hope this is.

Sean said...

I guess we'll see how it fits in once the book comes out in a week or two.

Michael Galosi said...

Very nice

Sean said...

Michael Galosi: Thanks!