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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.