You can buy this adventure and the tarokka deck on amazon here:
Curse of Strahd: A Dungeons & Dragons Sourcebook (D&D Supplement)
D&D: Curse of Strahd Tarokka Deck
We'll go over the good stuff, the bad stuff, and then I'll give my overall thoughts.
original Ravenloft adventure, with a bunch of extra stuff added in. They did this in 3rd edition with Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, and I think Curse of Strahd pulls it off far better.
The entire concept of needing to go track down the different items to defeat Strahd gives the heroes a reason to go to these side places, so they don't feel like filler.
You can really tell that a wizards staffer wrote this adventure, as opposed to the outside studios that made Princes of the Apocalypse, Out of the Abyss and etc. This adventure is much tighter and cohesive. Everything has a certain rhyme or reason, and the different locales are linked to each other in natural ways.
Often in the other 5e adventures, you could sense that different people worked on different chapters. This led to an uneven feel and a lack of cohesiveness that meant you had to sit down and put in a lot of work to make the adventure feel like a continuous story rather than a collection of isolated locales.
Lots of Material to Raid
|My favorite NPC|
Vallaki: This area is overloaded with great stuff. It's a little crowded and confusing, but I love the Wachters and I think Izek Strazni is a top notch bad guy.
Ruins of Berez: Baba Lysaga is a fantastic villain. I think every DM should try and put this chapter into their campaign in some way. I am fascinated to see if there is any link to Baba Yaga. There's so many possibilities.
The Amber Temple: I'm a bit torn on this place. It feels sort of like it doesn't belong in this book. It's a great locale and maybe I'm wrong, but I'm pretty sure it actually defines just who the Dark Powers of Ravenloft are! I love it. If you are running a campaign that involves Vecna, I think you should definitely use this place. It honestly feels like this temple can be the centerpiece of a Vecna-based adventure or campaign.
Van Richten's Tower: I love this area so much. It's simple and very D&D. You can use the traps here in any campaign.
Billions of Good Ideas
The Dream Pastries are fantastic. Stella, the girl who acts like a cat is in my opinion a really fun NPC. The Revenants in Argynvostholt are very cool and I think Sir Godfrey looks awesome. The flesh golem bride is a hilariously creepy idea that can lead to all sorts of great things. As soon as I read the name Seriach the Hell Hound Whisperer, I knew I had to use this NPC in my own campaign in some fashion. Even though she's just one of the NPCs in the crypts, Sasha Ivliskova the old vampire wife of Strahd's who has been locked away and forgotten immediately gave me a lot of cool ideas.
There's even good little ideas in a throwaway item like Rictavio's journal. There's a mention of an orc who can bite through chains and there is a description of conjoined goblin twins. You just read those entries and an NPC pops into your head, fully formed.
Links to Many Different Settings
|Tenebrous aka Undead Orcus|
I really appreciate the time and effort put in to give us those sorts of details. This book was not slapped together. It feels like they went over it time and again, adding layers of tweaks and details. It really shines through.
|One of my favorite pieces of art in Curse of Strahd|
I still maintain that if there is a great 5e artist, it is Mike Schley. His maps are fantastic and fun to look at.
Each time wizards of the coast puts out a new D&D adventure, they fix some mistakes from the last one. Previously, there was a problem in that the adventures were simply too long. Going from level 1 to 16 or whatever takes a lot longer than 6 months for most groups.
In this adventure, you go from levels 1-10. There is still a ton of material and you will definitely get your money's worth, but you won't necessarily need to invest a year of your life of weekly play to get through it.
So I definitely would say that Curse of Strahd is worth buying. Even if you don't run it, there is a metric ton of material in the book that you can use for your campaign. That said...
Does Anyone Really Want a Remake?
Judging from the popularity of this adventure, I'd say that the answer to this is "yes." But for me, I'd much prefer a sequel that builds on past events rather than a "re-telling." This adventure is handled in a way where you could say it is a sequel, but if you ran the original Ravenloft adventure then you're putting your players through a deluxe version of the same thing.
I want new ideas. I want underdeveloped concepts from previous editions to get a chance to shine. I want new classics. Re-creating old material is, to me, a way of saying: "The old stuff was better and we can't top it." That's not true. There's a lot of people out there with awesome ideas. Just give them an outlet and let's move things forward.
The weirdest one is the hags in Old Bonegrinder. There is a good chance that the group will be 4th level when they go here, and they will be walking into a TPK against three night hags. What's weirder is that when the author ran this on Dice, Camera, Action, he changed them to weaker green hags. Why were they night hags in the first place?
New DMs Don't Know What to Do with This
That is because wizards is still organizing these books in that weird way where each location gets a chapter and you have to dig through them to find out how the plot gets you from one place to another.
The whole book starts off with miscellaneous jumbled chapters loaded with all sorts of disparate concepts like how the mists work and where things are on the overland map, often then referring us to another chapter for the bulk of the material.
The entire Tser Pool Encampment is actually lodged into one of these chapters rather than being given its own section. It's a tiny location, but it contains such a major part of the plot (the tarokka reading) that you expect it to have its own chapter rather than being buried in that miscellaneous Barovia description section. I think that if they had put Tser Pool, the gypsy description and the tarokka rules all in one singular gypsy-centric chapter, it would have made things easier for me.
In the case of Curse of Strahd, the organization makes a bit more sense because the entire idea of this adventure is that you do the tarokka reading and are basically randomly assigned areas to visit. But it's up to the DM to figure out how to get the group to these places, and new DMs are going to have a hard time with that. The hooks that take you from one area to another are buried deep in each chapter. You have to read the entire book to understand how to link things together, and you better take notes because few people will be able to remember all of that material.
This is a big book and it requires a lot of reading. I can see how many newcomers might feel overwhelmed. We really needed a page with a synopsis/sample plot, detailing how the campaign progresses from one location to the next.
I still think they should be organizing these adventures like Pathfinder Adventure Paths - linear. If you want a sandbox, It's not hard at all to make a sandbox out of a railroad. But it is very time-consuming to turn this sandbox into a path. And I still really wish they'd put page number references rather than "see chapter 5 of the DMG."
Continuous Organizational Issues
|I found this hazard to be annoyingly difficult to look up.|
Even the best adventures require a certain amount of prep and research. When I ran White Plume Mountain for 5e a year or two ago, it took just a few hours to prep. I got four full sessions out of it. I cannot tell you the hours upon hours I have spent looking up stuff and connecting dots with Curse of Strahd. It felt like a chore. It felt like work. It took me weeks and sometimes I dreaded going back to it. And I love D&D! I am a big Chris Perkins fan!
Having to sit there and look up every god damn magic item, monster and especially the traps and environmental hazards (which are really annoying to find) was the worst! Here's an example...
The Charm of Heroism: On page 39 of Curse of Strahd, the heroes might be given a charm of heroism. We are told to "see "Supernatural Gifts" in chapter 7 of the Dungeon Master's Guide."
Now let's go find it. We don't have a page number so we have to flip through the book. What a pain. We find it. It says "This charm allows you to give yourself the benefit of a potion of heroism as an action."
So guess what?! Now we have to find the potion of heroism. No page number, no nothing. Let's go find it.
It's on page 188 of the DMG. Guess what it says? "...For the same duration, you are under the effect of the bless spell (no concentration required)."
NOW WE HAVE TO LOOK UP BLESS.
It's on PH page 219. +d4 to attack rolls or saves for one minute.
I really, really wish that they would just write what some of this stuff does right in the adventure text. So many games are going to come to a screeching halt because of this charm of heroism. DMs who don't prepare this kind of thing in advance are suddenly flipping through multiple books while their players sit there and time ticks away. It's an easy thing to overlook, as you'll assume you can just flip to a page and boom there's the info.
Seriously though, look at the above comparison. Am I just an old fogey? The 5e cover certainly isn't bad at all. I like the surreal quality of it, which is something I really enjoyed on Jeff Easley covers. It really isn't fair to ask anyone to follow up an iconic piece of D&D art. But to me, that is not Strahd.
Couldn't they have just hired Clyde Caldwell to do the 5e cover and update his look? I understand that the Bela Lugosi-style vampire is extremely dated, but this new dude does absolutely nothing for me.
The interior art is also hampered by the 5e "page rips," something I've groaned about before. This design choice actually obscures parts of the art and in some cases makes them look significantly worse.
Check out this example. This is art of the gates of Barovia:
There also seems to be an issue with how the art turns out when printed. While I like that full page art is used, a lot of the full page pieces are muddy or vague. Take a look at this image from page 83. I have the digital version and how it looks in the book side by side.
The Poster Map
The other side has the Castle Ravenloft map. Even at poster map size, the castle sections are small. They're isometric, which is a bit confusing. Worst of all, this poster map has the secret doors and the traps on it.
So if you plop this thing down on the table, your players are going to know a lot more about the castle than they should and an entire element is taken out of the game. That's not the end of the world. But even when this thing is on the table, you need to squint and turn this gigantic map around to kind of, sort of, point out where the heroes are.
Even if the DM just wants to use the map to personally refer to in play, how the heck are you going to do that? It's gigantic! Are you going to fold up your map in ways it wasn't meant to be bent? Are you going to unfurl this massive thing and hold it up in front of your face and speak to the players?
To me, this thing is completely impractical. I would have preferred a separate booklet with the castle sections on individual pages with DM notes.
I have always liked battle maps. This poster could have had one side with some generic, reusable areas at five feet per square. Divide one side up into quarters for four maps: The road, a village street, an inn and a church, cave or dungeon interior. The other side can have some specific but reusable locales. Mostly Castle Ravenloft areas - especially the crypts! In fact, an entire side might be devoted to the crypts, as that is a massive area that the adventurers will probably spend a lot of time in.
I know 5e is miniatures-optional, but there are some locations in every adventure where you just need minis or some kind of visual representation of where the characters are and what the room is like.
This mini-adventure is designed to get the heroes from level 1 to level 3. Honestly, I think it doesn't belong in this book. It's not a bad adventure. I love the idea. It would be a great Expeditions scenario.
I think there's too many rooms in Death House and it feels like if you don't run the adventure carefully, your group will get bored. I also don't like the choice of final monster at all. This location has no real connection to anything in Curse of Strahd, which is a bummer because there is so much material out there to play with.
Instead of going through Death House, the group could have interacted with Strahd or one of his underlings like Rahadin. They could have encountered Beucephalus the nightmare in the woods. They could have found Ezmerelda's trail, or a villager comatose from a dream pastry. A vestige could have reached out to tempt them. Sergei's spirit might have lead them into Barovia. They could have had some kind of chase or interaction with the gypsies. There's so many possibilities.
I think Curse of Strahd would have been much better served with an introductory mini-adventure that brings the group into Barovia and lets them have a few easy fights and roleplaying encounters, so that new players have the opportunity to learn the basics of the game. In fact, they probably should have just done the Madam Eva tarokka reading right off the bat rather than hoping the group makes their way to Tser Pool.
I had originally planned on starting Curse of Strahd right when the book came out. I would have been really annoyed to find that I wouldn't even have the deck when my group got to the tarokka reading. I actually looked into buying an older version of the deck online when I heard that the official deck wouldn't be out on time.
It doesn't seem like rocket science to know that the tarokka deck should be out by the time the book is, if not before. All of those Adventurer's League groups are starting Curse of Strahd right when the book is out. These potential customers are right there in stores where the decks can be sold. The tarokka reading is essential to the adventure and is meant to be done in one of the first sessions. If the group goes through the reading and the deck isn't even out yet, then that DM isn't going to buy the deck when it does come out because it is no longer needed! It's too late!
But the fact remains that if you can get past all of that, this is the best 5e adventure yet. It is full of great ideas. Many of the locations are fantastic. Tons of thought and care went into this and it really shows.
I think a lot of people might regard Curse of Strahd as a modern classic, perhaps even moreso than The Red Hand of Doom. Time will tell on that one. But there is no question that this is a great adventure that is well worth your money.