Moving forward with more reviews of previously released books in Fifth Edition, we're going to be hitting some of the bigger titles before Tales From The Yawning Pool drops on Friday. The first of the next two books we tackle is a biggie and, in my humble opinion, one of the best campaigns created for the series in this new run. We go deep into the darkness and hope it doesn't swallow us whole with the Curse Of Strahd.
Count Strahd von Zarovich is a name that D&D fans should be familiar with as he's one of the most prominent figures to be active in the game since the series launched Advanced D&D. He was first introduced in Ravenloft back in 1983, and since then has appeared a few times in other campaigns, had a novel written about him as a memoir book in 1993, and even appeared in the original PlayStation title Iron & Blood: Warriors of Ravenloft. He is, by definition, the gold standard for evil vampires in whatever D&D universe you play in—and if your DM is using vampires and doesn't even mention Strahd on a relic of some sort, then that's just poor storytelling.
So it's kinda cool to see that not only has the character returned in full force, but he's now got a book all to his own. This adventure is a stand-alone book and only requires elements from the Dungeon Masters Guide and the Monster Manual to get through most of it, along with some tidbits from the Player's Handbook. It's meant for players at level 1-10, so essentially you can start the entire campaign with a fresh group and everyone starting at the bottom to start and then work your way up the complete 15 chapters. Depending on how everyone plays and how frequently you get together, this can be wrapped up in about three months or you can stretch it out to a year. It is designed to keep you enthralled and busy without boring you or causing anyone to die off carelessly. But don't be fooled—this is a far darker tale than you've probably had to contend with in the past and there are a lot of challenges with zombies, werewolves, vampires, animated armor, witches, and an assortment of individual villains who have it out for your group.
A key thing to keep in mind about Curse Of Strahd for players and DM's alike is that there are few trustworthy people. The land of Barovia is like walking into classic Romania trying to find Transylvania and kill of Dracula, only with a lot more challenges along the way. Such as the fact that not every town wants to see Strahd go away, or that there are mere mortals who sing his praises as a leader and don't care for wandering adventurers coming through to ruin their lives. A good portion of what you'll be doing is gathering info and then taking a risk, like when you approach Tsolenka Pass or attempt to break into Amber Temple. You only have a small amount of time to decide what you should do before taking the risk and moving forward with your plan. Some adventures are fruitful and others lead to pure danger—there's no real governing plan as to figuring out what's safe.
For DM's, you have a complete set of maps, including a bonus maps in the back to help define the area and give players a better sense of where they're headed. You also have the option of purchasing a 54-card Tarokka Deck for the cards involved with the main plot (which we're not spoiling) or you can make them on your own if you so choose. There are amazing opportunities to explore characters and craft a fine story if you're up for the challenge, and there are many ways this story can bend and twist to be something extraordinary before getting back to the main plot. But before you purchase, please keep in mind that this is not an adventure for a first time DM. There are a lot of moving parts and possibilities of where this particular story could go, including an appendix of branched-off storylines and alternative endings to certain events. Especially if certain people don't die early all the way to the end.
Curse Of Strahd is one of the biggest horror/goth/monster books D&D have published in a while, and they're not too afraid to push those elements in your face and remind you that not everything in these worlds is made up of dragons and orcs coming to kill you. Sometimes, it's the people and things you suspect the least. I highly recommend it for people who have experience in D&D with a couple campaigns under their belts. And by that, I mean games you didn't start up only to watch die from other people's schedules—I mean actual games you saw through to the end, DM included. This is the kind of book that if you don't utilize it to it's fullest potential, you will have wasted your money. I'm not saying don't buy it, I'm saying buy it if you know for a fact you can finish what you start. This is a big meal—make sure your stomach is bigger than your eyes.