Skip to content

Curse of Strahd – Pushing Myself

I’ve been back playing D&D for just over a year and a half now and for pretty much all of that time I’ve been DMing rather than playing. I’ve been running a long term campaign since May 2016 which started with Lost Mine of Phandelver, continuing on through some (at times ropey) homebrew before settling into some Yawning Portal content (namely White Plume Mountain with a plan to segue into Dead in Thay afterwards).

The sandbox nature of the Phandalin portion of LMOP was pretty intimidating given I was basically a new DM (or at least a DM who hadn’t DM’d for 23 years). I got through it though, largely because LMOP’s sandbox element is still slightly railroady and the side quests aren’t particularly complex encounters.

Recently though, I decided to push myself and with a new group, decided to run the mother of all sandbox adventures that is Curse of Strahd. Even a year and a half into my DMing re-awakening, running Strahd is a terrifying prospect. Some of the locations are sizeable (Argynvostholt, Abbey of St Markovia, Vallaki) and often politically and narratively complex. All of this is compounded by the fact that I started Strahd without reading through the whole book. My life is busy. This has meant a certain amount of anticipating where the party might go next. No easy feat in an adventure where the hooks in any particular session could lead them anywhere.

The town of Vallaki is particularly complex. Locations which you can usually ‘wing’ such as the local inn, are large and detailed locations with their own battlemap and room by room descriptions. Most of these rooms are in some way pertinent to the story and can’t be ignored or moulded into a generic ‘inn experience’. There’s a real need to be prepared for every eventuality.

With that comes the flip side of that need to prepare in depth – the fact that (as happened to me) your players can choose to just breeze past carefully crafted encounters which shape the whole adventure (Madame Eva for instance), leaving you to figure out how to either guide the players back there or how to reintroduce those key plot elements in a different way.

Curse of Strahd is probably my favourite published adventure of all the adventures I’ve ever run in any system. It has depth beyond belief, a pulsating story line and a villain who knocks all other villains into irrelevance. It’s also a sign of my growing confidence as a DM that I would even attempt to run it. God knows, I sweated over it for about 9 months before even daring to attempt running it.

I think largely I’m up to the challenge. There are still a lot of places where the wheels could come off the bus but both myself and the group are having lots of fun. We had to end the last session half way through the battle in the Coffin Maker’s Shop and we’re all keen to get back to it tomorrow night.

I feel that if I can get a handle on running Strahd then I can get a handle on anything. Then the DM will not only have returned but returned in a blaze of glory. And mist. Don’t forget the mist.

Return of the DM View All

I am a 40 something DM/GM located in Scotland. In 2016, I rediscovered the joys of tabletop role-playing games. This blog documents my journey back into the fold.

6 thoughts on “Curse of Strahd – Pushing Myself Leave a comment

  1. Enjoying your posts. I’ve been playing D&D off and on since about 1980, DMing most of that time. I’ve suffered from DM “burnout” a lot the last few years, so good to hear your concerns as you jump back into the game, they seem to mirror my own. Keep rolling though!


    • Glad you are enjoying the posts, and thanks for commenting. I get what you mean about DM burnout. It’s hard to read through Xanathar’s Guide to Everything for instance and know that I’m unlikely ever to play any of those Archetypes myself. That said, I did start off trying to find games (as a player) on Roll20 but I have a weird schedule (due to family commitments) and it’s not easy to find a game that met my needs. Even when I found one, it was oversubscribed to the point of the ridiculous, which is a common problem when trying to find an online game as a player on Roll20. By opting to DM, I control the schedule and frequency of the game and obviously don’t ever have a problem getting a space at the table. I run all my games through Fantasy Grounds now having switched my Curse of Strahd campaign over from Roll20 (and my goodness what a difference it made). Hope you get a game soon. I’ll let you know if I ever have an opening.


      • I’m interested in why you prefer Fantasy Grounds over Roll20. Because of distance my group has been moving away from face-to-face sessions to Roll20. My experience with Fantasy Grounds has been limited but seemed mature but maybe a bit limited. I’m interested because the prep time with Roll20 can be pretty involved. Is Fantasy Grounds better there?

        I do get to play occasionally, so not all bad. And I don’t mind DMing, but tough to keep it fresh, especially when some of my players I gamed with in high school (a VERY long time ago!), hence the burnout.


  2. Fantasy Grounds tops Roll20 every time because of the integration of the 5e Ruleset plus the ease of setting up and running encounters. It does all the heavy lifting for the DM, leaving you more time to play. This is quite important for our group as some of our midweek sessions can occasionally be as short as 2 hours long so every second counts. Combat uses really easy drag and drop functionality and auto tracks (and applies the effects of) conditions. None of these things are supported in Roll20 making it very manual. Some people like that because it’s more like the tabletop game it should be. They like flicking through rules to see what spells do etc. Personally, I find that in an online game, silence while people consult rulebooks is ten times as deafening and we all prefer a quick resolution over a long time consulting and manually applying the rules. I actually own the official Curse of Strahd release for both Roll20 and FG and running it in FG is just so much easier. It’s really unbelievable. Clickable maps, draggable encounters, easy to apply XP. All out of the box whereas Roll20 needs a pro subscription and a whole series of scripts to do the same, and even then it’s not as good. All of this said though, I still use Roll20 for running one-shots in other rulesets which aren’t fully supported in FG, such as 13th Age.


  3. I’m also currently DMing Curse of Strahd and it is the first campaign I’ve ever DM’d. My players just got to Vallaki and I’ve found it very stressful so far. 😂😂 I’ve found that reading the book and writing my own notes has been the most beneficial for me personally, but it does take a lot of time. 😩 Anyway, I wish you the best of luck! ☺️☺️


    • Thank you. Best of luck to you too. Strahd is a big chunk to bite off for your first campaign as a DM. Very brave. Strahd on the whole is a stressful campaign to run. It’s huge and it’s a sandbox which means you kind of have to be prepared for every eventuality which is a real challenge even for the more experienced DM. Vallaki is the most stressful location in the whole adventure. You’ve got so many different factions, alliances and motives just within the NPCs who reside there and it can pretty much send the party off in any number of directions, all of which you have to have at least a bare bones idea of how to run in order to run it successfully. Even within the town there are three sizeable locations to explore (Blue Water Inn, The Burgomaster’s Mansion and Wachterhaus) which need to be prepped. In fact, my group went straight to Vallaki to the Burgomaster’s House and I was woefully underprepared. I hadn’t expected them to reach Vallaki that session as there were a few places en route that I’d prepped (Madame Eva, Old Bonegrinder etc). Unfortunately they just blasted onwards to Vallaki, and because I don’t agree with throwing in a random encounter just to pad out my session, I had to roll with it. Thankfully there was only ten minutes left of our session so I just owned up to my lack of preparedness and suggested holding off until next session. It’s cool to do that and your players will always appreciate that honesty more than they will appreciate you making a plot-busting mistake due to winging it.

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Chasing my Hunger

We all have a hunger. Well said Florence. Here is a humble attempt to recount my chase.

Double Jump

Two sisters geeking out.

Jimmi Waz 'Ere

Blogging Miniature Wargames

Andrew J. Luther

Fantasy novelist and roleplayer

Diane Morrison

Speculative Fiction Writer


The best longform stories on the web

Dyson's Dodecahedron

Award Winning Dungeon Design

D&D Sage Advice

Questions on Dungeons & Dragons answered by game designers

Non-Washable Gamer

Games, Movies, Writing and other Creative Nonsense, Sometimes With Friends!

Alexandra Peel

Flailing Through Life

%d bloggers like this: