I’ve been running one of my groups through Curse of Strahd for nigh on 16 months now. Tonight, with any luck, they will overcome their aversion to Castle Ravenloft and finally enter the castle, signalling the start of the dramatic final chapter of the adventure.
Of course, Curse of Strahd is the 5th Edition remake (and expansion) of the classic 1st Edition (I6) Ravenloft adventure written by Tracy and Laura Hickman. Ravenloft has been suggested to be the greatest Dungeons & Dragons adventure of all time – a statement that I would heartily agree with.
Back in 1983 when Ravenloft first appeared in print, I was 12 and pretty much frozen with terror at the prospect of running such a huge and intricate adventure. It’s open sandbox nature and the incredibly complex and detailed isometric maps of the titular Castle Ravenloft struck fear into my heart as a DM.
I didn’t actually own Ravenloft back then. In 1980’s Scotland, access to rulebooks and adventures was difficult. There was no internet, no Amazon to order direct from. The game stores of the time carried a limited stock of adventures, leaving you to buy what they had as opposed to what you wanted. I did however know people who did own it and I saw enough of it to convince myself that I was incapable of running it.
Fast forward 36 years and my party are a black carriage ride away from the most iconic D&D location of them all.
When I say iconic, I mean iconic. I can’t think of many D&D locations which have inspired people to build Minecraft equivalents. It’s a living, breathing monster in it’s own right and any party would do well to tread carefully within it’s walls.
Strahd von Zarovich himself is as iconic as his famous castle. Like the Six Million Dollar Vampire he has been remade and remodelled in the image of every D&D edition in the decades since Ravenloft was first released. “He is ancient, he is the land” after all. He even has his own Twitter account these days. Strahd and Ravenloft feature even as a playable storyline in the Neverwinter MMORPG on console and PC.
Of course, I’m no longer intimidated by Ravenloft. I think I’m a good DM by this stage. An experienced DM. I’ve DM’d this party through pretty much every other part of Barovia, completionists that they are. It no longer holds any fear for me. In fact, I’m looking forward to it. The isometric maps are still challenging – more so considering that I DM over Fantasy Grounds where the expectation of a visual top-down map is high. Besides, running a party through a twisty, turny, scary beast like Castle Ravenloft using theatre of the mind doesn’t bear thinking about. I hope I’m well prepared enough though, thanks to the purchase of some top down maps from the DMs Guild.
And so they will soon stand at the doors of Ravenloft. The best bit of the adventure is yet to come. They get to conclude their character’s story arc and I put a few ghosts to bed, along with a certain vampire.
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.