Posts Tagged ‘Curse of Strahd’

Note: This article first appeared in the Roleplaying Tips Newsletter.

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At the end of a long campaign, I want my players and I to feel totally satisfied. I mean the sort of satisfaction one gets when a story wraps up with no question unanswered. The kind of story that ends with every major character’s arc finished and accounted for.

This is a challenge when there’s only a single person telling a story – just think of all the novels that have left you hanging in one way or another over the years. But when a group of friends gets into collaborative tale-spinning one chapter at a time with long breaks between, it is almost impossible to wrap up everything with a tidy bow.

All that said, it can be done. With a little prep work at the start of your campaign, and by jotting down just a few notes each session, you can stay organized and tie up all your plot threads. As the finale approaches, you’ll weave those threads into a seamless story that will have your players feeling like they just finished watching all of Breaking Bad.

All you need to do is create two simple documents – a campaign outline and a list of plot threads.

Outline Your Campaign

Before your campaign begins, create a loose outline of your story. This outline can take you from the campaign’s first session to its final, or it could simply be the first story arc or adventure.

Map out where you think the characters will be headed, any major NPCs or villains they might encounter, and the quests they are trying to complete.

You know your gaming group best, so plan in as much detail and as far into your campaign as you feel comfortable while outlining.

If your group plays the kind of game in which the game master dictates a majority of the story, feel free to outline in detail if time allows.

If your players are the kind who surprise you and drive every session off the rails, just keep your outline to the big bullet points of your story and the names of important people. I imagine most groups fall somewhere in the middle.

Here’s an example of what an outline looks like at this stage.

  1. The young dragon Melicharo the White has kidnapped Duke Wellington and ransomed him
    1. Duchess Fiona, Wellington’s wife, is looking for adventurers to save him
      1. Wellington was targeted by Melicharo because the duchess has several magic items the dragon wants
      2. Fiona will give one of her magic items as a reward to the adventurers who save Wellington
    2. The adventurers will go into Melicharo’s lair to save Wellington
      1. The lair is a floating glacier that does not melt
      2. Melicharo is allied with a tribe of kobolds who worship him as a god
  2. Duchess Fiona contracts the adventurers to recover more items for her collection
    1. Duchess Fiona is a member of The Shields, a small secret society that keeps dangerous relics out of the hands of evildoers.
    2. Duchess Fiona warns the adventurers that The Society of Genius, an organization of wizards bent on world domination, might be trying to get the same magic items they’re seeking
    3. The party retrieves several items for the duchess and sometimes has run-ins with the Society of Genius
  3. As part of a massive coordinated attack against The Shields, The Society of Genius kills Duchess Fiona and steals the items the adventurers have gathered for her
  4. The adventurers must seek help from the last remaining members of The Shields who have gone into hiding
  5. The adventurers must take on The Society of Genius

In this case, the further I delved into the outline the less detailed it got. The details and the connective tissue of the campaign can be worked out later as you will see below. The characters’ first adventure is most detailed since I need to be ready to roll for the first session.

If you have a specific idea you don’t want to forget (e.g. Duke Wellington is secretly a member of The Society of Genius), add that in your outline too.

If you’re running a sandbox style adventure, your outline will look a little different. Each Roman numeral might be a different event, adventure site, or influential NPC in the area. It could just be a list of those things in bullet points rather than a formal outline format.

How your outline looks is up to you, as long as you know what it means.

Add PC Backgrounds

If you’re running a longer campaign with a lot of plot threads, odds are your players might create some sort of backstory for their characters. It might be built into the system you’re playing, it could be something you ask the players to write, or you could send them a questionnaire with prompts.

Many players use this as an opportunity to introduce new plot threads into your game. A backstory thread could be a task the PC is trying to complete, such as hunting down a sibling’s murderer or garner enough money to bail a loved one out of jail. Likewise, a character could be running from something in a backstory like a cult or jilted lover.

After you get these backstories it’s time to begin a new document: a list of plot threads. This one is easy to create. Just list all the open plot threads you have at the start of a campaign.

Here’s what the plot thread document for my sample campaign might look like after receiving the PC backstories:

  • Duke Wellington has been captured and ransomed by the dragon Melicharo
  • Duchess Fiona works for The Shields and will ask adventurers who impress her to recover relics
  • The Society of Genius is seeking the same items as The Shields
  • Thog (half-orc barbarian) is searching for the necromancer who killed his brother
  • Rhea (human wizard) needs enough gold for a diamond to raise her old mentor from the dead so she can learn the location of his old spellbook
  • Tippy Shortstockings (halfling rogue) is running from her old thieves’ guild after she stole the thief queen’s crown
  • Grimbeard McShandy (dwarf cleric) lost track of his husband years ago after he disappeared mysteriously in the night

After I gather these threads I incorporate some or all of them into my outline. As the threads are worked in, I cross them off. The first three are already crossed-off, since they are included in the original outline. If I can’t find a place for a new thread in the outline, I let it remain uncrossed. I’m going to revisit the list after each session to see what’s changed (more on that later).

See how the outline looks now that I’ve added some of the backstory plot threads? Note I’ve added a side quests section to the outline now, as not every thread applies to the overarching plot of the campaign. I can work those side quests in as I see fit.

For a sandbox campaign, there really is no such thing as a side quest, so the outline would be different as each quest would be its own category with a Roman numeral.

  1. The young dragon Melicharo the White has kidnapped Duke Wellington and ransomed her
    1. Duchess Fiona, Wellington’s wife, is looking for adventurers to save him
      1. Wellington was targeted by Melicharo because the duchess has several magic items the dragon wants
      2. Fiona will give one of her magic items as a reward to the adventurers who save Wellington
    2. The adventurers will go into Melicharo’s lair to save Wellington
      1. The lair is a floating glacier that does not melt
      2. Melicharo is allied with a tribe of kobolds who worship him as a god
      3. Melicharo has a large diamond in his hoard that could be used by Rhea to bring her old mentor back to life
  2. Duchess Fiona contracts the adventurers to recover more items for her collection
    1. Duchess Fiona is a member of The Shields, a small secret society that keeps dangerous relics out of the hands of evildoers
    2. Duchess Fiona warns the adventurers that The Society of Genius, an organization of wizards bent on world domination, might be trying to get the same magic items they’re seeking
    3. The party retrieves several items for the duchess and sometimes has run-ins with the Society of Genius
    4. During the course of these adventures, Tippy’s old thieves’ guild strikes while the characters are away and steals one of the recovered magic items
      1. The guild threatens to sell the item to The Society of Genius unless the thief queen’s crown is returned
      2. The party must find the thieves’ guild and decide how to deal with them
  3. As part of a massive coordinated attack against The Shields, The Society of Genius kills Duchess Fiona and steals the items the adventurers have gathered for her
  4. The adventurers must seek help from the last remaining members of The Shields who have gone into hiding
  5. The adventurers must take on The Society of Genius
  6. Side Quests
    1. At night Grimbeard McShandy keeps receiving prophetic dreams of his missing husband screaming in pain

As you can see, there’s still room for more detail and side quests. Thog’s thread has yet to be incorporated into the outline. After this it’s a quick cross-off of the Rhea, Tippy, and Grimbeard bullet points on the thread list. Thog’s bullet point remains uncrossed as it has yet to be worked into the plot.

It helps if you keep both these documents in some sort of digital form, preferably in a cloud-based storage system like Google Drive. If your campaign takes years and you change devices or move, it helps these all-important campaign tracking documents remain intact.

Once you’ve worked all the backstory threads you want into your outline, you’re ready to start playing. When the campaign gets underway, a few notes each session will go a long way.

Take Notes

Whether it’s during the session or right after, take note of any new threads that have opened up during your game. If you want to bring back the goblin who managed to run away as a magically enhanced megavillain seeking revenge on the party for the death of her friends, you should write that down before you forget. A quick note will do, just something to jog your memory.

Sometimes you’ll get an idea for a new plot thread totally outside the realm of gaming. You might be grabbing a cup of coffee in the break room, watching a child’s soccer game, or playing a video game and think, “I should bring that into my game.” Take note of these ideas too. Gone are the days of needing to have a piece of paper and something to write with in order to remember a great idea. If you’ve got a phone, you’ve got a note-taking application.

When you sit down to plan your next session, take a minute and add your new ideas into the open plot thread document. Our updated sample looks like this after the first session.

  • Duke Wellington has been captured and ransomed by the dragon Melicharo.
  • Duchess Fiona works for The Shields and will ask adventurers who impress her to recover relics.
  • The Society of Genius is seeking the same items as The Shields.
  • Thog (half-orc barbarian) is searching for the necromancer who killed his brother.
  • Rhea (human wizard) needs enough gold for a diamond to raise her old mentor from the dead so she can learn the location of his old spellbook.
  • Tippy Shortstockings (halfling rogue) is running from her old thieves’ guild after she stole the thief queen’s crown.
  • Grimbeard McShandy (dwarf cleric) lost track of his husband years ago after he disappeared mysteriously in the night.
  • The kobold shaman Skull-Skull in Melicharo's lair escaped after watching his friends die at the hands of the adventurers and promised revenge.
  • In Grimbeard McShandy's dreams, his husband is being tortured by an otherworldly creature called a feldyra, a monster that slowly steals the life force of others and lives in a literal nightmare realm.
  • Rhea has the diamond to bring back her mentor.
  • Tippy is trying to seduce Duke Wellington and he seems into it...
  • Duke Wellington is tired of playing second fiddle to his wife and is secretly a member of The Society of Genius.
  • Melicharo's mother, Brindratharix, is out there and coming for the adventurers. When she learns The Society of Genius is searching for them, she joins forces.

After that, take a few minutes and update your outline just like you did with the character backstories. Check the old uncrossed threads too. You might be able to incorporate those. Just like last time, it’s fine to leave off any threads you can’t work into the outline. Leave them uncrossed. Here’s our sample with the new information.

  1. The young dragon Melicharo the White has kidnapped Duke Wellington and ransomed her
    1. Duchess Fiona, Wellington’s wife, is looking for adventurers to save him
      1. Wellington was targeted by Melicharo because the duchess has several magic items the dragon wants
      2. Fiona will give one of her magic items as a reward to the adventurers who save Wellington
    2. The adventurers will go into Melicharo’s lair to save Wellington
      1. The lair is a floating glacier which does not melt
      2. Melicharo is allied with a tribe of kobolds who worship him as a god
      3. Melicharo has a large diamond in his hoard which could be used by Rhea to bring her old mentor back to life
  2. Duchess Fiona contracts the adventurers to recover more items for her collection
    1. Duchess Fiona is a member of The Shields, a small secret society that keeps dangerous relics out of the hands of evildoers
    2. Duchess Fiona warns the adventurers that The Society of Genius, an organization of wizards bent on world domination, might be trying to get the same magic items they’re seeking
    3. The party retrieves several items for the duchess and sometimes has run-ins with the Society of Genius
    4. During the course of these adventures, Tippy’s old thieves’ guild strikes while the characters are away and steals one of the recovered magic items
      1. The guild threatens to sell the item to The Society of Genius unless the thief queen’s crown is returned
      2. The party must find the thieve’s guild and decide how to deal with them
  3. As part of a massive coordinated attack against The Shields, The Society of Genius kills Duchess Fiona and steals the items the adventurers have gathered for her
    1. Duke Wellington is gone. As a secret member of The Society of Genius, he got the inside information from his wife and helped plan the attacks.
  4. The adventurers must seek help from the last remaining members of The Shields who have gone into hiding
  5. The adventurers must take out the allies of The Society of Genius to weaken them
    1. Brindratharix is supporting them and in her son's old lair
    2. Tippy's old thieves' guild may align themselves with The Society of Genius after interacting with them
  6. The adventurers must take on The Society of Genius
    1. At some point Thog will face his brother's killer
  7. Side Quests
    1. At night Grimbeard McShandy keeps receiving prophetic dreams of his missing husband screaming in pain
      1. Grimbeard McShandy must find a way to enter the nightmare realm to save his husband from a feldyra
      2. If he does not rescue his husband in 90 days, his husband will die from the feldyra's constant feeding
    2. Rhea brings her mentor back from death
      1. His old spellbook was rigged to teleport into a secret underground prison for vampires in the event of his death
        1. The prison used to be run by lycanthropes friendly to the mentor, but since his death the vampires broke free and control the place
        2. The head vampire found the spellbook and is currently using it to keep his leadership position
      2. The mentor is familiar with the necromancer who killed Thog's brother
        1. Necromancer is a member of The Society of Genius
        2. Was a former student of the mentor
    3. Skull-Skull will return with his Ettin friend to stomp the party

Once you start playing, a single plot thread can spawn a lot of ideas. Some are side quests and others take place further down the road. But now you’ve got an idea of how the story can be connected and how to work it into your game. You won’t leave anything hanging unless you want to.

Tie Up Threads As You Go

Weave threads together over the course of the story. Do not save every thread for the final session. In the early days of running games, I kept all threads, major and minor, open until the very end of a campaign. It made for an almost comical finale.

Until the last session, every recurring villain got away, the characters never fully confronted their shady pasts, every missing person important to the party stayed missing… you get the idea. It felt like the final episode of a television series canceled mid-season. There was a hasty wrap-up.

If you close threads along the way throughout the campaign, you’ll be surprised at how much richer your story becomes.

Tying up many threads earlier will create new ones for you. As you can see in the example above, the party’s wizard raises her mentor and it leads to new revelations and quests. This gives the story extra layers of plot and creates a deeper tale that’s more satisfying when all is done.

It may seem overwhelming at first, but if you take a few notes each session and a few minutes to update your outline between games, you’re going to accomplish telling a spectacular, complete story.

End the Campaign

When it comes time to start bringing your story to a conclusion, you’ll need to start tying up plot threads. I know my game master brain can’t stop introducing new ideas, which is totally fine, but at some point you need make sure you’re closing down more plot threads then you’re adding to have everything wrapped up by the story’s conclusion.

It’s cliche, but true – all good things must come to an end. Some campaigns continue on until the gaming group breaks up and the story just fizzles out, but to get the most out of this method, you need to bring it home. If you outline at the start, take notes, update, and tie up threads throughout, your gaming group will want the campaign to end. The satisfaction of completing an epic story together will propel you into your next adventure together.

Roll20CON Wrap-Up!

I also just wanted to thank everyone who made the Roll20CON livestream awesome. Your support, views, and encouragement mean more than you know!

You can checkout both our games in the links below. The first Dungeons and Dragons game with Rudy Basso, Nadja Otikor, James D’Amato, Richard Zayas, and Greg Bilsland starts in the first video around the 03:09:10 mark. The second game with Anna Prosser Robinson, Holly Conrad, Jared Knabenbaur, and Chris Perkins starts in the first video around the 12:20:25 mark and continues into the second.

https://player.twitch.tv/?video=v70242239

https://player.twitch.tv/?video=v70365584

Thanks to everyone involved. All players were amazing. Roll20 folks were amazing. The audience and community were amazing. The other games and panels were amazing. I was amazed.

Two announcements to come out of this…

  1. Roll20 will be putting out a FREE starter adventure designed by yours truly with maps from Russ Hapke and Gabriel Pickard, puzzle tiles from Stephen Shomo, and tokens from Phillip Wright. If you’ve never played on Roll20 or if you’ve never played fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons or if both of those statements apply to you, this is the adventure that will teach you how. If you’re an expert with both it’s still a fun time. We played through the adventure in the first game I DMed.
  2. During the second game we played Merric Blackman‘s adventure Death in the Cornfields (with a little Tarokka Expansion mixed in). It is an awesome mystery that can be played in one session. Do it.

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

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I told you my last blog post was a preview for my upcoming DMs Guild product, well now it’s here! Tarokka Expansion gives you a bunch of new options for the tarokka deck you bought for Curse of Strahd. With this product you can…

  • Use the tarokka deck as a randomizer instead of dice on any random table (including encounter and treasure tables).
  • Use the tarokka deck and the corresponding Tarokka Deck Critical Hit Effects table whenever a creature scores a critical hit to make those 20s pack a little more punch.
  • Use the tarokka deck and the corresponding Tarokka Deck Critical Failure Effects table whenever a creature scores a critical failure to make those 1s misdirected awesomes instead of automatic misses.
  • Introduce a new NPC villain into Curse of Strahd or any gothic horror game. The Collector uses the tarokka deck to summon creatures, cast spells, and curse adventurers who cross her path.

TarokkaExpansion20160601_Cover

This product will be making an appearance during my 2PM Pacific time game during Roll20CON. As of this posting – Roll20CON is tomorrow! Check out the schedule below! You’ll notice I’m running two fifth edition games during the 24-hour live stream with some of the biggest names in Dungeons and Dragons including…

schedule4

If you haven’t heard about Roll20CON yet, the info is below!

The free, online-only celebration of the Roll20 Community will take place on June 3rd, 2016 for just 24 hours – but you can start preparing, listing, and joining games now! From 12AM – 11:59PM Pacific time, there will be games galore played on my favorite virtual table. You’ll want to join in the action and get to try some of the Plus and Pro subscription features for free. That’s right. Dynamic Lighting (and tons of other awesome features) will be free during Roll20CON.

During the convention, some of your favorite streamers, publishers, podcasters, and I will be live onTwitch helping raise money for Cybersmile, the international non-profit supporting victims of cyberbullying.

Needless to say I am thrilled about this and nervous. I’d love your support and love on game day. So if you’re around at 5AM or 2PM Pacific time on June 3, 2016, check out Twitch and watch us play D&D!

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

My Tarokka deck needs something to do.

It’s not that I don’t love the purchase. It’s a wonderful item with a lot of great art. Worth every penny. But I feel like I can make it worth more.

As I mentioned in my one-shot Strahd post, I’m not currently playing Curse of Strahd. Even if I were, I’d want to make expanded use of the Tarokka deck. It’s great for readings, but wouldn’t it be awesome if it could be used for random encounters, treasure tables, and more? It totally can.

Tarokkas and Random Tables

Whether you’re playing Curse of Strahd or not, you can draw cards from your Tarokka deck instead of rolling dice on a random table for encounters, treasure, and more. I’ve made it super easy for you and myself by writing out the numbers on a table below.

I’m aware that other than the d6 column, these cards don’t perfectly correspond to the same probability as a throw of an actual die. If this were a saving throw, ability check, attack or damage roll, I wouldn’t allow it. For a DM’s random table this is close enough. It’s as good as it’s going to get without adding extra cards to the deck!

Making players draw these cards themselves for treasure and encounters is especially fun. It adds a moment of drama at the table as you whip out the cards and ask them to draw. Psychologically it also shifts the onus of the result on the player as the others watch, hoping for a good result.

Check out the table below, or grab it in the link below as a PDF or from the Free Game Resources section of this site.

Tarokka Deck as Dice

Tarokka Deck as DiceA Little Preview

This post is actually a little preview of an upcoming DMs Guild product I’m working on. It’s a recurring encounter for Curse of Strahd that involves a magic Tarokka deck. To learn more about this side trek, you’ll have to wait for next week and watch my game with Chris Perkins during…

Roll20CON

If you haven’t heard about Roll20CON yet, the info is below!

The free, online-only celebration of the Roll20 Community will take place on June 3rd, 2016 for just 24 hours – but you can start preparing, listing, and joining games now! From 12AM – 11:59PM Pacific time, there will be games galore played on my favorite virtual table. You’ll want to join in the action and get to try some of the Plus and Pro subscription features for free. That’s right. Dynamic Lighting (and tons of other awesome features) will be free during Roll20CON.

During the convention, some of your favorite streamers, publishers, podcasters, and I will be live on Twitch helping raise money for Cybersmile, the international non-profit supporting victims of cyberbullying.

If you haven’t seen the schedule for Roll20CON check it out below. You’ll notice I’m running two games during the 24-hour live stream with some of the biggest names in Dungeons and Dragons including my good friend Rudy Basso of the Tome Show’s D&D V&G podcast and Have Spellbook, Will Travel, Nadja Otikor of Misscliks D&D Prophecy, Greg Bilsland of Wizards of the Coast and member of the Dungeons and Dragons team, and, oh yeah, Chris Freakin’ Perkins, a Wizards of the Coast D&D employee who needs no introduction.

Needless to say I am thrilled about this and nervous. I’d love your support and love on game day. So if you’re around at 5AM or 2PM Pacific time on June 3, 2016, check out Twitch and watch us play D&D!

schedule3

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of my podcast, The Round Table, is up on The Tome Show’s website.


I sit down with Round Table newbies Michael Ambyth and Seth Zolin to discuss Gothic Heroes, the latest Unearthed Arcana article, and Chris Cocks being named the new president of Wizards of the Coast. Then it’s an interview with James D’Amato of the One Shot Podcast to discuss the Noisy Person Cards Kickstarter. This podcast was recorded on April 11 and 16, 2016.


DMs Guild Pick of the Episode: D&D 5e Player Cheat Sheet


Please rate and review The Tome Show on iTunes! It only takes 30 seconds and helps us a bunch!


Links:


If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, Bonus Action and Gamer to Gamer, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

Halloween is great. Yeah, I know I’m about seven months too early. The release of Curse of Strahd has me thinking about all the awesome things that happen during the season. This most recent Halloween had me sitting at a table playing a fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons conversion of the original I6 Ravenloft module DMed by the one and only Mike Shea. Every year he runs a group through the adventure in an afternoon. Mike isn’t the only person who runs Ravenloft as a one shot during Halloween. When I reviewed the classic adventure on The Tome Show, the amazing Jeff Greiner said he does the same. I imagine they might both try to run Curse of Strahd this coming Halloween as a one shot. Gentlemen, this post is for you.

When I read through Curse of Strahd, it gave me all sorts of D&D hankerings for gothic horror. I want to stake vamps, silver-stab werewolves, and flap with the wereravens. But I’m a busy guy. I already run about four games on and off. There is no way I have time for a fifth consistently and my other groups are invested in the stories they’re currently playing through. They don’t want to take a 6-month break to play another adventure. I could easily wait to play Curse of Strahd, but I don’t want to. If only there was a way to get my fix in a one shot adventure session… Turns out there is. Read on friends and I will show you how to run Curse of Strahd as a one shot. All you need is some friends for about 4 – 12 hours on a single day and you can get a quicky vamp fix.

Step 1! Review Chapter 4 – Castle Ravenloft

You should read the rest of the adventure too because it’s a great read, but get familiar with this chapter in particular. If you’re going to play only part of Curse of Strahd (which is what you need to do if you want to play it as a one shot), then play the most iconic part. There’s a reason the first adventure was simply called Ravenloft. The crawl through the namesake castle captures the heart of the story. Castle Ravenloft isn’t just a location, it’s Strahd’s partner in crime. It’s also by far the longest chapter in the book so it allows you as the DM to mine the most game meat.

In this one shot version you will only visit Castle Ravenloft. You are missing out on some other sweet stuff in the adventure (more on that below), but you are also playing the most important part of the story! This is about getting a quick Strahd fix. The best way to do that is pure, uncut Castle Ravenloft right in your RPG brain.

Step 2! Begin at Level 9 with Barovian Backstories

Have your players make level 9 characters. Why? That’s level the adventure recommends PCs be before they enter Castle Ravenloft. Considering how thoroughly Wizards of the Coast seems to playtest these adventures, I trust this is the appropriate level for characters to not get slaughtered wholesale in the castle, but also keeps the encounters challenging. In other words it hits the fun bullseye.

The big twist is to ask your players to make characters who have lived in Barovia for at least a few months. Maybe one is an adventurer who got taken by the mists long ago and just figured out the only way to leave Barovia is by slaying Strahd. Another could have specifically come to hunt the vampire and has finally amassed a team strong enough to take out the villain. Yet another adventurer could have been born in Barovia and after a life of being terrorized by Strahd, the character is ready to stand up to the monster. Let your players have fun with the ideas. Remember to have them tie their backgrounds together since you’ll be jumping right into the action.

Step 3! Start the Adventure on the Way to Castle Ravenloft

When you’re ready to start playing, read or paraphrase the following text.

Your black carriage rockets through the chilly night air, wild horses speeding you through the woods toward your final destination – Castle Ravenloft. You’ve been preparing for this assault for some time and still your stomach churns in knots of fear. A lone wolf howls in the night as you swallow back your vomit and think of the task before you. To free Barovia and its people from the clutches of monster and mist, Strahd von Zarovich must die. Many have tried before you, but none have triumphed.

The smell of incense burns in your nose. Madam Eva, the old, hunched Vistani woman with piercing eyes and a strange smile, sits in the carriage with you. The fortune-teller offered to take you in her carriage to the castle in exchange for having your fortunes read. At the time it seemed a good way to avoid the wolves and other dangers of the wood, but looking into her inscrutable face, you can’t be sure. Madam Eva pulls a deck of tarokka cards from a box in her lap. She shuffles the cards and begins setting them on a small table in the middle of the carriage…

Madam Eva then reads the characters their fortunes as outlined in step 4. Once the carriage delivers the adventurers to the front courtyard of Castle Ravenloft, the horses and Madam Eva run off into the night.

Step 4! Fortunes of Ravenloft

Ravenloft and now Curse of Strahd are hailed as some of the most re-playable modules of all time because the Fortunes of Ravenloft feature (pages 11 – 18 in Curse of Strahd). This card reading determines the location of important items within the story. Different card readings mean the adventurers are going to visit different locations each time they play the adventure. These items are spread throughout the lands of Barovia in Curse of Strahd. (The original adventure, Ravenloft, places all the story items within Castle Ravenloft.) Since the one shot version of Curse of Strahd really only takes place in Castle Ravenloft, you need to set the deck up so you don’t end up with any items outside of that location. Here’s how you want to set up your cards.

Put only the following cards in the common deck:

  • Paladin (2 of Swords/Spades)
  • Mercenary (4 of Swords/Spades)
  • Berserker (6 of Swords/Spades)
  • Dictator (8 of Swords/Spades)
  • Warrior (Master of Swords/10 of Spades)
  • Transmuter (1 of Stars/Ace of Clubs)
  • Evoker (6 of Stars/Clubs)
  • Necromancer (8 of Stars/Clubs)
  • Swashbuckler (1 of Coins/Ace of Diamonds)
  • Merchant (4 of Coins/Diamonds)
  • Guild Member (5 of Coins/Diamonds)
  • Miser (9 of Coins/Diamonds)
  • Shepherd (4 of Glyphs/Hearts)
  • Anarchist (6 of Glyphs/Hearts)
  • Priest (Master of Glyphs/10 of Hearts)

Now when you do the Fortunes of Ravenloft reading for the first three cards, all the items will be in Castle Ravenloft.

The only other change you need to make is with card 4. When you draw card 4 from the high deck, draw a second card and put it next to card 4. We’ll call these cards 4A and 4B respectively. 4A tells you which of Strahd’s enemies will aid the characters as normal. Card 4B tells you where you can find the ally in Castle Ravenloft. To determine this use the Strahd’s Location in the Castle section on pages 17 and 18 of Curse of Strahd. For instance if card 4A is the Mists (Queen of Spades) which corresponds to Ezmerelda d’Avenir and card 4B is the Beast (Jack of Diamonds) which corresponds to the audience hall, then the characters can find Ezmerelda d’Avenir in the audience hall. You’ll need to have a motivation for the NPC to be in the castle. The two most obvious are the ally has also come to kill Strahd or was captured by Strahd. Those work for most of the NPC allies. If the character is a servant of Strahd, like the Vistani assassin Arrigal, they might be in the castle because they have business with the vampire.

You can lay your one shot reading out like this.

You can lay your one shot reading out like this.

Note that Ghost (King of Hearts) ally B, Sir Klutz, and Marionette (Jack of Hearts) ally A, Pidlwick II, already have starting locations in Castle Ravenloft. If you draw these cards as 4A and want to use those ally options, either change their location according to the 4B card or ignore the 4B card.

Step 5! Get Hunting

Now play through Chapter 4 of Curse of Strahd. Meet interesting people, fight terrifying monsters, explore a spooky castle, and stake a vamp.

What You Lose

Is this the ideal way to run Curse of Strahd? For many the answer is no. You miss out on 11 other awesome chapters of content. You don’t walk the sad streets of Barovia, you don’t enter a creepy mill, and you don’t get to visit the Amber Temple. What you do get is the chance to take down Strahd, a fun afternoon of gothic horror, and a crawl through one of the most iconic D&D dungeons ever.

Good News – Modularity

The good news about Curse of Strahd is that it’s totally modular and re-playable. Playing a single chapter of the adventure during a one shot does not ruin the enjoyment of a second (or third or fourth) play-through of the same chapter or even the entire adventure. If you’ve been hankering to try Curse of Strahd, but haven’t had the time, or you just want Halloween to come early, why not give my one shot Strahd method a try?

What do you think? Sound off in the comments below!

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my podcasts, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends about the blog, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of my podcast, The Round Table, is up on The Tome Show’s website.


I sit down with Allison RossiNeal Powell, and Round Table newbie Michael Robbins to discuss the latest Curse of Strahd previews – the Haunted One background and the Death House adventure. This podcast was recorded on February 28, 2016.


Noble Knight pick of the episode – Ravenloft



DMs Guild pick of the episode – Recipe Crafting for Consumables

 

Please rate and review The Tome Show on iTunes! It helps us so much and only takes 30 seconds!

Links:

If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, Bonus Action and Gamer to Gamer, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!

A new episode of my podcast, The Round Table, is up on The Tome Show’s website.


I sit down with four of the six Adventurers League admins – Bill Benham, Resource Manager, Greg Marks, Associate Resource Manager, Travis Woodall, Content Manager, and Robert Adducci, Community Manager. We talk about the Curse of Strahd storyline and how it affects the D&D Adventurers League. Then it’s an interview with Ross Watson about his Kickstarter for the relaunch of Strike Force for the Champions RPG. This podcast was recorded on January 13 and 28, 2015.


Noble Knight pick of the episode: Ravenloft


DMs Guild pick of the episode: Monster Codex: Underdark Enemies


Please rate and review us on iTunes, it helps a boat load!


If you like what you’re reading please follow me on Twitter, check out my other podcasts, Bonus Action and Gamer to Gamer, find my products on the DMs Guild, tell your friends, and/or leave me a comment and let me know you think. Thanks!


I sit down with Allison Rossi, Rudy Basso, and Round Table newbie Patrick Dennis to discuss the official Curse of Strahd announcement. Then it’s a bonus panel with Liz TheisRich HowardDave Gibson, and Topher Kohan dishing on the free Adventurers League adventure The Occupation of Szith Morcane available through Dragon+ and on the DMs Guild. Then it’s an interview with designers Gregory Schulze and Stone Lovecharm of Creepy Assassin about their new RPG StoryCube. This podcast was recorded on January 12 and 22, 2016.




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