Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Curse of Strahd: Actual Play 4

This session was a shit show. We started about an hour late because of too much chit-chat and some people being 20 min late. the party headed back from Yester Hill to Vallaki, stopping at the Wizard of Wines and Krezk along the way.

First, at the winery, they had the audacity to ask for compensation for bringing the gem back. Even after Martikov reminded them that he found valuable information in his ledger about where a guildmember might be buried and didn't ask for anything (other than them leaving his house). So, Martikov knows they have the gem and sends his kin back to Vallaki ahead of them.

They go to Krezk to make sure Strahd hasn't burned it down. He hasn't, so they head back to Vallaki. Along the way I roll the skeletal rider random encounter. They pursue him and easily take him down, learning nothing.

Back in Vallaki, they learn Rictavio has hastily left town and meet Gadof Blinsky, to my delight. Everyone loved it, and they bought an Ireena doll and a Strahd doll. Ezmerelda showed up late because Vistani aren't welcome in Villaki, and they had heard from Ireena and Ismark there was a strange man staring at them for a while. Putting together clues from the toy shop and the Inn, they realize Izek has some shady interest in Ireena. Ezmerelda asks them what they'll do about Ireena since she's not safe, so they pursue the St. Andral's Bones hook a bit.

The party talks to the orphans in the town square where they were gathering before the parade. They get Yeska to come with them while the paladin has a biggest-dick competition with Izek when he comes to round up the children for the parade. It was a great scene, with Izek being much smarmier than they expected. Gaining info from Yeska, they confront Milivoj about the bones and he admits the Coffinmaker paid him. At this point, however, the festival is about to start.

The blood hunter sticks around the inn, hoping he can hide and not attend the parade while the others look for the coffin maker around the town square. For some ungodly reason, the blood hunter starts the Blue Water Inn on fire. I guess he rolled well on an insight check to know that for some reason the innkeeper didn't like them much, but I didn't think that was a reason to deprive someone of their livlihood.

As the parade progresses in the town square, the party is horrified at the lone laughter. The paladin steps in to light the wicker sun with his sunsword, and the sorcerer casts disguise self to appear as a guard and convinces the other guards that he's got the prisoner handled. The swashbuckler keeps the crows torn between what they should do, and Fiona Wachter makes her play and tries to convince people that they should oust the Burgomaster and serve Strahd. The party was totally thrown by the Burgomaster trying to keep people happy and deposed  him, leaving his son in charge after a brief stint of thinking that the Burgomaster's wife was in charge.

Meanwhile, through some very delayed cut scenes (I'm proud of leaving the bard in suspense by constantly cutting to him for 1 round of action before cutting away), the bard found the coffin maker and went to his shop, forcing the coffin maker to show him where the relic was. The coffin maker reluctantly went upstairs and was killed by the bard's shatter spell when the vampire spawn woke.

Unfortunately, this accelerated the St. Andral's bones plot, so when the whole party realized there were vampire spawn loose in town, they eventually wend to the church to find Strahd killing the priest and they send the spawn packing.

So, now the party has really alienated the Martikovs, who have reclaimed one of the gems from the party. They've deposed the burgomaster of Vallaki, leaving the son in charge (nominally). They still need to get back to Barovia to find their greatest ally, and make it to the castle, probably stopping at the windmill on the way.

Basically, I need to prep the whole castle asap, because we're going to do a 8-12 hour marathon on Saturday and then hopefully if they're still alive they'll go after Strahd at the end of that or next week because that's all the time we've got. And lesson learned, even going through Strahd quickly... 25 hours of play wasn't enough. 40 hours for a quick game is probably more like it (I hope), unless you really cut it down to the original module.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Curse of Strahd: Actual Play 3

After the massive amount of prep I did for last week, this week was just a little bit. Still need to prep the castle itself, but hopefully I can get that done soon since my Church game is mostly prepped for the next week. The group started by fleeing back to Vallaki for a long rest after 30 needle blights bested them. They met some Vistani bandits on the way back, and learned a few more rumors and one of them was unknowningly relieved of their trinket so Strahd can scry on the party now quite well. While in Vallaki they encountered Rictavio finally but Ezmerelda hadn't yet brought Ireena and Ismark to the Blue Water Inn. They bought lots of oil and torches in town and the bard chatted up Rictavio.

Now, the bard is being played with what I call 'disruptive traits'. Last time he basically caused the party to loose to the needle blights because he spend all his spell slots early in the morning on mischief and a few reasonable things. So when he rolled poorly on shatter (his last spell slot) he wasn't able to help much in the fight. So this bard basically casts detect magic to identify important NPCs (who else has magic?) and Rictavio obviously has 3 magic items. So he flat out asks what's up with the three magic items. Rictavio is obviously leery about anyone coming up to him and saying "I know you have three magic items" but engages them a little trying not to reveal his secret. The party is obviously suspicious, thinking of his true identity or that he's the mad mage. Bard goes back the next day and hits Rictavio with suggestion, trying to force him to tell the truth. I decide that he can't be forced to reveal information due to the ring of mind shielding, but also that he would be really awkward in doing it and thereby sorta reveal stuff by omission. Anyway, that all took far too long for the bard trying to do something good for the group. At least both Morgantha and Strahd managed to scry on the party for the day.

Party eventually goes back to the winery, but because so much time has passed I rule that the Belviews went to the winery to catch up with the PCs but ended up fighting the druids instead as the PCs had fled. So they get to the winery and start snooping around for the guild member's tomb, thinking he's at the winery (their Tarokka reading). In doing so they alienate the Martikovs who are just trying to clean up their home. So unless they return the missing gems the ravens won't be helping them anymore. I take pity on them though and old man Martikov finds his old ledger and finds some records from back in the guild days and notes that one of them was burried in Castle Ravenloft.

Next the party goes south to Yester Hill, since Ezmerelda did her own reading and had heard about the hillfolk. As they sneak up towards the hill Strahd arrives on Beucephalus and the ritual of the hill starts. This leads to a 40 minute time-out as food arrives and they debate endlessly about what to do. In the process flubbing an insight check (with advantage from inspiration, +d6 bardic inspiration, and +d4 for having a relevant Tarokka card representing the inspiration) to see what Strahd might be doing. That was a great check, but the players aren't yet trained not to ask if they can constantly make rolls. I think they're finally getting that I'll generally only let one of them roll for the party though (the one with the best shot).

So, they totally annihilate the druids of the hill and burn the effigy. Then they have Strahd to deal with. The rogue climbs up on the rock wall and draws a 9 from the minor deck (10% chance), meaning he gets hit with a lightning bolt for 44 damage.

They smartly converse with Strahd a bit, he admits he's just brought them to Barovia to toy with them (mostly true), they catch him lying that he could leave whenever he wants, and they now know he's been spying on them. He asks a few time about Ireena and they imply they left her in Krezk, so he flies off to make his date with the Abbot (who will tell them all about Ireena since they spilled the beans to him previously). Then I realized there were supposed to be more blights by the tree, so they all come out of the branches once Strahd leaves, injure the party a bit, and the party easily beats them (though uses a few resources).

Interesting thing, having no barbarian, druid, or ranger I gave the blood spear to the outlander paladin but he was quite happy to take the sunsword instead which was burried under the tree. I named the axe in the tree "Trunkbreaker" (but in Elvish, where it sounds much more elegant, I assured the party). Funny thing though, only 2 members of the party are good and that axe will damage non-good people who attack with it.

So, overall the group did accomplish a lot, even though it felt slow. They uncovered Rictavio's secret, got the sunsword, cleared out Yester hill, and survived their first encounter with Strahd. That's four things! If they give the gem back to the winery (rather than selling it) they'll start out the next session with another XP in my ridiculous system of trying to award XP for doing good deeds and advancing the story. I also mentioned that we might try to schedul one extra session in, because next time if they deal with the bones of St. Andral and the festival of the burning sun, try to collect their greatest ally and stop at the Old Bonegrinder before going to the castle they'll still need at least a whole session before going to the castle. Though they might opt to go to the castle once, then deal with outside stuff before going back to try and defeat Strahd. However it goes I think I need another solid 12 hours of play to try to bring this to an end so hopefully an extra session can happen.

Of the tricks and such that I tried, handing out high-deck cards for inspiration has worked well, as has having players hand their traits around the table to have someone else track their inspiration. Its nice to not worry about that. I keep forgetting to hand out exhaustion when players go down, so some of my grand schemes to make the game grittier haven't taken hold. Also rolling weapon damage with the attack, group initiative has been a mess with this so I might go back and try individual initiative again and rush people through their turns next time. We'll see how it goes. Looking forward to the next 2 planned sessions, but I really think we'll need to do the extra one so hopefully we can make that happen soon.

Monday, June 20, 2016

RamaD&Dan: Curse of Strahd Character Creation

Just posting for posterity at the moment. I'm relatively happy with this, though a few things might change if I run this again. Specifically, variant Human is still real good, I might bump it up to the rare races and allow someone a reroll for stats if they don't roll better than the standard array/point buy (as one player did). Also, a random thought: I hadn't considered dividing classes into rare/common as well, and only letting (say, Barbarians or Battlerager Barbarians) if you keep your stat roll.

RamaD&Dan: Curse of Strahd
Wednesdays—June 8, 15, 22, 29 & July 6 2016

The aim is to plow through Curse of Strahd in the 5 weeks of Ramadan. That means playing something like 5-10 (maybe 4:30-10:30 if we can manage it), and we might see about arranging an additional day halfway through as needed/desired. There’s probably at least enough material in the book for twice as much play time, so we’ll need to be somewhat focused and on-task to get through things.

Party Creation

Before you’re wedded to a character, the group needs to discuss the party. Are you an adventuring family (this might limit races to things like humans, half-elves, half-orcs…), a mercenary group, a heroic group of do-gooders, or something else? Does the party have an alignment (and everyone agrees to pick an alignment at most one step removed?), an association, or some overarching goal? Do you elect a leader, or are you lead by some noble or honorable soul? Are you all from the same culture or religious group? What is home like? Remember in this edition that you don’t absolutely need any particular character class and even single-class parties can survive.

Character Creation

The info below should cover everything we’ll need for character creation. It’s not set in stone, but these are the options I think fit a heroic/good party in the setting/module well. I’m totally willing to consider other options, either as an individual or once a party concept is settled.


Start at 4th level. Curse of Strahd is designed to do 3-9ish and if you get one level per session we’d hit 9 at the end.

Ability Scores

Roll randomly 4d6 drop the lowest in order. Because stats are really important in 5e, you can ditch your rolls and use the standard book system as a human (normal or variant human). As a standard human you can instead rearrange your rolled scores.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Bachelor Party Viking D&D Recap

A month ago I was back in the North having just run a two day Bachelor party D&D marathon and best manning a wedding. Because I wanted some secrecy and surprises, I didn't write much about the thing beforehand and general business afterwards left this lingering. I think its time to tell all.

Back in the day, the Antagonizer had a (somewhat infamous in my mind) surprise D&D birthday party. His now wife will probably never repeat that mistake, as the little white lie to get him to the location ballooned into him prepping for a birthD&D game he wouldn't be running, the game ballooned out of proportion with about 10 or more total players, and the game that was run featured a scenario that I didn't think felt at all birthday-y. So I had to do better, but it also became apparent that the bride-to-be and maid of honor were totally spilling beans left and right, so I also had to do it all on my own if there was to be anything surprising at all.

I went with a relatively obvious choice of scenario: vikings! I vaguely crossed it with hyborean age Conan materials, but that didn't really come out too much. My other good option was something totally Fury Road, but with the honeymoon slated for Iceland I stuck to my original idea and D&D 5e because it was a system I knew reasonably well and figured all the potential players would be familiar with (though I sorta wish I had used Astonishing Swordsmen and Sorcerers of Hyperborea, I knew going with the familiar was a better option in this case). So I picked up the old Vikings historical reference book, the basic Northern Reaches gazetteer, and a couple others (turns out the Great Glacier isn't really all that useful).  Strangely, I also was able to do a tourism in New York and see a Vikings exhibit at Times Square which also provided some good inspiration, though I didn't include all the trinkets I had been intending.

My original plan was thwarted by scheduling and such, so it wasn't one scenario for the whole weekend, so I had to go with two separate-but-linked adventures. The first riffing off a Croatan comment from the last D&D game that I played with folks (but also Frost Giant's Daughter), and the second ended up being Moby Dick. Because I knew of the Icelandic honeymoon, I also wanted to put some Viking/Iceland lore into the game. Unfortunately my dream of using floorplans and such from actual sites the Antagonizer would visit crumbled because 1) its hard to find floor plans of archaeological sites online, and 2) most of the sites they were going to didn't really lend themselves to this sort of thing. Alas. The one option I had really tried to insert, the crazy big church, didn't end up being discovered either, though that was ok because it was mostly there just to have a crazy big church and filled with boring undead.

Since I didn't think the group and I could pull off a two-day Saga of the Icelanders game, I opted to go with croataning a colony for part 1. The PCs were latecomers to the colony and their loved ones had been turned to seals for angering the Frost Giant's Daughter (conaning it up a bit in the process). I had initially been going to go with they were all just kidnapped, but somehow them being turned into seals (better than penguins, right?) came up when I mentioned my vague plans to one of the D&D guys here in Faraway. I sketched a by-hand map of some potential sites and filled them with a few characters inspired by viking myth and my two primary D&D references. So the party encountered pukja and a witch with a cat-drawn chariot and the like. The Groom hung himself from a tree (and sacrificed 2 points of Constitution) to master the seal-rune so he could transform seals back into humans (with rules basically just stolen from GAZ7), and then they took out the frost-giant's daughter. Fairly successful.

Draft of the map, missing witch's forest to the east, big-ass church, and others. Players didn't explore the Hudrefolk mounds or hot springs.

I think it also helped that I gave them some interesting character options. I gave out a reduced list of options from the available official D&D materials plus Unearthed Arcana. Since it was so restricted I reimagined the list of dooms from the Viking's book, trying to give each one a potential good aspect. The star doom was unlucky, which let any player tell the unlucky player to fail a die roll and grab inspiration. Because I was doing an all human game, I used dooms for the stat-rearranging. If players kept their stats, they got to pick a doom. If they rearranged stats or took the standard array they'd roll to randomly get one. It led to a couple less-than-optimal characters so dooms could be chosen, or the players just didn't care about their stats much. Not quite sure which.

Part 2 featured most of the same characters, but swapped one out for another as I opted to bring in a few others since it wouldn't just be blokes in the wedding itself as I had originally hoped. This time the scenario was Moby Dick. I had tried to lay the seeds of an old hero who was cursed and became a dragon, but it didn't really become relevant as the entire game was about 5 hours and three combats with the same dragon. I used a white dragon as the base and made a few cosmetic changes so the dragon was a bit more corpse-tearer inspired (poison breath, stole lair stuff from green and black dragons, etc). It was satisfying. I wasn't sure I could get the PCs to flee after the first encounter with it, but 5e characters are fairly resilient and once a couple went down the party realized things will be hard. They had gotten the dragon to within an few inches of its life, but it retreated into the water exit of its lair. The party explored the lair a bit, surmizing there was a second entrance so the dragon wisely came back after a rest through the main entrance, avoiding their well-laid trap after laying waste to the colony out of spite. After another encounter they had the dragon on edge again, so it retreated to the frozen lake where it figured it could rest for a day (regaining full strength at the expense of losing its lair). The party short-rested and booked it to the lake (rangers can nicely determine when dragons are around, though I still find that ability to be really vague). I think the players thought the dragon would just come up and play fairly, so I made it instead a bit of a whack-a-mole game where the dragon tried to come up from hiding then retreat back below the icy water. Luckily for them the cleric had water walk as a spell and the sorcerer had mastered the seal-rune so the icy waters weren't a huge danger. In the end they killed the dragon, which was quite satisfying and managed to do it in the time limit we had for the game. Not much exploration of the dragon's heritage and backstory, but it apparently wasn't necessary for folks to have a good time plus they got to go into a volcano.

Overall I think things worked out quite well. If I had had the time I would have ran it here before hand to test things out, as I could have fixed a few things up and done with a little more prep, but so it goes. I also had to go win the Best GM award for prepping and running an old school ridiculous module right after I got back to this sandpit, so I'm very happy with what I was able to do given the constraints that I had. It was exhausting, but worthwhile.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Curse of Strahd: Actual Play 2

This session went better than the previous one, but slower. I was much more prepared. Probably because I types up 6 pages of notes on places I expected the party to go and what they might do there. Obviously they went off the rails right away, but that's always expected. They got a lot of info talking to the Abbot and Ezmerelda. And made some enemies and bad decisions. Obviously spoilers may ensue.

Starting off, the party began at St. Andral's church in Vallaki. They had planned on taking Ireena to Krezk as Donovich had suggested, so they set out to do just that. Strahd's stolen carriage was left with some locals to paint, so they moved at draft horse speed towards Krezk. I had thought they'd take the carriage with them and was planning on having Strahd show up to deal with them, but since they didn't I just used the first random encounter on the road they got: 3 werewolves in human form. The werewolves attempted to pass themselves off as travelers from Krezk, asking about the news from Vallaki. The party dropped a little too much info, so as the wolves got close they suddenly said they had lied and the party is what they were looking for. Lamentably they rolled poorly and I neglected to have the wild sorcerer roll for spell failure. Next time he'll draw from the low deck of Tarokka cards and a draw of the Berserker (6 of swords) or Anarchist (6 of glyphs) will be his surge. After killing one wolf the others fled, but ranged attacks brought one of the two down so only one escaped with his life. A bit to the bard did make the party a little wary, however.

When they got to Krezk my notes said they'd be turned away towards the winery, but a knock spell by the bard opened the gates and the party was reluctantly escorted to the abbey. Along the winding road Ireena was suddenly drawn to the sacred pool when she glimpsed it, but the party stopped her before she could get too close. So her identity had basically been ascertained, but she wasn't safe. They continued on to the abbey.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Ridiculous 5e spells for villains

Playing Curse of Strahd, I have a hankering to let the villains do some creative spellcasting. I made nice use of the 5th level spell scrying as a PC in my Princes of the Apocalypse game, and its given me more inspiration to use some by-the-book spells in nifty ways. I mostly looked through the wizard list on the 5esrd (all of it) as the big-bads in Strahd seem to use the wizard list (Strahd, Baba Lysaga, and the Old Bonegrinder ladies). There's probably others, but these were some of the initial thoughts.

Curse of Strahd spoilers below. I'm sure I read somewhere about an alternate spell list in Strahd for when one of the villains prepairs for the PCs, but I can't find it anywhere now. These spells will give some nice fodder for that though, and a few are already on the character's normal lists.

Running Curse of Strahd (and gussying it up a bit)

I like Curse of Strahd. I wanted to run it. So I am.


This is still quite a beast. I've been running a number of modules these days with my Al-Qadim Church game, and starting to get a better feel for what I really need to run them successfully. Some have been great. Some... not as great. Organization has been the biggest problem for most of them. So while its been quite an endeavor to get through the material for the big picture with Strahd, its all the little details of running it at the table that were most frustrating. Four examples:

  1. I knew that Ireena wanted to bury her father. But I couldn't remember why Donovich wouldn't do it. Or why they were able to make a coffin on their own but couldn't drag it across town on their own. Had to wing that and it didn't quite work. Alas.
  2. The card reading was pretty slick. However, afterwards the players wanted more advice on interpreting the cards. I wasn't overly forthcoming. Not quite sure who other than Rictavio or Ezmerelda would help out there.
  3. The maps of places have ridiculous things labeled and described, like the well outside of the Blue Water Inn. There's a well on the map, I'm not sure it needs to be numbered and described. If the map was labeled "well" that would have more than sufficed.
  4. Yeska. This kid is named in St. Andral's church and its plot, but there's no details about him. So I was frustrated that I couldn't find where he was described in more detail in the book, but it turns out he isn't.

I think a bit more organization could have helped with all of these: better overviews and some input from playtesting. And Bryce's suggestion of cutting 75% of the text. I still don't get why location Z has so many named NPCs and other locations have few-to-none.  I assume its because literally a lot of the castle text is word-for-word what is in the old modules (well, I've got House of Strahd from 2nd edition, not the original I6, but still).

But what I want to do here is set out a few resources and tricks that I've decided to look into and try as I make my own notes on how to run it, so I can hopefully run it again in the fall and do it better. Because the book is big, and you need a quick overview of the big picture, a few ways to address some of its faults, and some tips for running things at the table.

One of the best resources is the powerscore Guide to Curse of Strahd. Pretty helpful for getting a solid overview of each chapter. Its got some nice suggestions for gussying the module up a bit and making minor changes. One of the best resources, and I've now realized I need to write my own version of it soon. Because I think I can maybe do better, at least for the material I have left, or at least do it better for me to help me run Strahd. This is great, but not quite enough for me at the table. I need to spend a bit of time really making decent notes for each location, and if they're good I might put it out there as my own gussied up Strahd guide.

The second most helpful item thus far is the Curse of Strahd DM's Kit & Screen. It has material both for gussying and for actually running the adventure, but its not as helpful as the powerscore blog. I thought a few of its suggestions were wishy-washy and untested, but it definitely gave me some inspiration and a nice index of named characters and entities. And the tables on its "screen" are actually useful, unlike the official Curse of Strahd DM's Screen which includes maps for no good reason. I mean... the Barovia map isn't half bad on the screen except you can't count the hexes. Basically I feel like unless you want the front screen art (and even that I didn't find impressive) its not useful.

The Tarokka cards are nice, though I could have easily gotten by with the old deck I had from the 90s. In fact, I love how the 90s deck is still colored red and black, which actually makes it easier to use for more than just the reading in game. I bought two DMs Guild products that were supposed to let me make more use out of it (Tarokka Deck Unleashed and Tarokka Expansion) but neither actually made me want to use the products. They both include some pretty wicked-hard tables to use in game. Good ideas, not implemented that well. Instead I took the idea of using the deck as dice and made it better by removing the high cards so you just have 4 suits of 10 cards each (you separate them anyway for the reading). Without needing to consult a ridiculous table I've got a d4 (suits 1-4), d8 (4 suits 1-4, add 4 if the card is even),  d10 (number), d20 (number +10 for 2 suits), d100 (number draw twice). If you need a d6 or d12 its doable but not as clean still, but none of this requires looking at a table really. Also, the encounter rolls of d8 + d12 are equivalent to 2d10 so no worries there, just adjust the probabilities for road/wilderness stuff as needed. The reason the old deck is a little nicer is that is has two color suits vs all black suits: this makes the d20 easy (red = number +10, black = number). I rarely remember to use inspiration in 5e, but I plan on handing out the high cards to represent inspiration when needed, and stealing the Wraith: The Oblivion shadowguide model of passing your personality traits to the player on your left so they're watching out for you.

A few of the suggestions for gussying the game up then:

Rolling ability scores. I used my now standard-ish ploy of letting humans use the standard array but needing to roll ability scores in order to play other races. Standard humans can re-arrange their scores, or either standard or variant humans can take the array. Everyone is human, but a couple picked standard human to keep the natural 17s they rolled. I mostly like this system because there may be inspiration to play what you rolled, there's a back-up if your rolls are terrible, and the party isn't a Mos Eisley cantina of strange folks in a human world.

Cut the cards. Rather than remove any locations from the adventure, I pulled out about 13 cards from the reading. I picked some of the less exciting locations and removed the possibility that the fortunes of Ravenloft would require the PCs to go to these places. That seemed to be the easiest cut to make rather than trying to legit remove the Amber Temple or silver dragon knights or have Sir Klutz be the party's greatest ally.

XP. I've tried to break down all the "heroic acts" in the adventure and am planning on giving XP for every 2-3 things they accomplish. I like this much more than the generic milestones because its more like XP but less number intensive. Much more like the 13th Age style of incremental advances: 4 sessions and you level, but here I'm making them earn each one. I still need to solidify this list a bit, its likely I can make a decent subsystem out of it that others will find useful.

Spells. Back when I thought one player was going to play a wizard, I made a random table to add some basic rituals and a few other spells to the Barovian witches' spellbooks (or other NPCs). I don't think I need to do that now since no one is a wizard or tome-pact warlock. This felt like a really satisfying gussy though because as a tome-pact warlock in Princes of the Apocalypse, I'm not finding any ritual scrolls except when the DM let me pick which scrolls we found.

Enemies prepare (moar spells). I might use some of the above spell ideas when Strahd, Baba Lysaga, and Morgantha start fucking with the party. I'm excited for them to use animal messenger or sending to get messages to the PCs. PCs will be making Wisdom saves to avoid Scrying each day now. I'm also excited to fuck the PCs using the dream spell. Basically the idea is to adjust spell lists for when the enemies become aware of the PCs as a threat. I might also create a few new spells like this (an undead version of animal messenger?) or look through the old books to see if there are some other spells for spying and communication that have gotten lost in the editions.

So this isn't too much gussying, I'm going to rush the players through this, but if I get the chance to run this again I think I'll keep what works for sure and decide what else I might could add in or change. The weird part though is while people say the adventure is replayable, I feel like there could be more that's card-dependent. Like... each of the interesting events in a location could be card-cued, or even the creature type of some of the allies/enemies. Its a bit of a disappointment at the moment, actually, that more isn't randomly determined. But that's musing for another day.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Curse of Strahd: Actual Play 1

First session tonight. A few kinks, as expected, but we made decent progress. I was really hoping to get through the village of Barovia, card reading at the Tser Pool encampment, and find one of the treasures. Well, since the treasures are random they didn't have a chance to do that part, but they got to Vallaki in 5 hours!

First up, obviously we spent the expected 45 min or so going over some character details and a few expectations for the adventure. I've got a noble wild sorcerer, mercenary swashbuckler, outlander vengeance paladin, entertainer lore bard, and acolyte blood hunter. Had them roll for trinkets and on the harrowing event table from the Haunted One background since no one opted for that background. Had hoped they would work out some things like party alignment and goals and such beforehand, but at least we kept the intro stuff to 45 min. Then the book started in full.

I opted for the werewolf hook, since Bryce suggested it was the only good one and I kinda agree. I might have considered running Death House but we only have 5 weeks, maybe a 6th if we all have time to squeeze an extra session in. So the group came into Ravenloft. First random encounter was wolves (I had them howl in the distance) then a hidden bundle (commoner's clothes). After the creepy gates of Barovia, they found the dead body and its note, then waited as the dire wolves came in. The swashbuckler got mauled and they took one down. A low moral check meant the other wolves would back away if the PCs let them. Reason prevailed and the 4 remaining dire wolves left them alone. An aside: the 90s-style cursive note was almost impossible for everyone to read. I'll have to type all the handouts and print them in a more normal font, I think. Another place where the usability of the book fails.

In Barovia they first encountered Mad Mary, then went to the Blood on the Vine tavern. They talked to Ismark, agreed to take his sister to safety, dealt with father Donovich and Doru, then gathered Ireena up after the funeral was finished. Oh, and they spotted Morgantha selling pies but didn't get the full encounter. The religion of Ravenloft isn't detailed enough to withstand player questioning, but luckily the paladin is devoted to Lathander who is apparently the same as the Morninglord.

From Barovia they stopped at the Tser Pool encampment where I learned that there are fewer suggestions for the reading than I had expected. As in, they asked Madam Eva to explain the reading to them. Two of the treasures are in Castle Ravenloft itself, and I'm not sure how to telegraph this to the players. I suspect a meeting with Rictavio or Esmerelda can be used to help there, or even the Keepers of the Feather or Baba Lysaga maybe. I'm trying to get the players to ask around town for rumors and info, but they haven't quite caught on yet that they could ask for key terms, though they've started asking a lot about tombs and graveyards because one of the treasures is in the guildmaster's crypt.

After Tser pool they found the black carriage with an invitation to the castle in it. I wanted them to know Strahd was around, but they didn't take the bait to bring Ireena and Ismark with them to Castle Ravenloft itself. So they unhitch the carriage, take it, and go through the gates of Barovia again and pass Old Bonegrinder. A bit of temptation to stop there, but they press on. One more random encounter on the road is a lone werewolf in human form. He sees their numbers and has no inclination for combat, but does tell them that the old woman selling pastries lives there. I'm cutting down on some of the encounters that could happen, so they make it to Vallaki with no further problems.

In Vallaki they head to the inn. The blood hunter goes around town getting the lay of the land, the paladin talks to the wolf hunters in the Blue Water tavern, and everyone is creeped out that the standard greeting in Vallaki is "I'm happy that you're happy!". They get a few rumors from the inn, but don't press it to get a lot. They spend the night, and stop at the church the next morning to see if they can swindle some holy water out of the church if they need it. A good persuasion roll and seeing the symbol of the morninglord on the foreign paladin's shield gets Father Lucian to fess up that they can't make any until the bones of St. Andral are returned. This sends me into a bit of a panic as I see he told the boy Yeska about them, and Yeska told someone else, but I was expecting more than that when they asked who Yeska was. The naming in the adventure is odd, as there's not a way to distinguish between big-names and small names. And I searched an index and find he's only described on page 97, the one I had been looking at. So, at this point I'm a bit flustered but we've made good progress and its 10:30pm, so I figure we can stop there.

Five hours and 30 minutes, being a bit speedy and taking 45 of that for character stuff and we're in Vallaki at least. I could have slowed things down with a couple more random encounters, but I didn't think that'd be needed. I know to prep Krezk, the Wizard of Wines and Yester Hill for sure, plus probably the rest of Vallaki. Not too bad, and if I just end up giving the PCs a level per session then they'll be 8 by the end of days, 9 if we do one extra. I might just cram most of this in. Well, still trying to skip the mad mage, van richten's tower, Argynvostholt, Tsolenka Pass and the Amber temple at least. But we'll see. They've even figured out the identity of their greatest ally, and if I can make it clear that two treasures are in the castle, we'll just spend more time in the castle after they get one from Yester Hill and gather their ally from the village of Barovia.

RamaD&Dan: Curse of Strahd

So when Curse of Strahd came out, it inspired me a bit. I had never really looked at the original Ravenloft module (or its 2e revision, 2e reprint, 3e reimagining...) despite it being a classic. Ravenloft, the setting, likewise didn't really inspire me too much. I can kinda dig the horror and I'm apparently way too keen on undead enemies, but I never got into it as a campaign. Despite this, Strahd inspired me a bit, so I stole one idea during the Viking Bachelor Party D&D marathon, and convinced myself I could run Strahd in 5 weeks during Ramadan.

Game starts tonight.

What I've found really inspiring is a few of the villains, and the fact the module has lots of room for reactions from the NPCs. Basically, each chapter has a few options of what might happen in the location which you can use the first time the characters enter a location or wait till a later time. Oh. And Strahd himself will start actively hunting the party eventually. Yeah.

So obviously I stole that for the White Whale portion of Viking D&D, in which the party saw clear signs of what could have been a dragon, fought it in its lair twice before chasing it as it fled. The dragon was powerful, took a few PCs down but didn't quite kill any. But the players thankfully retreated when they were being licked, and so did the dragon. I can't wait to do this with Strahd and some hags.

I have a big concern though, which leads me to want to run this twice. I have about 25 hours of game play for Curse. That's maybe ok for the original module, but might not quite be enough if I want them to do much of the adventure. They need to do something levelworthy the first four sessions and then go fight Strahd on the 5th (I'm starting them at level 4, so they'll be level 8 by the end hopefully). Because running a module like this is so much prep, I want to run it a second time to get the most out of it. So maybe I'll run it again Sept-Nov, it'll be less prep the second time I'm sure.

The real hard part is figuring out what to cut. I'm working on a list of all the "heroic deeds" that players might do, which is giving me some ideas of what to chop out. There's some suggestions I've found online and at the DMs Guild to suggest how to shorten things (one interesting one is move Argynvostholt to Krezk and replace the Abbey of St. Markovia), but I think I've decided to simply remove 13 cards from the deck to begin with. This way the players won't be required to go to one of the places I'm less keen on (Argynvostholt, Abbey of St. Markovia, Tower of the Mad Mage, Van Richten's Tower, Tsolenka Pass, or the Amber Temple). I've left some in that I do really like (I apparently like hags and witches as well as undead), so those might still feature in the game.

I'm opting not to physically remove or change any places or NPCs, I just think some're just not quite as exciting to me and won't let the cards force the players to go there. I did a pre-draw and all the treasures ended up at the castle anyway, but the winery may be a red herring if they don't do a new draw in-game.

So I'm excited for this. I found a number of interesting ideas online to add in, and I'll probably put up a post soon with some of them.

Of course, anyone considering running Curse of Strahd should also check out this guide.