Enter the grimdark realm of Ravenloft after being approached by a mysterious man offering a reward to help the burgomaster in Barovia. Fight sinister creatures that constantly set the risk of darkness in mind. Curse of Strahd is return to the realm of Ravenloft in the 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons pre-written campaign book. It also happens to be the best release for the 5th Edition version of the game to date.
The book itself is thick and heavy, full to bursting with content. The pictures in this book are fantastic and extremely well done grimdark fantasy images. The maps are fairly easy to understand in the book as well for each location and can be emulated on a grid system. The lines to read are easily distinguished by being highlighted in a grey box, so if you want to read out of the book descriptions of rooms and locations, you can do that as well.
The book comes with a large handout map that can be folded out to show the entire realm of Barovia for the players to explore. I found that this map was a critical piece to the campaign that also set the mood for the sessions going forward. Setting urgency when the characters were in danger, and curiosity when looking for what to do. The map is also double faced with the other side containing the map information for Castle Ravenloft but I found that it was much more difficult to use that side for the players and the folding necessary to hide floors really started to wear this map out. Depending on the length of time that the players will be playing this campaign for the map may receive some severe damage to the fold lines. Unfortunately, after even storing the map each time in the campaign book, the map will probably only make it through 1 more play through before disintegrating in my very hands.
There is another handout that is unfortunately absent with the book due to manufacturing reasons as well as price and that is the Tarokka deck. Cards are all available in the appendices of the book, but even if you wanted to destroy the book and cut them out, they are not double sided so that will not work. Either getting the deck or finding a PDF and printing them out would work. Additionally, a normal playing deck can be used as each of the cards are mapped out to match a Tarokka card from that deck. This is a very important part to the campaign as a good chunk of it will be relatively off rails, but the goals should remain the same and drive the players.
At the beginning of the campaign players will get a reading of these cards that will tell them hints of where to look or who to find to help aid them in their quest to defeat the big bad Strahd at the end.
It’s at this point that I want to point out one of the biggest strengths of this campaign book. The off the rails fantastic. Players are give story hooks at every location and even if players came across areas multiple times, there is always something unique about it based on either the time of day or the past events when they were originally in the location. This book has the potential of being a very lengthy campaign as groups explore the entire realm of the campaign and end up fighting several boss level characters like Baba Lasaga in the murky swamps, or the Lich in the tower, the fallen Hero of the Order of the Silver Dragon. All of these are awesome fights and the scenery is themed to the locations.
The cities in the book are lively and all have a different theme to them. I personally took the theme of Valliki and cranked it up a few notches turning it into a town where people get convicted and put in the stockades when showing fear or unhappiness with the way the town is run.
Once the players have gone through and either gotten the locations of the cards completed or simply are attempting everything despite ignoring any missed locations they will come to Castle Ravenloft which acts as this campaigns dungeon. IT is a pretty well done dungeon that is fairly and players will spend a lot of end game time here. In the campaign I ran the group was chased into Castle Ravenloft in an act of desperation to heal up from battles happening on the other side of the drawbridge. fortifying themselves in the very first door to the building adding to the feel of despair and desperation that this campaign does so well.
The actual fight with Strahd is actually very difficult to do right. I would try it again another way next time I run the campaign. At the point where the party was fighting Strahd they were easily handling him with the Sun Sword. Strahd should be played with more gorilla tactics. I highly recommend reading through a couple times how to best play his character. And if the fight is to easy throw in some extra vampire spawn into the mix and that really starts to add levels of difficulty for the group quickly.
The enemies in the campaign are themed very well from werewolves to hags and witches. Ghosts and zombies. plenty of traps. but the amount of unique locations and what they all mean can really be used as story points to any story you decide to go with for the story no matter how small. It’s even easy to make up locations based on the map if you feel your story needs it.
The campaign also comes with a precursor to the campaign that can be set at any time before getting to Barovia or in Barovia itself. It’s a good way to level characters up to a point where they will not get completely walloped in the beginning of the game. The theme does not completely match up with Curse of Strahd, but it’s close enough to where players will not notice and is a nice bonus that can even be played as a quick standalone for Halloween.
Curse of Strahd has a lot to offer players. If you want a grimdark themed session as a group of vampire hunters or characters facing down impossible odds to free a realm of its cruel reign of a sinister vampire. This campaign is for you. If there is any campaign book that I recommend picking up for 5th Edition I would recommend this one. If you are not a fan of pre-written campaigns like I was, I would still give this a try and find out how this mostly off rails campaign book gives you the ability to completely make it your own. I personally cannot wait for another chance to get back into this campaign with a new set of players and player it slightly differently now that I am more familiar with the areas as well as try and get players to locations they never when to in my initial campaign. At 2 hours of play each Monday this campaign went on for me around 25 to 30 sessions. Depending on your players it may take around that time, or more, or less. It really varies based on how everyone is playing the game, especially if adding in Death House.
Final Review Scores:
Entertainment: 7 (Players enjoyed it throughout always at the edge of their seat fearing for their lives)
Theme: 6 (It fits the theme fantastically here and is everything I wanted out of a vampire hunting grimdark themed campaign)
Replayability: 5 ( Beginning card sequence places the story events in different locations each time leading to new experiences each run through the game)
Quality: 5 (Images are fantastic, included tear out map will probably last 2 play-throughs even it taken extra care)
learnability: 2 (There is a lot of reading as a DM for this book, but it’s worth the read for the overall theme)
Price: 3 (on the pricey side for a campaign book but still worth every penny)
Total Score 28 - Treasure It
I would recommend this campaign book over any other for 5th Edition. If you want to pick up a copy and support Dickwizardry.com, you can use the the affiliate link to the side, otherwise always support your local games stores! I hope you enjoyed this review, If you liked this review, look for our Curse of Strahd Dungeon Master Screen Review that will be released soon!