Dungeons & Dragons’ scariest campaign is also one of its best


If you’ve been thinking about playing Dungeons & Dragons, you’ve probably noticed that there is a lot of gear to choose from. There are no less than three current starter sets, over half a dozen adventures released in depth, and a whole marketplace for fan-made content. But one campaign is regularly recommended before all others, especially for beginners. It’s called Strahd’s Curse, and this is perhaps the most welcoming and adaptable way to integrate the original role-playing game.

Due to its popularity, there are currently three great options to buy Strahd’s Curse. They run the gamut from old fashioned do-it-yourself stories to a luxurious collectors set with high production values. I’ll help you find the one that’s right for you.

But first, a little story to whet your appetite.

Why this vampire?

In the 1970s, when D&D was young, the game mainly focused on exploration, combat, and loot. Rolling dice with your friends meant crawling through an underground dungeon, killing weird monsters, and running away with magical items. Then, in 1983, the Ravenloft module has been released. Written by Tracy Hickman and Laura Hickman, it added a rich sense of storytelling to D&D. The secret was a charismatic vampire named Strahd von Zarovich.

Ravenloft was the first D&D adventure that truly felt like a full story, and it centered around Strahd, a complex villain with his own motivations. Rather than simply describing the action from a distance, Strahd allows the Dungeon Master (DM) to personally engage with the material. and with players at the table through combat and non-combat encounters. Published in 2016, Strahd’s Curse modernizes these mechanics and expands them from a measly 32 pages to a hefty 256. His version of Strahd is just as menacing as the original and a lot more fun to play.

Vintage art by Strahd von Varovich shows him lurking among the towers of Ravenloft Castle.
Image: Wizards of the Coast

Why is Strahd such a big bad guy? Not to give away too much, but winning his personal bow is definitely worth the time spent playing against him. He’s more than just a B-series bloodsucker. Strahd is a fully realized character with a Shakespearean backstory and enough cunning and cunning to stand up to any group of adventurers.

Or Strahd’s Curse differs from the original, in my opinion, is by expanding its frame. The action takes place in a grim pocket dimension known as the Valley of Barovia, which means you can enter or exit the campaign from anywhere in the D&D multiverse. The valley itself is built like a modern open-world video game. Players can explore the environment at their leisure, browsing its many side quests. All the while, Strahd’s specter will haunt them – sometimes literally – serving as a beacon to bring them irrevocably back to the main questline.

There’s even a mini-adventure built into the campaign, designed to quickly evolve new characters and accustom players to modern D&D mechanics. Simply, Strahd’s Curse is the complete package.

So, now that I’ve sold it to you, let’s talk about three different ways to buy the thing.

The basics

Strahd’s Curse was first published as a hardcover book, and the more basic version of this book is still in print. You can easily find one at your friendly local game store or online at places like Amazon. Independent booksellers that sell D&D will likely have a copy, as will large retailers like Barnes & Noble.

There are now several digital options for D&D books, and which version you want to get depends a lot on which platform you choose. The best option for newcomers will be D&D Beyond, which sells the campaign and also gives players access to an online character creator. There are also virtual tables (ATVs) like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds, which offer more options for replaying the game’s fights with virtual miniatures and dice. ATVs can tend to slow down the action for newcomers, so be sure to learn the tool set before you get your group together.

Of course, you’ll also need the other three books that make up the heart of D&D: The Player’s Manual, the Dungeon Master’s Guide, and the Monster Manual. All three are also available on D&D Beyond.

Higher level

Strahd’s Curse is now also sold as a box set titled Strahd’s Curse: Revamped Premium Edition. First released in October 2020, it has a hefty list price of $ 99.99, and given what’s included in the box, it’s hard to recommend it at that price. Fortunately, you can now find it for sale online at places like Amazon for a little less.

The box itself is actually quite smart. It’s shaped like a coffin and the set includes a full color portrait of Strahd so you can let him rest inside for your players to find out. Another advantage of the Premium Edition is that it includes a more robust version of the double-sided campaign map (the same one that comes with the basic hardcover book).

A black box with a raven on the lid opens to reveal a vampire, in full armor, lying on red satin.

The opposite side of Strahd’s portrait includes the block of stats needed to lead him to the table.
Photo: Charlie Hall / Polygon

The downside, however, is that the campaign book in this set is a paperback, not a hardcover like the original.

My favorite part of the set is a handy set of in-fiction tarot cards called Tarokka cards. The oversized stamped aluminum deck will come in handy for a major campaign plot point. Of course, you can also pick up a Tarokka deck of cards – a full-size, un-stamped version – separately for just $ 10.

A selection of materials included in the Premium Edition of Curse of Strahd.

Clockwise from the top you have an oversized Tarokka deck, a map, a set of postcards, Strahd handwritten material, and a four panel DM screen.
Photo: Charlie Hall / Polygon

What the Premium Edition really lacks, in my opinion, is a proper two-dimensional map of Ravenloft Castle, Strahd’s lair, and the setting for the final campaign showdown. A 3D isometric version of the floor plan is included on one side of the campaign map (which you will recall comes with the original hardcover book and Premium edition). But it’s up to DMs to draw that 2D floor plan for their players at the table. This requires pen and paper and can tend to slow down the game considerably.

If you are using an ATV solution, mapping out Ravenloft Castle can also be a hassle. Fortunately, the Roll20 version of the campaign comes with 30 pre-rendered battle maps, including a 2D floor plan of the entire castle.

There is also an extremely well-executed set of 2D Castle Ravenloft maps available on Dungeon Master’s Guild. For just $ 10, you get everything you need to print this floor plan as several large cards at a commercial printer or on dozens of regular sheets of paper at home. There is even a version of the maps formatted for use with ATV software like Fantasy Grounds.

For my home campaign, I printed every square inch of Castle Ravenloft in black and white, then mounted the tiles on a core of black foam. After only a few nights of working with a glue stick and a cutter, I had the entire Strahd den stacked and put it in a paper grocery bag.

High level game

For those looking for the most luxurious way to experience Strahd’s Curse, look no further than Beadle & Grimm’s. The company makes luxury editions under license of many official D&D campaigns, and its vision for the Barovia Valley is extraordinary. Called The Legendary Edition of Strahd’s Curse, it costs $ 399 and is now in its second printing.

A 2D map of a Dungeon &;  Tomb of the Dragons

Beadle & Grimm’s Ravenloft Castle Cards are massive and feature a smooth linen finish.
Photo: Charlie Hall / Polygon

A banquet hall full of bones

What could be a drab collection of gray walls gets a lot of texture and detail.
Photo: Charlie Hall / Polygon

Which makes The legendary edition the instants are so special, aside from the full color prints of Ravenloft Castle and many other key battlegrounds in the game. Not only does it come with extremely well-made paper materials including weathered letters from Strahd itself, but it also includes many multimedia objects to circulate around the table. There is a handful of fake wax seals with Strahd’s personal seal; a set of in-fiction labels to be applied to real bottles of wine; several coins of the kingdom bearing the profile of Strahd; and even a set of in-fiction finger puppets.

A jester, vampire and werewolf finger puppet.

Do you need Ravenloft themed finger puppets to run Strahd’s Curse? No, but they’re adorable.
Photo: Charlie Hall / Polygon

A sun pendant on a long gold chain rests on three fake coins and a felt bag.

A key item players will be looking for in Barovia, alongside three Kingdom Coins.
Photo: Charlie Hall / Polygon

Granted, a price tag of $ 399 might seem extravagant. But having run the campaign myself for an entire year, I can’t tell you how much time and energy The legendary edition would have saved me.

About Johanna Gooding

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