Ravenloft. Few things can make a D&D player clench up faster than their Dungeon Master naming that Domain of Dread, that castle of carnage, that — you get the picture. Curse of Strahd, the latest adventure accessory for the Dungeons & Dragons game, brings immersive horror roleplaying back to the table — but does it live up to the already impressive Ravenloft resume?
Whether run as a Halloween one-shot adventure or a macabre ongoing campaign, a visit to Castle Ravenloft and its surrounding countryside is sure to plunge a gaming group into an unforgettable — possibly unsurvivable — maze of mists, treachery and desperation straight out of Hammer Horror. Count Strahd von Zarovich is the ultimate iconic vampire, and his complex, cunning goals and base desires drive a compelling narrative once again for D&D veterans and newcomers alike.[pulledquote]This is Ravenloft gone back to its roots, with inspiration from all that came after…[/pulledquote]Curse of Strahd resurrects Ravenloft for the D&D game’s 5th Edition, and it builds successfully on more than three decades of works depicting what is perhaps the ultimate adventure RPG experience. Bringing back Tracy and Laura Hickman, the designers of the original 1983 Ravenloft module, as creative consultants, this is Ravenloft gone back to its roots, with inspiration from all that came after, from the larger campaign setting and supplements it spawned to 2006’s 3.5-edition mega-adventure Expedition to Castle Ravenloft — itself an outstanding achievement.
Packed with beautiful artwork and maps, Curse of Strahd breaks the streak of recent hardcover D&D releases that barely deserved that rich format; it’s meaty and full of substance. The adventure — more aptly described as a campaign setting, actually — strikes a balance between “fluff” and “crunch,” offering plenty of background and window dressing such as working the plot into different worlds and wrapping up the story, along with ample gameplay mechanics, including (in grand Ravenloft tradition) a tarot-like system for determining key plot elements such as item location and the identity of potential allies. There’s an impressive array of nonplayer characters presented, as well as adversaries and monsters and the treasures they guard. As a D&D accessory should be, it’s basically a whole world in a single book.
The original Ravenloft came at a time when D&D writers were stretching the definition of fantasy adventure roleplaying and what a “dungeon” was. Curse of Strahd is no such reinvention, but it’s a solid restatement of that theme variation and its place in D&D history.
This is D&D material at its finest, and easily the deepest of the new generation of recent adventure books.
Curse of Strahd: Details
Curse of Strahd retails for $49.95 and clocks in at 256 pages and a pull-out map. It’s designed as an adventure for D&D characters of levels 1-10, with an included mini-adventure suggested for low-level characters to play first. A copy of the book was provided to Nerdvana for review purposes.