Last Updated on January 22, 2023
Curse of Strahd transforms Dungeons & Dragons 5e from sword-and-sorcery fantasy to a nightmarish realm of gothic horror where the master of Ravenloft awaits atop his castle as lightning flashes across the sky with blood dripping from his fangs.
If you’re a new dungeon master thinking about running one of D&D 5e’s most enduringly popular adventures, this guide should point you in all the right directions.
- Curse of Strahd is a 257-page adventure for D&D 5e that transports players into a horrifying pocket dimension called Barovia.
- The adventure is firmly rooted in the horror genre and pits the players against ghosts, werewolves, and the titular vampire himself: Strahd Von Zarovich. Curse of Strahd borrows a lot of advice from older editions of D&D in order to teach dungeon masters how to run a horror adventure.
- A party of adventurers can begin the adventure either at 1st level (beginning with the notoriously lethal starter adventure Death House found in Appendix B) or 3rd. Over the course of the adventure, they will progress to approximately 10th level.
What Is Curse of Strahd?
Curse of Strahd is an adventure book for D&D 5e that is heavily inspired by gothic and pulp horror. The story is set in the pocket dimension of Barovia, a nightmarish domain of dread ruled by a powerful vampire: Count Strahd Von Zarovich. Lured to Barovia by the land’s dark master and trapped there by a supernatural mist, the players are forced to travel throughout the realm gaining knowledge and experience before finally confronting the vampire Strahd himself.
Based on the classic Advanced Dungeons & Dragons adventure, I6 Ravenloft, released in 1983, Curse of Strahd expands the original adventure into an entire region complete with 13 adventuring locations, including the Village of Barovia and Castle Ravenloft.
Curse of Strahd — Adventure Summary and Contents
Curse of Strahd sees the player characters transported by the supernatural mists of Ravenloft from wherever they are (the adventure assumes they’re somewhere on the Sword Coast near the city of Neverwinter, but you can start the campaign anywhere) and into the valley of Barovia.
There are four possible adventure hooks designed to draw your players into the mists…
- Plea For Help in which the PCs answer a (false, it turns out) plea for help from the (now deceased) Burgomeister of Barovia, Kolyan Indirovich, begging for the PCs’ help to protect his daughter Ireena from the vampire Strahd.
- Mysterious Visitors in which the PCs are asked by the Duchess of Daggerford to evict a local caravan of Vistani. Once at the camp, the Vistani recruit the PCs to help them break Strahd’s curse of vampirism and ferry them into Barovia.
- Werewolves in the Mist in which the PCs are dispatched to hunt down a pack of werewolves attacking peasant villages along the sword coast at which point they are swallowed by the mists.
- Creeping Fog in which the PCs are camping in the woods when the mists of Ravenloft simply surround them and transport them into Barovia.
For a very well-thought-out expansion on the implications of each of these plot hooks, Reddit user u/DragnaCarta has put together this excellent post on the r/CurseofStrahd subreddit, which is probably the single best D&D community subreddit in existence.
Who Is Strahd Von Zarovich?
The Dark Lord of Barovia, the master of Ravenloft, the first Vampyre… Count Strahd Von Zarovich is a contender for the title of D&D’s most iconic villain of all time, right alongside the Vecna, Acererak, Xanathar the mad beholder crime boss, and Halaster Blackcloak.
You can read our full guide to Strahd’s history, his personality, and how to run him at the table HERE.
The short version is that he was a mortal warlord who murdered an entire valley full of people because of his unresolved daddy issues. Then, he built a gigantic gothic monstrosity of a castle because of his gigantic (gothic) unresolved mommy issues. Then, because the woman he wanted to creepily possess fell in love with his younger (well-adjusted) brother, he murdered his brother, chased his “beloved” Tatyana off a 1,000-foot cliff, and made a pact with the mysterious Dark Powers to become the unholy terror he is today.
Now, Strahd has become convinced that a young Barovian woman is the reincarnation of his beloved Tatyana and wishes to make her his bride.
Once in Barovia, the PCs are free to explore the entire region in search of aid in their battle against Strahd as well as several powerful relics strewn throughout the land. Locations in Barovia include…
Curse of Strahd Key Locations
- Castle Ravenloft: Strahd’s domain — a multi-story dungeon crawl through a horrifying gothic castle perched like a gargoyle atop a 1,000-foot cliff. Players can attend a creepy, yet civilized, dinner with Strahd to learn more of his plans, explore the castle to find out more about his history, and descend into the crypts beneath in search of his coffin.
- The Old Svalich Road: A miserable road running from the East of Barovia through the dark Svalich woods.
- Gates of Barovia: Vast stone gates flanked by headless sentries. One set lies to the East of the Village of Barovia on the Svalich Road and the other to the west of the village.
- The Svalich Woods: Towering pine trees blanket much of Barovia. Among the dark trunks flanking the Old Svalich Road lie the remains of a Barovian peasant torn apart by Strahd’s dire wolves while trying to escape with the original version of the message the players are handed in the Plea For Help plot hook. The real letter tells whoever finds it to encircle Barovia with holy symbols and leave them all to die.
- The River Ivlis: A roaring ribbon of ice-cold water winding its way along the valley floor. There are bridges near the Village of Barovia and near the Tser Falls.
- The Village of Barovia: A gloomy, accursed village cowering in the shadow of Castle Ravenloft where the PCs can meet Ireena. Also the location of the starter adventure Death House.
- The Town of Vallaki: A strange town that holds one bizarre (usually macabre) festival after another in the belief that it keeps Strahd at bay.
- Old Bonegrinder: A decrepit windmill that is home to a coven of hags.
- Argynvostholt: A ruined mansion that was once home to a knightly order that was destroyed by Strahd, whose members now haunt the manor in undeath.
- The Village of Krezk: A fortified village overlooked by an Abbey turned madhouse where wickedness now rules.
- The Ruins of Berez: The desolated hometown of another young Barovian woman whom Strahd believed was Tatyana reincarnated, which the vampire destroyed when his plans were thwarted. Now, it is home to the ancient hag/witch Baba Lysaga.
- Van Richten’s Tower: The dilapidated tower of a wizard, now used as a hideout by a famous vampire hunter.
- The Wizard of Wines: Barovia’s only vineyard currently under attack by Baba Lysaga’s scarecrows and a circle of evil druids.
- The Amber Temple: The ancient dungeon complex where Strahd forged his pact with the Dark Powers.
- Yester Hill: A strange remote hilltop populated by druids who worship Strahd as a living god of the land.
- The Werewolf Den: A cave complex overlooking a lake where the majority of Barovia’s werewolf pack reside.
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I played my first tabletop RPG (Pathfinder 1e, specifically) in college. I rocked up late to the first session with an unread rulebook and a human bard called Nick Jugger. It was a rocky start but I had a blast and now, the better part of a decade later, I play, write, and write about tabletop RPGs (mostly 5e, but also PBtA, Forged in the Dark and OSR) games for a living, which is wild.