For in that sleep of death what dreams may come…
Dreams ended up being one of my favorite storytelling tools throughout the campaign. Sometimes it was major undertakings— I wrote longer dream narratives for every character on two occasions: once for their first session, as part of bringing them together and introducing them to the Demiplane of Dread, and again to get them interested in the Amber Temple. The vestiges imprisoned there reached out to each of them, promising great power and pushing them to return to Kasimir and venture south into the mountains. Some nights, I would have short hand-written bits and pieces, used to nudge the narrative in one direction or the other, or reveal bits and pieces to those who had given me backstory to play with— Sumu’s history in Barovia, Chand’s past run-ins with lycanthropes, laying the groundwork for things to come.
When we started Curse of Strahd, we had a small army of six PCs marauding across Barovia. I knew they would quickly be making friends and influencing people, and they shortly already had Ismark and Ireena in tow. When I realized how easily a well-balanced party of six made it through Death House more-or-less unscathed (which I’ve often heard referred to as TPK House), I started looking into ways to make Barovia as a whole that much more dangerous. If the party was rolling into every fight fresh-faced and at full strength, hair combed and muscles oiled like Leonidas at Thermopylae, nothing I threw at them “by the book” was going to be much of a threat.
Increasing encounter CR helps, but I wasn’t very good at it, and even a few more zombies in the horde didn’t do much, so instead looked for ways ways to tax their most precious assets— health and magic.
Every long rest in Barovia required a “nightmare roll” at the end of the night, to see who slept through the night unscathed. The roll was a d100 + their Charisma save, with an optional 1d10 if they felt “safe” that night. I left the d10 to the players discretion— How had the previous day’s events affected them? Were they in warm beds in the Blue Water Inn, or curled up under a damp fur ten feet away from a party member’s charred corpse?
I would also offer a (very high DC) save for the various effects of the nightmares that might halve the effect, running the campaign again, I would not offer that again.
|1-5||Roll twice, halve the results (round <6 up to 6)|
|6-10||Dream Spell "Nightmare" (PHB 236) - No benefits of rest, 3d6 psychic damage|
|11-15||Gain 1 Level of exhaustion|
|16-20||2d6 Psychic damage|
|21-25||Long-Term Madness (1d8 Hours)|
|26-30||Fail to recover 2d4 spell slots, or 2d6 psychic damage if not a spellcaster|
|31-40||Do not recover health|
|41-45||Fail to recover 1d4 spell slots or 1d6 psychic damage if not a spellcaster|
|46-50||Do not recover hit dice|
|100+||Recover 1 additional hit die (lost if not spent before the next long rest)|
* Roll 1d100 * Add 1d10 if you're feeling safe in your bed tonight * Halve the total roll if sleeping inside Castle Ravenloft * Races who do not sleep (elves) cannot roll below 21 * Native Barovians cannot roll below 31 * Roll optionally for NPCS