Two Tales of Dr. Van Richten

I had a horrifying moment halfway through the campaign when the party finally got their hands on Rudolph van Richten’s diary. Like many of my “Oh shit, what’s going on?” DM moments, this one came out of not reading the book closely enough and covering the details that were given in separate sections of the book. One of the biggest challenges I had DMing Curse of Strahd (and, probably a problem many DMs have with the hardcovers), is the disjointed way information is related. Other DMs’ guides have been invaluable in avoiding this, but it’s nearly unavoidable even for the best of us, and I am most definitely not that.

Thanks for Bearing with the Page Flipping

One of the worst offenders besides Dr. van Richten, whom I’ll return to in a moment, is the story of the Abbot in Krezk and the Mongrelfolk. The story of the abbey is related in the chapter introduction (page 143), and sprinkled throughout the abbey’s sections’ descriptions (pp. 147—155). There is more vital information provided in Appendix D, Monsters and NPCs, but again split between the Abbot’s entry (p. 225), and the Mongrelfolk (p. 234). When we got to the Abbey, one of the party’s first questions was, “Where did the mongrlfolk come from? Why are they like this?” I was already a bit unprepared this session, as I had expected the party to go to the winery before getting into Krezk, and had planned accordingly. Of course our adventurers consistently preferred to ignore the Reece’s Pieces I’d laid in front of them, talked their way into Krezk, and bolted for the abbey, leaving me frantically flipping through the abbey’s pages instead. I had read the entire book (many sections more than once) while prepping, so I vaguely recalled the answer (lepers the abbot healed, they asked to be made even more special, more than human, &c. &c.), but for the life of me, could not find the text that related this information (for the record, of course it’s in the abbot’s section of Appendix D). I don’t remember what vague story the party got as I scrambled for the answer, but I ended up following up and retconning by email when I found the right page later that night.

The Problem with Rudolph van Richten’s Journal

When the party acquired the burnt journal pages, I handed a player a print out of the pages, not thinking much of it, they had been curious about who this van Richten person was, and I’m sure were excited to get another piece of the puzzle. When our party’s sorcerer got to reading the pages aloud, however, I had a definite internal “Wait, what?” moment as he read the passage about van Richten unleashing a horde of undead on the Vistani camp. Where did that come from? There is a huge split between the story the journal tells and what is related only a few pages earlier in Ezmerelda’s story. This time, not only was I hit with information split across multiple sections, but the stories were in direct conflict with each other! According to Ezmerelda, the doctor spared her family once he’d gotten all the information he could out of them, continuing on to pursue the vampire who held his son. That mercy inspired her to seek him out, to become a vampire hunter herself and the good doctor’s eventual protégé. I have no idea how a mistake like this made it to print, I  know I have myself to blame for missed it during my own preparation, but that seems absurdly negligent on the part of editing.

In the end, the party didn’t spend much time with Rictavio/van Richten, and they never point-blank asked about the discrepancy between his and Ezmerela’s stories about that fateful night. One DM on Reddit posted an alternative journal entry which I would use if I run the campaign again.

Another option might be to reveal the document has been tampered with: when Ezmerelda read it, it showed the “real” story, but Strahd or Rahadin got his hands on it at some point (perhaps while Ezmerelda was in the castle?), and edited it with a minor spell of some sort that tells a different story, intending to sow distrust between the party and a potential ally. With that, a dispel magic or similar spell would reveal the illusion and you can pass along the alternative version linked above.

Another DM suggested replacing the journal with a draft of Guide to Vampire‘s introduction which I like quite a bit, as I agree it seems a bit careless for the very careful doctor to have left pages of his journal behind like that.

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