All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again…
Battlestar Galactica (but apparently also Peter Pan)
This week I returned to Curse of Strahd (yes the only thing I’ve been writing about, but at this point, I’m at “write what you know”). It was towards the end of my last run of the campaign last spring that I started following (and very occasionally contributing to) the Curse of Strahd DM’s subreddit and Facebook group. Now I’m excited to revisit Barovia with all of the lessons I learned running the first time, as well as the amazing ideas I’ve come across to steal from the Internet DM hivemind.
I introduced the party with the same hook I’d used before: individual dreams and a variation on the “Cry For Help” hook. I like the Daggerford/Mysterious Visitors hook as it doesn’t immediately vilify the Vistani and gets the party to Madam Eva immediately, but I think it only works if you’re starting the party at third level, which I didn’t want to do here as one players was relatively new to D&D, and another brand new to 5E.
We’re starting with only three PCs this time (which I’m equally excited and terrified about!). The initial meeting went well enough, but none were sold on following a strange man’s invitation through strange woods, and instead decided the continue on to the nearest city. The following night, the mists hugged their campsite close, and when they awoke, nothing looked the same.
We made it it Death House by way of my favorite image in the book, the gates of Barovia. For the second time I pulled off a D&D “jump scare”— Rolling initiative against the wolves in the den/parlor in Death House, then revealing the characters were frightened by a bunch of stuffed wolves.
Jumping at Shadows
When the PC opens the door to the den on the first floor, describe the light of their lantern or torch catching the reflection of glowing red eyes, glistening teeth dripping with saliva. I didn’t mention any sound, but perhaps they might imagine a low, menacing growl. Ask to roll initiative, roll your die for the wolves— no matter what’s on the die, the wolves roll a 1, ending up at the the bottom of the initiative order. If you really want to sell it, start flipping through your Monster Manual. This will probably be the first initiative of the campaign, so everyone will be amped up. The PCs will be up first, and describe the first blow— an axe coming down, a gout of flame, a arrow finding it’s target in the wolf— and how there is a burst of sawdust and fur, and they all realize that <PC Who Attacked First> panicked and attacked a piece of particularly high-quality taxidermy. The tension is broken, initiative is broken, and they can explore the rest of the den at their leisure.
I think I stole this from somebody’s blog or reddit post, and attribution means a lot to me, so please, if anybody recognizes the source of this little tidbit, please drop me a message and I would love to give credit where it is due!
Onwards and Upwards
We made it through the first and second floors without much incident (although the delightfully creepy reliefs and wallpapers kept everyone on edge). None of the PCs were interested in the library, which ended up being a relief for me, as I realized I forgot to print out the letter! This is fantastic, though, as I was later reminded of another DM’s writeup on Reddit on streamlining Death House, cutting or changing many of the fights, and rewriting the narrative a bit to make Lady Durst the true villain. I don’t think anything that happened in this first session will affect any of those changes (and I probably won’t be running off that guide line-by-line either), so I’m looking forward to reviewing all of those changes again and putting it all into action next week.
I wrapped up the session with the Animated Armor beaten down (although not before it got a few good blows in too), and the weirdness of this house will begin to ramp up next week…