Curse of Strahd: Chapter-by-Chapter Guides

The best part of running a campaign a year or two after its release is the wealth of information out there from other DM’s who have already been in your shoes. Across the weeks and months of running Curse of Strahd, I find myself returning again and again to guides and reference tools others have put out for our consumption and reference, learning from the lessons and mistakes or others, learning from what worked and didn’t work at others tables. Every group is obviously different with wildly different dynamics, and what works for one dungeon master will not work for all, but these resources have been an enormous help.

When preparing a particular chapter or section, I’ll often double back and read all three of the guides noted here again, weaving together the advice given alongside my own notes from the source book.

Powerscore RPG’s Guide by Sean McGovern

Sean has a number of guides, both on his blog as well as published on DMs Guild, for each (or at least most) of the D&D hardcover campaigns. His Strahd guide offers great advice on “connecting the dots” between the somewhat disjointed chapters (because chapters are divided by location and somewhat out-of-order, it’s up to the DM and the players to find the through-line), and general advice on everything from what pages of the DMG you’ll find what you need for a trap or a treasure, to specific suggestions on how and when to introduce the party to Strahd von Zarovich. This was one of the first guides I found and read, and it was the best overview on how

/r/DMAcadEMY, /r/DnDBehindTheScreen, /R/CurseOfStrahd, and other D&D Subreddits, With Special Attention to “What I Have Learned from Running Curse of Strahd Twice”

There are a number of D&D subreddits on Reddit. I want to draw particular attention to an excellent series of twenty posts by the user /u/paintraina, starting with a guide to Death House, and covering nearly every chapter, sometimes across multiple posts. On top of the posts’ excellent suggestions, you’ll also find more gems in the dialogue and disagreements that stem from any conversational forum. Most of the posts are crosslinked to each other, so you can jump between sections. At the time of writing, the final(?) post on running the final encounter doesn’t seem to be linked on the other posts.

/r/CurseOfStrahd hadn’t really pick up (or at least, I hadn’t discovered it yet) until after I was close to the end of the campaign, but there are a ton of great resources, write-ups, and alternatives from DMs that really dive into fleshing out Barovia and its inhabitants. One of my favorites was a post on adding more depth to the Tome of Strahd, and turning it into a more helpful magic item than the one-off lore dump that the hardcover gives us. I thought this dovetailed nicely with my own Tome of Strahd reading additions, and would definitely incorporate into another run of the campaign.

Elven Tower’s Guide by Derek Ruiz

Like Powerscore RPG, Elven Tower’s guide is available both on the website, divided by chapter, as well as a PDF on DMs Guild. I actually hadn’t encountered Derek’s guide until I was already running the campaign, and I wish I’d discovered/read through some of his material before then— For example, Yester Hill. Yester Hill is enormous, and get the scale and elevation changes of the the map across to the players can be difficult. Elven Tower’s post breaking down Yester Hill includes an elevation to accompany your map, which does wonders to clarify the hill’s terrain almost immediately. Yester Hill’s session was not a disaster, per say (Yester Hill’s session could be a post in and of itself), but I do not think I ran the encounter particularly well, and ultimately required considerably better preparation on my part than what my party ultimately got.

One of my favorite additions from Elven Tower is a collection of short speeches from each of the Amber Temple’s vestiges to try and seduce the party members. I used the vestiges’ quotes almost verbatem when it was time for the party to visit the Amber Temple, and I was quite happy with how everything came together (or fell apart) for them when they got there.

Sly Flourish’s Guide to Curse of Strahd

Mike Shea’s guide to Curse of Strahd does not dive into chapter-specific detail the way these other three guides do, but offers a lot of good general advice for a successful Barovian campaign. He does have an article exclusively dedicated to running Death House, Curse of Strahd‘s optional introduction for fast-tracking the players up from level one to three in a couple sessions. Among the resources is included a great pdf of all the letter handouts the players will encounter across Barovia for easy printing which I loved, but got caught offgaurd— the Tome of Strahd document differs slightly from the text in the source material, which I did not notice when I skimmed the letters (this seems to be a bit of a trend for me), and only discovered when it was read out loud at the table for the first time.

Sly Flourish’s guide is an excellent resource for figuring out how to play the character of Curse of Strahd, and especially von Zarovich himself.