d&d curse of strahd front cover

D&D Curse of Strahd Review

d&d curse of strahd wraparound cover artwork

Gothic horror returns to D&D!

“The master of Ravenloft is having guests for dinner, and you are invited.”

So opens Curse of Strahd, D&D‘s latest adventure, in turn based on the classic I6 gothic horror Ravenloft module from 1983. Ravenloft has been a beloved adventure and setting for over three decades and it shows no signs of losing its appeal, given the interest Curse of Strahd has generated since it was announced a few months back.

Feel free to check out this video review, or read on below. Either way don’t forget the photo gallery at the end of this post!

From lead designer Chris Perkins and designers Adam Lee, Richard Witters and Jeremey Crawford, Curse of Strahd is actually a retelling of the original module. It includes expanded material created in consultation with original Ravenloft designers Tracy and Laura Hickman, with more information on the lands around Castle Ravenloft and casting new, er, light on wizard vampire and all around nasty guy Strahd von Zarovich’s past.

d&d ravenloft strahd 1983

Don’t call it a comeback, he’s been here the whole time

The book officially releases March 15. Friendly local game stores in the Wizards preferred store network received copies on March 4.

Curse of Strahd is intended for 4-6 players levels 1-10 and includes the mini adventure “Death House” to advance characters to 3rd level.*

The numbers:

  • Cover Price: $49.95 (Amazon lists it much cheaper)
  • 256 pages
  • 15 chapters
  • 6 appendices
  • Foreword by Tracy Hickman
  • Multiple handouts for players (yay!)
  • A 2-sided, fold out map (again, yay!)

Yes, there’s an over sized, fold out two-sided map that detaches from the book. On one side you’ll find the land of Barovia and certain areas of interest within it, and on the other you’ll find the same kind of isometric “3D” maps of Castle Ravenloft that were so popular in the original module.

d&d curse of strahd fold out map Barovia

Yep, it’s big…

d&d curse of strahd fold out map Castle Ravenloft

… and the same size on the other side!

I like the inclusion of some handouts to give to the players. I feel Out of the Abyss could have benefited from handouts, especially something to help manage all of the NPCs introduced at the very beginning of that adventure.

Downloadables including Curse of Strahd maps and handouts:
(thanks to YouTube user COMICBOOKJEDI1 for the tip)

Rules-wise, Curse of Strahd contains:

  • One new character background, the “Haunted One”
  • Monster Hunter’s Pack
  • Gothic trinkets
  • A few magic items (several of which are essential to the plot)
  • Multiple NPC and new gothic horror monster stats and descriptions

No new classes or spells, etc. are included.

This is very much an adventure and not a sourcebook although there is a lot of location and background information included for Barovia.


The tarroka deck is Ravenloft’s version of the tarot. The tarroka is essential to Curse of Strahd both for the gothic atmosphere it helps to reinforce and also to randomize each playthrough. This was a feature of the original Ravenloft module and continues to this day. The DM draws cards randomly before the adventure begins, and those cards determine story elements that are important to defeating Strahd.

d&d curse of strahd tarroka cards from gale force 9

Image courtesy Gale Force 9 gf9.com

An appendix lists all of the tarroka cards and their meanings. DMs can substitute a regular deck of playing cards for use. Gale Force 9 has an official D&D tarroka deck  releasing in April.

The book itself

Again, Wizards of the Coast’s D&D team shines in the art direction and layout of the book and quality of writing and final polish. So far high production and aesthetic quality has been a hallmark 5th Edition and Curse of Strahd is no exception.

Portraits, maps, illustrations, tarroka cards, typography and color scheme ( dark reds, maroons, blues, and grays) all work together for a very nice whole. I don’t necessarily want to spend $50 on a D&D adventure, but if I need to something like this is what I want hold in my hands after I spend the money.

Sink your teeth into the story

Curse of Strahd is “excessively” (in their own words) open ended, so much so that it has a table listing appropriate character levels for different areas. All sorts of dread, gothic dangers await your players from werewolves to witches to whispering wraiths as they navigate this dangerous realm and attempt to bring relief to its inhabitants.

Ultimately it tells the tale of the characters’ attempt to hunt down and destroy the vampire wizard Strahd who is the dread lord of the domain, and his attempts in turn to destroy or corrupt the characters.

Many paths can and will wind in various directions before the final confrontation, but in the end they will face him. There it is, Castle Ravenloft, looming over the terrified village below. Look! Is that a figure upon the battlements…?

The success of the story will rise and fall on Strahd as a character, not just as a stat block. Multiple pages are given to to detailing how he ticks and how to run him during the adventure. Tracy Hickman notes in the foreword that Strahd is a true evil despite the romance that surrounds him. DMs and players will do well to remember that.

All of this takes place in the fog-surrounded realm of Barovia, which the unsuspecting party of adventurers suddenly finds themselves in. Barovia is a gothic realm all its own, and is not part of any other realm such as the Forgotten Realms. Only supernatural, magical methods can transport one into or out of Barovia. Think of every oppressed, superstitious Eastern European village from the old black and white horror films and you basically have Barovia.

Characters will encounter many frightening locations in Barovia. Even a windmill can be a menacing silhouette on the horizon, with potential deadly dangers awaiting inside. Is the bird flying overhead simply a bird, or a wereraven? Does that village townhouse have a mind and sinister purpose of its own? Is that distant moaning the wind, or something more fearful? Magic itself seems to behave horrifically in this dread realm…

It’s also of note that much of Curse of Strahd involves social interaction, which DMs and players that prefer role play to roll play will love.

Tips are included on how to advance character levels through milestones rather than pure XP collection to help compensate for the emphasis on social encounters in addition to combat.

Horrified by horror?

Feel intimidated by running a gothic horror D&D adventure? Fear not! A section entitled “Marks of Horror” gives helpful notes on doing so, and plenty of notes, artwork and flavor text throughout the book help as well. Multiple adventure hooks are provided to get things started in a way that suits the style of the DM and/or party.

It’s worth remarking again on the gothic horror tone of this adventure. There is combat, yes. There are the kinds of encounters parties are used to, yes. Yet this is a realm of ongoing, oppressive dread and that is a foe and character as much as any monsters the party may confront.

Think on this:  the designers have provided two possible ending scenarios. One where the party prevails, and one where Strahd prevails (a wolf howls in the distance). Does that intimidate you, mortal? Does it give you pause?

So, is Curse of Strahd worth the time and money?

As with my other reviews, I offer no one size fits all answer. That would sell both the product short as well as the wide spectrum of gamer types and interests that exist in our hobby. So here is a spectrum of recommendations:

If you want to run or play in a classic, familiar, comfortable Tolkienesque fantasy RPG hack and slash adventure where the odds are daunting but good is certain to prevail… Curse of Strahd is not for you. (Note: That’s not meant to be a diss. I rather like those kinds of adventures, even after all these years)

If you love vampires and gothic horror and its trappings and want to while away an evening or two absorbing D&D‘s take on it, regardless of whether you want to run or play the adventure… Curse of Strahd could be for you.

If you want a Ravenloft sourcebook to create your own adventures in Barovia…. Curse of Strahd might be for you but you are going to have to put some time into extrapolating and modifying what is here. Again, this is an adventure not a sourcebook but there is a lot of information on the setting, atmosphere, locations, history, NPCs and monsters.

If you want to run or play in a fully realized, well-written gothic horror RPG adventure with a lot of social interaction in addition to combat… Curse of Strahd is for you.

If you love Ravenloft and can’t wait to play the 5th Edition version, Curse of Strahd is absolutely for you.

Thanks so much for reading! Enjoy the photo gallery below.

*I feel the Death House mini adventure serves a useful purpose in addition to a handy way to get the party to 3rd level. Since it is available in PDF from WotC for free, it’s a great way for both DMs and players to get a taste of gothic horror D&D to see if they like it before investing both the time and money into a full campaign like Curse of Strahd.

15 thoughts on “D&D Curse of Strahd Review

  1. Steeve

    Thank you for this review.

    Very interesting and concise. Looking forward to getting this.

    Quick question: you refer to Amazon and some other shop online that I can’t quite get the name…

      1. Steeve

        Thanks Shane. Feel stupid for not having understood this one but I’ll live. 🙂

        That being said, I am a first time browser of your site. Quite good. I’ll keep an eye on you from now on…. 🙂


        1. Shane Post author

          Ha! I’m sure I mangled it somewhat 🙂

          I’m glad you like the site and yes please do keep an eye out. I’m also on Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, Facebook etc.

          Thanks for visiting!

    1. Shane Post author

      Thanks for the comment!

      I hope you find a group… the group I play with each week at my local game store runs 13 years olds to folks in their 50s, maybe you could find something similar.

      Also don’t forget you play D&D online via apps like Roll 20 and Fantasy Grounds. They work pretty well.

  2. Chris

    Shane – thanks for your review. Quick question – you mention 4-6 players are recommended. I have 3 who are interested and plan on probably doing a 4th NPC just to keep things on a level playing field without making it overly-easy.

    That said – difficulty-wise…do you feel that it seems a little overpowering? Granted, Strahd is practically a god in his own domain, but just reading up on some of the encounters seems to be overwhelmingly powerful at first glance, especially given the level recommendations given by chapter in the beginning.


    1. Shane Post author

      There’s a few ways to approach this.

      You can certainly run a couple of NPCs to help them out, however I’ve played many games where players played 2 PCs each and it worked out just fine. That way you achieve the game balance but leave things in their hands.

      Regarding the encounter levels, you can always softly encourage the players to head towards level appropriate sections of the game without putting them completely on rails. If they just head to the most dangerous spot anyway they can realize they are in over their heads you can give them an out to escape and come back later, etc.

      I am not sure I would say that the adventure itself is completely overpowering difficulty-wise, however it can get dangerous really quickly if your players have bravado over brains. Wait, this is D&D… yeah, it’s overpowering 😛

  3. Chris

    Thanks, that helps. Two of them are new to it, so I’ll probably try the NPC route to avoid “drowning” them until they feel comfortable with the game and to encourage their enjoyment. Do you feel that 4 players is sufficient with the level suggestions that they give or is a slight tweak in order?

    1. Shane Post author

      You are probably going to have to fudge some dice rolls or intervene here and there with a 4 character party, especially if they go into areas that are not level appropriate.

  4. Mike D.

    Thank you for the review. I’m contemplating running this adventure adapted to Cubicle 7’s Adventures in Middle-earth rules, either in Mirkwood or in the barrow-downs. Your review has helped me to decide that I think I can pull it off. It seems the low-magic environment of this adventure would fit well into Tolkien’s world, for one thing.

    I do have to take umbrage with your comment regarding Tolkien as high-fantasy where the heroes always win. I think that describes generic D&D, which of course was inspired by Tolkien in some respects, but not in that one. As Tolkien described it, the world of Middle-earth was involved in the “long defeat.” Up until the destruction of the One Ring, evil often prevailed. Even when the forces of good finally won, their story was replete with loss and failure – the death of Boromir; the fracturing of the fellowship; the fall of Saruman, just to name a few. The heroes are on the run the entire adventure – hardly a scenario where the good guys are expected to win every encounter.

    1. Shane Post author

      Thanks for watching and commenting 🙂

      I am not sure what my exact comments in the video were regarding Tolkien, but I will say when most people reference “Tolkien” they are referring to the Hobbit & Lord of the Rings. In those cases although times can get dark, ultimately good triumphs over evil and light chases out the darkness (even if that light is quite small at times). Yes, I understand that there is a larger body of his work involving Middle-Earth yet that is not what the epic / heroic fantasy template is based on.

      A lot of high fantasy (generic D&D included) usually follows this theme… overall the heroes can be expected to prevail in the end despite the odds. It is that hope that often drives them.

      With a setting like Ravenloft, it is more survival horror drenched in gothic atmosphere… you may not win, and the best you can do may be to survive long enough to escape. Curse of Strahd even says at the end of the adventure that eventually Strahd returns and the status quo goes back to what it was before the characters arrived even if they defeat him and free the village from his tyranny. So it is ultimately hopeless and the rules of the demiplane assert themselves.


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