This article is going to be a little different from my normal articles and I think the first in perhaps a little anthology series depending on how things go. Get yourself a nice drink and a snack and get comfortable as I take you down the dark path of my personal experiences (as well as some of my friends’) with everyone’s favorite Gothic horror module.
Mild spoilers ahead!
That’s how many times I’ve tried to unsuccessfully make my way through this cursed module. In fact, CoS was, I think, the first official module I tried to play my way through but I still remember as if it was yesterday; I had joined the campaign late as a fill in player. The original group had already collected Ireena and were now on their way to the Winery after being turned away from their destination. At the time I still didn’t quite know what I was doing and had opted to simply play my first Paladin, who was predictably an Aasimar.
We got to the Winery, talked to the family, and saved the day… not too bad for my first session having joined. Second session comes and we make our way to Yester Hill. A couple of player characters die but nothing too out of the ordinary for this module. Session three DM never shows up. Everyone sort of just sits around as makes awkward small talk as we wait to see if he’ll show up but eventually we begin to filter out. Strike one.
Flash forward a handful of months later and I’m still intrigued by CoS and very much decided to finish it. In my desperation I turn to the interwebs and discover that there are various platforms from which you can find a group and play online. It took a couple of days but I did eventually find a paid Cursed of Strahd campaign that looked promising and decided to join and what do you know… this group is also just now headed towards Kresk. I bite my tongue to not spoil anything and just enjoy playing my cool shadow monk. After another couple of sessions we eventually fight the druids again and…the DM kicks everyone out of their server after arguing with one of the players… no refunds. Strike two.
Months pass, I meet some pretty great friends along the way and forget about this cursed module for a bit until someone in our little group expresses their interest in running Curse of Strahd. I have a couple of seconds of doubt but eventually do agree to join the campaign as I had recently freed up some of my time. After a few sessions it happens again. Strike three.
Flash forward once again to about two months ago when another friend informs me that he will be running the game for some people and very hopefully asks if I am free to join. Now, at this point I’m very much reluctant and doubtful on whether I will ever actually be able to play through the damn thing, so I sigh and do what any friend would do…I play an Ancestral Barbarian Orc. Long story short, by the time we’ve made it out of the Death House three players had already dropped and with them the campaign came to an end once again. Final strike.
Now, if you’ve read this far I’m sure you understand why I’m not exactly fully knowledgeable on the full Curse of Strahd Module (since I really don’t like reading ahead on things I’m playing through) but for the most part I did find the story interesting enough and was very much looking forward to progressing through it.
After four attempts at playing this module I have some ideas as to why it might be difficult for a player but having never tried to DM it myself, I’ve done my rounds and asked a few people who are knowledgeable in this module about their own personal experiences running it and here’s what they had to say:
The module’s strength is also its weakness. While most people love a good sandbox adventure, CoS takes it a little bit too far by making it very difficult for the DM to prepare anything. We asked some of our friends who have run the module and they told us that they basically had to have the entire thing prepared because there was no way to know when the players would simply decide to change directions at the drop of a hat.
This overwhelming amount of material confined to such a small sandbox can also feel a little directionless for both players and Dungeon Masters. With so many quests and missions appearing all over the map and no “guiding” NPC to rely on, there’s just too many things to do and too few ways in which to nudge players in the right direction.
Another big complain that I personally experienced and something that got brought up quite a bit when asking for feedback for this article was that CoS seems to be built specifically to make the players’ lives miserable. At lower levels, every encounter is skewed to be deadly to the extreme, this coupled with the fact that 5th edition has an inherent tendency for players to not want to run away from encounters, it makes it extremely easy for total party wipe outs to happen. Now, don’t misunderstand me, player character deaths are completely natural and can lead to some amazing in character moments… when death is meaningful. Unfortunately that’s something that gets stripped away very quickly when your party has cycled through an entire rotation of characters.
For a module that everyone seems to claim as their favorite, there seems to be a lot of unhappy experiences surrounding it. At the end of the day, after writing this article I think I’ve personally officially come to terms with the fact that I will never play through the entirety of Curse of Strahd and you know what? I’m okay with that.
If you’ve read this far I’d like to thank you for checking out our first article in our anthology series. If you’d like to read similar content in the future or simply want to rage at our writer for bad mouthing your favorite vampire module let us know by dropping a message in our new forums. Don’t forget to follow us on our social media to never miss any of our daily articles.