A little less than a year ago, I had my first ever Dungeons and Dragons experience playing Horde of the Dragon Queen. We didn’t get very far. We then switched over to Shadowrun, which we enjoyed but never really gelled with; we just couldn’t seem to get together to play. So now we’re back on DnD and I’m trying my hand at the dungeon master role as we navigate Curse of Strahd.
I set every bar of performance in my life at the same level: I just try not to suck. Pretty low, I admit, but hey – I very rarely end up disappointed! But with DMing, my poor performance could put quite the wet blanket on all of the PCs, and I didn’t want to be responsible for giving any one (or all!) of them a reason not to show up when it was time to play.
I want to do well by my PCs, so I threw myself into the behind-the-screen work of a DM with gusto. I read the book, I organized my own DM notebook, I fabricated several props, but maybe most importantly: I scoured the internet looking for tips, tricks, and any other content that would up the game of my storytelling and the game’s overall experience.
Below, I’m sharing with you some of the cool things I unearthed in my search. A couple are free, a couple cost a few bucks, but I’ve tried them all and have been pleased with the results.
Curse of Strahd Supplemental Content
1. Death House is free to play in its entirety.
Maybe you’re just looking for a one-off mini dungeon experience with a whole lot of atmosphere and
gothic horror flair. This is it! The Death House is an appendix in the back of the Strahd manual and is meant to quickly level your PCs up to 3rd level in preparation for all that awaits them in Barovia, but you can play it as a standalone experience if you wish.
It will kinda break the rules of Barovia if you treat it as a one-off as it is on a demiplane and is virtually inescapable unless you’re a Vistani or kill the dread vampire Strahd, but what your PCs don’t know won’t hurt them. Maybe you have the mists of Barovia port them in and out ominously and could use the same mechanic to whisk them back unexpectedly later. Or maybe your PCs will love the Death House experience so much that they’ll want to explore Barovia further and you end up guiding them through the whole adventure anyway.
2. Regardless of whether you’re running Death House in isolation or as part of the full Strahd adventure, this post from Sky Flourish is full of solid advice, tips, and even some handouts!
Mike Shea provides all sorts of advice covering the adventure hook, atmosphere, and mechanics. He even tosses out some interesting ideas surrounding NPC development and leverage; adding a little more resolution to the housemaid’s story and keeping the pitiable Rose and Thorn in play even after the book basically says they’re no longer available as plot devices.
Plus, as a bonus that I definitely took advantage of, he’s got all of the letters and journal entries included at the back of the Strahd book available in a ready-to-print format so you can hand them out when appropriate to your party.
3. A new background, Haunted One, is also free.
A background befitting the environment and atmosphere of Strahd:
You are haunted by something so terrible that you dare not speak of it. You’ve tried to bury it and flee from it, to no avail. This thing that haunts you can’t be slain with
a sword or banished with a spell. It might come to you as a shadow on the wall, a bloodcurdling nightmare, a memory that refuses to die, or a demonic whisper in the dark. The burden has taken its toll, isolating you from others and making you question your sanity. You must find a way to overcome it before it destroys you.
It includes, of course, the Skill Proficiencies, Languages, Equipment, Personality Traits, Ideals, Bonds, and Flaws as do all other backgrounds, but also includes a couple of extra tables:
- Harrowing Event: The thing that’s got you all shaken up.
- Gothic Trinkets: A thematic bauble that might serve as the constant reminder of your fear/sorrow or the one item in the world that brings you comfort or courage.
4. Heroes of the Mist: A sweet 3rd party supplement with all kinds of goodies.
This 83 page PDF can be yours for an extremely reasonable $3, and it is overflowing with neat retools and expansions specifically designed to enhance the gothic horror feel of Strahd. In the document, the standard races are given gothic horror touches and a few more thematically appropriate choices are outlined, retouched and brand new backgrounds, and even several new variants on the standard classes.
But wait! There’s more!
The Inspiration mechanic is rebranded a little and called Dark Shadows. These can either be chosen at character creation or inflicted organically according to the unfolding of events at the DM’s discretion. Each shadow comes with a flaw/temptation and a benefit which can be utilized at the cost of your Inspiration (awarded by DM as per the PHB/DMG).
There’s also thematically revamped improvised weapons, magic items, and artifacts as well as some neat mechanical ideas to throw into the mix to feed the horror vibe of the adventure.
Definitely some noteworthy stuff in this document!
5. How about some high resolution maps to provide some excellent visuals?
Mike Schley sells every single map in the Strahd book in digital format and at a whopping 7273×10000
pixels. That means you can scale them up and drop them into PosterRazor without losing much (if any) resolution – a problem I definitely ran into before purchasing these maps.
And they’re seriously great. Each map has three variants:
- The map as its shown in the book, complete with labeled areas, traps, secrets, and grid lines.
- A “player’s version” that removes that label bubbles and conceals anything your PCs would need to roll Perception to discover.
- A “no grid” variant that resembles the player’s version but does not have the grids.
They sell for $1.75 a piece (which I’m assuming nets you all three variants for a single map), or you can spend $30 for the bundle (which I did) which nets you 81 maps (variants included). That works out to about 3 super high resolution maps per dollar. Totally worth it.
Those are my finds when it comes to great Curse of Strahd supplements. What have you found? Share your discoveries with me in the comments, please! My PCs and I will thank you.