For the last three years or so I was playing in an online Curse of Strahd game with a few friends. After having played Traveller for a while we were open for a change of pace and one of the players offered to run this iconic adventure for us. With high expectations we entered into the world of Ravenloft and – oh boy – did we eventually regret this.
The word that immediately comes to mind when I think about Curse of Strahd is “frustrating”. All the time we felt incredibly lost, doing anything felt like pulling teeth and even our small victories were like ashes in our mouth. The whole experience was not fun. Don’t get me wrong. Our GM did a great job and it was fun spending time with friends online and goofing around, but the game itself was just meh.
Things actually started great. I thought the haunted house at the beginning was fun, but after that everything fell apart quickly. One thing which irked us from the start is that a big part of D&D is accumulation of wealth, getting better equipment. This totally falls flat in Curse of Strahd. For the most part we had the same equipment at the end of the campaign as at the end. Sure, there are a few pieces of magical equipment to be found, but it was basically nothing compared to what you normally expect. We also found some gold, a couple of gems but unfortunately you can’t buy anything worthwhile in these lands.
Most of the time we didn’t know what to do. Perhaps this was our own fault – I dunno – but it was extremely frustrating. It’s possible that this was exactly the feeling the authors of the campaign wanted to evoke so that the victory at the end feels even sweeter, but for us it was not that enjoyable. There were even multiple occasions where every player at the table was hoping for a TPK, but in the end we narrowly avoided all of them.
What also rubbed me the wrong way was that the campaign didn’t really know if it wanted to be taken serious or not. There were some elements of horror present, but also a lot of humor. Personally I didn’t like the combination and it made staying serious at the table pretty much impossible. Another issue I had with the campaign was that there was a higher focus on combat than I anticipated. I was playing an elven Warlock with a Celestial patron with a high focus on utility spells who worked as an investigator. After a few encounters I realized that this was a baaaaaaaad idea and while levelling up I picked up spells more fitting for a combat-heavy game.
The last few sessions actually were better since we had a plan and a clear goal to work towards. The fight against Strahd at the end took longer than we hoped but with a modicum of luck we managed to kill him in the end! Everyone at the (virtual) table felt relieved and we immediately made plans for a new online game which didn’t include anything related to D&D 5th Edition and Ravenloft.
Is Curse of Strahd really a bad campaign or was it just a bad fit for our group? I seriously can’t tell. We also had some issues with 5E but this was probably because we all were more familiar with either Pathfinder or older editions of D&D. Having to look up rules quite regularly interrupted the game’s flow, so this might have added to the overall bad impression.
Have you run or played Curse of Strahd? If so, what are your impressions? Have you had the same issues we had or did you avoid those? Please tell us in the comments below!