So recently, we’ve taken on a new adventure. We’ve started running the Curse of Strahd with our D&D group!
If you’re not familiar with it, the Curse of Strahd is a horror campaign set in the gothic world of Ravenloft and pits players against a mysterious vampire lord, as well as oodles of other baddies like spectres, werewolves, and the like. It’s known for being an extremely difficult campaign for players to beat; vampires alone are a royal pain to fight in D&D, and in the case of this campaign, it’s a challenge unto itself to even reach the vampire in the first place.
We tried running it forever ago with a group of Shane’s friends, but that campaign, like many others that happen in Ravenloft, ended, well, poorly. As in, entire party consumed by surprise zombies in a matter of seconds poorly. Since then, he’s wanted to try his hand at running the game, and we finally found a chance!
Because of the difficulty of the campaign, we players were told to have three characters ready for our first session (which I recently learned is called game zero, fun fact). The idea for these characters was that while one went out on adventures, the rest would wait in a centralized place for their turn, and we could change them out as needed for whatever we were facing. It’s not too far off from how games like Diablo 3 or FFXIV store your alternate characters in a lobby, if you think about it.
I, of course, was thrilled by the challenge. I love coming up with new character concepts, and this presented a unique problem to solve because my characters would need some serious fortitude and skills to survive the dark world of Strahd.
So I got to work, and came up with three completely different concepts!
Concept 1: The Face of Death
Probably a year ago or so now, just after Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything came out, we actually tried running Strahd—but because of conflicting schedules, we never really made it past the first session. I, excited as I was about the artificer, had made a changeling character loosely based on Nymphadora Tonks from Harry Potter to be a gothic Iron Man type.
As much as I’d liked her, I didn’t want to bring her directly into the new campaign for a few reasons:
- We were playing with a smaller group, so I was concerned she’d be too squishy
- I don’t like directly copying characters because then it feels like I’ve forced them to have amnesia or something
Instead, I decided to take the artificer side and apply it to something else I really liked from 5E: Eberron’s warforged race. So basically, I made a robot that builds and fixes its own plates, manipulates metal with magic, and then shoots people with lasers.
Of course, I always like to give them a background too, and this is what I wrote up for this character, who I named Ferra Mansey:
Nicknamed the Face of Death for her mirrorlike mask, Ferra is one of the most feared mercenaries and assassins among the Bloodaxes.
She has never failed to fulfill a contract, though she will only accept the ones she deems worth her time, and without exception she forces her quarry to face the wrongs they have committed in their last moments.
Perhaps a little dark for me, but hey. I figured it fits in well with a horror campaign.
Concept 2: The hot-tempered paladin
I’ll admit, I did do a little research on which classes do well in Strahd. I’ve seen a few people play paladins over the years, and they did seem like a cool class, but I couldn’t handle the idea of having to play lawful good—or as some people call it, lawful stupid, because of how you have to play dumb when the rest of the party does things that go against your morals.
Then, I discovered that not all paladins are good. Or lawful.
This build, which features a scourge aasimar named Phoenix, uses the Oath of Conquest to dominate and intimidate opponents while protecting itself and debuffing enemies. And of course, you can’t have an Oath of Conquest paladin without a backstory like this:
She is a vicious, efficient fighter, carefully calculating with every strike how best to annihilate her foe, and will stop at nothing once she joins the fray.
One thing I’ve learned so far, since this is the build I took into the game first, is that paladins are a little underwhelming at first level. They don’t get any spellcasting at all until second, so they’re really limited with healing—which isn’t great for small parties trying to take on the Death House. Which, yes, is an actual place.
Concept 3: The whimsical twilight cleric
This one, River, is by far my favourite build, and I’ve been saving her for when we get past the Death House arc so I can test her out at third level. She’s actually the first one I conceptualized when I found out we were doing Strahd, and I think she’s just an awful lot of fun.
I knew I wanted to build at least one cleric, as much as no one likes playing healers, for one very specific reason: A video I saw once that talks about how broken clerics can be if you build them right.
This build is a little unconventional for a few reasons. First, it uses the Twilight domain, which is a new domain from Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything that gives clerics some unique new traits, including the ability to give others a temporary fly speed and create a massive healer bubble à la FFXIV white mage that lets you give temporary hit points, remove afflictions, and even grant party members cover where otherwise there would be none.
Second, it uses the feylost background, which comes with the fun bonus of nighttime visitors that at the DM’s discretion, can either give you helpful hints or complete red herrings. I just know Shane’s going to have fun with that later on.
Third, she’s a kalashtar, which is a neat race from Eberron that has ties with the world of dreams. Because of that, and the fact that she was kidnapped by the fey as a child, she’s basically just got no idea what’s normal, and has a lot of quirks that I think will be fun for roleplaying later on.
And fourth, I was unable to resist using a pun with her backstory.