Just yesterday I joined the local Adventurer’s League launch of the Curse of Strahd for Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition by running the Death House adventure for a team of Level 1 Heroes.
As a first-time Adventurer’s League GM I had a slight case of the nerves working myself up for it. Then again as an experienced World of Darkness GM I do have some experience running horror so that evened it out.
That said, it was a LONG game, as the scenario involved checking out everything in a house and the dungeon below it, and as an investigative / exorcism scenario, there were long periods of poking sticks at things to see if anything happens punctuated by vicious, vicious combat.
In any case, here are my impressions of the game (SPOILERS AHOY!):
SLOW BURN – The scenario starts off in a slow pace, with a lot of investigation. Some of the more combat-heavy players might get bored here, but with the right mindset, it will be easier to get into the feel of the game. It does get a tad long though, but I do like how the creepiness gets more and more overt as they explore more of the house.
JUMP SCARES – Some of the fights made sense, but there were a few that were uncalled for or seemed to just be there for the sake of it. This is purely subjective though, as I felt that the Animated Armor was okay, but that damned broom was weird.
TOO MANY GHOSTS – I understand that this is a horror scenario, but nothing sucks the fun out of an encounter than fighting more than one thing that Resists all your damage. The Spectre was a terrifying encounter that left one of the party dead in one hit, and it could Resist pretty much anything the party threw at it.
SHAMBLING MOUND – I’m not sure if the Shambling Mound was meant to be a combat encounter because the moment it appeared, the party just up and ran away from it. Thankfully they could all outpace it.
KILLER HOUSE – The last part of the module involved a mad dash out of the house. It was harrowing and made for a hilarious last nailbiter as the players prayed for high rolls.
Death House is a big scenario crammed into a tiny space. Play it in a quiet location, take your time, and let your players take in the ambience. While there’s no taking away the tactical thinking when you’re working with D&D, it does a commendable job in relaying horror tropes to help with transitioning the players to understand the nature of Ravenloft as being fundamentally bleaker than in the Forgotten Realms.