My friend Christopher Robichaud has given me permission to repost the following short review of WotC’s new 5th edition D&D adventure, Curse of Strahd.
CURSE OF STRAHD REVIEW
The significantly disappointing thing about Curse of Strahd is that it's just the 5e version of I6: Ravenloft. And the thing is, I'm exhausted with that scenario.
I6: Ravenloft, for its many flaws, is among the greatest D&D adventures of all time. And since no good deed can go unpunished, its popularity and success have made it the single most remade D&D module ever. The 2nd edition remade it with House of Strahd. The 3rd edition remade it with Expedition to Castle Ravenloft. And now the 5th edition has remade it again with Curse of Strahd.
All these adventures are basically the same story, with the same maps, told with a different rules set, and getting ever more bloated. (I6: Ravenloft is 32 pages, House of Strahd is 64 pages, Expedition to Castle Ravenloft is 220 pages, and Curse of Strahd is 256 pages.)
I longed for something more. Princes of the Apocalypse was, in my opinion, an ultimately disappointing reboot of Temple of Elemental Evil. But at least it tried to do something new with the mega-dungeon, as did its predecessor, 3e's Return to the Temple of Elemental Evil, a direct sequel to the original and quite good in its own right. We've gotten very little of that with Ravenloft. The original module has a weird and wild sequel, Ravenloft II: The House on Gryphon Hill, and of course, House of Strahd was part of 2e's entire Ravenloft campaign setting, which in addition to featuring lots of other villains, revisited Strahd on occasion with From the Shadows and Roots of Evil. But that's about it.
Of all the 5e campaigns WOTC has put out, this one is the biggest letdown. It's just a rehash of I6 with more of Barovia fleshed out, an idea already explored at length in Expedition to Castle Ravenloft. We don't need a 5e version of the same story. You can convert any of the 1e, 2e, or 3e Ravenloft modules just fine. What would've been great would have been a reboot along the lines of Princes of the Apocalypse. Even if it fell short, it would've been something fresh. Alas, it was not meant to be. Curse of Strahd, I'm afraid to say, is as stale as the air in the catacombs beneath Castle Ravenloft. What a shame.
I didn't mention that I think, as far as it goes, it's a fine 5e version of the module. It nicely expands the lands around the castle in a way that allows players to play in a sandbox more than just showing up and then heading right to the castle.