5 Tips for Running the Death House One-Shot From Curse of Strahd – Posts

Loss of life Home is a contemporary Dungeons & Dragons horror basic. The journey was unveiled within the February 2016 challenge of Dragon+ for example of the thrills that might come within the then-unreleased Curse of Strahd. Upon the e book’s publication, it was included within the appendices to assist characters go from 1st to third degree earlier than taking up Barovia’s different challenges, and it has since develop into a ceremony of passage for a lot of D&D teams.

That stated, Loss of life Home generally is a brutal expertise. It’s not precisely an journey for brand spanking new D&D gamers, however it usually finally ends up being skilled that method because of Curse of Strahd being considered one of fifth version Dungeons & Dragons’ premiere adventures. One solely has to do a fast web seek for “Loss of life Home TPK” to see what number of celebration wipes the home has inflicted. Once I ran the journey in October 2018 for Halloween, I rapidly discovered my anxiousness spiking as my unsuspecting group of 1st-level adventurers proceeded to almost get massacred not less than 5 occasions in a row.

If you happen to’re a Dungeon Grasp hoping to run Loss of life Home as a Halloween one-shot, listed below are some very important ideas:

  1. Start Death House at 2nd level
  2. Use theater of the mind
  3. Emphasize Rose and Thorn
  4. Develop the nursemaid
  5. Tweak the final encounter

Every tip assumes that you just’re working the sport for a bunch of 4, have not less than three hours of playtime, and hope to topic your gamers to as a lot of the Durst home as potential whereas avoiding a TPK — not less than till they witness the monstrosity that awaits them within the dungeon. Beware, for enormous spoilers await!

1. Begin Loss of life Home at 2nd degree

Characters are particularly squishy at 1st degree, and Loss of life Home is a grindhouse horror expertise full with an overwhelmingly highly effective remaining foe. By default, characters are presupposed to enter the home at 1st degree, degree as much as 2 after they discover a set of secret stairs, and hit third degree after they make it out of the Loss of life Home alive. That is wonderful if you wish to lead into Curse of Strahd, however for one-shot functions, working the journey with everybody at 2nd degree can preserve the celebration from getting wrecked too quickly. (If you happen to’re feeling beneficiant, or actually need your gamers to see everything of the home in a fast Halloween evening of gaming, you would even run it at third degree.)

Make no mistake about it, Loss of life Home remains to be harmful for a celebration of 4 2nd-level adventurers, who at numerous factors within the journey may discover themselves up towards 4 ghouls or 5 shadows without delay. However avoiding the supreme squishiness of 1st degree — particularly in case you’re DMing for a bunch of newbies — will be the distinction between dying on the home’s first flooring and making it into the dungeon.

Barovians artwork from Curse of Strahd

2. Use theater of the thoughts to simplify Loss of life Home

Loss of life Home comes with a phenomenal map, however for a fast Halloween recreation, it’s sooner to keep away from all the deliberations that happen at any time when gamers see a collection of rooms for them to discover. As an alternative, attempt working the journey as theater of the thoughts and streamline the home’s many areas, a number of of that are empty. At its core, Loss of life Home is in regards to the terrible deeds of Gustav and Elisabeth Durst and the harm they inflicted on the folks round them of their worship of Strahd von Zarovich. Emphasize the sections of the home that reveal the eerie lore of the Dursts, and simplify all else.

In your reference, these are the areas of the Loss of life Home which have interactive components, lootable gear, or vital encounters. Essentially the most very important areas are bolded.

First Ground
  • Most important Corridor (has a longsword above the fireside)
  • Den of Wolves (comprises a cupboard full of varied crossbows, plus bolts)
  • Kitchen and Pantry (comprises a dumbwaiter {that a} Small character can squeeze into and use to maneuver to totally different areas of the home)
Second Ground
  • Servant’s Room (connects to the dumbwaiter)
  • Library (comprises books on the home’s historical past)
  • Secret Room (has an vital letter from Strahd, in addition to a treasure chest)
Third Ground
  • Balcony (has a battle with an animated armor)
  • Grasp Suite (connects to the dumbwaiter and comprises a treasure chest)
  • Storage Room (has a battle with a brush of animated assault)
  • Nursemaid’s Suite (options an encounter with the Durst household’s nursemaid, now a specter)
  • Storage Room (options one other potential encounter with the Durst nursemaid)
  • Youngsters’s Room (comprises the skeletal stays of the Durst kids, Rose and Thorn)
  • Secret Stairs (leads all the way down to the home’s dungeon)
  • Household Crypts (options the graves of Rose and Thorn)
  • Effectively and Cultist Quarters (has some lootable cultist belongings value a number of gold items)
  • Hidden Spiked Pit (a entice that can doubtlessly kill the PCs)
  • Larder (a grick assault)
  • Ghoulish Encounter (a battle with 4 former cultists-turned-ghouls)
  • Darklord’s Shrine (a shrine to Strahd and a possible battle with 5 shadows)
  • Hidden Trapdoor (leads as much as the Den of Wolves on the primary flooring)
  • Cult Leaders’ Den (comprises a battle with a mimic)
  • Cult Chief’s Quarters (comprises a battle with Gustav and Elisabeth Durst, now two ghasts)
  • Jail (has lootable skeleton stays)
  • Ritual Chamber (the ultimate cultist enclave, the place a shambling mound awaits)
Doing a speedrun of Loss of life Home

If you happen to solely have a restricted period of time to play Loss of life Home and are counting on descriptions relatively than battle maps, give attention to the daring areas highlighted right here. You may sprinkle in different encounters as essential if the gamers are making good progress. As an example, the shrine dedicated to Strahd oozes environment, and when you’ve got gnomes or different Small characters in your celebration, using the dumbwaiter is a enjoyable method of getting them scout forward.

3. Emphasize Rose and Thorn

Rose and Thorn Durst

Make the illusory Rose and Thorn extra charismatic

Loss of life Home begins because the celebration encounters two illusions of the Durst household’s useless kids, Rose and Thorn. Created by the home to lure in victims, the illusions drop imprecise hints a couple of monster within the basement and the sins of their mother and father. The celebration is anticipated to take them at face worth and enter the home as quickly as potential. In the event that they attempt to flip again to discover Barovia, the mists encompass them till there’s no alternative.

It is a railroad, however an appropriate one in case your gamers care sufficient in regards to the kids to wish to assist them. Sadly, in case your gamers are like mine, they’ll be reluctant to discover what’s clearly a haunted home, and the creepy art work of Rose and Thorn in Curse of Strahd will tip them off that these youngsters aren’t what they look like.

To get round this downside, flip Rose and Thorn into NPCs with huge personalities that your gamers will wish to assist. You may additionally use less-intimidating art work for the twins. In my recreation, I gave Rose the character of a sassy older sister who was fiercely protecting of her youthful brother. In the meantime, Thorn had large pet eyes, consistently cradled his floppy bunny doll, and immediately worshipped the gamers’ characters as superior adventurers who had arrived within the nick of time.

Do not forget that despite the fact that the Rose and Thorn that the celebration first encounters are illusions, they’re born from the home’s sentience and will very effectively characterize who the children have been in life. So, give them vivacious temperaments or accents evocative of your favourite youngster protagonists in widespread media (the Stranger Issues youngsters, anybody?). Doing so will assist make it extra plausible when the characters take the bait main into the Loss of life Home.

Lean into the youngsters’s tragic lore and age

As soon as the celebration encounters Rose and Thorn’s ghosts within the Youngsters’s Room, they’ll little question keep in mind the illusions that tricked them and demand some solutions. Loss of life Home says the youngsters know they’re useless, so run with that idea. Mimic the personalities of the illusions, however emphasize that these are the true youngsters who met a tragic finish because of the foul machinations of their mother and father. Stress the wrongdoings of Gustav and Elisabeth Durst, and plant the seed of placing the souls of those poor kids to relaxation by inserting their stays within the household crypts.

You too can have Rose and Thorn possess random celebration members. This could inject some much-needed comedy into an in any other case bleak journey, since Loss of life Home means that possessed characters nonetheless retain their colleges however achieve a flaw from their possessor. In my recreation, I went one step additional and made the children amusingly clingy, but vaguely self-aware. As an alternative of giving the gamers’ characters the ghosts’ character traits, I additionally had Rose and Thorn’s voices seem behind the possessed character’s heads — sometimes delivering exposition on numerous issues round the home, and even hints on how you can take care of robust enemies. This may be a good way of creating certain your gamers perceive the lore behind the Dursts, and it’ll flip Rose and Thorn into two variations of each D&D group’s favourite NPC trope — the quirky but loyal sidekick.

4. Develop the nursemaid

Cautious investigation round the home reveals that Gustav Durst had an affair with the household nursemaid, who bore him a stillborn son named Walter. She was then stabbed by the cultists for unexplained causes and solid apart. As written, she solely seems as an uncommunicative specter who assaults the celebration in both the Nursemaid’s Suite — the place a crib containing an empty baby-sized bundle will be discovered — or the Storage Room, the place her skeletal stays are stuffed in a trunk.

As written, the nursemaid is just not solely a deadly character who may doubtlessly destroy a 1st- or 2nd-level adventurer with few hit factors along with her Life Drain capacity, however she’s additionally a horror trope — the solid apart, wronged lady who returns as a vengeful ghost. She deserves extra growth, particularly in a stripped-down Loss of life Home emphasizing the evil nature of the Dursts.

For inspiration, take into account Gustav Durst’s reasoning for the affair in a letter from Strahd that may be discovered within the Secret Room. Supposedly, he “deserted love for insanity [and] took solace within the bosom of one other lady.” What of the nursemaid’s viewpoint? Maybe she legitimately liked Gustav and hoped to free him from the cult’s affect. Possibly as a specter, she now wishes vengeance greater than the rest and mourns for her son. Think about including a diary or a letter inside the home explaining her aspect of the story, or change her conduct in order that she doesn’t outright assault the characters however as a substitute protects the crib, forcing the celebration to look at her actions from afar and work out her tragic origins. In different phrases, attempt to elevate the nursemaid into a personality past that of a anonymous sufferer. Identical to Rose and Thorn, she was dealt a foul hand by the Dursts and deserves higher.

Barovia village art from Curse of Strahd

5. Tweak the ultimate encounter

The ultimate confrontation in Loss of life Home is an odd one. The characters should first survive a grueling collection of battles within the dungeon earlier than rising right into a ritual chamber the place the spirits of deceased cultists seem and urge them to make a sacrifice. In the event that they kill any creature on the altar, the cult is appeased and the characters can depart the home freely. In the event that they refuse, the apparitions unleash a shambling mound named Lorghoth the Decayer on them.

The Dursts are curiously absent throughout this finale and solely seem as ghasts which might be hidden within the dungeon partitions of the Cult Leaders’ Quarters. You may tweak this finale to make the encounter extra attention-grabbing and satisfying:

  • Make the Dursts current within the Ritual Chamber. Since the whole lot within the journey has performed up their nefarious actions, inserting Gustav and Elisabeth Durst into the finale provides emotional influence, notably if Rose and Thorn are possessing participant characters. The Dursts may nonetheless be ghasts however seem within the Ritual Chamber to encourage the celebration to hold out the sacrifice. So as to add in physique horror, make them gibbering mouthers as a substitute. You possibly can even meld them with Lorghoth the Decayer itself. Because the shambling mound reveals itself from the bottom, their greedy limbs may attain out to strangle the characters, and their screaming lips may utter passionate odes to Strahd.
  • Make the most of the surroundings to make the fight encounter extra attention-grabbing. Most teams who find yourself going through Lorghoth the Destroyer are both going to retreat or kite the shambling mound to keep away from its assaults. You may describe a slim hall that the celebration can squeeze by means of however that Lorghoth can not. Once I ran Loss of life Home, I made certain to focus on a portcullis that led into the Ritual Chamber. What ensued was an exciting scene the place two characters labored the picket wheel that managed the portcullis whereas the others led Lorghoth beneath it. The portcullis slammed onto the shambling mound, doing sufficient harm for the characters to show the battle of their favor.
  • Play up the anxiousness of escaping the Loss of life Home. If the celebration kills Lorghoth or efficiently escapes the Ritual Chamber, the home turns into alive and begins to assault them. Home windows are bricked up, doorways are changed with scythe blades, and noxious smoke fills the rooms. It is a stellar probability for the Dungeon Grasp to unleash evocative, tense descriptions and for the characters to make some last-minute, death-defying rolls. If you wish to make the escape much more potent, attempt tying up the free ends with Rose, Thorn, and the nursemaid. Possibly Rose and Thorn’s crypts solely develop into seen as the home morphs across the celebration, forcing them to unexpectedly bury the twins’ stays as chunks of stone fall from the ceiling and rats pour out from the partitions. If the characters managed to kill Gustav Durst, maybe as they escape they might additionally catch a glimpse of the nursemaid’s specter evaporating, a glance of peace on her face as she is lastly avenged.

Loss of life Home, regardless of sure quirks, is a rock-solid descent into darkness, in addition to glorious fodder for a Halloween one-shot. Whether or not you resolve to comply with these tricks to the letter or put your personal alternate spin on Curse of Strahd’s intro journey, there’s little question that your gaming associates are in for a great night of gothic enjoyable — so long as the dreaded throes of this home of horrors don’t devour them first.

Jeremy Blum (@PixelGrotto) is a journalist, gaming blogger, comedian e book aficionado, and fan of all types of storytelling who rolled his first polyhedral cube whereas residing in Hong Kong in 2017. Since then, he is by no means appeared again and loves roleplaying video games for the possibility to inform the tales which have been swirling in his head since childhood.

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