Dungeons & Dragons’ spookiest campaign is also one of its very best

If you’ve been thinking about playing Dungeons & Dragons then you’ve probably noticed that there’s a lot of material to choose from. You can choose from three starter sets and more than half a dozen published adventures. There is also a huge marketplace for fan-created content. But one campaign is regularly recommended ahead of all the others — especially for beginners. It’s called Curse Of StrahdIt might be one of the best ways to get into the classic role-playing game.

There are three great options available for purchasing this popular product currently. Curse Of StrahdThese are. They run the gamut from old-school do-it-yourself storytelling to a luxurious collectors’ set with high production values. I’ll help you figure out which one is right for you.

First, some background to get you started.

Why are these vampires?

Back in the 1970s, when D&D was young, the game focused mainly on exploration, combat, and loot. You could roll the dice together with your friends and crawl around subterranean caves killing strange monsters or stealing magical items. In 1983, however, there was a new way to play dice with your friends. RavenloftThe module was published. Written by Tracy Hickman and Laura Hickman, it added a rich sense of storytelling to D&D. Strahd von Zarrovich was the charismatic vampire who kept the secret.

Ravenloft was the first D&D adventure that truly felt like a complete narrative, and it centered on Strahd, a complex villain with motivations of his own. Strahd gives the Dungeon Master (DM), the opportunity to engage directly with the content, rather than just describing it from afar. AndThrough combat or noncombat encounters, we work together with all the other players. Publited in 2016. Curse Of StrahdModernizes these mechanics, expanding them from 32 pages to a robust 256. The Strahd version is just as terrifying as the original and far more enjoyable to play.

An illustration of Strahd von Zarovich among the towers of Castle Ravenloft

Strahd von Varrovich’s vintage art shows him hiding among Castle Ravenloft’s towers.
Image from Wizards of the Coast

Is Strahd a villainous character? I won’t give away too much but his personal story is well worth it. He’s more than just your average B-movie bloodsucker. Strahd, a well-researched character, has enough cunning and guile to withstand any group of adventurers.

Which Curse Of StrahdMy opinion is that the setting fleshes out what makes it different from the original. The action takes place in a sinister pocket dimension known as the valley of Barovia, which means you can enter or exit the campaign from anywhere in the D&D multiverse. This valley is very much an open-world, modern video game. The environment is open to exploration by players, who can also take part in side quests. All the while, the specter of Strahd will haunt them — at times literally — serving as a beacon to irrevocably pull them back to the main questline.

There’s even a mini-adventure bundled in with the campaign, designed to quickly level up new characters and get players used to the mechanics of modern D&D. Simply stated, Curse Of StrahdIt is all in one package.

So, now that I’ve sold you on it, let’s talk about three different ways to actually buy the thing.


Curse Of StrahdThe first hardcover edition of the book was published in 1931. One can easily find it at your local gaming store, or online through sites like Amazon. Independent booksellers that carry D&D will likely have a copy, as will larger retailers like Barnes & Noble.

There are several digital options for D&D books now, and the version you want to get depends very much on your platform of choice. The best option for newcomers will be D&D Beyond, which sells the campaign and also gives players access to an online character builder. There’s also virtual tabletops (VTTs) like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds, which offer more options for acting out the game’s combat encounters with virtual miniatures and dice. VTTs may slow down the action for novice players, so make sure you are familiar with the toolkit before gathering your group.

Of course, you’ll also need the three other books that form the core of D&D: the Player’s HandbookIt is the Dungeon Master’s GuideAnd the Monster ManualYou can find them all here. All three are also available on D&D Beyond.

Step up

Curse Of StrahdAlso available in a boxed package titled The Curse Of Strahd: Premium Edition RevampedIt is available in English. First published in October 2020, it has a hefty list price of $99.99, and given what’s included in the box, it’s hard to recommend it at that price. It is now available online through Amazon, for a lot less.

It’s actually quite clever. It’s shaped like a coffin, and the set includes a full-color portrait of Strahd so that you can leave him resting fitfully inside for your players to discover. Another perk of the Premium Edition is that it includes a more robust version of the campaign’s double-sided map (the same one that comes with the basic hardcover book).

A black box with a raven on the cover opens to reveal a vampire, in full armor, lying on red satin.

The opposite side of Strahd’s portrait includes the stat block needed to run him at the table.
Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

However, the downside is that this campaign book is not as hardcover as the original.

The Tarokka cards, an in-fiction deck of tarot cards that I love the most about this boxed set are my favorite. For a key plot point, the large foil-stamped deck can be very helpful. Of course, you can also pick up a set of Tarokka cards — a regular-sized, non-foil-stamped version — separately for just $10.

A selection of materials included inside the Premium Edition of Curse of Strahd.

Clockwise from the top you’ve got an oversized Tarokka deck, a map, a set of postcards, handouts written in Strahd’s hand, and a four-panel DM screen.
Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

What the Premium Edition is truly lacking, in my opinion, is a proper two-dimensional map of Castle Ravenloft, Strahd’s lair and the setting for the campaign’s final showdown. There’s a 3D isometric version of the floor plan included on one side of the campaign map (which, you’ll remember, comes with both the original hardcover book and the Premium Edition). But it’s up to DMs to plot that floor plan in 2D for their players at the table. This requires pen and paper and may slow down the game.

If you’re using a VTT solution, plotting out the map of Castle Ravenloft can also be a real hassle. Thankfully, the Roll20 version of the campaign comes with 30 pre-rendered battle maps — including a 2D floor plan of the entire castle.

There’s also a tremendously well executed set of 2D Castle Ravenloft maps available on the Dungeon Master’s Guild. You can print the floorplan on multiple maps (large and small) at your local printer or at home using a number of sheets of paper. It costs just $10. There’s even a version of the maps formatted for use with VTT software like Fantasy Grounds.

To make my own home campaign I printed every inch in Castle Ravenloft both in black and white. Then, I mounted the tiles onto black foam core. After just a few nights of work with a glue stick and a box cutter, I had the entirety of Strahd’s lair stacked up and stored inside a paper grocery bag.

High-level play

If you are looking for the best way to live life, this is it. Curse Of Strahd, look no further than Beadle & Grimm’s. The company makes licensed deluxe editions of many of the official D&D campaigns, and its take on the valley of Barovia is extraordinary. It is also known as Curse of Strahd: The Legendary EditionIt retails for $399, and it is currently in its second printing.

A 2D map of a Dungeons & Dragons tomb

The maps of Castle Ravenloft from Beadle & Grimm’s are massive, and feature a smooth linen finish.
Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

A banquet hall filled with bones

A collection of grey walls can seem dull and uninteresting. But, there are many textures and details throughout.
Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

The secret to success The Legendary edition so special — aside from the full-color prints of the entire Castle Ravenloft and many other key battlefields in the game — are the ephemera. The ephemera includes many mixed-media items to share around the table, and it comes with excellently made handouts on paper, which include weathered letters from Strahd. There’s a handful of faux wax seals with Strahd’s personal signet; a set of in-fiction labels to apply to real wine bottles; several coins of the realm emblazoned with Strahd’s profile; and even a set of in-fiction toy finger puppets.

A jester, vampire, and werewolf finger puppet.

Are you looking for Ravenloft-themed finger puppets? Curse Of StrahdWhat is the answer? Yes. However, they’re adorable.
Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

A sun-shaped pendant on a long gold chain sits atop three faux coins and a felt bag.

Barovia is home to a key item. It can be found next to three of the realm’s coins.
Photo: Charlie Hall/Polygon

Although it may sound extravagant, the $399 price tag is not unreasonable. But having run the campaign myself over the course of an entire year, I can’t tell you how much time and energy The Legendary editionI would have been saved.