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Is Curse of Strahd Low Magic?

Curse of Strahd is a low-magic, high-fantasy setting. This is because the commodity of magic within Strahd’s domain of Barovia is scarce and the magic that once existed is either hidden away or practiced only by the evil or insane. While the setting is high fantasy, it is low magic, making it a really unique adventure for your players with lots of implications for DMs to consider!

What is a "Low Magic" Setting in D&D?

For a complete break-down on the differences between high and low magic settings, I recommend this article by Campfire Writing. But the basic question to ask when deciding if a setting is high or low magic is: “How common is magic for the average citizen?”


If magic is so common and readily available that citizens almost take it for granted (like our modern day electricity) then you have a high magic setting. If magic and magic items are rare and the average citizen has no interaction with them, then you have a low magic setting. 


In Curse of Strahd, the average Barovian has no access to magic, and the magic they could access (Dream Pies) are created by evil beings. It isn’t that magic has never existed in Baroiva, Strahd himself is a powerful wizard, but when Strahd cursed his lands and turned Barovia into a Domain of Dread, everything changed.

How Does Curse of Strahd Approach Magic?

After Strahd’s curse banished Barovia to a Domain of Dread, magic became something practiced only by the evil or the insane and magical items were hidden away.

Think about the magic in Barovia.

Who practices magic? Strahd, Baba Lysaga, the witches of Barovia, the Druids of Yesterhill, the Hags, and the reclusive Abbot are just a few examples. None of these are examples of magic being used for good.

It was dark magic that brought the curse to Barovia. It was dark magic that brought the werewolves and vampires. So it makes sense that the average Barovian would fear and hate magic as a source of evil and sorrow.

Really, the only good use of magic in Barovia is the gems that allow the Wizard of Wines to produce so much wine, and no one knows about them (hidden). 

The only magic that would still be appreciated by the people of Barovia would be divine magic, but that magic faded away long ago when the connection to the other planes was severed.

Do Domains of Dread Interfere with Magic?

Another important part of this setting to consider is that Barovia is a Domain of Dread. That means that it has been ripped out of the material plane and exists in a completely different and separate plane of its own

A Domain of Dread is meant to be a prison for its Dread Lord. This means that it is almost impossible to escape and no magic that allows travel between planes works in a Domain of Dread. This includes the following spells according to CoS p. 24):

  • Wish
  • Astral projection
  • Teleport
  • Plane shift

Or any other spell the player might try to use with the purpose of escaping Barovia.

Strahd and Magic in His Domain

As the Dread Lord of Barovia and one of the most powerful Wizard to have ever lived, Strahd has a unique understanding of magic in his realm. When magic is given to a player by an other worldly being, such as a deity or patron, Strahd can actually sense this happening. 

In addition, if a player tries to communicate with that other worldly being through magic (such as the Commune) Strahd can choose to make himself the recipient of that spell, making him the one who is contacted instead. (CoS p.24) 

This is an often overlooked ability of Strahd but one that could be used in powerful ways if you have a cleric who is often turning to their deity for guidance.

Cosmetic Alterations to Magic While in Barovia

Domains of Dread can also alter the cosmetic appearance of magic. The Adventure Guide gives specific examples, such as

“Bigby’s Hand: the conjured hand is skeletal” or “Find Familiar: The familiar is undead -not a celestial, fey, or fiend- and is immune to features that turn undead.”

These alterations keep with the theme of the adventure and serve as constant reminders of where the players are. They have no effect on the magic and the spells work like normal, but they are fun and I recommend giving it a try!

What Does This Mean for Your PCs?

If your players want to play a class that uses magic that is not divine, such as a bard, wizard or sorcerer, they will likely not receive a warm welcome from Barovians when they show off their abilities.

In fact, places like Vallaki might even try to run them out of town (or worse). We will talk more about this with examples later in this article!

No Healing Potions for Sale

Aside from earning the dislike of Barovians, your players will also have very limited access to magic items and potions. There are only a few vendors in Barovia, and none of them will carry even basic magic items.

The Arasek Stockyard, the only general goods store in the largest town in Barovia, carries only, “items from the Adventuring Gear table in the Player’s Handbook that have a price of 25 gp or less, but at five times the price.” (CoS p. 115)

This means there are no healing potions to be bought in Barovia, making this adventure far more dangerous for your party. Instead of purchasing items, your players will need to either create them or scavenge them from the corpses of previous adventurers.

The lack of readily available potions makes healing spells and potions infinitely more valuable in this adventure compared to other high magic settings.

Finding Magical Items

The lack of ability to purchase magic items also means your players will need to go on specific quests to find them. There are a few magic items listed in CoS, two of which your players need to destroy Strahd.

There are only three other magical items listed in the adventure: the Gulthias Staff (p.221) Icon of Ravenloft (p.222) and Saint Markovia’s Thighbone (p.223). But this doesn’t mean other adventurers didn’t bring magical items into Barovia, here are some ideas to for how to reward players with magical items:

Werewolves Den: “In a corner you see a pile of rotten corpses and old bones. Most have been stripped down, but you see something glimmer very faintly. On one skeletal finger, caked in mud, is a ring. Depending on what your party needs, this can be a Ring of Feather Fall, Ring of Evasion or Ring of Mind Shielding.

Svalich Woods: *On a very high Perception Check roll* “A short distance away you see an oddly shaped tree. It looks as though it has something growing out of its side. You approach and the odd shape seems to be something lodged into the tree, covered in moss. Removing the moss reveals an expertly made battle axe.” This is +2 Battle Axe.

Adding magical items to the end of quests, tough battles or even as elements of the landscape encourages players to take risks, explore Barovia and search every nook and cranny. If you are looking for more ways to include Magical Items in your CoS campaign, join Patreon to get my full Curse of Strahd Companion Binder!

Resources for Crafting Magical Items

Another option for adding magical items to your CoS campaign is giving your players the option to craft their own magical items! As players slay creatures they can harvest parts from them to enchant and craft magic items or potions.

Here are a few of my favorite resources for this! While it seems complicated at first, these resources explain everything and give your players the ability to craft anything they might need.

This compendium allows you to easily add crafting to your game! 

This compendium will:

  • Let you make anything that exists in the game (as much as possible) and give concrete and extensible rules for everything else that could exist in your game.
  • Open the door to new kinds of loot. Allow a player to be excited by something they cannot even use because of the possibilities of what they can make it into. This opens the door to loot and rewards that make sense in a world and give the players incremental but satisfying rewards that build toward something they want.
  • Make it a player driven system. An aspirational system you can put in front of the players and let them drive toward their goals.
  • A system that is easy to use for the GM and players alike, but offers a satisfying depth.

This supplement provides individual loot for each monster in the Monster Manual, as well as a basic crafting and harvesting system that works well with 5th Edition Dungeons & Dragons. 

With this supplement, these brave adventurers will be able to craft the hide, teeth, and claws of their enemies into dangerous weapons and equipment that is sure to mark them as legendary heroes of the realm.”

How Should NPCs React to Magic in CoS?

As a general rule, common Barovians should fear, or at least be cautious, of those practicing magic that is not divine. Divine magic from Clerics and Paladins should be treated with respect, perhaps even worship given how long it has been since the divine has had any influence in Baroiva. But even with this, most Barovians will be disillusioned with magic and see it only as a source of trouble and an invitation for Strahd.

There are a few important NPCs who would be very interested in players with magical abilities in the hopes of progressing their own goals! Use them as fun interactions or even full side quests depending on what your players want to do!

Baron Vargas Vallakovich

The Burgomaster of Vallaki is obsessed with forcing all the citizens of his town to be “happy.” He is convinced that if everyone could be happy that this would break the curse and release Vallaki from Strahd’s dominion. 

You can play the Baron one of two ways. Either he is very excited about the players’ magical abilities (so long as they help his cause) or as deeply threatened by the players, thinking that they will bring Strahd’s wrath on the village!

If you have the Burgomaster excited to see magic, then depending on the type of magic the players practice the Baron might try to convince or threaten the players to help in the following ways:

Bard– Preform at the upcoming festival to lift the spirits of the citizens! (And they had better be lifted…or else!)

Wizard or Sorcerer- Cast spells during the festival, such as Prestidigitation, Dancing Lights, etc to make the Festival more magical! 

Druid– Wild Shape into a dire wolf to be “killed” as part of the main event at the Festival.

Baronet Victor Vallakovich

Victor is the unhappy son of Burgomaster Vargas Vallakovich. He spends all of his time locked in the attic studying the few magic books he could find in his father’s library and attempting to make a teleportation circle to escape Barovia.

If he finds out one of the players is a Wizard, either from his father or one of the servants, he might try to bribe or persuade the player to help him with his teleportation circle. If this fails he might try to either kidnap the PC with the help of Izek, or steal the PC’s tome of spells.

Lady Fiona Wachter

Fiona is plotting to overthrow the Burgomaster of Vallaki. She already has a plan in place, but if she thinks she can manipulate the PCs into helping her, that is all the better for her! She might try to convince the PC to use their magic to ruin the festival, create a distraction so her cultists can take over, or kill the Burgomaster’s right hand man, Izek Strazni.

Burgomaster Dmitri Krezkov

Dmitri is the Burgomaster of Krezk, he is a serious man who is mourning the loss of his last child. Normally Dmitri would not allow the players into Krezk unless they did something for Krezk, such as bringing a shipment of wine.

However, if they players have already solved the problem at the Wizard of Wines Vineyard, the desperate Burgomaster might invite them into his home to ask if they could possibly use their magic to bring back his son.

If the PC cannot help, he will allow them to stay for the night, saying they must leave in the morning. That night the players will meet the Abbot of Markovia.

Why the Lack of Magic in this Setting?

Curse of Strahd has one clear goal, Kill Strahd Von Zarovich. To do this, players must collect 3 items and there are clear tasks set in place for them to do so. The game starts off with a fortune telling instructing them to find these items. If players had access to the normal level of magic that is in most DnD games, the necessity of these items would be lost.

In a world where time has stopped and magic is used only by the evil to maintain their power, these items become beacons of hope and a means of escape, driving the plot of the campaign.

Grim Dark Fantasy and Low Magic Go Hand-in-Hand

The lack of magic is also important to the setting of Curse of Strahd. CoS is a grim fantasy. It is dark, dirty and full of sorrows. Magic brings many creature comforts and conveniences which are just not a part of the grim fantasy genre. Everyone in Barovia is miserable (with the exception of Blinsky!), they are stuck in the past in a closed economy where nothing new ever happens.

This monotony of existence is broken only by the arrival of the occasional adventurer who always ends up dead. In Barovia, the only magic that brings comfort is from the Divine, the Dawn Father, and even that faded long ago.

Magic in Barovia

Magic in Barovia is rare but certainly not non-existent. With these resources you can certainly find ways to make this low magic setting both challenging and rewarding for your players

Low magic settings like Curse of Strahd are difficult, dangerous and often deadly, just what a gritty bunch of adventurers are looking for! Don’t “fix” it by adding lots of magic options, lean into it and allow your players to struggle and find their own solutions! 

However you chose to run this campaign, I certainly hope this article gives your game advantage, my friends!

Until next time!

-Halfling Hannah

Complete Guide to Illusion Magic in D&D

Understanding Illusion Magic

The School of Illusion is a school of magic that specializes in deceit. Like the School of Enchantment, illusion spells focus on altering the perceptions of others to achieve your goals. This can be as innocent as creating an image in a 5 foot cube to as wicked as harnessing the nightmares of your enemies to drive them into madness. 

An illusion is the perception of something that is not really there. Whether it be an image, a sound, or a phantom feeling, something triggers in the mind of the target of an illusion spell that makes them believe something that is false.

The mage who practices the art of illusions isn’t necessarily trying to deceive to nefarious ends. Some use this school to enhance their own natural charms or performances, or even just smooth the road to circumvent what could become a nasty fight. This school of magic excels at support roles, and is as effective as you and your players are creative. 

On the other hand, some illusions seem so real they cause actual physical pain to your enemies. While this school isn’t known for its attacking prowess, some of the spells might surprise you with their nasty bite. It has been said that the worst prison is one’s own mind, and when it comes to School of Illusion, that saying has proven to be true. 

What makes Illusion Magic Different from other Schools

The School of Illusion is unique in the way that it plays on the mind of its targets. Although it is incredibly similar to the School of Enchantment, there are some subtle differences that afford these spells their very own category of magic. 

Illusions focus primarily on using the Weave to deceive senses of other creatures to fool them into believing something that is not true. Enchantments tend to focus more on altering the emotions of another so that they fool themselves about what they are perceiving.

As usual, there are always exceptions to these generalities. However, when it comes to differentiating between these two schools of magic, I find it easiest to think of it this way: illusions fool what you perceive outwardly, enchantments fool what you feel inwardly. 

Even the illusion spells that specifically state they take root in the mind of their enemies follow this general guideline.

Phantasmal Force and Weird still force their targets to perceive things with their natural senses, even though no one else can see them. It is the reaction to the images and perceptions that are conjured in the mind that create the frightened or charmed effects in the School of Illusion. 

There is no other school of magic that focuses so pointedly on creating false perceptions. It is this purpose that sets the School of Illusion apart from other schools of magic.

How to Use Illusion Magic in your World

Whether it is intended to dazzle or deceive, the School of Illusion is the school of trickery. As such, this school of magic can be put to great use in creating interesting encounters in your world. 

If I’m not careful, I can get into a rut of preparing only combat encounters in my games. It’s an easy go-to. The players need to get X, and what prevents them from getting X? A horde of zombies, a band of goblins, etc. The use of illusion based magic is one way that I add more flavor to my game then just making it a hack-n-slash. 

For example, Illusions can be used to create interesting puzzles for your players to have to solve! One of my favorite and more classic examples of an illusion puzzle is a mirror puzzle. At its basic level, the mirror reflects something that isn’t real. Only by making reality match the illusion in the mirror by locating missing objects can one proceed to the next room. 

One memorable encounter from an early game I played in involved the illusion of a boulder crashing down and trapping us in a hag’s lair. We spent two full sessions in that lair, terrified we would run out of resources and have to long rest in the dungeon because we thought we couldn’t get out of the lair.

Tension and emotions ran high. None of us bothered to investigate the boulder until after we had survived the lair and killed the hag, when my rogue fell right through the fake stone. We certainly learned not to trust our eyes after that! 

Illusion magic can also be used to make things invisible or hide them from the eyes of your players, adding an additional challenge to loot gathering. It requires extra creativity, exceptionally high rolls, or a warlock who can spam detect magic, for a player to be rewarded with a hidden object. 

Not only does illusion magic touch the perceptions of a creature in view, some of these spells can also alter and affect the dreams of your characters. Dream sequences are a fantastic DM tool to use for giving information, developing story themes, or generating role play.

A nightmare given by a BBEG can have lasting effects on the player who fails their saving throw, whereas a dream given by a higher power might give encouragement to your players when they have suffered a great loss. 

Illusion magic could also have some consequences, as we have discussed in previous schools of magic. Powerful NPCs should have a way to see through illusions, lest their servants be replaced by assassins with disguise self.

An unscrupulous party member who tries to fool a guard with distort value might find themselves in even more trouble if that guard meets their spell save DC with their investigation check. The repercussions of getting caught using such magic that way is something you as the DM will have the joy of deciding. 

There are endless ways to use illusions to add flavor and spice to your worlds. From simple decorations to hellish nightmares, this school is limited only by your creativity. 

Want more inspiration, resources, and connections to give your game advantage? Consider becoming a Patron of Halfling Hobbies!

Common Illusion Spells

The School of Illusion is one of the smaller schools of magic, boasting of only 32 spells on its list (link to DnDBeyond Illusion Spell list). While each of these spells has the common element of creating a false perception, there are approximately three main categories of how these goals are accomplished. 

Projecting senses

Illusion spells that project images are generally the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of this school of magic. These are perceived by anyone who comes across them. Spells like minor illusion, disguise self, and invisibility, are all examples of projection illusions. 

Minor Illusion, and other spells of its ilk, are spells which create some sort of sensory effect to fool a passerby. In the case of this example, the effect is limited to an image or a sound. It can be seen or heard by anyone who is around to see or hear it, and physical interactions with the spell prove it to be exactly what it is, an illusion. 

Disguise self works similarly to minor illusion, except instead of making the illusion appear in a space you can see, you make the illusion on yourself.

Within reason, you can magically alter your character’s appearance for an hour, fooling those who don’t look too closely into believing you are someone you are not. This spell only alters your appearance, not your voice, so a performance check might still be required when it comes to deceiving with this spell. 

Although it seems like the opposite of a projecting illusion, invisibility is a spell that is seen–or rather, not seen–by anyone who isn’t gifted with true sight. This spell works by making a creature you touch, yourself included, disappear from the eyes of those who are looking for them. The spell ends if the invisible creature attacks or casts a spell of their own. Just remember, invisible doesn’t mean silent. Just because you can’t be seen doesn’t mean you can’t be perceived. 

Implanting senses

Spells that implant senses are spells that affect a specific target or group of targets. These illusions are usually more insidious, planting terrors in the mind of the creature to force them to believe what isn’t real. Spells like phantasmal force, dream, and mental prison are examples of implanted illusions. 

All three of these spells bind the mind of a creature so that they believe something about their environment that isn’t true. The beliefs in these images can be so real, the targets actually take psychic damage from their effects. 

In the case of phantasmal force, the illusion is so real that even if something happens that contradicts the illusion, like falling off a false bridge, the target still believes the illusion is there. They will concoct whatever wild ideas will explain what really happened, anything to keep believing the lie.

Illusion Spells in D&D

Dream is a spell that affects a sleeping creature and can be used for good or ill. Between allies, dream can be used to communicate messages across great spans of distance, so long as both caster and target are on the same plane.

When used on enemies, the caster can appear monstrous and terrifying, forcing the target to lose out on a night of restful sleep and even awake with psychic damage deducted from their HP. 

Mental prison is a spell that is truly designed to torture one’s enemies. Even if the target makes their saving throw, they still take 5d10 psychic damage. On a failed throw, they take damage and believe that their environment is hostile to them, such as flames suddenly erupting around them or the ground crumbling beneath their feet. This illusion traps the target, giving them the restrained condition as they battle against the forces assailing their mind to regain control of reality. 

Harnessing senses

Among the spells belonging to the School of Illusion are a small subset of spells that almost read like conjuration spells. These spells harness gloom and shadows, even from the Shadowfell itself, to create images that harm and terrify. Spells such as shadow blade and illusionary dragon are examples of illusions that harness the senses. 

Both of these spells are classified as illusions, which means the shadows they harness aren’t really there.

Shadow blade creates the image of a shadowy sword in the hand of the caster, an image that is convincing enough to make your enemies believe it really cuts. Targets who take a hit from this spell lose 2d8 psychic damage. 

Illusionary dragon is proof that sometimes seeing is believing. This spell does what it says it does; it creates a shadowy illusion of a dragon made from the smoke of the Shadowfell. But unlike other damage-dealing spells in the School of Illusion, this dragon can breathe real dragon breath.

The spellcaster chooses a damage type from the list provided in the spell and has the potential to inflict 7d6 of that damage type every bonus action. Even succeeding on an intelligence saving throw only saves the creature from half of the damage dealt. 

Common Illusion Items

Just like illusion spells, illusion magic items range anywhere from fun and entertaining to useful and potentially dangerous. They also make great tools to give to your party who tends to solve all their problems with violence. Since illusion magic is often designed to avoid sticky situations, giving out one of these illusion-casting items might challenge your players to think a little more creatively about how to use them. 

Dust of Disappearance (wondrous item, uncommon): The Dust of Disappearance is a small packet of very fine powder. When tossed in the air, every creature and object within 10 feet turn invisible for 2d4 minutes. Just like with the spell invisibility, the effect wears off if a creature attacks or casts a spell. 

This magic item is one-time-use, so players will have to get creative and use it at just the right moment. Perhaps they need it for a quick escape, or just long enough to sneak past a guard. Whatever it is, the Dust of Disappearance is a great magic item to give that won’t have long term game-breaking consequences. 

Concerned about how to use magic items without risking game-breaking problems? Check out my video below all about how to avoid just that!

Glamerweave (wondrous item, varies): The Glamerweave is a set of magical clothing that has two levels of rarity. 
At the common level, a glamerweave is clothing that is imbued with illusionary magic that can create a moving pattern on the fabric of the garments. At the uncommon level, the illusion can project around the item, such as harmless flames dancing around the hem of a gown. Using this magic item at the uncommon level also grants you an extra d4 to your charisma checks

Although this item may not seem like it is designed to do anything more than have fun, used in the right way at the right time, its dazzling effect could be just what the players need to get their way. Whether it is just by impressing the locals or adding a d4 to a persuasion check, the glamerweave is a fun and useful addition to any characters’ wardrobe. 

Masquerade Tattoo (wondrous item, common): Magic tattoos are items that were added to the game in Tasha’s Cauldron of Everything (see my top take away’s in this article!) and the Masquerade Tattoo is one of my favorites.

Produced by a magic needle, this tattoo can be anywhere on your skin and even be moved, change size, or change design on as a bonus action, though it always appears as a tattoo.

The real fun of the Masquerade Tattoo comes from the ability to cast disguise self once a day. I love this item because I love the mystery and intrigue it brings with it. Why did your character get this tattoo? Are they a part of a secret organization that benefits from their members being able to disguise themselves? Are they on the run and need an easy way to hide in a crowd? Or maybe they’re just an actor who really gets into character. 

There is just something more interesting about a magic item when it is a tattoo attached to your person. It seems more personal, more intentional than just stumbling across a cool piece of loot. If you’re looking for an interesting way to include illusionary magic in your games, consider allowing your players to come across an arcane tattoo artist with just the right needles. 

Describing Illusion Magic in Your World 

The very nature of the School of Illusion lends itself to vivid sensory descriptions. Its purpose is to deceive the senses, after all, so when a character casts an illusion spell, this is our time as DMs to shine in making that illusion convincing.

But, as I consider describing illusion magic in my world, sometimes it’s the details that aren’t there that are the most noticeable. Let’s take a look at some of the ways illusions can be described in your world.

Describing Illusion Magic

Sight: The vast majority of spells cast in this school have some sort of visual element to them. This is because sight is one of the main senses we use to take in information. What we see goes a long way into what we believe. 

But unlike other schools of magic, where there can be some sort of magical, residual effect, altering the way an item appears, the School of Illusion creates perfect images. The item created in minor illusion looks exactly like the item it was modeled after. So, as a rule, if I am describing visual illusions, I always describe them as true to form as I can. I rely on other senses to give away the trick if my players succeed on their wisdom or intelligence saving throws. 

Sound: Next to sight, sound is the most common use for illusion spells. Spells such as minor illusion can only create an image or a sound effect. 

Just like with sight, these effects are completely true to the master they are copied from. So, I follow the same rules as I do with sight. If the illusion is designed to make you hear a woman scream, then you hear a woman scream. It’s visceral and convincing and unless a player wants to investigate further, they believe what they heard. 

Unlike sight, however, I will allow for some discrepancy in the illusion if, and only if, a player succeeds on their investigation check. I allow this because unlike a visual image, there is no point of reference to investigate further. There’s no physical anything to poke or prod or smell to realize it isn’t there. So instead, I let the quality of the sound be the giveaway. 

We all know that a recorded sound isn’t quite the same as the real thing. So, if my players succeed in discerning whether the woman’s scream was real or fake, I might say something such as, “There was something about the sound that wasn’t quite right. Almost as if it was hollow, distant.” Just some little tick that will let the players know what they heard isn’t exactly what they think they heard

Smell: The sense of smell plays a huge role in creating a realistic illusionary effect. This can either be by its absences or by its presence. Spells at higher levels create more convincing illusions, which means they draw in more senses. 

For lower-level spells, such as minor illusion, I might use the absence of smell to be a dead giveaway that what the player is perceiving is not real. If the platter of bacon doesn’t have that delightfully pungent bacon scent, then it is probably not bacon and we should all be wondering why someone wanted to lure us into the room with bacon. (Probably definitely maybe a trap? It would work on this halfling, that’s for sure!) 

On the other hand, if someone is trapped in a mind prison, then they are acutely aware of the hellfire and brimstone scent which surrounds them. This very scent alone could be what convinces them of the immediate danger they are in. After all, if it was an illusion, there wouldn’t be a smell…right? 

Feel: Like the sense of smell, feeling is another great way to give away illusions. This is especially true because most illusions don’t feel like anything. Even major image, which wraps all the senses into its ploy, cannot be physically touched

But although the image can’t be interacted with physically, it can still produce the proper amount of temperature to make it convincing. So, as your players cast or come in contact with higher-level illusions, make sure to read the details of what can and cannot be produced by the illusion. These guidelines will help you create convincing illusions without being unfair to yourself or your players. 

Taste: It goes without saying that since most illusions can’t be touched, they can’t be tasted either. You wouldn’t even be able to pick up that delightful platter of fake bacon to try it, because your hands would go right through it. 

But while this is true of projected illusions, there is some room for including taste in your implanted illusions, such as phantasmal force. If the platter of bacon in question was made with this spell as opposed to minor illusion, the target would be convinced that not only is the bacon real, it’s been sizzled to perfection and smoked just right. 

Like the sense of smell, you can use these less-thought-of senses as a way to add convincing details to your game that will help bring your illusions to life. 

Whether you are a player or a Dungeon Master, a wizard or a barbarian, Illusion magic is a fun way to encourage creativity in your game!

I hope this gives your game advantage my friends!

-Halfling Hannah

(Want my guides to the other schools of Magic? Check out this complete guide to magic in D&D 5e!)

Can Strahd Von Zarovich be Killed? D&D 5e

No. Strahd Von Zarovich, the Vampire villian of the D&D adventure module starting back in AD&D, cannot be completely destroyed. Because he is the ruler of a Domain of Dread, if “killed” Strahd will regenerate within his Domain anywhere from a few days to months later.

However, even though according to Rules as Written, Strahd cannot be destroyed, there are lots of homebrew options to allow your players to destroy the Dark Lord of Barovia!

 Can Strahd Actually Die?

With the rules as written in the module, the answer to the question is sadly a resounding “no”. Lords of Dread Domains are immortal, and if somehow able to be “killed”, they will simply manifest alive and well anywhere from a few months to decades after being killed; which is vaguely up to the DM to decide.

The Dark Powers, the ultimate arbiters for all the Dread Realms, are the anchors to Strahd’s soul unable to leave the plane. They simply want the Lords to live for all eternity in the large prison they themselves created.

Aside from Dark gods unwilling to let their prisoners leave, another unique trait about Strahd is that he has god-like abilities that other vampires couldn’t even dream of having. The ability to control the weather, the sun and moon, summon bolts of lightning strong enough to evaporate a lake, meld with the walls and floor of his own Ravenloft, the list is impressive, and there’s no solidified mechanic that covers all the powers he possesses.

Strahd is even “The Ancient, the Land”, and that can be interpreted in a number of ways. 

My point is, Strahd is unique, with so many anchors, laws and powers, with a little homebrewing, the DM can utilize tools, twist rules and add plentiful ideas to change the narrative and the goal immensely to where the players can discover a way that would truly destroy Strahd.

What Happens if Strahd Dies?

According to the lore of Ravenloft and module as is, after Strahd’s temporary death, his body is no more and his soul lingers with the Dark Powers.

The denizens of Barovia and your players will be able to escape and live their lives outside the walls of Strahd’s domain, given if they have a soul. (that’s right, some Barovians do not have a soul! This fun hidden tidbit and more are outlined in my article about what DM’s need to know about Curse of Strahd!)

But, over time, Strahd will reform and he will repeat the process of inviting or kidnapping people into his realm to replenish the population until he is defeated by another band of heroes, again. And again. And again.

I think most people and players want that finite finish, that feel-good sensation of accomplishment that they completely destroyed the biggest, most famous villain in D&D, that they permanently saved the Barovians and others from ever experiencing this again.

Personally, I gave my players little to no choice the first two times to give Strahd a definite ending, and I’ll give the same for the third. I’m a fan of bittersweet stories, and I wanted my players to feel like heroes but also powerless at the same time, because in the grand scheme of things, with the dark gods and their power, the PCs can do nothing about it except escaped Strahd’s clutches, saving the few they could.

Strahd, Domains of Dread and Vampyr

A Domain of Dread is created when someone from a plane of existence commits such a heinous, evil act that dark gods and entities are actually attracted to the site and the person who committed the great sin.

This creates and traps the offender in their own prison, unable to leave, unable to truly die, reforming months or years later if killed to be trapped once again. This is their punishment, and this is Strahd’s current fate when the players arrive.

Strahd initially attracted these powers when he travelled to the Amber Temple, an ancient temple housing some of the darkest entities in all existence. There, he made a deal with one of the entities, Vampyr, a vestige and minor god.

Vampyr is not the being keeping Strahd in his own prison, but it is important to note that he is the one that gave Strahd his powers, to become the first vampire in existence. Keep in mind it’s also unclear whether or not Vampyr is still the conduit for Strahd’s immense power, or their current relationship or even goals.

To come up with options for destroying Strahd forever, think through the following questions:

  • If you were Strahd or his vestige, would you be content staying in this valley forever? I’d probably guess “no”. If that’s the case, would Strahd need his potential conduit still, or vice versa?
  • Strahd clearly doesn’t like the Dark Powers locking him up, so does Vampyr feel the same way?
  • If true godhood can be obtained by mortals, and there’s a plethora of gods in Barovia already, can Strahd or Vampyr ascend further, and can such godly powers also be taken away?

These are the types of questions DM’s should focus on to get to the answer on not just if Strahd can be truly killed, ascend or escape, but how.

Alternatives to Killing Strahd

There are a couple of ideas I’ve seen floating around the internet on how to kill Strahd. One DM suggested forcing or tricking Strahd to wear Van Richten’s ring, then kill him thus trapping Strahd’s soul inside the ring.

I don’t think this plan could happen unless your PCs place the ring on Strahd while in his coffin before plunging the final stake. For me, I don’t like the anti-climactic ending of the players running down the castle as fast as possible to put a ring on him and end it with a piece of wood, so I simply have Strahd meld with the floor during the initial fight to escape if things go south for him, skipping the mist all-together.

Another alternative (and one I don’t recommend) is to beat Strahd into submission until the moment before he dies, force him to give up his throne to a PC, so they can inherit the “Curse of Strahd”.

It was silly, and when I was a player in my first playthrough with this module, that was my DMs alternative plan for us to save the realm for good. Silly, being the fact it was out of character for Strahd to hand over something so important to him, all while losing his pride in submitting to lowly PCs.

He lost his pride by being defeated, so why have more salt in his wounds when I picture him accepting death far before pleading for life. That, and what’s stopping the PCs from simply killing Strahd as soon as the transfer of power is complete? I was baffled and didn’t enjoy it. It doesn’t fit with Strahd as a character, so I would say, just don’t do it. 

Homebrew, Strahd’s Conclusive Ending

Curse of Strahd is deep in lore and extremely vague in mechanics and character ambitions, and I believe we can utilize, twist and add to the narrative that truly leaves it open for interpretation. These are the possible means to achieve a conclusive ending you find fitting for not only your PCs, but the fate of Barovia and Strahd himself.  

Banish Vampyr

Vampyr is trapped in the Amber Temple, his champion rules this domain, and he wants out, as well. He can either use his protege, Strahd, to break out alone or want to continue being his patron outside his prison. Being the conduit to Strahd’s powers, what if the PCs found a way to temporarily “banish” Vampyr through a ritual at the Amber Temple?

Would Strahd’s immortality be gone or would the Dark Powers just reform him still? If you want this to be the avenue to killing Strahd for good, maybe instead of Vampyr being a vistage, have him be a Dark Power instead, like Mother Night.

Maybe he wants more and is the actual reason for Strahd’s unending life. If he’s gone, then make it a race against time to get from the Amber Temple to Castle Ravenloft to end Strahd for good before Vampyr’s sealing dissolves

Deal with The Dark Powers Directly

As evil deities, I’m sure The Dark Powers have their own ambitions to reach higher powers, why wouldn’t they? I can’t imagine them being on good terms with both Strahd and Vampyr, being they’re both imprisoned because of the Dark Powers.

If Strahd and possibly Vampyr are being too ambitious for their own good, wouldn’t the Dark Powers eventually be at odds with them? They might want them gone or replaced out of fear? Perhaps they hold the true throne, and Strahd wants to take it for himself and he’s finally found a way.

If The Dark Powers are beginning to fear Strahd, they might be willing to make a deal with the party to destroy him. But adventurers be warned! Such a deal is sure to come at an unexpected price! (Check out Making Deals with Devils as a reference!)

Using the Fanes of Barovia

The Hags of Barovia were not always Hags. Once they were Archfey who ruled over the valley of Barovia. They were known as The Seeker, the Weaver and The Huntress. When Strahd conquered the valley, he destroyed their shrines and turned them into Hags.

The Valley once belonged to these entities, and it could again. Players could remind the Hags of what they once were and offer to help restore them if they lend the players power they need to destroy Strahd and trap his soul.

If you want more on the Fanes, check out this article on Reddit!

Deceiving Strahd

Strahd is by far the most complicated character in any adventure module I have run. So it become important to ask yourself in your version of Curse of Strahd: What does Strahd want?

The ending of your story hinges on what he desires the most. Would he want to work with Vampyr? Ignore his presence all together? Or (what I chose) have the ambition to want to take Vampyr’s powers for himself through some sort of ritual or other means he’s found.

Your PCs can be the final piece to his puzzle, connecting them to the story even further. And if he finally obtains Vampyr’s and maybe even every vistage locked in the Amber Temple, then Strahd can ascend to true godhood, breaking the Dark Powers hold and prison, thus making him not only lesser deity, but killable now since he has no other immediate avatar to cling to. 

Champions of Lathander

Although it is true that the Morninglord has abandoned Barovia, leaving only Mother Night, a Dark god, within Barovia, he is not entirely gone. But a lot of players and DMs don’t know this fun tidbit, the Morninglord goes by another name outside of Barovia now: Lathander. Yes, that Lathander.

But why bring up him? Well, the Morninglord is brought up countless times throughout the campaign and is never interacted with or utilized in the least. But you can change that! Lathander has plenty of reasons to want to help out Barovia still, he’s just waiting for the short window where the barrier from the Dark Powers is gone or weakened.

If Strahd ascends to godhood, Strahd’s going to breach the barrier, giving the good Morninglord the opportunity to finally do something: like imbue your heroes with divine powers, temporarily leveling up your PCs to level 15-20 and taking on god Strahd for the final battle to end him permanently.

If you go with this route, have your players make a level 15-20 version of their PC beforehand and have fun with the epic domain shattering battle. 

You don’t need to run this final battle. In fact, if you use the other entities and plot points, as long as you find a reason for Lathander to breach the thinning wall to Barovia. Maybe he can give your players the short opening needed to kill Strahd and send his soul to the Nine Hells. 

Anything is possible if you concentrate on the vague laws and mechanics around the Dark Powers, Vampyr, Strahd and the interaction with the barrier and the outside worlds. Use these to your advantage as a DM to create interesting and character-driven options to end the Dark Lord’s reign forever!

I hope this gives your game advantage, my friends!

-Halfling Hannah

Using Werewolves in D&D

It’s no secret that werewolves have been a staple of the fantasy and horror genre since the beginning of storytelling. Almost every culture on every continent has some version of a human-turning-into-animal myth, and Dungeons and Dragons is no exception. These monsters are so popular in pop culture today that whole fandoms have gone to war over the superiority of werewolves over other dark creatures of the night (Thanks, Underworld). 

Of course, it’s understandable. Since werewolves are usually the victims of a curse, they make perfect brooding, tragic antiheroes. Forced to live in exile lest they harm the ones they love most, werewolves in D&D are super-tough meta-humanoids who can either create powerful enemies or interesting story arcs for your players to explore.  

As a bonus, they’re fluffy, too. If you can look past the teeth…and claws…and ravenous insatiable appetite for blood…

So if you’ve got a player asking to be a lycanthrope or want to include a Big Bad Evil Pupper in your campaign, but you’re not sure where to start, this article is for you.  We’re going to explore several ways that you can incorporate werewolves into your campaign.

As a note, this article is going to emphasize using werewolves in the story of your games. If you’re looking for more specific information on how to use werewolves mechanically, check out my Complete Guide to Lycanthropy in D&D 5e!

Defining Werewolves in D&D 5e

Werewolves are just one manifestation of the curse of lycanthropy found in Dungeons and Dragons. Although there have always been multiple types of lycanthropes in D&D, the werewolf is the most iconic and most popular. It could even be considered the first lycanthrope, as the word “lycanthropy” literally means “wolf-person.” 

Each and every lycanthrope found in the Monster Manual has its own unique culture and quirk, and the werewolf is no different. These individuals tend to exile themselves from their home society, either out of fear of what they will do to others or fear of what others will do to them. They often form packs with other werewolves or wild, natural wolves.

The werewolf in its shifted form (either hybrid or animal) is chaotic evil in alignment. Even if the humanoid character is normally good or neutral, the curse of lycanthropy changes their nature into that of a ravenous wolf. Even the most steel-minded resistor of the curse will be forced to change on the night of the full moon. 

Werewolves who choose to embrace the curse learn to control their shifting ability, but at a price. Their alignment will be altered in their humanoid form as person and beast begin to meld together. They become short-tempered, savage hunters, known for violence. The longer they live with the curse, the more wolf-like their appearance becomes. 

Werewolves are incredibly powerful creatures, resistant to all forms of non-magical or non-silvered weapon damage. They have keen senses, which translates into advantage on perception checks that rely on hearing and smell. 

There is so much that goes into the curse of werewolves that they can show up for your Halloween special or they can create deep and involved side-quests or campaign arcs. 

Origins of Werewolves

Werewolves have been a part of the D&D Monster canon since the very beginning and have seen multiple changes to their lore and abilities over the years. Yet throughout all the editions of D&D, the origins and source of the curse of lycanthropy have never really been explained. The most we get from the current edition of the Monster Manual on page 206 is that lycanthropy is “the most ancient and feared of all curses.” 

This is a pretty ambiguous statement, but as far as I am concerned, that’s how I prefer it. Instead of D&D telling me exactly what lycanthropy is and where it came from, we dungeon masters are free to speculate and even draw inspiration from real-world mythologies to create the perfect story for our unique settings. 

Let’s take a look at some possible origin ideas.

Cursed by the Gods

The origins of werewolf tales in our own world today date as far back as ancient Greek mythology. In one such tale, an Arcadian king finds himself entertaining none other than Zeus himself, and as all Greek tales go, this king decided to try and pull one over on the god. The king, named Lycaon, actually killed and served his own son for dinner, because apparently, that’s the best way to test a god. 

Zeus was not fooled and depending on which version of the myth you read there are various levels of murderous destruction as a result. One detail the tale doesn’t waver on is that Lycaon is cursed by the deity and turned into a wolf, as wolves were known to attack and eat humans at that time. Essentially, Zeus brought the beast within Lycaon out for the world to see. 

This story, which even gives us the origin of the word Lycanthrope, can easily be translated into D&D. There is no shortage of deities and pantheons that could mete out this type of punishment. 

Selûne, goddess of the Moon

Since the curse is given as a punishment, I imagine it would be given by a deity that is typically considered good. One such deity might be Selûne, who is aligned as ‘chaotic good’ and described as being aggressive, fierce, and unforgiving to her enemies. 

As the goddess of the moon, it would make sense that she could be the original giver of the lycanthropic curse. In D&D, werewolf shifts are tied strongly to the full moon. Even those who strive to fight back the curse of lycanthropy still lose their battle every time the moon waxes to her zenith. 

Of course, it should be noted that many good and neutral lycanthropes follow Selûne as their deity, which you can attribute to Selûne’s fluctuating mood and personality. The gods in D&D are not infallible beings; a curse given in one phase of anger could be welcomed and forgiven in another phase of peace

However you decide to write it, a curse from a deity is a tried and true method of introducing werewolves into the lore of history. 

“Gifted” by a Devil (or evil deity)

One of the most famous werewolf stories of our world is that of the German serial killer Peter Stumpp. In 1589, the wealthy and well-respected farmer was accused of murder and cannibalism, including the murder of his own son.

When caught, Stumpp confessed to twenty-five years of insatiable bloodlust. He claimed to have been practicing black magic since he was a child and sold his soul to the devil for a magic belt that would turn him into a wolf. 

Although no such belt was ever found, the claims were enough. Stumpp was brutally executed and his tale of lycanthropic horror spread throughout Europe. Werewolves and witches went hand-in-hand, and both were seen as proof of consorting with black magic and the Devil. 

Malar, the Beastlord

This story isn’t hard to work into our D&D campaigns, even if fear of magic isn’t usually the same in D&D as it was in 16th century Europe. Like receiving a curse from a god, lycanthropy could be something that was “gifted” by an evil deity to a mortal who devoted themselves to their wicked tenants.

The god Malar, also known as the Beastlord, would be a perfect candidate for such gift-giving. He is traditionally the deity of all evil were-creatures and one of his core missions is to spread the curse of lycanthropy throughout the realm and the destruction of civilization. 

If you’re looking for an easy way to explain the origin of werewolves in your campaign, a “gift” from Malar to a devoted serial killer could be your answer. 

Natural Magic

For every tale of deity-cursing-mortal into a werewolf, there are also tales of mortals catching lycanthropy by their own rituals and practices. The Roman Poet Virgil writes about a man named Moeris who can turn himself into a wolf by using herbs and poisons. 

But this sort of natural magic isn’t only reserved for Roman mythology. Native American folklore tells of people called Skin-walkers, or yee naaldlooshii, which translates to “by means of it, it goes on all fours”.

According to legend, Skin-walkers are medicine folk or healers who have been corrupted by evil magic. Rather than learn their arts for good and healing, they use their gifts for perverse and wicked ends, shape-changing into beasts being one of them. 

Natural magic gone wrong is an excellent origin for werewolves in your campaign. Perhaps a druid has become so disgusted with progressive civilization they turn towards evil magic to protect what they deem good. Or perhaps a too-curious young apprentice taps into powers they were not ready for, resulting in devastation. 

Cursed items

Another common origin story for werewolves is that of the cursed item. Like the belt that was supposedly given to Peter Stumpp, items that transform people into wolves are commonly found in folklore and legend

One such story comes from Norse mythology, which tells about a man and his son by the names of Sigmund and Sinfjötl. By all accounts, these men were wicked men, who enjoyed hunting others in the forest and stealing their goods. On one such hunt, they came across two men who had with them two wolf pelts. After killing the men, Sigmund and Sinfjötl took the pelts and put them on. 

These pelts transformed Sigmund and Sinfjötl into wolves, and could only be removed after ten days. Having already been bloodthirsty killers, the father and son duo decided to split up and hunt alone, howling for help only if they came across a party of men larger than seven. While Sigmund kept up his end of the bargain, Sinfjötl did not, killing eleven men on his own. This enraged his father who mortally wounded him

Sinfjötle did not die, however, but was magically healed by the intervention of Odin. When the father and son were able to remove the pelts, they burned them. It seems the curse of lycanthropy was too much even for men who were already killers. 

Cursed items are such an easy way to introduce werewolves into your campaign, especially if you have a player who wants to become a werewolf. Items can be found anywhere; a magic shop, a dungeon, a grave. They can even be the result of science experiments gone wrong if you’re playing more of a sci-fi-themed game.

A cursed item also creates another way to cure a werewolf besides the trite remove curse mechanic that is currently in play. Instead of simply removing the curse from the afflicted creature, you might have to hunt down the item that cursed it and destroy it first. This is similar (and perhaps less deadly) then removing the curse that has been transferred from the Loup Garou. 

Which brings us to our last origin. 

Committing “Unforgivable Sins”

The Loup Garou is a French legend that has roots in Cajun and Canadian cultures as well. While there are several different beliefs on how a Loup Garou comes into being, a common thread among them is that this curse is a result of committing an unforgivable act. 

The “unforgivable sins” range anywhere from failing to keep certain religious practices to cannibalism, but all of them have the same result. The sinner becomes a Loup Garou. 

What’s interesting about this version of the curse is that the punishment isn’t always meted out by a deity, but rather by the human’s own genetics. It’s like there is a code in the body that reacts to certain events which trigger the wolf to come out of us, as if there is some inherent understanding of right and wrong built into our DNA. 

This version of the werewolf story works great for players who are paladins or clerics. Perhaps there is more of a risk to breaking their oath or contradicting their faith than just losing their abilities. The results of turning your back on your morality could be that your internal carnal nature becomes your external carnal curse. 

If you choose to use this method as an origin of werewolves, you’ll need to consider if it was only a one-time thing, where the first werewolf came from an unforgivable sin, or if this is still a real threat for wicked people. You’ll also want to decide what constitutes an unforgivable sin in your world. 

Regardless, tales of men becoming monsters due to their heinous acts will certainly create intrigue and wonder at your table. 

Becoming a Werewolf

In D&D 5e, one becomes a werewolf by failing their constitution saving throw after receiving a bite from a werewolf. That’s really all there is to catching the most “feared and ancient of curses,” which honestly kind of feels like a letdown in some ways. So if you want to challenge your players with lycanthropy, here are some ideas for how to spice it up. 

Make it hurt

Although lycanthropy is described as a curse, it acts more like a disease or a virus. Feel free to make the receiving of this curse hurt

Our bodies don’t tend to react well to foreign viruses that attack our DNA. In one campaign I ran I described the first few days of the bite as extremely painful for the player who had been bitten.

He became ill, very ill. You do have to be careful how you do this because too many negative effects can ruin the fun for a player, especially if you have a player who is more prone to be motivated by power. (Check out my video to help you understand what kind of players you have.) For my game, it started with just one level of exhaustion, which I planned to increase every two days until cured.

When the player got the cure, however, I gave him one last gruesome trial to overcome. In my case, I did this entirely through narration, but you could add some saving throws if you wanted to increase the drama. Just be sure to never ask for a roll that you aren’t prepared for your player to fail.

Anyway, when the player drank the remove curse potion that was given to them by the super sketchy BBEG, I described how the liquid burned through their blood. I narrated them falling to their knees, their bones cracking, their body almost changing, before the fur receded and they arose, human and healthy again. 

By using these mechanics and descriptions, I was still able to explore the weight of becoming a werewolf on a micro level, without having to force my player on a long extended journey they weren’t interested in. Even if your player does want to experience the drama of becoming a werewolf, you can still make them bear the burden of being cursed by adding some negative temporary side effects to the bite. 

Make it emotional

Along with some physical drama with becoming a werewolf, there is plenty of room for emotional turmoil as well. (Think zombie apocalypse when the little girl’s been bit and you have to decide if you want to shoot her or cut off her arm.)

While yes, remove curse is normally all it takes to cure a werewolf, this isn’t always true, and the spell isn’t always accessible, especially to low-level players. 

If you have a player who’s become a werewolf, talk to them about the emotional toll of the curse. This aspect will be especially fun for your players who love to role-play and explore different corners of their character’s persona. Let them know that if they want to remain good, they’re going to have to wage war on the curse

You could even develop a system of wisdom saving throws for each day to see how well they are combatting the bloodlust each day leading up to the first full moon. This will create inner-party turmoil and (hopefully) drive them to be motivated to save their teammate. 

All in all, always remember that lycanthropy is a curse. It is not meant to be a benefit or a cool superpower. When a player or a beloved NPC becomes cursed with lycanthropy, there should be some sort of terrible pain (emotional or physical) involved. Let the player feel like they a cursed, even if they did want to become a werewolf. 

Curing a Werewolf

Despite lycanthropy having a reputation of being one of the most feared and evil of curses, it’s remarkably easy to cure. Too easy, in my opinion. 

All you need is the third level spell, remove curse. 

It doesn’t even require a saving throw which means, theoretically, a fifth-level cleric can literally zap all the fight out of the werewolf your party is fighting. That’s hardly exciting. 

But just as you can add flavor and pizzaz to the receiving of the curse, so you can make the cure a little more dramatic, as well. Here are a few ideas for how to do it.

Use a Loup Garou:

The Loup Garou was added to D&D lore in Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft. This monster is basically a werewolf on steroids, and his bite is extremely potent. 

Those who are changed by a loup garou become normal werewolves, but the curse refuses to let go. The only way to be cured of lycanthropy is to kill the loup garou which changed you. And with a challenge rating of 13 and regeneration abilities, that’s no easy task. 

Even if you do succeed in killing the loup garou, the curse can still only be broken on the night of the full moon. Which, incidentally, is the same night you turn into a raving murder-pupper. Your party will have to prepare accordingly. 

But that’s not all. Once you get leashed and call your cleric, you still have to succeed on a DC17 constitution saving throw, or the curse does not break and you have to wait until the next full moon to be cured. 

If you do succeed on your saving throw, congratulations! You’re cured–and you suffer three levels of exhaustion. But hey, you’re no longer craving the flesh of your enemies (and friends) for dinner, so that’s probably worth it. 

The loup garou is D&D’s answer to the complaints about how weak these iconic monsters were originally introduced. These built-in mechanics can easily be adapted to your own campaign of any level. If you have a low-level party, use the original werewolf, but make the curse work like the loup garou’s curse. If you have a high-level party, you now have a fearsome foe worthy of their abilities. 

The joy of D&D is that it is a flexible game. You’re free to use what you want, discard what you don’t like, and recreate lore to your heart’s content. Maybe you don’t want to deal with hunting down the werewolf that turned you in order to be cured. You can just require a saving throw. Or, maybe just killing the foe will automatically cure you. The combinations are endless. 

Send Them on an Adventure

Maybe your party is out in the wilderness and has no opportunity to find someone to cast remove curse on them. What’s an adventurer going to do? 

Probably what they do best. Adventure

This adventure has a couple of different possibilities. Perhaps your player has been bit, but there is a nearby set of ruins that is rumored to have fantastic healing powers. Or maybe, take a leaf out of the AD&D days and give your druid knowledge that an herb called Belladonna might just heal you. Or, you know, kill you. Either way, it’s going to be a fun time searching the forest for it! 

Another adventure to save a werewolf could be doled out to the party from an NPC. Perhaps a village has been ravaged by a rabid wolf and the party is tasked to find them–only to discover that the blacksmith’s small child is the werewolf responsible. 

Suddenly it’s not so easy to just kill the beast anymore (hopefully!) Now it’s a matter of restoring the child’s life to normal. If the village is too small, the party might have to go far and wide to find the resources they need to remove the curse. 

Removing the curse doesn’t only have to be about stopping the transition. Maybe you have a player who wants to be able to turn into a wolf but doesn’t want to multiclass into a druid. Adventures can take players on a journey to conquer the beast and remain human while maintaining their cool new shape-shifting ability.

Whether it be a blessing from a benevolent god, a magic item, or just a journey of willpower and spiritual awakening, there’s more than one way to tame a wolf. 

If you’re afraid that letting a player become a permanent werewolf will break your game, just make your challenges more challenging. D&D is a game that should be fun for everyone, DM included. Don’t just say no to a protagonist-pupper, work with the player to decide what that looks like so everyone can benefit from the joy of the story. I promise you, in the end, it will be a more rewarding experience. 

The Best Resources for Epic D&D Adventures

To create an epic D&D Adventure, be it a one-shot, campaign or side quest, you will need the following resources:

  • The Plot clearly outlined
  • Monsters and Monster Stats
  • NPCs
  • Maps and Minatures
  • Handouts and Art (optional, but awesome)

If you are new to DMing and aren’t sure where to begin, simply follow the steps outlined below and use the recommended resources and you will be planning adventures like a veteran in no time! If you are a long-time DM looking for some new resources, you are going to love this!

*Throughout this article, I will reference my Patreon and give you some free examples of the work I do. If you like what you see, consider joining! But whether you do or don’t, consider the quests found on this page as free for you to use! *

I hope they give your game advantage, my friends!

Plotting an Epic Adventure

The first step of creating an epic adventure is to think through the plot. There are some debates on how much a DM should plan ahead, but I am a firm believer that truly great adventures are always planned, but open enough to allow for players to change the final outcome.

When deciding how much of your plot to plan, remember the following:

  • Having a plot is NOT the same as “railroading.” Players will still have lots of options, even if there are set events that you plan to have occur.
  • There are times when you might have to let go of the direction you thought the plot would go because players change it so radically. And that is OK!
  • In my experience, players most often are happy to follow the DM’s plot prompts because they want to know the story! So don’t be too afraid of your players “ignoring” you.
  • Everyone loves a good story! Your players will thank you for taking the time to plan, I promise!
  • Do what works for you. Do you stress about details? Then write them out! Do you think of the best things under pressure? Allow for improv! In the end, it is about doing what works best for you!

Outline Your Plot on Canva

To keep myself on track with the story and quickly reference where I am going, I like to completely outline my adventure using “Acts” and “Scenes” like a play. It is the way my brain works and I recommend giving it a try!

I created this template on Canva, a free online graphic design platform, which you are welcome to use!

I fill out each part of the quest, add some graphics and print it for my DM binder! (if you don’t use a DM binder, I would really suggest giving it a try! Check mine out below for ideas!)

Each of the adventures in my binder follows this setup and you can see a couple of examples below:

Both of these quests were created using the template above! I find it to be a quick and easy method to organize my thoughts. Give it a try! If you need a step-by-step walk-through on how to use the template on Canva, check out my video!

Where to Find Ideas

Articles Online:

If you are short on ideas for adventures, there are lots of free resources to get your creative juices flowing! Just a quick google search will give you lots of lists, in fact, I wrote an article myself!

Use articles like these to jump-start your creativity and help you create adventures for your own unique world or simply use them as-is for quick prep!

Remember, when it comes to DMing, good DMs borrow, but great DMs steal!

-Halfling Hannah

Here is a list of other articles to check out for some really great ideas!


YouTube is another great place to come up with ideas for adventures! You can check out my channel and some of my favorites below!


If you are in a pinch and need some completed side quests right away, Patreon is an excellent place to find them! You can directly support creators, often times have input on what they create, and get some really cool resources!

If you like what I do, consider joining my Patreon, but there are lots of others out there too! Like these amazing people making DND resources!

Support Halfling Hobbies on Patreon!

Monsters and Monster Stats for Epic Adventures

Monsters from Offical Sources

If you are still having a difficult time coming up with a plot, then start with the monster!

Often times simply knowing what you want your players to fight in the end will give you lots of ideas on how to get them to that point. That is what I did with the “Cat’s Quest” adventure. I started with the lore of the Boneclaw and asked myself, “Who wanted to become a lich and failed?” and that gave me everything I needed for the plot!

For more on how this process works, check out this video!

Halfling Hobbies on YouTube!

Finding monsters is easy, D&D makes loads of monster-focused resources! If you don’t have any of the books listed below, I would highly recommend them. Consider buying them from the links below to support a local game store and Halfling Hobbies!

Creating Your Own Monsters

If you are looking to create a monster that is truly your own for your adventure, then D&D 5e Statblock Generator is the perfect resource for you!

It is free and includes all the stats for D&D monsters! This means you can get the stats for any monster you need, tweak them to fit your world, or create new ones! Below are some examples of monsters I have created for my Patreon quests! The best part is, the stat blocks look just like official content!! Cool huh?

NPCs for your Epic Adventures

The next step is to fill in your adventure with interesting and engaging NPCs! Create NPCs for the following parts of your adventure:

  • Anyone who might be involved with the plot
  • Anyone who might hold clues the players will need
  • Figures from the player’s backgrounds and pasts
  • Shop keepers, tavern owners, and/or merchants

I like to create NPC sheets using Canva as well. Feel free to use my template!

NPCs for RPGs

If you like the template above and need NPCs that will fit into any campaign to keep on hand, check out NPCs for RPGs! I created this series of eBooks for my own games and I found that having tons of interesting NPCs on hand for any occasion took a LOT of stress off my mind while DMing.

Whether you need random quest starters, merchants and tavern keeps, or even crime bosses and minions, NPCs for RPCs is ready to give your game advantage!

NPC for Hire- App

If you prefer to keep and share your NPCs digitally then NPC for Hire is the perfect app for you! It includes beautiful art, the ability to upload your own art, randomly generate NPCs, and the option to edit existing NPCs or make new ones!

You can even share NPCs with your players to eliminate having to spell out their name 15xs….(I’m not bitter) and don’t worry about your evil plans of befriending the players only to sacrifice them to the chaos god being revealed. There is a section for DM notes that only you can see!

I did a complete breakdown of this app and some of my other favorites in my article on 10 Incredible Apps DMs Need. Check it out or watch the video below!

Maps and Miniatures for Epic Adventures

Alright! You’ve got your plot, your monsters and your NPCs. Now it is time for maps and miniatures! Let’s start with free maps!

2 Minute Table Top- Free Maps!

I love this creator! You can find him on YouTube, Patreon, and his website linked above. He is a very talented map maker giving high-quality dnd maps away for free!

He also has lots of map packs you can purchase, which I would HIGHLY recommend doing!

2 Minute Tabletop also has tokens, map assets and lots of other DND supplements! Be sure to check them out!

Printable Heroes

If you need cheap and beautiful miniatures for your adventure, you need to check out Printable Heroes.

There are lots of free resources on the website you can download and print. If you want access to options and loads of cool features, make sure to support the creator on Patreon!

Want to know how they work? Check out my video on the process!

Handouts and Art

Handouts and custom art are completely optional, but they do add something special to any adventure! I love making physical handouts for my players on Canva (yes, Canva is my best friend!) and printing them out. You can see a few examples from resources I created for Patreon below!

When it comes to custom art, I love to use Fiverr! Two of my favorite artists are listed below, along with examples of what they have created for me! I highly recommend them both!


  • 10$ for flat colors.
  • 20$ full shaded.
  • 30$ full shaded and background!
  • Additional Characters are +5$ 🙂


Package$10 Basic SKETCH$25 Standard LINE ART$45 Premium COLORS
Just a clean sketch of your characterClean Linework of your project with a wash of solid colorclean linework plus flat color without shades

Now that you have everything you need, get started creating some truly epic adventures!

I sincerely hope this gives your game advantage, my friends!

-Halfling Hannah

What New DMs Need to Know about Curse of Strahd (Spoilers!)

Barovia is a land of darkness and distress, but in the hands of your players, it offers a world of creativity and freedom. This module is incredibly open, more than almost any other D&D experience.

Rather than seeing yourself as running Curse of Strahd, it could be helpful to give yourself the role of overseeing Curse of Strahd.  To put it poetically: You’re not steering this ship, but you can work with the wind and guide her sails. 

Executing the Game

Introducing Barovia:

Lead your players into Barovia in a way that entices them. Each group will be different, how will yours enter the mists?
  1. You’ll need to decide how to begin. Will they receive an intriguing letter that lures the characters to enter a forest thick with fog? Perhaps a mystical dream will transport them far, far away. Once there, consider opening the adventure with a walk through Death House (link to my article on all about Death House) to help your adventurers level up a bit. 
  2. Provide helpful descriptions: You can only creatively describe a dilapidated building and cobweb-filled room a few times before it gets a little tired. A sad world only gets more sad as you keep talking about it. In general, focus on inhabitants, unique locations, and enticing treasures.

Decide what to share.

What will your players know, and what will you keep hidden until the perfect time?
  1. Do your players know that Barovia is inescapable, or will you keep that info to yourself? As the DM, give yourself the freedom to ignore certain areas of the map and keep a few NPCs on the bench. Not everyone has to be in your starting line-up. 
  2. You don’t have to guide your players to explore everything, but understand that some places and buildings are key. They really do need to visit the tavern in Barovia and meet Ismark in order to be introduced to Ireena.  But do your players need to know Bonegrinder exists? Essentially it’s a mini-adventure you can draw them to… or never, ever bring up. *shudders*

Leveling Up

  1. Curse of Strahd depends more on exploration, discoveries, and social encounters for leveling up rather than combat (though there can be plenty of that!) You can award experience points by defeating foes or based on milestones. 
  2. The DM manual provides a list of milestone/level suggestions (pg 6) that is helpful for initial map maneuvering. Try to guide your adventurers towards locations they are strong enough to enjoy. But remember, Barovia is a sandbox, so Death-House-victors are hell-bent on going straight for the Castle, let ‘em. They can rethink their tactics for the next session!
  3. I’d encourage you to decide ahead of time when you’ll promote your characters to new levels. Finding each Artifact (Tome of Strahd, Sunsword, and Holy Symbol of Ravenkind) or identifying an Ally, lighting the beacon of Argynvostholt, defeating key characters at a location, and escaping a powerful building are all great opportunities to reward. I really enjoyed this thread to draw inspiration from.

Staying Inspired 

  1. Most importantly, remember your players’ goal: Save Ireena and Barovia from the demiplane and Strahd’s control!! And of course, defeat Strahd! Along the way make friends, kill some monsters, complete quests, and level up. That being said, it can be tricky to keep your players inspired and bought in rather than just wandering around. It can take upwards of 30-40 sessions to work through this module.
  2. An initial opportunity to amp up the energy is to invite one of the players to be Ireena Kolyana. Rather than a side character who may or may not matter to them, they’ll have a vested interest in her and her safety! Just make sure she knows what she needs to know, and no more.
  3. Create character stories that prompt buy-in. Perhaps a dragonborn adventurer is a descendant of the Silver Dragon Argynvost or someone’s relative disappeared to Barovia years ago. Maybe as a child your hero was kidnapped and taken away from Barovia by Vistani; they’ve tracked their heritage here and hope to find where they truly belong.
  4. Craft inspiring side-quests! Offer good rewards in exchange for completing side-quests engineered to get your players moving in the right direction. Perhaps Madam Eva longs for a trinket in Van Richten’s Tower, or the Abbey of Saint Markovia, or… wherever you need it to be. In return for the trinket you can promise gold or a protection amulet or the answer to a question of psychic proportions.
  5. Exciting Card Readings. There are a couple opportunities throughout the story for your   players to experience a little revelation. As DM you have a lot of free will with the Tarokka readings: Stack the deck to create a compelling adventure, let the cards fall as they may to go on a surprise journey, or even a little of both by removing the cards you dislike most. Tarokka readings can be a bit confusing, and they are important. Read my article on card readings to get your footing and put on a good show for your players.
  6. Also, build deep trust between a few NPCs and your heroes; Barovia can quickly become a land of distrust, so if they know they can always trust a few key villagers it will keep the hope burning bright.
  7. Create opportunities for NPCs to talk up Strahd: Their fear of him, the terror he holds over the land, run-ins they’ve had or have heard of.  

Speaking of Strahd: Role-Playing the Vampire:

  1. Have Strahd show up, powerfully and playfully; keep him in the back of your players’ minds. In an encounter, let him knock them around… maybe even kill one. And then disappear as he leaves them to his wolves. Have him leave notes and hints (whether personally or through a terrified messenger) when you need to put a little pep in their step. Maybe he summons the characters to his castle (or maybe just ONE character via the black carriage!) after a major discovery or a fight. Their visit can be an uneventful meal where Strahd basks in his history, or it could escalate to a dynamic escape from his clutches. Let the characters be toyed with to increase their animosity; players love the opportunity for sweet revenge.
  2. Utilize his powers! Strahd has “Scrying”… and the unique station of knowing almost as much as the DM. In an early-game encounter have him snag a strand of hair or a small item from your players. Later it can be influential to remind a character, every once in a while, that they “Just can’t shake the feeling they are being watched.” He can also shapeshift, and that can be infuriating! Just as the players are getting some hits in *poof* he transforms into a cloud of smoke or a bat, disappearing into the night.
  3. Remember, he invited the characters to Barovia; he’s pulling the strings. Strahd is a bored mastermind. If your players leave Ireena somewhere “safe,” maybe Strahd shows up and off-handedly mentions he’s going to be visiting that somewhere soon.
  4. Bring his minions to life. Strahd has vampire spawn, spirits, magical items, vistani, and cohorts all working for him. If your players are a little too confident, knock them back a couple steps with a run-in. 
  5. Allow Strahd’s plot to change, and therein your own! Perhaps the heroes awaken The Ancient One in the Amber Temple… and suddenly Strahd becomes a quest-giving NPC hoping to partner with the adventurers! That’d be a fun twist. 

Keeping it Straight: 

If you haven’t figured it out yet, Barovia is a WEB. It all connects, it all overlaps. You have van Richten the Monster Hunter masquerading as Ristavio the Bard, broken up families held together by the subconscious of a creepy brother, backstories and crossed paths galore. If you don’t think you’re up for it, turn back now. 

But I know you’re up for it!! Here are some tips for keeping it all straight:

Internalize the Timeline and the History of Barovia’s transmutation.

  1. Strahd brought the characters here because he is bored; the heroes are his playthings.
  2. Know Strahd’s history, how his parents and Sergei and Tatyana tie in. How He became a vampire. How Barovia used to be.
  3. Internalize the important “who knows what’s”. What does Madam Eva know? How about The Mad Mage? Esmerelda followed who here? 

Familiarize yourself with the CoS Maps you plan to use (my favorites are in the link!). If you decide to cut out any locations, make sure your maps reflect that.

It’s all in the details. 

  1. The plot is a beast. Keep notes of which plot lines you want to follow (because it’s impossible to intertwine them all.) Note the major characters in those plot lines and their locations. Pick a few locations you like and create a reason for them to go there.
  2. Determining Fortunes of Ravenloft: Many opportunities lie in the cards of Madam Eva; perhaps too many. If you want to simplify the game a bit consider removing the locations and trinkets you don’t love. This article I wrote on Tarokka Readings will set you up for success. 
  3. Cities: There are three major population hubs in Barovia (check out the link for an overview of the all!). The village of Barovia is thankfully simple and a great location to begin the adventure. Vallaki has a lot of people to get to know and some complex buildings to move through. Kresk is a simple place whose citizens turn a blind eye to the evils up the hill…
  4. Buildings: There are so many buildings to explore! Some are important (The Castle!!) Some are just fun and great for side-quests and leveling up. Study the maps before you wander in!
  5. NPCs & People Groups: There are a lot of people to get to know, and it can be tricky to keep it straight. 
    1. In your event notes be sure to write down any key speaking/info that NPCs are likely to have. Also have a way to quickly access any NPC stats for Combat.
    2. Pre-roll NPC initiatives so you can just plug-n-play.
    3. Cut out some NPC’s if it’s getting too messy for you. 

Helpful Tips for organizing the mess…  

  1. Read “Areas of Barovia” thoroughly (pp 33-40). That will help you significantly as you launch the campaign.
  2. Read Appendix D thoroughly to learn about key characters. 
  3. During session-prep, decide which events are most likely to occur. Feel free to pre-roll random events so you can focus on the story rather than your surprise role.
  4. At the end of each session, ask your players where they plan to go for the next session.
    1. Provide your players with a map of the land of Barovia (…perhaps edited if you want to ignore certain locations) so they can orient themselves to this complex world. 
    2. Try to prep at least 2 locations for your next session and consider what events may take place along the way.
  5. Summarize your sessions at the end. What happened where? Who learned what? Did they make it to…? I like to have this recorded to be played before the next session begins.
    1. You could spend a year or more in this module… and you cannot remember that amount of adventure! Keep a digital record of the sessions’ experiences so you can easily search and refresh your mind too long-forgotten details and encounters. World Anvil is a great option for this, so a simple Google Doc. It is really up to you how complicated you want the process to be!
  6. Try Trello or another organizational program. Gives you the opportunity to link characters, locations, and details like hidden treasure and key places to explore. With Trello you can create cards for every single NPC, item, Quest, and plot point you want  and link them all together. You can also keep updated notes of who knows what, your heroes’ tarokka readings, and any special info you need to keep on hand. This is best accomplished by piecemealing through the DM Guide and taking notes on, like, everything. 
  7. Read Articles online (:
  8. Read the DM Book. READ IT. Read it ALLLLL. Take notes. 
  9. Go read “How to use the Adventure Book” (because even THAT is complicated!)

In the end the plots of COS are a lot like Whose Line is it Anyway: “Everything is made up and the points don’t matter!”

You have full authority to add or remove anything you want. Werewolves? What werewolves? Izek and his little dolls feel random and give you the creeps? Just have the toymaker make toys for him. Don’t even want to reference Berez? Then don’t; no one will ever know and the overall plot will not be harmed. In Theory, you could remove almost EVERYTHING except your adventurers, Strahd, a few NPC’s, and a location or three and still run a killer Strahd Campaign

I hope the ideas shared here are helpful for you to see what options you have and some directions you can take with cracking open the land of Strahd. 

Barovia is your oyster. Go have fun!

-Halfling Hannah