If you have ever run your party through The Curse of Strahd module then you know how things are “supposed” to end. Recently, I have been setting up for a gothic horror game, and while I do not plan to run it I perused the book as inspiration. And that has sent me into a flurry of planning for my weekly campaign.
I’ve read the book, and the more I look at it, the more I think that it needs some revisions. The first big problem I had was with Irena. While I understand that the game sees her as nothing but a tag along to the party, an anchor that keeps the party tied to the BBEG.
But honestly, I don’t like dead weight in my party. It tends to end in one of two ways. Either they forget that she exists until the plot brings her back by force, or they get sick of the babysitting duty and wander of into as many sub-plots as they can to get away from it.
So, what do we do with the case of Irena? You simply can’t leave her in most places. Strahd will take her. Even so called “safe” places are not safe. If the players can fail so easily, its not a fair game. So, if the party has to bring her along, we need a much better option set for Irena.
Enter the church of St. Andrel, and an opportunity for Irena to be more than she was before. My party lacks a healer. Here is where Irena will learn to help herself, to become a more useful NPC for the party. Here she will pledge herself to the Morning Lord.
She will become a level one cleric. From here she can begin to work on helping the party, healing their wounds. And in time, if she has enough levels, she can learn to buy some time should she be caught. Who knows, in time she might even have enough power to at least weaken the BBEG a little to “soften him up” for the party.
Though to be honest, if she levels with the party, she could only ever go as high as level seven. As a domain of life, she probably won’t get to BBEG fighting on her own, but at least she won’t be dead weight.
And for her epilogue? Well, if the party succeeds, then she is going to go on to become Van Richten’s new apprentice. If the party fails, then she will jump off of the castle again. You may be wondering why I’m changing her cannon endings as well. In order to explain that, lets go over the two options in the book.
The Party Wins
Irena remembers her previous life and goes into the theoretical sunset (death) with the ghost of her true love Sergi.
The Party Loses
Strahd takes Irena, makes her a vampire spawn and keeps her locked in her crypt.
Why I Don’t Like These Endings
And both of these are problems, primarily because they break the rules of the dark powers. Either one breaks the cycle. If Irena leaves, Strahd has nothing to pursue when he comes back in a few days. If he turns her, then he gets what he wants.
Neither of these gives a chance for the endless cycle to repeat. Nothing in this area implies that the cycles repeat endlessly. Strahd always has to be tortured by almost getting what he wants and not being able to have it. That is literally the idea of the Demiplanes of Dread.
It is the constant being near and not having that is his suffering. I think that my workaround will at least give the ability to keep the cycle running. Yes, she and Van Richten will have to stay in Barovia to clear the land of evils until the mists close, but that is well worth it.
Who knows, maybe there will even be a follow up campaign where Irena takes a more active role in Barovian politics using her status as a religious leader and daughter of a buregonmaster to make some changes in the land. She’ll just need so help from her old friends.