What’s it for? Dungeons & Dragons 5th Ed, for the Ravenloft gothic horror setting
Price of admission: Free
Format: 12pg PDF
Summary: Coinciding with the Curse of Strahd release by Wizards of the Coast, they also published the introductory chapter “Death House” as a standalone adventure. It was prominently available at that point but for the life of me I can’t find it on the WOTC site and it takes some search-engine work to pull it up. Currently, it’s available here.
Death House is suggested as a way to take 1st level characters up to the suggested level 3 for the Curse of Strahd arc. It also serves as a way to promote the full book and the optional tarot-styled Tarokka Deck employed in the full adventure.
The adventure: I’ll try and steer clear of any spoilers that might ruin the story but, of course, you’ve been warned. Adventurers are spirited away into Ravenloft, land of goth-er than thou grimness and darkness. They find themselves in a small burg about a quarter-mile square, with a scant few buildings described and the rest hidden away for paying customers.
Of course, the town’s not the point and The Mists of Ravenloft <cue organ music> roil around to block off whatever needs to be excluded, like the “Please return to the mission area” warnings in video games. The real raison is the House, where you find two spooky kids crying and consoling each other. “There’s a monster in our house,” they say, “we can’t go home until it’s been chased off.” As is often the case in D&D missions, it’s the understatement of the day.
Trapdoor: A trapdoor is hidden in this room. It can’t be detected or opened until the characters approach it from the other side. Until then, Death House supernaturally hides the trapdoor.
Ugh. Thanks Obama.
Inside the house there are several floors with many well-described rooms, dripping with shadows and woe and weird nope-ness in the details. It’s also loaded with “I hope your DM isn’t an unreasonable jerk” throwback old school gotchas. Exploring the house is divided into a few stages, each with a thread-the-needle bottleneck that’s blocked by a specific skill check. If you don’t nail it, you’re stuck wandering the halls waiting to slowly die of starvation. (There’s something to help you with those skill checks, but guess what, it’s tucked behind one. Great!)
Gripes done for now, moving on… the rooms provide progressively darker clues about the origin of the House and its later connection to Strahd. Eventually you find yourself in a dungeon complex below the house. I have no idea why it needs such a sprawling, superfluous construction, but eyyy. Got to store the traps and undead somewhere.
So by this point, the party’s been automatically advanced to Level 2; they’ve got a few more HP and abilities, and that’s a good thing. Assuming they’ve survived the gotchas, and the ghoul/ghast beatdowns, the dungeon might just throw a CR6 monster at them. Considering what they’re going through for those darn kids, sometimes I wonder if falling on the spike traps would be a merciful death. The other top Google hits for this adventure are all “How do I not kill the party?” forum threads – enough said.
Anyway: If you don’t mind pulling a few punches you can avoid the instant lethality of some areas, throw the players a break with the skill checks to keep them moving – there’s plenty of adventure here but no need to drag this out into more than a handful of sessions. And while the house is too damn big for it’s own good you can pare down by half the “nothing happens here” problem by excising extra broom closets, powder rooms with sheets hanging over hat racks, dungeon rooms that are just bonus corridors. Problems a plenty, as I’ve highlighted, but so much promise in the story they can discover. Just be sure to keep the good atmospheric stuff – highlight everything quirky and creepy that you want to maintain, moving it to others rooms if needed – in and pay mind to pacing.