Secrets of Barovia
Campaign Play Style
I’d like to set expectations for the type of game being played, the management style of the DM, the traits desired in potential players, and expectations players and DM should have towards each other. In doing so I hope to give potential new players an idea of what to expect and help each of us manage to have fun by knowing ahead of time how things ought to run. Player input can and should help direct the goals, too.
We’ll be running Dungeons & Dragons 5E, specifically the Curse of Strahd. While I expect deviation from the book to happen, this means players should be unfamiliar with the book or willing to pretend ignorance and have fun playing it a second time without spoiling anything for other players or making use of prior campaign knowledge.
What this means in practical terms is that the setting is Ravenloft, other than a brief starting session in Forgotten Realms. Expect a mixture of horror, doom, and a sense of despair. I will try to not make the game feel depressing, however, as I’ve had a bad experience with that while stuck in the Underdark during Out of the Abyss.
I fully plan on mixing story and narrative with both combat and non-combat encounters, depending on how the players interact. Likewise, the game will run the gamut of terrains and environments: towns and villages, ruins, castles, wilderness, lakes, mountains, camps, haunted places, etc, depending on the paths and choices taken by the players. Many areas are dangerous, and many are in poor weather conditions, low light, etc.
Because of the “sandbox” nature of this campaign existing in an isolated area known as Barovia, there is little to no contact with the outside world other than the starting session in forgotten realms. This means character backstory isn’t as big of a deal as I’d normally make it be; by all means feel free to create more backstory than is needed, but I want to be realistic about how much of it I can work into the story. Because of its isolation, Barovia is a land that’s nearly completely human and much of the inhabitants are a little xenophobic.
Experience points will be awarded as normal and/or via the milestones as appropriate to make sure party levels keep a consistent pace and are relative in terms of where they should be towards the story. That means you’ll never have less than what you would have gotten for regular encounters, but if the story demands it you might level faster.
We start at level one. New players joining will start at the same level as the party. If someone dies and resurrection is unavailable/unwanted, that player’s new character will also be the same level. I want players to have fun playing their characters; if you aren’t having fun, let me know. I don’t want people rolling new characters left and right, but otherwise I’m open to talking about changing characters.
I’ve been running Numenera, another game system, and it has a few things in it I like. One of which is picking “ties” to other party members. For example, one character may know a secret of another, or a third character may have been saved by a fourth. Exact details on this to be determined. The starting party will be familiar with each other and individual members will have specific relationships to each other as explained by having done a few small quests/missions together as an adventuring party before play begins as a joint backstory.
By default, we’ll stick to the core rules in the Player’s Handbook. However, I’m pretty open to pretty much any official materials from other D&D 5E books, including trying out Unearthed Arcana stuff. Just ask me as a confirmation. Unearthed Arcana stuff may require tweaks and rulings since it’s not as fully baked, just as a heads up. Same with Volo’s guide material, Elemental Evil Player’s companion, etc. We’ll be using standard point buy for ability scores. For HP, player’s have the choice at each level to take the rounded-up average or roll in front of the DM.
Optional, starting players can choose one of the five factions from the Adventurer’s League for a tiny story hook in the beginning.
PLAYER AND DM INTERACTIONS
Things I’m looking for in my players:
- enthusiasm – you want to play D&D and have fun doing so!
- you want to role-play (at least some) and not just be a dice rolling murder-hobo
- experience is preferred but not required as long as 1-2 players are experienced enough to help mentor the others
- must be able to handle adult humor and situations. This is not a kid friendly campaign. (I often swear a lot out of character, for example)
- Participation on this Obsidian Portal website. That means keeping some version of a character sheet more or less up to date. If we do adventure logs, reading those to recap the last session before playing the new one. Helping with loot distribution (probably via a shared Google spreadsheet) as needed. It shouldn’t take much of your time outside of the initial character creation part.
Things I expect of players and players should expect of me:
- Regular and consistent attendance. Life happens, and it’s no big deal if you miss on occasion. Work asks us to stay late, we get sick, our kids get sick, we’re on vacation, etc. However not giving the group a reasonable heads up when possible, repeated absences, and chronic tardiness are problems. I want us all to respect everyone’s time. D&D is a social contract, after all.
- Solving any problems that come up like adults.
- If I make a shitty ruling, ask me about it in-game but don’t drag it out. If we don’t come to an agreement, follow up with me after via an email, text, PM through Obsidian Portal, phone call, face-to-face, or whatever is most conformable to you.
- If friction exists between players & DMs as far as personality, don’t become passive aggressive or demanding to each other. Have a conversation and communicate your issues; preferably to the person that friction exists with, and if not that then to me as the DM.
- Basically, let’s follow Wheaton’s Law (Don’t be a dick). Any outright hateful attitude, racism, sexism, other *-isms, and you’re going to be called on it at the least and booted out at the worst. People > Games.
- a decent amount of focus on the game. I don’t mind people looking at their phones, talking quietly out of turn with each other, etc. But if players or the DM need to repeat themselves a whole lot or we find players continuously asking ‘What just happened’, it’s annoying.
- Have fun! D&D is a game. If we’re stressing out, worrying about rules or metagaming or straying out of character, we’re doing it wrong in my mind. Let’s focus on having fun.
If someone or something is in the way of the group having fun, it’ll need to be addressed somehow. Hopefully this isn’t an issue! =)
HOW I DM
Occasionally I’ll fudge mechanics in order to make the story or combat more fun. And by fun, I don’t mean “make sure the DM wins this time” as I’ve heard the expression used by other DMs. Think of it as the “rule of cool”. Maybe a player doesn’t quite have the distance or actions available to do something, but it sounds really cool so I allow it for that round anyway, or perhaps I want the plot/narrative to go a certain way and don’t want the randomness of the dice to screw it up. That sort of thing.
If I don’t know the ruling for something, I might try to look it up real fast or I may take a stab at it and guess. Especially if I guess, I’ll probably do more research later to see if what I did was as fair as could be, so it’s entirely possible that I might rule one way the first time something is tried and then (consistently) rule another for all times after that after researching and correcting a mistake.
I have a few house rules. Sometimes I’ll add more mid-game, but I’ll discuss with players before doing so. If some newly-added or newly-proposed house rule affects your character in a major way, we’ll figure out some solution together.
I can run games as both theater of the mind and a grid with minis. I actually prefer to use both tactics depending on the encounter, but am open to preferring one over the other if the party has consensus. I have minis, maps/tiles, and grids, but feel free to bring a mini for your own character if you have one you want. Usage amounts will depend on group preference.
Ideally, game nights are about fun. Side talk will happen. I’m guilty of it as well, where we end up talking about <other>. That’s fine lots of the time but sometimes I will try to shush people and focus on the game. I’m hoping no one is offended if I do this, but if so I’m setting expectations up front.
I don’t mind certain types of “meta gaming”. If you’re a healer, it’s totally fine to ask other players what their hit points are like. I’m okay with a small amount of player-to-player strategy talk during combat, as long as it’s not slowing things down. I don’t like outright blatant meta gaming where you decide to hit a monster for its weakness than the player knows but the character doesn’t, or planning to have a total arsenal of spells and things to solve problems because you’ve read Curse of Strahd or know how vampires work.
Things I don’t care about and don’t bother tracking outside of some unusual situation:
- food & water
- bedrolls, basic clothing
- downtime cost of living (not sure it will come up in this campaign)
- encumbrance (unless you’re trying to move/carry something very heavy, like a giant gold statue)