There is really something about Curse of Strahd that looms large in the pantheon of officially published D&D campaigns. The book and its eponymous villain have an alluring, seductive quality that the other adventures just don’t quite achieve. The story, rife with moral ambiguity and richly detailed (and often horrifying) NPCs, lends itself to emotionally dense roleplay and unforgettable no-win decisions.
All of these qualities make Curse of Strahd a blast to play… and perhaps even more fun to run.
Beth and I first talked about running Curse of Strahd as a duet after I received the book as a gift and ran the campaign for the Tabletop RPG Club at school. Beth came down to help out and we both found ourselves captivated by the grim atmosphere, intriguing NPCs, and plight of the Barovians under the oppressive rule of their undead overlord.
She played an awesome, no-nonsense, Demon Hunter named Briseras who wanted to survive and fight evil. Her party… took a different approach and seemed determined to throw themselves headlong into as many deadly situations as possible. The Club game was fun, but Beth and I wanted to sink our teeth into Barovia a little more.
We decided to try something we had not done before. At the end of a major arc with our main characters in our homebrew world of Azuria, we decided to take Briseras (who was already a minor character in our campaign) back to the twilit lands that she was forged in.
Its Scary Out here
Curse of Strahd is a notoriously difficult campaign. The combats and treacherous NPCs that players encounter are some of the most deadly in the D&D world. The likelihood of player character death while adventuring in Barovia brings with it some terrific tension for players in an average-sized group. The threat of character death is often a good thing!
However, this can present a problem for people who want to play Curse of Strahd one-on-one. In a duet, your primary character getting gobbled up by a pack of wolves could mean that its game over. If you are running Curse of Strahd as a duet, you are going to have to adjust encounters.
Specifically, think carefully about the action economy a particular encounter presents. If your player runs into 2d8 wolves while traveling down the road, their character is facing a likely deadly encounter whether they have a Sidekick with them or not.
Not only should DMs of one-on-one games think about action economy in Curse of Strahd, but they will also need to factor in the strength and abilities of the spooky creatures.
Am I old enough?
If you are running CoS as written, your primary player may enter Barovia at the tenderest of levels. Starting at level one and running through the excellent Death House will almost surely result in a TPK for a neophyte adventurer and their Sidekick.
At more advanced levels, your primary character and their Sidekick or DMPC will have more abilities and essentially more tools in their toolbelts. Advancing in level for your one-on-one games can do a lot to mitigate the lack of options that can plague some smaller adventuring groups.
One level 5 primary character and a similarly leveled DMPC or Sidekick have a fighting to chance to get a start in Barovia.
… the horror!
Curse of Strahd is wonderfully written. It aims for horror and darkness and delivers on that promise with aplomb. For some folks, it may deliver too much.
It is essential to have a conversation with your duet partner about what subjects are open for exploration in roleplay and which are not. Strahd’s possessiveness, or Izzek’s creepitude, or Old Bonegrinder’s nastiness may be too much for some.
Knowledge of your duet partner is critical to navigating these dark subjects. Adjusting for them is important, but fortunately rather easy for our tiny tables. That’s the best part of playing one-on-one! You get to tailor the experience very narrowly to the preferences of you and your partner.
The Mists Gather
We have several posts to help you on your adventure through Barovia!
Looking for a one-shot duet adventure or side quest for your Curse of Strahd campaign? Check out Totems of the Svalich Woods on DMsGuild!*
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