But now we get into the really fun part: character creation!
This post’s primary conceit is that playing in a darker campaign means playing a darker character. I’ll lay out why I think that’s a good idea and give you some suggestions as to how to go about doing just that.
As this is an introductory post, it’s also spoiler free!
Your character arrives in a foggy, mysterious land and aren’t quite sure where they are. Relatively quickly, however, amidst the uncanny clues, they realize that something evil lurks nearby, even all around…
We established in post one that Curse of Strahd is a darker campaign. It also involves a powerful vampire. And all his vampire friends.
To me, the setting, narrative situation, and plot arc of CoS don’t exactly lend themselves to running a primary character that is sunny, optimistic, and/or naive. Prince Sparkle and Princess Unicorn: The Sunny Fun Adventures, this is not.
But, if you want to play with the Gothic/horror elements and expectations, please do whatever works best for you!
This suggestion is more for those of you who want to tend to play supremely good, pure characters. My concern is that these characters may find parts of the campaign disturbing to the point of inaction or at least very difficult RP in a not fun way. But mostly, this is one of those “know thyself” type of situations.
What I think can be really enjoyable is to have a more minor character, maybe a sidekick or support character from your central party, be very light-driven, lawful good.
For example, one of the characters my PC is traveling with, Tybalt, is a devout follower of Palor, the god of light. He was rather disturbed by what we encountered during our first several hours of the campaign, and my PC and I are betting that things will just get worse from there for him.
On the flip side, my PC, Briseras, has a relatively dark backstory and a particular enmity with undead beings.
Certainly one of the things you’ll want to think about, and something you’ll want to discuss with your DM, is why is your character there? Not so much how did they get there, but, back to character motivation, why specifically might your character want or need to be involved in this campaign and situation? What’s driving them?
Does your character have a particular enmity with undead, for example? Did they lose their family to an undead horde, a bloodthirsty vampire, or similar dark being?
Are they connected in some meaningful way with Barovia or Strahd? Or perhaps any number of the nasties inhabiting the campaign?
Are they trying to make up for something in their past, a great sin or failure, and this dangerous mission functions as a sort of atonement for them?
Great resource in Curse of Strahd
If you need help figuring out this element of your character backstory, Curse of Strahd has one of the most in-depth and helpful character backstory prompts I’ve seen.
You can find this resource in Appendix A: Character Options, and I’m talking specifically about the Character Background: Haunted One.
In 5e, characters have a race, class, and background that help you to customize their stats so that their play mechanics match up to your vision for their personality.
The Haunted One background has a very diverse and interesting set of prompts and possibilities that will help your character find a way of belonging in Barovia. You can roll on the randomizing tables or use the prompts as a jumping off point for creating your character.
What defines the Haunted One is a harrowing event which, as you might imagine, becomes the thing that haunts the character. The background then provides a variety of options for personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws.
Now, I recognize that all backgrounds provide these options and prompts, but the ones in Strahd are more varied and nuanced than others I’ve seen such as “I like to read and memorize poetry. It keeps me calm and brings me fleeting moments of happiness.”
That detail is so precise and paired with something like “in your childhood, your sibling was captured by an oni and you couldn’t do anything to stop it” makes for a extremely intricate character and perfectly sets up the dark melancholy of the campaign.
Unique Advantage for Duets
We played through a small portion of Curse of Strahd with Jonathan’s D&D club last year, so I have a few points of comparison for running it in a large, boisterous group and in our more serious duet.
I don’t know that the Haunted One background would work for every single character in a group, but I do think that it’s incredible fodder for the primary character in a one-on-one re-vamp (we couldn’t help the pun).
While we do still recommend you having a DMPC for the PC to run around with, my suggestion for you would be for the PC to be the darker of the two in terms of motivation and outlook. This will help the PC stay in the spotlight during the campaign and will give the DM plenty of flexibility in portraying the wide variety of NPCs Barovia offers.
As a follow-up, I’ll be posting an overview of Briseras’s backstory so you can get an idea of the setup we have going into the campaign. I’ll also talk about our adventuring party, including Jonathan’s DMPC and our sidekicks.
I’ve found that backstories can also develop as you go along and your character develops in-game. There tend to be moments that prompt the need of a past memory that you might not have yet for the character but, after a brief moment of intuitive improvisation, you have a more nuanced character and better developed backstory!
I’d love to answer any questions you have about our Curse of Strahd duet re-vamp in the comments below! Or, if you’ve played through CoS, I would be curious to know more about your character for the campaign!
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