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In Curse of Strahd, as part of the Tarokka card reading, the party are told the locations of three "treasures"; the Sunsword, the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, and the Tome of Strahd.

Looking at the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind's description in Appendix C (p. 222), it looks like something that a group of adventures wanting to take down a powerful vampire would want to have. The Sunsword is also an obvious thing to want when going up against a vampire; in fact, the excerpt from the Tome of Strahd (p. 252-253) describes how it's something that Strahd fears.

But in what way does the Tome of Strahd help the party? They don't really need to know that Strahd fears the Sunsword because any vampire is right to fear any sun blade, and we don't need to read their diary to figure that out. The adventure at least implies that it's as important as the other two items by including them in the same Tarokka card reading that guides the party throughout the adventure.

However, I can't see what makes it as important as the other two items when all it does is give you a bit of history. It might be interesting for the players to learn about, but the party could quite happily skip the part where they collect that book (although they'd miss out on some background lore) and take Strahd on with only the Sunsword and the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind and still have the same odds of winning.

Having the book on their person doesn't seem to confer any benefits to the party whatsoever. Not that every item needs to be some super-powered magic item, but I was at least expecting it to tell you a secret that would indirectly make the fight against Strahd easier or something like that. I thought the idea was that if they marched straight up to Strahd's castle at the start of the adventure, he'd wipe the floor with them, but each of these special items they acquire along the way increases their chances of success against him, but it seems that having the Tome doesn't affect their chances whatsoever.

The only effect it appears to have is that it makes Strahd angry, but I imagine storming his castle with the other two powerful items and trying to kill him would be enough motivation for him to be angry enough already. From the Tome of Strahd's description in Appendix C (p. 221):

If Strahd sees, or learns from a minion, that the tome has fallen into the party's possession, all of his other objectives (see chapter 1, "Into the Mists") are put on hold until the book is recovered. When Strahd attacks, his preferred target is whoever has the tome.

The reason I ask is because of in-character motivation. Why would the party want this thing besides "because the card reading told us where it was, and the other two items it told us about seem pretty important so I guess this must be as well..." - I don't want my players to find it, Sunsword in hand, and go "oh, it's just some lore that doesn't actually tell us anything useful at all... what was the point of that?" Note that my players aren't all number-crunchers, they do enjoy the narrative primarily, but they still need an in-character reason to care about this Tome.

So, is there any benefit (mechanical or narrative) that the Tome of Strahd gives the party against Strahd (directly or indirectly)?

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It reveals some key backstory that makes the PC's journey much easier.

It helps with certain encounters involving Sergei and Ireena.

p156 notes this.

If Sergei and Ireena are brought together, Ireena is no longer within Strahd's grasp. Strahd blames the characters for his loss and seeks to destroy them from this moment on. Not long afterward, he has one of his servants deliver a letter to the characters, inviting them to Castle Raven loft. If the characters open and read the letter, show the players "Strahd's Invitation" in appendix F. If the characters head toward the castle, they have no threatening random encounters on the way

The PCs have no obvious way of learning that Sergei and Ireena should be brought together outside of the book. Knowing what the book says makes it much more obvious what is up and lets them avoid bad encounters.

It helps with decoding a letter about the abbot.

Characters who have read the Tome of Strahd realize that the handwriting in Lady Lovina's letter is identical to Strahd's handwriting, suggesting that Strahd and Lord Vasili are one and the same

It helps you learn this from p114 which helps you rally locals against the abbot and his efforts.

It influences Strahd.

If Strahd sees, or learns from a minion, that the tome has fallen into the party's possession, all of his other ob­jectives (see chapter 1, "Into the Mists") are put on hold until the book is recovered. When Strahd attacks, his preferred target is whoever has the tome.

He himself is really worried about the PCs learning his past was a talkative man who made a pact with a dark power rather than just a vampire god, with an end result that he will fanatically pursue the PCs or whoever they give the book to. This lets them lure him into an ambush.

Notably his preferred method of attack is an excellent one to encourage PCs to use the information within. p6 explains this.

Once Strahd becomes aware of the adventurers, he and his spies watch them closely. When the time is right, Strahd invites his "guests" to Castle Ravenloft. He aims to turn them against one another, torment them, and kill them, as he has done with so many other visitors. Some will become undead thralls. Others will never rise again.

He spies on them, invites them to come to his castle, and seeks to turn them against each other. He may well seek to induce several PCs to kill their companion for the sake of the book or otherwise reveal key details. His method of attack isn't to directly attack the PCs- they will normally have time to layer on buffs and protections if they can resists his temptations.

He also explicitly likes to try to turn PCs against each other. If he wants to kill one player his desire to kill that player will be obvious as he will incite people to slay them so he may take the diary back. This is only obvious after taking the diary.

It's also exploitable - all the buffing/healing/resistance magic can be piled on the PC that Strahd will target allowing the rest of the party to act without worrying about being targets.

It levels you up.

Finding Artifacts. The characters gain a level when they obtain the Tome of Strahd, the Sunsword, or the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind.

The PCs gain a level when they find it. A level is helpful.

The benefits are rather lackluster, but there are the benefits. I personally make it a magical diary like Tom Riddle's diary and give it useful commentary and information on events around the characters from his perspective.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer (+1), but my criticism against the "It influences Strahd" section (regarding luring him into an ambush, etc) is that the party have no way of knowing that acquiring the tome would have that effect on his behaviour. At least, they would have no way of knowing outside of metagaming, as far as I'm aware... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Nov 6 at 10:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Strahd is a talkative person who likes to spy on people and try to drive emotional wedges between them. They can simply ask him when he appears. \$\endgroup\$ – Nepene Nep Nov 6 at 14:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ PARTY: "By the way, Strahd, whilst you're here, if we were to get hold of your Tome, what would you think of that? Would you, perhaps, target whichever one of us was holding the tome at the time?" STRAHD: "Why yes, that's exactly what I'd do. If you ever get your hands on my Tome, you'd better hope that you give it to the party tank and put lots of buffs on them, because that's exactly who I'd target first. You're not thinking of doing that, are you?" PARTY: "No, of course not, Strahd, we were just asking a hypothetical. Now, we must be on our way, no reason in particular; chat again soon..." \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Nov 6 at 14:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ In other words, I don't buy that as an explanation. Why would the party suspect that having the Tome of their person would influence Strahd's behaviour or battle tactics in any way at all, and if they did somehow suspect that, why would they ask him for clarification, and why would he answer truthfully even if they did? I'm going to need a better explanation than that... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Nov 6 at 14:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ IMO the Strahd section has an extreme one-sided view: "When Strahd attacks, his preferred target is whoever has the tome." in no way suggests that Strahd "will fanatically pursue" that PC/NPC, but rather that the book is very important to him, and he'll try to get it back. The carrier being his preferred target doesn't mean he won't attack others, just that he is more likely to attack the carrier if there aren't any other reason to choose differently (e.g. if ambushed, he might decide that his survival is more important at the moment and deal with the damage dealers first). \$\endgroup\$ – hoffmale Nov 6 at 17:55
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There are a few reasons

  1. Milestone EXP:

    There is a section that states:

    Finding Artifacts. The characters gain a level when they obtain the Tome of Strahd, the Sunsword, or the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind.

  2. Incentive to go to the location:

    The Tome of Strahd can be in multiple locations and those locations do not contain solely the Tome. Other helpful items, NPC's, and the like can be in those areas as well.

  3. Backstory/Plot:

    Amongst the descriptions of the Tome is the following small plot piece:

    Characters who have the Tome of Strahd (see appendix C) realize that the handwriting in Lady Lovina's letter is identical to Strahd's handwriting, suggesting that Strahd and Lord Vasili are one and the same.

  4. Strahd's Actions:

    Acquiring the Tome has some effects on Strahd's actions though it's not an incentive for the party (they couldn't even know this in the first place) it's still a significant result of acquiring the book:

    If Strahd sees, or learns from a minion, that the tome has fallen into the party's possession, all of his other objectives (see chapter 1, "Into the Mists") are put on hold until the book is recovered. When Strahd attacks, his preferred target is whoever has the tome.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Vasili is an alter ego for Strahd. In the novel, he visits the Wachters under the guise of von Holtz to find out where the traitor Leo Dilisnya is holed up in anticipation of hunting him down. In the campaign, Strahd visits Henrik the coffin maker and the Abbot as von Holtz so he's the agent of corruption in those arcs. Lady Wachter has a letter from Vasili that is written in Strahd's hand. Holtz is essentially a rabble-rousing unknown noble that the party is designed to discover (shock!) is actually Strahd. It's kind of a mini mystery within the campaign. \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara Nov 6 at 19:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rykara the von Holtz mystery seems like it would work better if von Holtz himself actually made physical appearances, communicated with the players, or if he was a generally well known character in Barovia (similar to how many of the nobles and mini-bosses are well known by Barovians). His text appearances are too infrequent and insignificant for players to give his mention anything more than a "huh", so in my campaign he was basically a name that was quickly discarded and forgotten. Seems like an oversight by the authors, or maybe an idea that was never fully developed. \$\endgroup\$ – Andrendire Nov 6 at 20:02
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It really isn't

However it can relatively easily be added to/amended to make it more interesting and/or helpful. Obviously this means a 'rewrite' of the physical version in the book but adding in hidden text (with an investigation roll) or simply printing something out in a similar font isn't the end of the world. If I'd had more time I would have scrawled some handwritten notes from another protagonist of some sort but there's only so much time :)

If I ran the adventure again I'd replace it for something else or just remove it.

My players were genuinely confused about the existence of the Tome. They (apart from laughing at the 'old school' cheesiness of it) saw it as a poorly conceived maguffin along the lines of a Bond villain explaining all his plans shortly before Bond escapes and uses that information to avert disaster.

As a milestone it is almost entirely pointless other than the fact the party may have done something to gain it.

I heavily adapted CoS content-wise (partly to make a more 'believable' setting, partly to create more drama) and so had numerous other 'mini-bosses' on which to base milestones. Strahd's daughters were the most fun of these - three spell-casting vampires that more or less carried out Strahd's temporal duties in Barovia. Killing them was necessary to weaken Strahd and so they made excellent levelling milestones.

As is, it really makes little sense that the tome is important to Strahd. In the scenario he drops all other activity to pursue the group once they find it. Why? It holds no power in it's own right and, perhaps other than being a snippet of his personal diary - his guilt if you like - it holds no real, equitably dramatic, significance.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Hi Haphazarduk, welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour to find out how things work here, and visit the help center for more info. I've made a minor edit, firstly to turn those first few words into a header (purely aesthetic, though, feel free to change it back if you don't like it), and to remove the signature at the end (see this page from our help center that specifies: "Every post you make is already “signed” with your standard user card [...] If you use an additional signature or tagline, it will be removed to reduce noise in the questions and answers."). \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Nov 7 at 15:00

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