I am running Curse of Strahd at the moment and one of my players is using a Bugbear, which is causing me some challenge.

The module specifically states:

Barovians thus react to nonhuman characters the same way most humans in the real world would react to elf, dwarf, or half-orc adventurers suddenly walking the streets. Most such outsiders are scorned, feared, or shunned

How can I play this without locking this character out of almost every interaction or town? Specifically there is a fortified town which I can't see letting in what they would clearly see as a monster.

Just trying to persuade every NPC to not be scared sounds like it is going to get boring (and the character has -1 charisma), be that a simple roll or a proper RP interaction. Equally I don't want to just ignore it, or play simple lip-service to it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Did the player knew that this campaign will be hard for nonhumans, especially for monster races? Was bugbear his informed choice? \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Commented Feb 17, 2021 at 11:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ I hadn't even read the module when the characters were created (sessions 1 and 2 were just my homebrew way of getting to Barovia to give me time to actually read the book), so while not aware of that specific text, he was aware that being a monster in a horror themed game would have some unspecified negative effects. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Feb 17, 2021 at 11:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is an excellent question and is ripe for answers that are well supported by folks who have played monstrous characters, DM'd players who are monstrous, and who have seen them in play for Curse of Strad. Please don't just submit ideas, but support any answers with experience showcasing the above and the pros, cons, and table reaction to the techniques used. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Feb 17, 2021 at 12:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Odo I think if I can find a good way to play it, that would be more interesting than just ignoring it. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Feb 17, 2021 at 19:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ I doubt you want the PCs to fear the player, but rather his player character. \$\endgroup\$
    – NomadMaker
    Commented Feb 18, 2021 at 11:13

4 Answers 4


Frame challenge: why wouldn't you lock this character out of almost every interaction in town? Even in a progressive city like Waterdeep, I wouldn't expect to see bugbears in the open interacting with "normal" citizens. From Volo's Guide to Monsters (p118, under Monstrous Adventurers):

Don't be afraid to push things to an extreme. An orc character might have to venture into town in disguise or remain in the wilderness, for fear of imprisonment or mob violence. Be sure to talk to the group about how such characters can expect the world to treat them.

How it went in our campaign: despite my DM's warning, I played a tiefling. When in Vallaki, my character always had his hood up. The mayor also had really poor eyesight, which helped us at first. During a festival, however, the paladin raised a stink about treatment of some villagers. It was at this time that the mayor took a closer look at my character, and saw the horns + red skin. Our entire group was chased out of town (this was played as a combat, not just RP). Shortly after, we helped a new mayor take over the town. Regardless, my character stayed out of that particular town for the rest of the campaign. Our party did not have any issues, at least not with our own race choices, anywhere else in Barovia.

My thoughts (as a player): I could have used Alter Self, or at least Disguise Self, to improve situations for myself in town. This campaign definitely taught me to play more cautiously, and less recklessly. Later in the campaign, I rolled a new character. This time I went with human, instead of tiefling.

Unsolicited advice: Before any campaign starts, please be sure to at least skim through the campaign book twice. After that, have a session 0 where you tell your players what to expect before they finalize their character choices.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This very much depends on whether the player is comfortable with the dynamic of being so outcast, but I too can say I had a great time playing a tiefling in Barovia. They kept running us out of town, but we kept coming back. Our MO eventually became "we're going to help you whether you like it or not" \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex F
    Commented Feb 17, 2021 at 18:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AlexF Hopefully not too late for OP, but that's one reason why a session 0 is so important. Oddly, in our campaign the second tiefling (rogue) never encountered the issue I did. Maybe the DM just got bored of it, or maybe it was dependent on what he thought each player was comfortable with. \$\endgroup\$
    – Raj
    Commented Feb 17, 2021 at 18:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've been the DM in this situation, not Barovia but similar, and it could feel sometimes like the reactions get old or interfere with the progression of the plot. It also dances uncomfortably into the realm of too-real racism. I can't speak to your DM but it is definitely hard to execute believably and consistently. That's not to say it isn't worth trying though! \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex F
    Commented Feb 17, 2021 at 18:29
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Raj I appreciate the advice on reading the book, and is something I normally do, but CoS is so badly organised we are several sessions in and I still haven't managed to finish it, it really irks me whenever I open the book so I can't focus for long with it. I am just changing any bits if I accidentally do something wrong in the early parts. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Feb 17, 2021 at 19:23


I have run this campaign a couple times now and have run into this issue. I have had Tabaxi and Minotaur players and handled them by having the populace assume that they are "mongrelfolk".

Found in Krezk in the care of the Abbot, Mongrelfolk are cursed people that exhibit all manner of beastly deformities.

In your case in particular, bugbears make a good candidate for this treatment. Mongrelfolk would be known the the populace of Krezk, and the leadership of the other communities, with their populations probably having heard of them.

This allowed the players to access cities, but still be treated with distrust until they secured the assistance of the community leadership.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Hmm, one thing I had actually known before reading the book is about mongrelfolk, and I really disliked the concept so much that I plan on removing them altogether lol. This gives good reason to consider changing that approach. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Commented Feb 17, 2021 at 19:25

I personally have found it helps to have villagers treat the creature like a lion or a bear. If free, they're an object of abject terror, but if contained they can be managed.

If free, have people act just like they would with a large predator free in a city.

Most people will stay far away, a few bold people will poke them, and concerned citizens will call local militias and the guard to handle them. This may take a while depending on how concerned they are.

Per the module notes, many will stare at the player. The intensity of the staring will ramp up until violence starts.

The way Barovians deal with strangers can be unsettling to newcomers. Barovians have a tendency to stare openly, in silence, thereby expressing their disapproval of anything that isn't familiar to them. Barovians aren't talkative with strangers, to the extent of being pointedly rude. Most Barovians have violent tempers that boil up through their customary silence when they are provoked. They also have a social cohesiveness (thrust upon them by their weird circumstances) that can make them act together against outsiders if a Barovian and is mistreated.

Local guards will encourage and suggest you keep your pets leashed.

If there are humans in the party, the Barovian guards will likely assume that they have control of the bugbear. They will suggest you buy or make a leash so that you can ensure your pet doesn't rampage, and hold the players responsible for any bad behaviour.

Good behaviour may win people over.

If the PCs do heroic things with the aid of the bugbear that benefit the civilians, or the bugbear manages to do cute and adorable things, they may be able to sway people so they can go in public more.

In my games this worked well, since people know how they would react to a rabid animal but most wouldn't care much if elf adventurer cosplayers wandered around.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Please add relevant support to your ideas. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Feb 17, 2021 at 15:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ One vague sentence isn't really enough support. Can you talk about how it went at the table and for the feeling of Barovia? Did the players think it made sense for that town? Why were they happy about having it work vs not working? Was there anything at all they or you didn't like about how it went? If you can add that or similar detail that can tell us more about the experience of doing it this way for the whole table. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Commented Feb 17, 2021 at 20:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ I was going to answer somewhat like this. Another option would be to put the bugbear on a leash, or in a pair of loosely closed manacles (you know, like you would if you were sneaking a Wookie into a security detention cell block). People fear the unknown (what will the bugbear do?) if it is restrained that reduces the fear. \$\endgroup\$
    – Arluin
    Commented Feb 19, 2021 at 19:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ To play off the "good behaviour" bit, if he plays like he's just a big, shaggy dog and exhibits all the signs of submissiveness that people are used to seeing from their domestic critters that can easily change people's perceptions. I had a dog like this a few years ago who was just the most friendly, adorable doofus you might ever hope to meet. But if you threatened my wife in any way the cuteness would go off like a light and he could make it very clear with just small changes in posture and focus that he was 90 lbs of muscle with sharp teeth. He didn't even have to growl at anyone usually. \$\endgroup\$
    – Perkins
    Commented Feb 20, 2021 at 9:32

Every character gets to interact with those of a similar social status. The bugbear may have to stay at the low-class inn, or sleep outside of town and miss out on the meeting with the adventure-giver. But they get to interact with the other low-class folk also forced to stay there.

Visiting rowdy hunters with gossip. A farmer yelling "hey you, monster -- can you kill spiders? We got a big spider problem if you want to make some money". A cleric of an unpopular god not allowed in this town who knows about an evil ritual in two days. Other patrons notice the bugbear drinking, are amused, start a drinking contest, ending with them all on a first name basis. If they come back, they'll receive a warm welcome at that inn. At the very least, they get to watch goings-on outside of town -- a lot of people coming from the east have been robbed by bandits.

Put another way, if you have several mini-adventures you can give them a hook for one. With one big adventure you can give them a clue. Or you can just give them something fun to do. If everyone is doing 5 minutes of town stuff, this fits right in. If the main group met someone for 15 minutes, 5 minutes with the bugbear gives them time to make plans. Always having to cut to the bugbear may get old, fast, but it won't be that often and you can always keep it short "the rowers in the bilge deck tell you they once saw a minotaur pirate captain".

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    \$\begingroup\$ -1: While fine advice for other adventures, this goes straight against the atmosphere CoS tries to imprint. If OP is fine with throwing away most of the red lines throughout the campaign, they can follow it, of course, but then you're not really playing CoS anymore (or anything close to it). \$\endgroup\$
    – DonFusili
    Commented Feb 18, 2021 at 10:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DonFusili Seems like that ship has sailed -- they've got an out-of-place bugbear PC. Yes, I like to keep advice general, not for just 1 module, In this case they can always find a gravedigger, or that 1 curious child...to talk to the bugbear. Games have to be fun for the players. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 18, 2021 at 17:47

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