I've recently been trying to give D&D another go after terrible experiences with 4e. I've been really enthralled with Curse of Strahd, and recently set up a group with which we plan on running an adventure in the Ravenloft setting.

My group is new to D&D and will be running level 1 characters. Which of these would be a better introductory experience taking in consideration we plan on running Curse of Strahd and why?

  1. Run Death House first.
  2. Start running Curse of Strahd from Chapter 1: Into The Mists with level 3 characters.
  3. Run through the old Phandelvers first.
  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you talked to your players about where to begin in this adventure? What did they say? We can't tell you what your group would prefer, answers will only come up with different opinions on where to begin. \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Jan 14 '17 at 23:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ My players only know they want to run Ravenloft. Where to begin is a choice we will make, but one that should be informed by experience on what is a better introductory adventure. That is not subjective. \$\endgroup\$ – Althis Jan 15 '17 at 2:44

Run Death House

Death House serves much better as an introduction to CoS over Phandelver. Phandelver is a great adventure, and I started as a player with it, but it would serve you better later if you want to run a classic D&D adventure, with less gothic horror elements. I'm DMing Curse of Strahd now and started my group with Death House.

Death House will teach you certain DM skills, and it will reinforce the skills necessary for the PCs to survive Curse of Strahd. Here's my justification:

Introduce with Roleplay and dread

Curse of Strahd is a roleplay-heavy campaign — there are lots of situations you don't want to bash your way through. Additionally, Death House will, if played correctly, teach you as DM to foreshadow threats and create a sense of dread that will help with the rest of the campaign on both sides of the table.

For example, the desolate streets of Barovia, with only a single house on the outskirts lit up, with smoke pouring out of the chimneys will draw the players in, but also give them the eerie feeling something is wrong. You'll have to play the children correctly to bait the players in, but you can always use the mists to railroad them as necessary. Once they're in the house, you'll be able to hook them in.

This introduction is much more in-line with the tone and nature of the rest of the campaign.

Take time to describe the environment

This is critical with Death House, but less emphasized with Phandelver. With Death House, you'll need to take time in each room, describing the blazing hearths, the strange wolf-helm armor, everything. It's all important, because it also teaches the players to pay attention to the environment. When

the blazing hearths pour out poison smoke in the 2nd phase,

they'll get a good idea of how Barovia works. You'll have plenty of chances to have them roll Investigation, Perception, and Insight during the buildup, and therefore teach them some fundamental rules, and fundamental survival skills for later.

Toss a bit of combat in after

The first fight will likely occur later,

on the 3rd floor.

This will be after the players have had the run of the house for a bit, and will give you plenty of time to switch from warm, but empty house, to

the dusty, old, decrepit 3rd floor.

Using that buildup, when something bad happens like

the armored statue punching a player in the face,

the players will be alert to such changes. It's also an easy fight to run, but will introduce damage resistance and basic combat rules.

Phandelver starts you off with a goblin ambush, which is fine, but Curse of Strahd places the emphasis on the fact that the players can walk into dangerous areas — Phandelver's goblin ambush is more of a device used to spur the plot along (perhaps much like the mists). Death House will give you a chance to explore first. Having the combat after emphasizes where the priorities should be in this campaign, I think.

Ramp up the danger

Death House is notorious for how lethal it can get — your players can absolutely TPK against

the Shadows, or the Shambling Mound in the basement.

However, much of the campaign is like this — you'll get to make the decision of how hard to beat them over the head with their impending doom, or how to fail forward. You'll learn from your players what they expect out of a campaign with this kind of tone, and it'll get everyone on the same basis. Starting with Phandelver, I think you stand the danger of letting them be the big damn heroes and then taking that away from them.


Run an introductory adventure starting at level 1

Which introductory adventure you choose, however, will depend on your group and your own goals.

Death House is designed to jump characters up quickly from level 1 to level 3, so that they can begin Curse of Strahd proper, which itself is designed to begin at level 3. It is also very useful for introducing players to the theme, danger, and recurring threats in Barovia. Run this if you prefer the dark setting, and want players immersed in it as soon as possible.

However, Phandelver is designed to be a bit longer, taking players up to level 5 or higher. It doesn't introduce the themes and dangers of Barovia, as Death House does, but it does involve players significantly more in traditional D&D tropes, and may be a much better introduction to roleplay in general. Run this if you want your players to learn the ropes of the game a bit more slowly, including things such as racial and class abilities, which may take some getting used to. This option may take also take some tweaking in order to make the power level of players appropriately fit the story.

Alternatively, you can skip an introductory adventure.

This options begins at level 3, the intended starting point for CoS. Player will likely need some time to ensure they understand all their character's abilities, as well as the rules of the game. Your party will be strong enough to begin the intended story immediately this way, but there will be some learning curve, which may include rules confusion and players unhappy with what their characters can actually do.


We can't tell you what your group would prefer

It is a matter of the group's preference, and answers here may not even be a good fit for your group. The best way to know what they want is to ask them straight up about what the different options are.

I had a similar experience with my group as we started "Out of the Abyss". Though this particular campaign does not have multiple starting points as it would seem Curse of Strahd has (I've really only played CoS once in AL, and I don't have a copy of the book), it does allow for the group to start at higher levels, and it creates a similar environment where the DM can choose the sort of difficulty to start the campaign.

I could have said that we started at 1st-level, and be done with it, but I wanted to get the group's opinion (it's their game too!). So, I simply asked them if they preferred to start the adventure at level 1 (Hardcore!), 2 (Very Hard), or 3 (Hard). Ask your group. Of course, I explained to them what the options meant, but didn't get into a lot of details, like:

Me: OK, guys, I've read this book through and through and I think it's really tough, especially in the beginning. You're supposed to start the game without any equipment and imprisoned. I wanted to get your opinion on what level we should start; the book says we can start anywhere in 1st to 3rd level.

At 1st level, you have to be super clever, I will run this campaign deadly. At this power level, there's not many options for you but to run from any conflict, the way you start with nothing. I prefer this level, as it forces players to think on their feet and improvise a lot of challenges that they could ,under normal circumstances, overcome.

At 2nd level, you have a few more options but not much, it won't be too hard and won't be easy. I recommend this level because I know all of your styles.

At 3rd, you can fight back at this level, but not for very long. This level makes the game way less deadly than 1st but still deadly if you aren't careful. I'd recommend this level for a newer group but since we're all sophomores to the hobby, we can do better than this.

So, where do you want to start?

Surprisingly, my players wanted to start at 1st-level and the first session started out great.


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