How Grimdark is your Barovia?

On a scale from 1 - 10, 1 being the 1966 Batman TV show and 10 being the 2022 The Batman movie with Richard Pattinson, how Grimdark is the version of Barovia that you DM?

Mine is around a 6... plenty of horror, but not relentless. Players have several opportunities for victories. Some fully sympathetic characters (Martikovs, Ismark), more rewards than RAW. But on the other hand, there's no Fanes Quest or redemption for Strahd. Probably somewhere between The Dark Knight Rises & Batman Returns...


I think I regret going as grim dark as I did. Barovia, even just as written, doesn't make much sense as a a place were people actually continue to survive. Running it again, I would liven the place up a fair bit. that way, the really horrible stuff stands out more.


Well as far as continuing to survive, I have a kind of head canon where most things, including the people to some extent, are magically sustained but at a point just before absolute decay. Things no one talks about or notices. All the furniture and buildings are from the original barovia days, before breaking off into their own demi plane. Most people would realize that their parents furniture that they inherited is actually they’re great great great grandparents furniture if no one bothered to ask. And why would they? How often do you talk about such mundane things. How old is this house? I inherited it from my parents. It’s makes sense why so much of the world is described as “once fine but now worn and decrepit”


Cool conceit!


3/4 PCs died in death house and we’re just getting started. 7/10


Yes, but did they die from monsters, or did they sacrifice each other to escape the room with Walter?


"I can't let you kill me, Woltuh"


They died in the escape from death house, crushed under rubble after failing a skill challenge.


Like yours, mine goes in waves. I really try to follow the advise in the book to have some respite in between the grim parts. Specially with a very RP focused group, I find it very rewarding to have different colours even in the same session. Some examples: We started pretty grim dark with 1 on 1 sessions with each PC where I painted how the mood would be. Those were very 2022 Batman. Later in Barovia,the PC playing Tatyana reincarnation exceled at transmitting her fear and despair to the others. Then a ray of light with the vistani, we shared stories around a campfire and played songs. I was in a custome of Madam Eva, hilarious! Enter Vallaki with a distopian 1984/V for Vendetta vibe, that pushed back the mood into more paranoia. Then some zombie-like horror at the winery followed another good moment of heroic fantasy at yester hill. The dinner with Strahd and Ravenloft touring brought back the fear and now with the conclusion of the Wacher/Vallakovich ark they are questioning their moral choices. Looking forward for another piece of more heroic fantasy at Argynvost/Van richten tower before more grim at the Abbey/Krezk. I love this module!


I replaced the dark powers with the entities from the Magnus archives, so pretty dark.


Please make a post about this.


Would like to see a post about this as well!


Honestly? Not very. My Curse of Strahd is very much heroic fantasy with a grim aesthetic, very much witchereqsque in its mood - evil is generally defeatable, magic items are plentiful, and the darkness mostly comes from Barovia being richly populated by assholes, the real monster is man, yadda yadda. It is still not to some of my players' liking. One of them memorably called Barovia "a nightmare land solely inhabited by puritans, the only thing I want is to get out".


>"a nightmare land solely inhabited by puritans, the only thing I want is to get out". Every European visiting the American south


Lol! And the food portions are crazy too.


Grimdark is overused and overrated. The point of gothic horror is to use the seemingly benign to hide evil. It can't be bad up front, so you put it for people to find. And it needs to be functional so as your players don't suspect too much is wrong, or else the surprises don't land. Strahd pretends to be Strahd IX, per *Van Richten's*, and if he visits the Vistani camp he might call Kasimir uncle. If he does this, it's because he's bored, in need of entertainment, and wants to troll his "brother" by reminding him of their connection to Patrina. Or how Lady Wachter's book club is secretly a cult that reads infernal literature.


CN: sexual assault, Abuse, Gaslighting, child abuse, self harm, ... The current CoS campaign I'm running has evolved into something more akin to "real dark" than the typical "grimdark" setting found in fiction. By this, I mean it carries a level of heaviness that reflects the harsh realities of our world, rather than a purely fantastical dark fantasy. As a social worker and cultural sience/game studies, and with my party all hailing from educational or social backgrounds, we've brought our real-world knowledge and experiences into this campaign. Originally, I did start with the traditional grimdark atmosphere, but it morphed into something much more grounded - it became real dark. Our version of Barovia is far from just a bleak fictional land; it's a representation of the truly harrowing aspects of life. Our Strahd isn't just a conventional villain but rather a deeply manipulative and gaslighting monster, akin to the real-life threats that unfortunately exist in society. Drawing from the gritty realities we encounter in our line of work, our group has crafted a world steeped in disturbing authenticity. The violence and threats faced in our Barovia are palpable, truly evoking a sense of fear. For instance, the narrative of Victor Vallakovich and Stella Wächter resonated so deeply with our experiences that we had to use an X card post-session to reel the story back into a more conventional territory. In our story, the witches of the swamp are victims of sexual assault and general abuse, who have found solace with Baba Lysaga. This gives a new, complex depth to Baba's character. She's painted as a villain obsessed with Strahd, her affection straddling the line between maternal and sexual. But at the same time, she's the beacon of hope for these tortured souls. But only helping them to serve Strahd, to get him fresh souls. It's a twisted narrative, but one that added to our game. However, I must stress that this kind of campaign isn't for everyone and should only be run with a group that understands and respects the seriousness of the themes explored, and the inclusion of an X card is absolutely essential. There are times I find myself struggling with the weight of roleplaying Strahd due to his disturbing characteristics. Yet, despite the darkness, it is a powerful game. In the same way 'Schindler's List' is a profound film (though far from light-hearted), our campaign delivers a compelling narrative. It's undoubtedly the darkest game I've played since 'Alice is Missing'.


Taking inspiration from IRL threats and events is a great way to go. Most of these things happen in the background or are events that have happened. We don’t drill on them in sessions.Especially when it involves orphans. Kids die a lot and there’s no one doing anything about it. In fact quite the opposite, leadership chooses to ignore the dangers. Vallaki is basically a black mirror of the world today.\ I’m doing something similar with Baba Lysaga and I’ve got a folk horror thread going on with Berez.\ In Krezk, I have a religious right culture that has turned to the whims and powers of madman and forsaken progress and medicine.


This is interesting, especially as it's done by & with people who have RL experience with the storytelling as described. Although I don't incorporate anything too close-to-life traumatic / disturbing since we've got an 8 & a 14 yo in the party, I have asked my wife, a family therapist, to occasionally weigh in on my characterizations though. I do try and make sure the bad guys are not unambiguously bad (or at least with the understanding that they have an internal monologue where they're the hero or the victim and not the perpetrator). Not for something like the hags, of course, but the Wachters, Vallakoviches, Revenants, etc... even Strahd. Otherwise it's too cliched & tropey.


I would like to stress the point that we aren't the afflicted or the victims. Instead, we are individuals who routinely engage with these issues in a professional context, and/or possess an academic background in these subject matters. It could potentially serve as a stress relief mechanism or a reflective tool for us.


Curious what about what system you are using. I’d imagine 5e to be way to powerful magical to bring these themes to light. Kult Divinity Lost?


We've essentially been running 5e RAW for the most part. However, we did incorporate the Bonds/Stress Mechanics from Delta Green, although its influence leans more towards the roleplay and management aspects rather than strict rule enforcement. This approach functions well IF the players are invested in roleplaying elements of horror. One notable deviation from the RAW is our rule that magic cannot erase natural psychological trauma. This forms a major part of our narrative's intensity. Take Stella, for instance; her psychological damage is realky bad, and it can't simply be magicked away. Or the witches. The children. Parents. I agree that the fundamental challenge of a game like 5e, where you control heroes fighting against monsters, is to instill a genuine sense of fear. But with the right group of **players who are willing to engage with horror**, it can be done effectively. But the versatility of 5e is one of its greatest strengths. It can, in my view, be adapted to suit nearly any style of play, within certain bounds, of course. Our group's collective professional background in social work certainly plays a role. We understand the realities of what we're portraying, as grim as it can be. However, as crucial as the DM's vision is the players' agreement and desire to participate in this style of play. If the players willingly choose to roleplay characters that experience fear, then the campaign's horror elements can be brought to life with great success.


I plan on varying it depending on location. Some places where people gather will be quite upbeat and lively. But alone on the road and in the castle or amber temple shit gets grim and dark.


Grimdark is overused and overrated. The point of gothic horror is to use the seemingly benign to hide evil. It can't be bad up front, so you put it somewhere for players to find. This means Barovia needs to be functional, if troubled, so your players don't suspect too much is wrong, or else the surprises don't land. Strahd pretends to be Strahd IX, per *Van Richten's*, and if he visits the Vistani camp he might call Kasimir uncle. If he does this, it's because he's bored, in need of entertainment, and wants to troll his "brother" by reminding him of their connection to Patrina. Or how Lady Wachter's book club is secretly a cult that reads infernal literature.


I so strongly agree with this. I think people often lose sight of that when constructing their own horror campaigns, particularly gothic horror. You must have ups and downs and moments of levity in order for the rougher parts to really hit hard. Making a campaign all one note (which I generally what I think when I think “grimdark”) is going to be less impactful.


We’re fairly early in the game, but I feel like I’m taking my cues from players. I’m making it as dark as I can in my planning, and then following along with players when they choose to lighten things up a bit. For example, Strahd was going to charm them into forcing them to accept his invitation to dinner, but my players were thinking that if he attacked one of them, they would throw ball bearings because it would be really funny watching Strahd slip on them. I took their cue to make it more light hearted and decided Strahd would just send a pack of wolves on them if they declined instead.


I tried to pitch it as Francis Ford Coppola’s Dracula. Came out like Mel Brooks’ Dracula: Dead and Loving It.


Would be interesting to hear more!


My party was pretty silly in general and wanted to do wacky things like order a garlic pizza and have it sent to Castle Ravenloft.


We seem to be countering our DM's attempts at bleakness with ridiculousness and baffling amount of luck.


I feel for your DM :)


Honestly? Like a 4. To the point where I wonder if it's the right campaign for the people i'm running for. Sent consent forms out prior to session zero. Lots of 'red lines' back about child abuse/death, SA, bodily horror, torture etc and I'm thinking *"Oh man... Barovia has* ***all*** *of these."* But nothing I can't write/run around and avoid, I figured. I ran Death House as-written and got a complaint afterwards that the fact the children were ghosts upset them. =/ For me, horror almost by definition is something that challenges your sensibilities, and I think there's a big difference between something that is a genuine trigger (e.g. SA scenes roleplayed in front of a SA survivor) and something that is "i find this distasteful, please don't run it".


I realized pretty early on that my Barovia was going to be scooby doo levels of grimdark (so like, -1 lol) but my players often didn’t pay attention to quest info or warnings about traps so I did end up vaporizing a beloved NPC in the Amber Temple (as written! I didn’t want to!) and have other characters constantly guilt trip them about it (this I did want to do lol).


Go the 2ed version of Barovia . Fifth edition is transparently lazy with its mood.


I liked to vary it, start off on a comedy setting with strahd as a life coach for them, charming and funny just to make the completely amoral things he does jar more. also it can't be unrelenting grim / miserable as that no fun in the long term . I also took some cues from there Witcher and made situations morally grey with no really good answer which worked well


If 2022 Batman is 10, then mine is around that level. We've just got the epilogue left to wrap up and then we're done and whilst we've had fun I will look forward to getting away from the oppressiveness of Barovia.


I guess 5. There’s plenty of evil around every corner and most of the characters gaslight the shit out of my players, it’s definitely an unpleasant and scary place. However I’ve got the place soaked in humor as well. None of my players have died yet but I’ve forced the good one to kill innocents. My players have been knocked down many times they just always pass their death saving throws.


Probably a 6 as well. My party is almost completely new players so I ran a mini-story prior to barovia to teach them the game. As such they entered death house at level 4 and it has made it more forgiving (by design). However, they’re starting to catch up to the difficulty curve and they just witnessed strahd’s charm for the first time and they were not happy about it!


i think also 6, i went with a similar approach to yours. theres potential for more darkness if my players really fuck up but my philosophy in dming barovia has been to make the air *feel* oppressive without having it actually *be* oppressive in an above-game sense. the combats have been stressful and there have been plenty of close calls, but nobody's died yet


I started at a 10, but it's about a 5 now. I've got two first time players and didn't want them to be completely miserable and never wanting to play again haha.




10, if I can manage!


Started out as a 3 or 4 and by the end it was 10. Whole place was spooky because everyone was dying or dead.


It's a sorta wh40k situation where everything is so outlandishly and consistently awful that it circles right back around to comedic. everyone has grown numb to relentless horrors and everything can be made darkly funny in some way or other.


Barovia is a place that seems fine on the surface. But even a slight crack in that surface reveals the dark depravity that lies beneath. Towns are safe for the most part, but the people have begun losing their minds. Constant attacks from vampires, and other such leaves many on edge. Non-visanti are just going through the motions, save for the few who believe they can fight back. Best way to describe it is hope. Those with it are for the most part strong willed freedom fighters, while those who have none just go through the motions. I run it between a 3 and an 8. You get those super high points of tension and horror, and then bring some levity to the session. It helps the players decompress after difficult scenes and scenarios.


10 is the 2022 Batman movie? 15