Fundamentals of Immersion

May 29

Role Playing Games: Contextual Analysis

Curse of Strahd Announced (Spoilers) - YouTube

Curse of Strahd is a self-contained adventure for Dungeons & Dragons. It contains all the information required for players (including a referee or Dungeon Master (DM)) to play out the scenario inside, covering approximately 100-200 hours of gameplay time. It describes the country of Barovia, its ecology, the terrible curse it exists under, and the characters who live within it.

While it contains detailed game statistics for many monsters, characters, and dungeons, it is light on details beyond those features of the game that it expects players to encounter. Instead, it focuses on establishing mood and setting, detailing the plots at work in the world, and giving examples of the kind of strange magic encounters players are likely to have. Unlike some fantasy gaming modules, whose features are all painstakingly rendered by the in-game mechanics, Curse of Strahd provides only a light framework and trusts players to fill in any gaps.

Thus Curse of Strahd is a Wunderkammer itself – a book full of possibilities, laid out not as a straight narrative, but a mixed bag of interrelated occurrences that can be arranged by player choice into a narrative that is recontextualized every time it is played.

Sub-Creation

Curse of Strahd lays out the details of its world, Barovia, early. It is a relatively small plot of land in which dark forces are at work. The book lays out the facts of the world, such as its choking fogs and constantly overcast skies, that remain constant. The Sub-Creation of the fictional world informs the narrative, performance, and the ludus, of Curse of Strahd.

Narrative

Curse of Strahd has a series of loose narrative thread running through it, with one – the liberation of Barovia from the titular Strahd – serving as arguably the main plot. None of these plots need be followed, however, to have meaningful narrative play. Indeed some of the plots may resolve without player input, lending Curse of Strahd a lived-in verisimilitude, as many RPG narratives expect players to serve as lead characters. Curse of Strahd presents many opportunities for dynamic narrative while never constraining players by forcing them to follow one “true” narrative.

Performance

Performance is the aspect least contained within Curse of Strahd. The non-player characters (NPCs) are often colourful with clear desires, and the book does well in suggesting tics and voices to play the characters with without outright telling a reader what to do. Mostly the performance aspect is assumed to be covered by non-DM players who, reacting to the horrible situations within Barovia, give role-playing performances that challenge their characters in unexpected ways. Curse of Strahd is explicitly a horror module (a rare genre in D&D) and players are unlikely to have encountered similar situations – indeed, CoS intentionally misleads players who assume that it will keep to popular D&D tropes – and their performances are likely to reflect that experience.

Ludus

As discussed above, Curse of Strahd contains enough game mechanic materials to establish a mechanical Wunderkammer. It has enough new and unusual content so players will always be discovering and incorporating new materials into their play, but it is not bogged down in game mechanics. It walks the line between providing new game material and trusting that player ingenuity will serve to merge any situations that do not have associated game mechanics into the experience.

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