Dungeon World: Expedition to Castle Ravenloft, Part 1

Strahd is an iconic Dungeons & Dragons villain, that is a member of an iconic monster (vampire), and part of one of the more iconic campaign settings.

Despite most of my Ravenloft knowledge coming from the Swords & Sorcery 3rd Edition revamp, I bought Expedition to Castle Ravenloft as soon as it came out, as I heard that it would have notes to drop Castle Ravenloft in Forgotten Realms, Eberron, or even a d20 Modern campaign.

I never got a chance to try to run it until about two years ago, as a slapdash 4th Edition conversion. This resulted in a single four hour long pair of zombie-strewn encounters, in which zombie-bits were strewn about.  Though we did not pick it up again, I still kept the book--among a handful of other choice 3rd Edition materials--which was good because recently I decided to give it another shot.

Using Dungeon World.

Given that my last, probably most successful campaign, involved just a hint of planning along with a heaping pile of  me making things up as I went along, the way Dungeon World plays seemed like a good fit. Thankfully I had kept up on reading it, as I had always hoped to run the mini campaign at some point, so I had the plot and most of the encounters outside the castle--which, to be fair, is a big place--fairly well committed.

After about an hour of working out bonds and backstory, I started the adventure with the party--Hawke (human fighter), Luther (human paladin), Zelikman (human wizard), Vincent (human thief), Lakra (halfling cleric), and Haepha (halfling barbarian, hooray for playtest docs)--riding towards Barovia. I decided to be nice and give them a wagon and pair of horses for free, partly to speed up travel time, partly because a lot of them were in it for the money and it would make it easier to clean the castle out (again, it is a big place).

They rode through the gates, which slammed closed as they passed. After about fifty or so feet of muddy track flanked by imposing, werewolf haunted wilderness they beheld the rolling hills of Barovia. Well, they would have were it not for the oppressive mist. What they could see, far in the distance, were some flickering lights that they correctly pegged for a village. With no other direction they headed towards it.

They arrived without any incident, and quickly noticed that there was not only no one around to greet, ominously warn, or chase them away, but they also could not hear anything. Haepha went to the nearest house and started pounding on the door, because nothing breaks the ice more than a group of heavily armed and armored mercenaries banging on your door in the middle of the night (especially when vampires, werewolves, and other creatures of the night are a thing).

Luther sensed a powerful concentration of evil in the north-western area of the village, which combined with plenty of lesser evil presences skulking about the village overwhelmed him, causing him to vomit. With everyone's attention turned to him, only Vincent and Lakra noticed the door opening. Lakra pulled Haepha out of arms-reach of the arm reaching for her, followed by the rest of a rotting female corpse. Vincent tried to stick her with a dagger, but missed, losing it somewhere inside the house.

Luther recovered and engaged the zombie, running it through with his sword. This did not seem to inconvenience it much, though to be fair its teeth fared equally well against scale armor, too. While Hawke and Haepha tried to assist, another zombie appeared--a little girl, this time--and bit Haepha from behind. Hawke tore the larger zombie off of Luther with his...spiked...chain? Really, a whip? Well, this slipped into Castlevania territory faster than I would have guessed.

Anyway, he was able to use it to yank the zombie off of Luther, giving everyone a chance to hack it to pieces. Even though Zelikman lacked offensive spells of any kind, Josh put himself to use using his quarterstaff to keep them at bay. Haepha, not afraid to fight someone her own size, reached behind her and lobbed the zombie-child over her shoulder. It collided with Luther, impaling itself on his sword and knocking him over. It seemed to take awhile, but eventually the combined efforts of six armed adults were able to put it down for good.

Zelikman investigated the remains, but was only able to ascertain that the culprit was in fact not conventional necromancy. Vincent, on the other hand, got a better payoff when he investigated the house and found both his dagger and some 30-odd coins for his efforts. Haepha decided to scout ahead a bit, but after hearing the sounds of both scratching from behind a door and something slurping and crunching bones in the mists ahead, quickly made her way back to the rest of the party.

Wanting to catch a live specimen for study, Zelikman proposed cracking open another house and tying one up. Luther was opposed to this, because paladin, but eventually settled on the possibility that studying them might help prevent it in the future and/or make it easier to stop. In an act that would make a blonde, scantily clad horror cliche decry as foolhardy, Vincent decided to creep around the house, alone, to find a back door.

He did find a back door, but it was ripped off its hinges. Literally. The hinges were still attached to the house. The realization that this might not have been a good idea finally dawning on him, he started to make his way back, when something got his back. He managed to crawl away, losing his armor and half of his shirt  in the process.

Despite his cries for help everyone just kind of waited for him to make it back, expecting him to come barreling out of the mist, followed by a single creature. However, what came out was not some spry, snarling monster with rending claws, but a large...what do you call a group of zombies? A pack? A shamble? Anyway, there were ten or so of them. The fact that Vincent was only three-quarters clothed might have been funny if it were not for that.

Since Jeannie is pretty new to this whole thing I tipped her off that her character can Turn Undead, so Lakra help up her symbol and invoked the name of her god, which radiated a holy light that kept the zombies at bay. Everyone huddled close, and after a very lengthy argument on what to do next, Zelikman took the initiative, running towards their wagon that had been left some 20-feet away. He cast Cause Fear on the horses, which in retrospect should not have been necessary, because zombies.

The horses bolted towards the zombies, which was good because over a ton and a half of horse and wagon is pretty ideal for turning zombies into hamburger. What was bad was that that combination is also pretty ideal for turning humans and halflings into hamburger, especially when they are both in the way and huddled close together (though on the plus side live people make for fresher meat-stuffs).

Everyone dived out of the way and tried to grab onto the wagon. On the bright side, not only did almost everyone make it into the wagon but most of the zombies were also crushed. On the downside the horses could not be stopped (because, zombies and Cause Fear), and the two abandoned characters were the healer and one of the heavy-hitters. On the other downside, the mist reduced visibility by a considerable amount and the wagon crashed into a barricade. On the other other downside, the barricade was used by the surviving townsfolk to keep the zombies out of the town square.

The characters picked themselves up, some a little worse for wear, some cushioned by others, and took stock of the situation: about six decidedly not-zombified villagers were standing about in various degrees of shock and confusion, armed with makeshift polearms. Lanterns hung from various buildings, providing some much-needed light. Oh, and zombies were dragging themselves over the recently demolished barricade.

Luther and Vincent tried to convince the villagers to help. Half stayed, but the rest called them fools, proclaimed their imminent demise, and ran into a large building. The door slam was followed by the unmistakable sound of the door being barred, which was then followed by whatever sound furniture makes as it is being stacked against a barred door. Probably heavy dragging and lots of thuds.

Vincent and Hawke went about shoving their wagon into the breach, forcing some of the zombies back and effectively sealing it for the moment. They followed up respectively with thrown daggers and spiked chain, while Luther scanned the area for his sword. He found it, but it was behind a zombie that was shambling towards him. A quick shield bash sent the zombie sprawling, allowing him easily pick up his sword, properly join the fray, and destroy them.

Zelikman managed to escape the town square before the breach was sealed, easily slipping past the zombies in search of Lakra and Haepha, who were following what they hoped was the same direction that the wagon went. They heard something running towards them, and after Haepha asked who it was got an answer in the form of a ghoul leaping out of the mists at her. It knocked her to the ground, but she was able to easily kick it off, back out of sight. A quick, brief scrabbling of claws on stone was followed by silence.

Shortly after they saw light approaching: Zelikman. He told them what had happened, and as they turned about to head towards the town square were confronted by a skeleton with a sac of grotesque organs suspended in its rib cage. A cord of tooth-capped intestine snapped at Haepha. She grabbed it, but dropped her sword. Zelikman tried to hack at it with her sword, but could barely lift it. He tried to toss it to her, but she failed to grab it, smacking Lakra in the head.

Lakra quickly recovered and smashed one of its legs with her hammer. In a frenzy, it bit into Haepha. She braced her legs against its ribs and pulled, shredding the organs against ribs and teeth and destroying the monster...aaand that is where we stopped: split party in a mist-shrouded, undead-infested village.

After-Session Commentary
Even after running a few sessions on the side I feel like I do not have a good grasp of how things work in Dungeon World, especially when it comes to those "no" and "yes, but" results in combat. There were plenty of times where they rolled a six or less, and I was not sure how to proceed. Even 7-9 results were tricky, especially when there were only two zombies about. I guess I could have added more, but I did not want to bog the game down with a never-ending zombie grind.

A few of the players were new to the scene, and the idea that I could just hurt them or do other nasty things without "needing" to roll was completely alien to them. Oh, you missed? Zombie bite. You threw the zombie and rolled a 7-9? You get it off your back, but knock someone else over in the process. These things kind of tripped me up, because I was not sure if I was "supposed" to allow a Defy Danger, or what. I think a big book of moves and responses would be great.

Eh, I prefer to learn by doing anyway, so we will see how it goes next week.


  1. There is a fantastic PDF called the "Dungeon World Beginners Guide." It has advice and examples to explain in detail the parts of DW you're having trouble with. It's exactly what you want.

  2. Funny. Just today, prepearing to go to work I was looking at my cope of Expedition to Castle Ravenloft and thinking about running it using DW.
    Great post.

  3. @Ryan: I read that book before I finished reading Dungeon World. I agree that it is extremely helpful (to the point that it should be folded into the core rules), and that I should print it out in order to make it more immediately available.

    Still, with the issues I commonly see people having (fronts being another), I think a lot of people would benefit from more examples.

    @Pavel: I had been waffling about it for awhile, and I think that with how a lot of things are uncertain until the fortune telling scene that it is a great fit. I will probably convert it to D&D Next at some point as a kind of "red box" starter adventure.

  4. I LOVE reading your session posts! Keep up the good work!

  5. @Anon: Thanks! I try to make them as fun a read as I can. Expect another one this weekend.

  6. @David: I had my first DW session as GM last weekend in preparation for the convention game I'll be running tonight, and I encountered some of the same problems that you did.

    One of the players had a miserable string of 6- die rolls during a fight with goblins, and as I didn't want to have a TPK in the very first room, I soon found myself running out of ideas for complications that weren't simply dealing more damage. As with zombies, the goblins' special moves involved spawning more monsters.

    In theory, I really like DW. It scratches my dungeon-building itch while doing away with the need for a ton of prep. My favorite things about 4E were reskinning monsters and spawning opponents on the fly, so that aspect of DW is hugely appealing.

    Yet there are things I can't quite wrap my head around yet. (For instance, what do you do on a failed Discern Realities or Spout Lore roll?) More examples would be good, yes, but I could also use some tips about specific situations such as "What do you do if your player cannot roll a 7 to save his life?" The oft-cited DW Guide is great, but it's a bit more general.

    FYI...the game I'm running tonight is vaguely based on B1 "In Search of the Unknown," with a bit of Zork thrown in. There's a room of pools and a maze of twisty, little passages, all alike.

    Please keep posting your DW reports. As someone who is also coming at this from a 4E perspective, I find your reactions helpful.

  7. Did you happen to use a homebrew racial move for the Halfling Cleric or did you just use the Dwarf/Human move?

    Sorry for commenting on an almost two-year-old post but I've been wanting to run a DW campaign and the first thing I did was get rid of pointless, "traditional" class restrictions. I'm pretty much finished with my custom racial moves but I'd be really interested in hearing about any ideas you in particular might have had.

    1. @Adrael: No worries! I am just glad that Victor pointed out the unmoderated comments, prompting me to check them more often (too much spam; I used to get email alerts, but that stopped working for some reason...).

      Aaanywho...I am not sure what we did with the halfling. The player was really new to RPGs, so I think we just let her snag the human move since it was easier and made more sense than the dwarf one.

      I agree that the race/class restrictions are pointless. For my custom Dungeon World classes I just let you pick any race, and go with a kind of background or origin (like, how did you become a ghoul, mummy, or pirate).

      For Sundered World I took it a step further: you choose a class and how you got started in that class, and then choose a race and gain a move from it. When you level up, you can choose moves from either your race or your class, giving an extra layer of customization.

      You can kind of see that in effect here: http://daegames.blogspot.com/2014/07/a-sundered-world-invoker-alpha.html

      If you join the Sundered World community (linky on the right side of the blog), there are more playtest things to look at, but I am also going to be posting everything that I currently have publicly on Friday for people to look at. That might help give you some more ideas for classes, race moves, compendium classes, steadings, monsters, gear, etc!

    2. Thanks for the quick reply, I really appreciate it. I'm glad I remembered to check the blog, just in case, or I would've been waiting in vain for Google to e-mail me about it.

      I'll check out the community link, thanks.

    3. @Adrael: Yeah, not sure why Gmail stopped letting me know about comments. I've checked filters and everything. Frankly it sucks that I had to set moderation for posts 30+ days old due to all the spam I kept getting. :-P


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