5 thoughts on “The Psychological Abuse of Curse of Strahd”

  1. An outstanding article!

    I never ran or played through Ravenloft in any incarnation (sacrilege, I know), but I know it. Having run several Horror-themed campaigns of Earthdawn gives me adequate cred, though. Those games got dark, and abusive. Players wept at the table.

    I have been advocating for the exceptional power of tabletop RPGs to reach inside the psyche of players and GMs for some years now, ever since those Earthdawn games, in fact, and I am excited to see an academic put forth their intellect and erudition to the subject.

    I will say that going to these dark places and exploring abusive villainous foes, encountering their victims, and even experiencing such abuse and trauma themselves makes the final defeat of said villains so cathartic and emotionally rewarding that participants feel as though they have been an ordeal as real as any in their memories. Inded, over time, I have observed that the memory of those games is as real and tangible in the minds of all participants as any memory of actual experiences.

    Thank you for the article!

  2. Thank you so much for this article! It’s very helpful in understanding what I’m dealing with as the DM for this campaign (which will start in a couple of weeks). We’re going to be using a “safe” card during play in case things get too dark and emotions too strong. A player can reach out and touch the safe card and we’ll know we need to take a break. Also, I’ve been fascinated with the Bluebeard legend since I first heard Bartok’s opera, “Bluebeard’s Castle,” on the radio late one night. But I hadn’t made that particular connection with Strahd – and it’s absolutely there. Thank you.

  3. Very cool to see someone use elements of my work to read boardgames. Good article! :-)

  4. What a great article! It was a pleasure to read this!
    As someone with a background in anthropology and folklore, I am glad that others have seen these links in D&D!
    I have been gaming for +20 years and for the past year I have been the GM for my gaming group going thru the new “Curse of Strahd”. I have tried to maximize on the creepier elements (seeing their own corpses, Strahd knowing details about them that no one else knows, NPCs who let them know that they are the latest in a long line of heroic failures, etc.) as well as throwing in hints of different players perhaps colluding with Strahd to ensure their safety over the groups well-being…and it has worked marvelously. I have even gotten my “good” aligned players to question their morality as they are faced with the choices in this module.
    My players are very good about not ‘meta-gaming’ and their role play has been superb. We should be wrapping up this adventure this weekend as they are in Strahd’s castle and almost to his study, where he awaits them to see if, at last, his curse can be broken; for his sake, for Barovia’s sake, and for the player’s sake.

  5. Fabulous article.

    I’ve been a DM of D&D through almost all the various editions (skipped 3rd) and the Ravenloft setting has always been a favorite of mine because of the atmospheric content. I’ve recently begun running CoS after nearly a year of preparation. The campaign is very well-written, and as you’ve described, is intended as a nightmarish experience that helps players experience and better understand the nature of psychological abuse and understand the danger of obsessive (stalker) relationships. As I was making a few edits to my Tome of Strahd prop the other night, I was remarking to myself on how even the choice of words in the handouts betrays the true nature of Strahd not as a lover of women, but as a vicious predator: “I have often **hunted** for Tatyana”. (Emphasis mine.)

    Through the use of Strahd’s abilities to Charm and make Suggestions, it’s also my intention to play up isolation and gas-lighting elements of the abusive relationships he starts with the player characters. (e.g. catching one alone and hypnotizing them to do something emotionally traumatic to another based on secrets he’s read from their minds).

    Great article. Well-written campaign book.

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