Tobold's Blog
Friday, February 05, 2021
Fortunes of Ravenloft thoughts

In Curse of Strahd, as in previous incarnations of the adventure, there is a scene where fortune teller Madam Eva is doing a Tarokka (Tarot) card reading for the adventurers. This is not just fluff, but the cards actually determine 5 things: The location of 3 artifacts which would be extremely helpful to beat Strahd, the identity of an ally who could help the group, and the location of Strahd in Castle Ravenloft. Played as written, the DM actually shuffles a deck (sold separately or part of the Curse of Strahd Revamped set, but you can also use regular playing cards), and determines these 5 things openly, in front of the players, during this card reading scene.

The idea behind this Fortunes of Ravenloft scene is that it makes different Curse of Strahd campaigns actually different to some extent, in case a player is playing the same adventure again (why would he?) or has gotten information from somebody who already played it. In general I do like a certain degree of randomness, e.g. dice rolls, to be able to affect the outcome of an adventure, in order to make it more interesting not only for the players, but also for the DM.

However, for the Fortunes of Ravenloft I would strongly advise to not do the random determination of those 5 story elements in front of the players. First of all, it is a good idea to already determine the locations before the players arrive at this event, because some locations or allies might be in the village of Barovia, which is before the group reaches the fortune teller. And second, not all locations and allies are equally suited for the campaign. For example the random ally could turn out to be no one, a dead guy that would need to be raised to be able to help, a mad girl who thinks she is a cat and would need to be cured before she can help, a simpleton, a child, or the archmage Mordenkainen. Depending on your style and your group, you might really not want to use some of these options. Likewise the locations, if randomly determined, could vary from finding the powerful artifacts very early in the game, to them all being somewhere in Castle Ravenloft, thus making exploration of the lands of Barovia less useful.

My recommendation would be to do a Fortunes of Ravenloft card reading in advance for yourself, and then considering the consequences of the random results you got. If there is anything in there that you as the DM dislike and find not suitable for the campaign you want to play, draw another card, until you get a result you like. In Roll20 I have already done this, and distributed the cards I drew on the Tarokka Reading Board page included in the adventure, face down. For the card reading I can just flip the cards and it still looks like a real fortune telling. If you play Curse of Strahd at a real table, you can use some trickery: Put the 5 chosen cards in the right order aside behind your DM screen, let your players shuffle the rest of the Tarokka deck, take the deck back behind the screen and secretly add the 5 cards on top, then proceed openly with the fortune telling. If you absolutely prefer to never "cheat" as DM, you can do that too, but you'll have to live with results that might not be all that interesting or counter to your plans for the campaign.


When I played the original Ravenloft back in the '80s and it got to the card reading I point-blank refused to have my cards read or even be in the room when the other players had their readings. It wasn't a roleplaying thing. It had nothing to do with my character. It was all me. I had a particular issue with fortune -telling at the time and wouldn't be in the same place where it was happening. It happened a couple of times at parties, too.

I can't remember it having any significant effect on the campaign, though, which was one of the most successful and enjoyable our group ever ran.

I'm perfectly happy to have my fortune told nowadays, by the way. My main objection then had something to do with free will and predestination I think. Hard to remember now.
I used a tarot cards deck in 4e dnd during one game. I wanted to give some information the characters were just unable to find and i did "stack" the deck to say want i wanted to tell them. I did a reading to each character away from the others and no one ever notices i had "cheated" and they loved it. Some of them even told me a few years later that its a moment they still remember as a great roleplaying moment.

When i'll run CoS i'll be sure to make sure its an interesting tarot reading :)
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