Friday, September 30, 2016

Curse of Strahd - Table of Cheap Jewelry (and implicit criticism)


My readers may think that I have absolutely no time for the tabletop products produced by Wizard's of the Coast and would rather laud "Maze of the Blue Medusa" and everything Hydra Co-op puts out, but this isn't entirely true.  Let's face it OSR/DIY D&D types, WOTC has the best market penetration and is going to be far more widely read then any other tabletop product.  I want these products to be good, I want people who plunk down $50 for a hardcover high production value (though frankly not up to the production value of the better LOTFP products and Maze of the Blue Medusa) book to think "D&D is awesome!" - they just haven't been in my experience.  Until now(ish)!
A sad lady one meets early in the Curse of Strahd
one of many decent, topical pieces of art
Yeah I'll say it Curse of Strahd is good.  It has problems, some the typical Hickman problems of being campy and thinking it's more clever then it is (a problem that almost all OSR/DIY self published products - say "Maze of the Blue Medusa" and "Slumbering Ursine Dunes" arguably share in a different ways and degrees) and some typical WOTC problems of trying to cross market product and play to video-game sensibilities (that no OSR product - even the worst bit of Gygax emulating randomly generated from the 1st edition DMG cruft - shares).  I may write a full review at some point, but really it doesn't have unforgivable problems and provides plenty of material for a GM (as well as good GMing advice - shockingly). 

One thing Curse of Strahd suffers from, though at least they are trying - clearly they are trying - is mediocre treasure. I can't shake the suspicion that 5E doesn't see treasure as important and still relies heavily on the idea of character advancement through dynamic 'combat as sport' murder (of baddies, clearly only the murder of baddies) which I like to call "Judgmental Murderhoboism", but at least they are trying to make treasure interesting.  One area where Curse of Strahd fails utterly, predictably and awfully is the repeated use of "Cheap Jewelry" - often found in wholesale lots and always worth 25GP as treasure.  Now eliding the question of if 2.5 lbs, or say 2 for craftsmanship, using the classic D&D weight for GP, of gold can be considered 'cheap' (and one can't blame Curse of Strahd for this system and genre wide failure), I think this was a missed opportunity to add a lot of evocative setting  detail to the adventure.  It's funny too, because the module does provide numerous small random tables for an ongoing joke about macabre children's toys - clearly the wit and wisdom was there - but the two pages a good 'cheap jewelry' table would take were less important then a few more paragraphs of typically Hickman purple prose about the twisted narcissistic love of Strahd or some copy repeating the idea that the vampire lord is evil via more boxed text.

Barovians from Curse of Strahd - again pretty good art that is setting specific.

I give you the "Barovian table of Cheap Jewelry" below:

Barovian “Cheap Jewelry” (all valued at 25GP)
A set of small finely crafted earrings in gold with silver inlay depicting (D6) 1- skulls, 2- snarling wolf rampant, 3- hanged men, 4- bats, 5- screaming faces, 6- wine grapes
A red or black cloth girdle or shawl stitched with gold and silver piece (showing Strahd’s ancient visage) that makes a distinctive clink and jingle when worn.
A leather (1d6/2) 1 - wristband, 2 - belt, 3- headband/hatband set with small yellow bones and ovals of polished amber.  
A luxurious silk scarf stitched with gold and silver thread in designs of (D6) 1- thorns, 2-grapevines, 3- tangled bats,wolves and rats, 4 - a dark forest, 5- spirals, 6- bones
Finely carved ivory/bone and silver cloak fob (netsuke) showing (1d6/2) 1- wolf people entwined 2- a raven on a skull 3- a beggar god pleading for alms.
A charm of small red and purple stones (amethyst and carnelian) set on a silver vine to make a bunch.
A heavy silver or electrum ring with a hinged stone (jade, amethyst, carnelian or jet) that hides a compartment for secreting small objects. Filled with dull grey powder.
A bundle of thin gold or silver bangles, each worth only a few coins, together the clatter and jingle when worn.  Some are engraved with skulls or crows.
An amulet made from a plain piece of river stone, set in a crude silver clasp.  The stone is painted with a large eye that subtly moves as is constantly watching.
The bones or skull of a small bird or animal (1D6) 1- songbird 2- rat 3- fish 4- lap dog 5- cat 6-tiny humanoid, cast in gold and silver.  They stir occasionally.
A net of fine beads made from polished obsidian or red jade and meant to be worn as part of an elaborate courtly hair style.
A dandies’ vest fob, a heavy teardrop of carved silver marked with heraldic beasts (lions, griffins, eagles or horses) from the arms of an extinct dynasty.
A bundle of silver and gold fragments crudely hacked from larger, ancient, far more beautiful pieces of jewelry, and  strung together on sinew and hemp twine.
A cracked copper funerary mask, the eyes and lips set off with silver inlays.
An ancient holy symbol of the forgotten gods, carved from stone (amethyst, red jade or carnelian), or sculpted from electrum.  The scuffed icon is comforting to hold.
A carved jet pectoral in the shape of a raven, its wings made of thin silver. Alternatively, a twisted jet tree set on a large bronze medallion.
A mummified human hand on a silver chain, fingers and wrist capped with hammered golden filigree. Alternatively a skeletal hand articulated and wrapped in gold wire.
A silver tiara, crushed and bent, but still beautifully crafted  in the shape of a crown of thorns covered in roses.
Silver sword hilt worked into the form of a sinuous dragon, black with age, and decorated with several flecks of garnet, with several more pried from their bezels.  
Golden enameled armor buckle or crest, sculpted with a raven and castle.  It shows signs of wear and the style of work looks rather antiquated.