The featured image for D&D 5e Curse of Strahd Yester Hill is from Wizards of the Coast in Curse of Strahd.
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Yester Hill is one of many interesting locations in the Curse of Strahd adventure module. Depending on how you’re running the campaign, you might be using one or more countless homebrew details in the Curse of Strahd campaign. There are many resources online from DMs who have altered, expounded, and customized the setting and plot of Curse of Strahd, but I want to focus on the adventure as its written in the official book. Depending on the contents of the upcoming book, Van Richten’s Guide to Ravenloft, I may have details from that book to add as well.
My Curse of Strahd résumé is that I’ve run three campaigns with the module start to finish, though two of those campaigns began as a single campaign. That campaign experienced a party split halfway through due to different play styles of players (it was for the best). I basically ran the campaign from that point onward like two alternate realities of the campaign with me running player characters as NPCs for whichever group wasn’t using them anymore. The first campaign was traditional, with the same group starting together and completing together.
I ran the tarokka card reading by chance alone. Many DMs like to curate the card reading results, but I chose to stay true to random destiny. I made this clear to the players so they’d know they were playing a version of the campaign that was destined for them, and they enjoyed that. There were campaign customizations involving ancient fane sites tied to magic stones from the Wizard of Wines, which I flavored as petrified pinecones to make them more fey-like. I also allowed the stones/pinecones to function similar to ioun stones in the DMG’s magic items. The way I ran the game helped the situation make sense, but I’ll focus on the module as written for this guide.
Yester Hill Should Be a Wilderness Experience
Yester Hill is meant to be a location that is only visited by Strahd on his flying Beucephalus Nightmare and the uncivilized druidic people who live there. A trail to the location doesn’t make sense. It feels odd that the enemies of the winery would also be neighbors down the trail through dark woods. Getting to Yester Hill should be a wilderness exercise that forces players to deal with threats in the woods as the DM gatekeeps the hill itself. I found that TPKs are highly possible if players choose to go to Yester Hill at low levels with limited information about it. This was especially true with a party of low Passive Perceptions to spot the enemies laying in shallow, grassy graves.
Make travel to Yester Hill an encounter that is different from the rest of the travel experiences in Barovia. Allow players to get turned around as the mists play tricks on them, hinting at the looming wall of mist that is present over Yester Hill. Maybe plant life itself is dangerous to players: shredding brambles, stinging nettle, and binding mud. Making these changes will be thematically appropriate to Yester Hill, producing an improved player experience with the barbaric people of the massive mound.
I spoke about this point in my lessons learned article for DMs running Curse of Strahd!
Take Inventory of the Situation
You have a massive opportunity at Yester Hill. Instead of running a combat encounter in a massive field on an oversized map with 50-foot squares, take inventory of what’s going on. You can mix many elements within this massive open area where the situation can become wild and unpredictable:
- Potential Strahd involvement with Beucephalus
- Lightning striking stones
- Hidden graves
- Gulthias Tree (not to be confused with the effigy of Strahd) and blights
- Magic battleaxe for slaying plants
- Druid ritual
- Druids and Berserkers
- Kavan’s whisper and his spear in the cairn
- Wooden statue effigy of Strahd
- Magic gem from the winery
That’s a lot of material to work with all in one place! Your opportunity is to make Yester Hill what you want it to be: heist, skill challenge, king of the hill fight, or power struggle for Strahd’s favor. You have options, and they’re good ones. Each option can combine with others for a truly dynamic encounter. Let’s analyze a few possibilities.
Yester Hill Heist
Characters may have ways to turn invisible, fly, or otherwise rush or infiltrate the hill. Embrace that desire and set up your players to succeed in a heist. They can scout out the hill and see that the winery’s stone is the key to crippling the druids’ plans.
During their preparations, one of the characters should begin hearing Kavan’s whispers to approach his cairn and receive the Blood Spear. This will create further intrigue in the situation.
Yester Hill Skill Challenge
DragnaCarta (one of the biggest names in the Curse of Strahd DMing community) wrote about general skill challenges for D&D 5e. I highly recommend reading what he described so you can formulate a skill challenge at Yester Hill.
The way you set the stage at Yester Hill can vary dramatically from group to group depending on the timing and circumstances when the party goes there. If combat sounds boring for your group at Yester Hill, try formulating a skill challenge with DragnaCarta’s easy steps.
One great aspect of a skill challenge is that it can evolve. If the dice are not on the players’ side, and they fail to grab the gem and/or foil the ritual, the challenge can become an escape. It can also devolve into a traditional combat encounter.
King of the Yester Hill
The enemies sleeping in the graves don’t have to get up all at once. They can trickle into the battle to create a sense of urgency to complete the mission (whatever the mission is). I suggest that the players may be focusing on the gem from the winery inside the wooden statue. Retrieving the gem may cause the ritual to end in failure, and it might cause the druids to lose heart and bow to the ground apologetically to Strahd.
Don’t forget to decide how you want to signal to the players that lightning is a danger. Clever players will realize the stones and lightning can be used defensively to get the stone before they’re overwhelmed by swarming Berserkers.
Impress Strahd for Help at Yester Hill
I like to think that Strahd might be amused by the player characters intervening at Yester Hill. They might even convince him to help them for his own amusement. Achievements in combat would get his attention, surely! You can place Strahd and Beucephalus at the event as he seems bored and stares at his ancestral home in the wall of mist.
Did you find this resource helpful? Let me know what ideas you’ve implemented at Yester Hill! Cast Message in the comments section to tell me all about it, ask questions, or otherwise spark a discussion.
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