Curse of Strahd session one: Welcome to the House of Fun
Last night we began a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign over Skype. After a couple of years DMing, I finally convinced a work colleague to take up the Dungeon Master’s mantle. In actual fact, I gave him little choice about it; I bought him the campaign book for Curse of Strahd in the hope that he would feel suitably obliged to run the game in return. Thankfully, he did (he also provided the accompanying artwork).
None of us had played via Skype or any other web-based platform before, so first we had to get the technicalities and logistics sorted. This involved the purchase of a couple of webcams, some decent headphones, and a bit of trial and error experimentation.
However, the main challenge was not to do with the video quality or general logistics. Rather, it was coping with the embarrassment of family members judging us as they sat in the same room or wandered through as we fought against specters and ghouls in a demon infested haunted house. In fact, a work colleague actually refused to play, purely on the basis that his wife’s derision would be too much to cope with. In the end, there were four of us brave enough, each with varying levels of experience.
When it came to building our PCs, we decided that rather than try character creation over Skype, it would be better to do this together, in actual physical space. As ever in this scenario, a local bar seemed like the best option. After a couple of hours our party was complete.
We were due to begin the session at eight o’clock, but one of the things I am discovering about parenthood is that keeping to any sort of pre-arranged timetable is impossible–if only Baby Billy could let us know the concise intricacies of his complex agenda in advance. We eventually began at 8:20.
The Game Begins, Mistakes Were Made
Our adventurers were:
Gimble Timers – gnome fighter, channeling the spirit of Scrappy Doo;
Engong – a half-orc monk, who’s backstory involved having one parent that was an orc and one that wasn’t;
Baräsh – a dragonborn paladin with an intelligence score of nine;
Kevon – a tiefling sorcerer, played by me.
We arrived at an abandoned camp and discovered it was only recently deserted. While we investigated, an eerie mist rolled in and we began to panic as ghostly faces and claws reached out toward us. The gnome bravely rushed into the closest caravan to hide. The half-orc climbed another caravan and started a fire to attract help. The paladin dropped to his knees in prayer, and the sorcerer did what any sorcerer would do and sent a Firebolt blindly crashing into the mists.
It was an interesting start to the adventure.
We were instantly panicking as the mists clawed at us. The gnome, finding nothing of use in the caravan, dashed out to see the cart opposite blazing wildly as the half-orc jumped down. We gathered in the center of the camp as the mists closed in, and decided the only thing we could do was run away.
As we fled the mists, the paladin once more dropped to his knees, seeking answers from his deity. At this point, the mischievous and self-serving sorcerer couldn’t resist using his Thaumaturgy to create a barely audible voice in the dragonborn’s ear:
“Baräsh, this is your God. A great evil is coming. Make sure you protect the tiefling. He is an emissary of mine and you must give your life to his service.”
Although it seemed sensible to me as a squishy, vulnerable spellcaster to enlist some muscle, I instantly regretted this, as the paladin jumped to his feet, hugged me, and shouted “Prophet!”
Even without spiritual foresight, I could see this was going to get complicated.
We continued along the path until a dimly lit settlement came into view. It was made up of a few dilapidated buildings along a central street. The paladin’s divine sense pointed him towards one of the houses, where two pallid, disheveled children stood, clearly distressed.
“There’s a monster in our house, please help us,” they cried.
“Monsters!” Shouted the paladin, “We must help.” And with that he rushed into the building and the rest of us reluctantly followed.
The two children, Rose and Thorn, told us the monster was in the basement. They said that there was a model of the house in the attic that would show us how to get there.
Ignoring their advice, we began exploring the ground floor of the house, looking for alternative access to the basement. The gnome spotted a hat stand in one of the rooms and checked the coat pockets for keys. He didn’t find anything useful, but I was impressed at his approach. He also requisitioned a fine top hat which he immediately donned making him appear a whole foot taller.
The rooms in the house were all covered in layers of dust and cobwebs, clearly no one alive had been here recently. In one room there was a fireplace with a portrait hanging above it. The gnome took offense to the picture and sent a crossbow bolt smashing into it. First blood to Gimble Timbers.
Suddenly, a magical crown appeared at the head of the paladin and an odd glint took his eye and he moved to attack the closest person to him. The tiefling sorcerer.
We weren’t expecting that. This was the first bit of combat in the adventure and it was against one of our own.
The dragonborn raised his axe, but fortunately missed. Kevon channeled his arcane power and recognized the effect of a spell on the paladin emanating from the portrait. He sent a Firebolt crashing into it and yelled to the monk and fighter that they needed to do the same. The monk was too far away and had no ranged weapons, so she tried to knock some sense back into Baräsh. Then it was the fighter’s turn; he fired another crossbow bolt at the portrait, but it fell short. Thankfully, after a couple more rounds we managed to destroy the portrait, stopping the effect.
As first level characters, we found this encounter harder than I expected, and we all took damage leaving us in a dangerous position. We would have to be more careful as we delved deeper.
We cautiously continued our exploration and found the kitchen. Here the monk spotted a small laundry chute, assuming it led downward to the basement, she grabbed the gnome and shoved him in. Gimble Timbers was not impressed. Especially as the tight chute only led upwards.
Finding very little else on the ground floor, we followed a stairway leading up to a landing with many doors. The party choose this point to split up (never a good idea!). Buddy system in place, the fighter and sorcerer entered a room that didn’t have the same trappings as the rest of the house; there was no dust or cobwebs covering the ornate china. My character was getting a bit restless in this odd house and, in an attempt to lure out the monster, started smashing up the crockery. Again, the gnome was not impressed.
On the far side of the room hung a lavish tapestry depicting a picturesque landscape overlooked by a foreboding castle. Kevon decided that this looked like it might be worth taking and the frustrated rogue inside took control. He removed it from the wall and instantly the room reverted to being dank, dusty, and dirty. The tapestry disintegrated and Kevon felt an odd sensation rush over him, as a horrible disfiguring curse took hold and a painful rash erupted on his face. Screaming, he dashed out of the room. The gnome was still not impressed.
We regrouped, and once the paladin had used all of his divine healing to cure Kevon’s curse, they decided to head to the top floor of the building. There was a passageway with three doors. The first was locked and no amount of strength checks would open it. Even a roll of 19 from the paladin, who we’d nicknamed Mr. Lockpick, couldn’t force it open. So we moved onto door number two. Nothing here but a dusty bed.
The third door opened up to a much larger room. In it there were a number of mannequins and a coffin containing a semi-decomposed body. No sooner had the body been discovered, than a female specter wearing a maid’s outfit arose from it screeching insults and curses.
This time we were already suffering the effects of running through the haunted house before the battle started. The specter attacked first and attempted to tear the fighter apart with its Life Drain attack. Fortunately, his armor class was high enough to resist, but by the end of the first round it was clear that non-magical attacks were ineffective against our enemy, so it fell on Kevon as the main spellcaster to attack.
Kevon only had one spell slot left, so began pummeling the specter with cantrips, alternating between Ray of Frost and Firebolt. This caused some damage, and after a couple of rounds it was clearly bloodied. It was also bearing down on its next victim. Kevon.
After a couple of narrow misses with its Life Drain attack, it finally landed a hit and inflicted eight necrotic damage. This left the sorcerer with one HP left, and as if that wasn’t bad enough, a failed con save meant his HP maximum was reduced to three.
Seeing his companion severely hurt, the gnome fighter dashed across the room, bowling down the mannequins as he charged toward the specter. Grabbing the first thing he could, he swung wildly at the apparition with a disembodied wooden arm. Critical Hit! The specter was badly hurt, taken aback it began to head for the exit, phasing through the solid wall. Kevon the sorcerer dived through the door into the hallway and clapped his hands together creating a large booming sound as a wave of thunderous energy swept outwards. Reduced to a single hit point the specter was pushed back 10 feet directly into space where the half-orc stood. This caused the specter immense pain and with a final deathly howl it exploded, leaving the half-orc monk standing there, dusting down her robes. “That was fun,” she said.
With the party now very close to death, we decided it would be good idea to rest up for the night. We remembered the room with the bed behind door number two and made our way there.
Inside the room now stood the two ghostly children, Rose and Thorn. At their feet was a model of the house. As the children showed us the diorama, the monk started poking around. Engong grabbed a small wooden horse. Instantly the children bellowed in anger, “DON’T PLAY WITH OUR TOYS!” and then they disappeared into the ether.
Suitably spooked out, we decided to take that much needed rest before making our way down to the basement to face the children’s monster. END
That Was Fun!
As the DM called “time” we all felt exhausted. He had done a great job, but it’s also worth noting the material was pretty solid too. Playing with a group of varied experience was also quite fun. The gnome fighter and I had both played fifth edition before, and the half-orc monk was quite familiar with RPGs, however the dragonborn paladin hadn’t played at all before. This only caused an issue once, when he wasn’t too sure about the rules on his divine connection and kept asking his God for assistance, only to be told “Your God is silent and doesn’t love you.” I think he was expecting a little bit more from his sacred protector. Also, perhaps a more seasoned player might not have used all of their Lay on Hands to cure a mild skin irritation…
We continue our run through of Curse of Strahd next week, and I’m looking forward to seeing how well we deal with spending the night in the haunted house. Whether or not we reach the basement and survive the monsters there remains to be seen.