Curse of Strahd session two: Delving Deeper
Last night was the second session in my group’s play through of Dungeons & Dragons gothic horror campaign Curse of Strahd. We were playing via Skype and this time I managed to be there on time, in spite of Baby Billy’s protestations.
The write-up for session one can be found here
It’ll come as no surprise that as a new parent I have found it hard to spare time to carry on some of my more protracted hobbies. The desire is still there, but finding a reasonable excuse to abandon my fatherly duties in pursuit of my own entirely selfish agenda has been problematic. For me that is where the magic of D&D really comes into its own.
Versatility is the key; there really is no single way to play. Sure, you may have the classic image of a group of friends sat around a table, a DM maniacally cackling from behind a screen, but that is by no means all there is. Thanks to the internet and the luxury of access to platforms such as Roll20, Google Hangouts or Skype, you can easily drop in and play remotely.
We decided to use Skype as our gaming platform and not a virtual tabletop after seeing Chris Perkins DM Dice, Camera, Action! It seemed to require less complicated preparation from the DM (or so we assumed), and delivered a truer theater of the mind approach. Also, we really enjoy the tactile nature of rolling actual dice.
That being said, last night’s session wasn’t without its own technical difficulties. Mostly these were internet or hardware based. Occasionally, for instance, someone’s connection might drop out for a couple of seconds in the middle of a description, “I raise my holy symbol, lock eyes with the ghoul and …” Or they may be reduced to purely audio, making it harder to rely on facial or visual cues.
Sometimes, the problems would be of our own making such as me failing to charge my ipad and desperately searching around in the dark for the cable, trying not to wake the baby. But thankfully none of these interruptions proved too disruptive and we were able to smoothly(ish) continue playing.
Before this session began our DM told us we had leveled up during the long rest. We were using the milestone method for character development and had survived a whole day in the haunted house, discovering the secret door to the basement.
This was the first time I’ve played using milestones, and I did feel a little cheated not to have been awarded XP for every individual monster. But, from a DM’s perspective, it ensures the PCs don’t reach an area before they are ready for it. This becomes especially pertinent when you consider that last session we could have explored the mansion much more fully, having many more encounters, for which we would have been awarded XP. We didn’t and we weren’t, but there was a large amount of role-play, and we did run away from some considerable threats. So should we be penalized for playing the game this way by not having our characters advance? If so, then certainly one of the encounters from last night’s session would have played out differently – we would have all died for sure.
Regardless of the hows and whys, this particular development meant that my squishy, vulnerable sorcerer Kevon would become a little less squishy and vulnerable, so I was happy in any case.
Things that go bump in the night
Once each of us had completed our leveling up, we were keen to see how our newly buffed PCs would fare descending into the basement to face the monsters.
Our party consisted of:
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, wearing a stolen top hat;
Engong – Half-Orc Monk, sneaky and really fast;
Baräsh – Dargonborn Paladin, strong but stupid;
Kevon – Tiefling Wild Magic Sorcerer – played by me
We were awakened by a strange thud coming from the entrance of the room. Our first thoughts fell to the folly of not setting a watch for the night. Anything could have happened…
As we looked around the to see what had caused the disturbance we were all shocked to see carved into the walls over and over again the phrase “One must die”. We were sure this wasn’t there before we slept, and after a brief argument about who was supposed to be on guard duty we realized that sitting in the doorway was a small wooden doll, dressed in a yellow suit, holding a knife.
Again, our DM had outdone himself, this was a great start to the session and the perfect chance for some pretty entertaining RP. First, Baräsh attempted to talk to the doll, aiming to convert it to a more civilized way of life. Nothing happened. Then, Gimble Timbers poked at it with the mannequin arm he’d been using as an improvised weapon. Still nothing happened. Finally, Engong threw a bed sheet over it and we began discussing what we should do. Kevon, fearing the worst, made straight for the exit.
It was then that we heard childish giggling coming from the other room. Rose and Thorn appeared before us, “Haha, you fell for our little joke then”. Rose then described the cult that her parents had been a part of and that, “One must die” was a chant that accompanied its sinister rites. They then asked us to take their bodies down to the crypt to be interred in their intended resting place.
Suitably freaked out by the ghost children, we made our way to the room where the stair to the basement was. First to enter were Gimble Timbers and Engong. The gnome rolled a four on his perception check and failed to find the secret door. The monk rolled 20, instantly spotting it behind a suit of armor. As the monk made her way forward, warning signs started flashing in our minds as the DM asked, “What’s your armor class?” Never a good sign.
The suit of armor lurched forward grasping at the monk. Two rounds of combat later, including two missed Rays of Frost, a heavy crossbow hit, a successful grapple from the paladin, and a critical hit from the monk’s flurry of blows, and the animated armor was torn apart, sending shards of metal across the room. The monk quickly managed to unlock the hidden door behind where the armor had stood. “Oh, there’s the door,” yelled the gnome, his perception finally catching up with the rest of us.
We went all the way down the spiraling staircase into a dark, dank crypt below the house. Voices could be heard chanting in the distance, “One must die. One must die.” We stopped at a crossroads in the tunnel and saw a large chamber ahead. In an effort to create a distraction, drawing out any possible villains, the gnome created an illusion of an ice cream truck and Kevon added the sound of an organ playing Greensleeves to heighten the effect. Nothing happened.
We moved on and entered a makeshift larder strewn with decomposing bodies. Fearing an encounter, Kevon cast Mage Armor and no sooner had we entered the room than we were ambushed by a grick hiding in the shadows.
The battle lasted a good few rounds and would have gone on substantially longer if we hadn’t been lucky with our rolls. Every one of our attacks hit, while the grick kept missing. On the one occasion a Firebolt did miss, Kevon used tides of chaos to bend luck, hitting on the advantage roll. This had the added bonus of causing some wild magic to occur, a 65 was rolled on the table and a lightning bolt flashed out from Kevon’s hand dealing 4d10 damage, which really helped our situation. The grick sensed his imminent demise and tried to flee, only to be trapped between a raging monk and the paladin’s javelin.
The enemy dispatched, we found ourselves in a small vaulted crypt with two tombs. The inscription read: Rosamund Durst and Thornbolt Durst. Having carried their remains thus far, the paladin knew he had to allow the ghosts of Rose and Thorn to rest, and with the aid of the monk he interred the bodies. Although their lack of familiarity with human biology and low medicine checks meant that there may have been a hand where a foot was supposed to be. The children didn’t seem to mind too much, thanking us as they moved on to the next life, and we received inspiration for this act of spiritual benevolence.
Having completed our task, the paladin was keen to rid the world of this nefarious cult that we could still hear chanting; “I must put an end to these pagan rites!” he bellowed.
Our exploration took us to a large room containing many chests. Fearing traps, Kevon warned his companions to be careful. Inside the first chest the half-orc found some coins and gemstones in a human-skin pouch; discarding the treasure, she excitedly kept the wallet. The paladin found a silver short sword and the fighter was very pleased to discover a cornelian eye patch to go with his fancy top hat. Kevon found nothing.
Treasure fairly distributed, we exited the chamber and found ourselves back at the crossroads. The chanting returned, growing louder and louder. Suddenly four ghouls wearing black robes rose up out of the ground to surround us. They closed in and began clawing at us as we stood back to back.
Combat duly followed, this time it took a while to dispatch the undead fiends. This was a really fun encounter where both the monsters and PCs had their fair share of good and bad dice rolls. These ghouls were clearly the remnants of the cult we had heard about, one even sported an eye patch matching the one Gimble Timbers wore, which instantly marked the gnome out as their primary target. This was fine with Kevon as by now his Mage Armor had worn off.
The gnome, once again, resorted to using his mannequin hand as an improvised weapon and enjoyed a fair amount of success with it. Kevon and Engong were less effective, missing more often than not and both taking damage which would have wiped them out if it wasn’t for Baräsh’s healing hands and his delusion that Kevon was a prophet that needed protection. Eventually the ghouls were all taken care of – the paladin finishing off the last one with an almighty hammer blow causing it to explode. END
Once again we really enjoyed ourselves and can’t wait to see where the next episode takes us. This session had felt a bit more hack and slash focused than the first, but this didn’t detract from the story.
I was also excited to get to experience my sorcerer’s wild magic this session. These occur when a sorcerer spell of 1st level or higher is cast. The DM rolls a d20, and on a roll of one, the player then rolls on the wild magic table. They also happen at the DMs discretion after a sorcerer uses the tides of chaos feature to bend luck in their favor. From accidentally polymorphing yourself into a sheep to having all your hair fall out and speaking only in bubbles, when you have to roll those percentile die it really does feel like anything could happen. As a DM, seeing the fear in the eyes of a player when they roll on this table is so much fun. But as a player that sensation is amplified as you realize you have absolutely no control over the outcome of your spellcasting. So far in this campaign it has served me well and we wouldn’t have so easily been able to deal with the grick without it. However, I’m confident that as we progress, I will be forced to roll on this table many more times and it surely can’t be long before I am turned into a potted plant or all our enemies become invisible…