Curse of Strahd session three: The Death House
Last night was the third session of my group’s Skype-based play through of Dungeons & Dragons 5th edition campaign Curse of Strahd, and we all made it on time. What’s more, the session wasn’t plagued by as many technical issues as earlier ones, although there were still one or two.
As we play at eight o’clock and this is just before the time my four-month-old son usually goes to sleep, my wife and I have come to an agreement that lets me join in as long as the baby doesn’t fuss too much. Last night, Billy was on his best behavior.
Things were getting pretty serious for our party trapped in the haunted house. We had been summoned to help out some ghostly children and were now looking for an exit from the maddening crypt complex below. Having completed our mission, facing specters, gricks and animated suits of armor in the process, we were very ready to make our retreat, but our DM apparently had other plans.
Still wet behind the ears
In my previous session report, I mentioned the inexperience of one of my companions, but last night it was my own naivety that caused the most problems. It all began when I initially built my character three weeks ago. I should have realized my Wild Magic Sorcerer’s attributes were not up to standard, but I just laughed as the rest of my party min/max-ed their characters, beefing up their ACs and HPs where they could.
My core attributes are:
Strength: 7 Dexterity: 11 Constitution: 12 Wisdom: 7 Intelligence: 10 and Charisma: 18
In a rare act of compassion, our DM gave me the option of re-rolling to see if these numbers would get any better. But I thought this was a bit too much like cheating, and so I went with them.
I figured that as a sorcerer I don’t need to worry too much about strength or dexterity, and my charisma at 18 is good, which means I can cast some spells with some proficiency. However, there are clearly some issues.
Firstly, a low constitution means I will struggle to hold concentration on spells and my HP will increase much slower when leveling up. Secondly, perception is intelligence based, so my sorcerer is going to be constantly falling into traps and being surprised by hidden monsters. And thirdly, having a low strength modifier – it’s minus two! – means that if I ever do have to use a melee weapon such as my dagger, I get a +0 bonus to hit with it, and deal 1d4-2 damage. Monsters Beware!
So, knowing that there will be many specters, shadows and undead fiends in this campaign that will literally suck the life and strength out of me, I should have definitely taken the chance of re-rolling those stats. If only…
Where we left off
We began the session exactly where we left off last week. Once more our party consisted of:
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, wearing a stolen top hat and carillon eye-patch;
Engong – Half-Orc Monk, sneaky and really fast;
Baräsh – Dargonborn Paladin, strong but stupid, believes Kevon is his prophet;
Kevon – Tiefling Wild Magic Sorcerer, played by me.
We stood at the crossroads, still reeling and breathing heavily from the ghoul encounter. We were hurt, running low on spells and ready for a rest. What’s more we could still hear the eerie murmuring of several dozen voices chanting, “He is the land. He is ancient.”
Clearly now wasn’t the time for nap so I drank one of my two healing potions and we mustered our strength, deciding to move on in search of a way out.
As we made our way down another dark corridor, Engong took the lead and didn’t notice the pit trap on the floor. It took a couple of moments for us to drag him out, but once we did we noticed the corridor ahead was blocked by a portcullis. Through the iron bars we could see a large room beyond with a raised dais in the middle. The chanting grew louder, “He is ancient. He is the land. He is ancient.”
The paladin wasn’t strong enough to lift the gate so we turned around in search of another route. We stumbled into a passageway with a number of barred cells along one wall. In the first cell we found nothing but a decaying skeleton and some torn robes, but the second cell proved more bountiful. Here there were a number of niches and torch sconces each containing a small trinket or item, “This is clearly the remnants of some dark ritual” said the Paladin, as the rest of us began filling our pockets.
The passageway then came to a dead-end and we scratched our heads trying to work out where to go next. Gimble Timbers began examining the hallway, looking for a secret passage. He tapped on the stone with the mannequin arm he’d been using as a makeshift weapon and, sure enough, a crack appeared we were able to make out the outline of a concealed door.
We gathered around as the gnome tentatively pushed it open. It swung open loudly. This alerted the four shadows that had laid dormant in the chamber beyond and they attacked.
As soon as the DM asked for a stealth check, we knew we were in trouble. It didn’t help that the gnome rolled a four. This combat was pretty frantic, and it quickly became clear that our non-magical weapons weren’t much use against the shadows.
By the end of the first round, two of the shadows had scored some pretty big hits against Engong and he retaliated with a strong flurry of blows. The dragonborn paladin saw his chance to protect the party and got between us and our attackers. He was going to use his breath weapon on them hoping to disintegrate them with his draconic heritage.
“Stand back” he shouted and let loose. It was a hit, but he was disappointed as his cone of lightening only dealt five damage, and the shadows hardly seemed to feel it. “Damn.”
At this point, both Gimble Timbers and Kevon were pretty badly hurt and decided to fall back through the secret door into the chamber beyond. We realized that this was the room blocked by the portcullis we found earlier.
Meanwhile, the battle continued and the shadows had Baräsh surrounded, but his high AC meant they weren’t hitting very often at all. Through the doorway, Kevon sent a firebolt at one of the shadows and it was enough to reduce it to 0HP. This got the attention of a second shadow who came straight for him and hit with a strength drain attack. This put the sorcerer in real trouble.
As I mentioned earlier Kevon’s strength stat isn’t very high. What’s worse, on a hit, strength drain has the effect of reducing the target’s strength score by 1d4. His went down to four. If it reached zero Kevon would be dead. I really should have taken that chance at a re-roll. The DM laughed.
Not long after this, we managed to finish off the remaining three shadows, however, each of us had our strength reduced, and didn’t know how long this effect would last. But we didn’t have time to worry about that now, we just wanted to get out.
Realizing we needed to head back, we turned around just as the secret door slammed shut, leaving us in the large chamber with the portcullis blocking our exit. The chanting became louder. “He is the land. He is ancient. He is the land. He is ancient.”
We looked up and realised there were thirteen hooded figures standing around the edges of the chamber. They were holding torches that seemed to draw the light towards them casting magical darkness around the room. “One must die. One must die”.
As we dashed across the room, we noticed a large mound of organic matter in the corner. The paladin used his divine sense and realized it was an evil entity, just as it animated and started to move. I instantly recognized this as a shambling mound and rolled to see if my character did too. He did.
Kevon screamed and yelled at the party to run! Too late, the mound had noticed us and dark tentacles reached out towards us. We ran for the safety of the raised dais in the center of the room and noticed a sacrificial dagger lying on an altar. The chanting continued, “One must die. One must die.”
Thinking he could fool the apparitions, Gimble Timbers grabbed the sacrificial dagger and acted out stabbing himself with it. The chanting stopped. All thirteen voices shouted out, “The end comes. Death comes.” The light returned and we saw directly in front of us the towering figure of the shambling mound ready to devour us.
This time we knew we were outmatched and had to make an escape. With its first attack, the mound engulfed the gnome and if it wasn’t for a lucky thunderwave from Kevon, causing a wild magic surge, he would have been surely killed. Fortunately the diminutive fighter got away, pulled the lever, raising the portcullis and dashed towards the open doorway. He was quickly joined by Baräsh and Engong. Unfortunately Kevon was on other side of the chamber.
The Shambling Mound attacked, easily engulfing the tiefling sorcerer. Somehow he was able to escape the next round. However, he was still on the other side of the chamber to the rest of the party, with the mound in between, and very few hit points left.
Seeing that Kevon was trapped, Engong threw a lit torch at the mound trying to attract its attention. The torch missed, but the mound turned around and headed towards the monk and his two companions. Kevon now had to decide between running for the lever to save his friends, and running past the mound, making a bid for the exit.
For a split second I was going to be the hero. I knew that there was no way we could beat the mound and that if it hit any of the party they would be down. But, by pulling the lever, I could let them escape, albeit trapping Kevon in the process. I also knew that he couldn’t make it all the way to the door without using an action to dash, which would surely provoke an attack of opportunity.
In the end I decided against sacrificing myself and made a run for it. Hoping that it wouldn’t hit me and that if it did I could take the damage, after all it had only been averaging five to seven points of damage, and Kevon still had eight HP left.
As Kevon ran past the mound it made its attacks. The sorcerer was engulfed once more. He had no spells left, no sorcery points and only one chance to save himself. A strength saving throw. Needless to say, my minus three modifier was no help to me now. The DM laughed.
The rest of the party could only stand and watch in horror as the Shambling Mound engulfed the sorcerer, crunching his weakened body. The paladin yelled out “For the Prophet!” and threw a javelin at the mound. It missed. The monk lit another torch and tossed it at the hulking monstrosity. No effect. The fighter, realizing Kevon was surely doomed, cast a minor illusion of the Sorcerer in front of the mound in a futile attempt to confuse the beast. Nothing happened.
Our DM was really enjoying this. We could tell. No matter what the party did, their rolls were so poor there was no saving Kevon from his destiny. On its turn the mound made two more attacks with advantage, dealing 18 damage, taking him to minus 15. Kevon died. The party ran.
They kept running until they reached the entrance to the crypt. The speedy half-orc was the first to get there, shortly followed by the dragonborn, who dashed past two reanimated ghasts. The gnome lagged behind and was caught by the undead fiends, but before he could fight his way free, a hand shot out of the ground at his feet and a naked male albino tiefling clawed his way out of the ground. He caught Gimble Timbers’ eye and the gnome recognized the haunted stare. Kevon had returned! Or at least part of him had. His soul could not rest in such a defiled place and so sought out the nearest compatible body, one of the recent sacrifices of the evil cult. The resurrected tiefling sent a firebolt at the ghasts allowing the pair to escape.
Shaken and confused, but with no time for reunions, the party reformed and kept on running. They made their way hastily out of the death house, dodging various traps and monsters, and ran to the nearest inn, the Blood on the Vine Tavern, for a much needed rest. END
This was such a fun session. Even though my character died and will never be the same, it was the most fun I’ve had as a player. So many other cool things happened too, and there was no time for us to think about how Kevon had miraculously returned from the dead and what effect this would have on him.
For the last three sessions, we have been playing through Death House, the pre-campaign mini-module for Curse of Strahd that you can choose to play before beginning the story proper. I guess the idea is to offer a chance to explore and develop your characters, testing out their abilities, without having too much of an effect on the rest of the campaign. I don’t imagine that it is for player characters to die so early on.
Nonetheless, this session really delivered on the title’s promise and provided a clear flavor of things to come. Next week I imagine things will start to get really serious.
Finally, whenever I see a portcullis in a chamber where there’s combat, I instinctively want to go full-on Return of the Jedi, luring a monster under it so it can be crushed. Sadly this wasn’t’ to be, and unlike Luke Skywalker I wasn’t able to defeat the beast. But it’s moments like this when you can see yourself doing something heroic and cinematic that remind you of why you love D&D in the first place.