Curse of Strahd Session four: Bad Cheese
It was the fourth session in our weekly Skype-based play through of Curse of Strahd last night. We had just escaped the Death House (barely), and it was time to move onto the story proper. Last session, my character died and came back as one of ‘the returned’ and I was eager to see how this would affect the rest of the party. You can read all about it here.
In the real world, my son is currently experiencing a four-month growth spurt and his sleep pattern is somewhat disturbed. This meant that last night I was sporadically joined by Baby Billy, as my wife handed him over in an attempt to pacify him. Occasionally this works. Not so much last night, but it wasn’t too disruptive on the game. Thankfully my companions are understanding, and Skype has a microphone mute function.
At the end of session three our characters all leveled up. We had ‘survived’, for lack of a better word, the haunted mansion and so had done enough to reach the next milestone.
Now that my character’s soul was occupying a different body – I had gone from a dashing, well-kempt, good-looking tiefling to one with white skin, fiery-red eyes and sharpened teeth – I wondered what effect this would have. Would I have to multi-class, taking on the skills and attributes of my new host? Would I have his memories? Would I still even be a sorcerer?
When I asked my DM these questions, he admitted that he wasn’t entirely ready for this eventuality, not thinking we would be foolish enough to go up against a shambling mound so early on. He had improvised the whole revivification of Kevon, so he would leave it up to me to choose how I would be affected, for now.
I decided that, for the time being little would change about my class. But perhaps later on, as I gain the memories of my host body, I might pick up new skills and abilities or lose existing ones. But, for the moment, the primary result of my resurrection, aside from my new hideous visage, was that I returned with a new flaw: I am convinced that people are hunting me and their agents are everywhere. I am being followed all the time.
So as well as being undead I am a crazy-ass paranoid guy who mistrusts everyone. This will be fun to roleplay!
Other than this, I leveled up as normal. My HP increased (marginally) and I gained some extra spell slots. I also gained the ability to use my sorcery points to fuel metamagic effects, choosing extended spell and twinned spell.
The rest of the party also leveled up. For most classes, level three is where the fun really starts and you begin to develop your character. In our party the monk choose the ‘Way of the Open Hand’, and was looking forward to using his new techniques; the paladin took the ‘Oath of Devotion’ in a vain attempt to give his companions courage; and the fighter picked the ‘Battle Master’ archetype meaning he could use special manoeuvres during encounters.
Once more into the fray
Having sorted out our level increases, it was time to step once more into fray to see what Barovia had in store.
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, wearing a stolen top hat and carillon eye-patch;
Engong – Half-Orc Monk, sneaky, taciturn and really fast;
Baräsh – Dragonborn Paladin, strong but stupid, believes Kevon is his prophet;
Kevon – Tiefling Wild Magic Sorcerer, recently dead, played by me.
The party awoke in the dark and dingy main room of The Blood on the Vine tavern. Rising to the sound of Kevon sobbing in the corner, still not fully accepting of the events of the previous night.
Through the tears, he recounted his memories to his companions, including a vision he had while his soul was in between worlds. In the vision he was wondering in mists through an empty, cold, barren place. A shadow shifted in a tomb of amber and a soft, female voice called out for aid. Dark mists swirled around her, pulling her under. There was a richly adorned table set for a feast. Out of a window, he saw a wooded valley that was under his dominion. A shadow spoke out: “All this could be yours.”
Once they heard his version of events, the rest of the party were reluctant to accept Kevon’s story. There was clearly some lingering doubt in the mind of the monk, and Gimble Timbers was not keen to be traveling with an undead party member. Neither knew how to interpret the tiefling’s dream. The paladin, on the other hand saw this as concrete proof of his connection to the divine. “Prophet, surely now you have been reborn into the light you must use this chance to fulfil the …”
“I’m not your prophet!” Cried the tiefling, “It was a trick. You were strong and I am weak. I thought you could help me! Look how well that turned out!”
This revelation shook Baräsh and he immediately turned to look for the barkeep seeking to wash away his grief and anger. When he found there was no wine in the tavern, he had to be held back by the fighter and the monk to prevent him from attacking their host.
“There’s no wine left,” he says. “We wait and we wait but no wine arrives.”
After a while, and a couple more altercations with Alec the bartender, including one where Gimble Timbers ate some suspicious looking cheese and immediately fell very sick, he got his broom and started sweeping the adventurers out of the bar “Get out of here! You’re bad for business.” He said. So we did.
This was the first bit of non-combat roleplay we’d had for a couple of sessions and we all really seemed to get into it. We were also able to find out a fair bit, as well as getting the first of many plot hooks – where has all the wine gone?
What’s more, we got our first mention of Strahd, vampires, and the Vistani, as Alec described Kevon as “one of the returned”, which really piqued our interest. But it was soon clear that we were unwelcome and so left to investigate the rest of the town.
From the tavern we made our way across the street to see Bildrath the Mecantile. He tried to sell us his wares at extortionately high prices and only Baräsh was stupid enough to buy anything from him, although he did spray Kevon with some perfume to hide the smell of death and decay. Whilst here we were told that many of the houses around had been unoccupied since the arrival of Strahd; that we should avoid Ismark, the Burgomaster’s idiot son; and that a lady called Ireena had suffered greatly at the hands of the devil.
We made a note of all this information for later and then Baräsh asked where the local priest might be found. He was told that Donavich resides in the church. So, with some protestations from the fighter, who was suffering the effects of eating the bad cheese, we followed the dragonborn there.
It was midday as we headed along the winding, shingled path towards the church. Heavy clouds covered the sky causing the light to seem thin, almost like twilight. Ahead they saw a crumbling chapel, framed by a towering mountain, at the top of which sat a large, foreboding gothic castle.
I felt shivers down my spine as I recognised castle Ravenloft in the distance. But, I knew it would be a long time before Kevon and his companions would make it there.
We noticed the signs of a recent struggle around the entrance to the church, there were claw marks in the wooden door. Engong pointed out a number of large footprints in the ground. Sensing danger, Kevon instinctively cast mage armor on himself. Baräsh and Gimble Timbers looked around for further signs of action but saw none.
Then we heard a wolf howl in the woods beyond. Kevon ran to the barred door and knocked loudly. No response. Engong tried and failed to break down the door, as a voice from within called out, “Go away demon. You are in league with the devil.”
Baräsh replied, “I am here in the name of the light. Let us enter.”
“Who is your God? Utter their name.”
“I need not name my God for he is the only God.”
“Liar. Go away. You are a servant of the devil Strahd. Every night you haunt me!”
Clearly this was not going well. Three failed charisma checks later and the priest was convinced that we were thralls to the devil Strahd, and there was no way he was going to let us in. Two more howls came from the woods. Gimble Timbers, who was keeping an eye on the forest rolled a critical on his perception check and could see 14 wolves steadily stalking towards us.
Engong attempted to climb the walls of the church but rolled a natural one and fell flat on his face. As the wolves approached closer, Kevon misty stepped to the roof. Just in time as the lead wolf gnashed his fangs and hurled himself at Baräsh.
The encounter happened very quickly. Baräsh and Engong fought side-by-side at the gates of the church, as Gimble Timbers battled at the chapel’s rear and Kevon threw down firebolts and frost rays at the marauding wolves.
At one stage Kevon used tides of chaos to bend luck, causing a wild magic surge that resulted in a modron appearing at his side. The modron, we called him Henry, then proceeded to help us in the battle, flanking one wolf that had Engong on the ropes. Another wild magic surge caused a random creature to be poisoned for three hours. The DM rolled for it and it was the unlucky fighter who suffered the effect. Poor Gimble Timbers, he really shouldn’t have eaten that bad cheese!
After we had defeated over half of the attacking wolves, we noticed at least 20 more making their way towards us. At the same time we heard from behind the doors, “Quickly, while the wolves are distracted, get indoors!” With that, we entered the church and barred the door behind us. Just in time to see Henry bravely facing down 20 wolves.
Inside we were greeted by a wrecked mess of broken pews and altars. There were torn tapestries and shattered chalices strewn across the floor. Donavich, the troubled priest, threw himself at the adventurer’s feet. “You have to help us get out! We are trapped!” With that, an inhuman scream rose up from below. “Father. Feed me father! Arrrgh!”
The broken man wept uncontrollably. “The gods have forsaken me! My son goes out to be a hero and he comes back like this.”
It took a while, and a couple of great performance rolls from the paladin, to win over the trust of the priest. We asked him to show us his son so that we could help him. But he refused, telling us he is now a vampire and that Strahd is punishing him for thinking that he could stand up to him. We resorted to intimidation to convince him, but a failed check from Engong, merely made Donavich distrustful once more.
In the end, the only thing we could do was knock him out and tie him up – what any true heroes would do.
With the priest unconscious, we investigated the church, looking for anything that might be useful. We found nothing. We did discover the room where the screaming was coming from and saw a padlocked trapdoor. Using the paladin as a lockpick, we forced our way in and descended into the crypt below.
Baräsh rolled a natural 20 on his perception check and instantly saw a shifting shape in the shadows. He threw a javelin.
Our first vampire. It only took four sessions at two and a half hours each, but we finally got to face a vampire (spawn). Boy, were we not ready for this. Engong was still pretty hurt from fighting the wolves, I had used most of my spells slots and sorcery points, Baräsh had used all of his lay-on-hands convincing the priest to trust us (then we knocked him out and tied him up), and Gimble Timbers was still suffering the effects of the bad cheese.
After a full four rounds of combat it became abundantly clear that we had no way of killing this fiend, we had done a sizable amount of damage to it, but it just kept on regenerating. Kevon and Engong decided to make a hasty retreat, barring the trap door and waiting until they were back to full strength before returning to finish the job. Baräsh, however, was convinced that it was his destiny to kill this beast and Gimble Timbers wasn’t going to leave him down there alone. END
To be honest, I was glad not to be DMing this session myself, as there was no way of predicting where the party would go next, or who we might talk to. Feeling slightly guilty that I had talked our DM into running this as his first campaign, I could only hope that the material provided enough substance to go on. Fortunately, he was more than up to the task and didn’t seem to get too stressed as we bickered over where to go. He also managed to not make us feel railroaded at all. I know from experience that it can be really difficult to deliver the appearance of a sandbox location, even if you know exactly where you want the party to end up.
Highlights of this session included Gimble Timbers’ reaction to the wild magic surge, “Urgh I knew I shouldn’t have eaten that bad cheese!” and Henry the Modron, appearing and taking on a whole pack of wolves as we made our escape. There was also some interesting RP moments, deciding what should be done about the newly resurrected, and suspiciously nosferatu-looking Kevon.
Next week we have to decide if we’re going to continue struggling against the vampire spawn or try to escape the crypt and deal with the unconscious priest. I hope he isn’t too important an NPC in the campaign…