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Curse of Strahd, session five: Is This How We Make Friends?
Last night was the fifth session in our online play through of Dungeons & Dragons’ gothic horror campaign Curse of Strahd. We have been playing over Skype, which is a first for each of us, and after a few teething issues we have just about got used to the platform. Playing online like this really works well for me as it means I can simultaneously be an intrepid adventurer, exploring unknown realms, whilst also being on call if my infant son requires me, which a couple of times last night he did.
The session picked up exactly where we left off, right in the midst of a battle with a vampire spawn. The previous session’s recap can be found here.
We were in a dark crypt below a church in Barovia, the stairs leading back to safety had been covered in a magical grease, the gnome fighter was feeling the effects of bad cheese poisoning, there was a wild magic storm going on. What’s more, our enemy hardly seemed to have suffered any damage at all.
We were on the ropes and things were not looking good. We had a whole week to consider our next move, but still didn’t know what to do.
It took a couple of minutes for the DM to re-acquaint us with the location and where we all were relative to our opponent. I suppose this is one of the drawbacks of the theatre of the mind approach; you really do rely on the DM keeping a close track of where everyone is, especially when you break mid-battle.
We also had to do a quick HP and remaining spell slots check. I think this was just to make sure we were all well aware of how bad a situation we had gotten ourselves into.
In the crypt below
Once more our party consisted of:
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, wearing a top hat and eye-patch, and feeling very sick;
Engong – Half-Orc Monk, sneaky, taciturn and really fast, down to 1 hit point;
Baräsh – Dragonborn Paladin, strong but stupid, no longer believes Kevon is his prophet;
Kevon – Tiefling Wild Magic Sorcerer, recently undead, played by me.
The vampire spawn acted first, crawling along the ceiling straight towards the tiefling at the foot of the stairs. His first attack was thwarted by a hastily cast shield spell, but even that wasn’t enough to deflect the second. But instead of going for the jugular, the fiend made a dash towards the exit, merely pushing Kevon down to the ground.
Baräsh dived towards it, swinging wildly with his hammer, but missed as it dodged out of the way. Then, as Kevon readied a firebolt, a surge of wild magic shot out causing the paladin to sprout wings from his back and begin to fly. “Think happy thoughts,” shouted Kevon as he tossed a firebolt towards the vampire.
From the other side of the crypt, 30 feet away, Gimble Timbers, still reeling from the effects of bad cheese poisoning, dashed towards the melee and stabbed the monster with his silver sword. Meanwhile, at the top of the stairs, Engong prepared to slam the trap door shut should the vampire spawn get any closer.
Within a single round of combat we had all jumped straight back into it, and we could see that this was going to be a long fight. Sure enough, it was. After three more rounds, we had just about managed to keep the vampire spawn at bay, but were running out of ideas. And we were running out of hit points too.
To make matters more complex, on each of my turns the wild magic surged again. This was the effect of rolling a two on the wild magic table at the end of the previous session, causing a surge on each of my turns for the next minute – 10 rounds of game time. These surges included ethereal music surrounding me, growing eight inches taller, and illusory butterflies and flower petals dancing around my head.
Engong spent the time avoiding the fight and yelling at the rest of us to escape, while Baräsh and Gimble Timbers valiantly battled against the vampire spawn, who seemed to heal instantly when we hit him.
In fact, it wasn’t until later in the fight that we realized both the paladin and I had attacks that could help to disable our foe. For instance, if I cast chill touch, although it wouldn’t deal a great amount of damage, it would prevent him from healing, leaving Baräsh to use his divine smite to deal additional radiant damage. Once we started using this combo, we became much more effective, getting past his regenerative abilities.
Eventually the monster rushed past us and out of the crypt. We followed, just in time to see him run towards Donavich, his father, whom we had previously knocked out and tied up. Baräsh, now flying at high speed, swooped past and got between the vampire spawn and his prey just in time to prevent him from feeding.
“What do you want?” said the dragonborn.
“I am waiting for my father,” was the reply, and we realized that the father he was talking about wasn’t the one in the room.
“Uh-oh!” shouted the tiefling from the other room, as seven magic missiles, the result of another wild magic surge, smashed into a dividing wall, sending bricks and mortar flying everywhere.
The wild magic storm was really having a considerable effect on the battle now, and we were really enjoying the randomness of what could happen. Especially when it summoned a modron to fight alongside us. This was the second time in the campaign Henry the modron had appeared during a fight due to a wild magic surge (it happened last session too) and already we can’t wait for the next time he appears to help us.
So this time, when I rolled on the table, and the DM read “you cast magic missile at 5th level,” we all cheered. But unfortunately Kevon was only in line of sight of allies, so the DM asked me to roll to see if I would hit one of them or the wall that stood between Kevon and the melee. Luckily it hit the wall, creating a large, smoldering hole.
Hearing the devastation, the priest woke up. Engong rushed over to him and explained the situation, but he wasn’t happy. “You come into my church. You attack me. You try to kill my son. You put giant holes in my walls. Is this how you make friends? You are truly servants of the devil!” Seconds later, the vampire spawn dived toward his father, past Baräsh. He grabbed him by the throat and tried to bite down hard on his neck. Perhaps now the priest would realize that we had to deal with the vampiric threat, no matter who he used to be. Fortunately the paladin was able to wrestle the vampire spawn from the priest before any real damage was done.
At this point our DM really threw a spanner in the works as a large rain-soaked man tumbled through the door, clearly drunk. Judging from his attire he was a Barovian noble and obviously worse for wear. He fell face down onto the floor, oblivious to the ongoing battle. Engong attempted to question him, whilst trying to convince him that he was Donavich’s replacement, but the drunk wasn’t having any of it, stating that he was in charge, and if there was a new priest he would know about it. This man was Ismark, the Burgomaster’s idiot son, whom we had heard about last session.
By now, the vampire spawn had taken a fair bit of damage and his wounds were no longer healing. So when the drunk blindly swung his greatsword at him, he somehow managed a critical hit and did enough damage to slay the vampire. Not only did this end the battle, but it also gave us a way out of looking guilty for both murdering Donavich’s son and destroying his church.
In the battle’s aftermath, and with a few solid charisma checks from the gnome and half-orc, we managed to convince the slowly sobering Ismark that he was partly responsible. So we cut the priest free, apologized for the mess and agreed to help deal with the body in the proper way.
Following a short funeral service, accompanied by some large black ravens, we agreed to help Ismark’s sister escape from the town. He told us his father had recently died and that he, Ismark, is now the Burgomaster of Barovia, but his sister Ireena is plagued by nightly visits from the devil. The paladin, who is being played in the most pious way possible, agreed to help and we left to go to Ismark’s house. Donavich, clearly still annoyed with us and visibly shaken by the ordeal, remained at the church.
As they walked away from the church, the party saw numerous ghostly spirits rise up out of the ground and start marching towards them. There were wizards and knights, heroes and maidens of all races, all making a solemn trek past, up towards the castle on the hill. Ismark spoke up, “Every night, the spirits of the dead rise and walk towards the devil in the castle. They are the ones who tried to stop him, but are trapped here for eternity.” The party is shocked to see a figure that looks like the vampire they just fought, Donavich’s son, and then Kevon begins to desperately search for his own body among the crowd, but alas he is not a part of the procession. END
Beware a grinning DM
It was clear to us throughout the session that our DM was enjoying himself. Every decision we made was greeted by a smirk, or a “you want to do what? Are you sure?” Never a good sign, even in my limited in my experience.
Eventually the party made its way to Ismark’s house and met his sister, who was having vampire troubles of her own. They promised to help them and in return they provided clothing and equipment, both of which Kevon had been severely lacking until then. By this point the party were all very much in need of a long rest and decided it would probably be safe to sleep here as long as they remained inside the house. Probably.
Until next time
Our DM now seems far more comfortable in his role and looks like he’s really enjoying running us through the story. Although I know he’s a little worried about exactly where we’ll go next as some of our actions have been fairly unpredictable.
Regardless, this was another great night of adventuring. It was more of an even split of roleplaying versus combat than usual, and we were more than ready for that long rest. I just hope that our night isn’t interrupted too much. What’s more, I was utterly convinced that we would have to run away from the vampire spawn; he seemed far more powerful than we were equipped to contend with. But with a little luck and some help from Henry the modron and a drunk NPC, we managed to escape the encounter.
We’ll just have to wait and see what happens next. I’m keen to see how our party is going to convince the priest and local townsfolk that we’re the good guys and are here to help, especially with Kevon in his present demonic/undead state. Also, in protecting Ismark and Ireena, I fear we may have made a promise which we cannot keep.