Session eight: If you go down to the woods today…
We continued the odyssey into Strahd’s realm last night, with our eighth online session. After last week’s sound quality issues, we seem to have finally gotten the hang of this Skype thing, and we started promptly, with no technical issues at all. Our Paladin’s prayers have been answered! What’s more, Baby Billy slept through the whole thing, not even Strahd himself could have woken him.
So far, since the campaign began, a lot has happened. You can read the previous session reports here.
First, we all met. Four strangers on a dusty road, we were attacked by an odd mist cloud that chased us into an unfamiliar village. Here, we met two ghost children and explored a haunted house. It was in this house that my character, Kevon the wild magic sorcerer, died, engulfed and consumed by a shambling mound. Kevon’s soul then found a new body and re-joined the paladin, fighter, and monk, amid much confusion and suspicion.
After leaving the ‘death house’, we met some of the locals and found we were in Barovia, a strange place that was under the thrall of a vampire lord, the ‘Devil Strahd’, and we could not leave. An encounter with a vampire spawn in a church, and an old lady selling ‘local’ [children] pasties later, and we had agreed to help brother and sister Ireena and Ismark bury their recently deceased father, the town’s ex-Burgomaster. For that we would need the priest, but he had fled into the woods following a battle in his church.
We eventually found the missing Donavich, and saved him from some witches, only to be ambushed by Strahd Von Zarovich himself. The dread vampire lord was keen to discover exactly who the latest adventurers to enter his realm were. He was not too impressed, and after a very one-sided battle, where he did all the damage, taking none himself, he left us with an invitation to join him for dinner. We were not keen to take him up on the offer.
After our ordeal, we returned with the priest to Ireena and Ismark, and helped to bury their father. We agreed to go with them both to Vallaki, where it is hoped that Ireena will be safe from Strahd. Whilst there, Donavich the priest has requested that we procure a relic from the local church and bring it back so that he can re-consecrate his own church in Barovia.
The Journey Begins
Our adventurers are:
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, competitive and feisty, wearing a top hat and eye-patch
Engong – Half-Orc Monk, not a ‘people person’, taciturn, really fast, knocks people out
Baräsh –Dragonborn Paladin, pious and convinced of his own self-righteousness, very stupid
Kevon – Tiefling Wild Magic Sorcerer – paranoid, depressed, and recently undead, played by me
“Vallaki is two days travel from here” said the priest. “However, I think it would be safest for you all in Krezk insteasd at the abbey of St. Markovia. But if you must go to Vallaki, please return with something with which I can restore my church.” The party agreed to Donavich’s request and then the conversation turned to Ireena, and keeping her protected and away from Strahd. We would stand up and fight for her honour if needed, and she was grateful that someone in this world was willing to help. She shot a piercing glance at her brother. “You see Ismark, this is how true men behave.”
After some discussion about provisions for the journey, the party headed off for Vallaki. At this stage Kevon still had very little gear, his new body didn’t come with rations, and neither did Baräsh. This didn’t stop Gimble Timbers and Engong enjoying a second breakfast, consuming a quarter of the party’s food supply in the process. Ismark told us it is possible to forage for game in the woods around Barovia, but perhaps that isn’t such a bright idea, as we were about to find out.
Dark, foreboding skies and a heavy mist hung in the air as we set off, a streak of lightning and a clash of thunder then heralded a torrential downpour. Our DM was clearly enjoying the chance to use the weather and local environment to foreshadow our inevitable doom.
After an hour or so we came to a river spanned by an arching stone bridge. The monk, paladin, and fighter dashed down to the river to refill their water skins. I reminded them that we had only been travelling for a short while, but they continued anyway. As they refilled, Gimble Timbers noticed a large wolf and strange woman on the opposite bank doing the same thing. Baräsh being the friendly sort, waved and shouted, “Hello friendships.” The wolf and the woman looked up, turned around and slunk off into the woods. Kevon got worried and suggested the party turn back, but was convinced by a strong persuasion roll from Baräsh to carry on.
We crossed the bridge with little excitement. Save for the pious paladin deciding to smash the rows of gargoyles that adorn the ancient structure. Ismark was not happy that his town’s stony protectors were destroyed.
After the bridge, we let Ismark lead us along a trail that took us through the woods. He told us of the dangers of veering from the path. Imediately, Baräsh and Engong wanted to go into the woods and convert the wolves and monsters to aid us against Strahd. Ismark and Kevon were not keen. At this stage Ireena spoke up, “Ismark, we should do as they say and help the people here. It’s what a good Burgomaster would do.”
I could hear the DM laughing as we argued. Then, as if the mere suggestion wasn’t enough, he had Engong make a perception check to spot the dead tree blight off the woodland path. She saw it and ran to investigate. She reached it but could not discern what had killed it, and now we were all traveling off the path, making our way deeper into the woods.
Sure enough, Baräsh, who was in the lead, tripped and fell headfirst into a spiked pit. The monk and the gnome had just about managed to pull him half way out, when Kevon noticed a filthy druid, crawling along on all fours, speeding towards the party. “Oi” he shouted. The wild man stopped and laughed maniacally as numerous bundles of twigs and leaves began to animate around us.
Another battle with twig blights followed. This time, to make matters worse, we faced a crazy druid as well. It took two whole rounds for Gimble Timbers and Engong to pull Baräsh from the pit. By which time they had both taken some damage. Fortunately Ireena and Kevon were on hand to help out, each dealing enough damage to take out two blights. Leaving four blights and a cackling druid. Ismark had proved pretty useless so far, completely missing with his first attack and falling prone in the process.
Once he was out of the pit, Baräsh decided he wanted to take the druid alive and question him. He hit with a non-lethal blow, but it wasn’t enough to knock him out. Unfortunately for the paladin, when Kevon sent a scorching ray towards the wild man seconds later, he hit with all three beams doing 23 fire damage. This was enough to fatally wound the druid, and as he fell to the floor, vines and branches grasped at his scorched body and dragged him underground.
Combat over, Ismark and Gimble Timbers ran over to Kevon and, rather than thank him for saving the day, they begin lecturing him about fire safety. Finally, Baräsh agreed that we should probably stick to the path from now on, and so we headed off towards Vallaki once more.
Signs and Portents
After a short while, we came to a crossroads with an old wooden gallows. The road split in two and we saw a signpost. To the north was Tser Pool, to the east Ravenloft / Vallaki, and back where we came from Barovia. Ismark suggested that we take the north road via Tser Pool as it avoids the woods.
As we headed past the gallows, we noticed a body hanging and swaying in the wind, when previously there was none. Paranoid as ever, Kevon closed his eyes and fell to the floor in a ball like a hedgehog. Baräsh decided to investigate and quickly realized it was his own body that he could see hanging lifeless from the rope.
Engong also investigated and she saw a vision of herself hanging there. As she examined it more closely, the image reached out a half-orc hand and its eyes opened. Not sure what else to do, Engong clubbed the body with a stick, but as soon as she made contact it faded away and disappeared. “Huh,” she said, and walked away.
Apart from Engong, we all were a little unsettled by this and walked off in contemplative silence. The quiet was eventually broken when we rounded a corner and found ourselves approaching a number of brightly coloured Vistani tents that had music coming from them. Ismark and Ireena refused to go any closer, disdainful of the Vistani; but we were soon welcomed in and offered food and drink.
A tall man came over to our group and introduced himself as the leader. “It was foretold that you would come here,” he said. “Madame Eva said you would be here tonight. She sees the strands of fate as they weave together.” With that we were escorted off to a tent at the rear to be told our fortunes.
As we entered the tent we saw a hunched figure cradling a crystal ball. “At last you have arrived. Ha ha ha ha,” she said. Madame Eva then proceeded to recount our entire life stories to us, as if proving her clairvoyant authenticity. “Do you now wish me to unravel the strands of fate and reveal your future in this accursed land?”
We consulted each other to be certain of our response. “Sure,” we replied with scepticism.
She dealt out her Tarroka cards and began humming an odd mantra. “The devil has marked you out for sport,” she said. “Your souls are tainted, especially yours Kevon.”
“Oh, Great.” Kevon replied.
She picked her first card: “This is the History card it reveals knowledge of the Ancients. Ah, the Faceless God. It is at the end of a long winding road, deep in the mountains”.
Then came the second card: “This card represents a powerful force of good and protection. It is the Priest. What you seek will be found amid the ruins of a place of supplication.”
The third card: “The third card is of power and strength. It tells of a weapon of vengeance: a sword of sunlight.”
Card number four: “This card sheds a light on one who will help you greatly in the battle against darkness. The DonJon; a young man surrounded by wealth and madness. He will be an ally if freed.”
Finally card five: “Your enemy is a creature of darkness, whose power is beyond mortality. This card will lead you to him. The Dark Lord, he lurks in the depths of darkness, in the pace he must return to.”
As she drew out and read the last card, she slumped to the table exhausted. She then looked up, told us all to leave and said that perhaps we would find another who can help us. And with that, we left the tent. Our minds filled with wonder and dread, and swirling with thoughts about what this could all mean. We met Ireena and Ismark and left the Vistani camp. As we passed, we heard a mumbling from the group that had gathered by the fortune-teller’s tent, “They don’t look so great. The last party that came through had a powerful wizard and look what happened to them.” END
Another really fun session, but this time there was only one combat encounter. Usually when I plan a session it is all around the combat and the roleplay sits in between, but this campaign requires a totally different approach. Last night one battle was more than enough and we will all be waiting impatiently to see what happens next week.
Going into this game, we all knew that Madame Eva played a massive part of the Curse of Strahd story and so we were excited to have our characters meet her, not that we understood any of her predictions. As ever our DM’s interpretation was spot on and this was one of the more memorable and unusual encounters so far. How will we use those readings and predictions in our attempt to leave this place and battle Strahd? Who knows…