Session nine: I ain’t afraid of no ghosts…
Last night’s exciting session of our D&D Curse of Strahd campaign saw our party cross a bridge. That was it. It took two and a half hours. We started the session on time, there were no technical problems with Skype or the internet, or any interruptions from small wriggling angry people, but it still took us a whole two hours and a half to cross.
Think of all the things you can do in that time: you could cook and eat a three course meal; you could have two solid naps; you could watch Ghostbusters with 16 minutes to spare; you could drive 175 miles; you could cross 15 bridges. We didn’t do any of those things.
But we did have fun. It was a great session, and one in which our characters really faced the perils of Barovia.
Our DM had said before we began the session that he didn’t think the PCs were scared enough to be stuck in Strahd’s realm. So he had decided to “up the ante” a little bit, and was going to make us realize the gravity of our situation. I reminded him that my character, Kevon, was already in his second body, his first having been consumed in session three, and that we had only narrowly escaped Strahd two sessions earlier, but he still thought we needed reminding of the horror of Barovia. And so remind us he did.
After the reading
We began our session with the party on the Savalich Road heading towards Vallaki, having just had our fortunes told by Madame Eva. Traveling with the party were brother and sister Ismark and Ireena, adult children of the recently deceased Burgomaster of Barovia. We were accompanying them to Vallaki so that Ireena could escape from the vampire Strahd, we were also on a mission from a priest to collect a relic and return it to Barovia.
The party consisted of:
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, competitive and feisty, wearing a top hat and eye-patch;
Engong – Half-Orc Monk, taciturn, really fast, not a ‘people person’;
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.
After many hours of quick marching, the party passed a great waterfall and saw a vast canyon ahead. It was spanned by an ancient stone bridge that towered 150 foot above the ground. Gargoyles lined the bridge’s sides ominously staring into the abyss below, and it took some effort from the group to convince Baräsh not to destroy them. Night fell as the party began making its way across. Engong lit a torch and Gimble Timbers started to glow. Out of the silence, a soul-rending screech was heard that got louder as it echoed around the canyon, a damned soul howling into the darkness.
After the events of the previous two sessions, we were all keen to reach our destination for a long rest as soon as possible, but apparently our DM had other plans for us. Indeed it took us a while before we could agree to cross the bridge. Although it was by far the quickest route to Vallaki both Kevon and Ismark were concerned about how vulnerable we would be. In the end we agreed that it was better to light some torches (or cast thaumaturgy on the gnome to make him glow) and make a dash for it and arrive at Vallaki before the night really set in. Then we heard the screech and instantly regretted our decision.
The bridge spanned a good 200 feet, and we were a quarter of the way across when the scream went out. Baräsh turned and looked back and saw a ghostly apparition emerge through the bridge 40 feet behind us. The spectral form of a beautiful half-elf clad in ranger’s gear stared at us forlornly. Baräsh waved. “Hello Friendship,” he said.
The ghost wailed in reply and darted 10 feet closer. “Death comes to all in this domain. You cannot cross this path. Death comes to all.”
“That’s not very polite,” said the paladin. “I’m sure we can talk about this.”
“Death comes for all.”
Baräsh, sensing an opportunity asked, “What about Strahd? This is his domain. Will death come to the devil in his own lands?”
The ghost laughed, “Ha! Even the devil can be cast down. But not by you.”
Engong then chimed in, “Does that mean you know how to kill him?”
“What if I did?” replied the ghost. “It would be of no benefit to you. You cannot pass. You will not find the light that has eluded me.”
“Oh yeah, why not?” said Gimble Timbers, sensing a fight and stroking his longbow.
The ghost stalked slowly toward us. Staring directly at the gnome. “Because you shall all join me in the darkness of death.”
“I shall not,” he replied, and drew back his longbow. Baräsh also drew his weapon and began charging towards the ghost, now just 15 feet ahead of him. The ghost let out another terrifying screech and darted towards the dragonborn.
There could not be a more dangerous place for this battle to take place. We were 150 feet up on a fairly narrow bridge, with no safety railing and we were fighting an incorporeal enemy that could fly and move through solid stone. Even though there was six of us, the odds were not in our favour. Kevon, Ismark and Ireena had all stayed quiet during the interaction and were stood at the back of the group. I was just hoping that Kevon could stay as far away as possible from the ghost.
Baräsh rolled a natural 20 on his initiative roll and went first. Charging ahead, he pulled out his javelin and sent it flying forward. It hit, but didn’t seem to do a lot of damage. Engong acted next, jumping onto the five foot wall that ran the length of the bridge. She dashed along the ledge and attempted to hit it with her staff. She missed and swore loudly. Gimble Timbers then let loose an arrow from his longbow and hit the ghost, again dealing seemingly no damage. The ghost dived towards the dragonborn and tried to take possession of the paladin. Thankfully Baräsh made his charisma save and shook off the attack. Kevon was last to go and used his turn to run as far away as possible in the opposite direction to the ghost.
At the start of the next round Baräsh hit his foe with a Divine Smite from his hammer, dealing a total of 23 damage. This seemed to be fairly effective and the apparition screeched in anguish. Engong, feeling her pride had taken a knock on the previous round, did exactly the same thing this turn. She ran along the edge of the bridge and jumped towards the ghost, making her dexterity roll and hitting her enemy with a Flurry of Blows. Gimble Timbers, thinking his bow wouldn’t have much effect, dropped it and used his turn to draw his silver short sword and shield and made towards the melee.
On the ghost’s turn, it unleashed its Horrifying Visage. The image of the beautiful half-elf fell away and was replaced by a broken body, ripped and torn, its head disfigured and terrifying. We all had to save against becoming frightened and only the monk and Ireena succeeded. To make matters worse Kevon and Baräsh both seemed to age instantly with the shock of what they saw. Failing the check also caused disadvantage on attack rolls and saving throws while within sight of the ghost, and meant we could not move closer towards the source of our fear.
On Kevon’s turn a Wild Magic surge caused everyone within close proximity to him to suffer 10 necrotic damage. Only Ismark and Ireena were affected, and Ireena looked pretty worse for wear afterward. Then, glowing with newly siphoned necrotic energy, Kevon decided that the people around him were in danger and so ran to the end of the bridge. When he got there, he turned and sent a firebolt crashing towards the ghost, it hit dealing seven fire damage.
‘Bustin’ Makes Me Feel Good
Baräsh then swiped at the ghost with his hammer, but missed as he was still terrified beyond the capacity for rational thought. Engong attempted to rouse her companions from their terror by laughing at her foe, she then hit with her quarterstaff and channeled her Ki to perform an additional unarmed strike. Gimble Timbers stepped backwards towards the edge of the bridge, screamed at the ghost and failed his saving throw to beat the fear. At this point, Ismark picked up his wounded sister and ran toward the far end where Kevon stood. The ghost then attacked Engong with a Withering Touch, dealing 18 necrotic damage as the life force seeped out of her body. “Ahh, she slimed me!” shouted the monk.
Ismark, still carrying Ireena, made it to Kevon who held out a healing potion. “Give this to her, she needs it,” said the teifling, “Now DUCK!” he shouted as he sent a firebolt over their heads towards the ghost. It missed. Baräsh then made his save against being frightened, but missed his attack too. Thankfully Engong managed to hit it with a Flurry of Blows, while Gimble Timbers remained useless as he struggled with his terror. Ismark then fed the healing potion to Ireena and she immediately ran back towards the ghost.
The ghost was now very much on the ropes and as Ireena closed in, it melted downward into the bridge disappearing from sight. Baräsh saw this as a sure sign of victory and shouted with glee, “We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!” He then ran over to heal the monk. Gimble Timbers, still frightened, decided the best course of action was to destroy the bridge. Naturally Engong and Baräsh agreed. Thankfully, however, the DM reminded us that the bridge was an ancient stone structure that had stood for thousands of years and was massive, meaning it would need some effort to destroy, so we decided against it and collectively ran to the bridge’s end.
Gimble Timbers’ small size meant the gnome lagged behind the others and only made it half way when the ghost suddenly re-emerged in front of him. It screeched in his face, causing Gimble Timbers to stop in his tracks, still terrified of the apparition. The ghost attacked, hitting him for 15 necrotic damage. Then, in a rare act of heroism, Kevon dashed forward to aid the gnome, but sent his firebolt wide. Baräsh and Engong dashed back too and dealt some damage, whilst getting between the gnome and the ghost.
After the attacks, the ghost began to disappear once more. This time it was fading away rather than fleeing. As it did, it rose up into air above the party and cackled, “There is no escape from this land. You cannot escape, you will join the shadow,” and then it was gone.
As we caught our breaths, Ismark insisted we move on quickly, “We have tarried here too long already, we must leave now. Who knows what else awaits us?” We all agreed and headed off toward Vallaki.
Onward to Vallaki
Before too long we came within sight of our destination, having met some traveling Vistani along the way. They were looking for a lost girl named Arabel. This was the same lost girl whom we had been told was missing a few days earlier, and although we could not help them, they traveled with us, leaving only as we reached Vallaki.
There, a group of mean-spirited guards refused us entry, threatening to arrest us, to which Engong immediately threw herself onto the ground, deciding jail would be the safest place for us. But after Ismark made himself known to their superior, we were allowed to enter and headed for the nearest inn to spend the night.
As the party made their way from the town gates to the Blue Water Inn, a finely dressed gentleman approached with open arms and a somewhat manic bounce in his step. “Hello and welcome friends of Vallaki. Are you here for the festival? You must be here for the festival. Why else would you be here.” He laughed nervously. “Don’t forget to be cool, smile and be happy. I am Burgomaster Vargos. And on no account is anyone not to be happy. So be cool. See y’all tomorrow for the festivities.” He hopped off towards the town gate and they could hear more manic shouting as he left.
Not quite sure what to make of this, the party entered the tap-room and were greeted by a traditional looking inn with a lively atmosphere. They were welcomed by a large jovial landlord, offered soup and wolf steak, and for the first time in a while felt content and looked forward to a long, peaceful night’s sleep. END
Sessions like this remind me of why I think Dungeons & Dragons is so much fun. As the DM you have the power to make anything happen, from the mundane to the extraordinary. And sometimes, it’s the mundane which gets the best reactions. If you have a good group that really gets into the spirit, something as simple as crossing a bridge can become extraordinary.
Amazingly, the first roll of the night was a natural twenty, sadly for us this was by far our best roll, and we could have done with that extra luck a bit later in the session. The encounter with the ghost certainly showed us that there are more perils in Barovia than Strahd alone, and that even when the odds are seemingly in our favour, it was six against one after all, no battle will be as simple as it seems. Fortunately for us the ghost wasn’t able to possess anyone, if it had there would have been nothing to stop it from simply walking the possessed body off the edge of the 150 foot high bridge to its doom. Perhaps that’s what our DM had planned all along?