Session 18: We’re Off to See the Wizards…
As the heroes crossed the fields to the south, Vallaki burned behind them. Thick black clouds billowed up from the town in immense pillars that pushed back the sky. Engong and Her Associates felt no guilt. They had done their duty, freed the town of its oppressive regime and destroyed some of Strahd’s monstrous pawns in the process. Now they could set off on the next stage of their adventure.
Last night’s session in my Dungeons & Dragons group’s continuing adventures saw us finally leaving the town of Vallaki—or what was left of it. We have been playing “Curse of Strahd,” D&D’s fifth edition gothic horror campaign, and have so far really enjoyed the experience, in spite of the ever-present terror and fear of imminent death.
In this session we walked along a winding mist-covered brick road, met a tin-plated revenant, fought some brainless scarecrows, and finally reached our destination at the Wizards of Wines vineyard. All that was missing was a timid lion and some ruby-red slippers; we certainly weren’t in Kansas, that was for sure.
Our previous visit to Barovia ended with us accidentally burning down a town and so we figured things couldn’t get much worse, and for once they actually didn’t—well not yet anyway…
Engong and Her Associates
Engong: Half-Orc Monk, taciturn, really fast, not a “people person”;
Gimble Timbers: Gnome Fighter, inquisitive, wearing a top hat and eye-patch, has a pet mastiff called Kevon;
Baräsh: Dragonborn Paladin, Oath of Vengeance, stupid and self-righteous, revived by the spirit of St. Andell;
Kosef: Human Rogue, mysterious, sarcastic, acrobatic assassin, played by me.
Brundle Swash: Gnome Druid, dishevelled, enigmatic, turns into a bear ABSENT;
Kevon: Tiefling Wild Magic Sorcerer
The party soon came to an old stone bridge and began to cross. Baräsh, Gimble Timbers, and Engong paid little attention to the dark figure approaching from the other side, but Kosef’s roguish instincts took hold and he dashed into the shadows to hide. Lord knows where Brundle Swash had gone off to, but Kosef was confident he would catch up in time.
The figure they met on the bridge turned out to be an armor-clad revenant. Our dragonborn paladin was very excited by this—especially as that player had just introduced one in his own home-brew campaign. But in our game the revenant didn’t seem to be interested in us at all. Nonetheless, Kosef stayed hidden in the trees and waited for the all clear from the others.
At one stage it looked like the revenant was going to get aggressive, but Baräsh was able to pacify him, proving that he was friendly by casting Shield of Faith on the dread knight. When he did this, we all dropped our heads into our hands, convinced that our dumb paladin had just given a boon to a potential enemy. But thankfully he took the gesture very well and allowed us to pass, giving us some words of warning about aiding Strahd and crossing the followers of House Argin Vost.
“Tell me,” he said, “are you here to fight against the devil?”
“No Tin-Man, I am here to destroy the devil,” replied Baräsh.
“Then you should visit my master in Argin Vost Mansion. He could aid you. Be careful though, the agents of the devil are always abroad. And if you ever do anything to aid Strahd, my order will cut you down.”
After this, the revenant left muttering about the party’s inevitable doom and misery, his armor squeaked and clanked loudly as he walked away. Kosef climbed down from his tree and re-joined the group. “OK, what did I miss?”
Follow the yellow-brick path
The party made its way along the old Savalich road towards where we were told the Wizards of Wine vineyard was located. Our aim was to get there before nightfall, when the fiends and ghouls and dark inhabitants of Barovia all come out to prey. It was at this point that the gnome asked, “Why are we going there again?” and we had to roll some history and intelligence checks to see what we actually remembered. We really should have taken better notes!
After some good rolls we knew that we had been asked to investigate the Wizards of Wines by tavern-owner Irwin Martokoff. He was concerned that he hadn’t received his latest delivery and that his family who lived and worked there might be in trouble. Knowing Barovia as we did, trouble would probably be right.
Now that we had remembered where we were going and why, we continued on our journey. Not long after the revenant incident, we came to a signpost that had snapped in the wind and lay broken across the path. It had five markers that pointed in different directions, so we had to try to work out which way we should go. It took us a couple of minutes to solve the puzzle—pointing the arrow that read “Vallaki” along the path we had just traveled was a good start. Our DM smiled as we passed this very basic intelligence test—it was the first one in 18 sessions that we got right!
As the party traveled along the yellow brick path, we heard howling and noticed a group of wolves had begun following us, tracking alongside us in the woods. Kosef rolled an insight check to see if they posed a threat. He rolled a two. They were definitely a threat.
Thankfully, high perception rolls from the others meant that they party did not all panic. As we traveled on, the wolves kept up with us until we approached a clearing in the trees where we discovered the remains of a past battle. Here, the trees and shrubbery grew through ancient skeletons half buried in the ground. Gimble Timbers and Baräsh investigated and saw the same markings on their rusted armor that the revenant had, a silver dragon in flight. At this point the wolves around us began to howl and we decided to run.
Suddenly, the mist thickened and closed in around us and the temperature dropped. Gimble Timbers lit a torch, but the moisture in the air hung around the flames and it quickly fizzled out. It was at this point that our DM asked us to remind him of our passive perception scores. This was not a subtle action and we knew something was about to happen.
Sure enough, the mist lifted slightly, but Engong was the only one to notice the scarecrow standing just in view on the road ahead. Its stare was fixed upon the party and its eyes were a deep malevolent black in front of an empty brainless head. Engong saw that its guts were dead ravens, spilling out of a flesh-colored stomach sack and its long twisted fingers were rusty knives, red with dried blood.
As Engong took it in, three more foul scarecrows found sentience and shuffled into view. “Hmm,” she said, and then alerted the rest of the party, as all four scarecrows stumbled forward along the path, shambling towards us and flashing their bladed claws.
Engong ran forward and thrust her lit torch in the malevolent face of the first scarecrow. At first it seemed that the head was formed of a hessian sack filled with straw, but as she closed in she realized it was made up of patches of human skin sewn together and filled with raven corpses. Nonetheless, the face began to smoulder as the fire from Engong’s torch licked at its rancorous features and smoke began to pour out of its eye holes.
Baräsh then charged at the second scarecrow using his Charger feature and dealt a large amount of damage. He let out a draconic roar.
The scarecrows moved in on their targets. The first attacked Engong, cutting slices from her shoulder. The second and third made for Baräsh, both attempting to unleash a wave of malevolence upon him, but his resistance was strong. The fourth met Gimble Timbers’ gaze and the gnome fighter became paralyzed by their terrifying stare, soiling himself in the process.
Kosef, checking for wolves, sensed no obvious movement from them and called for Kevon, Gimble Timbers’ trusty mastiff, to come to him, safely away from the melee. He then let loose a crossbow bolt that struck one of the scarecrows attacking the gnome.
The next few rounds of combat were quick and fierce and one by one we each fell to the scarecrows’ horrifying gaze. Eventually we all recovered and finished them off. Kevon the dog was safe, cowering behind Kosef, and Baräsh managed to save Gimble Timbers from a particularly desperate attack gaining inspiration in the process. “Tiny Man!” he yelled as he cleaved one of the scarecrows clean in two.
The Wizards of Wine
After the battle we hastily made our way along the path, fearful of the wolves and anything else our DM wanted to put us through. It wasn’t long before the thick wood through morphed into more arable land, making way to vineyards. But it was clear something was wrong. All of the vines were withered and dying.
Still catching their breaths from the encounter with the fiendish scarecrows, Engong and Her Associates stumbled upon their final destination. The Wizards of Wines vineyard was now in sight, although the landscape was riddled with decay and pestilence.
Ahead, a burly middle-aged man beckoned them away from the path, his long, white beard billowing fitfully in on the breeze. He frantically waved them to hurry forwards and introduced himself as Davian Martokoff, Irwin’s father. “Quickly, hide.” He said and ushered them into the shadows.
“From whom?” asked the dragonborn.
“The dark ones. The servants of the devil.”
Doing as he said, the party dashed into the undergrowth where eight others, all bearing the Martokoff family grimace, stood. A few minutes of hasty introductions and explanations passed. Davian told the party of the perverted druidic rituals that had blighted the lands and robbed him of his livelihood. Engong and Her Associates agreed to help the family just as a fierce lightning storm broke out. Terrible spears of fizzing electricity punctured the ground, illuminating the Martokoff’s winery and the dark shadows that moved around inside. END
For the first time since we started playing, we actually managed to get to where we planned to go without any real delays—apart from the scarecrow ambush. There were many moments when our DM tried to derail us or gave us the option of investigating something or taking another path, but we managed to stay on target.
Sadly, once again our Druid was absent last night, ironically enough he was attending a Fire Marshall training course with work. Hopefully he can share some of his newfound knowledge with us in future sessions to avoid us razing any more towns to the ground.
After the problems we’ve had with internet connections and a recent Skype update, we had decided that we would give Skype one last chance before we changed to another gaming platform. We’d even begun exploring which system to use and had each taken on the responsibility of investigating a different platform. But it wasn’t necessary. In fact, someone must have told the guys over at Skype HQ, because the session ran seamlessly. We haven’t had a game that had so little disruption. Afterwards we wondered why every session couldn’t be so good—even my eight-month-old son behaved himself.
Finally, for this session we actually started to play around with streaming on Twitch. We managed to get a whole 4 followers and 112 views—most of which were only for about 1 minute and could only see the gnome player’s PC desktop as we hadn’t set it up properly. This is very much the larval stage for our online development, but I think in the future we would like to share our sessions with the world and join the hundreds (if not thousands) of other groups streaming their Actual Play (AP) games.
Our paladin thinks we’re going to get internet famous…