Session 23: Yesterhill
Tensions began to mount as the mob crowded around Engong and Her Associates. Suddenly, a bottle was thrown through the air. It smashed on the ground loudly. Engong readied her fists, Gimble drew his short sword and Brundle turned into a wolf. But, just as violence was about to erupt, the celestial Abbot swept in and all eyes fell upon him. “PEACE! This is no place or time for fighting.” He turned to the adventurers. “I suggest if you have concluded your business, you leave this place.”
Last night was the 23rd session in my D&D group’s ‘Curse of Strahd’ campaign. We have been playing once per week over Skype and for the most part have managed to survive our time in vampire and horror suffused Barovia.
Although most of our group are familiar with Dungeons & Dragons, this is the first campaign any of us have played online. Prior to this we always choose to play in person, but our busy lives, growing families and general inability to plan anything meant we had to turn to the internet to accommodate our hobby. So far this is working out very well. And when Skype is not broken, we very rarely have any problems. We have even begun to tinker with streaming our games live on Twitch. Although for the time being we’re not quite ready to present ourselves to the wider community. This was evidenced last week when we forgot to begin streaming altogether, so if anyone was looking to watch us they are out of luck. Thankfully there are many others who far more competently share their games, such as Critical Role, Dice, Camera, Action! and Acquisitions Incorporated, to name three of the most prominent. But, hopefully, one day soon we will join the many hundreds of other groups proficiently sharing their ‘actual play’ D&D games.
Meanwhile, back in Barovia, we had just completed our mission to save our fighter’s withered arm and so had some decisions to make as the where to head next. Our company has been joined by a non-player character (NPC) called Victor. He is a teenage wizard, and the son of someone we have previously killed. So far he has only been useless and annoying. Perhaps this week his presence would prove more beneficial?
Engong and Her Associates
Engong – Half-Orc Monk, pyromaniac, our leader, not a ‘people person’;
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, dapper, artificial arm, has a pet mastiff called Kevon;
Baräsh – Dragonborn Paladin, Oath of Vengeance, revived by the spirit of St. Andell;
Brundle Swash – Gnome Druid, disheveled, hungry, turns into a bear;
Kosef – Human Rogue, impatient, unpredictable, played by me;
Victor – Human Teenage Wizard-in-Training, keen to join our group, has issues. NPC
The Burgomaster’s cottage had gotten rather cramped, but thankfully the Abbot’s arrival had calmed the situation, and the mob began to disperse. The Abbot turned to speak to Engong. “My Lady, if you know of the location of a dress suitable for our upcoming ceremony please do share this information. I can then arrange for its collection. I know you must have business of your own to attend to.”
Engong looked blankly at the Abbott. Social interactions were not her forte…
We began session 23 with no clear direction or main goal. So what came next was a twenty minute debate on what to do. We discussed returning to Vallaki to collect a wedding dress we’d seen at the ex-Burgomaster’s mansion (the Abbott needed this dress as part of a peace-offering to Strahd). We thought about investigating some of the prophecies Madame Eva had given us about finding weapons to defeat Strahd. We considered searching for a relic to take back to Barovia for Father Donavich. But eventually we decided to head for the Wizard of Wines winery to help Davian Martokoff retrieve a stolen magical gem from some druids in Yesterhill.
From his time among the druids Brundle Swash was able to recount what he knew of their plans. They were going to use the three stolen gems in an arcane ritual at Yesterhill to summon Winter Splinter. At this stage we didn’t know what that meant.
Our plan was to go to the winery, return Davian’s wagon and head off on foot to Yesterhill, which was only a couple of hours travel northward. Once we had dealt with the druids in Yesterhill, we were to return to Vallaki, where we would meet Anna Kreskova (wife of the Burgomaster of Krezk) and escort her and a wedding dress back to Krezk. It seemed like a straightforward plan. But then it always does.
Note: Whenever I DM, I always enjoy the time my players spend making plans. Usually this is because I know what is really going to happen. Last night, as we discussed our goals I could see a very familiar smile on our DM’s face and knew that he was enjoying this for exactly the same reason.
To the winery
The next day we set off for the winery. Baräsh surprised us all by rolling the highest animal handling check and so took charge of the horse and wagon. Gimble rode Kevon alongside, while the rest of us sat inside the vehicle, Victor our teenage magician and newest recruit sat among us.
On the journey to the winery Kosef and Brundle decided to try and see how much magic the newest member of Engong and Her Associates wielded. We did this by throwing ball bearings at him to see if we could elicit a reaction. For a good while Victor resisted our taunts, but eventually his patience broke and he cast Mage Hand, grabbed the bag of ball bearings and tossed it out of the cart. I was both pleased and annoyed at this. Pleased to have seen him perform some actual magic; but annoyed that I had to jump out of the cart, pick up the bag from the mud – it hadn’t spilled its contents – then jump back in. Luckily for me, as a rogue I am doubly proficient in acrobatics.
Not long after, we arrived at the Wizards of Wines. We were met by Davian Martokoff who was happy to see us return to deal with the druids in Yesterhill. He was also worried that he hadn’t heard anything from his family in Vallaki, but there was little we could do about that, so we noted it for later and headed off on foot for Yesterhill.
Pass without a trace
As we set off, a storm broke around us, no doubt the DM foreshadowing our impending doom. There was heavy rain, lightning, thunder, and a wall of fog that closed in around us as we reached Yesterhill where the druid encampment was.
As we began climbing, we noticed odd markings that circled the hill in concentric ring formations. There were also many ten foot tall cairns dotted along the landscape. Brundle used his knowledge of nature to investigate, and recognized them as century’s old burial mounds, probably belonging to long forgotten warriors. Fearful that the warriors would rise up at any moment, we felt the tension mount. A flash of lightning illuminated a monument made of slabs of rock 100 feet in the distance, at the crest of the hill. We assumed this was where the druids would be. At this point we realized Victor was missing. However, a keen insight check from Engong revealed he had just made himself invisible and was still with us, silently silhouetted by the rain.
Gimble Timbers decided now was a good time explore on his own and began tracing one of the rings around the hill. He came to a spot where four druids stood around a decaying tree. It was covered in a viscous black oil that seemed to be flowing outwards. This was enough to unnerve the gnome and so he left the area and tried to find the rest of the party. Unfortunately for him, in his absence Brundle Swash had cast Pass Without a Trace on the rest of us and we had all rolled stealth checks of 18 or higher.
While Gimble Timbers searched the hill for us, we made our way to the top. Another flash of lightning illuminated a giant wicker statue just beyond the crest. We could also hear human voices chanting through the ominous thunder crashes and the sounds of the pouring rain.
The giant statue must have been 50 feet tall and appeared to be made of tightly packed twigs and tree branches. The wind howled through the gaps and a second lightning strike lit up the area. It revealed the true nature of the wooden monolith. There could be no doubt about it, this was a giant wicker Strahd.
We stared silently as the storm continued to hammer down around us. After a second or two our vision adjusted to the gloom and we saw a lone figure at the foot of the statue. His cloak billowed in the wind as he sat atop a brightly lit horse. Brundle’s spell must have worked because the figure didn’t seem to notice us. After a few more seconds the horse, a nightmare, began to rise up from the ground as if cantering off into the sky. Within moments it had reached the pinnacle and continued going until both horse and rider were just a faint sparkle in the foreboding stormy skies.
Another strike of lightning lit up Yesterhill and revealed a glowing gem in the center of the structure. “Victor,” whispered Kosef. “Can you see that gem?”
“Yes,” came the reply. “Go get it.”
Still invisible and eager to impress, Victor quickly scrambled down from the verge to the foot of the statue. He looked up and could see the gem glowing vibrantly within, but before he could reach for it there was another crash of lightning. This time it hit the wicker Strahd and the giant structure exploded, throwing Victor fifteen feet back. Suddenly, where the wooden monolith had stood, there was now a thirty feet tall twisted oak tree with branching wooden arms and legs and a face that stared down at Victor with an evil glee.
Baräsh and Engong both readied themselves to dash down the hill after their fallen comrade. But they were shocked to see Kosef dive down first. He landed where Victor’s now visible form rested. The rogue crawled over the young mage’s body like a protective shield as the giant tree lifted its enormous trunk-like left leg and began to stomp towards them. The chanting continued. END
Ahh! Another cliff-hanger ending; and I have no idea how we’ll get out of this one. I surely can’t have a character die AGAIN!
Last week I wrote that we couldn’t possibly have another whole session without combat. I was wrong. This did not matter, however, as this was one of the most fun sessions to play so far. There were lots of interactions and role-playing and our stealth mission in Yesterhill was really tense. I think I can confidently say that we definitely won’t have four consecutive combat-free games. If next week doesn’t begin with the words ‘Roll Initiative!’ I will be very surprised.
My favorite moment of this session came as we traveled to the Wizards of Wines winery. After seeing evidence of his magic, we decided to let Victor officially join Engong and Her Associates, but only as an unpaid apprentice. This got us talking about what would happen to the company if we all died leaving only Victor alive. It was decided that in that event, Kevon the mastiff would become the new CEO and Victor would get a promotion from apprentice to trainee – still unpaid.
Once again we streamed the session live on Twitch, we have been using our gnome fighter’s account. We even managed a whole three viewers! In the not too distant future we plan on setting up a dedicated D&D channel just for Engong and Her Associates, so you don’t have to trawl through lots of Battlefield videos. First, however, we need to come up with a good name for our channel. We’re just hoping that all the best ones haven’t already been taken…