Session 24: Winter Splinter
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 body lay. The rogue crawled over the young mage and spread himself, forming a protective shield, as the giant tree creature lifted its enormous trunk-like left leg and began stomping towards them. The eerie chanting continued.
Last night my Dungeons & Dragons group played the 24th session in our ongoing ‘Curse of Strahd’ campaign, and we spent the whole time fighting a giant, evil, animated tree. The session lasted the usual two hours and suffered some technical hitches, but it still delivered an epic battle that we all really enjoyed, and that managed to include a few surprises for us all.
‘Curse of Strahd’ is Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition’s version of a classic gothic horror campaign set in and around the infamous Castle Ravenloft in the province of Barovia. The players begin by finding themselves transported via strange mists to an unknown land they cannot escape from, and are then dogged and marked for sport by evil vampire overlord Strahd Von Zarovich.
Since arriving in Barovia, our group has managed to survive two encounters with Strahd, as well as many battles against wolves, ghosts, scarecrows, hags, and angry townsfolk. We have also helped install a new town leader in neighboring Vallaki, before accidentally burning most of the town to the ground. As well as that, we saved a winery from evil druids; had our fortunes read by the mysterious Madame Eva; and have generally upset a lot of people.
Last week we headed back to the Wizards of Wines winery to help vintner Davian Martokoff restore his winery to business after the aforementioned druid infestation. This required us to search for the druids we had previously scared off and to retrieve a stolen magical gem than would help the land to flourish, thus making the growing of luscious grape vines possible once more. We found the druids. However, they just had finished using the gem to power an evil ritual to bring something called Winter Splinter to life.
It turned out Winter Splinter was a 35 feet tall, evil, animated tree blight that did not seem to be too friendly, and so as we began this week’s game we were excited to return to Barovia to see how it all played out.
Engong and Her Associates
Engong – Half-Orc Monk, pyromaniac, leader, not a ‘people person’;
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, very dapper, fake 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 wind and rain battered the faces of Engong and Her Associates as they stared in horror as the enormous tree-creature stomped and thrashed forwards. Lightning stuck the crest of Yesterhill illuminating the ten or so hooded figures on the far side of the clearing.
Engong could just about make out Kosef lying in the mud at the tree’s gnarled feet. She had no idea where Victor had gone, hopefully he managed to make it to safety. Although knowing Victor he was almost certainly in more trouble than he should be.
Gimble Timbers instinctively shouted to Kevon, his trusty mastiff, to find safety and hide. Brundle Swash thought this was a good idea, but fought against his better judgement and stood beside Engong, Baräsh and Gimble Timbers, weapons drawn, ready to do whatever needed to be done.
As I suspected, this session began with the two words that bring the most excitement to any D&D player. And we were in a situation that seemed impossible to survive. Kosef and Victor were lying in the mud at the giant tree’s feet, the rest of the party standing above us at the edge of a dip in the hill’s peak, and an unknown amount of druids and tribal warriors were standing behind the tree ready to attack. Things looked bad for Engong and Her Associates.
But a glimmer of hope appeared in the first roll of the night. Kosef got a natural 20 on his initiative roll, the first critical roll for any of us in a number of sessions and my first role of the night. Lucky for us, the dice were with us throughout the session and there were a few more criticals to come.
The battle begins
As the first to act Kosef whispered to Victor, “Can you make us both invisible?” “Yeah sure,” came the reply. Victor cast the spell and the two of them disappeared. Kosef directed them towards the edge of the clearing away from the giant tree monster. This seemed like a really clever idea, although I hadn’t realized that this tree blight had tremorsense (a kind of radar), and so being invisible made absolutely no difference. But at least we felt safer.
Engong was next to act, “What is going on?” she yelled. She dashed away from the circle and prepared to dodge if the tree branches begun swinging her way.
After Engong, it was Baräsh’s turn. He cast the spell ‘Summon Steed’, and for the first time since arriving in Baroiva prepared to mount his trusty golden horse. However, being suffused with evil and malice, Barovia can have an odd effect on such spells, and instead his steed took the form of a giant wolf spider. Unabashed, Baräsh leapt onto the many-legged beast and readied himself to charge the tree.
Next it was Brundle Swash’s turn. He took a moment to check his knowledge of giant animated trees. A high roll meant he knew lots: they had no particular weakness, were very evil, and didn’t rely on sight to perceive their surroundings. He then cast Moonbeam on the tree and stunning jet of radiant energy shone down directly into the blight’s gaping maw.
Last of the party to act was Gimble Timbers, he was confused by the whole situation, and the moonbeam that Brundle had just cast on a giant sentient tree was possibly the most magical thing he’d ever witnessed. He took aim at the tree using his Sharpshooter ability. The attack hit and dealt 20 points of piecing damage. Then, as Gimble is a fighter and has a second attack ability, he loosed another arrow at the enemy and used on of his manoeuvres to hit with a ‘goading attack’. The arrow hit and did a further eight damage and gave the tree blight disadvantage on all attack rolls until the end of his next turn.
Then it was the turn of the tree blight, Winter Splinter. It let out a loud, earthy, booming roar, like a tree creaking and falling to the ground, as it was scorched once more by the powerful moonbeam. It took six radiant damage and strode out of the circle, toppling an ancient burial cairn in the process. Kevon the dog ran for cover as the druids and wild barbarians on the far side of the clearing made a phalanx to prevent us from fleeing past. Now Winter Splinter could attack. A massive branch swung down at Gimble Timbers dealing 16 bludgeoning damage in spite of the disadvantage. A grasping vine then sprang out from the tree and caught Brundle Swash, grappling the gnome easily.
We managed to survive the first round without taking too much damage and thought we were doing well. But, by the end of the second round things had changed slightly. Brundle Swash took some damage from the grasping vines and lost concentration on his Moonbeam; Engong managed to miss the tree with three out of four punch attacks and took an angry branch to the face in retaliation; Baräsh hit with a divine strike but missed his second attack, and was grappled by the vines; Kosef and Victor just managed to scramble to the edge of the circle, dodging attacks from branches; and finally, Gimble Timbers made another sharpshooter attack hitting the tree and taking eight bludgeoning damage from another wild branch.
On top of all this, the six berserker warriors all began to swarm around Baräsh, half of them making contact with their giant axes, as the druids behind them sent tangled vines and balls of flame into the fray.
By the end of this round two of us were grappled by vines, one was knocked prone, and the rest were all facing thick thrashing branches. Our DM was grinning, possibly enjoying this more than we were, and our chances of victory looked bleak.
It was about this time that the stream crashed. One by one each of us dropped the connection to Skype, leaving only the swirling loading wheels of death where our faces should have been. It couldn’t have come at a more tense moment, but it was resolved quickly and within five minute we were up and running again.
Once we re-joined the call we started to have a bit more luck with a couple of good rounds where we all managed to do some pretty significant damage to our enemies. In fact, by the end of the sixth round of combat we had dealt with most of the berserkers and the druids, and Winter Splinter looked fairly worse for wear.
Our good fortune soon took a turn for the worse however, as Brundle Swash received a fierce tree branch to the head and was knocked unconscious. Seeing the druid taken down, Victor turned and fled the battle, cowering behind a large rock with Kevon the dog. This was a shame as the apprentice wizard had done a good amount of damage with his cone of cold spells.
Engong then stood up to the plate, until now her strike rate for attacks couldn’t have been higher than 45% success, but this was all about to change as she hit Winter Splinter four times in a row with some devastating results. The first punch was a critical hit – our fourth of the evening – and stunned Winter Splinter, whilst doing double damage. Then came a flurry of blows, a punch, a kick, and a headbutt, that chipped away at the tree’s thick brackish hide. Finally Engong connected with a ki empowered super punch. Winter Splinter failed its dexterity saving crashed backwards, falling prone.
With the tree on the ground, we moved in to take the combat advantage. Over the next two rounds I managed to hit with two sneak attacks, each dealing over 20 points of damage. Baräsh used up the last of his spell slots to deal two divine strikes, lighting up the tree. Gimble peppered it with crossbow bolts and Engong continued punching, kicking and butting the fallen tree.
Dead all along?
It was at this stage, as I had kept track of the initiative order, that I realized our DM had missed out Winter Splinter’s turn. For a second I considered reminding him, but quickly thought better of it, knowing that it would mean we’d get in a whole extra round of attacks before he could fight back. Another round of crossbow bolts, sneak attacks, Ki empowered punches against the tree followed. At this point Engong too realized that the tree hadn’t acted for a while and came to an upsetting conclusion: It was already dead.
Had we been wailing on a dead tree? If so for how long?
Sure enough, as our DM grinned devilishly across our screens, we all knew that this was the case. In fact Winter Splinter had lost the rest of its hit points as it fell to the ground from Engong’s super punch. We had just been too busy enjoying the combat to notice!
Engong took a deep breath and wiped the sweat from her brow. Gimble Timbers walked up to her and peeled back his carillion eye-patch to get a better view of the fallen tree monster. It was definitely dead.
Kosef ran over to stabilize Brundle, who was faltering from his severe knock to the head. He helped the gnome back to consciousness and together they began striking at the bark, digging into the heart of the tree. After a few seconds they had chipped away enough to show a purple radiance emanating from within. Barash stepped forward, drew a deep breath and let loose his draconic heritage. His lightning breath struck the tree, breaking its hold and free the glowing gem. END
I cannot believe we spent over half an hour attacking a dead tree. We should have realized when it wasn’t fighting back. Our DM had even hinted to us as much when Gimble Timbers asked if it looked bloodied at all. He simply replied “he looks like a tree than has fallen over.” Also, I think we really missed a trick by not having the gnome fighter shout “Timbers!” as the tree fell…
Having ended last week’s session on a cliff-hanger – Winter Splinter was stomping towards two of our party who were cowering beneath his mighty feet – we were excited to return to Barovia to see how this session played out. And it did not disappoint. In spite of the technical difficulties, we all really enjoyed this session and are looking forward to whatever comes next.