Engong sighed and wiped the sweat from her brow. Gimble Timbers walked up to her and peeled back his gem-encrusted eye-patch to get a better view of the fallen tree monster. It was definitely dead. Kosef ran over to stabilize Brundle. Together they began striking at the bark, digging into the heart of the tree. Baräsh stepped forward, breathed in deeply, and let loose his draconic heritage. His lightning breath struck the tree, breaking its hold and freeing the magical glowing gem from within.
Session 25 in our online Dungeons & Dragons “Curse of Strahd” campaign was short and to the point. Literally. Due to unexpected work commitments, childcare issues, and technical glitches, our normal two-and-a-half-hour Skype session was cut to just one hour. Our DM still managed to pack in a whole load of stuff into such a short time though. Including setting up a meeting with Strahd himself!
We hadn’t met Strahd Von Zarovich, the “big bad” of this campaign, since session 13 when he killed my first character and decimated the rest of the party. Naturally, we weren’t in a hurry to bump into him any time soon. Now, we obviously know that as the source material we’re playing from is called “Curse of Strahd,” he’s a pretty important part of the story–possibly even pivotal—but if we can avoid meeting him, we probably will. Especially seeing as, right now, we are all very low on hit points, have no spells or abilities, and are in desperate need of a long, peaceful sleep.
In the last session our party, Engong and Her Associates managed to take down a giant tree blight called Winter Splinter and rescue a magical gem from some druids. Now, our mission was to take said magical gem to the Wizards of Wines winery to reunite it with its owner.
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, pious, 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, has issues, NPC.
As the heat of battle began to cool, Engong and Her Associates started to compose themselves. A quick investigation of the area didn’t turn up anything exciting. Victor explored one of the toppled cairns and only found some rusty armor and a pewter amulet of no real value. Although Brundle Swash didn’t believe him and was convinced he was hiding something else, he stayed quiet, deciding instead to observe the apprentice wizard closely.
Baräsh had captured one of the barbarians and had bound him by the fallen tree. He walked over to Engong to discuss what should be done and didn’t notice Kosef sneak up to the restrained warrior. Kosef began interrogating him. “Where are the other gems!?” he shouted. No response. “Where are the other gems!?” Still no response. “Where are the other gems!?”
This time the barbarian lurched forward, his hands and body still bound. He tried to headbutt the rogue, but he was quicker. For Kosef, seeing his prisoner attempt an attack was cause enough. He was sure they wouldn’t get anything sensible from the barbarian and so in one quick movement drew his dagger and slashed against the warrior’s throat, spilling his blood onto the ground.
Baräsh saw this and was not impressed.
Dissent among the ranks
This was an interesting start to session 25. After a whole two-and-a-half hours of combat last week, we went right into some pretty serious role-playing. Baräsh was furious that Kosef had killed his prisoner and was convinced this was an evil act. Kosef, on the other hand, felt he had done nothing wrong; after all the barbarian had tried to kill him twice: during the battle and after.
Engong had to mediate between the two and was clearly undecided herself; Gimble Timbers didn’t really care one way or the other and neither did Brundle Swash. It looked like Engong was siding with Baräsh; perhaps this wasn’t the right thing to do. But, as we argued over actions and alignment and whether this was the right course of action, we heard a battle horn off in the distance and decided the argument could wait until later. For now we had to get back to the winery, return Davian’s gem, and hopefully take a long, well-needed, rest.
The winery was just over an hour’s travel from where we were, and as we made our way there we could still hear the occasional blast of a horn in the distance. Poor perception checks all round meant we couldn’t discern from which direction the horn sounds came. As we upped our speed, Victor who had been unusually quiet since the battle with Winter Splinter mentioned a rumor he’d heard about the ghosts of long lost armies roaming the countryside. We decided we didn’t want to run into an army of ghosts and so picked up the pace.
Brundle Swash, who had by now been keeping a close eye on Victor for some time, rolled an insight check to see if he was hiding anything. He rolled a 1 and decided everything was fine and Victor no longer required any close monitoring.
A nightmare scenario
As we got closer to the winery, we heard the horn blow once more. This time it seemed louder and closer than before. We upped the pace. Our DM was smiling mischievously.
We were less than five minutes from the winery when we saw on the horizon an odd light emanating from our destination. We assumed it was a fire of some sort, but there was no smoke. Gimble Timbers rolled a perception check to see if he recognized the visual effect. He did. It was similar to the light that radiated from the fiery horse we saw a couple of sessions earlier. Very similar.
We were sure this fiery horse was a Nightmare–a fiendish, evil, dark, horse with flames flowing from its hooves and mane–and the only person likely to be riding one of these in Barovia was Strahd. On realizing our peril, we left the path and ducked into the cover of the trees around the winery to discuss our options. We were worried that Davian may need our help, but also keen not to face Strahd. But as ever, Baräsh, our pious paladin, urged us all to do the right thing, insisting that this might be our only opportunity to do some good in this horrid land.
We came up with a plan. Gimble Timbers and I would scout ahead, while the rest waited at the Winery’s entrance, ready to run to our aid if we called for it. Before we left, Brundle cast Pass Without a Trace on the party, a very useful spell that gives +10 to all stealth checks. This would prove essential.
On the inside
With our boosted stealth rolls, we were able to sneak into the winery and past the Nightmare, who was patrolling around the outside. Inside the winery all was quiet. Suspiciously so. There was no sign of the dread-horse’s master.
Meanwhile, Baräsh, Engong, Victor, Brundle, and Kevon watched patiently as we entered the winery and the Nightmare continued circling the building. They discussed following us in, but would have to time it perfectly to not alert the Nightmare, so decided to wait. Victor made himself invisible once more and disappeared.
Inside, Gimble and Kosef, both familiar with the winery’s interior, made their way to the familial quarters. We passed the large metal vats that once housed many villainous twig blights, and made our way up the winding staircase towards a corridor that lead to the kitchen. We could hear muffled voices coming from down the hall. We checked our stealth. Both rolled above 20. This was a good start.
“Well, where on earth are they, Davian? Do tell me. When they will get here?”
Still unsure of the voice’s owner, Kosef ushered his friend forward. Gimble Timbers put his ear to the oak door, heard the man, and in a second all the blood had drained from his face. There could be no mistaking that voice.
“Have you ever played Go Fish Davian? It’s a fun little game we play at the castle when I’m bored.”
Even though it was a short session, we still managed to end on a cliff-hanger. How are we going to deal with Strahd this time? Just before the session ended and our DM called time, Kosef had run out of the hallway, dashing to get the rest of the party. For some unknown reason, Gimble Timbers decided to stay. I think he wanted to learn how to play Go Fish.
At the end of the previous session we were told to be ready to level up, but due to the short nature of last night’s game, we didn’t manage to complete the process in session 25. In fifth edition D&D, leveling up requires a long rest, so next session we hopefully will progress from level five to six. This would mean more hit points for us all, as well as more spell slots for the magic users and more ki points for the monk.
Next week we face Strahd. Surely we cannot seriously engage him in any kind of battle? That would be stupid. Right?