Kosef made his way along the corridor, silent as an ant in a tavern. Gimble Timbers watched, not daring to breathe. At the door, Kosef could hear Davian the Vintner, but didn’t recognize the refined voice that replied. 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. STRAHD!
Last night was session 26 in my D&D group’s online Curse of Strahd campaign. We have now managed two in a row with very few technical interruptions, but that doesn’t always mean they run smoothly for our characters. Last night, we began the session face-to-face with the campaign’s major villain, and our chances of survival seemed bleak.
If that wasn’t enough, my 10-month-old son decided he would like to play too. Or rather, at about half way through, he felt that it was time for some fatherly attention and so ended up as our sixth player–he took on the role of Kevon the slobbery, dribbling, mute mastiff.
In the last few sessions, it really feels like we have progressed our story along quite far. Our group, “Engong and Her Associates,” visited Krezk to heal our gnome fighter (his arm was necrotizing and about to fall off); we fought some druids and an awakened tree monster (we didn’t notice we’d killed the tree until after four rounds of smashing it with our strongest attacks); and we have recruited Victor the teenage magician to our party (his title is “Trainee-Associate,” and he is working towards his apprenticeship).
In session 25, we headed back to see Davian Martokoff, head Vinter at the Wizards of Wines winery, to return a magical gem we had wrestled from the clutches of the awakened tree blight. When we got there, we were confronted by Strahd Von Zarovich, who had apparently been waiting for us.
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 – Teenage Human Wizard-in-Training, has issues, NPC.
As soon as he realized what was going on, Kosef tried to grab Gimble Timbers and run for the door. He couldn’t believe Strahd was there waiting for them. There was no way they could face him in their current condition. For some reason Gimble Timbers refused to leave, “You go,” he hissed. “I’ll stall him. Get the others.”
There was no time to argue. Kosef turned and made a dash for the winery’s exit. He quickly found his party members, who had somehow gotten past Strahd’s fiery steed and were standing in the doorway, unaware of their immediate peril.
So, this was not the start to the session we had hoped for. Splitting the party is not the best way to deal with a vampire–I’m sure there are many books, TV shows, and pamphlets that strongly recommend against going up against a vampire lord on your own. Nonetheless, this was our fighter’s approach.
As Gimble Timbers stood at the doorway, it swung open and he was immediately faced with immaculately dressed Strahd. Gimble Timbers reached for his sword.
“Well, hello, what took you so long? It really doesn’t do to keep me waiting,” said Strahd. Our DM was once more channeling a very proper English gentleman to voice Strahd, think Stephen Fry mixed with Niles Crane.
“Errr. What are you doing here?” was all the gnome could retort.
“I will tell you soon, when your companions arrive. Surely we should all be here together to share the good news. Do take a seat. Davian will get you some wine. After all, he is hosting this little soiree.”
What followed was the scariest, most tense interaction we’ve had so far. As the rest of us made our way through the winery, Gimble Timbers had to meekly sit and listen to Strahd go on about the good news he had to share. He also mentioned an invitation.
This clearly wasn’t good news for us. Anything that made Strahd happy was bound to be something we should campaign against. As it turns out, we were in part responsible for some of his happiness.
An invitation we cannot refuse
Eventually the rest of us reluctantly joined our companion in the kitchen with Strahd and Davian. The latter was very grumpily serving us the last of his precious wine. First, Baräsh tried pull Gimble Timbers away from the vampire, but Strahd interrupted, “Now, now Baräsh you must STAY!” A failed wisdom check from the dragonborn resulted in Baräsh falling under the vampire’s control, dominated by Strahd.
“Dump the little guy in the dining area and fetch the others,” commanded Strahd.
“Yes, Master,” replied Baräsh.
Another bad situation made worse by terrible rolls. Baräsh is both our healer and our tank, and so having him under the control of our main enemy is never good.
After a few moments of uncertainty and hesitation we were all gathered together and Strahd began making his announcement. At this stage, none of us had noticed that Victor, our teenage Trainee-Wizard, was missing.
“A toast!” Strahd began, “To this happy day. It is certainly a pleasure to have you all here and I am so happy to have brought you all to Barovia. And now, thanks to you, I am to be wed.” He reached into his pocket. We all flinched. He pulled out a purse filled with gold monogrammed invites. These read:
“You are all invited to Castle Ravenloft to celebrate the wedding of Lord Strahd Von Zarovich, date to be confirmed.”
A polite conversation
This was not what we were expecting to happen. We were all sure a fight was a certainty, but none of us were brave enough to attack Strahd. So instead we had a polite conversation. A tense, but polite conversation.
We quickly discovered that Strahd’s fiancé was the woman who had been “created” by the Abbot of St. Markovia. Strahd was very pleased that we had ensured there would be wine at the ceremony, having saved Davian’s vineyard the previous session.
After a few minutes of small talk, something seemed to catch Strahd’s attention. His left arm shot out suddenly and he struck something invisible. Victor had foolishly attempted, using his invisibility, to pick the vampire lord’s pocket; this was a mistake. He was thrown to the ground with a thud and his invisibility spell lifted. Kosef tried to help Victor up, but Strahd lashed out at the rogue, slashing across his face with a silver dagger, dealing eight points of damage.
Then as Strahd stood up to leave, he turned to Baräsh, still under his thrall. “Right, I need a top up. Come here.” The dragonborn had no choice but to comply. Strahd grabbed him by the throat and bit into his neck and drank deeply. Then, with a flourish of his burgundy cape, Strahd turned and vanished in a swarm of bats.
After the encounter with Strahd, we were a bit shaken and totally unsure as to what to do next, but we did finally get our much needed long rest. Both Baräsh and I were concerned about the after effects of our meeting. Would the slash across my face leave a scar? Was Baräsh a vampire now that he had been drained by Strahd? Fortunately, neither was the case.
What’s more, as we slept in the vineyard, we all leveled up to sixth level. This means more hit points, spell slots, and Ki points for the party. Still not enough to fight Strahd though.
The next day we had to decide what to do. After some discussion, we left the vineyard heading for Vallaki, via the Ruins of Berez. We had been warned about going there, but one of Madam Eva’s predictions said something we needed would be here, as well as another of the gems to help Davian, so we ignored the advice and headed there anyway.
We had been explicitly told: “Never go to the Ruins of Berez. That is where Baba Lysaga lives. Things that were once legend have proven to be real.”
An old friend
So we made our way along the path to Berez, unnerved by the lack of trouble on the road. This was not what we were lead to expect.
After an hour or so, we heard the sounds of commotion further along. The familiar sounds of steel and growling suggested a fight was taking place. Our druid Brundle Swash, now in the form of a War Horse and being ridden by Baräsh, made his way ahead of the rest of us to check out the noise.
He rolled a natural twenty on his perception check (a very good roll) and saw, in the distance, a couple of scarecrows menacing a small shiny creature with odd proportions and flailing limbs. Unfortunately, as a horse, Brundle was unable to communicate this with his rider, but Baräsh was soon able to discern what was going on and kicked off, charging into the fray.
A fight ensued as Engong, Gimble, Kosef, and Victor all followed into the melee. The two scarecrows were quickly dispatched with no casualties on our side and, once the fog of battle had lifted, we examined the scarecrows’ victim and were shocked to see that we recognized their prey.
A pile of smouldering mechanical parts was all that was left of our old friend Henry the Modron. He had been an unexpected ally in our early battles in Baoriva, and when my first character, Kevon the Sorcerer (now deceased), felt the effects of Wild Magic, we would all hope that it would summon Henry to aid us in our fights. As it turned out, the last battle where this happened saw Henry facing down a pack of wolves as we retreated into a church. We never found out what happened to him, but it seems he had traveled alone through the horror-infused land, and he now lay dead, in pieces at our feet.
First, we tried to revive him; this was not possible. So instead, we gathered up the pieces and decided to take him to Blinsky the toy maker in Vallaki to see if he could help.
The party continued along the road in a far more sombre mood than before. Seeing Henry in pieces had provoked them far more than they would have thought. Perhaps it was the after effect of their meeting with Strahd, or maybe just the continued exposure to the horrors in this forsaken land, but they were all feeling rather glum when they reached the crossroads at the Luna River.
They took the road that led towards the wetland Ruins of Berez as biting, swarming insects began to feast on their exposed skin as they trod deeper into the swamps. Sunken, decrepit, rotten houses peeked out from the marshes either side of the path. Suddenly deep, stomping, thrashing sounds filled the swamp around them. Ripples circled violently in the puddles at their feet as over the horizon, through the mists and fog of the marsh, two giant legs trod heavily towards them. Resting above the massive stomping limbs was a ramshackle hut precariously swaying left to right. END
Wow, a session that starts with Strahd and ends with Baba Lysaga’s Creeping Hut is always going to be a good one. Our DM had clearly been planning this for a while and we really enjoyed it. Although we were a bit annoyed that we had helped Strahd–sorting out the wedding dress and wine for his upcoming nuptials.
Finally we had our long rest and leveled up to six. We’ve waited a while for this, hopefully being a higher level will make our encounter with the legendary witch Baba Lysaga a little easier–although probably not that much! I guess we’ll find out next week.