Suddenly, deep, stomping, thrashing sounds filled the swamp around Engong and Her Associates. Ripples circled violently in the puddles at their feet as, over the horizon, two giant legs trod heavily towards them. Resting above the massive chicken legs was a ramshackle hut, precariously swaying left to right.
Last night was the 27th session in my D&D group’s Curse of Strahd campaign. It was a good session, with no interruptions, technical or familial–both Skype and my ten-month-old son were thoroughly well-behaved. Sadly, our group was a member down again last night as Gimble Timbers the gnome fighter had unavoidable work commitments. This meant that our party of five was down by one gnome and one faithful mastiff. I was keen to see how our DM dealt with the absentees.
In our last session, we had an unexpected meeting with Strahd Von Zarovich (the campaign’s “big bad”) and ended up traipsing through a swamp looking for a missing gem. That session ended with our party spotting a small wooden hut perched upon two giant chicken legs striding across the swamp. While our characters had no idea what was going on, at least three of our party knew this was Baba Lysaga’s infamous Creeping Hut. In an effort not to meta-game, we had agreed not to talk about our upcoming session all week. So we began last night’s game excited to see what would happen.
Engong and Her Associates:
Engong – Half-Orc Monk, pyromaniac, leader, not a “people person”;
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;
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, very dapper, fake arm, has a pet mastiff called Kevon, ABSENT.
Heavy fog began to thicken and coalesce around the party. It flowed in a torrent and swirled around their heads obscuring all vision. One by one their senses dulled, worthless as the malevolent mists that closed around them. The last time they had experienced phenomena like this, they were transported into Barovia. For a brief, glimmering, hope-filled second, they thought that perhaps this was the mist that would send them home. They would be free of this accursed and fetid land. It wasn’t.
Engong and Her Associates scrambled around helplessly, flailing and thrashing their arms in the pitch darkness of the mist shroud. They began attempting to grab onto one another for assurance. Then, in an instant, the fog thinned and the haze lifted. Their eyes adjusted to the light, dim as it was, and they dumbly looked around.
Baräsh was the first to notice that one of them was missing. He spun around, frantically scoping the area for any sign of Gimble Timbers. “Tiny Man!” he yelled out. There was no answer.
A missing friend
As soon as we all realized that Gimble Timbers was gone, we started to panic. Was this Strahd’s doing? Would he come for us all one by one? We investigated the area and discovered cart tracks leading away from the swamp, but we couldn’t be sure if they were recent or historical. Meanwhile, the tottering, two-legged hut we spotted earlier had vanished from view.
Our DM had done a great job in distracting us from our quest. Now we needed to decide whether to go in search of our missing companion or to look for the hut. In the end we opted for the latter. We were sure that Gimble Timbers would appear sooner or later–after all, he was prone to wandering off, and he had Kevon with him for protection. It was quite hard not to meta-game this, especially as we all knew we were very unlikely to find Gimble Timbers. In the end we were able to rationalize it and hopefully our gnome fighter will re-join us next week, no worse for his absence.
Exploring the marshes
We headed deeper into the marshes. After a while, Victor and Engong spotted the stomping hut roughly 250 feet in the distance, no sign yet of the fabled Baba Lysaga. The hut was creeping away from us, but not particularly quickly. Between us and it was a hazardous marshland, populated by ruined houses, scarecrows, and the crumbled remains of the town of Berez.
Lead by Brundle Swash, we wound our way through the village and spotted the weird hut once more. This time it had perched on a tree stump and seemed to be supported by vines. A high perception check from Brundle meant he noticed a large, luminous, floating orb by the side of the hut. He asked Victor, our apprentice wizard, if he recognized the effect. “What’s that orb Victor? Do you recognize it?”
Victor proved helpful as ever; “It’s an orb,” he said.
We then stumbled into a fellow marshland explorer. She was hiding among the ruined buildings and, after some hesitation, introduced herself. Muriel was a member of the Order of the Feather, a benevolent organization set against Strahd that we had come across before. She warned us about seeking out Baba Lysaga (not the first give us this warning–our DM was trying to drop hints, we just weren’t taking them) and asked us for any news from Vallaki. This wasn’t the first time we had been asked about word from Vallaki; it seems something has happened there that probably needs investigating. However, we would have to put that on the shelf for now as we had business of our own to attend to.
Baba Lysaga’s Creeping Hut
We moved in quite close to the hut as we considered our next move. While we strategized about how best to approach it, we took a quick rest. This meant we could all roll our hit dice and recoup some much-needed HP before our inevitable combat. While we did, a sudden sharp cacophony of noise pierced the gloom as a hundred corvid voices all screeched at once. But, as soon as the squawking erupted, it died down and we figured that this was just our enthusiastic DM setting the scene.
After the shrieking, Baräsh cast Aid on the party and Brundle Swash cast Pass Without a Trace. Aid gave us all an extra 5HP and Pass Without a Trace gave us +10 to any stealth rolls. Both proved vital in the ensuing encounter.
It was agreed that my character, Kosef, being a stealthy rogue, should sneak forward and investigate the hut. So I did. I rolled a high stealth check, aided by the druid’s spell, and crept up to the hut. From the side of the building I could hear a female voice mumbling and cackling to herself from within, as well as a deep rumbling sound from below. There was also two large cages packed full of ravens by the doorway–this was where the screeching was coming from. As I snuck around the corner, I saw a giant floating upturned skull by the hut’s entrance–the large floating orb Brundle had spotted before. Satisfied that I had sufficiently checked out the area, I went back to the party to tell them what I’d seen.
As I joined them, we noticed Victor had approached the hut on his own, and was inspecting the floating upside-down skull, poking it with his wand. As he did, it shuddered and righted itself causing the apprentice wizard to jump. Baräsh, concerned for our companion, ducked his head, clasped his hammer, and charged towards the skull. He rolled a natural twenty on his attack and dealt 32 points of damage. An almighty GONG! went out as he hit it, causing the ravens to all begin screeching and squawking. Then, a scream was heard from inside the hut. The skull darted 40ft into the air. “Fascinating,” said Victor.
An old lady stood in the doorway. She was bent over, her long gnarled fingers folded together. She had knotted, green and brown dreadlocks that dangled past her crooked, warty, nose, and deep, dark eyes that belied an aged, ancient evil. “Oi! Who’s that ‘itting my skull?” she said.
“Hello friendship!” replied Baräsh. “Sorry, that was me.”
“What’re you doing, coming ‘ere ‘itting my skull?” she said, as the now upright floating skull vibrated angrily. “Calm down now, Skully.”
We then had a conversation with the old hag. She identified herself as Baba Lysaga, and claimed she was Strahd’s mother. We were invited in for pie. Engong and Baräsh both joined her in the hut, the promise of pie was too alluring–this was in spite of a previous session that involved an old witch selling children flavored pies. When they entered the hut, everything inside was bolted to the floor. They saw an angelic baby resting in a crib, and an odd green glow emanating from beneath the floorboards. Engong went to touch the baby, but put her hand right through the illusion. This made Baba Lysaga very angry. “About that pie?” asked Baräsh. “I’ll give you pie,” she yelled. “I’ll turn you into a pie!”
A fierce battle followed. It began with Baba Lysaga turning into a swarm of flies and buzzing past Baräsh and Engong; both swung at the swarm but missed wildly. Brundle stayed outside the hut and cast Call Lightning–a fun spell that lets him repeatedly send lightning bolts at his target. Baba Lysaga was not amused.
During the fight, the hut sprung to life, and began stomping wildly and attempting to swat the rest of us away. It was dealing massive amounts of damage and soon Victor fell unconscious after taking a knock to the head. Kosef spent the time sitting on top of the hut, waiting until a perfect opportunity presented itself. After a few rounds, Engong and Baräsh managed to wrestle the glowing green gem from below the floorboards and this made the hut become inert. It also made Baba Lysaga very, very mad.
She exhibited her anger by first casting Evard’s Black Tentacles at Baräsh and Engong, causing the pair to become entangled inside the hut. Then she cast Finger of Death at Brundle, dealing 47 necrotic damage and making him fall unconscious. One round later, Baräsh and Engong managed to escape the tentacles and jumped from the hut. As they did, Kosef took the opportunity to swing across the doorway and toss in a makeshift Molotov cocktail, made of a jar of brown mold and a broken lantern, which exploded, ruining the interior of the hut. It was just a shame I hadn’t realized Baba Lysaga was no longer inside.
Baba Lysaga cackled and screeched from inside her floating skull platform. “Now, my pretties!” she called out, as four rancid, bile filled scarecrows shambled forwards. Engong, gem in her satchel, picked up the unconscious Brundle Swash and made for the edge of the clearing. “Not so fast!” yelled the witch, and pointed a knotted, twisted finger at the monk. Barash ran to Victor and lay hands on the young wizard, bringing him back to life and screamed to Kosef to join them. Baba Lysaga began enchanting her spell. END
It was a great session, very tense and with a really exciting encounter. As we ended the session, Brundle Swash was unconscious but stable; Engong was running away, gem in hand; Baräsh and Victor were running away; and Kosef lay on the floor with only 1HP. I only hope that next week we begin with all our NPCs friends arriving and saving us–although I don’t think we actually have any NPC friends left alive in Barovia.
As I mentioned, three of our party were already aware of who Baba Lysaga was–or at least we had heard about her–and so had to carefully tread the line between acting in character and acting out of character. While we don’t want to meta-game too much, it sometimes becomes impossible not to let self-preservation influence our actions. Hopefully we managed this, we certainly still had fun, and if we did make choices based on player knowledge and not character knowledge, it still didn’t help us very much!
Finally, our DM dealt really well with Gimble Timbers’ absence, and hopefully has a neat way of reintroducing him at the start of next session. Maybe he’s been off discovering some healing potions and can revive us all and save the day? Probably not.