Baba Lysaga cackled and screeched from inside her floating skull. “Now, my pretties!” she called out, as four rancid, bile-filled scarecrows shambled towards Kosef and Brundle. Baräsh ran to Victor to lay hands on the young wizard, bringing him back to life. While across the field, Engong, gem glowing in her satchel, made for the edge of the clearing in a bid to escape. “Not so fast!” yelled the witch and pointed a knotted, twisted finger at the monk.
Last night was the 28th episode in our Dungeons & Dragons online Curse of Strahd campaign and it was tough, tense, and very nearly ended in total disaster. Our party, Engong and Her Associates, were all present and we began in the middle of a battle. Last week our gnome fighter, Gimble Timbers, couldn’t make it and we really struggled against an evil swamp-witch who was way more powerful than we are ready for. This week, we all hoped he would ride in, head of a cavalry, ready to save us. That isn’t exactly what happened.
A part from the obvious in-game problems, there were a few technical glitches last night. Gimble Timbers’ laptop decided not to play, and this week my 11-month-old son has struggled with an inner ear infection, so we started a bit later than normal as it took a bit longer to get him to sleep.
When we eventually did start, our session began on a flashback, explaining what happened to Gimble Timbers. This was the first time we started as a split party, and we were all interested to see A) what had happened to the gnome fighter, and B) how our DM would have us come together.
Engong and Her Associates are:
Engong — Half-Orc Monk, pyromaniac, leader, not a ‘people person’;
Baräsh — Dragonborn Paladin, Oath of Vengeance, revived by the spirit of St. Andell;
Gimble Timbers — Gnome Fighter, very dapper, fake arm, has a pet mastiff called Kevon;
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.
Thick mists rose up around Gimble Timbers, quickly shrouding the diminutive fighter as he became separated from his companions. He could hear Baräsh calling out for him, but did not know from where. “Tiny Man!” He heard the dragonborn cry, but there was only darkness, and no sound came as he tried to yell in response.
Suddenly he felt a rough grip catch him by the scruff of his collar. He was pulled fiercely upwards and dropped onto a wooden floor. He took a moment to get his bearings. When he looked about he realized he was in an elaborate gilded carriage, and he was not alone.
The man that sat opposite was glaring intently at the gnome. His stare was painful, and accompanied by the sounds of a thousand desperate screams. A cacophony of yells, screeches and pleading filled Gimble Timbers’ mind as the dusk elf smiled and leaned across him, laying a treacherously elegant scimitar upon his neck.
What a start! This was unexpected and exciting. Usually when only one character is involved in a scene, the other players’ attention wanders and they take the opportunity to make a cup of tea, find a snack, or go to the restroom. This time we were all enraptured.
The man with Gimble Timbers was Rahadin and he was Strahd’s manservant. He instructed Gimble Timbers not to disrupt his master’s upcoming wedding and displayed a significant level of contempt for Engong and Her Associates. “I cannot kill you yet,” he said. “But as soon as His patience and tolerance for you slips, I will take you all. I will add your voices to the beautiful symphony of damned souls I have collected. I know you can hear it.”
At that, Gimble noticed the sound of Kevon the dog whimpering, and realized he too was a passenger in the infernal carriage. “Ah, yes.” Continued Rahadin, “Kevon. Now I have a request from the master. He is quite fond of your mastiff, and would be honored if he would be the ring bearer at the ceremony.”
“What?” Said Gimble, shocked.
At this point, as we all watched on, I know I wasn’t the only one really trying to stifle a laugh. This was an inspired plot twist from our DM — especially seeing as Kevon the mastiff is essentially a replacement for a previous character, Kevon the Sorcerer, whom Strahd brutally murdered in session 13.
After a little more dialogue, Rahadin released Gimble Timbers back into the swamp, where he came face-to-face with Baba Lysaga, the crazed witch we were still fighting from last session.
As Gimble Timbers entered the battle, our fearless leader Engong was staunchly running away. She was making the most of her impressive monk speed and traveling a massive 120 feet per round. This was over double the distance the rest of us could travel and she quickly got safely away from Baba Lysaga.
Engong was carrying the gem we had stolen, and made it as far as the edge of the marshes. She kept on running for four or five more rounds, until otherworldly mists rose up around her. The mists took the form of valiant knights in dragon scale armor, shields clashing and swords raised. This was enough to spook the half-orc monk, who decided to turn around and take her chances with the hag. She began running back to the rest of us and the battle with Baba Lysaga. After a couple of rounds, she saw Baräsh and Victor in the distance. They had also decided to get as far away from the witch as possible.
Baräsh and Victor
Realizing Engong was clearly out of the picture, Gimble Timbers looked around to see how the rest of us were faring. He saw Baräsh and Victor also running away from the action. Well, Baräsh was running, Victor was unconscious and being carried by the dragonborn paladin. Baräsh was using his action to Dash (doubling his movement speed at the cost of an attack action), but he wasn’t as fast as the monk and he couldn’t escape the range of Baba Lysaga’s curses.
First, the witch sent a barrage of Magic Missiles that crashed into him dealing 10 damage and sending Victor falling to the floor. Then she cast another spell, and for a brief second Baräsh felt very much like a spider. Then he rolled high on his wisdom saving throw against the witch’s Polymorph spell, and he was very happy not to have been turned into a tiny eight-legged beast.
After this, the hag seemed to stop sending spells their way, but Baräsh was too busy running to stop and find out why. After a couple more rounds of dashing the paladin spotted the crest of Argon Vost mansion, up a semi-sheer cliff face. Remembering he had been offered protection here once before he decided this was the best place to head. And so, pausing only to deliver some healing to himself and Victor, Baräsh made his way to the foot of the Argon Vost hill and entered into the swirling mists there.
So, with Engong running one way, and Baräsh and Victor another, Gimble Timbers didn’t know what to do. Then he spotted Brundle Swash huddling over the limp body of Kosef (me), unconscious from a recent scarecrow attack. Brundle, who was only one hit point, cast Cure Wounds on himself and began dragging my rogue away from the melee and away from Gimble Timbers. Brundle was thankful that Baba Lysaga’s attention was elsewhere for the minute – she was casting Magic Missiles towards Baräsh who was bravely running away.
Kosef coughed and spluttered. At this point I made my first death saving throw for Kosef and rolled a 12. This was a good thing. When a character falls unconscious due to taking too much damage, they have five chances to roll a ten or higher. Three good rolls means they survive, three bad rolls and they die. So I was one for one, with four rolls to go.
Brundle then did the most obvious thing he could think of. He turned into a horse. A war-horse. His plan was to try to carry me away, find Baräsh, and let the paladin heal me. But he hadn’t worked out the logistics of exactly how a horse would get a limp, unconscious body onto its back. Three rounds of failed athletics and acrobatics rolls later and he miraculously managed it. Kosef was somehow secured on the back of the warhorse. We were then joined by Kevon the dog and began heading to safety.
By this time I had rolled three more death saves. One of which was a success, the other two: not so much. This meant that a roll of nine or lower on a twenty-sided die and Kosef would die. Things became very tense.
A Sting in His Tail
Thanks to the nature of our split party, all of this was happening simultaneously. We had played well over ten rounds and yet none of us had even spotted Gimble Timbers. So what had the gnome fighter been doing? Well…
As soon as he arrived on the scene he looked around and spotted us all running off in different directions. He also spotted Baba Lysaga sending magic missiles towards Baräsh and Victor. So Gimble Timbers attacked her. To begin with Baba Lysaga ignored his repeated volleys of arrows as she focused on trying to retrieve her stolen gem and attacking Baräsh, but after a while she became angered by the constant attacks. Turning away from Engong, Baräsh, and Victor, she cast Polymorph on the gnome.
“Aha!” Said the gnome fighter’s player smugly. “I get advantage on saving throws against magic, thanks to my Gnome Cunning.” Advantage means you get to roll twice and take the highest result. Under normal circumstance this is enough to pass most tests. “Uh-oh!” He rolled two ones.
Gimble Timbers felt a strange sensation wash over him. For a second his body glistened and sparkled with transmutation energy. Then an audible POP! like air rushing out of a sealed jar, and he became a scorpion. This was a first for him; an altogether new sensation. Dazed, he looked around – as much as a scorpion can – but being only three inches tall he did not see his companions over the dense vegetation.
He heard the same evil cackling from the witch coming from way up in the sky, but couldn’t make out the direction. All around him the grass towered, a thousand green pillars caging him in and separating him from the rest of the world. Suddenly, the grass parted and a fierce, hairy tarantula darted out, fangs presented, poison dripping from his gaping maw. Gimble Timbers had never seen a spider so large. Instinctually he attacked with his stinger and pierced the arachnid’s brain, killing the beast instantly. Gimble-scorpion took a moment to try to get his bearings and catch his breath. He was feeling less like a gnome transformed into an insect and more like a scorpion, full of venom and fury. Using all of his remaining will power to fight the feral instincts, he searched in vain for his companions. Suddenly, once more the grass parted before him and out jumped a fat, bulbous, mean-looking bullfrog. The frog saw the scorpion and recognized it as ‘dinner’. END
This was an interesting and exciting session, even though I was unconscious for 90% of it. The player playing Brundle Swash hadn’t realized that he could have cast Curse Wounds to bring Kosef back from unconsciousness, and was quite apologetic when we told him after the session ended. But this did mean we got to experience his warhorse stealthily trying to juggle an unconscious rogue away from a battle, which was very funny. I just hope that next week he can heal me before I roll my last death save.
Having a split party for the session was a new thing for us too. Not ideal, for the players or the DM, but we managed it quite well. For a while it looked like we were going to end up in completely separate locations, so I think our DM is pleased that we seem to be heading in similar(ish) directions.