Session 29: Leaving Berez
Engong and Her Associates were scattered across the swampy marshes of the Ruins of Berez, and running wildly in different directions. Baba Lysaga, the evil swamp witch, had given up trying to retrieve her gem; she would send some of her minions to get it later. She picked up a broom and began sweeping the hut clean. “I can’t believe this! They come here, steal my gem, dirty up my house. I’ll kill them! Kill them all!” As her ire built, her frustrations and anger became mirrored in the environment. Dark clouds filled the skies and deep rolling thunder echoed around the swamp. A shock of lightning lit up the sky, silhouetting the divided party members as they scrambled around the edges of the marsh.
Last night was the 29th session in my group’s online Skype-based Dungeons & Dragons game. For once, the session happened on time and suffered no interruptions. We are playing through Curse of Strahd, an epic-gothic-vampire-inspired campaign that sees the heroes trapped in Barovia, a desperate country where the inhabitants have long suffered under the tyrannical rule of vampire lord Strahd Von Zarovich and his undead army of werewolves, zombies and ghastly creatures. For some reason, it’s not one of the Sword Coast’s premier getaway destinations.
As we near thirty sessions of playing, our characters have reached level six and are starting to become a little more powerful, this also makes us as players more confident and arrogant, something our dungeon master (DM) is keen to dampen. He does this primarily by instilling a constant sense of fear and dread, and by allowing us to get into situations far more deadly than we are equipped to handle. Such as the one we are currently trying to escape from.
Session 28 ended with our party scattered in the swamps of Berez and desperately fleeing from Baba Lysaga, a witch that we were way too underpowered to fight. We had stolen a gem from her and she was not happy about it, but our strategy to ‘divide and confuse’ had worked, and she eventually gave up on her quarry. This left us separated and in urgent need of some (non-existent) healing potions. To make matters worse, one of our party had been turned into a scorpion by the witch, one was unconscious, one was a horse (by their own choice), and the others were nowhere to be seen.
Engong and Her Associates are:
Engong – Half-Orc Monk, pyromaniac, leader, not a ‘people person’;
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, has a pet mastiff called Kevon. Currently a scorpion;
Brundle Swash – Gnome Druid, disheveled, hungry. Currently a horse;
Kosef – Human Rogue, impatient, unpredictable, played by me;
Baräsh – Dragonborn Paladin, Oath of Vengeance. Invisible;
Victor – Teenage Human Wizard-in-Training, has issues, NPC. Invisible.
Victor felt himself being shaken awake. He opened his eyes to see the not too unpleasant face of Baräsh the dragonborn paladin attempting to revive him. He could see behind his friend’s head the silhouette of Baba Lysaga, apparently returning to her hut. Just to be safe he cast invisibility on himself and Baräsh, much to the dragonborn’s annoyance.
Engong the monk was running towards her friends. In the last few minutes she had travelled the length of Berez and had returned to see Baräsh dragging the unconscious wizard to safety. The pair were far away from her and she was concerned that Baba Lysaga was in still the area, and looking for the gem that was glowing in Engong’s satchel. But she knew she was far faster than her companions and would catch them before too long. Then they disappeared.
Meanwhile on the other side of Berez, the warhorse made it to the edge of the clearing and reverted back into gnome form with a POP! Brundle Swash, gently laid the unconscious Kosef on the ground and cast a healing spell, reviving the rogue. The two of them looked around, desperately trying to find any sign of their companions. They heard a growl and a snarl come from the undergrowth to their left.
The party regroups (ish)
Once again we started the session separated. And just as we were getting close to one another our DM pulled the rug out from beneath us. But, eventually, we did manage to regroup – partially at least.
Brundle Swash and I (recovering) sat in the bushes wondering what was going to jump out as us next. High perception rolls from us both revealed the snarling growling sounds to be a badger that was battling a scorpion. Little did we know that the scorpion was actually our gnome friend, Gimble Timbers, who had been turned into the small beast last week. However, when we saw the scorpion defeat the badger, stinging it in the mouth, and then crawling over its snout in an unmistakable victory dance, we realised something very odd was going on.
Our DM asked Gimble-scorpion to roll a performance check to see if it got our attention. His charisma is very low, but he rolled a natural 20 and we saw the small black scorpion backflip twice and land with a pirouette. Thinking this was an amazing magical beast Kosef leant down and picked up the scorpion, very gently, and placed it into his top pocket. Brundle Swash agreed that this was the best course of action, turned back into a horse and we headed across Berez towards our companions, with Kevon the dog running alongside.
Before too long we reached Engong who was looking around, confused. Moments earlier she had seen Baräsh and Victor disappear less than 100 yards in front of her. As we discussed our options we heard giggling coming from the bushes and looked around expecting another attack. Instead we saw Victor and Baräsh reappear from thin air. The dragonborn was looking quite angry, but the teenage wizard clearly thought this was all very funny.
Having regrouped, it was time to decide what to do and where to go next. We were all in serious need of a rest and some healing, but were keen to get as far away from Berez and Baba Lysaga, as possible. Our Pass Without a Trace spell would soon wear off and she would be bound to find us if we lingered.
We had two main options of where to go: we could either head to Vallaki, a town we had been in recently and needed to go back to; or we could go to the creepy looking mansion on a cliff that we spotted last session. It was clear that our DM was trying, not too subtly, to steer us towards Vallaki. Pretty much every NPC we had met recently told us that “something was going on”‘ there, but we also wanted to visit the mansion having heard about it before from a mysterious revenant.
Note: it’s always fun tormenting our DM by not doing what he wants – after all he spends the entire time tormenting us with scarecrows and zombies and evil swamp-witches! But we should remember that he will always return the torment tenfold.
So we headed for Argon Vost Mansion, west of Berez. Clearly our DM did not like our choice. First the mists thickened around us and formed into an army of heavily armored soldiers swinging swords and axes at us. We kept on walking. Then the misty soldiers doubled in number and stood clearly blocking our way. We ignored them and kept walking. Suddenly the soldiers dispersed and a giant shadow fell over the party. We looked up as an enormous ethereal silver dragon swooped down, open-mouthed and claws outstretched towards us. We dived to the ground as the dragon passed and turned around to come back again. Still not swayed we let the dragon pass over us again and carried on towards the mansion.
After a couple more minutes we saw a humanoid figure hurrying towards us, away from Argon Vost. As she neared us we recognized her as Muriel, the member of the Order of the Feather who had warned us previously about Berez, the swamp, and Baba Lysaga. She was clearly distressed and was stumbling, wildly swaying from left to right. She seemed not to notice us until within a few feet. “You,” she cried almost incoherently. “What are you doing? First the hag, now here! Go no further! Arrg!” She crumpled and fell forward to the ground. We all gasped in horror as we saw at least 15 arrows peppering her back like a porcupine. Blood started to spill from her fallen body. Baräsh dashed to try to revive her but it was too late.
This time we took the hint and decided not to continue to Argon Vost.
By this time we had identified the scorpion as being Gimble Timbers – Brundle had used his Speak With Animals ability – but we were not sure about how to return him to normal. We discussed how to do this, while we made our way along the path back to the crossroad that led to Vallaki. Engong believed that if we did enough damage to the scorpion it would revert, but Gimble Timbers was not keen for us to do this, in case it didn’t work and he died as a scorpion. Both Brundle and ä thought that if the witch were to cast another spell, she might lose concentration on this one, and so for the time being we had to continue with him as a tiny scorpion in my shirt pocket, with Brundle Swash translating, all in the hope that he would magically change back.
After a while we saw the crossroads ahead. There was a dusty wagon in the centre of the road with three figures talking energetically. Recognizing this as a typical rouse (“Hey, our wagon’s broken can you help?” STAB!), we all dived into the bushes and attempted to hide. Thankfully we were far enough away for them not to see us. Kosef was chosen, as the stealthiest among the party, to approach the wagon and see what was going on. I rolled 26 on my stealth check and began to crawl forward, keeping to the bushes just off the path. The figures didn’t seem to notice.
As he crawled along the dirt from bush to bush Kosef could hear the muffled voices of the men animatedly discussing something. He could make out the words “Vallaki” and “simpletons” spoken in harsh Vistani accents. He got closer and could see that the wagon appeared to be fine. He heard the men, their tones conspiratorial. “We need to head back out before we try again. Those idiots in Vallaki will buy anything. Hah! I can’t believe they fell for it.”
Deciding he’d heard enough, Kosef turned to return to his party. He began to crawl back but stopped abruptly as he felt the bulge in his top pocket begin to shake. The scorpion began wriggling violently and with an audible POP! and a flash of light, the pocket exploded and Gimble Timbers fell straight onto the prostrate rogue. “Urgh!”
“Hey! What was that?” Yelled one of the merchants. Kosef could hear footsteps approaching, accompanied by the unmistakable sound of a crossbow being cocked. END
Another combat-less session that had plenty of roleplay. I can’t believe Gimble Timbers spent the time as a scorpion in my pocket; at least he was able to communicate with us and the party isn’t split up any more. I’m amazed that we somehow got away from the swamp without being killed by Baba Lysasa, and we even took our DM’s hints about not going to Argon Vost. Although it did take him killing an innocent NPC in order for us to get the message.
After the session our DM admitted to us that he’d read the scale of the swamp wrong. He read it that each one inch square was ten feet, when actually is was supposed to be one hundred feet. This explains how we were able to traverse the marshes so quickly and how Engong was able to get so far away last week and back again last night. I’m sure if we ever decide to return to the swamp our experience of it will be a lot different.
Next week we have to decide where we are headed and why. That is if we don’t get attacked by Vistani traders first.