From his hiding place Kosef could hear the muffled voices animatedly talking in harsh Vistani accents, their tones conspiratorial. “Those idiots in Vallaki will buy anything. Hah! I can’t believe they fell for it.” Kosef began to crawl back to his companions but stopped abruptly as he felt the bulge in his top pocket begin to shake. With an audible POP! and a flash of light, the pocket exploded and Gimble Timbers appeared on top the of prostrate rogue. “Hey! What was that?” Yelled one of the merchants. Kosef could hear footsteps approaching, accompanied by the unmistakable sound of a crossbow being cocked.
Last night was the thirtieth episode in our Skype-based Dungeons & Dragons campaign. Somehow we have made it through 30 sessions with our group of heroes (almost) intact. We have been playing Curse of Strahd, fifth edition’s horror inspired story set in and around the infamous Castle Ravenloft. While our adventuring party, ‘Engong and Her Associates’, haven’t yet made it to the dreaded castle, we have met its owner Strahd Von Zarovich on numerous occasions, none of which have gone well for us. Last night our gnome druid’s player couldn’t make it, but had left strict instructions that his character Brundle Swash was not to die.
A quick recap
Thirty sessions is a lot of exposition to wade through so here’s a quick recap of each session with a link to it:
Session 1: Our level one party gets lost in Barovia and enters the Death House.
Session 2: Still in the Death house, we fight a Grick and a suit of armor.
Session 3: We escape the Death House, but one of our party is killed by a Shambling Mound.
Session 4: The party begins to explore Barovia and fights its first Vampire.
Session 5: The Vampire is slain and we meet Ismark the town drunk.
Session 6: The party attempt to rescue a priest from three witches.
Session 7: Our first battle with Strahd. He gets bored. We lose.
Session 8: We have our fortunes told by the mysterious Madam Eva.
Session 9: We fight a ghost on a bridge.
Session 10: Arriving in Vallaki, we meet the enigmatic Riktavio and some other locals.
Session 11: We fight more vampires in the coffin maker’s shop.
Session 12: Half of the party are arrested.
Session 13: Our second battle with Strahd. He kills our sorcerer and paladin.
Session 14: Two new members join the group and the paladin is revived.
Session 15: We start a bar fight and run away.
Session 16: A new Burgomaster takes charge in Vallaki and we meet Victor the teenage magician.
Session 17: The party has a battle in a church and leaves Vallaki (burning).
Session 18: We travel to the Wizards of Wines winery.
Session 19: Druids need to be removed from the Wizard of Wines winery.
Session 20: We continue battling against the druids and our gnome fighter’s arm gets cursed.
Session 21: The party gains a new member and ally.
Session 22: We go to the Abbey of St Markovia. Our fighter’s arm is fixed by the Abbot there.
Session 23: A stealth mission at Yesterhill.
Session 24: The party fights Winter Splinter, a giant awakened tree monster.
Session 25: We head back to the Wizards of Wines winery.
Session 26: A polite conversation with Strahd Von Zarovich.
Session 27: The party goes to the Ruins of Berez and fights Baba Lysaga.
Session 28: The fight with Baba Lysaga goes on.
Session 29: We escape the ruins of Berez and head back to civilization.
Right now, we are at a crossroads, trying to decide where to head next. First, however, we have the small issue of some untrustworthy Vistani traders to deal with.
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;
Baräsh – Dragonborn Paladin, previously killed by Strahd;
Brundle Swash – Gnome Druid, disheveled, turns into a bear;
Kosef – Human Rogue, impatient, played by me;
Victor – Teenage Human Wizard-in-Training, has issues, NPC.
Seeing the traders approach the bush where his friends were hiding, Baräsh dashed forward hoping to attract their attention. He called out to them, “Hello Friendships!” They stopped and stared at the approaching dragonborn. He was clad in shimmering armor and skipping gleefully forward. Their crossbows remained ready at their sides.
“I say, hello there,” repeated Baräsh, and he begin talking to them very quickly, praising the Morning Lord for meeting such fine fellows on such a dangerous road. “May we trade with you fine sirs?”
“If you have gold,” was the reply.
“But of course,” said Baräsh as he naively pulled out a full purse and thrust it forwards.
There was a clear glint of treachery in their eyes as the merchants saw the bulging money pouch. “What’s to stop us just taking your gold?”
“Well,” replied Baräsh with a grin revealing his fierce pointed teeth and drawing his holy mace and shield. “I would have to slaughter you.” His eyes glowed with the electricity of his draconic heritage. The traders backed down, surprised by this clear and honest show of dominance.
“In that case, yes, of course. Let us trade.”
Another tense start to a session. Thankfully Baräsh rolled a natural 20 on his intimidation check and not a one, so the merchants didn’t try to attack him. There was no way we would be able to take another fight, we hadn’t rested since the last battle and really needed to recoup some hit points soon. On the other hand, this was the first time we’d met any traders on the road in Barovia and we were hopeful to pick up some much need supplies.
Once it was clear that we could trade in safety, the party members hiding in the bushes joined Baräsh and we began haggling over arrows, rusty armor, and some unidentified potions. Victor, our wizard recognized one as a potion of healing, which I purchased for an exorbitant 70 gold (I know, I was desperate!), but the others we could not identify. For some reason I then let Baräsh and Engong persuade me to try and steal one while they distracted the merchant. Their performance roll was high, but my slight-of-hand check was low. I fumbled the switch and ended up smashing a vial. This angered the traders and they muttered something in Vistani under their breaths. Frustratingly this resulted in Kosef becoming cursed. A permanent affliction that causes disadvantage on all ability checks involving dexterity. As a rogue this is annoying. Super annoying.
A tower in the distance
Not wanting to hang around the traders any longer, we left them and headed off along the road to Vallaki. At the crossroads we noticed a tower looming in the opposite direction and remembered our one-time ally Riktavio told us that he lived in a tower and that we could visit him in safety.
The walk to the tower took about an hour. It sat in the middle of a marsh coated in thick fog and was decorated with statues of griffons sitting atop buttresses that supported the walls. On the shore of the marshy lake, by a shingled causeway that led to the tower, was an extravagantly decorated wagon caped in mud. A cheap wooden sign hung on the door to the wagon read “Keep out!”
Ignoring the wagon we crossed the causeway and approached the ornate iron door to the tower. There were no hinges or handle on the door, just an odd sign that seemed arcane. We asked Victor to check for magic but he couldn’t detect or perform any magic within ten feet of the door. There was, however, conjuration energy coming from the wagon.
Ignoring Victor’s protestations and advice not to touch it, Gimble Timbers pushed the door. Our DM looked worried. He had clearly given us enough hints that we should not touch the door and yet our gnome went ahead and did it anyway. First, our DM asked us all to make a dexterity saving throw, then we had to roll initiative as lightning and electricity spewed out from the tower.
As soon as Gimble Timbers touched the tower door we all groaned. None of us passed the dexterity saving throw and, because we were all so badly hurt, four of us instantly fell unconscious and had to start rolling death saves, including Brundle Swash. What’s more, as long as we stayed within 15 feet of the tower we would continue to take lightning damage each round. So Brundle, Engong, Kosef and Victor all lay at the foot of the tower, with Baräsh and Gimble the only ones standing.
On his turn, Baräsh passed a strength test and was able to pull me and Engong away from the lightning. He turned to Gimble Timbers, “Well done Tiny Man!” The two of them began arguing as the lightning continued. Each time it struck an unconscious person, they automatically failed a death save, three failures meant death. Somewhere, Brundle Swash’s absent player felt a shiver run down his spine, as his gnome druid failed the second death save in a row.
Gimble Timbers stopped arguing with Baräsh long enough to drag Victor away from the tower, leaving just Brundle lying on the ground. At this point I rolled a natural 20 for Kosef’s second death save and instantly gasped back to life with one HP. I ran over to Engong and stabilized her, just as Baräsh did the same to Victor. Gimble then miraculously managed to drag Brundle Swash away from the lightning so that he wouldn’t auto-fail his next save.
So now only Brundle Swash was in danger of dying – the one player that wasn’t there. Baräsh and I both tried and failed medicine checks to revive him and things were getting very desperate. Just as our DM was about to roll the druid’s final death save, the one that could kill him outright, I remembered the healing potion I had bought earlier. Reluctantly, remembering the curse and what it had cost, I poured the draught down the gnome’s throat hoping it would bring him back to life. It did.
Gasping back to life Brundle Swash looked round to see Kosef kneeling in front of him, a look of pleading and desperation in his eyes. “You look how I feel,” managed the gnome before he passed out snoring. Kosef fell backwards and into a deep slumber too.
They weren’t out of the woods yet though. Engong and Her Associates needed to get some rest as soon as possible; most of them were knocking heavily on death’s door. Only Baräsh and Gimble Timbers had any vitality left. They surely couldn’t make camp here. But they had little choice and so set up by the shores of the misty lake, overlooked by the foreboding tower.
Baräsh kept watch. Two hours in and the tiredness began to play tricks on his senses. He saw thick swirling shapes dancing in the mists above the swamp and begun to hear ethereal voices singing on the wind. Eventually the exhaustion beat him and his eyes closed. Growling sounds woke him as Kevon the dog pulled at his armor. Across the lake he saw the swirling dancing shapes take form. Nine hungry, stinking, rotting, animated corpses shambled across the causeway towards where the party slept. END
A fun Curse of Strahd session that will definitely have repercussions later. Somehow we even managed to keep everyone alive. We really should learn to take our DMs hints and not go to places he doesn’t want us to, and not touch doors that have odd sigils on them – this is the second time we’ve fallen for the same trick.
Next week we must take our rest. I don’t think the oncoming zombies are going to wait for us to get back up to full health before they attack. And then, once we have got out of our current predicament we should probably head to Vallaki to see what everyone’s been talking about. Hopefully then, our DM will be a bit nicer and stop trying to curse us all the time.