The heroes weren’t out of the woods yet. They desperately needed to get some rest. So Baräsh kept watch as they recuperated on the shores of the misty lake. Two hours in and the tiredness began to play tricks on his senses, until 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 swirling, dancing mists coalesce as nine hungry, stinking, rotting, animated corpses shambled across the causeway towards where the party slept.
Last night was session 31 in our online Curse of Strahd D&D game. Each week, via Skype, our characters, Engong and Her Associates, explore the dark and dangerous land of Barovia around the infamous Castle Ravenloft, in an attempt to escape the machinations of evil vampire-lord Strahd Von Zarovich and survive the horrors of this classic gothic setting.
Our gaming group is made up of five players and our DM. Each of us have varying degrees of experience with roleplaying games. Before we began, some of us had never played Dungeons & Dragons before, while others were more proficient.
After 30 sessions, we have all just about begun to master the mechanics of how to play and nicely fallen into roleplaying our characters. We have also had to deal with occasional technical glitches, work commitments, and the demands of our lives and families. Nonetheless, amazingly, we have managed to keep up 30 consecutive weeks of playing. Here’s to 30 more…
Last session we ended on yet another cliffhanger — it is becoming something of a habit — so it was now time to see how we would escape the zombies and if we could finally make it back to Vallaki.
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, Oath of Vengeance;
Brundle Swash — Gnome Druid, disheveled, turns into a bear;
Kosef — Human Rogue, impatient, played by me;
Victor — Human (Teenage) Wizard-in-Training, has issues, NPC.
Baräsh woke Gimble Timbers first and they both dashed around the camp waking the others one by one. By the time all the Associates were awake, the zombies were almost within striking distance. The gnome and dragonborn began attacking the marauding fiends while the others readied to defend the camp. Engong and Brundle both drew their weapons as Kosef, wiping the sleep from his eyes, searched on the ground for his crossbow.
As the first wave of zombies reached the camp perimeter, Gimble and Baräsh were there to meet them. The dragonborn let loose his electrifying draconic heritage, striking four of them with his dazzling lightning breath. Then the gnome took out his silver short sword and began furiously hacking at the closest to him. At first the zombies could not get past the two fierce warriors but soon their number overwhelmed the pair and zombies streamed into camp.
We really weren’t ready for this fight. But thankfully Baräsh and Gimble Timbers had enough strength to keep the undead monsters at bay until we had gathered our things. As this was only a couple of hours into our rest we weren’t able to benefit from the healing power of a long rest, but our DM did (reluctantly) let us roll hit die to regain some health. This was essential as we were still suffering from the fight with Baba Lysaga in Session 27.
After a quick few rounds of combat, we vanquished our nine attackers. This wasn’t made any easier by the fact that they have an ability called Undead Fortitude that lets them come back to (un)life even after taking damage that would reduce them to 0 HP. They can only do so after a specific dice roll, but our DM was having a good time among the dice last night.
After the fight our resources were depleted even further. What’s more, we no longer had hit dice to bring us back to health and so decided to forgo the remainder of our long rest in case the fight had attracted any other unwanted attention. So we headed for Vallaki, a nearby town that we knew well.
Vallaki was less than an hour away and as we made our way along the path it became clear we were being followed. High perception and nature rolls from our druid told us that wolves were definitely around and so, as it was getting late, we upped the pace. The druid also used his penultimate spell slot on casting Pass Without a Trace, meaning we left no footprints behind us and became very stealthy.
Less than a mile from Vallaki we approached a crossroads and saw two large wolves up ahead. They were eating something and hadn’t noticed us. Being a stealthy rogue I silently made my way towards them to get a better look. I rolled a natural four on my stealth check, but with a +9 modifier and +10 for Pass Without a Trace I felt confident that I went undetected. I was wrong.
It turned out that the wolves rolled 24 on their perception checks, and I hadn’t noticed the other two beasts in the bushes beside me. One of them jumped out and sunk its fangs into my arm and knocked me to the ground. I let out a yell which alerted both my party AND the remaining wolves.
What followed was another tense fight; we were on the ropes before we even begun. To make matters worse, in the middle of this encounter I had to go and settle my son and so missed out on the majority of the fight. I was convinced that I would return to find my character dead, bite marks across the chest, with the other party members standing mournfully over me. But thankfully, I was able to give one instruction before I left: “On my turn I want to disengage and hide.”
When I returned to the game, two of the wolves had been killed, Victor and Brundle Swash had used the last of their spells setting fire to nearby trees, Gimble Timbers was unconscious, and Baräsh and Engong were desperately battling the last two beasts. So where was I? Hiding in a bush of course.
Guards at the gate
The last two wolves were dealt with fairly quickly after my return and we were able to resuscitate Gimble Timbers. At this stage, none of us had hit points in double figures and our spellcasters were next to useless with only weak cantrips left. We really needed to get to civilization and a warm bed quickly. Wasting no time investigating the scene, we headed straight off to the walls of Vallaki and banged on the gates.
It was still night when we approached the town and we remembered the last time we came here under similar circumstances. This time we were confident that our reception would be warmer, having helped the locals remove their crazed, despotic Burgomaster and installed Lady Wachta as the new town leader. We were wrong.
We were initially turned away at the gates, “Burgomaster’s orders. No one’s allowed in. Especially not troublemakers like you.” We tried to explain who we were, but that didn’t seem to work. Even a natural 20 on a persuasion roll didn’t grant us access, although it did make one of the guards slightly more friendly and sympathetic towards Baräsh.
Eventually, Victor of all people managed to convince them to let us in. When they did, we were greeted by fearsome looking guards, totally covered in black cloth robes wearing white face masks. These were not the town guards we remembered from our time here a week ago.
We were told we would be watched the whole time we were in Vallaki and that we could not go to see Lady Wachta. She was too preoccupied with preparations for the big wedding (Strahd’s wedding, which we had accidentally helped facilitate in a previous session). The friendly gate warden then offered to let us join his camp for the night and we finally were able to take our long rest.
Strange things afoot
Fully healed, for the first time in six sessions, and with maximum spell slots and resources, we awoke in the makeshift camp by the gates. A forest of spearheads greeted us, all pointed towards our heads, and Lady Wachta stood, flanked by more guards. “Hello Friendship,” said Baräsh, optimistic as ever.
Lady Wachta was not pleased to see us return to Vallaki. We explained that we only wanted to re-stock on provisions and meet some allies before leaving as soon as possible. She allowed us to do this, but insisted that the group of eight masked guards follow us closely throughout the town. Our plan was to check in with Ireena, our ally from the start of the campaign; Blinsky the toy-maker; Irwin Martokoff at the Bluewater Inn; and Lady Anna Kreskoff, whom we had arranged to meet. However, it transpired that both Ireena and Lady Kreskoff were “safe” in Lady Wachta’s mansion and were “not accepting visitors.” Naturally we found this highly suspicious.
The Bluewater Inn
Everywhere we went in Vallaki we were shadowed by our guard of eight masked warriors. We had our suspicions about them being vampires but could find no way of proving this. But first, we headed to the Bluewater Inn to see Irwin Martokoff. The last time we were here we started a bar fight and so we expected a frosty reception.
The Bluewater Inn was much as the heroes remembered it. There were still blood stains on the wall from their encounter with Izek Strazni. The tavern was empty save for a few locals at the bar. As Engong and Her Associates entered, their eight silent henchmen followed them in.
One of the locals at the bar recognized Baräsh and stood up. “Oi, get out. This is all your fault,” he yelled. Before the dragonborn paladin could react, one of the masked guards grabbed the man by the arm and dragged him outside. A hush fell across the bar. Irwin the barkeeper stood stoically polishing a very dirty tankard with a very dirty rag.
Baräsh turned back to the bar just as a fist hit him square in the jaw. The man’s friend was up and ready for a fight. Suddenly the room erupted in a wall of noise as the locals in the tavern started screaming angrily at the party and the masked guards with them. Kosef saw an opportunity to duck down behind the bar and hand Irwin the gem. Irwin looked confused. END
This was a really great session, and one of our longest yet at just over three hours. As usual, there were a couple of interruptions: first our monk’s internet connection decided it wanted a rest, and then my 11-month-old son needed soothing, just as I was attacked by the dire wolf — the joys of teething! But happily, neither of these interruptions proved too distracting and we just about survived the evening.
I’m really intrigued to see what is going on in Vallaki since our last stint here. Our DM has done a really good job of piquing our interest and creating the sense of tension within the town. Hopefully Irwin realizes the gem we’ve just given him belongs to his father at the Wizards of Wines winery. I also hope that Blinsky the toy-maker is okay. After all, he is one of the few friendly NPCs we have met so far that we liked and is still alive. Finally, with two other persons of interest locked up in Lady Wachta’s mansion, I foresee a stealth mission on the horizon. What could possibly go wrong…