Session 35: Descending the stairs
Kosef came over to investigate the large wooden chest. He easily picked the lock, disarming the trap and the chest sprung open. Gimble Timbers, Engong and Brundle Swash all peered in and gasped. The chest was filled with bones. Bright, shiny, pristine, porcelain bones. Human bones. What’s more the chest was lined with lead. Kosef pulled out a plaque that read: “Here lies the body of Leo Delivsnia, enemy of the Wachta’s.”
Last night was the 35th session in our online D&D Curse of Strahd campaign. Unfortunately, due to technical difficulties, we were only able to play for just shy of an hour and some of that time was plagued by sound and visual problems. However, we did manage to achieve some things – we descended a stairway, and we explored a kitchen.
In session 34 we broke into Lady Wachta’s mansion to try to find our captive friend Ireena. We got as far as investigating the five upstairs bedrooms, but had no luck in our quest. We did stumble upon Lady Wachta’s dead husband, a room full of sleeping guards, a crazy cat lady, and two drunks passed out, but there was no sign of Ireena. We therefore decided to head downstairs to continue our search.
Engong and Her Associates are:
Engong – Half-Orc Monk, pyromaniac, leader, not a ‘people person’;
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, has a pet dog called Kevon;
Baräsh – Dragonborn Paladin, Oath of Vengeance;
Kosef – Human Rogue, impatient, played by me;
Brundle Swash – Gnome Druid, disheveled, turns into a bear;
Victor – Human (Teenage) Wizard-in-Training, has issues, NPC.
The party left Lady Wachta’s room none the wiser for having entered. There was no sign of either Ireena or the Burgomaster. Only the two dead bodies in very different stages of decomposition. They collected Baräsh and made their way quietly downstairs. If their quarry wasn’t upstairs, she must be either on the first floor or in the basement. Either way they still had plenty of investigating to do.
They remembered seeing Ernest Lanark asleep in the very first room they came to and decided to go back and question him. He must know where Ireena was being held. Although he might not be inclined to help. Thankfully, the party knew some interesting persuasion techniques.
As we left Lady Wachta’s room we collected Baräsh from Lady Anna and made our way down the hallway. As ever our DM was keen to remind us of the pitch darkness of the mansion; only characters with Darkvision could see. We dare not light a torch or candle for fear of alerting others to our presence. This meant Kosef (me), Baräsh and Victor all had to hold on to an ally to prevent tumbling down the stairs.
For a Dungeon Master (DM) Darkvision can be an awkward ability to contend with. As written it allows you to see clearly in dim light within 60 foot, and to see in complete darkness as if it was dimly lit. Many DMs think this is over powered, especially seeing as more than 70% of the playable races available have Darkvision as a racial trait. In practice this means that there is very little environmental difference to setting up an encounter at night or in the day.
However, in our situation it meant that we had to spend the next 30 minutes clambering down the stairs, with the effectively blind characters grappling those who could see. In fact, when a party like ours is split between having some characters with Darkvision and some without, it can make for really entertaining roleplay situations. Players become reliant on each other and have to really trust one another, which can mess with the normal party dynamics.
So we began descending the stairs. They creaked loudly. Suddenly we heard a disembodied voice, high-pitched, laughing in the darkness. “Haw haw! Don’t trip. Watch out for that third step, it’s a doozy!”
Three steps down, we stopped. Brundle and I were leading the way, with Gimble and Victor next, and Engong and Baräsh bringing up the rear. “Hello friendship,” offered Baräsh. No response from the ethereal voice.
“Can anybody see anything?” asked Brundle. No reply.
Paused on the third step
After hearing the disembodied voice taunt us, we all stopped where we were. In game time we were only stopped for a millisecond, but in real-time it took us 15 minutes to decide how to proceed. Most of the discussion centered around who should take the lead. Under normal circumstances a stealthy character like a rogue would go first, but in the dark, and without Darkvision, Kosef would be at disadvantage on finding traps or avoiding creaking steps.
Baräsh offered to take point, but he was also at disadvantage due to his heavy armor and Darkvision, so in the end we decided that Gimble Timbers would take the lead, closely followed by Kosef, who could instruct him on how to check for traps. All the while we had our discussion, the mysterious voice continued to insult and criticize us, “Yeah, let the gnome lead the way. What’s the worst that can happen? Haw haw!” Our DM was clearly enjoying himself.
We continued our descent, being extra careful as we took each stride. Every three steps Gimble Timbers had to make a stealth check, then an investigation check. I could aid him on the investigation check as he was looking for traps, but his stealth check was all his own. The first three steps he rolled quite high and didn’t need the advantage from my aid, but as we neared the bottom, he repeated the check for a fourth time, this time rolling abysmally on both: 4 on his stealth roll and 6 on his investigation (even with rolling twice thanks to my assistance).
There was a loud creak and we all stopped instantly. More laughing from the ethereal voice, “Uh oh! You’ve done it now. Lady Wachta’s gotta know you’re here by now. Haw haw!”
Then the voice faded and whatever it was that was taunting us seemed to disappear. Apart from that and the loud creaking, nothing else untoward happened. At least, nothing as far as we were aware. We had made it to the bottom of the stairs and it had only taken us 30 minutes.
The next 20 minutes or so were taken up with exploring the downstairs rooms. Primarily the kitchen. Brundle Swash and Engong spent time rifling through the drawers and pantry – looking for ingredients for cheese toasties, while the rest of us searched for any sign of Ireena – or anyone else for that matter. It was a bit lighter in the kitchen area so our lack our Darkvision didn’t hamper us too much.
After not finding anything of interest in the kitchen we headed back to the first room we came to in the mansion. This was along another dark corridor. Great. More stealth and investigations checks for the gnome fighter. Amazingly he passed all of these and we made it to the large lounge area with the comfortable chairs.
Like much of the rest of the mansion, this room lay in total darkness and those of us without Darkvision were totally reliant on the other party members to see. We expected to find Ernest Lanark still snoozing in a chair by the hearth, but he was gone. This could only mean he had been alerted to the presence of intruders and his absence could not be a good omen for us.
Eventually Victor grew tired with his lack of Darkvision in the pitch black and cast a light spell, illuminating the room.
Strange shadows danced across the ceiling as Victor’s otherworldly light sent prismatic echoes around the ostentatious lounge. Brundle Swash caught sight of a drink cabinet, a glass of brandy, unfinished, began calling to him.
As the dishevelled gnome crossed the room entranced, the rest of Engong and Her Associates started to search. They were looking for anything that might seem out-of-place, an upside down book, an ornamental bell-pull, or a wonky portrait hiding a secret passageway. Nothing. Gimble Timbers searched the fireplace. Nothing. Engong started jumping at the walls. Still nothing.
The strange disembodied voice returned. Taunting them it cackled loudly, “Haw haw! You guys don’t stand a chance!” A highly decorated rug began to curl at the edges and then hover in the center of the room. “Woo! I’m a ghost!” Mocked the voice. “I am the one that watches. I have seen you here. I have seen you there. You will not find the girl. Not before it is too late. Haw haw!” END
What an odd end to an odd session. We will have to wait for another week before we find out what invisible fiend is teasing us. We ended session 34 with our DM telling us he had a big fight planned but we just missed out on it, so we went into last night’s game fully expecting a battle. Obviously this didn’t happen. Surely next week this big battle must occur? Unless of course he is just tricking us. I refuse to believe that we could explore the house and not find a single sign of Ireena or Lady Wachta, that would be four whole sessions wasted on planning and undertaking a heist, the target of which might not even be here. Our DM is keeping his cards very close to his chest on this, but he’s likely to have five very grumpy players if this whole thing has been a complete waste of time.
Something I realized last night was that it’s amazing to see the difference between playing a regular weekly D&D game and a less frequent monthly, or bi-monthly one. Currently I am involved in two campaigns, in one I DM and in one I am a player (this one). The one I DM we play far less often – ideally once a month, but not quite – and because of this we spend much less time focusing on the more mundane aspects. We play so rarely that if we spent an hour descending a stairway and investigating an empty kitchen, players might feel a bit short-changed – they prefer a big battle against Beholders and Elder Brains. But because our weekly Curse of Strahd sessions are very regular, and also much shorter (two hours rather than five or six), we have been able to spend a lot more time roleplaying our characters and exploring the world in detail.
Hopefully next week we manage to play for a normal amount of time and there are less technical problems. We may even get to the big battle we’ve been promised. Fingers crossed that it’s not a battle that happens in a pitch black room.