Breathing slowly, Engong stepped into the room, snow was falling all around, and she could see her breath in the magical cold air. Her knuckles cracked as she made towards the closest vampire. Engong could see that this must have once been a rather beautiful elf before she became one of Strahd’s minions. The vampire saw her approach and snarled, baring sharp white fangs. Engong smiled.
Last night was session 38 in our ongoing online Curse of Strahd Dungeons & Dragons campaign. We started on time and there were no interruptions technical or otherwise (my 1-year-old son is doing very well with his new nighttime routine and didn’t stir once throughout our game–if only he could discover that 4:47 AM is still the night and not an acceptable time to wake up).
Our party, Engong and Her Associates, were one member down again last night. Unfortunately, as our gnome druid has a sideline working unsociable hours in retail, he couldn’t join us, but as we continued fighting vampires in a basement, we were assisted by a mysterious stranger, and we collectively rolled a lot of critical hits and misses between us.
We ended session 37 trapped in a basement, facing five fierce vampire spawns. They were all that stood between us, and the evil Burgomaster of Vallaki, Lady Wachta, who had captured our ally Ireena Kolyana. We had been ambushed in the basement, while searching for Ireena and managed to kill three cultists and one of the vampires. Our impetuous teenage wizard Victor had cast a powerful Cone of Cold spell that badly hurt the remaining five, as well as some of us. As we began the odds seemed stack against us.
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, ABSENT;
Victor – Human (Teenage) Wizard-in-Training, has issues, NPC.
Engong, revived from her moment of languor, stood at the top of the stairs staring into the carnage below. Icicles hung from the ceiling from Victor’s icy blast. She could see Gimble Timbers locked in combat with two vampires. There was Baräsh on the far side of the room facing two more, his holy hammer glowing in his hand as he swung at his foes. Kosef danced around the center of the room, ducking and dodging blows and stabbing into one vampire with his rapier. In another corner a vampire had Brundle Swash pinned to the ground.
Brundle Swash was badly hurt and, in a panic (and because his player was not here), he Wildshaped into a mouse, escaped the vampire’s grapple, and dashed into the adjoining room to hide in a corner until the fight ended. The vampire attacking him looked confused. Then it turned around to face Engong and scored the first critical hit of the night. It slashed across the monk’s face with its claws, dealing a lot of damage. Engong let out a whelp as the blood seeped from her orc-ish skin. The vampire attacked her again. This time it scored the first critical failure of the night and fell prone on the floor with a severe case of vertigo.
These first two dice rolls really set the tone for the rest of last night’s session. In the next hour and forty-five minutes, there were 11 more critical rolls: six were hits and five were failures. As written in the official rules, when rolling to attack, a roll of 20 on a d20 counts as a critical hit and does double damage. So if you would normally roll 1d4 damage, on a critical hit you roll 2d4. But with our house rules, when you roll a 20 or 1 on the attack roll, you have to then roll percentile dice checking the result against a “Crits and Fumbles” table (see below). This adds a fun extra dimension to the game and helps pad out combat and inspire roleplaying as enemies fall prone, are blinded or stunned by a critical hit, and players drop their weapons, hit allies, or hurt themselves from critical fails.
We use this critical hit table by Brian Dees which can be found on the DMs Guild.
The first few rounds of combat went as to be expected. Gimble Timbers and Baräsh dealt out and received most of the damage, although neither had any of their abilities left, having used spells slots, superiority dice, and second winds last session. While our paladin and fighter kept the vampires busy, the monk, rogue, and wizard skirted the edges of the combat getting in attacks wherever they could.
At one point, Engong ran in circles around one vampire hitting it with a flurry of blows; this was followed by a sneak attack from Kosef dealing lots of damage and then a ray of frost from Victor. All three of us managed a critical hit in this string of combos and finished off the vampire.
Sadly, Baräsh and Gimble weren’t having as much success. The vampire spawns had resistance to most of their attacks, meaning they only took half the damage they otherwise would, and they could then regenerate 10HP at the start of each round. At this point, we had fought for a good few rounds and they still seemed relatively unharmed.
The fight was looking to go on for a long time when a mysterious stranger entered the fray. There were still four vampires to go and we had nearly run out of everything. We were all low on HP, had no abilities or resources left, and both Gimble Timbers and Victor had been grappled by vampires and were being bitten. Suddenly, a yell came from the stairs as an impressive Vistani Woman wielding an axe and a longsword charged into the room. “You must save Ireena!” she yelled, and started tearing into the nearest vampire.
This impressive woman was Esmerelda d’Avenir and entirely changed the tide of the battle. Suddenly, the odds were in our favor as her axe and sword made quick work of the first undead fiend. We all watched on in shock and awe.
Three rounds after her dramatic entry, we had taken out the last vampire spawn. Engong had taken Esmerelda’s command literally and ran out of the cellar to save Ireena mid-battle, but she couldn’t see Ireena outside the mansion. She did see a pile of dead cultists (presumably Esmerelda’s handiwork) and could hear some commotion going on across town, but decided to wait for the rest of us before heading off.
Bruised and badly in need of a restorative sleep, Engong and Her Associates stared in wonder at the beautiful, dark haired Vistani woman that stood before them. Esmerelda brushed off the bits of dead vampire and introduced herself. She explained that Ireena was being taken to the stables to be led out of Vallaki and prepared for Strahd. “We must go after them now, before it is too late. Ireena must not be taken to Him,” she said. END
What we really need now is a long rest, but somehow I don’t think that will be coming any time soon. It seems like having spent the last five sessions searching for Ireena in Lady Wachta’s mansion, we’ve now got a chase on our hands to get to the stables as quick as we can and prevent Ireena from falling in to the wrong hands. We were all quite surprised when Esmerelda entered the battle, but it was nice to have a powerful ally, although our track record with NPCs isn’t great.
This was our last game of 2017 and we will be taking a brief hiatus for a couple of weeks as our players all spend time with their friends and families. When we return in the New Year, we will do so with resolutions to not die so much, make more sensible decisions, and maybe try to find a way out of Barovia and kill Strahd.
I will also be including a “what I learned from this session” hints and tips for players/DMs section in my future reports. So to get the ball rolling:
It’s OK to fudge a couple of rolls in the players’ favor if things are starting to look bleak for them, but make sure this isn’t at the cost of a monster’s credibility. A vampire that misses six times in a row when they have advantage is likely to become a bit of a joke and not a feared foe.
Try not to expend all of your good attacks, resources, or spell slots at the beginning of a fight or too early in between rests. You never know when you’re going to need to use those divine smites, high level spells, healing potions, or superiority dice, so always try to keep something back. Resource management is super important, as we’re no doubt going to discover next session when we run to rescue Ireena with none of these things left.