Bruised and badly in need of a restorative sleep, Engong and Her Associates stared in wonder at the beautiful, dark-haired Vistani woman who 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.
Last night was the 39th session in our ongoing online Curse of Strahd Dungeons & Dragons campaign, and our first game after a two-week break for the holidays. The session lasted a bit longer than usual, but was one of my favorites for some time. There were no technical interruptions last night, and all of our children are still in recovery from Christmas reveling and so slept through the game. Unfortunately, our gnome druid couldn’t make it again, so he spent the session as a mouse hiding in my character’s pocket.
Since arriving in Barovia we have made very few friends and even fewer have survived meeting us. Of our surviving allies, one is being held captive (Ireena), while the other (Riktavio) is AWOL. We have managed to depose one evil Burgomaster, only to replace him with an equally evil one, and have cleared out a winery of an infestation of evil druids. We have also received a number of quests to retrieve magical items that may help us, but have so far made little to no progress in completing them.
We spent the last few session’s infiltrating the Wachta mansion trying to rescue Ireena from Lady Fiona Wachta, the latest evil Burgomaster of Vallaki. The mission ended with our quarry getting away as we were ambushed by six vampires in the basement. Eventually, a mysterious woman named Esmerelda came to our rescue and we defeated the vampires.
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.
“Time is of the essence,” said Esmerelda. “We have to move now. Vallaki is in turmoil.” The Heroes emerged from the basement still hurting as the rain crashed down around them. They looked about for the quickest route to the stable and headed for a back alley that would take them to the east of town. Thunder rolled across the sky as a fork of lightning struck a nearby building sending sparks from a broken weather vane shaped like a wolf. The lightning illuminated the alley and the silhouettes of four Vistani bandits with their weapons raised.
OK, so this wasn’t going to be the easy trek across town we wanted. A battle in a side street would really slow us down. Gimble Timbers charged forwards on his mount, but halfway down the alley he had to make a dexterity saving throw as a dark shadow pounced out from a side alley. We were surprised to see a large, armor-clad tiger bound into our path and begin snarling violently at the cultists. We didn’t know this at the time but this was Riktavio’s tiger.
With the help of the tiger, and Esmerelda fiercely fighting by our side, we quickly dispatched the cultists. I was the only one to take any damage from this fight and was now very low on health, but we were in a hurry to get to Ireena so we continued making our dash across Vallaki. As we ran, I remembered that I had an unknown mysterious potion in my possession—something I had stolen from a Vistani trader and received a curse for earlier in the campaign—but, knowing our DM, this wasn’t likely to be a health potion, so I decided not to take it, in case it was poison, or worse.
We were closing in on the stables; we could hear commotion and the sound of a large group of people not far off. As we ran, Baräsh spotted a family being chased by four wolves. The mother was screaming and her two small children looked scared. But we had somewhere to be. Nonetheless, Baräsh couldn’t stand by as innocents were attacked by wolves, so he dashed off to save them and told us to get Ireena.
We left him. As we reached the stables a large crowd of people stood between us, Lady Wachta, and Ireena. We tried to fight against the tide of commoners, when suddenly they all threw off their cloaks and began attacking us. They were clearly trying to stall us.
Meanwhile, Baräsh was using all of his dragonborn might to fight the four wolves. It took him three rounds but he was able to take down the alpha wolf and intimidate the others in to fleeing. This earned him the gratitude of the woman, who offered him a family heirloom in thanks. Baräsh turned down the beautiful ring, “No need to thank me miss. I was only doing my job.” He later regretted this action when he found out it was a magical ring of protection, but he did earn himself some inspiration for his act of selflessness.
The rest of us fought our way through the crowd. Gimble Timbers, Engong, and Esmerelda easily took out the cultists, with Engong dropping three simultaneously by leapfrogging over one and drop kicking the others. Kosef and Victor chased down Ernst Lanark, one of Lady Wachta’s henchmen.
Reaching the Stables
At the stables, Gimble, Engong, and Esmerelda fought Lady Wachta, who had some powerful spells at her disposal. As they battled, Engong spotted a black carriage speeding into the town square. It was led by a fiery horse. We recognized this as Strahd’s nightmare (the flaming horse) and knew the vampire lord must be inside the carriage. Engong and Esmerelda continued fighting Lady Wachta as Gimble Timbers desperately tried to get Ireena to safety.
Kosef and Victor had just caught up with the others as they spotted a second carriage speeding in from the other side of town. Fearing we were surrounded, I drank the mysterious potion, thinking that if we were about to fight Strahd I would definitely need some extra health, and that if it was poison then it wouldn’t matter too much as I’d be dead soon anyway. It turns out it wasn’t poison. Nor was it a health potion. Instead it was a potion of gaseous form. As I drank it my body immediately turned into gas. I became fully incorporeal. I was hoping that this also made me invulnerable. It didn’t.
It was at this moment that Engong struck the fatal blow to Lady Wachta. She let out a screech as she died and called to her lord for protection. The first black carriage was now no more than 50 feet away and closing in fast. But before it reached us, the second carriage screeched up behind us and we realized that it was being driven by Riktavio, our friend and long-time nemesis of Strahd. What’s more, Baräsh was inside the cabin and he jumped out to stand with us.
Riktavio jumped down from the driver’s seat, grabbed Ireena, and pushed her into the cabin. He looked up, just as Strahd’s dark carriage and flaming horse skidded to a halt in front of us. “Fly you fools! Get in the carriage and go!”
No sooner had he called to the party than the door to Strahd’s cabin flew open and out stepped the immaculately dressed vampire. He didn’t speak. His anger apparent. His fists clenched. Engong went to punch him, but he swatted her away like she was nothing. Gimble felt a wash of control rush over him and he now knew Strahd was a true friend. Baräsh bared his sharp dragonborn fangs and clutched his mighty hammer. Kosef, in cloud form drifted towards Riktavio’s carriage and settled inside next to Ireena. Before anyone could act, Riktavio jumped between the heroes and the vampire. “Save her. Get out of here. I will hold Him off!” he shouted.
Moments later, from inside the cabin, Engong and Her Associates looked back at the stables. They saw Strahd utter the words to a spell and a fireball erupted around Riktavio. The old man brought up his cane, and for a second it appeared like a shining star in his hand as he struck the vampire mightily. Both Strahd and Riktavio were clearly hurt, but neither was giving way to the other. Finally, Strahd caught Riktavio with a crushing blow to his temple and, as the carriage sped from the scene, the heroes watched as the body of Riktavio fell to the ground in a cloud of dust. END
Wow. Another great session; our DM managed to really surprise us a couple of times. Not only did we have an unexpected encounter with a tiger, but we finally caught up with Riktavio again, only for him to sacrifice himself to save us. Unbelievably we did rescue Ireena AND we managed to take out Lady Wachta. Although now we’ve just left a power vacuum for some other potentially evil burgomaster to fill. Again.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Remember to give out inspiration. It’s a really useful tool that you can use to reward roleplaying. In our game, players sometimes give out inspiration too, and this has made us all think more about how our characters act. In this session both Engong and Baräsh received it. Baräsh for rescuing the woman from the wolves, and Engong for her acrobatic leapfrogging over cultists.
Player Tip: Think about how you phrase what your character does or is trying to do with their actions. Rather than just saying “I hit him with my sword, does 16 beat his armor class?”, add in a bit more detail and description. Your DM is more likely to give some leeway on what’s possible if you do something that sounds cool. Try using phrases like, “What I’d like to do is…” and “If it’s possible, I will…” Our monk is particularly good at this, which is how she ended up dropkicking an imp across the town square, and leapfrogging over an enemy cultist.
Next session we have the fallout from our amazing rescue of Ireena. Esmerelda suggested we head towards the safety of Riktavio’s tower. This sounds great, except last time we went there we set off a lot of traps and nearly all died. Hopefully we get there and can take a long rest to heal ourselves and don’t have to fight any more vampires or cultists or wolves or tigers for a very long time.