Strahd’s carriage cabin door flew open and out stepped the immaculately dressed vampire. He didn’t speak. His anger apparent. How dare they try to take his bride from him? Riktavio jumped between the heroes and the vampire. “Save Ireena. Get out of here. I will hold Him off!” The heroes’ carriage sped away. They looked back and saw Strahd utter the words to a spell and a fireball erupted around Riktavio. Strahd caught Riktavio with a crushing blow to his temple and, as their carriage sped from the scene, the heroes watched the body of their friend fall to the ground in a cloud of dust.
Last night was the 40th session in our ongoing, online Curse of Strahd D&D campaign. For the first time in a while we were all present and there were no interruptions. We also continued to stream our efforts on Twitch last night, but have so far not yet developed the kind of following our Dragonborn Paladin expected when he set up the channel, nothing like the 100,000 people who watched the first episode of the new Critical Role campaign. However, this is definitely a good thing, as the quality of our roleplaying is nowhere near the standards set by all other online D&D games. Never mind, I’m sure our four followers remain entertained. Last night they got to watch us plan our next move. This took almost an hour, half of the total session. But first, there was the small matter of a carriage chase out of town.
Our party, Engong and Her Associates, have been trapped in Barovia for a couple of months. It’s a horrible land ruled over by Strahd Von Zarovich and his undead minions. He is an evil vampire that torments his people and is desperately trying to force a young woman called Ireena to marry him, for reasons unknown. Our party has met Strahd on numerous occasions and has not fared very well. So last session, when he arrived on the scene, the best we could hope for was to run away, taking Ireena with us. Our ally Riktavio tried to hold him at bay as our carriage sped away.
Engong and Her Associates are:
Engong – Half-Orc Monk, pyromaniac, our leader, not a “people person”;
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, has a wooden arm and 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.
With Baräsh at the reins, the rickety wooden carriage sped through the twisting streets of Vallaki. Soon he managed to navigate his way to the main gates and away from the town. Gimble Timbers clung to the rails at the back of the carriage, keeping watch behind them. As Vallaki shrank in the distance, he made a mental note never to return, although not for the first time.
Baräsh kept the two draft horses on a tight rein. Inside the cabin Engong, Brundle, Kosef, and Victor began to compose themselves after a long and hectic day. Ireena sat in a daze, seemingly unaware of what had transpired. Suddenly Esmerelda roused herself and began demanding that they turn around and go back for Riktavio. “You don’t understand, we must go back. You don’t know who he is!”
The chase begins
Esmerelda spent the next few minutes telling us all about Riktavio; he was actually Rudolf Von Richten, famous vampire hunter, and therefore Barovia’s only chance of defeating Strahd. Unfortunately we were all far too hurt to go back and save him, and so she agreed to take us to his tower so we could rest and decide what should be done next.
This conversation was interrupted as a dark shadow passed overhead. Gimble and Baräsh didn’t need to roll high on their perception checks to see the large swarm of bats hurtling towards the carriage. As they called into the cabin to alert us, a sickening howl went up on the road in front of us—wolves!
At this stage we had survived several encounters since our last restorative rest. We had no abilities or spells left between us and did not fancy the prospect of wolves, or, even worse, werewolves. But our DM has read that this should be a campaign that makes the heroes fear and dread every minute in Barovia, and so wolves were exactly what we got. With the added bonus of a swarm of bats. He must be saving the werewolves for later.
The carriage hurling along the road, Baräsh rolled consistently high animal handling checks and kept the horses under control. Then the wolves and the bats attacked. The lead wolf jumped at one of our two horses as two more flanked the carriage. Baräsh called into the cabin for someone to take the reins, and began to climb across the wooden shafts between the horses. He swung his hammer at the attacking wolf and knocked it back. The other wolves began closing in. Baräsh lost his footing and slipped, catching his foot amid the rigging.
I was so hoping that our DM wouldn’t say those words, at least not until we had rested. Even a short rest would have been OK.
Thankfully we all rolled fairly high on our initiative rolls and so could act before the wolves and bats did. Hopefully we could get this over with quickly and without much fuss.
First, Brundle jumped out of the cabin and took the reins. Somehow he rolled a natural 20 on his animal handling check and the horses remained calm and under control. Brundle could see the wolves flanking and cast Produce Flame and hurled a small mote of fire at one of them. He rolled a four and missed the wolf, who hardly noticed.
Then the rest of us all tried to help. Engong climbed after Baräsh and was able to pull him up to safety. Gimble Timbers, still hanging on the rear of the carriage, used his crossbow, but missed the swarm of bats. Kosef climbed onto the roof of the cabin and sent a crossbow bolt at the lead wolf, and Victor missed the wolves with a Firebolt spell.
After a couple of rounds of combat we had frightened off the wolves and the bats weren’t really troubling us. We were just about to catch our breaths, when something heavy slammed into the rear of the carriage. We all had to make a dexterity saving throw as the cart jolted and shook from the impact. None of us were thrown from the carriage, but as Gimble Timbers recomposed himself he saw a fierce fiery horse galloping behind us, its driver a familiar well-dressed, pale man.
This was not good news. But we weren’t going to let him get any advantage.
Immediately Engong jumped from the horse and ran back to Strahd and his nightmare. Her freakish monk speed meant she could travel twice the distance of the rest of us. She punched the flaming horse repeatedly.
From the front of the cabin Brundle cast Call Lightning, and both Strahd and his mount took nine points of damage. Gimble Timbers, dangling from the rear of the carriage by his false wooden arm, called out, “Where is Riktavio? What have you done to him?”
“He is gone,” replied Strahd. Absent was his once calm, jovial demeanor. This vampire lord meant business. “You have taken my bride. You will return her now.” We weren’t keen to comply.
From his perch on top of the cabin, Kosef threw a rope to Engong and a crowbar at the horse. Amazingly the crowbar hit the horse and it stumbled momentarily. This allowed Victor to cast confusion on it with advantage and it screeched to a halt, throwing its rider. Of course Strahd made his dismount cleanly and began chasing the carriage. But he lost ground as we sped away.
Baräsh climbed back onto the carriage, sat next to Brundle Swash, and started praying loudly. His prayers must have been answered as the next moment a gleaming golden light shone around the two draft horses and they began charging forward with godly vigor. In seconds the carriage passed over the old stone bridge. Riktavio’s tower loomed up ahead, getting ever closer. The party knew if they could just reach it they would be protected from Strahd, temporarily at least. Gimble Timbers caught Engong’s rope and helped her up to the rear of the carriage; they could not see Strahd behind them. Had he given up the chase? They arrived moments later at the foot of the tower. Esmerelda knew the incantation to allow access and they all hurried inside. They were safe. For now. END
We finished the session with an hour of planning what to do next. First, we decided to take a long rest. It has been nearly six sessions since we last rested, I think it was early in December, so we really benefited from this one. Especially as we all advanced on to level seven.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Make sure you let your players spend time talking and planning. Not only does it help them to have some time to discuss as a group what their objectives are, but it also allows you an insight into what they might do next—even though they never actually do what they plan. It also gives you great a chance to plan some stuff too. While they’re recovering from one battle, you can be secretly planning the next one using that insider information gleaned from their new plans.
Player Tip: Know your inventory. A real highlight from last night’s session was when looking through my character sheet for something to hurl at Strahd’s fiery horse, I stumbled upon a crowbar that I’d forgotten. I used it as an improvised weapon and received inspiration for my ingenuity. Also, it hit the nightmare, causing it to trip and gave us a second to breathe during the chase. It goes to show: you never know what might be useful, so keeping track of your items can really get you out of a pinch.
Next session we hope to get Ireena someplace safe and start searching for the artifacts that can help us defeat Strahd. This was the second week in a row where the vampire lord made a surprise cameo; hopefully this isn’t the start of a horrific new trend.