Kosef, the most agile in the party, decided to try to scale the wall. He nimbly climbed up, using the section where the wall met the cliff to leverage some height. Within a few minutes he was on the upper ramparts. He decided to push his luck a little further and jumped down to the other side, landing with a thud and a self-satisfied grin. He turned to Baräsh, “Ta-da! Easy!” Baräsh did not move. Through the wall of green fire his eyes were fixed to a point just above Kosef’s right ear. There was panic on his face. Kosef turned ’round slowly and came face-to-face with two gigantic, winged, vulture-like rock-creatures.
Last night was session 42 our online D&D Curse of Strahd campaign. Although we started a little late, we were all able to attend, and only suffered minor interruptions from small people who couldn’t sleep and wanted parental attention. We have been playing this campaign for the better part of a year now. Each week, two hours are spent on Skype planning heists, fighting monsters and roleplaying our characters. At some point we may get the hang of it.
Before playing this campaign, the majority of my D&D experience was from behind the Dungeon Master’s screen, but I’ve relished the opportunity to play the same character over a protracted time. So much so that I’m now starting to worry about what would happen if he died. I really don’t want this to happen. This has given me a whole new perspective on PC deaths, especially the ones I have brought about as Dungeon Master. I will definitely be more careful with my players’ characters in the future. Well, maybe I will.
Our adventuring party, Engong and Her Associates, are trapped in Barovia, an evil land full of ghouls, bandits, witches and vampires. It is ruled over by one particular vampire, the eponymous Strand Von Zarovich. Recently we prevented him from forcibly marrying our friend Ireena, and he wants us dead. In the last session, we were searching for the Amber Temple, a place we have been told holds the secret to defeating Strahd. On the way we were accosted by some bandits, easily dispatched, and then found ourselves at a strange gate house with our way forward barred by a wall of green flame. Naturally, the only sensible option was to scale the wall and jump to the other side, which our rogue did. That’s when the two vrocks attacked.
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;
Brundle Swash – Gnome Druid, disheveled, turns into a bear;
Kosef – Human Rogue / Wizard, impatient, played by me;
Victor – Human (Teenage) Wizard-in-Training, has issues, NPC.
Gimble Timbers and Engong had been resting in the carriage alongside Victor and Ireena. Suddenly, they were woken from their slumbers as the sound of crashing rocks echoed around the canyon. It was the screech of a giant stony vulture, a vrock that had descended on Kosef; its caw was like a landslide. Jumping from the cabin, they both dashed towards the gatehouse where Baräsh and Brundle stood. They watched as a second rock monster emerged, swooping low over their friend.
If ever there was a time when a rogue needed to make a high initiative roll then this was it. Naturally, I rolled an eight and went straight into last place.
Baräsh was first to act and he ran straight through the wall of green fire and stood protectively beside me. We were all amazed that he didn’t die, although he did take 24 fire damage, which was nearly half his total hit points. We all agreed that this wasn’t a great idea and that the others should find another way around.
Engong, seeing my rope dangling from the wall, used it to scale to the top. Her incredible monk skills meant she could then jump and swing down to the other side and stand beside me and the dragonborn.
Brundle Swash cast a Protection From Fire spell on himself and ran through the flaming curtain. It dealt only nine points of damage.
From the other side of the wall, Gimble Timbers could see the vrocks circling above his friends. Luckily he’s a good shot with his longbow, and hit one of the fiends dealing some piercing damage. The vrock hardly seemed to notice.
Then it was the vrocks’ turns. The first one, Vrocky Balboa, swooped down to where we all now stood and released a cloud of poisonous spores. Everyone except Gimble and Baräsh failed the constitution saving throw and became poisoned. Then the second one, Dwayne “the Vrock” Johnson, attacked. He dove down at me, slashing with his talons and biting with his stony beak. I was just able to dodge some damage, but took five points from the bite and ten from the talons.
Then Victor and Ireena had their turns. They wisely stayed in the carriage. Victor was searching through his spell book for a way to dispel the green flame wall, while Ireena was putting on her armor.
Finally, it was my turn. Having recently learned some wizard spells, I was keen to impress the party with a firebolt. Of course I missed. I was still suffering from the poison. I then used my bonus action to hide.
Vrocky Horror Picture Show
The next couple of rounds didn’t go much better for us. Victor was eventually able to dispel the flaming barrier, but by the time he did, we were all on the other side anyway. While the obstacle was gone, Gimble drove the wagon through the gate and parked it by a tower on the other side. His wanderlust almost got the better of him, but he decided to stay and help us fight the demons rather than exploring the tower alone.
Meanwhile the vrocks continued their assault, and Kosef seemed to be their main target. My squishy rogue didn’t fare too well against their attacks, and my HP was soon drastically low. I stubbornly continued to not hit them with my firebolts, but thankfully Baräsh, Engong, and Brundle all had better luck.
The one we were calling Dwayne “the Vrock” Johnson started to look worse for wear, when it suddenly dove down at the four of us and let out a terrifying screech. Three more failed constitution saves and Baräsh, Brundle, and I were paralyzed, stunned until the end of the demon’s next turn.
Seeing we were in trouble, Engong ran to the rope that hung by the wall and quickly scaled it. Once on top she had just enough movement left to run and dive off the 30-foot wall, elbow first. She landed with a satisfying thud on “The Vrock” and we all cheered. More inspiration for Engong’s Elbow and the first demon was down.
Hard Vrock Café
Vrocky Balboa was not so easily dealt with. It had taken almost no damage so far, and seeing his companion defeated, dove down and grabbed my stunned rogue in its talons and headed for the cliff where a 200-foot drop waited.
Things looked pretty desperate. Thankfully, the paralysis ended before it flew me over the edge, and Gimble Timbers was able to make an amazing sharpshooter shot, adding his disarming strike ability, which dealt enough damage to Vrocky for it to drop me. Now I only had the problem of plummeting 60 feet to worry about. At least it wasn’t 260 feet. Still, a 60-foot drop could do some pretty serious damage. Luckily, I had Featherfall prepared as one of my new wizard spells. I cast the spell as a reaction and glided softly to the floor.
Over the next few rounds of combat, Vrocky Balboa took some damage from Baräsh and Engong, as Brundle Swash ran to try to save Kosef, who had been knocked unconscious. Vrocky dealt more damage to Baräsh and the demon struck out at the paladin. By now, the rest of our party had decided to run to the safety of the tower. Engong broke down the door and Ireena and Victor ran in first.
Dark clouds gathered overhead as Baräsh picked up the fallen rogue and ran towards the safety of the tower. Sensing the vrock was badly hurt, Engong summoned her Chi and dashed towards the demon who had cornered Brundle by the cliff’s edge. The monk let loose a furious flurry of blows, driving her fists hard against the monster, and it fell. For a second its body teetered on the edge of the 200-foot precipice before tumbling down into the abyss below. END
A very fun session. Two-and-a-half hours fighting two vrocks is a great way to spend an evening. Somehow we all made it out alive, although it was touch and go whether Kosef was going to make it. The vrocks were really powerful; we were very lucky they didn’t have any ranged attacks or we would have suffered a very different fate.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Remember that the environment can be as important an aspect of an encounter as the monsters themselves. This battle had some really interesting features which all came into play during the encounter. The 200-foot drop to one side, the towering cliffs to the other, as well as the gate house itself which provided multiple levels, all added to the intensity of the fight. Some of my favorite D&D moments have come from interesting locations, the most memorable being a fight with a necromancer who stood atop a 300-foot tall impenetrable tower. Half the fun of that encounter came from the different ways in which players tried to overcome the obstacle.
Player Tip: Don’t forget when you’ve got inspiration. It is all too easy to focus on your dice rolls and your character stats and not remember when you’ve been given the chance to re-roll an attack. This is especially true if you received the inspiration in an earlier encounter or previous game session and haven’t used it yet. Two sessions ago, Engong was given inspiration and didn’t remember until halfway through the vrock fight. Thankfully, when she did remember, it really came in useful, but who knows what might have happened if she’d recalled this earlier?
We ended the session taking a long rest in the tower. Hopefully next week we wake up feeling refreshed, having not been attacked in the night, and we quickly make it to the Amber Temple where we find what we’re looking for with relative ease, and then head back to meet Esmerelda at the pre-arranged time and location. Although I doubt that very much.