Mura removed her wooden mask, revealing a face full of scars and stories of fierce battle. “What are you doing here on the mountain?” Baräsh told her that he sought the Amber Temple in order to destroy Strahd. “Well, we are no friends of Strahd,” replied Mura. “But no one goes to the Amber Temple; it is forbidden. That is where the devil lives. I will take you to the gate of hell. But you are mad to go in there.”
Last night was the 44th session in our ongoing, online Curse of Strahd D&D campaign. The session started on time, suffered very few interruptions, and we were (almost) all able to play, but would we all survive?
Sadly our dragonborn paladin was not able to join us. This was the first real session he has missed. So we would have to make do without our main healer, our tank, our damage sponge, and main point-guy. Perhaps it’s about time we started sharing out some of these responsibilities?
Finally, in this session two amazing things happened. First, we made a plan and actually stuck to it, seeing it out to its conclusion, and it worked! And second, our druid, who can turn into a variety of woodland animals at will, turned into a bear and fought a giant wolf, which was cool.
Note: Last week, sadly the inevitable happened and we missed our session altogether. Our druid had work commitments, which would have left four people playing. This would have been fine, but our monk and paladin also couldn’t make it, and so we decided that a party of two just wasn’t strong enough to survive the horrors of Barovia. It turns out this was the right decision.
Our group of adventurers has been searching for ways to defeat Strahd Von Zarovich, the evil vampire overlord in the mysterious land of Barovia. Last session we made our way towards the Amber Temple and met an ally, Mura, who agreed to take us to the temple’s entrance. We knew that the Amber Temple would be a dangerous place and had been warned by many people not to go there, but we sought the power to defeat Strahd, which lies inside, or so we had been told. We were traveling with a teenage wizard called Victor, who wanted to join our ranks, and Ireena Kolyana, a friend whom we had saved from the clutches of Strahd.
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;
Brundle Swash – Gnome Druid, disheveled, turns into a bear;
Kosef – Human Rogue / Wizard, impatient, played by me;
Baräsh – Dragonborn Paladin, Oath of Vengeance, Absent;
Victor – Human (Teenage) Wizard-in-Training, has issues, NPC.
As Engong and Her Associates climbed the path up to the Amber Temple, they could see their guide becoming more and more nervous. Clearly this proximity to the source of her fear was troubling her, so Baräsh, ever-the-gentleman, slowed down his pace to comfort her. Soon the road began to fade away, replaced by a thick covering of snow all around, and a row of faceless statues, each 20-foot tall, came into view. “That’s it. That’s as far as I go,” said Mura. “The Amber Temple.”
A secret entrance
We began the session with our guide leaving us at the entrance of the temple. As Baräsh wasn’t playing last night, our DM had him escort Mura away and he would rejoin us later.
In front of us stood six large amber statues, between which a narrow staircase led downwards. Having recently had some minor issues with statues coming to life, we were naturally hesitant to rush in and so decided to investigate the area first.
It didn’t take us long to find a secret entrance hidden behind one of the statues. There was a slim fissure in the wall that was masked in shadow, a narrow squeeze which led on to a thin passageway. Before any of us volunteered to enter, Brundle Swash cast Pass Without a Trace on us all, heightening our stealth ability. Then Gimble Timbers, the smallest among us, was nominated to crawl into the passageway to see where it led.
With the added bonus from Brundle’s spell, he rolled 28 on his stealth check and was able to sneak in unnoticed. Moments later, he reappeared and told us what he saw. It was a small, bare, circular chamber lit by torches with six bedrolls on the floor. He could hear the sound of knives being sharpened and just made out the backs of five humanoid figures and a large wolf. These were the wild folk we had fought before.
Concocting a plan
So, knowing that there was a side entrance and how it was guarded, we concocted a plan. I would sneak into the narrow passageway and shoot at one of the thugs, hopefully catching their attention and causing them to chase me back out of the tunnel. When they got to the end of the tunnel, Engong would be waiting there with her rope pulled taut across the path, ready to take out the first to follow. The second would fall foul of Gimble Timbers’ bear trap, which would be placed conveniently at the passageway’s exit. And the third one would come face-to-face with Brundle Swash, in his bear form.
This seemed to us like a pretty good plan, and we were excited to give it a go. Our DM smiled. I think he was almost impressed.
As per our plan I made my way, as sneakily as possible, down the passageway and spotted the thugs standing at the far end of the chamber. I silently loaded my crossbow and took aim. Using my Assassin feature, a True Strike cantrip, and Sneak Attack, I was able to score a critical hit against one, dealing 28 damage with a single bolt. It didn’t kill him, but the attack had the desired effect of getting their attention. I turned and ran back down the passage, dodging past the rope and the bear trap as I did. I could hear multiple voices following me.
Engong stood ready with her rope, and as I ducked under, she pulled tight, just as the first berserker ran straight into it. One successfully contested strength check later and the thug was on the floor, with Engong punching ferociously.
Gimble Timbers had just finished setting the springs on his bear trap as I dashed past him. The sound of Engong wrestling with one of the thugs came down the passageway and Gimble stepped back and drew his longbow, just as the second berserker ran straight into his trap. The thug yelled out in pain and fell prone on the floor, his right foot clamped hard in the iron jaws. Gimble shot him.
Then came the third berserker. He was more agile than the first two and their yells had alerted him to be on his guard. He skillfully dodged past Engong and her rope. He leapt over his fallen ally in the bear trap and dove out of the passageway. The light of the early afternoon hit him, and he blinked as his eyes adjusted. Then he too let out a scream as a huge brown bear wrapped his enormous arms around him and Brundle-Bear bit down hard on his shoulder.
By the time our surprise round was over we clearly had the upper hand and so pressed our advantage. Only three of the berserkers had followed me out of the cave, leaving two more and a wolf that we knew of, but we concentrated on the ones in front of us.
With Victor casting spells, and Ireena using Gimble Timbers’ shortsword, we outnumbered them two-to-one. Within two rounds we had killed one, and severely hurt the others without incurring too much damage ourselves.
Then, just as Brundle-Bear was tearing shreds out of berserker number two and Engong was cartwheeling around berserker number three, the rest of the wild-folk contingent came running around the corner, catching us off-guard. Three more berserkers, a very large wolf, and a gladiator, clad in gleaming armor, charged toward us. While their companions had followed me down the passageway, they had dashed out of the main entrance to the temple and doubled back on us. Now they outnumbered us.
Bear vs. Wolf
As the new challengers entered the fray, the berserkers went straight for Ireena and Victor. Meanwhile, the gladiator ran straight at Engong and Gimble Timbers, and the wolf dashed right at our friendly neighborhood bear.
In fact, the best part of this fight was the whole bear versus wolf showdown that saw Brundle-Bear score two consecutive critical hits tearing a huge chunk out of the dire wolf. Eventually the wolf realized it was fighting a losing battle and fled the scene, whimpering with its tail between its legs. Brundle-Bear let out a victorious roar and we all cheered.
Meanwhile, I had been helping out Ireena and Victor against the newly arrived berserkers, and was making the most of my sneak attack bonus. Ireena was next to useless with her borrowed shortsword, but Victor was doing quite well against his aggressor. Between us we finished them off, Victor melting one with a Firebolt spell, while I acquainted the other with my two daggers.
Engong and Gimble Timbers were having a much harder time with the gladiator; he clearly had a lot of hit points and had three attacks each turn. Gimble was impaled with a spear, taking a lot of damage, and Engong couldn’t seem to get her attacks past his shield. Thankfully, having dealt with the wolf, Brundle-Bear was on hand to provide some help. After a couple of rounds, he managed to grapple the gladiator and pin him to the ground, which allowed the rest of us start whittling down his health. Eventually we decided to change tack and Brundle-Bear intimidated the gladiator. He did so with advantage as he was sitting on him.
The giant brown bear had the gladiator pinned down on the ground. He roared ferociously. Blood and spit flew in the gladiator’s face and he winced, showing for the first time a glimpse of fear. Tossing his shield and spear aside, the gladiator raised his hands in submission. “Peace. Peace,” he called. “You have won.”
Getting to his feet, he said he was called Helva, and that his name was synonymous with might and legend. The party interrogated him about the temple and the best way in. “Give us a reason not to kill you,” said Engong, angry that he had bested her earlier. He told them of a secret way into the temple and reluctantly agreed to show the way. “It won’t be easy,” he said. “We will probably all die. But it will be a glorious and noble death.”
“Oh good,” said Gimble Timbers, “as long as it’s noble.” END
Although mostly combat, this was another really fun session. Before the game started, I thought we would begin exploring the temple and was prepared to go delving into the deep, dark dungeon. However, as ever, our DM had other plans—more opportunities for us to use up those essential resources before we enter the dungeon.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Consider how useful traveling NPCs should be to your adventurers. You probably don’t want them to have all the answers to the elaborate riddles you’ve planned, but there’s no reason why a wizard wouldn’t be able to detect magic, or a cleric wouldn’t recognize a particular holy image or symbol. They don’t necessarily have to offer this information up straight away, but your players aren’t likely to let NPCs travel with them if they’re not useful in some way. Certainly, our group would struggle without our NPC Victor, as none of us have any particular arcane skillset or magical ability.
Player Tip: Not all planning time is time wasted. Plans sometimes work. True, we’ve played 43 sessions and not a single plan during those games went as we expected. BUT eventually, in session 44, a plan came off and went well! So don’t assume that your plans will always fail.
Next week we follow Helva through the secret passageway into the Amber Temple, and I’m convinced our DM has his own plans to kill us all. To make matters worse, none of us have full hit points and most have used up our spells slots and daily resources. Maybe he’ll let us find a nice quiet empty room and have a long uninterrupted rest, but I guess we shouldn’t plan on it.