Think long and Strahd about it
A deep voice that only Engong could hear rang out from the sarcophagi, “I am Khirad, the Star of Secrets. Accept this gift. Accept the power of foresight. See what your enemy plans. Know their secrets.” For a second Engong paused. She turned to Victor to ask, “Are you sure there are no side-effects?” But no sound came out. “This gift is freely given,” the deep voice rang in her ears. She nodded and a broad smile, cruel and evil spread across her face.
Last night our D&D group played the 46th session in our online Curse of Strahd campaign. We had a lot to think about during the session, and some bad choices were made, but I guess that ’s what happens when you play a gothic horror inspired vampire story.
Amazingly, last night our group were all able to play. The adverse weather conditions here in the UK didn’t affect our game, no matter how much the news media wanted us to believe that this was the End Times (it snowed a little bit). What’s more, those of us who are parents managed to go a whole two and a half hours without our kids noticing that we were doing something that we enjoyed that didn’t include them.
Previously On Curse of Strahd…
Our illustrious party, Engong and Her Associates, have been exploring the Amber Temple, searching for a relic to help us defeat evil-vampire-overlord Strahd Von Zarovich. Last week we found a room with three sarcophagi in it that each housed a dark swirling mist. These dark mists each wanted to give us dark gifts. Fearing that these dark gifts were not the secrets we were searching for, some of our party declined. Some, however, did not.
Engong and Her Associates Are:
Engong – Half-Orc Monk, leader, accepted the dark gift of Khirad;
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, has a pet dog called Kevon;
Baräsh – Dragonborn Paladin, stupid, Oath of Vengeance;
Kosef – Human Rogue/Wizard, impatient, played by me;
Brundle Swash – Gnome Druid, disheveled, turns into a bear;
Victor – Human (Teenage) Wizard-in-Training, accepted the dark gift of Khirad, NPC.
The party cautiously exited the room. Victor and Engong were both still grinning madly, the after-effects of their devious pacts. Gimble Timbers looked around uncomfortably, he was still coming to terms with the absence of Kevon. Meanwhile, Kosef and Brundle shared a knowing sideways glance, they could see the cracks growing within the party.
Baräsh was the first out of the room and keen to move on. He glanced about purposefully, spotting the four cowering nothics in the corner of the chamber. Dusting off his shoulders, he approached them. Radiant energy was spilling out from his holy hammer illuminating his sharp Dragonborn features. “Hello Friendships!”
Let’s Make a Deal
The room we were in was a large antechamber that led away from the main temple room we’d been in previously. We didn’t want to go back into that particular area because of all the fireballs and evil death-traps, so we started trying some of the other doors. The first ones we tried were magically locked, so we hatched a plan to see if the crazed nothics (disfigured mutated wizards) could help us.
We knew that these weird creatures craved knowledge and secrets, and so we wracked our brains to see what we could trade for the magic words that might open the doors.
We could offer information we’d learned about Strahd. No deal. A powerful woman who could predict the future. Boring! The celestial being masquerading as the Abbot of Kresk. Not interested. What’s in Kosef’s pockets? Now you’re talking.
“The Lich knows the answers,” the nothics squealed. “He hides in his chambers. Give us something magical and we will give you something.”
Rooting around in his pack, Baräsh pulled out a holy symbol to Strahd he’d found in our very first session.
The nothics then told us the password to the locked door and Baräsh entered the room. The nothics dashed away as Baräsh looked on another amber glazed chamber with black marble floors. Three more amber sarcophagi sat in this room, dark swirling mists in their centers. Suddenly, a shining silver sword appeared, floating before Baräsh. Behind the sword a shimmering figured coalesced out of thin air. A slimy, evil-looking creature, more frog than man, was standing in front of Baräsh, but before he could greet him the sword swung out.
The creature that attacked was a Death Slaad, an evil, sadistic aberration that looked like a giant horned toad. We soon found out that it was also a very powerful enemy.
The first couple of combat rounds saw us all do damage to the Slaad, but with little effect. It was clearly regenerating and seemed to be resistant to certain types of damage. It also made three attacks with its greatsword per turn, which Engong and Baräsh were feeling the brunt of.
By the end of the fourth round, half of the party were in the chamber with the Slaad, while the other half were in the corridor trying to send in ranged attacks and not get in each other’s way. This was only achieved with marginal success.
After the sixth round the Slaad was starting to look a little worse for wear, but so were we. Baräsh had used up his draconic breath weapon; Engong had very few Ki points left; none of Brundle’s spells seemed to be working; Gimble Timbers and Victor were fighting for position in the hallway; and Kosef was hiding in the shadows – as much as anyone can in a hallway with no fixtures or furniture.
Slaad Boiled Eggs
Eventually, Baräsh managed to grapple the Death Slaad, holding him in place as we all attacked. Engong kicked, punched and head-butted it; Gimble sent two sharpshooter arrows into its neck; Brundle hit it with a stick; Kosef hit with a sneak attack to the back; and Victor hit with a Ray of Sickness. The Slaad was now looking very badly hurt.
When it escaped the grapple it let loose a desperate fireball that hit all of us except Engong, who was cartwheeling around the other side of the room. We were badly hurt, so when in the subsequent round it let out another disastrous fireball, both Victor and Brundle fell. But so did the Slaad as Baräsh scored a critical hit on his final hammer attack. Its flesh boiled away, the Slaad turned to mush, liquefied and bubbling on the floor.
As we caught our breaths and looked around the room, Baräsh and Engong examined two of the amber tombs. Meanwhile, I ran to Brundle and administered some healing, just in time for him to roll a natural 20 on his first death save – this meant he became conscious and returned to life with one hit point.
More Dark Gifts
Baräsh and Engong were both offered more dark pacts when they examined their tombs, and this time they both accepted. Half of the party is now convinced that these gifts are the promised secrets we are searching for to defeat Strahd. I’m not so sure.
Baräsh took the first gift, Truesight, up to 60 feet (this reveals all invisible creatures and shows someone’s true form). This came with the caveat that his eyes turned black and he received the permanent character flaw: I believe all life is pointless. I look forward to death when it comes.
Engong then accepted her second dark gift, from Yog the Invincible Star. It was the gift of invulnerability, “I will make you stronger than a gorilla; you will not fall before your foes.” Engong was very pleased to find her total hit points increased by 30, but she was less pleased to see her body instantly covered in thick, dark, oily fur. Like a gorilla.
Meanwhile, as Baräsh and Engong took their pacts and Brundle and Kosef hugged, Gimble Timbers noticed Victor
The Associates, too busy with making dark pacts, did not get to Victor in time to save him. The last wisps of life flittered away, and by the time Kosef and Brundle reached the fallen wizard there was no pulse. He was clearly dead. Victor had travelled with Engong and Her Associates long enough to know the risks, and the party had taken some time to warm to the moody teenager, but seeing his lifeless body, cold and still on the ground, still shook them.
We only managed to explore two rooms in this session. Apparently, the Amber Temple is a semi-large dungeon, so at our current rate, it might take us months to explore the whole thing.
The Death Slaad was a really fun enemy to fight. As a DM I’ve never really considered using Slaad before, but am now definitely considering them for an upcoming session.
We are really collecting these dark gifts now. So far Engong has two and Baräsh and Victor both have one. What this means our future remains to be seen. Especially with Baräsh’s new morbid outlook on life.
I can’t believe Victor is dead! Hopefully, we will find a way of reviving him here in the temple. If not, we’re going to have to carry his body across Barovia and I’m not sure it will survive the trip. What with Victor dying this session and us realizing our pet dog was missing the last session, our party is really beginning to thin out.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: It’s OK to re-populate dungeons from written campaigns with monsters or treasure if you think it will suit your players better. In fact, DMs are encouraged to chop and change the stories and locations as much as they like to create a better experience. BUT remember to pay close attention to challenge ratings. Our DM had intended to have the Death Slaad replaced by a Death Knight right up until the last moment. This would have been a much different battle. The salad is a challenge rating 10 monster, something that tested us but ultimately we could defeat. A Death Knight is a challenge rating 17 monster, one that we absolutely, under no circumstances could ever defeat. So thankfully he changed his mind.
Player Tip: When playing ‘theatre of the mind’, i.e. having no physical representation of where your characters are in relation to each other, it is super important to let your DM know where you think you are on your turn. This is particularly pertinent to this session, as when the Death Slaad unleashed his fireball, which is an area of effect spell, it hit almost everyone. Brundle Swash, who was knocked unconscious by the second spell, thought that he might not be in the blast radius, but hadn’t mentioned to the DM that he wanted his character to retreat around the corner and out of the way. Because of this, he WAS caught by the fireball and very nearly killed outright by it. If he had remembered to explain the movement of his characters on his turn, he might have been spared the experience of rolling death saves.
Next week we continue our exploration of the Amber Temple, still seeking out the means to best Strahd and hopefully revive our fallen friend Victor. Hopefully, we make it through more than two rooms this time and encounter no more Fireball spewing giant toad monsters.