“Hello friendships, you must be the ugliest hags I’ve ever seen. Has anyone told you it’s not cool to wear black tatty robes with pointy hats? Nobody likes you.” The three witches all raised their heads and as one turned to face the dragonborn. He grinned, looked to Engong and Victor, who were also grinning, drew his mighty war-hammer and charged forwards screaming murder, seeking death, and sensing glory.
Last night was the 50th session of our online Curse of Strahd D&D campaign, and it was a good one. Sadly our half-orc monk could not join us, but seeing as she turned evil last week, this might have been a good thing—a moment of relief from an inevitable messy leadership contest. The rest of our party were all able to play and we managed an uninterrupted session; there were no glitches, bugs, or babies ruining the fun.
Our level seven heroes are stuck in Barovia. We have been searching for a way to defeat the evil vampire lord Strahd Von Zarovich, who has trapped us here as his latest playthings. Since our arrival we have been tortured, beaten and now finally corrupted by the evil presence that permeates the land.
In our last session, while searching through the Amber Temple, our leader Engong accepted one too many dark, demonic pacts and her soul became twisted, her alignment turning from neutral good to neutral evil. Besides this, our paladin has been turned into a death-crazed bully; our fighter had his arm replaced with a mannequin, and mongrel features added to his face; our rogue/wizard now has an insatiable hunger for power; and our druid has been electrocuted more times than any of us can remember. In the final moments of the last session, our dragonborn paladin Baräsh, hungry for battle, charged at three potentially innocent hags, and they prepared to defend themselves.
Engong and Her Associates are:
Baräsh – Dragonborn Paladin, death-obsessed bully with black voids for eyes;
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, mourning his pet dog Kevon;
Brundle Swash – Gnome Druid, occasionally turns into a bear;
Kosef – Human Rogue/Wizard, craves power above all else, played by me;
Victor – Human (Teenage) Wizard-in-Training, recently resurrected, NPC;
Ireena – Human Fighter, Strahd’s would-be bride, devotee of the Morning Lord, NPC;
Engong – Evil Half-Orc Monk, Leader, has a manic grin and is covered in oily fur, ABSENT.
As Baräsh began his charge towards the hags, a strange mystical aura appeared around Engong. Gimble and Brundle stood beside and watched horrified as a dark black circular void opened up in the ground below her. All the light from the room was pulled towards it as two great skeletal arms reached up and surrounded the half-orc. Like a child cupping a moth, the hands descended down into the ground and Engong was swallowed by the void. The room returned to its previous state. Gimble and Bundle stared silently at the space where Engong once was, with no idea of what had just happened.
Once again I was impressed at how our DM managed to sweep our missing player under the narrative rug with such style and panache. As Engong couldn’t play, it made absolute sense for there to be a good reason for her absence, but now we’re all scratching our collective heads, trying to work out exactly what happened. This could well have sidetracked us for the whole session, but then we remembered the three witches, and that Baräsh was charging forward, hammer raised.
The witches hadn’t yet noticed him, so before we dove into combat, our DM allowed Baräsh a surprise round. Being a bully, he picked the smallest, weakest witch to attack first, and unleashed a hammer attack fueled with divine radiant energy. This instantly killed the witch. Now they noticed us.
The two other hags shrieked loudly as their ghoulish sister melted dramatically into a pile of ash and twigs. As they did, two animated broomsticks flew out from behind them straight towards the rest of the party.
The fight began with everyone but Kosef in the same room. The two witches started off by casting Polymorph on Baräsh and Brundle. It seems appropriate that they would try to turn the party into toads. Baräsh made his wisdom saving throw and was not turned, but Brundle failed his. Thankfully, however, as Brundle is a druid and technically a shapechanger, he is immune to Polymorh so he too was not turned.
Then the brooms attacked. One hit Gimble twice, dealing 12 bludgeoning damage, and the other missed its attacks against Victor and Ireena.
Then it was Baräsh’s turn. He tried to jump on the broom and tame it, bringing it under his control so he could whizz around the battle field. Our DM thought this was a cool idea, so allowed him to make a performance check. Baräsh didn’t quite succeed on his roll, and so instead of this happening as he imagined, he ended up riding the reluctant broomstick around the room like a child on an angry hobby horse. But because it was funny he was awarded inspiration for his attempt (inspiration allows you to re-roll any single D20 roll whenever you want).
When it was Brundle’s turn, his focus was on the other broom, which he set on fire. Gimble Timbers then grabbed the flaming brush and smashed it forcefully against the wall, shattering it to pieces.
From the other room, Kosef could hear the commotion and so ran into the chamber to see what was going on. When he saw the battle raging, he realized this was a great opportunity to use his new magic weapon, the Staff of Ice, and pointed it towards the witches, casting Ice Storm from it. This instantly killed both witches, shattering the broom Baräsh was taming, and causing him some damage too.
More tombs and dark bargains
The battle over, Baräsh was mad at Kosef for destroying his broom and ruining his fun. When the rest of the party questioned the dragonborn about his actions—bullying the witches and recklessly charging into battle—he seemed mad with power. He had recently accepted a dark gift that gave him a massive strength boost, which he was roleplaying as if he was on steroids, roaring loudly and dropping to the floor doing press-ups.
We then had a brief discussion about what to do about Engong’s disappearance, but Kosef was more interested in renaming the party—“How about Kosef and Co.? The Only Way is Kosef? Kosef and his Amazing Technicolor Associates?”
As usual, Gimble Timbers wandered off. After spending some time trying to remember the passwords to the rooms, he eventually found one that had three more amber sarcophagi inside—these were the same as the tombs that housed the entities trying to make evil bargains with us in previous sessions; so far Gimble had resisted accepting any dark gifts. He called for Baräsh’s assistance and the paladin came rushing in to help his gnomish friend, not bothering to pick up his equipment or shirt which he had tossed aside while he did his push-ups. At that moment, three flaming skulls appeared from a hole in the ceiling and attacked them with beams of searing green flame.
Meanwhile, Brundle and Kosef were off investigating other rooms. Kosef found the remains of an opulent wizard’s dormitory, complete with arcane symbols on the walls and a bed decorated with four ornate solid gold hawks. He valued them at 250 gold each and managed to unscrew the four hawks and stow them in his pack. He then found a thick black candle with a faint magical aura which he pocketed also.
Brundle was having less luck with Ireena and Victor investigating the third room. There was nothing here but more sarcophagi, and none of them were interested in making any more pacts. Then they heard the commotion coming from the room with the flameskulls and ran to their companions’ aid. They were greeted by the sight of the gnome fighter desperately trying to shoot one skull, as a topless and weaponless Baräsh let loose his draconic lightning breath. Neither attacks seemed very effective.
After a couple of rounds of combat it was clear the flameskulls were getting the better of us. This wasn’t helped by Victor’s use of an area-of-effect spell which did us more damage than them. Eventually, and much to Barash’s disdain, we retreated from the room, slamming the door shut behind us.
Catching our breaths, we regrouped and were surprised to see Gimble Timbers face had sagged on the left side and he was touching his left arm and leg trying to get a reaction. He explained that he had touched a sarcophagi and accepted the power of the storm. This allowed him to cast the lightning bolt spell three times. But it also meant the whole left side of his body lost all feeling and sensation. He agreed that this might have been a mistake.
The fox in the amber eye
Deciding we had explored everything in this area of the temple we agreed to go back to the main hall and investigate there, even though we had been hit with multiple fireballs and lightning blasts when we were here before. We figured this would be the most likely place to find the secret to defeating Strahd—although to be honest we’re starting to think this may be one big McGuffin and there is actually no secret, just an excuse to send us to the temple and have us all corrupted even further.
As we approached, we decided that the best plan would be to send in our druid first, using his ability to Wildshape into a mouse to stealthily explore the area. We were particularly interested in investigating the big amber statue on the far side of the room. At the chamber doorway, we peeked around the wall and, for the first time, one of the dark gifts actually came in useful. Baräsh, with his Truesight ability—the one that gave him dark nebulous eyes—could see that the head of the statue was hollowed out and there was a fox-like humanoid creature inside. This was the same Arcanaloth we had glimpsed before.
Before he could tell the others what he had seen, Baräsh noticed the odd fox-man spot him in the doorway. He dropped the scrolls he was carrying and pointed a vulpine finger at the dragonborn paladin. Suddenly a bright blue streak of electricity flew out from the end of his finger and arced across the room, slamming into Baräsh’s bare chest and shocking him fiercely. It then leapt to Kosef, and from Kosef to Brundle, Brundle to Gimble, and then the others. They all yelled in agony as the lightning bolt scorched their bodies, and Ireena fell silently to the floor. END
Wow, this session had it all: two fun combat encounters, more dark bargains, a leadership battle, some great roleplaying and exploration, and even Brundle Swash getting electrocuted AGAIN!
I have absolutely no idea how we’re going to get out of this temple alive, let alone defeat Strahd. It seems like we are in way over our heads. We will start next session with Ireena unconscious, all of us very badly hurt, and the Arcanaloth totally unscathed.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Don’t be afraid to let enemies and NPCs make mistakes; it makes them seem more real and can help the players to feel more heroic. In this session, when fighting the witches it was thematically appropriate for them to try to turn us all into toads, even though Brundle was immune—after all, what witch doesn’t try to do this to their foes? Although our DM knew this tactic wouldn’t work, the witches didn’t and so their strategy should be consistent. Some enemies, however, definitely should know the players’ strengths and weaknesses. I imagine that when we eventually fight Strahd, he will have been Scrying on us and he is smart enough to know all of our immunities and flaws.
Player Tip: Don’t make bargains with dark powers unless you want something really bad to happen! That is all.
Next week will be our fifty-first session and, by the looks of things, it could be our last. I’m just hoping Engong will reappear just in the nick of time to drag us all to safety, to deal with the Arcanaloth, and having found the secret to defeating Strahd. Although, now that she is evil, she will more likely just turn up in time to loot our corpses and report back to Strahd, her new vampire master.