The entity called to Engong, “Nourish me with your evil—I am the spirit of the vampire. I will give you life in death.”
Engong knelt down besides the coffin, laid her staff at its foot, and placed her head against the cool amber. “I accept this gift,” she said solemnly.
“Oh good,” said the Lich behind her. “Another one. They haven’t accepted someone in a very long time. Now there’ll be two of them. Oh good.”
“Two?” asked Gimble Timbers, “Who is the other?
“Why, Strahd of course.”
Last night was episode 52 in our ongoing, online Curse of Strahd D&D game. It’s hard to believe that we have been playing for just over a year now. Until this game, I had always been the DM, but this has been one of my most fun RPG experiences. We started out with level one characters and as of last night they have finally reached level eight, but that doesn’t mean they are any less squishy or any better at fighting vampires; at least we now have the Tome of Strahd to help us with that.
Unfortunately, only three of our party were able to play this session; our monk was called away on secret government business (he’s developing a new type of television that watches itself), and our druid’s cat got stuck down an old mine shaft and only Stone Cold Steve Austin could help him. But for those of us who were present, it was a relatively quick session, which had a long-awaited reunion and a much-needed long rest.
Last session, having spent a long time in the Amber Temple trying to find the secret to destroying eponymous villain and dreaded evil-vampire-lord Strahd Von Zarovich, we finally got our hands on the Tome of Strahd, an essential book that reveals how to defeat the monster. But this success came at the cost of us swearing allegiance to Nepharon, an Arcanaloth (weird, fiendish fox-person). So we are no longer Engong and Her Associates, instead we are:
Nepharon and Associates:
Baräsh – Dragonborn Paladin, death-obsessed bully, has the Tome of Strahd;
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, numb on his left side, mourning his pet dog Kevon;
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;
Brundle Swash – Gnome Druid, occasionally turns into a bear, get electrocuted a lot, Absent.
Gimble Timbers left Engong in the sarcophagi chamber and went back to find Kosef and Brundle ignoring taunts and hackles from Baräsh who was reading the Tome of Strahd. They discussed their next move. They were concerned about Engong and her change in attitude, but didn’t truly know the extent of the problem. Nepharon watched them silently as they argued over what to do next. “Have you been to the Library yet?” she asked, and then proceeded to explain the majesty of the temple’s arcane collection. “Every known spell is there. Every single one.” This piqued their interest, as Engong poured her soul into the evil tomb, and they made their way to the greatest library in all the Forgotten Realms.
This really was a very exciting moment for us. The library in the Amber Temple held every spell in the game in it. The only problem was that it was written in invisible ink and in an ancient arcane language that only Baräsh, with his Truesight ability, could read. If only he wasn’t too busy reading the Tome of Strahd…
Leveling up in the library
Both wizards, Victor and Kosef, started grabbing at books at random and asking Baräsh what they were. There was ‘Undeath and the City, Exanthar’s Guide to Being a Thoroughly Modern Lich’, ‘Bond with the Wind, Volo’s Guide to Summoning Air Elementals’, an original signed copy of ‘Mordenkainen’s Magical Compendium’, and many more.
We could use these spells to copy into our spell books, but it would take a very long time for each spell and we could only cast the ones that we had the right level for, so we decided not to try to find specific spells. Instead I just took one book at random; it was ‘Elminster’s Guide to War Casting’. My choice of spellbook would come in handy when we next leveled up.
Meanwhile Baräsh, who had the Tome of Strahd, had discovered that Strahd was vulnerable to sunlight and radiant damage. So he was poring through the spells in the library to find ones that had this effect. He found Sunbeam and Sunburst; unfortunately both were of too high a level for us to cast, but we kept them for later, just in case.
Having searched thoroughly through the library, we decided to take a much-needed long rest. Baräsh took the first watch and read through more of the Tome of Strahd. Meanwhile Kosef, Gimble, Victor, and Ireena all slept and regained hit points. We also all leveled up.
The Lich’s quarters
We woke up in the library feeling refreshed and powered up. One of the doors leading away took us to the chambers of the unnamed Lich we had met last week. He seemed to be under the influence of a confusion spell and didn’t appear half as scary or menacing as a Lich normally would—if he was a full powered Lich we would have been destroyed in seconds and our souls would have nourished him for months to come—so we decided to go and speak with him. Gimble though that one of the books in the Library might have been a clue to his name. There were at least four named wizards that our DM read out so we though he must be one of them.
His room was small and circular with a table in the middle where he sat in a large wingback chair. He gave no sign of noticing us as we entered. On the table was a closed book entitled ‘The Encants of Exanthar’. Gimble reached for it and the Lich awakened, his eyes lit up with green flame, “Do not touch my book!” he screamed and sat back down. Feeling clever and leaning against the wall, Kosef said, “Thank you for your assistance Exanthar.” The Lich paid no attention to the rogue but there was an audible click that came from behind where Kosef had leant. He turned round and noticed a secret door opening slowly. He peered inside. This was an even smaller circular room. It was pitch black apart from a glow that emanated from the center.
The glow was coming from pristine marble jar that was being held aloft by a skeletal arm that rose up from the ground. I instantly knew what this was and shut the door firmly. After all, a Lich’s phylactery is not something to mess around with. Spooked, I began hurrying the others to leave as soon as possible, “Right guys, I think we better get going. Thank you Exanthar.” CLICK. The door locked and I ushered us out back into the library.
The trials of Kevon
From the library, we headed back to the main chamber where we left Engong last session. To get there we had to pass through one of the sarcophagi rooms, and a room with vampires resting in tombs. When we entered the first room we were surprised and amazed to be greeted by a familiar four-legged-friend. “Kevon!” shouted Gimble, as he dashed forward to meet his long-lost companion. But how had he gotten here? The last time we saw him was when we were attacked by a giant Roc nearly ten sessions ago. We thought he had died.
Our DM recounted the trials of Kevon the dog, from Kevon’s perspective: It started with an encounter on a bridge. A giant mountain-sized bird swept down and knocked him from it, and he almost plummeted down a 200-foot drop. But, amazingly, the dragon-styled hoarding Blinsky had made for him clicked and whizzed and two mechanical wings sprouted out, allowing him to glide gracefully down to the base of the ravine.
Two days passed as he climbed back up the to the mountain pass, but there was no sign of Gimble Timbers or the other adventures. Catching their scent on the air, Kevon trudged through the snow with only rats and bats to feed on. Eventually, on the fourth day, he found evidence of a great battle in the woods and knew he was on the right track.
On day five, he found the entrance to the Amber Temple and was able to navigate the traps and foes there far better than we had managed. He met a group of nothics who took him into their chambers and fed and nourished him. Then finally he heard a familiar sound and could smell Gimble Timbers, so he dashed past a weird fox-person and ran straight into the room where we were trying to get away from the Lich.
St. Andell’s holy blessing
After the happy reunion, we met back up with Engong and went into the room where the vampires rested in their tombs. We heard scraping and heavy breathing as the lids of the six tombs shifted, allowing the vampires inside to rise up menacingly. The last time we were in this room we were accompanied by the Lich and so they didn’t attack. He wasn’t with us this time.
“Not today, thank you,” said Engong to the vampires, very matter-of-factly, and she walked past. They didn’t pay her much attention. Instead they jumped out of their tombs and began snarling at the rest of the party, lurching forward with sharp claws and teeth. Baräsh grinned back at them baring his dragonborn maw, calling out to St. Andell for divine aid. Kosef, Brundle, Gimble, Kevon, and Victor all dodged past the vampires, following Engong to the exit. When they called back to Baräsh and Ireena to run, they realized that the two of them were surrounded.
Suddenly a bright beam of glowing radiant energy shot directly upwards from the center of the melee, scattering the vampires. This was followed by a collective gasp from the Associates looking on, as instead of seeing Baräsh standing mightily, his war-hammer raised above his head, they saw Ireena in the same stance, standing protectively over the dragonborn, who had fallen to the floor, broken, the Tome of Strahd open at his feet. St. Andell had a new champion now. END
Wow. What a cliff-hanger! Our paladin was not pleased to find out his holy sponsor had abandoned him, but that’s what you get for making a pact with evil entities. Now he’s going to be on a mission to carry divine favor once more.
Using the Tome of Strahd to help find spells in the library was inspired; I was impressed with Baräsh at coming up with that idea. It’s just a shame that as soon as we left the library, all of the spells and books we tried to take crumbled into dust.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Beware of rules lawyers. If you’re thinking of doing something dramatic to your players or something that might be outside of the usual “Rules As Written,” be prepared for some player kick-back. Make sure that you’ve researched what you want to do and have warned your players to expect some unusual things. Our DM is very good at this; he let us know from the start of the campaign that he might make judgement calls and do things based on the narrative requirements rather than the absolute rigmarole of the rules. This has worked very well, but it didn’t stop our paladin from being a bit annoyed that his god has forsaken him and didn’t enjoy some of his more questionable choices.
Player Tip: Leveling can be hard work. You might have multiple decisions to make and it can take a long time. Therefore, just in case you have to do this mid-session, you should always try to have an idea of what you’re going to choose for your next level up. If you’re anything like me, you’ll be thinking about the next session as soon as you finish the last, so use that time to consider any class options or ability score improvements or optional feat you might like to take. For me, this has gotten even harder as I’ve multi-classed into a rogue/wizard. Now I have to decide which class to take my level up in. Thankfully I’d already made that decision before the session began and had planned which new spells I wanted to take. Finding the book on war casting just made my choice all the more easier.
Next week we may finally leave the Amber Temple and, armed with the Tome of Strahd, we are now a little more prepared for our eventual encounter. The next step is to get our hands on the Sun Blade, a legendary weapon that will help us in the fight; the only problem is that it’s in the ruins of Berez and that’s where we previously fought—and ran away from—Baba Lysaga, destroying her house in the process. I hope she doesn’t bear a grudge.