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. St. Andell had a new champion now.
Last night was the 53th session of our seemingly never-ending online Curse of Strahd Dungeons & Dragons campaign, and the everlasting torment continued. Our paladin has lost the favor of his god, our leader has turned evil, and our fighter has had most of his body replaced with a haberdasher’s mannequin . But on the bright side, none of us has died. Recently.
Only four of our party actually remembered to play last night. Our gnome fighter forgot what day of the week it was and allowed himself to go to a wedding. We were also joined for a short while by our druid’s little boy, who was excited to see what game he was playing. The excitement soon passed when he realized. Watching someone play D&D on Skype is not an effective way of keeping a 5-year-old entertained.
Our troop of adventurers have been navigating through the Amber Temple, searching for the means to destroy Strahd Von Zarovich, the evil vampire lord who has trapped us in the demi-plane of Barovia, and after a few near death experiences – as well as a couple of actual death experiences – we eventually found the Tome of Strahd. This is a book we can use to defeat our foe, but it came with a hefty price.
Our party, previously known as Engong and Her Associates, has been taken over by a mischievous Arcanaloth (a very powerful fox-person) called Nepharon who has promised to help us if we pledge our allegiance to her. Furthermore, over half of our group has entered into demonic trysts with unknown, swirling, powerful god-like entities and gained evil powers in return for parts of their soul. The worst of these bargains was made by Engong, our half-orc leader; in return for the promise of eternal life and ultimate power she has agreed to become a vampire, like Strahd. She is also now covered in oily fur, has abyssal voids for eyes, her skin has withered and turned grey, and she has a permanent manic grin. Last session we levelled-up in a library and discovered that our paladin Baräsh has been abandoned by his deity, St. Andell, and our travelling companion Ireena has gained his blessing instead.
Nepharon and Associates:
Engong – Evil Half-Orc Monk, Leader, has a manic grin and is covered in oily fur;
Brundle Swash – Gnome Druid, occasionally turns into a bear, gets electrocuted a lot;
Baräsh – Dragonborn Paladin, death-obsessed bully, has the Tome of Strahd;
Kosef – Human Rogue/Wizard, craves power above all else, played by me;
Victor – Human (Teenage) Wizard-in-Training, NPC;
Ireena – Human Fighter, Strahd’s would-be bride, blessed by St. Andell, NPC;
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, numb on his left side, has a pet dog called Kevon, ABSENT.
Strahd’s verminous children swarmed around Baräsh and Ireena. They bit and clawed and stabbed at the adventurers, snarling and hissing. At the far end of the chamber the rest of the party looked on. Kosef, Brundle and Gimble began readying themselves for a fight. Engong and Victor grinned at the spectacle. The six vampires spawns were clearly the remnants of a previous group of heroes, fallen on the road to Strahd and entombed here as a warning to any who dared to follow. Engong began jeering them, “Fools!” She yelled. “Look what has become of you now. You were too weak.” Her fists began to glow as the Ki energy coursed through her, and she sped past her companions and dove straight into the fray laughing.
We knew this session would start with a fight and were excited to hear those evocative magic words, “Roll Initiative!” The only problem was that since we had levelled-up last week, only two of us had remembered to actually prepare our characters. So we began with a brief pause while we waited for everyone else to catch up.
During our levelling-up, my rogue character Kosef had taken a second wizard level. For his school of magic I choose for him to be a War Caster, which gives a bonus to initiative rolls. This meant that once everyone had finished, Kosef went first in the combat.
We were in a large chamber, it had three amber sarcophagi on the west side, and six recently vacated vampire tombs scattered around the room. Baräsh and Ireena were on the east side, next to two tombs and surrounded by the six vampire spawns. The rest of us were stood in the south doorway as the fight began. Kosef stepped forward and prepared to cast a spell.
I had learnt two new spells in my level-up, and was keen to try out Witch Bolt. This is the classic Emperor Palpatine-style spell – a blast of lightning shoots out from your hands and hits an enemy, and can last there as long as you can hold concentration – so naturally I shouted: “unlimited power!” as I cast it. Our DM, also being a big a Star Wars nerd, enjoyed this and awarded me Kosef’s first point of inspiration, which I would squander aiding one of Brundle Swash’s failed attacks moments later.
Brundle’s big disappointment
Brundle was also keen to show off his newfound skills from levelling-up and, feeling invigorated, the druid turned into a wolf. As a wolf he gained advantage from pack tactics (having an ally close by) so he leapt at the closest vampire spawn. He struck it, dealing eight piercing damage and knocked his enemy prone.
The vampire spawn immediately retaliated and bit and clawed at the wolf hitting multiple times dealing way more damage than Brundle had done to it. This was more pain than the wolf could take and he instantly reverted back into a very disappointed gnome.
To be honest we were all a bit surprised at the ease with which Bundle’s wolf had been dispatched. It wasn’t until after the game that we realized he had in fact intended to turn into a Dire Wolf rather than a normal woodland critter. A Dire Wolf would have had a lot more hit points, done a lot more damage, and would have seemed like less of a waste of a two-times-per-day Wildshape ability. I guess that’s what you get for levelling-up mid-game, not having the Player’s Handbook to refer to, and relying on a text message from a slightly drunk party member to convey your newest abilities.
Baräsh’s inner light
After Brundle’s turn, Baräsh landed a flurry of hammer blows against one of the vampire spawns, scoring a critical hit and gaining an additional attack. On each of his hits he added divine energy, dealing further radiant damage to the vampire spawns, whom we knew were vulnerable to this type of assault. Even though he had lost the favor of St. Andell, Baräsh was still landing big hits against the undead foes, but instead of the usual glowing radiant light that would shine from him, he was emitting a dark, eerie haze.
As the battle went on, Baräsh became more and more despondent and depressed at his change in circumstance. To make matters worse, Ireena, our once helpless damsel in distress, whose only prior claim to fame was being the woman we needed to repeatedly rescue from marrying Strahd, seemed to glow brighter and brighter with the all-too-familiar holy glow of St. Andell.
Around him the battle raged on. Kosef continued to blast vamipre spawns with his Sith-lightning, Brundle reverted to stabbing with his druid spear, Engong was dancing and swaying and cart-wheeling around the melee, but for Baräsh there was no joy in the fight. He continued to attack the vampire spawns, but his attempts were listless and half-hearted.
Eventually, once half of the enemies had been dealt with, Baräsh sank to his knees. He covered his eyes and began praying to the Morning Lord. Hearing nothing, he began to call out for St. Andell, his holy sponsor, to return his grace, imploring him for his divine favor. He heard the voice of his saint call back, “You have not yet strayed too far from the light. Shed the darkness that threatens to shroud. You will find my favor once more in the face of my prophet. Seek them out.”
For the time being this roused him enough to see out the rest of the fight. Ireena, who had been sharing the light of St. Andell with the rest of the party (healing us when we needed it – something Baräsh always forgot to do) turned to Baräsh as he rose up, “The light of the Morning Lord still burns within you. I will help you fight this stupor. Together we will fan St. Andell’s flame.”
Engong’s pants perfection
While Baräsh was fighting his demons, Kosef was using the force, and Brundle was beig disappointed, Engong was having the time of her life. She had embraced all of the flaws that she had gained from the amber sarcophagi and was exploiting her newfound powers. She was an evil bully and she was fine with it.
She began with name calling. Next came the classic “Stop hitting yourself” fighting style, making the most of her impossible monk speed and her new incredible strength. Then, once the vampire spawns were really mad, she gave them all wedgies. At one point she even managed to pull one vampire spawn’s underpants over the head of another vampire spawn, leaving the first dangling in front of it, rather appropriately, like a punch bag – until now I hadn’t ever considered whether vampires actually wore underpants, thankfully, this one did.
Return of the Lich
After a satisfying number of rounds of combat, we had reduced the six enemies to just one vampire spawn. Thanks to Ireena we were all still standing; it was good to have a working healer in the group. Meanwhile, Baräsh had got his mojo back, Engong was tired from all the cart-wheels, Kosef had thoroughly fried his vampire spawn, and Brundle had poked some of them with his stick. Then we heard a familiar booming voice below down from the balcony above.
“Hey! What’s all this? Can’t a Lich get his beauty sleep? I’ve had it with you adventurers; now get ready to feel the full power of my awesome might.” A glistening beam of electric blue energy arced down from the balcony and struck the one remaining vampire square in the chest. In a second it froze, its body became ice, and with a thunderous boom exploded violently into a million crystal shards.
“I think that’s our cue to leave,” said Engong. The others agreed. END
After lots of consecutive sessions of exploring and investigating it was nice to have one which was pure combat. Especially as we had all levelled-up and so we had a chance to explore some of our new abilities. There were plenty of critical rolls this session too. Although more were failures than successes.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Learn to care. As the DM you become the custodian of your RPG group. Of course this involves all of the in-game responsibilities of playing D&D, such as moderating rules conflicts and deciding who lives and who dies, but it also comes with some pastoral responsibilities towards your players out-of-game too. From reminding them about upcoming games and when to level up their heroes, to helping them repair their lives after tragedy strikes, if you want to keep playing Dungeons & Dragons you need to keep your players alive. This may even include reminding them to eat, sleep and, on occasion, wash.
Player Tip: Make sure you know your character’s abilities and features before you try to use them. Otherwise you might end up disappointed. Especially if you’re a druid and are excited to have just levelled-up to be able to Wildshape into Challenge Rating two (CR2) creatures. You know you can turn into a mean-ass wolf, but don’t realize there’s more than one type. A standard wolf only has 11 HP and won’t last very long in a battle versus vampire spawns, unlike a Dire Wolf who has much more health and some pretty nasty attacks as well.
This week was all combat, hopefully next week we’ll finally be able to exit the amber temple in a peaceful and sedate manner. Although there is the issue of the 12-foot amber statue to contend with first, and I don’t think it’s going to be willingly complicit in our nonviolent exit strategy.