“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 it exploded violently into a million crystal shards. “I think that’s our cue to leave,” said Engong.
Last night was the 54th session in our marathon Curse of Strahd Dungeons & Dragons online campaign. We finally managed to exit the Amber Temple, after more than ten sessions searching for Strahd’s diary, and we were relieved to be out in the fresh air. Well, for a couple of minutes we were.
Unfortunately our dragonborn paladin wasn’t able to join us last night. He has recently converted to militant veganism and consequently doesn’t have the energy or drive to fight vampires. He currently can’t stay awake for more than four consecutive hours due to a severe protein deficiency—he also refuses to eat mushrooms, nuts, and rice because of ethical issues, so it’s his own fault.
The session itself went quite smoothly, which I wasn’t expecting. I am currently on a family seaside vacation, enjoying a week of consistent mist and fog, and had anticipated at least a couple of interruptions from curious nephews and nieces. In fact, when I mentioned to our DM that I would be away, he asked if I was going to miss the session. “Are you kidding?” I replied. “I said a ‘family vacation’, I’m going to need an excuse to get away from them all. In fact, can we play every day?”
In spite of this, and in spite of the fact that I was using a foreign wi-fi, there were no interruptions, technical or familial.
Our heroes have been stuck in Barovia for weeks, the tortured playthings for the eponymous villain Strahd Von Zarovich. Since our arrival we have endured numerous run-ins with the evil vampire lord; have fought ancient-awakened-tree-monsters and disgusting swamp witches; have been cursed, mutilated, killed, and resurrected; have had our fortunes told by mysterious prophets; and have made staunch allies and even stauncher enemies along the way. Last session we finally began to escape the Amber Temple, having found the Tome of Strahd—one of three relics we are searching for to help us defeat Strahd—and were beset by a troop of hungry vampire spawns. Now, having dealt with the last fiend, we just need to make our way out of the Temple and head for the second relic. Wherever that is.
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;
Kosef – Human Rogue/Wizard, craves power above all else, played by me;
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, numb on his left side, has a pet dog Kevon;
Victor – Human (Teenage) Wizard-in-Training, NPC;
Ireena – Human Fighter, Strahd’s would-be bride, blessed by St. Andell, NPC;
Baräsh – Dragonborn Paladin, death-obsessed bully, has the Tome of Strahd, Absent.
Engong led the way as the Associates headed out of the vampire chamber and into a familiar treasure vault. A gigantic amber golem patrolled the room, circling its perimeter. They had been in this room before and were warned not to touch the huge piles of shining gold coins and gemstones. As long as they left the hoard alone, the golem would pay them no attention. Kosef was the last to enter the chamber. His eyes lit up lustfully. Engong grabbed his cloak and pulled him back and Brundle pinned him to the wall. “Don’t do it,” hissed the gnome. “It’s not worth it.”
There were six piles of gold and treasure in this 40-foot-square room, each worth over 20,000 gold pieces, and I wanted all of it. This is why I chose a rogue in the first place, and I had a plan.
The best spell in the game
It didn’t take long for Kosef to convince Brundle and Engong that they could take some of the treasure, but they had to be sneaky about it. Gimble Timbers wanted nothing to do with the plan so he left the room with Ireena and Baräsh.
Positioning ourselves close to the exit, we waited until the Golem was as far away from us as possible and cast two spells simultaneously in the hope it would distract it long enough for us to fill our pockets and run. Brundle cast Fog Cloud to obscure his vision, and Kosef cast Grease—in my opinion the best spell in the game.
As the thick mist formed around the golem and a pool of grease appeared where it stood, causing it to lose balance and fall crashing to the floor. That second the four of us, Kosef, Brundle, Engong, and Victor, all started grabbing handfuls of gold and gems and goblets and (in Engong’s case) skulls, and began stashing it all away.
Unfortunately for us, the golem had a few tricks up its sleeve and it cast a Slow spell on us. We all failed the wisdom saving throw and our movement and actions were halved.
“Get out of here!” Kosef yelled as he turned and dashed out of the door. Brundle followed but could only dash 25 feet, leaving him perilously close should the golem get up. Victor, believing he was safe, cast invisibility on himself and continued looting the treasure. And Engong sped past, exiting the door and making it halfway to where Gimble Timbers and Ireena stood in the next room. At the end of our turns, we all failed our saving throws and remained slowed.
This was an interesting start to a combat encounter. Having us all slowed made us really think about our movement and action economy and made us approach our turns much more carefully.
Eventually we all made it away from the golem, and ran to the exit. It couldn’t leave the temple so we just stood ten feet from the doorway and caught our breaths, as we counted the loot we managed to steal. We hadn’t done too badly, each of us made out with almost 100 gold and Engong had a really nice gem-encrusted skull to add to her collection.
A goat in the cold light of day
Outside the temple it was cold. Really cold. We didn’t have a carriage—it had fallen off a bridge in a previous session—and we needed to get to Vallaki. Although we had been in the temple for at least ten sessions, it had only been two-and-a-half days in-game, and we had agreed to meet Esmerelda in five days, four days ago. We needed to get a move on and couldn’t afford to hang about so we began descending the mountain, heading back to the Solenka Pass.
As we set off, Kosef failed a wisdom saving throw. Our DM didn’t tell us what it was to do with, which is never a good sign, only that he felt an intrusive or invasive sensation which lasted only for a second and then vanished.
We were halfway down the mountain, walking along a cliff edge when we saw a fiery glint in sky. It looked like a shooting star or meteorite that was heading our way. But we couldn’t do anything about it so ignored it. As we returned our attention to the path ahead we saw a giant goat blocking our way. It was stomping its hooves and steam was pouring from its nostrils as it lowered its horns and began charging towards us.
Lucky for us, our quick-thinking druid was on hand to step in. He used one of his two daily Wildshapes to turn himself into a similar looking goat, “Ideally one that looks like this one’s younger sibling, or cousin.” This stalled the goat for a few seconds as Brundle tried to talk to it. But it didn’t last. Soon the goat was attacking us and Engong, being now thoroughly evil, threw it from the side of the cliff and watched it plummet to the ground.
We were now quite close to the guard house at the bridge by the Solenka Pass, and as we approached we noticed the fire in sky had gotten a lot closer. It was descending rapidly and definitely on a collision course. Then we realized what it was, and we panicked. Strahd rides a flaming horse and the wisdom save that Kosef had failed was the vampire Scrying on him, divining the party’s location. What’s worse, he knew we had his book, and he would be here in seconds.
What we needed was a giant flying creature that could intercept Strahd and his flaming nightmare. Cue the Roc we had fled from twelve sessions ago. This bridge was this gigantic bird’s hunting ground, so Gimble Timbers cast an illusion of a horse running across it which brought out the Roc.
This tactic put Strahd at a disadvantage; his flaming horse was too busy fighting the Roc and he leapt from it landing on the bridge in front of us.
“Give me what is mine!” yelled Strahd. “Give me my diary!”
“What, this?” asked Engong as she waved a spell scroll in the air. Strahd didn’t blink, he wasn’t fooled by her tricks. But he could turn her into a rat. So he did.
The empty case rattled as it hit the floor. Strahd turned to Kosef. “You have it.” he yelled. He raised a finger towards Kosef and the rogue’s skin withered and shrunk around his features. All the moisture and vitality was sucked from his body and he fell to the floor unconscious. Ireena ran to his side.
Strahd turned to Gimble. “Bring me my tome,” he said. Anger poured out of him, so that he didn’t notice Kosef stir behind him, as Ireena administered her sacred healing. Kosef stood up beside the cliff edge. “You looking for this?” he asked; his outstretched arm held the Tome of Strahd 200 feet above the ravine’s floor. He tossed the book into the abyss. Strahd screamed. He dived forwards becoming a swarm of bats that for a moment seemed to engulf Kosef, before plummeting downward following the book. END
This session introduced us to the concept of goat perspective: Is it a tiny goat that’s very close? An average goat in the middle distance? Or a giant goat very far away? It doesn’t matter; by the time you’ve figured it out, its already devouring your bones.
It also showed us how mean our DM can be. It took us ten sessions to get hold of the Tome of Strahd, but only one for him to have Strahd take it back from us. We may have lost the book, but at least we had a chance to read it first. So here’s what we now know about how to defeat Strahd: sunlight harms him, we must destroy him in his place of rest, and a stake through the heart will hold him in place.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: NPCs can level up too. When we leveled up recently, our DM also leveled up our NPC allies. This makes sense as they have been traveling with us long enough and have gone through the same experiences as we have. Now Victor, our young mage, is getting more powerful with some 4th level spells, and Ireena has become a cleric, filling in a much needed role in our party.
Player Tip: Taking notes is really useful. If we hadn’t noted down straight away what the Tome of Strahd told us about how to defeat him, we would have lost the book the very next session and never known his weaknesses.
We ended this session with Brundle in goat form and Engong turned into a rat, the Roc had decided to chase us now that the flaming horse had gone, and we no longer had the Tome of Strahd. Next week we’ll have to decide if we risk resting in the guard tower and missing Esmerelda, or do we head straight on to Vallaki with depleted resources? Let’s just hope it takes Strahd a long time to find his book and he doesn’t come straight back up the cliff looking for us.