“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 Gimble. “Bring me my tome,” he said. Anger poured out of him, but he didn’t notice Kosef standing at the cliff-edge. “You looking for this?” he said, his outstretched arm holding the Tome of Strahd 200-feet above the ravine’s floor. He tossed the book into the abyss. Strahd screamed and dove forwards, becoming a swarm of bats that for a moment seemed to engulf Kosef, before plummeting downward.
Last night was session 56 in our ongoing, online Curse of Strahd D&D campaign, also known as The Wacky Adventures of Nepharon and Associates.
Last week, the party, Nepharon and Associates, finally exited the Amber Temple only to run into eponymous villain Strahd Von Zarovich. We had found his diary, the Tome of Strahd, in the temple and he wanted it back. After a tense stand-off, it was thrown into a ravine and he dove in after it allowing the party to escape. Thankfully, before we encountered him, we had read the book and it told us how to defeat him, so now all we need to do is find a magical Sun Sword and an amulet. If only we could remember where we’d put them—it’s always in the last place you look.
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;
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, numb on his left side, has a pet dog Kevon;
Victor – Human (Teenage) Wizard-in-Training, NPC;
Ireena – Human Cleric, Strahd’s would-be bride, blessed by St. Andell, NPC.
As Strahd plummeted down the cliff, the Associates heard the screech of a giant bird heading their way. The Roc had returned; it was hungry. Still reeling from Strahd’s spell, Kosef limped to his feet; he was joined by Gimble, Ireena, and Victor, all still in shock from their encounter with the vampire. There was a goat nibbling the grass at their feet; they recognized it as Brundle Swash, and guessed that the rat riding between its horns was what remains of Engong. The shadow of the enormous bird fell over them and together they dashed towards the open door of the guard house, where Baräsh was waving them in.
This was a tense start to a session. There were still multiple dangers for us to worry about. Both the Roc and Strahd were outside and either could wipe out the party in seconds. As soon as we went into the building we slammed the doors shut and began desperately thinking of ways to prevent Strahd from entering.
Gimble Timbers searched through his pack for all the traps he could find and began booby-trapping all the doors and windows. Victor started casting warding glyphs and protection spells all around the building. Baräsh and Ireena called on the divine support of St. Andell and the Morning Lord to sanctify and bless the guardhouse. While Kosef, aware that vampire couldn’t enter your home unless invited, quickly forged a deed to the building, claimed that this was home, and cast a minor illusion of a “Home, Sweet Home” rug at the door. Meanwhile Engong and Brundle, the rat and the goat, found somewhere warm and cozy to snooze.
We weren’t sure if our protection of the house would work, and were kind of expecting a Home Alone-style session where we had to defend the house from continual onslaughts, but we knew we should take the opportunity to rest. So we did. We took a long rest and somehow nothing untoward happened.
After our long rest, we realized that we were late to meet Esmerelda, an ally whom we had agreed to meet before we were waylaid in the Amber Temple. So we decided Victor or Engong should try to use their Scrying ability (one of the dark gifts they received in the Amber Temple) to get a vision of where she was. First we thought to try to Scry on Van Richten (another ally whom we last saw fighting Strahd as we escaped Vallaki) but then we remembered he had a magical, shiny hat of divination protection (or something like that!).
Victor cast the spell, but he saw nothing in response. The spell failed. This could mean Esmerelda had resisted the magical attempt to divine her whereabouts, that she had some sort of Scry-protection, or that she was dead. In either case we now had to make a new plan.
We had three main objectives:
- Find the Sun Sword – this meant going to a swamp and fighting a witch
- Investigate tales of a mad mage in the North – this could be a wild goose chase
- Kill Strahd
There was no way we could do number three yet, and number two meant a lot of traveling, so we decided the best option was to go to the Ruins of Berez and try to avoid a fight with Baba Lysaga, a swamp witch who had bested us previously.
Best laid plans
Having decided the plan of action, we began to gather our things and leave the tower. Gimble Timbers was the first out and, as soon as he exited the building, we all heard a chilling, familiar voice.
“Good Morning chaps! I thought it was only us vampires that were supposed to be late risers. I’ve been waiting out here for you for ages. What’s kept you so long? It can’t have been your beauty regime; Engong hasn’t even brushed her fur yet.”
We were not expecting this. Strahd had apparently not been able to find his book after we threw it from the cliff edge, so he had decided to wait for us to leave the tower. He was no longer interested in Ireena—we had spoiled her, allowing St. Andell to choose her for his protection—so he wanted to take Victor from us instead. He told us that Victor had been his apprentice all along and that he was just waiting for the chance to betray us. Victor looked bemused.
Strahd then proceeded to deliver a monologue, telling us how bad for Barovia we were (which is true), and how we have destroyed every town or village we have been to (which is true), and that we were the real villains now and he was going to become the hero by sending away the invaders (us).
Baräsh felt his rage boil over and his Oath of Vengeance wouldn’t allow him to stand for such an attack on his character. He summoned his mighty steed (in Barovia this is a giant spider because of all the evilness), mounted it, and it began climbing the walls of the tower to get to the top where Strahd stood.
Strahd then tried to polymorph Baräsh into a spider, but he passed his wisdom saving throw with a natural 20 and continued the ascent. Meanwhile Engong and Gimble were discussing whether they should turn over Victor to Strahd. Naturally, this annoyed the teenage wizard and he turned himself invisible, forgetting perhaps that Engong and Baräsh both had the power of Truesight (another dark gift) and could see invisible creatures.
Baräsh reached the top of the tower and was face-to-face with Strahd. He sent his spider off to find Victor and protect him, and raised his mighty war hammer ready to strike.
The combat began with us scattered around the tower. Both Strahd and Baräsh were on top, 50-feet above the rest of us. First, Strahd looked in Baräsh’s eyes and tried to charm him. Again the dragonborn passed his wisdom saving throw, and he was not charmed.
Engong wanted to join Strahd and Baräsh at the top and used her monk skills to jump as high as she could and began climbing the rest of the way. By the end of her turn she was just within reach of the top, her fingers grasping the tower’s crenelations.
Both Gimble Timbers and Brundle Swash decided to attack Strahd from range. Gimble missed with his first arrow and hit with his second, adding a goading attack maneuver to it—doing a total of seven points of damage—which Strahd didn’t seem to notice. Then Brundle cast Call Lightning against the vampire and dealt 13 damage. Both gnomes ended their turns running to the walls of the tower, trying to simultaneously hide and look innocent. Kosef was already at the wall’s edge, avoiding Strahd’s gaze. Victor was still nowhere to be seen and Ireena was next to Kosef, preparing to heal anyone should they require it.
On top of the tower, Baräsh cast Sacred Flame and a pillar of divine erupted where Strahd stood. This dealt a massive 30 radiant damage and really upset the vampire lord. Radiant damage has the added bonus that undead cannot regain hit points for a whole turn, which doubly angered Strahd (and began to worry our DM).
On his turn, Strahd turned away from Baräsh and began climbing down the side of the tower. He was walking down the vertical wall like a spider, his body parallel with the ground. We hadn’t seen Strahd do this before, and it was quite unnerving. He walked straight past Engong who was still dangling by her fingertips and made it halfway down the tower before Baräsh, still full of rage and fury, leapt from the top and tried to land bodily on Strahd.
The two of them were locked in a grapple in mid-air. Strahd lost his footing on the side of the wall and they began to fall. Strahd had Baräsh by the throat and turned him to face the ground, but just before they smashed into the floor Kosef used his reaction to cast Featherfall on the pair of them, allowing them to land gently.
He may not have been crushed, but Baräsh was still grappled by Strahd. The vampire bit down hard on his throat, dealing 17 piercing damage and 10 necrotic. Then he stood up and pushed Baräsh hard against the wall, mere feet from where the rest of the party stood. He punched the dragonborn, dealing more damage.
Strahd now turned and began to walk towards the cliff edge where Victor was standing.
Victor by the cliff edge
Kosef ran to Victor, who was no longer invisible, but was standing on the edge of the cliff with Strahd bearing down on him. Kosef got between Victor and Strahd and yelled to wizard, “Get out of here Victor. Find us later. Use your Scry. It’s you he wants. Just get away.” At the same time, the rogue cast Protection from Evil on the wizard, hoping that would give him some advantage against Strahd.
Victor looked shocked and confused. He didn’t know what to do. The Associates hadn’t exactly been welcoming and nice to him, but he didn’t want to go with Strahd. He stood still, frozen in confusion.
From the top of the tower Engong jumped down and landed heavily, her monk skills allowing her to take up to 40 points of falling damage without being hurt. She ran to Strahd and started pummeling him with a flurry of blows. She landed hit after hit and dealt a fair bit of damage to the vampire. He turned and shoved her away; she flew 20 feet across the road, back towards the tower.
Then it was Gimble’s turn. First he tried to reason with Strahd, but that didn’t work. Then he used his own dark gift and cast Lightning Bolt at the vampire. A brilliant white beam of electricity shot out from his palm in a straight line towards Strahd. It hit the vampire and dealt some good damage, but this was the first time he’d used this ability and Gimble hadn’t reckoned on Kosef and Victor being directly behind his enemy. The lightning shot through the vampire and arced towards them. This would mean a dexterity saving throw. Kosef decided to forgo his save in order to shove Victor out of the way. He did this and took 35 points of lightning damage and pushed Victor off the cliff.
As Victor fell, once more Kosef cast Featherfall and Victor began to glide slowly, and safely, to the ground, out of Strahd’s reach. Victor cast Dimension Door before he hit the ground and vanished through a portal to some place unknown.
Strahd was seething. His anger at the party was so strong that he almost ignored his own pain. But he was badly hurt and needed to strategically withdraw. The Associates had clearly become more powerful; he would have to think closely about how to deal with them in the future. Baräsh, Engong, Gimble, and Ireena all charged at the vampire, while Brundle stood protectively over his friend Kosef. In an instant, Strahd transformed into a swarm of bats and quickly darted away. As he did, a small vial dropped to the ground at Engong’s feet. Curious, she picked it up and un-stoppered it. A jet of wind burst forth like a hurricane. And there, in the center of the party stood a large blue-skinned man holding two gleaming scimitars ready to fight. END
I can’t believe we had a second Strahd encounter in as many weeks. Although we all took quite a bit of damage, so did Strahd. I think our DM was getting a little worried towards the end of the combat that we might now be almost too powerful for the main villain. But I’m sure he can come up with a few ideas to re-balance the scales.
We have been streaming our sessions on Twitch each week and last night we managed an astounding seven viewers! This is the largest amount we have had so far. If you’d like to be our eighth, check out TPK_dnd.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: When in doubt, give a friendly NPC to one of your players to control during combat. This will allow you to concentrate on running your monsters and it might help to keep players involved in the game—especially if their turn economy isn’t as great as some of your others players—this is also good for letting your spellcasters have a taste of melee combat. Or in our case, it lets our healer (Baräsh the paladin) see what it’s like to play a character who actually heals OTHER people (Ireena).
Player Tip: Know what you want to do before your turn starts. Or at least have some idea of what you’d like your character to do. There’s nothing that slows the game down more, or disrupts the flow of combat, than a player who can’t decide what to do. At times we are all guilty of this, but it’s worth trying to keep one step ahead in your mind.
Next week we’ve got to try to work out how to deal with this crazed genie that Strahd has left us to fight. Not to mention finding out what happened to Victor. So much for our three-point plan, although we did manage to do quite a lot of damage to Strahd, so we might not be as far off the third step (kill Strahd), as we thought.