From his vantage point in the woods Kosef could see the rest of the party talking animatedly with the merchants. Something didn’t add up. Why would they just be standing in the road asking strangers if they had silvered weapons? Was he just being paranoid? Probably. He crept a little further into the woods and heard hushed voices ahead. Hidden amongst the trees, watching the road intently were two dozen burly men and women. Their bulging muscles visible through ripped clothes. If Kosef didn’t know any better he’s say that some of them had something wolfy about them. He sensed an ambush.
Last night was the 59th session in our ongoing, Skype-based Curse of Strahd D&D campaign. Only two of our party could play, which is the fewest we have had so far, but we still managed to explore a new area and almost die.
Our heroes found themselves trapped in Barovia, playthings of the devil Strahd. After lots of misadventure and peril they entered the Amber Temple. When they exited they were no longer Engong and Associates, but had been taken over by a nefarious Arcanaloth called Nepharon. Under new management and with the Tome of Strahd the party faced the eponymous vampire on a cliff edge and nearly bested him. Only for their enemy to escape, leaving behind an angry Djinn for them to fight.
The last session ended with a narrowly-avoided ambush. We had decided to head towards Argon Vost mansion, because our paladin Baräsh decided he wanted to try and make friends with the revenants we knew lived there. Judging by our past experiences with making friends, this was not going to end well.
Nepharon and Associates:
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 called Kevon;
Victor – Human (Teenage) Wizard-in-Training, NPC;
Ireena – Human Cleric, Strahd’s would-be bride, blessed by St. Andell, 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, gets electrocuted a lot, Absent;
Baräsh – Dragonborn Paladin, death-obsessed bully, has a pet dodo called Raphael, Absent.
Deciding this was a good a place as any to rest, Nepharon and Associates prepared to bed down for the night. In truth, the party was in turmoil. Engong was still angry at the change of ownership of the party, but remained insistent that she was still in charge. Victor still hadn’t decided if he should trust anyone since being hurled from the cliff. Baräsh was acting like a bully and wasn’t keen on Ireena’s new connection to his deity. Gimble Timbers was still suffering from the effects of his dark pact. Brundle Swash was worried about the druids attacking the winery to the north. And Kosef was hungover.
The party managed to rest and for once it was an uneventful sleep. In the morning Engong had disappeared, presumably off completing some foul mission. Brundle and Baräsh decided it best if they headed to the Wizards of Wine winery to check on Davian Martokoff. Which left Gimble Timbers, Kosef, Victor and Ireena.
Our DM had so far resisted creating a split party situation. Until now. At this point in the story it made sense as we were so many party members down and at a crossroads both literally and figuratively in the story. So it we arranged for everyone to meet up at Argon Vost mansion once Brundle and Baräsh had sorted out the winery and Engong had returned from whatever dark deeds she was completing. Meanwhile Gimble, Kosef, Ireena and Victor would take the scenic route to Argon Vost, and scope out that area before the rest arrived.
The Kosef Division
In a blatant power-grabbing maneuver Kosef referred to this small team as the ‘Kosef Divison’. He then spent some time using classic seedy manipulation techniques and positive reinforcement to convince Gimble Timbers and Victor to follow him. Kosef rolled very high on his charisma rolls and both Gimble and Victor were persuaded. Ireena agreed.
It turned out that Ireena didn’t need much convincing. She confided in Kosef her concerns over Engong and Baräsh, both of whom had taken dark pacts in the Amber Temple and had been acting differently ever since. She then asked Kosef to pray with her, which he did. Kosef felt the holy aura of St. Andell seep into his body, and he was awarded inspiration by the DM.
Across the moors
To get to Argon Vost mansion the party had to cross the dark, wind-swept moors. This cross-country trek was hard going. After a while trudging through grassy bog, Kosef and Gimble spotted a hooded figure in the distance apparently digging a hole.
After stealthily approaching, Kosef called out to the man and offered to help with the digging. No response. On closer inspection he looked more like an ogre than a man. Kosef peered into the hole and screamed. Inside the freshly dug grave was his own dead body.
He immediately jumped 15-foot down into the pit and scrambled at the dirt. All the while the hooded ogre was tossing dirt back into the hole to cover the two Kosefs. Suddenly the face of the buried Kosef faded away, revealing a long dead skeleton. There was a wail and a whoosh of cold air as a ghostly apparition darted up out of the skeleton and began pulling at Kosef, trying to drag him under.
Kosef screamed again. He punched the skeleton in the face. And turned to clamber out of the pit. The ghost attacked.
This was an exciting fight, made all the more tense by the eerie setting and unknown enemies. We weren’t sure if the hooded ogre was in cahoots with the ghost, or what. It didn’t seem to pay any notice when Gimble Timbers shot it with an arrow or when Ireena tried to blast it with a spell. It just kept on shoveling dirt into the hole.
Eventually Kosef managed to climb up from his shallow grave and alongside Victor was able to blast the ghost into oblivion. It fizzled out of existence with an evil cackle. The ogre still ignored everything that was going on and continued to toss dirt into the pit.
As well as adding tension, this encounter delivered some odd trinkets, which Kosef and Gimble managed to find in the grave and the pocket of the ogre respectively. These were a pendant of a silver dragon permanently cold to the touch, and a set of dice made from human knuckles. Kosef stashed the pendant and they thought the bone dice would be good additions to Engong’s collection and might serve as a way of placating her in the midst of the management shift.
Gimble Timbers led the way after the fight and soon got the party lost. The mist was think on the moors. The wind was calling the heroes’ names. They were pretty sure the ogre was following close.
As the siren song of the marsh continued Gimble noticed more spectral forms illuminating burial mounds and icy pools. He was getting more and more paranoid that they were just going around in circles, when suddenly he noticed the grassland had become rougher. There were more rocks and shrubs around and they were walking alongside a cliff edge. Then, he noticed a building on the other side of a valley. He had brought them to their destination.
Somehow – with a natural 20 survival check – he had navigated us out of the mists and we could see Argon Vost Mansion. The only problem was that it was on the other side of the valley. A 50-foot fissure stood between us and the ruined building.
A closer look
The Kosef Divison now had to decide what to do. Wait for Baräsh, brundle and Engong to arrive before proceeding or attempt to infiltrate the mansion at only half strength. We came up with a plan.
From the perspective on the cliff, we could keep watch on the mansion and see if there was anyone there. This would let us scope it out while waiting for the others. But we wanted a closer look. So, splitting the party even more, Kosef and Ireena stayed put while Gimble and Victor teleported closer.
Victor waved his hands and incanted a spell and an ornate magical door appeared before him. He and Gimble went through the portal and appeared alongside the crumbling mansion. Exploration ensued. They went through numerous ruined outhouses, crept silently past a room full of giant spiders, and solemnly past a crypt and graveyard. Then they made their way around to the front of the mansion and came face-to-face with an impressive ten-foot granite door. It was opposite a moss-covered statue of a dragon that sent shivers down Gimble’s spine. “It’s OK” said Victor, “I guarantee that statue is NOT magical in any way.” END
Another fun session with some unexpected twists. It felt unusual to only have two players, but we soon got into it and it worked really well. Fighting the ghost gave us hint at how powerful we’ve become as adventurers. The last time we fought a single ghost, it took a whole session and we very nearly didn’t make it. This time it was over in just a couple of rounds with far fewer party members.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Playing with fewer players might seem like more of a challenge, but it can also be more rewarding too. While you might have to put in a bit of extra work to get things going, having fewer players means less egos to satisfy and you can end up digging deeper into characters and motivations than you normally might.
Player Tip: If you’re having trouble getting into the mindset of your character, applying a bit of critical theory might help. It sounds a bit highfaluting, but a simple exercise exploring your characters wants and needs can be useful to determine their motivation. Looking at wants and needs is a well-established method of analyzing character motivation used in film, theatre and literature, and there’s no reason why you can’t do the same for role-playing games.
In Star Wars for example, Luke wants to go out into the world and explore the galaxy. But what he needs is to learn to trust, in himself, in his friends and in the force. In Toy Story Woody wants to be Andy’s best friend and have him all to himself, but what he needs is to realize that the companionship and friendship of the other toys is more important. In our Strahd campaign my character Kosef wants power and influence and to escape Barovia, but what he needs is to become more a more reliable team player, and for his companions to trust him. Doing that will help him to achieve a satisfying narrative arc and character journey.
This is linked directly to the flaws and bonds you choose at character creation. A character’s wants are likely to be linked to their flaws and represent external, sometimes selfish desires. While their needs are more closely linked to their bonds and focus on internal struggle or dilemas. Kosef’s flaws are I crave power above all else and I make plans and then abandon them; His bond is someone close to me died because I failed to help, it won’t happen again. Understanding these as wants and needs helps me to think about Kosef’s reactions to certain situations. So when he gets the opportunity to follow his wants, by making a power play for control of the group he will, but if something happens that fulfills his needs to be more of a team player, then that’s when real character development occurs.
Alternatively, you can just do whatever you like and ignore all this. You’ll probably have just as much fun.
Next week we will hopefully have a full compliment of players and we can then think about making our way into Argon Vost mansion. I just hope everyone is on board with the new Kosef Division of Nepharon and Associates, or tensions might end up running a little high.