It was a new dawn in Barovia. The storm had passed and the heroes regrouped. It had been two days since they had last seen Engong. The Associates feared the worst. But time was of the essence and they needed to press on. It wouldn’t be long before Strahd located them and returned to finish the job. They needed allies, information, and weapons. And fast.
Last night was session 61 in our epic online Curse of Strahd Dungeons & Dragons campaign. We have been playing over Skype and it has taken us this long to get the hang of it. Only two of our party were available to play last night, so instead of heading straight off into Argynvostholt as we had hoped, our DM had a different type of session planned.
Previously in Barovia…
Our party began its journey as a group of four adventurers led by Engong the half-orc monk. We were “Engong and Associates.” Then, in the Amber Temple, we sold out to a nefarious Arcanaloth called Nepharon and became “Nepharon and Associates.” Now Engong has left us and so it has fallen on Kosef our human rogue/wizard to take lead. He has renamed the group “The Kosef Division,” but not everyone is onside with the changes.
Since our arrival in Barovia, we have suffered greatly at the hands of the evil vampire overlord Strahd Von Zarovich. We have vowed to defeat him and rid this land of his presence, hopefully saving a lot of innocent people in the process. However, our mission has led us down some very dark paths and some of our party have made some rather dubious decisions. This is especially true of Baräsh, our dragonborn paladin. He has made a pact with an unknown dark entity called Taahraak that resides in the Amber Temple. In exchange for incredible strength, he has turned to the dark side, embracing the evil things in life and bullying the weak. For a paladin this represents a strong swing to the right.
Nepharon and Associates:
Kosef – Human Rogue/Wizard, craves power above all else, played by me;
Baräsh – Dragonborn Paladin, death-obsessed bully;
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, numb on his left side, has a pet dog Kevon, Absent;
Brundle Swash – Gnome Druid, occasionally turns into a bear, gets electrocuted a lot, Absent;
Victor – Human (Teenage) Wizard-in-Training, NPC;
Ireena – Human Cleric, Strahd’s would-be bride, blessed by St. Andell, NPC.
Gimble Timbers and Victor gave their report on the Argynvost mansion. It seemed deserted. And spooky. Baräsh and Brundle Swash told the others about their trip to check on the Wizards of Wines Winery and the warning from Davian: “Don’t go in the Mansion. It is dark and full of un-life.” Ireena and Kosef sat and listened.
The session began with a standard recap. Then as Gimble Timbers’s and Brundle’s players weren’t present, our DM had their characters head into the woods to commune with nature, looking for answers to Engong’s mysterious disappearance. They told us not to go with them. It was a gnome thing. We wouldn’t understand.
The Dark Mark
As we waited for them to return, Baräsh noticed a strange mark on his left hand. Almost like a tattoo. It certainly wasn’t there before. It seemed to be some kind of writing swirling around his fingers and up the wrist. An intelligence check didn’t reveal very much. Not surprising as Baräsh’s intelligence score is low. Very low. He has the equivalent intelligence level of a sun-scorched potato. So he asked the others to check it out. Only Victor was able to discern anything. It was some sort of abyssal writing. This couldn’t be good. A subsequent intelligence check from Kosef revealed that it was probably something to do with the dark, evil pacts that Baräsh had entered into. Ireena was very uncomfortable.
The tattoo began to grow darker. Where at first it seemed faded and unclear, now it was thick and could be read easily. It said “Taahraak.” Rather than be worried by this turn of events, Baräsh began to feel invigorated and buoyed on by his markings. But his mind was in a constant state of flux since his dark bargain and he quickly changed from invigorated to paranoid. He threatened to cut off his arm to prevent the spread. But as soon as his blade touched his flesh he dropped it to the floor and felt a surge of power run across his entire body. The dark mark spread along his torso creating dark veins across his scaly skin. He panicked. “Speak thy name Demon!” he called out as the rest of the party watched on in horror.
The grass around the four suddenly erupted into flame which went out as quick as it came. A circle of scorched earth surrounded the party. Victor studied the ground for a moment. “Well, this looks like some kind of telepor…” BAMF!
Would you like more amber?
The party was instantly transported to a large, circular amber room. The walls were made of amber and almost transparent in places. They had been teleported to some kind of pocket dimension. Baräsh’s truesight let him see through the illusion. There was a door at the far side of the room. Wasting no time he charged forward and pushed it. It didn’t open. “Face me, demon!” he cried.
A mechanical voice rang out into the room and echoed around the chamber. “Thank you for choosing Taahraak. We hope you’re enjoying the benefits of becoming a member. As a reminder, your 10-day trial will soon be coming to an end. Would you like to extend your contract with Taahraak?”
Barash was confused. Kosef shouted clearly, “No.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t quite hear that. Did you say ‘Yes’?”
“Thank you for choosing to continue working with us here at Taahraak. Please proceed to the next chamber for your orientation.”
The next room was a similar circular amber construction. There was a large statue of a robed figure in the center and six niches along the room’s circumference. Baräsh investigated the statue. He rolled a very low investigation check. It was clearly a dragonborn, likely a priest. He had a hammer. Kosef rolled a much higher check. It was a statue of Baräsh. He was aged in the statue and had more scars and wrinkles on his face, but it was certainly him. Baräsh stood at the foot of the statue. He was confused.
Kosef, Victor, and Ireena investigated the niches. They each contained picture frame that held a moving image somehow magically cast into the space. The first illusion showed Baräsh as he first came to Barovia. He was clearly weaker and did not have his hammer by his side. His robes were pure white.
The second image showed the scene of Baräsh’s death by the hand of Strahd at the church in Vallaki. His friends stood round him, hopeless, as his body was torn in two. His white robes now spattered in blood.
The third image showed Baräsh in the Amber Temple reaching out to touch a sarcophagi. His body became filled with dark power as he received the blessing of Taahraak.
So far all three scenes had already happened. The fourth image, however, showed Baräsh striking Strahd with his mighty hammer and killing the vampire. The dark sigil of Taahraak was clearly visible across his arms and face.
The fifth illusion showed Baräsh cutting the chains of slaves and emancipating the people of Barovia. And the sixth showed a coronation. An older, far frailer Baräsh was being crowned king of all Barovia in front of a crowd of ten thousand men all looking on and cheering.
Having seen all six visions, Baräsh realized he was being lured. But he knew the power would aid him in destroying Strahd. Kosef stepped forward. “You must not be tempted by this demon, Baräsh.” Barash nodded as put his hand on Kosef’s shoulder, “And you must not let me fail this test.”
“I will lead you through it. Welcome to the Kosef Division.”
Kosef led Baräsh through the next door; Ireena and Victor followed behind. They found themselves outside, following a dirt path. There was a small village ahead with five stone houses around an old stone well. There were people standing in doorways. “Hello, Friendships!” called out Baräsh. This was the correct greeting.
The villagers were clearly nervous and yet overly nice towards Baräsh. It soon became clear that in this land he was the lord and they were his subjects. But they were fearful of him. They spoke of the great purge, which made Kosef, Victor, and Ireena very uncomfortable. They said that it was 20 years since Strahd was destroyed and Baräshlavia was freed.
After talking with Jack the commoner, the party headed off to investigate further. Then they heard a commotion behind them. A group of guards had turned up in the village and were beating Jack for not showing the proper reverence towards honored guards of the king. Baräsh was enraged and killed the guard. Jack cowered at his feet, clearly expecting the same treatment.
Baräsh seemed not to notice the fear and terror that these villagers felt. But Kosef did. He tried to warn Baräsh about the path he was taking, but the dragonborn did not seem to listen. Another door appeared before them.
This time when they went through the door they found a much smaller room. In it, Victor and Ireena were chained in the center. Around them stood ten robed, hooded figures. A voice rang out, cold and full of venom. “Those that seek power must make a sacrifice on the altar of Taahraak. Kill your friends.” Baräsh was not amused. He charged at the first cultist he saw, slaying him instantly. He would not kill Ireena or Victor. Kosef called out that they should rescue them, but Baräsh ignored him.
As the first drop of blood from the dead cultist hit the floor, it swirled into a dark bubbling pool. From the pool shot forth a giant hand. It rose up in the center of the room and grabbed another cultist, slamming it into the wall.
Kosef ran to Ireena and Victor and began breaking their chains. Baräsh was frozen in place, awestruck by this gigantic hand reaching upwards. He could sense the power. Thankfully, he was able to break free of the trance and ran to aid Kosef. As soon as the chains were cut they ran straight for the door. Kosef used his staff to create a wall of ice behind them so the cultists could not follow.
The King’s room
The final door led to a grand throne room. Marble columns lined the wall and led to steps up to a golden throne upon which sat a large figure. His robes covered most of his face. Baräsh approached; Kosef motioned for Ireena and Victor to hang back.
The figure pulled back his hood and revealed his draconic face. It was rough and scarred from age, but it was unmistakable. The older Baräsh stood up; two acolytes stood at his side. He grabbed one’s head and squeezed it in his hand until it popped.
“Why?” asked Baräsh.
“For the power. For strength. To defeat him and claim your place. For honor. Join Taahraak. You will conquer as I have. Look at the world we will create.”
Baräsh was confused. His determination wavered. Ireena stepped forward and called out. “Baräsh, brother. What of your faith? What of St. Andell and the Morning Lord? Will you abandon all you hold dear?”
This was enough. Baräsh turned his back on his future and walked back to his friends. Behind him the old king pulled out a large war hammer. It ignited as he did. He struck Baräsh heavily on the back of his head and the paladin fell to his knees. As his blood dripped onto the ground it formed a pool at his feet. The pool bubbled and swelled and grew until a giagantic hand reached up from it. An arm followed and then a head. It kept coming until a full body stood there.
An enormous shadowy figure loomed over the kneeling paladin. Its skeletal spectral form shifted and coalesced in the light. One second it had substance, the next, none. It was wreathed in flame. The old king, war hammer still blazing, stood by its side. Tiny in comparison. “If you will not take my gift you will perish. Turn your back now and you will be destroyed.” Baräsh prayed silently for the guidance of St. Andell and the Morning Lord. Just as Taahraak brought down his fiery might, a bright light shone forth from Baräsh pushing back the demon. Baräsh stood up and walked away. “But what of Strahd? He will win!” called out the false king. “Shut up,” said Kosef, as a crossbow bolt pierced his head. The room shimmered and faded and the party found themselves back in Barovia. END
This was a great session and so much fun to role play. There was almost no dice rolling at all but that didn’t matter. Baräsh really enjoyed it too and was excited to have a chance to be a good paladin again—although he now has lost the benefits he got from his demonic pact. Hopefully he has enough strength to help us defeat Strahd.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Sometimes you have to let go of the fight. Our DM admitted he had lots of combat encounters planned for this session, but because of how the role-play elements panned out, it made more sense to let that aspect go. He had even gone to the effort of creating stat blocks for the evil Baräsh and Tahraak, re-skinning monsters from the latest supplement Mordenkainen’s Tome of Foes. I’m sure that wasn’t in vain, however, and he will be able to find another chance to use those scary monsters against us.
Player Tip: If you’re having difficulty making a decision about what your player character would do, you can always roll for it. But you shouldn’t feel like you have to roll for everything. Sometimes it’s best to just go with the story and your gut instinct.
Next week we hopefully with have at least one of our gnomes with us, so we may even get to venture in to the mansion at Argynvostholt.