Session 62: Some like it Strahd
An enormous figure loomed over the kneeling paladin. Wreathed in flame, its skeletal spectral form shifted and coalesced in the light. “If you will not take my gift, you will perish.” Baräsh prayed silently for the guidance of the Morning Lord. Then, just as Taahraak brought down his fiery might, a bright light shone forth from Baräsh pushing back and vanquishing the demon. Baräsh stood up, dusted his vestments and calmly walked away. Argynvostholt was calling.
Last night was session 62 in our online Curse of Strahd D&D campaign; in it we explored Argynvostholt mansion and then defenestrated ourselves. This was only the second session since Engong left the group and our party of four was down to three as Gimble Timbers was in Malta eating Bragioli and sunbathing.
Previously in Barovia…
We have been searching for ways to defeat Strahd, the evil vampire keeping us trapped in Barovia. So far we have found two allies to aid us: Victor the teenage wizard, and Ireena, Strahd’s would-be bride. But we are in need of more. We have also met and befriended Rudolf Von Richten and his friend Esmerelda, but fear they have now fallen to Strahd’s might.
Our ongoing search for allies has taken us to Argynvostholt. A place briefly explored by Gimble Timbers and Victor. It seemed abandoned, but we know there are some Strahd-hating dragon-worshiping revenants in there somewhere. And we aim to make friends.
Nepharon and Associates:
Kosef – Human Rogue/Wizard, wants to be the leader, played by me;
Baräsh – Dragonborn Paladin, follower of St. Andell;
Brundle Swash – Gnome Druid, gets electrocuted a lot;
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, numb on his left side, has a pet dog Kevon, Absent;
Victor – Human (Teenage) Wizard-in-Training, NPC;
Ireena – Human Cleric, Strahd’s would-be bride, blessed by St. Andell, NPC.
Brundle returned from his moment with the natural world to find the camp deserted. There was no sign of the others, just a scorched circle of crispy grass and soil. Suddenly, the edges of the circle erupted in a blaze of emerald light. “Green Flame!” yelled the gnome, just as the four missing party members stepped out from the fire. They were unharmed by the intense heat and smoke, and Baräsh had an air of peace and goodness about him that had been missing for some time.
Having scoped out Argynvostholt previously, we decided to head straight there and attempt to ally ourselves with the Revenants inside. Leaving a note for Gimble Timbers to find us when he returned, we scaled down the cliff and walked along the driveway towards the front door of Argynvostholt mansion.
As making friends was Baräsh’s big idea we agreed to let him take the lead. He was practicing his speech along the way, “Hello Freindships of Argynvostholt! I am Baräsh, Champion of the light. We are on a holy mission to defeat Strahd. Will you join us? So far we have thwarted the demon Taahraak, vanquished the swamp witch Baba Lysaga, destroyed Winter Splinter the tyrant treant, saved the town of Vallaki from two oppressive regimes, and returned wine and frivolity to Barovia.” Admittedly some of his speech was embellished to make us look better.
The interior of Argynvostholt mansion was a mess. It looked abandoned and there were broken ornaments and ripped tapestries everywhere. We looked around the first couple of rooms and saw no sign of life.
Baräsh called out, “Hello Friendships!” His booming draconic voice echoed around Argonvostholt with no response.
Then, as we were heading to the next area, a darkness passed over us. A chill ran through the room as a large shadow like a dragon’s wing swept across the floor. We looked around but saw no sign of any dragons.
As our resident druid, it was up to Brundle Swash to investigate the area. Looking for tracks or footprints in the dust, he rolled a natural 20 on his survival check. As the first roll of the session we saw this as a positive omen.
Brundle could make out two sets of footprints in the room. One was fresher than the other so we decided to follow it.
The tracks led us right through Argynvostholt, the derelict mansion, up two flights of stairs, past broken walls and piles of debris and rubble. At one stage we had to clamber over a large pile of masonry and wood, which looked like it might give way to our combined weight. With good combined dexterity checks from the whole party we managed to cross without plummeting down through the floor to the hallway below.
On the dragon’s throne
After passing the pile of rubble we entered another partly ruined room. It seemed like a bathroom, with tiled walls and a ripped curtain dividing the space.
Baräsh stepped forward and pulled back the curtain. He saw a large chamber. Shields and weapons were rusting on the floor in front of a stone throne that was carved like a dragon. Slumped on the throne was a gaunt, armored figure, with a gauntlet wrapped around the hilt of an impressive great sword. “Go away!” hissed the figure. “Argynvostholt is closed.”
Baräsh went straight into his pre-planned speech, but was cut off midway by the rasping revenant. “Enough! Strahd has died once already. I cannot suffer him to be set free of his life of sorrow and torment. None shall give Strahd the chance to escape this world. He will suffer for eternity!”
This wasn’t the response Baräsh expected, and our DM was clearly enjoying role-playing this old, seemingly decrepit revenant.
All the while the revenant, Vladimir Horngaard, clutched his mighty greatsword. His eyes were filled with hatred. He told us he might help us defeat Strahd’s minions, but he would not let us destroy the vampire himself.
At this point Kosef piped up: “Is there anything we can do to alleviate your pain? To help you and gain your trust?”
The revenant paused for a second and thought. He stood up, lurched towards Baräsh and said, “Seeing you all suffer might help!”
We all knew it was heading towards this. As soon as we mentioned our plan to kill Strahd, this revenant was against us. He swung his great sword at the dragonborn paladin and struck him heavily across the chest, dealing 20 points of damage, and yelling out, “You shall not rob Strahd of his suffering!”
Baräsh was knocked back, and we were all surprised and concerned at the significant damage dealt.
Kosef, realizing that the throne was now vacant, ran towards it, sensing loot. There was none. He turned to send a Witchbolt at the revenant but missed. He hid behind the throne. As he did he caught sight of the windows that ran along the side of the wall. They were on the third floor. A potential escape route perhaps?
Brundle then cast Frostbite at Vladimir. He also missed and so decided to join Kosef hiding behind the throne. Victor, seeing the two of them, thought this was a good idea. He cast Mage Armor on himself and joined them in cowering.
On Baräsh’s turn he turned to face the revenant. “Only cowards or vampires strike foes from behind!” he said. He didn’t attack the knight, instead he used his Lay on Hands to heal the 20HP he had lost and carried on imploring the Vladamir to help us. It didn’t work.
By the end of the first round of combat it was clear we were in over our heads. Baräsh was the only one up for a fight, and he was stood in front of Ireena desperately trying to keep Vladimir away from her. Meanwhile Kosef, Victor, and Brundle were discussing their potential egress.
That’s not a fire escape
Vladimir was now furious. No matter how Baräsh tried to persuade him, he merely got angrier and angrier. Until eventually he called out, “Guards! Arrest these fools.” Immediately, six more undead soldiers came piling into the room through a secret door just behind where Kosef and Brundle stood. They immediately attacked the rogue and druid, dealing considerable damage. To make matters worse one of them was a spellcaster and cast Blindness on Kosef.
This really was our cue to leave.
Sensing an early exit, Victor ran forward, grabbed Ireena, and cast Dimension Door, teleporting the two of them to the safety of the courtyard, 80 feet below. This was part of our plan.
Then Kosef, after passing a dexterity saving throw to find the window in his visually impaired state, smashed the glass and dived out of it, casting grease on the floor behind him as he did. As he plummeted down, Brundle Wild-shaped into a Giant Eagle and flew out, hurtling down to catch him. He did so, and softly placed him onto the floor and shot straight back up to rescue Baräsh.
Seeing his companions’ act of auto-defenestration, Baräsh decided it must be time to leave. He dashed past Vladimir, conceding an opportunity attack which struck him for another 20 points of damage, and used his Misty Step ability to teleport 30 feet from the ground. Eagle-Brundle dived down dramatically behind him, catching him just milliseconds before he hit the floor.
Before we could catch our breath, we heard all the windows 80 feet above us smash. Kosef recovered from his blindness just in time to look up as seven armored revenants all jumped from the building and came tumbling towards the party. If you ever played Lemmings in your youth, you would fully understand why we all simultaneously put our hands up by our heads and squeaked, “Oh no!”
Seeing the seven earthbound, undead revenants tumbling from the third-story window, Victor acted quickly, summoning an invisible wall of force between them and the party. The attackers were trapped, caught 15 feet in the air and floating above the heroes. Nepharon and Associates had narrowly escaped a deadly situation in Argynvostholt, but they danger wasn’t over. END
With Kosef in charge of the group, we’re finally starting to be a bit more cohesive as a team. It was a well-executed escape, which we were sure would give us plenty of time as the revenants would have to go through the entire mansion to get back to us. Or they could just jump out of the windows. We certainly didn’t plan for that.
It was great to see Baräsh free of his dark pacts and flaws that he picked up earlier in the campaign. As was it seeing Brundle using his Wild-shape ability to turn into a Giant Eagle. That’s the first time he’s been a flying creature and it was so useful. I can see that coming in very handy in future sessions.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Know your players. Some groups, when confronted with a sprawling dungeon, will explore every room searching for hidden treasures. Others will choose the shortest path to the boss fight. Having a good idea of what’s likely will really help your session planning. If they’re the former, make sure you know what’s going on in the dungeon. Or, if you know your group is the latter, don’t spend ages planning what’s in every room but be prepared to improvise when they go into a room you don’t expect. In either case, always consider having a back-up plan if you really need them to find a special trinket, like having a NPC character help point them in the right direction.
Player Tip: If you’re playing a spellcaster, picking up a deck of spell cards is a great idea. They are extremely useful, and eliminate the need to quickly shuffle through hundreds of pages of spells between turns, or even the problems caused by forgetting which book the spells were in the first place. Was it the Player’s Handbook or the Adventurer’s Guide? No wait, it was Xanathar’s. Here it is. In either case, having your prepared spells in front of you in card form means you can pick through them when needed without any hassle at all, leaving you free to enjoy watching your allies make terrible dice rolls and arguing over a paladin’s special abilities.
Having narrowly escaped Argynvostholt this week, our paladin wants us to return next week, with a full complement of players, to try a different approach. Really he just wants Vladimir’s +2 greatsword, but we have agreed to give it one more try.