Session 63: You can do this the easy way or the Strahd way
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, but they weren’t out of Argynvostholt yet.
When a D&D game gets to 60 or more continuous sessions, that’s a clear sign that something’s going right. You might not be playing the same way anyone else plays, but that shouldn’t matter, as long as you’re all enjoying yourselves. Last night was the 63rd session of our Skype-based Dungeons & Dragons Curse of Strahd campaign, and all credit to the game designers at WotC, we are definitely still enjoying ourselves. Eventually, however, we will have to face Strahd and end the campaign—we’re currently level 8 and according to our DM are only likely to get one more level up before the grand finale. Until then, we continue to muddle our way through Barovia, making bad decisions and running away from all the things that go bump in the night.
Last night our whole party was able to play. We even managed to find a night that didn’t clash with the football World Cup (we’re all English so when we say “football” it actually means “soccer” and is a far less manly affair than its American counterpart). We, however, did suffer some minor interruptions as we returned to Argynvostholt. Our dragonborn paladin’s wi-fi connection and my 20-month-old son seemed to be on the same wavelength last night. Both were having synchronized tantrums and neither coped very well with the summer heat. Unfortunately the same solution could not be found for both—my son resists any attempt to turn him off and turn him back on again—so I did have to miss 15 minutes or so as I tried to get him back to sleep.
Previously in Barovia…
We have been searching for allies to help us defeat Strahd von Zarovich, the evil vampire that has trapped us in Barovia. Our investigations led us to Argynvostholt, a mansion we believed housed some Strahd-hating revenants. Sure enough, we found the revenants, but they decided not to help us, instead choosing the “destroy-the-infidels” option. It’s a classic choice and you can fully understand their reasoning. Why kill Strahd when you can ensure his eternal torment continues by making his ever-lasting life as miserable as possible? The only problem with their approach was that it meant without killing Strahd we could never escape this land, so we found ourselves at an impasse. An impasse that involved big shiny swords and auto-defenestration.
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, currently a Giant Eagle;
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.
While the undead soldiers were still trapped by Victor’s wall-of-force, the party decided to make their escape from Argynvostholt and regroup at the top of the cliff. Brundle, still in Eagle form, held Kosef in his talons and took off into the air, soaring high above, eventually landing safely. Baräsh called for his magical steed to appear, which it did, only in skeletal form, and he rode it quickly up the cliff path, ignoring the shreds of flesh and muscle that dangled from his horse’s once pristine body. Finally, once the others were safely away, Victor summoned a Dimension Door which he and Ireena calmly stepped through to join the others.
Meanwhile, Gimble Timbers awoke. Dazed and confused. His arms were bound. His whole body restrained. What had happened? He remembered wandering off, looking for Brundle. It started to rain. There was a dark shadow overhead. The shadow got closer. Eyes. There were lots of eyes. Fangs. Webbing. Spiders. Damn.
So the session started with a bit of a recap for Gimble Timbers—he wasn’t present last week. Then we played out what he’d been up to. It turns out this was mostly being ambushed and kidnapped by giant spiders just outside of Argynvostholt. He quickly managed to free himself from his arachnid abductors, just in time to see the rest of us running from the mansion. He was too far away to be heard, and he could see the revenants pursuing us, so he snuck past them and joined us on the top of the cliff.
Once we were all back together, we had to decide on our next course of action. Baräsh really wanted to go back into Argynvostholt, the rest of us weren’t so keen. However, we agreed that we would try one more attempt. Baräsh was convinced that the impressive-looking longsword wielded by Vladimir, the revenant in charge, would be useful in the battle against Strahd. And that the undead soldiers would not allow us to defeat the vampire; therefore, we needed to remove them from the equation. He was also sure that there would be some good loot. The loot swung it for us.
All of us had taken damage and used up our spell slots and daily abilities in our last encounter, so before we could go anywhere we needed a long rest. We decided to sleep where we were, on the cliff overlooking Argynvostholt. Baräsh agreed to take the first watch. Brundle, using the spell Speak With Small Animals, somehow convinced a mole—we called him Winston—to inform us if any enemies approached. We were very pleased with our inventive solution.
Our mole-line technology would prevent us from being surprised by any encroaching revenants. Now we just needed to set up a kestrel as a Video Assistant Referee and we could camp here forever!
Or, as it turned out, for one minute. Sure enough, as soon as we began our rest, Baräsh heard a rustling in the foliage and out popped Winston gesticulating wildly. Of course, Baräsh didn’t speak mole, so it took a couple of seconds to understand the message the small creature was trying to convey. Zombies!
By the time Baräsh knew what was happening, Kosef, Victor, and Gimble all had been gripped by undead hands shooting up from the ground where they slept.
Brundle was the first to spring into action, helping Gimble Timbers get free. Then Baräsh attacked the now almost fully emerged zombie that was trying to drag Victor into the ground. That just left Kosef struggling against two buried zombies that had him grappled and restrained. Our DM cackled with delight as we fumbled dice rolls and failed to mount a concentrated defense.
We eventually managed to defeat the five zombies that had risen from the ground. But it took far longer than it should have. This didn’t bode well for our upcoming assault against the revenants of Argynvostholt.
Winston told us that there were no more zombies in the vicinity so we attempted another long rest. This one was more successful and the night passed uneventfully. Now we were fully healed and had all our resources and abilities available. It was time to go back to Argynvostholt.
We surveyed the mansion and could see two guards in the battlements on the mansion’s roof. There was no other sign of movement. We hatched a plan. A tactical insertion.
Gimble Timbers and Ireena would stay on the top of the cliff, keeping watch on the battlements. From this vantage point, Gimble could reach the guards with his longbow. Brundle would then use his Wildshape to turn into a Giant Eagle and would carry Baräsh directly over the guards. Meanwhile, Victor would teleport himself and Kosef onto the battlement so the rogue could attack one of the guards. This would be Gimble Timbers’ signal to shoot and Brudle’s cue to drop the dragonborn onto the same guard. What could possibly go wrong?
Our DM listened to our plans and asked us to roll initiative to help organize our assault. The first round or so would be counted as a surprise round until we either attacked or were spotted by the guards.
As per the plan Brundle turned into a Giant Eagle and, with Baräsh gripped tightly in his talons, began to soar high above the mansion. Then Gimble drew back his longbow, eyes on the guards, as Victor cast the spell to transport himself and Kosef to the battlements. As soon as they landed, Kosef attacked the first guard with a sneak attack that dealt a fair amount of pain, then two arrows from the gnome 400 feet away stuck the same guard. Seconds later, Kosef and Victor were just able to jump out of the way as 200 lbs of pure dragonborn fury plummeted down from above, instantly crushing the skeletal revenant guard. That just left one guard to deal with.
Wow. That was one effective surprise round. We chalked it up to great leadership and forward planning. Or at least, Kosef did. The second skeletal revenant was dealt with pretty quickly too, as Kosef, Victor, and Baräsh were all on the rampart with him, Eagle-Brundle dive-bombed from above, and Gimble Timbers made the most of his target practice.
With the two skeletal revenant guards dealt with, the party had to figure out their next move. Victor and Brundle collected Gimble and Ireena between them and the six heroes stood in the battlements surveying Argynvostholt mansion below.
It must have been pretty impressive in its prime. Now it just looked worn out and full of holes. There was a gaping hole in the center of the roof that revealed the third story room below. Deciding luck was on their side, and without plan or judgement, they all leapt down the 10-foot drop landing on a pile of rubble in the center of the open-topped room. Ireena ran to Victor who yelped as his ankle twisted on the fallen masonry. As she looked up she realized that they had all just jumped into the middle of a group of very angry-looking revenants. “So good of you to drop in,” said Vladimir. END
Another great session, with a plan that actually worked well. Right up until the part where we blindly jumped into the midst of our enemy.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: When your players get to a high enough level, it can be quicker not to have them roll to hit if they’re only fighting weak minions, or creatures with very low armor class and HP. In this session, our DM decided we needn’t roll versus the zombies as we tried to rest, instead letting us roleplay the combat. This was quite an interesting way of doing it and really expedited the encounter, without taking away any of the peril—they still managed to get a couple of good hits in and nearly dragged Kosef underground!
Player Tip: Sometimes it’s OK to let your party members make mistakes—even if you know they’ve misunderstood or misheard something. When you’re playing online there will often be times when this occurs—like last night when Brundle mistook the revenant’s longsword for a different weapon he knew Baräsh has lusted over. Rather than alert Brundle to his error we let him retrieve the wrong sword; this didn’t help our situation one bit, but provided some funny roleplaying moments as the gnome proudly delivered the sword to Baräsh, who was really not that impressed. We couldn’t decide if it would have been meta-gaming or not to have warned him, so we just let it happen.
Next week we pick up where we left off. And we discover if Baräsh was right in his assertion that “There must be something worthwhile in this mansion.” I’m not so sure.