Session 64: You Drive a Strahd Bargain
The six heroes stood in the battlements surveying Argynvostholt below. It must have been pretty impressive in its prime. Now it just looked worn out and full of holes. There was a large section missing in the center of the roof that revealed the third-story room beneath it. Deciding luck was on their side, and without plan or judgment, they 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. Then looking up, she realized they had jumped right into the middle of a group of very angry-looking armored revenants. “So good of you to drop in,” said Vladimir.
Session 64 in our online Curse of Strahd Dungeons and Dragons campaign took place last night via Skype and it started with an encounter with angry revenants. To avoid a fight, we decided to try something new: diplomacy. We have been playing online once a week since April 2017 and never before has this approach worked.
Over the course of the last year and a half, our group has undergone some major changes both in line-up and home-lives. But some things never change. Our first session was delayed by 20 minutes as I was required to help my then five-month-old son get back to sleep. Similarly, his ongoing 18-month sleep regression meant last night’s session also started 20 minutes late.
Previously in Barovia…
Searching for a way to defeat Strahd, our heroes came to Argynvostholt seeking allies. We had heard the revenants that lived here might be amenable to our goals. They weren’t. Our main objective is to kill Strahd, removing his grip on Barovia so that we can escape. The revenants hate him so much that they want him to live on forever in perpetual torment. They will therefore try to thwart any assassination attempt by us.
Last session, after barely escaping from the revenants’ mansion, we decided to go straight back in to remove them from the equation. Also, their leader Vladamir had a shiny longsword which our dragonborn paladin coveted. That session ended with us making an aerial assault on the building. It was a tactical decision that left us in a sticky situation.
Nepharon and Associates: The Kosef Division:
Kosef – Human Rogue/Wizard, wants to be the leader, played by me;
Baräsh – Dragonborn Paladin, follower of St. Andell;
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, numb on his left side, has a pet dog Kevon;
Brundle Swash – Gnome Druid, gets electrocuted a lot, currently in eagle-form flying above the mansion, Absent;
Victor – Human (Teenage) Wizard-in-Training, NPC;
Ireena – Human Cleric, Strahd’s would-be bride, blessed by St. Andell, NPC.
Kosef counted six spectral guards with swords and crossbows. Behind them stood Vladamir and Godfrey, the two battleworn, armored revenants. Gimble Timbers drew his short sword and stood back-to-back with Baräsh. Ireena was kneeling by Victor, tending to his wounds, and Kosef stood in the middle of the group, wishing they had used the stairs. They could hear Brundle Swash, still in eagle-form, calling out as he circled above. Just as swords were drawn and battle cries were about to ring out, Baräsh lowered his weapon. “OK, friendships. You are right. We should let Strahd suffer for eternity. There is no need to fight.”
As the session began, we were all preparing for a fight. I expected our DM’s first words to be “Roll Initiative!” But they weren’t. In fact, what he said was, “Roll a persuasion check.” Baräsh rolled a 1. Critical fail. Not a good start, but our DM must have been feeling generous as the revenants did not immediately attack.
Instead the encounter moved toward a more diplomatic tone. Somehow Gimble Timbers managed to convince Vladamir and Godfrey that they should hear us out and we offered to help the revenants in any way we could. Vladamir then gave us a potted history of the Order of Argynvost.
“There once was a dragon, Argynvost. He came from a land so pure. The knights rallied around him and we came to Barovia to put down the devil Strahd. But, meeting him on the field of battle, Argynvost was destroyed. His head was taken and held as a trophy in Strahd’s domain. Lost to us for all eternity. Now we exist as the last remnants of the order. Held forever in hatred.”
After hearing the story of Argynvost, we agreed to help. This appeased them and they let us search the mansion for swag. We were lying of course and definitely intend to kill Strahd, but for now we’re hoping they won’t figure that out.
We then spent some time fruitlessly searching the mansion for any treasure or magical items we could find. Baräsh was certain there must be something here and was very disappointed to find out otherwise. “I’ve been excited about this mansion since we first met that revenant when we were level three. They don’t want to help us kill Strahd. There’s no loot. Was this just a big red herring?”
Our search of the mansion did, however, uncover two things of note. The first was a large room with a vault in it. The vault had been ransacked and emptied. Just as we decided this room was as barren as the rest of the mansion, a single piece of parchment fluttered down from a shelf. It was a page from Argonvost’s journal:
“My knights have fallen and my army is lost. I will die today… the time has come to show these fiends my true form. Let Argynvost be remembered as a dragon of honor and valor… my only regret is that my body will not rest in the halls of Argynvostholt.”
The second interesting thing we found was in another room. This room was in a better state than the rest of the decrepit mansion and there was a sarcophagus made of polished black wood. It had an effigy of a queen carved into it. Gimble Timbers found it and called Kosef over. As the rogue crossed the room, a shadow passed over the room. Then a small golden dragon made of fire swooped down as Kosef dived down onto the floor.
The flaming dragon landed on the hearth and a voice emanated from it. “My knights have fallen into darkness. Show them the light they have lost. Save them.”
Baräsh opened his mouth to reply but before he could the illusory fire dragon disappeared. “Well,” said Gimble, “You wanted something from this mansion. Now we have a new quest. Retrieve the dragon’s skull.”
On the roof again
After receiving the dragon’s quest we headed up to the roof to see if we could see Brundle before we set off away from the mansion. We didn’t spot our friend. But we did decide to explore one of the lofty towers that rose up from the battlements.
As we approached the door to the tower, two sets of arrows rained down at us from slots in the walls. “If it’s guarded there must be something important in there,” said Baräsh hopefully. As ever he was wrong. All that we found were creaky, rotten floorboards that gave way under our weight, and two spectral knights who pointed swords at us menacingly.
Being a sneaky rogue, Kosef snuck up to the top of the tower and looked out of the arched windows at the spire’s apex. This provided a unique 360o view of the whole of Barovia. He could make out Krezk, Vallaki, Riktavio’s tower, and the mountains to the south. And to the north, Castle Ravenloft, leering ominously across the horizon.
Off to Berez
Finding nothing else of value, save a barrel of Champagne with which we filled our wineskins, we left Argynvostholt and headed off the ruins of Berez. Here we hoped to find the mysterious sun-sword which we believed would help us destroy Strahd. The only thing standing in our way was Baba Lysaga, the crazed swamp witch whom we had angered on our last visit to the marsh. Thankfully, we are now a few levels higher so should fare slightly better if we meet her again. Or so we presumed.
Argynvostholt was half a day’s march from the marshes of Berez and as evening began to set in, the heroes caught glimpses of the large expanse of mist and fog which clung to the swamp. An orange haze hung in the air and the ground beneath began to squelch and wheeze. They had reached the swamp. This was Baba Lysaga’s domain.
Toxic bubbles belched up from the resting water beside the path, spreading noxious fumes all around. The heroes now inhabited a surreal land. It was an abyssal hellscape. The pools by the path were blood-red and claws reached up from the dirt grabbing at the heroes’ feet. The wind carried the wails of a thousand creatures dying in agony. This was not how the heroes remembered Berez. “It feels like we’re in a field of very powerful dark magic,” said Victor. “Oh, you think?” Gimble Timbers replied. END
Having now arrived at the Ruins of Berez, we are hoping to easily find the sun-sword. But we don’t have much to go on. Hopefully we won’t run into Baba Lysaga anytime soon.
After 64 sessions, we must be nearing the closing chapters of the story by now. But I still get the impression that there’s so much more to do. What we didn’t expect at this stage was another quest. Especially one that means we have to infiltrate Castle Ravenloft (where Strahd lives) and steal a dragon’s skull. I’m not sure how we can possibly do that stealthily.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Don’t be afraid to use spells which create illusory terrain. Traditionally they can be quite difficult to DM or rule over, especially if some characters have Truesight—as our paladin does—but they can also deliver really unusual visual effects and are great for helping a villain catch your players off guard. The surreal hellscape that we saw as we entered the swamp was the effect of a powerful illusion spell called Mirage Arcana. This is a very cool spell that makes the terrain over one square mile look, sound, smell, and even feel like some other terrain. In this case it turned the swamp into a scene straight out of Dante’s Inferno. Our DM ruled that we would have to make wisdom saving throws or be terrified by what we saw and this added a new dimension to a traveling scene and helped build up the tension at the end of the session.
Player Tip: Don’t be upset if you explore an area and don’t get any treasure or loot. A good DM will offer rewards where they feel it is necessary and will usually take into account equipment and skills your party already has before rolling out new stuff. If a mansion has been abandoned by all living creatures save a few undying revenants, and shows clear signs of being looted already, there probably isn’t going to be any super magical weapons just lying around. Besides, if you are looking for cool magical weapons, you will probably have to defeat the mean-looking revenants who own them first.
Next week we continue our foray into the swamp of Berez hoping to find the sun sword and avoid Baba Lysaga. Why is it I get the feeling the exact opposite is what will actually happen?