Kosef darted around the corner following Ulrich’s directions. He saw Marina’s monument ahead, not noticing the six zombies shambling towards him. He read the inscription on the plaque, “Marina, taken by the mists.” Scrambling around in the dirt he found nothing. He stood up and pushed the stone. It hardly moved. Or did it? He pushed again. The zombies moved closer. He felt the stone shift. One more push. It crashed to the ground separating him from the dead. Shoving his hand into the dirt, he clasped something warm. He pulled and blinked in the dazzling light. This was what he was searching for. He held aloft the glowing Sun Sword and the zombies cowered.
Last night was the 67th foray into Barovia in our Curse of Strahd D&D campaign. We’re playing over Skype and it has been a while since we had any technical problems that interrupted our sessions, but last night was one of those times when nothing quite goes to plan.
First, my infant son, for whom it was my turn to accompany on the sleep shuffle, refused to comply with any reasonable request for slumberage.
Then there was an electrical storm which caused a power-cut. Of course the iPad I use wasn’t affected, but our wi-fi was. After a short while, power was restored.
I was 25 minutes late. But I wasn’t the only one. Two of our players also faced similar issues with their own power and internet supplies. It was beginning to look like this session was destined not to happen.
However, albeit 50 minutes late, we did get to play. It was a shorter session than usual, but when we started we got to level up our characters. So it wasn’t all bad.
Previously in Barovia…
Trapped in Barovia and desperate to get free, our party, Nepharon and Associates, sought out the Sun Sword in the Ruins of Berez. This meant getting through Baba Lysaga and her coven of Night Hags. The heroes managed it and now have the Sun Sword, so what do they do next?
Nepharon and Associates: The Kosef Division:
Kosef – Human Rogue/Wizard, wants to be leader, played by me;
Baräsh – Dragonborn Paladin, follower of St. Andell;
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, numb on his left side, carrier of the sun Sword;
Brundle Swash – Gnome Druid, gets electrocuted a lot;
Victor – Human (Teenage) Wizard-in-Training, NPC;
Ireena – Human Cleric, Strahd’s would-be bride, blessed by St. Andell, NPC.
Gimble Timbers gladly accepted the sword from Kosef. He still harbored a grudge, but the Sun Sword was a good start towards bridging the divide. Overnight the gnome focused and meditated on the blade until, when morning came, he felt fully attuned to it. It spoke to him in soft sentences of deeds of valor and of glory. The sword desired the end of Strahd almost as much as Gimble Timbers did.
As he kept watch over the sleeping party, Gimble could see that Baräsh was restless. The dragonborn had dreams of shadows and many unblinking eyes. When he awoke, the deep abyssal voids that replaced his own eyes had gone, as had Yrrga’s gift of Truesight. Normal service had resumed.
The session began as we awoke from our long rest. Gimble had attuned to the Sun Sword and was extolling its virtues to us. Baräsh had lost his dark gift of Truesight—the allotted days had passed—and we all leveled up.
We were now a level 9 party. Our hit points increased and we each gained a couple of new benefits or abilities. Our fighter was now Indomitable—he can re-roll a failed saving throw. Our paladin now had two level three spells—he picked Magic Circle and Revivify. Our druid also learnt some new powerful spells. And our NPCs (Ireena and Victor) both got more HP and additional spell slots.
I had chosen to multiclass my character, Kosef, earlier, so now had to decide if I gained a rogue or wizard level. I chose rogue, making me a level 7 rogue / 2 wizard. This was a difficult choice as I had to pick between level 2 spells or the Evasion ability. Ultimately I decided that Evasion was more useful.
One the Road Again
Once we finally got the session under way and completed our leveling up, we had to decide our next move. We had two main objectives: find a dragon’s skull and kill Strahd. Both tasks require us to go to Castle Ravenloft, somewhere we have avoided, until now.
So we had little option but to head there. We now felt strong enough to see if we could complete the campaign, so we headed off. It was two days’ travel to Ravenloft and we had to pass Vallaki on the way. We didn’t want to go into Vallaki; our previous trips there had been problematic at best, so we planned to skirt around the town.
Since his death and resurrection in a previous session, Victor has gained a much more morose, miserable, and lazy outlook. He has also taken to traveling by a make-shift palanquin held aloft by two zombies he raised from the dead. Up until now this has just been a funny image our DM created for our amusement. However, this was about to cause a problem.
Heading for Castle Ravenloft we neared the crossroads on the Old Svalic road which connects all the points on the Barovian map. Up ahead we could hear the distant sounds of a pageant or carnival. Previous encounters on this road have made us wary. Anticipating trouble ahead, we paused to considered our next move.
Naturally Kosef, the rogue, was nominated to stealthily go ahead and investigate. A critical 20 on the stealth roll (29 with the +9 modifier) allowed a silent approach.
There was a large group of people, all dressed in bright colors and with strange headdresses parading along the road. They danced as they passed, holding candles and incense and singing loudly as they headed towards Vallaki. In the center of the procession, dressed in gleaming white and holding a golden scepter, was the Abbot of Krezk, seemingly directing the parade. Walking beside him, arms linked, was a tall female figure in a white robe.
Kosef took all this in and ran back to the party to tell them what he had seen.
The Abbot of Kresk
We had met the Abbot of Krezk before. It was he who had saved Gimble Timbers from the mold-disease that had infected his arm, by replacing it with a mannequin. The Abbot was also the one responsible for modifying Gimble’s facial features, replacing his nose with a wolf’s snout.
Our last encounter had revealed him to be a celestial (kind of like an angel). He had created an army of mongrel-folk and constructed a Frankenstein’s creature-like bride for Strahd and was convinced this would appease the vampire and restore peace to Barovia. At the time we decided he was dangerous and crazy, and we left. Now we faced him on the ill-fated crossroad.
We opted to hide in the bushes and wait for them to pass. However, poor stealth rolls from both Gimble and Baräsh meant we were soon discovered.
Angelic celestial voices rang out in our minds, “Hello Friendships!” it said, “Do come out and join us.”
Gimble, Baräsh, and Brundle stepped out, leaving Kosef, Ireena, and Victor still hidden. A quick conversation revealed that the Abbot was headed to Ravenloft with his mongrel-folk entourage to oversee the wedding of Strahd and Vasilika (the patchwork lady). He was convivial and friendly and asked them to join him. Then he spotted Victor and Ireena in the bushes.
He wasn’t friendly anymore. First he swatted away Victor’s zombie servants with a glowing golden mace that appeared from nowhere, destroying the palanquin and sending Victor flying. Then he pointed to Ireena and screamed, enraged. “She cannot be here! She will disrupt the wedding. I know who you are.” Apparently he was convinced Ireena would ruin proceedings. Then he demanded we turn her over to him so that she could be punished. This we didn’t want to do.
The Abbott tried to intimidate us into handing her over. We all rolled charisma saving throws to see if we could hold our nerve. Only Baräsh, who rolled another critical 20, stayed resolute. We then had to roll perception checks with disadvantage. None of us rolled high.
Gimble was wavering. While he loved Ireena, he also loved the Abbott. He had saved his life. Sensing weakness, the Abbott turned to the gnome and revealed his true self. His skin turned silver, as majestic wings of white feather sprouted from his back. Heavenly music filled the air and the Abbot spoke darkly: “You dare challenge the will of the celestial gods? Hand over this woman and there will be peace.” Gimble cowered.
The heroes stood in a circle, protecting Ireena. Then Baräsh spoke to the Abbot, “Oh, dark prophet, why have you let yourself be corrupted so? Ireena is a champion of the light. If you truly were too you would see that. You shall not have her.” There was a pause. Suddenly, from the bushes around them, the robed mongrel-folk all jumped out. Leathery wings and fawn-like legs flapped and stomped. Claws scratched and they attacked the heroes. The Abbot stood and watched. END
This was a much shorter session than usual, but we still managed to end on a cliffhanger. Leveling up was great. We will definitely need the added hit points, spell slots, and abilities if we’re going to fight the Abbot and his mongrel-folk minions next session.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Even if you don’t think an encounter will end in a fight, be prepared for it to. And if ever you don’t want an encounter to end that way, it almost certainly will. Especially if the odds are well against the players’ favor. Let them fight it out if they must. It’s the only way they’ll learn.
Player Tip: Sometimes your DM will offer you a chance not to fight. This is usually because you shouldn’t. It’s up to you whether you take the bait or not. But if you go for the battle, be prepared to roll up a new character. Or, worse still, a whole new party…
Next week, we’ll see how we fare against a mob of 24 mongrel-folk and an angry Abbot. Thankfully our paladin now has Revivify; I have a feeling that might come in handy before the end of this campaign…