Curse of Strahd: Session 69

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images by Simon Yule, will-o-wisp

Session 69: Cold Strahd Cash

As they reached the bridge at the far side of the crossroads, the Associates felt the ground rumble and shake. They turned to see the Abbot, still kneeling, slamming his fat fists into the dirt. Each strike sent tremors through the earth until it started to crack and rend. Fissures appeared in the path behind them and the floor began to crumble. Together they made a final dash across the bridge, just in time to turn and see the ancient wooden construct fall into the agitated river below. The Abbot’s rage had created an earthquake and the adventurers had no choice but to head forward towards Castle Ravenloft and their likely doom.

Last night was the 69th session in our ever-lasting Curse of Strahd Dungeon & Dragons campaign. None of us would have believed it could possibly go on this long, and I think our DM may never speak to me again after coercing him to run this campaign. “Go on,” I said, “It’ll be over in a few months; it’s not that big of a commitment.” Here we are two years later and we still haven’t reached Castle Ravenloft. Although we are en route, and as long as we aren’t ambushed by a Will-o-Wisp, we should be fine.

Previously in Barovia…

Trapped in Barovia and subject to the immutable horrors therein, our band of adventurers has been searching for a way to defeat Strahd and win their freedom. So far we have gathered allies, Ireena and Victor; discovered lost relics, the magnificent Sun-Sword; and found, only to then lose, the Tome of Strahd.

During our time in Barovia we have met many groups of Vistani travelers, been trapped in the Amber Temple, fought revenants and angels, and destroyed a town, twice. Last session we fought the Abbot of Krezk and his mongrel-folk creations. Now we head for Castle Ravenloft to face our nemesis, but we must pass through Vallaki to get there. This town has not been a place of fond memories for us.

Nepharon and Associates: The Kosef Division:

Kosef – Human Rogue/Wizard, wants to be leader, played by me;
Baräsh – Dragonborn Paladin, follower of St. Andell and the Morning Lord;
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, owner of the Sun-Sword, has a pet dog Kevon;
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.

Strahd Baba Lysaga
The Kosef Division of Nepharon Associates. L-R: Ireena, Gimble Timbers, Barash, Kosef, Brundle Swash, and Victor

As the ground trembled beneath them the Associates ran forward, away from the river and towards the road that led to Vallaki. They were still a day’s travel from that town and knew the road would be treacherous. Night closed in and the howls from the wood called out.

As we started the session it was getting dark and our DM warned us of the perils of resting on the road. Do we keep going and walk through the night, risking exhaustion? Or do we set up camp on the side of the road and wait for the scarecrows and zombies to appear? We opted for the latter.

Baräsh took first watch which passed uneventfully—except for a strange conversation with a semi-imaginary dodo named Raphael.

Brundle Swash swapped with him after a few hours and was halfway thorough his stint when he heard the familiar moans and groans of the undead coming from the woods.

He decided to investigate alone rather than wake us. Turning into a squirrel, he dashed into the undergrowth following the sounds. After a while the moans died down and he found himself in a clearing unsure of the way back to the path. He rolled an eight on his survival check and was lost.

Suddenly a bright glowing orb appeared in the trees just beyond the clearing. Brundle-squirrel was entranced. He began to go towards the light. Then he remembered our DM had used this trick before. But it was too late. The Will-o-Wisp was upon him.

will o wisp strahd
Deadly and evil, a Will-o-Wisp lures adventurers from the path to feed on their suffering and revel in their screams.

ROLL INITIATIVE!

If we didn’t think Brundle stood much chance on his own, we were right.

The Will-o-Wisp went first and a shock of lightning buzzed from the orb as it moved closer to Brundle. Somehow the attack missed, which was just as well because a squirrel only has 2 hit points. Brundle-squirrel ran.

Another survival check was required to see if Brundle could work out which way to go. This time he rolled high (18) and spotted his own squirrel tracks in the dirt. He followed them and could just about make out our camp 100 feet in the distance.

He was running, but the Will-o-Wisp was hot on his bushy tail. He sent out another electric shock that this time hit Brundle. Zzzap! The squirrel stopped dead in its tracks. All its fur standing on end, charged with static. There was the usual popping sound which accompanied or druid shifting forms and Brundle Swash the gnome sat on the floor, scratching his head.

But there was no time to sit around. He jumped to his feet, raised his hands in the air, and called lightning down on his attacker. No effect. He turned and ran. The glowing golden orb followed.

Will-o-Wisp

Meanwhile at the camp, we were all sleeping. None of our passive perception scores were high enough to have been awakened by the commotion. Until Brundle yelled out and the lightning struck the ground 20 feet away.

Gimble was the first to act. He looked around and saw Brundle, hair standing on end from his most recent electrocution, and the golden glowing orb chasing him. Instinct took over and he fired two sharpshooter shots at the Wisp and called out to wake the others. Both arrows hit and dealt damage, but the Will-o-Wisp was resistant to almost all damage.

Next up was Baräsh; he jumped to his feet and charged at the attacker. His hammer dealt a terrible blow as he added Divine power to it. There was a hissing sound that came from the orb as it began to spin wildly. Like a balloon losing air, it fizzed around the camp and ended up at Victor’s feet. The Wizard looked up disdainfully, raised his boot, and stomped it into the ground. The Will-o-Wisp was defeated. Kosef was still asleep.

The Vistani Camp

After the encounter, we decided it best to move along from our current location on the side of the road. We hadn’t managed a full long rest, but our DM generously let us roll a hit die to regain some health. Brundle especially appreciated this.

However, we still needed to rest fully. Ideally before we got to Vallaki and whatever insanity was lurking for us there. Ireena remembered the Vistani camp we had visited before was not far from where we were, so we headed there, expecting a joyous welcome.

When we got there we found the camp almost deserted. But we did see a few dusk elves in the homestead nearby. As ever we let Baräsh do the talking. “Hello friendships!” he called out.

We were greeted by sullen silent stares. We had only met one dusk elf before. It was he who told us of the Amber Temple and the powers that lurked there. But he was nowhere to be seen. Instead we got talking to a man named Savid.

Cold Strahd Cash

At first Savid was reluctant to talk. We knew he must have information for us. Where had the Vistani gone? What was going on in Vallaki? What did he know of Strahd?

We asked all these questions but he remained tight-lipped. We rolled Insight checks to see if he was withholding information. He was. We took turns in trying to get it from him.

Baräsh tried to persuade him. Gimble attempted intimidation. Kosef used his charisma to charm him. And Brundle recited a dirty limerick. Nothing worked.

In the end we resorted to offering money. Since we came to Barovia, somehow our band of heroes has become quite wealthy, collecting gold and trinkets on our adventures. There are very few shops to spend this money in and we often forget to use it. But as we all know: money talks. So, after giving him much more money than was sensible, he offered us some information.

Vallaki Has Fallen

We managed to get quite a bit of information out of Savid. He told us the history of the Sun Sword; why there were no dusk elf women (Strahd had killed them all); that he’d seen Esmerelda pass by a few days earlier; and that Vallaki had not fared well since we were last there.

On our previous visit to the town of Vallaki, we deposed the corrupt Burgomaster (for the second time). This had unfortunately left a power vacuum that no one had been able to fill. To make matters worse, a Vistani man named Lavash had attacked many of the locals in a rage after his daughter Arabelle had been murdered.

In short, Vallaki was burning.

He even told us that our friend Blinsky had suffered too. This was the worst news he could give us. So far in the whole campaign of 69 sessions, Blinsky was the only NPC we hadn’t ruined, killed, or turned against us. We were very fond of him—not least because of the hilarious accent our DM puts on whenever he talks.

The Calm Before the Storm

Having gotten all the information from Savid that we could, we shared a meal with him, and some rather potent fire whisky, and then decided to rest in the abandoned Vistani tent.

As the Associates settled down for the night in the empty tent they looked around. It was far bigger than they remembered and seemed forlorn and desperate without the sound of music and dancing. No smoke poured out from the hole in roof and they decided not to set a fire. They didn’t talk much. They were all thinking about what Savid had told them and were worried what they might find in Vallaki. END

Afterthoughts

This was a short session, more filler than thriller, but it really usefully sets us up for the final stage of our adventure, and another encounter with a Will-o-Wisp is always fun. Savid was able to fill in a lot of missing information about what has been going on while we have been off adventuring and now we have one more task to complete before heading to face Strahd: We have to help Blinsky.

What Did We Learn?

DM Tip: No matter what anyone tells you, running a full multi-level D&D campaign is a big commitment. Sure there are ways and means to make it easier, and different approaches you can take, but ultimately it will require time, effort, and care if you want everyone to enjoy it. So don’t let a cheeky rogue convince you if you’re not really up for it!

Player Tip: Resistance and immunity are not the same thing. It’s easy to get confused as a player as to how much damage you’re actually doing to a target. The Will-o-Wisp, for instance, has resistance to most damage and immunity to lightning. This means they take half the normal damage for most attacks, but no damage from lightning. Some DMs will tell you that if an attack has no effect. Some will describe the scene allowing you to infer this. Others will let you keep pounding on an immune creature until you realize for yourself. Our DM is the latter of the three. I remember a previous session when he let us keep attacking an awakened tree for four rounds after it had died. So it’s important to pay attention and remember what worked in previous encounters.

Next week we make our final stop before heading to Castle Ravenloft. What will we find in Vallaki? I have a feeling it’s not going to be pretty.

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