D&D Curse of Strahd: Session 68

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images by Simon Yule, Argynvost

Session 68: Can’t Strahd-ly Wait

The heroes all stood in a circle, protecting Ireena. Baräsh spoke to the Abbot, “Dark prophet, why have you let yourself be corrupted? 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, a mob of robed mongrel-folk jumped out. Leathery wings and fawn-like legs flapped and stomped. Claws scratched and they attacked the heroes. The Abbot was still.

Last night was session 68 in our Dungeons & Dragons Curse of Strahd campaign and we were in a sticky situation. We were being attacked by a large group of mongrel-folk, the Kafkaesque creations of a deranged celestial Abbot.

For once the session began on time, we could all play, and there were no interruptions.

Previously in Barovia…

Our heroes have been stuck in Barovia, desperately trying to escape whilst dogged by vampires, zombies, witches, and everything else that goes bump in the night. In order to get away, they must defeat the evil vampire overlord Strahd Von Zarovich. So, armed with new allies (Victor, a teenage wizard, and Ireena, Strahd’s would-be-bride) and new weapons (the Sun-Sword), the heroes are making their way to Castle Ravenloft for the final showdown.

Last session, as we reached a familiar crossroads, we heard the sounds of a parade passing. On investigation, this turned out to be the Abbot of Krezk and his mongrel-folk minions making their way toward Ravenloft for a wedding. We have met the Abbot before. It didn’t go well then either. It was the Abbot of Krezk who replaced our gnome fighter’s arm with a mannequin and his nose with a dog’s snout—all under the guise of saving his life, which our fighter still believes. The Abbot has now constructed a new bride for Strahd and is marching her toward Ravenloft in the hope that this will bring peace to the land. When we expressed our doubts over his plan, he got very defensive and his minions dived out of the bushes to attack 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 mongrel-folk
The Kosef Division of Nepharon Associates. L-R: Ireena, Gimble Timbers, Barash, Kosef, Brundle Swash, and Victor

Surrounded, the Associates formed a defensive wall around Ireena. Baräsh prayed loudly for protection and suddenly a shimmering white circle formed on the ground around them with Ireena its center. They knew the Abbot wanted her out of the equation, but were not willing to hand her over. So Kosef and Gimble stood on one side and Baräsh and Victor stood on the other. They were ready to defend Ireena to the death. As the mongrel-folk attacked, Brundle Swash, who was still in mole-form and snoozing under Gimble’s hat, began to stir.

Inevitably as we started the session, the first words our DM said were:

ROLL INITIATIVE!

Throughout the various editions of D&D there has been numerous iterations of mongrel-folk, with different history and back stories. Sometimes they are the product of crazed experiments by mad wizards, sometimes the result of generations of crossbreeding between various monstrous humanoid races (goblins, bugbears, gnolls, etc.). The mongrel-folk we were facing last night were the outcome of genetic experimentation by the Abbot of Krezk as he sought to create the perfect bride for Strahd. And they all had different animalistic features and characteristics.

We were being attacked by a dog-faced man, a female with avian facial features and insect-like arms, a lady with lobster claws and scales, a half-man/half-mantis, a humanoid with a spider’s face and snake fingers, and another humanoid with goat legs and a tail. They each got an attack before we could act, but they weren’t particularly strong.

After the surprise round, Kosef and Gimble Timbers had taken a little damage, so too had Baräsh, but both Victor and Ireena were unhurt. So our plan to protect Ireena was working. Kosef went first after the mongrel-folk and called out to the Abbot to call off his minions or accept they would be destroyed. There was no response, so Kosef waited to protect Ireena if anyone approached her.

Vincent Adultman

Then it was Brundle’s turn. He missed last session so our DM ruled that he had turned into a mole (inspired by one we had encountered in a previous outing) and hid under Gimble Timbers’ top hat. Now it was time for him to wake up. Hearing the commotion outside, he peeked out from beneath the rim of the hat and saw a fight going on. Naturally, he reverted back to gnome-form, ready to do battle. He also opted to stay on top of our other gnome which created a sort of totem pole of gnomes with Gimble Timbers balancing Brundle Swash on his shoulders and the top hat balanced on top of him. They were one trenchcoat away from a classic comedy trope. But instead of putting on a fake accent and sneaking into an adult movie, Brundle decided to electrocute the Abbot and cast Call Lightning.

Gimble Timbers, the lower part of our gnome stack, went next. (I’ve been reading What can you Stack on the Back of a Yak? with my 21-month-old and this situation bore some very credible similarities.) Gimble was annoyed at being attacked by a lady with lobster claws and scales so he retaliated with arrows which upset the Abbot greatly.

“No! Not Claudius my beautiful baby. How can you attack my children!” As he yelled, his fat plump face became thin and beautiful, his skin turned grey, he grew two feet taller and enormous feathery wings sprouted from his back. He revealed his true angelic form and he was not happy. A mace of pure white light appeared in front of the Abbot. He grabbed it and swung the mace at our gnome-pile, but missed. Brundle had timed a jump perfectly so that, as he leapt, the Abbot swung the mace and it went through the gap between the two gnomes. Our DM awarded points of inspiration to both gnomes for this act of comedy and dexterity.

Baräsh, however, wasn’t as lucky when the Abbot made his second attack and took almost 20 points of damage. It was his turn next so he retreated to within the protection of his magic circle (the shimmering white light that he prayed for earlier, which the Abbot could not cross) and cast a Bless spell on the party letting everybody add 1d4 to any saving throws.

Ireena then healed some of Barash’s wounds and Victor cast Acid Splash on two of the mongrel-folk (goat-legs and spider-face).

Mongrel-folk

The general situation didn’t alter too much over the next couple of rounds of combat. The mongrel-folk continued clawing, stamping, pecking, spitting, and snarling at us; the Abbot attacked with divine power; Gimble and Brundle continued imitating a stack of delicious pancakes until Brundle turned into a dire wolf and leapt at the Abbot; Baräsh cast lots of protection and healing spells; and Kosef, Victor, and Ireena continued to defend themselves.

Curse of Strahd Zrezk Abby
We had seen the Abbot’s mongrel-folk creations before, but this was the first time we’d fought them

All while this was happening, the large female Frankenstein’s-monster-creation, the Abbot’s solution to Strahd’s missing bride problem, was stomping around in the background getting angrier and angrier. She was a Flesh Golem and on the verge of a berserker rage. Her name was Vasilika.

On the fourth round of combat, Kosef, after shouting lots of warnings to the Abbot that his creations would suffer unless he called them off, was reaching breaking point. He had been grappled by bird-features and bitten by dog-face and now Vasilika had stormed towards him in a rage. He retaliated with a dagger and crossbow attack, dealing sneak attack damage to boot. Vasilika cried out in pain and the Abbot was clearly upset by this.

How could he attack her? She is the salvation of Barovia. She will bring peace to our world. Unlike her.” He pointed a vicious finger towards Ireena. Was he serious? We couldn’t be sure. But we weren’t going to let him harm Ireena; she had become an integral part of our group. She was an Associate through and through.

Cone of Cold

By the fifth round of combat, we were getting a little tired of the constant flow of mongrel-folk and the diplomatic circles we were running in. Gimble had started to have second thoughts about whether we should be fighting the Abbot at all, and even considered handing Ireena over. Baräsh hadn’t attacked anyone yet as he too was in a quandary. But Kosef, Victor, and Brundle all continued to defend themselves with force.

At this point our DM informed us that more mongrel-folk had formed a phalanx around us. Kosef wasn’t going to be pinned in so, raising the Staff of Frost at the newcomers, cast Cone of Cold. This is a very powerful spell that dealt enough damage to insta-kill the mongrel-folk. They froze solid and some shattered at the impact. This was a turning point in the battle.

The Abbot of Krezk

The Abbot did not react well to the shattering of some his precious children. Until now his demeanor was that of calmness and power. Angelic in appearance, he swung his mace with grace and poise. But now all semblance of godliness evaporated and he celestial features sank back into his human guise. His face became fat and saggy, his wings retreated into his back, his skin reverted to its previous color and he ran to his shattered mongrel-folk and dropped to his knees.

Seeing the Abbot broken, Vasilika became fearful and retreated from the melee. So too did the remaining mongrel-folk. The adventurers watched on, dumb-struck, as the Abbot called out prayers and cries of pain. “You killed them!” he screamed at Kosef. “You killed them!” He began desperately gathering the frozen shards of his creations and started to resurrect them one by one. The associates took this as their cue to leave. But the Abbot was not done with them yet.

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 around them 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.

Afterthoughts

A great session with an unexpected twist. On reflection, it was an odd combat situation where half of the party didn’t want to fight, but the rest felt the need to defend themselves. Having the Abbot break down was a really interesting turning point, that I don’t think any of us saw coming.

What did we learn?

DM Tip: Not so much a tip, more of a question this week: What do you do about spell components? Do you see this more as flavor? An optional element to the game that needn’t be fussed over, or an essential part of playing a Wizard or Cleric that shapes the game and forces players to think about resource management? Or is it somewhere in between? Our DM mostly lets this go, unless there’s a good roleplaying reason to focus on it. The Player’s Handbook gives options such as using an arcane focus or holy symbol, and it identifies if a component is consumed or not when casting a spell, such as a diamond when casting Revivify. But does this matter? And does your DM make you go searching for that sprig of mistletoe or the branch of a tree struck by lightning?

Player Tip: Embrace changes to your characters; you never know when they might save your life. It just so happens that our Dragonborn Paladin started off the campaign as a lawful good follower of the Morning Lord with the flaw “the leaders of my Order hold ultimate sway over my decisions.” This could have meant that he would obey the Abbot unerringly as a devotee of the Morning Lord. However, since then he has gone through some pretty severe changes. From alignment shifting to gaining new flaws, he’s been through it all. Thankfully our DM had previously ruled that a new flaw gained during our stay in the amber temple replaced his original one, so he could fight alongside us last night, rather than against us.

Next week we carry on our journey towards Castle Ravenloft and Strahd. Right now Vallaki stands between us and the castle, so we might stop there along the way. We’ve not had much luck in that town in the past. But really, what’s the worst that can happen…?

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