Session 72: Once upon a time in Barovia…
Gimble Timbers ran at the last two skeletons just as Baräsh stepped back from taking a swing with his hammer. Kosef side-stepped out of the way and the inimitable gnome slid the length of the tunnel on his knees taking out both skeletons by the shin as he went. Whatever magic held their bodies together evaporated at that moment and all that was left was two crumpled piles of bones either side of the panting Gimble Timbers.
Last night was the 72nd session in our ongoing Dungeon & Dragons Curse of Strahd campaign. Usually we play via Skype, but last night our DM welcomed us into his home so that he could torment us in person—just like the real Strahd!
This was the first time we’d all been in the same room as each other—the first time our druid and paladin had even met in person—and we were excited to see how our DM would cope with having us there in the flesh.
Previously in Barovia…
Some time ago (roughly 71 sessions), our party became trapped in the gothic-horror-themed land of Barovia. This land was ruled over by a mean old vampire called Strahd Von Zarovich who refused to let anyone leave and insisted on making all its citizens’ lives hell. Desperate to defeat Strahd, and following instructions from the mysterious Madam Eva, we sought out allies, weapons, and tools that could help. We even discovered a mansion full of zombie-dragon-knights who offered to assist if we found the skull of their deceased dragon champion Argynvost.
Last session our adventurers finally arrived at the legendary Castle Ravenloft. The aim was to find a skull, eliminate Strahd, free the people, and escape Barovia. Entering the castle we were drawn to the sound of organ music and stumbled on a large dining room. Here an illusion of Strahd welcomed us to his home and told us to eat, drink, and be merry, before disappearing in a cloud of smoke. We ended the session in a barracks in the basement of the castle fighting a squadron of skeletons.
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 called 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.
The skeletons dealt with, calm descended on the barracks. A subterranean mist hugged the ground, making the rough stone slabs treacherous as the Associates composed themselves following the fray. A quick search of the rooms turned up nothing of interest and so the heroes left, scorching the area behind them.
So we started the session in traditional fashion. Setting fire to everything we could. Unfortunately, due to the lack of wood or flammable material, all we actually did was crisp up some yellow moss and char the skeletons’ bones.
Leaving the barracks, we carried on our exploration of the castle basement. Baräsh lead the way into a large dark room. When our eyes had adjusted to the light, we saw that this room was filled with piles of white stone. Once our DM had explained to us what the word ossuary meant we realized they were not piles of stone at all.
Bones in the ossuary
This room was filled with bones. There were four large piles spread about the room, but that wasn’t all. The whole room seemed to have been entirely constructed from bone. There was a large bone banquet table with elaborate bone chairs. There was a bone chandelier, bone picture frames around portraits of skeletons, and above a grand bone doorway at the far end of the room was a giant dragon skull. Argonvost’s skull. Now all we had to do was figure out how to get it out of here and back to the mansion.
The skull was huge; according to our DM it was about the same size as his sofa. No easy thing to carry out of a castle unnoticed. It also weighed about 300lb, making it far too big and heavy for us to lift. Just as we were considering our options we heard a shuffling should have footsteps coming from behind the large bone doors.
A perception check of 19 told us it was a person coming our way, walking with a limp. They were just the other side of the door.
“Hide!” hissed Kosef to the others whilst diving into the nearest pile of bones. A stealth check of 36 meant he instantly disappeared.
Meanwhile Gimble Timbers and Brundle Swash hid behind tall chairs, Victor leant casually against the wall, and Ireena ducked under the table. This just left Baräsh standing at the door, arms open, as it swung open to reveal a short, hairy man, one leg obviously longer than the other. He had a hunched back, wolf-like facial features, and ears that rose above his shaggy hair like a cat.
“Hello Friendship!” shouted Baräsh startling the mongrelfolk as he entered the room. His name was Silas and he was Strahd’s manservant. He told us Strahd would not be pleased that we had been found in the bone room and insisted we be escorted up to our lodgings. As ever, Baräsh did most of the talking and Silas got more and more agitated the more Baräsh refused to accompany him, until he eventually began calling loudly for Strahd.
As he did, a voice hissed “kill him” from the pile of bones where Kosef hid and Baräsh raised his hammer. However, being lawful good and not wanting to harm Silas, Baräsh simply tried to grapple him and tie him up. This left Silas screaming loudly as the rest of the party leapt from their hiding places to help. After a few minutes Silas was gagged and bound, Kosef and Victor were debating what to do with him, Brundle and Ireena were looking around the bone room, Baräsh humming to himself, and Gimble had decided to wander off on his own.
Usually for the sake of our DM’s sanity, we avoid split party situations—and because it’s the sensible thing to do if you don’t want everyone to die—but this time we decided to buck a trend and split up. It did not go well.
First, Gimble and Baräsh began exploring the adjacent rooms. They found a spiral staircase leading up and down; thankfully they decided not to use it and continued snooping around this level. Then Brundle and Ireena went exploring in a different direction. They stumbled upon a room full of casks and barrels and Brundle got excited that there might be booze. This left Kosef and Victor in the bone room with Silas.
Both Kosef and Victor had strongly suggested that Silas should be dealt with as he was a clear threat and loyal to Strahd. They were worried he would take the first opportunity to turn on us. The others, however, were not agreed and either pitied the mongrelfolk, or sympathized with him. It was clear that they didn’t think we should kill Silas. But they weren’t there: split party.
Victor and Kosef knew what had to be done. “Oh. No. Victor!” Kosef’s voice rang out unusually clear and purposeful.
Victor’s voice replied, “Oh. Help. Me. Kosef. I think. This. Man. Is trying. To. Kill. Me.”
“No. Put down. That. Knife. I am. Warning. You.”
By the time the others had dashed back into the room breathless, Kosef had managed to subdue Silas, and Victor was in the process of re-animating his corpse, “In case he comes in handy in the future.”
Brundle told us about the barrels and casks he had found. So he, Ireena and Gimble went to investigate. Instead of lovely wine he found some black stinking ooze that rusted his silver rapier when he dipped in the blade.
Immediately the ooze began to animate and slime and slither towards Ireena and the two gnomes. It seemed aggressive and somehow calculating and lashed out a pseudopod-like fist at Gimble. He narrowly managed to duck out of the way, but the ooze kept coming.
This was not a good fight. We tried everything we could think of to defeat the black ooze, but it kept on coming. At one point, Baräsh used his lightning breath on it, but this only caused it to split in two, rather than deal any damage. Having two Black Puddings to fight was even more difficult than having one and the party got separated once again.
Gimble, Baräsh, and Ireena fought one half of it in the barrel room, while Kosef and Brundle fought it in a kitchen. Victor wasn’t interested in this fight, instead focusing on his new undead minion Silas. In the barrel room, it took quite a few rounds of combat before they were able to defeat the ooze; it eventually fell to a sacred flame from Gimble Timbers, who had taken a magic initiate feat at a previous level up. Meanwhile in the kitchen, Kosef took the brunt of the damage from the fight, admittedly tying to leap over the caustic-ooze-creature only to stumble into it after a failed dexterity save was not his finest moment. However, Brundle did manage to tip over a cauldron of boiling water onto it to end the fight.
The encounter over, Baräsh returned to exploring this level of the castle as the rest of us recovered from the fight. He came to a room in which a dusk elf was sitting at a writing desk composing a letter, this was Rahadin and Gimble had met him before. The elf ignored Baräsh’s usual greeting and acted like the dragonborn wasn’t even there. This annoyed him greatly. “There’s no need to be rude; manners cost nothing you know!”
Rahadin looked up at Baräsh. His stare was painful, and accompanied by the sounds of a thousand desperate screams. A cacophony of yells, screeches, and pleading filled the paladin’s mind as the dusk elf smiled and leaned forward. “Master, shall we kill them now?” Rahadin put a hand on Baräsh’s shoulder and turned him back to see, seated at the far end of the long bone table, a familiar frightfully well-dressed man. Strahd! END
Another cliffhanger! After fighting the Black Pudding we really could do with a moment to catch our breaths before fighting Strahd, but after 70 plus sessions we should realize that’s not how this campaign works.
It may seem obvious to say it, but playing live is totally different from playing online via a digital screen. But we all really enjoyed the chance to play in the flesh. Although perhaps this had just as much to do with the snacks and take-away pizza as it did the roleplaying game.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Being a good DM is a very fine balancing act between engaging your players with a story and helping them to stay focused on the game. When you play online this can be easier because there are less immediate distractions (small children aside) and a player’s proximity to a camera means they have to pay attention the whole time. However, when you play a live game, where everyone is sitting around the same table, it can be hard to keep everyone’s attention from wandering to conversations about the latest episode of Critical Role or showing your friends your latest baby ultrasound scan. There is no right or wrong way of doing this, but there’s nothing wrong with setting out some ground rules before you start.
Player Tip: Being a good player is as much about paying attention to what’s going on around the table as planning your next move; it’s just as important to focus on what everyone else is doing. Try to remain as attentive and in-the-zone as far as possible and react when someone does something cool. As a DM, whenever I realize that a player’s not paying attention or talking about something not related to the game, that’s when bad things tend to happen. Like Mindflayers.
Next week we pick up exactly where we left off: fighting Strahd and Rahadin in the basement. At least now we all know what an ossuary is.