Kosef and Brundle dashed up to the castle’s heights. Eventually they came to a dark room, full of cobwebs and mysterious alcoves. Brundle went to investigate. He could make out a vaguely person-like shape shrouded in shadow. The shape began to twist and writhe. Its surface wriggled and crawled like a mass of rats dancing and scuttling over one another. As Brundle’s vision adjusted it seemed to pulse with life, twitching. It was rats. Hundreds of them. The rodent pile lurched towards him. He screamed.
After a week off, our online Dungeon & Dragons Curse of Strahd campaign reached the 75th session last night and our adventuring party, Nepharon and Associates, are knee-deep in Castle Ravenloft.
We have been playing over Skype and there was yet another system update last night – there have been lots in recent months – and so our druid was a little late getting to the game. But this just meant our DM had a couple more minutes to prepare extra torment for us.
Previously in Barovia…
For the past six or seven sessions, we have been exploring Castle Ravenloft, with the aim to find and destroy Strahd von Zarovich and win our freedom. Armed with allies and magical weapons, we faced him in the Bone Room, but as soon as it looked like we were getting the better of him he made his escape, melting through the floor. As you do.
We were hurt and low on spells and knew that he would be regenerating somewhere. So naturally, we went charging after him. Straight into a trap. Last session half of our party were trapped in a dangerously ascending elevator while the other half desperately ran up staircase after staircase trying to find where the lift went.
The session ended with a three-way split. Kosef and Brundle had made it into a high tower and were facing a swarm of rats. Gimble and Victor had teleported out of the lift and were running up the stairs minutes behind Kosef and Brundle. And Baräsh and Ireena were still stuck in the elevator trying to pray their way out.
Nepharon and Associates: The Kosef Division
Kosef – Human Rogue/Wizard, carries the Staff of Frost, 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.
With everybody separated the cracks were beginning to show. Kosef and Brundle still thought everyone was in the elevator and they were rushing to help even though they were both badly hurt. Meanwhile, Gimble and Victor were panting halfway up the stairs following their trail. They bumped into Silas, Strahd’s ex-manservant whom Victor had reanimated an hour earlier and knew they were going the right way. That just left Baräsh and Ireena in the elevator cage, hanging precariously 200-feet in the air. They had almost given up hope when they heard the sounds of footsteps creaking on floorboards above them.
Our DM decided that it made sense for us to play in initiative order as we were split up. Baräsh and Ireena rolled highest so they went first.
They looked around the cage they were stuck in. Our DM laughed as they rolled their perception checks; not once in the previous two-hour session did anyone think to do this. A high roll from Ireena meant she saw the cracks around a square panel in the ceiling. She pointed it out to Baräsh and he hit it with his hammer. There was a click and a crack, but nothing else. Deciding he would wait for divine intervention Baräsh sat down to pray.
Brundle and Kosef went next. The first thing they had to deal with was the two swarms of rats that had begun attacking. Deciding fire was the best option they both cast flaming cantrips. Firebolt from Kosef and Produce Flame from Brundle.
The rats immediately made their attacks in retaliation. One heavily singed swarm went for the rogue while the other badly burnt bundle attacked the gnome. The swarm attacking Kosef missed its attack, but the one versus Brundle hit, swarming all over him, biting and scratching. Brundle was thrown to the ground and heard a heavy knocking sound from below the floorboards as he landed.
Meanwhile, on the stairs, Gimble Timbers and Victor were arguing over whether they should take Silas the zombie man-servant with them. It would certainly slow them down, but he could be useful later. In spite of the argument, they made it up to the landing at the top of the stairs, through a door and onto another stairway. The smell of burning fur drifted down the stairs as Silas followed them.
In the lift cage, Baräsh and Ireena could hear more sounds above. Baräsh took this as the sign he was waiting for and tried to smash the hatch on the ceiling once more. He rolled a one on his dice and dropped his hammer. Ireena tried to comfort Baräsh and reassure him that St Andell and the Morning Lord had not forsaken them, but his critical failure with the hammer shook his faith.
Meanwhile, Brundle and Kosef went another round with the rats, this time destroying the two swarms before they took any damage themselves. After the vermin were taken care of Brundle noticed the sounds beneath the floorboards once again. “Oh no! more rats. And it sounds like they just dropped a hammer!” He dashed to the door with Kosef just behind. They would head up to find their friends, hoping to escape the well-armed rat swarms.
Gimble and Victor got to the room just as Brundle and Kosef had left. They saw the remains of the battle and could hear a thudding coming from below and dashed across the room following in their allies’ footsteps. Gimble called out and Kosef and Brundle stopped. They turned around just in time to see two more rat swarms burst out of the floorboard. Gimble, Victor, and Silas got away just in time to shut the door. The split party was un-splitting. Three groups became two.
The Wedding Room
The five of them continued on. Up another set of stairs, still hoping to find where the elevator ended. Instead they came to a well-furnished room full of neatly wrapped boxes. The air was hazy with dust and the room had clearly not been disturbed for a very long time. In the center, a three-tiered cake sat on a small table. On top of the cake a single figure of a bride. Kosef took it and smashed the cake. He had issues. Deciding the room was too creepy they left and carried on upstairs.
In the elevator, Ireena and Baräsh had given up on prayer and were hurling themselves at the trapdoor on the ceiling. Eventually, they managed to break through. Just as the elevator mechanism whirred into action and they felt the slow jolt of descent take hold. With great urgency, they scrambled out of the lift cage and up into an ornate circular room. The elevator slowly began its mechanical descent.
Ireena pulled herself into the room first and helped Baräsh up. He looked around and saw a small writing-table beneath a large oil painting of a handsome, well-dressed man. Then he looked down and saw the rug. He thought it was the most beautiful rug he’d ever seen and, slightly stir-crazy from spending the last two sessions stuck in an elevator, he decided to steal it. Of course, this was a bad idea.
Rug of Smothering
D&D has its fair share of classic monsters and traps to throw at players. From monsters that look like treasure chests (Mimics) to 5-foot cubes of invisible ooze that will consume and digest you (Gelatinous Cubes). Indeed once you’ve fought your first set of Animated Armor or a Flying Sword, you’ll always be on the lookout for these in future games. This is all to say that new players soon learn to be wary of the classic D&D tropes. The Rug of Smothering is one of those, and this was our first encounter.
As Baräsh bent down to pick up the rug it writhed and wriggled in his grip and folded itself around, totally encasing him. He was grappled, restrained and blinded by it. Ireena, meanwhile, had fallen prey to the evil power of the fancy portrait’s penetrating gaze. The portrait took control of her and she swung her sword at the carpet-cocooned dragonborn. He yelled out. The Rug of Smothering’s scariest feature – aside from looking like an ordinary rug right up until the moment you innocently try to steal it – is the ability to transfer half of all damage dealt to it to whoever is unlucky enough to get tangled within. Ireena attacked again.
As the dragonborn fell to the floor unconscious the rest of the party finally caught up. Bounding into the room came Kosef, Brundle, Gimble, Victor, and Silas all greeted by the sight of Baräsh wrapped in a Rug of Smothering being stabbed by Ireena. She looked up momentarily, madness in her eyes, and thrust her silver sabre once again into Baräsh’s motionless form. END
The Rug of Smothering may well be one of our most exciting challenges yet. Coupled with the evil portrait that can turn us against each other next session may well be our last. Perhaps it won’t be Strahd that kills us after all. Will we be bested by Ravenloft’s soft furnishings?
We’ve now been in the castle for quite a while and now that we’re all back together it feels like we could do with a long rest to try to recoup some hit points and spell slots. However, I get the feeling that sleeping in Castle Ravenloft is not going to be an easy task.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Having a split party can be a real headache, not only because you have to make sure everyone gets the same attention and focus and that no one person hogs the spotlight, but also because of the logistics of keeping track of so many maps.
This is certainly true of our DM’s experience in Castle Ravenloft. On more than one occasion last night we had to wait for a minute or so as he tried to figure where the heck we all were, and at one point we even met up with each other, only for him then to have to retcon that away as he’d turned to the wrong page in the campaign book. Initially, he thought the lift that Baräsh and Ireena were in led into the rat swarm room, but then worked out that it didn’t, hence the rats with hammers.
So, if you can, try to have all of your maps in one place prior to starting a session. Our DM has stated that for the next game he’s going to print out all the maps and have them together so it’s obvious which room leads where.
Player Tip: If you’re a spellcaster don’t forget your cantrips level up too. At 5th, 11th and 17th level the damage doubles. So as our Druid is level nine his Produce Flame is now 2d10 rather than 1d10 fire damage.
What’s more, cantrips level up based on character level, rather than class level (this was clarified by the WotC team as part of their Sage Advice compendium). Therefore Kosef, who is a multi-classed rogue wizard still gains the benefit of more powerful cantrips, even though he’s only a level two wizard. So now his Chill Touch should do 2d8 necrotic damage rather than 1d8.
Next week, we continue our exploration of Ravenloft. Our initial plan was to head downwards to find Strahd, but now I think we’ll have to try to rest before then. But first, we will have to survive an attack from the Castle’s interior design.