As the dragonborn fell to the floor unconscious, the rest of the party finally caught up. Bounding into the room came Kosef, Brundle, Gimble, and Victor, all greeted by the sight of Baräsh wrapped in a carpet being stabbed by Ireena. She looked up momentarily, madness in her eyes, and thrust her silver sabre once again into Baräsh’s motionless form.
Last night was the 76th session in our ongoing online Curse of Strahd Dungeons & Dragons campaign and, after a confrontation with a carpet, we discovered Strahd’s Heart of Sorrow.
Each week we return to Barovia in the hopes that we can get a little closer to defeating Strahd, but after last night’s session it is starting to feel like that is an impossibility. Perhaps you’re not supposed to win this campaign. Perhaps Strahd von Zarovich always gets the better of the heroes, corrupting and killing them off one-by-one. Either that or our Dungeon Master is very mean.
Previously in Barovia…
Inside Castle Ravenloft, our troop of heroes fought Strahd, but he escaped. Intending to prevent his regeneration, Nepharon and Associates dashed after him, only to blindly run into a dastardly elevator trap. Half of the party was sent careering upwards while Kosef and Brundle tried to race up the stairs, desperately navigating the castle’s twists and turns hoping to work out where the elevator ends up. Eventually they were joined by Victor and Gimble Timbers, after they had teleported out of the elevator.
Last session ended with Baräsh and Ireena escaping the elevator through a hidden hatch in the ceiling. They entered a highly decorated room with a luxurious carpet and beautiful portrait of a well-dressed gentleman. But, as with everything in Ravenloft, the portrait was evil and the carpet hungry for blood. Even the soft furnishing couldn’t be trusted.
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.
Brundle ran to the crumpled form of Baräsh in the center of the room and pulled hard on the carpet that was smothering him. It loosened and he yanked it away from the dragonborn and tossed it to the side. Then Kosef, seeing Ireena wielding her blade, dove to tackle her to the ground. He didn’t notice the open trap door behind her and they both tumbled down through the hole, landing heavily on the elevator roof.
This was not a great start to the session. Baräsh was unconscious, beaten senseless by a carpet. Ireena and Kosef were back on the elevator which we’d spent the last two sessions escaping from. The Rug of Smothering, not content with defeating Baräsh, now began wrapping itself around Gimble Timbers, while Victor and Brundle stood mesmerized by the charming portrait of Strahd’s deceased brother. Naturally our DM’s first words were:
The impact from the roof of the elevator caused Ireena to break free from the portrait’s charm, however once she saw the blood on her sword, thinking Baräsh killed, she dropped to her knees. Kosef then spent his whole turn trying in vain to rouse her to help the others. A charisma roll of 2 didn’t help matters. I’m really not a very charismatic leader.
Meanwhile, in the room above, Gimble Timbers was struggling with the Rug of Smothering. Last session we had to look up the suffocation rules when it had Baräsh restrained, so thankfully this time we already knew what to do. The gnome fighter failed his strength saving throw and was not able to break free of the wily alfombra. He only had a few turns until he would die from suffocation.
Baräsh was still unconscious from his encounter with the rug and rolled a one on his first death saving throw. This was not good. Another roll of below 10 on a twenty-sided dice would mean death for the Paladin.
On his turn, Brundle tried to get the rug off Gimble. He only rolled an 8 on his strength check and couldn’t remove the rug. Victor meanwhile started attacking the portrait, hoping that a fireball would break its hold on his companions.
A Dr. Strangelove Moment
Baräsh was still unconscious when the portrait used its telekinesis ability to pick him up and violently toss him down the elevator hatch. He fell heavily at Ireena’s feet, but she was able to cast a healing spell on the dragonborn to bring him back to consciousness. Kosef called up to the others to join them down the hole as the lift continued its slow descent.
Ever-obedient Brundle decided this was a good idea and, grabbing Gimble Timbers, he threw himself down through the gap. As he fell he maneuvered the carpeted gnome between his legs and rode him down like Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove. Our DM asked for a dexterity check to see if he could pull it off. He rolled a natural 20. He was critically cool and awarded inspiration for his troubles.
That just left Victor in the room above. Firing one last firebolt at the portrait, he teleported down to the elevator and joined the rest of the Associates.
Planning and resting in the ossuary
We spent the next ten minutes trying to decide on our next move. We were sure Strahd would have regenerated by now and so our plan to catch him before he healed wouldn’t work. Also we now had used all our spell slots and abilities and really needed to rest. The problem was we couldn’t agree on the best place to do this. Would it even be possible to sleep inside the castle at all?
Eventually the lift reached the ground floor and we headed back to the Bone Room, where we had fought Strahd previously. The plan was to barricade ourselves in and try to get a full eight hours. This would put us all back to full health and full power.
Kosef and Brundle took the first watch as the others slept. Our DM must have been feeling kind because he let us get in three whole hours sleep for monsters started banging on the doors. This meant we were all healed, but didn’t have our spells or abilities back.
At first the monsters on the other side of the door weren’t able to break down our barricade, but we knew that wouldn’t last. So we woke the rest of the slumbering party and ran away. From the Bone Room we had two directions we could head. Ideally we would be going downward as we knew that’s where Strahd would be and we wanted to face him at full health. Unfortunately, the only stairs we found led us upward.
So, leaving a pool of grease and ball bearings behind us, we went up the stairs. First we entered a room that looked like the barracks we had been in before. There was yellow lichen on the walls and piles of bone and debris scattered along the passageway. Amazingly, we managed to cross this room without incident.
From here we entered a dark circular room. It was 60 feet around with a spiral staircase that hugged the wall as it ascended. As we crossed the threshold of the room, Brundle noticed a small stuffed wolf toy on the floor. It had a Blinsky label on it and barred yellow teeth and claws when it was squeezed.
The Heart of Sorrow
We wanted to explore the stairs but couldn’t tell how far they went up and we could hear the sounds of our pursuers behind us. So Baräsh and Gimble Timbers stayed in the doorway ready to fend them off. Kosef then made his way up the stairs, with Victor, Ireena, and Brundle waiting at the bottom.
As soon as Kosef stepped onto the staircase, a red pulsing light revealed the full scale of the tower. It shone down from the ceiling 200 feet above. The red light bathed the room in a crimson sheen and then settled into a dull pulsing glow. The spiral stairs ran to the height of the tower, narrowing as it reached the apex. There at the top, 200 feet above the party, a large red heart floated in the center of the tower. The Heart of Sorrow.
This heart was the Heart of Sorrow. It was a disgusting, pulsing, gigantic heart, and part of what was keeping Strahd alive, helping him to regenerate. If we could destroy it, we’d stand a far better chance of defeating the vampire. However, it was guarded by Vampire Spawns and at least 20 floating halberds that would attack us as soon as we got near. But, from the ground, we didn’t know that.
Kosef began running up the stairs, quickly followed by Brundle and Victor. Meanwhile Gimble stood on the ground and fired arrows at the heart. He was a sharpshooter, so he had a 600-foot range with his bow. He hit the Heart of Sorrow twice and, as he dealt damage to it, the whole tower shook, causing everyone on the stairs the roll dexterity saving throws or be thrown off. Only Kosef passed—being a rogue was coming in handy—and Brundle and Victor fell 15 feet to the floor.
Over the next couple of rounds, Kosef continued racing up the stairs, followed by Brundle and Victor. Ireena, Baräsh, and Gimble stayed on the floor with the gnome shooting arrows at the Heart of Sorrow. Every time he did, we had to roll more dexterity saving throws and both Victor and Brundle fell down again.
Eventually Victor gave up and teleported to the top using Dimension Door. Kosef was only about 50 feet from the Heart of Sorrow now.
A Matrix Moment
As Victor appeared, he saw that the heart was massive, 10 feet by 10 feet, and it was covered in poles and halberds that seemed to be alive. They swarmed over it like ants on an apple and, seeing Victor appear, they moved towards him as one. Like a murmuration of crows they rippled and swirled. But while their movement was beautiful their intent was murderous.
At once, 20 sharpened spear points and blades pierced into the teenage wizard. He skin was shredded and he crumpled to the floor, lifeless. The swarm turned its attention to Kosef as two vampire spawns jumped out from alcoves either side of the rogue and ran towards him.
Kosef gulped. Seeing Victor killed by the swarm brought back memories of seeing his allies slaughtered by Strahd. But his resolve was strong. And he held the Staff of Frost. Pointing it towards the Heart of Sorrow, he set off a blast of freezing cold energy that engulfed the swarm and the heart and the vampires. Icy fissures appeared on the surface of the heart. But it was not destroyed. Nor were the vampires who slashed and bit at the surrounded rogue. END
Victor is dead. And there is nothing we can do about it. In our game, NPCs (non-player characters) die all the time, but Victor has traveled with us since session 16 and his death is a clear sign that our DM is not messing around. As the session ended, Victor was dead, Ireena (our main healer) was unconscious, Kosef (my character) had ten hit points left and was facing two undamaged Vampire Spawns that deal more than ten points of damage per turn, and the rest of the party was madly dashing up the stairs to got to the Heart of Sorrow. Things did not look good.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Don’t worry if you get the rules wrong. We all do at some point. Unless you’re a DM with years and years of experience and thousands of hours of play under your belt, no one is expecting you to remember every single rule for suffocation or falling damage or anything else. What’s more important is that you keep the game flowing and make the right choices for the narrative at the time. You can always check the rules later for future reference. Rules as written (RAW) would have meant that Baräsh should have taken an automatic failed death-saving throw when he was thrown down onto the lift roof, which would have killed him. None of us realized this at the time and our DM wasn’t sure if he should go back and retcon the situation. But that doesn’t matter as we still all enjoyed the session.
Player Tip: It’s never too late to run away. Sometimes when you’re in the middle of combat, the last thing you think about is making a tactical retreat, but that’s when it makes the most sense. Run while you still can.
Next week may well be Kosef’s last session. Unless Baräsh and Brundle make it up to him soon, he’s not going to last very long against two Vampire Spawns. What’s more, Strahd is not going to be happy that we’ve found the Heart of Sorrow. It’s likely he’ll come to find us pretty soon.