Kosef gulped. Seeing Victor killed by the swarm of gleaming blades 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, the heart, and the vampires. Icy fissures appeared on the surface of the enormous heart. But it was not destroyed. Nor were the vampires who slashed and bit at the surrounded rogue.
Our online Dungeon & Dragons Curse of Strahd campaign reached the 77th session last night and we are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We have been playing once a week for over a year and a half and after last night we are one step closer to defeating Strahd and completing the campaign.
Unfortunately last night’s game did suffer a minor technical issue. My two-year-old son, who is usually asleep an hour before we play, could not settle down. Due to a misplaced train book, he was still awake at eight o‘clock when the session began. I was delayed in joining the game, and for a while I was convinced that I would miss it altogether. A first on my part. But thankfully, after 40 minutes of me making soothing “choo choo” noises and pretending to be a tunnel, he finally allowed himself to board the sleepy train. So I joined the adventure a bit late, unsure if I my character would still be alive.
Thanks to Steve (Brundle Swash) for filling in the blanks where I missed the story.
Previously in Barovia…
After weeks of running blindly around Barovia, we’ve finally made it to Castle Ravenloft, Strahd’s home. We have learnt that a stake through the heart paralyzes him and, if we do manage to kill, him his body will return to his coffin in the crypt below. Armed with this knowledge, we set out to finally confront our nemesis.
Last session, after escaping a possessed elevator, we tried to take a long rest to recoup spells and health. During the rest, Baräsh cast Magic Circle into Kosef’s Ring of Spell Storing, hoping this could act as a last resort should we get into trouble. However, our slumber was interrupted and we ran into a tower and found the Heart of Sorrow. This is Strahd’s actual heart. Warped and twisted by the magic in the castle, it floats at the pinnacle of the tower, protected by a swarm of animated weapons and three hungry Vampire Spawns. With no spell slots and very little health, we attacked the heart and incurred the wrath of the monsters. During the encounter Victor fell from the tower and died. We ended last session with Kosef surrounded by vampires at the top of the tower and very badly hurt.
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;
Ireena – Human Cleric, Strahd’s would-be bride, blessed by St. Andell, NPC.
High above him, Brundle could see Kosef, beneath the Heart of Sorrow, surrounded by two vampires. They clawed and snapped at him. Snarling and spitting as the badly hurt rogue assumed the fetal position, desperately trying to protect his neck and face. Just as Brundle saw this, he heard Baräsh charging up the stairs behind him. Acting with unusual speed and dexterity, the hirsute gnome jumped up and onto the dragonborn’s back as he sped past. At that exact moment the swarm of halberds and spears passed them, diving down to the tower depths below and heading straight for Gimble Timbers, who stood protectively over the unconscious Ireena.
The session carried right on from last week so we stayed in the same initiative order. Gimble Timbers first, then Brundle Swash, then Kosef, and Baräsh last. Our DM ruled that, as I wasn’t there, Kosef would simply curl up into a ball and try to protect his valuables until I appeared. This was very kind and generous of him.
The circular tower we were in was about 200 feet high and 60 feet wide. It had a 5-foot-wide wooden stairway that circumnavigated the room creating multiple levels each with a number of doorways and exits leading out. At its apex, the tower was 20 feet wide; this is where the Heart of Sorrow hung, beating and throbbing in mid-air. Kosef began the session two-thirds of the way up, surrounded by two vampires. Brundle and Baräsh were less than halfway up. And Gimble Timbers and Ireena were on the ground floor.
With the animated weapons heading directly for him at the base of the tower, Gimble Timbers brought out the sun-sword, activating its bright radiant glow and chose to hold his attack action for when they were within range. They were about 80 feet above him and descending fast.
As Brundle saw the weapons speed past, he attempted to slow them down with a frostbite spell. It hit one of them and dealt only a small amount of damage. Staying mounted on Baräsh’s back, Brundle kicked his legs to hurry the dragonborn onwards.
At that moment, the beating Heart of Sorrow began pulsing and throbbing violently. This caused the whole tower to shake and everyone on the stairs had to make dexterity saving throws or be thrown off. Amazingly, all three of Brundle, Baräsh, and Kosef made their saves; the vampires didn’t and were momentarily disoriented.
Then, with Brundle mounted on his back, Baräsh charged forward, up the stairs, dashing to double his movement speed. He made it to within 40 feet of Kosef, who had found a moment’s respite from the vampires as they recovered from the tower shaking.
Over the course of the next couple of rounds, Gimble Timbers fought off the animated halberds using the power of the sun-sword, but there were too many of them, and they scored more than one critical hit against the gnome fighter, leaving him perilously near death. As he batted and swatted them away, he could hear sounds coming from the corridor behind him. Growling sounds. Our DM described them as sounding “houndish” and “from hell.” Hell Hounds.
Brundle and Baräsh continued their charge up the stairs to rescue Kosef and attack the Heart of Sorrow. Baräsh was using his actions to dash to cover as much ground as possible, as Brundle sent flaming and frosty cantrip towards the vampires at the top of the tower. This caused just enough distraction to make them momentarily forget about Kosef, who continued to cower on the floor.
Just as the vampires had recovered and were turning to face Kosef again, the rogue stood up—it seems I joined the game just in time and our DM hadn’t decided to kill me in my absence!
Remembering the spell that Baräsh had helped prepare last session, Kosef held out his hand and cast Magic Circle from his powerful Ring of Spell Storing. This is a great spell. It creates a 10-foot radius, 20-foot tall cylinder of magical energy that keeps monsters of a certain type—I choose undead vampires—from entering the magical zone. When you cast the spell you can also choose to reverse the effect, preventing those monsters from leaving the circle. A perfect vampire trap! I was planning on using this against Strahd later, but this was a desperate situation. Thus Kosef was able to walk away from the snarling spitting vampire, leaving them trapped inside a glowing circle of magical energy.
Brundle and Baräsh bounded up the stairs just in time to reach Kosef as he calmly walked away from the trapped monsters. Baräsh looked up at the Heart of Sorrow and knew what he had to do.
Shot through the heart
Using his Misty Step ability, he ran, jumped, and then teleported to the air just above the heart. In a flash, he fell heavily down on to the roof of the giant pulsing muscle and, getting to his feet, he brought down his mighty hammer onto it. The heart shuddered, causing Baräsh to lose his footing, but not before he smashed it once more.
Cracks and fissures appeared on the heart’s surface as it shuddered again and exploded. Crystalline heart pieces were sent out violently in all directions before turning into thick viscous red blood droplets in the air. As the shards of glass turned into the crimson liquid, Baräsh’s platform fell away beneath him and he began to tumble rapidly down the 200-foot drop.
Instinctively, Kosef cast Featherfall on the dragonborn, slowing his descent to a safe speed. Baräsh began singing as he glided down to the ground. “Shot through the heart, and you’re to blame, you give love a bad name.”
And you’re to blame
The room shook as a howl of rage resounded around the castle. Strahd knew what we had done and he was not happy.
Baräsh continued to sing Bon Jovi songs as he slowly descended, receiving inspiration for his musical efforts. From the shadows, a vampire jumped out at the slowly falling dragonborn and they tumbled down together, grappling and striking at each other as they did. By the time they reached the ground the vampire was dead.
As they fell, they passed Kosef and Bundle on the 1st level. Brundle healed Kosef and the two considered their next move. They wanted to get to the crypt, but the way down was blocked. They spotted an exit on the level above that lead to the roofs. Perhaps they could find another way down?
Meanwhile, as soon as the Heart of Sorrow was destroyed, the halberds and weapons that were attacking Gimble Timbers all fell to the ground motionless. Grabbing Ireena, the gnome looked around, unsure of what to do next.
You give Strahd a bad name
“What have you done!” Stahd’s desperate voice rang out. The footsteps grew louder and as Baräsh reached the floor, he could see the silhouette of Strahd through the corridor, getting closer. “It’s Strahd!” he called out, “Run!”
“You fools. You cannot hide from me in my own home. I AM Ravenloft! Besides I’m not done with you yet. I have some old friends for you to be re-acquainted with. ”
Chilled by Strahd’s desperate taunts, the Associates ran as fast as they could to the stairway and up. First Kosef and Brundle, then Baräsh, Ireena, and Gimble. They had to leave Victor’s body where he lay. There was no time for ceremony or commiserations. As Gimble Timbers reached the bottom step he could hear the growl of one of the hell hounds as it passed through the door across the room. He turned just the hound roared a blast of fire, raw and untamed in his direction. Gimble Timbers screamed. END
This was a fun session with moments of both brilliance and madness. Both Baräsh and Gimble Timbers were awarded inspiration, which hopefully will aid us in the battles to come. The suggestion that there were “old friends to be re-acquainted with” is also a bit chilling. Perhaps some of our ex-party members will return having been turned by Strahd?
There was also a fairly significant mistake during this game. We didn’t realize until afterwards, but Magic Circle, which Kosef cast from his Ring of Spell Storing, has a casting time of one minute. Therefore not a spell that can be used during combat in the way that I did here. One round is the equivalent of six seconds, so it would cost ten rounds to cast the spell. Not ideal. After the session there wasn’t very much we could do about this, our DM didn’t fancy retconning the whole battle, but now, at least, we know for next time.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Make notes of player’s locations between sessions. Especially if you don’t play one week because you’re still hung-over from your birthday celebrations two days earlier. You might be able to remember from one week to the next, but what if you don’t play for a while? Will your hazy memory of late night Dungeons & Dragons sessions hold up to a two-week break?
Player Tip: If on your turn you decide to “hold an attack action” until a monster is within melee range, make sure you are fully aware of the exact location of said triggering monster. And that they can actually reach melee range before your next turn. Otherwise you’ve just wasted a whole action waiting for them to get close enough to strike. Just like Gimble Timbers did with the animated halberds. Also, don’t forget to deploy your held action. It’s all too easy to forget this when you’re acting outside of initiative.
Next week we have to decide if we run and hide, or stay and fight. While our object is to defeat Strahd, we aren’t in the best condition to face him. I think we will end up trying to run away in the hopes of finding a safe place to rest. Although the chances of that seem quite slim.