Session 78: Strahd and Fast
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 as the hound roared a blast of fire, raw and untamed, in his direction. Gimble Timbers screamed.
Last night was session 78 in our online Curse of Strahd D&D campaign, and we were on the run from the dreaded vampire overlord, going from the very highest point of the castle, right down to the dungeon depths.
Previously in Barovia…
Our party is exploring Castle Ravenloft, hoping to find a way to defeat Strahd and bring an end to his tyranny. We have fought him a couple of times since arriving, nearly besting him the last time we met.
Last session we stumbled upon the Heart of Sorrow, a giant beating heart that was somehow connected to Strahd. We destroyed it and fought the vampires that defended it. In the battle, our wizard Victor died, but before we could do anything about it Strahd’s voice echoed around the tower we were in and we could hear his footsteps approaching.
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.
“What have you done!” Stahd’s desperate, disembodied voice rang out. The footsteps grew louder and, as Baräsh reached the floor, he could see the silhouette of Strahd through the corridor beyond. “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. ”
As the session began we had to decide what to do. Strahd was not far away, but we were all too hurt to fight him now, and there were the two Hell Hounds to deal with as well.
After a very quick discussion, we agreed to run. There was a door on the second floor of this tower that led to the roof and we hoped we could find somewhere to rest for a minute there. If not, fighting Strahd on the rooftops of Castle Ravenloft would be a pretty epic final battle.
Before we got a chance to flee, Strahd sent a fireball crashing into the room. Ireena, Gimble, and Baräsh took the brunt of it and only barely survived. With Strahd sending fireballs from one side and two Hell Hounds coming from the other, we knew it was time to leave. So we started to make our mad dash up the spiral stairs that encircled the interior walls of the tower.
As we ran, we assumed that Strahd was following us. But by the time we reached the second floor, he was just standing at the base of the stairs staring up, his Hell Hounds lying obediently at his feet. There was something very disconcerting about the way our DM described Strahd’s grin.
We reached the exit that lead onto the castle roof and, just as we passed through the door, another fireball scorched the frame behind us. Strahd was taunting as we ran. “You can’t run forever. I will find you. I will mount your heads on spikes.”
Out in the open
Gimble Timbers was the last onto the roof. He turned to the door just as another fireball hit and he took the blast face on. This very nearly killed him. In retaliation he yelled an obscenity at the vampire and clumsily laid a cast iron bear trap across the doorway, hoping it might slow down any pursuers.
We battled against the lightning, wind, and rain as we dashed across a parapet that ran out from the castle’s tower. We were on a high walkway that circled around the keep when a bolt of icy frost caught the paving stones behind us. With our vision hampered by the apocalyptic weather, we could only keep running. Gimble Timbers kept to the rear of the party, holding the sun-sword aloft, hoping to keep back Strahd, should he reach us.
Kosef was in front and the first to notice an immense tower looming over the party. It rose high above the pitched steeples and furrowed roof of the castle. There was a ladder. Following a brief discussion regarding ladder physics—in D&D as in real life, only one person can scale a ladder at a time—he climbed it.
He pushed his way through the trap door at the top and climbed up onto the highest point of Castle Ravenloft. He could see out in all directions, but the storm that was raging made it difficult to identify any landmarks. There was nothing more of note up here so, after pausing to consider the life choices that led him to this point, he climbed back down the ladder to join his friends.
At the foot of the ladder, a swarm of bats circled around the party. It didn’t attack; it just kept flying in circles around us. We knew that Strahd could turn into creatures and swarms like this, so we did some more running.
As we ran along the high passes of the castle, we began to hear heavy thudding, metallic footsteps behind us, and occasionally, through the torrential rain, we caught glimpses of a large figure slowly, ominously, following us.
We were running along the western side of the castle when we passed a bay window that stuck out from the main keep. At this point the heavy footsteps were still close behind us, so we made a quick, rash decision.
Baräsh dove through the window and the rest of the party followed. Glass shattered as the mighty dragonborn wrestled with the red velvet curtains. He landed on an ornate rug, and, remembering our previous sessions with the Rug of Smothering, he handled it very delicately.
Brundle investigated the room. It was well furnished and not dusty or derelict like the rest of the castle. There was a large four-poster bed with curtains pulled in the center of the room. Pulling back the curtains, he saw a woman asleep on the bed. Feeling this was a delicate situation, he stepped back and let Ireena take the lead. She recognized the sleeping woman as Gertrude, a young girl whom went missing from Barovia. But when we woke her she was clearly under Strahd’s influence and not willing to leave.
Baräsh, being a pious paladin and thoroughly good, couldn’t leave her, so after casting Protection from Evil, he carried her out of the room. We were going to save her whether she liked it or not.
However, just as we were about to leave the room we heard the dull, metallic, thudding footsteps coming from beyond the smashed window. We all stopped where we were, trying to be at still as possible. High stealth checks from everyone meant the figure passed us by.
We all exhaled heavily and, as we exited the room, Gimble Timbers upset a ghost that splashed out from a bath tub filled with blood, leapt to the ceiling, and scuttled into the shadows in the corner. We decided this was probably not a safe place to linger.
We left Gertrude’s chambers, with Baräsh carrying her over his shoulder, and ended up in a room Kosef and Brundle had been in before. This room was dark and dusty and full of cobwebs. It also housed a collection of wedding presents for a celebration that apparently never happened. There was a large cake that had been smashed—by Kosef in session 70?—and lots more besides. The last time we were here we didn’t have long enough to investigate thoroughly, so this time we made sure to check it out properly.
Among the presents were two beautiful musical instruments, a lute and a harp. An investigation check from Baräsh revealed them to be magical so we each took turns to play, hoping we could activate the magics. None of us rolled higher than 12 on our performance checks so nothing happened. Then Ireena took the harp and rolled a natural 20.
Beautiful Music rang out from the harp and blue sparks and light shone from her. Suddenly a short man wearing a red tunic and dunce’s cap appeared before her and said:
In the crypt below the castle,
Thou shalt find a treasure,
Worthy of one talented as thee.
It will help put this troubled place
When we questioned the small man he simply repeated the riddle, only deviating once to say, “I am Piddlewick, an inventor. A fool I was until my untimely death. I fell from the stairs. Or was I pushed? Yes I was pushed. By my own creation. Beware! Beware! He’ll push you down the stair…”
With those final words the apparition faded away and we were left scratching our heads.
The flooded crypt
Outside the storm raged on, as the Associates made their way to the crypt down below Castle Ravenloft. They passed through familiar rooms and corridors, the scenes of past encounters and missed opportunities. A gut-wrenching howl pierced the night’s silence, followed by the sound of metal scraping on stone floors. Blood-curdling, maddening screams came next, echoing through the halls; it was the sound of suffering. They spiraled down and down until eventually reaching the shadowed, dank crypt below. Dark, foreboding water lapped against the steps. The crypt was flooded. END
We started last night running away from Strahd, and for the whole session we didn’t stop running. It was good to have a purely roleplay-based session—we haven’t had one for a while—and our DM still managed to keep the tension high.
Playing RPGs like Dungeons & Dragons via Skype is a great way to keep a campaign going. In the past, we might have started a game with the best intentions, but life always has a habit of getting in the way, making it difficult to keep up a weekly or even monthly game. However, with more and more online options available—we use Skype but there are great alternatives like Roll20 and Fantasy Grounds besides—all you have to do is find a couple of hours in an evening, one day a week, and you can play from the comfort of your own home. As long as you can put up with the snorts of derision from family members who walk past as you thrust your exalted dagger deep into the enemy Warlock. It also means that you can have a whole session without any combat at all, because you know you’ll play again next week and make up for it then. Sometimes these roleplaying-focused sessions bring up some of the most memorable moments.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: When exploring a dungeon like Castle Ravenloft, there will be times when your players go back to rooms and passageways they’ve been in before; you can either do this in the same fine detail as the first visit or, if they’re just passing through, hand-wave the exploration and have them arrive at their destination without much incident or fanfare. Remember: it’s totally up to you. In this session, we wanted to head from one of the high towers down to the crypt many floors below. Over the last four sessions, we’ve been up and down these stairs and thoroughly explored some of the locations along the way, so in this instance our DM just said, “Sure, you make your way down, through familiar corridors and passageways until you reach the dank crypt below.” He could have had us roleplay each room, fighting things along the way, but that could have slowed us down or side-tracked us away from our objectives, so just he made the decision to let us arrive where we wanted to be.
Player Tip: Try to be aware of what the other players in your group might want to do in certain situations and don’t be a roadblock if you can help it. It’s much more fun if everyone gets to do something cool, rather than just one player stealing the limelight. However, if you do go ahead and do something that your players might not like, be prepared for consequences.
Next week we explore the crypt under Castle Ravenloft. Will we find whatever it is we need to finally defeat Strahd? Will we make sense of Piddlewick’s riddles? Will our gnomes be able to swim in water that’s three feet deep? We’ll just have to wait and see.