Outside the storm raged on, as the Associates made their way down to the crypt below Castle Ravenloft. A gut-wrenching howl pierced the night, followed by the sound of metal scraping on stone floors. They spiraled down and down until eventually the heroes reached the shadowed, dank crypt below. Dark, foreboding water lapped up against the steps. The crypt was flooded.
Last night was the 79th session of our online Dungeons & Dragons Curse of Strahd campaign and our level nine characters began by exploring the flooded dungeons below Castle Ravenloft. Besides the obvious environmental issues, we also had to cope with some pretty severe internet connection issues during the game as well—our DM’s laptop was “having a moment,” and our Paladin hasn’t been keeping up his ritual sacrifices. So, as we faded in and out of communiqué, there were a couple of moments where nobody really knew what was going on as. More so than usual.
Previously in Barovia…
Stuck in Barovia and desperate to leave, the only way our heroes can get back home is by defeating the evil vampire overlord Strahd von Zarovich. To do that we have infiltrated his home, the legendary Castle Ravenloft. Armed with the Sun-Sword, we destroyed his Heart of Sorrow, but lost our teenage wizard, Victor, in the fight. Now it is time for us to go and face Strahd.
Last session we traveled from the highest point of the castle right down to the lowest, chased by some unknown armored fiend. Along the way we picked up a straggler, Gertrude, a seemingly innocent woman caught in Strahd’s nefarious web. Our pious Dragonborn decided he couldn’t just leave her to fend for herself, so he has been carrying her around like a fireman ever since. We told him that she was his responsibility now.
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.
Brundle and Gimble reached the foot of the stairs first and nearly slipped on the slick, stone steps, straight into the dark, foreboding waters. Ahead, a corridor, lit only by the light of Gimble’s sword, beckoned them on into darkness. It was flooded and smelt worse than the rancid swamp at Berez. Brundle tossed a pebble into the water, sending ripples across the surface. Unsure of how to proceed, they waited for the others to catch up.
The session began with us eagerly waiting for something to happen. Would the pebble rouse a many-tentacled beast from the watery depths? Would Strahd appear from the darkness? Would Baräsh slip on the wet stone and drop Gertrude into the water?
No. Nothing happened. Nothing stirred.
A small dilemma
After a couple of minutes we were sure nothing was coming to get us. But we still had a dilemma. The water was 3 feet deep. Our gnomes were less than 3 feet tall. They were going to have to swim. Gimble Timbers edged into the water. He submerged himself, step by step, until just the tip of his top hat was showing. He rolled very low on his athletics check and remembered he couldn’t swim. His top hat bobbed up and down on the surface of the water. This wasn’t going to work.
Normally, under these circumstances, Brundle, our druid, would use his Wildshape ability to turn into an aquatic or water-loving animal, like a crocodile, and carry the rest of us on his back. However, he had used both of his Wildshapes for the day and they would only replenish once we finished a long rest.
So, it was time to try to sleep again. Last time we tried this, we ended up beset by monsters and ran into even more trouble. But we had little choice if we wanted to explore the crypts. Which we did.
We went back up the stairs to the Larders of Ill Omen. Gertrude berated us along the way, “I don’t remember this part of the story. Where the champions run up and down the stairs all the time. Are you sure you’re the heroes?”
Ignoring our DM’s taunts, we safely navigated the elevator trap, and went into the large Ossuary. This bone room was where we tried to sleep last time, and had also previously battled Strahd. This time, however, we went into a smaller adjacent room: Rahadin’s Study.
Rahadin is a Dusk Elf and one of Strahd’s minions. During the earlier battle with Strahd, Baräsh found Rahadin here, and then he mysteriously vanished.
But we wanted to sleep, so didn’t think too much about that.
Instead we barricaded the door with a large writing desk and quickly investigated the room. Kosef rolled a critical failure on his investigation check, didn’t see anything odd, and fell straight to sleep on a chair. Exhausted, Baräsh, Ireena, and Gertrude also fell straight to sleep—it had been a long day!—leaving just Gimble Timbers and Brundle Swash awake.
Brundle, fearing Kosef didn’t look around very thoroughly, decided to investigate the room for himself. He also rolled a one on his investigation, found nothing, and went to sleep. Gimble didn’t even bother looking; he just snuggled up to Brundle and drifted off.
Heads on spikes
So we all slept. At the same time. All of us. No guards. Just sleep.
Amazingly, we all awoke eight hours later, having had a full long rest, and enjoying all the benefits: full spell slots, full abilities, and maximum health. We thought our DM must have been feeling very generous.
That thought soon passed. On the desk were two severed heads. Skewered onto a receipt spike. Victor, our unfortunate wizard, and Gertrude. Dripping blood onto the stone floor. Dead. Both heads staring at us. Unblinking.
Clearly Strahd had been in the room with us during the night and was toying with us. We panicked.
Baräsh took it particularly badly as he had been given responsibility for Gertrude’s safety. This bloody incident also made Gimble suddenly remember Kevon, his pet mastiff, whom we had abandoned in a banquet room when we first entered the castle.
However, we all knew what we needed to do. And, if nothing else, this served to strengthen our resolve.
So, once more, we searched the room, this time for secret doors. A much more successful investigation check from Kosef revealed the hidden door that we all knew was there all along.
Brazier room (not brassiere room)
The door lead us down a tight spiral staircase. Gimble Timbers took the lead, charging and shouting, “For Kevon!” As he ran, he activated an illusion. An image of Strahd pointing clawed hands at us filled the passageway. The illusion spoke, “You have worn out your welcome. Whatever Gods you pray to, make peace with them now. I will suffer you no longer.”
Brundle stepped towards the image and, realizing it to be illusory, stepped right through it and it disappeared.
At the foot of the stairs, Gimble Timbers entered a large room. It had a lit brazier in its center, flanked by two enormous iron statues of knights on horseback. An hourglass hung in the air above it, in which the sand had stopped falling. There were seven colored stones in a dish in front of the brazier and a riddle underneath:
Cast a stone into the fire,
Violet leads to mountain’s spire,
Orange to castle’s peak,
Red if lore is what you seek,
Green is where the coffins hide
Indigo to the Master’s bride,
Blue to ancient magic’s womb,
Yellow to the Master’s tomb.
A teleportation thingamajig. Three of us took stones. But we didn’t know where they would lead. As we argued over which one to use, Gimble Timbers absent-mindedly tossed something at the hourglass. It dinged off and landed on the floor.
Immediately the two iron statues shuddered into life and lurched towards us. At the same time, poisonous gas started to pour into the room. We each rolled constitution saving throws to avoid the gas and we each failed, taking 44 points of damage. Kosef only had a maximum of 47.
Fearing imminent death from either the Iron Golems or the gas, Kosef tossed his stone into the fire and dived in. The sand in the hourglass started to pour. Kosef vanished. The others all jumped in after him.
The Master’s tomb
Kosef had thrown the yellow stone into the brazier. Yellow to the Master’s tomb.
We appeared at the foot of a large black marble staircase in a dark, cavernous chamber that was 50 feet by 30 feet. There were lots of alcoves along the walls and the smell of fresh dirt hung in the air. The feeling of purest evil permeated the ground.
In the heart of the room was a polished black marble coffin. It had gleaming brass fittings that seemed to glow in the half-light. Seeing the casket, Brundle took out his spear and started sharpening the wooden stake-like end. Kosef held a much smaller wooden stake, as he pulled the Staff of Frost from his back. Baräsh looked around and cast a healing spell on the group; Ireena did the same. Gimble Timbers held the Sun-Sword up, shedding bright light all around.
Kosef gingerly stepped forward towards the coffin. As he got close, a hand shot up through the dirt floor and grasped at his heel. Then a second hand. Before anyone had time to blink a third and fourth hand rose up from the ground.
Within seconds, the hands had turned into fully formed people. Three Vampires, wearing long ornate dresses covered in blood and mud stains, and with dirt encrusted jewelry, attacked the party. Kosef took some damage from the surprise round, but the vampires soon began to cower from the light emitted by Gimble Timbers’ sword.
As soon as we entered this room it felt like something big was about to happen. And sure enough it did. The three vampires that attacked us were Strahd’s brides and the protectors of his tomb. This would not be an easy fight.
Strahd’s brides snarled and hissed, spitting at the heroes. In spite of the bright sunlight shining from Gimble Timbers’ sword, they rushed forward, fearlessly attacking the party. They must protect the master. Within seconds they had separated, each one focusing on a different Associate. They grappled, bit, and clawed at the heroes, hoping to keep them off guard. Then, from somewhere in the Castle above, a distant scream went up and echoed around the chamber. It was followed by the sound of low, mirthless, laughter. END
A great session with some intense roleplaying and an exciting mystery. I’m so pleased we opted for the yellow stone and not the red or green as they would have teleported us out of the castle, potentially back to the Amber Temple.
At first I was surprised that our DM had let us get a long rest, but then, once the carnage of the severed heads was revealed, it all made sense. He, like Strahd, was just toying with us.
What did we learn?
DM Tip: Don’t be too disappointed if your well-laid plans get ripped to shreds. This WILL happen. Often. Our DM clearly had not intended for us to find the secret passage in Rahadin’s study and end up in the Master’s tomb. I just hope he doesn’t decide to take out his ire on our unsuspecting, innocent characters.
Player Tip: Don’t forget to use your abilities. This session saw two class features we’d forgotten about come to the fore: the Rogue’s Uncanny Dodge and the Paladin’s Aura of Protection. Since fifth level Kosef has had Uncanny Dodge, when an attacker that you can see hits you with an Attack, you can use your reaction to halve the attack’s damage against. And since sixth level Baräsh has had Aura of Protection, whenever you or a friendly creature within 10 feet of you must make a saving throw, the creature gains a bonus to the saving throw equal to your Charisma modifier. Both have been regularly forgotten, but both were used this session, to great effect.
Next week we conclude our fight with Strahd’s Brides and potentially begin our final encounter with Strahd. It’s taken 80 sessions to get here, but the end of the campaign is now in sight. Unless we die and have to re-roll new level one characters that is. But surely that won’t happen…