Curse of Strahd, Session VI, Enter the Amber Temple

Curse of Strahd, Session VI, Enter the Amber Temple

Curse of Strahd / Session VI / Enter the Amber Temple

In which the Amber Temple is entered, two members of the lost team are saved from Flameskulls and a bedraggled wizard is found running from an Amber Golem…

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  • The vaulted chamber of the temple had a statue of a wizard whose face was shrouded in darkness and (inspired by DragnaCarta’s Curse of Strahd Reloaded) it asked those who entered to leave a secret or something holy at the feet of the statue. That prompted cool shit from the players.

    Jusko whispered, “I belong here,” while pressing his family signet ring into some wax on the statue. EEK.

    Failed Soldier wrote a sealed note about the sailor he killed in a previous adventure in a shrine to a storm goddess.

    Kuru tried to get by leaving a cheap coin and pretending it was holy to him but the statue was on to his bullshit.

    Trundle left one of his carvings of the world they saw born in a previous adventure.

    Helewynn left her holy symbol since the moon here seemed to be godless.

    Bugwump left a mask of himself from back when he was an arch-mage that he wore during a 1000 Faces Festival in Sigil.

  • They found the two lost members of the other team surrounded by 3 Flameskulls…

    One of the Flameskulls unleashed its fireball, doing some healthy damage but all in all, the 3 were dispatched without too much trouble. The other team missed in a terrible first round of to-hit rolls, prompting Jusko to fuck with them later…

  • Trundle engaged Crum, a Dwarven cleric of Portals, who wears a key holy symbol. I rolled to see how informed he was on getting in and out of Ravenloft and rolled a 20. He knows shit.

  • Bugwump’s Arcana checks are off the chain since he has a magic staff from Tomb of Annihilation. They know all about Sergei’s Sunsword, the other team believes the sword is here somewhere.

  • There was some talk about just heading back to Ravenwatch and getting to the portal. I reminded folks that Kuru had cut up the portal with his magic-cutting knife and it wasn’t a sure thing that it was working.

  • Helewynn hasn’t seen moonlight since being bitten by the werewolf. When she does, we’ll make some rolls and see what happens.

    Chekov’s werewolf bite…

  • Failed Soldier gave Lem the Nine Gods Orchid he picked for her from the previous adventure. I said that it felt like a lifetime ago that she asked him for that but thing is, it actually does kinda feel like a lifetime ago. It was cool that we got to see that completed.

    What does Nine Gods Orchid do? I’m thinking some kind of cool tea that inspires prophetic dreams.

  • After a short rest, the team heard someone screaming for help and found a wizard with a quazit familiar running from an Amber Golem. Kuru and Trundle stealthed over and engaged; we’ll start there with everyone else rolling initiative next week.

    “Thank Vecna you folks showed up to save me,” the burned, half-starved wizard said.

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Leomund’s Tiny Hut in Barovia

Leomund’s Tiny hut in Barovia

In my head-canon, Leomund is a brilliant apprentice to Mordenkainen, saw his magnificent mansion spell and said, “What if we scaled it down and gave young, up-and-coming adventurers the safety they need?” and Leomund’s Tiny Hut was born.

The description of the spell:

A 10-foot-radius immobile dome of force springs into existence around and above you and remains stationary for the duration. The spell ends if you leave its area.

Nine creatures of Medium size or smaller can fit inside the dome with you. The spell fails if its area includes a larger creature or more than nine creatures. Creatures and objects within the dome when you cast this spell can move through it freely. All other creatures and objects are barred from passing through it. Spells and other magical effects can’t extend through the dome or be cast through it. The atmosphere inside the space is comfortable and dry, regardless of the weather outside.

Until the spell ends, you can command the interior to become dimly lit or dark. The dome is opaque from the outside, of any color you choose, but it is transparent from the inside.

PHB, page 255
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The Thursday night crew needed a rest after a dramatic entrance into Ravenloft from a portal in Sigil. Bugwump magicked up the tiny hut. There was a thread in the DM’s of Curse of Strahd and Ravenloft FB group about it.

First a group of wolves came and sniffed around the edges of the spell’s bubble. Of course the packs of wolves in Barovia are commanded by Strahd. The First Vampire has to be curious about these newcomers but even with curiosity is some boredom. He’s seen this shit before. Strahd has lost count of the number of scrappy adventurers. He’s an accomplished wizard; he knows what this spell is. Shit, he’s probably met Leomund.

More about this session here if you’d like to see the full write-up.

Kuru, the Halfling Rogue on watch woke everyone up to let them know about the wolves but then the wolves left. They returned with a villager, who the largest wolf pinned to the ground by his throat. The villager began reciting, “Strahd is the Land and the Land is Strahd!” over and over. Strahd was curious as to what they’d do. The characters jumped out of their bubble of safety and saved the villager. It was a fun fight.

Strahd got the measure of the heroes. He saw the fighter’s vorpal sword in action. He saw how they worked as a team and got the measure of their morality. They will leave safety to save a villager…somewhere Strahd smiles a feral grin.

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Strahd is circling the party like a shark. What is the scariest part of a shark movie? Let the players sit in their tiny hut. Yes, it infuriates Strahd that there is a bubble on his land that he can’t Scry. Yes, they are safe but the hut doesn’t last forever. Having that kind of safety for a little while is good for horror.

Ask the players questions about their characters while they sit and wait.

Was there a time when your character felt trapped?

What was a safe place the character can remember?

Tell me about a time when your character’s home was broken into and what happened. Was anything stolen? How did it make the character feel?

Jaws, comparing scars

Send the players an email before the game asking them to daydream about a short campfire story about what their character’s homeland says about vampires. It isn’t the DM’s job to single-handedly set a scary tone without any help from anyone else; tone (especially horror) has to be done together as a table.

Sit in Leomund’s finite bubble. Compare scars. Tell stories. Moments of safety with doom all around is great horror content.

Strahd is patient. He’ll be waiting in the Mists.

Curse of Strahd, Session IV, Ghosts and Bones

Curse of Strahd, Session IV, Ghosts and Bones

Curse of Strahd, Session IV, Ghosts & Bones

In which the dead are spoken to, a father is left to decide his son’s fate and hunted comrades are tracked across Mount Ghackis.

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  • Kuru talked up the three Vistani ladies who owned the Blood of the Vine Tavern.

    “Judd, what is the name of the tavern?”

    “Blood of the Vine…”

    “Of course it is…”

    They learned that the previous team had been driven from town for assaulting an old lady who is a witch – the bad kind, that the Vistani saved Strahd when he was mortal and some serve him as penance for helping create such a devil.

  • Trundle, when he entered the inn, offered a prayer against fiends (his chosen enemy) in Infernal. Just a nice bit of color that I loved.

    Also, we learned that Jusko’s family, the Hajeks, rule a city in the west, Vallicki.

    These details didn’t mean anything today but I adore them and sometimes they end up being THE thing that changes the campaign. Ya never know.

  • The team witnessed the March of the Dead, in which the ghosts of adventurers who have fought Strahd and died rise and march to re-live their deaths as they walk to Castle Ravenloft.

  • They dug up the body of one of their former comrades from another team, Dylan was a warlock. Strahd ripped out his heart with his bare hands. When they asked Dylan how he suggested they proceed he said, “Don’t. This mission is folly. Pay the Vistani whatever they ask and make your way to Gloomwrought. From there you should be able to make your way home eventually through the Shadowfell…”

    They learned that the previous team had headed west to find something called the Amber Temple on the western slopes of Mt. Ghakis.

  • They found Father Donavich holding his son, Boru, in the undercroft while sobbing. The boy, inspired by strangers recently in town. After some discussions about morality and such, they decided to chalk this up as a local conflict and leave it be. They vampire-bitten young man had gone berserk right about when Bugwump cast Leomund’s Tiny Hut (scrying doesn’t penetrate the hut).

    As they left, the priest to the Morninglord was sitting atop the undercroft door, sobbing quietly.

    Ah, Ravenloft…

  • They tracked the previous team as they went off the road and headed west. They team left glyphs to let any other Outlands Expedition Teams know that they were headed to the western slope of the mountain and that they were being hunted by something following them.

    One of the awesome players at our table suggested that these glyphs teams leave for one another are an off-shoot of thieves’ cant; so rogues can often tease out more details or leave more nuanced messages.

  • The pack of werewolves hunting the team (7 in total, Trundle the Dwarven Ranger could tell) suddenly headed westward, up the mountain. It didn’t make much sense. They found a barrow adorned with goat and deer skulls where one of the werewolves was interred, having been killed by silver arrows and a pit trap and some more silver arrows. Helewyn wisely dug out the silver arrows.

  • Next week we begin with the pack trying to flank a lone archer on an old goat path known as the Blood Moon Path.

  • This game being a mission, where they want to get their comrades out and get back home to Sigil has changed the tenor of the game. Destroying Strahd is a tertiary goal. The team is very willing to leave situations be and not get embroiled in what they see as endless local nonsense. They are invested but they have their eye on the prize – getting their friends out. Very interesting…

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Curse of Strahd, Session III, Wolves and Souls

Curse of Strahd, Session III, Wolves and Souls

In which the Outlands Expedition Team heads to the village of Barovia and is tested by a pack of wolves.

  • Bugwump throws up a Leomund’s Tiny Hut and everyone tries to get some rest after the battle of Ravenwatch. Kuru was on watch when the wolves came the first time, digging around the magical bubble put up by Bugwump. Then they returned in greater numbers with a villager. When the biggest wolf put his jaws on the villager’s throat, the villager says, “Strahd is the Land and the Land is Strahd!” over and over.

  • Bugwump wanted everyone to just let him sleep but that wasn’t the team consensus. They jumped out and handled the wolves. Helewyn misty-stepped and saved the villager. Kuru threw a lightning bolt and zapped 6 wolves in a shot. In a round of combat the wolves were about wiped.

  • The last wolf vomited out an envelope but the group just shoved it into a fire before retreating into the forest.

  • The villager they saved is named Kobal. Gem of True Seeing showed that Kobal didn’t seem to have a soul. After some discussion and some History and Arcana rolls, they realized that there aren’t enough souls in the demi-plane, some are without. What does this mean?

    Welcome to Ravenloft: Enter the Mists for
    the Gothic Fantasy.

    Stay for the philosophical debates concerning souls.

    Failed Soldier is eyeing Kobal’s body; his current body, the corpse of the thief-god, is starting to decompose.

  • They visited Bildrath’s Mercantile and saw Outlands Expedition Team code (y’know, like the old hobo glyphs). It said that the prices were inflated. And now that is a cool thing in the setting to look for when another team has been somewhere.

  • One of the members of the previous team was a vampire in the initial attack but they’re thinking about the rest of the team. A while ago I asked friends to make up members of an expedition team, so I have fun descriptions of the other team.

    Crum

    An inquisitive bespectacled dwarf knowledge cleric who has spent a century cataloging various Outland portals. Membership in the OET feeds his need for discovery. Send this fool to Ravenloft.

    Lem

    An herbalist who rustles when they walk from all the dry leaf-filled pouches they have with them. Their sense of organization is terrible, though. Lot of digging, fair amount of tasting & chewing to verify. Which sometimes leads to minor incapacitation, sure.

    Adjo, a veteran of three wars, a skilled tracker of a dozen terrains, cursed with a soft heart. Also: He could give a shit about the O.E.T., only agreeing to it to use the deputization in his secret quest to find his fugitive daughter.

    Dylan

    A one-eyed Tiefling Warlock pledged to Vecna.  They wield a wickedly sharp sword made of bone and sinew.  They are tasked by Vecna to find strongholds of Kas and destroy them.  The OET is a cover for their real mission. How does the Lady of Pain feel about this?

  • After seeing Helewyn misty-step, Jusko told her about his magic sword, a vorpal blade with a long and ancient history of beheading. “When the time comes, you misty-step to Strahd and you will have this sword. He saw it on me but won’t know that it is on you now…”

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Curse of Strahd, Session II, Battle of Ravenwatch

Curse of Strahd / Session II / Battle of Ravenatch with bats fluttering in the light of a huge moon
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  • Kuru, being followed by Strahd, throws a fake amulet in another direction so he can get to Jusko and turn invisible. Deception with Dex bonus; Strahd falls for the sleight of hand.

  • Battle on the stairway continues with Failed Soldier, Corpseflea Grave Cleric, Helewynn, Moon Elf Barbarian and Bugwump, Frog-kin Wizard. Interesting judgment call when the cleric cast Daylight. Does it count as sunlight against vampires? Third level cleric spell, I said it does (to great effect). It doesn’t say so in the spell description but…seems clear to me.

    Thoughts?

  • Failed Soldier opened a portal door near a shrine to Ulmed to what usually leads to a Godroad but it was only a closet with old scrolls with desperate unanswered prayers. No Godroads in Ravenloft, it seems.

    There was a prayer from a young lady who has dreams about being chased and killed by Strahd…

  • Jusko tried to intimidate Strahd but they tied. Would it have damaged Strahd’s mystique if he had pulled back his forces after an intimidation check? Maybe.

    It was a cool-ass speech.

  • Trundle tried to save the Cardinal Inquisitor’s life after his chest was ripped open by Strahd but they died for good when Strahd threw a fireball at Kuru, the Halfling Rogue, Jusko, Human Fighter and Trundle, Dwarven Ranger. He damaged them badly, some folks were in single digits at that point.

    Jusko talked shit to him about throwing a spell.

  • Then Jusko and Trundle joined the battle on the stairwell, leaving Kuru alone and invisible in the room with the portal to Sigil. Strahd polymorphed into Jusko and begged the City Agent to take away the telekinetic block on their side of the portal. The block came down and Kuru attempted to destroy the portal with his knife that can cut spells. He did 18 of 20 points of damage but didn’t quite bring it down. Next round, Strahd would walk through the portal into Sigil.

  • Helewynn traded blows with a Moon Elf sworn to Strahd. Helewynn expressed disdain for one of her own kind serving a monster; the Moon Elf sister answered, “You should learn more about the Lady of Pain before judging me for serving Strahd.”

    For those following at home, Rahadin is now a Moon Elf maiden.

    In the end, Rahadin misty-stepped away as Strahd departed.

  • Jusko tackled Strahd and Trundle cut him with a flame-brand short sword, leaving a scar. Strahd turned to mist and withdrew as Bugwup took position in front of the portal, rocking a, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

    Strahd could’ve made it through the portal but he would’ve been damaged during daylight (it was day in Sigil) in a strange new place. He had seen a Githyanki mage and a Drider on the other side. Nah, he’ll withdraw and come at it another way.

  • They grabbed what they could from the monastery and headed out into the forest.

    Stuff: magic sword from Cardinal Inquisitor, map of Barovia, Book of Strahd, Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, Books on Monster Hunting, Books on Demi-Planar Theory, cloaks, foodstuffs, etc.

    One of the dead vampires was a member of the former Outlands Expedition Team

  • No levels this session via the Bingo Board XP:

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    Curse of Strahd, Session I: Welcome to Barovia

    Curse of Strahd, Session I: Welcome to Barovia

    Curse of Strahd I Welcome to Barovia
    Skeleton with bat-skeleton wings, section divider
    • The Outlands Expedition Team goes through a portal in an abandoned side-street of Sigil into Ravenwatch, a monastery in Ravenloft, the Demi-Plane of Dread, being used as a chapterhouse by the Ulmist Inquisitors. The Outlands Expedition Team’s mission is to retrieve any living members of the last team to attempt this mission and stop Strahd from breaking free of Ravenloft.

    • The Godroads have been their ace in the hole and their research to find out if the Godroads reach into the Demi-Plane of Dread was inconclusive. They found a vague mention of it in Jusko’s great-great aunt’s diary: “No prayers seem to reach this fell place.”

    • Speaking of Jusko, his family abandoned his ancestral home. Turns out someone (psst, it is Jusko who did it) wrote the family name on a young world and the family has left to live there, as it is their birthright. I’ve been sitting on that detail for months; it was nice to finally have a good reason to share it.

    • Another bit of lore they dug up, talking to Jusko’s dead great-grandfather, is that Strahd had a wizard counselor who became a lich and left Barovia to rule a domain of his own in the Demi-Plane of Dread. If anyone might know a way out of Ravenloft, it’d be Azalin Rex…

    • The portal is locked on the Sigil-side by a Githyanki psionicist who blocks it with a telekinetic wall. As they enter into Ravenwatch’s cellar, Strahd’s attack begins. Swarms of bats and rats cover the floor and ceiling.

    • Bugwump thunderwaves the swarms back, clearing the path for Failed Soldier and Hellewyn to take the fight to the stairs, where heavily armored vampire spawn are attacking with zombies on chains like hounds. They feel Strahd’s fell presence move by them at great speed but do not see him.

    • In a moment of the battle in which Bugwump thunderwaves the vampire spawn and their zombies, Hellewyn sees a moon-elf, of similar lineage to her own, fighting on Strahd’s side at the top of the steps.

    • Jusko stayed in the room with the portal, seeing himself as the link between the split party. As Strahd passes, he welcomes his cousin, Jusko Hajek, to Barovia. Jusko, vorpal sword in hand, beckons Strahd to come closer. Strahd recognizes the ancient blade and declines. “We will talk under more hospitable circumstances. Welcome to Barovia.” Jusko feels Strahd move away.

    • Kuru and Trundle use oil and fire to clear the swarms, trying to get to a secret armory. The inquisitor is killed by Strahd, who plunges his hands into his chest cavity and opens him up like a can of beans. Kuru’s failed Perception check tells him that the Inquisitor is dead; there is no saving him.

    • I forgot to look at the map I keyed weeks ago and the notes I made for that map. *sigh*

      Still, it was a fun start. We ended in the midst of the battle and will begin there next week.

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    If you want to read more about the Ulmist Inquisitors, I wrote up 13 fell pages in a pdf.

    Questions before the Curse of Strahd

    Questions before the Curse of Strahd

    Curse of Strahd, big moon, bats, castle…you get the idea.

    I like having an online community for a particular game night and/or campaign (Oy, I miss G+). One of the things I’ve been doing is asking the players questions in the week before the game. If they answer it, GREAT, I have material to inspire the game. If they don’t answer the question because they’re busy or don’t spend as much time on social media platforms, GREAT (and legit), I can ask the question during the game and get inspiration and energy during the session.

    Even if I don’t ask these questions in play and the player never answers it out loud, seeing the question gets the players thinking and daydreaming about the answers and more often than not, the idea comes out in play through the players’ actions. Asking good questions is a good tool for getting the vibe of the game across.

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    Jusko – Your family’s ancestral lands neighbored ancient Barovia. What was the Hajek family’s relationship to the cursed von Zarovich clan?

    Jusko is a human fighter with a complicated family and a sense of honor about him that I enjoy. Clearly, his family knew Strahd’s family when he was mortal, back in the day. There have also been clear hints that the Mists are interested in Jusko as possible Darklord material.

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    Helewyn – How do you (or your Goddess) feel about lycanthropes who change shape with the full moon?

    Helewyn is an Eladrin Barbarian who served a moon goddess. The player’s answer was awesome and gave me clear ties to lycanthropes and their relationship to the moon.

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    Kuru – What do you remember of the nomadic Vistani people who would stay for a season near the shire you where you were raised and trade with your family?

    My question for Kuru, Halfling Rogue (but really, he’s an old school Thief all the way) brought out a great conversation about the depiction of the Vistani, racism against the Romany people and not wanting to punch down. It was a valuable conversation, not only for the real life implications but because it really tied Kuru to the Vistani people in a real way and allowed me to, as Apocalypse World would say, announce future badness (link to AP post about the previous session if you want to see the Future Badness in action).

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    Trundle – What was Trundle’s first brush with the darker parts of the forest, where sun never penetrates the canopy and fell beasts hunt the weak?

    I didn’t get an answer to Trundle’s question, so I’ll save it for the game. I might ask during play or might ask before play when we’re just getting prepped and putting our dice in order in our pre-game.

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    Bugwump – What had you uncovered about the Demi-Plane of Dread when you were an Arch-Mage?

    Bugwump’s character handed me a gift that I’ve written about before. The player treated Ravenloft with an appropriate amount of dread and foreboding in his answer. Even as an Arch-Mage, his character avoided the Demi-Plane of Dread. Cool stuff.

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    Failed Soldier – What does your religion’s parables say about the First Vampire, Strahd, a great warrior whose fell deeds drew the attention of fell powers?

    Again, Failed Soldier’s player didn’t answer, which is great, I’ll ask later. Failed Soldier (whose name is derived from the first corpse the Corpseflea character was in when the game began) is a Grave Cleric. I can’t wait to get this character to Ravenloft. I think it is going to be fun.

    Vampire Bones paragraph divider

    Mistakes Were Made (it was fun) and more designs like this in my TTRPG Collection…

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    Post-Tomb of Annihilation/Pre-Curse of Strahd

    Post-Tomb of Annihilation/Pre-Curse of Strahd

    Omu: the Lost City in their past, Curse of Strahd in their future.

    Back from thwarting Acererak (but not facing him directly), the Outlands Expeditions Team returns to Sigil in the midst of the 1000 Faces Festival. Music and dancing in the streets at all hours…

    Silver Sword/Lich Queen line separator

    I did a few things with the Facebook group to get some details and flesh some things out. I made a poll with a bunch of masks for characters to wear during the festival. Some chose from the choices, others made up their own.

    And I asked questions to get into the spirit of heading to the Demi-Plane of Dread.

    Jusko – Your family’s ancestral lands neighbored ancient Barovia. What was the Hajek family’s relationship to the cursed von Zarovich clan?

    Helewyn – How do you (or your Goddess) feel about lycanthropes who change shape with the full moon?

    Kuru – What do you remember of the nomadic Vistani people who would stay for a season near the shire you where you were raised and trade with your family?

    Trundle – What was Trundle’s first brush with the darker parts of the forest, where sun never penetrates the canopy and fell beasts hunt the weak?

    Bugwump – What had you uncovered about the Demi-Plane of Dread when you were an Arch-Mage?

    Failed Soldier – What does your religion’s parables say about the First Vampire, Strahd, a great warrior whose fell deeds drew the attention of fell powers?

    Not everyone answers but the answers I get I use. It led to a good discussion about the Vistani and not wanting to punch down in our depiction of them. Those who didn’t answer in type I’ll ask “face to face” over Zoom at the next game; I forgot to do so tonight.

    Basic, ask questions and use the answers stuff but having a digital home for the game makes asking the questions easy.

    Outlands Expedition Team, Deputized by the Lady of Pain, Clerk Ward, Sigil
    • Trundle got into the spirit of things, wearing a Devil mask and doing a public carving celebrating their last adventure, carving a triptych of hobbits upon dinosaurs out of a piece of wood the size of an elephant.

    • Anthony described Kuru wearing a kind of rosary beads that Vistani would recognize. I told him that in Barovia the gods are Mother Night and the Morning Lord. Perhaps the beads are Mother Night’s stars. He met an old woman and had his fortune read. I dropped some game details as per the module.

    • Kuru specifically asked about allies, which is part of the fortune telling in the book. I offered a few – a Mad Mage near Mount Bartok, an undead knight in his old order’s keep and the people they would meet upon arriving, could be allies, if any survived. “Your arrival will be covered in blood. I doubt any will survive.”

    • Bugwump took what the woman said very seriously, having known about the Demi-Plane of Dread from his Arch-Mage days. He sought out an arcane historian and learned that Strahd was the First Vampire and is a capable wizard in his own right. He also learned that Strahd seeks out Tatyanna because she is a capable Planar Arcanist who could help him escape his prison.

    • Kuru visited the tenement building the Vistani were staying with in Sigil and learned that *DUN DUN DUN* /dramatic music Mother Eva had been dead for a week! He had been visited by her spirit. It was a nice way to wrap up a low-key game.

    I’m looking forward to getting into Ravenloft just as Autumn approaches. Our next game isn’t for 2 weeks, a friend at the table pointed out that we’d be heading to Ravenloft as Halloween approaches, which is fun.

    As we approach Ravenloft, this shirt seems relevant. Check out this design and more at this link.

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