It’s been a long time since we managed to run Ravenloft—over a month, delayed due to various work trips, vacations, a national holiday, and various bullshit. Oh, and there was that weekend we cancelled everything and got snowed in at a gaming convention a few cities to the south. But return we did! This is turning out to be a big hit, and I’m not sure we’ll return to Star Wars anytime soon, especially since people are talking about running classic modules in 5e for their own games…
A quick recap of our brave heroes:
- Nails, Half-Elf Bard of bardic metalness. He’s LE and has a magical lute that lets him cast more than the paltry number of spells a feeble normal bard can. He’s a highwayman, robbing people and threatening to let Morthwil burn them. He’s got an INT of 12 (IIRC), and a WIS of 10, so naturally being the smartest and most charismatic of the lot, the others elected him party leader.
- Ren Stormrider, Human Cleric/Clerk, fishhead healbot of the storm queen Umberlee. NE, War domain (which is boss, for the extra attacks). Really, he just wants to look like this guy, decked out with his fish hook (glaive) and various undersea magic items that have no bearing on this adventure.
- Morthwil, Halfling Warlock. He’s CE and has a familiar, a demonic toad, which the party uses as a lighter/portable stove/scrying device as the need arises. Morthwil, being a warlock, casts a lot of eldritch blasts and has a huge book strapped to his back. The book tells him to burn things. Morthwil isn’t that smart. You can see how this went..
- Prendalfin, CG Elven Monk. He has shoes of striding and springing, a silver short sword, and he punches things a lot. The average NPC hates him more than the various criminals and sadists he travels with, because of how he always chides humans for their inferiority to elves. He’s a shadow monk and can turn himself invisible or make a small zone of silence a very few times a day.
Finding themselves trapped in the basement, and apparently bored of their new game “open-the-crypt,” the group decides they need to take a breather and rest for eight hours (it’s still early morning, game-time). Morthwil plays around with the rings he found on Strahd’s dead girlfriends, former inhabitants of the crypts. After a while, he’s alerted to the shuffling of feet, and lobs a fireball at some zombies. They explode into bits… and then proceed to roll/shuffle down the stairs, a big pile of arms and heads and such biting at the chars.
Man, I love Strahd zombies. Not very interesting for combat purposes, but it’s pretty cool when their limbs pop off and they keep coming.
After completing their rest, the party decides to skip the rest of the crypts—Morthwil disagrees, and wants to read all the names. This is where we see the true wit and genius of the New York Times’ bestselling Tracy and Laura Hickman, when the crypts’ inhabitants are named things like “Isolde Yunk” (dead peddler, sad trombone) or “Aerial de Plummette” (fell to his death, sad trombone). Morthwil promptly gets bored with these bad puns and agrees to go upstairs with everyone else.
After ascending a spiral staircase, they find themselves on a fog-shrouded corridor in the Larders of Ill-Omen. Rather, most of them find themselves there, as Morthwil is a mere two inches taller than the fog; their work-around is for him to place his toad Torchie on his head and have it guide him around. A figure approaches them from the fog, slightly crazed, telling them they need to go to their rooms so they can be served dinner in between his really obscene jokes. After about five seconds of him, Morthwil gets bored and burns him to death.
Yes, it’s going to be another Morthwil-centric episode, folks. I think he’ll be the one who gets his own spin-off.
With the room now filled with fog, smoke, and burnt corpse, and with his companions chiding him for burning people to death again, Morthwil sneaks through a portcullis and investigates a wine cellar. He finds that while wine only gets better with age, most kegs do not, and not much is left but rotten wood.
Moving on, they investigate a closet, find two sets of stairs, return to the fog room, and enter the kitchen—their recently-burned acquaintance had mentioned he was making dinner. Purty tips over the pot while the others look around at silverware and a gore-covered club; out of the icky green goo that was dinner emerge three zombies! It’s neither much of a fight or much of a dinner.
The group continues to explore the Larders of Ill-Omen, finding a lot of rotting furniture, rusting armor, and a pittance of anything else. (There is a nice junk room full of dead adventurers’ gear, though this was mostly ignored.) The party faces adversaries twice more in the Larders. First is a group of skeletons which go after Morthwil, and they are re-killed without effect. Second is a shadow demon in the Office of Vengeance, which gets the drop on Ren but is battered and driven forth; Nails finished it off with a Hellish Rebuke after it turned incorporeal and tried to escape through the walls.
Now, the party has uncovered about a half-dozen staircases leading up, and about as many leading back down; they know they don’t want to head back down, and they don’t want to take one of the main stairways up, so they head to a small and unassuming staircase off in a closet. They’ve already investigated it once, when Morthwil snuck down it and looked around. Instead, it takes until the third check before the trap is sprung.
Ren is trapped when a portcullis falls between him and Purty, with another between himself and Morthwil/Nails; worse, a falling block trap descends on him from the ceiling, and he succumbs to sleeping gas via botching his Constitution save. Morthwil, having proven he can squeeze between these portculli back at the wine cellar, squeezes through and by the luck of a halfling, shakes off the sleeping gas. Inside, he realizes the trap is a bit more insidious; the block will trap the others, but the section he’s on is slowly rising into another room that looks suspiciously like a kitchen.
Thinking fast, Nails pulls a crowbar out of his backpack and tries to give it to Morthwil to pry the portcullis open. Instead, Morthwil puts on Ren’s gauntlets of Ogre Power, and proceeds to bash down the damn portcullis using Ren as a battering ram. Covered in (Ren’s) blood, he falls out of the trap just before the block slams shut, trapping Purty on the other side. Ren’s broken a couple of bones and his back, but Nails heals him up fine. Deciding Purty would have headed up, they go to the next level to meet him.
Meanwhile, Purty shrugs and heads down the stairs. He finds himself in a dark corridor, standing in knee-deep, dank water. Torches flicker up and down the hallway to a four-way intersection, and from somewhere down there he hears someone crying for help. Walking ahead, he triggers a pit trap that would have dropped him into a pit full of water. It’s lucky he survived falling into that, as Ren is the only one equipped to survive such a trap, with his Ring of Waterbreathing, Trident of Fish Command, and Cloak of the Manta Ray.
Purty walks far around that trap to avoid it. He promptly falls into another trap on the opposite side of the hallway and drowns.
The rest of the group head back to another stairway and go up; they find themselves on the ground floor of the castle, and run into a dwarven fighter, another adventurer who’s lost in the castle. They clear out a few sections of empty castle, looking out over the sodden grounds at Morthwil’s riding dog eating… something. Heading back to the stair room, Morthwil decides to lead the party in ascending the large spiral staircase to the tower rising hundreds of feet above them.
About ten feet up, a red glass heart at the top of the tower starts beating. About thirty feet up, it starts shaking back and forth, and Morthwil is tossed back down to the start of the tower. The others begin running up, dodging a series of halberds which slice out of the walls at them; Morthwil decides to crawl, but after five minutes of that becomes bored, and is thrown back down when he tries to stand up and takes a halbard to the face.
Nails, Dwarf Fighter 1, and Ren make good progress running up the stairs, until Ren botches a roll and takes 25d6 of terminal velocity falling damage. (It’s not really that much, 37 as I recall, but it breaks his back again.) Morthwil tries running a third time after Ren passes him. At the top of the tower, the other two stab and bash at the heart; they manage to cut the heart out of the wall, at which point the tower stops swaying, the red glow fades, and Morthwil catches up.
After that, they head to the roof, find Strahd’s rape bed, cut it up, set it on fire, and toss it out the window. (It’s really windy and rainy out.) They find the top to another tower, and decide to take another “quick breather” while contemplating their next move…
Hrrm, doesn’t really sound like as much got done this session compared to the last two—at least, it didn’t feel like it until I saw it’s taken some 1,500 words to recap it thus far, and we did spend about a half-hour getting food while Dwarf the First was built. But damn it was fun, a lot of character interaction and whatnot going on. The saga of Ren’s broken back, and Morthwil’s burninating the countryside, came up a lot, as did the fact Ren was perfectly prepared to survive the horrible dungeon trap Purty died to. (Imagine a group of adventurers opening up a pit trap, and this ancient old fish-cleric spills out. Yeah, we’re going to reuse that.)
We did get to a couple of my favorite parts of I6. The crazy footman of Strahd’s in the basement was offed before he had a chance to be too “helpful,” but essentially he’s a hoarder who stockpiles the loot of dead adventurers. He also was cooking three zombies—Dwarf Fighter’s former group?—and would beat them back into the pot using the nearby club, saying he wasn’t the chef he used to be. Well, if he wasn’t burned to death, he would’ve. Good times. My overall fave is the Guardian of Sorrow, the living tower that tries to stab/shake everyone to fall to their deaths. It’s a pretty wild idea and while its implementation as a D&D “monster” is a bit awkward—it’s the kind of thing I see more streamlined as a sum-of-parts monster/string of aspects and stress to overcome in Fate—it’s also incredibly evocative. Pure Castlevania-style crazed boss right there.
Purty fell victim to one of the more diabolic traps in the castle; it’s actually a teleportation trap that stuck him in a room full of water for Strahd to feast on later; as-written, he’s supposed to show up and attack. In this case I didn’t think “fight to the death under water” was worth it given that we were already breaking for lunch, and took the “let’s assume he lost” approach. Worse, I hadn’t realized until after the adventure that he’d died with several key pieces of loot on him, including the boots of striding and springing—I’d included that as a means to maybe circumvent around some of the crazy-deadly autodeath traps, like, erm, the one that killed him—as well as the Holy Symbol of Ravenloft. Oh well, they’d already used it on one of the brides, not like it was going to work for another week anyway…
Ravenloft continues to get a lot of good feedback, and judging by the lack of 1) success, 2) character deaths, it seems we’ll be doing it for at least one more week before 2016.