Ravenloft is finished… just in time for Wizards to release the Curse of Strahd adventure, which one of my other groups is prepping to play, hurray. I guess I can’t complain too much because they did expand it into a full 5e campaign that takes players from first to tenth level, and it includes some juicy Barovian bits, but I think I’ll always be a little disappointed given that 2nd Ed and even 3e saw so many Ravenloft supplements. Having the dirt for 5e is good, and making classic modules available for a new generation is a plus, but I’d like to see some original material for D&D’s many cool worlds.
A quick recap of our brave heroes:
- Nails, LE Half-Elf Bard of metalness. He’s 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, NE Human Clerk, fishhead healbot of the storm queen Umberlee. 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, CE Halfling Warlock. He 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..
- Sherman, LN Dwarf Fighter. He’s the replacement for Purty, who took a plunge into a pit and became Strahd food. He is quite literally a dwarven tank, hence his name, and his most interesting features are all dwarf stereotypes (likes ale, hits things with his axe until his axe is replaced by a magic sword, which he hits things with instead).
Session IV, or, Five Fun Games To Play With The Deck of Many Things
When we last saw our insipid adventurers, they were advancing up the tower, to the point where they found Strahd’s marriage bed, set it on fire, and threw it out a window. Because that’s their style. Needing a place to grab a rest, they descended to another nearby tower, where they pop a squat and short rest to regain some health, allowing Morthwil to regain his spells (a nice feature for Warlocks, balanced out by the fact they don’t get as many spells as everyone else). Having rested up, they of course decide to investigate that tower.
In the first room, they find a trio of cats attacking some couches. Feeling evil, Morthwil burns one of the poor things to death; the others begin hissing and yowling and become such annoyances that he feels compelled to burn the others to death as well. (This is the perfect moment for everyone to yell at Morthwil for burning creatures alive without bothering to stop him. Yes, it’s another Morthwil-centric episode, folks.) Exploring further, they find a room full of alchemy stuff, along with a door and a trapdoor. Choosing between the two, they naturally decide to descend rather than clearing out the last room on their current level.
Upon descending, they find themselves in… a closet. For the guest room that Strahd prepared for them. It’s something that never made that much sense to me; the party is supposed to have quarters set up for them (for the Gothic ambiance/Dracula references, you see), but this consists of a single queen-sized mattress. Maybe the pair of sofas in the adjoining room are hide-a-beds, who knows. The other trick is that the monsters from the floor above are designed to sneak down the trapdoor in the closet, then circle the queen bed and attack in the night.
So, now, you’re probably smart enough to put two and two together since I pointed out that a) the party ignored a room on the floor above them, and b) monsters slip down from said room to attack in the night. Unlike my players. Having determined that this floor is now cleared out, the group decides to ascend and check that one room they missed. They take a fireball and a stinking cloud to the face. See, the black cats were witches’ familiars, and the alchemy room was their lab, and had they kicked in that one door they skipped, well, things would have went all “double, double toil and trouble” on their asses. Instead, the irritated witches emerged and set up an ambush around the trapdoor. Witches were not a problem for Sherman, who was resistant to poison, being a dwarf, though Morthwil and Nails looked rather sickly. On the bright side, witches are not dangerous opponents, and the party sliced through them in a few rounds.
Having cleaned out this floor, the party descended back to the guest room, and descended again from there to the Rooms of Weeping, finding themselves in Strahd’s den/study. As they began to loot the room, a vampire dropped out of nowhere and sank its talons into Ren’s now-unbroken back. Strahd strikes first, and made his presence known; it wasn’t a long battle, as everyone whaled away at the vampire. But Strahd started off with the benefits of invisibility, and managed to use all of his mythic actions each turn to keep the pressure on the PC’s. Strahd, defeated, turns into pale mist and descends rapidly through the stonework to his resting place.
At this point, though, the party’s burned through most of their spells/abilities and have taken a few good hits from the witches’ AoE attacks, and really need to rest up before fighting anything else. Ren begins to call forth Leomund’s Tiny Hut, while the others decide to continue investigating the room. And then, finding that the fireplace is a false front for a secret door, they investigate the next room. Seeing a treasure chest next to a skeleton, they open up the chest; Sherman and Nails are unaffected by the sleeping gas, but down goes Morthwil. They drag him back out to where Ren’s leading a good old-fashioned hut raising, and leave him there.
Returning back, they loot the fake treasury for a pittance of money, though what they were really hoping for was a magic item or two. Nah. Determining that Ren has at least five more minutes of hut raising to attend to, they go into the next room, choked with spider webs except for a 5’x5′ cleaing down the middle, which ends at a mysterious rope. Nails decides it may be a good idea to turn back. Sherman decides it may be a good idea to climb the rope. As he does so, it creates a deafening GONG. Spiders emerge from the webbing and attack.
The good thing about dwarves is their resistance to Poison; not only do they have advantage on saves against poison, but any poison damage they take is halved. So Sherman is effectively taking one-quarter damage from the poison, while Nails twitches in the corner. The bad thing about spiders is that they tend to die pretty quick. They find that the rope does indeed lead to a bell, and nowhere else, but do find a secret door which leads to an actual treasury, with some magical weapons: Sherman outfits himself with the +2 glowing longsword, while Morthwil and Nails shrug and take their +3 maces for the hell of it. With that, they tuck themselves into their tiny hut for the night.
After awaking later that day, they
unzip their camp tent open up their tiny hut, only to find Strahd waiting in ambush! A million years before, I’d rolled on some random charts that determined where the Icons of Ravenloft—the things needed to destroy Strahd—were located. There was also a single room where Strahd would always, and I mean always, show up fully rested and ready for war. That happened to be his study. And having just spent eight hours resting because they had been roughed up by Strahd, they didn’t really want to get stuck in a loop of sleep-Strahd-sleep-Strahd.
Thinking fast, Nails makes him an offer—essentially to let them go now as “good sportsmanship”/to let Strahd play cat and mouse with them some more. He rolled well enough to succeed, at which point Strahd whisked himself away. (To be honest, at this point he’s got them pegged and can keep track of them, so he can screw with them later if he wants.) The group can’t decide whether they want to flee to another level or just end up fighting Strahd again in another Room of Weeping; they stick their heads through two of the doors; in one they see a dining table with (door slams), and in the other it looks like a bed next to (door slams), at which point they run giggling for another level.
Back down in a lower level, they decide to go down the far staircase to the drippy sub-basement. You know, the place Purty went to die.
It all goes swimmingly enough, which is my bad pun to say that most of the characters end up in submerged cells, the exception being Morthwil. See, Nails fires a crossbow with a rope attached as a means for everyone to shimmy across; Morthwil seems to be the only person using it, but even he gives up and drops himself directly on one of the traps. Which drops him into a submerged cell next to the floating corpse of Purty, Elven Monk. Morthwil unlocks the cage, pulls himself out, and unlocks the others. They find a lot of coins from dead adventurers, and I think a magic weapon or something, and also rescue a guy who claims he’s an innocent towsnfolk. (Don’t worry; I ended up forgetting all about him in the month between sessions.)
They find themselves in a sunken torture-chamber, watched over by a pair of thrones—for Strahd and his lady to watch all the latest tortures, you see. Some ghouls attack, Ren obliterates them all, and they progress into the next room. Here’s where things get interesting. The room is trapped and the doors slam shut as soon as everyone’s inside, an hourglass begins counting down above them, and they have to keep grabbing some gems held in the hands of two statues and throwing said gems into a flaming brazier, else something bad will happen when the hourglass runs out. Also in the room is another chest with a sleeping gas trap. Morthwil has to know what’s in the chest, survives the knockout gas, and finds a card deck. Things go to shit when he spreads them out and tells Sherman to pick a card, any card.
Sherman is cursed forever with a -2 penalty to all d20-based rolls. Pissed, Sherman draws another card from the Deck of Many Things and gains 50,000xp and a magic item, making him tenth level. (Everyone else is just cresting into 6th.) That just won’t do, so everyone else draws some cards.
To speed things up:
- Morthwil gains his own fortress and plot of land, somewhere, anywhere, but it’s infested with evil monsters; he becomes the hated target of Beelzebub, rival of Morthwil’s patron Azreal (or whoever it was), where Beelzebub decides to fuck with Morthwil just because he can; Morthwil also gains some wishes, one of which becomes important in a few sentences.
- Sherman gains the ability to retroactively go back in time and remove the result of any one action. Of course, he chooses the -2 curse which I’d stated would balance out the fact his character was twice as leveled as anyone else.
- Ren loses six points of intelligence; becoming a moron, he makes some more draws. He falls to the ground, frozen forever in ageless slumber, his soul and mind torn away from his body and sealed n an urn on the mantelpiece of the lord of the City of Brass.
- Nails gains a magic weapon and some minor bonuses; has his alignment inverted (so he becomes Chaotic Good); will gain one entire level if he single-handedly slays the next monster he encounters; and he’s buried away in an inaccessible pocket-dimension, to which Morthwil cries “No!,” and uses one of his wishes to summon Nails back.
It’s at about this point we realize two things. First, the party has been badgering me to keep running these characters after they finish Ravenloft, since they have a good dynamic going and are enjoying their party; given that the DoMT just upset the apple cart and totally wrecked the group dynamic, I think everyone realizes that it’s not really possible to continue on with this group. Sherman unbalances the party, Nails is now a good guy, and while playing through “Morthwil’s Inheritance” (some shitty run-down castle full of orcs) sounds fun, it’s not as feasible. Second, the party notices that the hourglass has run out, and that the two “statues” are golems about to smash them into go. And maybe a third thing, when Nails’ player realizes he has to solo one of them…
Session V, The Finale
This shouldn’t take long, because most of session five was taken up by 1.) people showing up late, 2) long discussions about what to have for lunch, and 3) a couple of long combats. The first was Against the Golems: Nails took on one, Morthwil and Sherman took on another, while Ren’s player made up a new character (a Palingdon, of course, whose name escapes me because he was around for all of a third of a session). Sherman manages to take out his golem pretty quickly—he’s 10th level, after all, and Morthwil is peppering it with pimped out eldritch blasts—so they take a break and watch the other golem fight.
Nails, on the other hand, faces a more difficult challenge. He ended up with a magic item—a Mace of Smiting—that will be very important RIGHT NOW, but he’s a Dex build and is designed to stand in the back and use his rapier. He takes a hit on round one when the golems unleash their poison breath attacks, which wreck Morthwil. (Sherman doesn’t even blink.) Round two, his summoned skeleton bites it in one hit. The next four or five rounds have the golem alternating between hits and misses, and while Nails keeps up casting to keep himself alive, he can’t really lay a decisive hit. Down to his last few hit points—he can take one more hit before going down—Nails manages to slay it, advancing to 7th level (with Sherman at 10th and Morthwil having just went to 6th).
(It was a pretty brutal battle, even with Sherman the Tank cutting one of these golems in half. I gave their golem full HP and it went down in a few rounds; Nails’ I nerfed down to 1e AD&D hp, which was a mere 80… and he struggled full well getting to that.)
After screwing around in the room a bit more, Morthwil uses a wish to find the location of the last item of power—the Sunblade, the only sword which can slay Strahd and prevent him from rising again in a few hours. They make full haste to the other side of the crypt to find it, and get it pimped up and ready for battle—their new Pally friend is ready to wield it as a +5 Holy Avenger. However, they’re stumped. Where is Strahd’s resting place—his tomb? Needing guidance, Morthwil does the only thing he can think of and summons Deathnut, a demonic squirrel; it arrives gnawing on a dog skull, which it decides to bury by scraping up some of the solid granite flagstones into fiery ash. They eagerly follow Deathnut as it hops along—each hop leaving a brimstone smear on the floor—and it directs them to the other side of the crypts.
The characters boldly stride forward, Sherman in the lead. Sherman disappears in a flash of smoke; in his place is a wight wearing all of his clothes and armor. Before the poor wight can attack, the party smashes it into bonemeal, as Deathnut hops off into the night giggling and praising its lord Beelzebub. Sherman finds himself locked in a wight pen, fights the wight for his freedom, and returns to the group—naked—to reclaim his gear. At this point, there’s (predictably) another discussion with how to proceed—should they just drop a tiny hut over the trap and use it as a bridge? No, in the end they decide to use one of Nails’ spells to levitate their way over it, about fifty feet in the air. With that, they arrive in Strahd’s lair! And are attacked!
It’s a pretty beastly battle; the party tries to use the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, only to realize its weekly charge has been spent—any sympathy over that went out the window when they fucked around with the Deck of Many Things—while bats fly around to disrupt spellcasting, and Strahd starts casting some fireballs at the group. Unfortunately for him, the party is decked to the hilt with fiery spells that do radiant damage, and our Pally friend is wielding the restored Sunblade, so after about three turns Strahd gets s(t)un-locked and can’t regenerate. Not too hard to kill him from there, and then stake and kill him when he reappears in his coffin a few seconds later. All hail, victors of Ravenloft! Insert montage of the group heading back to town on their horses and riding dog, packing up, and leaving a realm now sunny and filled with green fields and flowers.
This was actually something of a slog; I started running it as a “Halloween game” on All-Saints Day (Nov 1st); it ran once more in November, twice in December, and once in January, due to schedule conflicts around the holidays. It completely disrupted my friend’s attempt to run some Edge of the Empire modules due to sheer popularity, and in lieu of continuing on, he decided to carry the torch by running Expedition to the Barrier Peaks (which is its own set of nonsense, to be honest).
I wasn’t really expecting the characters to use the Deck; I’ve seen it come up in a few other modules, but the veteran players had a habit of shoving it in a lockbox and pawning it off for money rather than letting the group go mad with card envy. It did lead to one of the two—technically, two of the three—character deaths in this adventure, which is saying a lot. As a challenge, most of the monsters were pretty good, though if I was running this again, I’d do more shadows/wraiths and remove most of the skeleton/zombie encounters altogether. I also didn’t bother rolling random encounters all that often, maybe once or twice a session when things were getting too quiet.
Overall, Ravenloft was a fun module and a blast to run/play; a lot of positive feedback from my players. They were a bit peeved at the sheer amount of anthropomorphized scenery and building parts, though that does fit the Gothic ambiance; I thought the plot could have been a little clearer—it’s kind of muddled unless you just do a big infodump or two—though there’s a good balance of encounters in the module. Some combat, some traps, some crazy people to RP (most of which were avoided, like the vampire mistress, or forgotten, like Lukas the hostage/werewolf). There are a few things I might tweak if I ran it again, but really, it’s a solid all-around dungeon crawl with the typical attached town where the players acquire rumors and loot.