What a crazy session this turned out to be. For most of the week I tried to figure out how to make their first encounter with Strahd a memorable one. What monsters could I throw at them that would be a challenge? At first I thought of having Strahd challenge them to a fist fight, teaching the players humility with his own hands. A bare knuckle fist fight, surrounded by Vistani, it would have been a scene straight out of Snatch. In the end I decided to use two Zombie Beholders, which I felt were “thematically appropriate” to Ravenloft.
Two new players joined this week, a Paladin dedicated to trade and commerce named Sam and a Viking Barbarian from the Nocturnal Sea who came to Barovia to find meaning to the dreams he was having about places he had never been to. The party had rested earlier that night, in fact they had only just woken up, taken the dead Burgomaster’s body to the church and killed the vampire spawn in the basement. I did not want to send them out again without getting a long rest, so they spent the day getting acquainted with the new members of the party. Ireena’s father was laid to rest in a simple ceremony, after which some of the adventurers helped Donavich burn the church to the ground. After laying his son’s destruction, there was no reason for the old pastor to stay there anymore. No one visited the church and it was haunted by ghosts, so Sir Saggamore and a couple others helped him burn the building to the ground. Other members of the group picked up winter gear, as it was getting very cold in Barovia, then they rested for the night.
Travelling to the Tser Pool, they came to the crossroads. As they passed by the creaking old gallows, I rolled randomly to see which player would see their character hanging there. Of course I rolled Ombra, the blind Tabaxi monk. How do I get a blind character to see their own dead corpse? This is how I did it: As the monk passed the gallows, in the rear of the party, they heard a sudden thud of a weight behind them. She could hear the body swinging and smell a familiar scent coming from it. Ombra told the party about it and they all gathered around, telling her that it was HER hanging there. Guunt the barbarian cut the body down and held it. It was identical to Ombra in every way, even the eyes. They could all see it, and described it to her. Finally the paladin Sam decided to lay on hands, even though it was clearly a corpse. As soon as they touched the corpse with their holy hand it faded to smoke, which I described as similar to dry ice. I think it had a good effect on them and was a eerie start to the session.
When they arrived at the Vistani Camp, they were welcomed as friends, invited to join the party, where the wine flowed freely. Guunt wanted food, but alcohol was all the Vistani were serving. Stanimir told them the story of a wounded warrior that the Vistani protected, a warrior who was now cursed. This is actually the story used in the “Story Hooks” chapter to get the players to Barovia. Once this tale was told, they were invited in to meet Madam Eva. Not all of them could fit into the tent, so half the party went in while the others waited outside.
I did the deck reading before the session, so I had one of them flip the cards that were pre-arranged to fit with the results. I won’t put the results here, because some of them might read this and know where the clues are pointing to. Midway through the reading, I had Thalamir make a perception check to figure out what was going on, as the mood in the camp suddenly took a dark turn. He failed, so all he heard was the sound of wagons approaching down the dirt path. Just as the reading was finished, Madam Eva jumped up, sending her crystal ball crashing to the floor. The party gathered together in front of her tent as a beautiful black chariot appeared. Inside they could only see the hand of a pale man holding what appeared to be a glass of wine. Inside the carriage with him were three vampire women, scantily dressed, a red-head, a blonde and a brunette, who laugh and mock the players. Behind him is a beaten old carnival wagon, with a driver hidden beneath a large hat and long coat.
“Welcome to Barovia!” The man says, waving his glass of wine. The vampire women laugh louder this time and the carriage pulls away. As the players watch the Guunt decides to charge forward, hoping to grab the carriage. I let them prepare any spells or weapons before we rolled initiative as the driver pulls a latch and drops the side of the wagon. Two large orbs of rotting flesh drift out of the wagon’s interior, a large white eye opening in the center. The little eye stalks on its head swivel toward the players and I put down the color picture of a zombie beholder.
Well the effect worked they were certainly engaged, but they did not hesitate to attack it. I actually expected the cleric Bonk to Turn Undead but he didn’t, they just went straight at the pair of rotting eyes. The very first beam of attack was a disintegration beam but the player managed to avoid it. They all made their saves and the beholders really didn’t last long. I was pleasantly disappointed, which is only possible playing D&D. All my worries about them all getting disintegrated were for nothing. Sam, who had jumped up on top of the wagon, did end up paralyzed but the monsters died before they could follow up. It happened so fast that Guunt wanted to chase Strahd’s carriage on foot but the rest of the party called him back. Then they all proceeded to violate the stinking, disgusting corpse. I mean they cut out the eyes, squeezed the stalks like wringing a towel, all kinds of weird stuff. I guess they were just really happy to have destroyed such nasty creatures. The Vistani ran for the hills, stunned by the group’s power. Madam Eva tells them that she never truly believed they could face Strahd until now. They camped for the night up the path, mainly because of the stench coming off the beholder corpses. I was kind of hoping one of the beholders would make their Con save and pop back up but they both failed. I knew I should have made it three, kobold.club ranked three beholders as a deadly challenge but that was for 6 people, the extra player would have offset the difficultly. That’s just the way it goes with AL, sometimes.
During the night as they tried to rest, 11 Strahd zombies rose from the Ivlis River, the bodies of those who had drowned in its frigid waters. My goal was to disrupt their rest but they managed to kill them fast enough that they could return to sleep right away. The last two zombies were killed by Sam’s smite that shattered them into a thousand pieces. Ireena and Ismark chopped the remains up so the party could get the rest of their long rest. Once again I was foiled. I don’t want to kill the players, but I certainly want to challenge them the b
As they headed toward Vallaki, they saw the windmill down a winding path. Ombra told them what he had learned from the old lady selling the pies, that this is where she would have brought the child she took from Barovia. Of course they wanted to deal with these hags right away, after all Strahd had challenged them and they had overcome it easily, so why worry about three old ladies? Except I gave all three of them almost maximum hit points, I did not use the average. Also, I upgraded Morgana the mother hag to a Bauer Hag, which I believe is from Volo’s Guide. Together, and with Morgana’s upgraded winter abilities, they proved to be quite formidable. The small confines of the wind mill worked for the hags, keeping players from surrounding them. Instead, Thokk the Half-Orc Warlock began boosting people in through the second story window, first of which was Thalamir. Here’s how it began:
Morgana saw them approaching on horses and yelled out the window. They told her they wanted to buy pies. Unknown to the players, she had JUST killed that poor boy from Barovia (I know I am a horrible person.)
Thokk stands under the window, boosts Thalamir up, which I allowed as his movement, breaking through the window and firing two arrows at Morgana. Both arrows hit, but she takes reduced damage because they are not magic or fired from a magic bow. Half the party rushed in through the first floor door while the rest made their approach. For her turn, Morgana used her Maddening Feast. The hag feasts on the corpse of one enemy
within 5 feet of her that died within the past minute. Each creature of the hag’s choice that is within 60 feet of her and able to see her must succeed on a DC 15 Wisdom saving throw or be frightened of her for 1 minute. While frightened in this way,
a creature is incapacitated, can’t understand what others say, can’t read, and speaks only in gibberish; the DM controls the creature’s movement, which is erratic. A creature can repeat the saving throw at the end of each of its turns, ending the effect on itself on a success. If a creature’s saving throw is successful or the effect ends for it, the creature is immune to the hag’s Maddening Feast for the next 24 hours.
Yes, she began to eat the dead child. Thalamir failed his save and stood there in fear.
Meanwhile, Ombra on the first floor pushes over the barrel of disgusting slug, which had a demon thing in it called a Dretch. The disgusting thing released Fetid cloud, making it difficult for anyone to pass through the room. Most of the guys ran for the steps, or backed out of the windmill. Ombra climbed the wall to the second floor and fought Morgana. The rest of the battle was pure chaos; people getting knocked down, only to be healed again, the witches hitting them with powerful spells (including polymorphing Thokk into a goblin child), but eventually Sam the Paladin of Commerce used his smite and got a critical on Morgana. With only 1 hit point left, she fled the building by moving into the Ethereal Plane. The other sisters tried to follow her, but when she went too far, their coven magic was broken. Her daughters tried desperately to reach her, if only to have their coven powers back. The night hag was blocked in the doorway, while her sister was trapped on the third floor with Guunt and another player (maybe Sam?, as well as Bonk. She knocked one of them out with sleep and ran for it. Morgana appeared 120 ft away and cast Ice Storm on the front door of the house, hitting her daughter as well as the heroes who blocked her. Thalamir, now recovered, took a shot with the long bow and killed her. Seeing her mother die, the hag disappeared into the Ethereal Plane while the third one ran down the stairs to catch up. Guunt, awakened from his sleep, decides to leap out the third story window to attack her. I made him roll his attack with disadvantage and he failed an Athletics check and ended up hurting himself more than her, but it was enough to scare her into fleeing on her turn to the Ethereal Plane. I ended the session there, even though the hags still had a lot of HP left, mainly because I believe they are cowardly creatures and the loss of their mother was heartbreaking for them. Now the party has to continue on their way to Vallaki with two mad Night Hags still on the loose. Not sure what I’ll do with them, but it will be something good, don’t you worry. The player who plays Thalamir won’t be back for two weeks, so he was given the task of returning the two children they found in boxes in the floor back to the town of Barovia and better parents than the ones who traded them away for drugs/pies.