This was going to be one of those sessions. I think everyone felt it. Something was going to happen and it probably wouldn’t favour the party.
The group doesn’t have a dedicated healer, instead healing is a task that’s been shared out between our Druid, Bard and Divine Soul Sorcerer. Between them, the trio manage fairly well but for this session that trip was going to be a duo as our Sorcerer unfortunately had to be absent.
Our last session ended with the cinematic unveiling of Lady Wachter’s cult. The hooded figures who were hidden incognito in the crowd had begun madly killing other townsfolk. Izek, under the influence of (presumably) Majesto had killed mayor Vallakovich in a ball of flame and Lady Wachter herself spewed obscenities and insults at all and sundry.
Fiona had a handful of illusion spells that were fun to play with if not a challenge to keep them from being overpowering. I could see how in the hands of a more contentious games master these could quickly be an unfun TPK maker. Before the sessions I’d worked out a few illusions, I’ll discuss the ones I used here but keep the others to myself incase I can use them later 😉
First was the relatively simple cage illusion. “Your character sees a cage rise from the ground around them” and failing a saving throw, believe it’s real. This was an amazing tool for shutting down our damage dealing fighter, who, with a low intelligence (investigation) score was always going to struggle. Due to some unlucky die rolls he struggled slot more than I’d anticipated. Thankfully he had a crossbow and was still able to be a factor in the battle if not at peak performance.
The second illusion failed to hit it’s target but I still really enjoyed the thought of it. The player would step into a puddle (it was raining during the battle) and the puddle was seem impossibly deep forcing them to make saves against drowning. Casting this on a Firbolg Druid may not have been the best strategy but I always try to play enemies as they would think and Fiona, having not seen a Firbolg before would have gone for it.
Anyway, the battle itself had a timed element to it. The cultists were busy killing townsfolk and I was keeping a tally of how many died. I openly displayed the stats for the townsfolk to the players and rolled openly infront of the screen. I wanted this to be transparent. Now they knew I was keeping score of the townsfolk deaths but weren’t sure why or what the total was. Well, until I accidentally said it under my breath which some keen ears picked up on(!) But the cultists needed 24 kills.
What made this especially difficult for the players was that all the townsfolk were grouped up, making weaving in and out of them to get to the cultists count as difficult terrain. On top of that it locked down their use of any AOE abilities. With our fighter locked in the aforementioned cage illusion the cultists really went at it.
Once the 24th towns member died, a beam of unholy light shot down from a swirling black vortex of cloud overhead. From within this light emerged a demon who Fiona declared was Majesto. Majesto hit like a truck with plenty of fire damage and ending your turn near him also caused fire damage as he eminated an aura of flaming heat.
By this point the group had all but run out of spell slots, health was getting low and we had multiple people rolling death saves. Still the party pushed on and little by little they chipped away at the monstrosity. With the fighter able to finally shake off the effects of his illusionary prison he dealt a massive amount of damage before Jack got the killing blow and the fight came to an end.
The carnage was everywhere. Urwin and Danika began to shepherd survivors into the Blue Water Inn which became an impromptu med bay. Husbands had lost wives, children had lost parents and parents had lost children as the cult attacked and killed indiscriminately in what would come be known as The Massacre of the Blazing Sun.
Among the dead was Izek, still alive but barely. He pulled the party in close, told them he somehow remembered them from before he arrived in Barovia. That somehow the dream they had all experienced was a real memory he had. He couldn’t explain it and didn’t have the time to. Refusing all attempts at being healed he said he wanted to be free of this world of wickedness and evil and travel on to the beyond. With his passing moment he had the group promise to protect his sister, to keep Ireena safe.
Then, as if on cue a scream echoed out from the church. The party ran to investigate to find that it was.overrun with vampire spawn. Before they could react a swirl of black smoke and bats burst in through the stained glass window, shattering it in a multicoloured rain. Strahd appeared from the smoke and immediately sank his teeth into the neck of Father Lucien, killing him whilst the players stared on helplessly. Wiping the trickle of blood from his chin, Strahd allowed the priest’s lifeless body to fall to the ground while Ireena held back the orphans with her arms outstretched.
The Vampire Lord addressed the group as trouble makers and gave them an ultimatum. Give up their leader or all be punished.
I love things like this. I love how they devolve into the party trying to scramble to come up with a solution to an impossible problem. They had just had a battle neither of them were prepared for, they were beaten and badly in need of a rest. What could they have done? If they’d made any attempt at making an attack they’d face retaliation not just from the 4 vampire spawn but Strahd himself. It was lose/lose and Strahd wanted blood. Literally.
After some deliberating that went nowhere, Strahd charmed the only female character in our group and made her give him a name. Rhogar, the group’s honourable Dragonborn Samurai was made to step forward.
Intrigued by the creature that stood before him, Strahd commented that he’d never tasted his kind before. Before the group could react Strahd ran Rhogar through with his blade instantly dropping the warrior to a handful of hit-points. He was going in for the coup-de-grace when Jack, the groups quick witted Bard spoke up and convinced him not to but it was for nought. Rhogar looked at the dreadlord and told him to taste his blood now he had it the result however, was not one Rhogar meant. He expected Strahd to lick the blood from the blade but instead he took the Dragonborn up on his offer in a literal sense and drained the warriors neck much like he did the priest.
The rest of the party looked on dumfounded as Strahd then ordered his vampire spawn to kill them. Deciding this was a case where it was better to fly than fight they ran back to the Blue Water Inn with the vampire spawn in hot persuit. Having never been given permission to enter the tavern the spawn were powerless to get to the group. Erstwhile, Strahd made off with Ireena and Rhogar and took them back to Castle Ravenloft for whatever dark desires he had.
So, after helping with some of the wounded the group settled down for the night. They needed the rest and what more could go wrong? Weelllll… A few sessions ago Zook failed his roll against a werewolf bite. Being that tonight was a full moon he woke to find himself feeling very sick, stumbling out to the town square he splashed water on his face and felt that he had the beginnings of a bears growing in. Walking out of the town into the forests he howled in pain as he caught sight of the bright full moon and eventually passed out. When he awoke he found himself in a large cave, completely naked and surrounded by others. He explored for a moment and found cages of children who told him they were being forced to fight one another and the the adults here turn into wolves. Suddenly realising where he was and what was going on Zook made to leave.
Grabbing some rags to cover his modesty he headed to a tower in the distance and remembered what Van Richten had told them. Hurrying to safety Zook fled from the cave but before giving it a glance over his shoulder, just to see if it confirmed his suspicions and it did – the cave was shaped like the head of a wolf.
Arriving at the tower, Zook was taken aback by the wagon that had been parked outside. Hoping to perhaps find some clothing inside he reached for the handle. There was a large bang and everything turned white
In the distance the rest of the group saw a plume of smoke rise above the tree line and they instantly knew it was their monk ally. Without having time to grieve over the loss of Rhogar, they now had to contend with whatever had just happened to Zook.