AvocaD&D and Tabletop RPG Thread: Curse of Strahd Campaign Journal, Week 35

Welcome back to the weekly D&D and Tabletop RPG thread!  Here’s a place where we can talk about Dungeons & Dragons or any other tabletop RPGs that you nerds might be into.  Tell us about the games you’re playing, speculate about future expansions, recruit your fellow Avocados into new groups, whatever you want.

The game of D&D has 3 major pillars:  combat, social interaction, and exploration.  Combat and social interaction are pretty straightforward, but exploration can take a lot of different forms.  Your party could be making their way through a dense forest or barren desert, trying to find a lost city full of treasure, and avoiding pitfalls and traps along the way.  Crawling through a dungeon and kicking down doors is a form of exploration that often leads to combat or social encounters.  But what I really want to talk about this week is puzzles.

What makes puzzles special, as a D&D encounter, is that there’s nothing on a character sheet that’ll really help the players solve the puzzle.  It’s a challenge for the players as opposed to a challenge for the characters. Puzzles can take lots of different forms, from riddles, to pattern recognition, to straight-up math problems.  Designing a puzzle (or even just stealing from elsewhere) can be challenging though–you don’t want a puzzle to be so difficult that the players are stumped, but you also don’t want it to be so obvious that it’s not challenging.

As an example, Geek & Sundry’s Relics and Rarities show, DM’d by Deborah Ann Woll, has a puzzle for the players to solve in almost every episode.  Of course, you don’t need the elaborate props seen here.

For the DMs, how often do you deploy puzzles in your game?  Did you ever have a puzzle you thought was super easy, ended up stumping the players for hours?  Do you prefer to design your own puzzles, or do you steal them from other sources?  As a player, do you enjoy solving puzzles, and are there any memorable ones you can share?  Have you ever encountered a puzzle that you just couldn’t solve?

Our AvocaD&D group is playing through the Curse of Strahd adventure module.  Our version takes place in a pseudo-historical 19th century Earth, and the group is playing as representatives of a railroad company sent to the tiny Eastern European nation of Barovia (ruled by Count Strahd von Zarovich) to negotiate the expansion of the railway through the country.

Dramatis Personae

Our Dungeon Master is The Hayes Code, and the party consists of:

  • Txan Einreique, a Half-Elf Stone Sorcerer; the Company Representative and nominal party leader (Josephus Brown)
  • Kissi Farwood, a Human Fighter; a former solider hired as a bodyguard by Txan (forget_it_jake)
  • ENGR-23, a Warforged Artificer; a living machine employed as a railway engineer (our only non-Avocado party member)
  • Peter Peregrine, a Human Barbarian; a Professor of Antiquities with a rage-filled alter ego called Kragen Tempest (The Wasp)
  • Wickerwelt Tanglewood, a Halfling Ranger/Rogue; a Barovian native brought along as a guide (TheCleverGuy)
  • Carabelle Longstride, a Halfling Cleric of Lathander; a Southern-accented American on a personal mission of her own (Wafflicious)
Spoilers for Curse of Strahd

We spent a few days hanging around the town of Vallaki, while ENGR took some time to make healing potions for each of us.  In the meantime, Cara visited some shops looking to buy herself some fancy clothes after designing the wedding dress for Vasilika. Wick replenished his stock of arrows, buying some supplies from a local fletcher, but carving the arrows himself.  StrahdVonZarovichEventually, Peter attended Lady Wachter’s weekly book club meeting, to discuss Thunder and Blood, a book about a famous pirate.  At the bookclub meeting (which the rest of us tagged along to), Peter struck up a conversation with a man in a black cloak, with sharp white teeth–Strahd himself! Strahd was very cordial, praising us for our exploits throughout the country, including killing the hags and witches.  He also asked about Ireena, hinting that he might know we’d helped her escape from Barovia.  Peter assured the Count that we hadn’t seen Ireena in some time, since our initial arrival in Vallaki.

After the party and with a health potion made for each of us, we did some more gearing up and went to meet with the Kassimir, the leader of the dusk elves, to start off on our journey to the mountains. We headed south into the mountains, making one quick stop at the cave of the werewolves to deliver the druid heads we’d promised them.

james-webster-tsolenka-passEventually, we reached the beginnings of the southern mountains, and began climbing up Tsolenka Pass, overlooking a large lake. The path was blocked by large iron portcullis, which raised as drew near to it.  Behind the gate was a wall of green fire.  We thought it might be an illusion, but ENGR carefully tossed some strips of leather and fabric from her pack into it and they were incinerated.  Kassimir told us the wall could be dispelled, but we had to camp for the night outside of the gate so that Cara could prepare the proper spell to do so.  Luckily, the night passed without any issue, and Cara’s Dispel Magic did the trick.  We passed through the gate and continued on our way, though we saw the wall of fire reappear after a minute. The first thing we saw was a guard tower, with large golden statues of knights at the top.  We tried to open the door, but it was blocked from the inside.  Wick was able to climb up the outside wall and get in through the window, then let the others in.  Inside, we found a direwolf trophy head mounted above a fireplace, and at the top of the tower the remains of a long-dead group of knights, who had apparently died defending the tower from something, though no one knew what.  When the skeletons failed to get up and attack us, we went back to the path and continued on.

Next, we approached a bridge over a large chasm.  sangzorAs we got near, suddenly, a 9-foot-tall goat charged down the mountain from our left and tried to knock Txan off the edge of the path. Luckily, Txan was able to avoid the demon goat’s charge. Peter charged after the goat with his new Blood Spear.  He stabbed the goat, but wasn’t able to shove it over the ledge. However, Wick shot the goat and killed it. We spent some time skinning the goat, and taking it’s horns, then proceeded across the bridge. In the center of the bridge was a cloaked rider on a black horse, but he disappeared in a cloud of ash as we approached.

The rest of our journey up the mountain was uneventful, and we eventually arrived at the Amber Temple. Kassimir told us that the temple was originally built to contain a powerful evil entity, but the entity had some how managed to take over.  The main doorway into the temple was open, but we looked around the outside of the temple first.  On one side, we found a fissure in the mountain that led into a small cave.  The cave was empty, but we could see light from a small crack in the back wall, and could hear muffled voices, talking about taking shelter from what the called “Sangzor, the Demon Goat.”  The crack was too small for any of us to crawl through, but ENGR sent her mechanical bat-winged lobster companion to check it out. The lobster coudn’t speak, but we figured it was at least intelligent enough to count the number of people and report back. The lobster entered the crack but was spotted by someone inside–luckily, they didn’t know what it was, but the lobster didn’t have time to get a count.


With nothing else to do, we went into the Amber Temple.  The main stairs went down onto a balcony, overlooking the main hall.  It was too dark to see much below, but there were doors to to either side.  We first went west, toward where the cave we’d found outside was, to see who was in the temple already.  We could hear voices from behind a door, and Peter boldly knocked.  Inside, we found a group of Berserkers, led by an armored woman named Helwa, with her pet dire wolf.  They were friendly, and offered to let us share their camp, especially after we told them we had slain the Demon Goat.  The berserkers often took shelter here, but told us they never went farther in to the temple, because it was too dangerous.  The berserkers left to go find the Demon Goat carcass, and we started to explore the Temple a bit.

We found a couple of guard rooms near the entrance, and in one ENGR found the remains of a dead wizard, holding a wand. To the east, opposite the berserker’s camp, was another room, similar in size, but with a large hole in the floor.  We could see some firelight flickering from below, but decided to find a safer way down.  We went back to the main hall and started down the steps.  At the bottom we could see a large black statue of a hooded figure, but its face was shrouded in darkness.  Several smaller white statues  were arranged around it, most of them looking like wizards, holding golden staffs.  One of them had toppled and shattered on the ground.

As we reached the bottom of the stairs, a streak of lightning shot out from the large statue towards Peter, Cara, and Txan. They all took the full force of the lightning, and Cara was knocked unconscious.  We immediately turned tail and ran back up the stairs, Peter grabbing Cara as we went.  Wick quickly cast a minor Cure Wounds to get Cara back up, and then she healed the others a bit. But we decided to make camp in the berserker’s room for the night to fully restore ourselves.

Next morning, we decided to avoid the main hall and went back to the room with the hole in the floor.  There was another door leading north from that room, leading into another hallway. There were a few arrow slits in the wall, looking down into the main hall, and at the far end of the hall was another open door.  We approached and found another statue of a man with the head of a jackal.  The jackal-headed statue came to life as we approached and started moving toward us, but we immediately backed out of the room and shut the door.  Once it couldn’t see us anymore, the statue seemed to stop moving.

There was one more door off the hall we were in, which led into room that looked like a lecture hall.   We went in and found a badly burned man hiding behind the lectern.  The man told us he was a wizard’s apprentice, and his master had been killed by flameskulls in the western hall (opposite to where we were).  The Jackal-headed statue had chased him in here and was preventing him from leaving.  He wanted us to kill the statue, then find and retrieve his late master’s spellbook.

We called the session there, with two options before us, both of which would probably mean a fight.