Welcome back to the weekly D&D and Tabletop Gaming thread! Here’s a place where we can talk about Dungeons & Dragons or any other tabletop games 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.
Today’s discussion question is for the DMs out there. How much do you prep ahead of time for a game session? And does it change based on whether you’re running a printed module or your own original campaign? Do you have all the battle maps drawn out from the beginning? Do you give any thought to NPC voices or personality before the game, or just wing it in the moment? What tips would you want to pass on to someone who’s just starting to prep for running their first adventure?
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.
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)
This week, we started off by paying a visit to Zuleika and Emil at the werewolves’ den near Krezk. Zuleika offered to follow us into Strahd’s castle. We spent some time discussing our options, then decided to ask Madam Eva, the Vistani Seer, for advice and possibly for help interpreting the verse on the teleportation device we’d found in the Ravenloft catacombs. Eva wasn’t sure about the teleportation device, but she did tell us that Strahd’s heart was kept in the top of the tower and that we’d need to destroy it in order to fully defeat Strahd himself.
We spent in the night in the Vistani camp, then set out to return to Castle Ravenloft in the morning, with Zuleika, Kasimir, two Hell Hounds, and a Shield Guardian in tow. We went back in through the basement entrance we had found last time, and made our way through the Hall of Bones and back to the room with the stone brazier, surround by seven gems of different colors. As before, the fire in the brazier was white and gave off no heat. There was an hourglass suspended above, with all the sand in the upper portion, and two stone statues of knights on horseback facing the brazier from opposite sides. We decided to start by using the red gem, hoping to find some useful information. Wick picked up the red gem and tossed it into the fire. Immediately, the flames turned from white to red and sand in the hourglass began to fall. ENGR reached out and touched the fire and disappeared. Wick jumped through after, and then the rest of the group followed before the sand in the glass ran out, unfortunately leaving the Shield Guardian behind (since ENGR had gone through before commanding it to follow).
We ended up in a familiar room–Strahd’s study. We had been here on our previous visit to the castle, and we had found a large painting of Ireena over the fireplace and a secret passage to the belfry. What we did not find was anything useful in the books contained within this library. Peter tried searching through the books a second time, but we still had no luck. We decided to explore the castle more from here, and went through a door to the west that lead to a bedchamber. A young woman lying in large canopy bed, and she sat up as we entered. We talked with her enough to find out her name was Gertruda, and she lived in the town of Barovia, where her mother ran a townhouse.1 Gertruda was clearly under some kind of charm and didn’t appear to have any interest in leaving the castle. She admitted that she hadn’t really seen Strahd lately, but she could sometimes hear him through her bedroom floor, since her chamber was directly above the Throne Room. We eventually left Gertruda behind and went from her bedroom into a small bath chamber, with a clawfoot tub that was filled with what looked like blood. There were two satin curtains on either side of the tub. Wick peaked behind one to find a coat room that looped around to connect to the other curtain. Wick took some time to rifle through the pockets of the fancy clothes in the closet, but only found a handful of coins.
Meanwhile, Txan poked is hammer into the blood-filled tub and a creature of some kind jumped out of the tub, attached to the ceiling, and scuttled into Gertruda’s room. We quickly followed, but the creature had disappeared. We went back to the library to continue looking around. The first door just led to a stairway going down, presumably directly into the Throne Room. We skipped that door and went through another into a long, narrow hall. At the end we could turn left or right. On the left, the narrow hall continued, and was lined with statues; on the right was a large spiral staircase, which we assumed to be the central tower. As we examined the statues, we noticed that their faces changed whenever the lightning flashed outside, their expressions going from stoic to abject terror. ENGR idly said aloud, “Who are you, statue?” To our surprise, the statue answered, saying her name was Ismelda. She asked another question, but got no response this time. Cara tried asking another statue for its name, and this one replied that it was Buros the Strong. But, again, it didn’t answer a second question. ENGR worked out that we could only ask each one a single question. There were 10 statues in the hall, but we asked 4 or 5 questions before we found any real useful or interesting information. We learned that the statues were of Strahd’s ancestors, and that they didn’t really like that Strahd had destroyed their family’s name and reputation. They also told us that we could find Strahd’s heart at the top of the tower.
We left 3 statues with questions un-asked for later and went up the tower steps. Red light flared overhead as we climbed–we could see a large glowing crystal heart suspended from the ceiling. The tower itself was 200 feet tall, so even though we’d entered part way up, we still had a climb ahead of us. As we started to climb, the tower began to shake beneath us, trying to make us lose our footing on the narrow stairway that ran along the wall–Txan, Kissi, and one of Peter’s Hell Hounds lost their balance and fell off the stairs, down to the bottom of the tower. Kissi got back up quickly and started running up the stairs, but Txan yelled for her to wait so he could cast a spell. In the meantime, Wick raced up as far as he could and shot 3 arrows into the Heart, the last one opening a sizable crack in the crystal. Peter called his fallen Hound, picked up the other and followed, dealing with some animated halberds that attacked as he climbed. ENGR spider-climbed down the wall to get close to enough to cast Haste on Txan. Kasimir cast Fly on himself and started making his way up the tower. Txan used Polymorph to turn himself and Kissi into giant eagles, then flew up towards the top of the tower, grabbing Cara on the way up. Cara cast a Guiding Bolt, but the rapid movement of the giant eagle she was riding on through off her aim and the bolt just crashed into ceiling. The Heart shook the tower again, but all of us who weren’t flying managed to keep our feet. Kasimir shot some Magic Missiles at the Heart, and Wick ran farther up and shot again, chipping some more shards off the crystal. Peter, ENGR, and Zuleika kept running up the stairs, but couldn’t get close enough to hit the crystal. Txan, as a Giant Eagle, slashed at the Heart with his claws. Still riding on Txan’s back, Cara used her Spiritual Weapon and the Heart shattered. The shards of crystal fell and melted into blood as they dropped down the tower.
A light appeared at the bottom of the tower, and we saw the gnome vampire spawn we’d met before emerge near the bottom of the stairs. She looked up and said Strahd wanted to talk to us. But we weren’t having any of that. Zuleika immediately turned around and started running back down. Kissi, still in giant eagle form, started diving for the Gnome, and Kasimir flew lower down and threw a Fireball to roast the Gnome and her 3 vampire spawn companions. Wick raced down the stairs, shooting towards the Gnome, but was just out of range. ENGR started climbing down the wall and telepathically summoned the Shield Guardian, though we knew it would take too much time to reach us from the basement. Peter and his Hell Hounds also started running back down. At the same time, the vampire spawn started moving in. Two climbed the walls to attack ENGR, while the others met Peter on the stairs. ENGR was able to avoid their attacks, but Peter took 3 claw strikes. Zuleika leaped towards one of the spawn attacking Peter turning into a wolf as she did so, but she misjudged the distance and almost fell off the stairs. Txan and Cara dove down towards the fray, and Cara cast Bless on Txan, Peter, and ENGR. Txan bit and clawed at one of the vampires attacking ENGR, then dropped his Polymorph spell, causing him and Kissi to fall. Kissi lit up the Sun Blade in mid-air and dropped onto one of the vampires. Unfortunately, the vampire avoided the strike of the blade, but Kissi managed to land on her feet. Kasimir fired some more Magic Missiles at the gnome vampire, and Wick her with an Ensnaring Strike, restraining the spawn with magical vines. ENGR grabbed onto another vampire and cast Inflict Wounds, but the vampire was able to resist some the necrotic energy of the spell. Peter’s Hell Hounds both sank their teeth into vampire spawn, and Peter himself then entered a frenzied range and stabbed the same vampire, guided by Cara’s blessing. The light of the Sun Blade caused two of the vampires to dissolve into ashes, and the other two vampires turned and fled. Zuleika tried to bite at one as it passed, but missed, and it managed to run out onto the castle parapets. Txan hit the last one with a Firebolt as it run up the walls. Kissi chased after the fleeing vampire, and the Sun Blade’s light caused it to disintegrate.
We stopped there for the night. Next time might be our last game session in Barovia!