Cast of Characters:
Mordecai, a Cleric-5: AdamForlorn, an Elf-4: Bo
Mister Moore, Magic User-5: Mike
Soap the Wizard, Magic User-4: Nogal
Shy, a Fighter-4: JR
Arden, an Elf-2: Z
Phat Kobra, a Dwarf-4: Jeff K
Zeke, a Fighter-4
Starkweather, a Thief-3
Grumble the Smug, Halfling-4
Serge, a Fighter-4
Ireena, a Fighter-4
AD&D 1E, I6 Ravenloft
AD&D 1E, I6 Ravenloft
At the beginning of this session, we welcomed a new (returning) player to the fold (Jeff), had some laughs about the article Under New Management - regarding their plan to take over Castle Ravenloft after clearing it - and then we did the recap. Jeff will be running one of the more capable henchmen, Phat Kobra.
The quick recap is that Strahd is dead, half the group is sleeping in a drugged stupor, and the wakeful members had found Strahd's treasury. The decision was made to wait for the drugged stupor to clear from the sleepers, and then plan a course of action; after all, it could be too late in the afternoon to leave by the time they woke. In fact, it was late afternoon when the drugs started to wear off and the sleeping characters were coming around. The players began to debate if it made sense to load up with treasure and try to make it down in the dark, or hole up in the castle?
"We don't even know if we can leave," someone mentioned. "Last time we were here, we needed to rappel down the walls, burn a bunch of knock spells to open the drawbridge, and then cross that rickety bridge. All because we were warned about some guardian dragon statues. Are the dragons still animated now that Strahd is dead?"
The debate shifted to determining whether the dragon guardians in the entry hall were still active. If only there was someone disposable to test? There was! Gertrude, Strahd's dimwitted human girlfriend. Time was spent concocting stories for Gertrude, building up their opinion of her status as Mistress of the castle, and convincing her to accompany them down to the entry hall where Strahd would be meeting them after dark to give instructions. Zeke, already quite enamored with Gertrude, volunteered to go down there, and dragged along Shy with him.
Within the dark entry hall, Gertrude was not attacked by the guardian dragons, but the moment Shy tried to cross the hall, they animated and dropped to the ground. He made it out of the hall before they were able to breathe, but he slammed the door on Gertrude, locking her in the entry hall. It didn't sound like the dragons were attacking her, though she was irritated about being ditched. "As Mistress of Ravenloft, I will not stand for this rude treatment; you're fired!" Apparently Gertrude was granted some kind of 'Run of the Castle' such that the animated guardians ignored her. At least they confirmed that many of Strahd's guardians were still operable, despite his death. Drats.
There wasn’t much time to stand there and think, as gargoyles began to animate near the ceiling of the rotunda behind the entry hall, and Zeke and Shy ran for their lives.
When they got back upstairs, they had to relate how they lost Gertrude in the entry hall. "There were these dragons, and then I closed the door, and then there were these gargoyles, and then we ran for it because it was just the two of us… I'm sure Gertrude will be fine. She had on her winter coat after all."
They made the pragmatic choice to go smash the gargoyles and rescue Gertrude, mainly because they knew they'd have to tackle the gargoyles sooner or later, and sitting in the room waiting for some undead to attack seemed less exciting.
The gargoyle fight was anti-climactic; Arden wasted most of them with a few blasts from the fireball wand, but some great attack rolls by the DM sent Forlorn the Elf into negative hit points; he was saved with various healing spells. The negative hit points experience got me thinking about the -10 rule and why we use it; I put up a post the other day and a corresponding poll. Now that I see it is an AD&D rule, I'm probably jettisoning it (you can sit right up there on the munchkin shelf, Mr -10 rule, alongside 4d6 stat generation, increased hit dice, and XP for magic items).
After finishing off the gargoyles, they opened the door to the entry hall (without entering) to see if Gertrude was cowering in the dark. She was not. Instead, her desiccated corpse was hung on the wall like a trophy. They had seen enough "level drain" at Ravenloft to know the tell-tale signs of a corpse killed by some malignant undead. The word must be out; Strahd was dead, Getrude was now fair game, and the inmates were running the asylum. The group quickly retreated upstairs to decide what to do next.
Sasha the Vampire Queen was rooting around Gertrude's cozy suite, strewing her silky clothes about and holding up various garments to gauge the fit. The dirt-caked, scabrous thing was surprised when the party pulled open the huge doors to Gertrude's suite, and the group unloaded on her. Blasted by a lightning bolt and caught in a fireball, her corporeal form disintegrated. A vampiric mist cloud began screaming past the characters to the safety of the crypt.
The players asked for time out and began to deliberate - do they try and follow the gas cloud to wherever it's going, or rest and recover resources? DMing aside: Do you grant time out mid game? Part of the fun social aspect of table top gaming is deliberating over the strategic choices and calculating the options; I tend to let players have a reasonable amount of time to yammer and not listen too closely. The fun the players have strategizing trumps what little glee the DM would get making them declare actions within 5 seconds or whatever (I suppose real-world time stress can be fun in small doses).
This was the player train of thought that won out: any time they fight a vampire, they'll need to blow resources; if they rest to regain those resources, the vampire will be fully recovered and they'll need to blow the same resources again. There never would be an ideal time to blast a vampire and track it to its lair. With that thought in mind, they dropped weight and sprinted off after the gas cloud, jumping stairs and doing everything possible to keep it within sight. Twenty minutes later, they had followed the cloud spiraling down into the catacombs and caught sight of it disappearing into a crypt marked "Sasha, Beloved Wife".
They stood doubled over and panting outside the crypt in the dank catacombs, wondering about the relative safety of the catacombs. Forlorn remarked, "This is probably the safest place at night - all the bad undead are out looking for meals". Mordecai got everyone's attention - "When we ran through the chapel, I saw a glowing object on the altar - the Icon of Ravenkind. It was mentioned in Donavich's book. I think we should go back for it; we know where the vampire is sleeping, and it'll be hours before it's ready to fight. We have time to collect the icon and then return to stake it".
They reluctantly left the crypt (a fatal decision) and went back to the chapel. The ancient body of a dead priest was sprawled across the altar. Starkweather confirmed he didn't think it was trapped, but there was no way he was touching the small icon; that was Mordecai's thing. The cleric gulped and stalled, until the 9 year olds at the table reminded him that the priest was an evil priest struck dead when trying to steal the icon (also something Father Donavich had mentioned), so Mordecai manned up and grabbed the icon. It's funny the obscure details those kid's remember, when you don't even think they're listening.
The party confidently returned to the catacombs below the chapel, ready to open the vampire's crypt, but stopped in their tracks when they saw a figure standing in the middle of the passage at the edge of their light. Wrapped in funeral shrouds, her face obscured by hair hanging in front, the translucent figure appeared sad and mournful. And then it exploded forward in rage and fury.
They had seen the Banshee once before, lurking in a side passage during daytime, and the figure quickly fled, unable to keen with the sun overhead. Deep underground, at night, the creature quickly moved forward and wailed, forcing saving throws around the table. Soap the Wizard, Arden the Elf, and Starkweather the Thief all died from the scream; it's miraculous more of them made their saving throws. Many that saved versus death were still frozen in place by magical Fear, unable to think straight with the deathly chill radiated by the Banshee.
There was no time to mourn the dead, as the front line fighters were quickly assailed by the slashing claws of the Banshee. They took no further losses, though Kobra lost half of his 46 hit points. Well-armed with magic weapons, they were able to quickly destroy the Banshee, but they had suffered serious losses.
Sasha's crypt door was pulled open and a few of the fighters slid the slab of the sarcophagus to the side; Sasha's body had reformed, but the vampire was still helpless and immobile. Mordecai staked the vampire, stuffed garlic in its mouth, and then decapitated her. There was a momentary sense of accomplishment, and then they considered how vast seemed the underground catacombs. If slaying a single vampire was this hard, how many more vampires would there be?
Zowie, that's where we ended. Dead bodies in the hall, the group is exhausted and spent and low on resources, and they're standing in the very heart of darkness. Plus they fireballed that upstairs bed room in the castle and took off running - what are the odds they set the castle on fire?
This was the first time Nogal lost a character in the campaign; the illustrious career of Soap the Wizard is over (barring they find a Raise Dead somewhere). He was sad for a minute, but already started pitching his idea for a new guy on the walk home - a crazed Spartan paladin that he wants to call "Leonidas". He's too young to see "300" but he must have caught some scenes of an edited version on one of the cable channels. Should be fun.
I've seen some blog talk this week about the deadliness of campaigns; I don't believe my campaign is very deadly, but there have been plenty of deaths. We've been playing Gothic Greyhawk since last August; there have been 13 character deaths. We aspire to play weekly, but average 2-3 games per month; after 37 game sessions, most characters have enough XP to reach level 5. Right now, the group is sitting on close to 60k XP, just waiting for some breathing room to secure various treasures and gain levels.