Saturday, July 16, 2011

Gothic Greyhawk - Game 34 - Ravenloft!

Cast of Characters:

Mordecai, a Cleric-5: Adam
Forlorn, an Elf-4: Bo
Mister Moore, Magic User-5: Mike
Soap the Wizard, Magic User-4:  Nogal
Barzai, a Cleric-4:  Ben
Shy, a Fighter-4:  JR
Arden, an Elf-1:  Z

Phat Kobra, a Dwarf-4
Zeke, a Fighter-4
Starkweather, a Thief-4
Grumble the Smug, Halfling-4
Serge, a Fighter-4

AD&D 1E, I6 Ravenloft

"Hey you in the mansion", called the vampire from beyond the gate.  "I know you can hear me, I can smell you cowering in fear behind the barred door.  That was both brave and foolish, spurning the hospitality of my castle.  You have something that I want - something beyond just getting Ireena.  I wanted to be able to talk to you about it, in a civilized way, but now you've holed yourselves up in that house and won't invite me in.  I expect you to be back in my castle tomorrow, ready for our visit - the carriages will be waiting for you.  Otherwise, I'll return tomorrow night and fireball this place...  The flight down from the castle is tiring - I must now go and feed on the peasants.  And it's all your fault".

That's how we opened last week's game of Gothic Greyhawk (and this report will catch us up to the present - next game is tomorrow night).  The characters spent the rest of the night resting and reflecting on the vampire's words, and much time was spent in the morning debating potential courses of action.  Should they fortify the mansion and spend an extra day making preparations?  Should they take the carriage rides the vampire offered and try and survive in the mansion?  Ultimately, a vote was held, and the group settled on spending an additional night in the town so they could have two days of the cleric preparing continual light objects for their foray into the murky crypts beneath the castle.  On the second day, they would set out at the crack of dawn, and finish the vampire off in a single day.  Best laid plans.

So they spent the first day healing, recovering spells, reading books and testing magic items.  Arden has been toting around a wand, presumably a wand of fireballs, but he doesn't know the command word.  So he spends all his free time pointing it somewhere safe and throwing out random command words.  "Flame on.  Inferno.  Blammo.  Burn.  Burnorama.  Burnomatic.  Burn baby burn!  Cinder.  Cinderama!"  And so on.  No luck so far.  And Forlorn has finally decided to start reading the Book of Unspeakable Shame they've been carrying around, a grimoire liberated from Death Mountain that describes all the vile practices of the Death Cult - the necromancy, necrophilia, necrophagy, and other fine points of Orcus worship.  I guess there's just something about that fresh Barovian mountain air that inspired him to start such an interesting page turner.

They did learn a valuable lesson in all this - the Lord of Barovia doesn't lie.  When he says, "If you're not in my castle tomorrow night, I'm going down there to fireball your mother-frackin' house", you can bet the mother-frackin' house is getting torched.

Across the dirt lane from the front of the mansion were some village houses - the edge of the town.  Shortly after nightfall, Soap - on watch - noticed something streak towards them from one of the rooftops - like a bright star cluster shot from a roman candle.  It kept getting bigger.  "Incoming!"

The front of the mansion exploded into flame, spewing fiery debris everywhere and doing 10 points of damage per character (most of them had ditched behind furniture and overturned tables, reducing the damage) and the fireball was really aimed at destroying the second floor and burning down the mansion, anyway.  Arden was unconscious, and while they tended to him (slipping him the wood, duh huh, duh huh), others cleared a path through the wreckage so the party could escape out the back door.

As they watched the house burn from the backyard, they heard the wrought iron gate get wrenched out of the ground (tossed over the house by immense strength) and something large and bulky began smashing it's way through the burning ruin.  Whatever it was, it kept coming, smashing supports and timbers to expedite the collapse of the house, carrying burning sections of the house on its shoulders.

When it finally smashed through the back wall, showering the group with cinders and shards of wood, they saw a 16' tall misshapen thing made of earth and rock, wielding a burning timber.  An earth elemental!

The group quickly fell back from the elemental, forming a battle line with the fighters moving forward.

You might think a 16HD earth elemental is too much for a group of 4th and 5th level characters, but when the group is rested and has all their spells, they're formidable.  The casters unloaded their magic missiles (the clerics supported via Holy Chant and Bless - so good!) and the elemental only lasted a few rounds - just long enough to send Zeke sprawling out of the fight, badly injured.  3d8 per hit plus burning will leave a mark.

Unbeknownst to the players, Strahd had been moving half speed around the mansion in the dark, controlling the elemental, and with the destruction of his conjuration, he launched into the second part of his attack - the players heard the command words of a spell off to their left in the trees, and then Barzai the cleric was suddenly gone!  Arden, with keen elven sight, saw a mouse scurry into the scrub from where Barzai used to be standing, and they feared a polymorph spell was used on him - but Strahd was practically in their face, and the group wheeled to the left, quickly lighting torches from the burning remains of the mansion and moving into the trees to engage the vampire before he could keep casting.

Their torchlight revealed the vampire just within the tree line, putting the final touches on yet another spell.  The vampire launched skyward, his shape melting and sprouting wings as he jumped into the air.  The fighters braced for some new sorcerous attack, but quickly lost the vampire in the night sky

Everyone had forgotten about Barzai.  In the dark field beyond their vision, there was the piercing cry of a bird of prey on the attack (some kind of large owl) but no new attack came from the vampire.  Later, the Barzai-mouse couldn't be found.

They gathered themselves together and went to find a new shelter in the village - there was no dearth of empty, unoccupied dwellings from which to pick.  However, they finally chose to go to the village chapel and seek sanctuary with Father Danovich.  "Our friend Barzai has been lost to us, Father Danovich", began the charismatic Mordecai.  "It's time you became a man of action, and went with us to fight the vampire - we can't do it with a single cleric.  If we don't team up and act now, there won't be a village to protect".

I like it - not even a moment of silence for poor fallen Barzai - they immediately put out the "Help Wanted" sign and went right into recruitment.  We ended there for the night.

Epilogue / Cut Scene:
In one of the highest towers of the castle, the vampire held the terrified cleric Barzai dangling off the ground, pinning his neck to the wall.  "Who has it?  Who has the [X]?  Stare into my eyes and tell me what I want to know."  Hypnotized, the cleric told the vampire all the details about what he was after.  A moment later, Barzai's corpse, drained of life energy, was tossed casually aside.  The vampire stepped out into the night air and looked down through the mist at the village, a thousand feet below.  "Soon will my plans come to fruition".

This scene was presented in game, but much like here, I omitted the identity of Strahd's target so as not to reveal anything to the players they shouldn't know yet...

I ran plenty of White Wolf stuff in the 90's, and loved the emphasis on putting cut scenes and foreshadowing into my sessions… one of the flaws in a straight 2nd person narration is that any villains the DM creates often don't get enough face-time with the PCs to develop a relationship.  How can you really hate someone if you only see them in the boss fight and listen to their crappy monologue right before they die?  The sense of achievement when finally defeating them is constrained.

Ravenloft is nice from the perspective that the villain naturally recurs due to vampiric resilience and tricks.  Giving the players an opportunity to see what's happening in 'Strahd's world' only deepens the hate they're feeling towards him.



  1. Well done, both in the epic(!) battle with the elemental and the drama of the cut scene.

  2. That must be the advantage of the vampire as antagonist; the capacity to have them turn up, do something vile within the confines of second person narrative, and survive to do it again and again. I like liches for the same reason - the buggers keep coming back until that phylactery is destroyed, and they have their reasons for becoming a lich and their agendas for doing that. Traitors are also good - a character that the players have interacted with turning on them and becoming the Big Bad gives an immediate relationship and a big question. Or villains who show up defended by forces the players can't overcome, do something vile, then leave.

    Does that last one feel like cheating, grandstanding or some other unworthiness? I'm not sure. It's a way of introducing a villain within a context that says "it's not time to kill me yet" and maintaining the second person narrative, but it does clash somewhat with the expectation that what is encountered is to be fought and overcome.

  3. Von - the presentation of an "undefeatable villain" needs to flow naturally from the context.

    Let's the players were previously bullied by the evil Baron's knights in town. Now they run into the Baron in the wilds with all of his knights - the players know it's a fight they couldn't win. The baron will get away with whatever haughty knavery he inflicts, but his invulnerability (here) flows naturally.

    Villain immortality only feels like a railroad when the villain should be defeatable but for DM fiat.

    The expectation to fight everything encountered really goes away in a sandbox where there's no game balance - low level guys can easily run into dangerous monsters if they leave the borderlands, and hopefully they invested in good sneakers (trainers).