Category: Session Report

Princes of the Apocalypse, sessions 28-31

The adventurers had, by this stage, basically cleared the Air, Earth and Water temples. The Air Prophet was dead, and the Earth and Water Prophets were somewhere else – current locations unknown. Not that the players were paying that much attention to the location of the prophets.

Their current location was the Fane of the Eye, the twisting caverns that linked the four temples – and which make little sense when you try to line up the maps of the adventure. (There’s now errata to the overland map scale. It still doesn’t make that much sense). Some of the passages were blocked by a black mist that made the adventurers particularly paranoid. When the DM isn’t telling the players what the mist does, then the players are free to work out the worst possibilities and act as if they were true.

The most significant encounter in this area – at least according to Thumbelina, our dwarven (sorry, giant) barbarian, was the discovery of the dwarven (giant) thrower, a magic item of great power that the spirit of a dwarven hero guarded. This item, in the hands of a high-strength dwarf, is extremely powerful, and Thumbelina loved it.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned Thumbelina before, but it’s been a while since I discussed this campaign, so here’s a reminder: Thumbelina is a dwarf who was raised by giants. She considers herself to be a giant, and she is very, very sensitive about her height. The best way to start a fight with her was to call her short. As I (and everyone else) considered her wonderful, I took care to have her foes call her short at every opportunity. Her standard response was to growl, “Who are you calling short?” and, unless restrained to then go berserk and attack them. Once she got the dwarven thrower, the damage the party was inflicting on the opposition grew substantially. A raging dwarven barbarian with a dwarven thrower? That’s scary!

Magic weapons are important in the later stages of this adventure; fighters without such weapons were having trouble. Thankfully, weapons were being acquired, especially the artefacts held by the prophets. My players finally decided to brave the black mist, and discovered it wasn’t a disintegration field after all! It just felt a little weird and hadn’t turned their food into green slime at all.

What they did find was the centre of the Fane, where Marlos Unrayle, the Earth Prophet, guarded the Temple of the Elder Elemental Eye. Fighting a medusa always gives the possibility of petrification, but Marlos – even with Ironfang – isn’t otherwise that dangerous, and he didn’t have enough other guards with him to properly challenge the party, especially not an enraged giant (dwarf). With his defeat, the party took possession of his magical weapon (although no-one wanted to use it), and then proceeded to ignore the great altar in the cavern. Rescue the prisoner, yes (a poor commoner abducted from Womford), but they didn’t spend any time investigating the altar.

I bring this up because investigating the altar doesn’t get them anywhere. It allows them to see all four elements brought together, but that’s about it. It’s just an unknowable thing. Ultimately, the “Elder Elemental Eye” is mostly irrelevant to the adventure, and its ultimate plans are unrealised – it’s likely the players never find out about it.

One thing the players did do is interrogate the prisoner to discover if he knew anything about the Womford Bat. It was an ongoing point of curiosity in our game. No, he knew nothing.

The next area the adventurers wanted to investigate was the Fire Temple. They first attempted to get to it from below – there’s a platform that magically can raise creatures and objects into the Temple. Unfortunately, it requires a magic command word, and the adventurers didn’t have it. They considered going up to the surface and then trying to find the outpost of Elemental Fire on the surface, before they realised they could just return to the Earth Temple and take the tunnel to the Fire Temple. (The remaining denizens of the Earth Temple just let them go. They weren’t going to get involved!)

One thing about the Fire Temple: the denizens there know fire magic, which the players became extremely aware of, after I fireballed them three times in one combat. Somewhat blackened, the group retreated to lick their wounds, leaving behind the bodies of a couple of dead fire mages.

Their next expedition was more successful, and the group happily made their way through ogre, magmin and cultists as a great battle developed around the forge area. Quite a lot of magic was expended on each side, and the fighters were very happy with how much damage they were dealing.

Then they came upon a fire cultist who didn’t attack them, and, in addition, revealed himself to be a member of the Zhentarim who had infiltrated the cult. He gave them the passwords to use the platform to return to the Fane level, as well as alerting them to the presence of the Nodes beneath the Fane, where the final prophets has gone – to perform some ritual or another. He also offered to take Ironfang from them – and allow the Zhentarim to deal with it. The group were happy to do this, and handed it over.

It’s worth noting that the group as it currently stood was very much lacking healing magic. Player changes (and character changes) had left the group without a dedicated cleric. druid or bard. Jesse decided after the assault on the Fire Temple that he’d switch characters to the bard he’d used in Tyranny of Dragons. For the bulk of this campaign, his character had represented the Zhentarim, and began each negotiation with the words “Hello, we’re the Zhentarim. We’re here to help!” He always managed to get that out before any other player – something that rather frustrated our Harpers, but that everyone found incredibly amusing. His new character was a Harper.

And so, shortly after his new character joined, it was revealed that the “Zhentarim” cultist was in fact lying – and they’d given one of the main artefacts to the leaders of the Fire Cult. Jesse was not amused by this. “Why did you trust the Zhentarim?” he asked. I was greatly amused.

Running Curse of Strahd, part 5 – Argynvostholt

The exploration of Argynvostholt, a large ruined manor in the heart of Barovia, began under strange circumstances. I doubt many adventurers have explored a haunted mansion whilst the entire population of a village is camping on the front porch!

The adventurers had gone to Vallaki to find the wedding dress the Abbot wanted, but they were worried about how Ireena was faring back in Krezk. So, they decided to use a sending spell to contact her, and were terrified when instead of Ireena, they discovered they’d contacted Strahd instead!

The group rushed back to Ireena before Strahd could abduct her and, not only did they evacuate Ireena, they also evacuated the entire village, as they feared what would happen when Strahd discovered the villagers had been hiding his chosen.

Thus, the adventurers and the entire village (wagons, dogs, horses) trudged up the winding path to Argynvostholt, one-time home of the Knights of the Silver Dragon, a militant order that Strahd had destroyed many centuries ago. While the villagers waited outside, the adventurers explored the main manor, discovering that the main hall was large enough for the villagers to gather, and that a trio of fallen undead knights were keeping vigil in the chapel and were not pleased to find the adventurers (and the villagers) there. This was not an easy fight for the adventurers, especially as fleeing was a poor option due their obligation to the villagers, but they eventually prevailed.

With the knights dispatched, the villagers moved into the main hall and set up camp, uncomfortably, and the adventurers continued their exploration of the place.

Argynvostholt can, with a little effort, be a very creepy place to explore: a crumbing edifice, with things lurking on the edges of the adventurers’ vision. Or you can get my group. When the barbarian of the group discovered a severed head in a closet that looked exactly like hers there was not the sense of horror I was hoping for. Instead, it was “Cool!” and “I’m taking it with me!” In later sessions, she’d throw it ahead of the group to distract their foes.

The weaker parts of play in Argynvostholt were when the party just explored room after room – many of which are empty. Play was much stronger when a smoky spirit led them directly up to the spirit of the one-time commander of the Order, Vladamir Horngaard, who could explain the secret behind the fall of the knights. His defeatist monologue strongly reinforced the corruption that Strahd had brought to the land. A later encounter with a statue that explained (in poetry) the way to break the curse on the Order was the other highlight. Previous clues to nature of the curse had been missed by the players.

My advice for playing Argynvostholt is to not treat it as a straight-up exploration scenario. Don’t require the players to map and explore every room. Summarize the cumulative effects of the emptiness and decay, and skip to encounters of interest. You can give the players some choices (do you wish to continue investigating this level or move higher?), but there’s a high chance that standard dungeon-crawling techniques will dissipate the tension and horror.

I ended this section of the adventure with a rider coming up along the road to the manor – it was a young, Vistani woman, who would prove important to the story to come.

Running Curse of Strahd, part 4 – Yester Hill

Life’s been a little crazy recently, so while D&D games have continued, blog updates have not. Many apologies for that!

When we last saw our brave band of adventurers, they were heading off to Vallaki to find a wedding dress for the Abbot’s “Bride of Strahd”, but as it turned out, they decided to go back to the Wizard of Wines winery to pick up some more wine for the village (to make the townsfolk more helpful). Did they actually make it to Vallaki this session? Not a chance! Instead, they were thrust back into the conflict between the winemakers and the evil druids.

One of the things about Curse of Strahd is that it has a lot of information in it. You are likely to miss things. I’ve been running games for over 30 years, I read books extremely quickly… and I still miss things. This is a normal part of running Dungeons & Dragons. The fact is that most D&D adventures are written with far more information in them than you actually need. However, as the information each person needs is different, a published adventure needs to cover a large array of DM and player types.

The other thing is that just because something is in the adventure doesn’t mean that you have to use it. My adventure has been proceeding extremely well without using everything provided. Sometimes it’s not there because I missed it, but there are also times it’s because I made a conscious decision not to use it. Thus, in this play-through of Curse of Strahd, there has been no mention whatsoever of the stolen gems of the vineyard. (I am using them as a major plot point of the other campaign I’m running, however!)

However, even without the gem quest, the vineyard is still an interesting place. Mainly because, upon arriving there, the players learnt from Davien that his family had still been seeing blights and druids in the area… and they’d been coming from the south.

This led the adventurers to Yester Hill. I love the hill. There’s part of my background that means I find the idea of creepy druids living on hills really, really cool! I’m not so sure that the players feel the same way. They came to the hill, and were soon alerted to the presence of the Blood Spear by the ghost of its one-time possessor. And they took it without a second thought. Potential cursed magic weapon? Did someone say magic?

The hill was eerily deserted – no druids. Just stone cairns and the summit… with its great wicker statue of Strahd. By this time in many other games, Strahd has already made an appearance. Not so here – he’s been conspicuously absent. But only in body; the players have been hearing plenty of stories about him…

The group slowly began to approach the statue, and it was then that the druids began to arise from “graves” dug around the summit. The adventurers were not really prepared for this, and, after slaying a couple and seeing more druids were forcing their way out of the ground, they fled. Back to the winery, where they prepared for an assault by the druids.

It should be noted that the adventure says that the druids all arise at once. We were down in players this session, so that was a certain way of getting a TPK… and, contrary to some reports, I often don’t want to get TPKs. So, instead, I set up the combat in a way that it allowed the players to escape. (The other group I ran it for had all the druids rise at once, but as the graves were a long way apart – perhaps 200 feet from the furthest to the party – they had time to deal with small groups of foes before reinforcements arrived. That was still a tough combat!)

I threw a few incidental blight attacks on the adventurers as they travelled to and from the hill, just to keep the threat everpresent in their mind. And then came the Tree Blight attack…

This is described in the adventure as something that happens if the players leave the winery without dealing with the druids. I actually kept it in about the same timeline as written, but this play found the blight attacking the winery when the adventurers were there. And, in addition, they had been preparing for an assault: digging trenches, making barricades and the like. So, when the massive blight emerged from the forest line, they could see it… half a mile away!

Seeing a monster that far away gives players options. And, in their case, it was to wait until it reached the extent of their long-range attacks, and then let loose with everything they had. It dashed towards them. Occasionally it dodged. And it still went down, thanks to it being caught in the open. The players had gone to the trouble of describing how they were preparing for an assault, and so they benefitted from their actions. That’s the thing about a RPG: you can reward the players for good planning even if it isn’t described in the book!

Following the defeat of the worst the druids could throw at them, the group returned to Yester Hill. There, they found a great black tree, the Gulthias Tree (familiar to all of us players who were around in 2000 when 3E was first released as a major plot-point of The Sunless Citadel). Many blights were defending it, but the group were able to destroy them, and retrieve a magical axe left behind by a noble warrior who had fallen to the druids while attempting to destroy the tree. With the tree finally destroyed, the group headed back to the winery. This time, Davien decided he’d accompany him, as he needed to visit his estranged son in Vallaki. And so the next stage of the adventure got underway with the druids no longer a threat…

Running Curse of Strahd, part 3: Krezk

In our previous installment, the adventurers had defeated the druids and blights that had taken over the Wizard of Wines winery. It was now time for them to go to Krezk with the winecarts, fulfilling their pledge to the villagers and thus gaining access.

The trip back occasioned a couple of minor attacks by wolves and stray blights, but both those threats were dealt with efficiently, much to the approval of the winemakers who were accompanying them. Soon enough they were climbing up towards the mountain town.

The inhabitants of Krezk were overjoyed to have the wine arrive, and gratefully welcomed the adventurers into their village. There they met the town’s burgomaster, an elderly gentleman who was possessed of a great sadness. The adventurers learnt from him of strange goings-on in the abbey that stood even higher up the mountainside. It seemed that there had been screams heard and that none of the villagers had seen anyone except for the bishop.

The sadness of the burgomaster was explained when the players found the graves of his children begin his house, taken from him by illness.

Ireena stayed with the burgomaster and his wife as the players ascended to the abbey. It was not in a great state, with much of the grounds overgrown and wild. The gatekeepers proved to be strange, misshapen creatures that were part beast and part human. They welcomed the adventurers and offered to escort them to the bishop, an offer that was accepted by the players.

They were taken to the courtyard of the abbey and told to wait until the abbot could see them. The gatekeepers then scurried away to inform the abbot of the visitors.

Investigating their surrounds, they discovered another malformed creature hiding within the well. This creature was not happy to see them and attacked! However, it was hampered by a chain tethering it to the well, and it was soon killed. The adventurers threw its lifeless body back into the well.

The abbot then arrived. He was an authoritative, handsome man, and he was happy to greet the party. They were soon disturbed by his words, which displayed obsession and a mind that migt not be entirely sane.

He describes how he was creating a bride for Strahd, and displayed his work: A gruesome creature made of many body parts stitched together. The abbot revealed he lacked one thing: a proper wedding dress for the bride. He implored the group to procure one for him. They agreed, as it is wise to not disagree with powerful madmen.

The players returned back to the village of Krezk, wondering whether the abbot’s plan would work, and decided it was worth a try if it could lessen the threat of Strahd. They would go to Vallaki, and there search for an appropriate dress!

DM Notes

Krezk is one of the more challenging areas for me to run. The actual village is quite odd: more trees than people! There’s not that much happening in Krezk proper, and it has few defined NPCs to interact with – which means that DMs who are good at making up a bunch of characters aren’t going to be hindered by existing lore so much. The interest is in the Abbey.

That said, the Burgomaster’s sorrow can be emphasised far more than I did here. I find these stories of loss to be incredibly compelling if run well; highlighting the effect Strahd has on the land, and heightening the desire of the players to defeat him.

The abbot is fascinating: a fallen deva who Strahd has made quite mad. We get echoes of the Island of Dr Moreau and Frankenstein here, although my group didn’t explore it much. That’s something to keep in mind when running Curse of Strahd: there are areas that the players will only touch upon lightly. You can successfully run the adventure without going to the majority of the locations. They’re there to give you material with which to run the adventure, but the adventure doesn’t require you to use them.

So, this section of the adventure served to give a (temporary) resolution to the Ireena quest: she would stay with the Burgomaster until the players found a better way of protecting her. Meanwhile, the players chose to humour the Abbot by finding a wedding dress; they had a new quest!

Running Curse of Strahd, part 2

Vallaki, the fortified town to which the adventurers took Ireena, is an important place in the progression of running Curse of Strahd. It provides a place where the players can rest between expeditions and also provides a number of NPCs who can guide the players towards quests.

The Blue Water Inn is the hub of this. We tend to think of adventurers being given quests in taverns as a cliché. However, in the fantasy world, if a person wants to hire adventurers for a quest, the tavern is the most likely place to find them; it’s not like travelling adventurers have an office! The advantage of the tavern is that it can be frequented by whoever the DM considers important, and from there they can interact with the players.

I took note of the map of Vallaki as the adventurers entered the town, so that I could describe notable features to the players as they entered and made their way to the inn. From the east gate, this meant there was one item of interest: the carnival wagon of Rictavio. Mel was quite taken by it, but the group resolved to get to the Inn first before investigating further.

At the inn, they met the owner, Urwin Martikov. He’s one of those characters that could be quite important to the campaign – even more so if their Fortune so indicates. His initial interaction directed the players towards the Wizard of Wines Winery, one of the easier quests in the campaign. The players weren’t free to accept yet, but they promised to investigate when they could. They were a little split over whether to leave Ireena here or take her to the Abbey, so they left her at the Inn while they investigate the town a little further.

This brought them to the realisation that Vallaki wasn’t quite… right. Signs in the town square revealed that the town’s burgomaster was holding festivals on a weekly basis and was trying to force the citizens to be happy. (“I’m glad you’re happy.” “I’m happy you’re glad!”) They followed his henchman, who was putting up new posters advertising the newest festival, to the Burgomaster’s home, but chose not to confront him yet. Instead, they decided to get Ireena out of there as quickly as possible, which would be the next day.

That evening, they met Rictavio, bard and carnival master, who was staying at the inn. He’s another character that will grow in importance as the campaign continues, but for now it was just a basic introduction to the NPC. He told stories and interacted with the characters, thus letting them know that he was a character to pay attention to, but I didn’t want to distract the players from their main quest just yet.

The players continued onto Krezk, the location of the Abbey, the next day. And there they were denied admittance. The adventurers asked the obvious question: was there any way they could enter? Well, apparently there was: they’d have to prove themselves worthy. What could they do? Find out what was going on with the Wizard of Wines Winery, because the village needed wine and none had arrived!

And so now the players were directed, very firmly, towards the Wizard of Wines.

Upon arriving at the winery, they discovered the owners, the Martikov family, had been driven out by evil druids. We ended the session on a cliffhanger: as they approached the main building, dozens of blights emerged from the vines around them, closing upon them as they searched for a way in…

The second session revolved entirely about fighting the druids and their blights in the farmhouse.

The tone of this session can change dramatically depending on how the DM approaches it. If you chose, it could be extremely creepy, with blights staying just out of sight… except for glimpses from the corner of the characters’ eyes. The druids’ appearance is unusual enough just to begin with!

It could also be run as a straight-up fight, with the players having to deal with the blights as the druids and their followers each arrive a few rounds, putting the pressure on the party to deal with each group before their growing numbers overwhelm them. I might have used this method if I’d had a higher-level party.

As it was, my group were a selection of 2nd to 4th level characters, which made it quite possible that I could overwhelm them if I wasn’t careful. So, instead I kept the druids fairly static in their original locations, thus giving the players an opportunity to deal with each of them individually – and to heal between combats.

As a DM, part of the role is to adjust things to fit your players’ capabilities when needed. It’s fine to have areas where they’re overwhelmed if they enter them foolishly, but if the players are doing everything right – and especially if they’re performing an important quest – they need to face a realistic level of threat.

So, the players hunted down the druids and slew them, one by one. They discovered one poisoning the wine, and Josh revealed that he’d prepared purify food and drink at the beginning of the campaign, because he felt sure that it’d be useful in this campaign. He was right! So, the wine was saved.

The climax of this section came when the adventurers reached the druid with the Gulthias staff. The actual combat to capture him was pretty amusing (Dean’s monk balancing on the winch to fight him, and an errant thunderwave spell cracking the winch and sending both down below). Once the staff was in the adventurers’ possession, I described how all the blights were being drawn towards them. The group tried to rest in one of the bedrooms, and the blights had climbed up the side of the house and were pressing against the window glass, the sounds of scraping reverberating… and then a crack! as the glass shattered…

They broke the staff, and the blights withered away.

The one druid that hadn’t been found tried to flee, only to be pecked to death by ravens.

The session ended with the Martikovs returning to the winery and congratulating the adventurers. The Martikovs agreed to deliver wine to Krezk and Vallaki, and requested the adventurers accompany them on the journey. Something will probably happen on the trip…

And thus ended the Wizard of the Wines quest, and the latest session of Curse of Strahd. We’re running this in 2-hour instalments as part of our regular Saturday play at Guf Ballarat. For those wondering about what happened with Ireena in the Winery, the PCs left her in the care of the Martikovs as they investigated. She’s back with them now, and we’ll see what everyone does once they get to Krezk. Places of safety in Barovia tend to be not as safe as you hope!

Running Curse of Strahd, part 1

After the TPK (Total Party Kill) in Death House, we started playing the full Curse of Strahd adventure. And, of course, things promptly got interesting.

Curse in Strahd is an adventure where the players need to deal with a great threat – the vampire Strahd, ruler of Barovia – without initially having the tools to do so. There are a lot of people who think that it’s an adventure about trying to escape from Barovia. This isn’t really true. Yes, you could run it that way, but it is entirely possible to run it without the players ever realising they can’t leave. The Castle Ravenloft adventure was originally written for heroes: like most of Tracy and Laura Hickman’s work, it has a strong moral centre. When you have the players trying to be heroes against impossible odds, I think the adventure is at its best. And that’s the way I want to run it.

The introduction to the adventure was going to be key. I used the original Ravenloft introduction: the players receive a letter purportedly from the Burgomaster of Barovia, begging them to help. This is a strong start: it sets the characters up as heroes from the very start. Yes, it’s possible some players may have more mercenary tendencies – “It’s a paying job!” – but I prefer to have the characters being heroic.

The development of the introduction found the players finding themselves in an unsettling land. Old forests. Mist everywhere. Large gates opening without anyone nearby. And wolves howling.

This is all to get players into the right mood. And then came the discovery of the second messenger. The real one. The one who has the letter from the Burgomaster imploring all to abandon them. This encounter is optional by the adventure text; it’s a reward for investing in Perception. I was extremely pleased they found it: it immediately sets up a mystery. Which letter is real? Who sent the false one? What’s going on here?

The adventurers pressed on. They reached the village Barovia. The sound of sobbing led them to a poor woman, worried about her daughter. How could they help her? They couldn’t. There were no clues. All they could do was comfort her and promise to search for the missing child.

And so, into the one other building that was open: the village inn.

Here, they met the son of the Burgomaster. Now was the time to reveal the plot. He took them to his house, and revealed that his father had died. He revealed that his sister, Ireena, needed to be escorted away from the grasp of “the Master”. And he revealed that the Master, Count Strahd von Zarovich, was a vampire.

Right. We had the big threat of the adventure revealed – the cause of all ills the party would face. We had the “damsel in distress”, although my Ireena is going to be a really cool ally of the party who has some amazing sword-play skills. (She just can’t stand up to Strahd. Let’s face it – at present, no-one can!) And we had an immediate goal: get Ireena away from danger.

Having that initial goal is really, really important. It gives the players direction. In such a sandbox adventure, it’s very easy to get lost. You want to allow the players to go where they want, but you don’t want them to be wandering aimlessly. Give them things to do. And a simple road-trip, which also introduces them to the land, is a great way of doing this.

The last thing we did in the first session was meet the village priest, who needed to bury the Burgomaster. And we discovered his horrible story as well. It’s another quest, if the players wish to undertake it at some point.

The second session involved the travel from Barovia to Valliki (or the Abbey), where Ireena would be safe – she hoped! I made the decision to have her brother stay in Barovia. This is partly to keep the number of NPCs with the party under control, as I have great difficulty in properly role-playing large numbers of them. Or, indeed, two! And also because with his father dead, he needs to do what he can to protect everyone else in the village.

We had two “random” encounters on the first day of the journey, and neither of them was random. I selected them. I love random encounter tables. Really, really love them… but as a source of inspiration, not as a “you must use anything you roll” straightjacket. A lot of the time, the encounters don’t make sense for the situation. So, I rolled once or twice, saw that the results weren’t going to work for this part of the adventure, then said “the hell with it” and sent ten wolves against the party.

Note to self: ten wolves are really tough, especially against a party which is mostly level 1 characters! Don’t do that again!

No, it wasn’t a TPK. It did see a few characters unconscious, though. Wolves are very dangerous to send against a party because characters typically can’t outrun them. You need to be careful about that. If the party do run, let them throw rations to distract the wolves or something like that – otherwise situations could turn out ugly.

The importance of this encounter was showing that Strahd was aware of their flight and was sending his minions to harass them. (It also gave them valuable XP).

The second encounter was with a mud-covered man in the forest, only slightly glimpsed. Who was he? That’s an answer for another day. Enemy or ally? Could be either. This encounter helped build up the mystery of the land. (It also tested the party’s intelligence. More on this below.)

One of the important encounters of the adventure will be with the fortune-tellers, who will tell the party what they need to do to complete the adventure successfully (i.e. defeat Strahd). It could quite easily have happened here on the journey. I considered it, but delayed it because I wanted to have an actual Tarokka deck first – it was on the way, but hadn’t arrived yet (it has now!) So, I delayed the encounter until later.

As the party came in sight of Valliki, they also passed near an old windmill. Under some circumstances they might have bypassed it, but in this case they decided to investigate. Why? Well, one played had played Death House and survived (by virtue of missing the final session!) And he had the deeds to the windmill. So, he wanted to investigate it, and the rest of the party agreed – it was getting late, and they might be able to rest there.

Here they came up against some of the most dangerous foes in Curse of Strahd: a trio of witches who were grinding the bones of people to make bread. Here’s the thing: they’re not hostile unless provoked. They see themselves as providing a service to the good folks of Barovia. And they are. It’s just not something most people would be comfortable with. It’s meant to make the players uneasy. And it did.

You’re probably going to see a lot of me talking about PC “Intelligence Tests” over this series. What I mean by the term is this: Not everything in the adventure can be defeated, certainly not by beginning characters. To play Curse of Strahd well, the players need to be aware of this. They need to spend time judging the foe. They need to work out if the NPC immediately wants to kill them. It’s a very bad idea in Curse of Strahd to make enemies before you have to. So, any time the party come up against something more powerful than them, it’s an intelligence test. Are they smart enough to realise that being nice and returning only when they’re powerful enough to fight the foe is the proper plan? Or are they going to attack everything and just die?

In this case, the paladin of the group attacked the witches. And he died. (In a single critical hit – he went from full damage to outright dead). Everyone else fled, with some of the players taking special care to see that Ireena was safe. The witches continued to laugh at the party as they fled, but did not pursue. And so ended our second session.

It should be noted that the paladin was played by a pretty good player who knew he was only going to be around for this one session, so it was him helping give an object lesson for the other players. It was, however, a good object lesson. The party has another goal – avenge their friend – but again, they’ll have to wait to gain that vengeance.

That basically covers the first three hours of play of Curse of Strahd. We’re still in the introductory part of the adventure. The players are on their initial quest, but they don’t know exactly what to do yet. As the campaign goes on, I’ll explain my decisions for why I run certain encounters the way I do, and why I include them in the first place. I hope you find the reports useful!