Session 17: Into the Castle

We’ve made it to the castle!  Cordelia’s player, Kristy, was absent this week due to an approaching hurricane (it missed us), but Paul was back to personify Zib.  Barbara, a player in another campaign which I play in took up my offer to join us and run one of the NPCs (thereby lightening my burden), and chose the gunslinging Ezmerelda.

The party sets off for the castle in the two horse-drawn wagons owned by Van Richten and Ezmerelda.  Ezmerelda takes this time to recount her last visit to the castle.

I entered the castle through the front doors, which were closed but not locked.  The entry hall was square, with a vaulted ceiling.  Four statues of dragons seemed to stare down on me as I crossed to the double doors leading deeper into the castle.

The next room was a great entryway, octagonal, with 4 columns propping up a high, domed ceiling.  Eight leering, fiendish gargoyle statues stared down from niches around the dome. Bronzed double doors blocked further progress east, and a huge stairwell climbed to the north before curving up and to the west.  To the south was a dark, open hall with a short passage leading east to a circular stairwell leading up and down.  On the west side of this hall was a closed door, light spilling out from beneath it.  I avoided this room.

I cracked one of the bronze double doors open, and the meager light shone into a long hallway shrouded in darkness.  In the gloom I could make out statues flanking the hallway down its length.  Fearing stumbling over a trap in the dark, and unwilling to give away my position with a light source, I closed the door without entering.

I decided to take the short hallway off of the southern hall east and up the circular stairs to the next level.  The stairs continued up, but I stopped at the first landing.  West of the landing was a door which led into a lit office of some sort.  Books, scrolls, and ledgers were scattered everywhere, and a large black desk dominated the room.  Four locked and bound chests drew my attention, but was I set my lockpicks to the first, I heard footsteps coming down the stairs behind me, so I quickly passed into the next room, shutting the door behind me.

I believe the third floor of the keep is occupied, as that is where the footsteps of whoever entered the office behind me had originated.  Unlike the undead, whose footfalls on the tiled floor of the audience hall were nearly silent, this individual had no inherent stealth, so I think it likely it was human, or another similar race.

I found myself in a large audience hall.  A single throne-like chair stood atop a raised dais to the south, while dim light entered from a huge broken window frame opening to the courtyard to the west.  On the north side of the hall, twin stairs set 20 feet apart lead downward.  Double doors on the north side of the east wall stood closed.  I tied my rope to the base of the frame, letting it out the window to have a quick escape ready should I be detected.  I could hear the sound of a chair being dragged across the floor behind the desk, and someone sitting down.  

My attention distracted, I almost missed the sound of the doors on the northeast side of the hall opening, but as the temperature in the room dropped, my eyes fell upon four armored figures slinking into the room, a blaze of infernal fire in their undead eyes.  Wordlessly, they sniffed the air, and their gazes turned in my direction.  Though my invisibility held, I had no doubt they could sense me.  The odds were not in my favor, so I quickly ran to the window, the creatures pursuing the sounds of my steps.  I shimmied down the rope, back into the courtyard.  Looking up, I could see their silhouettes at the open window, peering down, but they did not pursue me.


I ran across the courtyard, beneath the gatehouse and over the drawbridge, not stopping until I was well down the road to where I had left my wagon.  

After a brief stop at Strahd’s coach to read a wedding invitation for two days hence at dusk and addressed to Cordelia (and friends), they continue up the road to the castle, halting the horses about a quarter mile from the gatehouse and drawbridge.

They continue on foot, crossing the bridge while avoiding a suspicious looking slimy section in the center of the gatehouse ceiling.  Entering the castle courtyard, they can see the tracks of multiple sets of wagon wheels leading around to the left side of the central keep and through an open gateway in an inner wall extending out from the castle itself.  The castle’s massive front doors are open and torchlight spills out into the dreary courtyard.

Zib casts invisibility on himself and creeps up to the open gate, looks in, and sees some villagers from Wachterton unloading boxes of goods from a cart and nervously disappearing out of site, possibly through a door around the side of the castle.  Apparently, wedding arrangements are underway.  A large number of zombies dressed in Strahd’s livery stand in a large semicircle around this side yard, watching over the delivery.

He reports back to the party and then checks the other side, finding a similar wall, this time with a closed and barred gate.

The party argues for a bit over the best course of action.  Zib’s invisibility has a good amount of time left, and Van Richten can provide Ezmerelda with invisibility through his alchemical abilities, so the two of them creep in the front door to scout ahead.  Devlin, also capable of stealth goes with them but lags a bit behind, while Ismark, Cordelia, the good doctor, and Driscoll the wolf bring up the rear.

Four statues of dragons, each the size of a man stand upon platforms set near the top of  the entry hall’s walls.  Their eyes gleam and glimmer in the torch light.  Ignoring them, the stealthy group checks the inner doors for traps, and then cracks them open.  The next chamber is the huge octagonal hall with pillars and gargoyles.  A wide, great stairwell leads up to the north before turning 90 degrees to the west and climbing further.  To the south, a hall extends, with a narrower hallway off its east wall.  Large double doors in the west wall lie closed, but bright light escapes in the crack between the doors and floor.

This place appears deserted, so the rest of the party is waved forward.  They make plans to breach the double doors, weapons at the ready, and stumble into a richly-appointed fest hall.  Hundreds of candles are lit in the chandelier above the table.  The table is set with delicious-looking food and drink, and a well-dressed figure sits at a huge pipe organ at the far end of the room, facing away from them.  He plays some harsh chords on the organ, and turns to greet them.  It’s Strahd!

“Welcome, my friends.  You are a bit early for the wedding.  It is of no worry, though.  As you can see, you’ve been expected.  Please, enjoy my hospitality.  Eat.  Drink.”

The food smells delicious, but no one seems to have much of an appetite.  The visible party members question Strahd about Ireena, but his answer is evasive, stating simply that she is resting in her chambers.  After about a minute, he vanishes.  They question if he was ever really there.  Zib and Devlin admire the crystal goblets and fine silverware, and take the opportunity to fill their packs.

They decide to hurry up and explore.  As they reenter the main hall, Cordelia sees a vision of a white raven fly through the room, disappearing through the double doors leading farther into the castle toward the east.  The others fear it’s a trap and head up the great stairwell, instead.  It leads up to a wide landing with two stairwells leading up back to the south.  Between the stairs are a pair of suits of armor, both clutching large maces in their gauntleted fists.

Devlin and Zib notice something odd about the floor in front of the armor.  Zib looks around for something to test it with, and runs back down to the dining hall, picking up the roast pig and returning with it.  He hurls the platter onto the suspicious floor in front of one of the suits of armor, and the armor surges forward on some sort of mechanism, its mace slamming into the pig, sending roast pork flying everywhere.  Devlin catches the apple which flies from the animal’s mouth.

They skirt around the outside of the room and ascend the westmost stair, finding themselves at the north end of the great audience chamber Ezmerelda had visisted from the other direction.  Ezmerelda and Devlin hear the sounds of light footfalls coming from a set of double doors to the east and warn the party in time to set up an ambush.

Two vampire spawn enter the room, and are cut down where they stand by a massed volley of magic, alchemy, and arrows.

Ezmerelda points out the door leading to the office she was in before, and Zib wants to check it out.  They enter, finding a thin, bookish-looking human sitting behind the great desk, furiously scribbling in a ledger.  A rope dangles from a hole in the ceiling within reach of his arm. He looks up, apparently annoyed at the interruption.

Zib bluffs him into believing that Zib is there at “the master’s request” in order to check the books, especially the treasury figures. The accountant, Lief, is annoyed because Strahd doesn’t tell him where all the treasures are, but he assures Zib all is in order.  Zib asks about “the sword and the symbol”, and Lief says Strahd still hasn’t found the sword, and it’s almost like the sword doesn’t want Strahd to find it.  The symbol is safe in the treasury.  Zib tells him he wants to check on it, and Lief says “make sure you put out the fire first before you go through the secret door.”

Zib notices the four chests in the room and asks for the key to open them.  Lief tells him he’s forgotten where he put it, but then remembers, and tosses it to Zib.  As the gnome is busy opening the chests, Van Richten hurls an alchemical flask at Lief, which bursts, covering him in quick-burning flames which consume the accountant where he sits.  The doctor says he saw Lief reaching for the rope, obviously intending to sound some kind of alarm.  No one else noticed this.

Two of the chests are crammed full of copper pennies and those are ignored for the other two, partially full of gold and platinum, respectively.  Out come the packs, and in goes the coin.  At the bottom of the chest of platinum, he finds a book which purports to grant the reader great health and fortitude if read.  The party searches the room for other wealth, but finds nothing but ledger upon ledger full of figures.

They leave the office through the other door, reaching a circular stair leading up and down. They climb to the next landing and then through a door opening west into another dining room.  This one is full of cobwebs, and a moldy wedding cake, centuries old stands on a table.  A large harp sits in one corner, while a well-polished lute, remarkably free of dust lies on a windowsill.  Zib inspects it, and identifies it as one of the legendary instruments of the bards, a doss lute.

The wedding cake has a single figure of a bride atop it, and the tiny miniature looks a lot like Ireena.

A door leads north from this room, and perception checks are made, but no one hears anything coming from within.  They open the door, and see a comfortable lounge.  A wooden table and leather-backed chairs lies in the center of the room, occupied by a dusky-looking elf and a pair of vampire spawns.  Bookshelves and comfy divans line the walls.  A fire burns in a huge hearth to the east, above which a large portrait is mounted on the wall.  The portrait seems to be lit by a soft white light coming from something on the mantle.  Double doors in the west wall are closed.

The elf speaks.  “I am Rahadin, the master’s chamberlain.  He’s been expecting you to try to rescue her.  I am hear to ensure you fail.”  With that, he and the undead leap up.

Zib hurls a fireball into the center of the room, scorching the table, chairs, and carpet, but leaving the shelves of books unharmed.  Van Richten follows this by hurling an alchemical device that booms, creating a shockwave which cracks the table in half.  Cordelia sends a spiritual weapon dancing after Rahadin, and the enemies close as the party backs out of the doorway and back into the dining room.

Rahadin charges Zib, and as he nears the party, they can hear a cacophony of screams of terror within their heads, the restless souls of those killed by this dark elf over the centuries.  This sound builds to a crescendo, and those near him begin to bleed from their noses from the psychic damage inflicted.  Rahadin swipes at Zib three times with his scimitar, but the dice come up 2, 1, 1, shy of the 3 needed to hit Zib’s 13 AC!

The vampire spawn are dropped by Ismark, Devlin, Van Richten, and Cordelia, while the spiritual weapon, Esmerelda, and Zib work on Rahadin.  Finding himself surrounded and alone, heavily damaged, the elf misty steps to the other side of the room, fleeing down the circular stairs from which the party arrived.

Wasting no time, they head into the study and approach the mantle.  Devlin reaches up and pulls a sword hilt off the mantle.  It’s shedding a soft light, but doesn’t look very impressive.  He passes it to Zib, same thing.  Zib hands it off to Ismark, and suddenly, a blade of pure light springs from the hilt.  This must be the legendary sunsword!

As they are examining the blade, one of the double doors open, and a slim figure steps into the room.  It’s a young girl, somewhere in her teenage years, and dressed in a fine gown. Her eyes speak to a certain innocence, or perhaps naivete, not usually found in the denizens of Barovia.

gertruda

“Did you just beat up Rahadin?  Good.  I hate him.  He scares me.”

Zib has a feeling he knows who this girl is.  “Gertruda?”

She looks confused.  “How do you know my name.”

He pulls out her doll, given to him by her mother almost a week before.  “I believe this belongs to you.”

She grabs the doll, all smiles.  “At least I’ll have one friend here.  I thought the count loved me, but ever since SHE got here, I’m nothing to him…just her maid!”

“Where’s Ireena?”

“If I tell you, will you take her away from here?  If she’s gone, I’m sure he’ll love me again.”

“Sure, sure, where’s she at.”

“She’s right in there”, pointing to the double doors.  With that, she exits out of a door in the north wall, closing it behind her.

Before opening the doors, Zib remembers Lief’s advice, and starts yanking logs out of the fireplace, smothering the flames with water and ruining the already-singed carpet.  Searching the interior, he finds a secret door, but there does not appear to be a latch.  They search behind the painting, around the walls, and finally, the poker in front of the fireplace, which opens the door when pulled.

Behind the door is a room with a large chest.  Two torch sconces are on the far wall, one empty, the torch it once held in the grip of the skeletal remains of some poor schmuck who now lies draped over the chest.  Lots of copper and silver coins are scattered on the floor.  Devlin returns the torch to the sconce, which opens yet another secret door on the far wall between the two sconces.  They ignore the chest and peer inside.

A dark hallway is draped with giant spider webs.  A narrow path leads through them, ending at a door at the end of the hall.  They light the webs, waiting for them to burn, and then make their way to the door.

Zib opens it, peering inside.  More webs fill the chamber, climbing up the walls and concealing the ceiling somewhere far overhead.  A single rope hangs down between the webs into the middle of the room.  Zib’s darkvision and keen perception detects the shape of giant spiders clinging to the webs above, and he casts a fireball upward.  The webs burn, the spiders char, and the burned webbing reveals a concealed door in the north wall.

After searching the door for traps, they crack it open and find an octagonal room.  Its center is dominated by a 20 ft wide, 20 ft tall fortress of metal.  A door of some dark metal is set in its center, and many narrow arrow slits are the only other apparent means of entry.  They have found the “fortress within the fortress”foretold by Madam Eva’s reading.

We end the session there.

 

 

 

CoS Session 16 – Yester Hill

After an uneasy sleep, the party decides to go after the second gem stolen from the winery. They decide to stop by the Wizard of Wines, to have lunch with the rest of the Martikov clan before climbing Yester Hill to the south.  Two painted savages step out of the woods as they approach the turn-off to the winery, heading south toward the hill.

After lunch, the party continues to the hill, finding a large circular wall of stacked stones atop it.  Two pathways circle lower on the hill, and stone cairns are spaced evenly around them.

Devlin hears someone calling to him from one of the nearby cairns.  The voice says “Long have I waited for one who is worthy. My bow hungers for blood. Retrieve it, and rule these mountains in my stead, just like the mighty warriors from the early days of the Whispering Wall.”  He digs at the rocks, exposing the skeleton of a long-dead barbarian chief.  A longbow made from the horns of some great bovine beast is clutched in one hand. Loose around its skull is a simple silver circlet.

Devlin grasps the bow, and immediately intuits its abilities.  Once attuned, it will provide an outstanding bonus to hit and damage (+2), and whenever an arrow it shoots reduces a target to 0 health, Devlin will gain 2d6 temporary hit points.  After the magical item drought of the early part of this campaign, the items earned in these last two sessions will really come in handy. Cordelia is sure the bow is cursed and that Devlin will be taken over by some evil spirit sooner or later.  No gifts come without a price within the lands of Barovia.

They enter the ring of stones, and find the earth within soured.  Dead grass has been trampled by countless feet, and a 30 ft tall wood and wicker effigy of a fanged man (Strahd) stands along one wall.  Directly across from the opening they entered is another which leads to a copse of dead trees some distance away.

Cordelia gets a torch from Devlin, lighting it and walking toward the wicker Strahd, intent on setting it ablaze.  As she gets close to it, there is the clatter of stones from all around them, and six druids and six painted berserkers burst forth from the rock wall surrounding them.

A fierce battle breaks out, with the druids attempting to control the party with hold person and entangle spells.

Cordelia hurls one of the gems from her necklace at the effigy, catching a pair of druids in the blast, frying them instantly.  The effigy is set ablaze.

The-Wicker-Man

Esmerelda is entangled, but even motionless and at disadvantage to attacks, her shots are devastating.  Devlin’s hunters mark and new bow are a vicious combo, taking out druids left and right.

Kokhed charges at a druid, but gets caught between two berserkers, paralyzed by the druid’s hold person.  The berserkers all attack recklessly, striking with great accuracy, but opening themselves up to counterattacks.

Zib casts suggestion, telling one of the berserkers that Devlin is the reincarnation of their tribal leader.  He has the bow and must be protected against these other traitors!  The barbarian’s eyes glaze over and he cuts into a nearby friend.

The extremely one-sided battle starts turning the other direction when Cordelia missed attack rolls with guiding bolt after guiding bolt. Kokhed is on the other side of the circle from the rest of the party,  and after three rounds of automatic crits from the berserkers, finally saves against the hold effect and manages to go into a frenzied rage.  However, he has already taken too much damage, and after a single round of attacks, falls to the attacks of his foes.

Zib launched several shatter spells, which turn the tide, but finally loses his concentration on the suggestion when a druid got close enough to land a thunderwave on the tightly-packed party.

Unconscious, Kokhed is struck by the one remaining berserker standing over him, failing two death saves automatically with the auto-crit he takes, and putting him one away from death.  No one can get in range to heal him!  As the party cuts down the last of the berserkers, Kokhed rolls his last death save…an 8!  Kokhed is dead!

Cordelia has a plan!  Revivify!  But wait…revivify requires diamonds as a material component…diamonds the party does not have!  She doesn’t have gentle repose prepared, so Kokhed will go gentle unto that great night.

The effigy has fallen apart and burned itself out, and amongst the coals and ash lies a pristine green gemstone.  Scooping it and Kokhed’s body up, the party returns to the Winery. They give the Martikovs the gem, and leave Kokhed with them to allow the wereravens to bury him according to their customs.  The Martikovs curse Strahd and his minions, and tell the party they can likely make the winery work with just the two gems for now.

The PCs and Esmerelda head back to Van Richten’s tower in case the good doctor has already returned with Ismark, but he has not.  There, they bed down for the night.  In the AM, the sounds of an approaching wagon wakes them, and there is the good doctor Van Richten with Ismark in tow.

After Ismark is brought up to speed on recent goings on, Cordelia outlines her plan to get into the castle and retrieve the symbol and weapon which Madam Eva foretold in the reading way back in session 5:

This second card tells of a powerful force for good & protection.  A holy symbol of great hope.

(9 of coins / Miser)

Seek out a fortress inside the fortress.  In a place hidden behind fire you will find what you seek.

This third card is  the position of power and strength; it tells of a weapon of vengeance, a blade of sunlight.

(8 of Stars / Necromancer)

Within  the castle, a woman hangs above a roaring fire.  Find her and you will find the treasure.

Cordelia’s thought is to enter the castle in two groups.  The first would include her and Ismark.  They would seek an audience with Strahd and Cordelia would admit defeat, and act like she just wants to go home after the wedding.  They would attempt to keep Strahd distracted, while the others, known as the “stealth” group, would use Esmerelda’s previous scouting of the castle to locate the two rooms containing the artifacts and retrieve them.  If time permitted, they would look for the skull of Argynvost and retrieve it as well, hoping that its return would cause the undead revenant knights to ally with them against Strahd.  With the weapons safely in their possession and the knights on their side, they can plan to attack during the wedding.

Ismark is against this plan, as any delay would cost them freeing Ireena, which he feels should be the focus of any delve into the castle.  He is also concerned that splitting their forces would allow Strahd to divide and conquer them at their leisure.  Devlin agrees that the party should go into the castle at full strength and as a unified force.

Cordelia emphasizes that no one who has tried a “frontal assault” on the castle has been successful.  They argue about frontal assaults versus utilizing stealth to scout ahead a room or so, but maintaining party cohesion as a single group.  As a whole, they end up agreeing  that the items should be the first priority, as they would make surviving any encounter with Strahd or his minions much more likely.  They are worried, rightly, that Ireena will be well-guarded, but Ismark is adamant that rescuing his sister before her transformation into Strahd’s vampire bride be included in the plan.

Cordelia has another plan, if all else fails.  If she can get close to Ireena, she will kill her. Knowing Strahd wants to possess her above all else, she can barter her ability to raise the dead for Strahd leaving them alone (until they are ready to face him).  She doesn’t mention this to the NPCs for good reason.

With most of the day remaining, and knowing the castle is four hours away, the party loads up in both Van Richten’s and Esmerelda’s wagons and begins the journey from the tower to the castle, ending the session.

D&D Combat Tips for Beginning Players

I have a lot of new or inexperienced players in my home games right now, so I thought I’d post a few thoughts on strategy and tactics when it comes to combat in D&D 5th edition.

Focus fire

The biggest mistake newbies make during a fight is when everyone attacks a different enemy.  This is a learned response from first level, when one hit may be enough to kill each creature on the table.  In those cases, it doesn’t really matter who is attacking what. However, by third or fourth level, many opponents will have upward of 50 hit points.  With everyone hitting a different target, each monster may take 6 or 7 rounds to kill.

E.g: Your party is of 4 PCs is fighting 4 ogres.  Each ogre has 60 hp and averages 7 damage per round (with misses taken into account).  Each character is capable of dealing 10 damage per round on average to the low-AC, low-Saves ogres.

If each character attacked a single ogre, the damage taken vs. damage dealt would look something like this:

Free Fire Rd1 Rd2 Rd3 Rd4 Rd5 Rd6
Ogre 1 HP 50 40 30 20 10 0
Ogre 2 HP 50 40 30 20 10 0
Ogre 3 HP 50 40 30 20 10 0
Ogre 4 HP 50 40 30 20 10 0
Damage Dealt to Party 28 28 28 28 28 0 140 Total Damage Taken

All four ogres attack each turn, with all ogres dying on the 6th round.  The party takes 140 average damage over that period, enough to likely drop a few characters.

Now let’s look at what happens if all characters focused on one ogre at a time until that ogre was killed:

Focused Fire Rd1 Rd2 Rd3 Rd4 Rd5 Rd6
Ogre 1 HP 20 0 0 0 0 0
Ogre 2 HP 60 40 0 0 0 0
Ogre 3 HP 60 60 60 20 0 0
Ogre 4 HP 60 60 60 60 40 0
Damage Dealt to Party 28 21 14 14 7 0 84 Total Damage Taken

Wow, the ogres dealt just over half as much damage to the party as our previous example. The fight still lasted six rounds, but by the second round, one ogre was dead.  By the end of round 4, there was only one ogre left, hitting for 7 damage, while in the other fight, all 4 were still swinging their clubs for 28 damage that round!  Overall damage taken is 84, which, if distributed correctly should result in no one hitting 0 hp.

Kill the guy in the dress!

Now that we know that we should be focusing fire to eliminate enemies quickly, and thus reduce the damage we’re taking, let’s talk a little bit about how to choose who to kill first.  In the example above, it doesn’t matter.  Each ogre has the same stats, capable of taking and dealing the same amount of damage.  But what if we’re fighting a mixed group, say two fighters in platemail and a shield wielding longswords accompanied by two guys in robes carrying staves or daggers?

  • Knowing nothing else about our opponents other than what they’re wearing, we can surmise a few things about them:
  • The fighters are going to be harder to hit (AC 20) and will likely have more hp than the guys in robes.
  • The guys in robes are most likely spellcasters, and each of their spells is going to have a much higher potential damage than the fighters’ longsword attacks.
  • The guys in robes are going to be easier to hit, and have less hp than the fighters.

No brainer, right?  Kill the guys in dresses, then clean up the tin cans.  If the opponent has healers, or those capable of buffing the combat power of their allies, you should focus on them first as well, as they can prolong the life of their allies, or cause them to do more damage.  Usually, when these targets die, or lose concentration, their buffing effects end.

Knowing when to blow your load (going nova)

Blowing your load, or going nova, means dealing as much damage as possible as quickly as possible.  For fighters, this would include using battle master maneuvers and action surge. For berserker barbarians, it means using frenzied rage, and for all barbarians, it means attacking recklessly.  Paladins use divine smite on every attack that hits.  Casters going Nova will drop their best concentration buffs or damage-over-time spells and then their biggest slot-level AE nukes.  For moon druids, it means picking the most damaging wild shape forms.  Rogues really don’t have a nova ability other than the assassin archetype’s bonuses when surprising opponents, and combos with other classes abilities that allow them to get an attack when not their turn (and thus sneak attack more than once in a round).

If you are familiar with raiding in MMOs, going Nova in D&D equates to using trinkets and cooldowns to burn down those last few percentage points of a boss mob’s health before the enrage timer or in a damage race encounter.

So now that we know what it is, how do we know when to do it?  Sometimes it’s obvious.  We’ve come to the last room of a small, three-to-five room dungeon and inside is a dark mage carrying a staff wreathed in black energy, with his undead henchmen.  He cackles maniacally and swears you will now die for attempting to interrupt his master plan. It’s clear the DM is trying to tell you “This is a boss fight.”

Any time your party is facing a number of opponents which are tough for your level may mean that it is time to go nova.  If the party’s raging barbarian is under half health after exchanging one round of hits, it is time to go Nova.  If the opposing side has multiple spellcasters capable of big damage or powerful save-or-suck effects, it is probably a good idea to go nova until those threats are eliminated.  When you are facing a dragon whose rechargeable breath weapon can one shot one or more characters, it is most definitely time to go nova!

If your DM runs the type of game when there’s just one or two big set-piece battles a day, and you have plenty of time to rest in between, then you should always be thinking nova.

Tanking and limiting damage taken

Look at your other party members.  Compared to them, are your hit points higher? Do you have a better armor class?  If you answer no to both of these, you should try to avoid getting hit more than is absolutely necessary.  Sometimes it’s unavoidable.  An opponent with ranged attacks, or spells can freely target anyone within range.  Just like a player character, intelligent enemies will focus on soft targets when able.

But often, fights are with big dumb brutes, such as the aforementioned ogres.  These guys can hit hard, but are limited to melee attacks, or their ranged attacks are much less damaging when they have them.  In those cases, you can do yourself and your party a favor by knowing your role when it comes to taking damage.

Let the party barbarian, paladin, or fighter engage at melee range while you stand back and deal damage from range.  Or if you have to be in melee range to deal damage, make good use of escape and damage reduction powers.  For rogues, this means using cunning action to disengage back behind the tank after dealing your damage, or if you can’t, using your uncanny dodge to reduce the damage you do take.  Monks can spend chi points to take dodge as a bonus action, significantly reducing the rate at which they are hit.  In extreme circumstances, such as fighting giants that hit for huge amounts of damage, it may even be worthwhile for the tanks to use the dodge action rather than attacking.

For ranged casters and archery-types, simply keep a solid distance from your opponent. Place yourself so if they were to move to attack you, it would cost them one or more attacks of opportunity from your tanks to do so.  Take out the ranged enemies at first, if their are any (see focusing fire), while your tanks absorb the hits from the opposing heavies.

On the flip side, don’t be afraid to take a hit or two.  Having all of the enemies focused on your tanks stops being ideal when the tank gets swarmed, beaten down, and overrun.  Ideally, the hits should get spread around enough so that no one drops in a combat, with the majority going to the heavily-armored, high-hp party members.

Crowd Control

Based on the above tips, we know that winning combat means defeating your opponents while taking as little damage as possible.  We focus fire on one opponent at a time to reduce the amount of damage we take over the course of the fight by reducing the number of enemies as efficiently and fast as possible.  We nova when we need to to win a tough fight where the enemies would out damage us if we simply used basic attacks and cantrips.

There’s another way we can prevent damage to us.  That is using abilities that prevent the opponents from attacking us effectively.  Such abilities are collectively referred to as “crowd control”.  Most of these are spells, and thus, we often call spellcaster classes “controllers”.

There are two types of control: hard control and soft control.  Hard control involves preventing a creature from attacking, or forcing it to take actions, or removing it from the fight entirely.

Examples of hard control:

  • Polymorphing an enemy into a harmless frog
  • Casting hold person on an enemy to paralyze it.
  • Casting fear to cause an enemy to flee the battle.
  • Catching a horde of orcs in a hypnotic pattern to immobilize and charm them.
  • Charming one of a pair of wyverns with dominate monster, and using it to attack its mate.

Soft control is limiting your enemy to non-ideal actions or using debuffing effects to reduce their combat effectiveness, or forcing them take damage in order to attack you.

  • Casting a wall of fire between your ranged characters and the enemies to force them to approach the tank or else take damage.
  • Using a slow spell to reduce the enemies’ attacks against you.
  • Fog cloud can prevent ranged enemies from seeing you, and thus force them to attack at disadvantage.
  • A tank with the sentinel ability and a reach weapon projects soft control around him as he can use his reaction attack an enemy which attempts to move around him to engage his allies.
  • A lore bard’s cutting words ability and the vicious mockery cantrip are both debuffs which can provide soft control.

In general, hard control is better than soft control because it is unavoidable.  When combined with focused fire and going nova, crowd control can trivialize an otherwise difficult encounter by shutting down the most dangerous enemies while you concentrate on the mooks.

Maximizing Action Economy

This is a more advanced topic, but I’ll touch on it here, as understanding its importance illustrates the underlying principles of some of the above tactics.

In general, each player or enemy gets to move up to their speed, and take one action on each of their turns in combat, and each character gets one turn in a round.  They may also use a bonus action if they have an ability which grants one.  They may take a reaction any time one is allowed, but only once between each of their turns and the next.  Finally, a character can concentrate on one spell or ability which requires concentration at a time. All of these are hard limitations in what a character is capable of doing on their turn.

Knowing how to maximize the effectiveness of the above action economy is what separates a good player from the average player.  For rogues, this means using your cunning action every round where possible, either to hide after moving to a new hiding spot (and thereby gaining advantage (and sneak attack damage) on the next turn’s attack).

For clerics, this means utilizing your concentration for your most effective buff spell or damage-over-time effect.  Spiritual weapon is an excellent spell choice, as you spend one bonus action to break the action economy on future turns.  It requires no concentration, and attacks a target within range each turn.  You can reposition it with a bonus action, which, unless you’re casting healing word on someone, you usually aren’t going to be using, anyway.

Bards utilizing their action economy will make good use of their bonus actions to provide bardic inspiration to their allies, or use cutting words with their reaction to cause an opponent’s key attack rolls to miss.  Any uses of these abilities which remain when the character recharges them during a rest are wasted, and result in action inefficiency.  The same holds true for their spell slots (and those of any other caster class).

 

 

CoS Session 15 – Argynvostholt Pt 2 and Back to Wachterton

Zib’s player was absent again this week, so I had my hands full running him and Kokhed.

The party starts exploring the remaining rooms on the second floor of Argynvostholt.  They quickly find themselves trapped in an upstairs hallway, a wall of stone manifesting to block the way back from the T intersection in which they stand. Through doors at either end of the hallway, float phantom warriors wearing the livery of Strahd, the spirits of his mortal army.  While their mundane weapons are not very effective against the incorporeal undead, they still defeat them soundly.  The two rooms have nothing of interest, and after a few minutes of searching for a way out, the wall of stone disappears, and they make their way back to the first floor.

It’s getting late in the day, and they hope to make it back to civilization before dark, so they decide to explore the non-spider infested side of the first floor and skip the arachnids for now.  In a wood paneled den, they have one last supernatural experience.  A fiery dragon-form erupts from a still hearth, floating above them.

“My lights have fallen into darkness.  Save them if you can.  Show them the light they have lost.”

With that, the fire burns out.

Cordelia and Devlin both think it would be a good idea to ask Madam Eva to do a reading about the dragon’s skull.  So, with that in mind, they decide to make their way to Vallaki (now Wachterton) for the night as they will be closer to the Tser Pool camp.  They arrive back at the town just as night falls, and make their way past the creepy gate guards and to the inn, where Kokhed is reunited with the Martikov clan.

Late that night, the smell of smoke wakes the party.  After determining it’s coming from outside the inn, they make their way to the street.  On the east side of town, flames rise from the Church of St. Andral.  They quickly don their equipment and run over to the church.  Outside, a group of masked cultists stands on the far side of the street chanting “Witness his glory” over and over.  They look up, and see a laughing Strahd circling above the church, mounted on his nightmare.  Ireena clings to his back, looking very cosy with the vampire.

From within the blazing church, screams can be heard.  A villager runs out the door, making it part of the way down the steps before a feral-looking vampire spawn falls on him, biting deeply into his neck.  The cultists cheer and resume their chant.

Tired, low on resources, and even lower in morale, Cordelia, Devlin, Esmerelda, and Zib turn back toward the inn.  Kokhed changes into a raven, leaving his equipment on the street and flies into the burning building.  He later rendezvous with the group back at the inn and reports there were no survivors within the church.  The priest, and every  innocent who sought nightly refuge there had been slaughtered by a group of vampire spawn.  By morning, the building has been consumed by the fire, and smoldering embers and debris are all that remains.

 

 

CoS Session 14 -Argynvostholt Pt 1

I’m 3 sessions behind on campaign reports, now that I’m running a second campaign and playing in yet another.  It’s the most D&D I’ve played in years, so I can’t complain too much, but I do intend to get caught up before Session 17, when the players will take their first steps inside Castle Ravenloft.

After a few weeks off, we return to the game on the morning following the werewolf fight at Van Richten’s Tower.  Zib’s player is missing for the session, so his character is along for the ride, but quieter than usual.

After learning a bit more about the two monster hunters, Dr. Rudolph Van Richten, and Esmerelda d’Avenir, our party consults a map of the region which Van Richten provides (the fold-out poster map of Barovia), to get a better idea of where they need to go.  Finding the old mansion that Madam Eva had mentioned is fairly close by, they make a plan to go there and look for any clues to its history.  After that, if they’ve got time before the big wedding, they’ll make attempts to retrieve the other two gems for the Winery.

Esmerelda had previously scouted the exterior of the mansion and is interested in learning more about it as well, so she agrees to accompany the party members and Kokhed there, while Van Richten will take a letter from Cordelia east to the Graenseskov to let Ismark know what happened to his sister.  She also wants a chance to evaluate the party’s combat skills to see if they are capable allies to join in the fight against Strahd.

On the way to Argynvostholt, the players encounter a solitary traveler shambling toward them clutching a longsword.  As he approaches, they see that he’s a walking corpse.  He greets them with a query.

“Be you friends or foes of the dark lord of this land?”

They reply that they are foes of Strahd, and he encourages them to visit the very place they are now traveling toward.  He tells them to seek out the leader of his order and convince him to help them against Strahd.  When they ask the undead knight’s name, he pauses, confused.  He doesn’t remember.  For so long, he’s existed in a state of rage at the wrongful deaths of his brothers and the dragon they loved, that he’s forgotten who he was.  This will be a recurring theme with the revenants they meet this session.

He continues on his way and the party does as well, arriving at the manor house a little before mid-day.  The manor was once opulent, but has fallen into disrepair, and one side of the building has partially collapsed.  A large octagonal tower rising from the back side of the building is intact, however, and smaller conical defensive turrets remain standing along the outer walls.

They see a large statue of a dragon facing the steps to the front door, and there is a moment of fear as some long-dormant magical effect triggers as they climb the steps.  The dragon breathes a blast of cold air over them, but it deals no damage, its magic a shadow of what it once was.

Cordelia knocks on the door calling out a greeting, but her knocks are met with silence. They wait a few minutes and then enter, finding themselves in a large entry hall.  A central stairwell climbs in a T to a balcony on the second floor overlooking the hall.  Several sets of double doors are set into the left and right walls, and two other doors are set in the wall ahead on either side of the stairs.

Devlin stealthily moves over toward the right side and opens the central set of doors.  The room beyond is in ruins, the roof and walls collapsed in places.  Huge spider webs are strung throughout, and several gigantic spiders make their way along the webs.  He shuts the door, and they decide to circle back later to clear out the vermin for the tasty experience it will provide.

As they return to the center of the hallway, a shadow of a great, winged dragon crosses the room, disappearing into the darkness above.  There is a slight disturbance in the air.

The party decides to check out the upper floors, as the shadow seemed to be directing them that way.  They head north at the T on the stairs, reaching the balcony overlooking the entry hall below.  From there, they explore a couple of rooms in the upper hall. From a hearth in the second room, a tiny mephit-like dragon made of smoke emerges, flying out of the room and back down the hall to the balcony.  They follow it through a curtain at the west end of the balcony and up a circular stairwell.  It flies down another hall with a partially collapsed ceiling and into a large room directly above the entry hall.

Inside they find an armored corpse sitting on a large throne-like chair, clutching a gleaming greatsword.  His eyes burn with a cold light and he challenges them with a raspy voice, asking if they are friends or foe, and warning that their deaths will be quick should they be foes.  They are quick to assure him they are friends, and foes of Strahd, mentioning their encounter with the nameless undead knight they met on the road.

He introduces himself as Vladimir Horngaard, former lieutenant of the mighty silver dragon, Argynvost.  He and his brother knights are kept alive by their hatred of Strahd, who centuries ago, when he was still a human, invaded this land with an army, slaying the dragon and his knights.  They have forgotten much of their old lives.  Vladimir especially curses Strahd as his lover and fellow knight, Sir Godfrey was slain at Strahd’s hand. Vladimir longs to be reunited with Godfrey.

After hearing the history of the order, the party requests Vladimir’s aid in defeating Strahd.  At this point, they find out that Vladimir has no wish to see Strahd put to rest. According to the revenant, confinement to Barovia is Strahd’s curse and punishment, and he does not wish to see that punishment end.  He gives them leave to explore the rest of the mansion, and tells them they are free to seek aid from the other revenants if they wish, but not to expect much.

They explore the rest of the floor, finding a group of six knights sitting around a table in a large chamber.  These are worse off than Vladimir, and do not remember their names. They are a morose bunch, still pining over the loss of their dragon, and cannot be persuaded to provide any help to the party.

Up to the rooftop battlements, and the party is startled when a silvered statue of a small dragon speaks:

“When the dragon dreams its dream within its rightful tomb, the light of Argynvost will beam and rid this land of gloom.”

They try to converse with the statue, but after it has delivered its message, it remains silent.  Looking out across the manor grounds, they see a mausoleum at the far end of a fog-shrouded cemetery.  Four dragon statues, similar to this face outward from its roof. This must be the “rightful tomb”.

They explore upwards first, entering a door toward the back of the roof and climbing up to a high tower top.  From there, they can look out over the land, seeing Vallaki, the Abbey of St Markovia, and The Old Bonegrinder mill.

They descend back down from the roof through a circular stairwell leading to what they believe will be the chapel.  At the second floor landing, they can look out over the balcony into the chapel.  Three more revenants kneel before a dusty altar.

The party makes their way to the first floor and greet the revenants, but are met with snarls of rage and drawn weapons.  The hatred has driven these three mad, and they wish nothing more than to slay the living.  The revenants are dispatched with relative ease, though many spells are flung by Zib and Cordelia, and the party searches the altar, finding a secret panel containing a necklace with 7 gemstones attached to it like charms, and a small potion bottle.

They make their way out the side door of the chapel and through the graveyard to the mausoleum.  Entering it, they find the interior dominated by the skeleton of a massive dragon.  Its skull is missing, and the rest of the dragon statue’s words leave little doubt that the return of the skull is the triggering event for getting Argynvost’s light to beam.

They feel safe in the mausoleum and take a short rest, identifying the necklace as a necklace of fireballs and the potion as a potion of diminution.  The thought of a tiny gnome amuses everyone, so Zib is given the potion, while Cordelia accessorizes with necklace.  We end the session there with the party deciding to explore the rest of the manor before taking on the room of spiders next session.

 

 

 

 

CoS Interlude 1: The Ferals

 

Night fell over the lands of Barovia, first over the Graenseskov, the thick mountain pines blocking the last motes of light passing over the horizon, then Barova village, as the shadow of the castle above grew across the valley, to the mountain passes, and then finally Vallaki and the west.

As Strahd peered into the scrying surface, he watched the last of the werewolves limp away from the tower, leaving the dead and dying members of her pack to the cursed doctor, the Vistana, and their newly-arrived allies.  He wore the anger on his face but for a second, and then his usual mask of stoic indifference was back.

Strahd closed his eyes, reaching out his consciousness to seek out a particular group of minds, somewhere within his domain.  He found them just where he had previously bound them.  With the flick of a mental switch, he released them, and then disconnected the connection, gazing up at the painting of Tatyana, and knowing that she slept safely under guard just a few rooms away.

cf49613db110c956f4f72a56f6dd041a

 

Across the land, lean, twisted humanoid shapes clawed their way out of shallow graves in remote places, far from the towns where the living huddled in fear of things that hunt in the night, things like the ferals.

As Strahd turned to leave the study, his eyes never took in the gleaming sword hilt softly glowing on the mantle, one that he had sought to destroy for centuries.  It was as if the thing existed in a place and time just slightly outside his awareness.

CoS Sessions 12 and 13 – Werewolves at the Gate

werewolftemple

After a short session last week, I waited until after this week to have enough for this report.  With the defeat of the hags, the party searched the windmill, locating their treasure stash on the third floor which consisted of a driftglobe, a potion of healing, and some pieces of cheap jewelry.  Their ill-gotten gains from the pastry business consisted of several gold coins and semi-precious gemstones which were hidden in the barrel of sludge found in the first floor kitchen.  Rose, Thorn, and the other two children were all from Barovia, so the group decided to head there.

They encountered Strahd’s carriage at the turn-off to the castle and it appeared to be waiting for them.  Devlin looked inside and found a note inviting them all to dinner.  He penned a quick reply declining the invitation due to short notice and asking for a rain check, and pocketed the note, waiting for the right time to tell the party about it.  Perhaps after they aren’t lugging around four children.  The coach’s door shuts on its own and the horses gallop up the narrow cliff-side road toward the castle.

They next made a stop by the Tser Pool encampment where they had met Madam Eva almost a week before. The player characters were each given an opportunity to meet with Madam Eva separately to ask any personal questions and get answers from Eva’s Tarokka deck.  Each had several solid questions that they asked, and while the answers were not always clear, they provided solid nudges in certain directions.  I don’t remember all the questions and answers, but Devlin’s player Sarah did an awesome job of recording them all in her game notes, so I’ll see if I can’t borrow them to type them up as a separate post.

Before Devlin left, he asked if there was anything they could do to repay the assistance she had provided.  She declined at first, sticking to her motto of “No favors asked, no aid accepted.”, but after pulling a card from her deck which she did not reveal, she changed her mind.  “Return here tomorrow on your way back to the west, and I may have a request of you.  I do not bind you to any service, I may simply ask a favor you are free to decline.”

The characters with four children in tow continued back to Barovia, reaching it just before nightfall.  They returned to the home of the other children, a brother and sister, and found their mother, going through withdrawals from dream pastries.  Cordelia cast lesser restoration on the woman which seemed to ease her pain significantly.  The woman cried over her husband having convinced her to trade their children to Morgantha for a basketful of pastries which they had binged on until they were gone.  She promises the children that it will never happen again.  Daddy is gone and won’t be coming back. Momma pushed the oven on his head.

Not ready to leave kids in the care of a murderess and former addict, Cordelia drags the woman and her kids to Donavich at the church.  Donavich speaks with the woman and is moved by the story she tells him.  He then states that she should get her children back, and agrees to check in with the household multiple times a day and help them through this troubled time.  He’s back to shepherding his flock in the village!  This is agreeable to Cordelia and crew, so they leave the reunited family

They make their way across town to the townhome of Bildrath’s sister.  She is overjoyed to see the kids and horrified that the once-friendly Hezekiah would betray everyone’s trust as he did.  She promises not to let them go off alone with anyone.  She’ll make sure her son, the stock-boy Perriwimple, keeps an eye on them when he’s not working.  This doesn’t reassure any of the party, but they have a vampire to eventually defeat and several more wrongs to right, or treasures to plunder, or damsels to save, or towns to overthrow…they have a lot of unfulfilled goals.

The first goal is sleep, and they do so in the common room at the Blood of the Vine.  The night passes uneventfully, their first night back in the shadow of the castle far above atop the pillar stone of Ravenloft.  We end session 12 at this point and pick up session 13 in the morning.

In the morning they pack up and depart quickly after Cordelia leaves the majority of Ireena’s belongings in Donavich’s safekeeping.  She takes Ireena’s sword and her healer’s kits with her.  (they’re doing Ireena no good while she’s in the castle)

They again take the shortcut by the Tser Pool and Devlin meets Madam Eva outside her tent, waiting.

“There is a stone mansion somewhere to the west where once a silver dragon made its home.  It is now a haunted and troubled place.  If you encounter it in your travels, you can share with me any books or other writings you find there.”

She requests no promises, this is simply a favor they are free to pursue or not.  That told, they travel toward the windmill, where Madam Eva has hinted that they may have missed something in their search…when asked about the location of the third missing gem from the winery fields, her cards showed that they had recently been very near it, but failed to spot it.

They head back toward the mill when they again pass the turn-off to the castle.  The coach is back and again, its door waits open.  Zib wants to go to the castle, but is held back by Cordelia, who distrusts his motives.  Devlin checks and Strahd has penned a reply to his note from the previous day.  It apologizes for not being able to reschedule for the time being, there is a wedding being planned.  He promises them an invitation to the wedding once the betrothal is official.  Devlin slips back out of the carriage and agrees with Cordelia that they’d rather go to the castle when Strahd isn’t there, if such a thing can be arranged.

They return to the Old Bonegrinder which is soon to be renamed as the Durst sisters are now the owners of it.  Part of Barovia property law states that in order to prove ownership of a building, beyond having an official deed signed by the Count, the owners must be capable of defending the property from those who would take it by force.

Searching the upper level of the windmill, they find a small bird’s nest tucked up in the eaves of the attic where the drive wheel gears turn the main shaft.  In it is a small blue stone which pulses faintly with dim blue light.  Kokhed confirms that it is the first “seed” that was stolen, Zib wants to see it, but Devlin tosses it to Kokhed for safekeeping.

They decide to head to the tower on the lake where they are to meet Van Richten.  Kokhed will split off to fly the seed back to the Martikovs at the winery before meeting them at the tower.  They pass by Wachterton, where new signage has been procured and hung (no more scratched out “Vallaki”).  The elf and Vistani camp is subdued, and Driscoll the wolf eyes the camp longingly, apparently wanting some of the wine the Vistani had been feeding him when wolf-sitting for Devlin.

They take a shortcut on a game trail which travels around the north side of a wooded peak instead of the main road which would take them around the south.  This gets them to the turn-off to the tower quicker, and they reach a treeline sloping downward to green grass shores alongside a mist-shrouded lake.  A straight grass causeway led from the shore directly to an island about a hundred feet off the lakes shore.  On the island was a single stone tower.  Parked beneath it were two wagons, one they recognized as Rictavio’s carnival wagon, the other a closed-top barrel wagon.  They spotted some work horses grazing freely along the woodline just to their south.

Around the tower, loped several wolves and an equal number of two-legged figures which looked fur-covered.  They hid in the woods and observed.  From across the lake, one of the figures called up to the tower “Give us the girl, old man. She killed my mate and now I claim her life as tribute for the pack in return.”

The only answer from the tower is a loud explosion as a bright flash appears in one of the arrow slots on the fourth floor.  The large werewolf who had been speaking recoils as if struck by something.  His companions take cover behind the wagons while their wolves creep under some scaffolding on the building’s side.

The siege continues while the party waits for Kokhed’s return.  As the sun sets, the werewolves and their wolves howl.  In the darkness, they begin circling the tower again. There is no answering fire from the tower.

Just after twilight, Kokhed descends on a mighty flap of wings.  He has delivered the gem and has seen the evil rival lycanthropes.  He cannot carry a silver weapon, so he will have to rely on his beak or some other means of damaging the werewolves.  Cordelia has a silver dagger, Zib a silver short sword, but Devlin has no silver arrows or weapon.

They begin to implement a half-formed plan before it’s formed.  Zib casts invisibility on himself as Devlin orders Driscoll to guard Zib.  Invisible, Zib creeps up the causeway stealthily, while Driscoll stalks at a distance behind him.  Neither are noticed by the wolves or werewolves.  Zib empties out flasks of lamp oil, saturating a 10×10 section of ground before creeping forward onto the island, about 30 feet from the apparent werewolf pack leader.

A lot happens at once.  The party begins a stealthy approach up the causeway after Devlin casts pass without trace on the group.  Some of the werewolves catch the scent of Kokhed, who was not so stealthy, even with a +10 modifier to the roll.  The leader catches a closer scent, that of the invisible Zib, orders his pack to attack those on the causeway, and begins to home in on Zib with his nose, striding back and forth before coming to a stop directly in front of Zib.  He swats out with his claws, miraculously catching an invisible, dodging, Zib across the forehead with a lucky shot despite the disadvantage.  Zib backs away, making a stealth check and the pack leader loses his scent momentarily.

There are more sharp thunder-like cracks from the tower, and the werewolf leading the charge down the causeway stumbles as it is struck twice by something none of the party sees.  Something else is hurled from another arrow slit on the fourth floor, and explodes in a radius around its impact near the werewolf packleader who is singed, but manages to dodge the brunt of the blast.  Devlin shoots an arrow at the center werewolf in the pack which charges them, and thorns sprout from its shaft, showering its target and the werewolves around it with thorns and dealing some damage in the process.

As luck would have it, the five werewolves dash action causes them to bunch up and end their turn directly in the oil-saturated area.  Cordelia prays to the Raven Queen as she hopes that a sacred flame burns hot enough to ignite oil.  The Queen’s favor is with her, and the white flame misses her target, but strikes the ground next to it solidly, the white flash giving way to dull blue and orange flames and a rising wave of heat.  The fur of the werewolves catches fire.  Four of them peel off into the lake while the one struck by the unseen attacks from the tower continues forward in a rage, on fire.

Driscoll has readied for this and leaps forward seizing the werewolf by the throat. Unfortunately, his teeth are incapable of penetrating the magical hide of the werewolf, and it shakes him off as it lashes out at Cordelia, sinking its fangs into her shoulder.  She rolls pretty high on her Constitution save, and sighs in relief.  She responds by drawing her silver dagger, striking and connecting for damage, though the werewolf doesn’t appear to weaken any from the blow.

The wolves which had been hiding under the scaffolding run toward the causeway to join their werewolf masters, but two are cut down from more unseen attacks from the tower, again accompanied by thunderous claps and bright flashes.  Of the other four, Zib drops the front two and injures the back two as he appears uttering the words of a shatter spell. Another projectile is hurled from an arrow slit, exploding and taking out the remaining two wolves.

A voice calls down from the tower top, “My wagon, under the seat, arrows and bolts.” Devlin makes a leap over the burning section of causeway which is already beginning to burn out, and just makes it to the corner of the near wagon.  Hoping this is the right one, he flips up the seat, revealing a cubby sporting a quiver of arrows, a case of bolts, and other goodies.  He snatches an arrow from the quicker and begins drawing the string as he turns to fire, noticing the head of the arrow gleams silver in the moonlight.  Two arrows fired in quick succession strike the burning, pissed-off, shot-up werewolf who finally drops from the abuse.

The werewolf packleader has loped out into the water to bypass the burning section and this turn closes with Cordelia and Driscoll the wolf. Kokhed swoops down on one of the werewolves in the lake, raging, and grappling his foe, forcing it beneath the lake’s surface. They struggle for position, with Kokhed coming up on top and keeping his opponent from surfacing to breathe.

Cordelia has been attacked to within a few hit points of dropping, and Zib has sustained a bit of damage.  With the loss of their wolves, the werewolves’ fortunes change quickly.

Cordelia lands inflict wounds on one of the other werewolves who charged her, then again the following turn on the pack leader. Devlin’s shots are deadly accurate, and he adds a hunter’s mark to the packleader for extra damage. Two more werewolves are downed, and as the leader howls and retreats, one more cracking boom from the tower causes the back of his head to explode, sending his lifeless form falling to the ground.

One of the remaining werewolves is captured, and the final werewolf flees, and Van Richten opens the tower door and ushering the party inside. He takes a moment to explain the trap mechanisms guarding the tower entry in case it becomes important later. They stop to gather up the belongings of the werewolves, still lying where they had originally changed, and then carry the unconscious werewolf, now changed back to human form inside.

There they are ushered over to strange elevator.  Four sets of chains connect to a pulley system somewhere far above which lifts a platform.  Four clay statues, animated golems come to life to pull the chains, raising the platform toward the top of the tower.  They pass two mostly-rotted and destroyed levels before reaching the solid, but musty fourth floor.  It’s obvious someone has been living here, and from across the room comes a woman with Vistani-like features.  Van Richten introduces her as his protege, Ezmeralda, and with introductions made, we end the session.