Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
The Favorites of Selune campaign - Ravenloft Session 8

As my players leveled up to level 6 in the previous session, I changed the naming convention of the D&D campaign journal on this blog from "Level - Session number" to "Adventure name - Session number". So the players are still in the dungeons under Castle Ravenloft, searching for the tomb of Count Strahd von Zarovich, so they can weaken him by dispersing the earth from his coffin. They found an empty room with a brick wall at the other end, corresponding to a description is the Book of Strahd that he had bricked up his tomb. But they had detected four long slits from wall to wall in the ceiling, and were wary of what might drop out of this. Fearing some sort of portcullis they had spent the previous session collecting doors from the tombs to build a barricade to block the trap.

So this session started with the players setting the doors under the slits in the ceiling, against the wall, and then approaching the brick wall. That, as expected, triggered the trap. But it wasn't a guillotine or portcullis that dropped from the ceiling, but Edgar Allan Poe style blades on pendulums. I had prepared a side view of this, and it was obvious that the doors leaning against the walls were out of the path of the pendulums. So the rogue got hit by the trap, but then managed to jump out of the way. As the pendulum swung close to the floor in the middle of the room, the players then started moving the doors to there, successfully blocking the swinging pendulums.

But of course that wasn't the only danger here. The trap had also sprung an alarm, and Count Strahd from Zarovich himself came down to the dungeon to defend his tomb. He dominated the dwarven warrior standing outside the room, and sent him to attack the wizard, while staying out of sight of the group himself. That would have worked a lot better if the group hadn't just gained a level, and the wizard learned Dispel Magic. So the wizard dispelled the domination on the warrior, and the whole party turned against the vampire lord.

At this point I'd like to insert a comment on adventure design: Many D&D adventures have a main villain with a big boss fight at the end. But because the DM doesn't want the main villain to die prematurely, that villain often remains out of sight for the whole adventure. And that makes the main villain too abstract, with the players not having much more motivation to kill him than knowing that he is the end of the adventure and probably has the best treasure (like a boss fight in a MMORPG dungeon). To avoid that, Count Strahd von Zarovich is very present in my version of the Ravenloft adventure. He appeared early on trying to kidnap Ireena from the village, was seen as illusion playing the organ in the dining hall, and now makes an appearance in defense of his tomb. But as this still isn't supposed to be his final fight, he is designed to be pretty much unkillable, having lots of regeneration powers and an ultimate escape way in mist form.

So while the players launched a lot of daily powers against the vampire lord, they only had a small chance of actually killing him: Strahd regenerated a lot, and used his escape power when down to a quarter of his health. If the players had incapacitated him for a round and reduced his health to zero before he could escape, they could theoretically have killed him, but that was designed to be rather difficult. So Strahd escaped, and the players were free to open his tomb. They took the earth from his coffin, destroyed the coffin, and dispersed the earth over Barovia using the hole in the window in the chapel on the ground floor that overlooked the cliff. This robbed Strahd of his regeneration and escape powers, and turned him into a killable adversary.

So following the instructions from the tarot reading, the group now searched Strahd's lair "under the sky, behind the fire". For the first time they moved upstairs in the castle, taking the main staircase that went up from an octagonal room with 4 gargoyle statues into another identical looking room. In spite of the gargoyles downstairs having been just statues, the rogue didn't trust the statues upstairs and poked one with a dagger. Well done, because they were in fact living gargoyles. With the warrior and the rogue in the front line, and the others shooting spells and arrows from behind, the gargoyles fell quickly, but not before having done some serious damage, especially to the rogue (who shouldn't be tanking like he does).

After passing some uneventful empty bedrooms and a fencing hall, the players discovered a living room with a fire in a fireplace, and a portrait of Tatiana, Strahd's lost love, in a wedding dress (looking exactly like Ireena Kolyana, the major's daughter Strahd tried to kidnap from the village). The players extinguished the fire, and searched for a secret mechanism in the fireplace, which was easy enough to find given the hint from the tarot card reading. And without taking an extended rest, they opened the secret door, the whole fireplace swung away from them into a big room, and they had discovered Strahd's final hiding place. As it was already getting late, we decided to do the grand finale in the next session.

Ravenloft was one of the first AD&D modules I ever played, back in the earlyish 1980s. I was playing a half-elf ranger, my first character, and when the DM began the Tarot reading part I point-blank refused to have anything to do with it. At that time I was vehemently opposed to having my fortune told in real life, on the grounds (which I still believe) that hearing one's fortune told makes you subconsciously more likely to act in such a way as to make it come true.

I didn't ascribe this belief to my character, I retained it as a player. I was too deeply uncomfortable with the entire concept of fortune-tellng even to hear an imaginary fortune told to an imaginary character in a game.

I didn't only refuse to let my character participate, I refused to stay in the room while the rest of the group heard theirs and I only came back on the understanding that nothing about what they'd learned would be discussed in my presence.

I still have no idea what happens in that Tarot reading, nor what relevance it has to the rest of the campaign, all of which I completed and thoroughly enjoyed.
"hearing one's fortune told makes you subconsciously more likely to act in such a way as to make it come true."

That is basically the purpose of the tarot reading in this adventure. It gives the players the goal to defeat Strahd as well as hints on how to do that, with the understanding that this is what they are going to do.
Uh oh, did they just walk into the final lair without resting up? Sure hope they roll well next session! :P

As always great to read your game night write ups Tobold! ^_^
Seriously love these updates, Tobold.

My son and I just started playing Pathfinder after being introduced to it at PAX Down Under.
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