Saturday, July 2, 2016

Curse of Strahd: Actual Play 5&6—Marathon Double Session

I am super glad that we opted to do a marathon Saturday session for Strahd. I feel that even rushing people through Strahd would take seven 5-hour sessions (35 hours) as they're probably one 5-hour session away from finishing, and this was a shorter version. Today's session went 10am to 10pm with some food breaks and chat in there, so it was basically two sessions.

To be fair, I removed some cards from the reading so they weren't required to go to places that I thought were less interesting. But they did Barovia, Villaki, Krezk, the Wizard of Wines, Yester Hill, the Old Bonegrinder, and now Castle Ravenloft. So that's not nothing. But it's not everything either.

To sum up: This session they started in Vallaki after clearing St. Andral's Church. Last time they defeated a few vampire spawn and let Strahd escape and re-consecrated the church. Ezmerelda had taken Ireena and Ismark out of town, so they met up with her at the Vistani camp but avoided talking to Kasimir and didn't follow up on Arrabelle. They spent another night in Vallaki so they could talk to new new Burgomaster, Viktor Vallakovich and pay to get the church fixed up. Ezmerelda wasn't able to sneak back into Vallaki during the day, and the players conveniently forgot all about her, so now she's just an entry on the random encounter chart. Party isn't into Fiona Wachter, so they get the impression that Viktor won't rule like his father did, and seem content. They ask to see Izek's room, and find it creepy as fuck, distributing the spoils of that amongst the children. That won't creep Ireena and Ismark out at all. They wanted Ismark to take over running Vallaki, but he's not into it and doesn't trust them enough to leave Ireena at St. Andral's church alone, so he stays there.

The party takes little note of the swarms of ravens they've seen and head to the Old Bonegrinder, having a few non-combat random encounters on the way. They come to the windmill and the blood hunter uses spider climb alongside the sorcerer's prestidigitation (to clean windows) and scouts the windmill. I was super excited for the hag encounter but it was a bit disappointing as they were level 7 and just murderized the hags, though Bella Sunbane did escape. They spend the time to take the children they find back to Vallaki before heading to Barovia.

In Barovia they confront Bildrath in his shop, creepily asking about Periwimple (their greatest ally). With some creepy innuendo and a suggestion spell they get Peri with them but realize they can't spend the night in Barovia or he might go back to his mother and people will notice. They stop at Jenny Greenteeth's house (from the Adventurer's League nonsense) and talk to here but quickly realize they can't trade magic items to here but do waste a bit of time swapping trinkets. Eventually they sneak out and stay with the Vistani at the Tser Pool encampment. From there its right on to the castle.

They cross the bridge no problems, and actually take the expected way into the castle: main door, meet Rahadin, get to the dinner scene. Missing the secret door at the organ, they head up because they know one of their treasures from the reading is in a place of dizzying heights where the stones are alive. Trying to get to the taller tower, they go all the way to the parapet and fine Gertruda, who directs them to the other side of the castle to the north (heart) tower. After a somewhat dangerous battle on the stairs where I generously had the first two people only fall 30 feet to the landing and told them it was obvious they could drop prone and crawl up the stairs, they eventually dealt with the halbeards and a group of vampire spawn coming after them. In Vallaki I determined that there was a large group of folk from Kara-Tur so most of the "adventurer spawn" are easterners by dress which makes them stand out. I'm not sure why I did it, but I stuck with it. They're not consorts.

After destroying the heart and finding the Tome, they headed back down, some of them apparently thinking the tome wasn't the treasure despite the part where I clearly described the tower as "alive" and had printed out copies of the reading for them. So they did some scouting with spider climb and saw Pidlewick II in the high tower but didn't go there as I said it was obviously not a good resting place unless they had 8 hours of firewood due to the exposure to the cold and rain. They spied down a bit and saw Escher in the lounge and the bottle room, and I made some of the doors have cat-sized holes from being broken. They took all the scratched up furniture and went back up the heart-tower for a long rest, but were ambushed by 7 invisible witches. The party mostly made their saves against Tasha's and they murderized the witches, earning their long rest and hitting level 8. The bard finally realizes he's lost his original trinket (stolen by some Vistani bandits they met on the road and travelled with) and the winery's gem (stolen by the Martikov's at the Blue Water Inn before they burned it down). he's unfazed.

After the rest they explored the cat/witch level, then met Escher. He somehow survived till his turn and escaped out the window thanks to spider climb despite the fact that Periwimple is a fucking beast with large number of hit points, 3 attacks, and property that lets him deal an extra die of damage. So Escher is still out there and the party discovered their bedroom after they no longer needed it. Also I realize how lucky they are to have Peri as their ally. They could have had Arrabelle.

They move down to Leif the accountant, and I slightly fucked up by having them encounter the rat swarms on the wrong level. They'll never know, but this castle is fucking complex and I was looking at the wrong level. Sad thing is if each room were named the descriptions it would be a lot clearer rather than just a room number (e.g. this staircase leads to K37 The Study, as well as blah, blah, and blah). Would be a lot more helpful, especially in cases where it's hard to find where a staircase is on the adjacent level or where they same staircase number shows up on multiple levels. I also realized while prepping this beast that the reason the numbering is wonky is it still corresponds to the old maps. This means I could print out some old fan-versions of top-down maps and use the numbering, which is pretty cool even if the players haven't explored any levels enough to get to see them (I plan on just handing out the crypt floor for ease). After some intimidation they get a little information from Leif (who's been through this sort of interrogation a few times) and he gives them directions to the high tower and the crypts (basically: down).

From here they went down down down to the flooded dungeon. It took a while and used up the three witch-zombies the bard created, but they made it and freed Emil and only found the two magic items. I fast forwarded through the strahd zombies in the torture room just asking for 2 resources (i.e. levels of spell slots or hit dice, a HD from the paladin and level 1 slot from the sorcerer) and they encountered the ridiculous brazier room.

This was a bitch, because I knew I didn't want them teleported to Tsolenka pass or the Amber Temple because of time but I hadn't realized that during my read-through. So I panicked and tried to use the House of Strahd version of the trap, which made little sense since I had initially read the description from Curse, not House. But basically it meant they could bypass it as long as they didn't harm the brazier, hourglass, or statues which they didn't. 10 minutes for a detect magic ritual meant a random encounter, and its a black cat who nudges one of the doors open and they blast it with eldritch blast, killing it. No more black cat encounters anymore. But they're left with 3 doors and they pick the spiral staircase over the obviously shorter staircase or the longer one (neither of which spiral).

I try to telegraph they they're going quite a ways up while not telling them exactly how far up they're going, but they end up all the way in the study at the top of the castle. Here's where we end, so I hope they have the sense to go back down and try one of the other doors which at least keep them in the Larder or Crypt levels.

Overall, I'm relatively happy with this adventure so far. The players seem to like the weirdo sense of humor, even ridiculous things like Prince Ariel the Heavy. I think we'll essentially have what amounts to seven 5-hour sessions (35 hours total). If I was running this and not rushing the players a bit, I expect it'd take another session to do Argynvostholt (its biggish, if empty),  another for Berez and the Van R's tower, plus one or two for Tsolenka Pass and the Amber temple, and another one for the Tower of the Mad Mage, the den, and more nonsense in Vallaki. So total about 50-60 hours to do it pretty fully, though not everyone would opt to do everything obviously and the Amber Temple might not be done till after you defeat Strahd (making it an optional final session or two if they finish early, though the book doesn't call that out as explicitly as it could).  My only vague regret is I didn't ban chaotic neutral alignment and didn't force them to intertwine background more, and that I didn't quite have time to let them explore the countryside a bit more (I wanted to use Berez). But I pumped them through levels quickly and they'll hit 9 if the find the Holy Symbol and take a long rest and then they can attempt to kill Strahd or murderize them. I'm slightly glad they didn't hit the elevator trap, though they might still do that.

Long story short, the PCs are well positioned to get to Strahd in the next 4-5 hours of play and hopefully will so I don't need to open an extra trap door shooting them into the crypts after 3 hours of play on Wednesday. If you want to run this beast in less than 40 hours you need to cut some things but can defo run it as the original module with just Barovia and Ravenloft (I'd guess 20-25 hours, 2 marathon sessions), or possibly add in a few things like the Old Bonegrinder to spice things up before the castle if you have the time. Fudge the reading, put one of the things there if you need to, or make the winery and Yester hill closer, move the abbey, whatever you want.

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