I have a VERY busy day today...the girl child has a weekend tournament starting today (did I not mention she has now joined the same premier soccer club as the boy?) with TWO games in Woodinville. Meanwhile, my wife is going into the office and the boy has his own practice, so I have...mm...approximately three hours before I need to wake the kids, get them organized, breakfasted, packed and ready (with solid snacks for later in the day), to drop D at her place of employment (she has a window at 1pm) before zipping S over to the east side. Hopefully, I can pick up some cheap(er) wine (between games) at St. Michelle.
Last night was another late one, but I was in charge of the midnight wrangling and decided to go to bed afterwards. Not that it helped: the old beagle was up at the crack of sunrise getting me up. Tried to go back to sleep...no dice. Now I'm waiting for the coffee to brew while she snoozes on the floor. Man, she is a loud snorer!
Here's how things went down in our game (I'll give the abbreviated, bullet-point version):
- A session earlier, the party (bags laden with treasure, desperate to find the countess, running out of time as far as sunset coming) had encountered the mad butler, Belview wandering in the downstairs passages. Belview (think "malnourished Mr. Carson on crack") is pretty much as written in original Ravenloft adventure. Salamander (Diego) wanted to take the guy hostage at sword-point and make him give up the location of the countess; Potter (Sofia) wanted to follow him around, pretend like they were guests at the castle, and see if they couldn't bluff their way through things (and not just brutalize the poor NPC). Potter won out but, sadly, was forced to swiftly/mercilessly one-shot the butler when he came at her with a hatchet in the kitchen. Diego was livid, now they would get NO information out of the guy! However, Misha had a scroll with the speak with dead spell, and the party decided to call up Belview's shade for interrogation. Misha informed them they could ask FOUR questions; for your enjoyment:
Where is the countess? 'She sleeps...sleeps...in her cold, stone bed..."
Where is that?! 'In the crypts, in her tomb, in the darkness...surrounded by the dead..."
Where are the crypts? 'Beneath the chapel, of course...the stairs that lead down, down, down..."
How can we pass the masonry wall that blocks the stairs? 'Perhaps a pick axe, master...'
Is there any other way into the crypts?! (*silence*)
- The players had quite good maps of the upper levels and had found the chapel and the stairs (with its barrier wall) early in their exploration (within the first hour or so of arriving). Being stymied at this point they proceeded to explore the larders and dungeon, looking for another way in, but not finding it, eventually ending the session with their confrontation with the flesh golem (as told).
- Picking up the new session: the party continued their exploration, thinking they were on the right track...and then discovering they had simply returned to already explored rooms via different passages. Sofia suggested they go find a large drill to get through the masonry wall. Diego did not appreciate her snark. Then they remembered the party had not one but TWO potions of gaseous form (found in their last adventure)...could we divide their contents amongst the party members and bypass the wall? Only one way to find out...
- [I had already determined (randomly) how many turns it would take before the vampires would find the PCs. In addition, I decided that any wandering monster results would ALSO indicate discovery by the hunters]
- The plan worked, every adventurer drinking off a third of a potion, giving just enough time (and then some) to pass the crack in the wall. On the other side, finding themselves in the labyrinthine crypts, they waited for each party member to coalesce and reform. In the distance, they heard a long-wailing scream (Revlin the Ranger...left behind in the iron statue room with zero hit points...had just been discovered).
- Ignoring the side passages, the party carefully proceeded through the main thoroughfare of the crypts, eventually coming to the stairs leading downward to a teleportation curtain. This stymied them though they tried several different ways to circumvent its effects (in the original module, the barrier prevents all but lawful good characters from passing...since I don't use alignment in my campaign, I'd already decided a character must strongly present a cross...or other "holy symbol"...to cross the thing; this the players did not try). While still pondering the curtain, the players were discovered by Paris and Sacha (half-vamps) and the first "big battle" occurred.
- Except that it wasn't all that big: the characters had already found (and were wielding) the sunblade and Potter quickly disposed of the vamps in two melee rounds (dispersed to mist). Salamander was reduced to 4th level, but otherwise the party was fine.
- More searching of the landing (for secret doors) as the party looked for a way past the curtain when the wandering monster result indicated to other vampires showed up: Strasha, her maid Helga, and Duke Davich. Terse words were exchanged. The countess began casting a spell (hold person); the party threw a dagger and disrupted it. The party charged; the vampires changed into mist.
- More discussion amongst the party members what to do; more things were tried. In the distance, a terrible baying noise echoed through the catacombs: the hell hounds had been released! The party prepared themselves (again) as the pony-sized beasts exploded out of the darkness! Combat was joined!
- A little singed, the party quickly gained the upper hand...however, the demon dogs provided cover for the vampires. First, Carnen (Maceo's assassin) was felled by a sleep spell. Then the party was struck by confusion: Ireena the fighter (an NPC liberated from the castle dungeons) was left standing dumbfounded, while Salamander wandered off into the darkness. Duke Davish attacked...and was quickly vanquished by Potter and the sunblade. The countess and her maid again changed to mist as the party prepared to counterattack.
- Potter and Misha (now reduced to 3rd level) abandoned the sleeping Carnen and catatonic Ireena to track down Salamander. They found him a few minutes later, scratching at the door to another crypt. Rousing him from the spell they decided, perhaps, that his madness had been fortuitous and that they should indeed try to open the crypt where they'd found him. However, Potter's great strength was not enough to pry the thing open, and their labors were interrupted yet again by words of magic: they turned to find themselves now confronting THREE Strashas and her maid. Misha attempted to use her cross to turn the vampires...and failed. "Drop that thing and bow to me," intoned the countess as she sought to charm the cleric. However, Misha's saving throws remained good and three remaining party members rushed to engage the creatures.
- The battle did not go well for the party: Misha was reduced to -1 hit points (and 2nd level) by Helga. Salamander was able to dispel one of Strasha's mirror images and reduce Helga to one hit point, but was himself drained again (to 3rd level), with three hit points remaining. Potter managed to strike for maximum damage (24 points!)...but again, this only dispelled the second of the vampire's illusions. Strasha then ripped the throat out of the fighter, dropping him to 2nd level and -7 hit points. The sunblade clattered upon the stones.
- The countess turned on the lone assassin: "I would not gift you with immortality." She simply kicked him. The damage roll was minimal: 1 point. With Strasha's strength bonus (+4), that dropped him to -2. "You will suffer long in my dungeons. Fetch manacles, Helga."
So ended our adventure for the night.
Except then it didn't...
As per usual we (briefly) debriefed the session, discussing what had worked, what hadn't, who was left alive (Carnen, Ireena, and Sal) and what would happen to them (starvation in a small cell and then zombiefication to replace fallen "soldiers"). The kids were not terribly unhappy about the results (they weren't happy either, but they certainly weren't crying and whining about the session being "unfair"), instead wondering at the power of the vampire countess, appreciating their own ingenuity in getting as far as they did, talking about what they could have done differently...or better.
"Pity we never got to draw from that magic card deck..."
Since it was almost midnight, and we were all a bit loopy (I was three IPAs in...), and because they were being such good sports about what was (effectively) a TPK, I decided to allow the party one more chance. After all, Sal was the one carrying the deck of many things, and he hadn't actually been killed outright (being only reduced to incapacitation)...so I ruled that he could just (barely) work the cards out of his belt pouch and make a draw...one final shot to escape.
[truth be told, I wanted to see what would happen. Been years since I've seen a deck of many things in play]
Diego elected to draw four. After shuffling many times and making him cut the deck, here's what he pulled (in order):
- The Jester (red joker): 10,000 x.p.
- The Moon (queen of diamonds): 3 wishes (randomly rolled on a d4)
- The Balance (deuce of spades): change alignment or be permanently destroyed
- The Knight (jack of hearts): gain a 4th level fighter henchman
An absolutely phenomenal draw! Since I don't use alignment, I ruled he'd have to give up being an assassin and become a straight thief instead (as, in a "normal" game, assassins are required to be "evil" in alignment and the balance would have forced him to change to "good"). He immediately used his first wish to negate the effect ("I wish I hadn't drawn that card!"). He then used his second wish to "completely heal the entire party."
And that's where I called the evening.
Okay, time to get to work. More later.
[EDIT: It should be noted...perhaps...that Diego's intention, with regards to his last wish, was to bring all the dead party members (like Potter) back to life AND heal all their hit points, restoring them to full fighting strength. In effect, this is two wishes, not one, thus blowing the entirety of the wishes granted...something I will inform him of this morning (as I said, I was a bit loopy at the end of the night). Nicely, this should curtail the 3rd wish he and his sister were discussing as they headed off to bed last night: something-something about wishing for all vampires to be destroyed or something...]