Monday, July 18, 2022


[if you haven't watched the Ms. Marvel series yet, you're missing out; I might post my thoughts on it later, but it's the best Marvel thing I've seen since Falcon-Winter Soldier, and we ALL know that I am extremely biased when it comes to all things Captain America. It's far more believable than a 21st century Spider-Man (I'm not talking about super powers, I'm talking about a teenager living in NYC) and it didn't make me hate Millennials for a change. Quite the opposite, in fact]

I keep looking around the internet for good 1E material to read, and it is a struggle. There are a couple-few posters on various "old school" forums that are good (i.e. they have experience with the system AND can write intelligently about it in an organized, digestible fashion) but few blogs with sizable content to plumb. SO...just in case there are people like me out there, I'll continue to create some.

When last I left off my tales, the party had just been brought back to life and full health by a couple wishes that came courtesy of an amazing draw from a deck of many things. many notes here to discuss regarding how to run such a magic item and its effects (the DMG gives adequate description of what it does but not how, you know? It is the magic item equivalent of a funhouse dungeon). However, decks of many things are the stuff of legendary D&D war stories, so raining on the parade of kids given their first exposure to such a memorable experience is NOT what I wanted to do. A quick gloss went like this:
  • Revived characters were left pretty in the same state of disarray where they lay, rather than being zapped into an armed formation in good order. Note, the wishes did not bring back lost levels, waken Maceo's character from the sleep spell, cure Kieran's character's insanity, nor remove the confusion from the NPC fighter. And separated party members (the party was split into three different areas of the castle) were still separate.
  • Diego understood that bringing back the dead AND healing the party were two separate wishes and he was happy to roll with that. Easy come, easy experience points and levels.
  • Speaking of which: the 10K bonus x.p. from drawing the Jester card put him immediately back to his previous level, and I was fine with that. I would NOT have allowed him to earn more than one free level above what he had already earned (for example, if a non-drained 1st level character had drawn the Jester, I would have only allowed progression to 2nd level), but the magic of the deck was simply acting like a hyper-restoration spell. I'm cool with that. There's only one Jester in the deck anyway.
  • Regarding the Knight: again, how to rule this guy? Should the party come across him in the next town they come to? Should he appear the next time the party advertises for henchmen? As a magic effect, I decided to simply allow him to appear, ready for service, although clad as ANY henchman would be (i.e. with no initial equipment). We'll get to "Sir Patrick" in a moment.
Okay, so I made a surprise roll for Countess Strasha as the party leaped to their feet, with a result of her being partially surprised (I said this was probably due to the knight suddenly appearing out of thin air). Given a free action to end the vampire, every party member promptly missed their attack roll. Salamander shouted to his new henchman to "get" the vampire, and he was able to grapple her with a bearhug(!) that she was unable to break(!!). However, in the next round she won initiative and turned into mist before the party could stake her.

Now given a moment of reprieve, Misha the cleric suggested they go back and recover their other party members (at least the sleeping Carnen and the enchanted Ireena). Potter agreed and went with her but Salamander, inexplicably decided to go off on his own...with his new henchman. I'm really not sure what this was about (I don't usually ask players their reasons for doing things during the game, instead just adjudicating what happens, and I didn't have the normal chance to debrief at the end of the session...I'll question him later). Whatever. He and Patrick opened a couple random crypts, first getting a crossbow bolt trap (but finding a nice jade bracelet), then unleashing three shadows (that I had put in place of "giant spiders" who would have long starved to death locked in a tomb). The shadows were pretty hungry as well for living essence and Sal and his buddy were immediately set upon. "My short sword [that Sal gave Patrick] doesn't seem to function, my lord!" "Aaiieee! Too bad I have no armor!" (as the shadows drained the fighter's strength).

Elsewhere in the catacombs, Misha and Potter had reunited with Carnen and Ireena and all were awake, healed, and un-confused. Somewhere in the distance they heard the echoes of battle and the high-pitched screams of distress...

They decided to look for them. The crypt area is pretty labyrinthine, but the PCs were not too far separated. A half-elf's listening chance in 2 in 20: Potter rolled a "1" and so I stated she could distinguish the direction of the battle sounds well enough to track down Salamander. Running up on about the 3rd or 4th round of combat, Misha (now 2nd level) rolled an "18" for her turning roll and sent the shadows packing...good thing, because they'd been pretty beefy (21 hit points apiece).

[the chances of getting those rolls were not good...but, then, neither was the chance of drawing three excellent cards from the deck of many things. Luck, both good and bad, are a part of the D&D game and the ability to weather those results is part of what defines an experienced player. It is also the stuff from which future "war stories" are often spun. Again, I will say that 'fudging' the vagaries of fortune in an RPG like D&D are doing a disservice to themselves and others]

Now regrouped, the party decided it would be best to stick together. Patrick was given the magic battle axe Ireena had been carrying (she already had a magic broadsword strapped to her waist), and they proceeded to explore the catacombs, eventually discovering a barred gate leading to an isolated crypt area: the tomb of Sergei von Zarovich.

[if I ever decide to publish my version of Ravenloft,  I will (of course) have to change all these names to something more palatable. The harbor of Port Angeles was originally named by Francisco de Eliza y Reventa, claiming the region for Spain, and I would probably go with something more Spanish in flavor based on the town's actual history. Maybe. This IS "fantasy land" after all...humans have only been here for a century or three; the "indigenous peoples" of my PNW are all orcs and elves (with subterranean dwarves and goblins being found underground). I have bugbears instead of Sasquatch. Maybe Spanish explorers don't fit...but they fit at least as well as the "von Zaroviches"]

Sergei's tomb is an obvious bit of goodness and peaceful repose in the dungeon. In the adventure module, the coffin lid "opens easily to the touch of any lawful good character." As I've now written upteen times, I don't use alignment in my game, but as far as "lawful goodness" goes, the PCs (especially the assassins) definitely fail to qualify. Instead, I had the thing open to a cleric of the Church (Misha fit the bill), and thus, after multiple (failed) attempts to force the  coffin, the party was finally able to desecrate and loot Sergei's corpse of its plate mail +2

Oh, D&D!
; )

Of course, Strasha had not been idle while the party picked through her relatives remains. Being the lord and master of the castle and its undead inhabitants, she rounded up the three wayward shadows and had them lay in wait outside the crypt of her brother. She then opened a different crypt in which she'd imprisoned eight ravenous ghouls (yet another adjustment: the original module had 15 stone sarcophagi in a 10'x10' vault, each containing a wight. No) and sent them to join the shadows. Then she unleashed both groups on the party, casting hold portal on the gate to the tomb to prevent any escape.

We rolled percentile dice to see how much of the magic plate mail Sir Patrick had been able to don: 100%. Okay, the fight was on!

And it was brutal. Misha's turning attempt failed, and the party, spread around the chamber, was charged by the ghouls and shadows based on the defensive positions they'd taken (no surprise). We don't use a battle map for our games, but for visualizing purposes, we set up Lego minis (my kids have a lot of these), with dice to represent the monsters (lots of these, too...and dice can be turned to represent how many hit points remain to an opponent). Patrick and Ireena were both able to down a ghoul before being felled by paralysis; Potter decided to wind her magic horn (recovered from N1 and never before used) only to discover it was a horn of bubbles. She was blinded, and then paralyzed (no ghoul immunity for half-elves!).

Misha and Carnen were having difficulty fighting the shadows. Carnen's only magic weapon being a +1 hand axe (that he is not proficient in) made it a tough fight for the young assassin. Neither he nor Misha were particularly crippled by the strength-draining attacks of the shadows (neither had a strength bonus to begin with), but they still took damage from the 3+3 hit die creatures. Misha's lack of hit points ( 2nd level, she had a total of 9) proved her undoing, and she was brought to -3 by the monsters. Meanwhile, ghouls continued to feast on their fallen victims, doing automatic damage every round.

Only Salamander was having much success...the ghouls were unable to paralyze him (thanks to his elvish blood), and having been restored in level and HPs he was in fine fighting trim...he was also able to use his magic longsword to good effect, while a shield (instead of his usual off-hand dagger) gave him an excellent armor class. "Can we break their morale?" Nope...they're undead. He moved to dispatch the ghoul raking at Patrick, then intercepted Carnen's shadow as the younger elf moved to aid Potter.

Eventually, it was down to the two elves versus three shadows: Carnen using the sunblade (only fumbling it away once) with hand axe in his off-hand and Salamander with sword +2 and shield. Potter had been stabilized at -8 hit points, Ireena was dead, Patrick was alive but paralyzed, and Misha the cleric was dead-dead-dead at -10. The three shadows were dispatched, but Sal's strength had been reduced to a paltry 15 and Carnen's to an 11. For hit points, Salamander had 12 remaining while Carnen had been reduced all the way down to one (1) hit point.

Standing by the coffin of the vampire's dead brother, the elves called out the Countess to come down and fight them. 

"Certainly. You've both earned death for your desecration of my home."

As the powerful and (rightly) arrogant noble stepped down the stairs into the tomb, confident in her ability to dispatch the two wounded adventurers, eager to personally rip them apart in payment for the trouble they'd caused and the minions they'd slain, Salamander pulled a small vial from his belt pouch: a potion of invisibility! He quickly drained half and pressed the bottle into Carnen's hand, who followed suit.

Strasha cast wall of fire to cover the only exit from the tomb.

The two assassins had a short amount of time to act, and they weren't getting out of the crypt without a fight. Knowing that any attack would dispel the invisibility, they decided to go for broke: Carnen attacked with the sunblade and hand axe, while Salamander attempted to stake the vampire. Both would receive their backstab attack bonus (+4) but Salamander would suffer his non-proficiency penalty (-2) and due to diminished strength (from the shadows) no other attack bonus would be given. 

"Can I use two in each hand?" No...the creature only has one heart, after all. However, any successful attack would succeed in staking the vampire. The vamp's low armor class (1) speaks to the difficulty of striking the creature's heart as much as its speed and proficiency at avoiding damage.

Carnen's attacks with both weapons missed wildly. Strasha shrieked in triumph as the elf became visible. As a 5th level assassin, Salamander required a 16 to hit (including all adjustments). He rolled an 18 and drove his stake deep into Strasha's beating heart.

"Quick cut off her head!" "With pleasure!" replied the other assassin...and did. They then stuffed her severed skull with holy wafers (taken from the local church and listed clearly on the character sheet) and watched while her body rotted into dust.

More later.


  1. I love it! Seems like everyone is having a blast with this module.

    1. Ha! kids even said I should submit my re-worked Ravenloft to Prince of Nothing's new "NoArtPunk" contest.

      I declined.

      This session report was from a couple days ago. We had a (very) short session tonight, wrapping things up. An epilogue is (probably) coming soon!
      ; )

  2. After watching them draw magnificent cards from the Deck of Many Things, Strasha should've known they have preposterous luck! And locking yourself in with a group of adventurers is a tried and true method of suicide!

    1. Perhaps…but luck always turns. *I* certainly wasn’t expecting things to go that way.

      I was rather surprised by the potion use…that’s the kind of move I generally don’t think of myself (I always underestimate the usefulness of potions) and he’d been hoarding that one for a while.

      However, I try to put myself in the mind of the vamp…what would SHE do? What would she consider were the odds here. Clearly the party had been badly beaten up…two out of six standing and barely at that. What she did NOT want was for them to escape from the chamber where she had them cornered…thus, the wall of fire.

      If she/I underestimated their chances…well, that doesn’t seem entirely implausible or beyond reason for a person of her power/stature. Their chances were NOT good…especially with the tack they tried. If Salamander had used the sunblade (a weapon he was proficient in, unlike Carnen) they would have had a much better chance…the thing gets +13 damage against vampires, and Sal’s backstab is triple damage.

      They chose the hard way, though, and scored a heck of a victory.

  3. Excellent ending!
    I have always enjoyed Ravenloft, but as I have mentioned in the past I grew up on a steady diet of gothic literature, Hammer Horror, and Dark Shadows.

    1. Oh, it didn't QUITE end final act remains to be told.
      ; )

  4. Love it! This sort of random back-and-forth is why I love playing these games.

  5. Glad to hear Ms Marvel is good. We enjoyed Love and Thunder but found Doc Strange 2 disappointing.

    Re: any successful attack staking the vampire - is this part of the AD&D rules as written, or just the way you interpret it? Asking purely out of curiosity. I've often vacillated on how I want to handle things like "called shots" in my game and am always interested to hear how others handle them.

    1. So far as I know, there have never been rules written for staking a vampire in combat...not through OD&D, 1E, Basic, or 2E (maybe 3E had some system for doing so, but I don't want to bother looking it up right now)...nor have I seen any "mini-systems" given in the various adventure modules where vampires have appeared over the years (S3, I2, C1, D3, Q1,, vampires sure are popular as adversaries, huh?).

      The best way to stake a vampire is to find it lying in its coffin, and I suspect this is the usual method (i.e. surprising it during the daytime while it sleeps, or knocking it down to zero hit points and FORCING it into a torpor-like state).

      So, I was winging it with spot rules. A "stake" is not a weapon one usually achieves proficiency in (maybe some vamp-hunting specialist out there is the exception), so it carries a substantial penalty to use. The low AC (1) of a vampire *could* be interpreted as the difficulty of striking a vital target (even harder than finding a vulnerable spot on a dude wearing full plate armor with AC 2), and thus I decided to interpret it as such...even though I'm 90% positive it's just the incremental scaling that goes with undead types (wight AC5, wraith AC4, mummy AC3, spectre AC2, vamp AC1...see? Simplistic).

      However, Matt, I'm glad you asked. Part of the reason I'm posting these missives is to SHOW folks how I run my game; hopefully, it will aid others in running theirs. Perhaps my reasoning is off (or someone else prefers a different method of figuring such a thing). For MY game, it made for a memorable experience...a high chance of failure, a small chance of uber-victory, a die roll on which all things hinged.

      I am the blackjack dealer of D&D.
      ; )

    2. I ran Dracula Dossier in 2016-2017 using a modified Call of Cthulhu, and I ruled that to stake a vampire a character had to roll an impale, which is a fifth of their attack skill. Given that they would have to deliver the stake by hand or crossbow, and neither is a standard skill in CoC, their chances were not high.

      Even so, it didn't take them very long to stake Dracula at the climax of the campaign, but they were clever and effective in shutting down his support in order to get close enough to do the deed, so they did work for it.

    3. Ha! I've never had a vampire in any of the Chaosium games I've run (CoC, EQ, Stormbringer), but you're right: BRP's combat system...especially the "impale" mechanic...would seem custom suited for such an action.

  6. This reminded me when a long time ago we refused to be railroaded and at low level attacked a vampire. He was supposed to be the big bad and we were supposed to run away or do his quest or whatever.

    In the game the DM rule was natural 20s always hit. So we decided that our best bet was to arm our selves with stakes in each hand. Figuring that even though we were not proficient, that the DM made us take a penalty for a called shot, and that we would take the off hand penalty, with 5 of us odds were someone would roll a natural 20. Before he could kill us all.

    This is when I realized that Automatically hitting on a 20 was a dumb rule. And so did the dice. I don't think any of us rolled above a 12 and we got our first level charachters slaughtered.