Session Eleven: There ain’t no party like a Vampire Spawn party
Last night’s session of my group’s online Dungeons & Dragons Curse of Strahd campaign began with two all too familiar words ROLL INITIATIVE! There was no recap, no “Previously in Barovia,” and no chance to tabletalk our way through what we already knew would be a tricky encounter. Our previous session had been entirely roleplay based with no combat, a first for us, and I had a feeling that this one would be the exact opposite. I wasn’t far off.
It was the eleventh time we’d played and we’d all been enjoying our time in Barovia—apart from the constant pervading sense of terror and dread. Two of our party were relative newcomers to D&D and I was pleased to see they were really enjoying it, so much so that they have even started their own separate game—it must be nice to have the luxury of such spare time to be playing more than once weekly! It is also our DM Mat’s first time running a campaign and he is doing a great job. I get the impression that he might even be enjoying it too. He has kindly provided the cool artwork I occasionally use in my reports and you can find more of his stuff here.
Meanwhile, in my household, my six-month-old son has gotten over his interrupted sleep schedule and decided he would like to have croup. So instead of waking up once or twice through the night, he now times his waking, coughing, and crying to perfectly coincide with whichever is the least convenient moment. Last night this happened four times during our game, but I don’t think I missed anything too serious.
The Coffin Maker’s Shop
We ended last session in the upstairs room of Henrick the coffin maker’s shop. We had traced the holy bones of St. Adell here and had strong-armed Henrick into taking us to them. He seemed oddly reluctant. The reason for this would become quickly apparent as soon as our paladin locked eyes on the bones. And to make matters worse, two of our group had remained downstairs, keeping guard by the door.
Once more our party consisted of:
Gimble Timbers – Gnome Fighter, inquisitive, wearing a top hat and eye-patch, currently downstairs
Engong – Half-Orc Monk, taciturn, really fast, not a “people person,” also downstairs
Baräsh –Dragonborn Paladin, pious and self-righteous, very stupid, currently upstairs
Kevon – Tiefling Wild Magic Sorcerer, paranoid, recently undead, played by me, also upstairs
Kevon held Hendrick by the door, grabbing him as he tried to escape. “Where do you think you’re going?”
“You must flee,” he cried. “Forget the bones, flee, you madmen!”
Ignoring the coffin maker’s plea, Baräsh looked down at the glowing bones in the crate in front of him and smiled. His holy quest was about to be completed, and he could return to Barovia with the bones to help Donavich restore his church. As these thoughts flashed across his mind, a crash of lightning outside lit up the room, silhouetting six crates that stood on the far side. Suddenly the lid of each crate flew into the air, as from each one leapt a snarling, spitting, screeching vampire spawn. “The bones belong to us. This town belongs to us!” they hissed.
The attackers were dressed like a traveling troop of musicians. Their clothes were made of bright, colorful materials and fabrics, and generously adorned with sequins. The two closest vampires, dressed in red and white, moved in on Baräsh and were ready to strike, while another, in pink, made straight for Henrick, whom Kevon had dashed behind and was using as a shield.
A fourth vampire spawn, dressed in a green jumpsuit, dived at Baräsh, who was now surrounded by three brightly-colored, sharp-toothed foes. It hit him with its claws, slashing at his thick dragonborn skin. The paladin cried out and retaliated fiercely, but his attack seemed to have little effect.
Meanwhile, on the ground floor, Gimble Timbers and Engong started snooping around the coffin maker’s shop, idly lifting coffin lids and nosing around where they knew they shouldn’t. Suddenly Baräsh’s cry rung out and they realized something was wrong. Engong rushed to the stairs and saw Kevon cowering halfway up. While Gimble Timbers continued to investigate the coffins.
After a few rounds of combat with Baräsh taking a pounding, Engong entered the melee upstairs. Kevon was still on the stairs sending firebolts and frost rays into the room and Hendrick had gotten the attention of one of the vampire spawns.
Each time our foes hit Baräsh and Engong with a bite they would reduce their maximum HP by that number. By this time, both had taken a fair amount of damage, so their HP maximums had been reduced by 11 and 8 respectively. This was not making the encounter any easier, and it wasn’t long before Baräsh had to do something serious before he dropped to 0HP and fell unconscious.
He started by attempting to kick the bones half way across the room to where Engong stood at the top of the stairs. He failed. Then, summoning all is valor and strength, pounded the floor where he stood with an almighty hammer blow, shattering the wooden floorboards beneath him and creating a gaping hole. He fell through, taking the three vampire spawns around him crashing into the room below. The bones fell too and were scattered across the coffin maker’s lobby.
It was at precisely this time that Gimble Timbers, having moments earlier realized his fighting skills may be required, dashed up the stairs, just in time to see the dragonborn exit downwards through the hole in the floor. As he passed Kevon he asked “What’s going on in there?”
“Oh, nothing,” replied the tiefling. “Just a fight; your kind of party.”
Two more rounds of ferocious combat later the vampire spawns were still hardly showing any signs of damage, but we were all on our last legs. Baräsh was unconscious, Engong was down to 1HP, Gimble Timbers had used his second wind to regain HP, and Kevon had spent nearly all of his spell slots. To make matters worse, a small fire had started in the upstairs room and Henrick had been knocked out.
There were now three vampire spawns fighting Gimble Timbers downstairs over Baräsh’s motionless body, and three upstairs with Engong and Kevon. The fire had started to spread in the upstairs room and it began filling with smoke. The monk cornered one of the attackers and hit it with a string of attacks and an uncompromising flurry of blows, dealing enough damage to push the vampire spawn back through the fire-weakened outside wall. As the undead fiend fell backwards, 15 feet down onto the street below, Engong used her last blow to dive out of the window, following elbow first, and dropped heavily onto the prone vampire. This was enough to earn her a point of inspiration from the DM, which would come in very handy later.
Not long after, Gimble Timbers was alone in the burning room with two vampires and an unconscious Hendrick. He could see Baräsh in the room below through the hole in the floor, but no vampires were attacking. He desperately looked around for the bones, determined to accomplish the mission. Catching glimpse of a brightly clad vampire spawn carrying away a crate, and convinced that this must contain the holy bones he was after, the gnome somersaulted down through the hole, getting a natural 20 on his acrobatics roll, and landed in a hero pose over his fallen comrade. Seeing that Baräsh was stable and not dying, he then dashed through the open door to the street beyond after the vampire spawn to an abandoned building.
By now, the other vampires all began to leave the area one by one, paying us little attention, with none of them looking worse for the battle, while the remaining party members were far too badly hurt to try to stop them. As Engong fought with the last one, Kevon dragged Baräsh and Hendrick’s bodies out of the burning building. Just in time, as the fire had ravaged it, causing it to collapse in a cloud of smoke and debris. Baräsh was soon revived and conscious again desperately searching for Gimble Timbers and any remaining bones, but Henrick had suffered greatly during the battle and was dead.
After the Battle
We came out of initiative and had to try and work out what to do next. The gnome was following the vampire spawn carrying away the box, but soon found himself in a room surrounded by a whole band of them. Somehow he was able to escape.
Meanwhile, Baräsh and Engong were arrested by zealous leader of the guard Izek Strazni for disturbing the Burgomaster’s peace. They were beaten then locked into the town’s stocks. Kevon only managed to avoid their fate by teleporting to the roof of a surrounding building.
Gimble Timbers dashed out of the vampire spawns nest and caught sight of the plumes of smoke rising up from the Coffin Maker’s Shop 150 yards away. He ran over to the building in time to see Engong knocked unconscious by a burly guard with a deformed right arm. Slinking in the shadows, he watched as Baräsh allowed himself to be cuffed and led to the stocks in the center of town. Gimble Timbers wondered where Kevon was in all of this, but couldn’t spot him anywhere. Little did he know that the tiefling was watching the scene unfold from a perch 20 foot above him. Both were considering their options. Neither had a clue what to do next.
We ended on another cliff-hanger, and I have no idea how we’ll deal with this one. Gimble Timbers and Kevon are really going to have to work together to help their friends escape.
The set up for this session was really fun. Over the course of the campaign, we’ve had a number of encounters fighting multiple enemies at once, and I know from experience that this can be tricky for both players and dungeon masters to track, especially without a physical board or minis. But so far, our DM has outdone himself by creating distinct features and personalities to our adversaries to make them more memorable.
These have included a fight with a number of malevolent shadows who all appeared as deceased disco divas from the ’70s; a battle against twig blights represented by house plants (“I attack the ficus”; “the delphinium surprises you, knocking you prone”; “die rubber plant!”); and now a battle against six brightly clad vampire spawns who were described as resembling members of the dubious UK pop group S Club 7 (we were fighting Hannah, Bradley, Tina, Rachel, Jon, and Jo—I’m not sure what happened to the seventh).
So, cheesy UK pop notwithstanding, the session had gone almost as we expected. We knew we wouldn’t be able to beat six vampire spawns and I think we were lucky to survive the encounter at all. I wish we hadn’t burnt down the coffin maker’s shop and killed Hendrick—I’m sure this is going to make any future interactions with the locals a little bit more strained. As if it wasn’t already tense enough!