On most Sunday nights, a group of friends and I gather to play Dungeons & Dragons. This is the chronicle of their tale. (This post contains spoilers to “Curse of Strahd”)

The party is surrounded on all sides, and are standing knee-deep in a room flooded by over a hundred twig blights. The adventurers attack!

Clearing the room is no easy task. Just as someone clears a path to walk in, more blights swarm in and fill the space. Little by little, they cut them down. Khurz, however, proves to be absolutely invaluable, as he – once again – summons his Spirit Guardians and turns the room into a wood-chipper. All he has to do is merely walk the floor, and transform dozens of twig blights into splinters in seconds.

When the battle finally ends, Malis is upstairs and cannot help herself – she has to taste the wine. Upon doing so, however, she fails a Constitution saving throw and falls deathly ill. Every turn, she loses more life, and is failing saving throw after saving throw. Everybody rushes to her aid, and Krossa confirms with a small taste that all of the wine in the three fermentation vats is poisoned – also confirming what the druid they faced in here was doing pouring something into the vat.

Khurz attempts a healing ritual, and calls all of the group together. He successfully heals them, and Malis’ battle wounds close, but her poison remains. Krossa and Raif together decide to leave the winery, and report back to Davian and Urwin at the wagon down the road. Khurz and Rolen decide to explore the winery to try and find something that could help Malis. Y’shaarj, Cairie, and Ezmerelda stay with the tiefling while Y’shaarj tries to think of a way to save her.

Khurz and Rolen search the winery. While Rolen finds a wooden chest full of money, Khurz finds another druid! This one wields a gnarled, black wooden staff. It runs through the winery, with Khurz quickly losing sight of it. He comes back to inform the group of the druid. He and Rolen go searching for it while everyone else stays with Malis.

Y’shaarj – desperate and thinking quickly – puts Malis under a Feign Death spell to keep her in a kind of stasis while they try to figure this out. The spell only lasts for an hour, though, so they have to work quickly.

Khurz and Rolen find the druid in the cold basement. It surprises them with a Thunderwave blast that destroys nearly all of the bottled stock of wine in the cellar. Casting spells from across the room, Khurz and Rolen successfully kill the druid. Rolen uses his Mage Hand to pick up the druid’s staff. Khurz keeps the last bottle of wine.

Krossa and Raif make it to the wagon…only to find it completely destroyed. They find two forms next to it. Krossa goes to one – it’s Ismark Kolyanovich. The man has deep gouges in his flesh, torn right through his armor, and his skin is scorched in several places. He is dead. Raif goes to the other – it’s Davian Martikov. He has a wound in his torso that’s bleeding heavily. He seems dead, but suddenly gasps for air as Raif searches him. He tells them that, “they came from the hill,” and begs that they save his son, Urwin. Then he dies. Krossa and Raif head back to the winery.

Khurz and Rolen return to Y’shaarj and the others to reveal nothing that would help Malis. Rolen shows Ezmerelda the staff, and she speaks of an ancient vampire druid named Gulthias, and how he experimented to create vampire plants that could poison the land around it. She says that this staff could be made of branches from a Gulthias tree.

While under the effects of the Feign Death spell, Malis has a vision. She feels and sees as though her consciousness is floating up through the roof of the winery, and up into the skies above the Barovian valley. She goes higher and higher, but then suddenly stops, and feels as though she cannot go anymore. Getting a good look from this height, she sees that the valley is entirely enveloped by the mist…and there is nothing beyond that. This vision informs Malis that there is no life beyond Barovia.

Death, here, is eternal.

With no other choice, Y’shaarj brings Malis out of the spell. She begins acting strangely, constantly playing with her hair. She reaches out and starts playing with Ezmerelda’s, and suddenly asks her for a lock of it, which Ezmerelda provides – if a little confused. Malis clings to it, and is still being affected by the poison.

Krossa and Raif return to the winery, and inform everyone of what happened at the wagon. Urwin and Ireena are gone, most likely taken to Yester Hill. They have lost their charge, and Ireena is now in great danger. They all agree that they have to save them. However, they are so weary, and hurt, and they need to rest.

I’ve been very excited about the session in where I get to reveal that death in Barovia is forever, that there is no escape, not even for the dead. When Y’shaarj cast the Feign Death spell, I knew this would be my chance. I’m so happy. I gave Malis a little short-term madness, which is what the book says you would do if any character is resurrected while in Barovia, due to the vast hopelessness upon discovering this truth. This was also the first time ever that I got to text a secret something to one of my players, so that was cool.

The fight with the twig blights was fun. After seeing how the 30-something needle blights weren’t as much of a threat to the party as I had hoped, I decided to up the ante and go with the 100-twig blights – and it kind of went like the fight with the Crazy 88. The party just approached a group and took them down. Still, it was a memorable encounter, and the party enjoyed it.

Twig blights aren’t that much of a threat. And, turns out, not too many of them can get up in an adventurer’s face to do damage at a time.

Malis tasting the wine was like one of those “perfect storm” moments as a DM. I knew that the wine was poisoned, and I knew it would be devastating. The wine in the vats, the book says, acts as though a Potion of Poison from the DMG, which deals 3d6 damage every turn, with the creature making a Con save every time. But, with a success, the poison doesn’t end…it merely reduces the damage by 1d6 until gone. So, with Malis continually failing her saving throws, she kept taking the total 3d6 damage. It was crazy, she was dying fast. Y’shaarj was brilliant to use the Feign Death spell.

So here’s where I deviated from the book. By having Ezmerelda tell Ireena and Ismark to stay with the wagon and Davian and Urwin, I put them directly in harm’s way. I knew I wanted the party to go to Yester Hill, because that’s a great encounter. So, I had a fight take place at the wagon while everyone was inside the winery. Killing Davian and Ismark was a very entertaining decision, narratively. If the group rescues Ireena and Urwin, each of them have a reason to mourn. This also gives the group a push to go to Yester Hill.

So, now I prepare for that encounter. It’s going to be different than the book as well, since now there’s hostages for the druids’ ritual….

Next time, a fierce battle on Yester Hill in “A Ritual Interrupted!”

Until then – Well Met!