On 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”)
Khurz, Malis, and Krossa run to the destroyed remains of the cart, finding their horse, Valenta, in several, charred pieces. The newly returned-to-life Zuleika, who had been sitting on the cart at the time of the lightning strike, lies several feet away, burnt to a crisp, and with a sizeable hole in her torso. Malis cries over the dead horse, while Khurz and Krossa carry all of Zuleika over to the graves dug near the winery. Meanwhile, Adrian has escorted his confused and bewildered father back inside.
Adrian’s two siblings, Stephania and Elvir, come running out of the winery. Stephania’s husband, Dag, joins them as well. Dag’s teenage son Claudiu runs out with a bucket. Stephania points to a small column of smoke rising up out of the vineyard, and asks Dag, Elvir, and Claudiu to take care of that. The three go off into the vines.
Stephania tells the adventurers, who now all begin to gather around the destroyed cart, minus Khurz and Krossa, who are performing rites over Zuleika’s grave. Stephania tells them that they will handle the clean up of the cart and the horse remains. She would rather the group of heroes go and do everything they can to stop Strahd, and to keep him from destroying anything else in the valley. As she says that, her two younger boys – Martin and Viggo – join their mother and start to pick up the burned and splintered pieces of wood from the cart, and pile them together nearby.
As the party begins to go, Fletcher mentions to the Martikovs that the horse meat could be pretty useful. The Martikovs agree, saying it is better than rat, and we all must make-do. Van Richten, however, misses all this as he stands there, almost stunned, watching the young children cleaning up the horrific mess left by Strahd’s actions. Ezmerelda has to come over and escort him away.
Kasimir, Fletcher, and Malis lead the group down the road and back to the north. Khurz travels in the middle of the group with Ezmerelda and van Richten, while Cairie and Krossa bring up the rear guard. Van Richten offers to heal Khurz a bit, noting that the recently resurrected half-orc does not look his best.
Malis notices Kasimir glancing sidelong at her a few times, and asks what’s on his mind. The dark-skinned elf remarks that Malis is different-looking than the others, and wonders if it is the same where she comes from. Malis, being a tiefling, admits that she is something of a rarity, and seems to take umbrage at Kasimir’s boldness. The elf responds that he only meant that, he, too, is a rarity here in Barovia, and says that he knows how that feels. He asks if she has anyone that she can go home to, and Malis reveals that she does not and also is not able to have a family, not able to carry on her lineage, due to a choice she made in her past.
Van Richten overhears, and asks if what was done to her to make her this way was magical in any way, for he may be able to help her if so. Malis is unsure of what happened, and even more unsure if it could be undone. She laments over the brash and short-sighted choices she made in her youth. Ezmerelda adds that most of them make brash and stupid decisions in their youths.
As the group passes the Raven River Crossroads, Kasimir and Fletcher stop the group. They see a figure half-hidden behind a tree up ahead, about eighty feet down the road. Many of them recognize that this figure is standing where the road forks to the south, and winds up a large mountain spur that houses Argynvostholt. Cairie and Khurz are the ones, however, that recognize the small, cloaked figure as Sly – the halfling rogue that seemingly died in an explosion at the tower on the lake.
Khurz starts to move closer, and then Sly smirks and waves to him before disappearing up the road toward the ancient manor. Khurz runs to catch up, as does the rest of the group. Upon reaching the fork, Khurz looks up the road, but does not see Sly anymore. Everyone begins looking around, wondering where he could have gone, and what else might be sneaking around.
Malis spots something a bit of a ways up the road. It looks familiar. She runs up to find… a wooden quarterstaff leaning up against a tree by the road as if set there purposefully. Malis knows this quarterstaff very well. It has intricate elven carvings on it. It is the weapon of her long-ago traveling companion and friend, Gilrean the monk – who was kidnapped by Strahd some time ago.
The suggestion is made to go up the road to Argynvostholt. Fletcher and Khurz both immediately posit that it’s a trap. Everyone agrees, though Ezmerelda draws her two swords, and says they should spring it. She says that if Strahd is up there, waiting for them, then they can end this here and now. Krossa and Fletcher say that if they defeat him here, he’ll just return to his coffin. Ezmerelda says that he’ll be weak, and vulnerable there. If they stake him while he’s in his coffin, then they kill him for good. They’ll have time to hoof it to Castle Ravenloft and finish the job once and for all.
Everyone agrees that this is the course of action to take, even if they haven’t retrieved the other items on their quest yet. If they can overpower him here, they can win. They follow Ezmerelda as she marches up the road toward the manor, fully expecting this to be a trap. Upon reaching the dirt roundabout surrounding the stone dragon statue in front of the manor, everyone notices a bright, green light shining from somewhere behind the large building. Wisps of green light randomly go streaking up into the dark, cloudy sky.
The group assembles near the northern, front turret of the manor, while Fletcher and Cairie go scouting ahead. Behind the manor, they find a cemetery closed in by a seven foot-tall wrought iron fence. In the back corner of this cemetery is a mausoleum, which still stands intact, but through the solid roof of which the green glow emanates and through which the wisps of light are streaming. The scouts return to and report this back to the group.
They’re all not sure of what to do at this point. There seems to be two ways into the cemetery – climbing the wrought iron fence, or going through the manor to the rear door. That’s when they all hear a voice – a soft whisper, which says, “My body….” They all listen as the voice speaks again, “Do not let him take my body…” Everyone immediately believes this to be the spirit of the silver dragon, with whom they spoke the last time they visited Argynvostholt.
Not wanting Strahd to get his hands on a zombie dragon, Khurz runs for the front doors of the manor, and the rest follow. Fletcher and Ezmerelda follow right behind the cleric, and they run through the main atrium of the building. They all cut through a dining room and into the rear chapel. The door that seems to lead to the cemetery is barred by a large wooden beam, but Fletcher easily lifts it off and runs out into the fog-filled cemetery.
As everyone piles out onto the steps that lead down to the ground, they all see now that the mausoleum is the source of the strange light. Fletcher and Khurz start heading down the steps to a dirt path that leads to the mausoleum’s white marble door. They make out a single word carved on the door from this distance, “Argynvost,” just as the roof of the small building explodes outward!
Great, bone wings extend upward from the mausoleum, and two large, bony claws grip the ruined walls. A huge dragon skull pulls up out of the crypt. The undead Argynvost surveys the cemetery before it, and Strahd himself stands upon its back. “A pleasure to see you again,” he says. The party watches as the dragon skeleton lifts itself out of the mausoleum, and the muscles and flesh start to stitch together around the bulk of its body, a green glow coming from within. The dragon beats its great, big wings and lifts itself into the air.
The adventurers fight, splitting up and taking what little cover they can find in the cemetery. Van Richten stands with Ezmerelda, and casts magic circle around them, while Ezmerelda uses her vistani Curse on the dragon in an attempt to make it more vulnerable to their physical attacks. Fletcher casts cone of cold up at the two enemies. Kasimir throws a fireball up at the dragon and its rider, dealing some damage.
But the dragon opens its huge jaws, which continue to stitch together with muscle and tendons, a dim green light glows from deep within its gullet. The dragon exhales its breath weapon, but it’s unlike any the adventurers have ever seen. Instead of some kind of energy blast, the dragon heaves up a multitude of gore, bones, and body parts, which it sprays down upon Fletcher, Khurz, Ezmerelda, and van Richten. The dragon flies around toward the wrought iron fence, facing most of the group and exposing whatever cover they had managed.
Malis casts a 4th-level fireball at the dragon, hitting it square in the face. Strahd attempts to use his vampiric charm on Fletcher, but nothing happens, for one of the dark vestiges that Fletcher gained from the Amber Temple caused him to become immune to being Charmed. Strahd seems to take notice, muttering, “Interesting.”
The body parts and pieces that the undead dragon had spewed forth now begin to come together, and rise as humanoid zombies, which begin to amble toward the heroes. Ezmerelda fires a lightning bolt, which strikes three of the zombies, but does not take them down. Krossa tries taking on some of the zombies, while Khurz seeks cover by making his way to the mausoleum.
Kasimir attempts a big spell, and tries to transform the dragon into a different creature, but it fails, and Strahd turns his attention to the elf. The dragon swoops down and pins Kasimir against the wall of the mansion. It makes its full range of deadly attacks against him. The rest of the adventurers cannot see this, for the dragon’s body blocks their view.
When the dragon lifts back into the air, and clings to the side of the mansion with its huge claws, everyone now sees Kasimir lying still on the ground. The dragon vomits up a whole zombie, which hits the ground below, and starts to get up. Strahd still clings to its back, grinning.
The zombies gang up on Fletcher, but the monstrous man uses his shield to great effect. Two of them follow after Khurz, and two more try to reach van Richten and Ezmerelda, but are stopped by the former’s magic circle. Instead, they bounce harmlessly off of its edge, and then turn toward Fletcher. Krossa chases after some of the zombies, attempting to take them down.
Malis moves into the magic circle with the others, and fires another 4th-level fireball at the dragon and Strahd, but the two still remain upon the wall. Strahd responds, “You’re so fond of that spell,” and launches his own, 5th-level fireball at his three opponents in the circle. After the explosion clears, Ezmerelda is left quite wounded, but still standing. Van Richten has taken a knee, and is attempting to recover from the blast. Malis is resistant to fire damage, so she was able to shake off much of the effect.
Ezmerelda creates a magical dart of light in her hand, and then fires three of them off at the dragon. The first misses. The second misses. The third hits true in its skull…which then cracks. The crack spreads…and the skull unhinges and falls from the rest of the body and hits the ground, crushing the zombie below. Then…the rest of the bones begin to disassemble and fall, until the whole of the undead dragon lies in a heap. Strahd remains, though, sticking to the manor wall, and looking a bit more annoyed now.
Fletcher runs up to Strahd, using his spider climb ability, and whacks him across the face with his Gulthias staff. Strahd responds with a clawed strike to Fletcher’s face, dealing a larger amount of damage back. As Cairie runs for cover, the zombies attack Krossa and Khurz, who are working hard to dispatch them. Strahd moves faster than the eye can follow, leaving Fletcher on the wall, and appearing on the ground some distance away from Malis, van Richten, and Ezmerelda.
Cairie runs up and casts witch bolt on the vampire, hitting him with some lightning damage. Malis throws her last fireball at him, but he shrugs off most of the damage. He casts one more at her in response…and, when the smoke clears, Malis finds herself standing alone in the circle. Ezmerelda and van Richten have fallen.
Krossa and Khurz are able to get rid of the last zombie, so Khurz races around the cemetery in search of who needs help the most. Fletcher comes down and gets between Strahd and Malis, and continues to hit him with the Gulthias staff. Malis moves out of the circle and around to get a better line of sight on Strahd, and casts another witch bolt on him.
Strahd instantly moves right up to Malis, then catches her in his grasp. He bites her, and drains some of her life force. Malis sends another charge through her witch bolt, as does Cairie. Khurz finds Kasimir on the ground beneath the bones of the dragon, and casts spare the dying, stabilizing the elf in a state of unconsciousness. The half-orc then does the same with Ezmerelda and van Richten.
Fletcher attempts to run up to Strahd and trip him with the Gulthias staff, but to no avail. Strahd then licks the puncture wounds on Malis’s neck and tells her, “Yours is so much tastier…”
Malis angrily asks who he’s talking about, to which Strahd replies, “You know who. Her….” And, with that, he shapeshifts into a bat and begins flying away. Cairie is able to get one last charge out of her witch bolt, and everyone else fires off their ranged weapons to try and hit the small creature as it flies off into the darkening sky.
WOW! What an encounter! That was really, really fun! I have to thank the people over at the Reddit thread for Curse of Strahd (which should only be used by DMs as it contains spoilers) for inspiring this session with a custom stat block for an Undead Argynvost monster.
Most importantly, this encounter brought some more relevancy to the Argynvostholt location in the game, as well as some further justification for the party returning to the location and finishing the quest. I always viewed Castle Ravenloft as kind of the “endgame” location – meaning that it’d be very rare for characters to leave there (unless forced to do so), so the fact was that returning Argynvost’s skull seemed like an incredibly silly quest. But this encounter let me have Strahd bring the skull to the party himself!
This was also the first time I hinted at the possible eventual return of some of the party members that have disappeared over the course of the game – Sly in particular showed up here. Then there was the reference to Gilly. Still unaccounted for are Raif and Vash. Will they all come back to haunt the adventurers? To help them? To…eat them? Who knows!
I’m also very excited about what’s going to happen next. The party will ding up to level 10 (!!!) after this session once they all take a long rest, so this means they’re pretty well-prepared to face Strahd – theoretically. They’re about to head back to Vallaki, and I cannot WAIT for them to see how that little town’s been doing since they left it. I’ll be adding a “Vallaki Part 2” guide post that directly links to my first Vallaki post, and how I changed the location based on the encounters and outcomes of their first run-through of the location.
We’re starting to get back on a semi-regular to regular schedule here with the game sessions. One of our players was away on his honeymoon for a month or so, which made scheduling a game impossible. But now we’re all back for some time, and the posts and campaign diaries should continue! Thanks so much for sticking with me after all this time! I’m so happy to see so many of my posts being viewed and enjoyed!
What will the adventurers discover in Vallaki when they return? Find out next time, “From Bad to Worse,” and until then, Well Met!