On Saturday 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”)
After waking up the next day, feeling surprisingly refreshed, the group discovers that their temporary host, Escher, is not there in the lounge. Fletcher is eager to take a look around, and see if they can check out what’s going on in the two spires of Castle Ravenloft before they move on with their mission.
He and Krossa head up the stairs together and arrive on the tower roof, where they see the two towers rise up above them, a bare walkway connecting their roof with the other tower. Krossa and Fletcher look down to the roof of the castle’s keep, below, and find that there are some possible holes or weak points down there, which could be advantageous should they need to sneak in or escape out.
Krossa goes down into the tower to the lounge to tell the others about this, and about Fletcher’s intentions of searching the towers for anything useful. While Fletcher waits on the roof, he feels a strange tugging at his body, which he resists for now. As the rest of the party, sans Danika Martikov – who waits in the lounge, climbs the stairs toward the roof, Fletcher feels the pulling again. Resisting still, he heads toward the walkway and peers across into the tower’s entryway.
The rest of the party reaches the rooftop, and they look over at Fletcher, who glances around as if trying to find something – the source of that pulling feeling. He warns them that something may be trying to influence him, and to be on the lookout. He’s going to try to cross the walkway and get into the other tower.
Halfway across the narrow, guardrail-less bridge, Fletcher’s dark gift of truesight allows him to finally see what is affecting him: a ghostly figure of death coming through from the Ethereal Plane, and it finally succeeds in possessing him. The rest of the party watch, helpless, as Fletcher – no longer in control of his body – turns to the side, and steps off of the walkway.
Fletcher tumbles through open air, falling first sixty feet down to the roof of the keep, crashing through the rotting wood and tiles, and then another twenty feet down to the hard stone floor of a web-choked hallway. His ankle is broken, as are a few ribs, all of which he discovers as he tries to stand up. He won’t be able to move as quickly as he normally can. He calls up through the hole that he’s okay. Fletcher looks around the hallway, and notices a pathway through the thick webs that leads to a pair of ornately carved bronze doors. He heads toward them.
Up on the roof, the others look over the edge and see the hole through which Fletcher fell. They hear him call up, but barely. Krossa then feels the pull of a ghostly entity, and starts walking toward the walkway, but Khurz runs up and tackles him to the rooftop, expelling the ghost at the same time. Krossa thanks him, and admits that he had no control over himself. Khurz realizes what is happening, that ghosts are trying to possess them and make them jump. But if they all stay close to him, they should be safe thanks to the aura from the Icon of Ravenloft he carries.
Khurz crosses the walkway with the others, and they get into the shorter of the two spires of Ravenloft. Immediately, they are struck with a visual that stops them cold. About twenty feet above them, suspended in midair in the center of the tower, floats a large glowing red crystal stone that resembles a heart – about ten feet in diameter. It faintly pulses as if having its own heartbeat.
In the web-choked hall, Fletcher opens the bronze doors, and finds a wide room, the dimensions of which are obscured by an abundance of thick webs, save for a narrow path through to a hanging rope in the center of the space. Fletcher, realizing he cannot ascend back to where he was through this room, turns back to the hall, but leaves the doors ajar. He tries to climb the walls up to the hole he created, but gets caught in the webs.
Stuck, Fletcher calls up through the hole in the ceiling, asking Malis to fireball him to get rid of all the webs. He continues to struggle, and tears himself free of the webs, dropping to the floor. He calls back up a “nevermind,” before Malis can act, but then a giant spider squeezes itself out through the doors that Fletcher left open, and it heads toward him.
The floating crystal heart greatly disturbs the party, but Krossa and Ezmerelda head up the stairs to the top of the tower, where they find a room with manacles on the walls and a bed in the center. At the foot of the bed is an iron chest, which Krossa picks open. Inside, he finds a bejeweled gold crown. Cairie, intrigued, comes up the stairs and takes the crown, putting it into her bag.
The party reconvenes at the landing with the entryway leading out to the walkway, and discuss their next action. How are they going to get to Fletcher? Could they tie enough rope together to the walkway and lower themselves down to the keep’s roof? As they discuss, Cairie cannot stop staring at the heart. It gets to be too much for her, and she looses an arrow at it. The arrow hits true, and the heart practically bellows with a thundering beat, and the tower itself shudders.
With a bright flash of red light, the tower pitches suddenly, as if tilted to the side, and everyone manages to hang on except for Khurz, who topples over the edge of the landing and down into thin air…and begins a one hundred and ninety foot drop.
A humongous swarm of bats flies down from the top of the tower and starts to harass the party still remaining, even as the dangerously sharp halberds mounted on the walls of the tower come to life and start flying through the air to cut and slash at them as well, all defending the crystal heart.
Down in the keep, Fletcher prepares himself for the giant spider, when a second one emerges from the other room, and tries to web him up, but misses. Fletcher climbs halfway up the wall and fires arrows at the spiders, injuring one of them. The other catches up to him and tries to bite him, but Fletcher is too nimble, even with a broken ankle. The second spider climbs up to him as well, but Fletcher fakes it out and kills it by removing its head with his rapier. Two more giant spiders come out of the other room.
In the tower, the party tries to hold their own against the bats and the halberds, with Cairie taking another shot at the crystal heart. She notices that, when she hits it with an arrow, she sees a flash of light that seems somehow familiar, though she can’t place it at this time. The tower bucks again, and pitches to the side, and both Malis and Ezmerelda fall. Ezmerelda reaches for Malis, and pulls herself to the tiefling.
Cairie starts running down the stairs as fast as she can, using her roguish speed to start gaining on her falling friends. Krossa acts as the rearguard, holding off the halberds, which all switch their attention to him. He begins backing down the stairs and away from the crystal heart. The halberds follow, continuing to try and attack him.
Khurz, as he falls, grips his Holy Symbol of Ravenkind and utters a quick prayer to anyone who will listen, asking that they guide his comrades in their decisions and toward their goal of doing as much good as possible in their time left here. Two seconds later, he smashes into the ground at the bottom of the tower. His spine breaks, paralyzing him, but he’s able to cling to consciousness thanks to his powerful, half-orc endurance.
Ezmerelda grips Malis tight as they continue to fall, and Ezmerelda says in Malis’s ear, “Stake that son of a bitch,” before kicking Malis as hard as she can with both feet in her gut, and altering her trajectory. Malis hits the wall of the tower, and tumbles down on the stairs, and over the edge, but she manages to hang on, dangling over the rest of the drop. Ezmerelda keeps falling, while Malis screams in anguish.
Fletcher climbs up and out through the hole in the ceiling, and starts to back away. He can see the two spires rise far above him, and where he fell from. He also glances behind him and sees, where the shorter tower meets the keep, a door that leads into the tower. He starts limping toward it. A spider crawls out through the hole and toward Fletcher, trying to bite him. Fletcher kills it. The other two spiders climb up out of the hole and start after Fletcher as he makes for the door.
Cairie continues to run down the tower stairs as fast as she can, and has made a lasso with her length of rope while she has. Passing the falling form of Ezmerelda, she throws out the lasso and succeeds in catching her. Cairie braces herself as Ezmerelda’s momentum swings her down toward the tower wall, into which she crashes. Cairie holds her, and keeps her aloft. Malis pulls herself up onto the stairs and heads down toward Cairie, intent on helping her with Ezmerelda.
Krossa keeps moving down, destroying the halberds as they attack him. He finally turns and runs down the stairs to catch up with his allies. Fletcher reaches the door and gets through it just as the two giant spiders catch up to him, slamming into the door as Fletcher closes it behind him. In the tower, Fletcher is able to see Cairie and Malis on a landing below him, with Ezmerelda hanging by rope.
Krossa approaches from higher up, and passes him. Fletcher tells him not to open the door. Looking further up, Fletcher can see humanoid shapes crawling down the walls of the tower toward them. Fletcher calls down that there are enemies incoming from above, and runs down the stairs too. Cairie and Malis get Ezmerelda up and they, too, start running down the stairs.
Khurz uses the Icon of Ravenloft to heal his major wounds, and then is able to pull himself to his feet. After a moment of collecting his strength, Khurz sees a square-shaped staircase that leads down beneath the tower, and a hallway ahead to the left – those appear to be the only ways in or out of this tower. He casts cure wounds on himself again and waits for the others to catch up to him.
Once everyone has joined Khurz on the floor, they head down the hallway to the left, hoping to find some safety from whatever is coming. Khurz suggests that bottle-necking them in the narrow hallway will help to defeat them. At the end of the hallway, though, they find an archer’s post, similar to the one they used upstairs, and a dead end. They’re trapped here if they cannot defeat whatever is coming. Looking out through the arrow slits, though, they find that they are back on the ground floor, and see the castle courtyard outside. If only they could reach it.
That was a BONKERS session!! I was honestly feeling completely out of sorts before this session began, and I thought I wasn’t going to be able to provide as well as normal as a DM for my players. I was really bummed about it, because I hate feeling that way. I want to give my players the best experience they can have each and every time.
And then this stuff started happening…ONE thing after ANOTHER, I couldn’t believe it. First Fletcher takes a huge fall, and then Khurz takes an even LARGER fall!! Suddenly, half the party in the tower is falling down the main shaft and in very real danger of dying outright.
My mood absolutely turned around as this session went on, because my players were having a BLAST with how tense and suspenseful this game was.
After it all ended, and we closed our video conference call for the night, I took a look at where the party was situated. And I took a look at their options for where they could possibly go in the next session, so I could prepare.
They could go back up the tower – but likely would not want to in fear of the tower trying to throw them off the stairs again. The option is the stairs that lead down in the middle of the tower floor.
These lead to the floor below, the portion of the castle title the Larders of Ill Omen. They haven’t really explored this level yet, and it made me really excited…because this floor happens to be where one Lord of Barovia is waiting for them. They are roughly three rooms away from Strahd himself at this very moment.
And I’m excited.
Will they choose that direction? Will they brave the tower again? Will they find some other horror to contend with in this nightmare castle? Find out next time, in “Face to Face.”
Until then, Well Met!