To hand out to players once the adventure is finished.
The most obvious and sometimes most coveted award goes to the player who struck the final blow that destroyed Count Strahd, the First Vampire, Lord of Ravenloft.
Did you seduce Strahd? For a moment did he forget about Illyanna? If so, here’s the award for you.
If no characters became the Lord of Ravenloft at the end of the adventure, this award can be handed out to whoever the group votes as Most Likely to Become a Darklord.
This is for sharing lore about monsters that might or might not be true with one’s friends while hunting said monsters. The more ludicrous the lore, the better.
The Heart-Breaker is for the character who strikes the final blow struck against the Heart of Sorrows, Strahd’s most coveted artifact, and destroys it in a rain of crystal and blood.
The Friendship is Sorcery Award goes to the character who made the most unlikely friendship with the oddest being in Ravenloft. Could be a soulless husk of a villager, a witch who cooks children or an angel driven mad by the Domain of Dread’s fell influence.
Even Death May Die goes to the character who died the most tragic death, even if they were ripped from the churning of souls to fight again. In the event of a deathless campaign, the group can vote to give this award to the character who came the closest to dying or whose shenanigans made everyone think that they were surely not long for the land of the living.
The Buffy Summers Award goes to any character who both slayed a vampire and also had romantic relations with a vampire.
The Slaughtered Lamb Award goes to the character who leaves Ravenloft as a lycanthrope.
The Michael of Santa Clara Award goes to character or characters who leave Ravenloft as a vampire, a child of the night (sweet music optional).
The Private William Hudson Medal goes to the character who showed the most fear concerning Ravenloft’s threats and did so in such a way that their dread was passed to their comrades and so the Curse of Strahd was that much more horrific.
An award should go to any character who earnestly engages in D&D’s grappling rules but this award goes to those who grapple with vampires. Winning its sibling award is a particular honor.
This award goes to the character who was related to Strahd, be it a sibling or a distant cousin or even a descendant.
This award goes to any character who dies in Ravenloft and comes back to life, or at least back to sapience. Can anyone who dies in such a place return without a mark upon their souls? What would such a mark look like and what effect would it have on this delver’s dark fate?
This award can go to more than one character, any who change the angel stranded in Ravenloft through cunning, sorcery or steel.
If there is another Award or Medal you’d like to see, please let me know and I’ll do my best to add it to the list.
Thank you to the contributes at Game-Icons.net. Links to their work is under each pic that drew from that amazing resource.
NOTE: I blurred out the art in our tokens because I didn’t want to steal from artists but it is easy to grab art for your games; make sure you buy their work to support them (which we did). Picking out the art for our mechs took the most time and was really gratifying. I quickly made up and uploaded the tokens with Affinity Designer while folks got acclimated to their character sheets.
Bankuei from Deeper in the Game mentioned Apocalypse Frame (Illuminated by Lumen) and I was immediately intrigued. Emailed some local friends, printed out the pdf and we were engaging in the most traditional of winter holiday traditions, pretending to be piloting giant robots, throwing sci-fi weapons against fascist hover tanks.
For our first mission, support vehicles were getting across a bridge and Republic hover-tanks were attacking. A turret crew landed who were finishing up constructing it after being air-dropped into place. It reminded us of D&D 4e a bit, which for us is a high compliment. The economy is fiddly and interesting and the different mech’s powers were fun.
Our strike team trio:
an H3 Angler, call-sign: SHELOB
an M1 Soldier, call-sign: ACHILLES
and an L2 Brawler, call-sign: TAZ (Tasmanian Devil).
The team decimated the hover-tanks being air-dropped onto the battlefield which was fine. The goal of tonight’s game was to get a grip on the mechanics, not face a monstrous challenge.
I find myself wanting to build on the already kinda-sorta narrative-ish mechanics and bolt on something to reflect the relationships between the pilots but maybe not…maybe just name the mechs and flesh out the pilot in those last seconds should they fall in the midst of a mission.
Clearly, we need to name our squad so I can make a logo for future blog posts.
I’ve got ideas for future missions and I’m curious to see how the team does on a larger map with a Prime Enemy, cascading situations and more forces on the move. We’re all intrigued and will be smashing things with Apocalypse Frame again during our winter break. In the game’s description it says that it is a playable work-in-progress, excited to see this progress moving forward. There is a strong foundation to build on.
We had to talk out the plan a bit, make sure we were all on the same page – agreeing on what the B-Team would do while the Sigil Six assaulted Strahd in Castle Ravenloft. It was important and didn’t get tedious, as can happen with planning.
The scenes before the attack were tense. Folks are assuming that someone is going to die. The group’s motto was coined, “Sigil Six Setting Shit Straight.” Love it.
Jusko talked to the Angel known as The Prophet and got him to agree to answer prayers should the B-Team ask the Shadow-Gods who made Ravenloft for aid. I love how creeped out everyone is by the Angel.
Failed Soldier talked to the Franken-lady the Prophet made to marry Strahd about naming one’s self when one is created rather than born.
Mushroom Wine, held from their days in the Maze, was imbibed and toasts were made.
Also the group set up the Abbey of Markovia as a killing ground covered in flammable oil and holy water, hoping to teleport Strahd into it.
The plan was to land on the spires of Castle Ravenloft, which, as fate would have it, was RIGHT NEAR their initial target, the Crystal Heart. It was a lucky break but I liked it. After a brutal first round of doing damage to the heart while dodging animated halbreds and the tower itself trying to throw them to their deaths off the stairs I rolled 1d4. Strahd would arrive himself in 3 rounds. He did so invisible.
Failed Soldier and Trundle both fell but were saved by comrades. The DC 10 Dex Save versus being thrown off the stairs was a nice tension in the battle. The heart was nearly destroyed when Strahd arrived and scooped up the heart in his cloak. Jusko then did damage to Strahd with his vorpal blade, not knowing what or who he was hitting.
Vampire Spawn spider-climbed from the tower’s top. Bugwump did some quick math and realized the inner circle of the tower was perfectly fireball sized. BOOM.
Kuru put his Gem of True Seeing over his eye and saw Strahd, glaring at Jusko with hate, Crystal Heart behind his cloak. In another action the Devil Strahd would have moved through the tower wall and been outside to safety. Kuru took aim with his Lightning Bolt Wand and hit, destroying the heart. Drew offered the awesome nickname, Kuru Heartbreaker.
Next week we begin right there, crystal heart destroyed, vampire spawn climbing down – still warm from Bugwump’s fireball and Strahd walking through a wall to the tower outside…
A few days later and I wanted to add two notes.
Note #1: One of the gamers in the group is new to gaming; this is their first campaign. We all chipped in dice and a dice bag and sent it in the mail and they opened it when the combat began in the tower. It was really lovely.
Note #2: The Heart Tower was my favorite encounter that I ran pretty close to as-written. The Dex Saves not to fall off the stairs as the tower swayed, the floating halbreds, it was a fun encounter.
Last week, while the Sigil Six spoke with the angel known as The Prophet the B-Team watched the holy knight, Lady Baleron, leave Ravenloft with the ghost of her lover, Serge, through a pool at a holy shrine. Strahd knows this and is irate.
3 Vampire Spawn and 3 Witches drew the team out of the abbey. The team defeated them with arcane fire, steel, cunning and holy sunlight. When the last vampire surrendered and admitted that there would be more teams, Jusko beheaded him and everyone ran to find the B-Team (they were eating soup at the Abbey).
There were some close calls. Trundle probably saved Kuru’s life with his shield and Failed Soldier nearly fell (1HP left…).
The Franken-lady the angel has made to betroth Strahd and end this conflict through love, approached Bugwump after seeing him throwing arcane fire during the battle. This led to one of those amazing D&D moments, where a Frog-kin Wizard tried to explain how biological folk are made.
The Franken-lady (she needs to name herself) is trying to figure out where to go next, what she owes the angel who created her.
Kuru talked to the angel while it made a new body for Failed Soldier. The Angel explained that they didn’t think Strahd was so far gone that love couldn’t save him. Kuru wasn’t turned around but he came away with more respect for the Morning Lord than he had.
Jusko trained the villagers so that they could defend themselves.
Next week we begin our final approach upon Castle Ravenloft…
We are picturing it like the helicopter approach in the beginning of Predator.
In the Wake of the Sorcerer-Kings has been in my head without much detail for a while. I can find notes about the setting from years ago, notebooks from my NYC commuter days. The Sorcerer-Kings strip mined something from the earth and left, leaving their labs, weapons and experiments all over the city. Municipal delvers, who have their own labor union, go into these otherworldly portals and vaults, making them safe for the people who live in the area.
The delves have maps, either from the archives of the Sorcerer-Kings or mapping constructs sent into the delve site. I wanted an in-game excuse to hand Sean the pretty Dyson Logos maps.
We’re taking dungeons and sticking them directly into people’s homes, making a community of supportive workers around the delving trade, and looking into the ruins of an inhuman colonial menace that has picked up and left its mess behind. I can’t wait, haven’t been, this excited to game in a long time.
World of Dungeons leaves lots of room for the people playing it to make their own moves. I’m trying not to get ahead of myself, want to see how the game plays before writing up too many moves. The main things I’ve written down are details about delve sites, thoughts on various Sorcerer-Kings and those who served them, so as he discovers more about them, there is a feeling of alien depth.
Made a few things to show to Sean, something to get the first delve started with some flavor and another so we can make the setting together.
Making the city details, I couldn’t use the Apocalypse World playbooks as a guidepost (like I did in Moons of Leviathan’s Ithaca Station). This isn’t a game about a lack of resources or trying to rule over chaos. I wanted a city that felt lived in, so I made some details, hoping that they were enough for Sean to grab onto and run with. I think we’re going to be okay.
Sean’s character is a lycanthrope who lost an arm during a past delve. Had to make a lycanthropy move. I knew I wanted a situation where the character might lose control to The Beast and black out but I wanted the player to have control over when that occurred.
Rather than thinking about, How can these 2d6+something emulate what I want out of a game about delving into dangerous places that are causing problems for the community I want to think more about How can we frame this conversation to get what we want out of this game?
The move I love most in Apocalypse World is the Workspace on the old Savvyhead sheet (in the latest iteration of AW, Burned Over 2021, it is called Tinkering and is listed among the Standard Moves that go with a Workspace).
It gives the conversation structure. I ripped it off here, using it as a way to make magic items in D&D and blend it in to Traveller’s Little Black Box to reframe training here.
There isn’t much there but it is given with a wink and a nod and lots of old school D&D inspiration. The text above is the most flavorless text in the whole document. There rest is classes, equipment, names and places. Powered by the Apocalypse games (all role-playing games, really) demand rich context.
That is why I started with the Union Checklist at the start of the blog post and then moved into a list of fantasy city stuff. I wanted that feeling of a fantasy firefighter about to walk into a hot mess, participating in a labor union full of plucky adventurers trying to do right by the community in a city that was left strip-mined by inhuman monsters but life goes on. There’s work to be done.
I can’t imagine where I’m getting inspiration from that.
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Jusko returns, new allies from the B&E into Castle Ravenloft join the group. The B-Team has some strength now (but is still the cause for many jokes.
The Drow caution Lady Belora not to repeat her story (of being Tatyanna reborn) unless she is in a space blocking Strahd’s scrying eye. I explain that the Drow are used to operating under fear of scrying in their political House feuds.
Jusko dreams of Strahd, who asks to enter his ancestral home in the dreamlands. They spar and look forward to the time when they will meet in battle. “I am still intrigued but soon I will become irate and you will not like it.”
They are putting together Strahd’s weaknesses and learned of his Crystal Heart but not where he keeps it. Trundle is working on his amber box, in which he hopes to trap Strahd’s mist form. They know they want folks to run, if needed, with the teleportation stones they stole but the rest of the plan remains mirky.
Trundle listens to Damius tell him old Vistani tales. A few names come up in the old tales of the Vistani escaping from shadowy places: Osybus, Shami-Amourae and Tenebrous. The group considers what they have to offer the Shadow Lords who made Ravenloft in a bargain of some kind.
Bugwump contacts The Forgotten One, the evil archmage who inhabits the staff he got in the Tomb of Annihilation. The Forgotten One says that his power will work against Strahd but it is now easier for the staff to take over Bugwump; his Charisma save of 20 to not be possessed by the Forgotten One will now be at a Disadvantage should he use the staff’s charges.
The Forgotten One suggests that Bugwump is merely a Clone of the original Arch-Mage, a way to avoid the Lady of Pain’s sentence into the Maze. Bugwump is a bit rattled… (I’ve been waiting to drop that theory for MONTHS).
They arrive in, hear the Burgomaster Krezkov’s sad tale, having just lost his child to a disease; Jusko awkwardly drops gold into the man’s hand. Then they go into the Abbey, where they can hear someone playing violin.
Inside is The Prophet (the Abbot in the book, if you are a Curse of Strahd fan following along at home) who is trying to teach a Flesh Golem how to dance. It doesn’t take long for the group to hear the angel’s plan to reform Strahd through love; it is a bad plan. The angel believes the Flesh Golem is a perfect human. The Frankengal is awkward and frightened.
Kuru sees the angel’s terrifying true form (Biblical sphere with a thousand eyes and countless wings) with the Gem of True seeing. The mongrel-person violinist skulks away.
The Prophet agrees to make Failed Soldier a new, perfect body…
They had left the B-Team (a Ranger and his Huntress wife, a Cleric of Portals, a young Vistani lad, a werewolf, a Drow assassin, a Drow fighter, and their Chultan Ranger guide – and the Dire Wolves who follow Helewynn about) out in the village where they got up to shenanigans. As I thought about the map of the town and what they could get up to, I knew what was going to happen and I laughed to myself.
As they were talking to the Prophet, the clouds grew darker and a storm closed in. Lightning struck nearby and thunder seemed to hold Strahd’s own voice; the Drow Assassin charged in, “You won’t believe what just happened…”
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For some groups this process is easy but once you get a table full of opiniated game designers it can get difficult. And here’s the thing, if you paly these games long enough, you’ll likely become an opiniated game designer – like staring into the abyss too long and the abyss staring back.
If the game has a situation baked in, no need to make one. For Band of Blades, I don’t get creative, I just say, “Want to play Band of Blades? It is a fantasy military RPG inspired by Black Company.”
If the game doesn’t have a pitch, I’ll bake something in. I’m not going to just say, “Want to play a D&D game in the Forgotten Realms.” I’d rather say, “How about a game about searching for the Ring of Winter up and down the Sword Coast?” or “How about a game about hunting down Zhentarim spies in the Dalelands?”
Honestly, one my favorite kinds of game pitches is, “Hey, I’m running X game on Y time. If you can make it, please do. If not – that is totally cool; we’ll let you know when we’re playing a different game or at a different time. My other favorite kind of game is a group of friends in a house together on a rainy day, just making up characters based on a loose idea and going. In these pandemic days, friends all together on a rainy dayfeels like even more like a fantasy.
One last pitch thought – be loose with it. The initial pitch might change from what you thought it would be through the process of creating characters. As long as everyone remains excited and their characters are still relevant that is great.
What did we decide on?
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Istebin, Monk, last of the Ulmist Inquisitors, who has died trying to kill Strahd countless times and can barely remember his homeland.
Gadaar, Druid, branded and tongueless for betraying his evil Druidic Order, realizing that this world is not right and needs fixing.
Had a bit of a warm-up fight with some thugs from the castle. Jusko and Aldjo were there to find Aldjo’s wife but the thugs in Castle Ravenloft livery were putting up a notice that she had been arrested for sedition. I was going to make this first fight against Vampire Spawn but I didn’t want it to run that long and didn’t want to kill the entire party by accident. I was second-guessing myself a bunch tonight.
The player characters decimated them and got to be cool and feel out these new characters. I stand by the decision.
I used to hand NPC roles to players whose characters weren’t involved in the scene when I played Ars Magica in college. I forgot what a delight it could be. The way the players unveiled their secrets and their presentation was amazing and they made very different choices than I did. It was a nice change of pace.
Jusko asked the group to a nearby hill to get out of the village and discuss their options. Lady Baleron remembered a secret entrance into the crypts, leading to Strahd’s parents’ tomb. In they went…
Tense dungeon-crawling and marking traps with chalk. They made their way through a secret tunnel, Jusko saved Aldjo from falling into a chute trap. They made their way into a room with an arcane teleportation device. Lady Baleron rolled so well on her Wisdom check that I said she had helped install this device. They knew how it worked and stole all of the stones.
From the Observation Deck, down into the torture chamber and through the hall. Finally…the dungeon…
They could hear Strahd talking to Aldjo’s wife, Barushka. “Do you think they will come and try to save you?”
“No, they are an Outlands Expedition Team; they’re professionals. They are gathering allies to come here and put you down.”
“I hope so. Saving you would be so boring and predictable. I am flattered to have Sigil’s attention. We’ll see…”
Some chatter with Emil about werewolf stuff and he turned to mist. They couldn’t see any other way for him to leave the room. I asked them what they were going to do in case he left down the hallway they were standing in.
Lady Baleron used Divine Sense to make sure they were clear. Usually, this would be no big deal, just a small detail but it ended up changing the adventure entirely.
I was considering having Barushka betray the group. I knew that she and Aldjo had bonded over both having children who were lost somewhere in the Demi-Plane of Dread’s Domains. Perhaps Strahd offered to find her lost child. But if she had decided to do that, wouldn’t the Paladin notice the evil? I didn’t mention that Barushka was evil.
Or is Barushka not evil until she actually DOES it?
I decided that it wasn’t cool to penalize Lady Baleron for playing smart and looking around for undead and evil. Barushak considered it but at the last instant, she decided not to do it.
Maybe it is more interesting that she was tempted and didn’t do it. We’ll see.
Despite the lack of a final twist, it was a fun, tense night.
Having freed the imprisoned werewolf, Emil, they made their way out of the crypts. Lady Baleron, Aldjo and Barushka used the teleportation device to get to the Amber Temple and would meet up with the rest of the team later.
Brother Estabin used Shadow Arts and they got out quietly.
Running big dungeons is not, nor has it ever been, my strong suit. I need to break the rest of Castle Ravenloft into bite-sized pieces so I can DM navigating it better. Still. it was a fun, tense night with lots of great rolls and players spending everything they had to keep from failing a roll that could get them found.
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I have seen it in a thousand reddit posts on DM’s Academy. “The bridge spanning the chasm is broken but one of the players has wings. What do I do so the flying player can’t be cool for a moment?”
Toss aside your plan and let the player with wings be cool.
The werewolves and their wolves were sprinting after the distant camp where a pair of Drow, a pterodactyl and Damius, a young Vistani Mist-Walker guide awaited.
Bugwump and Jusko jumped on their Chultan guide’s pterodactyl to get there first. Helewynn ordered her Dire Wolf pack to allow her friends to ride them (Persuasion 18) to the camp.
Lots of talking and chatter during the trip. The table was in a chipper mood tonight; it was nice.
Helewynn’s player, B, is new to D&D; this is their first game. B always comes up with amazing plans and thinks outside the box in combat. Helewynn rarely ever just hits someone without a cool description or a strategic move that changes the course of the battle. It is amazing.
B had discussed trying to get Bugwump to use fire magic to melt down Helewynn’s silver chainmail to coat their werewolf’s claws in silver. There was no time but it is an awesome idea. Never stop thinking outside the box, B.
Jusko asks to be dropped right in the hedge-gap, where the pack will have enter the camp. Bugwump casts Haste upon him, “As no wizard has ever done before; I cast Haste on the fighter.”
The pack Alpha, Kiril Stoyanovich, the one Helewynn’s Wolf Spirit told her she would likely die if she attempted to defeat in battle for pack supremacy, reached Jusko first. Jusko tapped his helm visor down with the pommel of his vorpal sword and got his shield ready.
And so ended Kiril Stoyanovich, Barovian Pack’s Alpha, who believed Mother Night had blessed and ordained Strahd with all of the Night’s Power.
I rolled a Wisdom Save for the rest of the pack. What did I roll?
You can guess. Hell, you already know.
The remaining werewolves ran; Jusko kicked their late alpha’s head at them and slashed at one in a burst of arcane speed.
The borders are closed. They can’t mist-walk their way out. They consider getting to a border and seeing if Kuru’s magic-cutting knife can cut through. Damius, the other Mist-Walker, asks if the knife is a mighty artifact; it is not.
Helewynn talked to the Sunsword, who appeared as Strahd’s brother, Sergei von Zarovich. The sword suggested luring Strahd outside the castle with his beloved or the Book of Strahd, either one would inspire a wrathful pursuit.
“If you plan to run into the Mists, leave me here for a warrior who will confront the Devil Strahd, so I can do what I was made to do…” The sword also said that Jusko’s vorpal blade had killed more people than 100 Strahd’s…
The group debates inside Bugwump’s Leomund’s Tiny Hut. Rahadin approaches with an invitation from Strahd. Jusko tries to get her to lash out but she does not.
Lots of jokes about Strahd’s proofreader being out of town or dead or the Olde Barovian spelling of boundary. I joined in. It was funny as hell.
They are not taking Strahd up on his invitation.
The other Outlands Expedition Team has been dubbed, The B Team. Their Ranger, Aldjo, married a woman he met in the village of Barovia. The debate was whether or not to go get her or head northwest and find the Prophet (the re-named Abbot if you are following at home). Adjo insisted that they go northwest and Jusko realized the ranger thought she was already dead.
The game ended with Jusko and Aldjo jumping on a Jusko’s pterodactyl, lovingly named, Stupid Dragon, and heading for Barovia while Kuru followed along yelling, “BUT YOU’LL NEED STEALTH AND I’M THE STEALTHY ONE!”
Hence the title of our next game…
Next Session: Into the Devil’s Lair
Two players will be out of town so three players will be playing NPC’s as Jusko heads into the shadow of the Castle Ravenloft…
“But Judd,” you say, “this is a horror game and everyone was laughing…isn’t that a problem?”
No, not at all. We don’t play characters with punny names and goof around all night but laughter is part of the game. I would even argue that laughter is a natural result of tension and this game has been dark for weeks. Not saying that we’ve never laughed in past weeks but this session felt like a release valve. If you want to hear more about pterodactyls in Ravenloft, I talk about it on my podcast, Daydreaming about Dragons.
The team debated going after Strahd or just leaving now that Trundle can Mistwalk. They decided to grab their friend’s wife in the village of Barovia and get out of Ravenloft.
Trundle and Bugwump step into the mists. Trundle realizes that he can trap the mist (and possibly vampire mist) in an amber container if the make of it is fine enough. The ranger realizes that moving through the Mist is moving through something that is quite alive. Bugwump knows the Mist is sentient and malevolent.
“This method of travel should not be taken lightly.”
Meanwhile, Helewynn turns into werewolf form and howls a challenge to Barovia’s werewolf pack. A Dire Wolf approaches and says that it will pass on the message but it will take a while.
Long story short – Helewynn takes over the Dire Wolf pack (while Jusko and Kuru watch in awe) and sends two wolves northward to tell the pack that an Emissary of Mother Night (another name for her Moon Goddess) has come.
Kiril Stoyanovitch and his wolf pack meet them in the Standing Stone in the Berez Ruins. Helewynn cannot convince them that Strahd is not the annointed of Mother Night.
“If not, why is he the strongest when the moon rises? Why can none stand against him and live? Why do even the Druids agree that Strahd is the Land and the Land is Strahd?”
They part ways, Kiril hopes to meet her again some day…
During Kuru’s watch, he sees a pterodactyl, like the ones they flew in Chult. It was their guide from Chult, Tefnek. Turns out, their Sigil City Agent, the drider, Quarace Arkenrae, sent a team to get them out of Ravenloft. She plane-shifted a team of Drow, a Vistani and Tefnek with several pterodactyls to Gloomwrought and from there the Vistani Mist-Walked them through the Shadowfell to Barovia.
As Tefnek explains that Kuru had cut the chords of their portal and it was inoperable, their Vistani guide could walk them out. As she says that, Trundle feels the borders of the domain slam shut as Strahd hears their escape plan. Up until that point, he didn’t know that Trundle was a Mist-Walker (and he still doesn’t).
They heard Kiril’s werewolf pack howl in the distance. Helewynn knows it is the howl of a pack on a hunt sent as an order from Strahd himself. Next session we’ll start with a mad dash to save the team sent to save the team that was sent in to save the team.
Am I the type of nerd who writes a 1500 word story about an NPC who is working in the background to support the PC’s?