You tried to kill Strahd and you failed. Now he has broken his prison and is free. Chase him across the Shadowfell, where the adventure might lead us into Gloomwrought, Sigil into the Hells or the Far Realms. We will venture beyond the Curse of Strahd and together we will find out if you can prevent the curse from becoming a plague.
Expect a player-driven fast paced chase through the planes.
How Will Character Creation Happen?
Characters will be 10th level, made before the game and we will link the party together during our Session Zero in which we will outline what happened during our fictional run through Curse of Strahd.
Pre-gens will be available.
What Will the Players Need?
Web-cam and mic are necessary. A good understanding of D&D rules and mythology is preferred. Players can roll dice online or use their own dice at home.
A burning desire to destroy Strahd is needed.
What Will I Bring?
I will bring a map of the Shadowfell, factions for Gloomwrought and Sigil and a vision of Strahd as a driven villain with his own nefarious goals.
The Sigil Six have slain Strahd and cross the Dread Bridge into the Shadowfell. Now word is getting out as they approach 9th and 10th levels, that they have killed the legendary vampire. Sure, the Curse of Strahd hardcover tells us that Strahd will return but I call bullshit on that and talked about it with the players and told them that their actions have meaning and Strahd is dead and gone.
Last game, Hajek related the slaying of Strahd to another monstrous asshole, Lord Soth. I thought it was worth commemorating.
A few days ago, Pete asked me, “Why do you think Strahd is such a good villain?” Great question.
Let’s face it, ole Strahd gets by a bit on his name. He is a part of D&D’s mythology and lore (see also – Kaz, Vecna, St. Cuthbert, Mordenkainen, the Raven Queen, Orcus, etc), a name I’ve heard about since I was a young teen playing the game for the first time. But like good bits of modern myth, he has become more than the sum of his parts. Strahd works for me because he is a monstrous personification of toxic masculinity. Ravenloft works for me because it is a metaphor for how the world arranges itself to keep assholes like Strahd from ever seeing themselves as villains, from ever seeking the help they so desperately need and from getting their teeth kicked in. Ravenloft (also a fun metaphor for the prison industrial complex but that is a whole other post) and Strahd as metaphors don’t quite line up perfectly. Not every element works but that is okay. Metaphors in fantasy work best for me when they are their own beast and don’t quite work 100%.
In our game, Strahd was trying to escape his prison and turn Sigil and the planes into his hunting grounds. There were a few moments there, when several characters were brought low by Strahd’s arcane powers, when I thought he might achieve his goal. In the end, through teamwork, Trundle the Ranger’s goodberries and Helwynne’s mighty battle prowess, he perished as Hajek relates in the image above.
Strahd works for me because he is a walking example of assholes I see all over the world and our hobby who walk around thinking that they are cursed and wronged. In our tabletop role-playing games, at least, we can roll d20’s and attempt to kick them in the teeth with our friends, sifting through their ashes when we’re done.
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.
Blog of Judd Karlman from Daydreaming about Dragons
This tome was compiled by Strahd over the years, keeping track of Gloomwrought, through the reports of his messengers. This was the place he reckoned would be his first stop when he escaped from the Demi-Plane of Dread’s clutches.
Allows for 3 rerolls when seeking out lore or understanding people embroiled in power struggles on the streets of Gloomwrought or finding people or Powers in the City of Midnight. Describe how Strahd’s writings on his messengers’ reports explaianed this aspect of Gloomwrought.
This tome was written by the infamous Frog-kin Arch-Mage, concerning being a cross-planar conqueror.
Allows for 3 re-rolls when you are seeking out planar lore or understanding beings who are attempting to conquer the planes.
This tome was written by the famous monster-hunter who has killed monsters in many domains of Ravenloft. This tome was procured by Strahd so that he could better do battle with Azalin Rex.
Allows for 3 re-rolls when you are seeking lore concerning liches, demi-liches, necromancers on the path to lich-dom or their catspaws and servants.
In which the Sigil Six throw a rocking party, talk to a deity, set an angel right, make a Wish, convert a werewolf, offer wise counsel to a Flesh Golem regarding anger, take a lost friend’s remembrances, take up a saint’s femur as a weapon and don the Knight of the Black Rose’s breastplate.
Rahadin and the remaining vampires left the Domain. None are sure where they went.
With Strahd’s curse off the land, the angel realized that it had been out of the Morning Lord’s gaze and if that was a test it failed. The players found them healing the mongrel-folk until one refused to be turned back. “Fuck you. I want you to see what you did. I want you to feel that you did this to someone for no good reason.”
Kuru asked the angel to meditate with him. While meditating, Kuru had a holy vision of the Morning Lord, who asked him what he planned to ask of the angel and when Kuru said he was going to get him to defeat what evil remained, the Sun God agreed. The Morning Lord looked at Kuru’s as-yet-un-Identified short sword and said, “There is only one left. Now there are two.” Kuru came out of the meditation with a deep fully body sunburn and the angel complied with his request, humbled that the Morning Lord spoke to this Hobbit Thief.
The B Team returned from fighting Baba (Lysaga) Lasagna. One of the Drow and the Dwarven Priest of the Portal God died in the battle. Also, don’t accidentally call an evil and powerful NPC Baba Lasagna; it doesn’t matter what you say after that, they are forever Baba Lasagna after that. Trundle took up the priest’s ring with many keys holy symbol to bring back to Sigil.
The Frankenlady approached Failed Soldier, who is now in the Flesh Golem also made by the angel. She named herself Dusk and confessed that she had great anger towards her Creator. Failed Soldier suggested she find a group of people like the Sigil Six and respected her feelings. Their discussions about VERY human things is so lovely.
The group was concerned with the cycle of souls and rebirth that was a mess in Ravenloft and was still a mess. The angel suggested to Failed Soldier that the Trinity that had created the Domains of Dread were very powerful. “Strahd was but a plaything to them.”
Hellewyn spoke with Emil, the werewolf they freed from Strahd’s dungeons, made sure he was taking leadership of the wolves. “They call you the Moon Queen,” Emil told her. He said that they would hunt for a time before migrating from these cursed lands and agreed to contact her should he do so. She asked that he look to the Moon for guidance, “Even though she can’t respond to you here; she does hear you.” Emil was moved.
Kuru’s sword, Identified by Bugwump, was a Luck Blade and it had not 1 but 2 wishes. Circumspect and full of self-control as he is, Kuru made a wish 7 minutes after learning this. He wished that if any of the Sigil Six should die, that time would go back and give them a chance to live. Cosmic tumblers clicked into place and a being told him that his friend still might die (we discussed the rules). One Wish remains.
Failed Soldier talked with the last of the Ulmist Inquisitors, giving them the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind and the last of the Ulmist order gave Failed Soldier a letter of introduction to any in the Ulmist order and the Femur of St. Markovia.
Jusko got a garish (and awesome) tattoo of a broken heart with a flaming sword through it. He got a pedicure and got drunk at the big party that broke out. He staggered into Castle Ravenloft and thrust his sword through Strahd’s coffin and said something like, “We won.” When he woke up he was in an alcove with a steel breast plate, enameled black with a black rose on it. He took it – Bugwump identified it as a +1 breastplate, one can turn a single attack vampiric if one is using a Superiority Die. Once they have done this and accrued more hit points than they currently have (we keep track of the hit point tally when they do it) new fell powers will open.
Kuru, drunk from the party, went into the Bag of Holding to confront the Bagman, who had been big as an ogre since they got to Ravenloft. The Bagman admitted that Strahd approached him and asked him to betray them but he had not done so. He asked Kuru to drop the bag in the Mists and free him. Kuru realized the Bagman was evil and refused and got away.
He gave the bag to the angel, who burned it with a touch. And so a tiny Demi-Plane of Dread was decimated.
Next week we head into the Mists, into the Shadowfell…
More Actual Play posts about the Thursday Night Delving Club’s shenanigans? Links Below:
Some post-Curse of Strahd thoughts as me and my friends prepare to depart Ravenloft after spending 14 deliciously horrific Thursday evenings there.
Sometimes the time for talking is done and the only response that makes sense is to kick toxic masculinity in its parasitic teeth. Sometimes that toxic masculinity is named Strahd and is a vampire who believes he owns a woman because of his feelings. Fuck his feelings.
The other take-away is that prisons don’t work and they damage the communities they claim to protect. True for Ravenloft, true for any world.
But then at the end of the adventure is this:
Nope. Me and my friends didn’t spend 14 Thursday evenings for that paragraph to render all that horror, derring-do and fun meaningless. Strahd was killed by Hellewynn, an Elf Barbarian sworn to a Moon Goddess. She was wielding the Sunsword that belonged to Strahd’s brother, Sergei. While in Barovia she picked up lycanthropy and wrestled both a werewolf and Strahd himself (he chipped his tooth on her armor).
The book is ours now; not because I bought it but because we played it and the words shared among friends at the table are bigger than any and all words written.
That said, someone made Ravenloft, someone is behind this evil demi-planar prison complex. Osybus, Shami-Amourae and Tenebrous, the architects who made Ravenloft, have a lot to answer for. You can’t just kick middle-management’s teeth in and call it a day. What else is high level play for?
I did not feel like going through the treasure in Castle Ravenloft and tallying it up after the Sigil Six killed Strahd. So, I wrote up the below houserule to use as the players make their way through the Demi-Plane of Dread’s mists, into the Shadowfell (random encounter tables are brewing) and eventually to Gloomwrought (tempted to write the factions up Blades in the Dark/Doskvol style) spending loot fresh out of Barovia. Inspired very much by Burning Wheel’s resources.
NOTE: Will I ever play a fantasy RPG and not take some inspiration from Burning Wheel? Probably not.
I imagine we might clip the coins into halves and quarters if needed. We’ll see. If they ever take a dragon’s hoard, I’ll write something similar up but with a touch different flavor (and probably more slots to burn).
Will this somehow link to my unfinished resources system or will that wait until I have Project Ampersand (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH ANY NONSENSE THE nu-TSR fools are brewing) into some kind of playable format? Time will tell.
Helewynn ran outside the tower, where the group had entered and saw Strahd’s Nightmare Steed, still unable to see him. She jumped on a pterodactyl and titled with him once, doing brutal damage to him with the Sunsword but Strahd did brutal damage with his hands and a Blight spell. When the group arrived, the Nightmare took Strahd into the ethereal.
The plan was to lure Strahd into the room where he had a teleportation brazier and teleport everyone, including Strahd, to a killing field they had set up in the Abbey of St. Markovia’s courtyard.
The group ran down the tower’s steps into the crypts and started looting his ancestor’s tombs (finding a cloak and a sword). Rahadin found Bugwump alone and did some brutal damage to him, dropping him to 0 hit points right in front of Trundle, who was standing by the secret door from the crypts to the hallway that led to the teleportation room.
The group dropped Rahadin down to 1 hit point, nearly killing Strahd’s Red Right Hand but she misty-stepped and got away.
There was a cool moment where Bugwump went down and Kuru used Mage Hand to get a healing potion to his comrade but the way A described it was really nifty. He described running towards them, tossing the potion to his Mage Hand and the magical hand zipping to pour a potion down his friend’s throat. He made a simple casting of a spell feel like an action movie. It was cool.
Strahd arrived, invisible, and asked the group to fall to their knees and beg for mercy; they did not and began to run for the secret door that led to the hallway that led to the teleportation room. Strahd threw 2 fireballs that really decimated the group. Failed Soldier and Jusko fell but were brought up to single digit hit points.
The group was huddled in the teleportation room and Strahd entered, walking through the door. The group was ragged. He asked them to make their way through the mists to the Shadowfell and tell Sigil of his mercy. Hellewynn grabbed him and pulled him into the teleportation area but not before he gutted her with his hands.
The group was on the precipice. The killing field they had prepared and it gave them advantage on that first round. They did a brutal amount of damage to Strahd and Strahd, in turn, dropped Jusko and nearly dropped Bugwump. Failed Soldier used a cool spell to take negative damage and brought Helewynn up to 40-something hit points.
Sun Sword in hand, Helewynn killed Strahd and in the sunlight of this magic blade, he could not turn to mist. The clouds party and for the first time the Sigil Six could see the blue sky.
Jusko, once he was healed, picked up Strahd’s signet ring, knowing that it would have great meaning to his family, proof that he had killed the vampire who had feated on his kin. He offered it to Helewynn, who pushed his hand away, wanting him to have it.
Next session the Sigil Six is planning to head into the Shadowfell, through the mist, and make their way to Gloomwrought. Or as Trundle said, “Fuck the Lady of Pain. Let’s take our sweet-ass time getting back to Sigil.”
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.