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Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Dice, Camera, Action: Episode 9 - Curse of Strahd

Episode 9: Nine-Tenths of the Law

You can watch this episode on youtube here.

Nate is on a plane, so we are Paultin-less. Well, not really. You'll see..

No game next week. I guess I'll either review this D&D Meltdown thing or maybe I'll try an episode of Critical Role and write a summary.

I am so amazed at this D&D era we're in. These streaming D&D games fit right alongside gaming streams. Gaming streams are popular and just having a D&D stream on the same channel or whatever is enough to get people to try it. I think another reason people would want to check out a D&D stream is because most people in the "real world" have no idea how D&D works.

The number one question I get asked by people when I tell them I play D&D is, "How do you play that game?"

I think once people try out a D&D stream they see how much fun the game can be. Given a choice, I'd much rather watch a D&D stream because video games are static. D&D is frequently hilarious and the players are having a good time. In D&D, anything can happen.

In my experience, most of the time when real life people actually try D&D, they love it. Of course that depends entirely on the ability of the DM, and then you have to make sure your group of players are well-behaved.

Last Time: Diath died! The group brought his body to Krezk in the hopes of getting the Abbot to bring him back to life. Ireena and two NPC wolf hunters are with them.

The Party

The Waffle Crew

(Anna) Evelyn - Human Paladin of Lathander
(Holly) Strix - Tiefling Sorcerer 
(ProJared) Diath - Human Rogue

We start by going back in time to last session, experienced from Diath's point of view. Diath is a disembodied consciousness. He sees himself hanging on the gallows. Hundreds of ravens descend on the town square. They attack and chase off everyone - guards, townsfolk, etc.

Diath watches his allies pull his body off the gallows. He senses that the mists want to bind him to this location forever. Diath blames all of this on the kid that was chucking rocks at him.

Diath is able to connect to Paultin's spirit. In fact, Diath realizes he can control Paultin's body and perhaps the bodies of other people! Wow, this is going to be fun. What a cool idea.

It takes Diath a long time to get acclimated to Paultin's body and we skip to the group riding to Krezk, which is where last session ended. The group has Diath's corpse with them and they want to have him resurrected.

Diath is now in control of Paultin. He says hello to the group. How weird is this: Evelyn has a thing for Paultin, but Paultin is Diath.

Diath tries to prove to his allies that it is him by doing kewl dagger moves. But it turns out that he has Paultin's stats! He rolls an 8. His dagger flops into a bush.

Diath goes to retrieve his dagger. As he does so, he spots a corpse of a peasant from Krezk who has been torn to pieces by wolves.

He spots tracks. From what he could tell, someone ran into the woods and the wolves didn't chase them. I think these are the werewolves from the cave to the north.

The group gets to Krezk. There are guards on the wall. The group wants "Paultin" to do the talking and it doesn't go well. Paultin/Diath ends up asking what the business hours are for the monastery.

The guards think Evelyn is St. Markovia and let the group in. We learn that the son of the "Burgermaster" of Krezk died. The Abbot brought him back to life, and then the son slashed his dad's throat. The Burgomaster is alive, but his vocal cords are cut and he can't speak. His wife speaks for him.

Then the son fled into the woods with a peasant lady. The peasant lady is the corpse the group found earlier!

This is a departure from the published Curse of Strahd adventure, which is very interesting. In the book, the Burgomaster is not hurt and he tells the group they can't come in to Krezk until they get the wine from the winery.

So apparently the kid is one of the children captured by the werewolves to the north.

The Burgomaster's wife tells the group that the Abbot is nuts, and that when he resurrected their child, the child was different and evil. Diath really doesn't want the Abbot resurrecting him.

Diath tries to access Paultin's memories. Opposed charisma checks. Jared rolls a three and thus loses, so no memory access for him.

The group thinks about exploring the abbey. It's night, so they decide to rest and check out the abbey in the morning. They stay with the Burgermaster.

At night, it's cold. The group sleeps on a wood floor. They can hear the Burgomaster's wife taking care of her husband downstairs.

The Abbey of St. Markovia
Next morning, the group heads to the abbey.  Out of character, Chris asks Jared if he is comfortable in Paultin's body or if he wants to find another vessel. Jared says he's fine.

I wonder if Chris was going to give him the chance to posses a mongrelfolk? Or maybe the abbot was going to have a male flesh golem for Diath to inhabit?

The abbey has a confusing layout with buildings all over the place, so a fair amount of time is taken up with Chris describing the place.

As the group talks outside the abbey gate, a mongrelfolk woman with patches of fur and lizard scales on her body comes around a corner and offers to bury Diath's body for them. Chris does a heck of a monster voice.

Another mongrelfolk comes out, too. Strix gives them food she looted from the Burgomaster. I think this is Otto and Zygrek Belview.

The mongrelfolk let the group into the abbey. Evelyn is carrying Diath's corpse. Strix chucks a rock at a scarecrow. The group heads to the main building and knocks loudly. The only response is the sound of wings flapping.

Evelyn uses her boots to fly up and look over the wall. She sees fog swirling down there and she spots a creature chained to a post. It's a mongrelfolk with bat wings. It's trying to fly off but it can't (this is Marzena Belview).

Evelyn calls to the chained mongrelfolk. She asks it if it is OK. It asks to be freed before its enemies come and kill it. It warns that its enemies are watching.

Strix approaches the mongrel and tries to give it food, but it lunges and tries to attack her.
Suddenly, bells begin to ring, followed by monstrous cries of "food!"

The group hides. Strix turns over a horse trough and climbs underneath. Evelyn grabs Diath's corpse and hides in a shed. Diath/Paultin hides in the well, holding onto the wall.

The well is 80 feet deep... and he's not alone.

That's where we stop.

  • (28:37) Diath tries to do a trick while in Paultin's body. 
  • (37:57) The group still doesn't believe Diath is in Paultin's body.
  • (1:00:47) Diath tries to act like Paultin
  • (1:34:25) "Paultin" is a bit worried about Diath's corpse.

Chris Is Changing His Own Adventure: I really like how Chris makes changes to the adventure, although it's weird because he wrote it! I figured he was going to have Diath rise up as a revenant this week, but Chris came up with a different, fun idea. He also had the Burgomaster of Krezk get injured, and I'm not sure why he did that yet.

Maybe he is making changes partly so that the viewers of the show who have read Curse of Strahd still get surprised and don't get bored. I think the changes might also be due to ideas Chris has had about specific story ideas for each character. I wouldn't be bored if he ran Curse of Strahd "by the book," but I really enjoy seeing him make changes.

Mongrelfolk: I hate mongrelfolk. I always have. They just don't appeal to me. It was very interesting to see Chris run them. Each one is a unique character with their own traits and powers, and Chris was able to show that off. I see now that the appeal of mongrelfolk comes from the idea that you can create unique, monstrous NPCs that stand out. You could make them as a comical flunky or as a weirdly aggressive, creepy menace. I still don't want to use them but now I can see why Chris put them in the adventure.

NPCs Fading From Existence: The wolf hunters and Ireena are barely mentioned. Where are they in Krezk? It doesn't really matter. Forgetting the presence of NPCs is such a common thing in D&D. There's so much for the DM to juggle that animals and companions drop real low on the DM's priority list.

For me, the best way to avoid the NPC fade is to give the NPC a personality you enjoy and look forward to running. Remember to run them as "support" - the heroes are the stars. I guess in Star Wars terms, an NPC ally would be C3PO or Wedge Antilles. Maybe Chewbacca.

Using the Maps: If you read Curse of Strahd, you look at the maps and your natural instinct might be to run them like a dungeon exploration. This is why I was turned off by Argynvostholt - it looked like a boring "dungeon." But watching Chris run these sprawling locales I see that he doesn't use all of the areas in a location (unless the group goes to check them out). The group just navigates them in a logical manner.

In most cases, you go through the front door and meet the NPCs there. Like in the Wachterhaus. Strix was led around by Lady Wachter. Strix didn't creep alone from door to door, listening at each one and killing whatever was inside.

I didn't realize that Chris' Curse of Strahd campaign would unfold the way it has. This show really helps so much. When you see the adventure on paper, it can feel overwhelming. The buildings have so many rooms. But if you keep the mindset that this isn't a dungeon crawl, these are real people in real homes and towns, you can avoid the trap of turning the adventure into a slog.

Good Session: The group was in a good mood and they had a lot of fun with the Diath possession story. This was an easy session to watch.


Andrew Morris said...

My group might be heading to Argynvostholt next. What do you think the best way of running it is? Like you, I'm also worried that running it as just a plain dungeon crawl might be boring, and the Special Events listed only affect things outside the mansion.

I would really like to avoid just having my players creep along and clear out every single room, as it will just take forever and most rooms are not very interesting.

I was thinking of maybe having Vladimir meet them on one of the lower levels, much closer to the entry, and send them to the Castle to find the skull, also telling them about the way to teleport back out of the castle (which happens to be quite close to the skull). This would then mean that pretty much all of the Sir Godfrey stuff would be missed, though, and I think much of the intrigue of the house would be lost if they don't reach the stuff on the 3rd floor.

I'm quite a new DM, so I'm still not very good at avoiding having things turn into just a one-by-one room clearing exercise.

Sean said...

Andrew Morris: I haven't read it in a while, but I believe the silver dragon kind of tries to lead the group to the revenants, so you might want to use that ghost to direct the group to the important parts of the place. Also, you might want to just take all those rooms you don't want to use and get rid of them. Change the map so it's just the essential areas and say that over time these other nonessential rooms collapsed or fell into ruin. When I read this, I was a little bit worried about the revenants immediately attacking the heroes. A lot of groups will gladly roll initiative. So if you want talking, you might want to make them less aggressive. Remember, though, that if slain, the revenants are simply reborn (I think there's a chart on page 130). If you are worried about the group missing Sir Godfrey, you could place that whole table he's sitting at downstairs. It doesn't seem to matter where the table is, all that matters is that there's five inanimate skeletons sitting at a table. You could just have the dragon lead them to Vladimir who interacts with the group and then leads them to Godfrey, as I think Godfrey is the one who unloads all of the backstory on the heroes. Good luck!

jerry247 said...

Good insight to Argynvostholt in the article and comments! My plan was print out the dm copy and have them yell out numbers. I like the guided view idea. You make your way through rooms 8,9,10 and come to a sulking reverent with a big sword.

I did plan to make the revenants more passive and chatty but have the phantasms still attack. I'm running it tomorrow I'll try to report back.

A note on the npcs, my group keeps ditching them. They're leaving ireena at the vistani camp near vallaki. Oops. ;-p

Pitfiend said...

Please keep up these reviews, Sean, it's a great source of brain storming for me. I've just started running the sandbox that is Curse of Strahd after letting my players taste the horrors of the Death House and I'm starving for more DM discussion on how to pull this off. Chris's show is most illuminating, it also challenges me to improve my theatrics, your reviews help sate my need to internalize it's lessons.

Pitfiend said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pitfiend said...

I also wanted to add that I truly don't understand your distaste of the Mongrelfolk, Sean. I think they accomplish their role perfectly. They aren't meant to be a threat to the PCs but rather evoke an appalled reaction from the players and squeeze some empathy for their pitiful being. In Chris's game they achieved their purpose. The Mongrelfolk also display the depths of madness the Abbot was capable of as a consequence of his demented dabbling with the forbidden arts. Its all about how these consequences continue to haunt him while he tries to make up for his failed experiments.

Sean said...

jerry247: Ha! Why are they ditching the NPCs? That's kind of scary.. I mean, Strahd could just snatch Ireena up. The vistani might hand her over! That might be kind of cool, to have Ireena actually become a vampire and maybe even become Strahd's agent. Chris does a lot of "guided view" stuff and it makes a lot of sense. Thanks!

Pitfiend: I will definitely keep doing these, as I really enjoy them. A far as Mongrelfolk... I judge creatures by art a lot. I know that's ridiculous, but I can't help it. I hated the art of them in the AD&D 2e Monstrous Manual. On top of that, they just don't really do anything for me. I see them and I can't think of anything interesting to do with them. Thanks for the kind words! Good luck with your campaign.