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Thursday, December 8, 2016

Dice, Camera, Action: Episode 31 - Curse of Strahd

Episode 31: Let There Be Light
This is it! The final episode of Curse of Strahd. From what I understand, these same characters will be going through Storm King's Thunder next. That's assuming they survive tonight.

Mark Hulmes is back as Ezmerelda. She is the group's ally, according to the tarokka reading.

The Party

(Anna) Evelyn - Human Paladin of Lathander
(ProJared) Diath - Human Rogue
(Nathan) Paultin - Human Bard 
(Holly) Strix - Tiefling Sorcerer   
(Mark) Ezmerelda - Vistani/vampire NPC

Last Time: Diath got rid of his curse and Evelyn got Lightfall enchanted. The heroes are just about ready to kill Strahd.

The adventurers come to a room with furnishings made of bones (Room K67, page 78). Seated in a chair at the table is Ezmerelda. She has a hilt of a sword. The Sunsword! She hands it over. This is the last item they need to use against Strahd.

The group discusses who should have the Sunsword. They ultimately give it to Paultin. It's interesting that the group did not take the items according to what they drew from the tarokka deck.

The heroes talk about the little Strahd doll they have. It is empowered to defeat Strahd. Strix is using to use it.

The group takes a short rest. Paultin attunes to the sunsword. Here's what it does:
  • +2 to hit, +2 to damage
  • Does radiant damage
  • +d8 damage to undead
  • Sheds bright light (mood lighting for the hut)
It has some other traits that don't get mentioned.

Once the rest is over, the castle shakes. The group thinks that the mad mage has destroyed the Heart of Sorrow, which means Strahd has lost some of his magical protection (the heart absorbs the first 50 points of damage that Strahd takes).

Ezmerelda says the group might have to knock her out, as Strahd can control her. Evelyn hugs her and Ezmerelda barely stops herself from biting her neck.

Ezmerelda gives Diath a silvered short sword.

The group is going back to where they heard the organ music. They think that is where Strahd is.

There's a table with rotting food. The pipe organ is there, but no Strahd. Here's an old depiction of this thing by one of my favorite D&D artists, Clyde Caldwell:

Strahd is not here. Gertruda is. Diath notices a tiny emaciated man crawling on the underside of the table. He yells "Evelyn, look out!" Diath stabs him through the table.

Evelyn hits the creature with Lightfall. It does +2d6 radiant damage to undead. She does 28 damage to it. She sees that it is the vampire spawn from the church that was on episode 2. He fails his save and turns to ashes.

Gertruda says that Strahd told her that if she wants to go to him, she has to play dead. Strix suddenly has a great idea. Play "dead" on the organ. Paultin hits the notes D, E, A, and D... and a secret door opens. Wow, the group is very on their game today.

Paultin uses his charm to win over Gertruda. The group convinces her that he's a prince.

Paultin's Shadow: The adventurers go down a set of stairs past the secret door. Suddenly, Paultin's shadow actually steals the Strahd doll and flees up the stairs. It closes the secret door, which can't be opened from the inside. There's little holes in the wall. Strix casts gaseous form and passes through them.


She sees that the shadow is whispering to Gertruda. The shadow looks like Paultin with bat-like wings. It gives Gertruda the doll and tells her to guard it with her life. She runs as the shadow attacks Strix.

The shadow hits Strix and drains 4 points of her strength. She now has a strength of 6. If the shadow drops her to 0 strength, she becomes a shadow. Yikes.

Paultin shouts instructions and Strix plays the notes on the organ. The secret door opens. Paultin attacks his shadow with the Sunsword. He misses, but it recoils from the light.

Evelyn attacks the shadow. She rolls a natural 20. Boom! It is completely destroyed. Paultin has no shadow.

The group catches up to Gertruda. Strix takes off Gertruda's scarf and sees many bite marks on her neck. Gertruda drops the doll. They leave Gertruda here and go back into the secret stairwell.

Back to the Crypts

Mother's Tomb

The stairwell connects to one of the crypts down below. In the book, this secret door connects to an archer post (K11, page 57). I think Chris has modified this passage to get the group to the crypts for the big finale.

Diath sees that the door at the bottom of the stairs is trapped - it has a glyph of warding on it. Diath disarms it, rolling a cool 24.

They find the mother's crypt (K88, page 94). There's a landing with two statues and a shimmering blue curtain blocking the way down further.

The group messes with the blue curtain. Diath touches it and is teleported back to the top of the stairs.

Cyrus Belview is walking through the crypts. Paultin casts suggestion on him and makes friends. Cyrus tells the group that only people good of heart can pass through (only Lawful Good, specifically).

Cyrus thinks Evelyn isn't good hearted, which makes Strix laugh heartily.

Evelyn is able to squeeze through the gap in the side of the curtain. Strix dimension doors herself and Diath past the curtain. Paultin tries to go through the curtain, but he's teleported back.

So it's just Evelyn, Strix and Diath down there. They see Strahd.. he has thrown himself on his mother's sarcophagus and he is distraught. His weeping is interrupted by Diath and Strix arguing about trying to get Paultin and Ezmerelda past the curtain.

The Final Encounter

I'll do this in detail for the sake of posterity.

Initiative Order:
  • 22 Ezmerelda
  • 20 Diath
  • Strahd?
  • 18 Strix
  • 15 Evelyn
  • 12 Paultin
Ezmerelda: Wants to try to help Paultin get in, but there seems to be no way to do so.

Diath: Diath tries to make Strahd talk to buy time for the others to get in here. "These tombs. Your parents?" Strahd explains that the spirits of his parents don't approve of the pact he made with the dark powers.

Strahd: I think this is his turn. He's just talking, not using his legendary actions or anything.

Strix: Continues the conversation.

Evelyn: She pulls out the Icon of Ravenkind. Evelyn compels him in the name of the Morninglord. She uses the icon to try to paralyze him. He fails his save. He can auto-make this saving throw with his legendary resistance, but he doesn't.

I think we're low on time here, so this is going to be quick. Strahd is perhaps so distraught that he can't shake it off just yet. Maybe he just knows he's doomed. The group has all of the items.

Paultin: He casts invisibility and is able to squeeze through the side of the curtain.

Diath: He casually walks around to the front of the tomb. He condemns Strahd for bringing pain to all of the people of Barovia. Strahd can't respond because he is paralyzed. Diath senses no remorse at all.

Strahd: Is paralyzed.

Strix: Pulls out the doll and sticks it in Strahd's face. Opposed charisma check. Strix rolls a 22. She wins! Chris is surprised that she rolled so high. The doll's mouth opens and sucks Strahd inside of it!

Evelyn: She tries to use moonbeam on the doll. No effect.

Paultin: He is about to stab the doll with the sunsword, but Ezmerelda stops him. Ezmerelda knows that if Paultin destroys the doll, Strahd will be free and he'll reappear somewhere.

Ezmerelda: She thinks maybe the best bet is to take the doll out of Barovia.

Strahd is imprisoned!


Ezmerelda can never leave Barovia. She puts her stuff on the ground. She wants to be slain.

Paultin's going to do it with the sunsword. Strix insists on watching. Ezmerelda tries to console Strix and wow, Ezmerelda can't resist the bloodlust. She tries to bite her, but misses!

Paultin tries to cast sleep on her, but vampires are immune. Ezmerelda pretends to fall asleep to make it easier on them. He stabs her. She turns to ash.

Diath breaks the hag pin and throws it on the floor.

They leave the castle and they see that the rain has turned to snow. The clouds actually clear and the group can see the sky for the first time.

Then they see a glimmer of sunlight. Evelyn hugs everybody and says how proud she is. Strix points out that everyone's dead. Evelyn: "I just love your realism."

Strix thinks the group needs to give this doll containing Strahd's soul to someone powerful in Waterdeep. How crazy would it be to have Ed Greenwood on this show to play Elminster?

The group gets in the coach. The drawbridge is down. Light strikes Castle Ravenloft for the first time in centuries.

Evelyn wants to get Dee, whose fate is still unknown. They're not going to get her. On the far side of the drawbridge is a large elk. It's Mordenkainen. He nods to the group and runs off into the forest.

Evelyn summons Mourning Glory, who is no longer an undead horse. It's a majestic magic steed. Evelyn asks Strix to get on. She says no. She asks Paultin. He declines. She asks Diath. Diath gets on! Good old Diath!

Strix puts a note on a hag potion that says "For Izek." She leaves it in the snow. She hopes it will kill him somehow.

The others go through the mist. Paultin looks back at the castle. Takes his last swig of wine. Then he goes through the mist, too.

No waffles!

Back in the carriage, something emerges from underneath. MURDERBOT. He gives an evil grin right into the camera. He is going through the mists, too.

Chris asks the players to name their favorite moments from the campaign:
  • Jared: Taking the dark pact.
  • Anna: When the group fought the tree monster.
  • Nate: When he was Batman.
  • Strix: Everything involving Izek.

I really enjoyed the show. I can imagine some people not liking how easily Strahd went down. I can understand that. I was OK with it for a few reasons.

First, Strahd isn't gone. He's just contained. There is a good chance he will escape sometime during the next season, which will be crazy.

Second, Chris had to squeeze a lot into one session and try to wrap up whatever threads he could. A lot of people in the chat wanted Escher to return, but he didn't fit. I guess he could have put Escher in the dining room with Gertruda.

The people in chat also wanted Dee. The thing about Dee is that she can go through the mists and make a dramatic return next season (if she's still alive).

I think I would have liked it where this whole session was just Strahd hounding the group - popping out of the shadows and then fleeing just as fast. But Chris wrapped up a few important threads instead - obtaining the sunsword, Paultin's shadow, Ezmerelda's fate, and Gertruda.

I am fine with it and I really liked this. It is so nice to see how the group evolved. The Waffle Crew has been firing on all cylinders for quite a while now.

The Participants

Nate: I was really put off by how many shows he missed this season and I felt like he wasn't putting in any effort. Something must have happened, because for the last 5-10 sessions or so he has been fully present and a worthy contributor. He found his role and got comfortable right at the end of the campaign and he seems to have spent some time familiarizing himself with his powers. What else can you ask for? He's been perfect for this last stretch and I look forward to seeing him stabbing giants with the sunsword.

Holly: She's really into the campaign and she has a great character. I'd say that Strix is a classic character. When Holly is playing, Strix pops into your head. You can imagine her. Holly knows her stuff, she puts in extraordinary effort to fire off Sigil slang, which is hard for even DMs of Planescape to do. I can only remember "berk," "jink" and "cutter" most of the time. Holly was the heart and soul of this campaign. She is playing this for the pure love of the game and I love watching her play D&D. She is really good.

Jared: It took me a long time to realize how much Jared added to this campaign. He was responsible for almost every one of my favorite moments. He takes things seriously but he will joke around when it is fitting. He has a tremendous wit and I felt like he really took the live game to another level. Jared was a courageous performer on that show and I was blown away by his ability. He would fit right in there on stage with Matt Mercer and he wouldn't just be one of the group, he'd be by far the most valuable contributor.

Anna: I don't want to belabor the point but, like I said the other day, I think Anna is the best D&D player on the planet. Not in terms of stat stuff. I'm talking about the things that are, in my opinion, truly important - the intangibles. She helps Chris run the game. She helps with the pacing. She is completely unselfish and she has the rare trait of being willing to make her character look foolish if it makes the game more fun. Every single session she is at 100%. If she's in a bad mood, you don't ever know it. Evelyn is another classic character and Anna is able to bring her to life in a very vivid way. If you ran a game and you wanted to use Evelyn as an NPC, you'd have no trouble, right? You could do the voice, you know what she would do in different situations, and hopefully you'd remember to have her summon her horse by singing a lovely tune.

Chris: I don't know about you, but I learned a lot by watching him. It is really interesting to watch him run an adventure that he wrote. He does a ton of great voices and it is fun to see the decisions he makes. I am endlessly fascinated by the way he lays out a session. He just does a few big things and gives each scenario time to breathe. While doing so, he makes sure it never drags. I feel like when you watch Chris DM, you get a good baseline for what you should do during a game. New DMs should definitely watch him. I still feel like if I watched this show, I could run Curse of Strahd without ever looking at the book.

Storm King's Thunder

I believe season two will see the waffle crew going through the newest Chris Perkins adventure, Storm King's Thunder. The group is 7th level (?). They could conceivably jump in to the giant lairs right away.

Chris has talked about running Storm King as if it were The Walking Dead, but with giants everywhere instead of zombies. I think that will be really fun to watch. I am interested to see which dragons he uses, if any. I'd also like to see which lairs he uses.

One cool thing is that we might get to see the homes of the waffle crew. Where did they come from in the Realms? Will we see Evelyn's paladin school? Will we find the portal to Sigil that Strix used, if there is one?

All in all, this show got better and better as it went and I am looking forward to season 2.


glados131 said...

I'm definitely glad we haven't seen the last of Murderbot. I hope other prominent characters (specifically Izek and Van Richten) are able to make it out of Barovia too. There's so much more Chris could do with them. I wish I could see the same happening with Escher, but since he's a vampire spawn I doubt he can leave. Chris did hint that the party might return to Barovia some day, so I can hope.

Overall, I did enjoy the finale. The final showdown felt a bit anticlimactic, but there is something appealing about a fully RP climax. We did get a big battle with Strahd back in episode 12. And the possibility that the doll might get inadvertently destroyed is a lot of fun. If Strahd is cursed to never leave Barovia, what happens if he's freed from the doll outside of it?

On the real life side of things, I'm looking forward to the possibility of more live shows, especially if the whole crew is able to make it for them! I really want to see Nate in Paultin cosplay now that he has an official "look" (which you'll have seen if you've been watching the animation streams for the new intro).

And of course, fingers crossed that they someday get waffles.

Jeff Robert said...

I learned a lot from watching Chris DM as well. I realized that I have a similar style to him and it made me really focus on the storytelling aspect rather than the rules aspect. His ingenuity is subtle but really great.

Anonymous said...

I was disappointed with the anticlimax at first, since Strahd is a legendary villain and his quick defeat seemed to be motivated by time constraints, but then I realized one of his goals is to escape Barovia. Could Strahd have allowed himself to be imprisoned? I think it would be cool if that's what Chris intended.

Sean said...

glados131: I hope they keep getting waffle-teased until the end of the campaign. I am trying to think of a spot in Storm King that would be a good place to get sucked into Barovia... maybe the yakfolk village? Those people are very dark.

Jeff Robert: Hey, if you have a similar style then I bet your game is really good!

Anonymou: The end really did not feel right. I bet that's a very good possibility! Maybe the crew will get into a predicament that only Strahd can get them out of.

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