Hi Everyone, Slick Dungeon your friendly Dungeon Master back with more campaign diaries for the Curse of Strahd.
You can read the first campaign diary here if you want to.
I am going to tell you how I prepared for the session, what happened in the session, and what I would change if I ran this again.
And once again, warning that there are spoilers below so if you are playing Curse of Strahd, wait until you finish to read this post. That goes for my player too!
My players were left stranded in Barovia on the road leading to the village and the first building they came to was a house. Outside were two children who beckoned them to come in and save their little brother from a monster in the basement. The players readily agreed but did not know they were entering the so called, “Death House.”
The Death House is a module for 1-3 level players that you can find in the appendix to Curse of Strahd. You can also get this as a free module to play as a stand alone one shot adventure here. This is a great module to do if you want a bit of a grinder haunted house for low level characters. I think it would probably be fun to run around Halloween and I would say it takes about four hours total to run so it’s not a huge session commitment.
I prepared for this part by reading the Death House section in Strahd, then I took a look at this reddit thread and used some, but not all of the changes in there.
I am kind of an over preparer so I made notes between the book and the thread and wrote an outline that I then printed out. If you do that when you run a campaign, remember not to rely solely on your notes. It’s still fine to improvise right in the middle of what you are doing and there is no predicting what your players will do. I often find myself happy to have the crutch of the notes but then only kind of glancing at them during the session.
With that all set up, we were ready to play.
The second session
Lady Ellarian and Miles Adelard have entered and explored the first floor of Durst Manor. They found a few curious items such as a book that told Miles’ life story in exact detail up to the moment he was in, with the last page saying a creature attacked and then a blood splatter at the bottom of the page. When Miles went to look behind him, there was no creature. Lady Ellarian looked into a mirror and found herself reflected back but ten years older. There was a room where some stuffed wolves moved but… only when they were not looking.
They made their way up to the second floor at which point they made their first mistake. They rushed past a suit of armor only to discover that it was animated. The suit kept trying to push them off of the balcony but they eventually defeated it. Miles did have to make some death saving throws first though. He passed them and his character is still alive.
The battle was pretty vicious but the characters got to level up as a result. They explored all the rooms and realized that the only way to go was up.
In one room they found a note written by Strahd Van Zarovich and they freaked out. It was pretty awesome because they were convinced Strahd was there and were panicked about what to do. That’s perfect in a horror setting because you always want the players to feel unbalanced and like anything could happen.
Eventually they encountered a few ghosts, ghasts and spirits and started to piece together what happened years ago at Durst manor. They story is that the father of the house had an affair with the nursemaid. The mother who was already going a little off the deep end lost it. They had been conducting rituals with a cult in tribute to Strahd in hopes of gaining his favor. One night, the mother, locked her two oldest children in their bedroom so that she, her husband and the cult could complete this ritual. But before that happened, the wife killed the nursemaid, the husband hung himself and then the wife sacrificed the baby. The ritual worked, but it didn’t call Strahd, it called a Shambling Mound instead. That creature devoured everyone who was left in the basement dungeons, including the wife. Strahd thought this whole family was pathetic and was pretty much glad to be rid of them for annoying him with their stupid rituals in the first place. Poor Rose and Thorn starve to death in their room, thinking that there is a monster in the basement, because that’s what their mother told them. In addition, they are pretty sure someone took their baby brother Walter down there. That’s why Rose and Thorn ask anyone passing by to help out.
After a few encounters with these ghosts who are in the house (all of them non-combative) and finding some keys, the party was able to unlock some secret doors that would allow them to go down into the basement dungeons. They also picked up a dog that is still following them around.
That’s where things started to get serious. They started by entering the crypts of the house. Somehow, even though I gave pretty much every clue possible they couldn’t figure out that the crypt labeled Walter Durst was for the baby. I don’t think that was my failure in this case, I just think that they missed it.
They found some treasure which was exciting for them but then promptly fell into a spiked pit trap which was also exciting but in more of an oh no we are going to die here kind of way.
While exploring the Larder they were viciously attacked by a Grick. This one knocked out Miles with ease and although he technically died in the encounter, he was brought back although he is not sure how. I do but I’m not going to spoil the surprise here because it should come into play in a later session.
The Grick was a lot tougher creature than I remembered though and it had a pretty easy time going after the adventurers.
In their next encounter they had a little more warning because Lancelot (the dog that they found) started whimpering when a hand rose out of the ground. The fought courageously against four ghouls and stood their ground.
After that they moved onto a room with a statue in it and the statue was holding an orb. Miles touched it and boom, now Strahd knows the adventurers are in town. Of course the players and PC’s don’t know that but I do.
As they delved further into the basement they realized that there were ghostly specters performing rituals over and over again. The characters were either going to have to stop the ritual or stop whatever the ritual called forth. Or I guess they could have sacrificed the dog and completed the ritual but, who wants to kill an innocent dog? So the Shambling Mound was summoned and there was a loooong battle. Miles hit it with some magic and Lady Ellarian stuck it with her longsword more times than I could count but in the end they were triumphant.
Then chaos broke loose. The house began tumbling down around them. We ran a skill challenge for them to escape before sudden death. They had to succeed on four skill checks before getting three failures. Using dexterity, stealth, acrobatics and deception, they were able to avoid various obstacles and survive.
What did they find once they got outside of the house? A gift basket from Strahd himself with four potions of healing and a thank you note for dealing the the “Death House” for him.
To say the players feel off balance would be an understatement I think. They are essentially stranded on a road that leads one way and have to basically walk into the town where they know things can’t be good.
What I would do different
Here’s what I would do different next time I run this part.
- I would use Lancelot more as an early warning for characters to realize combat is coming.
- I would give even more clues about the whole situation of what lead up to the death of the Dursts.
- I would probably ratchet the Grick down a bit depending on how experienced the players I am playing with are. That thing hits really hard once it has hold of you.
- I would find more opportunities to have Rose and Thorn show up. (By the way if you use Rose and Thorn, showing their picture just kind of makes it so the characters won’t trust them. They can actually be helpful to the characters so I hid their picture from my players.)
I’ll be back next time to tell you what happens on the road to the Village of Barovia.
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