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Friday, May 2, 2014

Of hanging paper gravestones on the DM screen...

As I alluded to prior, I think its time to share another incident from those halcyon days gone by, that is of gaming in High School. Specifically, its time to discuss the module I6 Ravenloft and a certain DM's malicious punishment of forcing us through this meat grinder. As I get going I'll also point out this is not a review of I6, rather our foray into it and the  deadly results.

Like last time the players were largely unchanged: Dave, Jim, Daryl, Tom, Mike and myself. And like last time Jeff was DMing (as he often did). After finishing the campaign we played some WFRP 1st edition and some campaigns prior to the playing of The Enemy Within. I don't recall everyone elses PCs but I do have mine.

Jeff gave us a certain amount of latitude with our characters and gave us an XP allotment to start out our characters. In my case I chose to play a cavalier (this was the second time I played one with this group*)

(* Quick digress- the character is now lost, but the first one was for a high level module that Mike ran us through that he wrote. I do recall he had some pretty bad-ass uber gear as in a ring of regeneration, bag of tricks, +4 heavy lance, stone horse and magical full plate sword of at least +4. Needless to say it was pretty munchkin, but as I recall the rest of them were playing spell casters and was the primary fighter).

Back to my character (I still have the character sheet): Sir Alexander Silverglade, human male Cavalier, 6th level (more on that later). For some reason his proper name was Alexander William Christian Edward Kenneth Silverglade. Looking on the back of his character sheet his social class is Upper, Upper Class, so obviously royalty but the youngest of 10 children... I also recall reading a lot of Dragon #118 and Dragon #125 which had a lot of rules for jousting, chivalry and knighthood for the developing the character. I do remember playing him as quite snobbish, despite what I had written on my character background. Didn't really matter in the end with the absolute slaughter this adventure is/was. We were allowed to pick three magic items subject to DM approval. I did a quite sneaky thing in picking my items: shield+2? no problem from the DM, rod of lordly might? likewise fine, sword+1, Flame Tongue? Nope. In Jeff's writing its clear where he erased the item and made it a sword+2. All the while missing (or at least forgetting the various weapon functions) of the rod. I'd like to say that pulling this one over on the DM helped, but in the end it didn't matter. Full plate armor, shield +2 and an adjusted dex of 18 meant a very good AC of -6! The full plate in 1st edition also meant that it absorbed damage per the UA which probably explains his relative longevity, more on that later.

I rolled very, very well for the % scores that cavaliers were allowed in 1st so he ended with 18's in Strength, Dexterity and Constitution at 6th level. Again, I'd like to say this helped, but nope it didn't. I recall now I originally wanted to play him as a UA paladin but Jeff nixed that so the module would be tougher. I also recall our party cleric as having limited access to healing spells.

So there we were plunked into the setting with night fast approaching. We made it to the village of Barovia quickly and stopped in at the infamous "Blood on the Vine" Tavern where we gleaned a paltry amount of information. From there we went to Bildrath's Mercantile to gather supplies. I recall we couldn't find much and had to resort to gathering wood as ominous wolf howls resounded in the distance. We found a abandoned house (area E5) to hole up for the night as we wanted to approach Castle Ravenloft during the day... that first night was almost our last. Now, I'm not sure how many people have looked at the random night encounters in I6 on page 6, but they are murder! Every three turns check and an encounter on a 1-2 on a d6? Plus Strahd shows up, trys to gain entry or sends his wolves and bats or he does both?

In our case the following happened, well encounters up the wazoo happened.
  • Strahd shows up with his wolf and bat pets.
  • Wolves break into one room (more on that in a bit).
  • Zombies assail us.
  • A bunch of wraiths make their way in.
  • A ghost shows up (more on that in a bit).
Now, I've been accused in my DMing of being a hard-ass (including the immortal "Jesus Christ, Mark I hope you know what you are doing!") but this was brutal. End result? Several PCs were drained, and I was subject to the ghost's attack (we were all stationed around the house in various rooms in anticipation of a fight). Now being a cavalier I argued that my character should not be subject to the aging attack of the ghost, after all its an effect of fear and cavaliers are immune to fear right? Jeff didn't buy it. Sir Alexander was 22 to start so bam! 62! As it happened towards the end of the week's session and recall when we came back the following week he said it was only 10. Either way it was a Phyrric victory. I thought that was a good rules lawyering move on my part.

But, onto the part that ties this to the title of this blog post, the only fatality that night holed up in the unfortified house? My squire William (who was the only NPC I can recall). William was cornered in a small room and got shredded by some wolves after putting up a good fight. Normally not too sad of a moment right? After all, just an NPC in a brief game specifically to play this module. Well...No. The DM had other ideas. He takes out his printed gray colored gravestones with type reading "Rest in Peace". Then he takes a black marker, writes in "Squire William" and hangs it on the front of his DM screen with a paper clip! We all kind of sat there with this weird look of "Is this happening?" while Jeff has this huge grin on his face! Needless to say by the end of the game the screen was filled with all but one, my character, but not without cost.

We made it to the castle and through random chance ended up on the upper levels straight away (Map5- Rooms of Weeping). I recall this as once again I was mapping. We apparently didn't do too much more as my map abruptly ends around rooms K36-46) I seem to recall Jeff saying through the random draws in the beginning of the module that the sunsword blade was in K41. I was carrying the hilt on a normal long sword apparently.

In the end it didn't matter as the end came swiftly with me falling back (we never played cavaliers as stupid, unreasoning, suicidal French Knights at Agincourt types in our games) with the remains of two dead PCs. My memory says we were attacked by Strahd and at least 4 specters in the final bloodbath. At that level our cleric was toast as they pounced on him first. The group was decimated: level drained or killed outright. My very low AC (I think I was the only fighter type) meant that I survived many attacks. I was able to shrug of the charm attempts by Strahd after I reminded Jeff that cavaliers are 90% immune to mind effecting spells of which charm is one. Because of this I got pummeled by Strahd zombies and wraiths. In the end I was struck by two wraiths dropping him to 4th level. His armor was beat up, but his low overall AC and the damage absorption meant that he survived long after he should have perished. Somehow I made it out of the castle.

And unceremoniously, just like that, the brief campaign was over, a near TPK with Sir Alexander being the sole survivor. So what happened to him? Unable to get past the choking mists he made his  way to area E6, the Church taking up residence there helping the priest Donavich defend it nightly all the while watching the nightly procession of slain adventurers from area E7 march to the castle, of which his slain compatriots were part of. Sir Alexander did have the healing NWP so he was able to get back to full HP, a few levels lower, with beat up armor and 10 years older. Alive, but trapped in the lands of Ravenloft and the vampire lord there he remains. This part is speculative on my part as the game ended with the death of everyone else, I think it fits however. If I ever run I6 I'd have him make an appearance at the church, as a bitter, broken old man. 

We never really did much more with Ravenloft and in my later groups none of us were into Gothic horror all that much. Years later I got the module (mine is in pristine condition) and read through it. In my opinion the random encounters are tougher then the rest of the adventure if for no other reason then frequency. It was fun, but what would live in infamy was the paper gravestones on the DM screen!

Lastly, I'm not getting reimbursed for this, but here is a low cost, legal way to obtain this module I6 Ravenloft.

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