This week our intrepid heroes take a step away from the AD&D basic rules and experience the AD&D Battlesystem for tactical mass combat. The overall reviews of the system were negative, but it got the job done as the adventurers finally laid siege to Castle Ravenloft...
Ravenloft Session 7
The last glow of the sun barely crept through the clouds as Lady Ioana met her cohorts in the Blood of the Vine tavern. Trayven and Kolbo are pouring over Grayven’s old spellbook whilst Beetlebottom and Belzon make final preparations for the siege. Ioana approaches the group and informs them of Strahd’s offer - an offer of peace in exchange of Ireena Kolyana’s hand in marriage. Kolbo and Beetlebottom are concerned that Ioana may be possessed or charmed somehow, but the noblewoman appears free of magical effect. Trayven absolutely will not give up Ireena, and Belzon is concerned that she may be turned into an undead as well. Kolbo agrees but doesn’t know how the process works… something about level draining.
The party begins discussing how their assault might change with this information - particularly since the tarokka cards indicated that Ireena must be Strahd’s primary goal. Ultimately, the party agrees that Sheriff Ireena must come with them to lead the levy, but Beetlebottom, the Hala cleric, will remain close to her in battle.
The next day, the Barovian levy marches out at dawn. After a few hours on the old Svalich road, climbing the winding fir-lined ascent to Castle Ravenloft, the army approaches a disheveled rider on a mangy pony on the road. The rider can hardly keep his eyes open with exhaustion as the adventurers step forward to parley. The rider sets forth the Count’s terms: “Leave and you may live.” Kolbo declares that their course is set and the army continues its march on the castle.
Sheriff Ireena and the heroes divide their levy into 5 regiments - 3 of Abber nomads and 2 of Barovian war veterans - and gives each regiment a bailey bridge segment to carry to the chasm. As the army finally comes into view of Castle Ravenloft, everything looks quiet. The drawbridge is upright, leaving a sheer cliff with a 1000 foot drop between the heroes and the castle. The characters march up the center road, with their strongest force of 60 Abbers, 30 Barovians, and the village constables on their right flank. A smaller force of 30 Barovians hug the hill on the left flank. Master Engineer Kobin and his crew pull the enlarged organ cannon up the main road and set it to fire directly at Castle Ravenloft approximately 390 feet away. As the siege weapon is set, the castle’s defenders awaken.
The drawbridge begins to lower, rusty chains clanking slowly. Kobin fires a volley hoping to destroy the drawbridge before any enemies can cross. Most of the volley falls short, but one large cannonball tears through the rotten planks as another one grazes the side. From the castle, dozens of shambling forms march across the bridge. Ethereal beings swoop out of the walls of the garrison towers, engaging Belzon who had been scouting forward. The ghost’s semi-corporeal grasps strike through Belzon’s armor and though he wasn’t physically injured, his cheeks grow hollow from the ordeal and a few wisps of hair turn grey. Belzon shoots with his bow as the ghosts approach and tries to fend them off with his sword, but without the aid of magic, he flees.
Behind the Barovian army, from the freshly churned earth that had just crossed, dozens of the dead claw their way to the surface and a pack of wolves approach from the thick forest.
The Barovian veterans advance cautiously forward while the Abber nomads and constables drop their bridge segments to fall back to defend the cannon. Ioana and Kolbo advance on the right flank while Ireena and Beetlebottom stay in the middle. Beetlebottom spies the wolves from his vantage point and with his ring of mammal control causes a number of wolves to turn on their brethren. The organ cannon sets its sights on Strahd’s zombies approaching on the drawbridge… and jams. The hot shots in the enlarged cannon are stuck and will take several minutes to safely clear. Kobin is a sitting duck until then.
The Barovian veterans notice something strange with the ground as the approach the garrison towers. As they stop short of the disturbed earth, giant spiders burst forth from a web filled pit. Only a few are able to engage the levy troops - Belzon’s sheaf arrows slash across the battlefield, killing five spider as they try to clamor out. The barovian mercenaries on the other flank engage the ghosts. It’s a brutal melee - a dozen human soldiers have the life drained out of them, falling to the ground as imbecilic old men. But one of the soldiers brandishes his longsword, a family heirloom that must have been enchanted long ago. He cuts down half a dozen ghosts in return, before he himself falls victim.
Lady Ioana and Trayven notice something else - dark shapes flying off the walls of Castle Ravenloft, descending out of sight in the chasm below. These two adventurers, as well as Kolbo, advance around the right flank’s garrison tower to hold the west approach from the draw bridge. Lady Ioana’s arrows miss their mark, forcing Kolbo to engage five of Strahd’s strongest zombies alone. Other zombies on the drawbridge advance, flanking the remaining Barovians on the left.
In the rear, Belzon looses arrow after arrow at the approaching wolves, killing the few that try to charge Kobin’s cannon. The Abber nomads brace themselves and the zombies approach slowly with deadly intent. The first rank of nomads fall to the advancing horde and the constables don’t fare better. Kobin pries free the last cannonball and empties the bad powder, scrambling to get his cannon back up and running.
Gargoyles scream up from the chasm and barrel downwards towards Ioana. She scrambles to loose arrows at them, but the hasty shots miss. Trayven, however, was prepared for the charge. Plucking a dusty web from his spell pouch, the half-elf wizard lets loose a sticky web, catching a number of gargoyles as they crest the cliff. The gargoyles fall to their doom. Ioana engages the remaining gargoyles with her magic longsword, cutting down two and receiving a brutal forehead gash in return. Kolbo finishes off the zombies in front him, clearing the way to the drawbridge. In a moment of desperation, he calls out to his companions, “Leave the army, we’ll charge Castle Ravenloft ourselves!”
The Barovians on the left flank valiantly defend themselves against the charge of zombies and ghosts. A group of nomad mercenaries counter charge the rear of the zombies, striking down a number. The Barovians are grateful for the relief, but more fall to the ghosts’ chill touch.
The pitched rearguard battle fairs less well. While Kobin finally readies his canon, Ireena and Beetlebottom destroy flanking zombies with pistol and faith respectively. But the main horde of zombies continue their advance and the Abber mercenaries are a weak breakwater against their tide.
Ireena Kolyana, elected Sheriff of Barovia, watches in horror as her constables are torn asunder and the Abber rearguard are crushed beneath the feet of relentless undead. Her countrymen are not much better in the front. The battle, to her, is lost, and she must save whom she can. The commander dashes to the front and cries out to Castle Ravenloft, “Strahd, I surrender, you can have me if you spare these people!”
Strahd’s army stops, cautiously disengaging from the heroes and their levy. A voice booms from Ravenloft’s highest tower, “Very well.” Lady Ioana Gundar smiles to herself.
Kolbo and Trayven start forming a plan on the fly. “We can’t let this monster win,” the dwarf declares. “Maybe we can sneak in with her?” the wizard ponders. As the adventurers form up around Ireena to escort her in, the voice booms down again. “Ireena must enter alone.”
The adventurers are torn. Kolbo firmly will not let her go, but Ioana encourages the sheriff to save her people. Trayvon quietly stands at the foot of the drawbridge, reviewing his magical options. Belzon suggests that maybe the party can return to the castle and save Ireena later, firmly against fighting Strahd’s army further. Kolbo asks how they would ever be able to return - Strahd won’t lower the drawbridge for them. Beetlebottom finally interjects - they fought their battle and they lost. He isn’t prepared to become a martyr. Trayven steps forward and asks how the party can trust Strahd and Kolbo offers that the vampire lord will simply kill them once he has what he wants. Ioana attempts to vouch for Strahd.
Unconvinced, Trayven steps forward and shouts towards Castle Ravenloft, asking how their party can trust Strahd. The Count replies, “I am the law of this land and I can be trusted. I will uphold my previous terms, leave with your army and you will live. But Ireena stays.”
Trayven and Kolbo escort Ireena to the castle gate, Trayven palming a feather from his spell pouch palmed just in case. He whispers to Kolbo that they could grab Ireena and jump. Yards behind, Belzon knocks an arrow, ready to strike down the half-elf wizard if he does anything rash. Ireena turns to the distraught Kolbo and anxious Trayven. With a stern yet caring voice she tells them, “This is my choice, to save my people. I’m willing to make this sacrifice.” The companions say nothing in reply and Ireena enters Castle Ravenloft, an army of the undead streaming in behind her.
The companions gather the remaining troops and march down the mountain. The villagers of Barovia look solemnly at the survivors from open windows as they stagger into the village. Kolbo glares at Ioana as they get their respective rooms at the Blood on the Vine tavern and the party collapses into bed to sleep and heal their wounds.
The next morning, there is a rap at Lady Ioana’s door. She asks who it is and a young man replies, “I am looking for Baroness Ioana Gundar, I have a letter from Count Strahd.” Grinning, Ioana opens the door and accepts the note. Breaking the seal she reads aloud, “Strahd von Zarovich, 7th of his name, Grand Count of Barovia and Lady Ireena Kolyana, cordially request your presence at the celebration of their union...”
Session XP: 14997
Session Loot: Potion of Clairvoyance, Potion of Fire Breath, Potion of Gaseous Form, Potion of Madness, 40 gp, Fancy Garnet (100gp)
RIP: 40 Abber nomads, 10 Barovian constables, 30 Barovian veterans, Ireena Kolyana?