Sunday, January 4, 2015

RL #20: The Black Raven

Last night marked our twentieth Ravenloft session over the course of two and a half years, a pretty good track record in RPG terms. What's more is that the PCs are still fairly low level, so we have a long way to go before all is said and done.

In the Tally-ho Inn and Tavern, the party weighed its options at length. As they did, the pair of Talon guards from outside entered the taproom to the call of "The gypsy will curse us, you've doomed us all!" from a stumbling drunkard. One soldier approached the man, held him up with one arm and slugged him with a bladed gauntlet, laying him low. That quieted the patrons, but the whispers overheard from nearby tables were clear: the capture of a Vistani was a serious matter indeed, an order that would be given by no lesser than King Vlad Drakov himself. And why the carriage would be en route to the militant border-town of Stangengrad, no one knew.

Before long, the soldiers returned to the Black Raven with a gallon-sized tankard of mead for the dwarf. Not to be outdone, Aginot took it upon himself to purchase and offer up a five-gallon barrel in an attempt to win the men's trust. The effort proved fruitless, and the carriage was soon stabled for the night, along with the dwarf, the two Talons, and the two wolf-hounds. Carmen tailed the contingent, looking on as Valana was beaten to unconsciousness after she finally began to stir. A second pair of Talons helped secure the stable, then subsequently returned to the tavern.

The rest of the party took leave of the taproom, sneaking into a large, unlocked stable adjacent to the one that housed the Raven; Carmen, still invisible, lurked outside. The PCs plotted an ambush over the stable wall via the rafters, but as they did, their would-be victims detected the party's presence and took action: one Talon sighted Leilana through a hole in the stable wall with his crossbow, while the second led the dogs outside and into the party's stable, the dwarf lumbering drunkenly behind. Leilana was struck by twin crossbow bolts as the dogs rushed in, and melee ensued.

Carmen resisted the urge to call out a warning to her friends, knowing it would do little aside from exposing her position. Instead, she tactfully crept inside the Talon stable and stabbed the lone crossbowman from behind, canceling her invisibility but saving the party from additional fire. The soldier rose to his feet to assault the mage, but Carmen struck deftly again, laying the man low. A knock spell on the prisoner cage door and Carmen dragged the unconscious Vistani woman outside while her companions defeated the remaining enemies with sword and spell. Gaertorin cast cure light wounds on Valana and her eyes fluttered open, revealing her beauty.

The party made haste for the north gates, staying off the main road and bribing the gate-guards to exit the walls safely. Once outside, they fled into the night, finding sanctuary in a forest grove a half-mile from town, and in desperate need of healing.

DM's Commentary

This session ran pretty smoothly, with the party spending most of its time deliberating the optimal course against the Talons. There was a brief opportunity early on where Carmen (invisible) might have been able to steal the carriage while the first pair of guards were busy fetching ale for the dwarf, but the moment was fleeting and I'm not sure they'd have had time to execute the theft cleanly. I liked the direction the party was going when they snuck into the adjacent stable and plotted an attack from the rafters - unfortunately the stable walls were paper-thin and they just couldn't be quiet enough not to be heard with a Talon guard awake and on watch. If there's one mistake the group made this adventure, it was spending too long in the stable without action.

Mechanically, the party had some breaks, but made some sound decisions as well. Aginot's hold person spell was key, even though he unluckily rolled a '1' for the number of individuals he could target. Gaertorin reaped the statistical benefits of multiple attack rolls per round, and Carmen used good tactics to find advantage in melee combat, even as a lowly wizard. Leilana fell victim to some rather poor rolls - we had a critical moment where Aginot was at 2 hp and unable to escape one of the dogs, and Leilana needed any damage roll other than 1 (which she of course rolled) to kill it. Fortunately, the dog missed on its final attack and everyone survived, but it was close. On the plus side for the party, I made consistently bad initiative rolls for the enemies throughout the combat.

Someday I'm sure the numbers will get the best of the PCs and one of them will die horribly, but I'm glad it hasn't happened yet. You really have to play to your advantages, know when to fight and when to flee, and especially how and when to use your spells. AD&D doesn't offer much margin for error.

A Word About Morality

Ravenloft is very much centered around morality (or lack thereof), and frequently a situation arises that gives me a bit of pause. Last night, the party discussed the option of setting fire to the Talon stable. It could just be that the repercussions of such an approach were lost on the players at the time, but the party had witnessed a village fire spread quickly once before (in Chatain) and would do well to consider the potential loss of innocent lives and destruction of homes and property before heading far down so dangerous a path.

The other instance worth mentioning was Gaertorin's coup de grace against a magically held Talon soldier after the combat was effectively won. We talked briefly about how Alaric (a paladin) would never have allowed such an act, but a character not adhering to a specific class or code shouldn't constitute a free pass to look into a defenseless man's eyes and kill him without remorse. Now, in this specific case, I think the slaying was reasonably justified - it would be easy to argue that killing the soldier was in the best interest of not only the party, but the entire town as well. So it's not a matter of imposing any kind of penalty on the PCs - I just think these kinds of actions warrant enough in-game roleplaying to ensure that the moral aspect of the event isn't lost on anyone in the group. It's a delicate line to walk, and Ravenloft especially is known for acknowledging those that stray from a moral path - even in the heat of battle. Tread carefully...


Some solid XP awards to hand out for this session:

  • Defeating the two Talon soldiers, dwarf guard, and two Falkovnian wolf-hounds - 500 XP
  • Rescuing Valana from the Black Raven and safely exiting the town gates - 1,500 XP
That's 500 XP each, and Carmen gets her 10% prime requisite bonus for Intelligence. Updated totals:

  • Leilana - 8,224
  • Aginot - 7,604
  • Carmen - 7,550
  • Gaertorin - 3,750/3,750
No new levels gained this time. I'll keep an eye on XP advancement over the next few sessions to make sure the story awards are sufficient based on the Ravenloft style of game (i.e., high roleplaying, relatively low combat and treasure acquisition). I can make adjustments if need be as time goes on.


  1. Sean pointed out to me that Gaertorin also gets a 10% XP bonus for his cleric class only. Updated the main XP totals to reflect that.

  2. Deliberating is probably the right word to use. With new companions, there will likely be some time feeling out each other's capabilities, as well as how their morality jives with the rest of the group (or in Aginot's case, his seeming lack of morality, sometimes).

    The planning probably did go a little overlong, but I don't think it was fruitless. Good session, let's do it again soon.

  3. One thing to clarify: the Talons that originally entered the tavern and punched/cut the drunk patron were the same pair that the party killed in the stable. Sean mentioned something today to indicate that the group thought those were different soldiers; they weren't.

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