Continuing our Adventures in Steymhorod series, we’re going to jump ahead to the first section in the final arc in our campaign.
In this epic gaming evening, our adventurers, 13 days into their curse of lycanthropy, succumbed to the poison coursing through their veins and transformed into werewolves. That same night, we re-encountered an old foe, Rodian, and a horde of wildmen.
Briseras (my ranger PC), Jorgan (Jonathan’s warlock PC), and Tybalt (paladin sidekick) learned from a young woman they encountered in the wilds of Steymhorod that Elayne, one of the three other missing members of our party from our arrival through the blood tornado, had been taken captive by a pack of werewolves.
Jonathan ran us through Chapter 15: Werewolf Den in Curse of Strahd to rescue our friend, and Briseras and Jorgan, along with Elayne, were infected with werewolf lycanthropy.
They then only had 13 days until the next full moon, when they would transform once more. In that time, they had to travel to the city of Barasov to research how to remove the curse, performing a series of small city quests to locate the necessary experts, win their trust, and uncover the path to a cure.
Personalizing the world
Rules as written, it’s difficult for most parties to be afflicted by diseases and curses. They can usually have them removed either by a member of the party or a well-connected NPC they’ve allied themselves to. (See our posts on allies and guides for help with creating these types of NPCs.)
However, one fun tweak you can add, assuming both the DM and player are on board, is to make these curses more difficult to get rid of, which is what we did with lycanthropy.
Instead of being able to remove the curse with a spell, the characters needed to travel to the Fane of the Huntress, one of the three archfey sisters deeply tied to Steymhorod, and re-awaken her. Ten thousand years before, the vampire lord of the land, Lord Alexander Drogo, drove out the sisters and destroyed their temples.
This quest was a lot more involved than visiting someone who could simply remove the curse for us. In Steymhorod, lycanthropy is tied to the land, and only the Huntress has the power to remove it.
In a future post, we’ll recap their journey to the Fane of the Huntress!
These types of tweaks are a great way to raise the stakes for your player and the characters, and they add interesting twists to the normal rules of 5e. We especially recommend these sorts of changes when you can ground them in the story and history of your campaign’s setting.
In the Land of Werewolves
The characters did not have time to return to St. Sebastian, their home base of sorts in this new realm, before their transformation, and they did not want to be loose in the wilds of Steymhorod as werewolves.
They decided to go back to the werewolf den where they’d been originally infected, having returned its pack leader, Ismark, to his rightful position of power alongside his mate, Zulena.
Ismark explained how to create a potion that would ease their transformation and give them more control over their werewolf forms, especially for their first full moon.
They would need to climb to the top of the wolf-headed mountain and collect some of the scattered bits of gloam-rock that fell from the shimmering stones. That, along with the sacrifice of a magical item of some sort, would provide enough magic to create the potion.
That evening, they would search the forest for moonflowers, beautiful white lilies that open under the light of the full moon. Once the moonflowers had fully opened, they could pluck them, pour the potion onto the petals, and then tip it into their mouths.
Unfortunately, a disturbance in the woods interrupted their flower-finding mission. As they waited beside the blossoms, Briseras heard someone moving through the woods.
She turned and saw two wildmen creeping toward where our two other party members, Elayne and Tybalt, were waiting with their flowers. She dropped her moonflower on the ground and stalked away into the forest to attack them.
Jorgan picked up her flower and tucked it into his pocket and followed her.
This led to an interesting combat that we thought a lot about afterwards. What started as eight wildmen attacking our four party members soon increased to fifteen, twenty, forty, seventy, as the fight raged on.
As I told those in our DnD Duet Community, while prepping for this fight, Jonathan kept calling out to me: “Do you trust me?” which is a bit unsettling to hear multiple times from your DM.
But trust in this case was really necessary. I knew he wouldn’t put our party up against impossible odds only to slaughter my PC and her friends, so there had to be something else at work. This is one of the aspects of duet play that I love so much—you have a lot of story flexibility and can bring in really high-stakes if not impossible combats so long as the two people at the table trust one another.
An unfair ambush is exactly the kind of move our BBEG would pull: he hates the party and wants to destroy them. But I knew, sitting across the table, and Briseras knew, in this near-impossible fight, that we would be turning into werewolves at any moment, and that made the raised stakes additionally thrilling.
So we were playing with multiple levels of irony, had a near-fight to the death without my PC actually dying, and had an encounter that made a lot of narrative sense without compromising the campaign as a whole!
An Old Enemy Returns
As we tried to regroup and fight the first wave of wildmen, when there were only 8-10, another sound caught Briseras’s attention: the clink of armor approaching.
Very few people we’ve encountered in Steymhorod have worn armor, but even so, it took some time for her to recall who it was she was hearing: a vampire knight named Rodian who serves the evil, twisted vampire we’d traveled to Steymhorod to kill, Lord Rassick. Jonathan used the Vampire Bloodknight statblock from Sly Flourish’s Vampires for Rodian.
Rodian was responsible for the death of the townmaster of St. Sebastian, an early pseudo-ally of ours, and nearly killed the party when he and two others invaded the town and slaughtered many innocent villagers in the middle of the night.
In terms of the party’s least-favorite people in Steymhorod, Rodian was number two.
Briseras and Tybalt continued to fight with Rodian. Elayne surrendered to prevent herself from being killed, and Jorgan was knocked unconscious by the wildmen. Rodian had knocked Tybalt to the ground, laid his blade at his throat, and locked eyes with Briseras. If she didn’t surrender, her companion would be killed.
Briseras laid down her sword and bent to the ground to use her limited healing powers to restore Tybalt. (We gave her a variant of the aasimar race, so she has one healing hp per level. In this case, 6.)
With Tybalt restored to consciousness, she helped him to stand. And that was when Rodian made his fatal error. He swung at Tybalt to try and kill him outright, but he hadn’t healed enough from the damage Briseras and Tybalt had dealt already. He sprang away, but they pursued him and killed him.
Rodian’s vampire mist drifted up from the ground as Briseras and Tybalt were overwhelmed by the wildmen.
The Killing Fields
Briseras returned to consciousness momentarily as her head was dragged over the sharp end of an armored boot that stuck up from the ground. They had been taken to the Killing Fields, the site of an ancient battle that had raged across Steymhorod ten thousand years prior, where our characters had learned Rodian’s body is buried.
Briseras awoke again a short time later, tied back to back with Elayne. The wildmen were taunting her wolf, Vera, and she heard her cries across their encampment. Briseras worked her hands free of the bonds and snuck over to Vera, rolled a really good stealth check, and killed the wildmen hurting her wolf with the dagger she keeps hidden in her boot.
A Full Moon
And then the clouds parted, and the light of the now-full moon shone on Briseras in the field. The string holding her potion broke and fell to the earth. She had no care for this at the moment as she transformed into a truly wild werewolf. (It was awesome!)
From here we split the narrative into two parts.
Elayne transformed and joined Briseras, though Briseras occasionally attacked her friend as well as the hapless wildmen who hadn’t anticipated a werewolf appearing in their midst. Jorgan and Tybalt also transformed, but they each, like Elayne, consumed their potion first.
Order from Chaos
Like one of my favorite moments in Brave when the three little boys in their bear forms appear, and the camera pans over their fuzzy heads, our three controlled werewolves fought off the few wildmen who remained in the camp and hunted down Rodian’s coffin.
Just at the moment when the vampire awoke, he found himself surrounded by three werewolves with stakes. They plunged them into his chest for his true death.
Briseras, however, wasn’t in control of herself, but she was surrounded by a whole slew of scrambling enemy combatants. She and Vera pursued the wildmen all across the fields and into the woods.
Jonathan had me roll a d100 to see how many fell at Briseras’s hand. Under-equipped and not anticipating having to contend with lycanthropes, the wildmen didn’t stand a chance. She hunted and killed 73 wildmen before she fell, exhausted, in the unknown reaches of northern Steymhorod.
In our next iteration of Adventures in Steymhorod, we’ll find out how Briseras returned to her friends and what she found when she woke up! I’m also working on a post about Steymhorod’s history and the lore that we’ve woven into this Curse of Strahd-inspired campaign.
We hope that you’re enjoying these summaries and that they help you with ideas, tips, and planning for your own duet games! Please let us know your thoughts or any questions you have in the comments at the end of this post!
Cover image by Florian Kurz from Pixabay
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