- Haepha (halfling barbarian)
- Lakra (halfling cleric)
- Zelikman (human wizard)
- Vincent (human thief)
When things are this unfair, who says games are not like real life?
Haepha, Lakra, and Zelikman were making their way towards the town square. Though the street provided a straight shot, the mist forced them to use light spells in order to navigate around bits of zombie and other debris that had collected in the street. Normally this only might have drawn unwelcome attention (especially the divinely-fueled holy light), but the wagon collision had already attracted a fair number of zombies. Thankfully they do not have a Subtle tag, so they heard them long before they saw them.
Initially five emerged, arms outreached (for the ones that still had them and were not crawling, anyway). Haepha, as she is wont to do, rushed into the fray, sword swinging. Unfortunately when it comes to zombies, organs are more of an accessory than a necessity. Her sword became lodged in one, giving the rest an ample opportunity to chow down on the fun-sized barbarian. Lakra stepped up to intervene with a hammer to the knee, and before anyone could think of a tired Skyrim meme, followed it up with a blow to the face.
Though dislodged it from Haepha—almost dislodging its head in the process—who, now freed, was able to disarm a few of them, literally, before she was overwhelmed by a fresh batch emerging from the mist. Lakra tried again to assist, but was pulled down by one of the crawlers. She managed to kick it off before it could bite her and, realizing that they were getting surrounded again, decided to turn undead. Frankly given how well it worked last time, I was wondering what was taking her so long to use the move with a result that can "cause mindless undead to flee".
Despite failing to cause them to scatter, she was at least able to keep them at bay. Haepha managed to escape from the throng, but lost her sword in the process, which still made her more immediately useful than Zelikman's combination low-Strength and Hit Die. As they regrouped and tried to think of a way out, Haepha's sword slid towards them. She picked it up as the zombies turned towards the source of the noise, giving Haepha an easy opportunity to fatally qualify them for the Small tag.
See, while Hawke and Luther remained behind to help the wounded and shore up defenses—you know, stuff that they could reasonably be expected to do, while keeping them behind the scenes—Vincent requisitioned something that while not exactly fashionable, still provided the same Armor rating as leather, and convinced someone to come with him as he ventured back out to try and rescue the rest of the party.
Thankfully he did not have to go far before he noticed the light from Lakra's holy symbol shimmering through the mist. The brief thought that this might be easier than he feared however, was cut short when he noticed many lurching silhouettes obscuring it. They did not seem to notice him, and as he busied himself picking off stragglers with well-placed (and rolled) Volleys, he spotted Haepha's sword on the ground. He kicked it to her, and the rest--like the zombies--was history.
Once they were safe behind the barricade—or, as safe as they could be in a game that encourages the GM to Reveal an Unwelcome Truth—they learned that the source of the zombies appeared several hours ago, and seemed to originate around the church. Thankfully one of the streets lead directly to it, making it an easy find despite all the mist. Lakra managed to heal up Haepha a bit, luckily without having her spells revoked, and Zelikman stayed behind (though not before happily volunteering his healing potions...sorry Josh).
En route they encountered yet another group of zombies. Third time is a charm, and they served no better than a speed bump as Lakra's turn undead utterly obliterated them (because I think that is cooler than having them run away), and they arrived at the church soon after. It was an ancient stone structure, and through the dead silence they could easily hear the low murmur of someone (or thing?) chanting. They gave a listen at the door, but were unable to make out what was being said. Still, the combination of chanting and zombies is never a good sign.
The tried the door, which of course was locked. Haepha tried to force it, but unsurprisingly failed to break something well over five times her height. They would have to find another way in and, at Vincent's insistence, decided to explore the church perimeter together, as he learned from his very, very recent experience the hazards of going alone. They found a stained glass window, through which they could see flickering lights and the hear the chanting somewhat more clearly.
Vincent pried out a piece of glass and scoped out the interior. From his vantage he could see a robed individual, praying in front of a badly scored alter of some sun god. Motionless bodies were slumped over on the pews, thought it was too dark to make out any fine details. The entire room reeked of rot, and despite the chanting he could still hear the sound of flies buzzing about. So, pretty much, all the trappings of a zombie-spawning, unholy ground.
Reasonably assuming the worse, they figured that they would give ambush a shot. With a boost from Vincent, the vertically-challenged Haepha was able to smash in a window, hop inside, and bellow out, "Your reign of terror is over!" The robed figure stood and turned to meet her, pulling back his hood to reveal...the wide-eyed face of a ragged, old man, whose expression rapidly shifted from fear, to confusion, then back to fear again as he saw that it was in fact trio of bloody, armed strangers climbing through his shattered window.
I am not sure why, but the characters stopped and exchanged confused looks. I guess they were expecting something more immediately and overtly...sinister? Even more confusing was when they asked him why he had not "done anything" about the zombies outside, or the dead bodies inside. The zombies were not exactly push overs, but they had also run into a mhorg, and who knows what else was lurking in the mists. Even the priest from Dead Alive got taken out by zombies, so I have no idea what they expected this guy to accomplish.
He explained that the vampire Strahd came to the village several days ago to meet with the burgomaster. No one was sure why, but before he left he killed the burgomaster and several villagers, his son included. Most of the village believed that Strahd was punishing them for the burgomaster's defiance, and that he would return again.
The next day after he had performed burial rites, and laid his son and the other slain villagers to rest, he found a leathery black book within the sacristy that he had not noticed before. The white pages were inked in red, and though he could not read the writing it whispered to him what he needed to do in order to gain command over the dead. The priest, in grief and desperation, forsook his gods in favor of this "darker power", which instructed him on how to return his son to life and protect the village from Strahd.
Understandably they decided that leaving a grieving, unstable man with a mysterious, death-secret whispering book just might be a bad idea. Unfortunately they openly voiced this while still standing some distance away from both the old man and death-secret whispering book.
This meant that when Haepha moved to try and take the book he had ample time to conjure shadowy, grasping arms from the floor to bind them in place. Numbing cold seeped into their legs as they attempted to futility tear free. Lakra raised her holy symbol and began to pray, figuring that at least she could keep the zombies away, and was surprised when the arms also dissolved. The priest was likewise surprised, at least partially because Haepha was charging him. She managed to hack off one of his arms, but not before he struck her with a lance of dark energy.
Lakra moved in to finish him off, but hesitated when she heard a hoarse, rattling voice utter something that sounded like "father" from a hole in the floor that had previously gone unnoticed due to the lack of light. A long, skeletal armed yanked her to the floor, dragging her down into the basement. Momentarily stunned by the fall, she recovered just in time to see a creature that looked like a vaguely humanoid skeleton stretched a bit too much, with a too-wide mouth filled with jagged teeth, leap from the ceiling at her.
As the zombies threatened to surround Vincent, he noticed that the priest was still conscious, his hand was crackling with black energy, and—perhaps most importatly—he was reaching towards Haepha. She had just bagged the book and was heading towards the hole in order to give Lakra, judging by her frantic screaming, a much needed hand. He threw a dagger, which fortunately met the priest's skull right between his eyes, killing him instantly. Unfortunately that was his last dagger, and, well, zombies.
Haepha now had to choose between helping Vincent or Lakra. Given that Vincent was facing off against a small zombie horde, she figured that Lakra had better odds (especially considering she could enchant her weapon and was wearing real armor), but when she went to help him fell through a rotting section of the floor (I did say it was ancient). So, Lakra it is. As she collected herself she saw the creature crouched atop Lakra, who was managing to barely keep it at bay with the haft of her hammer. Hefting her sword, she tells it that she just helped murder its father.
That got its attention. Its frenzied, murderous attention. It leaped at her, but she stepped aside and sliced it in half (hooray for a damage bonus, and the Messy and Forceful tags). By the time its upper half managed to recover from its collision with a support beam, both Haepha and Lakra were upon it, hacking and tenderizing the remains until it was reduced to a black paste. The destruction of the priest's "son", aside from stopping it from tearing them apart, also had the pleasant side effect of turning the zombies back into lifeless corpses before they could tear Vincent apart.
So, this session ended on a much less chaotic note. The party was separated and the village was still shrouded in mist, but at least there were not any zombies...for now. I mean, they did have a whispering black book, after all.
After Game Commentary
I think I am getting the hang of the "no" and "yes, but" results. I actually took the time to write up a lengthy list of examples to reference during the game:
- Use a Monster, Danger, or Location Move: Zombies overwhelm, appear when it is least convenient, and attract more (as well as other, worse undead denizens).
- Reveal an Unwelcome Truth: Zombie bites can transmit disease, ghouls can paralyze, a building might have trapped survivors, both directions of a street have zombies, rescued survivors might try to sacrifice the characters in order to escape, or a civilian turns out to be a ghoul in disguise.
- Show Signs of an Approaching Threat: Loud noises, combat, magic (especially divine magic), and more could attract zombies: their moaning and wet sounds of their footsteps are all sure signs that they are en route.
- Deal Damage: Zombies and ghouls claw and bite.
- Use up Their Resources: Zombies can tear apart armor, weapons could get stuck in an undead creature (especially if you get overwhelmed in a fight), and you might lose other gear in the chaos. Characters might also use up supplies trying to barricade a door (hammer and spikes), climb up a building (rope and grappling hook), providing illumination, etc.
- Turn Their Move Back on Them: Scouting characters might get detected, they might find a building that seems safe but discover that it is locked or inhabited by an inhospitable survivor, after barricading themselves in a building they might discover that there is a zombie (or worse) trapped in there with them (or just a crazed survivor).
- Separate Them: An oncoming horde could easily divide characters, especially if they take different escape paths.
- Point to a Looming Threat: Partially eaten corpses, moaning in the different, bloody foot- or handprints, scratching from behind doors, shambling silhouettes in the distance.
- Introduce a New Type of Creature: Zombies are commonplace, but there are also ghouls skulking about preying on survivors and stray zombies. You could also introduce ghosts, skeletons, devourers, mhorgs, and other forms of undead.
- Make Them Backtrack: A street could be clogged with numerous zombies, ghouls might stalk the rooftops.
- Present Riches at a Price: Dead soldiers or merchants might be carrying weapons, armor, or jewelry. Fleeing victims might still have bags containing food, water, rope, and so on.
- Present a Challenge to one of the Characters: Clerics can obviously turn undead, paladins can use their detect evil to help avoid throngs of zombies, fighters can try to break open doors to escape (or thieves could just pick the locks).
After so many years of Dungeons & Dragons, I am also getting used to the idea of waiving rolls for certain things. For example, when Melissa had Haepha attack the zombies after they turned around, I just let her kill them. When they had killed off most of the zombies, I just told them that they were able to pretty easily take out the last few, because spending a lot of time watching them bumble around like the Three Stooges was getting pretty stale.
On the topic of zombies I think that at 11 hit points they are a bit much, especially for horde monsters. I reduced them to 7, making it feasible that melee-oriented classes have a chance of taking them down in 1-2 hits, instead of 2-3.