In 20 years, I had never lost a character in any of my tabletop games.
Twenty years! Please, let that sink in for a moment. Twenty years. Depending on your age, that will hold different weight.
Any character I had previously lost was part of the story or because I left the campaign, but never for these reasons… and I lost two in a month. The second loss was the result of my first ever Total Party Kill (TPK). A TPK, to me, was a that myth that happened to other people. It was that cautionary tale that meant you should be more aware, think things through, be cautious. Let me rewind a bit.
It was like a birthday present as we sat around the table, trying to figure out what we would play next and who would run it. Colleen, Thia, Vel and Orsen. Orsen pipes up: he can run us through Ravenloft. My eyes lit up as if I’d just unwrapped my big Christmas present or loaded up a game that just came out. Crymson Pleasure, Vampire Goddess (self proclaimed) has NEVER been to Ravenloft.
When it was mentioned prior, my party mates always said it was too hard. It was unforgiving and relentless. I scoffed at every single one of them, essentially calling them noobs. The realm of vampires is where my character longed to be. Take all of my angst and goth and put me into a realm of the undead, I beg of you.
I created Tereza Lupei and fashioned her after Gretel from the most recent adaptation of Hanzel and Gretel, the one with Hawkeye (at this point in her editing process, I’m sure Vanri is rolling her eyes. I know his name is Jeremy Renner, but he’ll always be Hawkeye to me).
Anyway, I created a fighter class character and gave her archery and handed her a crossbow. I even created an order around her family, but that will come later. I dressed her in black leathers with a thick dark braid and off she went.
She wandered into the thick fog with her new friends in tow. A mad scientist/tinkerer, a barbarian, and whatever Thia was playing (you’ll understand later). So, we went through several encounters and quickly we were given a taste of how hard it was going to be. Several of us dropped to zero HP as we struggled to try our hardest. We learned to react a bit smarter. Orsen reminded us that he wasn’t going to pull punches. It’s Ravenloft, after all. It’s meant to kill the players. We smiled and nodded, but none of us really understood what that meant.
We lost Thia’s first character. We were overwhelmed and she dropped to zero. In order to save the rest of us, Vel created a ring of fire which burned her character to a crisp. She couldn’t be brought back.
Our group traveled on and encountered another group in the woods. With that group was an NPC: Isabella. She was Reza’s sister and Thia’s new character, a druid. Both from The Lupei clan (a group of vampire hunters, so to speak – centuries old). They continued on and Vel also created a new character, a Blade Dancer with whips. Orsen told us that we moved through more fog as our new group moved along, this time transported to the campaign, The Curse of Strade.
I was still utterly excited by all of this. We lost someone, but it was only the one so we’ll be just fine. Of course, this is the lie that we told ourselves. We proceeded with some caution, but we were still a group of murder hobos, as most D&D groups are. We had a few close calls and I shaped Reza in such a way that she became my most loved character ever. She embodied more of me than any other character before her.
They reached level 8 and it happened, the utterly unthinkable. The barbarian decided to see what was really in a crate labeled junk. It appeared that the junk was vampires… lots and lots of vampires. Trying to ensure that everyone got out safely, Reza distracted them. Everyone except Isabella got away. Isabella ran straight into the fray and was devoured by vampires along with Reza. The rest of the party decided to burn their bodies to prevent them from becoming undead themselves. This was the end of the sisters.
I cannot tell you how upset I was. I loved Reza more than any other character and now she was gone. I was hurt and angry, but there was nothing I could do. There was no magic, no hope. She was dead and I actually had to grieve a little bit. I have no idea why I connected so much with Reza, but I had and now that was gone.
So, it was time to make a new character. This time I made a Blood Hunter (thank you, Matthew Mercer, for creating this class). I made Demetrea, Reza’s mother. She had received news of her daughters’ death (I created the family/house so that, upon death, an important article of theirs was returned to their home) and traveled to join the party. With the way the timeline was set up, Demetrea had gotten the two articles weeks before the event actually happened in Ravenloft. However, by the time she came to the rest of the group, not even a full day had past.
They continued on and I had more trouble connecting with this character. She has a great build, but I couldn’t find her personality. I didn’t want her to be Reza, but Reza was all I felt, so I struggled with her. I roleplayed the best I could but tried to keep quiet because I didn’t know how to act.
Then it came, I finally found her voice and it was snuffed out. I connected with her anger over the death of Reza and Isabella right as they went up against the most powerful creature they had yet to encounter and no, it wasn’t even Strade. We had all made a grave mistake that we didn’t know about until this very moment. When our lives literally depended on it, we lost.
Everyone was killed. This had never happened to me before. I sat in stunned silence, waiting for some miracle, but none came. I felt a bit numb. This had never happened and two streaks were ruined in a month. I was devastated. I swallowed that feeling and dove into the creation of my next character for our new campaign.
How could this happen? Easy, we made the wrong decisions, several times over. We were too careful at the wrong times and reckless at the worst possible times. We tried our hardest but, in the end, Ravenloft won and we learned a few things from it. Hopefully we learned the right things, but mistakes will always be made when you don’t know the outcome. Like life, everything’s a gamble.
However the most important thing I take from this is…
Ravenloft… I’m far from done with you. We will meet again and I will best you.