Foreword

This blog is one group’s experience of the 5th Edition Curse of Strahd campaign.

We decided to offer it up here for a few reasons:

First, it is offered for the enjoyment and inspiration of Dungeon Masters running or intending to run the Curse of Strahd campaign, so they can benefit from the successes and failures of the things I attempted as a DM.

Second, it is offered up for players who have already finished the campaign and are curious to hear of others’ experiences of it.

Third, once we have concluded, it will be preserved for posterity sake so that my players can go back and see things from the other perspective, and possible even see what troubles they avoided without realizing it, or what decisions led them to trouble.

It will be SPOILER-FILLED and is not intending for current players (especially my own!).

After some initial posts about campaign preparation, most posts will be made on a session-by-session basis, with the intention being to have three posts per gaming session:

  • One post detailing the preparations and key decisions I made as a DM for the specific content of that session prior to running that session.
  • One post written by one of my players (usually the same one, but it may vary at times), detailing their experience of that session, decisions they made, and why.
  • One post written from my perspective, as DM, detailing that session from my perspective, including any changes I was required to make on the fly, in reaction to player decisions (or indecisions), and what I think worked or didn’t work.

Feel free to use or discard any of the ideas presented here.  It is presented here “as is”, so that it might heighten their enjoyment of our fellow gamers as they experience the Curse of Strahd campaign.

Where I have taken or adapted ideas from others, I will try to provide links and offer due credit wherever possible, though I have only recently begun bookmarking for this purpose, and may not be able to easily for things I came across some time ago.  I am more than happy to give credit where due: without the generosity of these kindred spirits offering their accounts and ideas, I’m sure our own experience would be that much less, and they are the ones who inspired me to share our tale likewise.

Note:  At present, I’m still “finding my stride” and thinking of things I’d not considered, so most posts, even Campaign Prep items, may be in a state of flux for a while, until we get farther into the campaign.  Ergo, they are subject to change.

 

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Session 31 Execution: Van Richten’s Tower Pt 2

The Werewolf Attack

The damage output on the werewolves as I re-wrote them is not high, and the players tend to use fire enough that, combined with sheer damage output, easily renders the regeneration pretty much a non-issue.  To dress things up a bit, I had them making grappling attacks, diving through the air to try to tackle players, and so on.  The reality is that the group was never in any real threat from them, but I think I dressed it up enough to make it exciting.

Ezmerelda appeared and used the blunderbuss to finish one, as I’d planned, and left the “coooooool…. ” impression I wanted.  Everyone wants a blunderbuss now.

Ezmerelda, Van Richten, and What Comes Next

Ezmerelda scolded them a little about letting Van Richten go genocidal, but they seemed relative unfazed.  I think all the heaps of moral dilemma is finally exhausting their sense of ethics.  (Hopefully not, given what may await in the Werewolf Den.)

Ezmerlda allowed them to read Van Richten’s journal.  She agreed to help them with the werewolves while they await his return.

The group seems pretty keen about using Ezmerelda and/or Van Richten (and/or the Revenants of the Order of the Silver Dragon.. and and and…) as allies when they finally go to the castle to confront Strahd.  My first instinct has been to push back, trying to limit them to having only themselves and the ally, Perriwimple.  But on further reflection, I’m also considering the possibility of simply re-balancing encounters (both Strahd and his companions) so as to have the NPCs killed off as the group works through the castle, whittling them down one by one.  This might make for a more suspenseful ending chapter than simply having these NPCs – who should rightly say “yes!” – come up with vague excuses to say no.  I will have to give this more thought.

The group followed Kiril’s tracks and ended the session just outside the Werewolf Den.

 

Session 30: Player Perspective

Synopsis

We leave Madam Eva’s camp in the morning after a good night’s sleep.

We head west, towards Vallaki, following Ezmerelda’s trail. When we reach the town, we turn south to visit the Vistani. There, we inform Luvash of the suspected death of his daughter and return her hair ribbon. He offers us a valuable piece of art in exchange for the death of Baba Lysaga, who we believe killed the girl. We hesitate, but say we’ll see what we can do.

We then head west to the first intersection past the bridge. We head north toward Lake Baratok, and it’s not long before we reach the edge of the lake. There we see a tower built on a marshy island across an isthmus. Parked at its base is a horseless wagon.

We discover that the wagon is trapped with flasks of alchemist’s fire, and contains a fair amount of adventuring gear. We leave it for the moment.

The tower is trapped, and only the proper dance recital will open the door. This is a lesson enforced energetically.

We enter and discover an elevator raised and lowered by animated clay statues. Taking the ride to the top floor, we discover the hideout where we believe Rictavio and Ezmerelda have spent some time before moving on. We scan the place for clues and other items of intrigue. We find scraps of burned paper and carved, wooden ball-bearings. Of special note is the preserved head of an unrecognized fellow Dessarai. The head can answer questions if asked, and reveals that Rictavio killed the man, and turned him into this divinatory horror. He’d been looking for inside information about Strahd and the Vistani, though this innocent man was seemingly not much help in either of those regards.

Cereus hears a howl, and soon we all hear it. We exit the tower to discover a huge pack of wolves bearing down on us across the isthmus, with one wolf larger than the others. Another large wolf lurks at the forest edge beyond the isthmus, watching things unfold. Magical fire soon separates the ordinary wolves from the “others”, and soon we’re facing a few hybrid half-wolves.

The Goings On

By the time we get to the Vistani camp at night, it’s about two in the morning. One of the tribe chides Eva for being out so late. Most are drunk and passed out. We settle down for the night, and get a good night’s’ sleep.

In the morning, Glim scribes a new spell while we prepare food and recover from the previous day’s efforts.

We decide to follow Ezmerelda’s trail west, to Lake Baratok. We cross overland, avoiding the road where possible. It’s a comfortable walk. Cereus tells us that we haven’t been followed.

We stop at the Vistani camp. We seek out Luvosh, and Cali approaches him. “Sir, we’re sorry to inform you, but we believe that your daughter is dead. One of our companions went looking for your daughter, and discovered this… (she produces the red ribbon).” “And?” he says, “What price do you want?” “Oh, we simply want to put a father’s mind to rest.” Luccaria should have warned the others: we are a people accustomed to negotiations; to bargains. Nothing for nothing.

We explain about the hags, and how they tried to deal with Baba Lysaga, and how those of the coven are now dead. “So how much to kill Baba Lysaga?” We’re hesitant to commit to that task, even though a number of us would surely relish it. “Oh, well, that might be possible.”

“We could offer to get something for you, from outside this place,” Luvash offers. “Or perhaps this?” He hands a little key to his associate, who goes and returns with a small wooden throne with inlaid precious stones (valued at 750gp). “This is yours if you kill Baba Lysaga.” The other Vistani at the camp are all averting their gaze at the mention of the ancient hag.

Glim sends Alabaster to eavesdrop on Luvash and his companion’s private conversation as the rest of us are discussing our options. Luvash and friend say, “Do you think they actually have a chance?” “Well, they haven’t been killed by our lord yet.” “Yes, he was just toying with them. If he wanted them dead, they’d be dead.” “True.” “Should we send word?” “Naw, he told us to stand down. I don’t think he really cares where they’re going.”

We’re planning to go to the tower near Lake Baratok. Then fight the lycanthropes. We recall that it was called the Tower of Kazan.

We leave the Vistani encampment and circle around Vallaki to the west. We cross the bridge, come to the first crossroads, and head north from there. It’s a narrow road, but there are ruts. It’s wide enough for a wagon or two horses side-by-side, though certainly not as broad as the main road. The path comes to a T intersection, where there’s a part in the woods. Through it we see a lake and a tower on the near shore.

The lake is much smaller than Lake Zarovich, and surrounded by trees but for another break on the far side. There is a flat, marshy island joined to the land near us by a narrow isthmus. The tower is built on the island. There is a thick fog across the waters.

The door of the tower has a disc attached to it with stick figures engraved at cardinal points around the circumference, and lines attaching some figures to others in a continuous pattern. The word Khazan is carved above the door.

Cereus and Lucy stand back while the rest of the party advances toward the tower. Cali knocks once on the door when there is a sudden strike of lightning energy which encompases the entire tower! Most are burned badly, and Alabaster is simply gone. The party staggers back out of the lightning which continues to rage around the height of the tower.

Luccaria says that the symbols on the door looked like a dance. Turk walks through the steps, but it has no effect on the raging lightning storm sheathing the tower. Ireena doesn’t recall the name Khazan clearly, but knows that it’s a name from ancient history. Glimmerald starts to cast Detect Magic as a ritual. Accalia tries to dispel the magic around the tower, and succeeds! The smell of ozone hangs in the air, but the tower seems safe to approach again.

Stepping up to the front step, Turk performs the dance and the door opens!

There is a 5 foot by 5 foot vestibule with a tattered curtain blocking vision into the interior of the tower. We continue to wait for Glimmerald to complete her Detect Magic ritual. At the point when the Detect Magic ritual finishes, the door shuts.

Glim tells us that nothing about the door or tower is magical, though there is powerful conjuration magic on the wagon.

The wagon has a thick coat of purple paint, gold painted wheels, tombstone-shaped windows, and a steel padlock securing the back door. Hanging from the padlock is a little wooden sign that says “Keep Out” in common.

Glimmerald studies the wagon closely. She sees that underneath the wagon is a little handle. It’s for a hidden trapdoor in the underbelly! Cereus checks the door for traps, and says that it looks safe.

Looking through a window, we see that the padlocked back door has several wires going to several containers inside the wagon and we don’t think opening the back door would be a good idea.

Cereus opens the trap door, and nothing happens. He climbs up inside. The space above the door is safe enough. The wires from the back door connect to flasks hanging from the ceiling and there are similar flasks hanging all around the inside.

Inside is a wooden trunk with claw marks on it, a narrow wardrobe, and a bunch of gear: a climber’s kit, a disguise kit, a poisoners kit, a healer’s kit, a lyre, and a small wooden cage, inside which is a chicken with 5 eggs. There is a silver ewer with water in it for the chicken to drink from. There’s also a wooden shelf with a tiny wooden box on it, a set of copper pots and pans, three sets of manacles, a shovel, a wooden chest, and four rolled up leather map cases / scroll tubes on a shelf. The claw marks on the trunk are large enough to be tiger claw marks.

Cereus thinks disarming the traps should be relatively easy. Failing would be catastrophic, though.

Glim looks inside the wagon. Two of the rolled up map cases contain something magical (illusion and abjuration). There’s nothing else magical here except the wagon itself.

Turk repeats the dance at the door and it opens again. We enter. Cali tries to cast light, but it doesn’t work. Glim’s detect magic stops when she enters. Ireena thinks that it is a permanent anti-magic field.

The main floor of the tower is one large area featuring four clay statues of brawny men. Between them is a five foot square indentation with chains wrapping pulleys which are bolted to the floor. The chains rise to a similarly shaped indentation in the ceiling.

Cereus sees lots of tracks on the floor. One set of tracks could be the right size for Rictavio. The other set belongs to someone with an unusual gait, like they lean more heavily on one foot than the other and those footprints are a little more narrow and smaller than Rictavio’s.

Luccaria checks out the crates. They are empty. She stacks them. She says “Khazan” but nothing happens.

Cereus says, “Down” and then the statues begin to animate. He panics slightly but steadies himself. The four statues grab the chains and heave to lower the wooden platform. The elevator lowers to the bottom.

Looking up the hole we see nothing but rotting wood. Nothing near the hole’s edge. The fourth floor looks intact.

We are all gathered on the platform. Cali says, “Fourth floor, please” and the statues begin to pull the chains to raise us.

As we rise up past the upper floors we think the floors are dangerously weak. We continue up. We rise into the fourth floor, whose floor is relatively intact.

The second floor is all dust and cobwebs.

Time and elements have all but destroyed the third floor.

The fourth floor shows signs of recent habitation. There are creature comforts, such as a bed, a desk, tapestries, a stove with wood, and light through arrow slits. There is a standing suit of armor and a wooden chest. Rafters bend under the weight of the roof. Pulleys attached to the rafters support the elevator.

The stove is not warm, though it does look recently used. The bed is made, and nobody is hiding under it. Cereus notices a lavender aroma coming from the chest. The armor looks old. It is a set of plate with a bit of rust, but otherwise intact.

Cereus checks the desk for traps. He thinks it looks safe. The desk has a single drawer, which is open an inch.

Glimmerald investigates, but doesn’t notice anything unusual about the bed. She notices some hair on the pillow, a couple of different colours: some gray, some black. The black ones are much longer.

Checking out the oven, she notices tiny bits of burnt paper in amongst the ashes in the corner. The ashes have been disturbed, like someone searched through them.

Lucy checks out the tapestries and finds that they are brightly coloured geometrics.

Cali opens the chest. Inside are two things: a human head that smells of lavender, and a bottle which also smells of lavender. The head has a waxy complexion. It rests perfectly squarely, cleanly cut off with a saw perhaps. Someone has taken care to preserve it. There is a row of earrings in one ear. A shock of hair is purple. It looks like a young man in his 20’s. A Vistani, perhaps, but not a Barovian. Glim looks at the head, and says “Oh my, how old are you?” Suddenly the head springs to life and converses with her, though we don’t see or hear any of it. To Glimmerald it says, “Oh, is that half elf around?” “Who, Rictavio?” “Yes, he was giving me a ride in his wagon. I’d been kicked out of my tribe because I was caught stealing, and he was looking for a way into Barovia, but I didn’t know how to get into Barovia. Turns out that the old man was a bit quicker on the draw than I expected. He stuck me in the guts with a sword cane and then it was just darkness. And then I woke up and he was asking me questions. And now he wakes me up and asks me questions, and in between is just darkness.” What sort of questions? “Mostly about Vistani and Barovia. How many there are, where they live, who’s in charge of the camps, do they set watches, how many adults, how many children, and all sorts of questions like that. I get the feeling he doesn’t like Vistani at all.” What about Ezmerelda? “Who’s that? Oh, he mumbled something about her once. Student or something? I’ve never met her.” What was the last question he asked you? “He was asking about a camp south of Valaki. The number of adults, children, etc.” He says he’s Dessarin. “What year is it?” Luccaria recognizes the correct year as marked by those of the Dessarin Valley.

Has Rictavio asked you any questions about the Devil? “No, but he wrote lots of notes about them. He’d study it. Sometimes he’d sit at the desk and talk to me, even though he wasn’t asking me questions. He’d say he was going to kill the Devil. He’d do lots and lots of writing, but then put it in the oven and burn it. He’d talk about how many spawn, and what else might he have in his castle, and how long would it take to search.” Do you remember any of his answers? “He talked about the spawn a lot, probably no more than half a dozen. He could probably handle if it was just two or three, but not more than that at once. He sometimes talked to the elevator. He spent some time shouting at the armor, but nothing ever happened.” How strange.

Cereus hears something outside. He looks out through the mud-caked windows. South or south east? A single howl of a wolf. Very faint, very distant. Nobody else seems to have heard it.

Cali opens the desk drawer to find paper, quills, and normal ink. She then checks the oven, and gathers unburnt corners of paper, but it seems that the main unburned sheets are missing and possibly taken first.

We check the room more carefully, but find nothing until we examine the woodpile. In the woodpile we find several small wooden balls, not quite perfectly spherical. It’s as if someone was trying to whittle small wooden balls, but some didn’t come out right and were discarded. Ball-bearing sized.

Another howl, we all hear it. From the southeast.

We take the elevator back down. We move to the door and as Cereus puts his hand on the knocker the door opens. Outside, out on the isthmus, there’s 14 wolves, one of which is much larger than the others. They’re in a pack and coming up towards the tower. Another, even larger, dire wolf is lurking in the shadows of the forest beyond the isthmus.

Glimmerald burns the ordinary wolves to death, leaving us facing a few hybrid half-wolves. We battle, but end the session before its conclusion.

Session 29: Player Perspective

Synopsis

We set out from the Fidatov Estate at night, knowing we won’t have much time to spare before our meeting with Madam Eva tonight.

As we reach the southern shore of Lake Zarovich, we meet a skeletal man on a skeletal horse who tells us that he is Sir Hargrave, of Daggerford. He has been trying to escape this place through the fog, but has so far been unsuccessful. He thinks he has been here for only several hours, but we don’t believe that for a moment. We convince him to join us against the lord of this realm, if he’s unable to escape through the western mists.

Wolves keep pace with Turk from that point on, growing in number as we travel east, through the woods. At the windmill, we use the millstone to grind some silver for Ireena’s ceremony ritual. Then we continue on to the gallows.

There, as we’d seen once or twice before, was a body hanging from the gallows. The body of Beatrice. We check, and this time it actually is her. We are stricken by the senseless loss. As we remove her from the rope, we notice that her cold hand clutches a wet, red ribbon. Presumably she found the Vistani girl. Another senseless loss.

Madam Eva arrives and we prepare the curing ritual. We bind Turk up by her feet from the gallows. Ireena begins the hour-long ceremony, and through a confession of sins we learn that Turk’s true name is Daisy. This is delightful news. On a sadder note, once the ceremony is complete Madam Eva tries to remove the curse and Ireena tries to drive away the disease by her touch, but both seem to fail as Daisy undergoes a horrific change into a lupine form!

Just at that moment, Strahd appears out of nowhere with several of his spawn. Luccaria and Eva fall under his charming sway. He chastises Eva for not informing us that the curse cannot be lifted until the victim’s progenitor has been slain. With that mansplaining out of the way, he departs but leaves us to face his spawn, a number of zombies, and the two remaining hags who were hiding in the woods nearby!

After a fierce struggle, we defeat or drive away the enemies, restore Daisy to her slightly-less-hairy form, and stand over the corpses of the last of the foul, child-eating coven. At Madam Eva’s urging, we return to her village with her to rest the night and plot our next move.

The Goings On

It is nighttime when we leave the hedge maze. We immediately set out on the road, to try to reach Madam Eva before our appointed meeting time of midnight.

Along the road, as we are passing through the clearing on the far side of the lake, we encounter a skeletal humanoid on a skeletal horse. “Halt, who goes there?” Cali asks. “Must get oooouuutt,” it says, hauntingly.

Lucy uses her magical charms to stop the rider long enough to explain himself. “I must escape, through the mist,” he says. “Who is your master?” we ask. “Boris is my liege.” “Of Argynvostholdt?” “Who?” he says, “No, he’s head of the guard, in Daggerford.”

“Ah, do you know the road to Daggerford?” “Yes, but that was the East, now I will try the West.” he says. “How long have you been riding around?” “A few hours,” he says.

“Did something happen to you?” we continue. “I tried to escape to the East, through the mist. But now I’m trying the West.”

Thinking that surely this troubled spirit must be somehow related to the other troubled spirit we met on the road, Glim conjures an image of Lazlo the Revenant using illusion magic. The rider looks at the image. “No, he doesn’t work for Boris.”

We ask him, “Look into this puddle. What do you see?” “Why, I see myself,” he says.

“What is your name?” “Sir Hargrave, of Daggerford.”

“Do you worship Lord Barov? Or his son?” “No, I don’t know them.” Well that’s a good thing, then, and probably means he hasn’t been wandering from before this land was cut off from the world.

He wears a rusted short sword on his side. He claims he’d gotten turned around in the mist. His horse is wearing barding.

“Do you have family back in Daggerford?” “Yes, I think so. Bethany and Judith.” Once we get clear of here, we may want to pay them a visit to let them know what happened to their husband and father. Or to let their descendants know, if he’s older than he thinks.

“We have a plan to escape this land, by convincing the Lord to let us go, by killing him. Would you join us, in the hope of escaping yourself?” “No, I will try to the West first.” “Okay, well if that doesn’t work, then come to the road nearest the castle and wait for us, and you can join us when we confront the Lord and perhaps earn your freedom through him.” He agrees with that plan, though in his mental state we shouldn’t expect much from him.

We continue on.

Soon after, Cereus realizes there are wolves keeping pace with us. Perhaps six on each side, keeping their distance. Through experimentation, we realize that they are actually keeping pace with Turk, not us. The ones pacing her meet up with an additional six near the road ahead.

We reach the windmill after some time. We replace the millstone, and use it to grind up 50gp worth of silver into dust. Some of this will be used for the Ceremony spell to cure Turk of her curse. We’ll retain some in case we need another cure.

We then continue on toward the gallows. The wolves follow us across the bridge at a distance. As we head down the winding road to the gallows, we realize the wolves have stopped following us at the woods. When we reach the meeting point, we discover that there is a body swinging from the gallows rope. It looks like the body of Beatrice.

We approach the body. Turk walks up the steps and pokes her. It seems to be her, and not another illusion. We recognize the homemade holy symbol Gadof made for her. Turk notices that she’s holding something in her non-shield hand. The hand is wet. Turk pulls a piece of red ribbon out of her hand. The ribbon is soaking wet. The Vistani girl!

We untie Beatrice’s body, and lower it to the ground near the gallows.

Madam Eva arrives then. At her suggestion, we strip Turk naked and hang her up by the feet and bind her hands. Ireena begins the ceremony. Cereus realizes that the wolves have caught up to us. They are sitting in the woods around us.

Ireena finishes the (drudgingly long) part of the ceremony. Turk reluctantly begins admitting all of her sins. “My name’s not Turk. I strangled a turkey when I was three. My actual name is Daisy.” That. Is. Adorable. Ireena finishes the Ceremony then. Madam Eva casts her magic to remove the wolfen curse. Then Ireena climbs the gallows and lays hands on Daisy to cure the evil disease. With this, Daisy begins to change, to take on a lupine form! She struggles against her restraints, and it looks like she might not be bound for long!

Then, as a complete surprise our good friend, Baron Strahd von Zarovich, arrives! Luccaria and Eva are “excited” to see their Lord again so soon. He chastises Eva mildly for having failed to inform us all that we need to kill Turk’s progenitor in order to break the curse. Then, sadly, he fades away leaving three of his angry spawn. Cereus senses two creatures hiding in the bushes behind the gallows as well. Then, to top it off, the earth of six nearby graves starts to wriggle. Zombies! Our field of battle is laid before us, and it looks strongly stacked against us.

To start things off, Accalia wisely knocks out Daisy using bardic magics, which keeps her from bursting from her ties and attacking all around her. But when she wakes, Ireena is “forced” to brain her back into an unconscious state, whereupon the brute changes back to a more standardly hairy form. That will make things much easier to handle.

As the three vampire spawn try to sink their fangs into Glimmerald, Luccaria and Eva snap out of their mental chains. Cereus and Lucy manage to snatch away the hag’s heartstones, trapping them here! We’re in it now; to survive or not. Turk wakes in her own form and quickly unties herself and drops to claim her spear. Still naked, she leaps from the gallows platform and drives her Bloodspear into her longtime nemesis Morgantha. Morgantha retaliates with a blow that would drop a normal warrior, but Turk’s orcish ancestry allows her to rally and spear her enemy once again, ending her putrid life.  Lucy and Ireena finish off Bella and two of the vampire spawn and all of the zombies are driven away by the power of the Amulet of Ravenkind! We finish off the last vampire spawn, and earn our respite. We gain two heartstones (Cereus and Luccaria), and a hideous soul bag used to collect the souls of the hag’s victims, which we burn in a fire to consume the bodies. Awful creatures.

Madam Eva convinces us to return to her Vistani camp to spend the night. She warns that the others at the camp will almost certainly report our presence to the Devil, but we’re fairly sure he knows where we are already. The wolves saw to that.

When we wake in the morning, we find ourselves revitalized from the tremendous success of the night before. We may not have cured Daisy, but we think we now know what we need to do.

Here we end the session.

Session 28: Player Perspective

Synopsis

We are already locked in combat with the former Lady Fidatov, her spirit enraged by our attempt to steal her treasure.

Glimmerald throws a fireball to destroy the faint spirits, but as the hedge walls burn away they release a noxious cloud of yellow smoke. When we push through it, the Lady has vanished.

Ireena tries cutting the hedge wall with her axe, but the chunk of foliage that drops to the ground quickly animates and attacks her! Happily, it is easily killed.

Fidatov’s lesser spirits appear and drain life from us yet again. We destroy them and push on toward the center of the maze. There we find a large sarcophagus where we find a spot to insert the key from the house, which we do. We hear the grating of stone on stone.

Before we can move past, a large plant animates and moves to attack us with its tendrils. It draws corpses from the ground around it to fight us as well. We defeat them and move on to the mausoleum.

Within the tomb’s sunken interior, we are confronted by Lady Fidatov’s ghost as well as animated coin piles and suits of armor. The fight is dangerous, but we again prevail. We then take some time to catch our breath.

We discover that when the key is removed from the sarcophagus, the treasure becomes ethereal. There is a good amount of loot here, but it is too heavy to easily carry. We end up leaving much of it as we found it, and bring the key with us to make the treasure inaccessible to nearly anyone else.

After our short rest, we prepare to move on to try to reach the gallows, and Madam Eva, before midnight.

The Goings On

We begin the session already in combat with the ghost of the Lady Fidatov. Three faint spirits are visible to us, waiting to drain us of life. Glimmerald casts fireball, which interacts with the hedge walls by creating a thick, yellowish, noxious cloud of gas. Turk is enveloped in it, and we cannot see her or anything else inside it. We push through it, but Fidatov has vanished.

We push on, waiting for the Lady to reappear but she does not immediately do so. We make our way through the maze. Ireena chops at the hedge wall, and a chunk of living plant matter falls and animates into a tendril-waving shrub! Happily, it dies quickly under our panicked attacks.

Fidatov reappears and reforms as her lesser aspects who immediately drain life from us. We destroy them and push on again.

Entering the center of the maze, Cereus finds a large sarcophagus. He notices a spot in the side where the token key might fit. He also sees a big plant next to the sarcophagus, with three large tendrils and a number of corpses on the ground around it. Nothing suspicious there.

Luccaria uses mage hand to insert the token key into the slot, and when she does so we see a glow coming from the mausoleum on the other side of the hedge wall, and hear the grating of stone on stone.

The plant animates, propping itself up on its roots and it moves toward us! It whips its tendrils around to attack, poisoning us with each hit. It animates one of the nearby corpses into a plant-like zombie. It chews up another corpse to recover some health. We defeat it eventually and move past to the mausoleum.

Glim sends Alabaster down into the sunken interior of the structure. It is fairly plain inside, with four braziers providing dim light around the edge of the room, six sarcophagi to the sides, and a stone altar at the far end of the room. Lady Fidatov’s ghost awaits us at the altar, and when Alabaster sweeps into the room she calls Nicholai (we assume) a coward for sending us to steal her treasure.

Two piles of coins leap out of the treasure pile and animate as a swarm of coins to attack us. The suit of armor animates to attack us, drawing its electrically charged greatsword! The coins rush forward to swarm over Luccaria and Accalia. Accalia scoops up her pile of electrum coins in her cloak. Luccaria suggests that Lady Fidatov simply give us her treasure, but succeeds only in confusing the spirit briefly before her coin swarm breaks her concentration with a solid blow.

As Lady Fidatov’s bewildered spirit fades away, her necklace drops to the ground, once again corporeal. The coins and treasure at the far end of the room, however, are still ethereal.

The altar has an indentation the right size for that token key. Inserting the key causes the coins and treasure to become corporeal again. Yay!

Four silver incense burners (@ 25gp each). Each contains unburned incense (@ 100gp each), suitable for spellcasting components. Her necklace is made from diamonds and rubies (1x 500gp diamond, 2x 300gp diamonds, 2x 100gp diamonds, 2x 50gp rubies, 100gp worth of silver. Intact, the necklace would be worth more.) Coins are 5,000ep (2,500gp), with some silver mixed in. All coins are stamped with the Devil’s face, of course. Armor is full platemail in relatively good shape (not magical). The greatsword is also non-magical. In one of the chests is a suit of studded leather which is magical (moderate and minor illusion power on the armor).

After an hour, we discover that its ability is that when worn it shows as an illusion of normal clothing or other types of armor. No matter what form it takes, though, the wearer’s appearance draws the eyes of those around them. It always appears rather tight and immodestly cut.

We rest briefly.

As we exit the hedge maze, we discover that the time of day is correct. The hedge is overgrown, but not sporting evil tendrils and the stinking cloud has dissipated. The house is in ruins, as we’d seen it the night before. The time-shifting effect appears to have abated.

We step into the house and collect the items we’d missed before: wig, knuckle dice, bouquet of gilded flowers, silver dragon pendant, jeweled dagger, and saffron.

There is still fog on the lake, though it is not as bad as when we arrived the previous night. There are some boats down at the docks. We briefly look for signs of Bluto, in case he came here before disappearing, but find nothing. The boats are all three years old and showing signs of decay.

Ireena feels there is still a powerful evil agent acting here. It is weakened, but it seems to be regrowing.

We check the sarcophagi in the mausoleum. All six have names and contents. We bring the body of Lady Fidatov from the house to the mausoleum, and Ireena conducts a Morninglord ritual. Hopefully that will put her evil spirit to rest for good.

The coin weighs about 125lbs, so we leave most of it and remove the token key to cause the remaining treasure to become ethereal again.

We start to head back to the gallows to meet with Madam Eva before midnight.

Session 31 Prep: Van Richten’s Tower Pt 2

The Werewolf Attack

The regular wolves were killed by the Wall of Fire that Glimmerald cast as we closed out last session, but there remain three Barovian Werewolves and one Greater Barovian Werewolf, plus Kiril in the backfield.  I’m not planning to have Kiril engage, and the current assault shouldn’t result in anything too serious, as I expect the PCs have them grossly outmatched.

Kiril will retreat once his minions die, fading to the west, giving a clue as to the location of the werewolf den.

Ezmerelda

I have Ezmerelda hiding nearby, planning to appear triumphantly, hopefully to kill a werewolf with her Blunderbuss to “show them how it’s done”.  I’ve re-written her as a Fighter 3 Gunslinger / Wizard 4 Transmuter (Alchemist).  Her spell selection is focused on rituals and reactions.  She’s intended to focus on the gun-fighting.  This makes her a very fun build to play and watch, but not actually terrible effective.  There’s not much optimization there.

Since the group was good enough to refrain from looting her wagon, and smart enough not to trigger the trap, she’ll be inclined to help them.

I do want to have her give them the gears a little in their complicity in Rictavio’s genocidal attempts to wipe out the Vistani.

What’s Next?

Ezmerelda will offer up Rictavio’s journal, and agreed to help the PCs, urging them to find the Werewolf Den right away (lest Kiril go ‘recruit’ many more people).

Session 30 Execution: Van Richten’s Tower pt1

Overland Travel

The group woke in the morning and decided to travel overland and mostly avoid the road in heading back to Vallaki.  This meant that they did not encounter The Black Carriage waiting for them.  I may later attempt to insert it in another location, as an ominous reminder that ‘Strahd is waiting’, at an appropriate spot on the road somewhere.

Vistani Camp

The group rejoined the road east of Vallaki, and swung south around it, avoiding the boats and the Blute/Arabelle scene once again.  They have somehow convinced themselves that Arabelle was kidnapped by the Night Hags and offered to Baba Lysaga as a way to join forces with her, but that they were unsuccessful.  Note: I’ve done nothing to encourage this line of thought, but it’s a bit of misinformation they put together themselves, and unchecked, it just keeps growing.  I’ve not discouraged this mistake, because the group otherwise has very little reason to ever go to Berez, and I want Baba Lysaga and her hut to happen.

The group brought the wet hair ribbon to Luvash and told him that Arabelle was likely with Baba Lysaga in Berez.  Luvash knows, deep down, she’s likely dead, but he would like her body back if nothing, and he still holds onto some hope she’s alive.  He hired the party to go to Berez to retrieve her.  She won’t be there, of course, but the fight with Baba Lysaga awaits.

Van Richten’s Tower

The group pressed on to Van Richten’s Tower.  They found and explored the wagon – without setting off the trap – and elected not to loot anything since they (rightly) surmised it was Ezmerelda’s and they are hoping to ally with her.

I had two printouts of the door-dance, one for the players and one for myself, so that I could watch carefully to see that it was done right.  I didn’t want to pass up an opportunity to have a Blue Dragon appear.  They did get the dance correct, but only after someone walked up and knocked on the door, triggering a lightning blast that caught three of them.

When they found Yan’s head, I allowed it to speak to the Haunted One wizard, one of whose quirks is that she “talks to spirits others can’t see”.  This is a bit of background the player put into the character from the start, and something I’ve tapped into now from time to time to deliver messages from ‘beyond the grave’.  It allows for another source of information, while also allowing for a little mystery/roleplay among the group.  Yan didn’t know much other than the circumstances of his own death.

Exploring the tower was cautious/methodical, as one might expect given the lightning trap.  Because they chose not to loot the wagon, they’ve not seen Van Richten’s Journal.  It doesn’t contain much they don’t already know, but it’s a good prop and I’d like them to have it.  Ezmerelda will instead show it to them later when they meet, along with grilling them over their inaction about preventing Richten’s genocidal tendencies.

The Werewolves Attack

We ended the session with the first round of the werewolves showing up.  The group will no doubt realize this was brought on by triggering the lightning, but I will also have Ezmerelda (currently hiding nearby, watching), suggest it means the den is close by.  Presently, nine wolves, three Barovian Werewolves, and one Greater Barovian Werewolf have charged, with the nine wolves wiped out by a well-placed wall of fire on the isthmus as they did.  Kiril lurks in the shadows on the shore.  I don’t intend to have him join the attack, just make his presence known.  When we resume next session, Ezmerelda will appear (with a bang! I’ve re-written her as Fighter 3/Wizard 4 gunfighter/alchemist) and join the fight.

 

 

Session 30 Prep: Van Richten’s Tower Pt 1

The Tser Pool Encampment

The group will start in the camp.  There’s not much more to be garnered here.  They should head west right away.  My understanding is they’ll be heading west, either directly to the tower or possibly stopping in Vallaki and/or the Vistani Camp to the south of it on the way.  This means they may encounter the Arabelle/Bluto scene at the lake north of Vallaki, and/or have an encounter with Luvash (not especially profitable, but might ease some tensions).  I don’t want to distract them just now, so I won’t launch my newest ideas for escalations in Vallaki just yet.

The Tower

I plan to run the tower pretty much as is.  I fully expect that between the door and the wagon, they’ll alert the werewolves to their presence.  When the wolves come though, things will be a little different.

The Werewolves

Instead of nine wolves and six werewolves, I plan to use nine wolves, four werewolves, and a greater werewolf, with Kiril trailing behind and howling, expecting his minions to fetch him some fresh victims.  The tower’s dampening effect will force the casters outside, unless they choose to hole up, in which case the wolves can lay siege.

Ezmerelda Appears

I will have Ezmerelda appear (possibly in a bit of a Deus Ex Machina) to help scare off Kiril, when the werewolf fight gets going.  They can then arrange to have her help for the Werewolf Den (next session, I expect).  She will suggest that Speak with Dead on the werewolves that infected the fighter is the best way to determine the progenitor (I’ve decided it will be Kiril’s wife, Bianca (“the white wolf”).