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 22 Execution: The Abbey of Saint Markovia pt 2

The Great Debate

As expected, what to do about the Mongrelfolk dominated the session.  I think for any DM whose group tends to lean into the roleplaying and willing to discuss these morale crises, you can expect this.

The Mongrelfolk are a great problem for a couple of reasons.  First, their ability to care for and/or govern themselves is in question, and second, their morality (when unchecked) is unknown (and in fact, varies).  This leads to lots of questions of both “could” and “should”:  Could we leave them alone?  Are they capable of taking care of themselves? Should we leave them alone? Will they attack the village?  Could we leave them with instructions and would that be enough?  Will they follow instructions?  Should we kill them?  Is it justifiable on the basis that they are mutants and/or mad?  Or that they’re prone to evil and/or dangerous?  Mongrelfolk dwell in a sort of strange middle ground that can leave the PCs spiraling down into a moral quagmire from which there is no clear solution.

After some time, one of my players took a step back and realized that it is the lack of clear solution itself that this place counts on in order to pervert and corrupt.  No answer will be beyond reproach, without question or guilt.  No answer will produce a happy result for which everyone will feel they’ve left things better than they found them.

Eventually, after telling Clovin he was in charge and having smuggled out the bodies of The Abbott and Vasilka in old empty wine barrels (“bringing back to the winery to refill”), the group walked away, washing their hands of the whole affair, unable to come to a plan of action that would please all their varying opinions.

One point of note about this discussion that other DMs may wish to consider:  My players assumed because of the animate nature of the Mongrelfolk that they all have souls, in contrast to the 1 in 10 Barovians.  This thought further complicated their debates, because it brought a very tangible “but they’re still persons” element to the conversation.  This isn’t something that I’d given thought previously, but when the idea was raised, the notion that the Dark Powers would put souls into these tortured beings as part of the corruption of a Deva struck me as delightfully evil, so I rolled with it.

Exploration of the South/East Wing

Any time you have a dungeon-crawl environment that is not a living, reacting ecosystem, but a closed, unchanging container like this one, it affords the players opportunities to find ways to scout the contents and make informed decisions about whether or not to engage and how.  Using an undead Owl familiar, the wizards peered through all the windows until they’d seen nearly the entire contents of the building, and was finally forced to use Arcane Eye to view the last two rooms downstairs that didn’t have windows.

What I didn’t allow her to see was the horde of Shadows waiting in ambush in the dim dorm room upstairs, reasoning that they’d be lurking/hiding in the shadows and not easily visible.

That said, having explored the building without entering it, and seeing nothing of real value, the group decided against having to possibly fight a Flesh Golem without some promise of gain, especially considering that killing it might further spiral the discussion of ‘what to do about the Mongrelfolk?’ since they’d be removing the guardian/watcher.

The group did find the potion and scroll.  This means they’ve missed the statuette.

Kiril/A Night in the Village

The group returned to the village, where Dmitri dropped the ‘oh, well, my son Ilya died recently, and I was wondering if The Abbott could…’ bomb on them, but they were relatively unfazed.  They’re coming to slowly accept that there are never any clean answers and feel they did the right thing killing the corrupted Deva.

As they bed down for the night, I had a cloud pass over the moon and change it from one quarter to full, followed by the single howl of Kiril in the night.  The scouting familiar noticed wolves gathering in the woods as if sizing up the village, and bats flapping about town as if looking for something, before meeting up with the wolves and then heading back East while the wolves faded into the woods.  This was, of course, Strahd planning his wolf/werewolf attack, but since the group is hiding in the Leomund’s hut an within the village walls, the attack has been postponed.  I also have saving throws rolled for Scrying three times for the Night Hags trying to find their desired victims.  Of course, they know they can’t attack through the hut, so they’ve been thwarted yet again.  They will plan their ambush on the road for tomorrow, after inflicting Nightmare Haunting on some evil souls nearby:  Otto, Zygrek, and Clovin.  These key Mongrelfolk will associate this with the arrival of the PCs and departure (‘to go fight Strahd’, Clovin was told) of The Abbott.

Missing Children

At the start of next session, when the PCs start their day, there will be news that two children in cottages near the gates went missing in the night.  Their parents didn’t wake, and the guards saw nothing but will eventually admit to suddenly and unexpectedly falling asleep (Sleep) on watch.  I will use these for the needed children for ambush.

 

Session 22 Prep: The Abbey of Saint Markovia pt2

What Now?

With The Abbot and Vasilka dealt with, the question for the group will become “what next?”, and I’m quite certain the answer will be “search this place”.  They’re going to want to plunder all they can, and there are a few decent items of note here worth finding.

The most obvious of these are the monetary and magic items, but I expect the group will also see a lot of value in the wine cellar.  Wine has proven the currency that gets them inroads when they need it, and when they find the barrels and bottles down below, I won’t be surprised if they decide that they should ‘clear this place out and make it a base of operations’.  This can work out well, as they just delivered the last of what the Wizard of Wines had, but will still need some wine to bring to the Vistani/Dusk Elves south of Vallaki if they want to make peace there and get assistance.  They have come to recognize wine as the real currency of Barovia.

As a “base of operations”, it’s actually a good spot for the PCs to settle on:  while they don’t know it, the range from Castle Ravenloft is enough to keep Strahd from being willing to fight to the “death” (because his Mist Form wouldn’t reach his coffin inside two hours, and he’d be truly destroyed).  From a story-telling perspective, I’ve decided this is why he tolerates and works with Kiril, the Werewolf pack leader, and allows him to have such freedom in the west.  This lets me leverage in the Werewolf Den chapter and possible lycanthropy storylines, since the card reading would not have otherwise brought the group to the den.  They’re going to start having werewolf encounters soon.

The bigger moral question, on the other hand, is What are they going to do about 65 Mongrelfolk that The Abbot said are incapable of looking after themselves?  That should be a fun discussion.

Ezmerelda

As I mentioned in the previous post, she’s not here.

Kiril

When the PCs rest for the night, they’re going to hear Kiril let out a wolf howl across the land that makes the people of Krezk pull their cloaks tighter and head inside to lock the doors.  If they ask about it, Dmitri will give them the name Kiril and explain he’s the leader of the werewolf pack, and drop some foreshadowing about how nasty he is.

The South/East Wing

Playing out the lower floor as is.  The Abbot shouted to Clovin at the start of the fight that he ‘needed the other golem’, but given all the hooting and hollering of dinner time, I’ve ruled behind the scenes that Clovin didn’t hear him.  The group will get the short rest they desperately need to recover from fighting The Abbot and Vasilka, but know there’s a golem waiting (and a large number of Mongrelfolk of various temperaments).

When they reach the upstairs, I’m planning to have more than the six shadows specified.  Given the size of the group and my desire to have it a serious fight (to cement a phobia in one of them), I noticed the 15 beds and thought…. why not?  There are seven PCs and two have Turn Undead/the Unholy, which will no doubt cut the fight in half after the initial frightening onslaught.  I’ll run some numbers, but this is where I’m leaning, provided I can come up with the minis.

In preparation for the strangeness/haunting, such as the stitched-body in Clovin’s bellfry and the nun in the reflection, I prepared cards I can hand to a single PC to read and hand back, in order to allow them to experience something separate from the group.

Session 21: Player Perspective

Synopsis

Ireena almost succumbs to Sergei’s offered hand in the Morninglord’s reflecting pool in Krezk, when she suddenly remembers her oath and the suffering of all Barovians under the Devil’s evil reign. She withdraws, in sorrow. Sergei implores, and on the wind we hear the Devil say, “No, Sergei. She is mine.” And then suddenly a bolt of lightning from a darkened sky strikes the pool, splintering stone and wood and sending people flying.

The Burgomaster is displeased that we have brought the Devil’s attention to his little village, and he asks that we leave the next morning.

We take our cart and two barrels of wine up to the Abbey, high up the mountain spur, to meet the Abbot.

We are greeted by beast folk aberrations who exhibit strange behaviour. They agree to fetch the Abbot for us.

When the Abbot emerges, he is a beautiful young man. Perfect in all worldly ways. He kindly invites us in and even freely heals Turk of her hag affliction.

We see that the beast folk are caged and bound around the compound, and the Abbot’s two-headed assistant, Clovin, talks of disciplining the others.

Led inside, the Abbot explains how he intends to lift the Barovian curse once and for all. He has constructed at least one flesh golem from pieces of beautiful corpses, and intends to offer this to the Devil as a substitute for his true love, Tatyana.

It’s all too much for Ireena’s stability and spirit, and combat becomes the inevitable conclusion. We discover that the Abbot is an angel of some sort, with huge feathery wings and a mace.

We manage to destroy both the angel and his flesh golem bride, and find a moment’s rest to consider our options for next session.

The Goings On

We begin the session separated within the town of Krezk.

Cereus increasingly believes that we are being watched. There have always been ravens watching us, but now he sees bats and wolves as well, watching us from a distance. After some time, they turn and walk east. Is it coincidence? Are they reporting in with the Devil?

Five of the seven of us are at the pool at the back of the village. Even under gray skies, the pool shimmers. They see the bare-chested marble statue of the Morninglord, arms outstretched, near the gazebo.

Glimmerald and Accalia discuss the nature of the pool’s magic, but are unable to draw strong conclusions.

As Ireena approaches the pool’s edge, a handsome youth of noble visage appears. Ireena knows instantly that this is Sergei. “My beloved Tatyana. Come my love, we can be together at last,” Sergei says. Ireena responds in kind. She moves toward the hand coming up through the water.

Visions of that fateful day swirl through Ireena’s mind… A  wedding dress… Sergei’s hand in hers… His whispers of adoration and his promise of undying love in her ear as they stand cheek-to-cheek… the warmth of his lips on hers… the taste of his breath… the cold side-eye of his brother… Strahd’s palpable jealousy… a flash of steel… a scream of pain as Strahd then undid everything she held dear–was that Sergei’s or Tatyana’s cry of anguish? A flash of a cliff’s edge… the Devil’s twisted words of longing… the sound of wind in her ears as the ground rushes up toward her… the blackness of the void that follows, that gives no reprieve from her despair…

Ireena snaps back into the world outside her mind’s eye, yet still feels the memories swirling around in her consciousness. She sees her own hands reaching out, toward the ephemeral visage in the pool also reaching out for her. Her heart aches. Her breath is shallow. Her pulse pounds in her ears and her chest, and the anxiousness to end the life she now knows and dive headlong into the arms of her one true love, a love stolen from her lifetimes ago, is almost too much for her to bear. Trembling, tears freely flowing down her face and mouth agape, her fingers inch ever forward…

“…Come my love,” the apparition implores.

Her fingertips touch the pool. It is cool, yet warm too somehow, further beckoning her into Sergei’s embrace.

Ireena’s conscience then calls to her. The weight of her Oath falls on her, almost arresting her heart and soul. She remembers the hopelessness the people of her village feel. That she has felt. That she has seen on the faces of nearly every person she has met since leaving her home. She remembers Kolyan. Ismark. Father Lucian.

…Izek.

Her shoulders drop and her hands recoil, balled into fists made of equal frustration and determination.

“My love… S-s-sergei… I… I cannot…” Ireena stammers between sobs. “The unliving corpse of your vile brother holds this land in his icy grip, and so many continue to suffer at his hand. He keeps the spirits of every Barovian imprisoned within his realm, tormenting them for his own amusement for generation after generation. Their souls cannot leave for the afterlife. I must see his end before I can leave this place, as that is the Oath I have made to our ‘Lord. I long to fall into your eternal embrace, but I cannot abandon the innocents that forever haunt this place. I must see my task done, and help lift the veil of darkness that shrouds all of Barovia. The Morninglord has championed myself and these companions, that we see an end to him once and for all. Wait for me, my love, because I have faith that our ‘Lord will bring us together again when our quest is complete and my mortal life is utterly spent. Until then, we will stay apart in all but our hearts.”

There’s a whispering on the wind which is heard by those around the pool, but also somehow all the way across the village at the Burgomaster’s house. “No, Sergei. She is mine.” We know instantly that it is the Devil. The sky darkens slightly, and a lightning bolt erupts from the sky toward the pool. Cereus and Glimmerald are brutally struck and knocked back. Others are spared the worst of the bolt’s power. The statue and gazebo are destroyed, and as the victims collect themselves they understand implicitly that whatever magic the pool possessed has been destroyed as well.

The Burgomaster arrives at the pool shortly after Luccaria and Beatrice. “What’s brought the attention of the Devil to this place,” he asks, and then pieces the clues together fairly quickly. “I’ll honour our deal. You can stay the night here, but I expect you all to leave in the morning.” At this rate, we’re going to be living at the winery, like itinerant alcoholics.

We somehow get onto the topic of history books, and Dmitri says, “The Devil’s not fond of people writing history books. Most of the histories in the land are oral histories. Books tend to disappear.” That is most unfortunate, Cali says.

She then asks about the Fidatovs. “Well, they’re not from here,” he says, adding nothing more.

“Do you happen to have any books around,” Glim asks. “No,” he says, “pretty much all the books in the village are fiction. Stories for young ones.”

He continues, “As I mentioned before, there’s no inn, so you’ll need to find houses to take you in. Perhaps wherever you stay will have books there.”

We gather our cart and remaining wine barrels and push on to the Abbey, so that we’re there in the light of day. The switchback road that hugs the cliff leads up hundreds of feet. It grows colder as we ascend. The road swings around onto a plateau where we see the wall surrounding the Abbey’s buildings. It’s a wide ledge on which the abbey is perched. The gravel road we’re on passes between two small out-buildings. A five foot high, three foot thick wall of jumbled stones wraps around the complex. The buildings are joined by a 15 foot tall curtain wall. Blocking the road ahead of us, between the out-buildings, are iron gates held on rusted hinges. Through the gates, the abbey stands quiet. One of the buildings sports a chimney spouting gray smoke.

We’re above the mist here, and it’s hard to see the village below.

There is a tended garden with scarecrows off to the east of the buildings, but inside the low wall.

The gate is not locked, and Beatrice opens it. There’s a loud groan and creak as it turns on its rusty hinges. We hear sounds of something rummaging.

Owlabaster flies up, and spots both bats and ravens around the area.

Luccaria steps into the breach in time to see two small creatures coming out of the trees and moving in our direction. One four and a half feet tall, the other about 5 foot tall. They’re both wearing cloaks of animal fur. As they move, they walk in funny ways. Hobbling. As they come into view, one of them has a wolf snout, complete with fangs. The other has donkey skin on his face. Donkey man’s legs and feet are those of a lion. Behind a cloak we can see a donkey tail swaying back and forth. The second one is shorter and female. The left side of her face is covered with lizard scales, and the right side has pale human skin interrupted by tufts of fur. One of her eyes is feline. Her fingers and thumbs are cats paws (though still opposable). As the pair approach, the male speaks: “I wasn’t asleep! I wasn’t asleep. I’m the best guard ever EEEYYAAAAAH. That’s what a good guard does, patrol. That’s why Cloven picked me.” “Is that me, you’re directing that at,” the female asks him, “You’re judging, aren’t you? You’re always judging me!”

“Am I not beautiful?” the guy asks. Luccaria and Beatrice successfully bluff to the affirmative.

“Are you here to see the Abbot?” We ask if Clovin is the Abbot. “Fpppttt, no, he wishes! Cloven’s in charge of us, but not the whole place. That’s the Abbot.”

“You stay here with Zygfrek, and I, Otto, knowing exactly where to find the Abbot, will go and get him for you.” Tell him that we’ve brought wine, we ask him. “Oh, yes, I will!” He hobbles off through double wooden doors in the curtain wall.

We enter the grounds through the gate and it is closed behind us. We notice that near us is a graveyard. Cali checks the gravestones for names and dates. Ireena can translate the dates, and tell us that the graves go back hundreds of years. Perhaps the original inhabitants of the abbey.

There is a thin crust of snow all around. In the light snow, we can see that tracks lead from the doors to the gates and then back to the tree where we see furs laid out like bedding. Chain shirted decoys with spears are atop the gate towers.

Otto walks out. Just behind him is a man in his early to mid-30’s. His robes aren’t tailored but they do fit him well. He’s an impressive specimen. He appears to be a human male with high cheekbones, well-coiffed hair, and a great physique; not overly muscular, but in great shape. Well kempt. He may even press his clothes. He walks toward us with a bold, confident stride.

Otto does a “great job” of introducing us to the Abbot. “Nailed it,” he congratulates himself.

The Abbot gives us a warm gesture. “Welcome, I am the Abbot. Welcome to my humble home. The Bellviews here are in my care, poor things.” Ireena notices he’s wearing a holy symbol of the Morninglord.

Turk sizes him up. No bruises or scars, but the way he walks does suggest that he’s at least somewhat competent as a combatant.

“If you would all excuse me but a moment, I suspect this one,” (he indicates Ireena, and the holy symbol she wears), “might speak a tongue which I also do.” He speaks to her in a language the rest of us don’t understand, but he repeats the message in Common after.

“It is a welcome sight to cast my eyes upon another true believer of the Morninglord. I am his devout servant, having traveled from a place far away in both space and time to revive the Abbey of Saint Markovia. I am the light and the hope, sweet child. I am glad you have come to me for salvation. Here, under his watchful eye and mine, you can find respite from the forces of evil that trouble this darkened land.”

We later learn that he spoke in Celestial.

Cali says it’s very nice to offer the hospitality of his home. There are many things we want to talk about with you, not the least of which are these Bellviews here.

Turk says, “I heard the Abbot could cure a hag haunting.” “I have the power to heal with my touch, it’s true. I have been known to raise the dead. I can indeed remove a hag’s curse. In addition, I have been working on alleviating the curse; the land’s curse. I have a plan.”

“But, to your question,” he turns to Cali, “When I first came to this place I found the Bellviews. It’s been all I could do to help them. I’ve been helping them now for years. I fear they wouldn’t survive without me. There’s quite a few of them. Not just the two of them. They’ve repopulated almost the entire abbey. They’re all related. They’re all descended of the same lines. And these eccentricities, they are of their own choosing. They wanted to be more, and I made them more.”

Beatrice senses that he believes everything he’s saying, and seems to really care about the Bellviews.

We ask, but why are you here? Was it just the curse? No, we joke, the wine. “Oh, yes, the wine does help. It lifts my spirits.” Turk says we shouldn’t be trying to raise more spirits.

“Ooh hoo, yes. Speaking of spirits. You shouldn’t go to the second floor of the south wing. There are restless spirits there. They’ve been there since I arrived. We don’t use those rooms. You shouldn’t explore around on your own.”

A bell rings from the belfrey, over the north building. From the south building, we hear a cacophony of sound. A horde of voices. “Woo! Yeah!” mixed with animal sounds.

“You asked about my plan to alleviate the curse on this land, and that’s where we might come to an agreement. You might be able to help me. You should meet Vasilka.” As we get to the curtain wall doors, the little plaque to the right of the doors says “The Abbey of Saint Markovia, may her light cure all illness”.

As the Abbot ushers us in, he lays a hand on Turk and she feels more vital. Like the hag’s curse has been lifted!

Through the doors the courtyard is filled with a thick, swirling fog. Again, we see posted guards on the walls but they turn out to be merely scarecrows. There are wooden doors to the north and east. There’s a well in the center, with a rope running over a winch and to a bucket. Three shallow alcoves contain wooden troughs. For feeding these manbeasts? We suspect we’ll find out.

Tied to a post in the south part of the courtyard is a short humanoid with bat wings and spider mandibles. She has cloven feet, and is about 4’ 5” tall. She seems mad; wild. She edges away from us as we approach. We suspect she has a soul, as she experiences a fear of us.

We hear hoots and hollers from the locked sheds all around the yard. Cereus hears a scratching noise coming from the well at the center of the courtyard.

There are no visible stitch marks on any of these man-beasts. They look like they were born this way. They seem to have personalities. Souls. They are not “empty husks”. Luccaria has a dark thought about how Dmitri and the others might feel about hundreds of souls tied up inside these aberrant frames.

As we approach the north building, the door opens. We see a 4’ 7” man with patchy fur or hair, but most notably he has two heads. One is a normal-sized human head with goat horns. The other head is that of a small child. His left hand is a crab pincer, while his right is a normal human hand. His right foot is bear paw. He’s wearing a monk’s robe tied around the middle with a rope belt. They step out the door. The human head looks up at the Abbot and says, “I rang the bell. Feed them now. I will discipline those that need it.”

It sounds like there could be hundreds of voices from the south wing.

Regarding the bat lady chained on in the yard, the Abbot says, “Marzena has these strange theories that everyone is out to get her, but she can’t leave. She tries to fly away, but if she flies out into the wilderness there’s no way she would survive. So I have to keep her chained.”

As we reach the north door, we see that the ground floor is a 50 foot wide room. There is a cauldron on an iron rack above a fire in a hearth. Above the mantle is a golden disc, a symbol of the Morninglord. There are stairs going up, and stairs going down. There are perhaps a dozen chairs around a long wooden table covered with wooden dishware. Behind the table is a beautiful, alabaster-skinned human woman. Her auburn hair is in a cute up-do. So is Luccaria’s raven hair but nobody ever mentions it, she silently complains. The woman stares straight forward, lost in thought. There are candles lighting the room.

The Abbot steps into the room, and motions toward the table. “Come, come, sit so I can explain.”

Out in the courtyard, Cali casts Detect Thoughts while others make noise to camouflage the verbal component. Meanwhile, Luccaria messages the alabaster woman, “Are you here of your own free will?” “Yes, I think so.” she says after a moment’s hesitation.

“Vasilka. Pull out your chair and have a seat.” The woman does so, very mechanically. Is she human, we wonder?

“Please, please, have a seat. I will explain my whole plan.”

“The land is cursed because the Devil is so unhappy. He’s so unhappy because he seeks his bride, but he can never have her.” No, he cannot, Ireena says, coldly. “So,” (he motions to Vasilka), “I made him one. I’m training her. She hasn’t learned all of her etiquette, but she’s getting better. The only thing I don’t have is a wedding dress. But soon, I will put her in a wedding dress and present her to him. They will marry and the curse will be broken, and the land will be free.”

“There’s no good wedding dress in Krezk. Now, in Vallaki, I’m sure there are noble families who might have an appropriate wedding dress. I could pay you, I would not expect you to travel there for nothing. You are outsiders, and the adventurous sort, so if something were to befall one of you then I could repay your kindness with the help of the Morninglord.”

Turk asks what brought the Abbot to Barovia, and where did he come from? “The Morninglord sent me, to minister to his flock. I came from another land, but you see, I commune from time to time with the Morninglord himself. He told me that this poor land of Barovia was under a curse, but I could be lured inside by the Vistani, and I could help the people once inside. I immediately sought out the abbey of St. Markovia, as I knew this would be the best place to help.”

Cali mentions that she’s heard that his true love has been reborn, and so how will we convince him that this (she indicates Vasilka) is his true love? “Well, I don’t think that she could be his true love, but he might love her anyway. There was a village along the river to the south. Berez. He suspected this woman was his love reborn, and her own people stoned her to death so that he might not have her. In his anger, he made flood waters rise and drowned out the village. Now it is nothing but plague and pestilence. I would see him sated in this simpler way, that he might stop this worthless pursuit.”

You’re suggesting that we bring you a wedding dress, and you would raise us from the dead? “No, I was suggesting that you bring me the dress right away that I might release the curse.”

Did you raise the Bellviews? “Oh, no, I haven’t raised the Bellviews.”

Where did Vasilka come from? “She was constructed.” From what? “Parts?” From the town? “Otto and Zygfrek, they leave the abbey from time to time and they go out into the wilderness. They look for … it’s much like not wanting to destroy the living trees, so you find the deadfall for firewood. In similar fashion they find bodies of the unfortunate and…”

I think I’ve heard enough, Ireena says.

“Child, why so upset? I am the light. I am sent by the Morninglord. I alone can bring the dead to life. I alone can heal by mere touch. I expect you to be thrilled to meet me.” Ireena says, “I was hoping beyond hope that you were good.” “I am going to bring salvation to this land,” he says. “You might have been sent as salvation to this land,” she replies, “but I can see now that you have been corrupted by it.” “I AM INCORRUPTIBLE,” he angrily retorts. “Look at me,” she asks, “what do you see?” “I see a naive young woman,” he says. “I am Tatiana,” Ireena states.

The tension is unbearable. Luccaria cuts it with a lash of lightning. We are engaged in combat. He reaches under the table and draws out a mace. It rises up on the table and its clothing is ripped by a pair of huge feathered wings emerging from his back.

Turk stabs him, but he seems to shrug off the pain. He slams Ireena and drops her to the ground instantly. He tries to strike Luccaria, but a magical shield intercedes. Spells have trouble landing on him, and mundane weapons seem ineffective. His constructed bride attacks us as well, mechanically, and we discover that she is immune to mundane weapons.

The Abbot calls to Clovin to “bring the other golem!”

Ireena is healed back up and climbs to her feet. After some sparring and a failed attempt to compel the angel to fly off to confront Strahd in direct combat, he very nearly strikes down Turk with a single well-placed swing of his mace. Turk rallies immediately and returns with a perfectly placed strike of her own. So distracted, Ireena seizes the opportunity to drive her luminous sword through the angel, killing him. We then quickly destroy the stitched-flesh monstrosity the Abbot had made.

The door to the room is barred with a table, and we try to take some moments to rest.

Here we end the session.

Session 21 Execution: The Abbey of Saint Markovia pt1

Something Blue

Ireena resisted the temptation to leave, giving an impassioned speech about needing to save the people of Barovia.  Strahd sent his lightning bolt.  I had all five people near the pool roll.  The damage roll was very low (28), but two failed and took full damage.  It was enough to draw attention.  The gazebo and shrine were destroyed.  The Burgomaster and other characters showed up shortly after, and the Burgomaster was marginally upset about the shrine, saying they could still stay the day/night because he would honor his promises, but that they should leave in the morning because they brought trouble (the new theme!)

The Abbey of Saint Markovia

After a short rest to recover from the Lightning Bolt, the group ascended to the Abbey.  I’d forgotten about the open grave, but when they later explored the graveyard just inside the abbey and saw the cliffside view of the village, I had them spot it then.

The group was met by Otto and Zygfrek, and the conversation was great fun.  Otto eventually agreed to fetch The Abbot, after namedropping Clovin as well.  The Abbot came out to greet the group.

Despite all the Abbot’s attempts to convince the group he was one of the good guys, the group’s suspicions were already way too high to believe him because a) Ravenloft, and b) the Mongrelfolk were just freaking them out.  They used the empathy feat, Divine Sense, Detect Thoughts, asked for various insight checks, and so on, and asked The Abbot to invite them inside and explain his plan, which he did so as to make his plea for the dress.  The moment they went into the Great Hall and saw Vasilka, it was pretty much just a matter of time before swords were drawn.  He and Ireena started to argue, and as it escalated to them standing and shouting, all hell (heaven?) broke loose.

On paper, I had originally not thought The Abbot would be that tough a fight, especially with my group of seven players, even with the Flesh Golem (Vasilka) by his side.  As it turned out, the Flesh Golem wasn’t a big deal, as suspected, though the Damage Immunity did give the Rogue/Ranger some sadness, but it was The Abbot that was impressive.  He can deal considerable damage with that Mace.  He dropped one character from full to zero in a single blow (38hp).  He dropped another – the main tank – from near full to 0 (1 because of her Relentless Endurance) with a 68 hp crit.  On top of that, with many saving throws being Wisdom based, his +9 combined with Magic Resistance means they’re not going to land many spells.  Basically, a fight with The Abbot is a race to the finish line: if the PCs can’t bring enough magic weapon damage fast enough to bring him down quickly, he’s going to work his way through them one by one.

All in all, things didn’t go as I expected:  despite repeated reminders that he’s the only one in the land capable of raising the dead (not quite true, but he believed it), there was no way the group was willing to work with him, and violence was inevitable.  This means the idea of having Izek “cured” by The Abbot goes away, along with any subplot about stealing or borrowing Lydia’s wedding dress.

I expect next session will be a dungeon-crawl of the Abbey to look for treasure, and the group will have to figure out what to do with all these Mongrelfolk.

And in usual “every win is also a loss” Ravenloft fashion, when they see Dmitri again, he will ask how things went with The Abbot, sheepishly telling them about Ilya and how he hoped to get them to ask The Abbot to bring his son back, lest his family line die with him.

 

Session 20: Player Perspective

Synopsis

We begin the session recovering from our fight against the druids and their Gulthias tree.

After a short rest, we go investigate the spot on the hill where the Devil had paused to stare into the fog. Looking west, we see the image of a vast civilized scene through the fog. Castle towers, a church, buildings, people. It seems like we could just walk into it. Applying caution, we discover that it is a powerful illusion and that the fog here is just as deadly as elsewhere.

We burn effigies and bodies on top of the hill, then make our way in darkness to the winery. We are greeted as returning heroes, and we present Davian with the glowing gem to save his business. He treats us to supper and we prepare for sleep.

Glimmerald constructs her magical hut, while we arrange a two-person watch order. During the night, Glimmerald and Cereus detect hags to the north, messing around with some foliage. We decide not to confront them directly, and to let them come to us. Time passes and the hags depart.

In the morning, we eat and then go see what the hags had been up to. We find a crude scene of dirt and carved sticks. It shows seven adults on the road surrounding two dead children, by the looks of it. A warning? A taunt?

We push on toward Krezk with a cart bearing three barrels of wine.

We discover the forested town on the escalating face of a mountain spur. We are promptly told to “fuck off”. This epithet is repeated several times until they discover that we’re carrying wine, and only then are we invited inside. Very cautious about visitors, it seems, which is fair if they’ve been fending off the Devil’s friends and foes.

Inside, we learn that the Abbot lives in a sanitarium, or hospital, several hundred feet up the hillside, and is rarely seen. We think he cares for the scarred victims who had assaulted the Devil in a past age, and were punished for their temerity.

Dmitri, who let us in, has to attend to a childbirth, but says that Ireena and others may want to visit a spot on the far side of town. Bea and Lucy attend the childbirth to help out, if possible.

Ireena and others find a shrine to the Morninglord, and therein a statue of same and a reflecting pool. In the pool, Ireena sees the image of Sergei reaching up toward her.

At the childbirth, we learn that one perhaps one in twelve children born in this land are gifted a soul. The rest are empty husks, of no interest to the Devil. The Devil, in fact, is drawn to those with souls as a source of food.

Here our session ended.

The Goings On

We begin the session recovering from the defeat of the druids of Yester Hill, and their mysterious Gulthias tree.

Luccaria gives the adventurer’s axe to Ireena, on the presumption that she might at least occasionally find it useful. We then take a short rest.

After the rest, we look west from the vantage point that we’d last seen the Devil at, peering into the fog. Bewilderingly, deep in the fog we see a white fortress atop a hill overlooking a big, beautiful city. We think we can hear a church bell. The fog obscures many of the details. We investigate, and find that the scene is a powerful illusion, and the fog is still as magically deadly as before. Strange that the Devil would pine over it… perhaps it holds a personal connection for him?

We decide to cut down the giant vampire effigy and build pyres to burn the mountainfolk bodies. With that done, the sun has set and we begin the march back to the winery in the darkness.

Thankfully, we arrive at the winery unmolested. We announce our arrival and Davian greets us and seems happy to see us. “Friends, welcome!” he swings the doors open wide. Noticing our mostly-still-a-pony and her burden, he goes out and opens the stable to house Appleblossom (whose appearance gives the old man pause, naturally) and the cart.

“I don’t suppose you have some supper,” Cali asks. “Why, we were just putting on supper!” Cali seems very pleased by this news.

“Look what we have for ya,” Cali says, holding up the glowing gem. Davian is pleasantly surprised to see it.

Davian invites us inside, then. Inside, we find his sons, their wives and four kids. They don’t have many seats at their supper table, but they bring down some barrels for us all to sit on. Davian, as thanks, digs up a bottle of good wine that had previously gone unnoticed.

Do you ship to Krezk, Cali asks. “Yes, that’s one of the places we make deliveries to. We normally deliver three barrels, once a month. We can definitely cask three barrels from the vat you purified, and maybe a fourth.”

Glimmerald asks about the white church we saw through the fog. “Oh, the city in the mist? It was passed down by my relations when you could actually talk to these people, these mountain people. It was called the whispering wall. You could hear voices from the past and the future. The legend was that there was an ancient god who sacrificed his divinity to save this world from destruction. His last exhale was the mists that surround this fabled city.” Glimmerald recognizes this as a myth from another religion, a tale that’s spun up when there’s a misty wall or a similar phenomenon. She thinks this is bullshit passed around by the mountainfolk. “Some of the druids say that they would use the mists to go on vision quests. The mists had the voices of people from the future. But as far as I know, if you’re not Vistani then stepping into the mist will make you tired very quickly, and you’ll very quickly die.”

“Now, my oldest son here, Adrian. What was the story you told?” “Yeah,” Adrian says, “while I was at Urwin’s, I met this lady from Vallaki. She had a whole different idea about the wall. She contended that there were some dark arcane powers, perhaps even more powerful than the Devil himself. These powers created this image of the Devil’s homeland, this place he could never return to. The homeland his parents were forced out of. The dark powers created this image, so he could see home but could never go there. It was designed to torment the Devil himself. Anyway, it was just an idea that she mentioned.”

Glimmerald and Cereus confer about the vision they saw through the fog. Glim recalls the wax seal used by the Devil himself: a raven with wings spread, and in the center: castle towers. Perhaps these things are connected.

Turk asks about the family’s smithing capabilities. Surely they do their own work, or do they buy from somewhere? Hunting arrows, for example? “Why, what archer can’t fletch his own arrows?” Davian asks. We turn to look at Cereus. Turk asks about getting her armor adjusted, and Davian asks his daughter to look into it.

We have ample wine with supper. It’s the cheap stuff, of course.

A few hours after sundown, Beatrice casts Locate Object to find the nearest instance of a “heartstone” within a thousand feet. She detects nothing. For now, it seems the hags are not closing in.

Glimmerald asks Davian to speak with the ravens, to get them to warn us if they detect any danger around. Beatrice has a private conversation with a raven, to independently impart this information. It rooks at her, as if in understanding. Davian, separately, agrees to talk to the raven, though he seems cagey about admitting to being able to speak with them, or perhaps he’s humouring us? We warn the family about the danger posed by the hags who pursue us.

As we prepare for sleep, Glimmerald casts her TIny Hut spell, encapsulating us all plus Alabaster and the raven. We arrange watch shifts, with people on watch staying outside the hut to keep an eye on things.

Cali and Beatrice take first watch. Near midnight, Beatrice repeats her Locate Object but again fails to detect any nearby hag’s heartstone. Turk and Luccaria are next, but the time again passes uneventfully. We then rouse Glimmerald, who wakes with a start. Cereus wakes around the same time. Glimmerald receives a foul missive from Owlabaster. She transfers her sight to his eyes. In the distance, she sees three dark figures doing something at the edge of the clearing, well north of us. Cereus sees these three cloaked figures, as well. They’re doing something with the trees. About a quarter mile away.

We consider taking the fight to them, but the choice is made to wait. Our resources are depleted. We return to bed. Cereus keeps an eye out for their activity. After a short while, they finish what they were doing and disappear.

When we wake, Cali discovers two Tarroka cards which have fallen out of her backpack as she gathers her things: the traitor, and the philanthropist.

We go out to investigate where the hags had been crafting things near the woods. We find a cleared out patch of dirt, with twig and carved wood figures arranged. It seems to be a road with woods on each side. A ring of seven larger people is in the road. In the center of the ring, two small figures with X’s where their eyes should be. Glimmerald doesn’t think there’s any magical significance to the arranged objects. Just a warning or taunt for us. Perhaps there was a third kidnapped child, apart from the one we rescued and the Vistani one? If that child and the Vistani child are dead in the road, we may well assume the hags did it.

We turn to considering the cards Cali found in her backpack. We can’t think of how the cards could have gotten into her pack, though she now recalls a dream where she noticed a Tarroka card being used as a bookmark in Strahd’s journal. In her dream, it fell out and she scooped it up and jammed it into her pack without seeing it. Luccaria reads the cards, by how they fell and in which order. “We should be wary of offered help,” she claims.

Glimmerald and Cereus investigate the hag’s carved dolls and compares them to the roughly carved doll from the first time we visited the winery. They seem sure that these were not carved by the same people. The hags carved with their claw-like fingernails, while the other was perhaps carved with a spear point?

We pack up and travel north from the winery, with three barrels of wine in tow. We reach the familiar signpost: Krezk to the northwest. Vallaki, east. Wizard of Wine to the southwest. We go northwest, and then it turns west. We’re surrounded by thick forest, but it is still a road. The forest overgrows the road, creating a sort of boreal tunnel.

About an hour later, we can see the village of Krezk ahead. The road branches north and continues west. To the north it climbs a rocky escarpment; a mountain spur. We see a stone gatehouse and walls. Beyond the wall are the tops of snow-covered pines and also wisps of smoke rising from houses in the village. There is an abbey high above the settlement, with a steady chime on the air. This is a nice break from the steady fog. A switchback road seems to lead up to the abbey. The village is about three hundred feet above us, and the abbey perhaps seven hundred.

As we approach, the hillside has been cleared of trees. The air grows colder. The gatehouse is composed of two square towers with peaked roofs, a stone arch, and stout wooden doors. There is a sign which helpfully reads “Krezk”. Atop the parapet, there are four fur-hatted and fur cloaked figures wielding spears. Cereus believes the furs are from wolves, and perhaps some bear. The tower’s windows are tall and narrow, like arrow slits. The guards don’t seem aggressive. The iron-bound gates are closed.

We approach. Turk calls out, “Ho there. Delivery of wine.” “Fuck off,” they shout back. “Now that’s no way to treat a lady,” Cali adds. “Don’t care, fuck off. Second there… did you say wine?” “Yes.” “Where are you delivering it to?” “The inn.” “There is no inn. Fuck off.” “You know what we meant… the abbey.” “No, fuck off. Wait, do you mean Dmitri?” “Yeah.” “Okay, but don’t be surprised if he tells you to fuck off.” It’s increasingly difficult to imagine that we would be.

A burly man appears after a short time. He looks down. “Leave the wine there, and fuck off.” “We need payment.” “We’re all paid up with Davian.” “We’re here to see the abbot.” “Yeah? Hang on, I’ll come down.”

He comes down. “Good day. Do you know the abbot?” “We’ve heard of him.” Glim looks meaningfully at Ireena, and her holy symbol. We talk about the winery being attacked. “Werewolves?” the guy asks. “No, druids,” we reply.

“I’m charged with the safety of these people. Only two kinds of people come knocking at these doors: the devil’s allies, which I don’t want to let inside, and the devil’s enemies, which I don’t want to let inside to cause trouble. So our population has remained fairly steady. We can’t say with certainty who is a werewolf, for example.” “But you can!” Glim leaps in. She procures a silver piece and holds it in her hand. “Surely you know that silver burns a lycanthrope.” “Oh, yes. Your friend over there (Turk) looks a little bestial.” Glim hands the silver piece over to Turk, which seems to satisfy the man.

“If you’re going to see the abbot, you’re going to need to learn some things. I learned of the abbot from my grandfather. The abbot came from outside of these lands. According to my grandfather, the abbot (everyone just calls him that, no one can remember his name) came here about a hundred years ago now. Looks like he hasn’t aged a day since.” “Are you sure?” Cali asks. “Mmhmm. My thinking is in this land, there is another one who likes to travel about in disguise, never seems to age any. So since I came to power I don’t deal much with the man. He stays up there in the abbey, he’s got his own crowd of people he tends to in his sanitarium, hospital, I don’t know what you call it.”

“Before this we thought the place was haunted, after the whole incident with Markovia.” Ireena interjects: “Saint Markovia? Everyone who worships the morninglord knows Saint Markovia. One of the most virtuous people ever. Rose in power in the church of the morninglord. Managed to defeat vampire spawn. Felt emboldened to attack the Devil himself. Took all the priests and nuns and attacked Castle Ravenloft. This was a couple of centuries ago. As such rebellions tend to go, the Devil won, killed Markovia (she’s buried in the tombs under his castle, like many of his victims), the remnants of her following scattered back west (maybe here?) and they were never heard from again. He hunted them down and killed them? Drove them mad? Nobody claims to be a descendant of those who rose to confront the Devil.”

Dmitri resumes at that point. “That was her abbey, and I can probably fill in one of the missing bits. Her followers retreated to the abbey and he laid siege to the place, cut off their food supply. Anyway, a hundred years ago this abbot showed up. Took over the abbey. He’s got a small following of people up there, though I never see any of them. We only see him, himself. He likes his wine. We try to appease him by sending some up there. His people seem pretty self sufficient, so we don’t have much reason to interact. If you want to go meet him, you’re welcome to. If you want to stay down here, I’m sure you can find some people who’d be willing to put you up. There’s no inn.”

“Has anyone else ever come to visit the abbot?” “Yeah, there was a nobleman, a gentleman, came in a carriage. Very well dressed. He’d walk up. Haven’t seen him in years.” “Lord von Holtz?” we ask. “Maybe, might have been. Anyway, if you hadn’t brought the wine I wouldn’t be letting you in, but a deal’s a deal. If you need to spend the night and talk to the abbot, then so be it.”

“Our friend here is an accomplished performer, you know.” Turk says of Cali. Suddenly, there’s a shout from the wall. “Dmitri! Dmitri! Anna says the woman is ready. Kretyana is on her way over. It’s Dmira.” “Ah, tell her I’ll be there straight away. My wife Anna is not a midwife, but she’s the closest thing we have to a holy woman. Kretyana is the midwife. Dmira is with child.” Bea thinks there’s something very sullen about Dmitri on the subject of children. He seems to be concealing a deep sadness.

He turns and starts to head back toward the gate. “You can leave the wine just inside the gate.” He stops for a second, looks back at Ireena, says “There’s something back there that might interest you.” Toward the back of the village, there’s a couple of narrow roads that cut through the place. A scattering of humble wooden cottages. So many trees as to constitute a forest. Abbey is easy to see from this vantage point. In with the cottages we see animal pens and gardens, where there’s beets and chickens and pigs. Everyone has their own miniature farm next to their cottages. Like they stuck a wall around a group of self-sufficient cottages. He motions for us to come inside, and points back to the far side of the village. He says there’s something she may find of interest there.

As we step inside, a woman of about Dmitri’s age and a little portly as well, emerges from one of the larger cottages. She motions for him to follow, and heads off. Another woman rushes over to join her. He starts after them. Beatrice offers her help as he’s leaving and he seems happy to invite her assistance. Luccaria joins them. The others head off to where he’d indicated Ireena should go.

As they arrive at the back wall of the village, a pool sparkles and shimmers. There is a statue of a marble, bare-chested man with arms outstretched. The statue is positioned so it is facing east. Ireena recognizes it as a statue of the morninglord, and it makes her happy. The sparkling water looks like a natural underground spring. Cereus drinks some of the water, and he finds it very refreshing. Turk tries some, and also finds it refreshing but it has no noticeable effect on her. There is a gazebo.

Glimmerald detects the spirit of Sergei reaching from beyond the pool’s briny depths, reaching up toward Ireena. The image is in the water. She thinks it’s divine magic. Ireena has a perplexed look, like she’s trying to decide to take his hand or not.

Glimmerald says, from the side of the pool, “Excuse me my lord, but you could assist us with the defeat of your brother?” No response. Glim asks Ireena to ask him.

On the other side of town. Bea and Lucy arrive at the house to find a pregnant woman, Dmira. Kretyana rushes over to provide instructions to her. Prayers are recited, but it’s fairly rote. Dmitri taps his wife, Anna, on the shoulder and motions to Beatrice. “She’s a holy woman. Perhaps she could say a prayer over this child that it might be special.” We’re not sure what “special” means in this context, but we don’t want to ask such questions here and now.

The child is born very quickly. Kretyana wipes it off and picks it up. Dmira calmly thanks her. The child is alive, but it’s not making any noise. Beatrice knows Kretyana looks a little sad, then she sighs and says, “Congratulations.” As she turns to walk away, Anna and Dmitri share a secret glance and look at Kretyana. Kretyana says, loud enough to be overheard, “Like the others. No soul.” As she reaches the door, Dmitri turns around and mutters, “Just as well. One less piece of bait.”

“Is the Devil drawn to those with souls,” Bea asks. Dmitri beckons her outside to talk. Kretyana seems sad, like she has real emotion. Even Dmitri and Anna don’t seem to emote like us. When alone, Dmitri tells us, “We cannot escape this land, we cannot escape this curse. We are cursed to be reborn and reborn and reborn. But there are not enough souls for us. Most of us are just shells. I don’t know, figments of his imagination perhaps. We just exist. We live, we die, only maybe one in a dozen…. Maybe a few more. But you’re right. The devil is attracted to them. He gains no satisfaction from feeding on shells. This is why outsiders are of such interest to him.”

Hundreds of spirits march to the castle nightly, we note. Is there some way to free them back into the pool? “Other than ending the curse on this land, I don’t think so.”

If the Devil is drawn to those with souls, has he caused you trouble? “No, he has left us alone for a long time. Perhaps he’s too lazy to come this far west.”

“Do not leave the village at night,” he warns us, “There are many wolves in the woods at night. Some of them walk upright,” he says, stressing that point, “They work with the Devil. They seem to stay farther to the west, far from his castle. Perhaps they control this area, and he leaves it alone.”

The road continues to the west. We ask, where does it lead? “Not much farther west, and then there are the mists.”

Here we end the session.

Session 21 Prep: The Abbey of Saint Markovia pt1

Something New

This session will open with Ireena forced to make the decision to take Sergei’s hand or not.  If she does, she exits the storyline (and that player will have to take up a new PC.  I will expedite Ezmerelda’s appearance on the road when they leave).  If she doesn’t, I can put off Ezmerelda a while, possibly leaving her for the Tower.

Either way, I intend to have the Lightning Bolt strike the group, as they are circled near the water’s edge, even though they’re not in the water itself.  (Why?  Because the idea of Strahd’s power bordering on demi-god should be reinforced.)

The Dug Up Grave

I was supposed to have a dug up grave as random encounter just before Krezk last session but forgot.  Instead I will put it inside Krezk this session, noticed on the way to the Abbey, as a way to introduce the grave-robbing story element.

The Abbot

He is going to be slick and charming, as written.  What’s more, he’s going to speak in the terms Ireena wants to hear, and he will speak to her in Celestial (she speaks Celestial), giving a clue as to his nature.  If she actually uses Divine Sense, she will detect that he is Celestial (Hurray!).  I did some poking around online, and in 5th edition, there’s almost nothing that will directly tell you someone’s alignment.  I’d like the subterfuge to last a little and let them figure it out for themselves, preferably after they’ve made promises.

Before that point, they’ll have the awkward first encounter of meeting Otto and Zygfrek, but when questioned The Abbot will only state that he is ‘caring for these poor, wretched outcasts that others look down on and ignore’.  After all, ‘The Morninglord teaches us compassion’.  He will neglect to mention that he actually creates them.  He will likewise be tight-lipped (at first) about Vasilka, and won’t bring her along or introduce her.  He will reveal only as much of his plan as he needs to ask for the dress in exchange for any favors they request of him.  He will refuse to leave the Abbey for Vallaki, as he has ‘too many poor souls to care for and keep watch over’.  Izek is healthy; let him come here.

The group hasn’t heard about Ilya yet, though the empathic Firbolg cleric does know Dmitri has a deep sadness related to a child or children.  I expect it will come up in this session.

Ezmerelda

Despite the fact that the group has not yet encountered Ezmerelda, I’d rather not have them simply find her here.  Rather, I plan to have her as part of an encounter on the road involving werewolves.  (A thunderous crack from the woods and a werewolf head explodes!)  I’ve also re-written her as a Fighter 3 (Gunslinger)/Wizard 4 (Transmuter) with a Blunderbuss.  She uses her Transmuter ability to turn little wooden balls into Silver balls for the Blunderbuss ammunition.

The Abbey

If the group explores the Abbey, because of my group’s size/levels at this point (7 x Level 7), I’ll increase the Shadow numbers.  I have a character I feel is on the verge of Sciophobia (shadows/incorporeal things) as part of my phobias add-on.  This would be that push over the edge.  They’ve already been told the Abbey is haunted.  The Abbot won’t deny that “dark spirits still reside here” and tell them to avoid the upstairs, saying only that “he has not found a way to give them rest yet” (despite being here 100 years).  I want them to be tempted (because I want to attack them with 12 shadows and give the fighter her phobia, finally).

Meanwhile…

Meanwhile, the PCs have left the children with Ismark, who is supposed to find them foster homes in Vallaki.  Izek is now aware of Ismark as Ireena’s “other brother” and is naturally jealous.  I think Izek has to kill or injure Ismark, though this will, of course, come after Ireena is off negotiating with The Abbot to “cure” him.

I also have further plans with the escalation of politics with Vallaki.  Removing Izek will lead to the rise of Wachterhaus – of which the PCs are aware and will probably work to stifle – but also of Victor in response, of which they’re largely unaware.

 

Session 20 Execution: Krezk

Yester Hill

The group clued up at Yester Hill, spending some time burning the bodies and sizing up the vision in the Whispering Wall, and then headed on to the Winery.

The Winery

On the way to the winery, the group discussed what they might expect in repayment for returning the gem.  One of the more mercenary of the group (the fighter), suggested that rather than simply handing it over, they use it to bargain for a shipment of wine, since it seems the town/villages all receive shipments from here, and it seems a great way to curry favor.

Clever buggers!  They saved themselves having to backtrack a 4-hour round trip to the winery on reaching Krezk!

Davian agreed to give them Krezk’s next shipment, since it was due soon.  The group had supper at the winery and settled in for the evening.

The random encounter tables are intended for traveling or camping at night in the wilderness or on the road.  It’s reasonable not to have wandering monsters in the villages or towns, but what of the Winery?  It’s in the middle of nowhere, and there are forces hunting the PCs.

I had the group work out the watch order, and they were naturally suspicious of a possible assault from the Hags.  They used Locate Objects every few hours to check for a Heartstone.

I decided to have the Hags come, but stop outside the Winery to leave a little “message” (foreshadowing) for them.  They wouldn’t attack the winery; the PCs are too well-defended there.  Instead, they have a future ambush planned.

The Road to Krezk

It was getting towards the end of the session before the PCs got back underway.  They noted the “scene” the Hags had left:  branches and grasses tied into 7 stick figures standing around 2 dead (Xs for eyes), smaller stick figures in a road.  This is foreshadowing for an ambush they are planning.

I blanked and forgot the open grave outside Krezk.  I’ll put it in when they exit (next session, likely).

The Gates of Krezk

The PCs were told to “fuck off” on trying to enter, but eventually convinced Dmitri to let them inside since they had the shipment of wine.  He gave them the rough low-down on the village and his impressions (suspicions) of The Abbot.  The group then split:  two characters went with Dmitri, Anna, and the mid-wife to oversee the birth (Something New), while the other five followed Dmitri’s instruction to the paladin to go to the back of the village where the shrine is located, where Ireena’s presence triggered Something Blue.

With the player who runs Ireena not present at last night’s session, we ended the session with Ireena teetering on the edge of the pool at the White Shrine.  Next session will open with her decision to take Sergei’s hand or not.

The other group witnessed the birth and the comments by the mid-wife to Dmitri, and then learned about the 1 in 10 souls phenomenon and cycles of rebirth in Barovia from Dmitri.