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 11 Prep: Vallaki (Coffin Maker’s Shop)

Decision, Decisions

Between sessions, the group Email is flying fast and furious among the party members as to what to do next.  They face several problems at the same time, and are trying to choose among their best options:

  • They’re committed to getting the bones back to the church, and investigating the possibility of Stealth has come up.  I suspect once they discuss this with Heinrich, they will pursue this avenue, regardless of what else they decide.
  • They’re afraid of leaving the Devil’s Spawn alive (and rightly so), but are afraid to face them without a strong plan.  They’re working on one.  They’re thinking of enlisting the Wolf Hunters and Rictavio (see below).  They thought of involving Izek, but they’re afraid to mess with the politics yet, or to risk Izek seeing Ireena.  (Again, wise on their part.)  That said, they also plan to have the bard start using her Disguise kit on Ireena to hide her identity, lest Izek spot her in the streets.
  • The fighter is still suffering a hit point reduction because of Morgantha’s gift of a fevered dream last night.  They would like a cure and some prevention, ideally before fighting the Devil’s Spawn.  Of course, restoring the bones could also provide a safe place to rest.
  • They need a replacement Holy Symbol since The Devil took/destroyed their Cleric’s.  They intend to enlist Gadoff to carve/paint one to put on the front of the Cleric’s shield, as soon as possible.

Rictavio

Considering the possibility of his becoming a PC later in the campaign (much later) should a character die and a player need a new one, I’ve written Rictavio as a PC as close as possible to the stats provided, making him a Level 9 Cleric in the Domain of Knowledge, a worshipper of Azuth, with a Folk Hero background.  The Domain of Knowledge benefits work well to justify his incredible lore.  His spell selection improves ever so slightly, with the 5th level spell Holy Weapon is used to justify his extra radiant damage, and his hit points reduced.

The PCs still don’t know if they can trust him, but they’re likely going to enlist his help.  He will explain that he works alone (for now), but agree to help them with a single encounter of their choice but with certain demands in exchange:

  • He wants them to move out of the Blue Water Inn.  He won’t tell them exactly why, except that he’s laying low and doesn’t want to be associated with them.  In truth, he also wants them away while he investigates the possible lycanthropes.  Since they haven’t found the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind there yet, this will further complicate that process, since Urwin won’t expect them around much if they’re not guests, and will react poorly if he catches them snooping.
  • He wants no further contact (other than incidental) with them while he “finishes certain tasks he has planned” (attacks the Vistani camp).
  • He asks that they stay away from the Vistani camp to the south for a few days, but won’t say why, just that he’s “heard rumors of trouble” and is “heading there to investigate”.

His presence in whichever encounter they choose (e.g. six vampire spawn), should certainly have a positive impact, while not guaranteeing success either.  His demands should further accentuate the shroud of mystery around him and complicate things.  If the group agrees, then after the events of Tyger, Tyger, he will (if the tiger still lives), leave town and attack the Vistani camp, and then head for the tower.  He won’t be around when the Feast occurs.  Searching for him later may provide a reason to head to the tower, though divination magic can’t find him, so I’m not sure how they will.  We’ll see.

The Wolf Brothers

One of the PCs has befriended them with her womanly guile.  I’ll allow them to be used as mercenaries/henchmen, though their deaths may create further complications, of course (e.g. Urwin might not be impressed if the source of his wolf steaks is removed).

Urwin and the Keepers of the Feather

The group is still suspicious of the raven’s nest they found in the Blue Water Inn, and suspect it contains their second item.  I expect they may choose to investigate this before going after the Vampire Spawn in the hopes it will provide a helpful item (and indeed it would, but…).  Urwin will stop/interrupt any attempts to access the hidden areas of the inn, and require them to retrieve wine from the Wizard of Wines in exchange for the item.

In the meantime, should the shit hit the fan (e.g. with the vampire spawn), I may have a surprise wereraven show up to help, since Urwin will be having them followed at this point.

Spies Everywhere

It’s their second day in Vallaki.  Word about them has gotten out.  I intend to have Ernst Larnak start tailing them, as well as ravens (on Urwin’s behalf) and Strahd’s spies (bats?).

The Devil Himself?

I was on a pace of one visit per two sessions once out of the Death House, but their plate is so full at the moment I think I will spare them for the time being.  Besides, the Feast of St Andral is so compelling, it will be nice to come after a break from seeing him.  There’s a chance they will advance the timeline in this session far enough to see the Feast, but I’m doubtful.

Session 10: Player Perspective

Synopsis

As we finish breakfast at the Blue Water Inn, Rictavio surreptitiously inspects the werewolf cloak hanging in the porch on his way out the door, perhaps indicating some familiarity with it or its owner. Glimmerald cast an alarm ritual on the Inn’s foyer to alert her if someone (other than the proprietors) came to claim the cloak.

Turk revealed her traumatic night, wherein she was haunted by the unsettling dream of being a child trapped with other children in the windmill we passed a day ago. She was being forced to choose her own temporary survival or that of some other captive child. A nighttime conversation with Rictavio revealed that a hag had cursed Turk, and would continue to deprive her of sleep and sanity until her soul was fit to be consumed. A horrifying thought.

Glimmerald sends Alabaster to inspect the Inn’s nooks and crannies, and he discovers that the back half of the building is a barn. Flying into a broken window, he happens upon a large number of ravens who’ve made the hayloft into a rookery and is chased out by swarms of the hostile birds.

We split the party, with Turk, Beatrice, Glimmerald and Cereus to the dollmaker and the smith, while Luccaria, Accalia, Ireena and Ismark head to the church of Saint Andral.

The dollmaker goes out of his way to appear happy, though Beatrice sees a deep sadness within him. Only his new monkey, Piccolo, seems to bring him joy now. Among the various intriguing toys, Cereus notices a wooden doll bearing a more-than-uncanny resemblance to Ireena which Gadof, the dollmaker, refuses to sell. It is a custom job for Izek, the Baron’s “right hand man”, who has ordered one doll for each of the last thirty months, giving criticism and guidance to gradually produce this incredible likeness. At one point, Gadof mentions to Glimmerald that there exists a clockwork automaton called Von Werg’s Masterpiece, which he believes can be found in the castle, and which he would be very happy to possess.

Beatrice speaks to Piccolo, Gadof’s new monkey, to ask about its previous owner, Rictavio. She asks if the half-elf ever changed shape to become a dog or a wolf, and Piccolo shook his head but mimed that he would occasionally take on the shape of a human.

At Turk’s request, Gadof points out the old smithy across the street, but when the party meets Mathilda, the smith, they discover that she will only work for Izek or Ernst, representatives of the town’s two noble houses. She doesn’t want to anger either one.

Father Lucien welcomes us to the church of Saint Andral, and shows them the evidence of the relic theft from two nights prior. Questioning the young boy, Yestra, leads us to suspect the older boy, Millovaj, who eventually reveals that he did a favour for his friend, Henrich, the coffin maker, who merely wanted to “borrow the bones of Saint Andral for a few days”.

On the way out of the church, Luccaria mentions that we would be happy to intervene with the Baron on behalf of Willamena and her son Oudo who had said something to offend the nobleman. Father Lucien was relieved to hear this, as he didn’t relish the appearance of using his relationship to his sister, the Baroness, to resolve the situation.

The divided party was made whole as the church group was on its way to confront Henrich about the bone theft. Arriving at the coffin maker’s home and shop, he cautioned silence and moved outdoors to speak to us. He revealed that six vampire spawn were sleeping in crates upstairs with the bones that they had forced him to steal. We now must choose whether to deal with these villains, and, if so, how?

The Goings On

We begin in the common room, with Urwin serving most of the party fresh fish, omelettes and other foods for breakfast. Luccaria arrives from the front door and asks the table quietly if they noticed the cloak in the foyer with the missing patch of cloth. They indicate that they had not.

Turk tells us about her troubles the night before. She looks exhausted. She had a terrible nightmare in which she was a child hiding with other children behind a crate in the windmill. A hag was coming. Turk knew that getting another child to make a noise could save her life, and she awoke just as she was about to make that decision. She rose and wandered out of the room she shared with Accalia, finding Rictavio on the balcony looking over the tavern below. They faced off in a briefly aggressive stance before deciding better of it. They explained why they were up, and he suggested that a hag had put a curse on him. She’s no longer able to sleep or gain the benefit of a long rest. Rictavio believes that the hag was on the porch outdoors below Turk’s room during the night! A frightening thought.

Accalia suggests that we visit Father Lucien to talk to the altar boy, Yeska, who acted suspiciously last night and who knew of the bones. Luccaria thinks that we should also intercede on behalf of Willemina, as an excuse to meet and talk to the Baron. Turk wants to find a smith, as her armor is “pinching her tits”. We then discuss ravens, and that leads Turk to talk about investigating the inn, to find any secrets which might exist. On that note, Glimmerald sends Alabaster off to circumnavigate the building. She slumps in her chair and her head lols a little as her mind traces Alabaster’s actions. It is very disconcerting, but this is her choice. We should find her a wide-brimmed hat so that strangers don’t think she’s having a seizure.

Through her “owl’s” eyes, Glimmerald sees that the back half of the inn is actually an attached barn with double doors sealed by an iron chain and lock. She can hear horse whinnies and the calls of ravens from within. Dirty, stained-glass windows dot the walls, one of which has a broken pane that Alabaster can fit through. Inside is a pitchfork, piles of hay, and lots of ravens… perhaps sixteen. They appear to be nesting there. An “unkindness of ravens”, Cali informs us. Below, there is an old gray mare in a stall which naturally leads to some nostalgic singing, while the other three stables are empty. In the middle of the barn is a ladder going up to a U-shaped hayloft. The peaked roof rises a little higher at the back, where it tops the private rooms occupied by the proprietors, and Alabaster sees a trap door up there which might lead into those rooms. He has little time to take all of this in as the ravens rise and threaten him, and he flees before they can put talons to their intentions.

Rictavio wanders downstairs to where we are eating our breakfast. He gives a nod and wave to Turk and Cereus, then goes to talk to Urwin at the bar. Bray and Brom, the proprietors’ sons, come out to sit for breakfast, and Danika comes out to talk to them. Urwin hands Rictavio a couple of small somethings wrapped in a cloth; eggs perhaps? He then heads for the front door. Luccaria rises to stretch her legs, watching him as he goes. He doesn’t notice her, and as he walks past the cloaks he slows a little to eye them up and down and then resumes his pace and leaves without having disturbed them.

We finish our breakfast. Luccaria goes upstairs, changes clothes and dons her armor. Once outside, we decide to split up to cover more ground: Luccaria, Accalia, Ireena and her shadow will go to talk to Father Lucien, while Turk, Glimmerald, Cereus and Beatrice will go to the dollmaker, Gadof.

Turk and her entourage head south, toward Gadof’s doll-shop. They find the building with a sign shaped like a rocking horse, and a letter B on each side. It has dirty glass windows. There is a slogan written on the walls inside, “Is No Fun? Is No Blinsky”. The front door is closed and there is no sign of activity within. Glimmerald takes a closer look through the window. There are many rows of toy shelves, and tables with toy-making materials and tools. Scooting around on a high shelf, she sees a small monkey.

Glim knocks on the front door. Almost immediately she hears stirring inside. A heavy-set man steps out from a back room. He quickly ducks back, then emerges again with a jester hat. He comes over, flicks the lock, and opens the door. “YeeEEEss, helloooo my frieends! You have come to make friends with Blinsky? Well yelcome, friends, to the house of Blinsky, where bargains can be found. Perhaps you know a child in need of a toy, or perhaps a little girl or little boy?”

Turk calls to the monkey, “Piccolo!” The monkey runs over and hops on Gadof’s shoulder, and leans against his head. Gadof reaches into a pouch and pulls out peanuts for him. “All will be well. It is important that everyone be hyyappy as much as we can. That’s why it’s so important that Blinsky makes the little toys for the little girls and little boys. Remember, it’s no Blinsky, it’s no fun!”

Turk mentions Morgantha and her dream pies, and trading them for children. “Trading pies for children? That sounds hyorrible!”

He turns to Glimmerald as she takes a step back. “You know, don’t be upset. I’m sure it is no surprise to you that you are very small. But you remind me of Von Werg’s Masterpiece! Have you ‘eard of him? He was a great man. He was very clever. He built a clockwork man! But it was very small, like you! Some say it is here in Barovia. If you ever find it, and you deliver the myasterpiece to me, I will make you any toy you want. I would be so hyappy. And if you don’t, I would be sad but it’s important to be hyappy!” Gadof thinks the clockwork masterpiece is in the castle. “Thyat is the ryumor! I would go look for it myself, but the cyastle is a scary place!”

Turk checks out shelves. She finds creepy dolls, a miniature gallows with a hanged man, nesting dolls where each smaller one is progressively old, a mobile with bats and flapping wings, a merry-go-round with snarling wolves in place of horses, a ventriloquist’s dummy in the form of Strahd von Zarovich. Turk leaps, “How much is that?!” “Oh, yes, that is nine pieces of silver!” Cereus steps forward and elbows Turk, and whispers “Keep looking.” Next to the dummy is a stuffed doll that looks remarkably like Ireena. Very remarkably! It is a doll of Ireena. “How much for this one?” Gadof quickly replies, “Oh, sorry, that one is not for sale. It is special make. It is for Izek. He is very insistent. The dolls make him hyappy. I have made him many. He says I am getting byetter.”

Turk asks, “Did Izek tell you what to make it look like?” “Oh yes,” he replies, “for years now Izek come and tells me to make the doll look like this. And I make the doll so he does not burn down my shop. Each time he tells me ‘no, make it a little taller’, or ‘hair a little longer’, or ‘hair a little darker’. Each time he says ‘no, no, no’, and threatens to burn down shop. These days he says they are very close. I don’t know why this perfect woman is what he wants the doll to look like. I just know that the doll is a perfect woman that he wants it to look like. He will burn down my shop if I don’t make it for him.”

Checking the details, the doll’s clothes aren’t Ireena’s, but the general build and shape and look of it is her. Turk suspects Izek might be a stalker. The doll is about 12-15 inches high, and is wooden, wearing fabric clothes.

Turk buys the Strahd ventriloquist dummy.

Beatrice, using the tricks of her people, says, “Hello, little Piccolo” to the monkey in words he would understand. The monkey plucks up and runs over and climbs up her leg and onto her shoulder. She teaches him how to nod and shake his head for yes and no, respectively. She asks him if he likes being here, and he nods vigorously. She asks Piccolo if his previous owner would sometimes change into a big dog or wolf, and he shakes his head a little but manages to clarify that Rictavio can change his shape from that of a half-elf to a human. This is an unexpected bit of information, but we don’t know what it might mean.

Turk asks Gadof if there is a smithy nearby. “Ohhh, Vallaki does not have a smeeth. We used to. She was right across the street. Well, she still is, but she does not work anymore. Cuz Izek come and threaten to burn down the house if she make something. Her name is Mathilda Grygorova, and she is very nyice. She is right there (pointing across the street). Perhaps she will like you a lyeetle more if you bring her a lyettle toy? Is no fun, is no Blinsky! Maybe she likes Mobile for the store?”

Turk asks why business is down. “I have no idea,” Gadof says, “You would think people would want toys for for leetle boys and leetle girls. Oh! The blazing sun festival is coming up! I should make leetle blazing sun toys!”

Glimmerald verbally wonders if the doll might be a sort of voodoo component, and it’s getting dialed in to Ireena’s likeness. Maybe used for scrying? An accurate replica might help focus that sort of magic? For Izek to have that accurate an image of her… A new doll each month for 30 months indicates obsessive behaviour. Glim thinks that some minor defect in the doll might throw off Izek’s plan, if it is being used for something magical. She convinces Gadof to “fix” the doll’s ear.

Meanwhile, down the road, Luccaria and her crew head to the church of Saint Andral.

The doors of the church are closed, and there is a very disgruntled (and familiar-) looking youth with a shovel standing on the steps. He gives us a scowl. “Good morning,” Cali says, “Millovaj, is it? We were hoping to see Father Lucien, is he about?” Cali’s words are honeyed, and Millovaj’s face brightens a little. “Okay, I’ll go get him!” He turns around. “And is Yeska about?” Cali adds. “Oh, yes,” he says, then turns back and goes through the door. About two minutes later the door opens and Father Lucien Petrovich steps out. “Top o’ the mornin’, Father,” Cali says. “Oh, yes,” he says, “you came back to investigate the robbery. Do come inside. I’ll show you around the place.”

Lucien takes us inside. The church doors open into a large antechamber. Ahead of us, rows of pews. There is a small room off to the side. The altar is on a raised area of the back. There is a door to the graveyard adjacent to the altar area.

Ireena seemingly knows a great deal about Saint Andral, as evidenced by the lecture we are given as we move through the building. He achieved his sainthood by vanquishing the lupine lords that besieged this place centuries ago. He spent a lot of time during that era, when the werewolves of this land were ravaging this village, engaged in charity by helping the poor, weak, wounded, and feeble. It was in battle with a particularly powerful wolf lord that he simultaneously vanquished the threat and, sadly, perished.

While Father Lucien leads us in, Millovaj remains by the front door, watching. Lucien stops by the altar and says, “My goodness, what a great recitation of the tale of Saint Andral. Could I ask your name, madam?” “Ireena of Barovia,” she says. “Oh, Ireena!” he says. She continues, “I have dedicated my life to the Morninglord.” “Well,” he offers, “feel free to pray and come here any time you wish. I hope you can recover the bones, as the church is not safe while they are not here. But with the bones here, not even the devil himself can enter this church. He has no power here when the bones are here.”

He leads us up around behind the altar. Near the floor, a small door with a tiny lock on it is inset in the back of the altar, like a little safe. He pulls out a key and opens the lock. “I have the only key,” he says. Always have it with you, Cali asks? “Oh yes, even when I sleep. But look here. On the floor, a tiny little piece of bent metal. I suspect whoever took the bones picked the lock. He opens the safe. Inside we see a white vestment cloth with a frilly edge, obviously a holy cloth. Other than the cloth, it appears empty. “I did as much as I could to disturb nothing. I left it as I found it. In case you have magics.

“What made you think to check on the bones the other night?” Luccaria asks. “To be honest, I had told Yeska about the bones to ease his mind. He has nightmares sometimes, ever since he lost his parents. He is deeply saddened. I took him in, and it seems to be going well sometimes. He remembers his parents being savaged by wolves. The boy became frightened again just a few nights ago, and I brought him here to remind him of the sanctity of the church. I opened it to show him.” But the door was unlocked when he found it, with the lock on the floor and the door open. We dig a little more into Yeska’s history. His parents went on a fishing trip to the north when they were attacked. The wolves around town have encroached a bit to the north, so it’s not safe to go fishing there anymore. This is such a problem that fish are actually becoming a rare commodity in town.

Cali tries to pick the lock with that little piece of metal, but fails. She searches around the lockbox, and finds three things. First, there are strands of short black fur near the altar. Next, she finds a torn scrap of paper inside the compartment which reads, in small lettering, “Before the feast, after the festival.” And last, there’s a jagged edge on a floorboard which has caught a bit of burlap twine.

We ask how substantial the bones are. “Pretty much a full human skeleton,” Lucien says.

Luccaria checks the graveyard door, and finds clumped, muddy footprints leading into and out of the church. There’s a little mud against the wall adjacent to the altar area as well, as if someone hurdled the half-wall up to the altar. The muddy footprints are smaller than Ireena’s feet, but not child-sized; maybe elf sized? The prints look booted.

Luccaria asks about the weather on the night of the crime. “It was a dark and stormy night. There was a fair amount of rain that day.” (Lucien makes the weather / footprint connection) “Oh, I tell the boy to knock the mud off his boots when he comes in, but he doesn’t always remember.”

“Is it possible to talk to Yeska?” Cali asks. Father Lucien says he will go and fetch him, and then leaves.

We ask Millovaj if anyone around town uses burlap bags. “Bluto uses burlap bags for fishing,” he says, “He’s the only one brave enough to go fishing anymore.” Ireena gets the sense that Millovaj already knew that a crime had been committed, and he’s simply acting surprised.

Suddenly, there’s a scratching noise from the antechamber door. “I’ll go see what it is,” Millovaj says, and goes to the antechamber to check it out. He comes back a moment later with a white owl corpse and a bloodied shovel. Alabaster, late again. Cali finds a rolled up piece of parchment attached the dead Alabaster’s leg, which reads, “Don’t let Ireena meet up with Izek.” A message clear in action but confusing in purpose. We shall have to inquire further with Glimmerald after we break the news that her “owl” is “dead”.

Ireena has tried to sense evil from the church, and then goes out to the graveyard to try there, but she senses nothing special in either location. She finds one grave freshly buried. She learns that the recently deceased was Magnus Stephanova, an elderly woman who died peacefully in her sleep just a few days ago. “Good woman,” Lucien says, “Came and prayed daily.”

Luccaria calls Millovaj over to check out his boots, and compare them to the prints. His boots match the footprints inside the door, in terms of their size. Also, his hair is dark black and thick. Asking where he was a couple of nights ago, he tells us that he was helping Yeska get to sleep. The next night, Yeska was again troubled and Father Lucien brought Yeska into the church to calm him down.

Lucien returns with Yeska, and the boy grabs him by the leg defensively. We ask Yeska if he remembers anything about that dark & stormy night. “It was a lot of rain,” he says, “Scary.”

On a hunch about the fur, we ask about the moon’s phase on the night of the crime, and Lucien recalls that it was shortly after the full moon.

Did any of them see or hear anything coming or going from the back door? At this, Yeska clams up and glances in Millovaj’s direction several times. Accalia uses magic to read the surface thoughts of the boy. Yeska thinks, “He’ll be mad if I tell them.” She then reads the thoughts of Millovaj, who is thinking, “Father Lucien is going to be disappointed.” Cali guides Yeska to tell the truth, and Ireena interjects with an impassioned speech about the redemptive power of the Morninglord. At that, Yeska blurts out, “I told Millovaj about the bones!” and then he returns to clinging to Father Lucien’s leg. “That wasn’t that night, though, that was weeks ago,” he says.

Millovaj is now thinking, “Oh fuck, oh fuck, what am I going to tell them?” Cali probes deeper to discover, “I’ll tell them about Bluto and they’ll leave me alone. There’s no way I’m telling them about Henrich.” As anticipated, he then starts talking about Bluto, saying he told Bluto about the bones and assured him if he prayed enough the Morninglord would help him catch more fish. We don’t know about a Henrich. Cali pushes. Millovaj is almost starting to shake. He says, “I didn’t tell him about the bones. He already knew. Henrich already knew, Henrich came to me. Henrich van der Voort, the coffin-maker. I know him because he’s the coffin-maker, so I’ve met him before. He approached me a few days ago and said he needed me to leave the door unlocked. He needed to borrow the bones for a while. He seemed really scared. I didn’t want to say no, because the bones always make me feel better. He said he only needed them till the night after the festival, and then he would bring them back. Only three more days. Well, the day after, then he’d bring them back.” Ireena pushes him, “Anything else?” “The night of the storm I heard him going in and out,” he says, “I left the door unlocked. And I heard him going in and out, and I knew he’d come in and taken them. But he said he was going to bring them back.” Did he hear any other noises? “No, just him.” In his thoughts, he saw a grown man come and steal the bones. That seems to fit, and it feels like we’ve finally gotten to the truth.

We ask where Henrich lives, and Father gives us directions to the coffin shop. It’s toward the east end of town, near the stockade.

Before we leave, Luccaria mentions that we would be happy to speak to the Baron on behalf of Oudo and Willemina. Lucien seems relieved to hear it. “My relation with sister is a little strained,” he says. “Sister?” we ask. “Lydia, the Baroness. I’m reluctant to go to the Baron myself, because I fear that it would appear to be a brother in law using his sister’s position for some private purpose.” We agree to intervene in his stead, and he thanks us. This provides us with a good excuse to speak to the Baron directly and get a sense of the man and his household.

Meanwhile, across the street from the dollmaker’s shop, Mathilda answers the door to Turk’s knock. She looks kind of muscular, but her physique has not been kept up. She stares at Turk for a moment. “Well, you’re an interesting looking one, what can I do for you?” Turk tells her that she’s looking to get her half-plate armor sized. “Did you say your name was Larnak?” Mathilda asks, strangely, and then, “Did you say your name was Izek Strazni? No? Then I’m retired.” Turk asks what she can do to change Mathilda’s mind. “You don’t need to change my mind. You need to change Izek’s mind, or Ernst Larnak. I only do work for Izek on behalf of the baron, or Ernst on behalf of the lady, because I fear the baron and the lady. Not you, though. I think Izek’s axe would make quick work of you. You’ll need one of them to tell me. Good luck with that.” She steps back inside and closes the door.

The two groups meet up as Luccaria et al are on their way to the home of the coffin-maker. We join forces once again.

When we get to the coffin shop, we find that it is an uninviting, two storey shop. The window shutters are closed up tight, and a deathly silence surrounds the establishment. Turk bangs on the door, and after a moment it opens just a crack. A gray-haired middle aged man peeks out. “Yes?” he asks. “Henrich?” we say. “Do I know you?” he asks. “You’re about to,” Turks says as she pushes past the door. “Where are the bones?” she demands. Silently, he holds a finger to his lip, holds his hands up to indicate the number “6”, and then points upstairs. He has the party step outside onto the steps, and very gently pulls the door almost closed behind him. He holds it an inch open to keep the catch from engaging noisily. “What’s happened to the bones?” Turk asks again. “They made me steal them!” Henrich says. “Who?” we ask. “The spawn,” he says, pointing upstairs. “The devil’s spawn. There are six of them, and they have the bones. They’re upstairs, sleeping.”

Time to sharpen the stakes. Here we end the session.

Session 10 Execution: Vallaki

On Waking at the Blue Water Inn

The characters woke, gathered, and exchanged information.  They had made a list of plotlines to pursue, and decided some things warranted some further investigation before they chose any major course of action.  It was decided that they would split into two groups of four (7 PCs including Ireena, plus Ismark as an NPC) in order to get some of the mundane visitation tasks out of the way faster.

This split worked out quite well, as for a large group of players when they travel together it’s hard to get them all engaged in role-playing/conversation.  This way I was able to alternate encounters and get everyone at the table talking (when it was their encounter) and listening (when it was the other group’s).

The Dollmaker

One group went to meet Gadoff first, as they’d heard the local Smith was nearby.  Doing the Gadoff voice was very fun, and the players were amused and talked to him quite a bit.  They eventually discovered the Ireena doll and became very intrigued.  Ireena was with the other group (thankfully!), so they used the wizard’s familiar to send word across town in the form of a small note (“Do not let Ireena meet Izek!”) to warn the others, who were planning a trip to the Baron’s after the church.

The Church of St Andral and the missing bones

At the church, the group set about to investigating, and also to suggesting to Father Lucian that they would speak with the Baron on Willemina’s behalf.  They figured this gave them an excuse to meet him and introduce themselves and see what’s what with the Baron and his henchman Izek.  They investigated the church area, finding the hair, twisted wire bit, string of burlap, etc., but were very determined about questioning the altar boy and gravedigger carefully too.  Then the Bard pulled something I hadn’t expected:  Detect Thoughts.  Under such scrutiny, and with the group pressing, they eventually got the name of the coffin maker.  I did still manage to introduce the name of “Bluto” into the mix.

While it played out closer to the way it’s written in the book, and not the involved investigative story I’d planned based on DragnaCarta’s writeup, it was still an involved role-play encounter and fun little bit of investigation by the group, so overall I was still quite pleased.

The wizard’s undead-owl-familiar arrived outside while the PCs were well inside the church.  Milivoj bludgeoned it dead with his shovel.  Because this is Barovia, and you can’t have nice things.

The Smith

After leaving Gadoff, they went to the retired Smith, who bluntly told them she only does work for Izek or Ernst, and THAT’S IT.  This will further drive them to deal with the two noble families, and possibly pick a side.  At this point though, they have reason now to avoid Izek and The Baron.  Little do they know (yet) that Fiona is just as bad or worse.

The Coffin Maker’s Shop

The groups re-united in the road and exchanged information, and then all eight characters headed to the coffin makers shop to confront Heinrik.  It was still early morning, and he stepped outside quietly and told them in a whisper and some pointing that there are six sleeping “Devil Spawn” upstairs, and that it was them who ordered him to steal the bones, which is upstairs with them.

We ended the session on that note.

 

Session 10 Prep: Vallaki

Waking at the Blue Water Inn

The group will begin the session at the Blue Water Inn.  Between sessions, there were a few bits offline via Email/Slack, where one character decided to go spend the night with Szoldar and in doing so learned about his father and the bear head in the den of Baron Vargas that Vargas lies about, and another character had a fevered dream at the hands of Morgantha and then a brief chat with Rictavio when she went to get some air afterward.

When they wake, it’s basically “day 1 of 3”, with day 3 featuring the Festival of the Blazing Sun (potentially including the Tyger, Tyger event) in the day, and then The Feast of St Andral at night.  But they start these three days with a number of possible plotlines to follow up, each competing for their time and attention:

  • The Hag dream may inspire a planned assault on The Old Bonegrinder to rescue the children and (theoretically but it won’t likely happen) kill the hags.
  • They highly suspect they’ll be dealing with werewolves sooner or later and want to find a smith (for silvered weapons) and some ink (to transcribe Magic Weapon from the spell book they found in Death House).  The smith is tied in with Gadof (across the street), Izek (and thereby the Baron), and Ernst Larnak (and thereby Lady Wachter).
  • They are supposed to return the church in the morning to begin investigating the missing bones, and before they do I’ll have mention of Bluto made at the Inn.  If the group explores the Yeska -> Milivoj line, he will first point to Bluto rather than Henrik (because he was threatened).  This leaves them chasing at least one dead end (and leading to Annabelle/Arrigal/Vistani Camp/Kasimir), even if they don’t pursue the Baron or Wachter options.
  • If they figure out the Blue Water Inn is the “nest”, Urwin will push them in the direction of the Wizard of Wines (which may in turn lead to Yester Hill).
  • Two of them have spoken with Rictavio.  They are suspicious of him.

In sandbox fashion, I’ll be letting them decide which to pursue, while watching the days tick by.  Three days leaves quite a bit of time to explore several or even all of these options.

 

Session 9: Player Perspective

Synopsis

Just as we reach the village of Vallaki, we are surprised by the vampire Strahd von Zarovich who easily beguiles most of us. He takes and destroys Beatrice’s holy symbol, and takes back his “I, Strahd” book from Cali. As he is leaving, wolves close in on us and attack! Not only that, but our trusted cart transforms into a giant wooden abomination with a lust for elf blood! Our horse is killed immediately, and the wolves keep several of us at death’s door for several tense moments, but we prevail.

The no-account town guards inform us that the baron of this town demands that everyone be happy, as he believes it keeps the devil away. We play along to get in, and off the road. They tell us of the Blue Water Inn, at the center of town.

We bring horse meat, a couple of wolf carcasses, and our supplies into the town until we find the stockade, which is attached to a general store. We lock up our cart (and hope it remains a cart) and browse the wares. We then continue on to the Blue Water Inn.

There, we find a number of locals having drinks, some vigorously. We barter for room and board, and with the trade of horsemeat we are given free food and lodging for four nights. Cali agrees to perform each night, as part of this trade and begins enthusiastically and skillfully.

We learn about the innkeeper, his wife and children. Luccaria offers two wolf hunters the carcasses we left out by the road, and they buy her drinks when they return. Cereus befriends the half elf Rictavio, who is a recently arrived outsider with a carnival wagon. Two drunken youths are the sons of a noblewoman, and are best avoided.

After supper, we go to the church of St. Andril to meet Father Lucien and try to beg sanctuary for Ireena. There, we discover the priest comforting an old woman named Willamena, whose son has been imprisoned by the baron and his right-hand man, Izek, who is known for his violent demeanor and deformed, fiery right arm.

Once their conversation concludes, we approach the priest. We explain Ireena’s need for sanctuary from the devil, but Lucien says that the timing couldn’t be worse as the bones of St. Andril, the relic which makes the church hallowed ground, were stolen not two nights ago. Lucien asks our help to find them, and we agree.

Lucien lists the people who might know about the existence of the bones: Baron Vargas Vallakovich and his family and servants, Lady Wachter and her family and servants, the altar boy Yeska. That would be it, he thinks, unless someone else was told.

We return to the inn, and eventually people head off to bed.

The Goings On

We stand on a lightly forested road a short way from the wooden palisades and gate of an unknown town. Along the road closer to the gate, pikes are driven into the ground and each has a wolf’s head impaled upon it. Two guards stand aside the iron barred gate, which is slightly ajar. The guards wear chain shirts and metal helms, and carry shields and pikes. It is mid-afternoon.

Glimmerald seems eager to explain lycanthropy to us, the bookish nymph. Apparently it creates a bond between the cycles of the moon and its victims, a bond which can penetrate even deep into the earth where her people live. Her uncle was a weremole, and he was difficult to deal with, she says. Who knew such things existed? She continues by explaining that the “lunar cycle” is the source of the term “lunacy”, which sounds right so we say nothing. She believes that since the tracks Cereus found on the road were those of a wolf, the victim would probably exhibit certain behaviours of a wolf. Ear scratching and begging for bacon, if their domestic cousins are any indication. She says that silvered or magical weapons are required to do them any harm whatsoever, which makes Luccaria judge the silvered shortsword she holds with a little more respect. She believes that lycanthropy can be cured by magics which deal with curses, as long as the wound was not imparted by what she calls a “career lycanthrope”. We are confused by this arcane distinction, but we trust and hope that she will recognize the difference when examples cross our path. Let Lady Doom foul someone else’s fortune on that dark day.

As we move closer to the gate, one guard and then the other shout, “All will be well!” We are confused by this, and respond in various ways which do not seem to satisfy the two men. The guards repeat themselves, more emphatically, and we echo them with, “All will be well!” They seem pleased by this. They then ask, “Are you happy?” We are again confused. “Is it required for entry?” Luccaria asks. “By order of the Baron, all will be well!” they shout.

Suddenly, we hear violin music from the woods behind us, off to the south of the road. Out of the foliage we see our old friend, Strahd von Zarovich! We are all pleased by this, except Turk for some reason. Perhaps she is in a mood. Also, Ireena and Ismark seem frozen in place, which is probably because of the misunderstanding back in Barovia. Strahd walks to Beatrice, looks at her holy symbol and tells her that she does not need such trinkets of forgotten gods here in this place. He asks her to hand it over to him, and of course she does after the briefest hesitation. He takes it, crushes it, and drops it to the ground. He walks to the horse, whispers something to it, and then feeds it an apple. He moves on to Accalia, asks her for the book we dug up, and she hands it over to him after a mild protestation. That all done, he turns and walks away. Suddenly, Cereus senses wolves approaching from all around us! Strahd points over his shoulder toward Beatrice as he walks away. He takes a few more steps and then fades from sight, just as the wolves rush in to attack! Astoundingly, at that moment the cart tips backwards and then rises up to stand like an enormous man! It swings a wooden “arm” at our draft horse, and drops it with a single blow! The town guards step back toward the gate slowly, and make no attempt to interfere.

The battle is fierce. The cart pursues Cereus with an arcane hunger. The wolves, meanwhile, seem keen for Beatrice, Ismark, and Accalia. Cali quickly falls as the wolves team up to rend her tender flesh, but Beatrice moves unseen across the battlefield and heals her back to consciousness. Ismark falls next as the wolves tear at him, though Ireena’s healing returns him to the fight. The cart, seemingly frustrated by Cereus’ nimble movement, strikes Beatrice, dropping her to unconsciousness. Ismark falls yet again, and once again Ireena heals him. Turk levels blow after devastating blow with her great maul, while Luccaria tries to divert the wolves attention to herself and Glimmerald burns the beasts with magical fire! Cereus ducks between cover to launch arrows first at the cart, then at the wolves. We eventually do enough damage to the cart-man to return it to its normal form, less some maul damage. We collectively destroy the last of the wolves. Cereus tells us that fighting to the death is not normal wolf behaviour. We catch our breath.

Alabaster flies up over the town to investigate within. We discover that it is, indeed, Vallaki!

“Did you see the devil?” we ask the guards. They respond, “The Baron wants us to be happy. Being happy keeps the devil away.”

One guard flatly continues, like a bad actor in a roadhouse show, “Welcome to the town of Vallaki. You look like outsiders. There is an inn about the middle of the town. You can’t miss it. It’s called the Blue Water Inn. There is blue water on the sign. It is a comfortable stay, and you will like it. They have some of the better wine, and they have wolf steaks.” He seems like he’s trying hard to be pleasant, but it comes off flat and mechanically paced.

“What should we do with these wolves?” we wonder aloud. A guard says, “You could bring them to the inn. They serve wolf.” The other guard injects, “Oh, but what about those guys? Szoldar and Yevgeni, the wolf hunters. They kill and bring wolves to the inn themselves.” The first guard continues, “You shouldn’t leave the horse in the road, either. If the ‘right-hand man’ comes along, he might be angry about it.” Glimmerald wonders out loud if a Cloud of Daggers could deal with the horse meat efficiently, which sounds gory but we each have to concede that it could make the work quicker.

“Who is the right hand man?” we ask. “Oh, the right hand man of the Baron Vargas Vallakovich, his name is Izek Strazni. Vargas is our noble. The town is named after his family line. He’s makes the rules. His right hand man is Izek Strazni, but don’t call him the ‘right hand man’ that because it will make him angry.” “Because his right hand is cut off?” Turk asks. “No, his right arm is long, has claws, and is on fire.” “Oh, right.” Turk says with more nonchalance that is strictly required. “Right, no ‘right hand man’ then,” Cali confirms.

Cereus chooses to dress and carve the horse’s corpse properly, rather than let Glimmerald’s magic turn it to giblets. It takes about a half hour, with some help. Luccaria uses her magic to repair the damage to the cart, and tries to clean off some of Beatrice’s blood.

We load up our scattered supplies, the horse meat, and two of the wolves. Luccaria suggests we offer the wolf carcasses to the two hunters, to curry some favour from them. Being hunters, they may be of some use to us later.

We enter Vallaki through the east gate and find that it stretches perhaps a mile east to west. It does not look nearly as abandoned as the village of Barovia. Perhaps only one quarter of the homes are abandoned, versus more than half of Barovian houses. Incredibly, people here are milling about and walking in the streets.

As we are moving away from the gate, one of the guards asks, “Say, do you know the carnival master?” “No,” we say. “Oh, well he’s staying at the Blue Water Inn as well. You can’t miss it. It’s in the center of town, with blue water on the sign.” Luccaria asks, “Did he bring a carnival with him?” “He had a big carnival wagon. And he had a monkey,” the guard says. “Have you been to his carnival?” “No,” he says. Luccaria hesitates a moment and then asks, “Do you work at night as well?” “No,” he says, “we’re the day shift. The night shift watches at night.” This seems to satisfy her.

We pass a building with a large sign which reads, “Arasek Stockyard”. The spacious yard has several locked sheds and a big warehouse-type building which looks like the general store. In the stockyard is a carnival wagon with fading lettering on the side which reads, “Rictavio’s Carnival of Wonders”. Suddenly, the door of the warehouse opens and an elderly-looking man pokes his head out. A middle-aged woman, perhaps 15 years younger, is behind him trying to peek past. Cali asks, “Can we store our cart here?” “Oh, yes, and we have a store here,” the man says. There is a price list on the wall of the store, as well as a bulletin board with a couple of posters, one placed roughly over the other. “The Festival of the Blazing Sun” is on top.

Come one, come all,

To the greatest celebration of the year:

THE FESTIVAL OF THE BLAZING SUN!

Attendance and children required.

Rain or shine.

ALL WILL BE WELL!

-The Baron-

The “Wolf’s Head Jamboree” is the poster under it.

Come one, come all,

To the greatest celebration of the year:

THE WOLF’S HEAD JAMBOREE!

Attendance and children required.

Pikes will be provided.

ALL WILL BE WELL!

-The Baron-

Cart storage will cost us one silver per day. Turk asks about security. “There’s the lock for the door. And as well, we live here above the store. If anything were to happen we would call out ‘to arms, to arms!’. Perhaps even Izek himself would come. He’s a very strict man.”

Turk asks, “Arasek, are you interested in purchasing some wolf carcasses?” “Oh, please, call me Gunther. I don’t buy wolf pelts or meat. The Martikov’s at the inn buy them.”

We ask them, “What do you know of the wolf hunters?” They say, “You can find them at the Blue Water Inn.”

The woman gives Cali a lock for the cart and says that it can be brought to area 4.

“The festival is in three days, and you must attend. All will be well.” We ask about the wolf’s head festival, and they respond, “The wolf’s head jamboree was seven days ago. As long as we are happy, the devil will stay away. The devil only likes unhappy people, like those in that village of Barovia.” Ireena gets her back up immediately, and suggests that Barovians might have a reason to be so unhappy, living in the shadow of the devil. The man and woman agree that that might be so, and happily that defuses Ireena for the moment.

Turk asks about holy symbols, thinking of Beatrice’s loss. “You might want to talk to Father Lucian, at the church of Saint Andril.”

We continue on.

Near the center of town, we reach what is surely the Blue Water Inn, given the sign out front with blue waterfall on it. Smoke rises from the chimney. The sagging roof has seven ravens perched on it, but there is no sign of a nest. Alabaster flies up to check them out. None of them look familiar to him or Glimmerald. One of them takes off and heads north, quickly disappearing from sight. Glimmerald sends Alabaster off in pursuit.

The inn has a stone well. A path runs up between the inn and the building next door, leading to the woodshed out back where Alabaster finds the raven on its roof.

At the front of the building, stairs go up to a portico where double doors open into a common room. Damp cloaks hang from pegs in the entrance. The tavern is packed with tables & chairs. It has a balcony reachable by stairway, and another balcony overhanging an entrance to the east. All windows have shutters and bars, but are open at the moment. Oil lamps hung around the room and sitting on tables suffuse the area with warmth and a dull orange glow. The walls are adorned by wolves heads on plaques. The bar is directly across from us as we enter, and near it are three huge wooden casks. Around the room there are sixteen people, not counting the woman behind the bar. A pair of guys in wolf cloaks are sitting together, with shortbows hung over their chairs. There is a short, but colourfully dressed, half elf sitting at a table by himself. Another table has two guys who look like normal Barovians, but who are kind of drunk and mildly carousing. There are some other people drinking as well: a group of six at one table, and a group of five at another.

Luccaria asks out loud if anybody here is a wolf hunter. Predictably, one of the wolf-caped men stands and introduces himself as Szoldar, and says that he and his friend Yevgeni are wolf hunters. He is a large, rough man. Luccaria approaches, and tells them that we were assailed by wolves as we came into town. “Only so much we can do,” Szoldar says. “Oh, no, I simply meant that there are a number of wolf corpses out by the east gate. If you can profit by them, then I’ll tell you what: you can go collect them, and then I’ll let you buy me a drink when you return.” The two men jockey for position, and Szoldar says that she’ll be getting two drinks then. They leave immediately.

The barmaid tells us that a room is 1 electrum per night. We request three rooms, and are informed that two double rooms and a common room with four beds are available. Cali bargains a payment for four nights, at a discount because she will perform each night.

Turk tries to sell our horse meat. “Oh, you’ll have to discuss that with Urwin, my husband” Mrs. Martikov says. She shows Luccaria to the room upstairs, and sets to preparing them all. Luccaria removes her armor, shield, and backpack, and changes into fine clothing. Urwin will refund the cost of the three rooms and upgrade our food & wine each day in exchange for the horsemeat. Perhaps they are sick of wolf after all? Or maybe he understands that sometimes a change is as precious as a jewel. Also, and this cannot be understated, this town has Red Dragon Crush wine, which is a welcome upgrade from the Grapemash #3.

Downstairs again, we note that the two young drinkers are getting increasingly garrulous. “The brothers sometimes have a little too much, right about now. If nobody bothers them they get a little noisy but keep to themselves. Sometimes they get a little cantankerous, and it might be easy to pick a fight. We’d prefer if you didn’t. Their mother, she and the baron don’t get along. They like to get a little bit lippy. One of these days, Izek’s going to straighten them out.”

“Who’s Izek?” we ask. “He’s the head of the guard. An ill tempered man.” she says. “And what’s with the…“ we trail off. “The arm? They say he lost it as a child, and then growing up he was bullied a lot. I guess there’s only so much someone can take. He became violent. He was an orphan, and the baron took him in and raised him as his own. Perfect loyalty. And then one morning he woke up with the arm.” We wonder quietly if such things are normal here. Surely someone would have said if that were so.

Cereus approaches the half elf’s table. “Greetings! I have not seen one of my own in this land.” “I am Rictavio,” he says, “I have been traveling this land, seeing the sights, entertaining.” “By yourself?” “Yes. Well, I had a monkey named Piccolo,” he says, “He took such a fancy to the dollmaker that I sold him.” “Dollmaker?” Cereus asks. “Yes, peculiar fellow, down toward the stockyards. Ask around down there. He sells lots of… well.. children’s toys. He makes all sorts of toys. My monkey, Piccolo, took quite a liking to Gadof. Gadof took quite a liking to my monkey. So…”

“Are you from Barovia?” Cereus presses. “No, I traveled here,” Rictavio responds, “Most peculiar thing. It was just me and my wagon, and then mist closed in around us. Later, as the fog retreated, I found myself moving through the gates, and I was on my way to the village of Barovia. The people here seem fine, and I’ve been here in Vallaki for several weeks. I do plan on traveling soon, after I’ve concluded some business. I wish to see more. Have you traveled?” “Oh, no,” Cereus says, “We just arrived.” He then leans in a little closer to Cereus and says, “One of your friends disappeared upstairs; she looks Vistani.” “Not really sure,” Cereus deflects, “She’s a chance partner of mine, and we do not inquire into each other’s past.” “Fair,” he responds, “it’s just… a lot of people don’t trust Vistani in these parts, and they say they’re to be … avoided. Have you been to the camp south of town?” “No, we haven’t been there yet,” Cereus says, “We’ve only been to the village of Barovia.” “Well, I have some business to attend to.” He motions to Urwin, and points toward the rear area of the tavern. Urwin disappears out back. “I have a few small errands to run, and then I’ll be back. If you’re staying here, perhaps I’ll see you. These are good people. Their boys are good. These people sure do love their festivals. Don’t leave town at night. It’s very dangerous in the woods around these parts.” He moves to the bar.

Urwin Martikov is a human male, mid-30’s, and in good shape. He has a big grey and black beard. He is not muscular, but stocky and healthy. He comes out with a wolf steak on a plate. Rectavio pays him for it. He takes out a cloth handkerchief, puts the steak in the handkerchief, wraps it up, and leaves.

Cali asks Urwin about the Festival of the Blazing Sun. “So many festivals,” he says, “I don’t remember. The Festival of Flowers, The Festival of… there’s a festival every 10 days or so to keep spirits up. The baron and many people of Vallaki believe that keeping our spirits up prevents the devil from taking interest in us. Haven’t had a sighting of the devil in our walls in a very long time.”

“Where does the Baron live?” Cereus asks. “Baron Vargas? Oh, yes, he lives just south and west of the inn. It’s a sizeable mansion. If you were interested in speaking to the Baron, he does take guests and is interested in speaking to visitors. If you’re going to visit the Baron or his lovely wife, though, it’s best to go during the day. I would recommend not going during the night, as you’ll meet his mastiffs or, worse, his bodyguard, Izek Strazni.”

“When you say that the devil has not been seen in Vallaki in a very long time, would it be around 20 years,” Ireena asks? “Why yes, it would be around that long. Maybe a little longer,” he says. The blood drains from her face. She is 21 years old.

The conversation somehow swings to “wolf people”, and Glimmerald perks up. “Oh, you’ll pardon an old lady’s curiosity. Are they… were-wolves?” she asks. “Oh, yes, we haven’t had any of those in town in many an age, either. There are more of those to the west. They don’t bother people on the road too much. They keep to themselves.” Glimmerald thinks he’s lying about that, though perhaps not in a malicious way. “Are you planning on travelling west anytime soon?” he asks. We say not anytime soon.

Upstairs, while alone, Luccaria talks to the barmaid to try to assess how happy she actually is. She is quickly convinced that she and her husband are like peas in a pod, and are very happy. Two boys wander by. They are her two sons, each around 10 years old. They handle menial tasks around the inn, like tidying. They all get on well.

Downstairs, some of the other patrons come and go. Once Cali begins playing, one ducks out and returns with friends. Her performance is just that good. Patrons offer coins and applause.

The wolf hunters come back and buy Luccaria some wine. Rectavio returns and heads upstairs. Cali earns some copper and free wine for her excellent skill.

As things calm down at the tavern, we head to the church. It’s a big, slouching building with a graveyard out back. It is surely centuries old, with a steeple atop its roof. Cracked, stained glass windows adorn the walls. Out back, a thin mist creeps among the graves. There are four people standing on the steps: a middle-aged man in white robes, an old woman who wipes back tears, and two young men. The robed man has black hair and beard, and he is talking to the woman. One of the two youths is a brawny teen, with a furrowed, bushy brow and a spade in his hand. His shirt is untucked and there is mud on his hands. He is clearly the gravedigger. Standing next to him is much younger boy in a white robe. At our approach, the younger boy scoots in behind the older one, poking his head out sheepishly to watch as we approach. The old woman dabs tears from her eyes with a handkerchief while other people in the street are milling about in the street nearby, giving the priest a moment to have his conversation with the woman.

Cali cautiously approaches, at a respectful distance. The two boys back away a bit, with the younger one ducking inside the church. The older one sizes up the group, giving us a dirty look.

As we get close enough, we overhear the conversation. The priest says, “It’s okay Willamena, I understand your concern, but Oudo will be fine. I’m sure the Baron just wants to frighten him; perhaps have Izek give him a talking to. I’m sure if he was going to bring him to the town square he would have done so. I’m sure it’s all going to blow over, and I will pray for his safe return.” “But he’s my oldest son,” she says, “And I’m afraid what Izek might to do him. And the baron is just as bad; those big dogs. Could you speak to him?” “Speak to Izek?” he asks, surprised. “Oh, god no,” she says, “Who would want to speak to Izek? No, the baron. I’m sure it would sound better coming from you than me. You’re the priest of the morning lord. I’m sure you have some sway with him.” “I’ll talk to him tomorrow,” he says, “and see what I can do. Are you coming in for the evening service?” “Yes,” she says, moving into the church. The older boy holds open the door for her. Then others in the street head toward the church to enter. About a dozen people and six or seven children with them, perhaps twenty in total.

Cali approaches the priest. He wears a holy symbol of the sunrise. “Newcomers to town, I see. All is well, I’m very happy, isn’t everyone?” “Oh yes,” Cali says, “I’m very happy as well. We come seeking sanctuary.” “Sanctuary, you say?” He steps off to the side, to let people pass into the church, and lowers his voice. “What sort of sanctuary, exactly?” “This lady here is Ireena,” Cali says, “She hails from Barovia. She has been assailed of late by the devil, and we fear she is not safe in Barovia so we brought her here, to seek sanctuary in this church you have here.”

He leans down and gets even more quiet. He makes a motion for us all to huddle up around, and we do. “Is there any chance the devil knew you were coming here?” he asks. “To be perfectly honest,” Cali says, “I’d have to say yes.” “The timing couldn’t be a worse coincidence,” he admits, “The blessed church of St. Andril is hallowed ground, normally. You see, a secret crypt beneath the altar houses the bones of St. Andril. Holy relics. And these bones, it is they that power the hallowed ground of the church and keep it safe, such that the devil could never enter inside. But someone stole them a few days ago, and I’ve not yet figured out who. If the devil knew you were coming, he might have arranged it. One of his servants, perhaps, not his spawn since they wouldn’t be able to enter either. I expect he hired or implored someone. But not many people know about the bones.”

Who does know, we ask. “Besides myself, there’s the baron. He’s from the oldest family, the royal line, that’s why the town is named after him; the Vallakoviches. His son Hector knows, and his wife, of course. Besides the Vallakoviches, there’s the Wachter family. Lady Wachter is an interesting character herself. She’s been known to say ‘I’d rather serve the devil than a madman’. She’s very opposed to the baron. She has those troublemaking sons, always drinking. She has a man who works for her. Many servants, in fact. There’s those two families. Past that, no one would know unless they were told.”

Cali points out the two young boys and wonders if they’d know. “I did tell the young one. He was scared one night. But he’s only a boy. I’m sure he wouldn’t.” “The devil has ways, though” Cali suggests. “I took him in. Let him sleep in the shack with Milovoj,” he says, “The young boy Yeska. They’re both orphans. Yeska is so quiet; so timid.” “The devil takes perverse delight in corrupting the innocent,” Cali says, “I can’t think of one more innocent than a young boy.” “You could come back in the morning,” he says, “I can show you where they were, and you can best advise me on how to proceed. If I can’t find them soon, it’s my fear they’ll be lost and the church would not be on the same sacred ground.” “We’ll be more than glad to,” Cali says. “Have a good night, father.” “Didn’t catch your name,” he says. “Cali” “I’m Father Lucian,” he says. He shakes our hands.

We return to the inn.

Glimmerald warns Urwin Martikov that we might have visitors. “Bad visitors?” he asks, “Oh, it’s a pretty safe place. I wouldn’t be too worried.” Glimmerald sizes them all up. Urwin’s wife is a little on the thin side, but the rest are brawny.

We each head off to bed: Ismark and Ireena to share a double room, Cali, Turk, and Glimmerald in the common room, and Cereus in the other double. Luccaria slips out with the hunters to the family home of Szoldar, which he shares with his side-kick, Yevgeni. Szoldar tells her of his father, who was a mighty hunter who slew a giant bear and presented the skull to the baron. This was a point of pride for his family, but recently the baron has started telling people that it was his own father who slew the bear. Szoldar’s wounded pride does not overwhelm his common sense, though, and so he does not speak openly about this.

Here we end our session.

Optional Additions: Sorcery/Warlock Sources

In my group, one of the characters is a Hexblade Warlock / Shadow Sorcerer multiclass.  Another (Ireena) is a Divine Soul Sorcerer / Paladin.  For each of these, I have to select “sources” for their power to work into their story arcs.

Hexblade Sourcing

Hexblades are supposed to be called by powerful weapons, notably from places like the Shadowfell.  Barovia is in the Shadowfell, so it seems to me it would make sense that it would be a powerful weapon already in Curse of Strahd.  I decided I should pick a powerful item, and then likely bestow it with intelligence and an alignment.  Ideally, it shouldn’t be obtainable until well into the adventure.

I toyed with several ideas for the PC in my campaign.  I considered the Sun Sword itself, but it should be a good-aligned item and it would unfairly predetermine which PC was likely to use it.  Other powerful items that crossed my mind were the Staff of Power, intelligent shortsword, or Mace of Terror in the Castle Ravenloft, or perhaps the Thighbone.  The Staff is impressive, hidden away, powerful, and has a little bit of story already.  The shortsword and Thighbone are again good-aligned items.  The Mace of Terror was a possibility, but seemed unremarkable as is.

I settled on the Staff of Frost in The Amber Temple (X17), for several reasons:

  • It’s already cursed with the Flaw it adds.  This means acquiring it is both a boon and a problem, in keeping with Ravenloft’s no-such-thing-as-just-good-news feel.
  • The player in my group has already flavored their character with “You are always icy cold to the touch.” as part of their Shadow Sorcerer side, and this fits thematically with the Staff of Frost.
  • The Amber Temple is somewhere that people seek dangerous arcane power, and that ultimately corrupts.
  • Madam Eva has already hinted that maybe the Dark Powers see this character as Strahd’s replacement (I chose her, as will Strahd, because of the “tortured soul” Warlock/Shadow Sorcerer story arc the character has chosen.

Sorcerery Sourcing

The character has a Shadow Sorcerer origin has been playing as a very sex-positive female.  While Shadow Sorcery doesn’t require a specific patron, I’ve decided to work in the notion that this dark magic is derived from the vestige of Shami-Amourae (X33b).  I will slip it into a dream or vision.  This will further the drive to explore The Amber Temple, even after the group acquires The Sun Sword there.  This further fits with the backstory and story arc of this character, and makes for a corruption-or-redemption possibility.  Will she accept the Dark Gift?  Will she accept Jakarion’s Staff of Frost (now imbued with the soul of Jakarion himself)?

My group’s version of Ireena is being played as a PC, and we started her as a Divine Soul Sorcerer.  The player has since been leveling as a Paladin, though they may go back and forth.

For Ireena’s Divine Soul beginnings, I needed a source of goodness.  For this I’ve chosen the spirit of Tasha Petrovna (Castle Ravenloft, Crypt 11).  I also considered picking any of the various named Saints, or even Sergei.

Session 9 Execution: Entering Vallaki

Outside Vallaki

The encounter went almost exactly as I’d planned it:  The Devil showed up with some violin music for his entrance and took them by surprise while they were dealing with the peculiar guards and their cries of “All will be well!”  The Devil destroyed the cleric’s holy symbol after receiving it by Suggestion, and then set the horse-drawn cart and pack of wolves on them while walking away.  He also took back The Tome of Strahd.  I will have him dispose of it, so that it might turn up randomly somewhere again.

The encounter itself also went as expected:  the initial onslaught of the wolves dropped a couple of the weaker characters and inspired some panic and a rush toward the gate, but once they recomposed themselves and counterattacked, they were able to fell the dozen wolves without much trouble, and all the characters survived.  Ismark was on death’s door a few times, but was ultimately saved.

Inside Vallaki

The group chatted with the guards, stopped briefly at Arasek’s, and then made gifts of the dead wolves and horse to the Urwin and the wolf-hunters to curry some favor.  Urwin agreed to a few nights free lodging in exchange for the meat and the bard’s agreement to play a little each night to lift spirits and get more patrons in the bar.

Various group members engaged in some one-on-one conversations with Urwin, Danika, and Rictavio, and learned about various other NPCs such as Izek, the Baron,  and the Wachters.

One of the PCs has become suspicious that Urwin may be a lycanthrope, but can’t prove it.  He doesn’t have an impression of Urwin as evil though, so he doesn’t know what he’d be.

The group haven’t put together yet that the Blue Water Inn is the “Raven’s Nest”, but I will highlight the presence of the birds again next session, and that may put them over the edge.

They ended the night by visiting the church, meeting Father Lucian and finding out about the mystery of the missing bones.  Because of what had transpired earlier with The Devil, one of the PCs immediately thought to ask the priest if his own altar boys (Yeska and Milivoj) knew of the bones.  He explained that Yeska did, but the boy would have no motive to steal them.  The PC suggested that given The Devil’s powers of suggestion and charm, the boy might not have had a choice.  They also overheard Willemina’s plight.

We ended the session with the group returning to the Blue Water Inn for the night (except for one character who was taken home by Szoldar).  By morning, the fighter will have had a fevered dream from Morgantha, and the group will discover the cloak they marked a few sessions ago when they found the “hidden bundle” is hanging on a peg in the portico of the inn – left by one of last night’s patrons.

This puts the group into discussions between or at the start of next session as to direction:

  • The mystery of the bones is a thing to be solved.
  • Urwin has begun laying the tracks to request the wine shipment, but is waiting until he has something the PCs want so he can barter (i.e. when they realize it’s the “raven nest”.
  • The Hags have begun their assault on one of the group, so the Old Bonegrinder needs dealing with.
  • The group has heard a bit about the Baron’s family, Izek, and the captive Udo.
  • The group has heard a bit about Lady Wachter.
  • The group is very suspicious about possible lycanthropes at the Inn.
  • The group has met and is very suspicious of Rictavio.