Friday, 24 November 2017

D&D - Curse of Strahd - Part Three - 'Barovia'

Our DM has decided to gather a team of adventurers to attempt to rid the land of Barovia from an ancient curse...of course we thought we were merely rescuing the absent daughter of Lady Daggerford from a nearby village...
None of the players have done this adventure before and we've all been understandably banned from looking at the source book. Therefore how close our DM is following the actual book is a mystery to us...therefore this article is either full of spoilers for the Curse of Strahd campaign...or...not...

Daniel aka Hans Velsing - Human Ranger, Monster Hunter
Louis aka Sven McHammer - Human Barbarian, Luskan Mercenary
Harry aka Alec Ivanovich - Human Evoker, Former Barovian Resident and Guide
Dave aka Kole Foresthelm - Human Fighter, Captain in Lady Daggerfords Guard
Garreth aka Uunor the Faceless - Half Elf Sorcerer, Spy for Lady Daggerford
Tom Williams aka every person and creature we meet...and at one point a house...
Links to earlier adventures in this campaign and some other ones from various systems can be found HERE. Alternatively Part One is HERE and Part Two is HERE.
All pictures used were found via simple google searches but if any of them belong to you and you want them removed then let me know. The 'official' D&D ones are of the 'fair use' variety so should be issue free...

Part Three - 'Barovia'
Having escaped the 'Death House' relatively intact and with the strange mists that had forced them within receding slightly freeing access to the village once more it was decided to try and find somewhere safe to rest the night before exploring any further. After some debate it was decide to simply commandeer one of the seemingly empty homes on the villages outskirts.

Having decided that the Elran identity now served no useful purpose, Uunor removed the make-up created scar from his cheek, wrapped himself in his preferred hooded cloak and slipped the mask he habitually wore between disguises over his briefly revealed actual face. Only Hans raised an eyebrow at this as Kole was well aware of the situation having been in Lady Daggerfords service for some time, the guide seemed oddly self-absorbed and Sven was too stupid to realise this was in any way unusual...

Editors Note - This would have been a far more dramatic and characterful moment if there hadn't been a pointless in character argument going on between every-one else at the time...we'll blame poor timing on my part I suppose...

It was clear on closer examination that many of the outlying structures had been abandoned possibly due to their proximity to the cursed edifice they'd recently vacated or due to some other yet to be encountered threat. Either way it was a simple enough matter to gain entry...

The Village of Barovia
The party moved into the vacant home just as dusk began to fall...or more correctly as the dark skies became slightly darker in this seemingly permanently overcast land. The stench of death was heavy inside which alerted Hans's apparent innate sensitivity to such things to the presence of something...wrong. As soon as the last of the weary adventurers entered the building a strange moaning could be heard from within. Before more level-headed individuals could suggest finding somewhere else to rest the barbarian had already charged.

As Sven hurtled towards the nearest of the zombies Hans used the moment of distraction to take a look at the incoming foes before committing himself in order to discern any weaknesses that he might be able to exploit. Worryingly the only obvious difference was that these looked particularly sturdy when compared to other zombie-like creatures he'd encountered though this extra resilience didn't seem to be slowing Sven's axe down by any noticeable margin. Kole advanced on the nearest of the undead rather than charging straight into the centre of the enemy mass as the barbarian had done and lashed out at it with his sword at a likely target.

Alec once again utilised the chromatic orb spell he seemingly favoured and sent a ball of icy cold magic towards an un-engaged foe though it was difficult to tell how effective it was. Concerned that the poor light was making accurate attacks by his allies difficult Uunor illuminated the room with a magical light that helpfully outlined the half a dozen creatures within the small structure and significantly increased the accuracy of his allies attacks. Now surrounded by a significant number of severed body parts Sven was beginning to find himself beset by various grasping limbs that seemed to be able to act independently from their former owners. The separated body parts were however no match for his rage enhanced strength.

Letting out a slightly exasperated sigh at his fellows lack of monster hunting knowledge Hans urged them to go for the creatures heads before illustrating his point fairly literally by putting several crossbow bolts into the aforementioned target location. With three of their group now engaged closely with the remaining zombies both Alec and Uunor switched to far more accurate Magic Missile spells as they lumbered towards them.

With the zombies close now and with his own safety in mind Uunor stopped concentrating on the Faerie Fire spell that had assisted the others and instead cursed the closest foe before filling it with magical darts. As each of the darts struck home the area around it became necrotic as the curse enhanced the missiles impact damage and the creature fell apart joining several other now truly dead bodies upon the buildings floor. With the enemy ranks now thinned by blade, bolt and spell it was a simple matter to overwhelm the few remaining foes and their flailing separated limbs. Already near exhaustion before encountering this most recent threat the beleaguered adventurers simply barricaded themselves in a vacant room upstairs and rested till what passed for dawn hereabouts.

Blood on the Vine
Awakening late the somewhat refreshed adventurers decide to explore the village after a swift and unsatisfying breakfast of travel rations. There were very few people to be seen in the village and those that could be discerned seemed dour in the extreme. Seeking somewhere from which to gain information the two obvious choices were a large shop called 'Bildrath's Mercantile' and a tavern opposite.

In Uunor's experience taverns were always a good source of information once you filtered out the gossip and superstition and the fact that Sven had already headed towards it made the decision an easy one for them all. The tavern itself had however seen better days and was inhabited by the barkeep, a group of three villagers sitting together and another man sitting alone. The barkeep was willing to sell them wine but had no beer and claimed that food was unavailable much to Sven's irritation.  After a short period of time the man sitting alone came over and introduced himself as Ismark and his offer to pay for the groups drinks was certainly welcome. After some prompting they explained in broad terms how they had ended up in the town and that they were looking for a certain young lady who they described but Ismark had not seen her. He did however point out that beautiful young women who found their way to Barovia usually ended up as 'guests' of the Count sooner rather than later.

After listening to the barbarian complaining about the lack of food Ismark briefly spoke to the barkeep who then apparently managed to find the food that had been 'unavailable' moments earlier and once he seemed confident that he had ingratiated himself sufficiently the man steered the conversation to a task he wished the adventurers to assist him with. Sven however was still complaining that there wasn't any ham.

Ismark wished their assistance to help him escort his adopted sister Ireena to a settlement in the heart of the valley called Vallaki which he hoped was more secure than the village in which they currently resided. Once he was reasonably sure that they were going to help he divulged some additional information which revealed his deeper concerns for Ireena's safety namely that Strahd had already visited her and bitten her twice and that their home was under near constant assault by his minions. These attacks had been of such severity that Ismarks father the Burgomaster heart had finally given out three days ago.

Hans broached the subject of payment which Sven repeated in simpler terms a moment later. It soon became clear that getting Sven to do anything that Hans hadn't already suggested was going to be tricky but at least he'd stopped complaining about the food.

Editors Note - One of the Prestidigitation cantrips effects is that none-living material can be chilled, warmed or flavoured. Strangely enough anything Sven eats when Uunor is in the room now tastes of ham...Unfortunately as Uunor has no reference to recreate the exact flavour of the barbarians favourite dish Sven is now slightly disappointed with every meal he consumes...

The Burgomaster's Mansion
Uunor pointed out that making a few allies wouldn't hurt and Hans agreed somewhat reluctantly to waive his usual fee in the interests of learning more about the land in which they were now apparently stranded though Uunor was surprised the strong willed hunter of monsters had changed his mind so easily. The change of mind actually was because Hans has also formulated a back-up plan for which some bait would certainly be useful but obviously he kept it to himself.

The mansion to which they were led was a weary looking structure with the gates broken, the grounds either over-grown or trampled flat and the walls damaged by heavy claw markings and the signs of recent fires. All the glass had been smashed from the windows and replaced with planks but these were also damaged. Hans identified scores of animal tracks and human footprints approaching the house from all directions. Once at the entrance they were greeting through a heavy barred door by a lady they presumed was Ireena and this was confirmed when her adopted brother signalled to her that it was safe to allow them entry.

Once within holy symbols could be seen in every room and many were concentrated in a side-room that contained a simple wood coffin whose occupant was presumably the recently deceased burgomaster. Ireena herself was a striking young woman with auburn hair and claimed that her memory of Strahd's visits were fuzzy though she could clearly remember the 'burning hunger in his eyes'. What she could also recall clearly however was the wolves and other terrible creatures that had assaulted the house every night for week after week. Curiously however there hadn't been a single attack since the burgomasters death three days ago. She also was firm on the point that she would go nowhere with the Burgomaster lying dead upon the floor but would do so once he was properly buried at the church.

Though less than happy about the added complication Hans pointed out that a church was a useful place from which to obtain some holy water which would be useful given the nature of their apparent foes. With Sven content to follow Hans lead and Kole to follow Uunors the terms were agreed upon and the coffin was loaded onto a cart that Sven was able to push with little effort.

Hans additionally loaded the cart with as many of the religious symbols as could reasonably be removed and added to it's load. Their guide having no-where else to go offered to continue to accompany them assuring them that his knowledge of the area would come in useful. He was however less than forthcoming about how such information had been obtained.

Editors Note - The information from our 'guide' comes in sporadic bursts...usually after our DM hands him a note or prompts him in someway, lol. He has a whole 'memory gradually returning', mysterious past thing going on that's kinda cool but not particularly helpful to the rest of hopes at least...

The Church
The church had obviously weathered the assaults of evil for centuries as the heavy wooden doors were covered with claw marks and scarred by fire and the structure itself had seen better days. Flickering lights shone through holes in the roof though despite the time still being early there was no sign of any villagers making use of the place. The reason for this was soon to become apparent...

The hall within was some ten feet wide by twenty long and led to a brightly let chapel. Doors led off this passage but they were ignored for the moment in favour of their primary goal of finding the priest in order to lay the Burgomaster to rest. From their approach the chapel appeared to be a debris strewn mess but from within a voice could be heard reciting a prayer. Suddenly the prayer was drowned out by an inhuman scream that seemed to rise up from beneath the floor.

The chapel was indeed a shambles with broken and overturned pews scattered about. Candles mounted in various candlesticks and candelabras were lit in virtually every corner and it was this light that they had observed from outside. At the far end of the church by a claw-scarred altar sat a priest in soiled vestments. From beneath the floor a young mans voice cried out "Father! I'm starving!" Seemingly oblivious to the cries the priest continued with his prayers. Understandably curious by this turn of events Hans began to interrogate the priest about the voice from below...

The obviously disturbed priest told them that over a year ago a black-robed wizard had come to Barovia claiming to hail from a faraway land and had convinced both the priests son Doru and several more villagers that with their assistance he could assail the castle and destroy the Count. By all accounts however they were all slaughtered and the wizard had been slain by Strahds own hand and then hurled from the cliffs into the river below though the body was never recovered.

Editors Note - We all got curious at the 'body never found' bit...we all know a plot-hook when we hear one...

Doru however returned to his father as a vampire spawn. Donavich was able to trap his son in the churches undercroft where he has remained since that day. It is obvious that the constant pleading by his son has driven the priest to the brink of his sanity and given what they had learned about the Count up to now this was more than possibly the intention.

As it seemed that this trapped spawn had actually been to the castle Uunor suggested that they interrogate the creature for information and presumed that the creature would be of little threat considering it hadn't fed for over a year. Hans confirmed that the creature would indeed be weakened but that also meant that it would say whatever it thought most likely to obtain either some blood, it's freedom or both and therefore would not be very reliable. The priest informed them that he hadn't seen the key for some time, the trapdoor was jammed shut and seemed sincere in the opinion that his son knew nothing of note regardless.

Once Hans was convinced that the vampire spawn was unlikely to escape and if he felt so inclined could always return and kill it later they once again turned their attention to the burying of Ismark and Ireena's father. With the parties help the deceased was laid to rest and the site blessed by the priest. Hans also convinced him to provide them with some holy water though several other members of the group were less than convinced about how effective water blessed by a lunatic priest would be. Sven of course was convinced of it's efficiency based entirely on the fact that Hans had said it would be fine. With her conditions now met Ireena gathered her belongings and prepared for the long journey to the walled town of Vallaki in the company of the adventurers.

An Invitation
As the adventurers and their new clients were on the way out of town their passage was blocked by a strange dusky skinned elf, a selection of wolves and several other creatures that Hans immediately identified as undead or otherwise supernatural. Behind them was a carriage led by two large black horses. Hans gave Uunor a nudge and pointed out that negotiation was his job not theirs and he begrudgingly agreed and moved to converse with the elf blocking their path.

Editors Note - What Hans's player actually said was "Shouldn't one of the Charisma guys be dealing with this!" his point was still a good one though...

As Uunor moved forward the guide Alec walked up alongside him and not one to be left out the barbarian Sven decided to get involved. He marched past the other two party members and managed to get within about ten feet of the elf before his mind was filled with what felt like the screams of thousands of people being murdered which began to cause him intense pain and forced him to take a step backwards. Feeling better he decided to once again move forward and this time the pain was so excruciating that it bought him to his knees. Not even Sven was dense enough to make a third attempt.

As Sven crawled back towards his friend Hans, Uunor addressed the elf though he sensibly did so from several steps behind the position at which the Barbarian had been incapacitated. The dusky looking elf seemed utterly disinterested and barely even looked at the two individuals in front of him as he casually held out a piece of parchment that presumably he wanted them to take.

Knowing that he himself was nowhere near as resilient as the barbarian was Uunor used a minor cantrip to summon a magical hand to bring the offered paper to himself rather than risk being hurt like Sven had. He was also surprised to see that the hand had assumed a skeletal form rather than it's usual spectral one and this raised some concerns about what the effect of this unusual land upon others of his spells might be.

The note turned out to be an invitation from Strahd himself to visit him at his castle 'Ravenloft' to which he promised safe passage. The letter however made no promises about their safety once they arrived or mentioned what might occur if they wished to leave. Uunor politely asked if there was any time limit on the invitation as they were unfortunately busy with another task but was careful to leave out what that task was given Ireena's situation with Strahd. The elf shrugged though whether that meant that he didn't know or didn't care could not be discerned. Apparently deeming his task complete the elf and his entourage turned and left. Uunor handed the note to Hans who seemed to be considering accepting and pulled aside his companion Sven presumably to discuss the matter. What he actually did was point out to Sven that the journey would be an excellent way to draw out their enemies using Ireena and the others as bait.

Editors Note - Obviously our players know about this because they were at the same table during the conversation...our characters however do not but I doubt they'd be very surprised if they did...

The Road to Vallaki
The path to Vallaki from the village of Barovia was a winding one and so after some debate it was decided to take a shortcut direct through the forest. This turned out to be an error of judgement on their part...

As the first clearing was reached movement could be discerned from the opposite side. Several shambling forms similar to the ones encountered in the 'abandoned' house in Barovia began to emerge from the trees ahead and as they advanced were joined by half a dozen others. Having more experience of these foes now and with them lacking the cover that they'd possessed in the aforementioned house their numbers were considerably reduced by precisely aimed crossbow bolts and ranged magical spells while Sven and Kole took the fight direct to the enemy. The accuracy of these attacks was enhanced somewhat by the same magical 'Faerie Fire' that Uunor had used in the zombie filled house. The poorly organised ambush was easily defeated with only a few minor injuries to show for it. Unsure however that the forest didn't contain more puissant foes they decided to return to the path as soon as was possible. Their guide did point out that he had suggested they stick to the paths right from the start...

Editors Note - This was probably the first battle that we had approached with anything approximating team-work...or more correctly where we weren't two teams of two and a guy whose chromatic orb is permanently set to cold...

Once back on the path their progress was fairly steady though Sven and Hans kept stopping to discuss various issues between them. Uunor and Kole however communicated via a magical cantrip of Uunors. It was obvious that despite the shared danger that there was little trust between the various factions within the party. Alec for his part seemed content to take the lead as was befitting a guide and also seemed to know his way remarkably well...almost suspiciously well in fact. Eventually they reached a well worn path with three choices of direction.

The path by which they arrived obviously headed to Barovia village but the other two paths ahead led to Tser Pool to the northwest and Ravenloft and Vallaki to the southwest. Their guide informed them that there was a Vistani encampment by Tser Pool that would be a safe place to stop and rest and perhaps gain some information. After some debate it was agreed that they'd check out the camp...

The Vistani
The road gradually became replaced by a muddy path within which were deep ruts obviously caused by wagons of some description which itself led to a clearing. Next to the clearing a nearby river had widened to form a large lake. The clearing contained a rough perimeter of five colourful tents around four wagons. A larger tent stood near the lake by which several large draft horses were drinking from the river. Some accordion accompanied singing could be heard from several brightly clad figures around a centrally placed bonfire. Of particular note was the fact that these Vistani were very similar in dress and features to their guide Alec who explained that these were indeed his people though he was once again vague about how he had become separated from them in a land that was apparently impossible for any-one to leave.

A dozen or more of the Vistani are standing and sitting around the fire singing, telling tales and drinking wine. After some introductions from their guide the party were offered flasks of wine and food and invited to join them. Though they had Sven at 'food and drink', his companion Hans was far less willing to trust these strangers and he stayed on the alert as did the fighter Kole. Uunor drank sparingly of the wine and attempted to learn as much as he could from the mainly inebriated Vistani. Several tales of varying degrees of believe-ability were shared before the conversation turned to the wizard mentioned by the priest Donavich. One of the Vistani claimed to have witnessed the battle and spoke of how the wizard and Strahd had cast spells at one another the fight ending at a precipice overlooking the falls. The wizard had survived hurled rocks and lightning but was ultimately defeated as the vampire set upon him and threw him a thousand feet to his death. Once again though the tale ended without any word of a body being recovered. Several others spoke of the wizard having been since the battle but these tales were discounted as unsubstantiated gossip and hearsay. Alec however seemed convinced that the wizard had in fact survived.

Madam Eva
One of the Vistani suggested that they speak to Madam Eva and Alec confirmed that she was worth talking to being renowned for her powers as a seer. Sven immediately took this to mean that there was something between their guide and this madam while Hans was quick to point out his lack of confidence in some travelling wise woman making a living from telling fortunes to gullible fools. Despite several attempts to dissuade the utterly tactless and guileless Sven from joining them by pointing out that all the food and drink was outside he nonetheless insisted on coming along.

The tent was filled with a reddish glow and inside a hunched figure sat at a table covered in black cloth on which a crystal ball glinted oddly. "At last you have arrived!" a voice cackled as they entered. She seemed well aware of the adventurers quest but was firm that the Vistani would not shelter Ireena for them nor would they raise a hand directly against Strahd or directly interfere with any of his plans of which they were aware. During this conversation Svens interruptions had began to irritate the seer and with a single word he found himself unable to speak and outnumbered as they were some five to one it was decided that causing trouble would be a bad idea. Changing the subject Madam Eva offered to read there fortunes to which Hans's scorn was immediately obvious but out of curiosity the rest agreed. Madam Eva then drew five cards from a worn deck and laid them out in a cross pattern before revealing each card in turn and interpreting their meanings...

Editors Note - This bit is apparently very important and decides the focus of the rest of the campaign. Not sure if I was DMing I'd like a random card flip to make those decisions for me but apparently it works we go...

As each card was flipped over the seer named it and then spoke about it's meaning...Missionary - "I see a garden dusted in snow, watched over by a scarecrow with a sackcloth grin. Look not to the garden but to the guardian", Guild Member - "I see a dark room full of bottles. It is the tomb of a guild member", Mercenary - "The thing you seek lies with the dead, under mountains of gold coins", Raven - "Find the leader of the feathered ones who live amongst the vines. Though old he has one more fight left in him" and finally Horseman - "He lurks in the one place to which he must return...a place of death"...

With the reading complete and with Hans still stating quite clearly his lack of belief in such things they took the opportunity to rest a while before continuing their journey...

To be continued in Part Four 'Old Bonegrinder'...

Thoughts and comments are (as usual) most welcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails