Saturday, 9 December 2017

D&D - Curse of Strahd - Part Five - 'Vallaki'

Our DM has decided to gather a team of adventurers to attempt to rid the land of Barovia from an ancient vampires curse...
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...

Tom Williams aka every person and creature we meet...and at one point a house...
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 Chaol Foresthelm - Human Fighter, Captain in Lady Daggerfords Guard
Garreth aka Uunor the Faceless - Half Elf Sorcerer, Spy
Some various none player characters that are tagging along with us...
Ireena Kolyana - Pursued by Strahd
Ismark 'The Lesser' Kolyanovich - Adopted brother of Ireena
Freek and Myrtle - Children, former captives of the Night Hags

Links to earlier adventures in this campaign and some other ones from various systems can be found HERE. Alternatively Part One is HERE, Part Two is HERE, Part Three is HERE and Part Four 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' Dungeons and Dragons ones are of the 'fair use' variety so should be issue free...

Part Five - 'Vallaki'
While escorting Ireena to Vallaki at the request of her adopted brother Ismark the group of adventurers detoured briefly to investigate a windmill that was the seeming source of an unusually addictive culinary creation known locally as 'Dream Pastries'. The creatures behind this trade were three Night Hags in the guise of ordinary women whose primary source of ingredients were children procured from the surrounding villages, specifically their ground-up bones.

After a battle that left three of the party near death, another severely injured and one of their charges unconscious they prevailed and rescued two surviving children from the clutches of their now deceased captors. After applying the meagre healing methods at their disposal and with a mere nights rest they continued their journey to the walled town of Vallaki with the two children now added to their rag-tag group and several useful items added to their inventories. The windmill was left intact as a base of operations that most people avoided was deemed to be something that may come in useful later especially as Uunor had the deed to the property in his possession acquired some days ago from the so-called 'Death House'.

The Town of Vallaki
The trail led into a valley with dark mountains on either side. Gradually the wooded areas receded and a mountain town surrounded by a high wooden defensive palisade could be seen. Around this burg an oppressive thick fog seemed to be pressing against the wall giving the unnerving impression that it was somehow searching for a way inside. The wall itself was some fifteen feet high and was constructed of vertical logs held together by thick ropes and mortar. Each of these logs had been sharpened to a point and several had severed wolf heads hanging from them. This somewhat unusual decoration was repeated with several more wolf heads impaled on spikes along the approach to the gates. As they approached the sturdy iron gates a pair of figures could just be discerned in the shadows beyond.

Once within a few feet of the gates the party and their charges were challenged by two town guards within both of which were armed with long stabbing pikes. These weapons were obviously designed to allow those within to strike those without with minimum harm to themselves. Already anticipating Hans allocating him the job of negotiator Uunor stepped forward and began to converse with the guards though as he raised his hood to speak the mask he habitually wore had changed in favour of a set of features indistinguishable to the casual observer from a native Barovian.

Editors Note - Uunor has a useful Warlock Invocation called Mask of Many Faces which allows him to cast the Disguise Self spell at will. The Actor feat allows him to copy voices and mannerisms accurately as well. He uses this combo a lot...The masked identity is kind of his 'neutral' one when not 'working'.

Despite a few minor issues created by Sven making derogatory comments about the quality of the walls and the quality of those guarding them Uunor managed to persuade them that their business within was legitimate and they were allowed entry if somewhat begrudgingly. As the hour was becoming late it was decided that they would move deeper into the town and see if a place could be found to drop off their guests before moving on and after a short time they reached what passed for the town square.

The few shops and homes surrounding it were decorated with tattered garlands and boxes filled with various limp and withered flowers. Off to one side of the square a row of stocks contained several villagers with crudely made donkey masks on their heads presumably to add to their humiliation for some unknown crime. Central to this square a group of peasants in patchwork clothing were drawing water with cups and vases from a stone fountain containing a statue of an impressive looking gentlemen. All around the square were posted proclamations declaring the same message. "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 -" which went some way to explaining the amount of wolf heads they'd observed so far.

Unwelcome Guests
As they lingered a large man accompanied by two guards entered the square. The powerfully built man was armed with a formidable looking battle axe and the arm that held it seemed unusually large with elongated fingers and long nails. Obviously in charge the man ordered one of the two guards with him to tear down the proclamations while the other posted replacements that at first glance looked identical. On closer examination however there were a number of differences.

The new ones instead read "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 -"  While they were examining these new proclamations the leader of the guard chose this moment to turn his attention to the newcomers.

Having now delivered Ireena, Ismark and the children to Vallaki and as the aforementioned children seemed more than comfortable with Ireena the group now considered their mission complete and were discussing their next move upon leaving town. Before a firm decision could be made their deliberations were interrupted by the rude and aggressive interrogations of the guards captain whose intention for them to leave immediately was quite clear. Despite actually being ready to leave anyway Hans and Sven immediately decided that they now intended to spend at least one night in the town on general principle and it looked like the usually reasonable Chaol also had decided he wasn't going to be ordered about by some obnoxious glorified peasant in charge of a town guard.

Having spent some time in their company now and knowing that Sven was pretty much immune to persuasion when Hans had decided upon the pairs course of action and definitely beyond his ability to persuade physically Uunor instead changed tack and began to discuss the possibility of them staying a single night and then leaving early the next morning. Chaol who was from an aristocratic background himself attempted to use this to try to arrange a meeting with the towns leader who would hopefully be more amenable but this also fell on deaf ears as did Alec's attempt to use his local knowledge to arrange a solution. While this increasingly one-sided negotiation was ongoing the square was beginning to fill with additional town guards and as soon as Sven noticed this his occasional snide comments had become direct threats of violence. 

Uunor's preferred method of problem solving usually prioritised persuasion and deception over intimidation but with his hand forced by the Barbarians comments he had no choice but to match the stance of his comrades. Unfortunately the arrogance of the disfigured Vallaki axe wielder, the support of a dozen of his guards and the advantage of being on his own territory made him immune to the sorcerers best attempts at persuading his way to a mutually agreeable solution. As soon as the adventurers intention to remain had become obvious weapons were beginning to be drawn on both sides.

Battle in the Square
The barbarian Sven and fighter Chaol moved forward weapons in hand as Uunor and Alec stepped back to give them space for ranged spells while Hans's paired crossbows appeared in his hands with practised speed as he took careful aim at the nearest threat. Their strategies had worked multiple times in their recent encounters and their seemed no reason why they should be stopped by a handful of town guards. Unfortunately the visitors were not yet fully recovered from their previous encounter with the Night Hags from which they'd barely escaped with their lives...

Chaol stepped into the space vacated by Uunor cutting down a guard easily with his recently acquired weapon. As his enemy died some of his life force was magically transferred to the fighter via the life-stealing properties of the magical sword and he moved to engage the forces leader with renewed strength and vigour. Sven moving with surprising speed for a man of his size sprinted across the square and attacked the two nearest foes killing the first with two mighty swings of his axe as several crossbow bolts from Hans's weapons struck the second.

Uunor used his magic to weave a twisting pattern of colours through the midst of the not yet engaged guardsmen both charming and incapacitating several before blasting one of those who had remained unaffected with several beams of crackling energy. Alec used an identical attacking spell on another of the advancing guards critically wounding them but failing to stop their advance.

The remaining guards attempted to use their advantage in numbers to outnumber the apparently unwelcome visitors to their town with half of them attempting to surround the wildly swinging barbarian and the rest moving to either help their leader or engage those party members attempting to keep their distance. As they advanced a second wave of guards began to emerge from alleyways to support their comrades in arms.

A second and third of the guards attempting to overwhelm Sven fell in bloody chunks but the barbarian himself had taken many minor wounds and several severe ones from the sheer weight of attacks aimed at his being but frenzied as he was he seemed not to notice or didn't care. Chaol had inflicted two terrible wounds on the guards commander bringing him twice to the ground but had been prevented from finishing him by the intervention of his comrades and was now in serious danger of being outflanked. Most of the remaining guards who had been acting individually were dead from a combination of crossbow bolts, magical blasts or horrendous necrotic wounds inflicted by those free to act. Those previously charmed by Uunor's hypnotic spell began to regain their senses as he was forced to break his concentration in order to use other spells to enhance his own attacks due to the proximity of the second wave of enemies who had already reached Alec and were now only a few seconds from Hans.

As both Chaol and Alec were bought down by the guards surrounding them Hans yelled at Sven to follow him as he headed for a fairly clear alley way across the square but lost in his berserker state it was a forlorn hope that he'd listen to reason even if he could separate himself from his foes. Uunor used his sorcery and was briefly surrounded by a silvery mist before reappearing some thirty feet away on the opposite side of the main body of guards. Using some of his remaining reserves of power the sorcerer cast a spell enhancing Sven's speed and agility, yelled at him to get away and then continued running in the direction Hans had headed. Predictably the barbarian instead used the extra speed to throw more attacks at his opponents and loathe as he was to abandon his friend Hans could see no way for them to prevail.

A lightly armoured but capable looking female guard intercepted the retreating monster hunter and managed to slip a deadly looking dagger past his defences. Despite the minor nature of the wound Hans began to immediately weaken and collapsed unconscious, no doubt the victim of a virulent poison or foul magic of some kind. Before she could turn her attention upon Uunor he rounded the corner at a run and as soon as was out of view took on the appearance of a particularly portly peasant who had been in the square before the commotion and then continued to beat a hasty retreat...

Unexpected Allies
Switching disguises another half a dozen times Uunor circled back around the square to see if any of his former comrades still lived and to discover what fate awaited them using his familiar as an advance scout. He watched as they were stripped of their equipment and those still showing and signs of resistance were beaten into submission before being dragged outside of the walls through the heavy metal gates. Ireena, her brother and the children were escorted in the opposite direction.

As the streets were abandoned this late and he had no knowledge of the area at all following closely was next to impossible so he was forced to wait until the guards had returned before sneaking outside in the guise of one of the very guards that had allowed them in earlier. His former comrades had been thrown in a heap outside the gates and were surrounded by a significant number of ravens who actually seemed to be guarding the bodies rather than using them as a source of carrion. As night fell many of the ravens transformed into humanoid figures while others were strange hybrids of man and bird and between them they picked up the fallen adventurers and carried them away. Though not in the league of specialists in the field Uunor had learnt to move quietly while information gathering and so managed to follow the unusual creatures at a fairly safe distance with some measure of stealth.

The creatures re-entered the city via a concealed entrance along a section of wall and led into what once may have been a sewer system but now showed the signs of age that came only with abandonment. After several turns and doubling back they eventually left the underground tunnels and took the still unconscious victims into a tavern. Seeing little other option and realising that his chances of survival were higher with the rest than without he shifted form into the most innocuous looking villager he could recall and entered the Inn.

Blue Water Inn
The large two-story wooden building had a stone foundation and a sagging tiled roof on which several ravens were perched. A sign above the entrance depicted a blue waterfall and had the name 'Blue Water Inn' written beneath the picture. Uunor found himself a corner, ordered a glass of wine and considered his next move.

Before he could come to any conclusions one of the 'men' he'd seen moving his friends bodies sat down at the table uninvited and struck up a conversation. Trying to get the newcomer to move the sorcerer told them that he was waiting for some friends and was then asked if these friends were recently in an altercation with some guards during which one of their members mysteriously had disappeared. Working on the assumption that had he wished them harm the man could simply have summoned the town guards he followed as asked and found himself in a communal room upstairs where his comrades were being cared for by the others he'd observed. Their confiscated weapons and gear were in a pile in the corner presumably retrieved from right under the nose of their enemies. With no other course of action currently available to him Uunor waited to see what the cost of this assistance would turn out to be...

To be continued in Part Six 'Wereravens'...

Thoughts and comments are (as usual) most welcome.

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