Friday, 1 December 2017

D&D - Curse of Strahd - Part Four - 'Old Bonegrinder'

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

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
Ireena Kolyana - Pursued by Strahd
Ismark 'The Lesser' Kolyanovich - Adopted brother of Ireena
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, Part Two is HERE and Part Three 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 Four - 'Old Bonegrinder'
Having met the mysterious Madam Eva in the Vistani camp and received a cryptic reading of their fortunes it was once again time for the mismatched group of adventurers to continue with the journey to escort Ismark's sister Ireena to the supposedly secure town of Vallaki to shelter her from the attentions of Strahd von Zarovich all the while seeking some sign of the missing daughter of their employer Lady Daggerford.

Before leaving the camp Uunor sent some time casting a ritual that had mysteriously appeared in the book of notes he kept to help fine-tune his disguises which summoned a small winged creature of his patrons to do his bidding. The fact that the book had also become more elaborate he accepted as yet another example that the pact with his patron was still firm even in this strange place. Not feeling inclined to explain to his current acquaintances where an unusual looking fey creature had appeared from he commanded it to take the form of a small raven as they seemed to be pretty much everywhere in this land. The creature obeyed the command somewhat creatively by taking the commanded form and then promptly became invisible a moment later...

Editors Note - The Imp I wanted originally was deemed inappropriate due to being a devil and I wasn't allowed a Fairy as they have too many useful spells they could cast innately (apparently). So after some negotiation I got a patron specific Fairy with suspiciously Impish stats and a severely cut down spell list...couldn't complain too much though as it was still much, much better than one of the default familiars normally allowed by the ritual.

The Black Carriage
After being slightly delayed by arriving at the river crossing at a point below the bridge and needing to backtrack the party eventually found themselves on a dirt road that clung to the side of the mountain. This road eventually ended at a bridge of stone that spanned the natural chasm from which moss encrusted gargoyles seemed to watch their approach.

Ahead the road split into two with the eastern route being slightly wider. There were patches of cobblestone here and there which suggested that the road was once more important than it is now. Parked at the fork of the road pointing east is a large black carriage drawn by two impressive looking black horses. As the group approaches the door of the carriage swings open silently. As this coach matched the one that had accompanied the elf who had handed them the invitation from Strahd days earlier it seemed obvious that this was to be the means for them to accept the invite.

A debate ensued about whether the invitation should be accepted as on the one hand this would lead them direct to their apparent enemy but on the other it would also deliver Ireena to him as she was travelling with them. It was also obvious that using the girl as bait was still a possibility that Hans was considering. Another argument against accepting was that it was unlikely that the vampire would invite them to his home if he considered them in any way a threat and everything they had learned about him so far showed that he enjoying toying with his victims. Ultimately they agreed that any 'gift' from Strahd would no doubt come with strings attached or at the very least a catch of some kind so they left it where it was and continued onward. Given that Strahd seemed to know exactly where they were the majority of the time they reasoned that if they accepted the invitation later he'd find a way to arrange transportation.

Old Bonegrinder
The path ahead was blocked by huge iron gates set into high stone walls that jutted from the woods on either side. Two headless statues flanked the gates, their heads in the weeds at their feet. As the group approached the gates swung open with a screech from the rusty hinges.

The road transitioned from a winding path to a lazy trail that hugged the mountainside and gradually descended into a fog-filled valley. Down in the valley a walled town could be seen on the shores of a great lake with still dark waters. A branch in the road led west to a raised promontory on which a dilapidated stone windmill stood, it's vanes severely damaged by time.

Understandably curious the group approached despite some warnings from Ireena and Ismark that the windmill was usually avoided by any-one not there to trade with the old lady who resided there. Alec whose memories of Barovia seemed to be returning was also keen to avoid the place but wasn't quite sure why when pressed on the subject. The domed windmill lent forward and to one side and was made of grey brick with dirt covered windows. A wooden platform encircled the windmill above a flimsy doorway which led inside. Perched above the door is a Raven which is hopping about and squawking in an agitated manner. It almost seemed to be warning them against entering...

Editors Note - For those of you who haven't read the previous instalments our guide 'Alec' is a native of the land who somehow escaped but has no knowledge of how. Periodically he remembers useful things that are coincidentally things our DM could do with us knowing at about the same time, lol.

Adjacent to the windmill were four ancient looking stone megaliths that drew the groups attention and it was decided to examine these before entering the mill. Each of the moss-covered stones bore a crude carving of a city each of which corresponded to a particular season. The winter city was covered in snow, the spring version was arrayed with flowers, the city of summer had a burst of light overhead and the autumn one was covered in a layer of leaves.

Those amongst the adventurers with religious knowledge recalled legends of four ancient cities said to be paradises where gods such as Mother Night, the Morninglord and other ancient gods once dwelled. Atop the stone where the autumn city was depicted a single raven was pecking at some kind of pastry while others circled overhead. In front of this particular megalith was a small pile of teeth...children's the sight of these teeth Sven turned and marched towards the entrance to the windmill gripping his axe. Uunor attempted to explain that he had ways of scouting the area ahead before they charged in but the barbarian could not be dissuaded. The thought that the windmills inhabitants were murderers of children spurred the others on also and so with a resigned sigh Uunor followed but ensured that he was last in. Despite being warned to stay outside Ireena and Ismark followed also.

Morgantha's Coven
The ground floor had been converted into a makeshift but filthy kitchen. Clutter was piled everywhere and amongst it was a peddler's cart. a chicken coop, a heavy trunk and a wooden cabinet covered in painted flowers. As well as the clucking of chickens the croaking of toads could also be heard. A sweet smell of cooking pastries filled the air and several more of these pastries were in a barrel to one side of a brick oven. A crumbling staircase stood against one wall leading to the floor above from which faint shrieks and cackles could be heard.

The chicken coop indeed held several entirely mundane chickens, though as Alec opened the wooden chest he found it was filled with toads of which several escaped as soon as the lid was lifted. Before a more detailed search could be undertaken, Sven having ascertained that there were no children in this room stomped noisily up the flight of stairs to the next floor. The others followed though Uunor stayed behind to continue searching the room while their two charges looked on.

The cupboards contained wooden bowls full of herbs and other normal baking ingredients such as flour and sugar though several contained what looked suspiciously like powdered bone as well as three small labelled containers. Hearing a commotion from the next floor Uunor slipped the three elixirs from the containers into one of his pouches and went to see what trouble his compatriots had gotten into.

Sven had discovered a haggard, heavyset old woman with a wrinkled face sweeping the floor of the room as he entered. She was wearing a apron covered in stains ranging from flour to what could well have been blood. The room was dark as the windows were caked with dirt and most of the space was taken up by a large millstone connected to various gears and a shaft that rose through the ceiling. Wasting no time with pleasantries the barbarian warrior grabbed the old lady by the throat and began to interrogate her about the location of the children he was convinced were being held there. The woman seemed genuinely afraid and attempted to reassure her interrogator that the only children present were her own two daughters who were on the next floor. Seeing no sign of a child in the crowded room Sven roughly pushed the woman aside and continued upwards to the source of the cackling above.

Hans, Chaol and Alec found a slightly shaken looking old lady on the second floor. Hans immediately raised his crossbows on general principle but she seemed little threat. Alec began to talk to her about the teeth they'd discovered but she repeated her protestations of innocence insisting that she simply made her pastries which she referred to as 'Dream Pastries' from the finest of ingredients and sold them to the surrounding villages. Ireena and Ismark confirmed that this was the case but also pointed out that there were many dark rumours about both this place and the properties of the pastries. Hans was unconvinced and Alec also had his doubts though Chaol was convinced enough that he moved to defend the woman from the threats of the others and an argument ensued as Uunor arrived. The old crone once again repeated her version of events but Uunor was familiar enough with deception and twisting the truth to detect a lie when he heard one and an experienced enough actor to see her performance slip. As he prepared an offensive spell he warned Chaol that she was not what she appeared to be.

Meanwhile Sven had arrived on the third floor and discovered a cramped room in which two ugly young women were dancing around a thick wooden gear shaft in the rooms centre. They were wearing silk shawls, tattered stitched together clothing and were the source of the cackling audible from the lower floors. Against one wall were three crates stacked one upon the other next to a pile of discarded clothing with a mouldy bed being the only other furniture. Ignoring the two cackling women Sven's interest was drawn to the crate pile. As he drew closer he could clearly see two pairs of eyes looking at him from two of the three wooden containers. As he turned the closest of the two women in the room launched herself at him with a scream clawing at him with long nails...

As the scream from the third floor echoed from above the Night Hag Morgantha dropped all pretence and hurled herself at the closest adversary. Fearing his friend might be in danger Hans unleashed a pair of bolts at the Hag before running up the flight of stairs to the third floor. Calling on his Vistani heritage Alec cursed the Hag which temporarily held her in place for his own magical assault and Uunor added to this with a Hex of his own before also unleashing several eldritch blasts towards the creature while it was vulnerable. These blasts were enhanced by gifts bestowed upon him by his warlock patron and struck home with additional force as well as causing hideous necrotic damage at the points of impact. As these magical spells struck home Chaol added his own sword blows to the deluge of attacks. Their advantage was to be temporary however as with a shake of her head the Hag broke free of Alec's influence and used a charm of her own to take over his mind in turn. His will no longer his own the Vistana turned and raised his hand towards Uunor and unleashed three scorching rays of fire towards him as Ireena and her brother looked on powerlessly.

Editors Note - To be brutally honest we'd pretty much forgot about the people we were supposed to be protecting at this point. Luckily our DM remembered they were there...not that they made much difference to the outcome...

Though surprised by the attacking pair of cackling women's unusual strength the Barbarian knocked them aside and let the state of frenzy overtake him as he cleaved at the pair with his axe. The blows should have easily killed a frail women yet the target of his attacks seemed far less concerned than he would have hoped. Hans's crossbow bolts struck home with his usual accuracy but despite penetrating deeply also failed to stop his target. It was evident that there was far more to the windmills inhabitants than met the eye. With Sven now bleeding from a number of wounds the monster hunter prepared to fire again.

Uunor instinctively cast a spell of shielding which just barely protected him from the fiery blasts as Alec seemed to come to his senses. Chaol's own sword attacks were causing much less damage than they should though the foul monstrosity was bleeding foul ichor from various parts of her body he had been struck several times in return and was beginning to weaken. Sensing that this battle was at a turning point Uunor drew upon his innate sorcerous power to subvert the accepted laws of magic and cast the eldritch blast spell twice in rapid succession. This damage combined with the weakening curse already placed upon it was too much and the hag fell to the ground. With the sounds of battle still raging on the floor above them Uunor ran up the stairs to see if he could lend any assistance.

Uunor arrived just in time to see the hags coven reduced to a single member as the barbarians relentless attacks finally overpowered a second of the foul child murderers, cleaving her virtually into two pieces. Now alone the final creature had the sorcerers attacks to contend with as well as Hans's bolts and silvered sword and the undivided attention of the extremely upset berserk barbarian who had butchered her sister. Sensing her imminent defeat she used the brief moment of respite to avenge her and her coven with a final spiteful spell. A sphere of necrotic energy exploded from her body from which the flimsy structure was no shield and even those on the floor below felt the full brunt of the spells corrupting energies. For once even Sven's iron constitution couldn't save him and he collapsed along with his ally Hans, the fighter Chaol and their Vistani guide Alec leaving only Uunor standing...if only barely...

Uunor used a cantrip recently gifted to him by his patron via his Book of Shadows to stabilise the monster hunter and barbarian before hurrying to the lower floor and doing the same to Alec. Chaol though severely injured was still conscious and helped to make the others as comfortable as possible. Ireena was tending to her brother who had also been laid low by the revenge attack. With them all now out of immediate danger he left the recovering adventurers to both Ireena's care and their own individual methods of healing both mundane and esoteric. Once again showing his phenomenal resistance Sven was already back on his feet and immediately voiced his concern for the children imprisoned in the crates and stated his intention to see if they had survived.

Editors Note - Out of character we all knew they were there...however in character Sven hadn't actually told any-one about them until now...

Ireena accompanied him reasoning that a female face might be more comforting than the blood-soaked barbarian currently ripping the locks from their prisons. As if by some miracle both the children were alive and had apparently been well fed if not well treated by their captors. Even more horrifying was the tale that rather than being kidnapped they had actually been traded to the hags by their own parents in return for the apparently quite addictive so-called dream pastries. On hearing this Hans swore that he and Sven would be paying these parents a visit as soon as time could be found. Obviously the two children had no desire to return home and seemed comfortable only with Ireena and Ismark who they knew from Barovia and somewhat inexplicably the Barbarian who as far as they were concerned was responsible for their rescue.
A search of the windmill resulted in the discovery of a strange shaped sword and some cheap jewellery hidden in a mattress which Uunor distributed fairly evenly though he gave Sven's share to Hans as the barbarian was currently more interested in the rescued village children. Now having time to examine the three potions Uunor noted that one was a simple potion that granted a temporary youthful appearance and was a fairly common site amongst ageing members at court functions, a second marked 'Laughter' which he was at a loss to identify and the third labelled 'Mothers Milk' was obviously a poison of some kind.

Noting that the masked sorcerer seemed to have some knowledge of arcane items Hans produced the elaborately decorated dagger and cloak he'd found at the mansion they now were all referred to as the 'Death House'. The sorcerer informed him that he knew an arcane ritual that could reliably identify if an item had magical properties but he'd need about half an hour to examine all three. The items were identified as a Cloak of Protection, a Dagger of Venom and a Sword of Life Stealing. Hans kept the venomous dagger for himself, gave the cloak to their guide and the sword to Chaol. Uunor kept the three elixirs adding them to the other vials in the poisoners kit he kept concealed amongst his belongings. With every-one now as comfortable as possible they turned the few remaining areas not splattered in viscera into makeshift sleeping quarters and prepared themselves for a well deserved rest.

As they arose in the morning they were treated to the smells of cooking as Hans showed previously unseen culinary skills and made every-one a hearty breakfast from the chicken and eggs within the hags coop enhanced by the identifiable ingredients from the kitchen area. The possibility of burning the windmill to the ground had been briefly considered but it was reasoned that as the locals avoided it whenever possible it might make a useful makeshift base of operations in the future should they need a place to fall back to. With all of the group fed and reasonably recovered and now with two children in tow they continued their journey to Vallaki.....

To be continued in Part Five 'Vallaki'...

Thoughts and comments are (as usual) most welcome.

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