Saturday, 23 December 2017

D&D - Curse of Strahd - Part Seven - 'The Festival'

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...
We had one absentee this week...
Daniel aka Hans Velsing - Human Ranger, Monster Hunter
Louis aka Sven McHammer - Human Barbarian, Luskan Mercenary
Harry aka Alec Ivanovich - Human Hexen, Vistani Guide
Dave aka Chaol Foresthelm - Human Fighter, Captain in Lady Daggerfords Guard
Garreth aka Uunor the Faceless - Half Elf Fey-Blooded 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
A Brief Note on our Character Classes...
When we started this campaign 'Alec' wanted to be more a caster of curses like the Vistani in the Curse of Strahd campaign book and so our DM came up with a home-brew 'Hexen' class together with some sub-classes from which his player chose 'Night Terror'. In order to make this change make sense our DM waited until an appropriate awakening point could be reached and being beaten nearly to death then meeting some wereravens seemed to fit the bill. Our DM also suggested that my Sorcerer/Warlock multi-class would make much more sense if there was a sorcerous origin related to fey to tie the two together and so came up with a 'Fey-Blooded' sub-class for me...I liked it so I went with it. On that note the Monster Hunter class used by our Ranger is also a none standard one...and our Barbarian uses some Goliath fact the only character using everything vanilla is our Fighter now I think about it.

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, Part Four is HERE, Part Five is HERE and Part Six 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 Seven - 'The Festival'
After defeating the evil Druidic sect invading the 'Wizard of Wines' winery the wereraven clan who ran it were able to provide the adventurers with a replacement for their damaged cart and a considerable quantity of wine for the Blue Water Inn in Vallaki to supply to the Burgomasters upcoming festival. Given the extensive injuries inflicted upon Hans it was decided that he'd stay at the winery for a few days to recover and given their fatigue the rest also decided to stay for a night before travelling back in the morning. While enjoying several fine vintages reserved for special occasions Uunor took the opportunity to find out any information that might come in useful.

Davian Martikov revealed that the relationship with his son Urwin had become strained when a large magical gem that was reputed to be the reason why the vines at the winery grew so sweet and healthy had been stolen during the time he was supposedly on watch. Where the gem had been taken was a mystery though the druids of Yester Hill who were a constant thorn in their sides were obvious suspects as was an ancient hag known as Baba Lysaga who lived in the ruined remains of the town of Berez and whose strange animated scarecrows were also a consistent threat. Seeing that Davian was constantly steering the conversation back to the subject of Urwin the half-elf explained how his comrades lives had been saved by him and that he had obviously grown into a responsible and honourable individual as it was obvious to the insightful sorcerer that this was what Davian wanted to hear and was more or less true. This pleased Davian considerably and as well as providing them with some of his special vintages for the journey he also offered his assistance should they need it in the future as he said he had "One fight left in him..."

Editors Note - This was one of the events 'foretold' in our Tarokka reading at the Vistani camp so as our DM was using this particular adventures 'milestone' method of levelling up we all went up a level at this point for finding an ally in our quest to destroy Strahd. Apparently as the reading is random this ally could be any one of a number of people...I'm not sure we got a great one to be honest...

The Festival of the Blazing Sun
The cart provided had the wineries name emblazoned across it and each of the wines barrels were also clearly marked. This and the uniforms provided enabled them to re-enter the walled city with barely even a wave at the guards as the town was so desperate for the shipment. Easily navigating the city streets they delivered the cart to the wereravens fulfilling their promise and Uunor additionally passed onto Urwin the kind words of his previously estranged father Davian. With little else to occupy them and as a distraction from Sven's constant questioning about when Hans was likely to rejoin them it was decided that they would attend the latest of the Burgomasters festivals to see what form this one would take.

It seemed like the entire town had turned out for the festival though judging from the looks on many faces this wasn't by choice. A parade of very unhappy children in flower costumes were scattering petals as they went ahead of a sorry looking group of men and women carrying a ten-foot-diameter wicker ball which was to be lit to represent the morninglords holy symbol.

The burgomaster and his wife followed the procession on horseback. As spectators looked on the two rulers dismounted to more closely observe as this symbol was mounted on a high scaffold before the church and then various members of the townsfolk splashed it with oil. As the town priest stepped forward the crowd parted to allow a single figure carrying a spluttering torch to advance towards the wicker orb ready to set it ablaze which seemed like a bit of unnecessary drama as one of the villagers standing nearby could easily have done it without delay. Uunor noticed that the sky was rapidly becoming darker even by the dreary standards of Barovia but before he could relay this information to his comrades cries of alarm began to be heard from the edges of the crowds.

Mere alarm became outright terror as foul zombies and armoured skeletons burst from the shadows and began to attack the villagers and any town guards who attempted to intercept them. As soon as the peril became apparent the Burgomaster and his wife ran for the supposed safety of the church and slammed the doors shut behind them though the far braver priest moved forward and attempted to rally the people in their own defence.

Uunor enhanced a spell of Haste with his own inner power to enable it to effect both the barbarian and the fighter before unleashing a pair of flaming bolts at the wicker orb reasoning that if the undead wished to prevent it being lit then the opposite might be in their best interests. Alec swiftly climbed an almost vertical wall behind them and then nimbly ran across the awnings of several nearby buildings, shops and stalls enabling him to circle the square without the crowd getting in his way while Sven and Chaol instead used the increased speed and dexterity granted by the sorcerers spell to navigate the crowd as they moved towards the ambushing undead.

As the barbarians maul turned a group of three skeletons into splinters, Chaol slew a lone zombie that had moved ahead of it's fellows as they manoeuvred through the now panic stricken crowd towards the centre of the undead horde just in time to witness a horrific event. A somewhat out of place bat fluttered through the maelstrom of activity and inexplicably transformed into a tall regal figure that was unmistakably the vampire lord Strahd who then with a single thrust of his sword skewered the priest through the heart with casual indifference.

Bravery clearly overtaking common-sense barbarian, fighter and whatever dark creature Alec was becoming changed course to intercept this new and dangerous foe. Uunor however was nowhere to be seen though quite near to where he was once standing was a young village girl who inexplicably seemed to be making no attempt to escape the nearby carnage...

The wicker ball had begun to smoulder but was yet to become anywhere near aflame shedding only a dull glow to illuminate the surrounding area. The skeletons and zombies overpowered and killed several of the woefully unprepared guards who had up until a few minutes ago believed their town safe from attack but were seemingly ignoring the villagers for now.  Now deep into a state of frenzy Sven tore through more of the undead and a guard unfortunate enough to resemble one of those who had assaulted him a few days previously as Chaol worked his way through more of the creatures on the opposite side of the square.

From his higher vantage point Alec could see a path to Strahd and leapt over those intervening while simultaneously focusing necrotic power into his now extended claw-like fingers. Several of Alecs slashing attacks struck Strahd but did only the barest amounts of damage.

As if from nowhere a pack of wolves emerged into the square on the flank occupied by Chaol while a gigantic owl-bear somehow cursed with undeath burst from a building on the opposite side flanked by more mundane undead creatures. Ignoring these new foes Sven and Chaol moved to engage their vampiric leader instead. As Sven was only a few feet away he began to hear another voice within his mind attempting to gain control over him but lost in his mindless rage the attempt failed and he answered this mental assault with a physical one of his own.

Blows that would have destroyed a mortal foe had only the merest of effect on Strahd with Chaol's own attacks also having only minimal effect as wounds caused began to close as soon as they were made. With his fellow adventurers blocking his view to Strahd, Uunor contented himself by eliminating several of the horde that were attempting to flank them with a number of eldritch blasts though he took care to use his sorcerer abilities to mask all the usual signs of a spell being cast in order to maintain his illusion as an innocent bystander.

As the wicker ball finally burst into flames Strahd took several steps away from the fire and with seemingly no effort whatsoever pushed Chaols shield arm down and delivered a vicious backhanded sword blow across his chest. As the fighter fell back those of the town guard who had fell in the battle began to stir and rise once again though this time under the command of a different master. Sven, Chaol and Alec renewed their assault but even with all their attacks combined Strahd managed to fend them off though the wounds he received in return didn't appear to be regenerating at the same rate as before. Suddenly and without warning Strahd leapt backwards high onto a nearby rooftop stopped briefly to mock the unprepared city defenders and then hurled a ball of fire into the midst of those assailing him.

The fiery explosion engulfed Chaol and Alec along with their foes with even the unusually resilient Sven taking considerable damage. The newly arisen guards and few remaining skeletons and zombies were utterly destroyed by the cleansing fire as were several wounded villagers. A moment before he fell Alec countered the vampires fire with a hellish rebuke of his own and it was this final strike that seemingly caused Strahd to withdraw. As their leader left so did the wolf pack but the gigantic undead monstrosity remained and never one to lie down while there were enemies to fight the scorched and battered barbarian hurled himself into the fray once more.

As the barbarian engaged the undead owlbear and with Strahd now departed Uunor shifted back into his normal form and disappeared in a cloud of silvery mist only to reappear between his two fallen allies. Once again bending the rules of magic he cast the spare the dying cantrip granted to him by his patron on both his fallen allies at once before heading towards the church to confront the burgomaster. Alec had the good sense to stay where he was and recover for a moment though not to be outdone by the northern barbarian Chaol dragged himself to an upright position and joined in his assault of the monstrous creature and much to Sven's irritation struck the finishing blow.

Figuring that the Burgomaster would at the moment be most open to interrogation the sorcerer used several spells of illusion in order to make his entrance into the church as dramatic and impressive as possible utilising the flames from without as a suitable backdrop and discovered the cowardly leader and his wife cowering behind a pew in the church. "Is it over?!?" was his first question and once assured that Strahd was gone "So we're safe now?" was his second. Uunor pointed out that though he was safe from Strahd he was now in distinct danger from those who defeated him due to the small matter of their charge Ireena being kidnapped by his henchman and taken to the burgomasters own mansion. The cowardly leader insisted that he knew nothing of such an event and the Sorcerer could see that he was sincere but still gained permission to investigate the Burgomasters home and the home of Izek in order to discover the truth...not that the ruler had enough guards left to stop them regardless but Uunor tended to default to diplomacy whenever possible. With danger temporarily at least banished the half-elf left the church and returned to the Blue Water Inn with his injured comrades.

Editors Note - Our DM has a 'house-rule' that any-one whose character is forced into a situation where they have to take 'death-saves' and has no access to high level magical healing has to have at least a days rest or take levels of exhaustion or some other makes sense but can be inconvenient if your character wants to do something the next morning, lol.

A Brief Respite
Apparently the peoples of Barovia were well used to destruction and death and they were remarkably efficient at clearing up after such disasters though their primary method of dealing with the aftermath appeared to be drinking as much wine as possible and the Inn was a hive of activity as they entered. Cut short as it was the huge quantities of alcohol allocated to the festival were still available and the surviving townsfolk were doing their level best to consume as much as possible.

Finding a vacant table was still fairly simple when three of your party were covered in gore and being the heroes that had defended the peoples lives also had garnered them significant respect. Even those surviving guards who would have tried to evict them from town a mere few days ago acknowledged them as they entered. Later in the evening a half-elf who they had seen around the Inn when they first arrived came over and introduced himself as Rictavio who had come to the town to provide entertainment at the festival. After some polite but inconsequential small talk he produced a pack of cards and asked if any-one was interested in a small game of chance and Alec offered to oblige the newcomer.

Since his near death experience a few days ago Alec had become increasingly erratic in his behaviour. The physical changes were most noticeable and he had an almost palpable air of menace around him and now favoured melee combat as much as he had once preferred to attack from a distance. The claws he had manifested in several recent combats that were at first thought to be a Vistani spell of some description were now quite obviously an innate physical transformation and the spider-like way he'd climbed up and across the walls in the square had been quite disturbing.

Uunor whose Fey heritage had itself manifested itself in a number of physical ways was most aware of their guides recent transformations but as Alec still showed the same loyalty as he had always exhibited he deemed it not to be an issue. Of course how Hans would feel about it when he returned might be more problematic. The real problem was that he had started talking to the puppet that he had acquired in the toymakers shop and the conversations gave all the impression of being two-way. A subtle casting of a ritual to detect magic had revealed that the puppet itself was completely mundane, which in turn meant that the problem existed totally within the mind of their was debatable whether that was better...or worse...

The erratic back and forth between the former Vistani and the puppet of Strahd that he had sat upon the table began to disturb Rictavo and his card playing skill started to suffer. Chaol and Sven seemed to think it was amusing, not for a moment believing their guide was serious but Uunor who had some considerable skill as an actor was slightly concerned about how accurate Alec's impression of the vampires voice was to the point that the sorcerer was tempted to repeat the magical detection ritual he had already employed just in case.

To his credit Rictavo played a few more rounds before the whole situation became too bizarre and he politely withdrew from the game several gold coins poorer than he'd arrived. With nothing better to do the rest of the evening became a blur of drink and feasting.

Izek and Ireena
The group arose somewhat worse for wear with even the barbarians formidable constitution having been pushed to it's limits with the revelry of the night before. Fortunately for Uunor his fey-blooded ancestry rendered him pretty much immune to the after-effects of overeating, over-drinking and associated memory loss though less fortunately not the intoxicating effects experienced at the time.

The more seriously injured party members had sensibly retired earlier in the evening but were far from fully recovered so when Uunor announced that he was going to investigate the Burgomasters claims of innocence in the kidnap of Ireena the response was less than enthusiastic. Sven was especially resistant to doing anything until Hans returned but as they had no idea how long his recovery would take he eventually relented after some subtle persuasion from the Sorcerer. The burgomasters mansion had walls of plastered stone though in many places the plaster had fallen away and the home had an overall feel of neglect. All the windows were covered by drapes making it impossible to peer inside. Two large kennels flanked the front door and chained within each was a gigantic black mastiff.

After knocking politely on the door they were greeted by a dusky skinned elf who introduced himself as Pietrov and informed them that the Baron had given him advance notice of the potential visit and that they had permission to search the house for their missing friend. Their first port of call was to be Izeks own rooms within the mansion and the elf escorted them there with only a sideways look at the odd puppet of Strahd that Alec was carrying with him and occasionally conversing with.

Some persuasive conversation on the way prompted their guide to reveal that Izek actually had no formal rank within the town and was considered by most to be there to perform jobs that others might consider unsavoury on the command of the burgomaster. On the subject of the master himself Uunor discovered very little other than that he and his wife had no heirs and it was generally joked that the two mastiffs where effectively their surrogate children. Once at the room that was apparently the enforcers quarters the elf opened it with a key from a set he carried at his waist and ushered them inside.

The room was full of pretty little dolls with pale skin, auburn hair and wearing a variety of different clothing. Some of the dolls were stacked upon the shelves of a bookcase and others were neatly lined up on shelves of their own mounted on the walls. Even more of these dolls were piled upon the bed and also upon a heavy wooden chest beside it. Apart from the different clothing the dolls were all identical in appearance, they all looked like their missing charge Ireena Kolyana.

Uunor opened the chest from a distance using a simple cantrip and Choal began to search through the contents while Uunor searched the rest of the room. Beneath the pile of Ireena dolls upon the bed was one much larger example that was almost life-sized and was amongst the most accurate of them all so presumably was one of Blinsky's more recent creations.

While Chaol examined a quality chainmail shirt from the chest which was unfortunately crafted with it's unusually shaped owner in mind Uunor began to read through a letter and a diary discovered within a draw. The first letter was from a woman identifying herself as Izek's mother and was in Uunors opinion indicative of a somewhat strange relationship between the two having many references that he would expect between lovers rather than relatives and the overall tone was for want of a better term rather 'creepy'. The diary had a letter tucked within from Ireena to Izek which was a polite but firm rebuff of his advances from some point in the past which was a revelation as they were unaware that they'd ever met before. The diary dated back many years and was a somewhat rambling but otherwise dreary account of the writers day to day life right up until a chance meeting in a two week stay in Barovia where he'd first set eyes upon Ireena Kolyana walking through town with her family.

From this point onward the diary became a monologue on the sole subject of Ireena and her beauty and it was clear that he was completely obsessed with her to the point of madness. The diary changed in tone again once Uunor reached the most recent entries as the quite insane enforcer noted spotting Ireena inexplicably in the company of the adventurers apparently deeming that fate had bought her to him.

At least his obsession retrospectively explained why he was so keen to attack the group when they first arrived. The final entry spoke of taking Ireena to a special place only described as 'down below'. Uunor relayed the significant portions of the correspondence to his comrades and his hope that this meant she was at least still alive and being held somewhere nearby as a person as obsessed as this crazed lunatic would no doubt want to keep his 'love' somewhere nearby. The mansions prison complex seemed an obvious next stop.

'Down Below'
Pietrov guided them to the jail cells below and it was immediately obvious that this part of the house was of far more ancient construction than the rest of the mansion. It seemed like the house had been built over a sturdier structure that had existed there previously which meant that it could hold secrets not known to the burgomaster or his servants.

Only one of the cells was occupied and the prisoner within was unfortunately neither young nor female. Uunor and the others began to search the empty cells but of Ireena there was no trace so instead they began to interrogate the prisoner within the final of the cells on the off chance he'd seen something. The prisoner relayed a sad tale of how he'd been imprisoned for laughing at the burgomaster during the previous festival as the preposterous nature of the event had finally overcome his ability to keep silent and he had been held here ever since. On the subject of Ireena he claimed to have seen a woman answering her description a few days ago in the company of Izek and further claimed that he'd escorted her to the far wall of the jail area and that neither of them had returned. Unfortunately this area was out of view of his cell so the exact circumstances were unknown to him but he was adamant that they had disappeared and Uunor confirmed that he seemed to be being entirely truthful.

The barbarian however seemed oblivious to the information about Izek and Ireena having become fixated on the unfair treatment of the prisoner and began demanding his instant release and was unwilling to believe their escorts claims that he had no access to the cells. Uunor stated his intention to cast some spells of detection on the area to see if there was any areas of magical concealment and that as these were fairly complicated rituals he'd need some time to accomplish the task. The sorcerer also suggested that perhaps the barbarian and the rest might be provided some refreshments while they waited and once again in his comfort zone their guide offered to help. Temporarily distracted by the offer of food Sven left the half-elf in peace though Chaol and Alec remained.

Though temporarily sated by a particularly impressive platter of honey-roasted meats Svens simple priority system soon came back around to the potential release of the prisoner and his disbelief that this Pietrov had access to everywhere in the mansion except for the one cell he wanted opening and that if his companion Hans was here he'd be making the same demands. Pietrov then made the mistake of asking who this 'Hans' person was...

With the rituals complete Uunor was surprised to discover that a section of wall in an alcove in the far corner of the jail was actually an illusion and suggested that Alec had a quick look to see what was on the other side and after complying discovered a set of stairs leading down into the darkness. Not feeling like venturing down into the unknown with the not yet recovered pair at his side Uunor decided that fetching the barbarian Sven was their best chance of success should violence be the answer. Alec offered to stay and keep watch until they returned and as they left he was engaged in a detailed discussion with the puppet about what their best course of action would be. Despite the puppet obviously having no opinion on the matter Alec continued the conversation as if it had come up with several interesting ideas of it's own...

Editors Note - I've no idea how the puppet thing became...well...a thing...but it is now, and Alec's player is definitely running with it...

Sven's raised voice could clearly be heard down the corridor as a quieter and distinctly scared sounding voice occasionally interrupted only to be shouted down again. As they drew nearer it became evident that the barbarian had taken offence to the suggestion that his friend Hans was not in fact the greatest monster hunter of all time and that this honour actually went to a half-elf called Rudolph van Richten who it was reputed had found his way into Barovia. This combined with his continued refusal to release the prisoner despite not actually being able to had bought the barbarian to the very brink of an uncontrollable rage and as Uunor and the others entered the room Sven looked like he was about to explode.

Editors Note - This actually conversation between the DM as the elf and Louis as 'Sven' was a brilliant bit of role-playing and I wish I had the writing skills to do it justice...

Uunor tried a number of persuasive tactics to calm the barbarian as his other knack which was for intimidation was clearly going to be a terrible idea in this situation. The technique that eventually worked was telling Sven that the rescue of Ireena and the elimination of Izek was doomed to failure if left in the hands of a bunch of obviously inferior southerners rather than a mighty northman like himself. Once refocused on a potential battle with an actual enemy rather than an elf whose only crime was not knowing enough about the heroic monster hunter Hans Velsing he calmed just enough to be guided in the right direction. With all present (but especially the elven servant) breathing a sigh of relief they returned to investigate the newly discovered secret passage.

The stairway beyond the illusionary wall was completely unlit and as only Uunor could actually see in the dark Alec cast a light spell to illuminate the way ahead. He did however elect to cast it on the eyes of the doll he carried and used this as a bizarre lantern as the others noted his behaviour growing more and more erratic each day. The stairway continued some forty feet downwards before meeting a short corridor which in turn led to a square room some fifteen feet across. Seated in an elaborate chair at the far end of the room was the missing girl Ireena who stared forward with a vacant look on her face and despite looking straight at the newcomers made no change in expression or attempt to rise. Izek was standing a few feet away from her cradling one of the dolls made in her likeness and was talking to the unresponsive girl seemingly uncaring that the conversation was completely one way. Before any-one else could act Sven screamed a battle-cry and charged...

Despite being caught by surprise Izek reacted with terrific speed to Svens shout, grabbed for his weapon and stepped forward to engage his ambushers. Chaol reacted a fraction quicker than his barbarian comrade and attempted to disarm the kidnapper so he could be interrogated but his opponent managed to fend off the attack as Chaol shouted at Sven that they wanted him alive. Uunor who had spoken to the madman during their initial encounter in the town square had his doubts about their chances at getting anything approaching sanity from the enforcer and knew they had even less chance of stopping Sven from killing him.

His comrades were however still weakened from their encounter against Strahd and the sorcerer had no intention of losing one of them to an obsessed lunatic hiding in a basement. Uunor cast a weakening hex upon the madman and then unleashed a torrent of eldritch blasts at him of which every single one struck home with tremendous force and at the point of impact each blast wound grew necrotic and foul as the curse did it's horrific work. As Izek fell backwards it was unclear whether any semblance of life remained but this became a moot point as Sven struck downwards with his maul and reduced their enemies chest to a pulped mass of flesh, powdered bone and foul smelling necrotic tissue. Not content with this carnage the barbarian vented his recent frustrations by reducing the corpse to a smear on the floor with blow after blow after blow. Familiar as they were with Svens particular brand of combat this attack reached new levels of destruction and the three were hard pressed to keep their last meals down.

Editors Note - Or more correctly we passed our Constitution tests...

Uunors familiarity with drugs and poisons allowed him to detect all the signs of some powerful soporific drug but she seemed to have suffered no obvious physical trauma. After quickly casting a minor cantrip to remove some of the bloody mess from Sven he asked the hulking barbarian and the fighter Chaol to carry Ireena out of the house and back to the Blue Water Inn while he informed the house servant Pietrov that they had found their missing friend, that they had a hidden passage below their jail that was going to need some cleaning and that they had a vacancy for the position of chief enforcer. As they left the barbarian stopped briefly to destroy the cell door that held the one prisoner with a combination of his own strength augmented by that of the sentient weapon he carried that shared the barbarians sense of injustice at the incarceration and took the freed man with them.

The wereravens of the keepers of the feather agreed to keep Ireena and her brother safe while she recovered from her ordeal and were also relieved to hear that one of their major enemies in the town was now no longer an issue. They did however have some unfortunate news to relay. Upon investigation they had discovered that a sacred artefact had been buried beneath the altar of the church within Vallaki and that according to their information these bones of the St. Andral after which the church was named were now missing. The fact that Strahd had made no attempt to attack the town until these bones had gone missing was a telling fact and far more plausible a reason for the towns safety than a ridiculous festival every couple of weeks. Obviously these sacred bones would need to be found though given their current state of exhaustion that would be a job for the earliest...

To be continued in Part Eight 'The Ruins of Berez'...

Thoughts and comments are (as usual) most welcome.

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