Saturday, 16 December 2017

D&D - Curse of Strahd - Part Six - 'Wereravens'

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...

DUNGEON MASTER
Tom Williams aka every person and creature we meet...and at one point a house...
ADVENTURERS
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
NPCS
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 stats...in 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 and Part Five 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 Six - 'Wereravens'
Introduction
After a violent confrontation with the town guard of Vallaki and their deformed leader Izek Strazni the adventurers were beaten nearly to death and dumped outside the city with only the half-elf Uunor managing to escape using some of the gifts granted him by his mysterious arch-fey patron. After evading pursuit he returned to find his comrades in arms had been removed from outside the grounds and taken within via secret underground tunnels to a place within the walls called the Blue Water Inn by a group of strange wereravens. Once within he was confronted by one of their number who rather irritatingly seemed to see straight through his illusionary disguise and bought to a room upstairs where his fellow adventurers were being cared for with their confiscated equipment somehow restored to them from right under the nose of the guards who had taken it. Unused to anything approaching a charitable act in this accursed land he waited to see what the cost of this aid would be...

Blue Water Inn
The leader of the werecreatures introduced himself as Urwin Martikov and his fellow wereravens as 'the Keepers of the Feather'. He assured Uunor and the recovering adventurers that they were quite opposed to the Baron and wanted only to help any people who might oppose the dark powers currently ruling the land.

As Hans and Sven's career was primarily the hunting of monsters Hans was less than happy about being in the debt of the very creatures he normally spent his time hunting down. He was however also aware based on his extensive experiences that not all were-creatures were inherently evil and that some were fairly benign. He did however make his position fairly clear about the consequences of betrayal.

On the subject of the Baron they were told that he attributed the safety of the town to the festivals he held constantly to foster happiness and his "All will be well" catchphrase that accompanied each one was growing increasingly tiresome. His lady wife the Baroness Lydia had also embraced this idea and hosted regular 'tea-parties' for various of the poor villagers who only really attended due to the food and drink provided. Any-one who criticises these events or shows any sign of not becoming involved is either locked in the stocks in the town square or if particularly unlucky taken to the mansion from which few were ever seen again.

Conversation then turned to the other individuals who had accompanied them and they were informed that the children had been taken in by one of the families in the village as the guards and their leader had no interest in them whatsoever though Ireena and Ismark had been taken to the Barons mansion by his henchman Izek. The fearsome henchman was known as being incredibly loyal to the Baron but also as a brutal sociopath who had put the fear of the devil in every Vallakian and it was also said that few guests of Izek and the Baron were seen again.

As a direct assault on the mansion seemed unwise it was decided to see what information they could find elsewhere and they were given the names of a number of individuals within the walls that may be of some assistance. The second significant power in the city were the Wachter family. Lady Wachter and her two sons were known to be enemies of the Baron and that she would be more than happy to rule over Vallaki as burgomaster. Unfortunately she was also a known supporter of Strahd von Zarovich and as they required Vallaki as a safe place to leave Ireena in it didn't seem like a great idea to put an ally of his in charge of her hiding place. She was however a source of information so contact with her might still be necessary.

A toymaker called Blinsky who had a shop in town was known to deal with both the Baron and if rumours were to be believed Izek as well supplying decorations for the various festivals to the Baron though what service he provided his henchman was unknown.

When the subject of trade was bought up they were pointed to a place called Arasek's Stockyard as he was known to trade in basic items though due to the lack of normal commerce in Barovia he sold high and bought cheap. He was however the only way they'd be able to trade their basic items for hard currency or purchase basic gear.

The Martikov family also mentioned the other main business in town was the coffin-maker and it was clear that they weren't entirely joking. After this last bit of information was relayed Urwin turned the conversation back to the Barons festivals pointing out that the Inn was meant to be providing wine for the event but that local stockpiles were running low as the shipments from the family winery were significantly overdue. He pointed out that investigating this minor problem and bringing back a shipment would go some way to repaying the keepers for their part in saving them all. The group somewhat begrudgingly agreed but requested a bit more time to recover and investigate the town first. Urwin made this minor concession but with the festival being in a mere few days time that a day was all that could be spared before their journey would need to begin. Before they left Urwin also gave them several items that the Keepers of the Feather had acquired from many of the less lucky adventurers drawn here by Strahd stating that hopefully they'd serve their new owners better.

Editors Note - I got a quite handy Ioun Stone of Absorption, our barbarian got a semi-sentient magical maul called 'Resolve',  I think our monster-hunter got Bracers of Archery. Not sure what the others had...but a freebie is a freebie...

Arasek Stockyard
Uunor made the point that wandering off around town might not be a great idea given that at least a dozen guards and their leader knew exactly what four of them looked like but that he could probably disguise them somewhat to make them less identifiable.

Urwin helped by providing them with some cloaks and alternate clothing and Uunor used a combination of what he had to hand and some of the supplies from his disguise kit to change their appearances somewhat. Uunor also pointed out that a party of five would draw more attention so as long as they weren't going anywhere particularly dangerous it might be better for them to travel around town in smaller groups. It was also decided that visiting a potential follower of Strahd without preparation was likely a bad idea so they would start with a visit to the stockyard to dispense with some of their unnecessary gear and then visit the toy-maker 'Blinsky'.

As expected the proprietor of the stockyard offered well below market price for all the items they attempted to sell but having little alternative they were forced to accept. Uunor having several quite valuable items secreted about his person decided to keep them rather than get gouged on price and also took into account that they weighed a lot less in their current form than they would as a bag of gold coins though he did get rid of several un-necessary pieces of armour and weapons that his sorcerous abilities had outgrown. Hans however got rid of pretty much every valuable he had together with a few no-one was quite sure when he'd acquired and several of the others took the opportunity to rid themselves of some items as well. With the trade part of the outing complete it was time to visit Blinsky.

"Is No Fun, Is No Blinsky"
The shop was cramped with a dark entrance above which a sign shaped like a rocking horse had the letter 'B' carved on it. Either side of the entrance were arched, lead framed windows. Through the dirty glass, jumbled piles of toys could be seen next to a number of placards each bearing the slogan "Is no fun, Is no Blinsky!".

Hans, Uunor and Alec entered the shop while Sven remained outside 'On guard' mainly because Hans had some doubts about his ability to negotiate the crowded interior and possibly due to him being somewhat of a liability when negotiations not involving threats of violence were necessary. The proprietor Blinsky was a heavyset man wearing a jesters cap that had definitely seen better days. Scampering about the shelves was a monkey in a ballerina tutu who seemed to be fetching and carrying various store inventory for the toymaker. As they entered he greeted them with an obviously well rehearsed monologue relaying the name of the shop, the ability to buy 'happiness and smiles' at bargaining prices and detailing how much joy his toys would bring a little girl or boy.

It didn't take a great deal of investigation to realise that if his toys were anything to go by then there was something a bit eerie about Blinsky the toymaker. Amongst his creations were a headless doll with a selection of quite disturbing heads, a toy gallows, a hanging bats mobile, a merry-go-round with wolves instead of horses and a dummy that seemed to have been created in the likeness of Strahd von Zarovich. Next to these were a selection of dolls that immediately drew the groups attention as they were remarkable in their likeness to Ireena Kolyana.

In an effort to get the unusual toymaker on-side Hans bought the Strahd puppet for a few silver pieces and gave it to their guide as Alec had been quite drawn to it for reasons he couldn't quite explain but had no actual money of his own to hand.

On enquiring about the Ireena dolls and with a bit of persuasion Uunor discovered that the dolls were a special commission for Izek Strazni (the Barons henchman) based on a very specific description and that he was getting closer to what Izek wanted with each attempt. It was however quite obvious that Blinsky himself had no idea that the dolls were being modelled after any-one in particular.

Despite the oddness of the various creations Hans noted that the clockwork mechanisms were very sophisticated and well designed and began to discuss with the toymaker the possibility of modifying his hand crossbows to make the bolts drop in place automatically. Intrigued by the creative possibilities and the quite substantial requested payment Blinsky was certain he could come up with something to the monster hunters requirements but would need Hans to leave the pair of hand crossbows with him and a down payment for the necessary parts. Still having his sword to hand with which to defend himself Hans agreed and Uunor was somewhat surprised that the hunter paid in advance and in full but had to admit that the shopkeeper seemed sincere in his desire to complete the project.

Editors Note - It's going to be interesting to see what our DM...I mean Blinsky...comes up with...

A Random Encounter
On their return to the Inn the group re-confirmed their commitment to journey to the winery and were provided with a cart and two horses for transporting themselves to their destination and the barrels back. To all appearances being on the Inns business and still disguised as locals they easily made their way past the gate guards and began the days journey along the Old Svalich Road leading to the vineyard. Hans gave himself the job of driving the cart as he had some doubts about the others ability to handle the task. As they started the journey Uunor offered his crossbow to Hans as he was without his usual ranged weapons and despite it not being his familiar lighter hand weapons he accepted.

While journeying along several of the passengers noticed a bundle of clothing alongside the road and bid Hans to stop and investigate. Uunor retrieved the clothing pile using a hand summoned via a magical cantrip and it was indeed an ordinary pile of clothing which the sorcerer decided it might be worth keeping for disguise purposes. Alec was dead-set against the idea and began to relay tales of werewolf packs roaming the dark forests attacking lone travellers and small groups but Uunor was sceptical about whether simply picking up a pile of their clothes would be the difference between life or death at their hands. Hans became the deciding factor in the debate as he grew bored of waiting for a decision and simply moved on.

A few miles later a figure could be discerned in the distance who as they drew closer was obviously naked. Alec once again began his rant about the dangers of werewolves and how he'd advised against taking the clothing but as the cart drew parallel to them Uunor simply asked the man if the clothing was his and when he confirmed that it was handed it over. The naked man thanked them for saving him a walk and then continued on his way though Uunor couldn't resist making a snide comment to Alec about 'dangerous werewolves in the forest'...

Editors Note - You can never tell how random encounters are going to go with our DM. I was expecting a fight to the death and instead got a chat with a naked guy...Though our DM's also not above giving us a false sense of security...

The Wizard of Wines
After another mile or so the road became a muddy trail that wound it's way through the woods. At a split in the trail they came upon a wooden signpost clearly stating 'Vineyard' and pointing to the west. A light drizzle had began to fall as they followed a trail that skirted around the northern side of a sprawling vineyard before turning back toward an impressive building. A fog had also began to form and swirl between the rows of grapevines which added to the dreary atmosphere. To the north of the trail atop a hill a man wearing a dark cloak could be seen within a stand of trees. As they drew nearer it became obvious that he was beckoning them towards him.

Uunor left the relative safety of the cart and walked up the narrow incline towards the beckoning figure. The sorcerer introduced himself and relayed their intention to collect wine for the Blue Water Inn at the request of it's owner Urwin.

A brief flicker of recognition and some unknown emotion could be seen on the mans face at the mention of Urwin's name and it was obvious that he was uneasy for some unknown reason. The figure introduced himself as Davian and motioned the group towards one side of the winery where a loading bay could just be seen. The winery was an old two-story building situated within the midst of the vineyard. The building had multiple entrances, was covered in thick ivy and had iron railings along the roof-line. The trail they had been directed along ended at a ground-floor loading dock. A wooden stable, a crumbling well and a wooden outhouse completed the layout.

The Blights
As they drew closer the rustle of dead vines could be heard all around as inhuman shapes emerged from the vineyard, their limbs cracking strangely as they trudged out of the rain and fog. The bleak conditions had allowed these creatures to get dangerously close before being spotted. Hans managed to steady the horses and then reached for the unfamiliar crossbow lent to him by Uunor as Sven leapt from the cart and hurled himself into the blighted creatures advancing on them. The barbarian had worked himself into a terrible rage in the few seconds it took to reach the enemy and the combination of the heavy maul driven by his vast strength and his berserk charge sent the main mass of the awakened plants scattering in all directions and bought about the demise of nearly a dozen of them.

Editors Note - Our DM gave him some bonus kills based on the fact that every single one of his attacks was a critical hit reasoning that there would be some collateral damage...

Kole followed in his wake and killed another that had slipped past as a crossbow bolt from Hans and a ranged spell from Alec took care of two more. Uunor once again used his sorcerous powers to bend the rules of magic and sent multiple eldritch bolts each at a separate target, destroying four. The carnage and noise was too much for the cart-horses and they bolted towards the nearby building taking Hans, Alec and Uunor with them as the monster hunter tried and failed to bring them back under control until they were nearly within the structure. If the horses had headed away from the exterior battle to seek out safety then they were to be disappointed as those on the cart observed similar movement inside.

A handful more of the blighted creatures were within the building guarding a strange druid who seemed to be waiting for something while another figure was seemingly directing the swiftly diminishing horde of monsters outside.

Outside Sven was in his element as creature after creature fell to his newly gifted weapon as Kole killed targets of opportunity utilising more sophisticated combat techniques. This combination of brutal violence and precision had taken a terrible tole on the ambushers and now barely a third remained though they showed no signs of retreat. Inside Uunor laid a curse on the nearest Druid and then followed up with a blast of magic as Alec weaved a spell of his own and a twisted crown of metal appeared on the druids head, then bending the enemies already hex weakened will to his own he caused the druid to lash out and destroy one of his own creatures, as Hans fired a bolt in it's direction while simultaneously trying to regain control of the carthorses. It was a testament to his skill that the missile struck it's target despite both the unfamiliar nature of the weapon and his split concentration. Alec once again forced the evil druid to destroy one of his own while the hunter and sorcerer added their own missiles both mundane and arcane to the fray.

As the second bolt struck the druid he staggered back before turning his attention to the cart and it's passengers. He started to chant and as he did so he reached out with one hand and as he clenched it into a fist the earth below the cart erupted violently sending it's passengers flying in all directions amid the fragmented remains of their transport.

Uunor had survived the explosion with only minimal injuries though his comrades were far less fortunate with Hans having taken the brunt of the blast. The Sorcerer dragged himself to his feet and drew upon his internal power to enhance his own magical abilities once again and the multiple blasts hit with such force that the druid was torn to pieces by the impact.

Despite their own injuries Alec and Hans also dragged themselves from the wreckage, Alec moved away from the combats within and without and moved towards the rear of the loading bay conscious of the fact that he was near the limits of his endurance. Hans on the other hand paid little heed to his own horrendous injuries, threw the crossbow to the ground and instead drew his silvered shortsword and charged towards the remaining of the druids in the bay.

The barbarian and fighter dispatched the remnants of the horde outside and moved towards the commotion within the interior of the winery as fast as they could with Sven slightly outpacing Chaol in his efforts to come to his comrades aid. Uunor moved to follow Alec confident that the monster hunter Hans could defeat his druid opponent as the hunter had regaled them all many times with tales of his and Svens victories over all enemies. Noting the injuries he was suffering however he did strike the enemy with several eldritch blasts before he moved on.

Hans's combat with the druid was however going far less well than he would have liked as his opponent seemed able to channel magical energies through his staff and his own injuries were taking their toll on the efficiency of his own attacks. Then inexplicably a particularly potent attack slipped through his defences...The barbarian charged into the loading bay just in time to see his comrade fall to the ground and without missing a step careered into the unprepared druid. Even fully rested and aware it was unlikely that a single person could hold off an enraged Sven and wounded as he was the druid was brutally dispatched almost instantly while Chaol engaged a number of sturdier looking blights still lurking there.

Halfway between the crumpled form of Hans and the doorway that Alec had moved through Uunor swore to himself before mentally summoning his familiar and commanding it to move to his fallen ally. Using the creature as a focus the sorcerer used the stabilising cantrip that had helped his comrades many times through it before he himself disappeared in a silvery cloud and reappeared in the interior doorway of the winery.

Wounded as he was Alec had avoided confronting either the druid guarding the doorway or the one he could observe battling against several ravens in the fermentation area beyond but his hand was forced as the one near the doorway moved to investigate the sudden relative silence in the area beyond. Drawing upon the dark energies within he attempted to intimidate the approaching enemy but his wounds were too obvious to conceal and the ploy was unsuccessful and he prepared to defend himself as Uunor appeared in a cloud of mist barely a few feet from their mutual enemy. After making a mental note to never again use that spell to travel into a doorway Uunor channelled magical power and flames through his staff and joined Alec in the somewhat unfamiliar arena of melee combat.

Alec's fingers extended into sharp claws through which dark necrotic energies flowed as he lashed out at the druid while the sorcerer at his side utilised several magical cantrips to supplement his own less than spectacular melee abilities but between them only did minimal damage and were themselves only protected by shielding spells that would only last so long. Fortunately having finished the blights between him and the doorway Sven who had stopped only to scoop up the prone form of his comrade in arms Hans entered the corridor and added his own far more potent abilities to the combat. Unfortunately for Hans this involved him being dropped none to delicately to the ground and this time Uunor wasn't there to stabilise him...

The wereravens were unsuccessfully trying to defeat the fourth of the druid invaders as his Vine Blight protectors used their whip-like tendrils to bat them aside leaving the druid free to act and their wounded had began to withdraw. Now free to disengage themselves from melee due to the barbarians presence Uunor moved to stabilise the fallen Hans for the second time in as many minutes as Alec summoned a flaming sphere in the air above the druid and drove it downwards into her with considerable force destroying her protectors and severely wounding her as well. Stepping nimbly past the others Chaol moved towards their final foe and a moment after Sven butchered the third of the druids he skillfully parried a last ditch attempt by the fourth to defend herself and with a precise riposte killed her dead.

With this final death the winery was free of foes and their supposedly routine mission could now continue...

To be continued in Part Seven 'The Festival'...

Thoughts and comments are (as usual) most welcome.

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