Saturday, 24 February 2018

D&D - Curse of Strahd - Part Eight - 'The Ruins of Berez'

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
We have one guest appearance this time from a friend who was back from college for a month...
Louis aka Sven McHammer - Human Barbarian, Luskan Mercenary
Dave aka Chaol Foresthelm - Human Fighter, Captain in Lady Daggerfords Guard
Garreth aka Uunor the Faceless - Half Elf Fey-Blooded Sorcerer, Spy
Craig aka Raijiin Bronzefang - Human Storm Sorcerer
We also had two absentees that session as it occurred close to Christmas...
Daniel aka Hans Velsing - Human Ranger, Monster Hunter
Harry aka Alec Ivanovich - Human Hexen, Vistani Guide
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, Part Five is HERE , Part Six is HERE and Part Seven 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 Eight - 'The Ruins of Berez'
Introduction
After the devastation caused to the town during the previous few days the surviving populace had began to clean up with a level of pragmatism that would have surprised a stranger to Barovia. The dead had been moved to a vacant hall in the somewhat depopulated town and the few remaining survivors of the guards were attempting to identify the dead as best as they could. Having been informed by the wereravens of the so called 'Keepers of the Feather' that a sacred relic that they believed was the actual reason for the towns previous safety from Strahd had gone missing they decided that the return of such an artefact was of significant priority...

The few guards who like the rest of the town were spending much of their time at the Blue Water Inn (mainly because that was the only place with a steady supply of wine) hadn't seen the priests aspirant Milivoj since the events at the disastrous festival and were uncertain whether he was amongst the dead or had simply gone into hiding after his masters murder at the hands of Strahd.

After obtaining an adequate description of the missing person they went to where the dead were being stored in order to confirm for themselves whether he was there or not. Alec was still recovering from his injuries so remained at the tavern along with the Barbarian Sven who was far closer to recovery due to his amazing constitution but was far too concerned with breakfast to bother looking at a room full of the dead...well that was his excuse but it was obvious to his comrades that what he was really waiting for was the return of Hans who had yet to journey back from the winery....

The Bones of St. Andral
The bodies were arrayed in rows across the floor with small bundles of their belongs alongside them presumably so surviving relatives could claim them. The handful of town guards when interrogated hadn't noted Milivoj's corpse amongst the dead though there was still a pile of corpses to be sorted through so they moved to investigate these also. In addition to themselves the bard Rictavio was also present and was having a somewhat animated conversation with  a pair of guards.

Uunor was increasingly suspicious of the seemingly ever present 'Bard' and this opinion was not helped by the fact that upon drawing closer he could hear that the gist of the exchange was that Rictavio was insisting that the deceased be decapitated and burned. Recalling that this was also their own monster-hunter Hans's standard methodology when dealing with the undead the bards insistence that this precaution was something he'd heard 'about on his travels' seemed convenient especially as he had used the exact excuse to explain away unexpected knowledge before.

Editors Note - You never can tell with our DM whether some-ones being suspicious because they're actually important and he wants us to notice them or if he's just messing with us...

Having more sway with the guards and the local town militia than Rictavio due to their part in the saving of the town and forcing the retreat of Strahd they weighed in with their own opinion that this despite seeming somewhat unsavoury was actually a very sensible idea and one that they would reluctantly endorse. The sorcerer also informed them of their intention to investigate the home of the missing Milivoj though out of courtesy to the burgomaster they were informing them first. This turned out to be unnecessary as they were informed that the burgomaster and his wife had left for the village of Barovia that morning leaving his assistant Pietrov in charge who was unlikely to try and stop them for a variety of reasons but mainly because he was terrified of Sven. With an address obtained they returned to the tavern to pick up Sven just in case they encountered any trouble as though he was a tedious liability in negotiation situations he was it had to be said incredibly useful if something needed brutally beating to death.

Editors Note - This next bit is somewhat of a 'hand-wave' as introductions go but as Craig was only available for a single session it was deemed more than adequate.

On their return to the tavern they were introduced to an acquaintance of the wereravens named Raijiin who had also found himself trapped in Strahds realm and had become separated from his own comrades in arms whom he presumed were now dead. He had been acting as a mercenary of sorts for the 'Keepers of the Feather' in exchange for room, meat and drink but expressed an interest in joining their new allies in exchange for a percentage of any treasure that they might acquire. It seemed as good an arrangement as any and reduced to three men as they were they could do certainly do with the help. Sven as usual needed to be persuaded via Uunors now predictable but still effective tactic of either implying that the actions would be ones approved of by the absent Hans or that Hans might be at whatever location to which they were heading.

The home that Milivoj shared with his grandmother was locked up tight but given that they had permission to make the search Uunor simply destroyed the lock with a blast of magical energy. The home was a simple affair consisting of a fairly large downstairs living area, a small kitchen and two upstairs bedrooms. Unnor and Chaol began to search upstairs and Raijiin began to investigate the front room while Sven kept watch. The contents of the bedrooms were fairly mundane and other than a few letters held nothing of real interest or help in locating the missing aspirant. It was at this point that Raijiin located Milovoj's grandmother...

The unfortunate lady was sitting in what was once no doubt her favourite chair with the hilt of a dagger protruding from her chest. The body wasn't significantly decayed so the murder couldn't have occurred more than a few days previously though Uunor did check the body for vampiric bite marks and any hint of magic around the scene and was releaved to find none. Upon returning to inform the guards of the death they were given some new information in return. Apparently Milovoj and several others had been seen leaving town the previous day via the West gate somewhat laden down with belongings. As the hour was growing late and given the danger of travelling through Barovia at night it was decided to wait until morning to attempt to pick up their trail.

Uunor slept poorly that night though it had nothing to do with the mundane murder of an old lady. Ever since accepting his unusual mask and tome from his mysterious patron he had often had dreams where a specific goal was suggested to him and invariably these became more intense and less vague until he relented but since entering the land of Barovia he had been blissfully free of such...suggestions.

Those he experienced that evening were more akin to having some-one screaming down his ear than the cryptic and subtle messages that he was used to as his patron was apparently taking no risks that he might not act as she intended. His patron was unrelenting in the fact that Ireena must not under any circumstances be left in Vallaki but must also be kept from Strahd at all costs. It also begged the question why she cared about the fate of some random woman anyway...

What was more unfortunate was that Uunor's back-up plan should the death of Strahd turn out to be beyond their capabilities was to trade Irrena for the daughter of Lady Daggerford that they had initially been sent to recover. As was becoming the norm lately he had to find a way of ensuring the success of two or more mutually exclusive plans simultaneously...

Editors Note - *Sigh*

The next morning as they prepared to leave Uunor suggested to the others that it might be a good idea to take Ireena with them as she had shown knowledge of healing magics that might come in useful and was understandably relieved when both she and the rest of the party agreed. Though none of them were dedicated trackers they had enough experience between them to follow the tracks left by Milivoj and his groups cart as they headed from the West gate and deeper into Barovia though their destination wasn't immediately apparent until after several hours of travel they reached a crossroads and the tracks turned towards a place marked on the signpost as 'Berez'.

Berez
The trail hugged the edge of the river for several miles as the trail turned to marsh and disappeared into the spongy earth pockmarked with tall reeds and pools of stagnant smelling water. The entire area seemed shrouded in thick fog making visibility very poor indeed.

As they drew nearer Ireena informed them that Berez was home to an almost mythic figure named Baba Lysaga tied to Strahd himself who had resided there since the village had been destroyed when Strahd himself had apparently bought about it's destruction. With this information in mind they bid Ireena to stay back as they made their approach. Scattered through the marsh were old peasant cottages, mildewed, decrepit and now mostly submerged in the dank water. Several scarecrows are scattered incongruously around the wreckage of the village as there are seemingly no crops to protect. They also bought to mind the tale that Davian had told them when they liberated his winery that they had been attacked by scarecrow like creatures as well as the druids blights...

Chaol decided to investigate the nearest of these unusual scarecrows and as he reached out to touch it it lurched to life and lashed at him with vicious claws. As soon as Sven saw the creature lurch to life he stepped forward and swung his maul at a similar construct nearest to him and it promptly exploded into a mass of wood and straw at the first impact. Evidently not all of them were the same...

Caught up in the moment the barbarian continued his rampage towards a second construct and this one actually moved though it fared no better than it's un-animated twin as Sven pulverised it. With a sigh of resignation the half-elf cast a spell of Haste and expended some of his sorcerous power to extend it's effects to both Chaol and Sven before assaulting the nearest potential foe with a hail of eldritch blasts. Not to be outdone Raijiin drew upon his own abilities as lightning arced from his hands towards an unengaged creature. Even magically enhanced by the sorcerers abilities Chaol was having trouble keeping his footing on the boggy ground and a mis-timed step as he swung his sword caused it to slip from his hand as it caught the intended target at an odd angle.

Editors Note - Which is a face-saving way of saying that he rolled a '1'...twice...

Sven continued his deadly work by finishing off the scarecrow attacking the now unarmed Chaol that had been blasted by Uunor a few seconds earlier. Changing tactics to suit the foes nature Uunor switched from his favoured eldritch blasts and instead hurled bolts of fire into another of the shambling monstrosities with far more satisfying results than he'd previously experienced as it burst aflame before falling backwards into the swamp. Both Sven and Raijiin found themselves stuck in the mud as they attempted to advance so this time Raijiin selected a more powerful spell from his repertoire and destroyed the one remaining immediate threat at range with little effort. Uunor then began to cast a ritual of magical detection to find Chaol's sword before the swamp claimed it forever but fortunately the fighter managed to locate it himself. With this immediate threat out of the way they continued onward.

Ahead of them, built upon a stump of some enormous tree a ramshackle hut had been built, The roots of the stump thrust out of the swamp like the legs of some giant spider. Next to the hut floated an upside-down, hollowed out skull of a giant and flanking it were several cages filled with squawking ravens. As Sven and Raijiin approached the hut with Chaol a fraction behind Uunor instead began to search the area for sign of the missing Milivoj.

Directly in the centre of the ruined village, partially submerged in the mire the sorcerer found a small cart surrounded by a number of bodies answering the descriptions of those who left Vallaki and was somewhat disturbed by the number of children who had evidently been with the group. No doubt they had been unprepared for the scarecrows attacks but why they had chosen this as a destination was a complete mystery and of the sacred relic there was no sign. Now curious about the hut Uunor began to cast a ritual of magical detection in order to gain some information before making an approach. However as usual Sven had other ideas...

Editors Note - Uunors exasperation at Sven 'I hit it really hard with my hammer...' McHammers constant preemptively ruining of my characters plans is mainly role-playing though the expression on my DM's face about the same time his own plans are ruined is probably not, lol. Unfortunately he's actually role-playing his character perfectly so it's difficult to really complain...plus it is kinda funny...

Meanwhile at the hut, Sven was attempting to attract the attention of any-one within by shouting loudly and banging on the door but it seemed that the incessant noise made by the caged ravens was masking the noise so Chaol suggested breaking open the cage. Unfortunately for several of the ravens within this task was accomplished with a swing of his maul and not all of them survived the extraction process with the survivors stopping briefly to register their displeasure by pecking him viciously before flying away.

For the second cage Chaol phrased the request slightly more carefully, this time asking him to accomplish the task without the assistance of a giant club. Sven handed the aforementioned maul to Chaol to hold while he pulled the cage apart however the sentient weapon objected to being handled by another and expended just enough magical energy to force Chaol to drop the weapon. Whether Sven knew this was going to happen or not was debatable...

Editors Note - Sven might not have known that was going to happen but his player certainly did, lol.

This time there was no collateral damage and the bulk of the ravens flew away none the worse for wear though a single escapee circled them once and then transformed into human form. He introduced himself somewhat unnecessarily as one of the 'Keepers of the Feather', warned them in the strongest of terms to leave while they still could and then returned to raven form before departing as swiftly as he could. Sven of course paid exactly as much attention to the warning as you'd expect and returned to knocking loudly upon the door. Uunor however was suddenly nowhere to be seen though one of the mundane scarecrows had seemingly survived the onslaught from earlier and stood overlooking the scene.

With the squawking now silenced the resident of the strange hut opened the door and greeted her visitors...

Baba Lysaga
The inside of the hut was some fifteen feet square and was packed with furniture including a wooden cot, wicker cabinet, a thin wardrobe, table and stool, a large chest and a blood-stained bath. In the centre of the room was a wooden crib with an angelic looking child sitting peacefully within. The furniture was for some reason bolted to the floor and a sickly green light seeped between the cracks in the floorboards.

The ancient lady who answered the door seemed strangely unsurprised to see a barbarian, fighter and sorcerer at her door and politely asked what they wanted. Sven with his usual direct and slightly naive manner began to ask about the group of missing children, the caged ravens and the child in the crib and was told quite simply that only the occasional trader visited the area and none had disturbed her for quite some time and also that the child was here. Only the fact that this old woman could be the mother of such a young child warranted continued investigation as far as the barbarian was concerned. He did however feel a slight moment of confusion as a voice seemed to be telling him that his comrades were actually his enemies but he shrugged it off without a second thought.

Editors Note - Apparently even when not Raging our barbarian is difficult to mind control. He did roll very well though which also helped...

Raijiin was less satisfied than Sven with the answers given and began to press harder particularly on the subject of the child and when he received the same evasive responses began to become insulting. Now certain that persuasion would not serve her purposes the witch cast the mind-control spell Crown of Madness upon Raijiin who countered the spell and then replied with a blast of lightning which was itself dispelled. With diplomacy now no longer an option weapons were drawn...

Extremely doubtful about their ability to defeat this foe based on what he'd heard about her by reputation Uunor attempted to persuade Sven to withdraw by copying Hans's voice and yelling for him to fall back. Unfortunately even the less than quick-witted barbarian took only a moment to remember that Hans hadn't accompanied them and believing this to be a trick of the witches attacked her with his Maul. Blow after blow landed upon the frail old women but her skin was tough as stone and attacks that would pulverise a mortal foe glanced off. Chaol stepped forward, stabbing her twice with his recently recovered blade but the damage was equally unsatisfying. Seeing that even magically enhanced blows were seemingly having only minimal effect Raijiin unleashed a hail of lightning bolts at her yet even this onslaught failed to put her down.

Watching his comrades and their new ally throw everything at their enemy to no avail made Uunor briefly consider just abandoning them to their fate and was only dissuaded by the fact that they were the only allies he had to call upon and his chances of escaping Strahd's realm were better with them than without. Briefly pondering that this was a stupid way to die the Sorcerer stepped forward to assist his actual comrades and the foolish mercenary that had gotten them into this situation in the first place. However the next few moments changed his priorities considerably as Lysaga began her counter-attack.

Chaol was suddenly engulfed in necrotic energy which overwhelmed his constitution as he collapsed to the ground, while a fiery explosion caught both Sven and Raijiin and engulfed the pair in flames. The lightning sorcerer managed to leap aside taking relatively minor damage from the attack but the less agile Sven took the full force of the detonation and joined Chaol in a crumpled heap on the ground. With retreat now replacing attack as the primary plan Uunor covered the rest of the distance to the fallen with a spell of transportation and as he appeared bellowed at the singed but conscious mercenary to grab the fallen barbarian and retreat. Waiting only a moment to ensure that he understood Uunor reached for the fighter and used a spell to open a doorway through another dimension and retreat to where Ireena was hopefully still waiting. Fortunately his fellow sorcerer knew the same spell...

Stopping only briefly to stabilise the fallen enough so they could stand unaided the utterly defeated party began the long journey back to the Inn.....

To be continued in Part Nine 'The Village of Krezk'...

Thoughts and comments are (as usual) most welcome.

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