I’m currently DM’ing a Curse of Strahd campaign for some friends. These posts will act as a journal of their progression, challenges, and victories.
Read the whole series of posts here.
The journey began with three adventurers, sitting in The Raging Lion in the City of Scornubel. The three were:
All were enjoying a well-earned-drink to escape the cold and dark fog outside. The drinks were cheap and warming, a fire blared in the hearth. Suddenly, the tavern door swung open and a hush fell over the room. Framed by lamp-lit fog, a form strode through the doorway. His heavy, booted footfalls and the jingle of his coins shattering the silence. His bright coloured clothes draped in loose folds about him, his hat askew and hiding his eyes in shadows. Without hesitation, he walked up to the trio’s table and stood proudly in a wide stance with folded arms.
In an accented voice he said, “My name is Arrigal and I have been sent to deliver this message. If you be creatures of honour, you will come to my master’s aid at first light. It is not advisable to travel to Svalich Woods at night!”. He pulled from his tunic a sealed, dropping it onto the table. “Take the west road from here some five hours march through Svalich Woods. There you will find my master in Barovia”.
Amid the silent stares of the patronage, he strode to the bar and addressed the wary barkeep, “Fill the glasses, one and all. Their throats are obviously parched.” He dropped a purse heavy with gold on the bar. With that, he left. The babble of tavern voices resumed, although somewhat subdued.
Cracking the wax seal, Rolen read the letter aloud. It was signed by “Kolyan Indirovich – Burgomaster”, and was a plea for help for his beloved Ireena Kolyana. The letter promised much wealth as reward for assistance. The trio discussed, and decided that come first light they would travel West. Though there was confusion, for there were no woods due West. And none had heard of Barovia or of the Svalich Woods.
It was a foggy morning, and they journeyed West. After a few hours, Rolen commented that they were indeed in Woods were none were before. Further more, the type of tree in these woods was not the kind that should be there. The party paused, noticing the fog bank getting thicker. Black pools of water stood like dark mirrors in and around the muddy roadway. Giant trees loomed on both sides of the road, their branches clawing at the mist. Rend had a bad feeling about this, and tried to walk back the way they came. Upon entering the fog, he started suffocating and tiring faster than normal. He rapidly retreated from the fog, only to notice it creeping forward at a snail’s crawl. They had no choice but to press onward.
After another 10 minutes, through the fog became visible high stone buttresses looming high above. Huge iron gates hung on the stonework. Dew clung with cold tenacity to the rusted bars. Two headless statues of armed guardians flanked the gate, their heads lying among the weeds at their feet. As the party approached, the gates swung open of their own accord. No mechanism could be found for this, so the party proceeded through. With a loud slam, the gates shut behind them. Watching for a few moments, the creeping fog worked it’s way through the gaps and seams in the metal and again urged them onwards.
On the other side of the gates, towering trees blocked out all bu a death-gray light. The trunks unnaturally close to one another, and the woods had the silence of a forgotten grave, yet exuded the feeling of an unvoiced scream.
Sniffing the air to be certain, Rolen announced that he could smell death on the air. With weapons drawn, they followed the foul scent to a human corpse half buried in the underbrush not far from the road. The corpse’s muddy clothes were torn and raked with claw marks. Crows had been at the body, surrounded by paw prints. The man had been dead for several days. In his hand he held a crumpled envelope. Within the envelope was a sealed letter – the seal an embossed B. Rolen cracked the seal, and read the letter. It’s wording, though similar to the one delivered to them by Arrigal, was different – it spoke again of Ireena, but that she was being beset by a Vampire. Instead of a plea for help, it warned away any who would venture in.
Although not one much for the written word, it was Diesa who pointed out that the hand writing was different between the two letters. The party had been tricked! They debated what to do next, how to escape, but their despair was cut short by the sound of a far off wolf howl. Within seconds it was answered by a closer howl. The party hastily retreated to the road ready for battle, but no battle came and the fog again pressed them forward.
As they progressed, tall shapes loomed out of the dense fog surrounding everything. The muddy ground underfoot gave way to slick, wet cobblestones. The tall shapes became recognisable as village dwellings. The windows of each house stared out from pools of blackness. The fog closed in thicker, forcing the party closer and closer together as though it were a thinning corridor.
A soft whispering drew the party’s eyes towards a pair of children standing in the middle of an otherwise lifeless street. The children introduced themselves as Rosavalda (Rose) and Thornboldt (Thorn) Durst. They were scared to go back into their house, because there was a monster in the basement. They had never seen the monster, but could hear it’s horrible growls.
Rose, the elder of the two, pleaded with the party to kill the monster so they could go back inside. She pointed towards a tall brick row house that had seen better days. It’s windows were dark. The houses either side abandoned, their windows and doors boarded up. The party entered the house as the fog pushed in closer. Once inside, the party failed to notice the children vanish into the fog. They were too filled with relief that the fog only reached the doorway, and did not press further.
The house was darkened, but the party lit the fireplace in the main hall. Upon discovering a top hat in a clothes wardrobe, Rend placed it on his head with a wide smile. Upon realising there were no magical effects, he returned it with a sad frown.
The party experimented with the fog trapping them in the house. They extended a longsword they found (with a windmill cameo worked into the hilt) into the fog ,and when they withdrew it had rusted considerably. They tried the same with food, and the same result – a fresh apple thrown could be heard landing rotten and squishy beyond their view. They did not experiment with alcohol found within a Hunting room; that disappeared fast into Diesa and Rend.
On the second floor they located a library, and Rolen noticed an out of place book. Upon trying to remove it, a door swung open revealing a secret room. The room was filled with books describing fiendish rituals of a cult called “The Priests of Osybus”. A heavy wooden chest was half open, with a skeleton slumped into it. Inspection revealed the skeleton to have been an unlucky adventurer killed by a poison dart trap in the chest. Otherwise, the chest contained the deed to the house, the deed to a windmill, and a signed will bequeathing the house to Rose and Thorn upon the death of their parents (Gustav and Elizabeth Durst). The skeleton was holding a letter, reading:
My most pathetic servant, I am not a messiah sent to you by the Dark Powers of the land. I have not come to lead you on a path to immortality. However many souls have blend on your hidden later, however many visitors you have tortured in your dungeon, know that you are not the ones who brought me to this beautiful land. You are but worms writhing in my earth. You say that you are cursed, your fortunes spent. You abandoned love for madness, took solace in the bosom of another woman, and sired a stillborn son. Cursed by darkness? Of that I have no doubt. Save you from your wretchedness? I think not, I much prefer you as you are. Your dread lord and master; Strahd von Zarovich
Also despite not being too comfortable around written words, it was Rend who noticed that the hand writing was the same as the first letter they were given – the one which brought them to this place. They had a name to whom had lured them here, Strahd.
On the third floor they closely inspected a set of armor leaning near the banister. To their surprise, it sprang to action and started fighting them. They fought hard and destroyed the suit of animated armour. In another room they were attacked by an animated broom, leading to it’s destruction as well.
In a nursemaid suite, they encountered a crib with a bundled form in it. Upon approaching it, a spectre screamed and attacked Diesa. It appeared as a skeletally thin young woman. She laid a hand upon Diesa’s chest, upon which Diesa turned grey and died. Rolen and Rend continued to combat this creature.
Diesa awoke in a grand hall filled with thousands upon thousands of candles. She thought she was alone, until she saw a horrifically burned figure levitating next to her. It gestured to a funeral pyre upon the table. Candles in the distance started snuffing out, building up momentum. Although she could not see them, Diesa knew that the darkness held horrors that none could describe, and when the last light went out they would be upon her. The burned figure promised that she would be safe from the unseen horrors, if she climbed upon the pyre. In desperation and fear, Diesa laid down in the pyre as it ignited.
Rolen and Rend saw Diesa’s grey corpse ignite into sudden flames, and the flames twisted and settled into her standing again, alive. But her body was covered in still smoldering burns everywhere they could see flesh. With one mighty attack, she felled the Spectre. After this, the crib contained naught but the blanket itself.
Further exploring the third floor they found a door sealed with chains and an iron padlock. Using an iron key found hidden in the library, they opened the door to see the room of small children. In the middle of the floor, two skeletons. The smaller of the two holding a familiar looking stuffed toy, with a tag – “Is no Fun, Is No Blinsky”. The room also contained an elaborate dollhouse, modeled after the very house they stood in. Trying to inspect the dollhouse, the ghostly forms of the children appeared to them.
Rose, speaking for both children, assured the party that they were not the ones who lured them in. It was the house itself that used their appearance to draw in strangers. They died a long time ago, when their parents locked them in this room and forgot to feed them. They did however still believe that there was a monster in the basement, as they used to hear screams and moans coming from below. Thorn demonstrated using the dollhouse that there was a hidden door to access the basement. When the party went to leave the room, the two ghostly forms began to panic, possessing Rolen and Diesa – however each remained in control of their own bodies, just with an extra passenger each.
Dreading what was in the basement, and in anger at the deceit that trapped them in here, the party began using the remnants of the oil lamps to coat the walls of the secret staircase with flammable oil – ready to burn the place down at a moment’s notice. Beneath the house were tunnels with wooden supports staggered around. The first location they found was the family crypts. There were open crypts waiting for the bodies of Rose and Thorn, and Rolen deduced that if they were laid to rest that they would finally be at peace. Their bodies were retrieved, and sealed into their tombs. Rolen said a short prayer in their memory, and the children were gone.
Nearby was a room festooned with moldy skeletons hanging from rusty shackles against the walls. A wide alcove in the south wall contained a painted wooden statue carved in the likeness of a gaunt, pale-faced man wearing a voluminous black cloak, his pale let hand resting on the head of a wolf standing next to him. In his right hand he held a smoky-gray crystal orb. Rend rolled the orb out of his hand to smash it on the ground, however this caused five shadows to emerge and attack the party – knocking Diesa unconscious and outright killing Rend and Rolen.
Rend awoke as a small rat, starving to death. A figure in a beaked mask offered him a piece of rotting cheese. He knew if he did not eat it that he would perish. He consumed the cheese, and awoke with similar burns to Diesa.
Rolen woke in the same library that Diesa had seen when she died. There also was a pyre, and candles going out. He laid upon the pyre, and awoke once more. But unlike his companions, he was not burned nor maimed.
The party realised the orb was again intact and in the figures hand. Wisely, they left well enough alone.
In another chamber they found a chest with many treasures, including potions of healing. They were guarded by two ghasts, bearing the appearance of Gustav and Elizabeth Durst. They were slain, with Rend yelling at them that they were terrible parents.
Descending further, they came upon a ritual chamber partially submerged. A deep chanting repeated, “He is Ancient. He is the Land”. As soon as they stood upon the altar, dark robed figures appeared above and the chant changed, “One Must Die. One Must Die. One Must Die”. Rolen believed this to be a ritual, in which they were asked to commit a sacrifice upon the altar. The party refused, and started to leave the chamber. The chant changed on more time, “Lorgoth the Decayer, we awaken thee!”. What had appeared to be a pile of garbage began to move, revealing itself to be a shambling mound.
The party fled upstairs, igniting the oil soaked timbers as they climbed. Back in the house, things had significantly changed. All windows were now bricked up, all doors were gone, all fireplaces were spewing poisonous black smoke into the rooms. In place of doors, were swinging scythe blades. They smashed their way through a wall, knowing it would lead them towards the front entrance. There they carefully timed jumps through the scythes, and out into the no-longer-fog-filled street.
They watched on the street as the house became fully alight, flames tearing through all levels. Behind them a childish voice begged for their help, telling them there was a monster in the basement. Rend yelled at the illusion to go away and punched at it, causing both children to vanish.