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.
Free of Death House, the party proceeded to explore the Village of Barovia. They noticed that the fog never fully lifted, and that the sun never fully shone. As they approached the town square, two things caught their attention; Rend and Diesa were attracted to a tavern and Rolen to the sound of weeping to the south.
Rolen followed the sobbing to a dark two story townhouse. The front door was unlocked, so he entered and found the bereaved upstairs. He tried his best to comfort her and determine what was wrong, but she was lost in grief. She cried for her lost daughter, Gertruda. She clutched a malformed doll in a sackcloth dress, with a tag reading “Is No Fun, Is No Blinsky”.
She weeped in certainty that she was taken by “The Devil Strahd”. That she left a week ago and fears the worst for her. She was beyond comfort, so Rolen left to join the rest of the party at the tavern.
The tavern itself was a bright solid pillar in the heavy fog. Above the gaping doorway, a sign hung precariously askew, proclaiming it to be the Blood on the Vine tavern. Rolen noticed, however, that the sign originally read “Blood of the Vine” – the n having been scratched over with an f. Inside, the tavern once fine had grown shoddy over the years. A fire begrudgingly blazed in the hearth – surrounded by some of the patrons whilst others drank in groups or alone. Behind the bar, polishing warped tankards was the pudgy barkeep.
Diesa and Rend had already started purchasing alcohol, which although unpleasant “got the job done”. Booming loud through the gloom, a man asked the barkeep, “Arik, a drink for these strangers! And a drink for me!” buying the party a drink.
He introduced himself as Ismark, and asked what brought them all to Barovia. They produced both letters, which he read – dampening his good mood briefly. He confirmed that the first letter was indeed a fake, and that the seal on it is Strahd’s seal. The second letter is genuine, and was written by his father – the Burgomaster of this village. He talked of “The Devil” (no one in Barovia speaks his name lightly, or loudly) and his stranglehold on the land, for longer than anyone can remember. How no one can leave his lands, as the fog keeps people from leaving – the only exception being the Vistani, a wandering folk whom serve Strahd. They often lure adventurers in so Strahd can toy with them. They asked of Death House, and he said that they’d tried burning it down multiple times – every time it came back. They put up signs to stop people talking to the children, but the signs would be torn down. They had all come to ignore it and occasionally forget the place exists. Seeing that the party now had the deed to the windmill (Old Bonegrinder) he said that they were welcome to own it for their troubles.
However, Strahd’s attention had being distracted of late, and fixated upon his adopted sister Ireena. He talked of attacks on their home for weeks, and asked the party if they could help, that he had a plan and would give anything for their help.
Ismark took the party back to the Burgomaster’s mansion. The building was substantially damaged, with boarded windows. After a few moments of conversation through the door, the sound of nails being extracted from wood precursed the door opening. Once inside, the boards were nailed back in place by Ireena.
Ismark escorted them to meet his father, in a side drawing room, in a crudely constructed coffin. They both talked of the weeks of attack by The Devil and his minions. The Burgomaster’s heart eventually gave out and he died. During these attacks twice now Strahd has managed to look Ireena in the eye, and convince her to invite him in – for vampires can not enter a home uninvited. Each time he has bitten her and she could not resist.
Ismark asked the party to take Ireena away from the village of Barovia, away from the view of Castle Ravenloft, and to hide her in the village of Vallaki to the Northwest. But Ireena refused to leave until her father was laid to rest. As per their traditions, at dawn at the church. No one in the village will assist them, as they view her as “touched” by the devil. The party agreed, but wanted to reinforce the house. As they started pulling up floorboards to construct pikes, Rolen went to visit the local merchant – Bildrath’s Mercantile.
Rolen read to Bildrath a list of items, however the prices were beyond exuberant – 10 times more than he would pay back on the Sword Coast. When he debated this, Bildrath called to his nephew Parriwimple – a large simple man, and the muscle of the operation. Rolen returned to the Burgomaster mansion empty handed.
The entire party returned to “discuss a fair price” – Ismark did not follow, but asked them not to break the law and to not “tell [me] about it”. Rend decided to try and tickle Parriwimple, until his nephew asked him to hit him hard. Rolen cast Hold Person on Parriwimple, paralysing him. Rend cast Sleep, knocking both Bildrath and Parriwimple unconscious. They helped themselves to the needed items, and leaving a “fair payment”.
As they prepared for the night, the party wanted to blindfold Ireena and lock her away. She refused. They persisted, but she would not budge. As the situation escalated Ismark placed his hand warningly on the hilt of his sword. The party refused to help, and he ordered them to leave. They walked upstairs, jumped off the roof as Rend cast Feather Fall so they all landed soft and outside the perimeter of spikes.
Once on the street they saw a black carriage parked nearby. They tried to walk off to find a group of zombies approaching the mansion, with the party stuck between. They fought them, but more arrived. And more. And more. They were forced to retreat to the house, where Ismark had opened the door and yelled “Get inside you fools!”. Rend was the last, and as he was about to cross the threshold he felt a hand on his shoulder. Turning to face his accoster, he looked into a powerful gaunt face that he had seen before (the statue in Death House – Strahd himself). “Welcome to Barovia” Strahd spoke, before throwing him through the doorway with a strength that seemed beyond his being. “I’m not enjoying it so far!” yelled Rend as he passed the door, slammed shut by Ismark and boarded up fast.
Zombies that made it past the barrier managed to break through some windows, but were fought off. Ireena showed her prowess with a blade. Eventually the hordes stopped attacking, allowing all to rest.
In the morning, Koylan’s coffin was carried to the church, in the North of town. Atop a slight rise, stood a gray, sagging edifice of stone and wood. The church had weathered the assaults of evil for centuries on end and was worn and weary. A bell tower rose toward the back, and flickering light shone through holes in the shingled roof. The rafters trained feebly against their load. The heavy wooden doors of the church were covered with claw marks and scarred by fire.
The chapel itself was strewn with debris, and kneeling before the alter was Father Donavich. From beneath the floor erupted an inhuman scream. The priest was distressed, but when pressed admitted that the sound was his son Doru. That his son had followed a wizard on a raid on Castle Ravenloft that failed, and that he was returned home as a Vampire. Donavich did not know what to do, so trapped him in the undercroft of the church and locked him in – hoping to starve the evil from Doru. It had been a year, and Doru still screamed how hungry he was. Doru had lost the key though so couldn’t free him, and even if he could he could not bear the guilt of what innocent his son would kill.
Rend explored around the graveyard and managed to capture a rabbit. Using a Knock spell, he unlocked the Undercroft and threw the creature down to Doru, who hungrily devoured it. Keeping weight on the trapdoor, the party spoke to Doru. He spoke of the battle on the drawbridge, of being sealed in a tomb, of awakening as a vampire and so hungry. Rend handed the unlocked padlock to Donavich telling him to look after his son, however the priest hastily relocked the trapdoor.
A brief ceremony followed in which Koylan was buried, with prayers to The Morning Lord and Mother Night. Ismark again asked the party to please take Ireena to Vallaki, to deny The Devil, and they agreed. Donavich did not agree that she would be safe in Vallaki, that instead they should take her to Krezk, and the Abbey of Saint Markovia – that this was a holy place, and if anyone could shield her from Strahd it was the Abbot there.
Ismark did not go with the party, as he needed to remain to take over as Burgomaster. And that his presence may keep Strahd from noticing Ireena’s absence. He warned them to keep her safe, and gave them a map of Barovia showing them the way. He pointed to an encampment of Vistani at Tser Pool. He said that although all Vistani serve Strahd, those ones were friendly and weren’t as “fanatical” as other Vistani. That they should be safe there for a short time.
On the road they were attacked by Direwolves. Aa lot of injuries were sustained, but the party prevailed. After being waylaid from the path, they decided to camp with the Vistani at Tser Pool. Next to a river were five colourful round tents pitched outside a ring of four barrel-topped wagons. A larger tent stood near the shore. The mournful strains of an accordion clashed with the singing of several brightly clad figures around a bonfire.
As Ismark had said, these Vistani were friendly and wine poured freely. Diesa entered a drinking contest with a young man, winning. Upon sobering, the man disappeared to his tent, returning with a Potion of Resistance for the dwarf who outdrank him.
Around the fire, a Vistani talked of a wizard coming to the land and amassing an army of commoners to try storm Castle Ravenloft. In a mighty battle, eventually the wizard was thrown a thousand feet to his death. The young Vistani climbed down to see if there were any valuables, but his corpse had already being whisked away by the River Ivlis.
Before nightfall, several Vistani had suggested that the party go and talk to their Elder, Madam Eva.
As they entered, they saw the elderly Madam Eva peering deep into a crystal ball. She cackled, and read the party their fortunes via a strange deck of cards.
She flipped the first card, “This card tells of history, Knowledge of the ancient will help you better understand the enemy. Look for a wizard’s tower on a lake. Let the wizard’s name and servant guide you to that which you seek.”
She flipped the second card, “This card tells of a powerful force for good and protection, a holy symbol of great hope. Go the mountains. Climb the white tower, guarded by golden knights“.
She flipped the third card, “This is a card of power and strength. It tells of a weapon of vengeance: a sword of sunlight. A wounded elf has what you seek. He will part with the treasure to see his dark dreams fulfilled.”
She flipped the fourth card, “This card sheds light on one who will help you greatly in the battle against darkness. Ah, the worst of all truths: you must face the evil of this land alone!”
She flipped the final card, “Your enemy is a creature of darkness, whose powers are beyond mortality. This card will lead you to him! Look to great heights. Find the beating heart of the castle. He waits nearby”
And with that they camped for the night.