We’re back in Barovia! If you’re just joining us, all the previous posts are available here:
A Den of Wolves…
As we left the party, they were searching for “a den of wolves, overlooking a mountain lake”. Luckily the party included a ranger, so tracking and searching the wilderness were fairly straight-forward – it wasn’t long before the group found tracks leading up one of the hills, a mixture of wolf and human footprints in the dirt.
Now because the party aren’t complete idiots (well…), and they’ve seen how these things tend to go in Barovia, I don’t think they were massively surprised to find that the ‘wolf’ den was really a werewolf den, set in a natural cave in the hill. They managed to get there quickly and quietly enough that they could see the two guards at the entrance, and plan their attack.
…Which was to run into the cave and smack anyone who didn’t immediately surrender.
I’ll skip giving you a full blow-by-blow but this was a pretty epic fight, as it wasn’t long before the entire werewolf den was alerted to the group, and rushed to aid their kin. A couple of well-placed fireballs took out most of the non-were wolves, but werewolves themselves have a lot of hp and hit hard. I think just about the whole party took a beating, and more than one of them were making death saves at some point; but they were eventually victorious.
I also realised later that I messed this up by not keeping track of who was bitten in the fight and asking for constitution saves to avoid becoming werewolves. There’s part of me that’s glad, because it might have derailed the adventure quite a bit, but maybe it would have been a fun derail?
With his dying breath one of the werewolves said something about the pack leader being back soon (and you know, ripping out their spines and feasting on their hearts). It seemed the party didn’t have time to rest or tend their wounds just yet.
A bit of exploration of the cave system revealed exactly what you’d expect from a bunch of werewolves living in a cave: not much. The only areas of interest were a back door to the cave, leading to a stone circle on the hill top (the werewolves’ private fight club) and a rudimentary shrine, covered in ‘offerings’ (oh, and children in cages. Let’s assume the party freed them and housed them with lovely foster families ok?).
The shrine was tended by a disgruntled female werewolf, who didn’t seem too worried by the slaughter of her pack. She explained that there had been a coup in the pack, and her mate had been ousted by a new alpha named Kiril, who had pledged the pack to Strahd. So a deal was struck – the party would deal with Kiril, and free her partner, and they would agree not to kidnap any more children (or something, I mean, who cares?).
In more interesting news, the shrine was full of offerings to the ‘Nightmother’: gold, gems, and a cool-looking sword…hilt. Was this the treasure they’d been sent to find: a broken sword?
Ok, they spent a bit of time examining it later, and it turned out the sword was essentially a lightsaber, and a glowing sword of light could be produced from the hilt on demand. Everyone agreed it was super awesome and powerful, and so would never be used and left with a friend in Vallaki for safe keeping. Fucking really.
But they had the first treasure in the fight against Strahd, and it seemed like this gypsy card reading was pretty accurate.
Cursed and Hunted
Did I mention that stealing offerings from the Night Mother leads to being cursed?
Two nights of restless sleep (and so a couple of levels of exhaustion), made it clear to the two party members who took the loot that they had drawn the wrath of the goddess. So a plan was made to visit the Vistani wise woman Madam Eva again, and ask for some help. It’s just a shame she was on the other side of the valley.
One the way there they stopped off at Vallaki to take part in the Festival of the Blazing Sun. And when I say ‘take part’…
They’d been hired by Lady Wachter to sabotage the festival and so make the Burgomaster look incompetent. But when it came to the actual festival, they made the Burgomaster look incompetent by saving the celebrations! The giant ball of wood that was meant to be set ablaze to start the festivities had been soaked by a couple of days of torrential rain, and so the Burgomaster’s speech and grand proclamations ended on a damp squib. The group’s Warlock then stepped in and used his magic to set the ball on fire, upstaging the Burgomaster at his own party.
It wasn’t immediately clear (foreshadowing!), but the party had just made an enemy of both the Burgomaster (although he cycled between friends and enemies at ultrasonic frequencies) and Lady Wachter – who now saw that the group wouldn’t aid her in gaining power in the town, and couldn’t be trusted.
Leaving town, the group climbed the mountain towards Ravenloft (the only route to Madam Eva’s camp), and just inside the gate were met by the remains of the werewolf pack, their leader Kiril, and Strahd. The wolves had come to Strahd for his help in gaining revenge against the party, so he had led them here.
Obviously at this stage a big fight kicked off, although Strahd himself was content to leave the werewolves to it, and watch from afar. He even congratulated the party afterwards, and was about to launch into a whole speech about how they “might be useful after all” and invite them to dinner in Ravenloft, when the ranger shot him.
Strahd. Lord of Barovia, unkillable(?) ancient vampire, Strahd von Zarovich. Shot with an arrow.
So I gave them a fight. This was the first time I’d run Strahd with the gloves off, and he kicks ass. He’s perfectly capable of taking on the whole party at once, even without any minions. And did you know that someone reduced to zero hp by vampire bite doesn’t make death saves, they JUST DIE.
The ranger was unconcious (but stabilised), the wizard was charmed, and the paladin died. Strahd had made his point, and left the survivors to run to the Vistani camp.
I had discussed with the paladin’s player about his character’s possible death (he was playing a stubborn, fearless lawman), and of him coming back as a revenant from the Unearthed Arcana gothic heroes. So it wasn’t too mean of me to just kill him outright.
Unfortunately he had to leave the game for other reasons at this point, which is a real shame. An undead vengence paladin would have been awesome to see.
Look Who’s Coming to Dinner
More than half-dead, exhausted and dejected, the party made their way to Madam Eva once again. This time to ask for her help in breaking the Night Mother’s curse.
And the curse of lycanthropy, which I had definitely remembered to apply this time. Definitely.
A deal was struck: she would break the curse, but they must do a task for her – retrieve an artefact from the chapel in Ravenloft.
On their way to Ravenloft, a black carriage – bearing the crest of Strahd – was waiting for them. It seemed like they’d be accepting Strahd’s invitation after all. The carriage, pulled by spectral nightmares, rolled across the great drawbridge (it’s a long way down) and into the gates of Ravenloft itself.
The way into the castle was unlocked, and their progress as far as the dining hall was unimpeded. Strahd’s manservant even met them in the castle and directed them to the hall, where the lord of the realm was waiting for them (playing a massive organ, naturally). The party had a bit of chat, some food, and Strahd instructed them to bring him his love Ireena. During the conversation the group were also very loose-lipped about what they’d been up to, and told Lord von Zarovich about the Abbot and the bride. But I’m sure nothing will come of that…
As an aside – I find it really hard to play the part of Strahd. Scheming, ruining the party’s plans, kicking ass: all fine. I just can’t do conversations. He should be this menacing presence who demands fear and respect, and I’m just…not.
The conversation ended, and Strahd bid them good night and vanished in a cloud of smoke, as all the torches and lanterns were extinguished. The party’s invitation was over. But they weren’t leaving until they’d found the artefact they were looking for.
Luckily it didn’t take long to find, just down the spooky corridor and into the spooky chapel. The artefact – the Icon of Ravenkind – was sitting on the altar, in the clutches of a skeleton who was also holding an evil-looking mace. This skeleton was just dead though, no jumping to life when they got near (how cliche do you think I am?). So they had the artefact, and off they went!
…as far as the entrance hall, where the gargoyles in the vaulted ceiling came to life…followed by the dragon painting in the next room. Oh, and the drawbridge was now up, and apparently controlled by magical, not mechanical means. You didn’t really think it would be that easy did you?