Things are really picking up pace in Ravenloft now. I haven’t done a report for a few weeks, and there’s loads to catch up on – be warned, this a long-ass post (or even a long ass-post).
Catch up on all the goings-on here:
Escape from Castle Ravenloft
As we left our heroes were trying to get out of Castle Ravenloft with a holy relic, while the drawbridge was up, and while pursued by gargoyles and a young red dragon.
The gargoyles were first – they made a few half-hearted attacks, and then retreated,
content to watch the adventurers for now (it’s almost like they were instructed to watch, not attack…). The dragon was their next problem. While only young, it’s fire breath still caused them a lot of problems, and several adventurers were making death saves before it was finally beaten. Finally, there was the small problem of actually getting out the castle courtyard. While seemingly no way of operating the drawbridge, the party instead settling for climbing the walls and zip lining across the ravine. The weaker members were helped along, and a couple of characters fell a little further than they planned, but eventually everyone made it out the castle pretty much intact.
It was time to head straight for Madam Eva’s to return the relic, and get some rest and recuperation.
That was exactly the question. Word was that there was trouble in Vallaki (wasn’t there always?) – the Burgomaster’s wife (Burgomistress?) had gone missing, and the town was under lock-down until she was found. The Markovitchs at the winery also needed help, it seems the druids had come back, and were up to something.
The players didn’t know it, but the clock was ticking on both the options. The druids were planning an attack on the winery, and Lady Wachter was up to shenanigans in Vallaki. Choose to deal with one, and the other would go off.
If the choice is between town politics and wine, you always choose wine.
Which was bad news for the people of Vallaki…
Running Up That Hill
The folks at the winery explained that the druids kept popping up and launching guerrilla (and, because they were druids, gorilla) attacks. They’d managed to repel any attackers so far, but it seemed like they were testing the winery out, trying to soften them up…
The party decided to track these druids down (Ranger skills!) and sort them out once and for all. Following a rough trail through the woods, and up a hill, the woodland eventually cleared at the top. A withered, dead-looking tree topped the hill, along with a wicker statue and stone circle. Surrounding all this were dozens of stone cairns, like graves on the hillside.
Upon reaching the top of the hill, several druids and a dozen barbarians arose from earthen ‘graves’ and attacked! The barbarians rushed the party, while the druids gathered around the wicker statue and began some kind of ceremony. The players didn’t know it yet, but the ceremony was to give life to the old tree on the hill, and produce a terrifying tree blight! They had 10 rounds to stop the druids, before Wintersplinter awoke and ruined everyone’s day.
This was an interesting fight to run, in that it was almost a puzzle for the players. The druids were clearly up to something, but what? And was it worth trying to get through the scrum of axe-wielding maniacs to get to the druids; or hang back in relative safety, leave the druids to it and pick off the barbarians?
The players went with the latter option, which meant the ceremony was completed (just). However the Warlock’s flaming sphere may have just made the difference…
While the ceremony was being carried out, the Warlock player tried to threaten the druids by burning the tree with his flaming sphere (what else are you going to do with your bonus action?). What this meant is that the by the time the tree blight was finished it had already taken around 100 points of damage! The fight with it would otherwise have been a massacre; instead only 2 of the 4 characters were making death saves, and the fight was won by the rogue making a last ditch diving attacking into the tree’s mouth.
This is another Ravenloft TPK-in-waiting, depending on how it’s run. The books has the option that the entire ceremony, and subsequent attack on the winery, happens “off-camera”, so the party simply arrives to find the place destroyed and a walking tree stomping around. Which just sounds mean.
The players survived the fight, the druids were gone for good, and the winery was safe. Even better, there was a magic stone inside the tree, just like one the winery had lost months ago. The Markovitchs were going to love the party for this.
Murder Most Foul
The trouble at the winery dealt with, the next stop was Vallaki. The town was in quite a state: Mrs Burgomaster had gone missing, and the Burgomaster was turning the town upside down looking for her. People were being arrested and interrogated at the slightest suspicion, and civil unrest was growing.
There was some wandering about, questioning the locals and checking on Esmerelda (who they had left in the care of the church, but she’s quite the outgoing woman, and tended to go out exploring). All seemed quiet and uneventful, until one of the wereravens caught up them and told them to get hidden. The Burgomaster’s wife had been found, or at least her mutilated body had: in the party’s house.
I probably haven’t mentioned in previous posts, but the party did set themselves up with a house in Vallaki. Even put a sign on the outside and everything.
I mean, why not just paint a target on your back?
As far as the town of Vallaki were concerned, the party were now assassins, demon-consorts, minions of Strahd, or just possibly all three. It was time to lay low, and consider who might have cause to frame them in this way. They fairly quickly reached the conclusion that this was the work of Lady Wachter, and a plan was hatched to get their revenge.
Under cover of darkness, the group sneaked across town to the Wachter mansion, and broke in. Scouting around the house, it wasn’t long before they were discovered. By the butler. Who informed them the lady and “her guests” were awaiting them in the drawing room.
So they knocked the butler out and kept exploring.
With a bit more time they discovered two important pieces of information: 1) Lady Wachter was creepy af, and had a small demon a pet/familiar, and 2) one of the guests in her drawing room was Strahd Von Zarovitch.
So they left the house, climbed over the city walls, and ran away.
During their ‘tactical withdrawal’ from Vallaki, the characters bumped in the Esmerelda (the Vistani warrior woman, who’s tower and wagon they…investigated). Apparently she’d had to leave her nice little tower, because it now under the control of some hags. Feeling a bit like they wanted to kill something after the debacle in town, this seemed like as good a place as any to go next.
The encounter with the hags was far shorter than I imagined! Knowing what they were up against after their run-in at the windmill, the players just let themselves in and started stabbing. Honestly, I was a little proud of them.
The hags dealt with, the players had earned themselves a new home. And the grudging respect of Esmerelda.
To The Castle, But Not That Castle
The players knew their next step had to be retrieving the final relic from the “drowned village”. They also knew that they would probably need to fight Baba Lysaga to get it. So finding some shiny new gear (and earning some XP) would be sensible. Esmerelda suggested a castle to the south called Argynvostholt, said to have once been home to an order of knights, and they probably had good gear (also said to be haunted, but this is Barovia, everything is bloody haunted).
The castle was mostly in ruins, one entire wing of it had collapsed, and it looked like several catapult/trebuchet rocks had hit it at some point in the past. Exploring inside, the place seemed quite nice (apart from the debris, undead and spiders), and was full of a silver dragon motif. It was clearly once the home of an order of knights, who were unfortunately (un)dead and unwelcoming of guests. An draconic apparition would also sometimes pop-up, urging the party to help, and “restore the light my knights have lost”.
After battling through a few revenants and spectral knights, traps and general decay, the party found one of the knights, Sir Godfrey, willing to talk. He told them how their group had once been a force for good, led by a magnificent silver dragon, and had opposed Strahd but been defeated. Their dragon leader, Argynvost’s bones were stolen by Strahd when his forces assaulted the castle and all hope was lost. They were now cursed to this unlife, and many had lost all humanity (hence the attacking people on sight).
Blah, blah, blah, spooky castle, undead knights, missing dragon bones. The group also found some new armour (off the knights) and a few potions and so on. It was time to get the last treasure.
I’m not sure about Argynvostholt. Like a lot of the places in the adventure it seems a bit of a dead-end, and superfluous to the story (although it does give the opportunity for some background to the area, and Strahd). I’ll come to all this in my post-mortem once the campaign is over, but if were to run it again I’d probably just remove the castle, along with a bunch of other places.
The Drowned Village
The ruins of Berez, the drowned village, location of the final treasure, and home to the legendary Baba Lysaga (keep up), was just down the hill from Argynvostholt. So rather than walking a few miles around some winding paths, the party strapped on their climbing gear and took the direct route, which brought them to the western edge of the village, and a good view of the place.
As you might imagine from the name, the village was a ruin. Swallowed by the river, and covered in a bog, there wasn’t much left of the buildings other than the remnants of a few walls and gardens. Dotted throughout the village were several scarecrows, held on stakes in the mud. Taking up everyone’s attention however was the small stone hut, lurching and stomping around the village ruins on root-like legs. Baba Lysaga’s creeping hut.
Luckily the witch herself didn’t seem to be home (they’d seen a pale object fly off as they arrived), so the party just had to contend with the hut, scarecrows and mud. An epic fight was begun.
The hut had masses of hit points, and hit like a bastard, but was powered by a magic gem under the floorboards inside it. The party rogue and wizard managed to dimension door into the hut, and started pulling the place apart, looking for its power source. Which wasn’t easy to do while the hut lurched about and tried to murder them!
There were two options with this encounter: Lysaga isn’t home, so the hut is walking around ready to kill intruders; or she’s relaxing in her hut, giving the party chance to sneak up and/or face her directly. If they get into a situation where they’re taking on Baba and her hut at the same time, they’ll die.
I went for the first, because fighting a walking house seemed cool, and also it allowed me to have Baba Lysaga pop up later, looking for revenge…
Pulling the gem out of the hut, the rogue deactivated the construct and it came crashing back down the earth. A bit of looting within the hut (crawling claws! Crawling claws for everyone!) and they had found the treasure they came for: The Icon of Ravenkind.
Ding Dong the Witch is…
Imagine you are the witch Baba Lysaga. You really hate the wereravens who live near you, you bathe in their blood keep yourself young, and you have a lovely magic hut, full of magical artifacts. One day you come home from bingo (or whatever) to find your hut looted and destroyed; what do you do, and who do you blame?
So while the party retreated to their little tower, high-fived each other senseless, and had a long rest, Baba Lysaga got into her flying dragon skull and laid waste to the winery.
The next day the group decided it would be nice to give the magic stone from the hut to the folks at the winery – this would be their second missing stone, and so wine production would be well away. They arrived to a scene of devastation. The outside was now dotted with scarecrows and the winery itself looked like a bomb had hit it.
Investigating the scarecrows, the party found that they were actually the dead or unconscious bodies of the Marcovitchs (I was really hoping the guys would just go “ah, scarecrows!” and start hitting them). But before they could help the people, they were under attack from a witch in a flying skull!
Using teleportation magic and excellent grapple checks, the group managed to remove the witch from the skull where they could more effectively smack her. The witch called on some insect swarms to protect her, and threw out some horrific spells (finger of death!), but was ultimately defeated by brute force.
The winery was saved! (That must be about the fourth time now). And the party were now in possession of a dragon skull. Wasn’t there some dragon that wanted laying to rest?
Quick Dragon Visit
The party nipped over to Argynvostholt and stuck the skull in the mausoleum. Lots of sparkly lights happened, the ‘beacon’ at the top of the castle was lit, and all the dragon knights found peace (i.e. died properly). The warlock looted the leader and took his +2 greatsword.
A Final Word From Strahd
By this point the gang were feeling fairly smug. They had all the artifacts they were after, they’d saved the winery several times, freed Argynvost from its curse, and even killed the legendary witch Baba Lysaga. It was definitely time for Strahd to ruin their day.
Returning to their tower, they found their ‘friends’ Van Richten and Esmerelda standing on dark horses, with nooses around their necks. Running to their aid, the party was ambushed by Strahd, the most evil looking wolf-thing they’d ever seen (I’d just bought Volo’s Guide, wanted to try it out), and an undead version of their old Paladin friend.
The main point of this fight was one choice: would they use their awesome magic artifacts? To not use them would mean Strahd wouldn’t know they had them – and so could surprise him with that fact later; but might risk them being killed before they even got the Ravenloft.
The Icon remained hidden (I honestly think the player forgot he had it), but the Sunsword came right out (and was super effective).
For the first time in the adventure, Strahd was on the back foot, and forced to retreat after a bit of a beating.
Next stop: the Castle Ravenloft.