Joined: Jan 05, 2002 Posts: 568 Location: Sky Island, So Cal
Posted: Tue May 07, 2019 6:00 am Post subject: Post 62: The Barge of Madam Eva
Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
Post 62: The Barge of Madam Eva
13 October, 570 - A Rhenee camp at the base of Tser Falls, Barovia
The party steps aboard the barge, then duck their heads to enter the covered portion of the vessel through a narrow doorway.
Within, all is dimly illuminated in pools of red light. A small, low table stands across from the doorway, covered in a black velvet cloth. Glints of light seem to flash from a crystal ball on the table as a hunched figure peers into its depths. She speaks. Her voice crackles like dry weeds. Her tone soars and falls like the wind outside. "At last you have arrived!" Her sudden cackling laughter bursts like mad lightning from her withered lips.
“Come in, come in, velcome, one and all,” she intones, speaking rapidly to each of them as they enter and squeeze in to make room for the others. “Thokk of the Mountains, mind your head on the cabin roof, dear. Tyrius, paladin of light, you are about to be sorely tested in this land of darkness, no? Aurora, close you are to vhat you seek, yes? So close! And your guard, Babshapka of the Silwervood, yes, will you find out vhy you must guard this voman? I think you vill, some day, but not here, no. Villa of Saltmarsh, you...vell, I had better not say in public, eh? Ireena, my condolences on your loss, child, yes, he vas a good man. Larry, ah yes, little Larry - ooh, vipe your feet before you come in, there’s a dear...but vhat is this? There are two missing, no? I cannot tell your fortunes vithout the whole group present! I cannot! Please, please to call them in, yes?”
Aurora, awed at the crone’s knowledge of their group, messages Shefak and Barnabus (who remained hidden outside), and soon they too squeeze into the cabin. “Now ve are all here, yes? Take hands, please, eweryone take hands - your fortunes are all joined, this is wery clear…” When everyone in the party, plus Ireena, has linked hands, Madam Eva produces a deck of cards, thin, painted wooden plaques, wrapped in a bright piece of silk. She bids them each in turn mix the cards, but refuses to touch them herself once they are out of the wrapping.
Once everyone has handled the cards, she motions for them to spread the cards out, face down, on the table with the crystal ball. Turning to Tyrius, she tells him that he must select the first card, and that the card “is a symbol of great power. It tells of a powerful force for good and protection against the forces of darkness. You vill need this if you are to triumph.”
Tyrius flips a card over, to reveal “Eldred, the Wizard of Warriors.”
Madam Eva gasps. “This is a wery bad sign. This is in the wery heart of darkness: his home, his source. It is his center and his life. It is the one place to which he must rreturn. Seek the symbol there, but bevare! The Varriors are a dark shadow of evil cast over that place. If you fight there, they will conspire against you!”
Next, Eva indicates that Aurora is to choose a card. When she has selected it, Eva says, “This card tells of history. Knowledge of the ancient may help you understand a foe.” When Aurora turns the card, she reveals “Morgan, the Baron of Druids.”
“Aha!” says Madam Eva. “The Baron is a crafty one, no? You should seek for a carefully hidden place of great vorldly vealth. I see a blazing fire protecting the place. The Druids sustain your strength here, but hold you from your wictory, taking more time than it otherwise vould. This is a good place to rest - but not to fight. Take care you are not caught there.”
Third, Eva calls upon Willa to choose a card. To guide her hand, Eva says “This is the object of your search! Ah! I see darkness and evil behind this card! It is a powerful man whose enemy is light and whose powers are beyond mortality!”
Suddenly Willa feels drawn to one particular card. She turns it over, showing “Basil, the King of DragonLords.”
Madam Eva nods knowingly. “Yes, always brooding on his power is that one. You vill find him on a king’s throne. The DragonLords are a very good influence there. If you fight him there, the powers of good will aid you.”
Fourth, Madam Eva encourages Thokk to choose a card. Before she can even say anything, he flips over “Gaff, the Fool of Warriors”.
Eva smiles. “This card is good for you, barbarian. It is a card of power and strength, the wictor’s card. It tells of a veapon of light, a veapon with a wengeance. It is in a place of tranquility, a harbor for the mighty and powerful. It is in a place of visdom, varmth...and despair. Great secrets are there. The Varriors cast their shadow over that place as well, for he is often there. Do not fight there if you can help it, but carry the veapon forth to engage him elsevhere.”
Finally, Eva looks upon Ireena pityingly. “Yes, child. You must choose this one.” Ireena hesitatingly puts her hand forth, hovering over the table. The light from the crystal ball fades and flares, and then she puts her hand down. Eva says in a low tone, almost whispering, “And here is the root card. Out of darkness and chaos, this card finds the reason and foundation for darkness and chaos. This card shows the purpose of all things. It is the key to life and death and else beyond.” Her hand trembling, Ireena flips the card over. It is “Aurelia, Princess of DragonLords.”
“Yes, yes,” says Madam Eva, almost to herself. “Of course, the Princess - the young voman not yet married, but surely betrothed, no?” Then, to Ireena and all the party, with a tone of insistence, “The darkness loves a light and desires it. Great subtle plans are in motion about you; plans that the dead may find varmth from the living!”
Madam Eva collapses back as if exhausted, and rests for several moments before speaking again. “There, now you have the fortunes of all of you, combined. That I provide for you, as I must - as the fates decree. Howewer, should you vish to know your personal fortune, that I can prowide to you indiwidually, for just five gold a person, no? Now you all leave my cabin a moment - but if you vish me to pierce the weil of your future, please rreturn one at a time.”
One by one the party exits the cabin on the boat, heads abuzz with strange new information. Many of them wish to know their fortunes, and even convince those who, at first, do not. One by one Madam Eva entertains them in her cabin, always starting the conversation with “Place the coins on the table, please. Ah, Lions I see! Good, good. Difficult to see is the future, alvays in motion - and yet, Madam Eva has the Gift - the Gift of Sight. Our fates are full of light and dark, all of us. Some folk - be they pure of intent or simply awaricious, look only at vhat they may gain. Others, those who are cautious or afeared, think only on awoiding loss. I can tell you one thing, just one thing my child, for in focusing on the one, the other slips avay - but you must choose, light or dark.”
When Aurora has had her fortune told, she lingers in the cabin, attempting several times to get Eva to reveal more information about Strahd. The woman steadfastly refuses. “No, no, Strahd is the Master of this Realm, and ve are all his guests. Vhat I told you before vas only vhat the fates decreed that I must, I had no choice there. But I vill not tell you anything about Strahd. Vhile I vish you success in your endeawor, your fate is already sealed. And should you fail, my people vill still be here, and Strahd vill still be here, and I must protect my people. I vill not abuse the trust he has shown me, nor allow my people to be punished for my ill manners.”
It has been at least an hour that the party has tarried in the camp of the Rhenee, and now they return up the road through the woods toward the fork. (c. 11am) As they walk, they speak of their private fortunes - some openly, some cryptically, some not at all.
“So, Aurora, tell us a’gin what fishin’ experdtion brought us ‘ere?” says Willa, with just a hint of menace.
“You know, fishing, the old elf told me…”
Willa interrupts sharply. “Aurora, in case ye hain’t noticed, we all be trapped in some nightmare world. We be fightin’ a devil an’ even if we run, the mists’ll kill us. I fer one would apperciate knowin’ just why we be ‘ere in ther firs' place - an' it ain’t fer fishin’!”
Aurora petulantly starts into her tale of fishing again, but by now Tyrius has become involved. He waves his hand for the party to stop walking - they are now nearly at the crest of the hill, on the road from the river back to the fork. He has the enchantress face him as he speaks.
“Aurora - you are being untruthful. You have led us here to a realm of great peril. We deserve to know why.”
“Ok, ok, I haven’t been entirely truthful with you, but it is a highly personal matter. The truth is, I am looking for my family history. Babshapka will attest to this,” she says as she gestures at the wood elf, who is even now scanning the trees on each side of them and ignoring the conversation. “I never knew my father…” Aurora pauses to let this phrase elicit sympathy for her, but the faces around her are unmoved. “Yes, well, I never knew my father, aside from the fact that he was an elf of some nobility. I have been researching elven noble families and family lines. I did this around Gradsul, and I was attempting to do it here. The old elf told me that there was a ruined city near here called Valadis, and that I might find information there that would help me. I told the story about fishing because I wanted to find Valadis and learn about my father. That is the truth.”
Tyrius stares at her, looking deep into her eyes for near half a minute after she is done talking. Then he says dryly, “I don’t believe you. You are still lying.”
“I don’t see why it matters,” says Aurora, loud and exasperated. She turns away.
Tyrius turns red and stretches forth his gauntleted hand to grab her and force her to look at him, but stops short before he touches her. His nobleman’s pride struggles with his vows of humility and selflessness. He takes a deep breath and walks around in front of her.
“It matters because we need the light of Pelor. Aurora, we are fighting a creature of darkness. He commands wolves and bats and, according to Thokk, he commands the dead. The only way any of us make it out of this place alive is by the grace of Pelor. I am not the most powerful fighter in this group, nor the most canny spellcaster. But the powers that Pelor grants me, to heal, to detect and repel evil, to bring light in the darkness, are our only chance of salvation.” Tyrius pauses to let his words sink in.
“Aurora, your power comes from your knowledge, but mine comes from my faith. If I break faith with my vows, if I forswear myself, the power of Pelor will desert me, and then we are all of us doomed. Pelor is a god of truth, and a god of justice. If I tolerate your lies for the sake of convenience, if I feign ignorance of your duplicity, I am not fulfilling my oaths as a paladin.”
[DM’s note: Tyrius’ Oath of Devotion requires him to enforce, in himself and to a lesser extent in others, the values of Honesty, Courage, Compassion, Honor, and Duty]
Cornered, Aurora sees no way out. “Fine,” she hisses. “I’m looking for information about the Malhel.”
“The who now?” says Willa, both trying and failing to keep the triumph out of her voice.
“The Malhel. They were one of the early houses of the Suel that fled the Invoked Devastation a millennium ago. The settled the Sheldomar Valley along with the Rhola and Neheli, founding Keoland. Unlike the other houses, they were evil. So the other houses drove them out. Supposedly they were defeated and exiled, never to be seen again. But I have found some information that maybe they settled here in the Dreadwood. For some reason some powerful people want this information to be secret, so it has been hard to learn what I need to know. I was hoping to find Valadis and learn more.”
Tyrius considers this. “So you tricked us into coming here to research an ancient, evil, Suel house?”
“Yes! But not because I want to take on their evil power or study their evil magic or something like that from the fables. It is just historical interest, but it appears to be a closely guarded secret, for reasons I don’t know. Yet. And,” she adds as an afterthought, “I had no idea this Barovia place existed and I had never heard of Strahd or the von Zaroviches before we came here. I am just as lost as any of us.”
Tyrius again regards her closely, this time for a full minute after she has finished speaking. “Fine,” he says at last. “I am satisfied.” He begins striding up the hill.
“Now hold on!” cries Aurora behind him. “As long as we are being so honest, as long as your god doesn’t allow secrets, what about you? You refused to tell us your fortune! Don’t you find that just a bit hypocritical? Well?” she demands.
Tyrius responds calmly. “My personal fortune concerns only myself - it cannot harm you. Neither have I demanded to know your fortune, as I presume it does not affect us. But suspecting that you deceived us all into coming to a realm of peril, for unknown reasons? That is not a private secret, that is a secret that affected us all, and that threatened us all. Your motivation in bringing us here was something that concerned us all. I assure you, I keep no such secrets, myself.”
Frustrated, Aurora is not about to give up. “What about Willa, then? What is she keeping from the party? Could it harm us? Not only won’t she tell us her fortune, but she has some kind of hidden agenda! I think she is a spy or something! Probably for the Viscount!”
Tyrius turns to Willa, arching one eyebrow. The dark woman shrugs broadly. “Fair’s fair. I’m an agent for the Crown, I admit. I’ve bin tryin’ ta figger out what Aurora’s bin up ta, is all.”
Tyrius nods, but gives no indication he is interested in hearing more.
Aurora is incensed. “Talk about your outside agenda! Keeping secrets! How can we trust her in the party! What are you going to do about her, Tyrius?”
“You heard her. She’s an agent of the Crown. If she works for the King of Keoland, she has a right to keep tabs on folk like you, what with your looking for secret knowledge in dark places. We should be glad the King has such agents and move on.”
“Aaaaagghhh!” Aurora roars in frustration, and stomps rapidly up the hill, faster than Tyrius can follow in his armor, forcing Babshapka to jog to catch up to her.
If Willa manages to find out what it is that Aurora seeks in the Dreadwood, she will gain a level.
[DM’s note; For fulfilling her “positive” fortune, Willa is now level 5]
It is many minutes later when the party stands again at the crossroads (F), with one road leading down to the village of Barovia and the other up into the mountains and thence to the castle of the devil. Here they pause and converse. Aurora is sullen, and does not speak.
They debate whether, knowing what Madam Eva has told them, they should march immediately upon the castle or retire to the village to wait out the day and night. It is late morning - the sun is nearing its highest point, though obscured by the thick, gray clouds. Some put forth that they should move against Strahd now, before he has a chance to learn that they have been aided by Madam Eva. Others argue that they may need all of a day in the castle - should they face Strahd at night, they are surely lost, and the hours between sunrise and noon may be what determines their fate. They say the party should hole up in the village one more night and leave at the morrow’s dawn. The first group contends that this is playing into Strahd’s hands, as once he knows where they are, he will surely attack again in the night. The debate goes back and forth for quite some time, with more daylight being wasted, until finally those who favor immediate attack concede.
The party then turns east along the road. They ask Ireena repeatedly for where they can fortify for the night. Is there not some stone basement, some safe room walled by stout timber? She stubbornly insists that the Burgomaster’s house is the most defensible site in the village, but that should the devil wish to assault them, nowhere in Barovia is safe - only the great holy symbol was able to protect her family, and now that is gone.
After a few hundred yards of walking, the party approaches a depression, where the woods grow closest to the road but then give way to the banks of the Ivlis River. Ahead of them, in the center of the road, are three huge wolves. The largest is on his haunches, while the others lie on the muddy stones. The party immediately halts, and the wolves don’t move, though they do stare intently at the group.
Barnabus and Babshapka retreat from the party, and then fade into the woods on either side of the road - the halfling to the north, the elf to the south. Thokk motions those who remain to fall back behind him, while he squats and begins chanting in orcish.
While they wait, the party discusses the meaning of this blockade.
“It is obvious he wants to drive us to his castle, and prevent us from returning to the village,” says Tyrius.
“Wha’ever he wants us to do, we should do the opp’site,” insists Larry.
“Unless he actually wants us to go to the village, but he knows that we will oppose whatever it looks like he wants, so he put the wolves there to make it seem like he didn’t want that…” suggests Shefak philosophically.
After ten minutes, Thokk strides toward the wolves, ready to talk to them through his totem. He can see the dark shade of Strahd hanging over them, and they grow more restless at his approach. Hackles raise, fur stands on end. Before he can speak, a hidden wolf breaks from the woods to the north, running full-speed at Ireena, and then the others rise and attack.
Ireena defends herself with her family’s sword, but the wolf savages her off-hand before it is slain. The party makes short work of the other three, and then bandages Ireena’s wound. They return to the village. Ireena wants to go directly to her home, but some in the party insist on stopping first at the house of Mad Mary, to Ireena and Willa’s chagrin.
They try the front door, but it is locked and barred from the inside. Barnabus easily scales the framing timbers of the house to the second story, though the incessant sound of weeping and wailing from within is disquieting.
DM's Note on the Fortunes of Ravenloft
I wanted to use the Fortunes of Ravenloft method given in the module to place the "quest items", with the draws of the players determining their locations. However, I felt that using a normal deck of cards would weaken the suspension of disbelief. Fortunately, I had on hand a set of cards from the Dragonmaster Game. These cards, beautifully illustrated by Bob Pepper, come in four suits (DragonLords, Druids, Warriors, Nomads) and eight ranks (King, Queen, Prince / Princess, Wizard, Duke, Count, Baron, Fool), and so could perfectly replace the cards needed for the Fortunes draws.
I decided that the most appropriate four of the party members should draw for the first four fortunes, as follows:
Tyrius, the Paladin, would draw for the location of the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind
Aurora, the historian, would draw for the location of Strahd's Diary. I had decided to place with the diary a copy of The Chronicle of Secret Times in order to further her secret subplot.
Willa, the party leader, would draw for the location of Strahd himself.
Thokk, the party warrior, would draw for the location of the hilt of the sunsword. Thokk already had the blade of the sunsword, which he had obtained from me planting it as part of Elmo's party's hoard (and see Post 36, Old Elmo's Hoard).
I had already decided the root card, Strahd's motivation, which was to win the love of Ireena. I had known this since our new player agreed to join the game as Ireena. I had planned to let her draw a card and then to read the description for the pre-chosen fortune regardless of the card's identity - but when she turned over the Princess, I got goosebumps. It was just too perfect.
As Madam Eva said above, that was the party's group fortune. I then let those who wished to return privately pay for their individual fortune. Observant readers will recall that in this game I am not tracking xp, but rather allowing the PC's to progress at "plot appropriate points," (and see Post 12, A DM's Aside) when they complete story goals. The last story goal was the successful completion of U3, which saw them all to fourth level. For those who wished to have their individual fortunes told, I explained that I had individual story goals for each of them, and that meeting their story goal before the end of the module would gain them a level. However, I also had negative story goals for each of them, and that if they completed their negative story goal in the module, they would lose a level. The menace of them doing the wrong thing and then losing a level definitely added to the "horror" flavor of the setting (especially considering that even undead monsters in 5e typically cannot cause permanent level loss). Finally, I explained that when Madam Eva said she could look to the light or dark, but that they would have to choose, it meant that I would reveal one story goal to them, but not both. I would, through Madam Eva, either tell them what they needed to do to gain a level, or lose a level, and they had to choose which one they wanted me to reveal. This provoked a great amount of hand-wringing as they tried to figure out which they wanted to know more, and then, once they knew their fortune, whether or not they wanted to reveal it to the other party members. Eventually, those that had their fortune told convinced those that had decided not to, to have it done, although not everyone has revealed their individual fortune to the party.
Private fortunes (Light) - (Willa, Aurora, Tyrius, Babshapka, Shefak)
Willa: It seems Willa is now a Knight of the Black Watch - or at least in their service. If she manages to find out what it is that Aurora seeks in the Dreadwood, she will gain a level.
Aurora: If Strahd is hundreds of years old - why not a thousand? If anyone knows about the Malhel, it would be he. There must be something in his castle that will tell her what she wants to know. If Aurora can discover clear information about the Malhel, she will gain a level.
Tyrius: When the demon Strahd is vanquished, Tyrius will know that he is truly a champion of the Light. If Strahd is forever destroyed, Tyrius will gain a level.
Babshapka: Nowhere is Babshapka’s service more likely to be put to the test than here. If Aurora makes it safely out of Barovia, whether Strahd is vanquished or not, Babshapka will gain a level.
Shefak: Strahd is hundreds of years old, and a powerful ruler. He must know something of Zuoken, and that information is likely to be in his castle. If Shefak can discover a clue about Zuoken’s location before leaving Barovia, she will gain a level.
Private fortunes (Dark): - (Larry, Barnabus, Thokk)
Larry: Larry does not fear Death, for it is a natural part of the cycle of Life. But to be trapped in Undeath is the worst perversion there is. If any of the party become undead, Larry will lose a level.
Barnabus: No treasure or story is worth dying for! If Barnabus dies while in Barovia, he will lose a level, even if he is later raised from the dead.
Thokk: The demon Strahd commands the spirits in Barovia - he even dares to command Thokk’s totem spirit! If Thokk loses a combat with wolves (he is knocked unconscious or flees), he will lose a level.
For the player of Ireena, I did not offer a light or dark fortune. Rather, I had Madam Eva tell her, in private, that there was no point in telling her fortune, for she had done it dozens of times before. When Ireena objected that she had never been to Madam Eva, Eva said perhaps not in this body, but still. Nevertheless, she said, things might be different this time - these adventurers had been brought to Barovia by fate, and perhaps they could finally change Ireena's fortune. Finally, I had her tell Ireena's player that the initial backstory I had told her - of her being the Burgomaster's daughter, was false - that the Burgomaster had actually found her in the woods, at the base of the pillar rock of the castle, when she had been a young girl, and adopted her. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
From his perch atop the second-story window ledge, Barnabus pries a few boards loose from the boarded-up window and drops lightly to a hallway within the house. A narrow staircase leads down; two doors lead off the hall, with the weeping coming quite obviously from one. He pries a few more boards free, then lowers a rope and other party members start ascending while Willa stays at the bottom and frets. “Really? We be doing t'is?”
Once inside, Tyrius calls forth the holy light of Pelor and leads the way into a bedroom. A woman lies collapsed on the floor, hugging an empty dress to her chest. She is pale and disheveled, but very much alive, and not a groaning spirit as some had suggested. At first her grey hair and sagging skin make her appear ancient, but as the party tries to rouse her they see that she is actually middle-aged but hard-worn with grief. Nothing they can do seems to make her respond - she only sobs and shakes and barely notes their presence. While the party is occupied with the woman, Barnabus is casing the room. It appears that this is not her bedroom - what few simple dresses there are, are styled for a young woman and cut for a fuller figure than hers. There are meager possessions - a set of combs and brushes, a child’s rag doll. Barnabus finds a board on the floor that has been removed from the bedroom window. Below, in a flower bed (though the flowers are all dry and dead), are footprints and a rope made from bed-sheets.
Finally Ireena comes into the room. “Mary,” she soothes, laying her hand on the woman’s head and mumbling a prayer. The woman pauses in her sobs and looks up, her eyes swimming in tears but briefly lucid. “Ireena? But oh, my Gertruda! The devil has Gertruda…” she gasps. Ireena leads her by the hand to her own bedroom and helps her to drink water. She collapses into a catatonic slumber in her own bed. The house is eerily quiet now that her sobbing has finally ceased. Tyrius collects food from the kitchen and places it beside her bed for when she wakes, praying for Pelor’s mercy on this poor woman. The party leaves, returning to the Burgomaster’s house.
Ismark has been busy, repairing the shattered back door, cleaning the bloodstains from the floors and the death-stains from the settee. The party sets a watch schedule designed to have everyone rested and ready by dawn.
Shortly after midnight there is another wolf attack, this one even more frantic than the first. Numerous swarms of bats accompany the wolves and there is much desperate fighting within the house, although none of the animals attack Larry. Larry is guarding the back door, and through it he can see the dark figure from the night before.
DM's Note:The following colored section was at the time known only to the player of Larry.
Although the figure speaks in whispers, Larry can hear his voice clearly. The man says he is glad Larry has come - there is a curse on the land, and he needs the help of a powerful druid to remove the curse. Larry immediately agrees to help, and the man is pleased, and Larry finds that he is happy that the man is pleased. The man says not to mention this meeting to the party. Sometime soon, he says, he will ask Larry to do something, to perform an action, that will help remove the curse from the land, but the magic is such that he cannot tell Larry until the precise moment. Larry says he understands, but that the party may want to fight with the man. The man says Larry should not be afraid, that the party cannot hurt him - Larry should play along, can even try to attack the man. Everything will be fine as long as Larry does what he says when it matters, to break the curse and free the land. The man fades back into the darkness.
Larry’s moonbeam proves highly effective against the attackers - Aurora’s web, not so much, perhaps inconveniencing the defenders more. Many of the party are wounded in the fight, and most have lost their rest. It is not until 9:30 the next morning, with the sun well up, that the party sets forth from the Burgomaster's house.
In the morning, there is a brief debate about whether the Kolyanas should accompany the party to the castle. Ireena is insistent that she go, but Aurora is suspicious. Tyrius proclaims that he cannot protect her unless she accompanies them. Ismark decides that he must stay in the village to lead the townsfolk and besides, they have only the one sword between them. The siblings embrace before the party leaves.
Babshapka searches around the house for tracks from the night before. He follows the wolves' prints to where they crossed the Ivlis River at the bridge outside of town. When Aurora remarks it odd that wolves would need to cross the narrow river at a bridge, Ireena shakes her head. “They trawel vith the devil. They can cross running vater, but he may not.”
After crossing the bridge themselves, the party walks for an hour along the dirt road. They pass unmolested by the site of the previous day’s battle with wolves, though the bodies no longer remain. If some of the party feel that there are eyes in the woods, the others reassure them that nothing is there. Indeed, after leaving the sounds of the village behind them, it is silent except for wind and the occasional bird call.
After the crossroads where one road leads to the Rhenee camp, the other road curves around a spur of the mountains and then up into the mountains themselves. The woods creep closer to the sides of the road until the tree branches overhang the road itself. In many places there is almost no visibility, while at other times the road hugs the edge of a slope too steep for trees and the vista opens to breathtaking views of the River Ivlis or the valley of Barovia below. The clouds above seem to darken the higher they climb.
After many twists and turns and steady climbs the road seems to be headed to a place suspended in air, where the mountains fall away on either side. Arriving, the party finds themselves on a ledge a thousand feet above the river. To their left, the Tser Falls plunge nearly the entire distance down into the valley below. Great plumes obscure the base of the falls and what must be a deafening roar below reaches them as a quiet murmur. The space across the gorge over the river is spanned by a massive, narrow, stone bridge, ancient in age and worn smooth with time.
The party pauses at the edge of the bridge, and Larry goes so far as to throw a handful of dirt on it before crossing, wondering if it is real. Willa snorts and strides past him, ignoring the giddiness they all feel as the wind buffets them and the ground spins beneath them as they cross.
Once over the bridge, the wind dies down and a thick fog emerges from the woods. As they continue up the fog-shrouded dirt road, dead leaves crackle along their track. The road eventually splits in two (I). One path continues to the northwest. The other, wider, branch leads east into the heart of the dense forest. Patches of cobblestone show up through the east road, telling that it was once great.
Ireena says she has not been here before, but that she believes the left-hand road leads to the western gates of Barovia (B) while the right-hand road continues on to the castle. Her explanation dies in her throat though, as she spots something at the crossroads, and a second later the entire party is silent.
(10:30am) To the right side of the fork stands a large carriage with two horses. Both horses are black as pitch. The horses snort violent puffs of steamy breath into the chill air. The carriage door swings open silently.
What follows is an intense debate among the party about whether to mount the carriage or not. Ireena insists that the devil knows they are coming - he is inviting them in, and there is nothing they can do now to surprise him. Willa stubbornly insists that she is not riding in that “death trap”. People approach the horses, then back away. Babshapka searches the carriage carefully, then mounts the driver’s bench and invites Aurora inside. Eventually the entire party climbs aboard, even Willa. The black wood of the coach is polished to a fine shine; the leather seats inside bespeak comfort and luxury.
As Willa pulls the carriage door closed behind her, the horses immediately strain at their harnesses and move forward down the road, their hooves clopping on the increasingly frequent cobblestones. Soon they are moving at a brisk pace. The woods flash by, difficult to see through the growing gloom. Though it is only mid-morning, it is hard not to feel as though night is coming as the sky blackens and occasional flashes of lightning pierce the darkness.
After passing through the craggy peaks of the Balinok Mountains, the road takes a sudden turn to the east and the startling awesome presence of Castle Ravenloft itself towers before them.
Having gone a scant half-mile along the road, the carriage comes to a stop just in front of twin guardhouses of turreted stone, broken from years of use and exposure. Beyond these, a 50-foot-wide precipice gapes between the Balinok cliffs and the walls of Ravenloft, a chasm of dizzying depth that disappears into the fog-shrouded distance far below.
The lowered drawbridge of old shorn-up wooden beams hangs precariously before the arched entrance to the courtyard. The chains of the drawbridge creak in the wind, their rust-eaten iron straining with the weight. From atop the high strong walls, stone gargoyles seem to stare down from their hollow sockets and grin hideously. A rotting wooden portcullis, green with growth, hangs in the entry tunnel. Beyond this, the main doors of Ravenloft stand open. A rich warm light spills from them into the courtyard. Torches flutter sadly in sconces on both sides of the open doors.
With the horses now still and unmoving, the party descends from the carriage as a light, dismal rain begins to fall. They cross the drawbridge one at a time. Under Tyrius’ weight, a wooden crossbeam breaks, and a dinner plate-sized chunk of the bridge is freed. The wood spirals into the depths below, disappearing into the fog. Tyrius hurries to cross the remainder of the bridge.
(10:45am) After the harrowing drawbridge, the party passes under the portcullis and out into the front courtyard (K1) of the castle, which is surrounded by tall stone walls. Thick, cold fog swirls around in the darkened space. Sporadic flashes of lightning lance the angry clouds overhead. Thunder pounds. Ahead, torch flames flutter in the wind on each side of the keep's open main doors. Warm light spills from those open doors into the courtyard. Doors in the gate towers on each side of the tunnel entrance are shut against the rain. A howling wind rushes through the courtyard. The dark towers of the keep loom above in the mists. Flickering lights shine from a short round tower on the southeast side of the keep.
Ireena stands transfixed for a moment, a strange look upon her face.
“What is it?” asks Tyrius, and her face clears.
“Oh, nothink. A strrange feelink, an old memory, nothink more.”
“I thought you said you have never been here,” asks Aurora suspiciously.
“Vell, I hawen’t, of course.”
The ornate massive doors of the keep hang open. Fluttering torches cast dim yellow flickers of light from the entry way. As the first in the party approach, a second set of doors suddenly swings open effortlessly and the sounds of organ music flow out. Overhead, in the entryway, four statues of dragons glare down, their eyes flickering in the torchlight. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
14 October, 570 - Barovia, at the entrance to Castle Ravenloft
The party passes quickly through the 20’ by 20’ entryway (K7), pausing only to make sure that the dragons are, indeed, statues. They continue into the room beyond, with the sound of the organ growing louder.
Cobwebs hang from dust-covered columns of the great hall beyond (K8), illuminated by torches fluttering in iron sconces. The dust and webs cast strange, moving shadows across the faces of stone gargoyles squatting motionlessly on the rim of the domed ceiling. Cracked and faded ceiling frescoes are covered by centuries of decay. Two doors of bronze stand closed to the east. To the north, a wide staircase climbs into darkness. All the while, sad and majestic organ tones float about them from a lit hallway to the south. The room itself is about forty feet across, and octagonal.
The party passes into the lit southern hallway (K9). Torchlight flutters against the walls of this vaulted hall. To the east, a dark and forbidding smaller hallway runs into darkness. Beside that opening, a suit of armor, oiled and glistening, stands at attention in a shallow alcove. To the west, large double doors hang slightly open, a steady bright light escaping through the opening. Swells of organ music come from behind the doors, spilling their melody of power and defeat into the hall.
At this point Barnabus, already hanging near the back of the party, retreats back to the north. Retrieving a torch from a wall sconce, he crosses the octagonal room and ascends the great staircase. The main party cautiously pushes open the doors ahead and enters a dining hall (K10).
(10:55am) The magnificent 40-foot-square room is brilliantly lit by three massive crystal chandeliers. Pillars of stone stand against dull white marble walls, supporting the ceiling. In the center of the room, a long, heavy table stands covered with a fine white satin cloth. The table is laden with delectable foods of every type: roasted beast basted in a savory sauce, roots and herbs of every taste, and sweet fruits and vegetables. Exactly nine places are set - apparently one for each party member, plus Ireena - with fine delicate china and silver. At each place there is a crystal goblet filled with an amber liquid whose delicate fragrance tantalizes the senses. At the center of the far west wall, between floor-to-ceiling length mirrors, stands a massive organ. Its pipes blare out a thunderous melody that offers in its tone greatness and despair. Seated before the keys, his back toward them, a single caped figure pounds the keys in raptured ecstasy. The figure suddenly stops and a deep silence falls over the dining hall. The figure slowly turns around.
All hands go to weapons, but the man makes no aggressive move, does not even stand. “I am the Count Strahd von Zarovich,” he says, “Velcome to Castle Ravenloft. Please, please be my guests and refresh yourselves.” He gestures to the laden table before them.
Thokk and Larry shrug and approach the table but do not sit. Larry grabs small potatoes with his hands, sniffs them, and begins eating. Thokk rips off a piece of the beast and savors the flesh, nodding appreciatively.
Aurora attempts to engage the count in conversation. “Von Zarovich..what an interesting family name! Suel, I’d wager. Is it the Malhel house?”
The count shakes his head ruefully. “No, the Malhel had destroyed themselves long before I conquered this valley and began my rule here.”
“And the city of Valadis?”
“Vas already in ruins when I arrived. Still, it is protected by the elves, and I do not mind that my land is in its shadow - it keeps things peaceful here, as they should be.”
The count looks again at the party. “Vill none of the rest of you accept my hospitality?” No one moves to sit at the table. “So be it!”
The count disappears with a mocking laugh. Instantly, a fierce, bone-chilling wind rises up and roars through the hall, putting out all the lights - from the chandeliers to the candles on the table to the torches in the hallway beyond. The party can hear the screech of ancient hinges and the solid thud of many heavy doors slamming shut, one after another, into the distance, from deep within the castle. They also hear the portcullis clang shut, and the tired groan of the aged drawbridge pulling up.
Meanwhile, Barnabus has ascended thirty feet and attained a landing 20 feet wide by 40 feet long at the top of the massive staircase (K19). Stone arches support a ceiling covered with frescoes, 20 feet overhead. The frescoes’ faded lines depict armored forces on horseback taking by force the stone mountain atop which Ravenloft stands. The faces of the characters in the fresco are scratched beyond recognition. Dust floats in the air here, making it difficult for him to see details. There is a staircase on each side of the 20-foot-wide south wall. There are two alcoves between the staircases. Light filtering through the dust shows two suits of armor covered with dark stains, one standing in each alcove. Each suit of armor holds a mace designed like a curved dragon head. Engraved words on the arches above the alcoves are scratched out. As Barnabus approaches the armor, he feels a draft and hears a great gust of wind from the castle below. A second later come the cries of the party for help, and for him. He turns and rushes down the stairs into the now-dark entry hall. It appears that all of the torches have been blown out, with only the one he carried to the landing above spared.
In the dining hall below the party stands in darkness. Wind whistles through the confines of the room. Crystal sings in the darkness as the great chandeliers rustle in the wind. The fragrance of food wafts its way to them. By the time Barnabus has reached them, Tyrius has called forth the holy light of Pelor. The count is nowhere to be seen.
Barnabus’ torch is used to re-light the candles on the table, and then Aurora mage hands a candle up to light the ones in the chandelier. As soon as the room is brightly lit, they begin to search it for any sign of the count or his exit point.
As Babshapka is looking under the organ bench, he sees an odd-looking panel at the base of the organ. It pries off easily, revealing a crawl space running under the organ and through the wall into a neighboring room that appears to be lit as well. Barnabus is dispatched through the tunnel.
(11:05am) Barnabus emerges in a 20 foot square chamber, but passages extend left and right. Standing up, he sees a dark shape looming above him, so he instinctively crouches and rolls, coming up again with weapons drawn. The shape has not moved, so he stands and examines it - it is actually a mannequin of a tall, dark figure in a flowing cape, suspended from the ceiling by a number of black cords. There are several mirrors in this room. Old archers' slits in the north and west walls are bricked up. There are no light sources in the room, but through the arched corridor to the south comes abundant torchlight.
As Barnabus stands, the rest of the party in the dining hall sees him appear back with them. He looks completely realistic - but they can pass their hands through him. Barnabus goes over to the wall, where a series of pulleys connect to the cords that suspend the figure. He lowers it, and suddenly in the dining hall there appears the “count”, floating in mid-air.
One by one the party crawls through to join Barnabus, and one-by one those remaining in the dining hall see their insubstantial images appear. When those that have passed through speak, a trick of acoustics makes it sound like the voices are coming from the area of the organ.
(11:15am) Some of the party explore the passageway to the south. It opens into a thirty-foot circle, the base of one of the corner towers of the castle (K12). A high domed ceiling caps the room. Frescoes, faded with age, adorn the ceiling, but are impossible to make out. Tall, thin arrow slits look out over the courtyard, and these are not bricked up. Torches blaze in wall sconces, and appear to be the source of the lights seen in this tower when the party entered the courtyard. The sound of rain is strong, and looking through the arrow slits they can see that the storm has worsened and the downpour outside makes it look nearly as black as night, although it should be approaching mid-day.
Around the corner lies a passageway deeper into the castle - a long, narrow corridor running east and west (K13). Cobwebs fill the hall and obstruct sight beyond a few feet. The party pauses to converse. They deduce that the real Strahd was running the mannequin, and speaking with them, but are not sure why whatever magical or visual trick that projects images into the dining hall did not work on him. Furthermore, if he was actually in the mirror room the whole time, they have found no means for him to leave besides this corridor - but from the look of the cobwebs, no one has passed this way recently. They spend some time searching both the tower and the mirror room for secret doors but do not find any, and finally decide to continue along the corridor. Their passage is immediately obvious, as they disturb the webs and leave new footprints on the dusty floor.
At the end of the hall is a spiral staircase of gray, dusty stones. Its steps provide access both up and down (K64).
The party ascends the corkscrew turns for several revolutions until it comes out onto the landing in a darkened hall similar to the one they left. The stairwell continues up, however, and they keep going, the noise of wind and rain growing continually louder. Finally they stand out upon the battlements of the castle itself, having passed through an archway but no door.
The air is filled with rain and lit by flashes of lightning. A wide walkway passes around most of the keep. To the right it flanks the walls of the main keep itself, while directly ahead it passes along the top of a curtain wall (K46).
Far below these parapets are the shining wet cobblestones of the courtyard. A few of them scout out along the parapet, passing three dark, leaded glass windows before reaching the tower at the front of the courtyard. Seeing no movement and nothing of interest on the battlements or in the courtyard below, they quickly return to the party and descend back down the stair.
They pass out into the hallway of the second floor. It is dark, dusty, and filled with cobwebs, just as the one below had been. They move cautiously along the hallway, still using Barnabus’ torch. They have passed along about half the length of the corridor when Babshapka spots odd stonework on the interior wall. After a few pokes and prods, he succeeds in opening a secret door, but hesitates before going in. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
(11:30am) Impatiently, Thokk thrusts Babshapka aside and enters the secret door. Immediately he feels the presence of a creature, even before he sees the dark man brooding on the throne. Tendrils of power clutch at his mind, dull his senses, urge him to comply. “GET OUT OF MY HEAD, DEMON!” roars the half-orc, and draws his sword as he charges the throne. [Thokk successfully saves vs. charm, and in response, rages]
Thokk is blind with rage, and only dimly notes how similar the figure is to that of the “count” in the dining hall below. The half-orc bounds up the dais and plunges his sword deep into the man’s chest - above the heart, but below the shoulder. The blade pierces flesh and embeds itself into the wooden back of the throne, impaling the man so that he cannot move.
Outside in the hall is chaos. Ireena is backing away from the opening, while most of the party mills about, each trying to give way to the others, none willing to enter. Finally Tyrius pushes his way to the front and shouts “By the Light of Pelor!” as he moves into the room. Divine radiance bursts forth from his holy symbol and fills the room. The man on the throne, who seemed to barely notice being pierced by the sword, winces as if in pain and with his free hand draws his cloak up over his face. His form wavers for a second, then collapses as he turns to a black vapor. The cloud passes swiftly through the room and retreats down a flight of stairs in the back.
With the man (Strahd?) fled, the rest of the party enters (K25). A large window fills the west wall. The immense room stands in chilly, brooding darkness. Hundreds of dust-thick cobwebs drape the room, hiding the ceiling from view. Directly across from the window are double doors in the east wall. Ornate door carvings are obscured by a thick layer of dust. Further south, a single door also opens along the east wall. At the far southern end of the hall, where the party clusters, a huge throne stands atop a raised platform. The back of the throne is turned to the room. Staircases at both ends of the north wall lead down - one of them being the exit taken by the cloud.
Still standing on the dais, Thokk puts a muddy booted foot on the rich upholstery of the throne to steady himself as he yanks his sword free. Holding it above his head he shouts to the party, “I killed Strahd! THOKK KILLED THE DEVIL!”
[DM's note: Thokk's player chose to have Madam Eva reveal his "negative fortune". He was unaware of his "positive fortune" until he completed it:
"Now here is a worthy opponent! If Thokk crushes Strahd, who will dare to stand against his rage? Thokk will gain a level if he is the one to land the blow that destroys Strahd."
Of course, Strahd was not destroyed here - when his attempt to charm Thokk failed, he chose to use his mistform and retreat. But because Thokk believed that he had killed Strahd, I decided to treat it as a fulfilled fortune and award him the level. Thokk is now level 5.]
Willa is silent, transfixed by the features of the room. Her eyes move between the throne and the faded wall frescoes, depicting lords and ladies from long ago. Finally, she mumbles the words spoken the day before by Madam Eva:
This is the object of your search. I see darkness and evil.
It is a powerful man whose enemy is light and whose powers are beyond mortality.
Always brooding on his power is that one. You vill find him on a king’s throne.
The Dragonlords are a very good influence there.
If you fight him there, the powers of good will aid you.
[DM’s Note: For finding the throne room, the place indicated in her group fortune, Willa has gained an Inspiration Point. She uses it to re-roll her recently-gained level 5 hit points]
Tyrius surveys the room. “Something is wrong here.”
“What’s that?” asks Aurora.
“This is obviously an audience chamber - I imagine petitioners enter from the floor below via the staircases. The dais is set to survey the room - but the throne is backwards. It should be facing the whole room, not be turned away from it, facing the wall we came through.”
“Unless,” says Ireena, and she moves around the dais to see the back of the throne. “Unless the light from that vindow falls into the room, and the devil on his throne vants to remain in darkness.”
“We must give thanks for surviving this encounter,” says Tyrius. “We must pray.” He strides over to the window. His divine light now gone, the room is dim. Wan daylight does penetrate the storm clouds and come in jagged shafts through the broken glass and iron frames of the window in the west wall. Tyrius kneels on the floor in the center of the patch of dim light and holds out his holy symbol. Ireena moves to his side, kneels and prays with him - her hand going to the symbol clasped around her neck.
“Yeah, well, don’t take too long,” says Willa. “We’ll be nearby. An’ Tyrius, while yer thankin’ the Sun God, ye might want t’ say a word o’ two t’ the Dragonlords, as well.” She runs her hand along one of the dusty wall frescoes on her way back to the secret door.
A few of the party stay in the room to watch over Tyrius and Ireena while their eyes are closed in prayer; the rest follow Willa back out into the hallway.
The hallway ends in a guard tower (K12) with a layout identical to the one directly beneath it. They poke around in the dust, then proceed to the next chamber, itself a replica of the mirror room below, but without the mirrors and mannequin. With an excellent field of view, it is obviously where archers used to defend the keep (K22). The castle courtyard is visible through narrow archers' slits that line the walls. After a brief search for secret doors, they return to the throne room.
(11:40am) Seeing that Tyrius is standing, Willa calls to him, “Any news from th’ Sun God?”
“As a matter of fact, there is,” he replies smugly, then thinks better of it and tries to adopt a modest countenance. “Merciful Pelor saw fit to tell me that the devil we face can be harmed by sunlight - actual, real sunlight - not the poor imitation I can call on at will. Producing such an effect is beyond my modest ability, but I have been given to understand that by acting in concert with Larry, if we both call upon Pelor together, we will have sufficient strength between us to produce true sunlight. That may be key to our defeat of the devil.”
Thokk snorts. “Pray all you want, sun-man. Thokk already defeated demon. All that remains is killing his servants and taking his women.” Ireena flushes and Tyrius moves between her and the half-orc.
(11:50am) After some more idle banter, the party arranges themselves outside of the single ornate wooden door. They carefully peer in (K30). Dusty scrolls and tomes line the walls of this room and are scattered across the floor. In the center of all this clutter stands a huge desk. A figure crouches atop a tall stool, scratching a seemingly endless scroll of paper with a dry quill pen. A rope hangs next to the creature from a hole in the ceiling. The party moves in rapidly to prevent the creature from pulling the rope, but after that they are friendly with him. He introduces himself as Lief Lipsage, accountant to the Count. He appears human, but incredibly withered and ancient. At one point they realize that his leg is chained to the desk, and he whispers that he displeased the count, once, and has been chained here since. The scrolls all around him are records of the count’s treasures, taxes, and tithes, money owed and accounts paid. The books are all on accounting procedure and valuing nonmonetary goods. Aurora makes sure there is no other kind of book or scroll among them. In doing so, she finds piles of coins under the scrolls, but no histories or spell books.
The party relies on Ireena to check his story, and she converses with him about how many eggs Barovia has to send to the castle and so forth, what the other nearby villages send, and such matters - she says that he seems honest and legitimate. He has no sense of how long he has been here, saying “many years” but the party thinks it must be decades at least. They ask if they should free him, but he grows worried about what the count will do and demurs. They show him some kindness, helping to tidy his desk, reaching things in the far corners of the room that his chain makes difficult for him to retrieve, etc. He repays them by offering them directions, at their request, to the study of the count - which he says is just through a hall and up a flight of stairs nearby. He even sketches them a map.
The party takes their leave of the accountant and tries the doors he suggested - the massive double-doors in the audience room.
(12 pm) The doors open into a quiet 10-foot-wide section of dark corridor from the east and west (K26). From both sides of the corridor, deep alcoves of darkness face each other with deathlike silence. Almost beyond sight, seeming to float within the alcoves' blackness, human figures can be made out.
Upon inspection, the figures are found to be human skeletons, but dead, not undead. They wear the rotten and faded liveries of army units or palace guards, but the colors and designs are none that Aurora recognizes. The uniforms produce an unsettling effect on Ireena, though, and she urges the party to keep moving. Lief’s sketch map shows a corridor continuing beyond the guard to the left, while in actuality it appears to dead-end in the alcove. As Thokk plays idly with the spear that impales the man upright, he activates a portal that opens into a hallway beyond, and Ireena is through the secret door immediately.
Many in the party are not done with the hallway, however. Thokk investigates the other skeleton, while others open the double-doors facing the way they entered. The 20-foot-wide hall beyond (K27) has a dark, vaulted ceiling, on which shadows seem to dance. A low moan rises and falls the length of the corridor, intoning sadness and despair. That seems enough to convince them to move on.
The short corridor beyond the secret door ends in a stone wall, but at the far end a staircase ascends to the left, and a door lies along the left-hand wall about halfway down. The party has a hushed conversation as they make their way to the stairs - some believe that the castle is traveling in time, or trapped in time, or has a strange temporal effect on its inhabitants. They are seeking some way to explain the ancient accountant, and the uniformed guards from another age.
Before they can mount the stairs, however, Barnabus decides to investigate the door. Inside (K32) is lit by candles, and stained, yellowed lace hangs neatly from eight canopied beds. The single lithe figure of a woman moves about the room, dusting the furniture. Her maid’s uniform is of an ancient style, but is tight-fitting and immodestly revealing. As the party enters the room they are immediately suspicious. The woman addresses them as her saviors, and begs to be rescued from forced servitude to the wicked Strahd. She says she is a daughter of Barovia, and even recognizes Ireena, while calling herself Helga.
The party plays along, agreeing to help her while all the while surrounding her. When Tyrius holds forth his holy symbol, she cringes in pain and reveals fangs in the place of teeth.
The party attacks her as one and soon dispatches her. Just to be sure, Tyrius has her body wrapped in lace from the beds and set afire. Her corpse burns far more hotly than that of a person would, and in the end only ash remains - no bones. Ireena says that a youth named Helga did disappear from Barovia - but that was twenty years or more ago, before Ireena was born, and she only knew of it from her father’s tales.
The party quickly searches the room. Although there is a woman’s toilette with wash basins, rouge, brushes, and so forth, Aurora finds it curious that nowhere in the chamber is a mirror, even a small hand-held one. They proceed up the stairs, with Willa berating them for the heavy smell of smoke that lingers in the hall and warning them against any more diversions. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
Joined: Jan 05, 2002 Posts: 568 Location: Sky Island, So Cal
Posted: Tue Jun 04, 2019 11:49 am Post subject: Post 66: Strahd the Devil and Appropriate Level
Post 66: Strahd the Devil and Appropriate Level
Both the original module and the 5e conversion that I used make it clear that Strahd should easily win any prolonged confrontation with the party. This is his land, and he should overpower them. If his goal was to kill them, that would be eventually accomplished, with little they could do about it.
The 5e conversion states that it was designed for a party of six characters of 5th level. My PC's were eight characters of 4th level, at the start of the module. Strahd has a CR of 13, meaning that four characters of 13th level should be able to beat him in a single combat without a significant chance of character death. At the level of the PC's, an encounter with Strahd is classed as "Deadly" - very likely that they would lose, and that many of them would die.
With this setup, the challenge for the DM is to have Strahd play with the PC's while he tries to get what he wants. The "Fortunes of Ravenloft" goals offer several possibilities. If Strahd wanted to simply kill the characters, he would - but instead, he wants something from them, and it is from this that the complicated plot of the module derrives. Ideally, the players should initially feel terrified of the possibility of fighting Strahd, eventually realize that he is not trying to kill them but to obtain something from them, and by the time they figure out what he is playing at, have assembled enough of the "Fortunes" that they actually stand a chance of surviving his machinations.
Of the several possibilities, the goal that I chose for Strahd was winning the love of Ireena. My initial plan for him involved him charming the party, having them attack Ireena, and then him coming to her defense, saving her from them, and thus winning her love.
One thing that I had not realized until after the module was underway was that this goal is decidely harder to accomplish in 5e than it would have been in 1e, given that a vampire's charm explicitly lasts only 24 hours even against a failed save. Strahd would have to charm enough of the party members in one day to execute his plan.
My particular party is numerous, reasonably combat-heavy, and can thus lay on a fair bit of damage against a single target. It was possible they might even be able to beat Strahd in the first stand up fight - be able to do enough damage to him to force his withdrawal before he eliminated any of them. The key to Strahd's superiority then was his ability to go to mist form at 0hp and his powerful regenerative capabilities. Even against parties that Strahd doesn't have a clear physical advantage over, he should be able to easily win any war of attrition by picking off party members one at a time, withdrawing and healing, and returning. In terms of Strahd's goal of beating the PC's when they attacked Ireena, I quickly realized that he was unlikely to be able to either charm them all in a single day or beat them all in a single fight. Thus his plan became one of charming enough of the right PC's so that "his side" could win a fight within the party, and then his being able to beat the weakened, winning side. That is, he intended to charm about half the party, have them attack Ireena and end up fighting the other half of the party who would defend her, have the charmed side barely win, have them resume their attack on Ireena, and only then would he come in to beat them and save her.
That was Strahd's goal. For the PC's to win against Strahd in the final combat, then, they would have to neutralize Strahd's two greatest advantages, his mist form and his regeneration. They already had the ability to do the first - Larry's moonbeam spell would force Strahd out of his mist form to his natural form - if Larry realized or remembered that was a feature of the spell, since he had never used it in that capacity before. For the second, I used a bit of DM fiat. The designed level of the module conversion was 5th, and the PC's were 4th. The two big power jumps in 5e that happen from 4th to 5th are that primary combat classes gain a second attack (not a big factor since the party was numerous) and that primary caster classes gain access to third level spells. In the case of Larry, this would mean access to the spell Daylight which, even if the party did not recover the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, would allow them to counter Strahd's regeneration. I honestly didn't think that they had a chance without this, so after their "defeat" of Strahd in the throne room, I allowed Pelor to grant the following ability to Tyrius - if he and Larry cooperated, they could together cast Daylight, at a cost of a second level spell slot from Larry and a first level slot from Tyrius for a total of three levels.
At this point in the module, Willa and Thokk had both met their individual "positive fortunes", so here are their Level 5 stats:
New abilities in bold.
Special Agent Willhemina Stoutley (Willa)
Fifth Level Fighter (Martial Archetype: Champion) / Human (mixed race, predominantly Flan) (Sailor)
Str 18 (+4), Dex 16 (+3), Con 12 (+1), Int 10 (0), Wis 9 (-1), Chr 9 (-1)
Skills: (Fighter): Insight, Survival (Sea and Coast), (Sailor): Athletics, Perception
Fighting Style: Great Weapon Fighting, Improved Critical, Extra Attack
Plate armor +2, greatsword, dagger
Potions of neutralize poison, healing x2, cure disease
Thokk of the Crystalmists (Thokk)
Fifth Level Barbarian / Half-orc (Outlander)
Str 18 (+4) Dex 14 (+2) Con 16 (+3) Int 5 (-2) Wis 13 (+1) Cha 12 (+1)
Skills: Athletics, Intimidation, Nature, Perception, Survival (mountains)
Primal Path: Totem Warrior (Wolf)
Unarmored defense, Shield+2, ring of protection +1, battle axe, hand axes, javelins
Extra Attack, Fast Movement _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
(12:10pm) The stairway is long and high, taking them at least forty or fifty feet up before turning and emerging in a stone hallway (K45). Long, low moans drift down from alcoves that line both walls of this long hall. The ceiling has fallen here, leaving rubble strewn across the floor. Overhead, the beams of the castle's roof are exposed, and the open sky can be seen above. Sporadic lightning from the clouds flashes into this hall, and the passage smells of damp wood. A graven statue stands within each of the ten alcoves. Shafts of light cross the statues' faces at obscure angles. Another sudden flash and crack of lightning reveals their faces formed in the shapes of terrified men and women. The passageway is free and clear, but Aurora insists there is some secret to be found here. She examines the statues, the alcoves, and even spends ten minutes casting a ritual detect magic, but learns little besides the fact that the clothes depicted on the statues are court fashions from hundreds of years ago. Finally she gives the party leave to continue on.
(12:30pm) After the alcoved hallway, the corridor turns and ends in a door. An archway, however, leads beyond into a big open space. Thokk investigates, and it turns out the space is the hollow interior of a huge tower. Before he can see any more than this, a squishing sound pierces the silence and he is thrown back against the tower wall, pinioned by a mass of sticky strands. The party rushes in to defend him, and eventually kills three giant spiders.
The monsters slain, they can examine the tower better (K20). A mosaic floor stretches about them into the darkness. A vast, empty tower shaft rises above. They cannot see clearly more than a few yards up, yet they feel the tower's cold expanse pressing down. A spiral staircase rises slowly into the darkness circling the open shaft. Another set of stairs leads down. Given the vast diameter of the tower and their guess as to their location, they believe it to be the northern tower - neither the greatest nor the tallest of the towers they saw from outside the keep, but large by any means. The sound of rain alerts them to the presence of an open doorway leading out to the castle battlements (K46). Thokk throws a spider over the edge of the hollow tower shaft and counts the seconds until he hears a sickening crunch, then tells the party it is a good hundred feet down.
(12:40pm) They leave the tower, retreat to the door, and listen. Beyond is the cracking sound of a fire.
Entering, they find a blazing hearth filling the room with rolling waves of red and amber light (K37). The walls are lined with ancient books and tomes, their leather covers well oiled and preserved through careful use - Aurora’s eyes go wide and even taciturn Shefak becomes animated. All is in order here. The stone floor is hidden beneath a luxurious rug of a deep-patterned weave. A large, low table sits in the center of the room, waxed and polished to a mirrored finish. Even the poker next to the blazing fireplace is polished. Large, overstuffed divans and couches stand in order about the room. Two luxurious chairs face the hearth. A huge painting hangs over the mantelpiece in a heavy, gilded frame. The rolling light of the fire illuminates the carefully rendered painting, which draws gasps from the party each in turn as they enter. It is an exact likeness of the Burgomaster's daughter, Ireena Kolyana. Though the painting is obviously centuries old, the likeness is unmistakable.
It is in a place of tranquility, a harbor for the mighty and powerful.
It is in a place of visdom, varmth...and despair.
Great secrets are there.
The Varriors cast their shadow over that place as well, for he is often there.
Looking about for the “veapon” Madam Eva foretold, several in the party note a sword hilt on the mantel of the fireplace, enclosed in a glass case. Thokk feels a tugging at his belt, and looks down, expecting to see Barnabus or Larry - but no one is there. He feels the tug again, urging him toward the fireplace. The others appear engrossed in the painting, though he doesn’t understand why.
Thokk walks carefully toward the fireplace, and now feels that it is his sword itself pulling on his belt. He unsheathes it, and it is all he can do to to hold it, straining as it is toward the hilt on the mantel. Thokk grabs the glass case and opens it, taking out the platinum hilt then tossing the case casually on the floor. It lands on the thick rug and does not break. The hilt of his own sword feels loose - and then actually falls off the blade, so that Thokk has to neatly catch the blade by the tang before it, too, drops. With a force he cannot resist, the new hilt flies to the blade and affixes itself as if newly-forged. A flash of light blinds everyone in the room.
When people can see again, deep golden runes are now clearly etched on the blade of Thokk’s sword where there were none before. Aurora reads them in Suelese - “Ik Soldancar”; “the sunsword.”
[DM’s note: Thokk gains an inspiration point for finding the sword, his Fortune of Ravenloft, which he will use for his level 5 hp rolls. The sunsword is a sword +1, +3 vs. undead. It glows in the presence of undead, and has additional, as yet unknown, powers against vampires.]
Aurora first examines the portrait - it is real, not a forgery to the best of her ability to tell. The faded paint, cracks in the gilt frame, and other features all indicate that it is centuries old - and yet the likeness to Ireena is unmistakable. The Barovian woman claims to have never seen it before, but she does appear unsettled. Tyrius uses his knowledge of the nobility to examine it - the clothes of the woman in the painting - they match the historical period of the statues they passed on the way here. And her jewelry, the arrangement of her hands, her look of expectancy - this is a bridal portrait, he says, commissioned by the groom or sometimes the bride’s family, a tradition among high nobles.
Ireena, upon seeing Thokk’s new sword, begins to weep openly, and stretches forth her hands to it, asking, then begging Thokk to be allowed to touch it. He is reluctant at first, but finds it hard to refuse the woman in front of the party. Eventually he agrees, and even though nothing seems to happen when she does so, he is still a bit spooked.
Aurora joins Shefak, who is already browsing texts as fast as she can. There are many dozens, perhaps a few hundred, volumes, all old and historically valuable. But none are what she is looking for - none are a history of early Keoland.
Willa tries to rush Aurora, reminding them all that both Madam Eva and Lief said that Strahd comes here often, but Aurora brushes her concerns away. Ireena says that even if the devil himself does not find them here, the fire is well-tended, and surely a servant will be along soon.
(12:50pm) Babshapka checks the doors while Barnabus searches the room for what might have been missed. One door leads to a stone stairway down (K83), another to a bedchamber, a third to a dining hall.
Barnabus is in front of the fire when he says “Aha!” and lifts the poker from the set of tools (shovel, tongs, etc.). With a whoosh from the flames and the sound of stone against stone, the back of the fireplace slides away, revealing quite a large space beyond. It is difficult to see through the flames, but there looks to be a chest along the far wall and perhaps a body slumped in the corner.
It seems clear that the only access to the revealed secret chamber is through the flames, which could easily damage anyone crossing, and the party briefly discusses putting them out. Ever helpful, Thokk turns toward the fire and starts lifting his loincloth, but Willa quickly swats it back down.
“Put yer bucket brigade away, ye daft orc,” she chides. “They’ll notice ther fire’s out as soon as they be walkin’ in ther door. An’ pick up affer yerself!” she hands him back the glass case he dropped on the floor and motions him to replace it on the mantel.
“Yes, evil advisor…” he mumbles.
Tyrius offers his shield as protection against the flames and half the party get ready to jump, which is not as hard as it sounds given the size of the fireplace and passageway beyond. Once inside (K38), they can see glinting through the smoke that wafts into the chamber, gold, silver, and copper coins lying scattered around a closed chest. The fittings on the chest tell of great workmanship. Attached to the east wall are two torch sconces. The southernmost sconce holds a torch with an intricate metal base. The other is empty. A skeleton of a man lies against the wall in broken plate armor. His right hand is on his throat while his left hand holds the matching torch from the empty sconce. What follows is an intense debate, conducted both within the chamber and through the flames, about whether the chest should be opened.
Aurora uses a charge from her wand of magic detection, but is not able to discern anything in the room save what the party already carries. She investigates the empty torch sconce and finds a curious socket at its base - an exact match for the end of the torch held in the skeleton’s hand. She ushers everyone back through the flames and into the study, then uses her mage hand to carefully take the torch from the skeleton’s grasp, move it through the air, and set it down in the empty sconce. With a sound of stone grating against stone, a second secret panel opens in the back of the secret treasure chamber. Thokk is the first one through, and peers down the new, dark passage (K39).
The ancient hall is choked with spider webs. Their dusty forms hide the very walls and ceiling. The webs are broken by a single cleared path down the center of the room.
The party is clearly desirous of proceeding down the hall, but also concerned that all of the secret accesses be left open behind them and they be discovered. On the other hand - what if the doors are closed, but then they find themselves trapped inside? After much discussion, it is decided that Shefak will remain in the study, protected by her invisibility ring, while the rest of the party proceeds through and then closes the doors behind them.
(1pm) Thokk leads the way down the hall, using the open path through the cobwebs. Tyrius calls for light in the area, and Babshapka looks for tracks, but by this point anything previously present has already been obscured by Thokk’s heavy tread. At the far end of the hall are a pair of bronze doors of highly ornate design.
Once the party is completely through, less Shefak, the monk tries replacing the poker in its stand and the back of the fireplace again closes. Aurora then uses her mage hand to lift the torch from its sconce and let it fall to the floor. That inner doorway closes as well. Aurora messages Shefak to reset the torch, and the monk takes out the poker, jumps the flames, and relocates the torch, opening the panel up again, then returns to the study.
Barnabus is at the far end of the hallway, has checked the bronze doors for traps and declared them clear - but is puzzled by a curious, faint, mechanical clicking sound coming from the other side. Tyrius is casting his light about the hallway, examining the walls and ceiling carefully. He notes the faint outlines of an access panel on the right wall, near where they came in.
(1:10pm) Aurora hangs near the back of the party, Babshapka and Larry with her. As the party studies the hall, she uses her mage hand to open the chest. Immediately great clouds of luminous green gas billow forth from the chest. Aurora immediately hurls the torch from the sconce, but as the stone panel slowly slides into place, the gas begins expanding into the hallway. Aurora feels incredibly drowsy, and it is all she can do to maintain consciousness. Next to her, Babshapka collapses. A second later, Willa does as well.
Tyrius collects the unconscious bodies while Barnabus and Larry check them - they have a pulse and are breathing, but they are not roused by shaking and slapping. Barnabus is guessing that they are both drugged into a comatose state, perhaps magically, but his knowledge of poisons is limited and not something he cares to discuss with the party. “They are fine for now, but will likely have to sleep this off. I don’t know how long,” he says.
Tyrius points Thokk at the doorway he has found, and the half-orc cuts quickly through the webs and opens the panel. There is a narrow landing (K31b), and then a large rectangular shaft (K31a).
Aurora examines her sleeping bodyguard, unimpressed with the party’s efforts to rouse him. Reasoning that a higher level of pain may spur him to awake, she removes her dagger from its sheath and makes a shallow incision in his forearm. Unfortunately she appears to have crossed an artery, and soon great spurts of blood are pulsing forth. She rummages in her bags for rags to staunch the flow.
Tyrius and Barnabus join Thokk on the ledge in front of the shaft. They notice great wooden screw mechanisms on the two short walls. The shaft smells of well-oiled wood. “This is some sort of service elevator,” reasons Tyrius. “We have a way out - we can’t be trapped in here - call for Shefak.”
[Note: Tyrius is awarded an inspiration point. He saves it for later use]
“Yes, well,” hesitates Aurora, fumbling with the rags for bleeding Babshapka. “Just let me check something first.”
At the opposite end of the hall, Ireena has been plunged into darkness since Tyrius and his light have gone through the secret portal. She is left guarding the unconscious Willa, but is feeling increasingly uneasy. She searches in Willa’s pack, drawing forth several vials before finding her lantern. With her own flint and steel she lights the wick, and the hallway fills with light. Ireena then hoods the lantern and examines the vials she drew forth. One has, in a delicate handwritten note, the words “neutralize poison” in Common. Ireena says a quick prayer and pours a quarter of it down Willa’s throat. The dark woman groans but does not stir. Ireena continues to administer the draught until Willa’s eyelids flutter and she sits up. “Thank the gods,” Ireena sighs.
Aurora is feeling around on the other side of the wall, not seeing, but using her mage hand to grope along the floor until she finds the torch. Setting it into the sconce, the wall panel again opens up. She still feels drowsy, but it appears that most of the glowing gas in the room has been drawn up the chimney. Certainly Shefak did not see any gas appear in the study.
(1:20pm) Aurora moves into the chamber with the skeleton and examines the open chest. At the bottom are three vials, their stoppers all removed but connected to a complicated mechanism for pulling out the stoppers when the chest lid was opened. It is otherwise empty. Aurora calls to Shefak to join them.
The monk returns the poker, then immediately leaps through the flames and the closing stone panel to join Aurora. Aurora moves into the hall, giving Shefak the space to replace the torch in the skeleton’s hand and, just in time, to squeeze through the second closing stone panel.
Willa and Ireena together rouse Babshapka with a third draught of the vial, leaving just one. The entire party again active, they leave the shaft for the moment and proceed to the bronze doors, open them and move beyond (K40).
Dusty cobwebs fill the area, their musty smell assaulting the senses and obscuring sight. Deep pools of darkness lie all about as the party attempts in vain to penetrate the spidery veils. A single path leads to the center of the room where a rope dangles from high above.
Once inside the room, the metallic clicking heard through the door becomes more recognizable as the creak and pop of moving exoskeleton. Almost certainly there are giant spiders in the dark webs above. Aurora tries the rope, but gently - pulling just hard enough to feel it yield, then pull back, as if counter-weighted by a bell. This whole chamber, the ceiling so remote as to be unseen, is likely a bell tower. Although just the center of the room is clear of webs, Thokk works his way along the walls, clearing the way for Barnabus to search. The halfling soon finds a secret door in the north wall.
(1:30pm) Through the door is a large octagonal chamber (K41). A large, well-polished wooden desk is in the center of the room, two leather-bound books upon it. Many chests line the walls of the room. Barnabus sets to work checking the chests while Aurora looks at the books. Both are written in Suel. One is titled “The Chronicle of Secret Times” by Uhas, the second simply titled “I, Strahd.” The pages of the second are yellowed, the writing faded from centuries - but it appears to be a personal diary of the Count! Curiously, Aurora appears more interested in the former volume.
(1:40pm) Once Barnabus has opened the chests (and checked for any other secret doors), the party realizes that the plundered riches of Strahd's secret horde lie before them. There is a chest each filled to brimming with copper, silver, gold, and platinum coins, a chest of gems and jewels, and a long case with a staff, sword, hammer, and mace.
This card tells of history.
Knowledge of the ancient may help you understand a foe.
You should seek for a carefully hidden place of great vorldly vealth.
I see a blazing fire protecting the place.
The Druids sustain your strength here, but hold you from your wictory,
taking more time than it otherwise vould.
This is a good place to rest - but not to fight.
Take care you are not caught there.
[DM’s Note: For finding the secret treasure room, the location of her Fortune of Ravenloft, Aurora has gained an Inspiration Point. She saves it for later use]
Aurora uses a charge from her wand of magic detection. The staff, sword, hammer, and mace all glow! Willa checks to make sure none of the gems or jewels do. Shefak takes the staff - a heavy, black ironwood thing that hums when she swings it. Ireena tests the balance of the sword, then buckles it to her belt. Tyrius hefts the hammer, gives it a few swings, and resolves to take it with him. Aurora packs the two books away carefully.
They shut the door and retreat back to the elevator shaft.
[DM's Note: I altered some of the treasures to account both for my party and the differences between 1e and 5e. I reduced the number of magic items, reduced their potency, changed one of the maces to a staff for Shefak and another to a hammer for Tyrius.] _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
Aurora is lowered down the elevator shaft on a rope. Some 40 feet down there is a landing, but the shaft itself continues farther than she can see. By rocking and swinging her body, she is able to move into the landing, which is full of intricate machinery. There are small passages between the gears and pulleys. The aroma of grease and well-oiled wood fills the chamber (K31).
(1:50pm) After taking quite some time to study the machinery, tracing all the gears and pulleys, Aurora believes that she can operate it. It is not as simple as “pull a lever to go up”. Rather, some independent, unseen power source is spinning a number of flywheels in the heart of the machinery. By carefully lowering matching gearing systems onto the flywheels, Aurora can set those gears spinning, and then transfer that motion through belts and crankshafts out to the wooden screws that line the shaft. But there are a number of gears, and Aurora is guessing that whatever elevator beneath is being lifted is heavy - so that she will need to start its motion in low gear, and shift to higher gears once it starts moving. Furthermore, she will need to keep the two screws spinning at equal speeds to avoid tipping the elevator, which may not be evenly balanced in terms of load and resistance on each screw. Finally, there is a whole different set of gears to move into place to have the screws spin in reverse and go down. All together it is the most complicated piece of machinery she has ever seen. Furthermore, she is an historian, not a gnome tinkerer. Still, after several minutes of study she feels reasonably confident, and begins to lower gears into place on the flywheels. To her delight, the wooden screws start turning - and in the correct direction.
The appearance of the elevator car behind her is sudden and surprisingly silent. By the time she has lifted the gears from the flywheels to stop it, the floor of the car is a foot above the level of her landing, and its ceiling has neatly sheared off the rope that connected her to the party above. The car is like a huge rectangular stone box with the two side walls missing. The end walls are mounted through the screws, and the floor and ceiling appear solid. Confident that it will hold her weight, she steps aboard, and finds a trapdoor in the ceiling, though she cannot reach it from inside the car.
She retreats to the control bank and starts the car moving again, all the way up the shaft to her companions. Their calls tell her to stop the car, but it is a few seconds before she can. Fortunately, the screws end early, meaning that the car cannot be pushed into the ceiling - it just rises, slips off-track, and falls to rise again, making the car jolt but not damaging anything. Those above note that anyone riding on the roof of the car would have certainly been crushed against the top of the shaft by tons of pressure, however.
Once everyone is aboard the car, Aurora brings it down to her level, again missing a flush landing by a few feet but accomplishing her goal. She gives lessons in operating the machinery to several of the party while Barnabus wanders the machinery aisles, eventually finding a secret door at the back of the landing. He peeks through, and the familiar hall beyond (K27) leads him to believe that they are back on the level of the throne room, and Lief the accountant.
Aurora sends the party down below in the car, keeping track of them with her message - until they have gone beyond her range without her realizing it! She brings them up again, and they work out a communication system, shining flashes of light through the now-open trap door in the roof. They are lowered again…
(2pm) After descending some hundred feet or so, the passengers signal her to stop the car. It stops about five feet above the floor at the bottom of the shaft. One car side opens upon a door, another upon a short hallway leading to a stone spiral staircase going both up and down.
As soon as the car comes to a halt, those within are set upon by three giant spiders, but make quick work of them. Aurora ties a rope securely to the railing of the machinery, and lowers herself down to the level of the party. The rope just reaches the roof of the car, and they help her through the trap door.
Thokk peers through the door into a hallway beyond (K62) while the party forms up. The hall stands in deadly silence. The low ceiling sags from heavy beams. A fog clings to the floor in thick patches, obscuring everything less than three feet above the floor. Thokk snorts in disgust and closes the door. Seeing the party waiting for him at the head of the stairs, he asks “Stairs up or stairs down?”
“Down,” replies Tyrius confidently. “We have the sword and the tome - we must recover the symbol before sundown, and if it is where Strahd rests as Madam Eva foretold, we should look as far below the castle as we can.”
Whistling merrily to himself, Thokk leads the way down the spiral staircase. He enjoyed the elly-vator ride, and doesn’t even bother to correct Tyrius about the fact that Strahd is dead, not resting. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
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