Joined: Jan 05, 2002 Posts: 574 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: 574 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
(2:10pm) The stairway down (K21) is lit by fluttering torches in iron sconces. A chilly wind rushes down the circling stairway, seeming to kill the very heat of the torches. The air grows colder and damper on every revolution of the stairs. They are deep beneath the surface, far from the light of the sun. The walls seem to close in on them and several in the party struggle for breath. Finally Thokk emerges into a long hallway, submerged under a layer of oily black water (K73).
The stairs descend into the black, still water that fills the arched hallway. The water's surface is like dark mirrored glass, disturbed only occasionally by the "thwick" of a drop falling from the ceiling. Twenty feet down the hallway, arched doorways lead downward 2 feet from each side of the hallway. In each arched doorway, an iron door stands closed and partially submerged. All is still except for a weak cry for help coming through the south door.
Thokk strides confidently down the hall, Shefak behind him. Suddenly there is an explosion of water, with foam and liquid spraying everywhere. In a second it clears - and Thokk is gone! Immediately Babshapka raises the hood on his cloak of the manta ray and dives into the water. It is just three feet deep and he easily skims along the floor of the hall, noting several places with vague outlines of trap doors. With Shefak's help, he pushes on the one nearest to where Thokk disappeared, and then he, too, is gone in a gout of watery spray, and then a slowly dissipating swirl of water.
Thokk has the sensation of falling, then comes to in a small stone cell (K75f). The fungus-laden ceiling hangs 3 feet above still, black water. The water is 5 feet deep, so that just Thokk’s head and shoulders protrude. Three walls are stone, the fourth is open but blocked by iron bars. Liquid drips from the hanging growth on the ceiling. Thokk peers out into the corridor and sees with his darkvision a number of other similar cells. He tries the bars, but they seem stout. Then, in the cell next to him (K75g), he hears a great splash and Babshapka calling for help, “I’m in a cell!”
Thokk is enraged - having killed the master of this castle, who dares keep him in a tiny cell? Stupid iron bars! Shouting a primordial cry, his immense muscles ripple as he strains at the iron bars, finally snapping one that is more rusted than solid. Using the freed bar as a lever, he pries open the bars on his cell, emerges, and opens Babshapka’s cell as well.
In the hall, those remaining in the party hear Thokk’s cries of wrath drowning out the weak calls from before. Larry casts spider climb on Barnabus, and the halfling moves along the walls to the southern door, quickly checks it for traps, then opens it. Thokk and Mantabshapka are at the end of the hall within, outside the last cell (K75a), staring at the prisoner inside.
All they can see of the man is his face and a mat of dark, greasy hair floating on the water. The man is just over five feet tall, and it is only by leaning back and straining his neck that can he keep his mouth out of the water. Every few minutes he manages a hoarse cry for help.
Thokk shrugs and uses his bar to pry open the bars of this cell as well. Mantabshapka helps the man out and up the stairs to the waiting party. While they crowd around him, Mantabshapka and Barnabus scout out the remaining traps in the floor of the corridor.
(2:20pm) The erstwhile prisoner’s clothing is rags, soaked and rotten, and his feet are bare. His hair and nails are long and unkempt, his frame emaciated.
He gives his name as Alexandru Petrinoff. He says he was a Barovian villager, a woodsman. Ireena recognizes the name and occupation, but not the face - though he looks much the worse for wear and could be Petrinoff if he was cleaned up and fed. Petrinoff disappeared from the village over a year ago, she says. He recognizes her as the daughter of the Burgomaster and says that he fears for her safety here in the castle of the devil.
He says that a year ago he was felling timber in the woods near the village. Near the end of the day his axe slipped - he lept out of the way and did not strike his foot, but he twisted his ankle. He was not hurt badly, but he could not limp back to the village before dark. As soon as the sun went down the wolves found him and treed him. At midnight Strahd came and claimed him. Strahd took him back to his castle and healed his ankle through dark arts, and then said that in return Petrinoff would have to serve as his coachman. He served Strahd for most of a year but was never allowed to return to the village or send word to his family. One night a short time ago the horses got spooked by a pack of wolves and the carriage was damaged. Strahd blamed him, struck him, and he was knocked out. He awoke in the cell the party found him in. He has been in the wet and dark since then - from a few weeks to as long as a month, but he has lost any sense of time. A hunchback man would come in from time to time with a lantern and bring him moldy bread and questionable meat and fresh water.
In his time serving Strahd, he came to know the carriage house and all the outbuildings of the castle. He was permitted on the main floor of the keep and knows that well, but he was not allowed beyond the main floor, up or down stairs.
He eagerly accepts the food and water the party gives him.
(2:30pm) Barnabus, using his spider climb, has begun edging into the larger room beyond the end of the hallway. Now Mantabshapka glides through the water into the room (K76) as well.
Dark, low shapes thrust up out of the still, brackish water that fills this room. The room is 50 feet square. The ceiling is 17 feet above the water, which is 3 feet deep. To the north, a large balcony (K77) stands 7 feet above the level of the water in the room. As Barnabus and Mantabshapka move in, they realize that the dark shapes in the room are racks, iron maidens, stocks, and other torture apparati. The skeletons of their last victims seem frozen in silent screams. The lower portions of them are underwater.
Bored of the conversation with Petrinoff, Thokk strides ahead down the corridor, sloshing through the water and just barely remembering where the other two said the floor traps were. As he enters the large torture chamber, he notes that his sword is now glowing blue.
A corpse rises up to face him slowly, its slime-gray arms clawing upward through the water. Mantabshapka sees many bodies drifting aimlessly on the surface or under the water, but as he watches, those nearest him animate, stand, and start to surround him. Barnabus calls for back-up and begins making his way to the balcony by the light from Thokk’s sword.
Now alerted, the party dashes through the watery hallway and into the torture chamber. When Tyrius sees the corpses, their hungry, active eyes, their long claws and fangs, he shouts a warning, “Ghouls! Ghouls in the dungeon! They can paralyze you!” More and more forms are rising through the murky water - Babshapka is now completely surrounded.
Ireena tosses Petrinoff her dagger and tells him to watch the staircase so that the party is not surprised from the rear, then she, too, draws her sword and charges down the hall.
Fully twelve ghouls now face the party, already clawing and biting at Thokk, Tyrius, and Babshapka. The elf casts a hunter’s mark, then dives into the water, flipping and rolling in an attempt to make it back to the ranks of his allies.
Tyrius calls upon the divine power of Pelor to drive away these unholy abominations. A great wave of light rolls forth from him. Half the ghouls cower and cringe, then turn and begin fleeing. Three of those remaining launch themselves at Tyrius, clawing desperately at his face.
Now that the party actually outnumbers the ghouls, the fight is brief. Several of the heroes are wounded, but no one is paralyzed, fortunately. By the end, the ghouls that fled from Tyrius are lined up against the far wall, clawing listlessly at the stone, and Barnabus and Larry have checked the ornate chairs on the balcony, looked behind a rotting curtain and located a door, and tied a rope to the railing to facilitate the party’s access.
Thokk strides over to where the ghouls are still trying unsuccessfully to flee, intent on destroying them. Tyrius warns that if they are damaged, they will no longer be driven away. Thokk shrugs unconcernedly, and Willa organizes the others to provide support - she doesn’t want the creatures left active behind them anyway. One at a time they are hacked to pieces, though the last one bears Willa under the water and she is pulled out by Tyrius.
The party climbs Barnabus’ rope to the balcony. The door behind the curtain is solid, though covered in mildew. The party are all tired and many are wounded. “We be unlikely t’ find a more defensible spot t’an t’is,” suggests Willa, “wit' a stout door on one side an’ water on t’other.”
Tyrius is hesitant, arguing that they need to push on and find Strahd’s resting place before dark.
Ireena says, “If ve do rest, I vould like to read the diary,” and that is all it takes to convince Tyrius. Torches are set in the empty sconces around the balcony and a temporary camp is made.
The party rests for an hour (2:40 to 3:40pm). Wounds are cleaned and bound, spells regained, prayers said. Aurora finds her history book fascinating, differing substantially from any other account she has read of the early Sheldomar - she believes that this volume may be a suppressed version that the rulers of Keoland do not want known [see post 70 - The Riddle of the Malhel IV].
Ireena spends the hour attempting to read “I, Strahd”. It is very slow going for her. The Suel used is archaic, and she is unsure of the meaning of many words. The letters themselves are barely legible in the torchlight. At the end of the hour her eyes are swimming, her head ringing, and her hands cold. She translates the first and last entries to the party:
I am The Ancient, I am The Land. My beginnings are lost in the darkness of the past. I was the warrior, I was good and just. I thundered across the land like the wrath of a just god, but the war years and the killing years wore down my soul as the wind wears stone into sand.
I now reside far below Ravenloft. I live among the dead and sleep beneath the very stones of this hollow castle of despair. I shall seal shut the walls of the stairs that none may disturb me.
Their hour of rest finished, the party extinguishes all the torches but one and packs up their camp. Thokk pulls open the door to the next room (K78) and light spills out, accompanied by the crackling sound of fire. The room is 30 feet square, rising to a 20-foot-tall flat ceiling. Gargoyle carvings smile, revealing their teeth, from high upon the walls, well lit by a brazier that burns fiercely in the center of the room. From their alcoves in the center of the east and west walls, two iron statues stand saluting with their weapons bared. Each statue has four arms, one with a shield, one with a sword, and the remaining two with their palms toward the ceiling over their heads. Their eyes seem to watch the party. High overhead, an hourglass with writing on its base hangs suspended above the brazier. All of its sand is in the upper portion, somehow refusing to run down into the bottom. In the center of the room next to the brazier is a golden chest. The room is scrupulously clean. A single door stands in the south wall (the one the party has opened) while three doors line the north wall. Thokk is about to stride into the room when Willa grabs his shoulder. “Wait!” she hisses. “Too much magic!”
Barnabus takes out his spyglass and the party examines the room by the light of the brazier. Aurora notes that for a fire that large, there is no smoke in the room, no ashes on the bare stone floor - it is almost certainly magical, and ever-burning. The statues are too large to be cast as single pieces of iron, but she doesn’t see any welds or joins - they are most likely magical constructs. The thought that they might animate is intimidating - huge and four arms each? The writing on the suspended hourglass is in Suel - she can make out:
In the palm of my hand...
on the side nearest them before it wraps around the edge out of sight. She ties a rope around her waist and ventures into the room, walking carefully around and trying not to touch anything. When she approaches the golden chest, Willa calls to her “Don’t open it! Don’t!”
Now able to see the full base of the hourglass, Aurora translates:
In the palm of my hand
Is the time left to thee
When it's consumed
Will the flame set you free!
“Palm o' me hand?” asks Larry. “What es in th' hands o' th' statues?” The statues tower over the party, and none of them can tell what they might have in their hands - but Aurora sends Buckbeak up for a quick tour of the room. There are small objects in each of the upheld palms! He perches on the head of a statue for a closer look; the west statue has a small red stone in its right hand and a blue stone in the left, while the east statue has a black stone in the right hand and an opaline one in the left.
At this point, the entire party ventures into the room. They find that the door is spring-loaded and would close shut with no one holding it, so they prop it open with one of the rotting wooden chairs from the balcony. Barnabus is interested in the chest, and takes out his magnifying lens (“Don’t touch it!” repeats Willa) and detects that there is an opening in the back, as well as the obvious one on the top.
(3:50pm) They decide to try the stones in the fire. Everyone but Buckbeak retreats from the room. Thokk, Aurora, and Willa are in the doorway. Aurora mage hands the black stone over the brazier, then drops it in. Immediately there is a flash as it is consumed, then the door in front of them begins to close with incredible force. The chair shatters into rotten splinters, knocking Willa to the ground. Thokk is holding the door but cannot resist its force. He grabs Aurora and yanks her roughly out of the path of the door, which then slams into its frame.
Inside the room, Buckbeak watches as the center door on the north wall opens briefly, revealing the base of a steep stairway, then closes again. The sand in the hourglass begins to run down, but slowly. Aurora climbs to her feet and has Buckbeak check the statues - the stones are still there, all of them, including the black stone.
One at a time they try the stones in the fire, until all their properties are known:
Black - north door in the center, steep stairs up
Opaline - north door in the east, spiral stairs up (K83)
Blue - north door in the west, steep stairs up
Red - south door
Each time all of the doors are closed, the hourglass starts - but the sands reset when the next stone is dropped, so they never have a chance to run fully to the bottom.
The party again enters the room. Tyrius is visibly upset, as all the options offered lead only up, but the party decides to try the spiral stairs. The opaline stone is again dropped. Barnabus is the first in the doorway, checking quickly to see if perhaps there is a secret door leading down, but he finds nothing and the others pass through. It takes several turns 'round to make room for them all. Aurora lingers, leaving Buckbeak in the room to see what happens at the end of the time. For five minutes the sand runs down until the top of the glass is empty. Then the statues come to life! They begin to stride about the room. Aurora doesn’t need to see through Buckbeak to know this - she can feel the floor shake under the weight of the massive, moving iron statues. At first they just circle the floor of the room aimlessly. Then one notes the presence of Buckbeak on the head of the other. Its huge sword slices through the air. In an explosion of feathers, Buckbeak is destroyed.
Having lost her familiar, Aurora makes a case to the party that they need to wait for ten minutes while she summons another - she has just enough supplies, and her portable brazier, to do so. Tyrius shakes his head. “We’re literally burning daylight. We must find this symbol before sunset.”
“It’s just ten minutes - and there are so many traps in this place, we need a scout,” says Aurora.
“I could read more,” adds Ireena.
Tyrius sighs and prays for patience.
The group camps on the stairs, just inside the door from the statue room. Aurora lights the coals in her brazier and begins a summoning ritual, while Ireena reads in the torchlight. Willa and Thokk go ahead, a few revolutions up, to act as a first line of defense.
Ireena finds passages that read:
The death she saw in me turned her from me. And so I came to hate death, my death. My hate is very strong; I would not be called "death" so soon.
I made a pact with death, a pact of blood. On the day of the wedding, I killed Sergei, my brother. My pact was sealed with his blood.
I found Tatyana weeping in the garden east of the Chapel. She fled from me. She would not let me explain, and a great anger swelled within me. She had to understand the pact I made for her.
I pursued her. Finally, in despair, she flung herself from the walls of Ravenloft and I watched everything I ever wanted fall from my grasp forever. It was a thousand feet through the mists. No trace of her was ever found. Not even I know her final fate.
Arrows from the castle guards pierced me to my soul, but I did not die. Nor did I live. I became undead, forever.
(4pm) Thokk and Willa hear the tread of feet on the stairs and the low murmur of conversation - people are approaching, and are making no effort to be quiet. And then - the noises are silenced. From behind them come the sounds of Aurora’s chanting - they must have been heard.
“We have to keep them from interrupting Aurora - just buy her time to finish her spell,” whispers Willa to Thokk. He nods sagely, and the two of them creep further up the stairs.
With his darkvision, Thokk sees a form come cautiously around the bend in the staircase shaft. He nudges Willa, who opens the hood of her lantern, flooding the darkness with light. Two swarthy men stand before them on the stairs, both dressed in colorful garb like the Rhennee from Madam Eva’s camp. Both have drawn short swords in hand, and one has a hard loaf of bread as well, the other a flask of liquid. The two men are blinded by the light, and Thokk easily shoves his way between them, turns around, grabs both by their collars, and lifts them off the steps so that they are dangling in the air.
“Drop yer swords!” commands Willa. “Ye can keep ther bread,” she chuckles.
One man’s sword clatters to the stone steps, the other carefully sheathes his. “Ve are serwents of the Master - you dare not harm us,” he says slowly.
Willa interrogates the men. Thokk shakes them whenever they hesitate in answering.
(4:10pm) The men say that they are from Madam Eva’s camp, and loyal to her. She has a “special arrangement” with the Count, which means that they sometimes have to visit the castle and run errands. Today, they have been asked to feed a prisoner in the dungeon, because Igor, his normal caretaker, is busy preparing dinner. The Master has many guests in the castle at the moment, and it will be a large meal.
Satisfied, Willa motions to Thokk to let the men down. He still walks behind them, one hand on each collar, as they go down the stairs to join the rest of the party. When the men see Ireena, they bow their heads in respect. One of them offers his condolences on “her recent loss”.
Aurora, finished with her spell, cleans up her brazier and proudly shows the party her new spider, “Charlotte”. She warns them not to squish it.
Ireena translates what she found in the tome to the party. At the mention of “Tatyana”, Shefak catches the two Rhennee men exchanging a nervous glance with one another. When questioned, they explain that the portrait in the study is of a Mistress Tatyana. They learned this when they were present and a clumsy maid knocked the portrait askew while dusting. Igor told the maid that if the Master found the portrait like that, she would pay dearly.
The party holds a hurried discussion - what are they to do with these men, and with Petrinoff? When asked whether they will return to their camp without telling Strahd anything, one of the men says, “Our instructions were to feed the prisoner. Ve cannot fail in our duty.” He hands Petrinoff the bread and the flask, then turns to the other man. “Ve have fed the prisoner.”
“Da. Let us leave the castle; our duty is done.”
“Would you be willing to take this man with you, to hide and protect him in your camp?” asks Aurora.
The Rhenee stare at Aurora as if she were a madwoman. “Harbor an escaped prisoner of the Count?” they ask. “No, that vould inwite the destruction of us all. You freed him, he is your responsibility now.”
“Where does this stair go - how will you leave?” asks Tyrius. The men tell him that the stair climbs all the way to the study (it is, in fact, the spiral stair which Willa saw the top of, when they were in the study). Tyrius scowls.
“One last thing before you go,” says Aurora. “You know how to pass the statues, yes?” The men nod. “Well, then, how do you open this door?”
With a look of even greater incredulity, one of the Rhenee walks up to the door, lifts the handle, and pulls. The door opens easily, then pulls itself closed when he lets go. Shaking their heads and muttering, the two men ascend the stairs from whence they came.
(4:30pm) The party passes easily into the statue room, then use the stone to take the middle door on the north wall. Now inside, they can see it leads up a steep but short flight of stairs between rough masonry walls, turns at a landing (K80), and continues down a dark corridor. The hall is relatively free of obstruction and there is little dust on the steps. A cool dampness seems to flow from within as a thick fog slowly swirls. The staircase is obscured in the mists. The wind within howls mournfully.
Aurora sends the party ahead to scout the landing while she and Babshapka hang back behind the door. With Babshapka holding the door open for her, Aurora mage hands the chest, opening the back compartment. Immediately a thick green gas billows forth. Caught in the updraft from the flaming brazier, it spreads quickly throughout the room. Babshapka closes the door before either one of them are overcome.
On the 10-foot-square landing, Barnabus searches for secret doors. The masonry walls abruptly end when the passage turns east and opens into a roughly hewn tunnel (K81). Its rough damp walls are barely discernible through thick fog. The tunnel passes through the rock-pillar of Ravenloft itself.
(4:40pm) Aurora uses her mage hand blind, fumbling about in the hallway to her west until she finds the door handle of the westernmost door on the north wall. She opens it into the room, feels the resistance of the spring-loaded hinges, tells Babshapka to count to 600 while she “airs the room out”. Above them, the party is growing restless on the landing. Aurora tells them to go ahead, but to go slowly. Barnabus moves cautiously down the hall, searching for traps.
(4:50pm) Aurora has Babshapka open the door to the statue room, expecting to find it clear - but it is still completely full of the green gas. From the looks of it, the gas is heavier than the air, and simply opening the door to the steep staircase up has done little to disperse it. Already the gas is expanding onto the stairwell with the duo and they are beginning to cough. Babshapka lets the door close, grabs the slumping Aurora, and hauls her up the stairs forcibly.
Now on the landing, Aurora rouses and tries to think through the problem. If she could open the far door, the one to the balcony on the south wall, perhaps she could disperse the gas since that leads to a lower space. But the room was at least thirty feet across, and from her side of the door to the outside of the south door beyond is outside the range of her mage hand.
“Are ye done yet?” demands Willa, interrupting Aurora’s thoughts, but doesn’t wait for her to answer. “While yer playin’ wit’ ther chest I told ye not t’ open, we be burnin’ DAYLIGHT.” Tyrius, too, harrumphs but says nothing. The party arranges itself in marching order, led by Willa and Thokk walking abreast, and starts down the corridor.
(5pm) About fifty feet east of the landing, Willa’s lantern shows that the corridor ends another fifty feet ahead. Although it is swirling with mists, she thinks she can make out a stone door on the far wall. She takes a few steps forward and squints, and Thokk steps up next to her. Suddenly the entire floor of the corridor slants sharply down and to the right under their feet. Willa and Thokk go tumbling, then sliding, down a chute. They try to brace themselves, but the walls of the chute are of polished black marble and provide no purchase whatsoever. Above them, Shefak has shoved one end of a rope into the hands of a dumbfounded Tyrius, grabbed the other end herself, and lept out on to the counter-weighted floor section to keep it from closing. Tyrius has just enough faculties to hold the rope and keep Shefak from sliding in; the monk apparently has just enough weight by herself to keep the trap door open.
At the end of the long chute, Thokk and Willa hit a wall that instantly gives way before them, then fall about ten feet into five feet of fetid water. Willa’s lantern goes out when it hits the water, but Thokk can see that they are in an iron-barred cell in a hallway of such cells, most likely the northern side of the dungeon he saw before but which they did not enter.
Thokk is incensed - he resolves to destroy as many of the bars as he can, starting with the cell they are in now. Willa hangs back, treading water in the dark, grateful that her magic plate armor is virtually weightless, while the barbarian goes on a rampage with broken iron bars flying, chips of stone skittering across the water, sweat and spittle coursing from him. Meanwhile, in the corridor above, Aurora at first tries to contact Willa with her message but fails, then convinces Tyrius to cause her spider Charlotte to glow, just in time for Larry to bind a rope about himself and tumble (not slide) down the chute. Larry lands in Willa’s cell and causes a wave that nearly sweeps her under, but his rope is not severed, merely compressed, when the trap door at the bottom of the chute closes behind him.
(5:10pm) With as many bars ripped out as Thokk could defeat in his rage, he and Willa now swim to the south door, and exit up the stairs into the hallway. Her lantern wick is soaked and will need drying out before she can re-light it, so she lights a torch. Willa steers Thokk clear of the floor traps, and together they enter the torture chamber, which now has twelve floating ghoul corpses moving in slow eddies about the room. They climb the balcony and open the door to the statue room, using the remaining chair to quickly prop it, then turn, run, and leap off the balcony into the water below as the green gas pours out behind them. They make it to the hallway exit ahead of the gas, where they pause and turn. The gas is indeed pouring over the balcony into the torture room, but dispersing in the much larger space until the air is just the faintest tinge of green. Satisfied, they return to the dungeon. Larry is using the rope to hold himself above the surface of the water, which is quite over his head.
(5:20pm) Willa, standing on Thokk’s shoulders, is able to feel the outline of the trap door in the wall, but has no means to open it. Shefak, however, has let herself down the chute using the rope, and is able to force the door open. All four of them then climb the rope up and out, first Willa, then Shefak, Thokk, and finally Larry. By the time they reach the top of the chute, the rest of the party have maneuvered themselves across the trap door in the floor to the other side of the hallway. With three of them dripping and shivering in the cold mist, they resume their march down the hallway, pausing only at the end for Barnabus to search the cold stone door for traps.
[DM's Note: Aurora's positive personal fortune: if she can discover clear information about the Malhel, she will gain a level.
Aurora is now 5th level. She uses her previously saved inspiration point on her hit point roll.
New abilities in bold.
Aurora of Tringlee
Fifth level wizard (School of Enchantment) / Half-elf (Sage)
Str 13 (+1) Dex 10 (0) Con 12 (+1) Int 18 (+4) Wis 8 (-1) Cha 18 (+4)
Languages Keolandish (S/W), Elven (S/W), Common (S/W), Ancient Suel (Written only), one open slot
Skills: Arcana, History, Investigation, Medicine, Performance, Persuasion
Staff, ring of protection+1 x2, scroll of protection from undead, wand of magic detection, wand of polymorph
Ability: Hypnotic Gaze
Cantrips: Prestidigitation, Fire Bolt, Mage Hand, Friends
First: Detect Magic, Mage Armor, Find Familiar, Magic Missile, Sleep, Comprehend Languages, Silent Image, Unseen Servant, Shield, Identify
Second: Magic Mouth, Invisibility, Web, Knock, Blur
Third: Fireball _________________ 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
Now Post 70: The Riddle of the Malhel IV Concurrent with Post 69: The Dungeons
The party rests for an hour (2:40 to 3:40pm). Wounds are cleaned and bound, spells regained, prayers said. Aurora finds her history book, The Chronicle of Secret Times by Uhas, fascinating, differing substantially from any other account she has read of the early Sheldomar - she believes that this volume may be a suppressed version that the rulers of Keoland do not want known.
Compared to the official history long studied by Aurora, the parts in blue are missing from this version, while parts in red are unique to this version.
c. SD 5096 (CY ‐420)
Arrival of the Suel Houses of Rhola and Neheli in the Sheldomar Valley
At the end of the 51st century of the Suel Dominion came migrations of Suel peoples different from their predecessors. These noble families had reluctantly quit their land after its destruction by the Rain of Colorless Fire. Led by the last Mage of Power, Slerotin, the famous Twelve Suel Tribes made their way across and beneath the Crystalmists and down into the basin beyond. Though few in number, they steadfastly aided one another under the direction of the mage and so survived the depredations of humanoids and the earlier, unanimously wicked, Suel migrants. The most important families were the Neheli and Rhola, but other Suel families came as well; the Zelrad, Malhel, Lizhal, Linth, and Secunforth. Upon the death of Slerotin, the tribes began feuding and soon scattered. After some time on the northern plains, the House of Rhola turned south. Some Rholan families settled along the Kewl and Sheldomar Rivers where they border the Silverwood, while others continued south until they reached the coast of the Azure Sea. Lesser families, such as the Zelrad and Malhel, continued a nomadic existence in the vast plains west of the Sheldomar River. The most powerful house, Neheli, traveled north across the prairie until it found the lands of civilized Flan and the former Suel migrants who had settled among them. The minor House of Linth settled in the Sheldomar Valley between the Rholan lands.
Settlement The first Suel migrants to the Sheldomar, those that arrived before the Twin Cataclysms, were corrupt, wily, and deferential. The Cruel Lord accepted them into the empire, allowing them to pass through the Flan lands and even to settle. The Suel founded cities in the Empire, such as Greyhawk City, the lost Suloise City of the Suss, Naer’s Well (Narwell) and Hard-by-the-Sea (Hardby). The Cruel Lord thought to use the firstcomer Suel and their seers as dupes in his growing plans to overthrow his absent Emperor, the Whispered One. The Suel, for their part, feigned loyalty to the Cruel Lord for a generation until they had become well established in the lands of the empire. Many then simply ignored his edicts, entering a state of passive rebellion.
As the post-Cataclysm Suel refugees arrived, In the land around the Rushmoors the Neheli came upon the southern margins of the Ykrathian Empire. This dreaded despotry dominated many Flan and Suel groups, but at that time some were in a state of open rebellion. The powerful Neheli quickly united the rebellious Suel, and with themselves as leaders then fought for independence from the “Cruel Lord,” who ruled the Empire as seneschal in the name of the Whispered One.
Since The Whispered One had not been seen for a generation, the Neheli assumed that the tales of the powerful sorcerous Emperor were merely Flan superstition. The Neheli quickly assumed leadership of the rebellious Suel and busily set about conquering the local Flan to establish a homeland for themselves. The Neheli massacres of Whispering priests quickly attracted the attention of the Whispered One, and he returned from his extra-planar journeys. As his power began to manifest in the Flanaess, the initially easy conquests of the Neheli turned into a bitter fight for survival. Fiends and abominations, hordes of Flan undead, and priests of increasingly powerful ability beset them. After several years of struggle the Neheli abandoned their stillborn northern homeland and retreated south to join their Rholan kinsmen in the lower Sheldomar,After several years of struggle, the Neheli were forced to abandon their erstwhile subjects and withdraw to the south. They rejoined their Rholan kinsmen in the now‐settled river valleys, or sheltered themselves along the border of the southern forest where the Sheldomar River cut through the plains. Ironically, the Ykrathian Empire would eventually fall by the hand of the Cruel Lord himself, when he would turn against his master.
After the victory over the Neheli, the Cruel Lord consolidated his hold on the Empire and brought the remaining Suel firmly under his control. He then dared to challenge his erstwhile master when the Whispered One was fully manifest in this world and thus vulnerable. As a result of this challenge, both perished, and the world was made brighter thereby.
The Flan of the Sheldomar Valley were of course initially hostile to the new invaders, but they soon learned that some of these Suel were not interested in conquest or pillage. It was not long before the exchange of goods and information was common. As trust grew, mutual defense alliances were struck, uniting these new Suel with the indigenous Flan, against the raiding bands of humanoids and the older, marauding Suel. These alliances became increasingly necessary as the warlike Oerid began to move south into the Sheldomar after the collapse of the Ykrathian Empire. Although friendly with the Flan, the Neheli and Rhola considered themselves a noble, civilized people, and viewed the dark‐skinned natives as primitives. At least in terms of technology and arcane magic, they were for the most part correct, and the Flan were much impressed with the strength and knowledge of these newcomers. Furthermore, while separate Flan bands were traditionally independent of one another, they all admired these powerful and friendly Suel. By virtue of their technological superiority, political cohesion, and horse‐borne mobility, the Neheli and Rhola quickly assumed the dominant role in local alliances with the Flan. Over the years, the Suel nobles evolved into the ruling overlords of many petty states with Flan and Suel subjects. The Flan, lacking any leaders of their own with intertribal political authority, were content to let the just and capable Suel assume this position of leadership. They were at the very least safer from the raids that had heretofore plagued them, and in many cases were genuinely better off under Suel administration.
In contrast to the Neheli and Rhola, the Zelrad, Malhel, and other Suel groups sought no alliances with the “inferior Flan savages.” Instead, they survived by continually raiding the Flan, the Oerid, and each other. The Nehelian and Rholan nobles soon came into contact with demi‐humans who were, like the Flan, initially surprised by the behavior of these Suel.
The Neheli and Rhola now tell the tale thusly: “The new rulers treated them not with the superstition of the Flan, the treachery of other Suel, nor the brutish demands of the Oerid, but with honesty, fairness, and respect. In most cases, trade and alliances of mutual assistance against humanoids came soon after contact. The many petty states created by the various Rhola and Neheli nobles in general did not fight among one another, but proved vigorous in the defense of their subjects against humanoids and the roving Suel and Oerid. Defeated opponents were driven off, and eventually the Zelrad and others were forced to depart the Sheldomar entirely. The Malhel, however, proved too powerful to displace. They continued their violent existence, but shifted their tactics. They would stage devastating raids on settlements near the Sheldomar River, and then retreat rapidly across the vast plains, out of range of reprisal”. They were the last of the wicked Suel to be driven from the Sheldomar Valley, and their final defeat marked the triumph of the good Suel states.
The real nobility of these events is questionable. The various Suel tribes fought amongst each other for dominance almost immediately upon entering the Flanaess. Many of the lesser tribes such as the Zelrad were driven out of the valley entirely, to settle elsewhere. The Rhola and Neheli went their separate ways, settling different stretches of the Sheldomar River. The Malhel, a small though powerfully sorcerous noble house, refused to give quarter to the other Suel houses or to depart the Sheldomar Valley as did the other lesser houses who disagreed with the Neheli and Rhola. After losing in the struggle against the larger Neheli, they were forced to withdraw to dread forest lands, there to plot their revenge. From their capital at Valadis, they summoned forth demons and sent them against the Silent Sorcerers of the Neheli. The Silent Ones responded in kind, with invisible stalkers, bound devils, and such. A sorcerous war of attrition went on for years, generally unseen by the common folk. Eventually the Malhel had wheedled from their bound demons the name of a Demon Lord so powerful that by summoning him they could insure the destruction of the Neheli. It is not known whether this was a ruse all along on the demons’ part, or whether the Malhel wizards simply lost control of such a powerful being. In any event, as soon as he was summoned he turned on them, slaughtering first his summoners, and then any other being he could find in the city of Valadis, and finally destroying much of the city before returning to the Abyss. The Silent Ones wasted no time in descending on the city and completing the extermination of the fleeing Malhel.
Since then, of course, collusion between the Silent Ones and the rulers of the Neheli have expunged all reference to this less than flattering episode in the official histories.
_________________ 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
Note that the four-times-a-day random chance of encountering spies of Strahd was about to bring the Count himself to the party at 6pm!
Post 71: The Catacombs
14 October, 570 - Barovia, under Castle Ravenloft
(5:30pm) Cautiously opening the door, the party proceeds into a much larger space. Buried deep beneath the keep of Ravenloft, the arched ceiling sags over squat crypts, forming catacombs. A thick fog clings to the floor at knee height. Cobwebs hang limp in the musty air. Thick dust has settled over everything, filling the crypts' engravings, making it difficult to make out the names of those buried here. The black ceiling is moving.
“Now this is what we are looking for,” says Tyrius in grim satisfaction. His words echo deep into the recesses of the catacombs, and the bats overhead squeak and chirp in response.
Willa leads the way to the north wall, moving along the outer edge of the cavern, pausing at each crypt for Aurora to make out the Suel carvings with the names of the interred.
[Crypt 3] "The Lady Isolde Yunk (Isolde the Incredible). Purveyor of Antiques and Imports."
[Crypt 4] "Prince Aerial Du Plumette (Aerial the Heavy)"
[Crypt 5] "Artank Swilovich: Here interred and with great mourning courtesy of the Barovian Wine Distillers Brotherhood."
[Crypt 6] The name and epitaph on this crypt have been clawed off as if by some mad tormented beast.
While most of the party is looking at crypts, Ireena stands transfixed at a gap in the north wall protected by a portcullis. Willa is ready to move on, but the Barovian woman insists that they investigate. Barnabus checks the bars, finds no traps but no obvious means of raising it either, aside from simply lifting. They take time to grease the upper bars which will slide into dark recesses to minimize the noise, then Thokk pulls at it. It sticks and resists, but from centuries of disuse rather than any locking mechanism, and eventually they are able to lift it enough to pass under.
(5:40pm) They proceed down the stairs and into the crypt (K85). A peaceful stillness, a calm amid the storm, is felt here - this is the safest they have felt since entering the castle, and many of them sigh audibly. In the center of the tomb, a large white marble slab supports a fine coffin. The quiet room is 50 feet long north to south and 30 feet across. To the north, behind the intricately inlaid coffin, there are three alcoves. Beautifully carved statues of weeping angels stand in each alcove, as clean and lustrous as the day they were placed there.
The writing on the coffin indicates that it holds “Sergei Von Zarovich”.
“His brother,” whispers Ireena.
“The brother he killed,” adds Aurora. Willa takes some time to carefully dry and then light her lantern, and the group examines the room. It appears empty besides the coffin and statues.
(5:50pm) Barnabus says that the coffin lid is somehow stuck or closed fast, and Willa asks why he would even try to open it, but Ireena ignores them both and easily lifts the lid.
Inside are the skeletal remains of a man in armor, a faded tabard covering his form and an empty scabbard along his side, the leather sword belt having long since rotted away. Ireena places a hand gently on the breastplate of the armor, then collapses next to the marble slab and begins weeping uncontrollably. Tyrius motions everyone away from the coffin while he examines the contents more closely.
The armor appears as bright as the day it was forged. Tyrius whispers a prayer to Pelor, then lifts an arm cautiously. The mail clinks lightly, but there is no sign of resistance or rust. Surely this is magical - perhaps even holy.
“My lady?” queries Tyrius, and Ireena sniffs back tears. “I do not think it would be an offense to this fine man were you to use his armor. We need to do everything we can to protect you from the devil.”
Ireena rises and wipes her eyes. “It’s alright,” she says resolutely, “he vould vant me to haf it.” Carefully, respectfully, the pair of them begin to strip the armor off of the skeleton. Once it is all off, they put it onto Ireena. The quilted padding worn under the armor lies in rotting pieces over the skeleton, but Ireena’s thick cotton clothing will serve to protect her from the metal catching her skin. They can’t help but notice, as they adjust straps and buckles, that although the armor was sized for a large man, by the time it is fitted to Ireena it seems smaller, as if specifically forged for her. In the time it takes them to don the plate mail, Aurora has ritually cast detect magic and looked about the room.
(6pm) “I’m only reading the armor,” says the wizardess. “It is definitely magical - but how magical is it?” She swings her staff, hard, at Ireena’s torso. The Barovian woman gasps but draws her family sword, parries the staff blow, then holds the naked blade to Aurora’s throat.
“You vill not be doing that again,” she says, the menace clear in her voice.
“Alrighty t’en…” interjects Willa. “Time t’ get movin’.”
Almost as an afterthought, Ireena takes the scabbard from the coffin and hands it to Thokk. The colors and pattern of the embroidery work on it match perfectly the subdued gems on the hilt of his sword. He grins and tosses his old scabbard aside on the tomb floor.
The party moves up the stairs and into the catacombs, immediately feeling the dread chill. They explore a second row of crypts, then move south along the east wall.
[Crypt 8] "Duchess Dorfniya Dilisnya"
[Crypt 9] "Pidlwik (Fool of Dorfniya)"
[Crypt 10] "Sir Leanne Triksky (Sir Lee the Crusher). What sword did not, time's passage did."
[Crypt 11] "Tasha Petrovna, Healer of Kings. Light unto the West. Servant. Companion."
[Crypt 13] "King Intree Katsky (Katsky the Bright. King, Ruler, and Inventor)."
[Crypt 14] "Stahbal Indi-Bhak: Advisor to Endorvich from eastern lands. A truer friend no ruler ever had. Here lies his family in honor."
[Crypt 15] "KHAZAN: His word was power."
[Crypt 16] "Elsa Fallona"
[Crypt 17] "Sir Sedrik Spinwitovich (Admiral Spinwitovich). Confused though he was, he built the greatest naval force ever assembled in a land-locked country."
[Crypt 19] "Animus (Builder of the Keep). Thou standeth amidst the monument to his life."
[Crypt 20] "Sasha Ivliskova: Wife."
[Crypt 22] "Sir Erik Vonderbucks"
[Crypt 23] The opening stone is unmarked.
(6:10pm) In between the “Vonderbucks” and unmarked crypts, a staircase leads down. Below, there is an ethereal glow. Approaching, they see wide steps descending to a landing (K87) flanked by two alcoves. Within each alcove, standing the full 30-foot height of the ceiling, is a bronze statue holding a spear. A soft blue curtain of light flows between the two alcoves. Dimly visible on the other side of the light curtain are more descending stairs.
Aurora sends her spider familiar to investigate the curtain while the party cautiously descends the steps. Willa remains at the top of the stairs, shining her lantern light back into the catacombs behind them, listening intently. Is it her imagination, or are the bats becoming more active, their squeaks and chirps louder?
Aurora uses her mage hand to pull back the curtain. The tomb below rests in hushed silence. Great stained windows filling the eastern walls filter the dim evening light into this room. The room holds large wings on each side, out of the view of the staircase.
Willa thinks she sees shapes moving in the darkness. Then the shapes resolve - it is Strahd! He reaches out to her with his hand, but connects with her mind.
[Note: Conversations in color were known only to the players in question. Italics indicate Strahd's mental voice.
Willa, he asks, what is your loyalty to this motley group?
“Me loyalty is to meself,” she answers, “an’ t’ me king. T’is ther biggest group o’ fools t'at I hae ever shipped wit'.”
Willa, you know that Aurora is a threat to your king - and the book she took from my personal treasury is dangerous, too?
“I figur’d as much.”
Indeed. I can help you protect your king. You don’t have to change your plans - keep plotting my destruction, it makes no difference. But when I tell you something needs to be done, understand that it is to help you protect your king against the dangers that Aurora is unearthing.
Good - now bring me someone you trust.
“Shefak!” Willa hisses, for the monk is on the stairs just behind her. The monk approaches, then she, too, sees Strahd.
A Bakluni monk. Intriguing. It has been a long time indeed since I have seen one of your people.
“Did you know Zuoken?” asks Shefak directly.
Indeed I did. I will tell you all about him, in exchange for a favor when the time comes.
“I will not break my monastic vows, but otherwise I will do anything for information about him.”
Of course you will. For now, bring me the halfling.
Shefak goes back down the stairs.
“Barnabus,” she whispers. “Come and see if you can make this out.”
“Ah...no thanks,” says the halfling, and he disappears into the shadows behind Tyrius.
“What is going on up there?” asks the paladin.
“There is something moving in the dark,” says Willa, her voice level but with an intonation of concern.
Tyrius calls upon his faith, closes his eyes, then extends his senses out into the darkness around them, seeking meaning in this mire of chaos and evil. His face contorts. He says quietly, so that just those nearby him can hear, “Petrinoff is unrepentantly evil, and a werewolf. And there is a vampire nearby. Very nearby.”
From the darkness beyond Willa’s lantern light a shape emerges - the forbidding presence of Strahd. He hails the party, and then says to Tyrius, “Most perceptive, paladin. Indeed Petrinoff is a verevolf, and an evil one at that. I’m afraid his penchant for evil outmatched my stewardship of him.”
At the appearance of the count, the rescued prisoner Petrinoff has fallen to all fours and is groveling on the steps, mumbling, “Master...forgive me, Master…”
“Petrinoff - tell my guests vhy you were locked in that cell.”
“For my disobedience, Master.”
“Indeed, you disobeyed me vonce, and for that you were imprisoned. And yet, you are here, valking free. How can that be?”
“I disobeyed you again, Master. I got these people to free me.”
“I see. And vhat is the punishment for a second disobeyal?”
“Yes, yes it is.” Strahd turns from addressing Petrinoff back to Tyrius. “Paladin, your oaths commit you to upholding the law of the land, do they not?”
Sensing a trap, Tyrius answers carefully. “Within reason. If they are just laws, yes.”
“Vell now, I call upon you all to know that this man, Alexandru Petrinoff, did twice disobey me, Count Strahd von Zarovich, his lawful ruler and the master of Barovia. By his own admittance, the punishment for this is death. To you, paladin, I give the honor of executing the law of this land.”
Before Tyrius can respond, Petrinoff turns from groveling before Strahd and stands menacingly on the stairs facing Tyrius. His body is covered in course, disheveled fur. His teeth lengthen into fangs and his nails into claws, but he remains upright in a nightmare man-wolf form.
With a strangled cry, he leaps at Tyrius. The paladin brings his shield up in front of him and the creature’s claws and fangs fall upon the metal. In an instant he is surrounded by the party, who rain blows upon him as he struggles to get at Tyrius. Finally Larry, from behind Tyrius, shoots forth his thorn whip, wraps it around the creature’s neck, and jerks it down the stairs past Tyrius. As the creature passes him, Tyrius pivots and smashes his new hammer into the side of its head, staving in its skull. In a second, it lies on the steps in front of Larry, now slowly turning back into a dead man.
[DM’s note: By using his new hammer (from Strahd’s hoard) in combat, Tyrius realizes that it is a war hammer +2.]
“Vell done, paladin.” says the count. “Justice is served. And now, I must remind you, my guests, that you barely touched your lunch, you have been vandering the castle for hours, and dinner is avaiting you. Igor has been vorking all day to prepare your feast. Come, let us return to the banquet hall.”
Aurora comes up the steps, next to Willa, who is cleaning the werewolf blood from her sword and eyeing the count cautiously.
[Note: Aurora saw how Willa was looking into the darkness at the rear of the party, and now Strahd has appeared. Aurora suspects that Willa is charmed, and decides to try to charm her, herself, with her hypnotic gaze, to break Strahd's charm.
“Hey Willa,” Aurora says, but when the warrior looks at her, her eyes appear as swirling points of light.
“Aye, Aurora?” Willa responds, in a strangely husky voice. “Ye know, I’ve never noticed 'ow t'at dress brings out ther color in yer eyes.”
Barnabus is still nowhere to be seen. At the appearance of Strahd, Ireena has retreated down the stairs and past the curtain. Babshapka and Larry go with her, but upon crossing the threshold of the curtain they disappear - only to reappear a second later at the top of the stairs, even closer to the count.
“Uh, that dinner is an intriguing offer,” says Aurora, turning back to the count. “Could you ask us again? Actually, could you ask my friend Willa directly? She’s a bit reluctant to go.”
The count arches an eyebrow. Willa whispers, “Ye mean yer special friend, Aurora.”
Strahd looks directly at Willa, although she only has eyes for Aurora. “Of course, you are all inwited to dinner, but I vould be especially honored if you vould attend, Villa.”
Willa shakes her head, her eyes clearing. “Nay, I’ll not be dinin’ wit ther likes o’ ye, ye fanged freak!” she shouts at Strahd. Then she turns and clouts Aurora on the arm, “An’ what in the ‘ells be ye doing, ye spell-slinging hussy! Get out o’ me ‘ead!”
[I ruled that the dual charms acting on Willa did not conflict until they directly contradicted one another. Then, Willa was allowed new saves against both. She saved against Aurora’s but failed again and remained charmed by Strahd.]
Babshapka, seeing the light coming through the windows into the tomb below, shouts “Aha!” and pulls back the curtain. Wan daylight falls about halfway up the stairs, but is still far from the count’s feet.
The count stares for a moment at everyone in front of him. “You are all wery amusing peoples,” he says dryly. “But come, you may entertain me at dinner.”
Thokk was pleased with the killing of the werewolf, but he has rapidly grown tired of all the talking he does not understand. “Thokk kill you once already,” says the frustrated half-orc to Strahd. “But now you are un-killed. Maybe that why evil advisor says you are un-dead. Thokk make sure you are real dead this time.” Screaming in rage, he runs up the stairs. When he draws forth his sword it is glowing a brilliant blue - but when he strikes at Strahd, the entire blade erupts in flames.
[Note: in addition to its +3 against undead, Thokk now learns that the sunsword does an extra 10 points of damage per hit to vampires]
The count recoils at the sight of the sword. “That veapon...I thought I had destroyed it!” he cries, as Thokk lands blow upon blow on him. The fire has spread to his elegant black cape.
By now Willa is at Thokk’s side. “Nay Thokk, not now!” she yells in his ear. “I advise you t'at t'is not be ther time fer attack.”
Strahd whispers to Thokk: Thokk, warrior brother, you defeated me once by surprise, but now we meet in my crypts, where I have the advantage - how will we know who is stronger if I win here? Do not worry, soon I will tell you when to attack, when we meet on equal ground, and the victor then will KNOW he is truly great. Until then, listen to your advisor, it is not time for attack.
Thokk is already heaving and panting as he strikes at Strahd, but now he pauses and turns to Willa. “No?” he says almost mournfully, “not time for attack?” and his sword droops. Strahd makes no move to retaliate once Thokk’s guard is down.
“Nay, not now,” Willa repeats. She pulls Thokk gently away from the count.
“Excellent, excellent,” says the count, and he smiles broadly and clasps his hands together. “Now, can ve all come to dinner, please!”
Tyrius has been waiting for the others on the stairs to get behind him. Now the only ones between him and Strahd are Willa and Thokk. He holds forth his holy symbol and brandishes it. “By the Divine Light of Pelor, I banish you, devil! Get thee hence!” he shouts. Light streams forth. Strahd cowers, pulling the burned tatters of his cape up and in front of his face. Then he whirls, and disappears into the darkness of the catacombs.
(6:15pm) Tyrius arranges the party defensively on the stairs, then he goes down and passes through the curtain, to join Ireena in the tomb below. Babshapka had previously tried to go behind one of the statues to achieve the same effect. He was easily able to squeeze between the statue and the alcove wall, but when he crossed the plane of the curtain, he found himself again at the top of the stairs, despite not having touched the curtain itself.
A closed coffin stands on each side of the roughly 40-foot-square room. Tyrius reads the inscriptions out loud - one says “King Barov” and the other “Queen Ravenovia.”
“His parents,” mutters Ireena distractedly, while she looks out the windows at the dying light. There is perhaps half an hour left before sundown.
“His parents?” muses Tyrius. “Barov and Ravenovia...Barovia...perhaps he named this land after his parents when he conquered it.”
Tyrius utters a small prayer and carefully opens the coffins. Each holds a skeleton in once-rich robes, now rotted away. Both wear crowns - Barov has a jeweled sword (now rusted) while Ravenovia has an abundance of medallions and rings. Tyrius replaces the lids of the coffins, then looks about as best he can for any secret doors. Finally, Tyrius and Ireena return up the stairs to the party.
(6:25pm) “Ther brother on ther north wall, and ther parents in ther east,” says Willa. “My money says Strahd’s crypt be on ther south wall, across from ther tother one.”
The party makes their way cautiously through the dark catacombs. They move south, but along the east wall, reading the tomb inscriptions as they go.
[Crypt 27] There is no inscription on this crypt, and the door-stone is slightly ajar. From inside comes a clicking and scuttering noise, but whatever it is retreats from the light of Willa’s lantern into the dark recesses of the crypt.
[Crypt 28] "Ardent Pallette, Chef Delux"
[Crypt 29] "Ivan Ivanovich, Beloved of Anna Petrovna."
[Crypt 33] The stone door is blank. This crypt looks like it has never been used.
[Crypt 34] "King Dostron"
“King?” wonders Tyrius aloud. “This is not the first king this castle has buried under it, but Strahd is only a Count?”
Aurora suggests, “It may be that most of the people interred here, including the kings, were the natives of this valley before Strahd conquered it. He may have assumed the title of count after defeating the old king, if he did not take over the entire kingdom, but just a small part for himself.”
Willa hushes them both. “We ain’t 'ere fer a histry lesson! Ears sharp!”
They reach the southeast corner of the crypts and turn west along the south wall.
[Crypt 40] "Tatsaul Eris: Last of the line"
[Crypt 39] "Bucephalus, The Wonder Horse. May the flowers grow ever greener where he treads." This crypt has a larger door than all the rest.
[Crypt 38] "Americo Standardski (Inventor)"
Tyrius still has his divine sense running, and is reaching out into the chaos around him. He senses the presence of an Abyssal being in the crypt of Bucephalus, and three Infernal beings in that of Americo, and he warns his companions not to open these crypts. Tyrius does not feel any undead close by. In front of the party, to their left on the south wall, is a portcullis and a staircase down, much like the one to Sergei’s tomb. Tyrius feels that the staircase leads down to unholy ground. “We are getting close,” he whispers.
Willa and Thokk are in the lead as the party creeps forward, Willa’s lantern light casting a huge, crazy shadow of Thokk across the surfaces of the catacombs since she is several paces behind and backlighting him.
When Thokk sees the portcullis, he knows what to do - they will be wanting him to lift it, like the last one. He strides forward confidently, passes between the rock wall and the Infernal crypt, and suddenly stops in his tracks.
Slowly he turns back around to face the party. His face is ashen white - and human-like, bearing no trace of his orcish parentage. He seems smaller, shorter - as if his muscles have withered with death. His sword, gripped tightly in his hand, is glowing a brilliant blue.
Larry gasps - “Is Thokk undead?”
Tyrius shakes his head. “That thing’s undead, but it’s not Thokk - it’s a barrow wight...wearing all of Thokk’s gear.”
Not wanting to approach the wight, in case there was some sort of proximity trap, the party unloads on the creature from a distance. Babshapka shoots an arrow, then entangles it, while Aurora shoots firebolts. By the time Larry drags it to them with his thorn whip, the corpse collapses to the floor and Tyrius announces that the evil spirit inhabiting its body has fled. They recover all of Thokk’s gear, but still don’t know where he is.
Aurora and Barnabus examine the floor by the light of Willa’s lantern. They find runes engraved in the stone - barely visible, filled with centuries of dust. Working their way around possible entrances to what they presume to be Strahd’s crypt, they find them in two other locations. All possible accesses are magically protected.
[Crypt 37] "Gralmore Nimblenobs"
While the party ponders their next move, deep in the recesses of the catacombs, they hear Thokk’s distant voice booming, “Willa? Evil Advisor, where are you?”
Then comes the sound of footsteps - not just Thokk’s, though - he is being pursued. The party prepares an ambush, and quickly dispatches a second wight behind Thokk. Thokk is dressed in rotten rags that leave nothing to the imagination, and Willa is careful where she points the lantern.
Thokk tells them that he found himself lying down in a stone box. He lifted the lid off, and was in a room with more than two hands worth of stone boxes. He opened one, but there was a dead thing inside it, and he didn’t have his weapons. He opened the door of the room, but the dead thing followed him all the back here.
Willa shows him the runes, and warns him not to step on them while the party puzzles what to do next.
(6:35pm) Eventually they decide to test whether the runes are activated if they are not stepped on. Willa and Tyrius crouch, and Thokk vaults off their backs and through the air. He easily clears the runes on the floor, but when he lands on the stone beyond, he is no longer Thokk, but another wight - this one as naked as Thokk had been when he launched himself through. By the time the real Thokk has again returned to them, the party has killed this wight as well. Thokk, however, in throwing the stone lid off his tomb, has this time made enough noise to wake another two wights that followed him back to the party. By the time they are felled, the party has dispatched five of the creatures in all.
(6:45pm) Trying a different line of reasoning, the party decides that Tyrius was able to open Sergei’s coffin, and pass through the curtain to Barov and Ravenovia’s tombs, because of his holiness. Perhaps he will be able to bypass this trap as well. Tyrius strips off his armor and weapons, so as not to give any possible wight their benefits, until he is clad in his small clothes and bears only his holy symbol. He says a prayer to Pelor and steps over the runes.
The wight that then faces them carries the paladin’s symbol, but it does not appear to affect him. When Tyrius returns, not followed, he reports that the chamber he found himself in was larger on the inside than the outside, and that there were fully fifteen sarcophagi inside. Besides the one he opened, another five had their lids off. He was careful to be quiet and was not followed back.
(6:55pm) Again the party ponders - it is clear that the runes are moving the party to the wight’s tombs, and the wights here, but is there an inexhaustible supply of them? Dare they open the tombs at their source? Should they try to send a dead body over the runes? While they debate, Ireena is growing increasingly agitated. Finally she strides up to the runes herself. Tyrius lays his hand on her shoulder. “Do not risk yourself my lady - the time it would take for you to put your armor back on in itself is not worth it.” She shrugs off his hand and steps through - and now they face a wight clad in Sergei’s armor, while Ireena is trapped in a stone sarcophagus. Tyrius leaves the wight to the party while he returns to the source tomb to defend Ireena. She has been warned not to make noise - so which sarcophagus is she in? There are fifteen - Tyrius can sense that there are nine wights still in the sarcophagi, another are five empty - and a living being in the last. He eases the lid off the one with Ireena.
(7:05pm) As they make their way back to the party, Tyrius and Ireena note that the bats that crowd the ceiling are on the move. In ones and twos they are taking to wing. Most seem to be headed to the west. By the time they reach the party the catacombs are that much quieter.
Aurora, Tyrius, and Larry carefully ponder the runes on the floor while Willa helps Ireena back into her armor. Aurora now believes that the runes are transportational, but require an exchange to function. Any non-living thing, such as armor or weapons, passes through them unaffected. But any living thing is exchanged for an undead thing. With that in mind, and having heard from Tyrius that six of the sarcophagi were empty, corresponding to the six wights slain, Aurora is hopeful that if they kill all the wights, they can render the exchange property of the runes non-functional.
“So t'en we can walk t'rough ther runes an’ nay be affected?” asks Willa.
“Yes,” says Aurora confidently. “That, or slip out of existence,” she adds in a lowered voice.
“It be night by now and ‘is powers agrowin’,” says Willa dubiously. “‘ow long is it gonna take t' kill those blighters one at a time?”
“Or, we could face them all at once,” replies Aurora. “I still have my fireball.”
“And I have my moonbeam,” adds Larry.
Willa nods. “We do it careful and quiet, one at a time. But if they all start comin’ out, ye two can use the big spells.”
The party retreats from Strahd’s tomb to the the crypt of the wights (14).
Carefully they open each tomb one at a time, with one person on each end of the stone lid, and the other six of them falling upon the wight inside all at once. Things go well for the first five tombs, with the wights not even managing to stand up before they are dispatched. But on the sixth tomb, Thokk gets over-excited, and jerks up so hard that the stone lid upends and comes down on top of Larry. The noise made raises the other wights from their tombs so that the party is facing four at once. There are some tense moments as the wights claw at the party members, but they soon regain control, destroy the last of them, and pull the heavy stone lid off of Larry.
What no one has noticed is that Strahd himself is hiding in the tomb, watching them carefully. During the last fight, when they were all involved, Strahd locked eyes with Barnabus so that only the halfling knew that he was there. Strahd raised a finger to his lips, and Barnabus nodded before returning to the battle.
(7:20 pm) All the sarcophagi now opened and wights defeated, the party makes their way back through the crypts to the south. Barnabus, as his his want, follows just far enough to use the party’s light, but not so close he can be seen. Strahd silently moves up next to him.
You look like one who knows how the world works, my friend. I have a business proposition for you.
This whole expedition was Aurora’s idea - and now she has the book she came for. What about you? What are you getting out of this?
“So far, nothing.”
Exactly. Here is my offer - I will signal you when the time is right. Offer to trade me for the Barovian girl. I will refuse. Threaten to kill her - distract the paladin. You do not actually have to kill her, just make a convincing diversion. In return, I will let you leave these lands, and take as much treasure as you can carry with you.
“Sounds good to me.”
The party returns to the portcullised stairway entrance.
Before anyone can stop him, Thokk strides across the runes, reaches the portcullis, and lifts it up. The scream of rusty metal echoes through the catacombs. _________________ 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: 574 Location: Sky Island, So Cal
Posted: Fri Jul 12, 2019 10:36 am Post subject:
Lol, Kirt! You are a devious DM! :P
If you go back to Post 66, I outline my devious DM plan for charming half the party and then having the two sides fight over Ireena.
Strahd was able to charm Larry at midnight the day previous, and at this point he had just 6 hours of charm left. When Thokk resisted Strahd's charm in the throne room, I thought to myself, "There's no way Strahd's going to be able to charm half the party in 24 hours." The party typically keeps a tight formation, so I didn't anticipate a lot of chances to isolate one character at a time and charm them.
And then the party entered the catacombs just as a random roll brought Strahd there, and he was able to charm four of them in the span of an hour or so. It was a thing of beauty for a DM.
We played all of the Ravenloft sessions in the classroom of one of the players (a social studies teacher) after hours and on weekends. Any time Strahd had a chance to charm someone, I would say to the player, "Let's you and me go into the hall for a minute - and bring your dice." My players are used to having private conversations with the DM in the hall, but anytime I add "and bring your dice" they know it's not going to be good. Over the course of this session I got to take SO MANY of them into the hall and have them make charm saves. It was wonderful.
They were also very good sports and no one had any meta/table talk when they returned to the group - so they all knew if they had been charmed or not but didn't reveal the result to the others. Since Strahd had told those who were charmed to go ahead with their plans to destroy him, by the end of the session everyone was looking around the table trying to figure out who had been charmed and who had resisted. Wonderfully tense, wonderful Ravenloft flavor. _________________ 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: 574 Location: Sky Island, So Cal
Posted: Fri Jul 12, 2019 10:37 am Post subject: Post 72: Strahd 5 - Party 3
Post 72: Strahd 5 - Party 3
Things are not looking good for our heroes.
Strahd has now charmed Larry, Willa, Shefak, Thokk, and Barnabus.
Tyrius and Aurora remain uncharmed, with Ireena.
Strahd is now just waiting for the right moment to unleash his plan - Barnabus will attack Ireena, an interparty conflict will develop, her defenders (Tyrius and Aurora) will lose, the depleted winners will attack her again, and Strahd will save her and win her love. _________________ 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
The party started this session at a great disadvantage, with five of them charmed and Strahd just waiting for the right moment to enact his plan of Barnabus attacking Ireena, and then most of the party being incapacitated in the ensuing intra-party conflict.
However, in this session they returned to their Scooby-Dooesque roots, with a comical chase scene and some amazingly lucky events. They are not out of the woods yet, but they certainly improved the odds for themselves.
Their first stroke of luck would happen in Strahd's tomb, where Willa would roll an incredible non-proficient Sleight of Hand check to spirit away the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind without Strahd noticing.
Their second lucky roll needs a bit of explanation. When the party found Strahd's diary, I used my hardback copy of I, Strahd (https://www.amazon.com/Strahd-Memoirs-Vampire-Ravenloft-Books/dp/1560766700/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=) as a physical prop. Into that book I had placed a few dozen little slips of paper like bookmarks. Every time the party had an hour in-game to read the Diary, I let them (Ireena or Aurora, the only ones who could read Suel) make a History check. A high enough roll let them pull out one (or more, if high enough) of the papers and read it, essentially at random since they did not know what was on each paper when they made the choice of which one to pull out.
Some of the papers were the actual lines from Strahd's diary given in the module. One was a line I planted about Strahd meeting Zuoken. The remainders were bits and pieces of the description of a greater vampire found in the 5e Monster Manual. Since none of the players actually knew any of the 5e stats and abilities of vampires, the information proved very illuminating. When they learned, for example, that vampires can regenerate 20 hp per round they realized they were in for a difficult fight.
As luck would have it, one of the papers they pulled out this session was the description of the vampire's charm ability. When the party members who were already charmed read that, I allowed the knowledge that Strahd might be charming them to grant them a one time chance to save again. They all failed, again, except Larry - who with his Wisdom bonus and proficiency in Wisdom saves had the best chance of any of them, 55%. Of any of them who could have broken free of the charm, Larry would be key - since by cooperating with Tyrius he could cast a sunlight spell.
Thus, they started the session with five charmed, three not, the sword, and the diary...but hey ended the session with four charmed, four not, the sword, the diary, the holy symbol, and the ability to create sunlight.
I'd say they went from a rather likely victory by Strahd to a toss-up, with no clear way to tell who would win - thanks to two lucky rolls and one lucky paper draw.
Post 73: The Heart of Darkness
14 October, 570 - Barovia, under Castle Ravenloft
Before anyone can stop him, Thokk strides across the runes, reaches the portcullis, and lifts it up. The scream of rusty metal echoes through the catacombs. They make their way down the stairs into Strahd’s tomb (K86).
A darkness clouds the room and the essence of evil permeates the very air, obvious to everyone. The smell of freshly turned earth is here. This room appears to be 50 feet long from east to west and 30 feet across. There are three empty alcoves in the south wall. Settled into the dirt on the floor lies a shining black coffin of finely waxed wood. The coffin's fittings are of brilliant brass. The lid is closed. In front of the coffin stands Strahd, welcoming them.
[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!
Strahd looks upon them with the countenance of one who is struggling to remain polite. “You are beginning to try my patience,” he says. “Come, it is time for dinner.”
Some of those in the front of the party have noticed a shiny object lying in the dirt of the floor, in a dark corner. Willa walks casually over to it without looking at it, bends down to tie her boot, and unseen by anyone in the room, palms what turns out to be a platinum medallion on a neck chain. Tyrius joins her, then kneels in the dirt to pray.
“Yes! Dinner!” booms Thokk. He seems now not to mind so much that Strahd has refused to stay dead, so long as he is offering them food.
“Good, good,” smiles the count. “Please to be goink back to the banquet hall now, the one vhere ve first met, yes?”
“Yes,” says Ireena. “I think it is dinner time.” She turns and whispers something to Shefak, who walks over to the others, then turns and shrugs.
Slowly the party retreats up the stairs, Willa and Tyrius the last to exit. When they are finally on the stairs, Strahd bids them halt. His face, pleased at their departure, now clouds. “Just vun moment - I believe vun of you may have taken somethink that is not belongink to you.”
The party members look at one another inquiringly, but no one says anything and they continue up the stairs.
Strahd, barely controlling his anger, booms “Who has the amulet?!”
Willa pulls the jeweled medallion from her boot. “This amulet?” she says, facing Strahd.
From behind her, Aurora grabs the medallion and attempts to jerk it from Willa’s grasp, taking her by surprise, but the warrior’s fingers tighten around it reflexively. Aurora trips on the stairs and collapses, desperately holding on to the surprisingly solid chain. As the full weight of the enchantress is added to the medallion, Willa drops it in surprise. Aurora scrambles to her feet, dashing up the stairs and squealing “Ruuuuun!”
Most of the party members flee up the stairs into the darkness of the catacombs. Willa and Tyrius, at the bottom, are the only ones with light sources. They lock shoulders and block off the stairway. Strahd draws his cloak up about him and moves past them easily, as if he was insubstantial, no more solid than an icy wind. He rounds the corner just behind the party, solidifies, and demands, “Give me the amulet!”
In the darkness, Barnabus “bumps” into Aurora. He comes away with the medallion in his hand, and Aurora holding the neck chain from his cloak but none the wiser. Strahd moves forward and grabs Aurora’s forearm in an irresistible grip, and she stops running. She messages “Thokk, let’s have a running contest.”
Willa and Tyrius dash up the stairs behind Strahd. When the light of Willa’s lantern falls upon Aurora, the cloak-chain in her hand is revealed. It is not clear whether it is Willa, Strahd, or Aurora who is the more surprised. “The amulet is not yours,” Strahd hisses menacingly without removing his vice-like grip. “Who is havink it?”
“Thokk, take the amulet and run to Sergei’s tomb!” calls Aurora, but the words are not even out of her mouth before Strahd disbelieves her. He releases his grip and she drops to the catacomb floor. Strahd turns, just in time to see Tyrius bowing so that Barnabus can drape the medallion around the paladin’s neck, so that it hangs on his chest next to his sunburst holy symbol. When Tyrius straightens, the light from his shield is reflected off of a large crystal in the medallion, and the reflections play across Strahd’s face, contorted with rage.
With a disgusted look, the count moves past Tyrius, returning to the stairway of his tomb. Tyrius and Barnabus exchange a triumphant glance with one another, then when Aurora stands up, the three of them join the rest of the party in running through the catacombs toward Sergei’s tomb.
[DM’s note: for recovering the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, Tyrius gains an Inspiration Point. He now has two saved.]
Thokk has put Larry on piggyback, and is pulling night-blind Shefak along with him through the dark catacombs, but still reaches the portcullis ahead of the rest. He guffaws happily and taunts them as they arrive, panting. “Haw, haw, slowpokes. No match for Thokk in running contest! Next time you all get head start.” Then, when all are assembled, he raises the portcullis for them and they file down the stairs into Sergei’s tomb, relieved at the calm it generates.
“'ey paly-din - ye still 'ave yer divine sense runnin'?” asks Willa.
“Yes,” says Tyrius, trying to catch his breath, “though my other holy powers are exhausted. Are we resting here?”
“Be we safe 'ere?”
Tyrius concentrates and expands his senses. “This is consecrated ground...but it will not stop Strahd. Maybe he would not be able to touch Sergei’s coffin, but he can still enter here. There is no way he could get into his parents’ tomb through the curtain of light - that would be the safest place to rest - except that many of you can’t enter there, either. Perhaps if you accepted The Way of Light…”
Willa snorts. “Ne’er mind t'at. Help me move t'at coffin in front of ther door.”
“What?” asks Tyrius.
“If’n Strahd can’t tech ther coffin, t'at be what we use t' block ther door.”
Ireena looks aghast. Tyrius says, quietly but firmly, “No.”
“Aright, aright, t'en - jus' ther lid - we can angle it t' cover most o' ther openin'…”
“NO!” Willa is silenced by both Tyrius and Ireena shouting in unison.
“Fine,” she huffs, “'tis only all our lives at stake, agin' ther honor o' some guy who’s been dead fer five hunnerd years. Thokk! Ye n’ me be gardin’ ther door.”
Thokk strides cheerfully back up the stairs to watch at the portcullis. “Advisor,” he whispers, not wanting to sound like he hasn’t been following along, “when we go to dinner?”
Aurora is examining the holy symbol now worn around the neck of Tyrius. It is an ancient platinum medallion. It is shaped like the sun, with a large crystal embedded in its center. Around the crystal are many holy symbols of light and truth. “Is that your family’s icon?” she asks Ireena.
“Yes, that is what kept us safe - that is what was stolen the night my father died.” As she says the word “stolen”, Ireena looks carefully at Tyrius.
“My lady, Pelor has already seen fit to tell me how to use this device,” answers Tyrius, unbidden. “I believe it will be the key to defeating the devil, but it must be used at precisely the right moment. With your permission, I will retain it until he is defeated, and then return it to you.”
Ireena nods. “Be it so.”
Tyrius retreats to the middle alcove, at the base of the statue of the weeping angel. He kneels in prayer, attempting to reclaim the divine power that could help him drive Strahd off again. Ireena, Larry, and Aurora move to a far corner of the room, with Ireena and Aurora reading Strahd’s journal by the light of Willa’s lantern. Babshapka, Shefak, and Barnabus rest at the bottom of the stairs, ready to support Thokk and Willa if necessary.
(7:30pm) They have not been resting even five minutes when Willa hears the scurrying patter of innumerable tiny feet. Then Thokk, with his darkvision, spots the rats - hundreds of rats - a living carpet of rats - moving like a great wave along the floor of the catacombs, straight at the portcullis. The wave crests and breaks, the rats entering the room through every gap in the bars. Willa gets her sword tangled in the bars of the portcullis, but Thokk, Babshapka, and Shefak dispatch the creatures right and left. Barnabus’ shortswords are a blur, killing dozens of rats faster than the eye can follow.
The swarm parts in the middle, and the two columns pass on either side of the marble slab with Sergei’s coffin. They merge again, uniting and then filling the cell wherein Tyrius kneels. His chanting grows louder, but he makes no move against them other than to lower his visor as he is covered in a layer of rats, each searching his scale armor frantically for some means of access. The party comes to his aid, one by one removing and killing the rats until none are left. In the entire encounter, the rats made no attempt to bite anyone other than Tyrius.
“Bet we coulda slowed ‘em down with a coffin lid” harrumphs Willa. She gathers torches and oil from several in the party, then builds a pyre just outside the portcullis. The oil-soaked wood is just waiting for a spark or touch of the torch she now keeps lit.
Larry casts some of his remaining healing spells in preparation for their short rest.
(8:40pm) The party rests for an hour, without further interruption. Aurora, Larry, and Tyrius have all recovered a few spells. Perhaps as importantly, with the aid of Larry and Ireena, Aurora has found two key passages in Strahd’s journal. The first forms part of the narrative, and includes a mention of both his parents and Sergei:
I called for my family, long unseated from their ancient thrones, and brought them here to settle in the castle Ravenloft. They came with a younger brother of mine, Sergei. He was handsome and youthful. I hated him for both.
The second passage includes a description of how Strahd learned to use the power of enchantment to control the minds of others. There is a description of what factors aid in control, and what might allow the victim to break free. Interestingly, it says that Strahd’s power lasts but a day before it needs to be renewed. It also, says Aurora, indicates that physical damage may help break the charm, and she recommends that anyone who the party suspects of being under Strahd’s influence be roughed up. Ireena looks concerned, remembering how Aurora attempted to wake Babshapka from his drugged sleep by knifing him. “Actually, vhat I believe it says is that if Strahd or those the wictim perceives to be his serwants cause the wictim harm, then he may break free - but there is no effect of damage in general.” Aurora re-reads the passage, and is forced to admit that Ireena is correct.
Larry, upon hearing this, seems agitated. He distances himself from the party and paces. When he returns to them, he says he has something important to tell them. He explains his meeting with Strahd the night before - how he thought he was helping to end a curse on the land, but was compelled to keep it secret. Upon now hearing how Strahd has the power of charm, he realized how strange it was that he was helping him, an undead creature. He believes that Strahd had him under a charm, but that he has just now broken free. This is unsettling news, and Aurora wonders out loud how many others in the party might be affected. Everyone else denies being under Strahd’s influence.
Tyrius says that they now have the tome, the sword, and the icon - everything that Madam Eva told them they needed to defeat the devil. Tyrius believes that they should return to the throne room, and place Ireena on the throne as the rightful ruler of Barovia. He believes that this will draw Strahd for the inevitable final confrontation. Aurora agrees, but says that they are not ready for this. While they are in reasonably good health, Thokk needs to rest before he can rage again, and all of them are short on spells. She proposes a long rest, a chance for them to even sleep or trance, so that they are in peak form when they face the count.
As calming as is the influence of Sergei’s tomb, none of them feel they can rest here long term. Strahd knows exactly where they are, and if he sent the rats, he can continue sending other things at them. They need a more secure place, and Madam Eva told them that Strahd’s secret treasury was a good place to rest. They agree to head there.
Willa spreads her cloak on the catacomb floor, and gathers up all her splintered, oil-soaked torches - she is taking her pyre with her.
Although some suggest exploring the western wall of the catacombs, they leave the way they came in. They notice for the first time that on this side, the door is disguised as the entrance to a crypt, and even bears an inscription:
[Crypt 1] "Spectre Ab-Centeer. She now walks that path of pain and torment. A gift to all who look upon her still.”
They travel quickly but carefully down the tunnel, crossing the trap in the floor without incident, and entering the statue room. A green haze is still in the air, but they do not seem affected by it. Thokk removes the moldy throne from where it held the southern door open and sets it back on the balcony, and Aurora mage hands the stone down that will let them open the door to the spiral staircase.
“You know,” says Aurora, “with the gas dispersed, it is now safe to open the chest…” Willa grabs her by the arm and drags her to the door.
(8:50 pm) The party ascends the spiral staircase, going up further than before. Larry estimates that they have gone up about 70 vertical feet and are perhaps at the level of the bottom of the elevator when the spiral stair turns into a short straight hallway (K83a), and then another spiral stair. All the stones in the walls and stairways are rough-hewn. Aurora insists that they stop on the landing here and look for secret doors. Willa begrudgingly allows them ten minutes, but nothing is found.
(9pm) The second stair leads up more than a hundred vertical feet, according to Larry, and ends in a door. From the other side comes the crackling sound of a fire - they are indeed back at the study. Knowing their way, they pass quickly through the fire, the secret treasure chamber, and into the dark hall. Here, the spider webs are in disarray, the dust on the flood is greatly disturbed, and there is even familiar fresh blood on the floor and a discarded pile of rags.
They pass through into the belfry - their tracks to the secret door are obvious. They pass into Strahd’s secret treasure room, which appears as it was before. Larry is the last one through, and takes pains to obscure their tracks in the dust and even pull some cobwebs from higher up down across the opening to the door.
Thokk, under Aurora’s direction, pounds some pitons into the stone floor on their side of the secret door so that it cannot be opened. His mighty blows echo through the chamber and presumably out into the hall. Willa and Tyrius move the heavy desk into place, further barricading the door, and then the party settles in to rest.
They cannot have been in the room five minutes when several of them note that Thokk’s sword is glowing. They draw weapons and prepare, just as three insubstantial forms pass through the stone walls of the room. They appear to be the ghostly outlines of palace guards. Ireena realizes with a sickening feeling that they are dressed in the same tabards as the skeletal guards impaled in the walls below.
As the party moves to engage them, one of the spirits drops back, and lifts his tabard to show a grisly chest wound. All of the party are repulsed, but Aurora and Willa are rooted to the spot, unable to act due to a supernatural fear. The blows of the party members pass right through the creatures, but do seem to blur them as they pass, disrupting their forms as though they were made of some sort of ethereal mist. Magic weapons, in particular, seem to perturb them more. One of the spirits sinks his transparent spear deep into the guts of Tyrius. The paladin takes no wound, but feels a chill and lethargy take over him and his face goes ashen. He staggers back to Ireena’s side. The others manage to avoid being hit and their attacks eventually dissipate two of the creatures. At this, Willa and Aurora rally and are able to engage the last one, disrupting it as well.
(9:10pm) The party hadn’t considered that creatures would be able to pass through walls to get at them, and their “secure resting space” now seems much less safe. Ireena explains that silver can be used to ward against evil. She scoops handfuls of silver coins out of one of the treasure chests, and the party joins her in putting them end to end, all around the base of the walls. Then, in the center of the room, she arranges more silver coins into a holy symbol of a sun, and Tyrius blesses it. Babshapka casts his alarm spell on the door, specifying that he will receive a mental alarm if anything as large as a rat comes within 20 feet of the door. Larry heals Tyrius from the ghosts. The party returns to their rest, including a meal; although Aurora and Ireena are intently working through Strahd’s diary.
(9:20pm-10:20pm) Over the course of the hour, Aurora and Ireena become increasingly excited as they decipher Strahd’s narrative.
With words she called me "brother," but when I looked into her eyes they reflected another name — "death." It was the death of the aged that she saw in me. She loved her youth and enjoyed it. But I had squandered mine.
I have often hunted for Tatyana. I have even felt her within my grasp, but she escapes. She taunts me! She taunts me! What will it take to bend her love to me?
They also scour the text for any signs of his weakness - and discover his extreme vulnerability to sunlight, and inability to cross running water. Aurora discusses spell strategy with Larry and Tyrius, and the latter two practice the combined prayer that will summon forth actual daylight.
Finally, Aurora shows Shefak this tantalizing journal entry:
The Bakluni called “Zuoken” passed through my realm when he was still mortal. He was able to fight off all of my servants, and his mind proved impenetrable to my charms - the only man ever to truly defeat me. Eventually he left, passing through the dark woods to the south.”
[DM's Note: Shefak's positive individual fortune: If Shefak can discover a clue about Zuoken’s location before leaving Barovia, she will gain a level. . Shefak is now at level 5] _________________ 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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