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    Master Greytalker

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    Fri Jan 04, 2019 10:29 am  
    Post 45: The Siege, and Farewell to Salinmoor

    Note: This post contains spoilers to module U3: The Final Enemy

    Post 45: The Siege, and Farewell to Salinmoor

    1 September, 570 - Seaton
    The next day Tyrius is again invited to dine with the Viscount, though no one else in the party is. Willa’s informants among the navy messengers tell her that the campaign against the sahuagin is going well, but it is a slow siege with no early resolution in sight. Sensing that they will be the Viscount’s “guests,” (that is, social hostages) for quite some time, Willa, Tyrius, and Aurora meet. Tyrius says that he cannot keep Thokk drunk forever, and sooner or later an unfortunate incident is bound to occur. For some reason Willa seems more inclined than before to help. It is decided that they will ask permission for Thokk, accompanied by Larry and Babshapka, to retire to the woods to “commune with his wolf spirits,” while the rest of them remain at the palace.

    It may be that the Viscount doesn’t deem the orc / dwarf / elf trio “responsible” (or valuable enough to hold until the conclusion of the sahuagin campaign) - they certainly are not the party leaders. Or it may be that he himself is concerned for what might happen should Thokk remain at the palace. For whatever reason, permission is granted, and before the day is out Thokk, Larry, and Babshapka are on their way to the southern Dreadwood, with admonishment that large game are for the Viscount’s table, only. Although Willa has grown up on tales of the Dreadwood being full of hostile monsters, Tyrius has spoken to enough knights to convince him that, at least within the Salin River valley, the forest is regularly patrolled and reasonably safe. Beyond the valley, however, they are just as likely to find goblin tribes, bugbears, or even ogres, as well as fell monsters.

    2 - 4 September
    The next three days, with just Tyrius, Willa, Aurora, and Shefak in the palace, are much quieter and pass peacefully. Barnabus is out on the town more than he is in (and see Post 47: Barnabus' choice).

    5 September
    Willa is taking a mid-day meal at a harbor-front tavern when a bustle from the dock area attracts her attention. A ship has been spotted coming into port, with the flags of a naval message cutter. Two or three of these a day have arrived since she has been in Seaton, so she finishes her meal before going out to the docks to meet it.

    As it comes in, she can see that there are two men working sail and rudder, and another bearing an official messenger’s pouch but with his arm in a sling. Then she recognizes the messenger as Tom. As the sailors throw lines to the men on the dock she shouts “Tom!” and then, thinking better of it, “Corporal Stoutley!” He grins and waves at her.

    Tom is initially close-mouthed with her, but apparently more than the other two on his cutter, and before they reach the end of the docks and can find a cart to the palace, the waterfront is ringing with cries of “Victory!” Tom, full of his official duty, will say nothing to her during the cart ride other than that his wound is not serious. He is whisked away to a private meeting with the Viscount upon his arrival in the palace, and Willa does not see him again for several hours.

    Later, after dinner, Tom is happy to spin the whole long yarn to the five party members still at the palace.

    Lord Nehemeyer’s fleet approached the sea devil lair from the east, with the three troop galleys they saw in Saltmarsh landing at the protected river mouth while the two warships and the flagship headed for the lair itself. Immediately the three ships in the lead were set upon by sahuagin. Within moments it was clear that their intent was to take the flagship - about four times as many devils were involved as in any of the waves the party had faced, at least two hundred devils in all. A hundred surrounded and assaulted the flagship with javelins, and another fifty each the two warships as distracting forces, to keep them from coming to the flagship’s aid. Once the decks of the flagship were crowded with human defenders, a great wave arose from the sea and washed many of them overboard. Riding the crest of the wave was the first sahuagin boarding force. In addition to the three priestesses the party had faced before, at least another two were involved in this fight, with the head priestess capable of casting control water, which she then used to clear the lower decks of the other two ships with more massive waves. While the sailors and marines washed overboard were quickly torn apart in the sea, there was a desperate fight on the deck of the flagship. The lesser priestesses concentrated on incapacitating the ballista crews of the other two ships, as these were on the fore- and aft-castles, and too high for the priestess’ waves to reach. The priestesses seemed to have a limitless supply of paralyzation spells. The entire crew and marine contingent of the flagship was slain, and it was down to just a handful of Nehemeyer’s personal guard against numerous sahuagin warriors, lieutenants, and chieftains. Nehemeyer himself was already lightly wounded, and would likely have have been slain or captured had the fish-men giant eel cavalry not arrived - Nehemeyer had held them back as a reserve force. When the fish-men's charge temporarily relieved the two other warships, they could move to assist the flagship and the sahuagin on board were forced to retreat. Their main assault broken, all the remaining sahuagin present fell back to the sea cave.

    Nehemeyer pressed the advantage by having the sea elf wizard teams move in immediately to seal off both the sea cave entrance and the back door with magically-created rock. Guarded by fish-men, the sea elves were able to seal both entrances before the retreating sahuagin could respond.

    By the end of the first hour of combat a total of about half the marines and crew of the three warships combined had been lost, but the allies controlled the waters around the lair and the two sea entrances were sealed, so that only the land entrance remained.

    Once the sea was secure, the troops that had landed on the coast were met by the lizardfolk force that had moved in overland. The lizardfolk guided the humans in staying on the trail and not falling into the marsh until they reached the causeway. Nehemeyer sent his heroes and veteran heavy infantry in first, as the vanguard crossing the causeway. They met light resistance once they were inside the sahuagin lair, but their heavy armor gave them the advantage fighting on land and it appeared that most of the sahuagin force had been involved in the sea battle and were still recovering from wounds or exhaustion.

    Once the heavy infantry had taken the first level stairway room, Nehemeyer moved in his light infantry levies, marine crossbowmen, and shortbowmen levies. All through the first night the sahuagin tried sorties to break the allied hold of the staircase room, but the prevalence of allied missile fire always beat them back, with losses on both sides.

    When the room was still held at the start of the second day Nehemeyer moved in his pumps. Twenty horses working ten mining pumps set up positions in the various rooms and chambers of the first level. Tubes snaked everywhere throughout the first level, taking water from the staircase room and emptying it along the causeway and even into the latrines of the slave pen, which apparently drained outside.

    During the second day, the sahuagin and their priestesses attempted to breach the rock barrier of the sea cave. The elven wizards were able to keep pace with them however, creating rock as fast as they could destroy it, and keeping a watertight seal. Merfolk now helped to guard the sea elf wizards.

    The lizardfolk were now dispersed into the marsh, going far inland outside the range that the sahuagin had been foraging, with their need to stay close to the sea. They hunted game and supplied much of the fresh meat for the allied army to supplement the grain that had been brought aboard the galleys. The fish-men fanned out under the sea, scouting to make sure that the allied force could not be surprised by a relief force of sahuagin from the depths.

    By the end of the second day the water level had dropped by two feet. Men assigned to the staircase room gave a cheer every four hours as a new stair emerged from the water.

    By the third day the sahuagin had given up trying to breach the water barriers and had turned their priestesses to supporting the sorties on the staircase room. Their attacks grew more desperate, but also more strategic - targeting specific individuals to cause a few deaths rather than many wounded that might recover with rest or healing. The wounded sahuagin, meanwhile, grew more apt to retreat as they cycled through their forces. Nehemeyer likewise adopted a rotation schedule to make sure he always had fresh troops in the room for the next assault.

    All the next week was largely a repetition of the third day, as the water slowly drained from the sahuagin lair. The Baron began making appearances, a huge sahuagin with four arms who would engulf the missile troops in a magic net and dispatch the infantry with an enormous trident. Each time, though, he and his forces were driven back to the water, and as the water dropped the lead time for the remaining allied missile troops increased, leading to higher sahuagin casualties.

    By the tenth day of the siege the entire second level of the complex was in water just two feet deep. Nehemeyer sent his remaining army down the stairs in a single massive charge. It was during this action, Tom mentions, that he was wounded, in capturing the second level, fighting the devils while sloshing through knee-deep water thick with blood and floating bodies. When the sahuagin broke before this combined assault and began retreating to the third level, which was still completely submerged, the sea elves opened narrow breaches in both the sea cave and back door. While the fish-men went in the back door, the entire lizardfolk force, which had been recalled slowly over the previous days, entered the sea cave, supported by the elven casters and the merfolk. There the sahuagin made their final stand, with the forces of just the aquatic races remaining to finish them off after the lizardfolk had to retreat to the second level to breathe. Tom heard that Oceanus was among the elves and merfolk who slew the Baron and the high priestess, but he has not seen him since to know whether he survived or not. With all the sahuagin slain and the fortress taken, the pumps were removed, water was allowed to refill the second level, and the whole place was turned over to lizardfolk. The sea elves have stayed on for now to help the lizardfolk until their females and young can be moved back in, while the fish-men are even now escorting the human fleet back to Saltmarsh and Seaton. Tom was sent ahead on this first message-cutter to personally bring news of the victory to the Viscount.

    6 September
    Some of the Viscount’s Own Foresters, rangers of renown, are dispatched to the Dreadwood to summon Thokk, Larry and Babshapka back to court. Meanwhile, the Viscount takes advantage of their absence to hold a victory celebration, with the rest of the party as his guests of honor, seated at the high table with the Viscount himself. That evening, in front of the entire court, the Viscount commends the party and makes it known their key role in the allied victory. During the dinner, he speaks with each of them personally, thanking them and inviting them to stay on as his guests through the celebrations that will greet Lord Nehemeyer upon his triumphant return to Seaton. “After that,” he chuckles, “I can’t imagine that adventurous types such as yourselves would be interested in staying much longer in as peaceful a place as Seaton…”

    7 September
    Knowing they will be leaving soon, Aurora withdraws her gold and the cached spellbooks she had in Seaton’s mercantile bank. Willa and Tyrius distribute the Viscount’s reward money to the party. In the morning, Tyrius visits the landless noble family who was given the plate armor he found in the cellar of the haunted house. After much exchanging of pleasantries, the impoverished nobles he meets with intimate that they have already sold the armor.

    In the afternoon, Tyrius leads an expedition to Seaton’s marketplace. He spends nearly all of his savings on a suit of splint mail, while Shefak buys a tent and a few other supplies that may be useful on their planned overland trek to the Dreadwood. The other members of the party pick up a few odds and ends, but store most of their gold in the Seaton bank.

    In the evening, Thokk, Larry, and Babshapka arrive in Seaton and return to the palace.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Fri Jan 11, 2019 8:11 pm  
    Post 46: On to Gradsul

    Note that Willa's Background gives Ship's Passage.

    Post 46: On to Gradsul

    8 September, 570 - Seaton
    Willa visits the docks early in the morning, looking to find a vessel bound for Gradsul. There is a large whaling vessel in port. The ship has a full hold of whale fat, which will be rendered into oil upon arrival in Gradsul. She is taking on fresh water for the journey, but plans to depart as soon as she is re-supplied. After talking to the captain, Willa secures passage for the party, then hires a carriage back to the palace and has it wait for them. Fortunately they are mostly packed, mostly awake, and have little in the way of gear. They make it back to the docks just in time.

    The quarters aboard the ship are cramped and stink of rancid fat and sweaty sailors, but the ship itself is fast and their passage is free. The whaler travels all day and all night with a fair wind behind her.

    9 September - Azure Sea
    By mid-morning the tallest buildings of Gradsul can be seen and the whole party gathers on deck. Barnabus has been in all the ports of the Azure Sea, and Aurora and Babshapka passed through Gradsul on their way to Saltmarsh, but the rest of the party is increasingly amazed as more and more of the city comes into view. Gradsul is a thousand years old and is rumored to have more than fifty thousand inhabitants - it is the largest city that any of them have ever seen, and approaching from the sea they have a great vantage of it, from the slums along the waterfront to the terraced garden estates of the nobles on the hills, from the great stone walls and numerous keeps and barracks, to the isolated towers jutting up all over the city. Tyrius has been in all the cities of his homeland of Sterich, but even the capital of Istivin is as nothing compared to this. Aurora recalls that her master once told her that Gradsul was home to the largest number of free mages anywhere in the Sheldomar Valley. Larry mentions that the human swarms in the streets and plazas look “worse than fleas in a winter cave.” Thokk seems uncharacteristically subdued. He grew up on tales of famous orc warlands uniting the tribes and burning down the human cities - but he does not understand how even a hundred orc tribes could assault such a place as this.

    As they lower sails, keeping just those required to maneuver, and glide into the dock area, they can see that several of the recently-arrived ships are being met by the city watch and customs officers, checking new arrivals and collecting taxes. With a word to the second mate, Barnabus manages to get them off the whaler on a jolly before the ship itself docks. He directs them to a busy commercial part of the wharf where the watch do not notice their arrival. “If anyone asks you for a sword tax,” he says looking them over, the party all bristling with weapons, “tell them you already paid.”

    “I will do no such thing,” huffs Tyrius indignantly as he carefully climbs from the boat.

    Once they have left the docks and are making their way up a busy street crowded with shops and foot traffic, Barnabus tells the party that he has business to attend to and he will meet back up with them in several days. Before anyone can react, he melts into the crowd and disappears (see Post 47: Barnabus’ choice). “But, he doesn’t even know where we are staying…” says Aurora. “Uh, where are we staying?”

    Willa smirks and tells them to follow her. She goes one block inland, takes a right at the next cross-street, and works her way parallel to the shore. Eventually she finds an acceptable inn - of the kind frequented by sailors between tours. It is cheap and serves food, but is none too clean and there are several beds to a room and common beds in some. At the moment it is unoccupied, all patrons having set sail that morning, and for a few silvers more the owner assures Willa they will remain the only guests for the duration of their time there.

    In the afternoon, Willa takes Thokk back to the docks area, making sure he can find his way from the inn to the docks and back. Cities are unfamiliar terrain for him, but he is a quick study. She makes him promise to leave his axes at the inn and bring only a boot knife with him. She spends some time with him going from dockside tavern to tavern until she finds several that look like the kind of places in which he can easily get into bar brawls, but not be knifed and rolled if he is knocked unconscious. She makes him memorize the painted signs outside her choices and repeat them to her until she is sure he remembers and recognizes them. She tells him he is welcome to spend his days here drinking and fighting and she will know where to come find him when it is time to leave the city.

    Thokk sighs wistfully. “Thokk lose his army...but he still has best evil advisor ever. Life of Thokk is great.”
    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.

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    Sat Jan 12, 2019 10:07 pm  

    This is great, Kirt! Thanks for posting. Happy

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    Master Greytalker

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    Sun Jan 13, 2019 9:47 am  

    SirXaris wrote:
    This is great, Kirt! Thanks for posting. Happy


    As great as the life of Thokk?
    Next up: what is Barnabus doing? It's just business, not personal...
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Sat Jan 19, 2019 8:50 am  
    Post 47: Barnabus' Choice

    Note: This side post connects back to the main narrative line in multiple places. Like Willa's Choice, it was known only to the player in question, not the group.

    Post 47: Barnabus' Choice

    In Seaton: 27 August - 7 September
    Playing for noble ladies in court is profitable in many senses, but Barnabus is bored and frustrated during his time at the Viscount’s palace, and is more often to be found in the numerous taverns of the town. He chafes at the wasted time - if it were up to him, he would be in Gradsul by now, learning disguise and poison techniques from the Thieves’ Guild he knows is there. But Aurora collected their latest reward from the Saltmarsh Town Council and hasn’t distributed it yet, and that is a fair bit of gold. Of course, he could just take his share when she wasn’t around (and a bit more for his trouble), but he plans on spending some time in Gradsul. If the Viscount wanted him back and sent people to look for him, that would make his planned Gradsul stay rather more inconvenient.

    So he bides his time, waits, and ponders his decision. Tyrius has made no secret of the fact that as soon as they are free to leave Seaton, he intends to resume his original quest to transport Larry to the Great Druid of the Dreadwood. That means traveling inland, upriver at first and then into the forest. What is in this for Barnabus? Not much. Or is there? These bumbling adventurers seem to stumble over monsters and treasure hoards like cobbles in a stone road. Barnabus has made more in his month with them than in several years previous combined - both in coin and in material for songs. True, it has come at a greater risk, but there is no reward without risk. But does he really want to leave the sea, leave his freedom? Is being stuck under the self-righteous eye of the paladin worth the gold? Barnabus can’t believe he left his last ship for a chance at a tumble with Aurora. The ditsy wizard is a half-elf, true, and Barnabus is greatly swayed by the power of novelty - after all, he is an epicurean, with an eye to sampling all the world provides. But now a month with her and even the promise of novelty has worn off - and a half-dozen maids have given him more satisfaction in his time in Seaton than the silly enchantress ever will.

    So here he is at the crossroads. When the Viscount gives them leave to go, Barnabus can take his gold, bid them farewell, and resume his free life on the sea, having profited greatly from the association. Or, he can demand that they go to Gradsul first, test the loyalty of his so-called comrades in arms, and see whether they are as willing to wait for him as he has been to live under the pious dictates of the paladin. Or, he can accompany them to the Dreadwood - meekly and with his eyes always open for the profit these fools seem to attract like flies to honey.

    In Gradsul: 9 September
    It is not difficult for Barnabus to track down an actual member of the Thieves’ Guild - a little coin here, the right words there - but he takes the better part of the day chasing the trail. A guy knows a guy who knows a guy...Halfway through he is aware he is being followed, and that most of this is for show - they are sizing him up, trying to see if he is working with anyone else, etc.

    By the evening, he is finally introduced to someone who claims to be a member of the guild, and Barnabus states his intentions of purchasing a disguise kit and of learning how to brew and handle poisons. He is given the name of an inn to sleep at and told that he will be given an appointment in the morning.

    In Gradsul: 10-13 September
    After Barnabus has a horrid breakfast of gruel (he almost sends it back before reflecting that the innkeeper is likely affiliated with the guild in some way) a street urchin pops her head in the door and calls that Barnabus has fifteen minutes to get to another inn halfway across town. The girl is gone before Barnabus is out the door and it is all he can do to make it to the location, only a few minutes late.

    He is taken to a back room upstairs, and finally introduced to “Jimmy Diamond”, a capo of the Guild. There is muscle in the room and on the stairs and, if Barnabus is any judge, in several adjoining rooms besides. Barnabus again pleads his case and Jimmy listens. His biggest concern is where Barnabus will be plying the skills he wants to learn, and whether he will be competing with guild killers. When Barnabus is able to convince him that he is a traveling adventurer, that all his kills will be done far away, but that he would likely be spending the money he gains from them upon his return to Gradsul, Jimmy grows much more friendly.

    Jimmy offers Barnabus a disguise kit, a poisoner’s kit, and a short course in how to use the latter for 200 gold lions. Barnabus asks if Jimmy is a betting man, and proposes they play for it. Jimmy smiles broadly, and says that if he wins, it will be 300gp, and if Barnabus wins, it will be 100gp.

    Over the next hour of cards, Jimmy catches Barnabus palming a card to use later and Barnabus nails Jimmy for pulling a card from his sleeve. They both laugh it off and get on excellent terms with one another. The game they play, Farango, is common among sailors, well-known among the port cities of the Azure, and requires betting on hands over a specified number of rounds. At the end of the hour, their respective piles of chips look about equal. “Another 15 hands?” asks Barnabus carefully.

    “Sorry, amicino mio, but I have other obligations. Two card draw, high card wins,” Jimmy says, and offers the deck to Barnabus.

    Barnabus pulls forth the four of cups - Jimmy, the seven of wands. When Barnabus sighs and reaches for his purse, Jimmy laughs and claps him on his back. “Look at dis guy!” he orders his mooks, “I like dis guy!”

    After a midday meal, much better than his breakfast was, Barnabus is shown to an apothecary shop where he will be ‘prenticing. Over the next four days he learns about the making and use of poisons. The master complains about his “nimble fingers and slow wits” but he manages to concoct mixtures that kill a number of stray cats and dogs without managing to poison either himself or his teacher.

    On the night of the 13th his teacher announces him graduated, and Barnabus takes his leave.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Sat Jan 26, 2019 5:21 pm  
    Post 48: Out and About in Gradsul

    Post 48: Out and About in Gradsul

    10 September, 570 - Gradsul
    In the morning Thokk is up early, eager to begin a day of brawling. Tyrius says that he and Larry will remain at the inn and watch over the party’s possessions. Aurora says that she will be taking Babshapka and attempting to do historical research in the city (see Post 49; The Riddle of the Malhel). Willa says that she will be working the docks area, looking for signs of Sigurd and the Sea Ghost. (see Post 50: Willa’s Choice II). Shefak says that she will be exploring the Foreign Quarter of the city, attempting to find and talk to Baklunish people like herself.

    Shefak returns to the inn in the evening, and finds everyone else there. It was not a long walk to the foreign quarter, as it is in the “lower city” near the docks. The Baklunish people there are not well off - mostly poor and crowded into tenements, at best. She was assaulted several times and had to use her monk abilities to defend herself until word got around that this strange frail-looking woman traveling alone was not to be trifled with. Eventually she was able to speak with some community leaders and got the locations of a few temples which she plans on visiting on the next day.

    11 September
    In the morning Thokk and Shefak again leave while Tyrius and Larry stay. Willa returns to the docks, while Aurora announces that her research is taking her to some country estates north of the city. She will be renting a carriage for the day but will be back by nightfall.

    Willa finds that Sigurd and the Ghost were indeed in Gradsul, but only just long enough for him to recruit a full crew of seasoned sailors. He departed for ports unknown.

    Aurora and Babshapka return in time to share the evening meal with the party. Aurora says that they have been invited to a dinner party at the estate of Lord Farquarr on the morrow - provided Tyrius will relate to them the tale of their campaign against the sahuagin, which is apparently en vogue among the nobility at present. Tyrius is dubious at first, but Aurora convinces him that no dishonesty is involved and he eventually agrees.

    Shefak says that her second day among the Baklunish was more productive but ultimately unsuccessful. Her people could not provide her with the locations of any monasteries, saying that all of them are far away in the mountains of the northern Sheldomar. The Keoish folk she asked don’t understand the true meaning of “monks” and “monasteries”, believing them to to be the vain palaces where fat men and women pray and light candles all day. Such places abound in this decadent city, but are not the ones Shefak is looking for.

    Thokk arrives, covered in welts and bruises, after the meal has been cleared away. He proudly displays a block and tackle he has purchased, saying that it will make him “four times as powerful” and then begins bellowing at the innkeeper to prepare his meal.

    12 September
    Since Tyrius and Larry are leaving with Aurora and Babshapka, Shefak agrees to spend the day at the inn. Willa plans on going to the dinner party as well, while Thokk returns to the docks.

    At the estate of Lord Farquarr, the party are celebrated guests. They are glad they still have the clothes made for them in Seaton by the Viscount’s tailors, and only worn once. After an amazing dinner that surpasses even the Viscount’s table, Tyrius tells a tale of their adventures that has the nobles applauding loudly and Farquarr beaming. At the prompting of Aurora, he tells a bit of history at the end, of a campaign against the sea devils from another age, in which a distant relative of the Lord figured prominently.

    Larry has spent the day outside, talking to the gardeners and groundskeepers of the estate. During the dinner, he stands on a veranda in a light rain, silently munching raw carrots and picking his nose as he watches the brightly-costumed people in the dining hall inside, his friends among them. Those of the party at the estate are given guest rooms for the night; Larry finds a warm, straw-filled stall in the stables.

    13 September
    Those who were at Lord Farrquarr’s estate have returned to the inn by mid-day. They spend the rest of the day planning the trip from Gradsul to Silglen. Willa was able to look at some maps in a cartographer’s shop, although she did not have the coin to purchase them, and declares that the distance is about 225 miles, the entire journey over roads or tracks, passing through several towns and innumerable hamlets, small farming communities along the edge of the Dreadwood. Supplies are discussed, as is the potential purchase of a cart and pony, but Willa voices against any further use of “party” treasure for the time being. The party turns in with plans made. Sometime during the night Barnabus appears, though no one notices when - he is just found to be in one of the beds in the morning.
    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.
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    Sun Feb 03, 2019 11:07 pm  
    Post 49: The Riddle of the Malhel

    Note: All of the information in this post is known only to the player of Aurora. While Babshapka was involved in her investigations to some extent in Gradsul, she was not honest with him about her objectives.

    Post 49: The Riddle of the Malhel

    Excerpt from Post 5: Backstory for Aurora of Tringlee
    Like all students of history, she knew about the Twin Cataclysms (the Invoked Devastation and the Rain of Colorless Fire), which had, a millennium ago, destroyed the two greatest nations the world had ever known, The Suel Imperium and the Baklunish Empire. She could recite several different authoritative texts (and note their contradictions and discrepancies) explaining how the Suel refugees passed over (or under!) the Hellfurnaces and brought human civilization to the east, eventually founding the Kingdom of Keoland...

    ...he asked her to recite the names of the principle Suel Houses.

    “[House Neheli] founded Niole Dra and are today the most important noble house in the north of the Kingdom. [House Rhola] founded Gradsul and are today the most important noble house in the south of the Kingdom. House Malhel was wicked and fought against the good Houses. After many battles they were banished from the Kingdom.”

    “[W]here did they go?”

    “I imagine they dispersed, or died out…I have not read any record of them.”

    “Indeed. A House powerful enough to war upon the Neheli, and they just faded away?”

    “That does not seem likely, but…”

    “But that is what the texts would have us believe. Most of them. Suppose they did not die out. Not at first anyway. Conjecture!”

    “Well, they had the hubris to war upon the Neheli, thus they must have been both proud and powerful. Such people are unlikely to give up after a setback. While they could have fled, migrated out of the Sheldomar, it seems unlikely. More likely they would have withdrawn, regrouped, and planned revenge.”

    “[W]hy do you suppose you have not seen any records of this?”

    “Because they didn’t regroup? Something else ended them before they could?”

    “Perhaps, or perhaps they did persist…and any record of their defiance has been destroyed, eliminated, or altered.”

    [W]ho would have the power to make sure that this history was not known…and what else could someone with that power do?

    “I believe I have uncovered an unedited text, describing how House Malhel retreated to the Dreadwood Forest, and from there planned their revenge. I have another text, very rare but likely authentic, claiming that the Malhel were powerful spellcasters, even while the Neheli and Rhola sought to ban magic. I will not tell you the names or locations of these texts, for your protection, and mine, and theirs...Travel to the Dreadwood, and see what you can find. Ruins, stories, texts, tales, anything. Most likely you will find nothing. But if I am correct, someone will find you. Someone will appear and, in the most delicate way, attempt to ascertain what you are doing and steer you away from any discoveries. And that is what we are after. I don’t expect you to find proof that the Malhel were in the Dreadwood. But if you can find proof that someone does not want us to know, then we will be sure that I am on the right track.”

    Additions to Post 48: Out and About in Gradsul
    10 September - Aurora goes to the Royal University of Gradsul, and charms a lowly library clerk into telling her which nobles nearby have important volumes in the early history of Keoland, dealing with the settlement by the refugee Suel houses. She gets a number of contacts from him, and leaves her name as “Scholar Wilhelmina of Saltmarsh.”

    Aurora goes to the townhouse of Lord Baldin in Gradsul City. As the Lord is not home, she bribes a major domo with gold to have a quick look at the library. After a quick reconnoiter of the volumes therein, she she speaks with the major domo while messaging Babshapka. At her command, he uses stealth to cut four pages out of a volume of history without a chambermaid seeing him. She later tells Babshapka that the volume is of family history, and concerns her efforts to discover the identity of her elven father.

    Back in the boarding house, she reviews the pages which mention that the Malhel, once defeated in war, fled south and west through the Dreadwood forest, and eventually settled in the land now known as the Yeomanry. This is the first textural account she has seen both linking the Malhel to the Dreadwood and the Yeomanry.

    11 and 12 September - Aurora goes to the country estate of Lord Farquarr. With two days’ access to his library, she finds four different volumes stating that the Malhel, once defeated in the war, were driven from the Sheldomar Valley. What is odd is while that the volumes she finds have decades between them and more than two centuries from the most recent to the oldest, and while they all have different authors, the passages concerning the Malhel are virtually identical. The rest of the historical accounts are similar, accepted history, but display nothing of the nearly-identical voice and phrasing that the passages about the Malhel do. In some cases, the script appears to have been elongated or compressed to make it fit in the appropriate space. She detects magic on the books but finds nothing.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Sat Feb 09, 2019 1:54 pm  
    Post 50: Willa's Choice II

    DM's Note: The secret quest of Aurora to understand what happened to the Malhel, and who doesn't want her to know, and the secret investigation of Willa into what Aurora is attempting to do, had by now become important subplots in the campaign. The contents of this post are known only to the player of Willa.

    For Willa's Choice I, see post 44:

    For Aurora's perspective on what is happening, see the previous post (49).

    For what is public knowledge about this day in the party, see two posts ago (48).

    Post 50 - Willa's Choice II
    10 September, 570 - Gradsul

    Aurora and Babshapka leave the inn in the morning. Willa announces she is headed for the docks, but she doubles back after a block and catches up to them. She is concerned about Babshapka noticing her trailing them, as she has seen him in the woods. There he hears twigs snap that none of the rest of them even notice. But in the city, it seems he is in sensory overload, confused by all of the noise, motion, and color. It is all he can do to keep Aurora from stepping in front of carriages, let alone survey the crowd behind him. She follows them at half a block behind and is confident she is not noticed.

    They go to the Royal University of Gradsul, spread over several blocks of the Old Town, and ask directions until they find the library. Willa’s simple sailor’s clothes are already attracting attention among the scholars of the place and she dares not follow them into the library itself. She feigns a nap under a tree, hoping they leave by the same entrance they came.

    She is surprised when they emerge soon after - not even an hour has gone by. She follows them higher and higher in the city, up into the hills that house the estates and townhouses of the wealthy merchants and minor nobles. Willa nearly bumps into Babshapka when she turns one corner - Aurora has stopped to examine the statuary of a fountain. Amazingly, the elf does not see Willa although she is just five feet from him before she turns about and retreats. They continue, then are stopped by a city watch patrol, and then escorted to an impressive - looking townhouse. After a brief exchange at the door the pair pass inside.

    Willa looks about - there is certainly nowhere to loiter unnoticed in the clean and meticulously groomed neighborhood. Already the watch patrol is eyeing her suspiciously. She heads for a cafe diagonal across the street from the townhouse and takes a seat inside from where she can see the street-level door of the townhouse through an open doorway onto the al fresco tables of the cafe.

    Again they emerge after less than an hour, but when the door closes behind them Babshapka is immediately in Aurora’s face, speaking angrily and waving a few sheets of paper in his hand. Aurora speaks soothingly to him and takes the papers. They leave back down the street they came in.

    Willa has had to nurse her simple pastry and glass of white wine for an hour, to the growing indignation of the cafe staff. When they tell her her bill is one gold lion, her stomach twists, but she produces the single coin, to their apparent surprise. Perhaps she should talk to Runnel about an expense account - assuming she ever sees him again.

    Willa catches up to them and follows them long enough to be reasonably confident that they are headed back to the inn, then she doubles back and returns to the university library. It is early evening and many of the students are leaving lectures and heading out to public houses, but the library is still lit so she enters. She tries to gain information about what Aurora was doing there and who she spoke to, but the staff are uniformly rude to her and, when she tries to press the issue, threaten her with calling the city watch. She makes it back to the inn halfway through dinner and tells the party what she learned about Sigurd and the Sea Ghost, claiming to have spent the whole day at the docks.
    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.
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    Sat Feb 16, 2019 1:05 pm  
    Post 51: Gradsul to Daerwald

    DM's Note: The party was now embarking on the first "overland adventure" of the campaign. As a DM, this meant I needed to add three things; (1) travel rates, (2) weather, and (3) large scale maps.

    Travel rates were simple at first (although I would add more detail later in the campaign). I initially decided to use the World of Greyhawk Glossography (p.3) rate of 30 miles per day for movement afoot, unencumbered. At the time, I mostly handwaved encumbrance so long as loads were reasonable. I assumed a typical day's march was 10 hours, from 7am to noon, and 1pm to 6pm.

    Weather was basically according to the tables of randomly generated weather in the World of Greyhawk Glossography (pp.18-25). That system has temperature tied to season (date), adjusted for latitude and elevation. I estimated the latitude of Gradsul from p. 18 as about 26.4 N. In the absence of official data on elevation, I used the following estimation: Any 30-mile (Darlene) hex with a hill symbol that touched a non-hill symbol was 2000 feet elevation, whereas any hill hex completely surrounded by hills was 4000 feet. Any 30-mile (Darlene) hex with a mountain symbol that touched a non-mountain symbol was 5000 feet elevation, whereas any mountain hex completely surrounded by mountains was 10000 feet. Further increments of 5000 feet were possible along increasingly surrounded isoclines.

    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used for the party's travel in Keoland, and the locations and identities of roads, terrain features, and settlements below come from that map. Note that that map specifically is no longer a valid link, but will redirect to more recent versions of her work. I would highly encourage any Greyhawk DM to use her work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Post 51: Gradsul to Daerwald

    “Oh, the blades did flash, the blood did flow,
    the sweat it ran like drizzle,
    but through it all, there shone the smile,
    of Barnabus the minstrel!”

    14 September, 570 - Gradsul
    The party spends the day in the markets purchasing a week’s worth of fresh food.

    15 September
    The party sets out from the inn at first light, shortly after 6 am - it is already in the mid-80’s and muggy. Carrying all their gear, on foot, they have not even left the city walls by the time they are sweating profusely. As the sun continues to climb, the day gets hotter. They are able to put in a good half-day’s march in the morning, staying together despite the crowded traffic along the forest road. The road is ascending as it travels away from the coast, but after the first few miles’ hard climb out of the Sheldomar River Valley the slope is hardly notable. The road is excellent, paved and well-maintained, and they make good progress despite the heat. By 11 am it is over 100 degrees. They fill their waterskins in a public fountain in one of the many townships that lie beyond the city walls and rest in the shade, swatting at mosquitoes.

    It is three in the afternoon before it is cool enough to continue, and so they have only a short afternoon march before dark. As the settlements become smaller and farther between, they can actually see the fields to either side of the road. The sweet corn fields have all been harvested, but melon patches and orange groves are still in production. Barnabus soothes their journey with music from his lute, until Thokk begins to chase him with melons and he is forced to hide from the sun-crazed half-orc. At day’s end they camp in a cow pasture between towns, some 21 miles outside of Gradsul going by the last stone mile marker they passed. In the dark of night, enormous Gradsul is still visible below them on the coast, innumerable lights in the city itself, and then a trail of lights along the road toward them, gradually spaced farther and farther apart.

    16 September - Forest Road (21 miles from Gradsul, just under the “o” in the Forest Road)
    Having put some distance between themselves and the coast, and gained a bit in elevation, the day dawns a few degrees cooler, and the mid-day high barely breaks 100 degrees. They are still soaked in sweat, but after lunching at a tavern in the large town of Tanglewoods, they are able to get a full afternoon’s march in. (The tavern proprietor, after seeing how much ale Thokk was disposed to drink, relented and allowed them to eat their own food indoors in the shade of his establishment rather than requiring them to buy his tavern fare). All morning the clusters of houses along the roadside have grown fewer and smaller, and Tanglewoods has no true settlements for five miles on either side of it - just the crowded bunkhouse clusters of plantation communities. As they have left the coastal lowlands behind them, the fields of corn, melon, and cotton have given way to more and larger citrus groves - orange, tangerine, lemon, and grapefruit. They have yet to see any freeholder fields, but work crews numbering in the dozens are common - gangs of landless serfs toiling on the noble estates, nearly all of them dark-skinned Flan. Slavery is outlawed in Keoland, unlike in the lands of the Sea Princes to the south, and that is a point of pride for the nation. However, looking at the plantation serfs through the eyes of a free sailor, Willa wonders whether there really is that great a difference between a serf and a slave.

    By day’s end they have marched 30 miles, and are now 51 miles from Gradsul.

    17 September - Forest Road (between the twin “T’s” of The Forest Road and Tanglewoods)
    With night dipping into the seventies, the party is uniformly glad to be away from the worst of the coastal heat. In the morning, they make rapid progress along the Forest Road, although the day reaches the 90’s. They have just passed the stone marker indicating that they are 59 miles from Gradsul when the road splits. To the north, the wide, paved Forest Road continues, and a sign in Keoish indicates that “Oakheart” lies that way. To the south, the road becomes a hard-beaten dirt trail, and a sign says that way leads to Daerwald.

    Tyrius recalls that Silglen, their final destination, is reached through Daerwald, and suggests they take the trail. Willa responds that a road from Oakheart also leads to Daerwald, and while that route may be longer, they will likely travel much faster along the better roads.

    Aurora turns to Thokk. “Thokk, dear, you are our skilled wilderness guide. Which road do you think we should take?”

    Thokk shields his eyes from the sun and stares down both paths. “Stone road is flat - dirt road climbs into hills. Thokk want high ground and cool air - Thokk is sweating like roasting pig - sweat makes Thokk’s manly parts itch. Also, stone road passes boring lands where not-men poke in ground for food. Dirt road gets close to forest - maybe something to fight.”

    “Well,” says Aurora, “I’m not looking for something to fight, but I think we could all use someplace cooler. I liked being on ship in the sea breeze better than marching, that’s for sure.”

    Willa shrugs and starts off up the trail. “As long as it doesn’t rain. This dirt trail will turn into a mud pit faster than Thokk can scratch his manly parts.”

    The party heads up the narrow dirt trail. Sure enough, it is not long before they are laboring up a steep incline on a hill slope of tall grass and low scrub trees. There is no way a laden cart or wagon could ascend the steep slope, which is more than likely the reason the paved Forest Road does not run directly to Daerwald. After an hour of hard climbing, the trail levels out and they break for lunch in the shade of a stand of trees, the most extensive wild growth they have seen since leaving the city.

    After lunch they continue along the trail. To their left is a light, wild forest that rises above them. To their right the ground rapidly slopes away down, allowing them to see the distant farms and pastureland and villages that cling to the Forest Road. Having left the mile markers behind them with the paved road, they have no way of knowing how far they have come, but their progress along the trail is certainly harder-fought than it was on the road. As they make their camp at nightfall, a few huge spiders even venture out of the woods. Thokk cheerfully dispatches them, then sets about collecting firewood for dinner.

    18 September - Trail to Daerwald (by the “s” of Thestos)
    After another warm, buggy night in the 70’s, the party prepares for a day’s march in the 90’s along the dirt track. Soon after they start, the track heads downslope, until they have lost nearly all the elevation they gained the day before. As they descend, the wild woods are left behind, and they are again in farm country, much to Thokk’s disappointment. Here the farms are different, though - small fields of subsistence crops meant to feed a village, not the large plantations of cash crops bound for the markets of Gradsul. They pass through two such villages before, near midday, they come to a small river running north and crossing their track.

    The river is spanned by a large stone bridge - seemingly overbuilt for the size of the river at present, but Willa suspects they are not so far inland that storms coming of the Azure Sea can’t reach here, and a long summer storm could easily swell and flood the small river to a torrent. A little wooden shack on the near side of the bridge provides shade for a toll-collector, a grizzled old man with one leg and a crude wooden crutch. At first he gruffly demands a copper each from them to cross the bridge, but after they have paid and Aurora invites him to share their midday-meal, he warms to them enough for her to ply him with questions.

    The bridge is called “The Duke’s Bridge”, he tells them, and the river marks the boundary between the Duchy of Gradsul, which they are leaving, and the Barony of Raya, which they will enter on the other side. Daerwald is the baronial seat of Raya, and lies another 35 miles along this track, which should take them another day and a half or so, “unless it rains” (and Willa nods knowingly). The toll collector is a veteran - he was a soldier in the Duke’s army, until he lost his leg to bandits. He has manned this toll booth ever since. The Daerwald market will be an excellent place for them to stock up on supplies of food, and by Aurora’s calculation they should be just about out by the time they hit town.

    They thank the man and set out in the afternoon. After the bridge, the road climbs gently, and they soon are on a ridge like that of the day before, with wild forest to their right, and a small river valley downslope to their left. They pass two more villages, but the trail does not go through them. Rather, horse paths lead down from the trail to the villages, which are built along the river. In addition to the peasant huts, each of the villages has a large, wooden building next to a millpond, so Willa takes the structures to be saw mills. They camp on the ridge overlooking the second village, and during the night sounds of music and cheer drift up to them.

    19 September - the trail to Daerwald (under the “p” of Crypt)
    The elevation and the shade from the mature forest help cool the late summer air, and after a night in the seventies, the party is able to march all day in the eighties - the most comfortable they have been since they left Gradsul. The trail continues to climb slowly, but once they are beyond the river valley in which the two villages lie, the ground to their left rises up sharply until a high ridge towers over them. Now they are marching over a long pass, with a steep forested ridge to their left and a less steep forested slope to their right, the track completely under the trees and with little visibility. The perfect spot for an ambush, and Thokk hums eagerly thinking of the possibilities. The rest of them are more preoccupied with the mosquitoes, which come out in full force under the shade of the trees, large and in thick clouds. The party eats a quick, cold lunch, not wanting to tarry while being savaged by the insects. Babshapka rummages through the supply bags and removes their entire store of garlic, then shows them how to crush and rub it on their skin, which helps somewhat, although their sweat makes for diminishing returns.

    After lunch they continue on the narrow trail through the woods. The forest is alive with bird calls and apart from the mosquitoes is quite pleasant. The ridge to their south blocks the sun and they break march for an early camp while there is still light. After getting a good fire going, Thokk scouts about for wet, green leaves to top it off. The thick clouds of smoke he generates help to cut down on the insects, and most of them move their bedrolls downwind of the fire. Shefak’s tent is the envy of the party that night.

    20 September - trail to Dearwald (under the “r” of Daerwald)
    KRACKOOOM! A peal of thunder shakes the forest around midnight and rain begins to fall. Lightning flashes along the southern ridge as one, then another, tree is hit. The mosquitoes disperse and rain pelts the campsite. For the next three hours the thunderstorm passes overhead, lightning constantly touching down on the southern ridge and setting more than one tree ablaze. Fortunately the party is camped much lower and none of the strikes are near them. They all have thick bedrolls (and Shefak has her tent), so they are reasonably dry, but in the morning the campsite is a morass of red mud. The sloping land to either side has funneled the storm’s water on top of them, and there are standing pools and puddles all about.

    The first half of the day’s march is downhill, descending the pass into the valley beyond, but it is slow going. The mud pulls and tugs at their boots, and they slip and - more than once - collapse in the steep parts and slide down the trail. By mid-day, after five hours of grueling effort, they have not gone even five miles.

    After mid-day they are able to pick up the pace. Now they are down in the valley bottom, overlooking a vast, wide valley mostly filled with a huge lake. The town of Daerwald sits at the near end of the water’s edge. Down here on the flat-land the rain did not pool up as much, and all the morning’s sun has baked the sodden ground dry. The dirt track is soft and exhausting, but passable.

    While there are plenty of outlying farms and pastures, there are no true village centers before they come upon Daerwald itself, so there is little of interest to look at as they march along with difficulty. Willa finds herself staring out across the lake, amazed that a body of water so large could be so calm, wondering at the many sailing vessels she sees traversing it, wondering if it is fresh like a giant bathtub.

    In the glorious golden late-afternoon light they finally come upon the cobblestone streets of the town itself and are able to scrape off the last of the mud clinging to their boots. The streets are thronged with people, giving the appearance of a place much larger than it actually is, for in reality Daerwald is likely smaller than Seaton. People stop and stare at the mud-covered travelers, and children laugh, for everyone seems in a festive mood. A fat friar bows at them and says “Merry Brewfest!” in a booming voice.

    Brewfest! Of course. Willa claps her hand to her forehead. Brewfest is a week-long harvest celebration, marking the transition from summer to fall. In Saltmarsh, dominated by fishing families, Brewfest has only a token following, but she imagines it is a much bigger deal here in farm country. Imagines? No, she can see it is a much bigger deal. For his part, Tyrius has seen plenty of Brewfest celebrations before - he just didn’t know that is where they were in the calendar, since cold, mountainous Sterich has a much earlier fall. There, Brewfest is a week’s relief from feudal labor obligations, and there is much public celebration and drinking. As he looks about him, he expects it is the same here.

    It is after dark by the time the party finds an inn that has two nights’ lodging for the eight of them. The common room downstairs is crowded with drinkers and revelers, but the private upstairs bedrooms are mostly available. Exhausted from their long day fighting the muddy road, the party barely has time to wash and eat before collapsing into bed. Larry doesn’t even wash. Thokk skips both washing and bed, but stays downstairs drinking and in the morning can be found collapsed in a chair in the common room.
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    Wed Feb 20, 2019 12:42 pm  

    Kirt wrote:
    (by the 's' of Thestos)

    Sounds like an oath:
    "By the S of Thestos, you shall be avenged!" Razz

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    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Feb 20, 2019 2:53 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    Kirt wrote:
    (by the 's' of Thestos)

    Sounds like an oath:
    "By the S of Thestos, you shall be avenged!" Razz


    Perhaps Barnabus will have to work that into his ballad.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Feb 26, 2019 8:48 am  
    Post 52: Daerwald

    Post 52 - Daerwald

    21 September, 570 - Daerwald
    The party eats their last day of trail food while they use the inn as their base to shop for more. The markets are crowded with Brewfest revelers and it is slow going. Willa goes lakeside to check out the fish markets, selecting some fresh for the morrow but mostly smoked for the coming week. Aurora and Babshapka work the central market for vegetables, flour, and dry noodles, while Barnabus roams the butchers’ stalls in search of fresh and cured meats. Shefak is given a pass from purchasing, as the vendors tend to sell higher to the Baklunni woman. She is in charge of drying out their bedrolls in front of the fire in the inn’s common room so that they don’t mold. Tyrius and Larry clean and polish Tyrius’ armor, and then the paladin instructs the dwarf in the art of laundering clothes. Thokk snores loudly in the common room, bellowing at anyone who wakes him.

    By the evening Thokk has recovered and is able to eat dinner with them. When he talks of how he has another night of Brewfest drinking planned, his evil advisor reminds him that they are marching out in the morning, and he will need to be ambulatory. He grumbles that marching in the day is stupid, and that the humans in the party should learn how to march and see at night.

    22 September
    Sometime after midnight the party is awakened to the sound of wind and rain. All over the town, shutters are banging, awnings are ripping, and carts are being turned over. Willa and Barnabus are no strangers to the sound - it is an autumn gale blowing in off of the Azure Sea. There is less rain than in a summer tropical storm, or even the occasional hurricane, but the autumn gales have an abundance of wind. Willa doesn’t know whether to curse their luck that they may be several more days paying for staying at the inn, or thank their stars that they were not on the trail when it hit. Wind gusts of over 40 miles an hour would slow traveling to a crawl, and put them in real danger of being killed by flying debris or uprooted trees. She worries about Tom in Saltmarsh, and tries to remind herself that in his new house he is safer than they ever were in their parents’ shack, so long as he was not out to sea when this hit.

    Barnabus spends his time turning the moods of the inn’s patrons from bitter over the loss of the remainder of Brewfest, to grudging mirth at his songs and stories.

    23 September
    With little to do, Aurora wonders if she can perhaps continue her genealogy research. She learns a bit about the Baron’s court from their innkeeper, easily convinces Barnabus to play for the nobles, and asks Tyrius if he couldn’t see about getting her an introduction. Tyrius replies that he will, so long as it results in good for people. Aurora responds that learning about the party’s adventures will surely inspire the nobility, and perhaps even get them to regard his god with more respect.

    The trio goes across town, oilskin cloaks braced against the wind and rain, and show up on the Baron’s proverbial doorstep. They plead their case to a servant, who sniffs that His Lordship the Baron is trying to salvage Brewfest, protect the town and harbor from damage in the storm, and entertain his noble guests, and thus has better things to do than admit uninvited foreigners of dubious merit. Aurora responds brightly that with all of his lordship’s concerns, why not let them assist, as they can surely provide entertainment for the noble guests for the evening. The servant allows them to enter as far as a dry cloakroom before he tells them to wait.

    Some twenty minutes later, the major domo arrives to tell them that Aurora is permitted to use the Baron's library, provided Tyrius and Barnabus entertain the guests for the rest of the evening. His Lordship regrets that he will not be able to meet them in person, as he will be using his time in pursuit of the protection and defense of Daerwald, rather than at the evening's festivities. “You see, Tyrius?” says Aurora before they separate, “Already you have allowed a leader to dedicate more of his time to his people - how can that not be good?”

    [Note: For Aurora’s work in the library, see Post 53: The Riddle of the Malhel II]

    It is well after midnight when the nobles' thirst for Tyrius’ stories and Barnabus’ songs is finally sated, and Aurora has long since joined them in a music hall. She takes a moment to ask whether any of the assembled nobles would like to donate to the cause of a band of good adventurers, protecting the lands of the King...and receives hearty well-wishes and little more.

    For her part, Willa is bored stuck back at the inn. In the evening, she announces that she is going out. “Where?” asks Larry, somewhat miffed that Tyrius would leave him behind.

    “Public 'ouses. Drinkin',” Willa shrugs.

    “Bu' there be drinkin' 'ere!” Larry protests.

    “Look, I be tired o’ baby-sittin' Thokk, an’ ther bar be full o’ cheap, fat merchants and gilded ladies. I be goin’ t’ ther docks. Mayhaps I can meet a sailor or some ot'er real man.” Willa storms out.

    [Note: For Willa’s luck, see Post 54: Willa’s Choice III].

    24 September
    With everyone stuck back at the inn, this day is a tedious affair of listening to the wind and rain assault the inn.

    25 September
    The day dawns clear and bright, and the party again goes shopping to acquire a week’s worth of rations. They could have set out in the morning, but Willa advises them to give the trails at least a full day of sunshine to dry out.
    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.
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    Tue Mar 05, 2019 4:38 pm  
    Post 53: The Riddle of the Malhel II

    Note: The information in this post is known only to the player of Aurora.

    Post 5: Backstory for Aurora of Tringlee

    Post 49: The Riddle of the Malhel

    Post 53: The Riddle of the Malhel II
    Concurrent with Post 51: Gradsul to Daerwald
    15 - 17 September: Aurora travels from Gradsul on the Forest Road, and passes through Tanglewoods on her way to Daerwald. The names (“forest” road, “tanglewoods”) amuse her, as there are no woods or forests to be seen - just farm fields and open orchards. She reflects on her knowledge of history and reasons that hundreds of years ago, the boundaries of the Dreadwood must have extended much farther into the plains - perhaps the “Forest Road” really did traverse a forest, then. Most likely the farms and pastures of Keoland have been steadily eating into the edge of the Dreadwood for centuries.

    Early on the 17th, the party faces the choice of taking a longer but better road, or a shorter but worse road, to Daerwald. Aurora slyly maneuvers Thokk into opting for the shorter road, as it takes them deeper into the true forest. If, as her master believes, the Malhel did retreat into the Dreadwood, but that fact has been hidden, it seems that she is more likely to discover evidence of their occupation the deeper into the forest they go.

    Concurrent with Post 52: Daerwald
    23 September: In the private library of the Baron of Daerwald, Aurora finds three volumes about the early history of Keoland, and one about the Yeomanry.

    Although Suel migrants and interaction with Keoland figure prominently in the volume on the Yeomanry, nowhere are the Malhel mentioned. This seems curious considering Lord Baldin’s book claiming that is specifically where the Malhel went, but that was the only reference she has seen about the Yeomanry so far.

    In the three volumes on Keoland, she finds the same curious passage, of exactly the same wording, describing how the Malhel were driven from Keoland, despite the three different books being of different ages and authors. In the first volume, the passage seems perfectly at place. But in the second, it looks as if it has had to be compressed to fit into the space allotted, and in the third, it is as if the line spacing has been temporarily increased to fit a short phrase in a large space. Each of the books is handwritten, and in each case the passage about the Malhel is in the same hand as that of the book - but something is definitely off. Aurora spends some time examining the pages, but cannot find anything of note. She even casts detect magic over the volumes - and then surreptitiously uses it to see whether any of the Baron’s books or scrolls are magical. She is left concluding that she needs to investigate whether a spell exists that could alter words on a page without leaving a magical trace, and whether there is a spell that could nonetheless detect the effects of such a spell.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Mar 13, 2019 2:15 pm  
    Post 54: Willa's Choice III

    Note: The contents of this post are known only to the player of Willa

    Post 44: Willa's Choice:

    Post 50: Willa's Choice II:

    New material:
    Post 54: Willa's Choice III
    Concurrently with Post 52: Daerwald
    Willa waits at least half an hour after the departure of Tyrius, Aurora, and Barnabus from the inn before following them to the Baron’s palace, as anyone out in this weather will attract attention. She slips a silver coin to a liveried servant at the palace and inquires after the trio. He is incensed that she would bribe him to spy on guests of the Baron, and has a mind to call for the palace guards. Willa hastily assures him that she is an agent of the Viscount of Salinmore (which helps quiet his objection to her accent) working in service to the King, keeping tabs on some suspicious characters (and here he agrees with her as well - Aurora certainly is suspicious). For a few more coins he agrees to send someone later to a pub she names.

    Two hours later, another servant, just off-duty, arrives at the pub to tell her that Aurora spent much time in the library, and according to the second-story maid, read and examined in a most peculiar way books about the early history and founding of Keoland, and also about the Yeomanry. All told, Willa is out a lion and half for the evening, but she does make it back to the inn before the trio.
    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.
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    Tue Mar 19, 2019 2:10 pm  
    Post 55: Daerwald to Silglen

    Note:By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used for the party's travel in Keoland, and the locations and identities of roads, terrain features, and settlements below come from that map. I would highly encourage any DM to use her work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Post 55: Daerwald to Silglen

    26 September, 570 - Daerwald
    On a bright, clear day the party finally takes their leave of Daerwald. The first half of the day is spent traveling the track to the north, passing through the farmlands that skirt the western edge of the lake. By mid-day, when the temperature has climbed into the low 90’s, the track turns west to follow the edge of the forest. In late afternoon the party passes through a village built around a bridge, a saw mill, and several grist mills along a river that will eventually feed into the great lake of Daerwald. Aurora, missing her comfortable bed at the inn already, asks whether they should stop for the night, but Willa shakes her head. “Thar still be an hour o’ light left an’ plenty o’ track left t' march. We’ll hae time t' rest when ther next rain comes t'rough - I ain’t marchin’ in mud agin.” Secretly, Willa wonders whether they should have just stayed on the paved Forest Road all the way to Woodsage, a more northern route, and then cut south through Grayhill to Silglen. A sailor through and through, she hadn’t figured on foul weather slowing their travels to such an extent.

    27 September - track to Silglen (under the second “a” in Raya)
    The party marks a good pace in the cloudy, muggy morning, but the clouds darken as they continue. By the time they are finishing their mid-day meal, heat lightning is playing in the sky all around them. Willa calls an end to the day’s march, and they prepare for an extended camp. There is a spotting of rain over the next four hours, but mostly lightning and wind. The sky clears for a glorious sunset over the verdant farmlands.

    28 September - track to Silglen (where the track bends to the north)
    With highs in the almost-comfortable 80’s, the party makes good progress tramping along the dirt track through farming country.

    29 September - track to Silglen (under the “f” in "of")
    Clear skies all day and in the low 90’s, but the party marches on. All throughout the morning the farms grow smaller and farther apart, until by mid-day the party rests just outside the edge of what appears to be a thick and wild woods. They spend the afternoon on the dirt track passing through the forest. There are signs of recent travel along the track, but the occasional uncleared deadfall as well. They are obviously entering a more remote part of the Barony.

    30 September - track to Silglen (about halfway through the easternmost forested section of the track)
    By late morning the party has emerged from the woods into a few miles of open clearing. There are settlements here, but these are rugged outposts, where people practice a mix of farming, logging, hunting, and trapping. Seeing a skinned and trussed deer roasting over a crude spit in a cluster of huts, they doubt the poaching laws carry much weight here - they have finally come to the edge of civilization. They camp for the night at the far side of the clearing, just before the track again enters the woods.

    1 October - track to Silglen (after the track turns north at the edge of the woods)
    After a short morning’s passage through a narrow stretch of woodlands, the party emerges into open country again. Now they are in foothills overlooking a broad valley below. There, a large round lake is surrounded by dense farmland, every bit as developed and bucolic as that around Daerwald. Up here in the highlands, though, the track skirts the edge of the Dreadwood and passes through tiny logging hamlets where the only agriculture is half-hearted subsistence plots and vegetable gardens. With one day of supplies left, there are no farmsteads about to purchase from, at least not without descending off the track and into the lowlands. If they have to forage they will be unlikely to run into agents of the Baron, which is consoling. At the turn of the month, the party gives thanks for a week’s good traveling weather.

    2 October - trail to Silgen
    The party continues to work their way through the highlands overlooking the lake. The track goes up and down following the slopes of the hills, but they have a sense that each hill is slightly higher than the last. They stop for their mid-day meal in a logging camp, and the burly lumberjack residents claim that this is the last settlement they will find on the trail before they arrive in Silglen. In late afternoon they enter the Dreadwood proper, and from that point on the woods just get deeper and darker as they march. They build the campfire high that night, and celebrate by eating the last of their food stores. They will need to forage on the morrow, but Tyrius is unconcerned, knowing that they are so close to Silglen. Once they have set their camp for the evening, Thokk goes off the track into the woods and finds a deer-run, then sets his hunting trap there.

    3 October - Dreadwood, trail from Daerwald to Silglen
    The camp wakes early but does not breakfast, as they are without food. Willa starts a fire and collects mint to make tea; Thokk, Tyrius, Larry, and Babshapka head into the woods to hunt.

    Willa, Aurora, Barnabus, and Shefak are sitting around the fire, glad of the smoke to keep away bugs, when Barnabus whispers, “Act natural,” but loosens his blades in their sheathes. Even Aurora manages to not look startled a few moments later when five men emerge from the woods onto the track.

    Aurora stands up to greet them - all five have good-looking leather armor and heavy cloaks - they are obviously ranger-types, used to traveling in the wilderness.

    “It is we who should welcome you,” says the one in the lead, in Common. “Welcome to the Barony of Greyhill. Have you paid the entrance fee?”

    Willa assesses the men - hungry eyes, lean frames, dirty faces - these are no servants of a baron. [Willa's insight roll was considerably better than Aurora's, who was willing to take them at their word].

    Willa stands up, one hand on the hilt of her sword. “Aye, we hae,” she says coldly. “‘twar at ther bridge aways back,” and she hooks her thumb down the track behind them. All eyes follow her gesture - and when they return to the camp, Barnabus is not to be seen.

    “I’m afraid I don’t know the bridge you speak of,” says the lead man. “This track leads through the lumber camps of the highlands - there aren’t any bridges there. If you have paid, please show us your voucher.”

    “O’ course,” says Willa. “Once ye show us yer badges, or marks o’ service t’ ther Baron, o' whatever else ye be usin’”.

    The lead man looks at his men, and they spread out in a looser formation, as if each is setting up to target someone in the party, but casually. “Our Captain has those,” he responds. “A few hundred yards up the way there is a stone cairn what marks the boundary between the Baronies of Raya and Grayhill. The Captain is there with the rest of our company - we are just scouts.”

    Aurora reaches up to her face, tries to use a hair toss and head scratch to cover the somatic gestures she needs to message any of the hunters from their party, if they are near enough, but her motion and mumbled words are instantly recognized. One of the men whispers to his companion, and at a glare from the leader, says out loud in Keoish, “Ya see that! She cast a spell, she did! She’s a witch! I ain’t fighting a sorceress!”

    Things happen fast - Willa draws her sword - the five men turn and run - Shefak takes off after them in pursuit, but is forced to pull up short when a mass of sticky strands flies over her head and explodes at the edge of the woods. Aurora’s web does not hit any of the men, but neither does it ensnare Shefak. The men get clean away. Barnabus, when he reappears, says all the tracks he found were just of the five, but he wouldn’t discount them having a larger camp nearby.

    Half an hour later, Thokk bursts from the woods, humming contentedly, an immature boar carcass slung over his shoulder. Tyrius trails him. The barbarian stops when he sees the webs, looks about at the fresh tracks in the dirt road, then throws the boar down to the ground. “Thokk miss fight?” he yells with frustration. “Thokk sooo maaaad!”

    An hour later, stomachs satisfied, the group prepares to march. Between the sackful of roots, berries, and nuts found by Babshapka, and the half a boar remaining from Thokk, the party has enough food for all this day and two meals the next. They set off down the track. Sure enough, after a quarter mile, there is a pile of stones by the side of the road - but no sign of any “Captain,” or his men.

    With fair weather the party makes good progress, and by the end of the day they have come upon Silglen.

    The town is like no other they have ever seen. There is no clearing, there are no roads - it is as if dozens of houses have been set in the woods in no particular order, without disturbing a tree or bush. Many of the houses are rough log cabins, while others are dug into the sides of hillslopes, with rammed-earth walls and sod roofs. A few even hang from tree branches - great chambers made of woven fibres, like man-sized oropendola nests reached by rope ladders. Most of the folk about are elves, of all ages. There is a minority of humans, and these are practically all adults, men and women clad in the simple robes of druids, with only a few youths and no children. Every now and then they spot a forest gnome, nearly always outside some sort of workshop or trade store worked into the roots of a giant tree.

    Having no idea where to go, Aurora starts asking the elven children for directions, and soon finds Hyacinth, a local “girl guide,” fiercely proud of the red ribbon that marks her as an official aide to strangers in the city. Aurora offers her perfume for her services, but the elfling wrinkles her nose and says that for a haunch of Thokk’s boar she will take them to both the Welcome Temple, where Larry can meet representatives of the druid hierarchy, and to the Stranger’s Bungalows, where visitors to the city are required to stay.

    Along the way Hyacinth tells them all about Silglen and the druids, in response to questions from Aurora. No, they don’t have any libraries, although the druids keep many books privately. Yes, they have many temples to forest gods and earth gods, elf gods and human gods. No, they don’t really have anywhere of “interest”, no public places beyond the Welcome Temple; large gatherings of people are discouraged since that would result in the formation of trails, erosion, and waste disposal problems. They have many shops, but there is no shopping district, they have many craftspeople, but there are no guilds.

    Nominally the town is in the Barony of Grayhill, but for all practical purposes it is independent, and there are few men of the Baron present. It was founded by the Great Druidess Reynard Yargrove, twenty-three years ago when she ascended to control of the druid hierarchy, as a place for her to host the apparatus of her governance and to entertain representatives of the various powers with whom she deals. Although the druids are nearly all human, or rarely half-elven, most of the townsfolk are elven. This is because few humans who are not druids can abide to live by the low-impact ecological principles of the community. The harvesting of food, disposing of waste, and collecting of resources for work, are all closely regulated by the druids and few humans are far-sighted enough to see the importance of doing these things in a sustainable manner. As Hyacinth speaks, her tone is a curious mix of childlike innocence and an already well-developed prejudice for elves as superior to all other races.

    While there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of druids in the world, all of them are under the control of one of the Nine Druids. Each of the Nine is responsible for a different part of the world, a different Biome - such as deserts or forests. Each of the Nine is under one of the Three Archdruids, and all of them serve the Great Druid. Or, in this case, the Great Druidess. The physical and administrative center of the druid hierarchy is chosen by each Great Druid in turn upon their ascension, and when Yargrove became Great Druidess two decades ago she created Silglen.

    The Barony of Grayhill is both small and not very populated by Keoish standards, and most of the humans live in the highland city of Grayhill. Economically, it serves mostly as a source of lumber and mineral wealth for the neighboring and more-important Barony of Sayre. However, Grayhill became suddenly more important politically about six years ago when the new King of Keoland was elected from the Skotti house, an Oeridian noble family based in Grayhill.

    When Aurora asks Hyacinth about dangerous places, she furrows her brow. No, nowhere nearby is particularly dangerous, not if you have any woodcraft or common sense. There are plenty of monsters and such to the south - and if that is what the party is looking for, they need only take the Dreadwood Road south from Silglen and they will find more of that the farther they go. Here, the large number of elves means that the woods are safe for good folk.

    Hyacinth leaves the party at the “stranger bungalows”, a collection of squat huts made with woven leaves and branches. Each hut can sleep two or three people on a dirt floor. There is a well nearby, a fire pit, and a long-drop in another hut, but little else in the way of amenities. The elf lass promises to look in on the party in the morning and take them to the Welcome Temple.
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    Tue Mar 26, 2019 1:06 pm  
    Post 56: Silglen

    Note: What would a community designed to be the administrative center of the druid hierarchy be like? My approach was certainly anachronistic in terms of ecological principles, but it got home to the players that this is a very different community than they are used to, and that the thinking of the druids is alien to their own pseudo-feudal mindset.

    I suppose this post could just have well have been called "Larry's Choice", for much like Barnabus in Gradsul, Larry's player here faced the decision of whether to continue playing the character with the party or allow him to become an NPC, with plot repercussions for either choice.

    Post 56: Silglen

    4 October, 570 - Silglen
    This deep in the forest it is comfortably cool - with nights in the high sixties, and days in the high seventies. Plagued by mosquitoes since they left Gradsul, the party finds them blessedly scarce in Silglen. Hyacinth, arriving soon after the first of them are up in the morning, explains that many of the plants and flowers of the town have been chosen to ward off biting insects, and there may be druidic magic involved, as well. Perhaps that is what Larry will be learning as an Aspirant?

    After they have breakfasted, Hyacinth leads them across town to the Welcome Temple. There, a large natural grotto has been reshaped into an amphitheater for public announcements (the most severe alteration of the landscape they have yet seen in the town), and an adjoining rough timber building houses both new aspirants and official visitors to the town.

    In a formal ceremony, Tyrius introduces Larry to the druid warden of the temple, and turns over a letter of introduction from his own temple (see Posts 1 and 2, backstories of Larry and Tyrius). Larry is blessed with earth, air, fire, and water, and accepted as an Aspirant. The warden regrets that he does not have a traditional robe in Larry’s size (short and broad) on hand, but says that one of Larry’s first duties as an aspirant will be to learn weaving so that he can make his own robes. The party hears him ask “Boot when doo I larn ta tarn intoo a bar?” as he is being led away.

    After that, Hyacinth returns them to the bungalows. Aurora, who was hoping to learn her way about town, notices that they take a completely different route, and asks her about it. Hyacinth replies that low-impact principles encourage them to choose a different route any time they travel anywhere in the city, and that knowing many different ways to arrive anywhere is one of the qualifications for being a girl guide. The party invites Hyacinth to lunch with them as they discuss plans.

    With his duty officially discharged, Tyrius is now free to return to his homeland of Sterich, far to the north. But he seems in no particular hurry - in fact, he has plans to stay on at least a few days. “That dwarf is a queer sort,” he says, “and I don’t think the druids are even used to run-of-the-mill dwarves. This town has a lot of rules, and if those come from the druids I bet their training program has even more. Rules aren’t really Larry’s strong suit. I’d like to be here long enough to see whether he is going to make it or not. If he is happy, I will feel better about leaving, and if he is not, I can help him get to wherever he is going next.”

    Aurora, too, says that she would enjoy staying on - there seems to be much lore she could learn here - and she reminds Hyacinth to tell her about any book collections or old historians she can find out about.

    Ever practical, Willa says that if they are staying here, they need to be resupplying themselves, as they will not have enough food for dinner. She asks Hyacinth to take them to some food markets. The elfling maiden replies that she can show them where to buy food, but that first they will need ‘purchase vouchers’, and they can get purchase vouchers only after they have applied to the Harvesting Office. The Harvesting Office evaluates all visitors to the town and decides how much food they are allowed to buy and how much they will have to provide for themselves. If the visitors have not brought enough food with them, they are assigned certain hunt days in designated locations outside of the town to find food. The girl explains that this is to ensure that too many “tourists” don’t arrive in the city and buy locally-produced food with foreign gold to the extent that the local resources are over-harvested and the ecology is unbalanced, at the same time that food prices become inflated and thus impoverish the native residents. This seems needlessly complicated to Aurora, but Willa shrugs it off. “If it’s wha' we hae t’ do t’ get by ‘ere, so be it. As an excise officer, I’ve ‘ad to enforce stranger laws wit’ less reason. Thokk an’ Babshapka can hunt fer ther rest o’ us. ”

    At the mention of his name, Thokk, who has been ignoring the conversation and concentrating on perfectly roasting his boar, starts. “What?” he says. “What Thokk need to do to get more food?” Willa explains to him that strangers to the town have to hunt in certain places, and Thokk takes it as some kind of challenge or contest. “Ha! Ha ha! Thokk will show puny elves how to hunt! Thokk will kill so many deer that elves will cry from hunger while Thokk feasts!” Hyacinth looks aghast.

    Barnabus chuckles. He thinks to himself, Wherever laws are made, opportunities are made in breaking the law. If people in this town are only allowed to buy a certain amount of food - there must a black market to provide food for those who want, and can pay, more. That will give him a project for the days they remain here - he will locate some black market dealers, and make a profit from selling the excesses of Thokk’s hunting to them…

    After lunch, Hyacinth takes Willa and Aurora to the Harvesting Office, and then the Voucher Distributor, and finally to some of the food markets. They arrive back at the bungalows just in time to actually begin the preparation for dinner.

    5 October
    The day is spent uneventfully in Silglen. The party was assessed at being allowed to buy half of their food, and expected to supply the other half. Thokk and Babshapka are given hunting permits, and Babshapka leads them out of town, to the area he was told to go to. They return with a fine brace of rabbits and a sackful of wild apricots (11.5 pounds, with 8 left after the day’s eating).

    6 October
    Before sunrise a predawn chill drops the forest to the mid-fifties. Several of the party rise early in the cold, stoke the embers from the night before, and warm themselves as the sky turns from black to gray. They are cleaning up from breakfast and the air is still brisk when Aurora notices a young elf walking by with an odd burden - an ancient elf on his back. The old elf is mumbling softly, in elven, “Fall is coming, yes indeed, fall is coming again…” while the young elf staggers forward and looks about. Eventually he locates a nearby patch of sunlight, where the morning rays penetrate a hole in the leafy canopy and fall full and direct on the forest floor. He gingerly sets the ancient one down in the warm sunlight, then hurries off as if he still has his morning chores to attend to.

    Aurora and Shefak come to the side of the withered elf. His skin sags, he seems as thin as a reed, and his open eyes are thickly clouded over. “Who’s there?” he demands, for apparently he cannot see.

    “A traveler. A stranger to Silglen. Grandfather, can I make you more comfortable?” asks Aurora in her best Elven.

    “So cold this morning. Do you have anything warm to drink?”

    Aurora leaves Shefak by his side while she makes tea over the still-hot breakfast fire. Thokk and Babshapka are preparing to depart for a day of hunting; Barnabus has left already for parts unknown; Willa is tidying up the cookware.

    When Aurora returns to the elf’s side, they have a brief conversation in elven, and then Shefak returns to the fire as well. Aurora continues to speak for quite some time with the ancient one, before his caretaker returns and carries him off again. (for the contents of the conversation, see Post 57: The Riddle of the Malhel III)

    Thokk and Babshapka return in the afternoon, bearing with them more game, but not as much as the day before. (Additional 5.5 pounds, total 13.5 on hand, down to 10 by day’s end).

    In the evening, Larry blusters into camp, growling. “Stoopid drooid’s sarcle! Mak me an aaspirant when I kin kick the arse oof anyoone in the claass! Mak me larn ‘ow too weave when I already hae clothes! Woon’t even shoe me ‘ow too tarn into a bar. I bet thaat “maaster” dinnae even ken ‘ow. Kenning all thoose plaants an' barries an' roots be bonny and aall, bu' when doo I larn fighting? When doo I larn spells? Bet I cood tak oot the whoole claass with oone thundarwafe. Woon’t even promise me I’ll get choosen by the Drooid oof the Mountain! What if I get choosen by the Drooid of the Desart! What woold I doo then? Stoopid drooid’s sarcle!” Without even a word to his companions, he huffs into the bungalow that was his on the first night and slams the woven-twig door behind him.

    “Sooo…” ventures Tyrius. “We leave on the morrow?”
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    Wed Mar 27, 2019 7:10 pm  

    Lol! Laughing

    I hoped Larry would choose to stay with the party. Happy

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    Master Greytalker

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    Thu Mar 28, 2019 9:44 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    I hoped Larry would choose to stay with the party.

    Yeah, given his personality I didn't expect him to stay with the druid hierarchy long. Why follow rules when you can adventure?
    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.
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    Tue Apr 02, 2019 10:21 am  
    Post 57: The Riddle of the Malhel III

    Note: The information in this post is known only to the player of Aurora.

    Post 5: Backstory for Aurora of Tringlee:
    Post 49: The Riddle of the Malhel:
    Post 53: The Riddle of the Malhel II:

    Post 57 - The Riddle of the Malhel III
    Concurrent with Post 56: Silglen
    The old elf is very informative. Aurora tells him that she is an elf searching for her heritage, but asks him all manner of questions. He lowers his voice and speaks in an archaic form of elven that she struggles to understand, because, he says, he talks of things that “the humans are not supposed to know”.

    He claims to be 1327 years old, and to be able to remember personally when the first Suel arrived in the Sheldomar Valley. At this time there was no “Dreadwood”, just a continual band of forest all across the valley (where there are now the Dreadwood, Axewood, and Silverwood, but all points between as well). This was before the Invoked Devastation that destroyed the Suel Imperium, so the Suel that were already in the valley were raiders and outlaws, vile and untrustworthy. After the Suel and Baklunish destroyed one another with magic so powerful it left “rifts in the weave that remain to this day”, there was a massive wave of immigrants - humans and humanoids. Some of the Suel were good and some were not. A few respected the elves, and met with them “under the moon and stars on the Gray Hill” from which the local barony gets its name.

    The old elf claims that the Suel houses that arrived were the Neheli, the Rhola, the Secunforth, the Lizhal, the Malhel, and many others he has since forgotten. The Neheli went north and fought against the empire of the Whispered One. The Malhel dominated the plains north of the forest. The Rhola went south to the coast. When the Neheli were forced to retreat, they contested with the Malhel for control of the plains and eventually won by enlisting the aid of the other houses. The Malhel were few in number but had powerful wizards and sorcerers among them. When they were driven off, they took refuge in the deep Dreadwood and vowed revenge. That, however, is a secret - something that the elves promised not to tell the humans. The Malhel made dark experiments and summoned powerful fiends, attempting to bind them to their service and use them to attack the Neheli. Eventually they summoned something too powerful for them to control and destroyed themselves. The ruins of their cities still can be found in many places in the Dreadwood, but these are all protected.

    When Aurora asks him why humans are not allowed to know this, the elf says he is not sure - he thinks he knew once, but has since forgotten. At some point the elves made a promise to the rulers of the human nation (he stumbles at remembering the name “Keoland”, but agrees when Aurora suggests it to him) to not talk about such things. Humans are a superstitious lot and he thinks their rulers may have been trying to keep their people from being afraid. Elves don’t like to talk about the Malhel either, but not because they are afraid - rather, it is a tragic tale, and elves are sensitive sorts and can sicken when they dwell too long on sorrowful things.

    When Aurora asks if there are Malhel ruins about, the old elf says “of course”, and then whispers the name to her “Valadis”. Valadis apparently was a Malhel city near Silglen. The elves agreed to seal it off and keep humans from approaching it. The old elf suspects that when the human druid woman made Silglen here, it was also to watch and protect the place. Aurora asks where it is - so that she can avoid stumbling across the ruins by accident. The old man says it is so carefully warded, that there is no danger of that, so long as she does not accidentally travel up the Owl River.

    Aurora asks him for the name of the local elven houses and clans, but does not recognize any that might be her father’s. She also asks him about Zuoken. He says that Zuoken was a mortal Bakluni man who was so dedicated to Xan Yae, the “Mistress of Perfection”, and who so mastered the unity of his mind and body, that he ascended to godhood. He remembers Zouken walking in the Dreadwood - but does not remember if that was decades ago or centuries, when he was a man or when he was a god. He thinks there may be temples to Zuoken, or Xan Yae, or both, in the southern Dreadwood, but then he thinks one can find just about anything in the southern Dreadwood - the part most overrun by all the humanoids that arrived when the Suel and Bakluni fought.
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    Tue Apr 09, 2019 1:15 pm  
    Post 58: Silglen to the Owl Stream

    DM's Note: By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used her map of Keoland the party's travel, and the locations and identities of roads, terrain features, and settlements below come from that map. I would highly encourage any DM to use her work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Post 58: Silgen to the Owl Stream

    7 October, 570 - Silglen
    In the morning most of the party pack up camp while Tyrius goes to visit the Master of the Welcome Temple. The master explains that while Larry has great power and promise, he is entirely impatient with the rules and procedures of the druid hierarchy. They will not be able to train him until he is willing to submit to their authority.

    There certainly are druids in the world who are outside the hierarchy - many individuals have been gifted by the gods and spirits of nature with druidic powers - from the shamanic leaders of wild tribes to the fey folk to one such as the bear-man who was Larry’s mentor and foster father. It is entirely possible that Larry will continue to advance in power and understanding without the guidance of the hierarchy. However (and here the master looks Tyrius directly in the eyes), there can be only nine Druids, that is, true Druids, such as The Druid of the Mountains. If Larry ever makes it to that level of ability, he will have to challenge one of the nine Druids of the hierarchy, and attempt to take his or her place. Until then, the hierarchy is content to let Larry go about his business, since for the moment he seems to be doing little harm to the balance of things and some help besides.

    Back at the camp there is some discussion of where the party should travel next. Tyrius had, the night before, offered to show them his home country of Sterich, but that lies hundreds of miles to the north and west and none but he were eager to make that journey. Shefak was adamant that they need to explore the southern Dreadwood and seek temples to her gods, and none of them were terribly opposed to the idea. Thokk welcomed battle and Tyrius the chance to smite evil. Today, in the light of morning, they discuss how they might be making that journey. “The Dreadwood Road” leads south out of Silglen, and many people besides Hyacinth have assured them that by simply following that route they will reach the southern Dreadwood, with the forest becoming ever wilder as they go. However, none of them are too keen on another long overland journey should a quicker way present itself. Aurora suggested that they take another route out of Silglen, the one leading to the Javan River valley. From there, they would be able to find passage on a boat, much as Tyrius, Thokk, and Larry had done months ago. Going downriver on the Javan, they would quickly arrive back in the Viscounty of Salinmoor, at which point they could enter the southernmost, wildest portion of the Dreadwood directly. When Tyrius returns from the temple they speak to him, and he agrees to go along.

    By the time they use their remaining purchase vouchers to buy a half-day’s worth of food, it is a late start to the day. The forest cover keeps their journey cool, and it is afternoon before the temperatures approach the 80’s. Much sooner than that, however, they lose whatever protection the vicinity of Silglen has given them against insects, and the mosquitoes and other biting flies are out in force. They see no other travelers during the entire day. Night is approaching when they reach an obvious intersection in the road. It is unmarked, but Willa and Aurora both agree that the northern branch will take them to Greyhill, while the western one will lead to a mountain pass and then down to the Javan river. There are a number of deserted buildings at the intersection, and the forest growth is different, as if there was a failed attempt to clear fields and make a community here that was abandoned decades ago. They make camp in the most sturdy-looking of the structures (and are obviously not the first to do so), but not before all the buildings are searched and Thokk and Babshapka scout a short distance in each direction. It is a strange feeling to be in this ghost-town, and several of them do not sleep well.

    [The party’s purchase of four pounds of food brings their supply total to 14 pounds, which is down to 6 pounds by the end of the day - they will have to forage on the morrow.]

    8 October - Track from Silgen to Javan River - at the intersection of the Greyhill, Silglen, and Javan trails
    Babshapka’s time for trance has long since passed and he stands a silent vigil in the pre-dawn. The rest of the party is sleeping silently - the woods are transitioning between the night creatures and the creatures of the day. Babshapka reaches out with his primeval awareness - he lets the wind tell the leaves, the leaves tell the trees, and the trees speak to him. His senses extend out for six miles in each direction, and he finds no trace of unnatural things. Everything is as it should be. Here and there fey linger at the edge of his consciousness, but they are mischievous, not malicious. He cannot detect evil - for all he knows there is an orc warband up the trail - but he is confident that there are no abominations nearby. Satisfied, he climbs a tree and scouts the lands ahead, planning where he will hunt. They are short on provisions, and he and Thokk will be walking off-trail for most of the day. Even searching thusly, they will be easily able to keep up with Barnabus and Larry. But it will mean that Babshapka is leaving Aurora's side for hours at a time. Knowing that any enemy they face will at least be natural, he feels confident leaving her with the main body of the party.

    After breakfast Babshapka and Thokk pack a lunch for themselves, in case they do not reunite with the party until the night camp, and set out into the woods. The remaining six members of the party pack their gear and head up the Javan trail. “Up” is the right word, for the trail is definitely ascending, and when they pause in clearings, they can see that the land before them is ever higher, rising up into low, forested mountains. Still, the weather is pleasant and the company good and they manage a fair day’s march. When Thokk and Babshapka find them later in the day there is fresh meat and greens for dinner.

    [Six pounds plus 9.5 gained foraging, less 8 eaten is 7.5 pounds remaining].

    9 October - track from Silglen to Javan River - where the “h” in the "Barony of Greyhill" intersects the Javan trail
    Babshapka’s primeval awareness again convinces him that it is safe to forage away from the main group.

    They continue up the trail. It is just as steep as the day before, but now they can see high peaks to either side of them as well as in front. The trail is taking the most gentle ascent up a wide valley.

    Around three in the afternoon a light rain begins to fall and Willa calls a halt to the march. The rain does not obscure their vision or slow their movement much at the moment, but several hours of it on a steeply-sloped dirt trail could easily turn into a mud-pit, and she would just as soon have a clean campsite and dry night for those with tents.

    When Thokk and Babshapka find them later, after a bit of back-tracking, they carry with them the bounty of the forest.

    [7.5 pounds plus 11 gained foraging, less 8 eaten is 10.5 pounds remaining.]

    10 October - track from Silglen to Javan River
    On this morning, Babshapka’s primeval awareness detects the presence of something, just at the edge of its range. It is strange, like nothing he has felt before. He believes it is extraplanar in origin, and of uncertain intent. It is disquieting enough that he decides to spend the day on the trail by Aurora’s side. Since they have enough supplies for the whole day, he convinces Thokk to march with the party as well. Whatever the creature or being is, he wants everyone together if it decides to menace them. He did not understand what he sensed, but he knew that it was powerful.

    They continue up the trail. Babshapka is immediately convinced that they are being watched, but none of the rest of the party are aware of anything and put it off to a “bad trance” the night before. He has half a mind to dash off into the underbrush and flush out the person or creature that is watching, and following, them, but he restrains himself thinking that that is perhaps what the thing wants, to separate them.

    While Aurora ignores Babshapka’s presentiments, she does seem awfully interested in the trail on which they are marching, specifically whether they could have missed any side trails. She badgers Willa to take out her map, but Willa refuses, citing the rain they had the day before and the delicate nature of the map. When questioned about her behavior, Aurora replies that the elderly elf she spoke to in Siglin told her that there was another trail, a shortcut to the Javan River, that ran southeast and that would have to be along this stretch somewhere. She even sends her spirit hawk Buckbeak high into the sky all morning, soaring in circles and searching (and causing Aurora to trip clumsily up the trail as she cannot see what is in front of her when viewing through his eyes), but she never locates the side branch she claims exists. Even Babshapka sees no evidence for any branches off of the trail they are on, and he is incessantly monitoring the woods around them.

    As morning turns into afternoon Babshapka relaxes somewhat, and Aurora gives up on locating the missing side-branch. After their mid-day meal the trail becomes truly steep, requiring all their effort and attention to climb as it ascends to a rugged saddle between two peaks. For some time the soil is so thin and the ground so rocky that they even leave the forest and hike through alpine meadows.

    In the late afternoon they finally begin their descent down into the Javan River valley. Here the forests are even more lush and dense than those they have been walking through since leaving Silglen. It is not long before they pass a large stone cairn that marks the boundary between the Barony of Greyhill and the Dreadwood Protectorate. At least at this border crossing there are no self-proclaimed tax collectors. The Protectorate is not a traditional fiefdom run by some human noble. Rather, it is the name for all of the Dreadwood that is really too wild to be ruled, too savage to collect any regular revenue from. Here in the north, the land is claimed and patrolled by elven tribes nominally loyal to the Crown and the party is in little danger, but the more southern regions of the Protectorate, their ultimate goal, is truly a lawless wilderness.

    They work their way downslope along the base of a great cliff-face. Fortunately the cliff is to their north, giving them enough light from the south to march until well in the afternoon. Finally, as the sky is turning deeper shades of blue, Willa calls a halt for the day. It is cool, already in the sixties, and though they are hot from marching she thinks they will be cold in the night, here on the mountainside. As they make camp she sends out some of them to gather enough wood for a large fire. Thokk goes off a way to set his trap. They have just enough supplies for a full dinner tonight and a good breakfast in the morning, and then they will be completely out of food.

    [10.5 pounds and no foraging, less 8 eaten is 2.5 pounds remaining.]

    October 11 - track from Silglen to Javan River, in the Dreadwood Protectorate
    It does indeed get cold at night - down into the forties, perhaps, and the party is slow to rouse in the morning. Willa, Aurora, and Tyrius have a discussion over breakfast - they will soon be upon the river, with perhaps no towns of note before then. It would be better to have a full stock of supplies if they will be negotiating for their passage on whatever barge floats by. They have been keeping themselves fed, but barely, as they travel with just the casual foraging of Thokk and Babshapka supplying them. If they take a day of rest here and concentrate on provisioning themselves, they may be able to start the next day with full packs. In particular, Thokk and Babshapka have been eager to bring down a deer, but Tyrius had previously restricted them to small game, not wanting to be accused of poaching from the Baron. But here in the Protectorate, there is no local law to speak of - or at least the elves who allow hunting do not reserve large game for the tables of their nobles. This camp affords them the best opportunity to stock up before they arrive at the river. It is decided that they will keep their camp for one day while Thokk, Babshapka, and Larry dedicate the day to hunting and gathering.

    Thokk first checks his trap set the night before. It has been sprung, and snapped off a giant beetle leg! Estimating from the size of the leg, Thokk imagines the beetle stands higher than he is, and he is sorry he missed it. Giant beetle carapace makes good improvised armor, and the wing and mandible muscles are huge and edible, if tough.

    While the others spend a quiet day at camp, resting and mending gear, Thokk and Babshapka bring back a young buck and Larry returns with armloads of mushrooms, greens, acorns, and fruit. He also has a small cache of grubs and worms just for himself. The total bounty is nearly a week’s worth of food.

    [2.5 pounds with 43 pounds from foraging, less 8 pounds is 37.5 pounds remaining.]

    12 October - track from Silglen to Javan River, in the Dreadwood Protectorate - near the crossing of the Owl Stream
    In the morning the party breaks their two-day camp and sets out back down the Javan trail. It descends steeply and there is more than one section of switchbacks. A few hours into the march the trail crosses a sizable stream at a broad ford; larger than the alpine brooks they have previously walked or waded through. It is not yet mid-day. Here Aurora calls a halt and confers with Willa on whether she thinks this is the “Owl Stream.” When Willa checks her map and agrees that it is, Aurora says that they should move upstream and try the fishing. When everyone stares at her blankly, she explains that the elderly elf from Silglen told her of the excellent fishing in the upper reaches of the Owl Stream.

    “Why fishing?” asks Tyrius. “We have plenty of food now.”

    “Food for ourselves, yes,” agrees Aurora, “but with a few baskets of fish besides we could trade for passage on the river and would not have to offer gold to the captains.”

    The party remains unconvinced, but Aurora is stubbornly insistent that they need to go fishing. Willa is curiously silent on the matter after a few questions to Aurora.

    There seeming no way around it, the party reluctantly agrees rather than split. Leaving the trail, they begin to follow the Owl Stream upriver. At first they walk along its banks, but before long the stream itself lies in the bottom of a narrow glen and they follow it from the forest floor above. Less than an hour after they have left the trail, Babshapka, scouting the lead, finds a curious barrier. The entire hillside is closed off by a thick thorn hedge, as far as they can see in either direction, except for the narrow glen ravine, which at this point is more than fifty feet below them. Buckbeak confirms that the thorn hedge goes both directions, blocking access for miles at least, but that on just the other side of the barrier the forest is unremarkable. Even with hand-axes, it would take them hours to hack their way through, and walking around would take more than a day.

    Instead, they fell trees, strip limbs, and Thokk quickly ties the trunks together with rope from three different kits to make an improvised raft. The raft is lowered to the bottom of the glen with his block-and-tackle, and the party either climbs down or is lowered. Strapping their gear to the raft as best they can, they set off up the stream.

    Where the thorn barrier is overhead corresponds to the narrowest part of the glen between high rock walls, and the stream’s course is deep and strong. Thokk had been wading on the stream bottom, pushing the raft ahead of him, but in the narrows the water is already over his chest and likely to get deeper. Now he mounts the raft, and tries to use a grappling hook to pull the raft through the ravine. They are about halfway through when his hands slip on wet rope and the raft lurches back, gathers speed, and smashes into the ravine wall. The next few seconds are a chaos of flailing arms, bucking logs, and desperate grabbing.

    When everyone is safely on shore downstream, they take stock. Many have lost a small personal item - much of the rope is gone. Thokk has lost his mechanical game trap, and Willa had her vial of “cure disease”, captured from the Sea Ghost, smashed.

    Thokk ponders awhile, then declares that the raft was too complicated an idea. He takes the largest remaining log and into it axes leg-holds, like a giant flume. The party repacks all their gear. As they mount up in the water, Thokk tells them to hold on with their legs and thighs, because they will likely roll more than once, which helps no-one’s confidence.

    Barnabus stands behind Thokk. They use two grappling hooks and lines. Barnabus throws one, and when it is set, transfers it to Thokk, who advances them with the block-and tackle while Barnabus looks for their next hold.

    While the log rocks and bucks and pulls in the current, it does not roll, and some twenty minutes later they have emerged from the narrows into a large, placid pool. They hand-paddle to a bank and mount the shore. Before them is a great expanse of woods, like that they left behind, but older, thicker, and darker.

    Buckbeak is sent aloft, and reports a mountain with a village at its foot several miles ahead as well as a divot in the canopy that reflects an old, but usable, road beneath. The party spreads out their clothes to dry in the mid-day sun while they take their lunch on the banks of the pool. Here and there on the hillslopes behind them they can see bits of the thorn wall. Aurora says that they can likely reach the village by nightfall, and no one seems surprised that she hasn’t mentioned fishing lately.

    Their clothes are reasonably dry and their stomachs full by the time dark afternoon clouds roll in. They set off into the woods and soon find the road. It is ancient indeed, still recognizable although saplings of all sizes grow up through it. They proceed in the direction of the mountain while the sky grows darker all the time; around two in the afternoon a brief thunderstorm breaks, soaking them again. Although it quickly passes, in its wake the cool air and standing water have made a light fog. Black pools of water stand like dark mirrors about the muddy roadway. Thick, cold mists spread a pallor over the land. Giant tree trunks stand on both sides of the road, their branches clawing into the mists. In every direction the mists grow thicker and the forest grows more oppressive.

    The party continues along the road for at least five hours. The sun is long-lost to view but its last rays illuminate the top of the mountain above them when they come to a strange gate. Jutting from the impenetrable woods on both sides of the road, high stone buttresses loom up gray in the fog. Huge iron gates hang upon the stonework. Dew clings with cold tenacity to the rusted bars. Two statues of armed guardians silently flank the gate. Their heads, missing from their shoulders, now lie among the weeds at their feet. They greet the party only with silence.

    By now the entire party is spooked. Larry approaches the gates cautiously, tossing a handful of dirt between them. When nothing happens, the party walks through. However, when the last of them has entered, the gates swing closed of their own accord, groaning against their rusting hinges. As they clang shut, the mists seem to spring up thicker than ever. Deep in the mists, an unseen and unidentified beast growls.
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    Wed Apr 17, 2019 10:47 am  
    Post 59: A willage in the mists

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft. Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    While the party was in the woods, I used the ambient sound mix at There was a wonderful unscripted moment when they finally walked through the gate - I described it closing behind the last player, and there then occurred the first one of the random howls. They were very freaked out!

    Post 59: A Willage in the Mists

    Just inside the gates (B), the party carefully scans the mists for signs of the beast, but slowly realize the sound was distant. They proceed cautiously down the road through the dark woods.

    After a half-mile, the woods fall away from the road and they enter an area of pasture and fallow fields. Tall shapes loom out of the dense fog that surrounds everything. The muddy ground underfoot gives way to slick, wet cobblestones. The tall shapes become recognizable as the dwellings of a village. The windows of each house stare out from pools of black nothingness. No sound cuts the silence except for a single mournful sobbing that echoes through the streets from a distance.

    The party proceeds toward the village, their boot steps sounding unnaturally loud against the cobblestones in the silence of the night. As they approach, they notice that the village is surprisingly dark - it is only an hour after nightfall, and even poor folk without candles should still be knitting or mending by the light of a hearth fire. There seems to be light only in the village square - all of the other buildings are dark.

    The first two outbuildings of the village appear abandoned. On the main street, other buildings, shops and houses, are also empty - some looted, with smashed doors and fallen shutters, others perhaps still occupied but bolted up tight against the night. Everywhere the walls, especially on the door frames and window sills, are covered in scratches. Aurora examines them and believes them to be the work of zombies, but perhaps the eerie nature of the place is coloring her judgement.

    Thokk throws his shoulder against the door of a house, but it is barred from inside. The resulting crash echoes up and down the dark streets. Frustrated, he growls and takes out his battle axe. “No!” says Willa sharply. “We’ve already made enough noise. We are going toward the lights in the square.”

    Three blocks later they stand in the village square, which is actually a circle. The haunting sound of sobbing and wailing is louder now, and seems to be coming from the street to the south. While the square itself is not lit, two buildings, one to their left and one to their right, have lights on inside, and the light spills out into the darkened streets. They move to the left first - the light comes from behind heavy, drawn curtains. There is a sign hanging outside the shop, creaking on hinges over the door, but the lettering is unfamiliar to most of them. “It’s in Suel,” announces Aurora, “not ancient Suel, but a rather archaic form of modern Suel. I believe it says “Bildrath’s Mercantile.”

    (E1) They knock on the door, and the curtains are drawn back, but the face that looks at them is in shadows. A second later a stout bar is removed and the door is opened. “Come in, come in,” says a man in a heavily-accented Suel that only Aurora understands. “But be quick! The streets of Barowia are not safe at night.”

    Bildrath, if indeed that is his name, is a middle-aged man, but it appears the years have not been kind to him. His hair is sparse and gray, and he has heavy bags under his eyes. His hands seem to move of their own accord, nervously, fretfully. After the last of the party is through the door he closes it, hurriedly puts the bar back in place, and moves behind the counter.

    The shop is lit by oil lamps mounted on the walls, with polished tin plates behind them to reflect more light, but it somehow still seems dim. Dusty, half-empty shelves are everywhere, but even so there are a number of various and sundry goods about, and it appears as any general store they have been in - though perhaps this one has seen better days. The more valuable items are on the shelves behind the counter, inaccessible to the party. Most of the party give a cursory inspection of the items on the shelves. Larry helps himself to a few pickles floating in an open pickle barrel - they are crunchy and briny and quite good. Aurora wanders about the store, nonchalantly picking trinkets of small value off of the shelves and placing them on the counter, as she converses with the man in Suel.

    “You said the streets are not safe...what makes them so?”

    “Volves, and vorse…”

    “Do you have anything that might help us against such creatures? Silver weapons or wolfsbane or somesuch?”

    “No, no. I’m afraid in Barowia the demand for such items far outstrips my meager supply.”

    “We are travelers - do you have many of those?”

    “Trawelers in Barowia are rrare, but not unknown. Eet has been more than a year since I haf seen any, certainly.”

    “Why are so many of the houses in the village empty?”

    “Thees land ees under a currse.”

    “Indeed! What is the nature of the curse?”

    “The currse ees the devil - the devil Strrahd!” as Bildrath says this last part, he whispers, and then makes a gesture to ward off evil.

    “What is the devil Strahd?”

    Bildrath winces at Aurora’s loud, offhand repetition of the name. “Thees things are not to be discussed at night.” He looks at the items she is putting on the counter. “Perhaps eef you rreturned in the day, ve might talk. Eef you rreturn.”

    “Hmm. We are looking for a place to stay for the night…”

    “No! Not een my store!” Bildrath exclaims. “Try the tavern across the street. They may haf rrooms to let above.”

    Aurora pays for her purchases, and finds the bill is about ten times what she would pay in a town like Daerwald or Seaton. Larry is pulling pickles out of the barrel with his bare hands and trying to stack them in his arms like kindling. Bildrath glowers at him, then hands over a pair of tongs and a large earthenware jar with a lid.

    The party leaves the shop and walks across the street. A single shaft of light thrusts into the main square, its brightness like a solid pillar in the heavy fog. Above the gaping doorway, a sign hangs precariously askew proclaiming this (in Suel) the "Blood on the Vine Tavern."

    (E2) They make their way into the building. The once finely appointed tavern has grown shoddy over the years. A blazing fire in the hearth gives scant warmth to the few huddled souls within. The silence here is broken only by the occasional sip of wine. The barkeep is behind the bar, cleaning glasses. He looks up as the party enters, but returns immediately to his work. Three men with dark skin and in brightly colored clothes are at a table on the left. A solitary man, much paler, sits mysteriously in the shadows to the right.

    Larry approaches the man in the shadows, attempting to discern whether he is some kind of undead. “You look like a stranger to Barowia,” the man says, in a heavily-accented Common. “Are you trawelers?”

    “We’re adventurers!” booms Larry brightly. Shefak notices the three men on the other side of the room bend their heads together and whisper.

    “Adwentures? Then you are used to helping people in dangerous situations?”

    “Of course.”

    “Come, let us go to my house.”

    By now, Aurora and Tyrius are standing next to Larry. “Why don’t you tell us what you need first.”

    “Not here,” the man demurs. He leans in and says softly, “There are too many ears here.”

    The man leads them out of the tavern and down the street to the south. A moaning sob floats through the still, gray streets, coloring their thoughts with sadness. The sounds flow from a dark, two-story townhouse they pass (E3). The party asks the man what the sound is.

    “Ah, that...that is Mad Mary,” he sighs, and makes a warding gesture.

    (E4) At the very end of the street a weary-looking mansion squats behind a rusting iron fence. The iron gates are twisted and torn. The right gate lies cast aside while the left swings crazily in the wind. The stuttering squeal and clang of the gate repeats with mindless precision.

    Weeds choke the grounds and press with menace upon the house itself. Yet, against the walls, the growth has been trodden under to form a path all about the domain. Heavy claw markings have stripped the once-beautiful finish of the walls. Great black blottings tell of the fires that have assailed the walls. Not a pane nor shard of glass stands in any window. All the windows are barred with heavy planking, each plank marked with stains of evil omen.

    The man thrusts aside the gate impatiently and strides up to the front door. He pounds on the door, calling, in Common, “Sister! Sister, open. It is Ismark!” By the time the door is opened, the party is clustered around the man at the threshold. Immediately light spills from the mansion, and a second later, the strong stench of death overwhelms them. Their hands go to weapons, but in the doorway is only a young woman of surpassing beauty.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Apr 23, 2019 1:40 pm  
    Post 60: The House of the Burgomaster

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft. Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    Post 60: The House of the Burgomaster

    12 October, 570 - The Village of Barovia
    The young women in the doorway stares dumbfounded at the party, and then at the face of her brother. He nods at her and she ushers them inside, immediately barring the door behind her while he drags a small table with a holy symbol on it in front of the door.

    The interior of the house is well furnished, although the fixtures show sign of considerable wear. Obvious oddities are the boarded - up windows and the overuse of holy symbols in every room. An older man is in a side parlor to the left, dead. He is lying on a settee in a room that is dark, despite the candles burning in his honor. The stench in the house is horrible.

    “Sister,” says Ismark, sounding greatly relieved, and he kisses the young woman on both cheeks. He turns to the party. “To thee of might and walor, I present my sister Ireena Kolyana.”

    Tyrius bows deeply and a few of the others hastily imitate him.

    “And who are these strrangers, Ismark?” she asks, following his lead and speaking in Common.

    “Adwenturers,” he says, “I think they can help us.”

    “We may be able t’ help ye,” says Willa cautiously, “but firs' we need t’ know what be going on 'ere.”

    Ismark and Ireena lead the party into a dining room across the hall from the parlor with the dead man. Between them, they tell a long tale. They explain that the man was the Burgomaster, the village leader of Barovia, and that they are his children. The village of Barovia is a sad place now. Most of the shops have been forced to close. The night, and its creatures, belong to the devil Count Strahd von Zarovich, Lord of Barovia. When the sun sets, the people of Barovia barricade their homes, trembling in fear. Each night the attacks get worse. Recently, the Burgomaster's mansion has been the center of most attacks - although it was not like that when the siblings were children. Each night now, wolves and other, terrible creatures attack the house. The Burgomaster's heart could not stand the constant assault and he died a natural death. Strangely, just since his death, the wolves have not attacked the house. The Burgomaster has been dead for nearly ten days, but no one from the town has been brave enough to help Ismark take him out for burial. During the same attack in which the Burgomaster died, his mansion's greatest holy symbol was stolen, and Ireena and Ismark are now without protection.

    The poor villagers of Barovia have been terrorized for generations by "the devil" Strahd. No villager has left Barovia for centuries. Those who tried never returned, dying from the vile snapping teeth of the Barovian wolves and the choking deadly fog. The dark Svalich woods surround the village and cliffs. There is a deathly stillness in the dark woods, yet they are patrolled constantly by the wolves and serving beasts of Count Strahd. Strangers occasionally arrive in the village, like the party, but they never leave. This is because of the trapping mists that exist everywhere in Barovia. Once they are breathed, they infuse themselves around a person's vital organs like poison. When they leave Barovia, the poison becomes active, killing them - if the wolves do not find them first.

    The men the party saw in the tavern were Rhenee boatmen. They are spies for the devil, and it is rumored that they can pass in and out of Barovia as he wills. When the party asks whether they should return to the tavern and kill the men before they can report to Strahd, Ismark looks shocked, and Ireena aghast. No, they say, the Rhenee are spies, but they do not hurt the people of Barovia. And even if they could be silenced, the devil has many spies, and most assuredly Strahd already knows that the party is here.

    On the outskirts of the village sits a church. Only the constant prayers of the priest keep it safe at night. In the morning, with the party’s help, Ismark will take his father’s body there for burial. The party wonders why he could not do this by himself, or surely the two of them together - their father was a large man, but not so large he couldn’t be moved in a hand cart. Ismark simply repeats that it is “too dangerous”.

    Far above the village sits Castle Ravenloft, Strahd's home and fortress. Certainly, Barovia will never be safe until the evil in his castle is destroyed. No one knows what hides within the castle. Ancient tales tell of dungeons and catacombs deep under the castle. Other stories recall the great halls, treasures, and glory of Ravenloft centuries ago. Sometimes Strahd “calls” to certain people in the village, and they must come to his castle - usually young women. Such was likely the fate of Gertruda, Mad Mary’s daughter. The old woman kept her daughter confined in her house, never allowed to leave, and even the other villagers had never seen her. But last week she broke out and has not been seen since. Mary has been disconsolate, and her moans and sobs continue unabated.

    The party eats dinner from their own supplies, but heated in the kitchen of the mansion. They then arrange a watch schedule. Those resting are shown to the Burgomaster’s bedroom on the second floor, after Ismark extracts a pledge from all the men that they will not disturb Ireena, and a promise from Tyrius that he will enforce their pledges. Those on watch are shown the stairs to the garret, and a corkscrew from the kitchen is used to drill peepholes into the boards in the four windows of the tower.

    Thick clouds obscure the moon, but Aurora estimates it is around midnight when a dozen wolves take up a howling, right at the base of the mansion’s walls. The building shudders, and frantic messages arrive to Aurora, telling her that the wolves are throwing themselves against the doors and windows. Aurora looks desperately from peephole to peephole, but cannot see the source of the attacks.

    With a fantastic crash, the back door breaks in two against the restraint of the bar. The lower half falls into the hall as wolves and bats enter the mansion. Babshapka, Larry, and Barnabus hold off the intruders. Finally, out on the front path, Aurora spots a single man, cloaked in a dark cape and with dark hair, almost invisible against the night. Around his feet slink wolves, heads cowed. Peering through the peephole, Aurora prepares and targets her magic missile spell, sending the missiles exploding into the figure’s shoulder and chest. His cape sizzles and burns, but his body does not move. He cranes his neck toward the garret, and Aurora can feel his hateful red eyes upon her, with her as exposed as if she was standing naked in front of him in broad daylight, rather than behind boarded-up windows at night. With a flourish of his cape the figure turns on his heels and strides away, laughing cruelly, followed by a host of wolves and a cloud of bats.

    The battle over, Thokk slays one of the unconscious wolves and drags the other one into the pantry, laying a leg of meat beside it and shutting the pantry door. Hours later but before dawn he can hear it whining and scratching at the door. He begins a ritual, calling his wolf totem to himself so that he can see through its eyes and speak with its voice. When Thokk is ready, Larry opens the door for him and Thokk faces the wolf.

    Using his totem to speak to the spirit of the wolf, Thokk learns that the wolves of Barovia call Strahd the “Master of the Pack,” and must obey him because he is “The Master”. Sometimes he calls them to his stone house, but they do not like to go there because there are many dead things there. Rather, they live in dens all over the woods and hunt the creatures of the forest when he is not commanding them. Thokk gathers as much information as he can before he mercifully kills the wounded wolf, and none-too-soon for Ireena, who is both upset about the attack on their house and incensed that Thokk would keep one of the beasts that attacked them, alive inside the house.

    Watch and sleep schedules are re-adjusted, so that those wounded in the fight, or who used spells, can still get a full rest. The party had planned to debark at daybreak, but now they tell the Kolyana siblings that they will not be leaving the house until mid-morning. Privately, Ireena voices her concerns to Ismark that these adwenturers may not be the help they had hoped for.

    Those in the garret swear they see shapes in the woods around the mansion at various points in the night, but there are no further attacks.

    13 October, 9am
    Well after dawn the entire party, as well as Ismark and Ireena, depart the house, the siblings with their father wrapped in a sheet and carried between Thokk and Tyrius. Ismark and Ireena have, between them, one sword - a family heirloom, though both also carry long daggers. They pass up the cobblestone streets to a hill on the north end of the town. Here and there villagefolk can be seen moving about in the daylight, but they turn the other way when they see the party, or dart into doorways, so that none of them can be seen clearly or for long.

    (E6) Atop a slight rise, against the very roots of the castle's pillarstone, stands a gray, sagging edifice of stone and wood. This church has weathered the assaults of evil for centuries on end and is worn and weary. The bell tower hangs to one side, its sweet tone long silenced. The rafters strain feebly against their load. The party pauses at the unlocked front doors.
    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.
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    Tue Apr 30, 2019 1:17 pm  
    Post 61: The Kirk of Father Donovich

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    I decided to make the generic "gypsies" of the module into Rhenee to tie them more specifically to the Greyhawk setting. I kept one wagon but added some barges.

    For the camp itself, I used the audio file at:

    Post 61: The Kirk of Father Donovitch

    13 October, 570 - The Village of Barovia
    Passing through the doors, the party finds the church interior a shambles, with overturned and broken benches littering the dusty floor. A body is slumped over a claw-scarred altar toward the far end. Babshapka approaches it silently - until his foot kicks a bronze offering plate that clangs across the floor. With a sharp intake of breath the slumped figure jerks upright, hands clutching at the holy symbol around his neck. When he comes to his senses, he asks in a voice hoarse from all-night chanting, “Who is there...Ireena Kolyana, is that you?” His blood-shot eyes strain to see them.

    “Yes, Father, and Ismark with me.”

    “And who are these strangers?”

    “Trawelers, Father, here to help us bury…” her voice breaks off.

    “Who is that in the sheet then, is that…?”

    “Our father, the Burgomaster,” says Ismark, as his sister cannot bring herself to answer.

    “It is as I had feared,” the priest hangs his head resignedly. “Still, ve can give him a decent rresting place. Let us go outside.”

    Behind the church is a small cemetery (E7). Some of the graves have stone markers, some even statuary. Most have simple flat wooden plaques with carved sunburst designs, and many are unmarked. The grass is a bit greener here than the rest of the village, and it seems a quiet and peaceful place in the morning light. Not far beyond it, however, towers a vertical cliff face that rises more than a thousand feet. At the very top can be made out the towers and walls of Castle Ravenloft, looming over the village.

    Father Donovitch brings picks and shovels from a shed and Ismark, Thokk, Tyrius, and Larry quickly dig a grave. Just as the grave is finished and they are preparing to lower the Burgomaster into it, a howl splits the morning air and a huge wolf-like creature dashes from the edge of the woods straight at them.

    Everything happens so fast, it is difficult to say whom the beast is targeting - the Burgomaster’s body, the Kolyanas, the priest? As it races past Shefak, she lands a swift punch to its flank, making it list to one side. She follows up with a swipe from her staff, completely knocking it off its feet, and a party member finishes it off with a sword. Standing over the body, Babshapka declares, “That’s no wolf; that’s a worg.”

    Ismark looks around at everyone who questioned why he did not bury his father before. “As I said, it was too dangerous.”

    The worg is carried out of the cemetery and the Burgomaster laid to rest. Father Donovitch gives a eulogy in Suel, and Tyrius says a few words in Common as well. The Barovian priest listens carefully to the paladin, and stares intently at his holy symbol of a blazing sun, then draws him aside for a private conversation. Ireena, with the party, turns to discussing the Rhenee. Father Donovitch at some point in the eulogy mentioned Madam Eva, and the party is curious. Ireena explains that Madam Eva is the leader of the Rhenee, and heads their camp at the base of the waterfall. The party decides that they need more information about her. Ireena will lead them to the camp while Ismark returns to the mansion to attempt to fix the broken back door. Ismark gives Ireena their sword, and Father Donovitch kisses her forehead and blesses her.

    (c.10:00am) Ireena and the party take the road south out of the village and come upon the ancient stone bridge that spans the River Ivlis. The river is as clear as a blue winter sky, and in no way reflects the dismal gray clouds overhead, as if it was the last uncorrupted thing in the valley. For the next half-mile, the road passes in and out of the forbidding Svalich Woods, near to, and then far from, the Ivlis River. Then the party suddenly comes to a fork.

    (F) The northern path climbs slightly uphill while the southern route goes down and around a spur of the mountain. Dense fog obscures vision, but Ireena says the northern route will take them to the Rhenee, while the southern road leads to the castle of the devil. A cold autumn wind whistles down the northern lane, cutting icily through their clothing. Dead brown leaves rush about. There is no sound other than the wind and leaves, and their own breathing.

    The party takes the northern route up and over a hill. As they come down the other side, the woods close in quickly until they overshadow the road itself. The sound of the river is faint but grows louder. The canopy of mist and branches overhead suddenly gives way to black clouds boiling far above. There is a clearing here at the edge of a large, placid pool. Dry, brittle grass rustles in the biting wind. On the far side of the clearing is a covered wagon, and moored at the edge of the pool are several colorfully painted covered river barges. The mournful strains of an accordion mix meekly with the moaning of the wind. Several brightly clad figures surround a large, roaring fire. The road seems to pass close by this camp, but its cobblestones have given way to a dirt track.

    Before emerging from the trees into the clearing, Shefak puts on her ring of invisibility and Barnabus disappears into the foliage. The somewhat smaller party then approaches the fire.

    One of the men stands and nods as they approach. “It vas fated that you vould wisit this humble camp. Madam Eva foretold your coming. She awaits you." The man leads the party to a barge, the other men at the fire seeming not to notice them. The party steps aboard the barge, pausing at a narrow doorway to the covered portion.
    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.

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    Tue Apr 30, 2019 5:30 pm  

    I am so excited to read your party's adventures in Barovia! This is an exciting, though unexpected, turn of events. :)

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    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Apr 30, 2019 6:52 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    This is an exciting, though unexpected, turn of events. :)

    Who knew Barovia was in the Dreadwood, right?
    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.
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    Tue May 07, 2019 6:00 am  
    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.

    Willa chuckles.

    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.

    The Dragonmaster game is briefly described at and links at the bottom of that page show the cards themselves.

    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue May 14, 2019 3:30 pm  
    Post 63: The Townhouse of Mad Mary

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    For the carriage ride through the Svalich Woods, I used

    Post 63: The Townhouse of Mad Mary

    13 October, 570 - The Village of Barovia

    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.

    14 October
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Tue May 21, 2019 9:47 am  
    Post 64: Castle Ravenloft

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    For the music playing upon the party's entrance to the castle, I used Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor at

    Once the organ ceased, further exploration in the castle was accompanied by

    Post 64: Castle Ravenloft

    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue May 28, 2019 11:11 am  
    Post 65: The Court of the Count

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    Exploration in the castle was accompanied by

    Post 65: The Court of the Count

    14 October, 570 - Barovia, Castle Ravenloft

    (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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jun 04, 2019 11:49 am  
    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)
    Hp. 46
    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)
    Hp. 56
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
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    Tue Jun 11, 2019 9:19 am  
    Post 67: The Rooms of Weeping

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    Exploration in the castle was accompanied by

    Post 67: The Rooms of Weeping

    14 October, 570 - Barovia, Castle Ravenloft

    (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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jun 18, 2019 3:09 am  
    Post 68: Going Down?

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    Exploration in the castle was accompanied by

    Post 68: Going Down?

    14 October, 570 - Barovia, Castle Ravenloft

    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jun 25, 2019 7:28 pm  
    Post 69: The Dungeons

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    Exploration in the castle was accompanied by

    Post 69: The Dungeons

    14 October, 570 - Barovia, Castle Ravenloft

    (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)
    Hp. 33
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 717
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Jul 02, 2019 8:09 am  
    Post 70: The Riddle of the Malhel IV

    Note: The information in this post is known only to the player of Aurora.

    Post 5: Backstory for Aurora of Tringlee:

    Post 49: The Riddle of the Malhel:

    Post 53: The Riddle of the Malhel II:

    Post 57 - The Riddle of the Malhel III:

    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.

    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 717
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Jul 09, 2019 6:25 am  
    Post 71: The Catacombs

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    Now that the party was entering the catacombs, I switched the ambient sound file to

    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 2] "Artista DeSlop — Court Ceiling Painter"

    [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.

    “I unnerstand.”

    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.”

    “ 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?”

    “Death, Master.”

    “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.

    “I’m listening”.

    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.

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    Thu Jul 11, 2019 7:32 pm  

    Lol, Kirt! You are a devious DM! :P

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    Master Greytalker

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    Fri Jul 12, 2019 10:36 am  

    SirXaris wrote:
    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.
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    Fri Jul 12, 2019 10:37 am  
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jul 16, 2019 7:26 am  
    Post 73: The Heart of Darkness

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    Within the catacombs, I switched the ambient sound file to

    Once they returned to the castle above, I used

    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 ( 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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 717
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Jul 23, 2019 8:25 am  
    Post 74: The Fall of the House of von Zarovich

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    I used as background sound.

    As I described in the last post, this encounter started with Strahd having a clear advantage, but also having to fulfill a complicated series of events. In the end, it mostly turned on one roll - Aurora using hypnotic gaze to give Thokk another save against Strahd's charm, and Thokk actually making that save.

    The sunlight meant that Strahd could not regenerate, and the moonbeam meant that he could not use his mistform to escape, both of which were key in his defeat. But had the melee pit Thokk and Willa against Tyrius (as opposed to Willa vs. Tyrius, and Thokk vs. Strahd), I believe Strahd would have prevailed.

    Post 74: The Fall of the House of von Zarovich

    Barovia, under Castle Ravenloft

    14 October, 570 - 10:20pm to midnight
    15 October - midnight on

    More than an hour passes uneventfully. The room is silent, aside from gentle page turnings of Aurora and the fitful snores of Thokk. Although the party has no way of tracking time in the windowless room, at precisely midnight a mist squeezes through the cracks in the secret door and Thokk’s sword begins to glow. The mist reforms next to the desk in the form of Strahd.

    The party is up and in defensive positions in an instant. Weapons are drawn. “Strahd, what in the hells do you want!” shouts Barnabus, from the back of the room.

    The Count von Zarovich laughs, almost self-mockingly. “Her,” he says, pointing at Ireena, “she is the only von I vant. She is the only von I have ever vanted.”

    “Well, you can’t have her,” says Tyrius with steely resolve.

    “Now, let’s not be so quick to decide that,” says Barnabus softly, to the party. “We want out of this nightmare world, and we are in a room full of treasure. What’s one girl to us, anyway? What if Aurora had never tricked us into coming here? The girl is already his, by all your feudal rules and vows anyway, paladin - he is the Master of Barovia, after all.”

    Barnabus raises his voice, projecting it to Strahd, now. “So, you want the girl. Well, we brought her here. So how about we trade? We take one chest, you open the mists for us, the girl stays here, and no one has to get hurt.”

    Tyrius clenches his jaw to keep from swearing. Ireena looks at Barnabus, her face filled with betrayal. Willa nods reflectively and mumbles, “Not a bad deal, that.”

    Strahd replies sneeringly. “No! She is perfection! She is a flawless gem! I vill not buy her as you vould chattel. She must come to me villingly. She vill come to me villingly, once she realizes how much I love her.”

    Ireena silently mouths “never” as her eyes well with tears.

    Barnabus takes a few steps closer to Ireena, his blade steady in his hand. “Well, if you won’t trade for her, how much will you give us to not harm her?”

    All heads turn to look at Barnabus in shock.

    “You vouldn’t dare…” says Strahd icily, even as he mentally encourages Barnabus to proceed.

    “You wanna bet? I want out of this crazy castle, and your cursed land! What do I care about one girl? You give us the treasure, and open the mists, or the bitch dies!” Barnabus places his blade at the back of Ireena’s knee, at the joint where the plate mail does not cover, and there is just a thin layer of chain.

    Shefak says, in a smooth, even voice, “Alright now, far too much anger here. Let us clear our minds, set our weapons down, and talk through this.”

    Tyrius has one hand on his war hammer, the other on the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind on the chain about his neck. He begins backing up, but is still focused on Strahd. Over his shoulder, he says, “Barnabus, lower your blade or face my just wrath.” The halfling snorts derisively.

    “Paladin, either you stop that halfling, or I vill…” says Strahd with obvious menace. In their minds, Willa, Shefak and Thokk all hear Strahd whisper, “defend the halfling”.

    Barnabus thrusts his blade forward, piercing the chain. Ireena screams and turns, her back to Strahd for the first time, blood running down her leg. She aims a blow of her own sword at Barnabus, but he nimbly steps aside. Shefak dashes in between them, moving among their blades with seemingly no regard for her own safety. “Put the weapons down!” she says again.

    Tyrius finally turns from Strahd as well, swinging his hammer to prepare for an assault on Barnabus. He comes up short when Thokk steps in front of him, a wild look in his eyes. “At last!” the barbarian bellows. “Free battle for all! No rules, no teams, and we see who is the last one standing!”

    Before Thokk can attack Tyrius, Aurora grabs his shoulder. When he spins to face her, she gives him a full blast of her hypnotic gaze, and his body slumps. Tyrius turns to look at Ireena - she is bleeding from a second wound from Barnabus, but still has her sword out in front of her, the two of them circling one another with Shefak in between. Can she hold on? She will have to, Tyrius decides. “Larry?” he calls.

    “Aye, ready!” comes the answer, from across the room.

    The paladin and the druid run toward one another, coming together near the center of the room. They join hands, then tilt their arms so the circle formed looks like the disk of the sun. They chant, Tyrius in stilted Oeridian, Larry in growly Bear. Daylight, actual, brilliant daylight, floods the room.

    “Aaaagh!” screams Strahd, cowering. His fair skin has a haze, then a smoke, rising from it. His face contorts in pain. Everyone, even Barnabus, turns and looks at him. “Ireena!” he calls desperately, “Do you see how I suffer for your love, Ireena!” He still hasn’t moved or taken any aggressive actions toward any of the party.

    Thokk’s eyes clear. He seems to see for the first time where he is. “Demon!” he bellows. “You will pay for bewitching Thokk’s mind!” The half-orc plows his way across the room. His sword, still glowing bright blue, erupts in flame, and he brings it down across Strahd. The flame spreads to his cape as he shudders from the blow. In a second, Babshapka is at his side, slashing and stabbing at the count, and attempting to entangle him.

    Strahd lands powerful blows on Thokk with his bare hands, but the sunsword is slashing him far worse than he is returning. He pulls away, glides silently to the other side of the room, but Thokk runs behind him. Tyrius drops Larry’s hand and raises the holy symbol of ravenkind. Fire erupts forth, engulfing Strahd’s form. He is held rigid, apparently unable to move. His whole body bursts into flame, his skin turning to ash. Strahd cries out in the minds of Shefak, Willa, and Barnabus - HELP ME!

    Now active for the first time, Willa turns on Tyrius. She brings her sword down hard on his mailed forearm, and he grimaces in pain. She strikes again, and the chain of the medallion snaps, the icon goes tumbling to the floor, the flame goes out. Strahd seethes, finally able to move again. His once-fine clothes hang in charred tatters, his once-handsome face burned beyond recognition - all hair and skin gone, just a mass of exposed muscle and bone. He flies across the room, pauses at the door as he struggles to move the desk. Willa turns and strikes at Thokk.

    Aurora prepares a spell, completing it just as Shefak throws herself in the way. But magic missiles strike unerringly, and they flash from Aurora’s fingertips, curve around Shefak, streak across the room, and slam into the remains of the count, one after another. When the last one impacts him, his form shudders and dissolves into a cloud.

    “Ah no yer don’t!” says Larry, and casts a moonbeam, radiant energy penetrating and disrupting the fine mist until Strahd ceases to exist. Silence spreads over the room as all those present slowly lower their weapons. The entire fight has been less than a minute - many of them are bloodied, but no one is even winded.

    If Strahd is forever destroyed, Tyrius will gain a level. [Tyrius is now level 5]
    If Strahd is forever destroyed, Larry will gain a level. [Larry is now level 5]

    Shefak: (unknown negative fortune): The mind controls the body. The sanctity and purity of her mind is all-important. If Shefak is controlled by Strahd, she will lose a level. [When Shefak realizes that she has been charmed, she is now level 4].

    The heat of battle has dissipated like Strahd’s mist - slowly Willa, Shefak, and Barnabus recover from the effects of Strahd’s charm. “OH. MY. GODS,” squeals Aurora. “Is there anyone here who wasn’t charmed by Strahd?”

    Barnabus snorts. “Well, I for one wasn’t,” he says snidely. Ireena, holding her wounded side, flashes eyes like daggers on him, any hope of understanding or forgiveness forever gone. “Oh, get over yourself,” he responds. “You always say you are going to kill the hostage, that’s just how it’s done. Once we got him to open the mists we would have turned on him and rescued you - that’s just how it works, girl.”

    Tyrius, disgusted, leads Ireena gently away. The paladin gives her back the holy symbol of ravenkind, apologizing about the broken chain. To Barnabus, he says curtly, “Go back to hiding in your chest, halfling.”

    “What, aren’t we leaving now?” rejoins Barnabus.

    Willa shakes her head, trying to clear it. “Actually, Barnabus, yer unwounded. We be needing ye on watch fer our long rest, not inna chest.” She quickly explains to the others that even with Strahd dead, the castle is likely still a deadly place. They need to hole up here until daylight, when they can see what the effects of the Master’s demise are on his realm. Tyrius looks to Ireena, and she nods agreement.

    (12:10am to 1am)
    The first watch has not been on duty long when a ghostly form passes through the wall. It is recognizable as Alexandru Petrinoff, though no trace of his wolfen nature is apparent - he appears as a Barovian woodsman, though transparent, dressed in simple homespun clothes in good condition and carrying an axe. With four of the party on guard, he is quickly dispatched without loss.

    (1:10am to 5am)
    The first watch is approximately four hours, though no one knows how long they have been in here for certain. Near the end, Willa believes that she can hear distant screams and cries in the castle, but declines to investigate, instead calling to be relieved.

    Babshapka, now fully tranced, is among those who take second watch. About an hour into his duties, he says that he can hear the flapping of myriad leathery wings outside - he believes the bats are returning, and takes it as a sign that they are close to daybreak.

    Some time later, four insubstantial figures pass through the wall. They appear much as the ghosts did, but they are dressed in finery of ancient style. Despite the elegance of their clothing, their faces are twisted in malice and cruelty. One surges forward and drains the life from Barnabus until he is near collapse. The halfling retreats and hides. The three remaining guards call for support, and Tyrius awakens. He strides quickly over to where Ireena was fitfully dozing, and uses her holy symbol to turn back two of the wraiths. The other two immediately assault him, but the party manages to disrupt them, and the remaining two when they return, with no further losses.

    “Uh, I feel sick,” says Barnabus, shivering.

    “Serves you right,” whispers Ireena.

    Not everyone has had a full rest, but many of the party have. They decide it is time to leave the castle. But first, Barnabus suggests, they need to pack the treasure. Willa suggests they take the platinum coins only, as being the most valuable and most easy to transport. Barnabus suggests the gems and jewels as more valuable and easier to transport than coins - though, he admits, harder to exchange if they are not in a large city.

    “ACTUALLY,” says Tyrius loudly, gathering their attention. “With the death of Strahd, I believe Ireena, as the Burgomaster’s daughter, presently has claim to the rule of Barovia. This treasure is hers, and she will be deciding what we take, if anything.”

    Aurora begins to object, but Willa quickly shuts her down. Barnabus just spits and says, “figures.”

    “I vill need to confer vith my brother Ismark,” says Ireena, a new sense of resolve in her voice. “Of course, ve are wery grateful to you all. For the moment, please to be taking a few handfuls of coins - vhat you can easily fit in your pockets - but leave the rest.”

    Tyrius appoints Shefak, as an ascetic but (unlike Larry) a numerate one, to apportion the coins. The monk takes a handful of gold coins for herself, then counts out twelve platinum coins to each of the other party members.

    They move the desk back to the center of the room, and spend some time prying the pitons out of the stone floor, then finally open the secret door. They are greeted by daylight - but a wan, diffuse daylight filtered through myriad layers of cobwebs and appearing more gray than gold. High above them sunlight is streaming into the windows of the belfry tower, but precious little of it is reaching the floor. There is, at the least, no sound of rain or thunder.

    New abilities in Bold
    Larrenthal of the Crystalmists (Dirty Larry)
    Fifth Level Druid (Circle of the Land - Mountains) / Hill dwarf (Outlander)
    Str 9 (-1) Dex 14 (+2) Con 16 (+3) Int 11 (0) Wis 18 (+4) Cha 4 (-3)
    Hp. 47
    Languages (all spoken only unless noted): Flan, Common, Druid (including written runes), Bear
    Skills: Athletics, Nature, Perception, Survival (Mountains)
    Wild shape includes the ability to become a creature with a swimming speed
    Chain mail +1, shield +1, scimitar, quarterstaff
    Spells known: 4 / 3 / 2
    (Cantrips): Thorn Whip, Poison Spray, Guidance
    (First): Cure Wounds, Healing Word, Thunderwave, Fog Cloud, Entangle
    (Second): Spider Climb, Spike Growth, Darkvision, Moonbeam, Enhance Ability
    (Third): None known yet

    Tyrius of Sterich
    Fifth level paladin of Pelor (Sacred Oath of Devotion)/ Human (Oerid) (Noble)
    Str 15 (+2) Dex 9 (0) Con 12 (+1) Int 19 (+4) Wis 14 (+2) Cha 17 (+3)
    Hp. 42
    Languages: Keolandish (S/W), Common (S/W), Flan (Spoken only)
    Skills: History, Intimidation, Medicine, Persuasion
    Fighting Style: Dueling
    Chain armor, shield +1, "Molly" (war hammer+2)
    Spells: Divine Smite, Cure Wounds, Detect Good and Evil, Heroism, Protection from Evil (oath), Sanctuary (oath), Divine Favor, Find Steed, Lesser Restoration, Zone of Truth
    Scroll of Protection from Undead, Scroll of Hold Person
    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.
    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 717
    From: Sky Island, So Cal

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    Tue Jul 30, 2019 8:41 am  
    Post 75: Gertruda, Tatyana, and Ismark

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    Note that while the original module describes K4 as a carriage house, only, it does not have any listing for where the horses are kept (or any description of their groom, for that matter). I decided that K4 was also the castle's stable. Further, although there is a stated chance that the drawbridge will break under the weight of a party member, this begs the question of how the far heavier carriage passes over it, or passes through the closed portcullis to the inner keep absent anyone to raise it. I made the assumption that Strahd's magic both kept the drawbridge intact and had the portcullis rise at the approach of the carriage, and that it further animated the guardian statues at the main entrance. Since his death, all of these enchantments are "fading", and thus only in effect as much as was convenient for me.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    Post 75: Gertruda, Tatyana, and Ismark

    15 October, 570 - Barovia, Castle Ravenloft

    As the party enters the belfry and makes for the bronze doors, heavy brown forms begin dropping from the webs above, thudding to the floor. In bare seconds, they are surrounded by more than a dozen giant spiders. Many of them are bit; Babshapka is poisoned and falls to the floor, unconscious and rigid. “Fall back!” shouts Willa, “Back t’ ther treasure room!” Larry and Thokk are the last to retreat, and Larry is waving at the half-orc to go. When the druid is the only one left, surrounded by spiders and bare steps from the doorway, he issues a great thunderwave that knocks the creatures back. None are slain, but they are all dazed, and further distracted by the sound of the great bell now tolling above them in response to the shockwave.

    Larry dashes through the doorway now guarded by Thokk. Aurora steps forward, gleefully shooting her arm under Thokk and shouting “Incendio!” Her first fireball ever shoots out and explodes at ground level, roasting the spiders. Enough blow back exists to scorch Thokk and Larry and singe even her. The fire has shot up the tower, climbing rapidly on the webs and rope, and even now burns steadily at the top on the roof and the great wooden cross-beam from which the bell hangs. “Ahh….” sighs Aurora contentedly. “You never forget the first time.”

    Willa hustles the party from the treasure room and into the belfry, looking up concernedly to judge when the massive bell might fall. The bronze doors of the hall are still hot to the touch, but fortunately their latches haven’t melted or hinges fused. Fully sixteen spiders lie about, blackened and smoldering. Another two crawl wretchedly away at the approach of the party.

    Down the length of the hallway the party debates how they should exit the castle - the elevator or the secret stair. Larry mumbles about how he longs for sunlight and open air. “Of course, ve have von more thing to do before ve can leave,” says Ireena. Everyone, even Tyrius, stops in their tracks. All eyes are on Ireena.

    “Ve must find Gertruda, of course,” she insists.

    “Ger-who-tha?” asks Willa.

    “Gertruda,” replies Ireena. “The daughter of poor, Mad Mary. She has only been here a few days. Eet is possible she lives yet, ant vith the devil destroyed and eet beink daylight, eet can’t be that hard to find herrr.”

    Hard looks are exchanged between party members, and this time, even Tyrius is not leaping to Ireena’s defense.

    “Sure, we’ll find her,” mutters Barnabus, “and she’ll be in a maid’s uniform…”

    Aurora fumbles blind with her mage hand for the torch that opens the first secret door, then again to lift the poker and open the second. The fire in the fireplace is out; the ashes cold; the study dark. One at a time the party exits the fireplace, tracking cinders onto the deep carpet. Willa steps to avoid a half-burned log but catches her foot on the heavy iron grate, then spread-eagles across the hearth, kicking up a cloud of ashes that blankets half the study.

    From across the study one of the double-doors opens, and dim light comes in. Silhouetted in the door frame is a slim human figure. She calls in a timid voice, “Hello? Strahd? Ees that you? The fire is out and they haven’t brrrought breakfast yet. Vhat is happenink?”

    The party continues to move through the fireplace, with more than one of them glancing at Thokk’s sword - although it is not currently glowing. The young woman in the doorway is wearing a nightgown and slippers, apparently oblivious to the fact that one shoulder of her gown has slipped down immodestly and is poised to reveal her feminine endowments. She asks who they are and again asks for Strahd in innocent confusion. “Oh, my poor child,” says Tyrius and he pats her head consolingly while surreptitiously checking her neck for bite marks.

    “Gertruda?” whispers Willa to Ireena.

    She shrugs and whispers back, “Who knows - I newer saw her - no von ewer saw her - Mary kept her locked up!” Then she addresses the girl out loud. “Gertruda?”

    “Yes, I am Gertruda,” she replies. “Who are you?”

    Ignoring the girl’s questions, the party moves into the bedroom behind her (K42). The sweet smell of rosewood fills the room. Windows on the west wall are covered by heavy red draperies, hanging stiffly from the high ceiling 20 feet overhead. Their tassels of golden fiber glint in the light that creeps around their edges. Three candelabras sitting atop small tables about the room, but their white candles have burned down to extinguished stubs. A large bed, canopied by silken curtains, sits with its headboard against the north wall. Carved into the headboard with great skill and care is a large "Z." Apart from the ones the party entered, double doors lead from this room to the south.

    Tyrius drags a heavy upholstered chair over to the window and guides the girl to sit. “Now let’s have a proper look at you, shall we?” he says. The girl looks up at him quizzically, and then squints as he pulls back one of the heavy red curtains and sunlight falls full on her. Her skin is the fairest alabaster any of them have ever seen.

    “Oh that is bright!” she says, and giggles.

    Ireena seems transfixed by the sunlight and stands motionless in front of the window. Something about the look on her face impels Tyrius to draw back the other curtain, and then tie them both open. It is a beautiful sunlit morning, with a blue sky and not a cloud to be seen. Below is the gray of the courtyard, but beyond is the deep green of the mountain forests.

    There is a peacefulness all about outside. Rest has come to the valley for the first time anyone can remember. There is sleep without fear. A light flashes brilliantly behind the party, at the entrance to the study. Wheeling around, they see a shining stately man in white armor and a cape. His rugged features show great strength of will, yet the forcefulness of his presence is tempered by his calm, sad eyes. His features are those of Strahd, yet subtly different. His voice is calm and peaceful. "My name is Sergei von Zarovich." He turns to Ireena, "Tatyana, the time is at hand to rest. Come, my love and vife." He stretches forth his hand. Ireena Kolyana's questioning eyes suddenly open with recognition and knowledge. Forgotten memories rush upon her.

    "Sergei!" she cries, laying aside her holy symbol and springing to him with empty hands and the grace of a doe. They embrace deeply. Eventually Ireena turns to the party. "I am Ireena Kolyana, but in my past I was Sergei's beloved Tatyana. Through these many centuries we have played out the tragedy of our lives. Many times have I been born here, been pursued by Strahd, and died before he could possess me. Now, with our deepest gratitude to you, that tragedy is over. It is time for joy to begin again." Shimmering light surrounds Ireena and Sergei. The heavy-paned windows open of their own accord and a fresh breeze, smelling of pines after a rain, enters the room. Hand in hand, they walk through the windows, Ireena pausing only to lay her sword belt onto a chair. They walk out onto the battlements, and then over the courtyard. Their feet do not touch the ground, for they tread a path beyond this mortal world.

    “Who are those people?” frets Gertruda. “How can they walk in the air?”

    Seeming to remember something, Tatyana turns back briefly. “Give my love to Ismark,” she says, “and for you Shefak, I have a boon of gratitude…” - a simple ray of light flies from her hand and settles about the countenance of the monk. [DM's note: Shefak is the beneficiary of a restoration spell, and is returned to 5th level]

    Their invisible road takes them beyond and above the western precipice, their glow illuminating the forests and mountain peaks below. In the valley, the strange fog dissolves, losing its power. Barovia is free once more.

    The party is silent for a long time, ignoring the plaintive questions of Gertruda. Finally, Willa can stand it no longer. “Ye ken what?” she says, “Strahd be waitin’ fer ye down in ther village.”

    “My Strahd is in the willage?” the girl says, leaping to her feet. “Vell, let us go now!”

    (8:30am) The party moves back through the study, then retraces their way out past the tower, through the statues, and down the long stair. They find a way to open the secret door from the hallway side, pass through the throne room and out the secret door, down the hallway and spiral stairs, along the corridor and through the mirror room, under the organ and out into the banquet hall. The table is still set for last night’s dinner, and a dozen rats leap off the table and scatter at their approach. Thokk grabs a huge ham on his way past the table. Now on the ground floor, they quickly find their way out into the courtyard. The eyes of the gargoyle statues and dragon statues in the entryway halls no longer seem to follow them.

    The portcullis is down, and the drawbridge up. In investigating the portcullis, they find a green slime clinging to the roof of the tunnel. Aurora is able to shoot fire bolts at it from a safe distance until it drops to the floor in burnt pieces.

    The doors flanking the gatehouse are unlocked; in one, the party finds a winch mechanism for raising the portcullis, in the other, a similar means to lower the drawbridge. They should be able to just walk out of the the castle now, although Tyrius reminds them about how his weight, plus that of his armor, broke a support beam on the ancient drawbridge. The front courtyard (K1) has no other doors or buildings besides those of the gatehouse and the main castle. However, a curtain wall divides the front courtyard from a rear courtyard to both the north and south. Each of these massive walls here joins the outer walls of the castle to the keep. Each has a single gate, 20 feet wide, leading through the joining wall. Both gates are blocked by a rusting portcullis, with no obvious means of raising them.

    Looking through the portculli in the daylight, the southern rear courtyard appears empty as well, but the northern one has an outbuilding that could easily be a carriage house or a stable. Willa notes that the interior portcullis is large enough for the carriage they arrived in to pass through.

    (8:40am) Gathering outside the gate (K2), Thokk braces himself and lifts. Despite the rust covering the bars of the portcullis, he lifts it easily overhead and holds it until the party passes. It does not resist, and appears to be well-used. There is no obvious mechanism to hold it in place, so after he moves to the other side and sets it down, it remains closed behind them.

    The northern courtyard appears much as the front (western) courtyard did, stone flagged and surrounded by the high battlemented walls on two sides, the curtain wall on a third, and the bulk of the castle on the remaining side.

    The nearest part of the castle is a square stone keep. Farther back, a lower domed structure is surrounded by stained glass windows - almost certainly the castle’s chapel. Most of the base of this lies beyond a low stone wall, but the northern nave protrudes into the courtyard itself. The wall is pierced by an open gate, which appears to lead into a garden. Tucked behind the keep is a small wooden door that seems to access the castle itself - the only entrance they have seen besides the grand entrance from the front courtyard. Tyrius surmises that this is a servant’s entrance to the castle proper. Some twenty or thirty feet above the dome of the chapel is a belfry tower. It appears that the roof of this has collapsed, the stone around the open windows is blackened by soot, and thin blue smoke rises up against the morning sky from inside. In the northeast corner of the courtyard is the low wooden outbuilding (K4). It has no windows, but there are a large wooden set of double-doors, as well as a loft hatch above the doors. Approaching the building, the party smells wood polish and horse manure.

    Aurora muses out loud, "You know, there were places in the castle we didn't explore? What are the chances of finding a spell book somewhere?"

    "Bah," Thokk grunts, "Find horses and the nearest brothel."

    “Once we have a chance to talk to Ismark,” intones Tyrius, “then we can decide whether we are coming back.”

    Opening the doors of the outbuilding, the party is immediately greeted with the sight of the sleek black carriage they rode here in, the dark polished wood gleaming in the indirect sunlight. Three walls of the building are lined with box stalls, all but two of which are empty. Two midnight-black horses nicker as the party enters.

    A closed interior door leads to a large tack room. Tyrius has not hitched a carriage before, but he knows tack and horses; Willa is no drover, but she has driven the excise wagon on several occasions. Between them they manage to get the carriage hooked up in what they believe is the correct manner. The party loads into the carriage as before, but the horses just paw the ground. Willa and Tyrius exit and mount the coachman's seat. With a flick of the reins the horses start forward and Willa is careful to keep them at a walk. They skip and shy across the courtyard and Tyrius wonders whether they have ever seen their own shadows before, and whether there were blinkers in the tack room.

    As they approach the portcullis gate in the curtain wall, Willa slows and then stops the team. Thokk is tall, but she does not think he can raise the portcullis far enough over his head for the carriage to pass under. Just as she is about to advise him to get out, however, the portcullis raises by itself. Despite the warm sunlight on her she shivers, then drives the team to the front courtyard and out to the tunnel before the drawbridge.

    Taking a breath and crossing her fingers, she urges the team straight ahead. The wooden drawbridge groans and sags at the weight but they cross to the road on the other side rather than plummeting into the chasm.

    (9am) The party rides the two miles to the village mostly in silence, amazed at the transformation of the landscape. All the same features are there, but the colors are vibrant, the birdsong uplifting, the breeze sweet and refreshing. Willa has the most to do, keeping the horses reined in, especially on the steep downhill stretches. It seems a short time before they emerge from the woods and cross the long bridge over the Ivlis river beneath the village.

    (9:30am) As they ride up the gentle slope toward the village, they can hear a buzz of conversation, dozens of voices. They pass three derelict houses and turn toward the town square, only to see it thronging with people - more than they have seen there before, and clustered together openly rather than moving furtively from building to building. But at the sight of the black coach, more than one scream fills the air, and the people scatter from the square, so that by the time the coach arrives and turns again, the streets are deserted. More than one face peers out from behind curtains as they clop down the cobblestones toward the Burgomaster’s mansion.

    Gertruda, still in her nightshirt, was asleep from almost the moment the carriage started, her head lolled on Thokk’s muscled upper arm. Now, as Willa pulls the horses to a stop, she lifts her head sleepily and looks about. “Vhere are ve?” she asks. “Ees Strahd here?”

    The party dismounts, and almost immediately Ismark is on them; he must have been waiting at the gate to the house. Thick bags under his eyes make it appear that he has not slept all night. He scans them eagerly as they step from the carriage, one at a time, but when the last one of them has emerged and Ireena is not in sight he falls to his knees on the ground, head bowed.

    Tyrius pulls him gently to his feet and Willa calls from above, “Ireena be alright, Ismark, but we be needin’ t’ talk.”

    Willa looks about before climbing down - the Burgomaster’s mansion has neither coach house nor stable and they are not 200 yards from the woods and its wolves and dire beasts. Already the horses are bent and cropping the grass at their feet. She applies the carriage break fully and then advises Thokk that they have lots of talkytalk to do in the big house, but that if he will guard the horses she will send him out breakfast. Larry says that he will be remaining outside as well.

    Six members of the party, plus Ismark and Gertruda, walk up to the house. “That’s not Strahd,” she says petulantly, pointing at Ismark. “Vhere ees my Strahd?”

    Once inside, Willa shows Gertruda the kitchen and tells her, suppressing a grin, that she will get to see Strahd after she makes breakfast for everyone. Then she helps herself to a pin cask of ale and carries it out to the table.

    In the long conversation that follows, Willa, Aurora, and Tyrius take turns relating to Ismark everything that has happened since they left the day before. “I could tell it better than any of you,” says Barnabus at one point, “but I don’t work for free.” Ismark looks pointedly at the large plate of eggs, toast, and sausage Gertruda has set in front of the halfling but says nothing.

    When they reach the part about Ireena transforming into Tatyana, and walking away across the sky with Sergei, Ismark is transfixed. His eyes express sorrow, wonder, and joy all at once - but not a trace of doubt.

    They give him some time to digest the news, and then turn to practical matters. Is he now the ruler of Barovia, and if he is, what of the treasure that remains in the castle? And, adds Tyrius, what of the items they have already removed? Much to Aurora’s frustration, he gives a complete accounting of everything they have found and now carry.

    Ismark says that the title of Burgomaster is not necessarily hereditary, that he will need to be appointed by the town elders, but that he has no doubt he has the support of Father Donovitch and with Ireena gone and Strahd destroyed his appointment is assured. He questions them at length about the Barony of Grayhill and the Baron, for if the mists are gone with the Count, that is anyone’s best guess for who is now the feudal lord of Barovia. Unfortunately they can tell him little about the man, but Tyrius assures him that the King of Keoland will protect the people of Barovia and Willa concurs.

    Ismark is silent, thinking, for a good while. Finally he announces, in a decisive tone that bodes well for his future leadership, that:

    The weapons they have - the hammer, the staff, and the mace all recovered from Strahd’s secret treasury, are unlikely to have been Barovian. He thinks it more likely they belonged to the unfortunate adventurers who have died at Strahd’s hands over the centuries. Ismark grants these to the party as spoils of war.

    The sunsword that Thokk bears even now, is obviously Sergei’s, and Ismark’s first thought is that it should be returned to his tomb. However, upon consideration, he reflects that Sergei himself had the chance to speak to them about it and chose not to, so perhaps he is beyond such concerns now. Ismark decides to let the party retain the sword, under the condition that they continue to use it to destroy evil wherever they find it.

    The Holy Symbol of Ravenkind that Tyrius bears belongs to Ismark’s house and family, and this Tyrius hands over at once.

    Strahd’s Diary, as much as Ismark abhors the thought of it, is of great importance to the history of Barovia, and Ismark insists that Aurora leave it with him.

    The Chronicle of Secret Times, however, seems to him to be just another book from Strahd’s library, and Aurora certainly does not speak up about what she considers its significance to be. Thus, while the book is certainly the property of Barovia, Ismark decides to make a gift of it to the party.

    As far as Strahd’s great wealth, Ismark personally wants no part of what he calls the “blood money,” and he thinks the castle itself and its terrible history would be better razed to the ground. However, as the master of Barovia now, Ismark has a responsibility to its people, and the coins and gems they saw in the secret treasury, and anything that remains in the castle, all belong to the people of Barovia. They are a poor people and they may need it to pay taxes to Grayhill. Likewise the castle may someday be needed for the defense of the village. Based on the party’s account, the castle may still be filled with dangerous undead creatures and he does not want these leaving and roaming the countryside. Ismark visibly turns the matter around in his head a few times, and then announces that the party is under no obligation to return to the castle and they may keep the coins they have already recovered as that was Ireena’s wish. However, should they decide to return to the castle, Ismark would like them to (1) slay any evil creatures they find, and anything that might prove a menace to the villagers, such as the giant spiders. They are further to (2) rescue any other innocents like Gertruda or Lief that they find. Finally, (3) when they leave for the last time, they are to raise the drawbridge behind them if possible, or destroy it if not, so that nothing from the castle can easily wander out and the curious from the village cannot go in. In return for all this, Ismark is prepared to grant them half of any treasure that they recover of purely monetary value. He suggests that Lief may be of help with this. Things that are of obvious cultural or historical significance to Barovia will not be shared with them. As a last thought, he makes a personal request to them to recover the portrait of Tatyana for himself as a remembrance of his sister.

    “Well then,” says Tyrius, “it appears we will need to decide whether to return to the castle. Yes, Aurora, we know you want to go back. We should call Thokk and Larry in. Uhh...Shefak?”

    “Yes?” the monk looks up. At the end of breakfast, she had already unpacked her bag and spread all of her possessions out on the floor. At the news that she could keep her staff, she immediately began to repack everything carefully, and even now appears ready to leave.

    “Where are you going?”

    “South,” she replies simply. Then, seeing all eyes on her, “Our union was surely arranged by Fate, but now I must be going.”


    “Yes. I have the information I need to find my god, or at least a better lead than I have ever had. The mists are gone. There is no longer any reason for me to remain here. Killing things and recovering treasure? Those are distractions from the Way. Pursue them at your own peril.” She nods curtly at them, turns, and steps out the front door. Once outside, she does set down her bag and tells Thokk and Larry she will watch the horses for the moment, as they are needed inside.

    Morning turns into afternoon. Ismark offers to return Gertruda to Mad Mary and the party gratefully accepts. The remaining party members all agree that they should return to the castle - but as a fresh start in the morning, not today. Willa and Tyrius unhook the horses and Ismark finds a stable for them in the village. With Ismark’s explanation going before them, the villagers no longer hide from the party, but neither do they greet them enthusiastically. They are obviously much relieved to be free of the devil, but prefer to celebrate among people they know, and not in front of strangers, even strangers supposedly responsible for their liberation.
    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.

    Joined: Jul 26, 2010
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    From: LG Dyvers

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    Tue Jul 30, 2019 11:18 am  

    Great job all around - players and DM!

    Kirt, your justification for not having Strahd wipe out such a low-level party as soon as he encountered them was brilliant. Giving each player secret goals seemed to provide each of them with extra inspiration for role-playing. I do wonder what will happen to the players of Ireena and Shefak. Shefak leaving the party is unexpected.

    Looking forward to a continuation of the saga. Smile

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    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Jul 30, 2019 11:57 am  

    SirXaris wrote:
    Kirt, your justification for not having Strahd wipe out such a low-level party as soon as he encountered them was brilliant. Giving each player secret goals seemed to provide each of them with extra inspiration for role-playing.

    To be fair, the original module provides four different justifications for Strahd not immediately laying waste to the party ("Strahd's Goals" in the Fortunes of Ravenloft), so I can't accept praise for that. I did choose the justification that best matched the inclusion of the friend I had asked to play Ireena as an NPC, so I can accept lesser praise for the execution of that justification.

    SirXaris wrote:
    I do wonder what will happen to the players of Ireena and Shefak. Shefak leaving the party is unexpected.

    Ireena's player was part of another group I DM'd at the time using BECMI. She enjoyed taking part in this group as well, so we began preparations for her to come in as a permanent character.

    Shefak was actually played by my IRL daughter, who was at this point in time preparing for a year abroad in Costa Rica. Since she would be leaving the table soon Cry this seemed like the most logical place for Shefak to depart.

    SirXaris wrote:

    Looking forward to a continuation of the saga. Smile

    Great, thanks for reading! More next week!
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Aug 06, 2019 11:09 am  
    Post 76: The Spoils of Victory

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    Within the castle, I used but now that it was day and Strahd was defeated I turned off the rain and thunder effects, so it was only wind and occasional footsteps and such. Abient mixer is a great DM resource in that you can control each of the sound effect tracks independently.

    On a personal note, my daughter, the player of Shefak, was at this point preparing to spend a year abroad in Costa Rica. It was time for Shefak to depart the party and continue her search for Zuoken.

    Post 76: The Spoils of Victory

    16 October, 570 - Barovia
    Shortly after dawn Willa and Tyrius retrieve the horses from the village and hook up the coach. The party arrives at the gates of the castle by 8:30am. Their primary goals are to recover the treasure from Strahd’s treasury, and to free Lief and recover the coins in his office - but they are open to some free exploration as well.

    The drawbridge sags and groans as the coach rolls over it, but still it holds. The portcullis of the curtain wall rises before them - but perhaps a bit slower than the last time? Willa leaves the carriage in front of the carriage house with the doors open, rather than inside the house, but she puts the horses into their stalls and adds a few flakes of hay for them from the loft above.

    No one in the party is keen to enter the front door, and several of them insist that any opponents left in the castle may be massed there in a defensive ambush. They are all reflecting on something Tyrius told them last night - if Strahd was a vampire lord, he likely had “vampire spawn” in forced servitude to him, creatures such as the maid they destroyed. With his death, these spawn would now have become free-willed vampires. If he was ordering them to not menace the party before, as part of his complicated romantic plot for Ireena, the party will receive no such protections now. Of course, these spawn may have already left the castle - but surely any that remain will pose a danger to them. With this on their minds, there is unanimous agreement to enter the castle through the servants' door in the back.

    (8:45am) The door is stuck, but not locked, and they are able to force it open, albeit with a fair bit of noise. Inside is a small chamber (K23). Dim light filters in, through dust-caked windows in the east wall. A large, heavy table sits in the center of the room coated with dust. A thick book lies open on the desk top with an inkwell and quill next to it. There is a broken door in the north wall. A staircase drops into total darkness in the south wall. On each side of the staircase, a skeleton in bright armor stands at attention, though sagging, each holding a rusty halberd.

    Aurora asks for ten minutes to cast detect magic as a ritual, but finds nothing that the party is not already carrying - the skeletons are normal, dead, humans hanging on pegs, and the book is normal as well. The book is ancient, weathered and brittle, but the ink in the well is fresh. At the top of each page is scribed, in Suel, "Please register for your own convenience and that of your next of kin." The book is more than half-filled with names. The party quickly notes that at least on the most recent pages, none of the names “signed in” have ever signed out. They look for but do not find Gertrudis, but in doing so they do see “Alexandru Petrinoff”.

    They agree that going down is likely to result in more monsters, but little treasure and few villagers to rescue, so they avoid the stairs and enter the door to the north.

    (8:55am) Broken furniture and torn cloth are strewn about the 20-by-40- foot room (K24). Dim illumination comes from the dirt-caked windows in both the east and north walls - they are clearly in the “corner” of the castle. A rickety staircase climbs up to a second level. With no other obvious means of egress, the party climbs the staircase, though they do take care to space themselves apart so as not to overwhelm it with their weight.

    (9am) The floor sags in the middle of the room above (K34). Dirt-caked windows allow little light through from outside. Broken bed frames litter the floor. There is no obvious means of accessing the rest of the castle, which leaves them scratching their heads. Tyrius maintains that all of these are servants’ quarters, well away from their betters in the rest of the castle, and that the servants likely had to enter the castle proper by going through the kitchens, below - hence the stairs down. Others in the party are not convinced. Barnabus and Babshapka carefully search along the walls for secret doors. Neither wants to step foot in the middle of the room, both remembering their experience in the haunted house in Saltmarsh. Babshapka believes that he has found a door, and Aurora locates a depressible stone in the wall that serves as a trigger to open it.

    Behind the door is a space little larger than a closet, but the roof is far overhead. An ancient iron ladder on the far wall ascends into the darkness. Aurora uses glowing sparks from her prestidigitation and Barnabus mounts the ladder. At the top he finds another secret door, this one opening onto the shaft of a grand tower.

    “What ther 'ells kinda servants’ quarters be t'ese?” asks Willa. “Why do they be needin’ secret passages?” The others shrug, but make their way up the ladder one by one and out onto a landing.

    (9:30am) They are inside a great, empty stone tower (K20). They stand on a flat landing, but to their left is a rising stair along the curved wall, and across a great open gulf is another stair going down. The whole of the shaft is illuminated by light streaming in an open archway to the outside, at the level of the castle battlements, but that very light makes it so they cannot see more than a few yards into the darkness above and below. Nonetheless, they feel the tower's cold expanse pressing down on them. Willa believes this is the same tower in which they fought spiders before, but they are at a different level now than the study.

    Wondering how far up the tower goes, Tyrius casts the light of Pelor on an arrow shaft, and Babshapka draws back his bow and fires straight up into the center of the empty tower. By the illumination of the arrow as it passes, the party can see flashes of multiple landings like the one they are on, and then the arrow strikes into a roof, more than a hundred feet overhead.

    A second after the arrow strikes the roof, a reddish light flares to life high overhead, then settles into a dull, pulsing red glow. They now see the full immensity of the tower. The spiral staircase circles up the tower's full height, base to top, of 240 feet. At the domed pinnacle of the hollow tower, a huge pulsing red heart beats with light, seemingly suspended in the air. The 10-foot-wide stairs that circle up the tower end at a door far overhead, just beyond the heart. The hollow tower is about 60 feet in diameter at its base, narrowing toward the top. Fallen boulders and arrows are strewn across the floor far below.

    Willa urges her comrades forwards and out to the battlements, and Barnabus joins her. The rest of the party tarries, and suddenly a halberd flies down from above, striking at Babshapka. Thokk slices at the pole arm, and while his blow connects solidly, it does no damage. He then strikes at where the halberd would be held, as if it were wielded by something invisible - but that blow simply goes through empty air.

    The animated weapon is soon joined by a pair more, and then a trio. By the time the rest of the party retreats to the battlements, fully six of the weapons are striking, Aurora has taken a massive blow, and several others in the party are wounded as well. Fortunately, the flying weapons seem unwilling or unable to leave the tower, and cease their attacks as soon as the last party member is through the open archway to the outside.

    The battlements outside the tower run the length of the castle wall and enter into another tower at the front of the keep, but that is beyond where the party wants to go. Barnabus has looked for another entrance but not found one; Aurora, near collapse, leans against the wall of the castle and feels it give slightly. With a few minutes of searching she finds a secret entrance, that just so happens to lead to a hallway the party recognizes.

    (9:40 am) They quickly realize they are on the level of the throne room and accountant’s office, and resolve to see Lief. They pass down the hallway, through the secret door on which the skeletal guard is hung, and into the throne room. Light comes in the grand window over the courtyard. The frescoes of the Dragonlords are still in place, but their gazes seem different - as if they are looking at the party with approval or satisfaction. The party briefly examines (and some of them even sit in!) the throne, but don’t find anything.

    Passing through into the accountant’s office (K30), the party finds Lief still hunched over his desk. They greet him, but he does not stir. Examining him, they find that he is dead - but his corpse is not decayed. Rather, it is withered and dried, as if desiccated for years in a desert. There is not even a trace of smell, but his skin flakes off at their touch.

    The party begins to gather all the loose papers (bills, invoices, lists, and so forth) into piles to reveal the coins beneath, but it is not long before Tyrius catches Barnabus surreptitiously pocketing a handful of money. Willa orders everyone out of the room except for herself, Tyrius, and Babshapka. Fortunately there is little furniture, and with just the three of them they still can tidy up and collect all the coins in a reasonable amount of time. Willa looks about for containers, and decides to remove the three drawers from the desk. Dumping out their contents (ink, quills, blank parchment, counting sticks, etc.), she sets them on the ground and the trio quickly fill them with coins, separating them into copper (of which there are thousands), gold (a hundred or so), and platinum (fifty, more or less) with one type of coin per drawer.

    They carry the drawers out to the throne room and Tyrius keeps an eye on them while Willa consults her map. “Y’know, we ain’t been down yon hall,” she announces, pointing at the space east of the throne room.

    Aurora looks at it. “But it’s on the map.”

    “Aye, t’is, b’cause we looked in it - but we ain't been down it no further t’an midway. I believe t’is the hall ‘twere back o’ the machinery room.”

    They pass through the antechamber and into the long hall (K27) with a dark vaulted ceiling. Now away from the light of the throne room window, Tyrius casts light from his holy symbol. Shadows seem to dance across the high, distant ceiling. A low moan rises and falls the length of the corridor, intoning sadness and despair. They are not but halfway down when Thokk’s sword begins to glow. Tyrius uses his detect evil and reaches out. He tells the party that beyond the doors there are two evil undead creatures.

    Cautiously approaching the doors, the party cracks them open silently and peers into the great space beyond (K28). To their surprise, it is wanly lit.

    A long balcony overlooks a vast rubble-strewn room below. Two large, ornate thrones stand in the middle of the balcony that is covered with dust. The thrones face away from the brass-banded double doors that the party holds open. The thrones could easily shield someone sitting in them from anyone behind them - and in fact, Tyrius says the undead are located in precisely that spot. The light is filtering in through broken and boarded up stained glass windows, located all around the high walls of the vast chamber. The center of the ceiling is high and domed, while the sides are lower naves the party cannot see into as well.

    Approaching the thrones, the party strikes as a team. The seats are occupied by a pair of insubstantial forms of sorrowful-looking women, each with long, white hair. After several hits, one is disrupted when Willa brings down a great mace strike that splinters the upper part of the throne itself. The other keens sharply, a horrible sound of unrelenting despair. Tyrius and Aurora collapse unconscious. When the ghostly figure tries to flee by flying out over the balcony, Thokk strikes her from behind and destroys her as well.

    The party pauses to collect themselves, first stabilizing Aurora and Tyrius. Barnabus seems to have disappeared, although this is not uncommon. Larry heals Tyrius, and once the paladin is conscious he lays hands on Aurora to revive her. Tyrius uses his light to reveal more of the space below. It is the ancient chapel of Ravenloft! Pews and benches lie about the floor in jumbled disarray, coated with centuries of dust. Beyond this debris, lit by a single, piercing shaft of light, an altar stands upon the platform. The light falls directly on a small object. A figure is draped over the altar, much as they found Father Donovich in the village below. The chapel seems as though nothing has disturbed it in centuries, and nothing ever could.

    Aurora begins working on a complicated plan to lower themselves over the balcony. “Or,” says Willa, “we could be taking yon stairs.”

    The party descends the stairs (K29) - a staircase of old wood hanging shakily down a stonework shaft. With each step upon it, the wood strains underfoot, creaking and groaning. They pass into an alcove (K16) off of the chapel floor. Within the dark confines of the alcove lurk 8-foot-tall shadowy figures. Their stone forms show mighty muscled arms and legs. A black shadow falls across the features of their faces. The party examines them, but they appear to be unmoving stone.

    (10:15am) On the chapel floor all is in disarray. Tyrius considers prying the boards off of the windows to let in more light, but some climbing would be involved - even the windows that start at ground level end far overhead. He carefully approaches the altar. The figure is dead - and long-decayed, not dessicated like Lief. His robes are embroidered with symbols - Tyrius recognizes them as honoring Nerull, god of death, but they fall into tatters as he touches them and stray bones clatter to the floor.

    Meanwhile, Aurora completes another detect magic ritual, but picks up nothing - not from the statues, nor the altar, nor anywhere in the chapel.

    Tyrius examines the figurine on the altar - it is a sunburst design on a small stand, perhaps six inches across and a foot high, carved from purest silver. At his touch, it glows briefly, and imparts him knowledge - it is the Icon of Ravenloft, and a holy artifact of tremendous power! It promises to aid his attempts to turn the unholy, as well as heal him or a companion once per day.

    The party briefly inspects the other alcove (K17), and finds a pair of flanking stone statues, the equals of the previous ones. Beyond the alcove is not a wooden stairwell, however, but a stone tower, with stairs going both up and down the curved walls.

    Judging that they are now on the ground level, the party exits the chapel through the main doors, passing through a long, dusty hall (K14) leading westward into the dark heart of the castle. Statues line the hallway on both sides, their eyes seeming to follow the party as they pass. Aurora examines them, and pronounces that they are constructs that could be activated - though hopefully that magic is fading with Strad’s demise.

    Passing through the doors as the end of the hall, the party finds themselves in the great entry (K8). Willa questions Barnabus, and he says that although he did not go all the way up, he believes that the grand staircase to the north ascends to the throne room, so up it they go, arriving at a landing between the floors (K19), 20 feet wide by 40 feet long.

    Stone arches support a ceiling covered with frescoes, 20 feet overhead. The frescoes’ faded lines depict the stone mountain atop which Ravenloft stands, being taken by armored forces on horseback. The faces of the characters in the fresco are scratched beyond recognition. Dust floats in the air here, making it difficult 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. Aurora examines the armor, and at her weight a floor tile is depressed. Immediately one of the suits springs forward, flailing its arms and mace. She dives out of the way and it retracts back into its alcove - now that the floor dust has been disturbed, a grooved track can be seen along which the armor can run.

    The party ascends the stairs, again regaining the throne room. Willa directs them in carrying the drawers full of coins they left from before down to the great entry, and then it is back to the study: ascending again to the throne room, passing into the hall, through the secret door, up the steep stairs, through the long statued hallway (K45), and into the study itself (K37).

    They open the doors to the bedroom to let in natural light, then go to the fireplace. The fire is out, the ashes cold, but lifting the poker still opens the sliding wall in back.

    They pass through the false treasure chamber (K38), down the hall (K39), and into the belfry (K40). A massive bronze bell, dented and cracked, now lies among the scorched spider bodies, and far above them is open sky, the roof having been burnt away by the fire started from Aurora’s fireball. The true treasure room (K41) is as they left it, and they pause at the scene of Strahd’s demise.

    (10:50am) Two to a chest, they haul out four chests, containing thousands of coins of copper, silver, and gold, and the last combining scores of platinum coins with gems and jewels as well. These are taken into the bedroom (K42), the curtains are pulled back, and the chests left near the window. Willa directs the removal of the portrait of Tatyana from the wall of the study, and sees it carefully wrapped in blankets from the bed - using the under layers, as Larry has already soiled the topmost layer while reclining on the large four-poster.

    With the chests all stored in direct sunlight, Tyrius moves to open the doors south of the bedroom, but when he approaches them there is a sustained wail, such as was heard from the creatures above the chapel. The party is immediately on guard, but no one seems damaged. Tyrius throws open the doors to reveal a bath room (K43).

    In the center of the room stands a large, ornate iron tub - racks to either side hold cloths, soaps, and oils. Larry climbs into the tub, mimicking relaxing in a bath, and the others laugh and tell him that he is safe since there is no water. Willa, still concerned about the wailing that was heard, tells them that they are being foolish. She pulls back the heavy curtains that divide this room from the next.

    The room beyond (K44) has pegs for hanging more than a score of capes and an assortment of black formal wear. Two windows in the south wall are covered with heavy curtains. A quick search reveals nothing of interest.

    (11:20am) They return to the bath room, and then pass through the unopened door into a dining hall (K36).

    Dust fills their lungs. The musty smell of death and decay swirls around. Before them, a long table of polished oak lies beneath a blanket of dust. The rotting table cloth lies tattered beneath dusty china plates and stained silverware. In the center of the table, a large, tiered cake leans heavily to one side. The once-white frosting has turned green with age. Cobwebs drape like dusty lace down every side. A single doll figure of a well-dressed woman adorns the crest of the cake under thick layers of dust. A window in the south wall is draped with heavy curtains. Thokk’s sword is glowing. They look cautiously about the room, finding only a small figurine of a man, equal in size to that of the woman, lying in a corner, as if seized and thrown from the cake in anger or despair. With no threats found, Thokk throws open the remaining door, revealing a pair of alcoves (K35) and a short passageway beyond ending in a door.

    The door is of delicately engraved steel. Intricate details still stand out clearly on the door's surface. The door seems to almost shine with a light of its own, untouched by time. The alcoves, in contrast, are filled with a darkness that shames the night. A figure stands like a shadow within each alcove, still as the cliffs of Balinok.

    Thokk takes one step inside the room, and the figures begin to stir. On the command of Willa, he moves back and closes the door, but already the ghostly hands of the more northerly figure are emerging from the stone wall next to Aurora. Tyrius calls forth the holiness of Pelor, channeling it through the Icon of Ravenloft, to dismiss the creatures. Immediately loud noises can be heard in the study, as if several people were tripping over one another and the furniture. The door is thrown open by an advancing undead, this one clearly corporal and composed of rotting flesh, and another seven similar figures retreating. They are all dressed in peasant clothing and a number of them wield unlit torches or ancient pitchforks.

    The party retreats further, into the center of the room, and makes short work of both the single corpse not fleeing and one of the incorporeal undead. Larry casts spike growth on the floor under the fleeing corpses, catching them just as they are at the door exiting the study. Suddenly the floor of the study is full of razor-sharp rocks that pierce the heavy carpet, and the bodies turn about to attack Larry. Ignoring the spiked floor, they impale their legs, wrench themselves free, and cut themselves to pieces trying to reach the dwarf. First their legs are ripped to shreds, then, clawing their way towards him with their hands, these too are sliced apart. None of them even reach the door to the dining hall, and the once regal carpet of the study is now filled with sliced, rotting flesh. Larry dismisses the spikes but the body parts remain. A full minute later the second wraithlike figure, no longer driven forth by the power of Pelor, returns and is destroyed in combat.

    Checking the steel door beyond the alcoves, Willa finds a narrow tower stair, one that she cannot place for sure on her map.

    The victory over the undead, and the tower stairs before them, turns the talk in the party back to the curious heart-tower. Most of the party insist that the heart must be defeated, despite Willa’s admonitions that fighting a tower is folly. She does little to sway them, however, and finally relents, insisting that they first return to Strahd’s bedroom, reinforce the covered painting with broken furniture lashed together, and help her carry the chests of coins down to the small entry. She opens the doors to the courtyard to leave the chests in direct sunlight there, then follows the party deeper in the castle, back to the chapel. None of them want to fight the impervious flying halberds all the way from the base of the heart tower to its summit, so their talk has turned to finding a higher access point, and Willa acknowledges that at least they are trying to be sensible. In the chapel they return to the great open tower they found before, reasoning that there may be some vantage point to move from it to the heart tower. Indeed, some of them recall seeing a bridge to the heart tower at a great height, though they are not sure from which other tower it originated.

    (11:45am) The large gray flagstones of the spiraling staircase lead up and down around a 20-foot-wide stone core. With walls on both sides (not an open central shaft), cobwebs fill the staircase, making it difficult to see even the ceiling. Heavy beams sag overhead from centuries of weight. Aurora calls forth Charlotte and sends her up the stairs, but after many minutes of climbing she is at the range limit of Aurora’s senses, and still has not found the top of the tower, nor any landings or means of egress. Aurora instructs Thokk to carry her so she can focus on Charlotte while the follow her up.

    Around and around they climb, until even Barnabus has lost count of the steps and Larry has no idea of how high they are. When Charlotte says she has reached the summit, they slow their pace. Finally they emerge at a 5-foot-wide walkway that circles an open shaft (K59). In the center of the tower's highest floor, a 15-foot-diameter hole (K18a) drops into the cold heart of Ravenloft itself. Cold air rushes up from the shaft sending a chill through their every bone, swaying the cobwebs that fill the shaft. Archers' slits line the walls. Aging beams support a steep roof. One cross beam and part of the roof have fallen away, leaving a gaping hole to the sky.

    Looking out the arrow slits, they see that they are in the tallest tower of Ravenloft. Though the field of view is narrow, the vista is spectacular. On this clear sunny day, they can see for miles and miles - to the west, the forested peaks of the Balinoks, to the east, the valley of the Ivlis and the village of Barovia far, far below. To the north, they see close by the battlemented top of what they take to be the heart tower. Indeed, it might be possible to fulfil their plan of dropping down on the tower from above, were they to climb through the hole in the roof of their tower. The jump, however, would be a good sixty foot drop over a twenty foot span, onto a stone floor. Willa is grateful that none of them are fools enough to try, or even to suggest repelling.

    As they pause to enjoy the view, Thokk hears the leathery flutter of dozens, if not hundreds, of wings from the open shaft beneath them. They quickly return to the stairs, carefully backing down. Larry prepares his moonbeam spell, casting it just as the top of the tower explodes in a swarm of bats. The moonbeam makes the bats’ skin burn and sizzle, but they throw themselves at the party regardless, clawing and biting. Fighting engulfs the front ranks, but none of the bats makes it to the rear of the party. In the end, the stairs and tower landing are littered with the bodies of dozens of bats.

    As they descend back down the stairs, they reason that the bridge must span the two lower towers of the castle. They demand that Willa look through her maps to find access to the third, lowest tower. The bridge should place them most of the way up the side of the heart tower, if not at the top.

    On the floor of the chapel, Willa takes a few moments to study her sketches, and says that she believes the low tower to be accessed by the stairs they found on the main level, near the dining hall into which the Count first welcomed them, so they return down the hall to the main entry and check on the treasure chests.

    (12:20pm) Willa peeks into the dining hall. The table is still laden with the food that was their offered lunch days ago, but it is now swarming with rats. Some of these squeak and drop to the floor at her entry, others simply turn and bristle. Disgusted, Willa retreats. She leads the party into the passage beyond the gleaming suit of armor that guards access to the stairs. The stairs go both up and down, but she takes them up.

    After several turns around the center, there is a landing of flagstone 10 feet wide by 20 feet long and a door, though the stairs themselves continue up. Opening the door reveals the back of the accountant’s chamber. They continue to ascend until there is another door, this one of steel. That opens on the now-empty alcoves and just beyond the dining hall with the ancient wedding cake.

    They continue up, higher and higher, until arriving at a landing of flagstone 10 feet wide by 20 feet long, unwarded by a door (K47).

    The chill draft of wind whistles mournfully through the room, rushing down from the circular stairs on the north end of the east wall. Pausing only for a single round through the landing, the wind continues down the stairs on the south, up which the party ascended. A single doorway with a heavy plank and metal-banded door opens to the west. Beside this door, an ancient portrait stands watch over the area, its still eyes staring defiantly back at theirs.

    When Aurora moves forward to examine the portrait, the air before it is filled with a glowing pattern of lights. Several in the party stare silently at the lights, suddenly oblivious to the situation. Tyrius is picked up by some unseen force and thrown bodily down the stairs. Those still in control of their faculties assault the painting. When, with a mighty blow, Thokk slashes the painting from frame to frame, the figure within fades into darkness, and the hypnotic lights disappear. Those still insensate are shaken and slapped back to consciousness.

    Between the door and the stairs, the party chooses to pass through the door into the room beyond (K49). A low ceiling, supported by heavy beams, seems to press down on this room. The west wall curves with the tower and is fitted with three windows of leaded glass in steel latticework. The windows look out over the rooftops of the castle. Plush overstuffed chairs and couches are placed about the room. Their fabric has faded with age until the prints are nearly gone. A bookcase lines the east wall between two doors. Although the room’s contents are obviously old, they are not dirty. Instead, it appears to be well-kept and recently cleaned.

    Aurora examines the books in the bookcase, some in Suel, most in Common, finding titles such as "Embalming, The Lost Art," "Life Among the Undead: Learning to Cope," "Identifying Blood Types: A Beginners' Handbook," and "Masonry and Woodworking." She pulls out the book about undead and places it within her pack.

    (1pm) There is another door in the room, and this opens onto a bedroom (K50). A huge bed sits in the center of this room, its four corner posts rising to a black canopy trimmed with gold tassels. Several comfortable divans are placed about the room. The party entered through a banded door in the west wall, but there is a smaller unbanded door in the east wall. This room is obviously cared for as well.

    While some in the party examine the bed, others open the door, revealing a large, empty closet (K51). The 10-foot-square room is lined with pegs to hang cloaks and clothes on.

    Searching the closet, the party detects faint outlines in the wooden ceiling. Babshapka, boosted on Thokk’s shoulders, finds a trapdoor, which he opens into a large oppressive room with a low ceiling of heavy beams (K55). This room is lit by the sun, through two leaded glass windows in the south wall. Steel lattice work covers both windows. Several tables stand throughout the room, their legs seeming to barely support the numerous glass jars and bottles that sit atop them.

    Babshapka is lifted through the trapdoor by Thokk, climbing silently into the room. There are two doors in the room, and from the nearer one comes the sounds of several voices united in chant. He calls softly down the trapdoor about the bottles and jars, and Aurora insists on being the next one through, though her ascent is not nearly as silent as his was.

    Many of the jars have labels, and she can read in Suel things like “Eye of Newt," "Hair of Bat," "Snail hearts," and "Maresweat." She sends Charlotte under the near door, and the spider reports a small chamber with a cauldron in the center, and several human figures chanting around it and stirring. Aurora tries to send her under the far door, but the frame is too well fitted and the spider cannot squeeze through.

    Aurora whispers a plan to Babshapka. They empty their packs of oil flasks, and stand with two in each hand. Babshapka is to kick open the door and toss in his flasks, and then Aurora will throw hers in followed by a fireball.

    Babshapka strides forward and kicks boldly at the door - but it opens out, not in, and his blow lands with a resounding thud. He looks over at Aurora, halfway through her spell and even now surrounded by a red, glowing light that is building in intensity. Babhapka turns and jumps down through the trapdoor.

    Aurora rushes forward, turns the handle, and pulls open the door. Through the darkness of the room (K56) she can just barely see green-glowing wisps bubbling up from a huge black kettle. Electric sounds of cackling suddenly strike, sending a shudder through her as she retreats back into the potion room. Fully seven crones dressed in black robes turn to face her as she lets fly with her fireball, aiming for the far wall of their chamber.

    A shining red spark flies from Aurora, impacting the wall. A half-second later there is a powerful explosion, filling the small room with fire. The robes of the women are instantly ablaze, the kettle knocked over by the concussive force. A shock wave followed by gouts of flames shoots out into the potions room, engulfing Aurora in fire. The tables collapse, and the windows explode out in a shower of glass shards that falls to the courtyard below. Aurora is bowled over, but fortunately lands on top of the oil flasks in her hands and they do not ignite. The party later reports that flames even shot halfway down into the closet through the trapdoor.

    Several moments later, Aurora is the first to her feet, before any of the crones. All about her is broken glassware and mingling liquids pooling on the floor. The labels have been singed or completely burnt away. In the chamber beyond, seven bodies lie on the floor, none moving. Their upper halves smolder, while their lower halves are soaking in whatever liquid was in the kettle. Beyond where the kettle stood is a low stone pedestal, and on that sits open a thick leather-bound book. Even now flames are slowly consuming its parchment pages. “No!” shouts Aurora, and she hobbles into the room, slams it shut to extinguish the flames. When she opens it again half the pages, reduced to ash, fall out.

    Aurora is still standing, looking dejectedly at the book, as the rest of the party ascends to the room. When she finally regains her composure, she tells them to wait while she casts a detect magic ritual. The intermingling liquids on the floor are magic - or were, though they are rapidly losing potency, and the book she holds is obviously a spellbook, but she finds no other foreign sources of arcane power in the room, not even the wicked-looking curved daggers that Babshapka is liberating from the bodies of the crones.

    They pass into the far door. Torn and broken couches lie in heaps, haphazardly strewn about the 20-foot-square room (K54). The low ceiling seems to press down. Deep claw marks cover the hardwood furniture. Claw marks have also sliced the once lush upholstery to shreds. Short, black hairs cover the furniture. A door leads to a landing, and the continuation of the stone stairs the party did not take from the level below.

    (1:30pm) Continuing up the stairs, after several more rounds the party emerges into broad daylight and fresh air, on the open battlemented top of the tower (K57). The 60-foot-diameter tower roof is rimmed with broken parapets that drop to the rooftops or, to the south, all the way to the courtyard below. A slender stone bridge (K58) spans the gap between this tower and the tower to the north, some 20 feet away. To the east, the high tower of Ravenloft thrusts skyward with no apparent opening at this point.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Aug 13, 2019 7:36 am  
    Post 77: The Heart of the Matter

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    This encounter turned out to be as challenging as the fight with Strahd was, and the survival of several party members turned on several lucky Dex and Str saves, as well as a few good luck rolls.

    Post 77: The Heart of the Matter

    16 October, 570 - Barovia, Castle Ravenloft
    Having finally found their access to the heart tower, the party cheers, all except Willa, who tells them that they are daft. They begin planning their assault, a complicated scheme involving spell and missile attacks on the heart while they are roped securely to the tower. Willa shakes her head. “An’ wha' 'appens when ye kill yon ‘eart, hmm? Wha' if ye bring t'is ‘ole castle tumbin’ t’ ther ground?”

    “Well, Willa,” says Aurora, still singed and without eyebrows from her most recent fireball, “that is a risk we are willing to take.”

    Willa snorts and says she will have no part of it, and will be in the courtyard loading the carriage. She descends the stairs, leaving the rest of them on the battlements. Barnabus ties a rope about his waist and gives the other end to Tyrius, then steps out to the bridge.

    The slender stone and masonry bridge hangs in the air, the stones wet and slippery despite the afternoon sun. The old iron hand railings have rusted away years ago, leaving the bridge without hand holds. Barnabus lies prone and crawls across the bridge, feeling the winds pulling at him. Looking over the edge, he can see the courtyard some two hundred feet below.

    As he inches forward, Barnabus can see that there is a large landing inside the tower before him, and that the tower is still pulsing with red light in the rhythm of a heartbeat. He pauses just at the entryway to the tower, then calls over his shoulder for another rope. Thokk throws him a second rope, which he secures to the bridge by means of a piton.

    Meanwhile, on the other tower, Aurora is pondering Willa’s words of warning. She has Babshapka tie a rope to the western battlements, and descend to the level of the roof. The sagging rooftop of the keep slopes precipitously toward the courtyard some 100 feet below. The ancient roof tiles slide easily underfoot, gladly giving up their burden and dropping to the courtyard, the slate tiles shattering on impact. Each falling tile resounds with a hollow click as it hits the flagstones of the courtyard. Babshapka swears the gargoyles guarding each gable look round at him, but their bodies do not move. He eases his way over to the edge of the roof, then drops lightly to the battlements some ten feet below. There, he ties off another rope descending to the courtyard. At least the party should have a quick rappelling exit, should the castle indeed begin to crumble.

    It is difficult work, but he manages to climb back up the wall from the battlements to the roof level, and from there back up the rope to the tower with the others. By the time he arrives, they can all see the black coach and horses have arrived below in the courtyard, and Willa is pulling out chests from the castle to load into the coach.

    When all is ready, Barnabus puts an arrow to his bow, and inches further forward. He can make out the huge pulsing heart through the tower archway some twenty feet overhead.

    Barnabus takes careful aim while still prone, and lets fly. The arrow pierces the glass heart. Instantly the entire tower begins to pitch and shake. The bridge bucks and shimmies, and even the other tower, on which the party stands, sways slightly.

    Barnaubs is thrown off the bridge like a child throws a rag doll. Caught by surprise, the rope flies from Tyrius’ gauntleted hands, and follows Barnabus over the edge of the bridge. The second rope goes taught - Barnabus is now dangling by both hands between the towers from the rope that is pitoned to the bridge on one end and tied to the railing on the other, his feet kicking at thin air as the rope jerks and shakes violently from the movement of the bridge.

    Barbabus pulls a dagger free, now hanging from just one hand, and slices the rope overhead. He falls in a long arc, impacting the side of the party's tower and absorbing the shock with his legs. “It’s not a chandelier,” he thinks to himself, “but it will do.” Thokk and Tyrius haul him up the rope on to the roof of the tower.

    Far below, Willa has finished loading chests, and now stands on the driver’s bench of the coach, one hand shading her eyes, watching as the heart tower pitches and shakes. Above, Larry is fastening a rope about his waist. Thokk and Tyrius tie the end off to the railing, and Tyrius holds it besides. While Thokk enrages himself at the thought of the stupid tower that just tried to kill his funny little halfling friend, Larry casts cat’s grace on himself, and then they both cross the bucking bridge.

    As Thokk grabs the short end of the cut but still-pitoned rope and wraps it around his muscular forearm, Larry looks up at the heart. His view is obscured, as the landing beyond the bridge is now filled with a dozen flying halberds, all moving, spinning, and swinging, trying to block his sight. None of the animated weapons are venturing out past the arched entryway, though.

    Larry intones mystic words in a deep basso voice. From somewhere in the cloudless sky, a sudden bolt of lightning streaks down and strikes him. Rather than harming him, however, it just imparts on him a blue aura. He holds forth his hand, pointing at the heart, and a second bolt of lightning bursts forth to strike the heart. Glass is shattered and fused, a peal of thunder rings forth, but the heart continues beating and pulsing, and the tower still shakes.

    Thokk, for his part, begins to lob throwing axes at the heart.

    Larry summons forth a second lightning bolt, and this one strikes at the heart again. Thokk throws more axes, and once out of axes, javelins. To those present on the rooftops, it sounds as if the beat of the heart is increasing, and the pitching of the tower growing more violent. Suddenly Larry is thrown from the bridge, falling hard against the side of the tower, dangling upside down at the end of the rope.

    “Hang on!” cries Tyrius, “I’ll pull you up!” while he silently wonders how he is going to manage lifting several hundred pounds of dwarf, mail, and gear without the aid of Thokk or Willa.

    “Nah, don’t!” shouts back Larry. “I got a clear shot from here!” Indeed, the dwarf has fallen into a position where, at just the right angle and only because he is upside down, he can see a sliver of the heart through the doorway, between Thokk’s legs and past the whirling halberds. “Nice o’ it ta glow fer me,” he thinks, as he summons forth a spell while the blood fills his head. “Moonbeam” he snarls, in the language of bears.

    In the tower, the pulsing red glow is now diminished by a bright silvery-white light. Stress fractures appear on every surface of the glass heart. A pitch of the bridge knocks Thokk to his knees, but he holds on to the rope with one hand while he hurls javelins with the other. The beating of the heart turns to a frantic pounding and then, scant seconds later, it explodes into a million glass shards, littering the landing and shooting out to lacerate Thokk’s skin. The red glow is gone, the beating stilled, the tower immobile. Even from the courtyard below Willa can hear the cheers of the party.

    Thokk and Tyrius together manage to haul up a beet-faced Larry. The party enters the heart tower, where a dozen halberds lie motionless on the glass-covered floor. Shards of glass crunch underfoot like snow as they cross the landing and ascend the stairs. The stairs emerge into a brightly lit room with manacles attached to the walls and a wooden frame bed (K60). A thorough search reveals the room to be empty, though it takes Aurora long to admit it.

    Twenty minutes later, the party arrives at the courtyard and mounts the carriage, stepping over the chests that fill its floor and crowding themselves into the seats.

    “So, what be th’ great treasure from atop yon tower?” asks Willa.

    “Nothing you will get a share of,” says Aurora indignantly.

    “Yes,” agrees Tyrius, “a whole lot of nothing.”

    “That’s not the point!” says Aurora. “We defeated the evil tower guardian! I’m certain that malevolent force was controlling all of the constructs in the castle!”

    “Indeed,” chuckles Willa, then turns in the driver’s seat and slaps the reins lightly over the horses’ backs. “Hyah!”

    They are back at the Burgomaster’s house long before dinner, even after the horses have been unhitched and stabled. Tyrius and Willa carry the chests and drawers into Ismark’s room, but mention that they may be going back to the castle and he says there can be a final accounting at the end. Tyrius elects to visit Father Donovitch at the church, and speak to him about matters of faith.

    After dinner Ismark attends a meeting of the Town Elders. When he returns, he tells them that he has been unanimously confirmed as Burgomaster of Barovia.
    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.

    Last edited by Kirt on Mon Aug 19, 2019 7:52 am; edited 1 time in total
    Master Greytalker

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    Mon Aug 19, 2019 8:43 am  
    Post 78: A final visit to the Castle

    Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
    Locations in bold below are taken from the map keys of the original module.

    I also used the 5e conversion available at

    Within the catacombs, I used the ambient sound file

    Post 78: A final visit to the Castle

    17 October, 570 - Barovia

    Shortly after dawn Willa and Tyrius retrieve the horses and hook up the coach. The party arrives at the gates of the castle by 8:30am. For this foray they intend to explore the kitchen level and, at Aurora’s insistence, the crypts.

    Willa pulls the carriage up in front of the main entrance of the keep this time, confident that there is not an organized opposition waiting. She unhooks the horses from the carriage, but leaves their harnesses on, hobbling them nearby and leaving them some hay and a little water. She wants the carriage close in case they have to leave quickly. She still feels like the castle could collapse, if Lief is an example of how Strahd’s magic was holding it together.

    They review her maps, talking about another possible entrance into the crypts. They are hoping to find a more direct entry than through the flooded dungeon. She would like to try the spiral stairs going down from the great tower - the ones leading off of the chapel.

    They enter through the front of the castle, passing through the small entry (K7), the great entry (K8), and the long hall (K14) into the chapel (K15), and once there begin to converse. If they are forced to flee the crypts, it would do well to have some direct sunlight inside the castle to slow or harm their pursuers. Working at the ground level, and relying on Barnabus for some higher work, they pry off the boards blocking the stained glass windows in the southern nave, until at least that part of the chapel is well-lit.

    They start down the stairs of the tower (K18) - they have been up these to the top of the tower, but not down.

    The large gray flagstones of this spiraling staircase lead down around a 20-foot-wide stone core. Cobwebs fill the staircase, making it difficult to see even the ceiling. Heavy beams sag overhead from centuries of weight. After just one complete turn about the shaft, a masonry wall completely blocks off the staircase. It looks to be more recent construction than the tower itself. Thokk examines it, but it seems solid, with no easy or quick way to batter it down.

    Aurora checks the wall carefully, hoping to uncover some secret access, but finds only a small chink in the wall - she speculates that it allows gas to pass from one side of the wall to the other, when Strahd traveled in the form of mist. Willa recalls the final words of Strahd’s diary: “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.”

    “So much fer an easier access t’ ther crypts,” Willa says, then shrugs. “Mayhap we’ll find passage from ther kitchens.”

    They return to the light of the chapel and again consult her maps. For an easy access to the kitchen level, she suggests the stairs off of the guest’s hall (K9). They took those stairs yesterday to the open top of the tower above, and she believes those stairs are the same ones they took from the bottom of the elevator shaft to the flooded dungeons. Although they have never tried to go from ground level to the underground kitchens, if they are the same stairs it should be possible.

    As the party arrives at the guest hall, they are all struck by the contrast of how clean and orderly it is, compared with the dusty chapel and the cobweb-filled tower stairs. Aurora wonders if there is some clue in the difference between the parts of the castle that have been well-maintained, and the parts that have fallen into disrepair over the centuries. Tyrius considers this, then says that a castle this large is a huge endeavor to maintain, and Strahd apparently had a very small staff - so far they have encountered only Lief and Helga, and heard about Igor. The disarray in the servant’s quarters yesterday supports this. Tyrius suggests that Strahd was carefully selecting which parts of the castle to maintain and ignoring the rest. As far as why these particular parts and not others - well, when they arrived, they went from the entry directly to the dining room, with everything in good order. Those were the parts of the castle Strahd wanted them to see - they weren’t meant to go exploring in the deserted parts. “Quite frankly,” Tyrius says, “it was rather boorish of us as guests to defy his wishes - had he been a real nobleman and not an abomination, we should have eaten that luncheon the first day and stayed in the parts of the castle he bid.”

    “But then we’d all be dead...or worse,” says Willa.

    “Oh, most assuredly,” Tyrius agrees.

    In the guest hall Willa makes to go down the stairs, but Aurora is now fixated on the gleaming suit of armor guarding it. She examines it - there is the finest layer of dust, but that could have arisen in the few days since they dispatched Helga. She can see herself in the reflective surface - obviously it has been polished recently. She asks Barnabus to check it for traps. He finds nothing, but notes that it is freshly oiled as well, all the joints moving freely and with a minimum of sound. Aurora decides to delay their entry to the kitchens, instead casting detect magic as a ritual, starting with the armor and then walking through this suite of rooms.

    Aurora picks up nothing from the armor itself. In the dining hall, she finds illusion magic on the mirrors, while in the great entry, enchantment magic on the gargoyles, and enchantment magic as well on the stone dragons in the little entry. In all three of these cases, the magic is both weak and fading. She takes this as a sign that Strahd’s influence is decaying.

    “Tyrius, the armor seems non-magical. Even so, would it not be better than what you have?”

    “If it fits. It seems made for a man about my size, and some adjustments can be made with the straps, but generally full plate like that is forged for a specific bearer, with measurements taken by the armorer beforehand. That is one of the reasons it is so costly, compared to lesser armors.”

    “I should think you would want to take it then.”

    “I would not object to removing it, on the chance that it will fit me. We can ask Burgomaster Ismark if he would grant it to us, or how much he might sell it for.”

    Aurora scoffs at the idea of actually buying from Ismark anything they recover, rather than the other way around, but she understands Tyrius’ honor, and is still working out how to convince him to open all of the crypts, so does not say anything for the moment. He lifts the armor from its stand, carries it outside, and stores it in the carriage. Willa takes the opportunity to check on the horses, then puts the party in marching order in preparation for their descent down the stairs.

    As Willa expected, the stairway leads to the base of the elevator shaft. “Didn’t you look in there before?” she asks Thokk, indicating the door in front of them. He shrugs and throws it open.

    The hallway beyond (K62) 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. A giant shadow is cast across the ceiling as a dark figure shuffles purposefully down the corridor toward them. The party is instantly on alert, drawing weapons, but Willa gestures with her hand for them to hold their positions.

    As the figure approaches, they can see it is a man, his lantern swinging wildly due to his awkward gait. He wears servant’s clothes, is hunched over, and has a large protuberance on his back, lifting his tattered tunic unnaturally. “Guests?” he calls to them. “Are you the Master’s guests?”

    “Aye,” replies Willa. “Be ye Igor?”

    “Yes, yes,” he says. “Do you know where the Master is?”

    “No,” begins Aurora, “We have not seen him for days…” She is interrupted as words and tears spill out of Igor.

    “Oh, Master! Where are you?” he cries and weeps openly. “Master said Igor was to prepare food for you guests, but then you did not come to dinner! Igor has been trying to keep up with meals, but the barge-people have not brought any more food, and all Igor has now is leftovers! Igor is trying to be obedient, but Igor cannot find Master! Oh, where is Master?” he snivels.

    Tyrius pushes past Aurora, tired of her half-truths and manipulations. “I am sorry, Igor,” he begins. “I must inform you that your master is dead.”

    “DEAD?!” cries the hunchback, horror stricken.

    “Yes. Your master attacked us, and we were forced to kill him to defend ourselves.”

    Igor collapses onto the stone floor, disappearing in the fog, although he is easy to locate by his wailing. “Oh Master!” he sobs, “Oh Igor! What will Igor do now? Where will Igor go? Oh, you wicked guests!”

    The party allows Igor to weep for a while while they examine the hall. At the east end is a rusted but sound portcullis barring entry to a wine cellar. The double doors to the west are made of heavy planks, banded with steel. Stairs on the east end of the north wall lead steeply up. There are three other doors on the north wall, all made of heavy wood.

    When they are satisfied, Aurora approaches Igor, laying a hand gently on his shoulder. “Igor, do you know there is a village below the castle?”

    “A village?” he asks. “Yes, Barovia. Igor was from (sniff) Barovia, but the people there were cruel - because of Igor’s...impediments. (sniff, sniff) That is why Igor came to the castle. Master was the first person who was kind to Igor (sob), and Igor became Master’s cook.”

    “Really? How long ago was that?”

    “Oh, (sigh), more years than Igor can count.” Igor sits up, but remains on the floor, glumly.

    “You know, Igor,” continues Aurora, “now that Master are free to reinvent yourself. With all your years of experience, you could now become a cook in Barovia. Or...a tour guide here in the castle. I am sure lots of Barovians would want to see the castle, and I bet you know a lot about it.”

    “Oh yes,” he says, a note of cheer in his voice for the first time. “Igor knows all about the castle.”

    “Why don’t you show us around,” suggests Aurora. “Consider this an interview for your tour guide position. You can show us all the interesting features of the castle, starting with this floor. Be sure to point out all the important, historical, treasures.” she says. Tyrius scowls at her. Ignoring him, Aurora helps Igor up from the floor. “Ugh,” she says to herself, “where is all this fog coming from?”

    Igor takes her question as his cue to start the tour. “The air in Barovia contains much moisture,” he says, “because of the frequent rains. But down here below the ground level, the stone is quite cold. When the warmer moist air from above descends here, the contact with the cold generates this fog.”

    He gestures about him. “Here we are in the servant’s hall. Those stairs lead to the servant’s entrance at the back of the castle, those two doors to the kitchens, that door to the butler’s chamber, and the double doors to the guard chambers at the front of the castle. Would you like to see the kitchens? Igor has been working hard on your next meal.”

    “Yes, please take us to the kitchens, Igor.”

    The hunchback takes up his lantern and shambles toward the nearest door, the party following behind him. He opens the door and enters (K65). Inside, a horrible odor of decay assaults their senses. Against the far wall are three huge pots, the most distant one sitting over a blazing fire, its green, muddy contents rolling over and over in full boil. The middle pot is empty; the closest one has a lid on. The other walls are lined with shelves and cupboards. There are many ancient-looking utensils hanging from racks and pegs, but the food supplies on the shelves are

    Igor shuffles over to the boiling pot, taking a huge ladle and stirring the contents. When Thokk approaches to look inside, a human hand shoots up, emerging from the liquid! This is followed by an arm, and then a head and body emerges. Glistening white, with no trace of hair, a boiled body grabs the lip of the pot and hauls itself out onto the kitchen floor, and is soon followed by two others. Igor turns to the counter and grabs a rolling pin, proceeding to bash at the last of the corpses as it climbs, yelling, “Back in the pot, get back in the pot!”

    The party is horrified, but quickly reacts. Babshapka looses an arrow, and Aurora a firebolt. Thokk pulls out his (now glowing) sword, and Tyrius his new war hammer. Larry uses thorn whip to drag a corpse closer, enabling both Thokk and Igor to attack it from behind. Barnabus climbs up on the lid of the covered pot, watching the melee but not participating. In a moment it is over; the corpses lie unmoving on the floor, in pieces, and the glow fades from Thokk’s sword. Igor quickly apologizes for the misbehaving dinner, and for having to use leftovers, and begins to gather up all the parts to return them to the pot. Thokk cheerfully helps him. Once all of the biggest pieces have been returned, Igor dips his ladle into the mix, pulls it forth and slurps deeply. “No, that’s going to need another hour,” he says disappointedly.

    Willa breaks ranks and dashes over to the empty, lidless pot, retching violently into it. The hollow iron cauldron amplifies her sounds, filling the kitchen with her noise over the crackling of the fire.

    When Willa is quite done, Aurora asks Igor to show them the wine cellar. He leads them out of the kitchen through the other door, and shines his lantern through the bars of the rusted portcullis. Arched frames of stone form a low, wet ceiling over the vault. Great casks of wine line the walls, their bands rusting and their contents long since spilled onto the ground. Willa advises Thokk to keep his sword out, and check it frequently, but for the moment it is just dull steel.

    “Is there a mechanism to raise the bars?” asks Aurora.

    “Oh, no,” replies Igor sadly. “Igor is not allowed in here. Once Master found Igor in the cups, and these bars have been here since.”

    Thokk lifts mightily, and in fits and jerks the portcullis yields, sticking in multiple places. One he has it over head, Thokk slowly releases it. It drops an inch and then freezes. The party wedges a pole under it just to be sure and enters (K63). Igor does not follow them in, mumbling about how he is not allowed. They check all the wine casks, but every single one is spoiled - from rot, from split staves, and the like. While checking for secret doors, Babshapka gives a whistle. At the far south end of the west wall he has found a crack, half an inch wide by five inches long, leading to the stairwell (K18), below where it had been bricked up. “So,” concludes Aurora, “Strahd could leave the crypts in gaseous form, go up the staircase, and then either pass through here to enter the kitchens, or continue up the stairs to the chapel.”

    Once they leave the cellar, Aurora says “You are doing a good job, Igor, but are there no places more interesting?”

    “Well, I suppose there is the guard hall…”

    “Alright, take us there.”

    Igor traverses the length of the hall, and then pulls open one of the great double-doors at the end. As they enter the room beyond (K67), darkness, cold as a winter sweat, wraps around them. Large oak tables, scarred and beaten, lay scattered like toys about this room, their wood crushed and splintered. Dark stains cover the floor and the wall.

    “What happened here?” asks Aurora.

    “Oh, well,” considers Igor, “when Master arrived at the castle, he had to take it from the former occupants, including these soldiers. Master does not like disobedience, or contrary behavior. They should not have opposed him.”

    “Did you see this happen?”

    “Oh no, that was long before Igor’s time here.”

    As the party spreads out to search the room, Aurora drops back, checking on the door they passed to what Igor claimed was the butler’s room (K66). She finds that the 20-foot-square room is crammed with numerous items filling it from wall to wall. A small sagging bed sits to one side under a huge faded tapestry of Ravenloft castle. Dusty lanterns sit in various places. Huge, rich curtains are draped haphazardly about the room. Thousands of pieces of junk cover the floor. Broken swords, crumpled shields and helmets lie in piles all about. She picks up one, casually examines it, and then closes the door behind her as she returns to the party.

    Once the party has examined the room with the tables, they continue on through the north door. The 30-foot-square room beyond (K70) lies in chaos. Shattered furniture lies in heaps near the walls. Broken bones lie scattered amid crumpled and crushed plate armor. Shields and swords jut from the walls as if driven there by some tremendous force. There is a door in the center of the north wall. A dark archway leads out through the east wall.

    Willa is shocked; Thokk is impressed.

    “What kind of force would be needed to drive swords into a stone wall?” asks Aurora.

    Igor continues nonchalantly with his tour. “This was the hall of the Kingsmen, or officers of the castle guard. Master was not happy with them, either. Beyond lies the room of the captain of the guard.” Igor makes to open the door on the north wall, but it is locked. He chuckles. “Igor is so forgetful!” He fumbles in the recesses of his heavy woolen jacket and produces a key ring, with many iron keys, large and small, dangling from it. He fits one of the keys to the lock, turns it, opens the door, and ushers the party in, without entering himself.

    The room beyond (K72) lies in the shadow of Igor’s lantern and the party’s torches, but it is easy to see that it is in perfect order. An old cot stands to one side, its heavy blanket made taut and straight. A great table stands with its chair, inkwell, and quill lying carefully in place. Lances and swords are carefully hung on the walls.

    “Igor, why is this room untouched?” asks Aurora.

    “Oh, the captain of the guard was able to work out a...special arrangement...with Master.”

    Thokk and Tyrius stride into the room. The instant they do so, a form emerges from the cot. It is inky black, except for large, glowing red, eyes. Extending its great ebon wings, it flies to the center of the room, just in front of Thokk and Tyrius.

    Instantly the room goes inky black - even the holy light of Pelor on Tyrius’ shield is extinguished, and Thokk’s darkvision does him no good. Darkness projects from the captain’s room out into the kingsmen’s hall, in a cone from the open doorway, as light would project from a brightly-lit room. Most of the party find that they are plunged into darkness as well - Larry, Babshapka, and Aurora are without their darkvision, and the darkvision spell that Larry had cast on Barnabus is likewise useless. Willa is to the left of the doorway, far enough away that her lantern is still lit - but she sees a wall of blackness in front of her, cutting the room in half. She does not see that on the other side of the room, Igor has carefully stepped to the right of the door, and his lantern is burning as well.

    “Face me, demon!” shouts Thokk. As if in response, a wave of psychic energy bursts forth from the hidden creature, penetrating the minds of all those in view of the open door (everyone but Igor and Willa). Instantly they are gripped with fear; quite against their will, they find themselves imagining a terrifying scene in front of them. Through force of will they manage to resist, all except Babshapka and Larry. The elf and the dwarf scream in terror, turn around and flee, groping desperately for the door in the darkness. Tripping over the debris of the guardroom, they turn the corner and run into the servant’s hall.

    Thokk’s fury has only been kindled by the darkness, and now the attempt by the demon to control his mind. He lashes out wildly, swinging his sword all about and cursing. One blow actually connects with the demon, another slams into Tyrius’ shield.

    Even though he cannot see, Barnabus is used to moving in darkness, and he finds the edge of the effect, emerging into the light of Igor’s lantern. The hunchbacked man is standing near the door, listening to the melee inside and rubbing his hands together eagerly. Barnabus approaches him, but before he can reach him Igor steps into the darkness.

    Inside the room, Tyrius has taken out his warhammer and is now seeking the demon as well. In the confusion of the melee, he and Thokk are completely turned around, have no idea of their location or that of the creature, but they are striking out anyway. Suddenly, Tyrius feels a blow connect, and a soft hiss in response rather than a bellow from Thokk. Instantly he focuses, sending a powerful surge of energy through his warhammer (divine smite - using a second level spell slot). The hiss of the demon turns into a shriek of pain, and Tyrius follows up with another blow. With a sound like fabric being rent, the corporal form of the demon is destroyed, and the darkness it had generated dispelled.

    Barnabus dashes across the room, leaps, and does a flying tackle on the now-visible Igor. The two go crashing to the floor, and Igor’s lantern is knocked from his grasp. Fortunately it has a brass screen, not a glass shroud. Aurora runs out the door and into the servant’s hall, just in time to see Babshapka turn and mount the stairs. She overtakes Larry and throws her staff at him, hitting him in the back of the head, but he just screams and continues running. She passes him, scrambles up the stairs, and looms up in front of him. He screams again, turns and flees, and ends up hiding behind a barrel in the wine cellar, cowering and shaking.

    In the captain’s room, Thokk is congratulating himself. “Thokk has destroyed demon! Come Willa! Come and see Thokk’s mighty demon-slaying muscles!” Willa enters, but she is more interested in examining the room than Thokk's triceps. She finds the inkwell dry, and turns her attention to the weapons on the walls.

    Tyrius has left the room to see to Igor, who is currently rolling around on the floor, wrestling with Barnabus. Tyrius seizes the hunchback, holding him still while Barnabus binds him with ropes. “I’m going to kill him,” mutters Barnabus as he works, and Igor protests, “You said to show you the rooms! You said!”

    Tyrius shakes his head. “Igor, I will not let Barnabus kill you. Barnabus, we asked him to show us around and he opened doors for us,” the paladin says gently, “he did not harm any of us, at least not directly.” Once Igor is firmly tied, Tyrius props him up against the wall, and speaks to him sternly, but not harshly.

    “Igor, did you know that demon was in the room?”

    Tears flow anew from Igor and he bows his head, sobbing. “You said you killed Master, and Igor just...Igor just…(gasp)...Igor just thought it would be fair if the captain killed you, too. Oh, Master, where are you now!?”

    “You see!” demands Barnabus.

    “Alright, he has evil intent. That doesn’t change the fact that he did not assault us. We will take him back to town and the Burgomaster will decide his fate.”

    Although the weapons and shields in the captain’s room are well-preserved and untouched, they are dull, with some rusted. Willa does not find anything of exceptional quality there. In the servant’s hall, Babshapka has sheepishly come back down the stairs, mumbling something about having needed to step outside into the sunlight for a moment. He helps Aurora collect Larry and the three of them return to the kingsmen’s hall.

    Thokk bores of looking at the old weapons on the wall, and explores the arched exit to the east (K71). A dark, low passage leads to an ascending staircase. Sickly yellow lichen covers the ceiling. There is a small room on each side of the passage.

    Thokk pokes and prods about in the alcoves, but finds nothing. On the staircase, he finds a broken arrow, the glue holding the fletching having long ago rotted away. Larry is brought in to look at the lichen, but he just shrugs and says it is typical of cold, dark, moist conditions.

    Willa and Thokk ascend the staircase (K20a), finding themselves at the very base of the heart tower (K20), amidst the dozens of broken arrows and fallen boulders and the first of innumerable steps. To the north, a narrow hallway choked by cobwebs runs into darkness.

    Thokk and Willa rejoin the party. There is still the heavy wooden door to the south from the guard’s chambers, so they try this next. It leads to a narrow passageway (K68) providing access to both a spiral stair up (K64) and to ten cells (K69) that were likely individual guard quarters. Rotting cots and rags are in the shadows of the alcoves. Willa checks her maps, then ascends the staircase to confirm that it leads into the front guard towers of the main level.

    Nodding to herself, piecing her many notes together, she says - “Well, I do believe t'is castle ain’t got many secrets lef' - seems we hae been jus’ about ev'rywhere.”

    “We haven’t finished the crypts,” suggests Aurora brightly.

    “Still,” continues Willa, “thar be sommmet about ther guard cappin’s room what don’t sit right w’ me.”

    They return to the room at her insistence and search more - this time, finding a secret door in the west wall, beyond which a staircase descends steeply (K79). “O-ho!” cries Willa. “Now thar be a stair we hain’t been on.” The staircase of ancient stone is worn smooth through use in ages long forgotten. Dust lies upon the floor and dry cobwebs block its passage.

    “Down?” says Tyrius somberly. “That can only be the crypts, or dungeons.”

    “That’s right,” agrees Aurora, sounding much more eager. Tyrius calls for the light of Pelor upon his shield, and Thokk lights a torch, holding it in his own shield hand. A few of them carry Igor, still bound hand and foot, to the kitchens, placing him inside the huge pot with the lid. “Igor is not leftovers!” he protests, but Tyrius assures him that he is just there for his own protection until the party returns.

    They proceed down the stairs, which descend at a precipitous forty-five degree angle for thirty feet, turn to the south on a narrow landing, and continue steeply down even farther, ending in a door; a familiar door of dark wood, iron-bound.

    Opening it, they find themselves in the statue room, the brazier still burning brightly. It’s not a direct access to the crypts, but at least they don’t have to go through the water-filled dungeon, and they are well-satisfied.

    “It be ther black stone we want,” says Willa, “east statue, right 'and.” Aurora uses her mage hand to grasp the gem and toss it in the fire, allowing the door to the crypts to open. As they cross the room, Tyrius notes Barnabus drifting further inside, to the vicinity of the chest, and even sees him snatch a scrap of parchment from the floor alongside it. The halfling hasn’t even had the chance to look at it yet before the paladin demands that he read it aloud.

    The note is written with charcoal, in crudely-spelled Common, and says “Thanks for disarming the trap! - The Rhenee.” Aurora lets fly with a string of expletives that impresses Willa and has Tyrius blushing.

    They continue up the stairs and down the corridor, probing carefully midway until they feel the floor give, then helping one another over the pit trap. They pause at the door to the crypts, and Aurora and Tyrius resume a discussion that has been running off and on for the past two days.

    Aurora maintains that “we don’t know what is in any crypt. While the threat of Strahd is gone, doubtless other foul creatures haunt this place. It is our duty to protect the people of Barovia to open all of the crypts, just to be sure.”

    Tyrius shakes his head. “Fair words do not conceal your avaricious intentions. We are not grave-robbers, at least not while I am with this party. The sunsword will tell us if there are undead nearby, and my detect good and evil will go through a foot of stone. We should destroy any abominations we find, and I do not object to claiming any treasures they guard in recompense, so long as we share half with the Burgomaster as agreed. But if neither I nor the sunsword sense something in a crypt, we will leave the still-hallowed dead in peace.”

    “But some of those crypts could easily be more than a foot thick - especially the well-made ones; at least we should read the epitaphs, and if any are of nobility or royalty, we can assume that the crypts require a more careful search to make sure they haven’t been corrupted.”

    “At this moment, I am more concerned with your corrupting influence.”

    Willa is tired of the circular discussion. “Enough now,” she says firmly, “t'is be ther most deadly part o’ ther castle, an’ we all need t' be in ther same ship. No crypt be opened unless Tyrius an’ I agree.” Without waiting for Aurora’s acquiescence, she nods at Thokk and he happily opens the door.

    The crypts are as cold as before, the fog completely obscuring the floor. The bats hang from the cavernous ceiling far above, chittering and squeaking. As soon as the door is open, Thokk’s sword glows brightly. Even Aurora gives pause at that. Slowly they file in.

    Willa’s voice comes hushed, almost whispering. “Las' time we went along ther east wall - now let’s move along ther west. Eyes sharp, everyone.”

    The first, most northerly, row of crypts is already known to them:

    2 - "Artista DeSlop"
    3 - "The Lady Isolde Yunk"
    4 - "Prince Aerial Du Plumette"
    5 - "Artank Swilovich"
    6 - The name and epitaph clawed off and unrecognizable

    As are many in the second row,

    8 - "Duchess Dorfniya Dilisnya"
    9 - "Pidlwik"
    10 - "Sir Leanne Triksky”
    11 - "Tasha Petrovna"

    However, the crypt in the second row, farthest to the west and along the wall (Crypt 7), is yet to be seen by them. The stone door lies on the floor, obscured by the fog, and Tyrius in fact stubs his booted foot on it approaching the crypt, which gapes open. In the crypt is a three-foot high slab of marble. Rags of white linen lie on the slab, with odd bulges beneath. Thokk looks at the protrusions curiously - they do not appear to be shaped like a body, or even a skeleton - the lumps are in all the wrong places.

    Thokk takes one step inside the crypt, and immediately the linens rise up, coalescing around a spectral figure. Thokk steps forward, but Tyrius is quicker. The paladin springs into the crypt, dispatching the phantasm with two powerful swings of his enchanted hammer.

    By the light of Thokk’s torch and Tyrius’ shield, Thokk looks at the marble slab - the shapes on it appear to be leather bags. He lifts one up, but it falls to pieces in his hand, dull gold coins spilling out from it and landing noisily on the slab and the floor. Barnabus is immediately in the crypt, darting past Tyrius, but the paladin grabs him by the collar and tosses him lightly back outside.

    The party is looking in all directions, spooked by every shadow. Babshapka and Willa are watching east down the empty row between the crypts, when a ghostly form emerges from that of “Prince Aerial”.

    The figure glides toward them silently, but with its mouth agape in a scream. They both feel themselves go cold. Babshapka turns and runs, too afraid to even make a sound. Willa swings her mace at it, and the form quivers for a second. Larry sprays poison at the figure, but the venom passes right through it. Larry calls for Tyrius, and both he and Thokk emerge from the crypt to confront the phantasm. Tyrius makes a mighty swing of his hammer, but the blow goes through the form as if it was not there, and the hammer sails off into the darkness and fog, crashing to the stone floor. The creature reaches out a hand toward Willa and disappears. A second later, Willa’s eyes begin to glow and she shouts hoarsely, “I will kill you all!” Aurora spins around to face this new threat.

    Seeing the crypt unoccupied, Barnabus slips inside and loosens the strings on several of his pouches.

    Babshapka flees out the door to the crypts and down the hall. He knows the trap is ahead of him, but his mind is so clouded with terror he cannot avoid it. Down the black marble shaft he goes, and into the water-filled prison cell. The shock of the cold water brings him to his senses, but he feels incredibly drained by the fear.

    Willa swings her mace at Aurora, but when it crashes into the wall of the crypt beside her it drops from her grasp. Undeterred, she advances, striking at the mage with powerful blows of her fists. Thokk tries to restrain her, but she turns on him, landing blows of surprising strength and fury. With no other way to stop or restrain her, Thokk, Aurora, and Tyrius eventually batter Willa into unconsciousness, at which point her body goes limp and the ghostly figure re-appears beside her. Before it can possess another body, Tyrius and Thokk strike it several blows and it dissipates.

    Once Willa, in her own mind, regains consciousness, she insists on being healed by Larry before they proceed. Fortunately the glow has gone from Thokk’s sword. After Babshapka returns, sodden, sullen, and with an odd streak of white in his hair, the party continues to make their way along the west wall. Of the next row of crypts, they have seen all but the one set into the west wall itself:

    13 - "King Intree Katsky"
    14 - "Stahbal Indi-Bhak" (this was the crypt of wights, part of the trap protecting Strahd’s tomb)
    15 - "KHAZAN"
    16 - "Elsa Fallona"
    17 - "Sir Sedrik Spinwitovich"

    The new one (Crypt 12) says simply, “King Toisky” and has no adornments.

    As the party proceeds south, Thokk’s sword again begins to glow. At first he thinks it is in reference to a particular tomb he has passed, but comes to realize that it must be something in the area of the southern crypts.

    Of the next row of three, the party has already seen two -

    19 - "Animus"
    20 - "Sasha Ivliskova: Wife"

    This last crypt is open, the door pulled away from the entrance and laying on the side of the crypt, partially but not completing blocking the entry. The party searches their memory, but everyone believes it was closed tight the last time they were here. Peering inside, they see the same marble slab as in (7), but on this rests a wooden coffin rather than a pile of rags. A dank, earthy smell comes from within. Tyrius and Thokk enter - the coffin is open, but they see no creatures.

    The westernmost crypt (18) is new for the party. The opening stone has been carefully laid to one side. Through the swirling mists of the perpetual fog newly engraved letters can be read, "Ireena Kolyana: Wife." The crypt has a marble slab, but is otherwise empty.

    At this point, the party would cross the great vaulted pathway that divides the northern and southern crypts. Now they can see that in the west lies the base of a great staircase, doubtless the one that would ascend to the chapel, were it not bricked off. Aurora points out that after a funeral service in the chapel above, a body could be taken directly to the crypts. Tyrius mentions that from the base of the stairs directly forward, due east, leads to the tomb of Strahd and Sergei’s parents.

    A previously-unseen crypt (21) reads "Patrina Velikovna: Bride." The other two in that row are already known to the party:

    22 - "Sir Erik Vonderbucks"
    23 - The crypt is sealed, but unmarked

    Of the next row, the party knows the eastern half:

    27 - No inscription on this crypt, and the door-stone slightly ajar
    28 - "Ardent Pallette"
    29 - "Ivan Ivanovich"

    The western three are new discoveries:

    (Crypt 24) "Ivan DeRose, Champion of Winter Dog Racing. The race may go to the swift, but vengeance is for the loser's relatives."

    (Crypt 25) "Stephan Gregorovich, First Counselor to Baron von Zarovich"

    (Crypt 26) "Intree Sik-Valoo: He spurned wealth for the knowledge he could take to heaven."

    In the penultimate row they find two already known,
    33 - The door is blank
    34 - "King Dostron"

    And three not seen before:

    (Crypt 30) "Prefect Ciril Romulich (Beloved of King Barov and Queen Ravenia) High Priest of the Most Holy Order."

    (Crypt 31) "We knew him only by his wealth"

    (Crypt 32) "St. Finderway, Saint of Lost Travelers"

    Finally, in the last row, are three known and three new:

    38 - "Americo Standardski (Inventor)"
    39 - "Beucephalus”
    40 - "Tatsaul Eris"

    (Crypt 35) The stone is blank

    (Crypt 36) The stone door is in place, but the name has been scratched out

    (Crypt 37) "Gralmore Nimblenobs"

    With all the crypts known and no creatures “loose,” Tyrius decides it is time for his detect good and evil spell. He casts it and reaches out with his senses. He can feel the three infernal creatures in (38), just as before, but the solitary abyssal fiend he felt before in (39) is no longer present. He detects Strahd’s tomb as unholy ground, and feels the presence of undead in (21), and believes this to be what the sunsword is detecting. The tombs of Strahd’s brother and parents are sanctified. After making an entire circuit of the crypts, these are the only things he notes.

    The party assembles outside of the tomb of infernal creatures (38). Willa and Thokk stand directly in front, with Larry just behind them. When Thokk opens the door, three doglike creatures are seen. The dogs have red eyes and copper-colored fur. Almost immediately they open their great maws and belch forth huge gouts of fire, engulfing most of the party.

    Although the party is greatly damaged, the battle against the infernal dogs is fairly swift. Only one of them gets the chance to breathe again before it is slain.

    Either the battle or the flames, or both, has stirred up the bats overhead, however. In ever-increasing numbers they are dropping from their perches on the low, vaulted ceiling and swarming about. A few begin bumping into party members, threatening to become entangled in their hair.

    Thokk’s sword begins to glow. A moment later comes the terrible wail of a banshee, and the hideous translucent figure of a cursed elven maiden is floating through the air of the crypts, bearing down on them.

    At the sound of the keening, several of the party go faint, but scores of bats drop to the floor, dead, on all sides. The party manages to dispel the spirit, with Thokk’s sword proving especially efficacious. More bats surge in from the passageways around them - there must be thousands in these crypts, and the party is engulfed by a swirling cloud of hundreds. Many bats have begun biting at the party, seeking out any exposed flesh into which to sink their tiny fangs.

    “To Strahd’s crypt!” yells Willa, hoping that they can defend the single, narrow entryway with a moonbeam or somesuch. But as the party flees, stumbling over the dead bats littering the floor, they find that the live bats leave off pursuit at the top of the stairs and go no further. Neither does anything happen when Thokk is the first to cross the mystic rune trap which they had all avoided before.

    In a few moments, they all stand panting in the burial chamber (K86). A darkness clouds the room and the essence of evil permeates the very air. The smell of freshly turned earth is there. The room is 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.

    Tyrius closes his eyes and extends his senses. When he opens them, he reassures the party that the evil he feels, that they all feel, is old in this room. It is unhallowed ground, but there is no focus or intent to the maleficence. Just to be sure, he opens the coffin, and despite his words, is relieved to find it empty. He fills a small bag with dirt from the floor, intending to return it to Father Donovitch for blessing.

    Bloodied as they are, most of the party collapses into the dirt, leaning with their backs to the walls and resting. Barnabus, however, is active - examining the coffin, inside and out, probing through the dirt all over the room. This forces Tyrius to be alert as well, watching the halfling.

    Thokk is bored. He watches the swirling bats at the top of the stairs for a while, but when they eventually settle and return to their ceiling perches, he also begins poking about the room. When he enters the westernmost alcove, he disappears!

    After a moment of shock, some in the party rush to the alcove, but dare not enter. Willa goes to the stairs and calls for him, but receives no answer. A few minutes later Thokk appears in the eastern alcove, apparently unharmed. After that, Barnabus and Aurora have a hushed conversation. When Tyrius approaches, Barnabus disappears, but reappears a good deal later.

    After an hour or more, wounds bound and some healing spells cast, the party re-emerges into the crypt, careful to not disturb the bats. They quickly check the dog tomb, but find it empty besides the bodies. They open the large-doored vault (Crypt 39), but find nothing inside besides the lingering smell of smoke.

    The party looks for the crypt in which Tyrius previously sensed undead, discussing whether it was from that which the banshee emerged. When they find it (Crypt 21), Aurora re-reads the Suel inscription: “Patrina Velikovna: Bride.” Opening it, they find the same marble slab as in many other crypts, but no remains. Heaped about the slab, however, are coins - dozens of platinum and hundreds of gold and electrum. Willa fills bags and backpacks with these while Tyrius watches Barnabus.

    After Willa has finished, Tyrius announces that they are done - they have resolved every threat he sensed before, and nothing remains in these crypts that will harm the people of Barovia. Aurora resumes her argument that he does not know that for certain, that thick stone could block his senses, that there could be powerful items that need to be recovered, or treasures that could help the people of Barovia. She says that he can leave if he wants, but that she will continue to open vaults and if something bad happens to her, it will be on him.

    She turns and strides away, headed for the tomb whose epitaph had been scratched out (Crypt 6). Thokk obligingly opens the tomb for her, but inside it is empty.

    When Tyrius catches up, he speaks to Aurora in a low, menacing tone: “I will not permit you to grave-rob. You may look in one more tomb - choose wisely. After that, we are leaving, even if that means I have to drag you out myself.”

    Aurora fusses and harrumphs, but then goes back up and down the rows, pondering the inscriptions, and perhaps assessing whether she could lose Tyrius in the maze and have Thokk surreptitiously open a crypt without the paladin noticing. He dogs her heels though, and finally she settles on the one crypt (15) inscribed “KHAZAN: His word was power." She first searches the door for runes or sigils, then calls on Thokk.

    Inside the tomb is the marble slab, with a skeleton resting on top in rotten rags. She insists on a careful search of the remains, slab, and interior of the crypt, but nothing is found. Tyrius takes her firmly by the arm while she curses bitterly.

    Tyrius guides them back to the crypt (7) with the rotting leather bags - he has not forgotten them there, nor the coins therein. Willa transfers the treasure to their own sacks and bags.

    After that, eagerly or reluctantly, the party leaves the crypts through the false tomb door and passes down the long, cold hall, avoiding the chute trap. They enter the brazier-and-statue room, and Aurora selects the stone that opens the door to the spiral stair. Up from the bowels of rock they ascend, resting on the landing just outside the servant’s hall. Curiously, although they are a stone’s throw from the kitchen and are intending to leave the castle next, none of them remembers Igor, last seen tied up in a stew pot.

    They continue their ascent of the stairs and exit out the main floor of the castle, into the courtyard where the carriage and horses and blessed sunlight await them. They bundle their gear into the carriage, and ride out the gate, across the drawbridge, between the towers, and down the road.

    The carriage halts a short way down the road and Thokk and Larry return to the gatehouse. Together, they lower the portcullis, then walk back across the drawbridge. Larry gestures at Thokk to fall back away from the cliff edge.

    Inhaling deeply and beginning to glow, Larry brings his staff down on the ground in front of him, releasing a thunderwave of the maximum potency he can muster [Larry can now cast it using a 3rd level spell slot].

    The ground heaves and falls, the drawbridge bucks in the air and splinters. Most of the pieces tumble into the chasm, leaving only two small hunks of wood attached to the great chains hanging limply from the gatehouse. From above Larry comes the grating sound of stone on stone. Looking up, he spies great blocks of battlements falling from the tower to his left. As he dodges and dances out of their way, the whole ancient tower begins to collapse on itself, with hundred-pound stones raining down. The ledge on which Larry stands begins to give way - the whole lip on which the drawbridge rested now sloughs off and goes sliding into the chasm, until the ground has fallen all the way back to the foundations of the towers themselves.

    Larry barely outraces the fall, and now stands panting on the road to the near side of the towers. One of the towers lies in a broken heap - the other still stands, but great cracks and fissures have split many of its stones. A gap of fully seventy feet now separates the base of the towers from the overhanging ledge of the castle gatehouse.

    As Larry climbs heavily back into the carriage, he mumbles simply “I meant ta do tha',” and the others let it go.

    It is a short, pleasant ride back down the village. The sunlight is warm, but the wind blows chill and smells of fall.

    At the Burgomaster’s, Willa and Tyrius unload their treasures and spread them before Ismark - coins of many shapes, sizes, weights, and metals, a few gems and jewels, the great suit of armor, the holy icon. Ismark takes the icon, but then embraces Tyrius and tells him of course the armor is his, as no one in Barovia is trained in its use. The coins, gems, and jewels are arranged and counted. Ismark gives an estimate of their value, and Barnabus nods his agreement.

    With parchment, ink, and quill, Ismark totals up the value of all the treasure recovered, then divides it in two. He then takes the figure for party’s share and divides by seven - a complicated problem and he asks Aurora to check his work when done. He tells the party that they are each welcome to take their one-fourteenth share in any way they desire, of whatever equivalent value they find among all the treasures. After a brief discussion, they each decide on one gem and a small pouch of gold coins. Willa helps Ismark carry Barovia’s half of the treasure upstairs to his room while Tyrius watches the remainder on the table.

    After this, the party makes preparations for a heated bath and begin to work out a bathing order, as the Burgomaster’s mansion has but one metal tub. Ismark says that he will be sending to the town for a few women to come and prepare a celebratory dinner, but Tyrius asks to carry the message, saying that he would like to speak with Father Donovitch. Ismark thanks him, and gives him the names of a matron and two maids to summon to the mansion.

    Once Tyrius has delivered his summonses, noting that already the Barovians seem less suspicious of him, he walks up the hill to the forlorn church. Father Donovitch welcomes him warmly. He is dressed in a clean cassock of deep black with a stole of brilliant gold. The man seems rested and potent - a far cry from the hoarse, exhausted cleric of a few days past. He accepts Tyrius’ bag of dirt, and some of the coins Tyrius carries - a tithe from his share of the treasure. They talk for a long time, with Tyrius describing what transpired in the castle, recounting the party’s triumphs, and confessing his own personal failings. Donovitch listens with rapt attention, shuffles off, and returns with a simple white shift and a handful of candles. He tells Tyrius that he would like him to keep vigil in the church all night, and in the morning he will teach him three new prayers - Lesser Restoration, Zone of Truth, and Find Steed.
    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.

    Joined: Jul 26, 2010
    Posts: 2507
    From: LG Dyvers

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    Tue Aug 20, 2019 3:48 pm  

    "Igor is not leftovers!" Laughing

    I am thoroughing enjoying this adventure blog.

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    Master Greytalker

    Joined: Jan 05, 2002
    Posts: 717
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    Wed Aug 21, 2019 10:56 am  

    SirXaris wrote:
    "Igor is not leftovers!" Laughing

    Igor was a fun NPC since he was a very sympathetic villein. Aurora wanted to use him, Barnabus wanted to kill him, but most of the PC's just felt sorry for him and I tried to play up what a pitiful creature he was.

    However, after fights with a ghost, three hell hounds, a banshee, and lots of bats, when we reached the end of the play session all the players had quite forgotten about leaving Igor in the cauldron, and I had too!

    So what became of him? Did he escape and become a cook in town? Did he end up working for the (now free-willed) Sasha Ivliskova? Did he die in the pot?

    If I have another horror scenario, I will certainly consider a cauldron that rolls across the ground after the characters, and then an undead version of Igor pops out.

    Come to think of it, I need to work Sanballet in as a returning villein as well.
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Mon Aug 26, 2019 8:51 pm  
    Post 79: Find Steed?

    Note: This post draws on the party's continued exploration in the module I6: Ravenloft, but does not contain spoilers.

    Post 79: Find Steed?

    18 October, 570 - Barovia
    Tyrius passes the night in vigil while the rest of the party feasts. He wakes early while they sleep in. They all ate too much, and more than one of them drank too much as well; he fasted in seclusion.

    During the day, Father Donovitch teaches Tyrius the prayers for three new spells, and when he prays, Tyrius feels the blessing of Pelor, accepting these offerings despite the fact that Donovitch is not of his faith in a strict sense. Donovitch sends to Ismark, asking him and the party to assemble before they sup in the evening. Tyrius will cast his Find Steed spell for the first time, and they will all be able to meet his new mount.

    When they have all gathered in the church, Donovitch opens the great doors - for, he says, he does not know whether the noble steed will appear in the church itself, or will canter up from outside - or even down from the heavens! He has read of paladins in the church’s texts and thus knows the proper prayers to teach Tyrius, but he had never hoped to actually meet a paladin of the Sun God in his life, not while the Devil ruled Barovia.

    Tyrius has changed from the pure white shift given him by Donovich into his own gambeson, and Willa has helped him put on the plate armor recovered from the castle. It is not a perfect fit, but with some adjusting of the buckles and straps it is good enough - more protective than Tyrius’ old splint armor, and certainly better looking - polished and unscathed by battle.

    Tyrius stands before the altar of the church, candlelight reflecting off his burnished armor and golden hair, intoning the words of the prayer. He finishes with “...Noble Steed, in the name of Pelor, I summon you to my service and to my side!”

    The candles flicker and Tyrius collapses - crashing to the ground with a great clatter of armor. Larry is at his side in a moment and finds him alive, breathing deeply, as if asleep: but no amount of shaking or prodding can wake him. “Perhaps a prick from a dagger…” begins Aurora, but a look from Willa quiets her.

    “Oh my,” says Father Donovitch. “Oh, dear! That was not supposed to happen. I think.”

    “Ye think?!” demands Willa.

    “Vell, I haf newer seen this particular ceremony perrrformed before,” he apologizes. “I haf only read about it. A bit.”

    Willa feels Tyrius’ pulse. It is slow, but strong. “‘e don’t seem t' be in ‘mmediate danger. Father, why don’t ye go read some more?” she asks pointedly.

    “Of course, of course,” the old priest says and shuffles off.

    Half an hour later he is back, carrying three dusty tomes. He opens them to show the party, though only Aurora can read the Suel script, and it is in a cramped hand at that. “Vell, yes, you see, I had only read the section from the Book of Exalted Prayers, describing how to petition for the steed,” he begins. “But I had not thought to look in the Lives of the Saints until Miss Villa suggested it. Here is an actual account of a paladin calling on his celestial mount…” he points at the unintelligible page.

    “Apparently, the steed usually comes vhen summoned. But sometimes the summoner must go to find the steed, particularly if it is the wery first time he is casting the spell.”

    “Go to find the steed? Go where?” asks Aurora.

    “Vell, this is a spiritual journey, not vun in the vorld of the flesh,” he says. “I believe Sir Tyrius valks in the outer realms, questing for his steed.” Seeing the looks on their faces he hurriedly adds, “These are realms of law and good he trawels in, he vill come to no harm...He just needs...time.”

    “Time?” questions Willa.

    “Yes, yes, I vill care for his body here in the church. His spirit vill return to us vhen he has found his steed.”

    The party stays in the church for several hours, but eventually hunger comes to them. They arrange a watch schedule, with one of them in the church at all times. Donovitch has Tyrius moved from the floor in front of the altar to a couch (pulled out from the sacristy) placed along the wall of the nave. When the villages come in for evening prayers, more than one of them kneels and prays for Tyrius, and a few even place a copper in a nearby offering bowl.

    “I bet this whole thing is a scam,” grumbles Barnabus, when it is his turn on watch. “That priest won’t wake him up until the bowl is full, I’d wager.”
    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.
    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Sep 03, 2019 4:03 pm  
    Post 80: A horse is a horse, of course, of course?

    Note: This post draws on the party's leave-taking of Barovia from the module I6: Ravenloft, but does not contain spoilers.

    DM's Note: In 5e, paladins obtain their mount simply by casting Find Steed at the time they receive this spell. However, I wanted an old-school quest for a holy mount for Tyrius, with a series of challenges that exemplified each of his six ability scores. At the same time, I didn't want to exclude the other players from this essentially solo quest. Given that at this point we had eight PC's, I realized that I could have each of the other PC's personify one of the seven Mortal Vices (Deadly Sins) and have Tyrius challenged by each of them in turn in order to win his mount. So for this metaphorical, metaphysical quest, I took each player aside, explained to them the Vice that they were personifying, and asked them to tempt Tyrius as best they could while still staying in character. I promised them an Inspiration Point for their actual PC if they could "beat" Tyrius and have him fail his test. Tyrius' player, on the other hand, was given none of this information - he had to try to figure out what was going on based entirely on context, beginning with - "After you try to cast the Find Steed spell, you wake up..."

    The Trials of Tyrius were actually taking place on the lowest of the Seven Heavens and are indicated by italic font.Each of these trials took one day of in-game time, so the rest of the PC's were still advancing in time as Tyrius' body lay unresponsive in the church.

    Post 80: A horse is a horse, of course, of course?

    19 October, 570 - Barovia
    The party watches Tyrius all day, taking turns, but he remains in blessed repose.

    The Trial of Sloth (Wisdom)
    When Tyrius awakes, he finds the church deserted. There is no sign of his companions or of Father Donovitch in the building. He steps outside into the soft light of morning. On the lawn in front of the church building is Shefak, packing gear into her backpack. Down the hill, the rest of the party is outside the Burgomaster’s mansion. They are loading boxes and trunks into the carriage, getting ready to leave.

    Tyrius stares at Shefak, trying to figure out why he is surprised to see her. She looks up at him from time to time, but does not speak. Finally, he breaks the silence.

    “What are you doing, my lady?” he asks.

    “Packing,” she says. “Getting ready to go. As should you. It is time to leave.”

    “Where will you go?”

    “South. Down the road. To look for my god. You should come with me.”

    “And leave the group? Why?”

    “Tyrius, as long as you stay with this party, you will constantly have to work against the machinations of Aurora and Barnabus. There will never be peace, there will never be unity, and the time that you could be training or praying will be spent in confronting them about their iniquities. They are an anchor about your neck, constantly sapping your strength. Staying with them made sense when you were just starting out, but now you are a true paladin, and powerful. You are looking for your spirit mount. You won’t find your mount with them, but if you do find your mount, it will be your
    faithful companion. What will you need the party for?”

    Stunned, Tyrius continues to watch Shefak pack. After a while, she pauses and speaks again.

    “It is for just these reasons that I am leaving this group. When I was weak, I needed their protection. Now that I am strong, their venal materialism and casual violence threatens my own spiritual path. It is the same with you. If you were
    wise, you would do as I am, and leave them.”

    Tyrius considers for some time. Finally, he answers, “I must go where my god directs me. I believe that He wants me to continue with the party, regardless of the personal cost to me.”

    Shefak rises, turns her back on him, and walks away down a road into the forest without saying another word. Tyrius watches her go, then he turns and walks down the hill to the Burgomaster’s.

    Just before he can arrive, however, the rest of the party have finally finished loading. Willa snaps the reins across the horses’ backs, the carriage jolts forward, and it begins moving up the road and over the bridge to the south of the village. Tyrius jogs after it, calling out to his friends, but the carriage does not stop.

    20, 21, 22 October - Barovia
    The party watches Tyrius all day, taking turns, but he remains in blessed repose. At the end of the last day, Father Donovitch asks them to all come together.

    “Look at him,” he implores them, “his breeches are dry these four days, though I give him a svallow of holy water at dawn and dusk. His clothes smell fresh - he does not sveat. Look at his cheeks - it has been four days since he has shawed, and no vhiskers grow. Sir Tyrius is unmarked by the passage of time - he is in the hands of the gods, and safe.” He pauses while they contemplate that.

    In the back of the church, two Barovians sit in pews, waiting for the father to bless them. “And in the meantime,” whispers a large-bodied farmer to his wife in Suel, “we send food to the Burgomaster every day so that this lot can feast at his table. What will we do all winter?”

    “Hush husband,” she hisses back, “these folk delivered us from the Devil. Have you no gratitude?”

    “I will have gratitude once they leave, and light a candle every night for a month to pray for their safe passage out of our lands. Did you not hear our own daughter Adina say how the half-man bard leered at her when it was her turn to wait at the table of the Burgomaster?”

    Father Donovitch continues. “I do not know how long ve will need to vait for his return. A day more? A veek? A month? A year? He is vith the gods. But I believe he vill return. And vhen he does, he vill have his mount. His mount vill be far faster than any of you on foot. And, I believe, it vill know vhere to find you. You must needs have faith.”

    “Oh, I have faith,” says Aurora shrilly. “He will return, and I am prepared to wait here until he does. I don’t care how long. He is our companion, and we support one another.”

    Willa thinks about her walk up to the church this afternoon. She saw reds and golds in the mountains - leaves changing. In Saltmarsh, this would be the height of hurricane season. They are safe from that here of course, being far inland, but what of the mud that would come with fall rains and make the roads impassible? Or even snow - she has never seen snow before, but she understands that it can come to these northern lands. And when it comes, it blocks roads, from what she has heard. Trapped in Barovia for the winter? No, thank you.

    “One more day,” she says, to Donovitch and the rest of the party. “We will wait here one more day, all of the morrow. If Tyrius has not awoken by then, we will leave Barovia the morning of the next day, and have faith that his god or his steed will guide him to us.”

    Aurora is about to object, but something about the way Willa said “One more day” bothers her. It reminds her of something - but what? Then she remembers. Tyrius telling her “one more tomb”. She suddenly feels cold, and is silent.

    The Trials of Greed, Envy, and Lust (Intelligence)
    Tyrius chases the carriage over the bridge and along the road, up into the mountains. He runs after it, neither tiring nor catching up. Always it is just ahead of him. At the fork where one road leads out of Barovia and the other goes to the castle, he sees the carriage take the castle way, but then pull ahead, until it is lost to his view.

    Tyrius slows to a walk, but continues along the road until he reaches the castle. When he arrives, the carriage is gone, but Barnabus, Babshapka, and Aurora are there. The drawbridge is still missing, but they have a rope and grapnel, and appear to be preparing to toss it across the chasm to the walls.

    “What are you doing?” asks Tyrius. “We agreed we were not going back.”

    Barnabus snorts. “You said you were not going back. I agreed to nothing. We are going to explore more crypts. All of the crypts.”

    “I can’t let you do that,” says Tyrius simply.

    “Then don’t let us,” says Aurora. “Join us.”

    Tyrius shakes his head.

    “Look,” says Barnabus, “any treasure that is there, is no use to people who are hundreds of years' dead - it is better to take it and share it with the living, including the Burgomaster and the people of Barovia. I agreed to your idea of sharing half with the people, and I still do. Besides, the three of us are going to be doing this anyway, and it is better that you help than that something happens to us. If we fall to the forces of evil, what then?”

    “That will not happen,” says Tyrius, “because I will not be letting you do this.”

    Aurora now speaks to Tyrius. “Think about this logically, for a minute,” she entreats him. “Your share of any treasure or items we recover will be used to make you more powerful. What if we find a shield, or another holy item? That would be a victory for the forces of good. Why would you want to restrict yourself from growth, deliberately hold yourself back, and handicap the forces of good? If you don’t help us, you are willfully allowing evil to triumph. Are you afraid to assume the righteous power that is yours by merit?”

    Her words confuse Tyrius, and he has no answer to them, but still he says, “No.”

    Babshapka tries. He points out that all of them are leaving Barovia soon - any treasure they leave behind can be used by the forces of evil. They already know that there is at least one vampire spawn free, because they saw her empty tomb. The Barovians will not be coming to the castle for quite some time, so anything the party leaves behind will certainly fall to the hands of evil, who are practically guaranteed to loot the castle before the Barovians can recover anything. It is the party's obligation to the people of Barovia to not abet the dark forces.

    All three agree that if Tyrius was
    intelligent, he would enter the crypts with them.

    “I’m not a grave-robber,” the paladin says, “and I will not allow you to be, either. Let the dead rest.”

    Tyrius feels something in his hand, looks down, and finds himself holding a rope. Somehow Barnabus has slipped him the end of the scaling rope. “Hold that steady,” the halfling says, “while I cross.” Before Tyrius can object, Barnabus has launched the grapnel, and it catches cleanly on the battlements. In a second he has laced his legs together above the rope and is pulling himself hand over hand up and across the yawning chasm at a low angle of ascent.

    “No,” says Tyrius, and drops the rope.

    Barnabus gasps, swings out across the chasm, and slams into the base of the wall. He dangles, not strong enough to climb directly up and unable to lower himself without fear of falling.

    “No,” says Tyrius. He turns his back on them, and retraces his steps to the road.

    23 October - Barovia
    The party passes the day packing, but not with gusto. They all visit Tyrius before dinner, but there has been no change. “If ye can 'ear us,” says Willa over him, “ken t'at we waited fer ye. Ken t'at we wait fer ye still. Come back t' us.”

    They all sleep fitfully (except for Thokk, who sleeps the deep sleep of the innocent).

    The Trial of Gluttony(Constitution)
    Tyrius leaves the castle and returns along the road. At the fork he does not take the way back to the village. Rather, he chooses the path that leads out of Barovia. The western gates appear much like the eastern ones through which they entered.

    Near the gate is a natural spring, with water bubbling up from the ground. Tyrius comes upon Larry there, who has his pack out, and all manner of containers spread out on the ground in front of him. Water skins, potion flasks, oil vials - all have been emptied out, and he is filling each in turn slowly at the fountain.

    “Hail, friend Larry!” calls Tyrius. “What do you there?”

    “Ah fill containers,” says the dwarf. “With healin’ water, laddie! When Ahreena became Tatyana, an’ lef’ us walkin’ on th’ skah ta th’ wes’, she teched doon ‘ere for bu’ a momen’. Whar 'er dainty foot teched th’ groond, this spring coom farth. She tald me tha’ th’ waters o’ th' spring ware blessed, an’ ‘ad ‘ealin’ powers ta aid th’ people o’ Barovia!”

    “So you are filling all of those to take back to the village?”

    “Aye, Ah maht tek ‘em back a flask er twain. Bu’ they can coom oop ‘ere themselves, ye ken. Ah ware aboot t’ fill all me flasks an’ use th’ water fer us, fer th’ party.”

    “But that is not what Tatyana bid you do.”

    “Nae exactly, bu’ wha’ th’ ‘arm? We need ‘ealin’, too, an’ Ah wager we face mar threats than those kineherds do. Noo, she also tald me tha’ if ye drink this water, it can improve yer
    constitution. ‘oo do ye like tha', laddie? Ye should be fillin’ an’ drinkin’ yerself!”

    “No, friend,” says Tyrius. He leaves Larry, and walks down the road away from Barovia.

    24 October - Barovia
    At daybreak, the party is packed and ready to go. Before mounting the carriage, Aurora speaks to Willa, saying that she just wants it on record that she is in favor of waiting longer for Tyrius, and that she is only coming with them now because that is what the group decided. Willa mumbles “yeah, w'atever” and pulls her up into the carriage.

    Once everyone in the party is seated, Willa, on the driver’s bench, flips the reins so that they tap the horses lightly across their backs. The carriage starts forward with a jolt, then settles into a slow walking gait up the road and into the village proper. Beside Willa sits Ismark. He has not driven horses before, but she is giving him a lesson, for he will need to return the carriage to the village.

    Willa uses the great circle around the fountain in the center of town to turn the carriage east, and they head out of the village along the road. Once they are freely past the last outbuilding, she hands the reins to Ismark, and he practices guiding the horses along the road, into the woods, and up to the gates of Barovia. At the gates, Willa takes the reins back, for the cobblestone road beyond is rutted with roots and upturned stones they will need to avoid lest they break a wheel. As they press on, she finds it much less muddy than when they walked in, a fortnight ago, and without the standing pools of water.

    [DM’s note: When the party passes through the gate of Barovia, they activate the last two fortunes of Madam Eva, both positive. One was already known (Babshapka), the other was unknown (Barnabus).

    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. Babshapka is now level 5. He will need a long rest to gain increased hp, multiattack, and a new spell.

    Barnabus: Strahd has ruled this land for hundreds of years - what treasures he must have! If Barnabus leaves Barovia with at least 500gp worth of treasure, he will gain a level. Note that Barnabus’ share of the party treasure was not 500gp, but when the gems, jewelry, and coins he pilfered in secret were added, his total value exceeded this, barely. Barnabus is now level 5. He will need a long rest to gain increased hp, precision attack damage, and uncanny dodge.]

    At noon Willa finds the spot along the trail with the greatest distance between the trees that she can, then, with much patience, guides the horses forward and back again and again as she angles them until the carriage has been turned all the way around to face toward Barovia. Far behind them she can see the peaks of the Balinoks, but not the castle. The party climbs out of the carriage and she sets most of them to making lunch while she waters the horses, but tells Babshapka to scout for the pool and their way out.

    When Babshapka returns, he says that they are close enough to the pool. The ridge above it that separates the Protectorate from Barovia still has the curious thorn wall along it, so the stream through the narrow glen seems their only way out.

    The party’s gear is repacked into pedestrian bundles while Babshapka eats quickly. They bid farewell to Ismark, and Willa tells him she will recommend him highly to the Baron of Greyhill, should she have the opportunity. Ismark mounts the carriage and returns along the road, bumping and jostling over the roots and ruts. When he is out of sight, Babshapka leads them farther up the road for a bit, but then into the woods, along several game trails, and they eventually emerge at the pool. The great log they came in on is still pulled up on one bank.

    Willa reminds everyone of the gear they lost on their first attempt to pass through the ravine and has them double-check their packs while she does hers. Thokk pulls the log out into the water and steadies it as everyone climbs aboard. He takes his place at the rear, paddling until the outgoing current of the stream catches them.

    [DM's Note: For the rest of 24 October, as well as the 25th, I will skip over the party's timeline, and come back to it in another post.]

    The Trial of Pride (Charisma)
    Somehow Tyrius finds himself at the pool where they entered Barovia, despite the fact that this was on the other road, the road to the east, and he does not recall having passed through the village. Still, the notched log made by Thokk is there. Tyrius takes off his armor, bundles it with his gear, and shoves the log into the water. It takes a bit of paddling to move the log over to the outlet of the pool, but once it is near the stream it rights itself and moves along in the current. Then, he needs only to balance on it and try to keep his things centered above it and dry. The log moves swiftly between the cliffs and out into the broader section of riverbank where the party first entered the stream.

    There, Tyrius spots Willa on the embankment, standing and in conversation with a knight. Tyrius guides the log to the shore, throws his gear on the soft ground, and approaches them. The knight wears the red-and-black lion of the Kingdom of Keoland.

    Willa speaks to Tyrius, explaining to him that she is in service to the King, and that now that Tyrius has proved himself, won his spurs, he should enter into service as well. While any nobleman would be grateful to have his fealty, Willa thinks he should swear an oath to the King himself. As a Kingsman he will gain the recognition and status he deserves as a paladin. That will likely increase his
    charisma in the eyes of others, rendering him more powerful as well.

    Tyrius thanks her, but says that he is already in service to Pelor, and that he cannot serve two masters well. Willa shakes her head ruefully, and she and the knight withdraw into the forest, speaking softly.

    The Trial of Anger (Strength)
    Tyrius pauses on the stream bank, unsure of what to do next. Not long after, he hears a bellow from the forest. “WILLA!” it calls. The sound of a large creature thrashing through the underbrush approaches. Suddenly Thokk bursts out of the trees onto the grassy slopes of the stream bank. “EVIL ADVISOR!” he shouts, then starts as he sees Tyrius.

    “Tyrius! Have you seen Willa? Thokk cannot find her anywhere.”

    “Why yes,” he answers. “She was just here. But she has left, and gone into the forest that…”

    “She was HERE? And you let her GO!”

    “Well, yes. I did not know you were looking for her. And I was hardly going to stop…”


    “Thokk, I am sorry, I did not know…”


    “Thokk, I did not drive her…” Tyrius is forced to stop talking as Thokk charges him with his longsword. The next several minutes are a desperate fight on the stream banks, in and out of the streambed. Thokk is stronger, faster, and has a longer reach, but Tyrius’ new armor protects him from most of the blows Thokk lands, and in the pauses between flurries he heals himself with both his spells and his laying on of hands. Soon Thokk, bruised and battered from Tyrius’ hammer, grows desperate and reckless. Tyrius knocks a wild swing out the way with his weapon, and then slams his shoulder into Thokk’s chest. Thokk is knocked back, falling into the water and blacking out for the briefest of moments, and then scrambling to his knees with his sword held in front of him. Only his savage half-orc constitution has saved him.

    “Thokk, I don’t want to hurt you,” says Tyrius. “Yield!” He lowers his hammer and reaches out with his hand.

    “AAAAGGGHHH!” screams Thokk, in a furious mix of frustration, pain, and loss. He leaps forward, and before Tyrius can respond, buries his sword in Tyrius’ throat. Suddenly Tyrius cannot move, but feels his knees give way. As the scene fades around him, the last thing he can see is Thokk’s face pressed up against his own, eyes wild and bloodshot, and covering him in his rank, hot breath.

    Weighed, Measured, and found Wanting
    Tyrius awakens, whole and unarmored, dressed in the penitent’s robe he donned in the church in Barovia. He is lying on his back with grass all around him.

    Sitting up, he can see that he is in some sort of broad, grassy valley. In the distance is a huge mountain, rising up into the sky farther than he can see. The grass is a deep green, the sky a brilliant blue, all the colors of the wildflowers somehow more vibrant than any he has ever known before. Across the valley floor are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of horses. There are destriers, chargers, and coursers; palfreys and rounceys; even jennets and hobbies, all intermingled. Equally varied are their colors - coats, manes, and tails of every hue and description.

    Tyrius stands, and can now see a withered old man with a walking staff approaching him through the grass.

    “You have done very well,” the man says, “you have passed six trials. Your only failure came in the last.”

    “Thokk is my companion,” Tyrius says defensively. “He should have yielded. I was trying to show him compassion.”

    “Indeed you were. And were compassion the only thing required in the world, Pelor would have only priests for mortal servants, and would have no need of paladins. Tyrius, you have a good heart, and a noble soul. You have mastered your own emotions. But sometimes in the mortal world it is might of arms that is needed and you must stand against the wrath of others, undeserved though it may be. Compassion is for
    after you have knocked the sword from their grasp, not before.”

    Tyrius frowns pensively.

    “Still, as I said, you have done well. Failing two trials would have meant you were not yet ready for a celestial mount. Failing none would mean you would have had your choice.” The man sweeps his hand to indicate the hundreds of horses before them. “But failing one trial, just one, as you did - that means you will receive a mount, but one
    I will choose for you. And my choice is one that can advise you on battle tactics, one that can help you face the trials of anger the world will challenge you with.”

    The man turns and walks slowly into the herds. As he passes, the horses cease their grazing and sparring and bow their heads deeply to him. Finally, after they have gone at least a mile, they come upon a huge white stallion. His long, flowing mane, great tail, and hoof feathers are incredibly silky - near white in the shade, but flashing with highlights of corn silk and gold in the sunlight.

    This horse also bows low. “Arise, my son,” the old man says.

    “This is Tyrius,” the man says, when the horse is again standing fully upright, “a just and noble paladin of Pelor.”

    “The light of the Sun God makes the green grass grow and His warmth blesses us all,” replies the horse.

    “This is Eddard Allan Lane,” the old man says to Tyrius. “When last living, he was mount to General Cho in many campaigns, and learned much of strategy, tactics, and warfare. Since he Awakened here, he has found he retains those memories of his former life. I believe he could help you.”

    “It would be an honor,” says the horse.

    “The honor is mine,” replies Tyrius. He reaches his hand up, and the great stallion moves forward to nuzzle it gently.

    25 October - Barovia
    Tyrius awakens again, still in his robe, and back in the church in Barovia. As he sighs and sits up, he hears Father Donovich gasping and sputtering behind him. “Tyrius, Tyrius, you are back!” he cries.

    “Yes, Father, it appears I am.” He looks around him, but the church is deserted. “Where are my companions?”

    “Ah, yes...they haf left seweral days ago. They vaited for you the better part of a veek, but, vell, I varned them to leave before the snow fell. I did not know how long you vould be gone.”

    Tyrius stands. “I see - did they say to where they were headed?”

    “No, no, but I told them that surely Pelor would show you.”


    Tyrius strides out of the open doors of the church into the cool fall afternoon. There, on the church lawn, is Eddard, calmly grazing but surrounded by a crowd of awed Barovians. Nearby is neatly stacked all of Tyrius’ gear, including his suits of both splint and plate armor, as well as an ancient-looking saddle.

    By the time Tyrius has been helped into his armor, Ismark is there, bearing a satchel full of provisions. “The saddle is ill-fitting, but the best we had. The leather is dry but not cracked - I am sure you will want to replace it as soon as you can.”

    “Thank you, Burgomaster.”

    “Thank you - for all you have done for my people. May Ireena watch over you.”

    With Eddard saddled and bridled, with the armor, gear, and provisions in two large packs behind the saddle, Tyrius rides slowly out of town, the streets lined with peasants to see him off. When they pass through the gates of Barovia and onto the forest road, Eddard tosses his head back and says over his shoulder, “They seem like nice folk. A bit superstitious, but good at heart.”

    Surprised, Tyrius replies, “You can speak in this world as well?”

    “Of course,” the horse counters. “How else am I to advise you?”

    On the road, they move to a canter and are soon by the forest pool as the light fades in the west.

    “We’ll camp here for the night,” says Tyrius, “we need to go through that water, and we will want the light of Pelor to warm and dry us after that.”

    “I’ll take first watch,” says Eddard.

    “Oh, no,” replies Tyrius. “I have slept far too much of late. I will wake you if I tire. Just keep your nose alert for wolves.”
    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.

    Joined: Jul 26, 2010
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    Wed Sep 04, 2019 3:02 pm  

    Tyrius' trials were very cool. Eddard Allen Lane seems a beautifully colored stallion, but you didn't say what kind of horse he is. I note that in your list of types you mentioned Rounceys, Palfreys, and Jennets; coursers, destriers, and chargers generally, but I desire more specifics. Is Eddard a Shire, Clydesdale, Belgian, Friesian, Gypsy, Percheron, Andalusian, what?! Smile

    Secondly, I appreciated most of the personal goals for the characters, but Barnabus' personal goal encouraged his player to play him in a greedy fashion, which seems detrimental to the party and the player. Did the other players ever know his goal was to pilfer from the party? How did that information to over with the other players?

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    Master Greytalker

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    Sat Sep 07, 2019 6:55 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    Eddard Allen Lane seems a beautifully colored stallion, but you didn't say what kind of horse he is. Is Eddard a Shire, Clydesdale, Belgian, Friesian, Gypsy, Percheron, Andalusian, what?!

    I would be uncomfortable using any of those terms as they relate to specific places in RW Europe, and thus they take me "out" of Greyhawk. I try to avoid such words - I'm even on the fence about turquoise! But if I had to specify a RW breed for Eddard, I would say he likely is close to a Grand Boulonnais but with feathering.

    SirXaris wrote:
    Secondly, I appreciated most of the personal goals for the characters, but Barnabus' personal goal encouraged his player to play him in a greedy fashion, which seems detrimental to the party and the player. Did the other players ever know his goal was to pilfer from the party? How did that information to over with the other players?

    Most of the characters shared their personal goals - Barnabus did not.

    I am not a fan of PvP as it promotes hard feelings and ultimately shortens the lifetime of a campaign. As a DM I might play on pre-existing party tensions for dramatic effect, but giving a character a leveling goal specifically to create conflict in the party would be off my table. For your question, it is important to understand that Barnabus' character had been established by the player as selfish and larcenous from the very start - way back in post 10, the very first treasure found by anyone was a magic ring which Barnabus found and kept, not mentioning it to the party. So they have known for a long time that that is how Barnabus is played. With the leveling goal of acquiring 500gp, I didn't see myself as promoting division in the party, but rather as rewarding role play and character goals that had already been well established.

    As far as how the other characters react: Aurora has always been an occasional ally of Barnabus. When arguing for more risk / more reward, they can count on each other's votes, and she is happy to use him as a counterbalance to the other two leaders, Willa and Tyrius, both of whom are more lawful than she is.

    Willa doesn't much care for Barnabus, but she finds him useful, both for reconnescence and in combat (rogues in 5E have a great "burst damage" - when he hits with "sneak attack", he is equal to any of the fighters). She begrudgingly accepts him, knowing that constantly being on the lookout for his petty thefts is the price of his being useful.

    Tyrius is the only one who really "objects" to Barnabus' attempts to steal from the party - but he also feels responsible for trying to "save" him. For him, the loss to the party treasure is not as important as the danger to Barnabus' soul. Barnabus and Tyrius play a constant cat-and-mouse, with Barnabus trying to pocket valuables before being detected, and Tyrius trying to discover him and force him to turn things over. Certainly this dynamic might threaten to devolve into PvP if one of them "beat" the other one with frequency. But the interesting wrinkle is that both Barnabus and Tyrius are played by the same player! So there are no hard feelings regardless of who wins.

    Finally, it is worth noting that Barnabus has never and would never steal directly from the party members. That is, once a coin or gem has been declared party treasure and is in someone's pocket, it is off-limits due to his own personal sense of honor. He spends his effort in trying to discover treasures and take them for himself before the rest of the party knows that they exist. "The chest was empty when I found it" at every opportunity, but never "When no one is looking I go through Larry's bags."
    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.
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    Tue Sep 10, 2019 12:04 pm  
    Post 81: The Price of Forbidden Knowledge

    DM's Note: Done with Ravenloft, the party has now returned to a wilderness journey.

    By far the best source for maps of Greyhawk comes from the work of Anna B Meyer. I used for the party's travel.

    This post centers around the area of the Dreadwood labeled the "Owl Stream". I would highly encourage any DM to use her work, and anyone with the means to do so to support her Patreon at

    Post 81: The Price of Forbidden Knowledge

    24 October, 570 - Owl Stream outside Barovia

    The party (minus Tyrius) move swiftly down the ravine, and the log proves far easier to control running downstream than it did coming in and up. It is only a few minutes later when they are pulling up to the embankment where they first felled the trees and mounted the log. Four men stand on the shore.

    (2pm) One of the men is obviously a knight in full plate armor (though he holds his great helm in hand and his head is bare), the second a squire or retainer in studded leather. The two remaining appear to be common foot soldiers, with shields and chain shirts.

    The party disembarks cautiously, facing the four men. “Hail!” calls the knight. “Are you Aurora of Ulek?” A scar runs down the length of the man’s face.

    “I am,” replies Aurora. She and Thokk move to the front. Aurora carefully studies the devices on the tabards of the men. The squire and footmen are in the livery of the Baron of Greyhill. The knight wears the black lion on a red field that signifies the Kingdom of Keoland - but he has no personal device - neither on his tabard nor helm, and he does not bear a shield. A common soldier might wear only the arms of his liege, but a knight typically bears a personal device as well.

    The knight continues speaking. “The Silent Ones told me that the arcane boundaries around the lands of the vampire had fallen - and that their divinations were now able to penetrate and discern a book, called the “Chronicle of Secret Times”. Do you bear such a book out of those cursed lands?”

    Aurora swallows. She remembers that the Silent Ones are sorcerers - a powerful group of sorcerers who serve the King of Keoland. Can she trust this knight? She pauses as long as she dares to let those behind her position themselves.

    Barnabus, in the rear, is scanning the woods. He sees elven bowmen, under cover - both up the embankment behind these men, but also on the other side of the stream behind the party, even a few on the ridge far overhead. They are completely surrounded. He wants to warn Aurora, but not interrupt the conversation and draw the suspicion of the knight. Why doesn’t Aurora contact him through message?

    “I say,” repeats the knight, “do you bear such a book?”

    “Indeed I do,” says Aurora. “I recovered it from the castle of the vampire lord.”

    “I thought as much - may I see it?”

    The man’s words are polite but his tone is commanding. Aurora takes off her pack, then removes the large, leather-bound book. She offers it to the man.

    The knight takes the book carefully from her and begins to leaf through it. “Hmm,” he says, “it is in Suelese.”

    “Yes,” affirms Aurora, “ancient Suelese. Can you read it?” She tries to think quickly. The most powerful houses of Keoland are the Rhola and Neheli, both descendants of the Suel refugees who founded the Kingdom. They still speak Suelese at court, rather than Common, through pride, and any of them that were literate could read modern Suelese. But it would take a true scholar to be able to read ancient Suelese, the form of the language used a thousand years ago. Other noble houses in Keoland are of Oeridian origin - they might, or might not, be able to recognize the writing as Suelese, but would be highly unlikely to note the difference between the ancient and modern forms or be able to read either.

    “No,” demurs the knight. “Fortunately, I cannot. I take it you can?”

    “Yes, good sir. I am a scholar.”

    “I see. And have you read it?”

    “Well, not completely, but I have begun, yes.”

    The knight nods, then closes the book and passes it to the squire. He draws his sword. “Aurora of Ulek, I declare you to be under arrest in the name of the King. Surrender, and neither you nor your companions will be harmed.”

    <Oh ****. **** **** ****.> “Arrest?” Aurora tries, but fails, to make her tone sound unconcerned. “On what charge?” Behind her, Willa takes a step backward, to the log, and Barnabus ducks out of sight.

    “Possession and use of forbidden knowledge,” the knight says. He gestures to the footmen, “Seize her.”

    As the men stride forward, Thokk draws his sword and bars their way. The squire, clutching the book tightly to his chest, backs away.

    <Curse me for a fool>, thinks Aurora. <Why don’t I just use mage armor every morning?> She takes a step back, smiles at the knight, tries to surreptitiously cast her mage armor spell.

    From the forested embankment behind the knight, a voice calls out in elven, “Casting!” Instantly the air is filled with the thrum of bowstrings and the whish of arrows. A volley of five shafts, all directed at Aurora, shoot forth. Despite her armor, she is hit. They are followed by a second volley - Aurora collapses, unconscious.

    The knight raises his hand. “Hold!” he calls, “Hold your fire!”

    “errrrrARRRRRGH!” screams Thokk, setting upon the footmen in front of him.

    Willa dashes to Aurora’s side, drags, lifts, and lays her body on the log, trying to shield her from more arrows. She pushes the log away from the bank and out into the current of the stream.

    The knight and squire fall back from the melee, leaving the two footmen to face Thokk alone. “Raise the net!” calls the knight. Downstream, two men hidden in the brush stand, then begin hauling on ropes. The ropes go up into the trees then down again into the water. A thick net, as wide as the stream bed, begins to rise, dripping, out of the water into the air.

    “Babshapka!” yells Willa. Aurora’s bodyguard had begun to move into the brush to flank the archers, but now turns and sees his charge unconscious on the log.

    From the reeds along the riverbank Barnabus slips forward, unseen. He comes up behind the squire, strikes the book suddenly from below with both hands. The startled squire loses his grip and the book flies into the air. The squire turns and draws his rapier, but Barnabus catches the book upon its descent and begins to back away.

    Thokk has begun to trade blows with the two footmen.

    Babshapka sprints to the stream, and does a leaping dive, becoming Mantabshapka when he hits the water. Swimming downstream, he is easily able to pass in front of the log. Gathering speed, he leaps from the water and sets upon the men holding the ropes that sustain the net. By the time Willa reaches it, both men and and one corner of the net are down - she cuts open the second corner and the net, now freed from the ropes, drifts downstream with the log.

    The squire approaches Barnabus in a curious sidelong stance. His arm darts forward, faster than Barnabus can follow, and the rapier plunges into Barnabus’ arm, just above the elbow. The halfling grunts and drops the book, then is forced to backpedal as the rapier thrusts at his throat. He parries with a dagger, but the squire is now standing with one foot on the book and the rapier between himself and Barnabus.

    The knight calls out, “Units 1, 3, and 5, pursue and engage! Take them alive!” Instantly there is movement in the woods on both banks of the river. Bowmen begin loosing arrows at the log as they pursue downstream - footmen start crashing through the underbrush.

    At the sudden appearance of what is easily a score of opponents, Larry doesn’t like the odds. He sends a healing word in the direction of the log (making Aurora’s eyelids flutter), checks the wind, then calls into being billowing gouts of fog. The fog starts to fill the valley bottom first, then creeps higher up the embankments. In a matter of moments it is so dense that vision is limited to a few feet at best.

    “Let’s go!” cries Willa behind her, while she holds the limp body of Aurora on the log. Thokk takes advantage of the fog to retreat from the combat, then wades into the stream and begins swimming, although the pack on his back makes his strokes awkward. When he reaches the log he grabs onto the back with his arms, but begins kicking with his massive thighs, propelling the log forward faster than the current.

    Larry is using the stream bed to find his way downstream in the fog. He comes upon Barnabus facing off against the squire. Barnabus is bleeding from several different rapier wounds. “Thanks for the fog…” he begins, but when Larry gets close enough to see that the squire is standing on the book, the dwarf slams his staff into the ground and summons a great thunderwave. Barnabus is thrown up into the air, does a backflip-and-tuck, and drops down into the stream. When he comes up, the fog prevents him from seeing Larry, so he begins swimming downstream.

    The two footmen are knocked to the ground by the force of the thunderwave, and don’t get up. The knight is unsteady on his feet; the squire has gone down to one knee but is still on top of the book.

    Aurora, face down with her body draped over the log, struggles to sit up. Behind them the streambed is obscured with a dense layer of fog, but the higher slopes are visible. Along both sides of the river, numerous elven bowmen in the green and brown of scouting troops move silently through the trees. Now and then they pause to take a shot, and arrows are hitting the log, the water, and Willa’s plate armor. Suddenly Aurora feels dizzy, and spots an elven mage surrounded by a circle of human footmen who are having considerably more difficulty at moving through the forest than the bowmen are. <Sleep?> Aurora asks herself. <Mage, please, my father was an elf!> She sends a hail of magic missiles at the caster. He falls to the ground, rises, then takes cover.

    Willa does a headcount. Aurora is back in the fight, thankfully. Thokk is propelling the log. Mantabshapka is swimming ahead, checking for large rocks and other obstacles and maneuvering the prow of the log around them. Barnabus has just dragged himself aboard. That leaves...Larry? Where is Larry? From behind them, deep in the fog, comes another great peal of thunder, and spray flies off the stream. “Thokk!” yells Willa, turning and shouting at the half-submerged barbarian. “Go back and get Larry! Get Larry!”

    Thokk stops kicking, lets go of the log for a moment, and seems to be thrashing about in the water. <What is he doing?> Willa asks herself, but is then answered by his sodden pack flying toward her. It is all she can do to catch it without falling off the log, and by the time she rights herself, he is disappearing back into the fog covering the stream.

    Without Thokk’s propulsion, the log slows to the leisurely speed of the current. The footmen are now gaining on them, the bowmen are loosing more and more shots. The mage sticks his head up, sends magic missiles of his own at Aurora. Willa sees the flash and hears the hiss of the missiles, and then the enchantress beside her collapses unconscious again. Willa tries to paddle with her greatsword still in its scabbard, but the blade is too narrow and slices ineffectually through the water. <We are literally up **** creek without a paddle>, Willa thinks giddily to herself as another arrow lodges into the log inches from her leg.

    Thokk emerges from the fog upstream of the log, pulling himself forward with strokes of one massive arm while the other drags Larry, coughing and sputtering, behind him. Ignoring the arrows, Thokk pulls up alongside the log, allowing Larry to grab it before he moves back and resumes his kicking. Is he...grinning? <Yes>, thinks Willa. <Thokk is enjoying himself!>

    Larry hauls himself up on the log, looking about at the bowmen on the banks as if seeking a target. “No!” Willa tells him. “Get Aurora up first!” Larry lays a hand on the slumped body of the wizard and whispers a healing prayer. Aurora sucks in a great breath and again sits up.

    As Aurora looks about her, arrows continue to fly. “What, still?” she says incredulously. She turns over her right shoulder and moves her hand as if throwing something. She lobs a ball of sulfurous-yellow in a long, low arc. When it hits the ground near the elven caster, a fiery explosion rocks the embankment. Earth, stones, and splintered wood fly into the air - bodies of elves and humans alike are knocked down. Low flames burn fitfully in the bushes. Willa hopes the ground near the stream is damp enough that the fire burns out without spreading through the forest.

    “Stop following us!” shrieks Aurora, as if that would somehow sway their pursuers. Then, with a complicated motion of her hands, all along the embankment thick black webs appear, stretching from tree to tree and blocking passage. Within moments, their only pursuers are a small squad of bowmen on the south bank. Aurora turns that way, blocks their passage with webs as well. But as Willa watches, every strand strung from a tree on the south bank seems to erase one on the north bank, until that way is clear again. Willa taps Aurora on the shoulder, points at the north bank.

    “Oh, right,” Aurora says. “Concentration spell.”

    But after the fireball, their pursuers are more cautious, moving from cover to cover and not chancing as many bow shots. The stream is picking up speed, passing through a more steeply sloped section of miniature rapids. They leave the footmen behind, and even after the stream levels out the bowman fall back as well, only occasionally appearing in the distance, tracking them but not firing arrows.

    Willa picks out a large tree far ahead, estimates the distance, counts the seconds until they pass it. They are not moving fast, but are certainly going faster than Larry and Barnabus can walk. “We’ve got to stay ahead of them,” she says to Aurora. “We should stay in the stream for now.” Aurora nods.

    Eventually Thokk tires and his kicks grow slower, but the log doesn’t seem to be slowing. Willa realizes the current is picking up - the stream is deeper and wider than when they started, having gathered with it several tributaries since their escape. The trees in front of them are thinning as well. “Thokk, rest!” she says, then “Hush!” to the others when he ceases kicking. The forest is still, with only a light wind and birdsong to be heard - but also a low, rushing noise. “Thokk, eyes back!” Willa says. Panting heavily, Thokk hauls himself up on the log, straddles it facing backwards, and scans the forest behind them. “Babshapka, eyes front!” Willa calls to the manta-elf, and he dives, moving forward rapidly through the water. As they wait for his return, the rushing noise grows louder. Willa always knew she would be captain of her own vessel someday - she just didn’t know it would be a log!

    When Babshapka pulls himself half out of the water, he tells them, “Waterfall ahead!”, then gestures at the north bank. He and Thokk kick the log over to the side of the stream where it slows, and finally grounds in the soft earth.

    Willa and the others move quickly forward along the stream bank to see. They are at the top of a cliff face, and the stream plunges over a cataract and down some eighty feet into a small pool below. To their left and right runs a steep-fronted forested escarpment. The trail is nowhere to be seen. It would likely take the better part of an hour to find a safe path down without rappelling. Before and below them, at the base of the cliff to the west, is deep forest as far as they can see, with hints of the stream peeking out here and there. To the north, the escarpment rises abruptly into nearby mountain peaks. To the south, a lone mountain looms above the forest, some ten or fifteen miles away.

    “That’s a long way down,” says Aurora.

    “But t’is ther fastest way,” counters Willa. “I be wagerin’ they returned t’ the trail when t'ey couldna keep up - at least t'eir main host did - an ther trail down yonder ridge be slow and all switchy-backed.”

    Aurora nods. “That’s a long way down,” she repeats.

    “C’mon,” says Willa invitingly. “I’ll lash ye t’ ther log, so we cannae lose ye.” When Aurora looks at her incredulously, she adds, “Ye best be rememberin’ t’is ye they be wantin' t' arrest, nay us.”

    Thokk stands on the cliff top for a minute, until he finds what he thinks is the deepest spot in the pool, then leaps into the air, falls into the water. Even the deep spot is shallow enough that he hits the bottom going fast, but it is soft and gravelly, not hard and sharp, and he emerges and swims to the far side of the pool. Larry changes into a salmon, and he and Mantabshapka dive into the stream and then go over the falls one after another. They are bruised, but also swim away. Finally, Barnabus, Willa, and Aurora, each tied to the log, take it out into the stream, over the edge, and for two-and-half sickening seconds fall through the air. The log lands well enough, splashing down entirely in the pool, but the jolt when they hit the bottom is hard, and Aurora and Barnabus are dashed forward, crash into the log, and knocked unconscious. Once the log emerges and settles they are untied, dragged to the bank, and Larry - now a dwarf again - revives them. “Well, that’s et,” he says grimly, “I’m oot o’ healin’.”

    [DM's Note: On Anna Meyer's map, where the dotted white trail crosses the Owl Stream, the party left the trail, went upstream (SE), and found Barovia. Now they have gone downstream (NW). The waterfall is roughly in the middle of the “m” of Stream.]

    (2:30pm) From the banks of the pool, the party looks at the cliff face above them. The trail itself is not visible, but the escarpment is so broad, the trail must cross it somewhere - and wherever that is, there will need to be switchbacks. That will delay their pursuit, at least for a while, and especially for any horses.

    After a brief discussion, the party decides to remount their log and continue to head downstream, trying to keep ahead of their pursuers. They find broad fallen branches that will serve as crude paddles. For about ten minutes, Thokk and Willa paddle, while the rest of them balance on the log. Mantabshapka leaves the water to become Babshapka, and walks alongside the stream on the south bank, keeping his eyes peeled for pursuers or the trail.

    (3pm) After a bit of traveling, it becomes apparent that they are moving faster than any of them could walk, at least through the forest. The current is strong and Babshapka is having to jog to keep up with them. While that is great for making an escape, none of them are resting. The leg-notches cut by Thokk notwithstanding, this is not a canoe, and no one can simply lie down to rest. Even those who are not paddling are actively balancing, as the log sways, dips, bobs, bumps rocks, bottoms out, and occasionally threatens to roll.

    With no sign of pursuit and many of them wounded, a decision is made to slow their progress. Thokk and Willa cease paddling, and concentrate on stabilizing and steering the log. In the front, Willa makes sure to keep in the slow, deep parts of the stream, while Thokk, aft, centers himself and keeps the “top” of the log up. The others take the time to bind or clean wounds, eat and drink a little, and even try to doze, leaning back to back or sprawled over the log.

    (4pm) With the benefits of a “short rest” now under their belts, Willa and Thokk return to paddling, the others to active balancing, and the log is off again. It is not long after that when Babshapka spies, running parallel to the stream and perhaps seventy yards from it, the trail - this is the first time he has seen it since the waterfall and likely the closest to the stream it has been.

    [DM's Note:They are now closest to the “e” in “Stream” and have gone about four miles downstream from the falls.]

    Babshapka flags down Aurora and has a quick messaged conversation with her, then moves to the trail. In the center of the trail he places an alarm spell, keyed to signal him whenever any creature enters the area, so long as it is not a non-humanoid. He then turns and starts making his way back to the stream.

    Almost immediately, the alarm sounds in his mind. He continues to the stream and alerts the party on the log. Thokk and Barnabus disembark immediately and follow him to the west, running along in the direction of the stream but slowly getting closer to the trail. The log continues down the stream, now with just Willa paddling, and Babshapka uses it as a moving reference point as he hopes to emerge on the trail ahead of whatever triggered the alarm.

    Finally satisfied that they are well in the lead, the trio of ambushers move to the trail itself while Willa beaches the log on the south bank in a clump of vegetation hidden from view of the trail. Barnabus climbs a tree overhanging the trail, Babshapka hides at the base of the tree, and Thokk takes cover in the brush on the far side of the trail. It has not been a minute when Babshapka hears soft but rapid footfalls approaching and signals his companions to ready themselves.

    Around a corner of the trail an elf runs into sight, clad in the mottled green-and-brown of a scout. He appears alone, but immediately skids to a stop as if he has seen the ambushers. As he turns to look behind him, then brings his fingers to his lips to whistle, Thokk charges from the underbrush.

    Just as Thokk reaches the elf, he turns to gauge where his companions are, but Barnabus is still in the tree and Babshapka is deep in the woods to the north of the trail. Confused, Thokk lets the elf give him the slip, but then pursues him, crashing through the forest to the south.

    Using Thokk to flush the elf out, Barnabus waits for the perfect shot. When the elf passes through a clearing, he lets fly an arrow that pierces the elf’s side and causes him to collapse, unconscious. Thokk scoops him up and begins heading for the stream when a hail of arrows heralds the arrival of more scouts. The unconscious elf is leaving a copious trail of blood as Thokk hauls him down the hillslope, bumping and jolting with the shaft still in him, and he is nearly dead by the time Babshapka is able to pull out the arrow and bind his wound. Barnabus runs down the slope behind them.

    The party hustles the unconscious elf onto the log and shoves off. In the rear, Thokk holds up his shield behind them as arrows from the scouts rain down. Willa has to paddle furiously to finally bring them out of range.

    When the prisoner appears stable, his hands and feet are bound and Barnabus goes through his possessions, with initial interest but eventual disgust. “Bread?” he mutters to himself - “The best thing this guy has on him is bread?”

    (5:30pm) After about an hour, the elf regains consciousness. At first, he struggles weakly against his restraints, but soon calms when he realizes his situation. In fact, he seems unnervingly calm, despite the fact that Thokk is right beside him, holding his arm in such a way as to threaten all the joints. He doesn’t seem cocky - just resigned to his fate.

    Aurora questions him in Elvish and for the first part of the conversation he answers unhesitatingly. This is even more unnerving, as Aurora had been prepared to “force” the information from him.

    The elf tells Aurora that he is from a clan of elves of the Dreadwood, and that his clan, under its leader, Prince Silverleaf, has been tasked with keeping humans and humanoids out of a “forbidden” part of the forest - the area around Valadis. The clan has an agreement with the Baron of Greyhill and the King of Keoland that goes back hundreds of years, and which is based on the idea that the knowledge in and of Valadis is better-off kept from the world. Many other local elven clans assist in this endeavor, as do some of the druids of the Great Circle.

    Several days ago, a human knight appeared in his village, claiming to have been sent by the King. He had with him ten human footmen, soldiers of the Baron of Greyhill, as well as a sergeant of foot. The knight met with Prince Silverleaf, requesting the aid of the Prince in bringing to justice an adventuring party who had violated the protections around the city. Although this particular scout was not privy to their negotiations, in the end Prince Silverleaf agreed to lend the knight the use of 20 elven scouts from the clan, as well as a spell-caster. The elf remarks that he does not know how many of these scouts remain in pursuit, as several of them went down from Aurora’s fireball, and he was not able to see how many survived before they were ordered to pursue the party.

    The elves have been following the log ever since the battle, with one lead runner spotting them along the trail, and taking turns to relieve that runner, while the main host of scouts travels just behind and the human footmen follow as best they can but rather farther back. When the party captured him, it was his turn as lead runner.

    Before the battle, the knight told the elves that the party was powerful and had access to high-level magic. They were told that the knight would attempt to negotiate a surrender, but that the elves were to open fire immediately on anyone in the party who looked like they were spell-casting.

    Aurora asks about the lands around Valadis, and for the first time the elf hesitates in his response. After a few moments, he says that he is sworn not to reveal information about the city, but that it appears that the party already knows all about it since they are returning from the forbidden lands rather than trying to enter them. He says that he will not provide them with new information, but that he will be willing to confirm or deny anything that they tell him they already know. When Aurora talks about Valadis as being the city of the Malhel, destroyed by their own evil sorceries, he agrees. When she asks him where the Malhel went, he says that some stories say that they were all destroyed by the demons they summoned, while others say that a small band of survivors was able to escape across the Javan river into the lands of what is now the Yeomanry. Personally, he knows these as tales but not whether either is true. Aurora tries to get more from him by saying that Larry is a druid of the Great Circle, but he preempts that by saying that if it is true, Larry surely knows more than he does.

    Aurora then asks him about “Barovia” and the elf seems confused - as if he does not recognize the name. After the place is described to him he recognizes it as something he calls “The Valley of the Mists”. He says that the guardians of the forbidden lands learned of the arrival of the vampire several hundred years ago. At first they were concerned that he intended to use Valadis to bring more evil, but the sorcerers of the King told them that he did not. Eventually, after the vampire summoned the mists, it was decided that his presence actually further protected the forbidden lands from intrusion, so he was allowed to remain.

    Aurora then attempts to convince the elf that his prince has been duped, and that the knight is no agent of the King. The elf says that is indeed possible, but his honor lies in following the commands of his liege lord, the prince. He will certainly speak with the prince about it, and voice Aurora’s concerns - if he is allowed to leave. Aurora asks how far the elves will pursue the party. He says he does not know, but that already they are out of their own territory - technically Prince Silverleaf only commands within the Barony of Greyhill, guarding the access to Valadis from the west. The knight must have received special permission from the Prince to take his forces out of the Barony and into where they are now - the Dreadwood Protectorate. If the party continues half a day’s travel downstream, they will eventually leave the Protectorate, and at that point the knight would need to be very persuasive to retain the services of the elves.

    After this, Aurora discusses rather vocally with the party whether they should return to Valadis, knowing that this knight is pursuing them, and it is ‘decided’ that they should. They steer the log to the north bank and haul the elf ashore. Willa unties the hands and feet of the elf, then re-ties them in sailors’ knots designed so that he can undo them himself after ten or fifteen minutes of work. Aurora explains that by the time he gets himself undone, the party will be long gone. She suggests that he cross over to the south bank and tell his fellow clanmates not to pursue the party.

    [DM's Note: The elf is set ashore on the north bank roughly under the “r” in “Stream” and about six or seven miles downstream from the falls.]

    (6pm) Without an unconscious prisoner to keep on the log, or a conscious one to interrogate, Thokk and Willa return to paddling and the party picks up the pace. They continue on for an hour and a half through the forest, with the stream they are in growing broader and deeper with each tributary that joins it. As the late afternoon sun turns to dusk, Babshapka re-enters the water, using his darkvision to scout ahead and guide the log for Willa.

    (7:30pm) The sun has long set and Willa is navigating in dim twilight. She has been checking her direction against the stars directly above, but gradually she gets the sense that the trees are receding from the stream banks and she can see more and more of the sky around her. Luna, the large moon, has not risen yet (and will be but a sliver when it does rise), but Celene, the smaller of the two moons, is up. Celene is but a waning crescent but still provides enough light for those with darkvision. Willa steers the log to the bank and asks for a report.

    Larry looks about, and explains that they are leaving the forest and coming into open meadows. They have been descending for quite some time, even after the falls, and have now reached a broad valley bottom. Before them is an open, high grasslands.

    The party has a brief conversation about whether they should keep going or make camp. They haven’t eaten since lunch and have been traveling non-stop since breakfast. Again, the log is not a boat and even those not paddling are not well-rested. Pushing on will threaten to exhaust them. On the other hand, the human footmen are almost certainly stopping for the night, and this is a great chance to put some miles between them and their pursuers. Even if one of them does fall to exhaustion, their pace will not be slowed so long as they remain on the log. Larry points out that now that the slope of the land is less, the stream will be going less fast, and meandering more, making it less direct and efficient compared to the trail - but the others decide that is all the more reason to keep going and get what advantage they can from traveling at night. “Well, alright,” mutters the dwarf, “boot I dinnae like tha look a’ yon clouds.” He jerks a thumb at the southern horizon, where the stars are obscured by low clouds that stretch a great distance east and west.

    [DM's Note: At the “S” in “Stream”, the party leaves the forest and enters into open grasslands.]

    The party shoves off again into the stream. Willa is relying on Mantabshapka more than ever as the sky darkens and the last pale colors fade in the west. Thokk tries moving at a walking pace along the bank, flanking them. Indeed, the broad stream is now moving slower than most of them could walk, although Larry and Barnabus would still have to jog to keep up.

    Larry spots irregular shapes low on the horizon against the starlit sky - he and Thokk are sent to investigate while the log continues to drift downstream. They find the remains of a peasant village, a handful of wattle-and-daub huts surrounded by falling-down cattle pens. The place is abandoned, long abandoned - Larry estimates 10 or 15 years, by the size of the saplings growing up between the huts. All of the thatch roofs have collapsed. They poke around a bit in the houses but find nothing of interest. One house has a completely disarticulated skeleton they take to be human. The only evidence for why the place was abandoned is a rusty war-axe, buried deep in the timber corner post of one of the huts. Thokk and Larry return to the log, Larry having to huff and puff to catch up to it. Over the course of the next several hours, they can see the outlines of several other such villages, all with collapsed huts and no sign of inhabitants.

    [DM’s note: By 8pm, Aurora is at Level 1 of exhaustion]

    [DM’s note: By 10pm, Babshapka is at Level 1 of exhaustion]

    [DM’s note: By 11pm, Barnabus and Larry are at Level 1, and Babshapka at Level 2 of exhaustion]

    As the night passes, the party notes a steady breeze picking up from the south. The clouds Larry warned of are now obscuring a good quarter of the southern sky - temperature is in the fifties and dropping, and many on the log are starting to shiver. A few talk of having a fire when they stop for the night, but that is decided against - here on the open plains, a fire could be seen for miles. Their bedrolls will have to be sufficient for keeping them warm.

    [DM’s note: By 12am, Aurora is at Level 2 of exhaustion]

    Finally, around midnight, Aurora insists that they stop. Her teeth are chattering, she is cramped and sore, and cannot concentrate. It does not take much to convince Willa - the southern wind is continuing to increase, and wetting everyone with spray off the stream. She thinks that somewhere, far to the south, there must be a tropical storm in the Azure Sea - a typical fall occurrence - and they are at the very edge of it.

    Thokk is sent to the north bank to scout, and he soon returns saying that he has found an abandoned village just a hundred paces from the stream bank. The log is hauled up a sandbar and the sodden party trudges wearily toward the village.

    [DM's Note: At midnight, the party comes ashore west of the “O” in “Owl”, near the border of the Dreadwood Protectorate in dashed orange.]
    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.&nbsp;
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    Tue Sep 17, 2019 2:59 pm  
    Post 82: Have Swords, Will Travel

    Post 82: Have Swords, will travel

    Up until now, I had been willing to hand-wave movement, and had just used a standard pace for the party when they had traveled from Gradsul to the Owl Stream. Now, however, we had the main party fleeing ahead of a mixed group of elves and human footmen, and all of them being followed by Tyrius astride his warhorse. I decided that it was time to get more detailed about wilderness movement rates.

    5E has a fairly detailed combat movement system, with different base movements for characters based on their race and sometimes modified for class abilities and the optional variant of encumbrance. Terrain can be classed as "difficult" which costs twice movement.

    However, this level of detail is lost upon the transition to overland movement and wilderness travel. In particular, a party moving at the scale of a wilderness map simply chooses their speed as "fast", "normal", or "slow". These speeds affect their ability to notice dangers and to move stealthily. It is possible for all members of a party to move at "fast" speed together, for example, even if they have markedly different combat movement rates or different responses to terrain.

    Similarly, in 5E the only modifier for terrain is whether or not it is difficult.

    Given this, I set about creating a system to translate the 5E RAW combat movement rates to the WoGG wilderness travel rates by terrain.

    First, base movements in a combat turn:
    Barnabus (halfling), Larry (dwarf): 25 feet per combat turn
    Aurora (half-elf), Willa (human), Tyrius (human-dismounted), Thokk (half-orc): 30 feet
    Babshapka (wood elf): 35 feet
    Eddard: 60 feet - but 50 when "encumbered" (carrying more than 180 pounds) - easily met by Tyrius, plate armor, tack, and gear

    Given this distribution, I decided to peg 30 feet per turn as "standard" movement for future comparisons.

    WoGG (p.3) gives "Afoot, unencumbered" at 30 miles per day for road, track, and grasslands.

    Thus, 1 foot of combat turn movement will equal 1 mile of daily movement for bipeds on road, track, and off-trail grasslands.

    WoGG gives horsed movement as 60 miles per day on a road, but 45 miles per day on a track or in grassland. So we will assume Eddard can go at the limit of 45 miles per day in grass and on tracks, even with his current 50 feet per combat round. It is reasonable that overland speed for a horse would be proportionally slower than combat speed, compared to a biped, since combat speed will likely be at a trot or canter, while overland speed will be a mixed in with periods of walking.

    Note that Anna Meyer's maps show the route from Silglen to Lavienth as a "tertiary road," which I will treat as a track.

    Finally, I use a ten-hour day for movement, divided into two five-hour marches. Typically these marches occur from roughly 7am - 12pm, and 1pm to 6pm. Assuming ten hour days, we can calculate base walking speed (mph) for characters as well.

    Thus in grasslands and on tracks:
    Barnabus (halfling), Larry (dwarf): 25 fpt, 2.5 mph, 12.5 miles per march, 25 miles per day

    Aurora (half-elf), Willa (human), Tyrius (human - when dismounted), Thokk (half-orc): 30 fpt, 3.0 mph, 15 miles per march, 30 miles per day

    Babshapka (wood elf): 35 fpt, 3.5 mph, 17.5 miles per march, 35 miles per day

    Eddard (not ridden): 60fpt, 6 mph, 22.5 miles per march, 45 miles per day
    Eddard (ridden): 50fpt, 5 mph, 22.5 miles per march, 45 miles per day
    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.&nbsp;

    Last edited by Kirt on Tue Sep 24, 2019 12:00 pm; edited 1 time in total

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    Thu Sep 19, 2019 10:05 am  

    I think I misunderstood. The party decide to go back after the knight who was following them, but then they continued on downstream. (?)

    Secondly, I agree with your travel assessment, except for Eddard. Your limit of 45 miles per day makes sense for a normal horse, but Eddard is a paladin's warhorse - specifically one from another plane, a celestial mount. It seems reasonable to grant him the slight advantage of 50 miles per day (ridden) that his movement rate would indicate.

    Finally, the Grand Boulonnaise is a fantastic-looking warhorse! And, I had never come across it before. Thanks! ;) Sir Xaris' celestial mount is a cross between a Friesian and a Gypsy: black with white feathering on his fetlocks.
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    Thu Sep 19, 2019 8:18 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    I think I misunderstood. The party decide to go back after the knight who was following them, but then they continued on downstream. (?)

    They talked in front of the captured prisoner about how they were going to go back to Valadis - and then after they left him, they continued downstream. They had planned on continuing downstream all along - but hoped that the scout would tell their false plan to the knight and thus slow their pursuit.

    In truth, Aurora is interested in Valadis, but it is a little hot right now with the knight - she would like to double back once the heat is off.

    SirXaris wrote:
    Secondly, I agree with your travel assessment, except for Eddard. Your limit of 45 miles per day makes sense for a normal horse, but Eddard is a paladin's warhorse - specifically one from another plane, a celestial mount. It seems reasonable to grant him the slight advantage of 50 miles per day (ridden) that his movement rate would indicate.

    I did want Eddard to play the role of sardonic adviser to Tyrius - his mind being more important than his hooves. As it is, I do not require Eddard to eat or drink. I might have him make a Con save to boost his movement - but not penalize him with exhaustion if he failed, so that the worst that might happen is he would be restricted to the slower movement. In practice, Tyrius is seldom in need of going faster than the party so except for trying to find them right now it has been a moot point.

    SirXaris wrote:
    Finally, the Grand Boulonnaise is a fantastic-looking warhorse! And, I had never come across it before. Thanks! ;) Sir Xaris' celestial mount is a cross between a Friesian and a Gypsy: black with white feathering on his fetlocks.
    The Friesian is beautiful, strong, and graceful - a great warhorse for a paladin - but due to Pelor's association with white and gold it was important to me that Eddard carry those colors.
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    Tue Sep 24, 2019 11:59 am  
    Post 83: Willa's Choice IV

    DM's Note; a replay of the events of 24 October (see post 81), but from Willa's perspective.

    24 October, 570 - Owl Stream, Dreadwood

    They move swiftly down the ravine, but the the log proves far easier to control running downstream than it did coming in and up. It is only a few minutes later when they are pulling up to the embankment where they first felled the trees and mounted the log. Four men stand on the shore.

    Willa is used enough to Aurora’s message that she is not surprised when someone contacts her mind. It is not Aurora - but it does sound like an elf.

    Special Agent Stoutley?” it asks. “I have a message for you from Sir Runnel. He asks that you inform him of what Aurora has been doing in the Dreadwood - her reason for coming. He also asks whether she has, by any chance, come across a book entitled “The Chronicle of Secret Times”

    Willa scans the figures on the bank. One is obviously a knight in full plate armor. Since he holds his great helm in hand, his face is visible, and recognizable to her from her previous meeting (see Post 44) as the man who called himself Sir Runnel. The second man is a squire or retainer in studded leather. The two remaining appear to be common foot soldiers, with chain shirts and shields.

    Willa whispers, in reply to the message, that “yes, Aurora has the book”. She gives a quick summary of what they did in Barovia while the knight is speaking to them.

    The party disembarks cautiously, facing the four men. “Hail!” calls the knight. “Are you Aurora of Ulek?”

    “I am,” replies Aurora. She and Thokk move to the front.

    The knight continues speaking. “The Silent Ones told me that the arcane boundaries around the lands of the vampire had fallen - and that their divinations were now able to penetrate and discern a book, called the “Chronicle of Secret Times”. Do you bear such a book out of those cursed lands?”

    Willa’s report is interrupted by the message. “The book must be turned over - that it not negotiable. The penalty for possessing and reading the book is lifelong imprisonment - but the Viscount of Salinmoor has argued on Aurora’s behalf to the King, explaining how instrumental she was in defending his realm against the Sahuagin.”

    Stoutley,” the message continues, “Sir Runnel is giving you a choice - you may help him apprehend Aurora, knowing that she will be the King’s prisoner for the rest of her days, but you will be well done with this matter. Or, you may help her to flee - without the book. If you choose this path, you must continue to watch her for the time being, especially noting whom she contacts, submit reports when you are contacted, and make sure that she never again enters Keoland.

    I understand, I choose the second,” whispers Willa.

    “I say,” repeats the knight, “do you bear such a book?”

    “Indeed I do,” says Aurora. “I recovered it from the castle of the vampire lord.”

    “I thought as much - may I see it?”

    The man’s words are polite but his tone is commanding. Aurora takes off her pack, then removes the large, leather-bound book. She offers it to the man.

    (...Battle ensues. The party escapes over the waterfall. They capture a pursuer. As the party discusses where to leave their prisoner...)

    Willa would like to write a message to leave on the elf, but she does not think she can pull quill and ink out of her bag without anyone noticing. She takes a scrap piece of leather and, with her knife, surreptitiously carves:

    “To Knight
    Valadis or Yeomanry?
    Doesn’t know much”

    After this, Aurora discusses rather vocally with the party whether they should return to Valadis, knowing that this knight is pursuing them, and it is ‘decided’ that they should. They steer the log to the north bank and haul the elf ashore. Willa unties the hands and feet of the elf, then re-ties them in sailors’ knots designed so that he can undo them himself after ten or fifteen minutes of work. As she is easing his back against a tree trunk, she slips the piece of leather into his pocket without the party seeing. Aurora explains to the elf that by the time he gets himself undone, the party will be long gone. She suggests that he cross over to the south bank and tell his fellow clanmates not to pursue the party.
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    Mon Sep 30, 2019 11:05 pm  
    Post 84: A Series of Reunions

    DM's Note on sources:

    Anna Meyer's map of Keoland shows no settlements on the Javan trail from Millen to Lavienth, nor any on the trail from the river to Silglen.

    Rich Trickey, who publishes as chatdemon, has a map of the Barony of Westgate that does locate two settlements, though - the grugach village of Brokenoak (on the Silglen trail) and the human / wood elf / halfling community of Archer's Bluff, at the intersection of the Silgen trail and the Javan trail, or what he calls the "King's Highway". Note that chatdemon's Silgen trail may be a bit further north than the one shown on Anna's maps, however.

    See: and

    Gary Holian, in his extensive "Kingdom of Keoland" article, describes this region in the section on the Viscounty of Nume Eor. He says it was once part of the County of Eor, but that is was overrun by lizardfolk from the Hool Marshes and abandoned for a great while before being reclaimed in CY 587 (note that this is 17 years after the current date of my campaign). Although Gary does not put a hard date on the fall of the County of Eor, chatdemon places it as prior to CY 503.

    Chatdemon's account of Brokenoak says it "is a small village standing in an ancient glade in the forest. Local legends say that this was the ancestral home of the Brokenoak Grugach tribe, who were all but slaughtered by the Malhel Suloise clan as they looted and defiled the woods before dissapearing [sic]. The village now serves as a base of operations for many of the Elves and rangers of the area who have taken it as their sacred duty to keep the curious and foolhardy away from the mysterious ruins two or three days walk to the southeast." I liked the idea of elven guardians of Valadis, but not that their village would be readily accessible on the trail. This village became the elves that Babshapka sensed watching the party back on 10 October in Post 58, and it also, under Prince Silverleaf, supplied the scouts and archers used by Runnel in his attempt to apprehend Aurora.

    However, since the party was now fleeing Runnel ("the knight"), I wanted to maintain the dramatic tension of the chase scene for a bit longer. I felt the party would relax too much if they arrived at a refuge, somewhere civilized like Archer's Bluff, so I decided to have the land be depopulated all the way from the Owl Stream down to Lavienth. I kept this desolation as being the result of lizardfolk raids (in my narrative called the "Long Summer"), but moved up the date of this so that it could be a childhood memory of Willa.

    Finally, Babshapka's run-in with the river tribesmen, and the main party's contact with the elves of the Falling Leaves, were both rolled as random encounters.

    Post 84: A Series of Reunions

    25 October, 570: Owl Stream, west border of the Dreadwood
    In the abandoned village, the party locates the strongest-looking of the remaining huts and begins to set up camp. Opening packs, several of them find their gear completely sodden from the stream. Their bedrolls are wet, and will be impossible to sleep in. Their rations are spoiled - the flour given to them by Ismark has turned to a gooey mess, the jerky and dried fruit has swelled up from the water and then been ground into a nasty paste by their travels. Not all of the packs are wet - between them, they have enough food for dinner and breakfast on the morrow (including the lembas that Barnabus liberated from the scout they ambushed), but after that they will need to hunt. Willa has an oilcloth tent - she and Aurora can sleep without bedrolls, and the two dry bedrolls are apportioned out, leaving two people short. Thokk and Larry, the two most accustomed to sleeping out of doors and unprotected, curl up in the leeward corner of the house and stay close for warmth.

    [DM’s note: Both Thokk and Larry make “aided” survival checks and are not harmed by the night’s exposure. After food and a full night’s rest (two full rests for Babshapka), the only remaining exhaustion is Aurora at Level 1. After a full night’s rest, Barnabus and Babshapka have gained access to all of their 5th level abilities. New attributes in bold

    Babshapka of the Silverwood
    Fifth level ranger (Hunter Archetype: Giant Killer)/ Wood elf (Folk Hero)
    Str 12 (+1) Dex 18 (+4) Con 12 (+1) Int 12 (+1) Wis 13 (+1) Cha 7 (-1)
    Languages Elven (S/W), Common (S/W)
    Hp. 41
    Skills: Animal Handling, Insight, Investigation, Perception, Stealth, Survival (Temperate Woodlands)
    Fighting Style: Duel-wielding, Extra Attack
    Human-sized Chain shirt+1, broadsword+1, cloak of the manta ray, ring of protection+1, shortsword, longbow
    Spells: Alarm, Ensnaring Strike, Hunter's Mark, Hail of Thorns

    Barnabus the Minstrel
    Fifth Level Rogue (Assassin Archetype/ Halfling (Entertainer)
    Str 15 (+2) Dex 18 (+4) Con 12 (+1) Int 15 (+2) Wis 14 (+2) Cha 13 (+1)
    Hp. 35
    Languages Hobbniz (S/W), Common (S/W)
    Skills: Acrobatics, Deception, Perception, Performance, Sleight of Hand, Stealth (doubled), Thieve's Tools (doubled)
    Fighting Style: Two daggers, shortbow
    Uncanny Dodge, Leather Armor+1, glamoured, Ring of Protection+1, Ring of Free Action, Staff of Shock, shortsword]

    The south wind continues to build through the night, until the gusts top forty miles an hour and the walls of the hut creak and groan - several of the party’s poles are set to reinforce them. Once in the night there is a nearby crash as a neighboring hut is flattened.

    It is no fit day to travel and the party allows themselves to sleep late, then finish what remains of their food. The gale-strength winds are still blowing, and there is a spray in the air. Not a rain, but just enough mist that it will be damp traveling all day.

    Willa has been down to the stream side. The log is still there, driven even further up the sandbank by the wind and waves and, to her satisfaction, all traces of their footprints in the sand have been washed away. The southern sky is dense with clouds and the waves on the stream are tall - there is no way they will be able to take the log without it rolling on them, so she leaves it there.

    The party sets out at a walking pace for most of them, though they are slowed considerably by the wind and stinging spray. Barnabus and Larry alternate walking and trotting. Thokk acts as a walking outrider, his great loping strides carrying him in large circles around the party. Before midday he comes upon a young antelope, weaned but not a year old, huddled in a high tussock of grass. As the small creature looks at him with great black eyes, he grabs its thin neck and tiny head and wrenches his hands in opposite directions. Jogging back to the party with the body draped over his shoulder, he yells “Lunch, lunch!” but his words are carried away by the wind and they can only see him gesticulating happily.

    The party travels some eight miles downstream until they arrive at an abandoned town set on a ford. As with the other settlements they have found, there are buildings aplenty but not a soul in sight. The ford is also the intersection of the east-west trail they had been following out of Silglen (before they took to the stream), with a north-south trail that runs parallel to the Javan River. The trail from above enters the town on the south side of the Owl Stream. The river trail is wider and looks considerably more well-traveled than the forest trail - there are wagon ruts and horse droppings aplenty. No travelers are out today, though, which is not surprising given the weather. The Javan River looks wide and deep - perhaps a half-mile wide. Willa doesn’t think they could cross it by swimming, but they could easily raft it with log floaters. Not today, though, for the waves on its surface are even larger than those roiling the Owl Stream. On the far side the land slopes steeply upward, rising from the valley bottom through a scrub forest and into some dry highlands.

    The town itself has a wooden palisade, though the gate is open, and numerous one and even two-story timber buildings. They find an abandoned inn with a stone hearth and chimney and cook Thokk’s antelope for a late lunch, cutting what is left into strips and cooking that as well for transport. Over lunch, they discuss their next destination. Thokk and Larry passed down the Javan River just three months ago, but have no recollection of which part they are at currently. Willa has never been on the Javan, but she has seen enough maps and cargo statements to try to remember. She believes the next port city to the south would be Nighford (in the Yeomanry) and to the north, Millen (in Keoland). After some conversation, they agree to head south, trusting in Father Donovich’s assurance that Tyrius will know how to find them after he awakens.

    It is already late afternoon when they set out. There is no bridge across the stream, just a natural ford that is a broad expanse over the hard, flat, rocky stream bed so that they must wade knee-deep through the rushing water. The town on the southern bank is not only abandoned, it is mostly burned, with collapsed and hollow shells of houses and shops. The southern gate lies smashed in pieces on the ground, and just outside is the meeting of the river trail and forest trail. Babshapka takes a good, long look up the forest trail before ushering them out of the walls of the town.

    They make it perhaps five miles south along the river trail before leaving the grasslands and entering the forest again. All the way the wind has been lessening, and Larry predicts that the storm will blow itself out some time during the night. They find a hollow a few hundred yards from the trail and set up camp, making a fire that is blocked from direct view of the trail by two massive fallen trees.

    26 October
    [wandering encounter; patrol (elves)]
    It is shortly after midnight. Larry and Thokk are curled up by the fire, Willa is in her tent, Babshapka and Barnabus are in their bedrolls, now dry from an evening hung by the fire before they retired. Aurora is the only one awake, on guard. She sits near the fire but facing away from it so that the light does not spoil her darkvision. From all about her come the night sounds of the forest - crickets, frogs, the occasional owl. As she scans the forest in front of her she suddenly gasps. There, a stone’s throw away, is a single figure, wrapped in a cloak and with its features obscured by a cowl. A second ago she saw only a tree.

    Aurora swallows once, then says in a voice calculated to be calm, but loud enough to wake the others, “Welcome, stranger. Will you come and share our fire?”

    The cloaked figure steps forward, raises a hand and lets her cowl fall back, revealing the face of a wood elf.

    Aurora repeats what she just said, but this time in elven, and the elf responds in the same tongue. By the timbre of the voice, Aurora takes it to be a female.

    “Your fire is on our lands,” she says simply.

    “My apologies, we did not know. What lands are those?”

    “We are the Tribe of the Falling Leaves. Our lands flank the count’s road from the edge of the forest in the north, to the human lands in the south. Who are you, and what is your business?” Her tone is matter-of-fact; not welcoming, but not overtly hostile.

    “We are travelers, adventurers. We are merely traveling south along the road. We mean no trespass.” Aurora notes immediately that the elf does not mention the knight, nor Valadis, nor the captured scout. So much the better - she will not bring them up either.

    “You are free to travel the road, and to camp here - but I am concerned about the presence of the orc.” The elf gestures at Thokk, sleeping happily by the fire, oblivious and seemingly engaged in an unconscious contest with Larry over who can snore louder. Aurora thinks she has seen movement near the bedrolls of Babshapka and Barnabus - perhaps one of them is awake and still pretending to be asleep? Or it could be just the flickering shadows cast by the fire.

    “The orc has saved the lives of two elves in our group countless times. I will vouch for him.”

    The elf pauses, considering Aurora’s pledge. “I will hold you to that,” she says. “Keep him on a tight leash. And keep yourselves less than half a bow-shot from the road when you camp. Any further into our lands we will consider an aggression, and respond accordingly.”

    “We will stay near the road.” Aurora smiles invitingly. “We have roast antelope. Would you have some?”

    The elf looks at Aurora pointedly. “You do not have enough for all of us,” she says, gesturing at the woods all around. Then, she turns and moves silently off into the darkness.

    The party travels all morning. The trees around them have just started to change into a blaze of reds and golds. It is a beautiful, clear morning after the storms of the previous days, though Larry notes clouds to the south that grow closer as they travel. As the morning wears on, their road ascends. The road itself is clear and easy to follow, though it has not seen much use of late. There is grass in many of the wagon-ruts and saplings growing at the crown.

    As the road ascends, the trees thin to their right. They make camp for a mid-day meal on a ridge overlooking a broad bend in the Javan river. They can see for miles, but there are no settlements in sight, nor even ships on the river. On the far side of the river, dry hills rise up sharply.

    After an uneventful night, Tyrius and Eddard breakfast and then break camp at the edge of the pool in Barovia. Eddard prances a bit in the water, getting used to the cold and testing the depth. Near the outlet between the cliffs it is over his chest, and he believes he will have to swim. He comes out of the water, dripping and steaming, and stands near Tyrius on the shore.

    “I think I can manage the packs, but it has been a long time since I have swum on this plane. If I start to founder, send me back and call for me when you reach the other side - you have not cast any spells today so it should be fine.”

    Tyrius nods, but takes the rope out from the gear sack. As he burdens Eddard, he loops the rope through both packs and the saddle. If he has to dismiss the horse, he doesn’t want to lose all his equipment in the stream.

    Eddard re-enters the water, leading the rope. Tyrius follows some twenty feet behind, holding the other end. He gasps from the cold. Eddard starts forward, massive legs churning to keep him afloat as the current takes him toward the cliffs. Tyrius swims after him. There are a few tense moments as they enter the dark channel, steep rock walls rising above them and blocking the sun, the water rushing them forward. Eddard’s shoulders disappear beneath the waves and he sticks his head out straight up, but by the time they break through into the forest again he is touching bottom.

    Eddard and Tyrius climb, shivering, onto the northern bank of the stream, where a broad, flat sward makes it easy to leave the water. Tyrius quickly strips the gear from Eddard and then his own soaked travel clothes until he is down to his sodden small clothes. Wan, dappled sunlight filters through the trees and does little to warm them. Tyrius finds a worn wooden scraper in the tack bag and does his best to scrape the water from Eddard’s coat, but they both are trembling from cold by the end. During the procedure they have time to look around the clearing. The soft ground near the streambed is marked with the impression of many feet, and in one spot cracked and rippled as if a great concussive force had hit the ground. Along the northern bank there is a large section where the underbrush is blackened and burnt away, and even the trees are charred.

    “I don’t like the look of that,” says Tyrius.

    Eddard nickers. “At least it means your companions were here.”

    “Most likely,” Tyrius admits. “It does appear to be their handiwork.”

    Opening his own gear bag, Tyrius finds that the thick leather has kept the insides dry. He removes his quilted gambeson and dons it, soon feeling warmer.

    “They didn’t send a blanket for you,” he tells Eddard, “not even a quarter sheet.”

    “I’m sure they did what they could, poor folk. Let’s just get moving before I stiffen up.”

    “Alright - but which way? We came in from the east, from an elven city called Silglen - but I don’t know what direction they would have left. Aurora deceived us into entering Barovia, but she found what she was looking for there, so I don’t know what she would do next.”

    Eddard closes his eyes and goes still - his shivers subsiding for a moment. “I feel them west of us and much lower,” he says. “We take the trail to the west.”

    Tyrius repacks all the gear on Eddard, but without the rope, and together they walk across the ford and up the trail on the other side. The trail soon narrows, and Tyrius walks in the lead. After fifteen minutes of walking both of them are beginning to feel warm and limber, and Eddard tells Tyrius he can mount if he wants.

    After that it is easy going along the trail, slightly downhill, for another fifteen minutes, until they come to the edge of a great escarpment. There, the trail narrows to a ledge, and crosses down the face of the escarpment in a series of switchbacks. Eddard sighs. “Back on the Prime,” he says resolutely, “why don’t you dismount?”

    Tyrius lets Eddard go first, picking his way forward with caution along the narrow trail. He follows several steps behind, trying to keep one eye on the trail beneath him and one on the horse in front. By the time they reach the bottom, their muscles are again quivering, but not from cold.

    After a bit more walking Tyrius again mounts and the ride is thenceforth pleasant. Now and again the stream can be seen off to their right. By mid-day the forest has given way to an open grassland. “Now that’s more like it,” says Eddard, and neither complain about the light rain that soon arrives.

    By early afternoon Tyrius and Eddard are moving rapidly west along the trail, with the stream to their north and a thin, secondary forest interspersed with meadow to their south. By late afternoon they have come upon a ruined town, walls intact but with a fallen gate and burned buildings. Here the trail turns south, but also north through the town.

    Tyrius dismounts to study the tracks around the gate. “I suppose it could be them,” he says doubtfully, “but there are so many tracks! It wasn’t just them. And from the look of the town it was burned quite a while ago. I don’t think that’s Aurora’s work.”

    Eddard noses at a pile of horse droppings, twitching his mane at the flies he disturbs. “That’s recent,” he says, “earlier today.”

    “North or south?” asks Tyrius.

    “Your companions are south of here,” says Eddard, and Tyrius remounts.

    The party continues traveling along the road all afternoon. The trail continues south, but curves lazily to the west as it rises. Here and there when the trees thin or they ascend a ridge they can see the Javan alongside them.

    By day’s end Tyrius and Eddard have gone some 15 miles south of the burned ford town. They make camp along the trail in light forest, overlooking a broad bend in the Javan River. A few bones and apple cores along the roadside indicate a small group has eaten there recently.

    The party camps for the evening on the trail.

    27 October
    [wandering encounter; men (tribesmen)]
    The day dawns fair and clear for the party, but now that the road is easily traveled, Aurora begins to worry about pursuit. By the end of breakfast, she has convinced Babshapka to stay behind after they break camp. He should be able to spot any pursuers from a great distance with his keen elven sight, and traveling through the woods he can easily catch catch up with the party. Discussing with the rest of the party, they agree to stop at noon and wait, if Babshapka has not already caught up with them.

    The party says their farewells, and Aurora thanks Babshapka as they break camp. They continue along the road, which gradually curves to the south to follow the course of the Javan.

    Babshapka withdraws off the road to the west, finding a nice hiding spot where he can easily watch the road, north, and south, without being seen. He has been resting there, with his cloak wrapped around him for warmth on the chill morning, for a half an hour or so, when he hears the first rustle, gentle as the wind. The party is certainly out of earshot by this time. He turns casually, without giving away that he has heard a sound, and his hand goes to the hilt of one of his swords.

    A man creeps closer to him, obscured by the forest, his outline indistinct as he moves from shadow to shadow. Around him, behind him, Babshapka can spot other figures as well, but cannot even tell if they are men.

    Babshapka gathers his feet under him and stands. The man freezes for a second in a crouch, then he, too, stands and takes a few more steps toward the elf, at the end moving from the shadows and allowing the sunlight to fall upon him so that Babshapka can see him clearly. Despite the chill, the man is nearly naked, wearing only a rough loincloth. His skin is a dark tan, though, and covered with blue-black tattoos. His hair is coal-black and in braids. The sandals on his feet are of worn leather and nearly the same color as his skin.

    The man gestures at Babshapka, and speaks a heavily-accented Common. “Forest-man have two bows.”

    “Why yes, yes I do,” replies Babshapka, who is currently carrying his own, which is strung, and the one they took from the scout along the Owl Stream, which is not. The tan man does not appear to carry any bow, but he has a long knife, almost a machete, at his waist and a number of javelins strapped across his back.

    “Winter coming. People in my village hungry. You have many clothes. I thinking you have much food, much things. Maybe too much for one forest-man.”

    “I do alright for myself,” says Babshapka casually. Behind the man, the understory plants are in motion. He could likely down this man quickly, but the others would be upon him soon after the man fell.

    “No man can use two bows, even a forest-man. You better leave one here, so my people can eat this winter.” The man holds up his hand, weaponless, and another four men, dressed similarly, emerge from the brush.

    Babshapka reaches behind him, lays the fine ash bow down on the forest floor. He is going over the terrain in his head. He thinks he is a few hundred yards from the cliff edge, with the Javan river beneath - and his cloak of the manta ray already on. It can’t be a longer drop than the waterfall was.

    One of the men in the group behind says something in a thick language that Babshapka does not recognize. The man who spoke before continues in Common. “He say one bow okay, but not have string. He say you have coin to give us, can feed many children.”

    Babshapka smiles and loosens a pouch hanging from his belt. He takes out a single gold lion, holds it in the air for all the men to see, then tosses it forcefully at the man closest to him. Out of instinct, the man’s hands go up, away from his knife, and catch the coin, but by then Babshapka has already turned and is dashing away through the brush. Three javelins sail after him, but all miss their mark.

    Babshapka runs, swift and silent as a wood elf, toward the cliff. Behind him the men, slow and loud as humans, crash through the brush. He judges himself nearly a minute ahead of them when the thinning trees and open horizon mark the edge of the cliff. Babshapka sprints to the edge, prepared to launch himself into the water far below, but then digs in his heels at the last instant.

    Beneath him the cliff face drops some fifty feet - no more than the waterfall did. But there is not the broad Javan below. Instead there is a tumble of jagged fallen rocks, and then a wide swath of high reeds. The river itself is farther away than the cliff face is high. With a running jump he could easily clear the rocks - but even jumping from a tree he cannot clear the reeds and make it to open water. The reeds are likely in standing water, but not even a foot deep, with thick, clinging mud beneath. A jump from this height could easily break bones and sink him deep into the mud, perhaps deep enough so that he would be unable to pull himself out. His eye catches something else - just around the corner of the cliff face is a village at the water’s edge - a squalid, disorganized cluster of reed houses and dugout canoes. Human folk are everywhere around the village.

    A crash from the forest behind him tells him his pursuers are closing. Babshapka retreats from the cliff edge and melds into the light forest, turns and begins silently moving south. He is going slower now, stealthily and leaving no sign of his passage. He has not gone far when he hears hooting cries from the men behind him, and distant answering calls from the village.

    Tyrius and Eddard wake rested but cold from the night. They walk awhile in the morning light until Eddard is warm enough to allow Tyrius to mount. The road is soft grass and dirt and Eddard moves along at a brisk pace.

    The party continues for most of the morning, with the trail steadily climbing and retreating from the river. Babshapka was supposed to wait for an hour to see if they were being pursued, and then use the second hour to catch up to them. When they enter the third hour they assume he was delayed. They crest a ridge and start down the other side, now able to see the river again. By the end of the fourth hour they are concerned and Aurora is clearing her throat nervously. When they reach a small stream bed, Willa calls for a halt to refill their skins.

    Aurora takes her spider out from the curious extra-dimensional space it has been traveling in. “Charlotte, I dismiss you,” she says. “Return to me in the form of Buckbeak.” As the party begins to make camp for lunch, Aurora sets up her own brazier and puts incense on it. In ten minutes the hawk, last seen in an explosion of feathers at the end of an iron statue’s sword, appears on her shoulder. “Take wing!” commands Aurora, and the hawk rises into the air.

    It is soon apparent that the hawk will spot nothing of interest while remaining close enough to Aurora to be telepathically linked - there is no one along the trail within a mile of them. Aurora commands Buckbeak to fly north out of range, to go between the road and the river, and to come back and tell her of everything he has seen.

    The party is just finishing their lunch when the hawk returns. As Aurora contacts its mind, a flash of images appear. A solitary knight on horseback, riding rapidly south along the trail. A single wood elf, making his way furtively through the forest at the edge of the cliff above the river. She tries to concentrate on the details that would let her identify the man, or the elf, but the hawk did not look for the things she would, and its memories do not suit her purposes. It has no recollection of the man’s tabard, but can recall in great detail the woodmouse flushed from the road by the horse’s hooves.

    Aurora tells what she saw to the party. “Well, yon solitary elf be Babshapka, are me name t’aint Wilhemina,” says Willa thoughtfully. “But yon knight's a’tother story. 'e might be Tyrius - but 'e might be Aurora’s special friend, as well.”

    After packing up camp, Aurora arranges them in an ambush, with Thokk enthusiastically participating, the others less so. Her initial ideas of pit traps, deadfalls, and giant logs swinging from ropes are met with skepticism by the others. Finally she settles for positioning to attack the knight before they can clearly see him (or he can see them, as Aurora insists). She writes a message on a small scrap of parchment, rolls it in a tube, has Buckbeak clench it in a talon, and tells him to go after the elf and lead him to them.

    It is not long after that when the party hears the soft hoof-falls of the mounted knight approaching. Aurora, crouching behind a fallen tree, has just summoned a firebolt to her hand and is preparing to launch it when from beside her Larry cries out, “Tyrius!” and bounds forward. By the time she comes out from the brush, the dwarf is happily embracing the leg of the mounted man.

    “Well met, well met, one and all!” calls Tyrius heartily as the rest of the party emerges from hiding. His horse clears its throat, pointedly. “Excuse me,” continues Tyrius, “it is my pleasure to introduce you to my celestial mount, and new trusted companion, Eddard.”

    The party, now two members larger, returns to their campsite by the stream.

    Babshapka works his way silently through the forest. He has been back to the cliff face a dozen times, without luck. If anything, the cliff appears to be getting higher, but the waters of the Javan are never closer than he saw the first time, and are often farther. There is no way for him to jump down. Climbing down might be an option, but at this point, how would he climb back up - and where would he do so? He has no idea where the party is, or whether he has already passed them. He could turn inland to the road at any point - he has no doubt lost his pursuers - but how would he know upon finding the road whether to go forward or back?

    So he continues to move south through the forest. He consoles himself with the fact that he is nearly invisible, a wood elf in the forest, moving stealthily. None will note his presence nor his passing. He moves like an unseen shadow through the trees. Above him, a hawk circles, then plummets down, landing on a branch in front of him, and squawks. It balances awkwardly on one leg, while holding forth the other at Babshapka, a tiny piece of rolled parchment in its talons.

    Babshapka takes the offered parchment and unrolls it. Hastily-written and rolled before dry, the smudged ink has but three words in elven - “follow the bird”.

    Over the next half hour, Babshapka moves through the forest to the southeast, at a faster pace now. The hawk hops from branch to branch ahead of him, occasionally breaking free of the canopy, circling to get its bearings, then returning to him. It is perhaps an hour after midday when Babshapka emerges beside a small stream, where the rest of the party waits.

    Aurora and Tyrius are in a heated discussion. Tyrius was quite content to listen to the party describe how they waited for him in Barovia, how Father Donovich convinced them to leave over the protestations of Aurora, and how they returned to the forest trail...but were immediately set upon by the knight, foot soldiers, and elven scouts. Here the tale breaks down somewhat, as they each offer different versions of what transpired, but Aurora’s version has her being attacked without provocation by what was obviously an impostor knight.

    Tyrius is concerned over the possibility that the knight was real - he reminds Aurora that she did trick the party into entering a land that was off-limits to visitors and guarded by the elves and druids against passage, and she did emerge from that place with a tome of ancient knowledge that was obviously valued by a vampire lord, valued as much as his own diary. Aurora continues to claim that it was clear the knight was not real. Tyrius asks her if she will agree to submit to a new spell that he has been granted, Zone of Truth. She considers it, knowing full well she will need Tyrius’ support should the knight appear again with a host behind him. Finally she agrees, under the condition that Tyrius ask her only about the book and the knight and nothing else.

    Once inside the holy Zone of Truth, Aurora explains again that the book does not have any malevolent powers, it was a simple history, but one that runs counter to the official history of Keoland. And that the knight was acting strangely, bore no recognizable device, and that she honestly believes that he is working on behalf of some nefarious power, although he likely convinced the good elves and soldiers of Greyhill to help him, in the name of a king he does not actually serve.

    When she is done, Tyrius studies her, and Eddard, too, is looking intently at her. Uncomfortable, she demands of Tyrius, “So what are you going to do when this knight appears, huh?”

    “Well,” says Tyrius carefully, “I know of a few questions that should get him to reveal his true nature, and I’m sure Eddard can help me think of some more. If he is indeed a false knight, that is a grave crime against the crown, and I will help you subdue him and turn him over to whatever local authorities we can find. I would even consider using my zone of truth to interrogate him as to his real purpose, intentions, and master.”

    Aurora grins in satisfaction, but as Tyrius continues, her grin fades.

    “Of course, if he is truly in service to the king, than I will help him complete his mission of arresting you. It is entirely possible that it was, in fact, a crime for you to read that book. You should count yourself lucky he did not accuse you of entering Barovia, for we are all of us guilty of that.”

    “A crime to read the book! But I did not even know. If it is secret knowledge, how could I have known? What kind of crazy law condemns you for doing something that no one would even tell you is a crime? And what kind of king would enforce such an insane law? How could you serve such a king?!”

    Despite Aurora’s anger, Tyrius remains calm. He has heard these objections before many times, posed in his theology and ethics classes. “Let me remind you that I serve no king, I serve an immortal and infallible god. Kings are mortal men, and they can make mistakes. But it is our duty to obey their laws, nonetheless, so long as the laws are just. And I can believe a law forbidding transaction in knowledge, even true knowledge, would be just - if such knowledge posed a threat to a good realm. A dangerous but secret truth may pose more of a threat to a peaceful kingdom than an invading army - and it is the duty of a king to protect his people, even from such truths. And,” he adds pointedly, “ignorance of a law is no excuse, if the law is just. If you are guilty of breaking the law of Keoland, and if this knight is a representative of Keoland, he is well within his rights and duties to arrest you, and I will help him.”

    Aurora has been turning scarlet as Tyrius lectures her, but something he says at the end distracts her and she seizes on it. ‘A representative of Keoland?’ She forces herself to calm down so she can think. “Tyrius,” she says finally. “The other side of the river is not Keoland.” She points at the nearby Javan.

    “No, I believe it is the Yeomanry, from what Willa has told us.”

    “What if that knight met us over there and sought to arrest me?”

    “A knight of Keoland has no authority in the Yeomanry. As a companion of mine, I would help you resist such an unlawful act.”

    “Even if he was a true knight - which of course he is not.”

    “Even if he were a true knight,” says Tyrius, emphasizing the subjunctive tense that marks his speech as noble, “and even if you had committed a crime in Keoland, neither that crime nor his authority could follow you to Yeoman soil.”

    “And you will help me get over there?”

    “I see no reason to stop you - at least not until we know the truth of the situation. If he is truly a knight of Keoland, it should be easy for him to catch you on foot and make his claim to me.”

    “Well then, let’s get moving!” shouts Aurora, turning and striding across the stream and down the trail.

    They camp along the banks of a river, a small tributary of the Javan. The fading afternoon light reveals a broad natural ford of flat rocks. There is a thunderstorm that evening - mostly light and noise, but a good bit of cold wind and rain as well. Aurora and Willa remain dry in Willa’s oilskin tent, but the others are soaked and shivering by storm’s end. After the rain finally passes, Thokk builds up the fire to dangerous proportions and the rest of the party huddles by it for warmth and to dry their clothes and bed rolls.

    28 October
    The party is woken before dawn by a cold rain with occasional bursts of hail. It is a dismal morning even after sunrise, but Thokk keeps the fire high and when the rain finally peters out around eight in the morning they depart. With wet clothes, wet gear, and wet sleeping rolls, they are all of them hopeful of reaching Nighford, or at least a town large enough to have an inn, by nightfall.

    It has already been a full day of travel and Willa is about ready to call a halt to camp when the trail emerges from the woods into a great vista. Before them, the land slopes gently down to a grassy river valley, with the river itself some two miles distant and the trail passing through a town at the ford. Kine in the fields and smoke from the town tells them that this town is occupied, not abandoned. Sloping up again on the other side of the valley, the land is dotted with fields and pastures, thorps and crofts until it attains a plateau at roughly their elevation. There, at the edge of the plateau, is a great city, the largest they have seen since Dearwald, and likely larger than Seaton. It can’t be Nighford, for it is clearly on the Keoish side of the river, and far inland from the Javan at that.

    Willa judges it some five miles to the city, and unlikely for them to arrive before dark, but the thought of a table-meal, hot bath, and soft bed soon has nearly all of them agreeing to continue. Thokk’s thoughts are more of table-ale, no bath, and a shared bed, but he is all for continuing, too. Larry decries the so-called “comforts” of civilization and bemoans his sore feet, saying that he would like nothing more than some acorns and a bed of leaves, but he agrees to go on for the sake of his companions.

    They reach the ford just before sunset, which is fortunate, for the tiny river-town is walled and the gates are about to be shut. The gate guard asks them all manner of questions, but his respect for Tyrius finally overcomes his suspicions of the rest of them, and he makes it quite clear that he would not let the lot of them in were it not for the word of the paladin. They pass through the town and over a great wooden bridge. The guard, having closed the gate behind them, accompanies them with his squad of men. He remarks that they seen to be carrying quite a bit of weaponry, and informs them that drawing a blade is illegal in both the low town and the city above, which he names Lavienth. When they ask about inns he begrudgingly admits that there are inns in the town, but immediately suggests the ones in the city as being of better quality, and it is clear he would like nothing more than for them to move along. There seems little of note in the town besides mills, granaries, butchers, and tanneries, so the party agrees to continue even as dusk draws about them.

    It is indeed dark by the time they get to the city of Lavienth but they find neither wall nor gate, just a hazy outline of cattle and goat pens before the streets are paved and the houses start. Aurora spots a beggar-man and asks for a guide to the city’s second-best inn. He replies that it is a long walk in the dark and thirsty work, and she jingles her purse.

    Once they are in the better part of the town the streets are lit by torches and oil-pots. The beggar proudly shows them the inn, “The Painted Cow”, follows them in behind, and goes immediately to the bar while Tyrius is arranging for rooms, dinner, and stabling.

    They seat themselves at tables and are served quickly, as the dinner was ready an hour before and just needed to be reheated. At the rate the beggar is drinking, Willa decides to question him quickly before he passes out or needs to empty his stomach in the alley. The party, or at least those in it who ponder such things, is most curious about why the land to the north along the river is so desolate, with only burned and ruined villages and farms.

    The beggar tells them that when he was a lad, all the lands to the north, “the lands of the old Count”, were indeed fertile and populated, and the trail they used was much-traveled, for there was land traffic as well as river-trade between Lavienth and Millen. Of course, the river being the border between Keoland and the Yeomanry, there were many raids as well. The Keoish bandits crossed the river to steal goats and waylay mining caravans, and the Yeoman raiders crossed over to capture cows and poach crown timber for ship masts. Local authorities on both sides ignored these brigands so long as they confined their activities to the other side of the river. Still, there were unwritten rules - few people were slain and no villages razed, for that would lessen the future income of everyone. “Ye might steal the milk from yer neighbor’s cow,” the beggar chortles in his ale, “but if ye kill the cow ta make steak, there’ll be no milk tomorrow, eh?”

    This happy state of affairs ended some 15 years ago, during what the man calls “The Long Summer”. That year saw the addition of a new force to the mix - lizardfolk raiders. The “flickers” would come out of the Javan in large parties, raid the coastal communities, and disappear beneath the waters before the militia or soldiers of the Count could respond. As they grew more bold, they began capturing not just livestock but people, and putting towns to the torch. The brigands, seeing their livelihood slipping away, grew more desperate in their own raids, no longer sparing people and towns and raiding on their own side of the river as well as across it, building up their stores to survive a desolate winter. The local militias were overwhelmed and even the forces of the Count outnumbered by the three different enemy factions. The small folk deserted the lands of their lords and fled to cities north or south. The first refugees were hung as runaways, their Lords hoping to discourage others, but when the numbers turned to hundreds, the King himself intervened and forbade further executions. By the end of the raiding season, when the winter rains started and the roads turned to mud, there was not a town left standing between Lavienth and Millen, nor a human dweller remaining. Come springtime no one returned to plant or sow. The lands have been deserted ever since.

    As the beggar speaks, Willa is returned to her childhood. She can just barely remember “The Long Summer”, and how all the adults were fearful at the time, talked of troubles in lands far away, and lit candles and prayed that the troubles would not come to Saltmarsh. It has been many a year since she has recalled that memory.

    Thokk has been reminiscing as well, but warmly remembering his lizardfolk army, and at the conclusion of the beggar’s tale, he raises his stein. “A toast to the flickers!” he shouts, inviting all in the common room to drink with him to the martial successes of the lizardfolk. He doesn’t understand why all the townsfolk present glare at him and whisper or why Tyrius reddens as if embarrassed.

    Not long after this, the beggar’s speech begins to slur and his tales grow less coherent. The party, bellies full and a long trail behind them, decide to retire upstairs for the night.
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    Wed Oct 02, 2019 8:41 am  

    Poor Tyrius! He seems to have his hands full between Barnabus, Aurora, and Thokk. It is a good thing Willa is there to give him a hand. Smile

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    Wed Oct 02, 2019 12:37 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    Poor Tyrius! He seems to have his hands full between Barnabus, Aurora, and Thokk. It is a good thing Willa is there to give him a hand. Smile SirXaris

    And now Eddard as well! To lend a hoof, anyway.
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    Tue Oct 08, 2019 11:03 am  
    Post 85: Lavienth to Nighford

    DM's Note on Sources:
    I don't know what the original source of Lavienth and Nighford are; neither are on the Darlene maps so they are possibly Triad work.

    This site: describes Nighford as a "small farming community" of 600, but I imagine it as a rather larger center of river trade.

    Anna Meyer's maps give both Nighford and Lavienth the symbol of "Small Town" (population 200-2000) and adds a "ferry" symbol to Nighford. Her maps show Lavienth to be inland. I reasoned that there must be a geographical reason for the town to not be on the water, as normally that would make more economic sense.

    Post 85: Lavienth to Nighford

    29 October, 570 - Lavienth
    The party is up late, sore from their forced march the previous day. It is still early for drinking, though, so they have the common room to themselves and can engage Hartan, the barkeep, in conversation about the city.

    Lavienth is the northernmost city in the County of Eor, and was so even before the Long Summer, for there was nothing similar in size all the way to Millen. It is far from the Javan, a day’s travel by foot, but the river trade is still important. A road leads to a port town on the Javan some 12 miles away, across the river from Nighford in the Yeomanry. The party will easily be able to obtain crossing there, if Nighford is their destination - though why they would want to go to such a place of lawless anarchy, where neither gentle blood nor the gods themselves are respected, is beyond Hartan. The port town is built on a raised, rocky spit, but the land all around is low and often flooded by the river, which is why a city like Nighford never grew on the Keoish side of the Javan.

    Lavienth is the “hub of the north” and the focal point for all the goods produced in the region. It has any number of bakers, brewers, tanners, butchers, leatherworkers, cobblers, weavers, dyers, clothiers, and so forth who take the raw materials of the hinterlands (principally wheat, corn, cotton, and cattle), produce all that the good folk of the city need, and sell the surplus to the river trade. The Count of Eor mostly stays in his capital of Jaedre, south along the river, and seldom ventures up here, more’s the pity, leaving most of the power in Lavienth to the guilds and the wealthy merchant houses, chief among which is the Verdunn.

    The party tells Hartan that they are interested in buying provisions and perhaps barding, and he gives them directions to the open market and armorer’s way. They spend the day in the markets, restocking their supplies of oil and torches, having minor mending and repairs made to their clothes, bags, and armor, and also purchasing rations - traveling food for another ten days of journey. It is an abundant fall and Thokk has had no problem supplying them with game on the road from the Owl Stream to Lavienth, but now that they are in civilized lands, Willa does not want him foraging. Thokk is confused, and tries to explain that it is even easier to forage here, for the countryside is swarming with chickens, pigs, goats, and cows, but in the end he takes the word of his evil advisor that with all the strange people about they need him close to the party and not off hunting by himself. They spend all afternoon on armorer’s way, with Tyrius looking to purchase barding for Eddard. He inquires about the prices for different kinds of barding - leather, chain, splint, half plate, full plate. He considers selling his own suit of splint mail to raise money. In the end he purchases a set of chain barding with help from the party, most members contributing a fair amount of coins. Eddard makes sure to thank each of them formally and individually. The armorer that fits the suit is honored to arm the mount of a true paladin, but is obviously flustered that the steed himself is giving him direction about the fitting of the pieces - telling him in no uncertain terms which straps are tight and which are loose, where the padding needs to be augmented and where it can be reduced.

    In the evening they retire to the inn for dinner. Aurora and Willa are eager to ask about local news. Most of it is banal - which villages have their harvest in, which are shorthanded because of fall fever, which merchants are planning on hosting Masquerade Balls and whether they will serve food to the small folk outside. The only “big news” is the summer campaign against the Sea Devils, where the Viscount of Salinmore led a coalition of strange sea-races against the vicious Devils that had blockaded the mouth of the Javan, resulting in a brilliant and decisive victory. “I heard there were some adventurers involved in that fight” mentions Willa, which gets the room abuzz with conversations about the nature of the adventurers, most of them foreign, many of them not human, and what role (if any) they had in the victory of the Viscount. After a few minutes, Barnabus stands up on a table in the center of the room, lute in hand. “I happen to know a few songs about that campaign,” he says, “perhaps if Hartan could compensate me for my bill for this evening, I could entertain his patrons?” A roar fills the common room, and Hartan looks up from the stein he is filling, glowering. Then he grins, “As long as ye finish with some drinking songs to get the custom flowing, I’ll give ye tonight and last night on the house.”

    Barnabus strums a few chords and begins…

    “Oh, the blades did flash, the blood did flow,
    the Viscount waxed political,
    but through it all, there shone the smile,
    of Barnabus the minstrel!”

    30 October
    The party rises much earlier this morning, settles accounts with Hartan, and is out in the cobbled streets of the city even as most of the shopkeepers and merchants are just opening for business. They leave the city by following a road leading southwest and spend the morning on a high bluff overlooking the Javan below. River traffic has now resumed after the storm they weathered, and there are numerous barges and galleons going both directions on the broad river. The road is as well-traveled as the river, and they are continually being passed by riders, themselves passing heavily-laden carts pulled by oxen, and meeting both types of traffic going the opposite way.

    By late morning the road begins descending a long, gentle slope down off the bluff and approaches the river. They can see the port town clearly, and Nighford across the water vaguely through a humid haze. Their last mile of travel is on a road shored up with rocks and stone above the level of the surrounding marsh. Here and there is evidence that whole sections of the road have been swept away in floods and then replaced. Mosquitoes and blackflies follow them in great swarms, desperate for one final good meal before the first hard frost, which could come any day. Eddard tosses his mane and flicks his tail and almost loses his composure, but contents himself with ruminating aloud about the trials of the lands of the living and how not all tests of faith are to be found in combat.

    Finally the ground rises just a few feet and turns rocky and they arrive at the port town, where a cluster of wooden warehouses fight for space along a narrow stony spit. The low-lying lands about the town are given over to corrals and wagon-yards, and wooden piers of all shapes and sizes jut into the river. The narrow streets teem with people, beasts of burden, and goods, and the party resorts to sending Thokk first to force a way through the crowds. With the half-orc clearing a path for them, they eventually arrive at a dock that looks to have a number of passenger ferries available.

    Willa negotiates a price for the exclusive use of a larger, flat-bottomed skiff that has just enough room on deck for them, their gear, and Eddard. There is a bronzed man at the tiller and four darker men on the oars - as dark as the ones who waylaid Babshapka, but without nearly as many tattoos. The helmsman steers them into the current and they drift downstream for several minutes before he brings it about and the oarsmen begin to pull. The afternoon is warm and within minutes the men are sweating freely. Fortunately the breeze picks up once they are out on the open water, dispersing the rancid smell of the men and the cloud of biting flies. With the men crossing the wide river laterally but fighting the entire time to not be carried downstream, it will be a long passage, and Willa opens their bags to bring out jerky, dried fruits, and waterskins for the party. The oarsmen have a dull look about them, and if they secretly desire the cool water the party is drinking they do not show it.

    It is more than a mile across the river and the men must have rowed some three times that when they finally make landing in Nighford. Of the several coins the party gave the helmsman, he hands one over to a dockmaster, and then helps them unload their gear. The local stevedores watch with curiosity as Eddard, without reins or halter, waits for the skiff to be made fast before he calmly steps to the dock, then proceeds a few feet forward to give the party room to disembark.

    Nighford is a strange mix of familiar and unfamiliar. The houses and shops seem nearly identical to those in Lavienth, but the people are markedly different. Beggars and prostitutes are conspicuously missing from the streets, but so are fat priests in robes and gentlemen in colored silks. It is as if everyone in the city were gainfully and honorably employed, sparing only the occasional cripple or drunkard. Craftsmen, laborers, and tradesmen abound but there is nary a wretched hovel nor sleek polished carriage to be seen - a very curious city, indeed. Even more curious is the abundance of weaponry - small folk everywhere are armed, and not just with utility knives at their belts, but with staves and spears and even the occasional short sword.

    The afternoon is wearing on when the party begins their search for an inn. They pass several as they leave the docks; places with large common rooms full of drinking, swearing, fighting men. Thokk looks wistfully at them but Tyrius and Eddard insist that they head inland. Along the way they are passed by numerous squadrons of soldiers or watchmen. These may be recruits in training, for they carry the shafts of long spears without heads, and they are invariably running in formation while some sergeant or other jogs along beside them barking in the Yeoman tongue. Willa notes that in any group of ten or fifteen there are one or two women, dressed in the same tunics and sandals and mixed indiscriminately among the formations.

    When the buildings have turned from wood to stone Tyrius tells Thokk that he can have his pick of any inn he can find, but they all look staid and boring now so the half-orc delegates the choice to Willa, who selects one with an ample stable and the strong smell of roasting meat coming from the kitchen. Even as the party is dividing their gear between rooms and figuring out who is sleeping in which bed, Barnabus is tuning his lute.
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    Tue Oct 08, 2019 11:55 am  

    October 30th

    ...River traffic has now resumed after the storm they weathered, and there are numerous barges and galleons going both directions on the broad river.

    Did you mean 'galleys'? Galleons may be correct for your campaign, but they seem a bit large, even for a river the size of the Javan.

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    Tue Oct 08, 2019 2:29 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    Did you mean 'galleys'? Galleons may be correct for your campaign, but they seem a bit large, even for a river the size of the Javan.

    The Javan is the longest river in the Flaneass and has equivalent depth and volume. It is navigable by deep draft ocean-going vessels, including galleons, all the way to Cryllor.

    See also:
    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.&nbsp;

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    Mon Oct 14, 2019 6:50 pm  

    Kirt wrote:
    SirXaris wrote:
    Did you mean 'galleys'? Galleons may be correct for your campaign, but they seem a bit large, even for a river the size of the Javan.

    The Javan is the longest river in the Flaneass and has equivalent depth and volume. It is navigable by deep draft ocean-going vessel, including galleons, all the way to Cryllor.

    See also:

    Great answer! Thanks for the links. I was imagining a galleon as a Man-O'-War, but apparently, they aren't that big. 🙂

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    Wed Oct 16, 2019 8:12 am  

    SirXaris wrote:
    Kirt wrote:
    SirXaris wrote:
    Did you mean 'galleys'? Galleons may be correct for your campaign, but they seem a bit large, even for a river the size of the Javan.

    The Javan is the longest river in the Flaneass and has equivalent depth and volume. It is navigable by deep draft ocean-going vessel, including galleons, all the way to Cryllor.

    I was imagining a galleon as a Man-O'-War, but apparently, they aren't that big.

    It's a slippery term - if you go into the 17th and even early 18th Century I think there are still things called galleons hauling gold from the New World to Spain, with two or three full decks of cannons, etc. But no, I wasn't trying to imply anything nearly as big (and my Greyhawk certainly doesn't have cannon). Just the late Medieval galleons like in the links.
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    Wed Oct 16, 2019 8:35 am  
    Post 86: Nighford

    The party can recognize a plot hook when they see one!

    Post 86: Nighford

    October 31, 571 - Nighford
    Aurora is glad to be out of Keoland and away from the jurisdiction of the self-proclaimed knight, but for the moment the party is unsure of what their next move is. After they contribute to Tyrius’ purchase of barding for Eddard, many of them are low on funds, and a brief talk over breakfast at the inn reveals that all of them are amenable to seeking employment - as caravan guards, monster slayers, or adventurers. There must be some work in the Yeomanry for folk of their talents. The only one who seems uninterested in this is Barnabus. He announces that he will be visiting the market and purchasing two riding mules, so that he and Larry no longer slow the party as they travel. He is tired of the japes of Thokk and grumblings of Willa with regards to his speed overland, and his overtures to Eddard over the last several days have all been rebuffed, with Eddard saying in no uncertain terms that the only way he would allow the halfling to ride him would be if Barnabus were unconscious and bleeding out and being carried to healing.

    The market seems like a good place to seek employment, so the party leaves their equipment at the inn and ventures forth. The market square is large and offers a dizzying array of goods - tropical fruits, coffee, tea, meats, bolts of cloth (linen, cotton, and silk), rice, wheat, and corn by the bushel, jewelry, salt, spices, pipeweed, leather...There is a disorderly array of market stalls lining the winding paths, but no clear routes, so that they have to wend their way along, unsure of their direction, with loud Yeoman tradesmen hawking their wares on all sides. Here and there are larger empty spaces where no tent-stalls have been set up - invariably these are filled with tight clusters of people betting on dog fights and boxing matches.

    Eddard sticks his nose in the air and sets them in the general direction of the stock yards, but there are no straight routes and they move back and forth across the true trail as if tacking before the wind. When they finally arrive they are all hot, thirsty, and over-stimulated by the sights and sounds. Thokk treats the party to the shade of a beer tent while Barnabus negotiates the purchase of two mules and tack, including packs and frames.

    Many of the horse traders have large operations, and appear to be prosperous merchants - of more importance than the simple tradesmen of the city. These merchant masters do not display their wealth in silks and jewelry like the wealthy of Keoland, but the party notes that the clothes they wear are of far better quality than the people around them - fine linen shirts with toggles of horn, not wood. Their heavy cotton pants show neither patches nor wear. They have high leather boots and wide belts with decorative tooling, often with slink or kid gloves tucked in. These men barely stand out from a distance or in a crowd, but up close their superior means are readily apparent.

    Willa, Tyrius, and Aurora speak with several of the merchant men, but none of them seem to be hiring - at least not hiring people like the party, who are effectively foreign mercenaries with no references. A few of the harder men remark that they are not fools, and that they may as well turn over their caravans before the journey starts, as to pay a party of strangers to turn cloak on them and take their goods by force in the middle of the journey. A few of the more pleasant men suggest that the party register themselves with the Nighford Captain of the Guard if they want mercenary work.

    Once Barnabus has his mules, and with no prospects forthcoming, the party leaves the market and heads for the offices of the City Guard, lunching at a cafe along the way. The Captain of the Guard shows little pretense and agrees to see them soon after they arrive. After listening to them, he says there are, at the moment, no jobs requiring their talents in the city. Of course, he can find them work guarding warehouses, doing night patrols in cemeteries, killing rats in the sewers, and such, but these things will neither pay for their fancy inn nor the upkeep on their armor and mounts. He suggests that they head north into the Little Hills. There are many small mining communities there, but it is a rugged and wild land and monster-hunters can often find a lair simply by going off-trail for a day. Furthermore, with winter coming, many mines are sending out their “last caravan of the year” and frequently need extra guards if locals are in short supply.

    Since the Captain seems friendly and talkative, Aurora questions him about the nature of the Yeomanry. In broad terms, he says he knows that “you Keoish” (Aurora does not correct him to say that she is, in fact, Uleki) think of the Yeoman as lawless anarchists. In fact, they have just as ordered a society and just as many laws as in Keoland - but they don’t believe in the privilege of blood and birth. There are wealthy men in the Yeomanry, but no nobles. Laws are made by the Speakers, men (and a few women) elected by local communities and representational districts. Anyone who has served in the Yeoman military, man or woman, is allowed to vote or run for Speaker. Or, in the words of the Captain, “everyone who has carried a spear for our country has an equal say in our laws”. He also notes that the Yeomen follow almost all the same gods as the Keoish do, “we just don’t allow the fat priests to get into bed with the nobles and squeeze coppers from peasants to build fine churches that serve their own egos”.

    Aurora asks him how magic and mages are viewed by the populace. The Captain says that the Yeoman value their freedom above all else, and are thus suspicious of mages, who are said to be able to bewitch men’s minds and rob them of their volition. That being said, the practice of magic itself is not forbidden. Should Aurora wish to practice the Craft while in the Yeomanry, she should be careful not to cast a spell on a Yeoman, but aside from that she should be fine.

    Aurora asks whether there are many mages in the city, and he laughs and says “None of any power. Oh, sure we have apothecaries and hedge wizards, women who will tell your fortune and men who can entertain with pretty lights, but no true mages. The only wizard of any real power hereabouts is the Sage of Highfell.” When Aurora presses him on that, he explains that Highfell is a mining community high in the Little Hills on a spur off the north road out of Nighford. The Sage is known to have a great historical library in his tower, and is rumored to be a wizard of quite some power as well.

    “So what you are saying is that, high in the monster-infested hills there is a mining community that may need caravan guards before winter, and the community is overseen by a Sage who has both a library of ancient lore and can cast spells?” The Captain nods, and the party has their destination.

    They return to the inn for the afternoon, and prepare for an early start on the morrow.
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    Last edited by Kirt on Tue Oct 29, 2019 10:41 am; edited 1 time in total
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    Tue Oct 22, 2019 1:30 pm  
    Post 87: Nighford to Highfell

    DM's Note on Sources:
    I used the stone bridge over an unnamed tributary of the Javan, Fort Rockturm, and the "village" of Highfell because of their inclusion on Anna Meyer's maps of the Yeomanry, but I do not know their original sources.
    None of them are on the Darlene map. As far as I can tell, these locations are not from the LG Player's Guide to the Yeomanry.

    Rich Trickey (chatdemon) has a map of the Yeomanry with Nighford and Highfel [sic].

    The same site I referenced in Post 85 ( describes Highfell as a community surrounded by vineyards and producing wine.

    Thus, so far as I remember, it is my own invention to describe Highfell as a mining town. The Sage of Highfell is also my own invention, although the Sage and the Speaker fulfill the same narrative roles as the Seer and the Duke of Urnst in the original module to which the players are unknowingly headed.

    DM's note on 5E Equipment
    The Player's handbook has the following listing for clothes:
    Common 5sp 3lb
    Fine 15gp 6lb
    Traveler's 2gp 4lb

    I told my players that if they wanted their characters to be active in temperatures below freezing, they would need to purchase "cold weather gear" for 5gp and weighing 8lb. I imagined this consisting of woolen cloaks, pants and tunic, a thick waterproof leather jack, and boots. The boots and jack would both be lined with cheap furs.

    Post 87: Nighford to Highfell

    1 November, 570 - Nighford, the Yeomanry
    [Thunderstorm, 5-6pm]

    The party leaves the city of Nighford at first light, three riding and four walking. Just outside the city the ground rises steeply but the road is well-paved for the first mile, and has gravel and crushed stone with drainage ditches after that. They pass by farming hamlets and thorps that are little more than huts in the middle of pastureland. The ground here is drier and rockier than on the Keoish side of the river, the forests smaller with scrub trees, not the towering pines of the Dreadwood. It is not a lush or particularly fertile farmland, and the freemen they meet are poor but proud and do not bow their heads like peasants when the party passes.

    By mid-morning they have crested a ridge and work their way down the other side, eventually arriving at low, boggy land alongside the river. Here the settlements are few and the bugs are many. They spend the rest of the morning and then the afternoon traversing this barren country. In the late afternoon they begin to climb again, finally leaving the bugs behind. They are still an hour or more from making camp when a sudden thunderstorm sweeps over the hills above them from the west, drenching them for an hour. By the time it ends, Willa says they will use what light they have left to gather firewood among the thorny scrub trees of the slopes so as to dry their things before they bed down. The night passes uneventfully. Far beneath them on the Javan, a few daring river captains sail by night, lanterns lighting their tiny ships like aquatic fireflies.

    2 November
    [Wandering encounter; subtropical patrolled hills; Giant Owl]
    The party rises early for another day on the road. The trail climbs higher and further away from the river as it passes over several miles of rugged hillside. There is little life on the dry slopes besides the occasional band of wild goats. In the afternoon the trail descends to a deserted high moor, with huge rock outcrops in the high places and stagnant mires in the low spots. The party sees no sign of other people until the very last hour of their march. Then, they ascend a steep slope to the edge of a deep gorge. At the narrowest spot of the gorge, a massive stone bridge crosses the span. Far below a foaming whitewater river cascades through the bottom of the gorge before spilling out into the lazy Javan.

    On the near side of the bridge a company of Yeoman soldiers is encamped. Their officers talk with the party, are immediately suspicious of the band of well-armed foreigners, and demand to know their business. Upon learning that the party seeks the counsel of the Sage of Highfell they are somewhat placated, and when they give the name of the Nighford Captain of the Guard and say that he sent them this way, they agree to let them pass. They advise the party to take the next left, for the trail splits soon after the bridge, with the lower path continuing along the river and the upper one leading to Highfell Valley.

    There is a similar encampment of soldiers on the far side of the bridge, and the party manages another mile beyond that before Willa calls a halt for the night. Those on night watch report seeing a huge bird circling silently above them, occasionally blocking out one or the other of the moons. Babshapka swears it is a giant owl.

    3 November
    Some four miles from the bridge, at the end of their first hour of march for the day, the party finds a large cairn at the edge of the road, marking the place where the river trail continues north, but the side trail leading to the Highfell Valley branches off north and west. The side trail is steep and narrow, and lacks the wagon-ruts of the main trail - passage here is by foot or mount, but not any wheeled transport. As the morning wears on they climb higher and higher until Willa and Aurora would swear they are in mountains, but Thokk and Larry scoff and say these are but foothills.

    Just as they are considering stopping for a midday meal, they crest a ridge and can see down into a small valley below. High on one of the walls of the valley is an imposing stone fort. The trail descends to the valley floor, passes through a small village, and exits the far end of the valley without arriving at the fort itself. Willa declares that they will lunch in the village and gather information about Highfell.

    The fort is Fort Rockturm, a stronghold which allows the Yeoman to guard the only access to the Highfell Valley. The village is called simply “Bottom”, and although there are a few shops, dairy barns, and butcheries, most of the buildings are taverns, brothels, and bathhouses for the soldiers of the fort. It is easy enough to find a hot meal and hear gossip about their destination.

    Bartenders, serving wenches, and off-duty soldiers alike are all friendly enough, and tell the party that Highfell is less than a day’s journey ahead. It is a peaceful and prosperous mining community, like many here in the Little Hills, but it is remarkable for the presence of the Sage of Highfell, an ancient wizard who possesses the best library of lore outside of Loftwick (the capital city of the Yeomanry). The Tower of the Sage admits few visitors these days, and any petitioners are carefully screened by the Lord of Highfell. The Tower is within Highfell Keep itself, above Highfell Town. The “Lord” is really the Speaker of Highfell, elected representative of the community, but he has been elected so many times that he has been in continuous residence at the Keep for longer than most citizens of Highfell have been alive, and folk simply call him “the Lord” - though never within his hearing! The party is warned to refer to him as “Speaker” or “Venerable Speaker” in his presence, and further warned to keep their business in Highfell to less than a month in duration, if they don’t want to be there for the winter. The first snow of the year usually closes access to the valley until spring. When the party asks what could possibly take them a month there, they are told that it is rare that visitors are allowed to see the Sage, and often must wait for weeks or longer.

    Bellies and ears full, the party prepares to leave Bottom, but not before they each purchase a full complement of winter weather gear - fur-lined boots, woolen cloaks and breeches, and heavy leather jackets. It is still too warm to wear such things now, but they are packed away on the two mules. The trail passes by the base of the cliff face on which the fort perches, so that there is a long stretch with the walls and towers of the fort looming high above them. Babshapka says that he can see ballistae and catapults along the battlements and doesn’t doubt that the trail could be fired upon. Once beyond the valley, they spend the afternoon climbing higher and higher into the hills before finally making camp for the night.

    4 November
    [Heavy Rain, 5-6pm]
    It proves to be less than fifteen miles to Highfell from their morning camp, but the way is ever-ascending up switchbacks and through narrow passes, over rockslides and across icy streams. It is early evening when they finally look upon the broad Highfell Valley. It is a pleasant and well-ordered place - a neat village below with green fields now mostly harvested and fading to the brown of fall, whitewashed houses, mining shacks and tunnel mouths on a hillslope above, and a small keep on a bluff overlooking it all.

    In hopes of getting as early an admittance to the Sage as possible, they pass through the village without stopping and proceed directly to the keep. They are held for a time at the gate while heavy black clouds gather and the sun sets. When they are let in they are surprised that they have been invited to dine with the Speaker himself. Well, not all of them are surprised - Tyrius takes it as customary for someone of his status. And, not all of them are invited. Eddard is lodged in the stables of the keep, a fate he endures stoically.

    Ushered directly into the dining hall, they find the Speaker to be an affable old man, well-used to command, who interviews them at great length about where they are from and what they have done - he says they seldom get adventurers, or any strangers for that matter, in Highfell. When Aurora tries to steer the conversation to asking about seeing the Sage, his tone turns somewhat sharper, and he says that the Sage is elderly, has limited time and energy, and has entrusted him with seeing that only appropriate demands on him are made. Other than that he is happy to answer questions about Highfell, its people, and its economy.

    The valley is prosperous thanks to the mines, which produce mostly tin with a vein of silver here and there. The land is not terribly productive - just enough farmers and herders are on hand to support the miners, and the mining operations are limited in scale to the amount of men that can be supported by local food production. Of course, some food is imported, but it is a week’s journey by laden pack mule from Lavienth, making the imported food expensive. The party will be able to find most things they might need in the village - there is a blacksmith, leatherworker, cobbler, and so forth, and the Speaker encourages them to patronize the village shops when they have a chance - he recommends that they try the local goat cheese, a source of pride in the small community. When Thokk asks about whores, the Speaker scowls (and Willa kicks him under the table). “Yeoman women,” he says, “are as free as our men. Should a Highfell woman choose to favor you, she may make whatever negotiation she wants. But do not expect to find a den where women are enslaved for your pleasure or the profit of my townsfolk.”

    As it is already late, the Speaker invites them to be his guests in the keep - and they gratefully accept. By the way the fire hisses in the hearth there must be a heavy rain indeed outside.

    When they ask specifically about any local work for adventuring types, the Speaker chuckles and says that the valley is a peaceful place, though there are plenty of monsters in the wild lands of the Little Hills beyond the valley. The subterranean horrors that were often found in the mines generations ago are long gone. He does mention as of passing interest the local ruins, and this piques the party’s interest. A half day’s journey from Highfell Town, further up the valley, lies the ruins of an ancient keep - over a millennium old.

    “Pre-migrations?” interjects Aurora breathlessly.

    “Oh, most assuredly, it is no work of the Suel, that place.”

    “But the Flan did not have the technology to erect…”

    The Speaker simply shrugs and waves his hands. The ruins consist of four round towers joined by walls, with a great central keep, although that tumbled down centuries ago. There is little to find there, and it is something of a rite of passing among the youths of the valley to spend a night there, often on a dare. Many adventuring parties have explored the ruins and found nothing, and the place would be of little interest...except that sometimes people don’t come back. No one that has come back has had anything to show for their efforts, but very occasionally those who set out to explore the place simply do not return.

    After answering some further questions about the ruins, the Speaker returns to questioning the party about their deeds. Eventually he pieces together a few things they have said and asks Aurora whether she is an arcane caster. “I...I’m a scholar, an historian!” she protests, but the Speaker waves her objections aside.

    “That is what you profess, and that is fine fare for the villagers,” he says. “But you want to meet with the Sage, and he wants to know if it is worth his time. Visitors are few here, and casters fewer still - he seldom has the chance to improve his repertoire. If you have spells he does not know, arcane spells he could copy from your books, he would be willing to meet with you on the morrow. Otherwise he has his studies and his health to attend to and I do not know when he will next be available.”

    With the choice presented like that, Aurora admits that she does have some passing skill at magic, and would indeed be interested in possibly trading spells with the Sage in return for him discussing some matters of historical import with her. The Speaker says that he will speak with the Sage this evening, and that Aurora should prepare to meet him in the morning. With that, he bids the party good night. They retire to guest rooms that are certainly not luxurious, but are indeed worthy of a good inn. Besides, they are free.
    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.&nbsp;

    Last edited by Kirt on Tue Oct 29, 2019 10:42 am; edited 1 time in total

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    Wed Oct 23, 2019 4:23 pm  

    I haven't figured out which adventure the party is headed into yet, but I am looking forward to reading about it. Any more clues you want to offer?

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    Master Greytalker

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    Wed Oct 23, 2019 5:47 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    I haven't figured out which adventure the party is headed into yet...Any more clues you want to offer?

    Rather than more clues, how about I separate the wheat from the chaff?

    "The Sage of Highfell is also my own invention, although the Sage and the Speaker fulfill the same narrative roles as the Seer and the Duke of Urnst in the original module to which the players are unknowingly headed."

    "The ruins consist of four round towers joined by walls, with a great central keep, although that tumbled down centuries ago. There is little to find there, and it is something of a rite of passing among the youths of the valley to spend a night there, often on a dare. Many adventuring parties have explored the ruins and found nothing, and the place would be of little interest...except that sometimes people don’t come back. No one that has come back has had anything to show for their efforts, but very occasionally those who set out to explore the place simply do not return."
    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.&nbsp;
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    Tue Oct 29, 2019 10:52 am  
    Post 88: Knight comes to Highfell Keep

    Post 88: Knight comes to Highfell Keep

    5 November, 570 - Highfell Keep
    In the morning Aurora is admitted to the Tower of the Sage. Barnabus decides to “look around” the keep. Willa and Thokk keep busy sparring with the soldiers in the yard, while the other members of the party relax or mend gear.

    The Sage of Highfell is a tall man, once powerfully built but now wizened and gaunt with age. His fine robes bespeak resources and comfort. He greets Aurora cordially in the open first floor of the tower, which is furnished as a sitting room or casual work room. The Sage rises from a comfortable chair next a small hearth - apart from this there are several desks, benches and tables, quills, bottles of ink, sheaves of parchment, and so on. There are no windows, but many unlit candles are placed about the room and a single lit lantern, burning brightly, rests on a table near the center of the open chamber. Against one wall there is a bookshelf with a few well-worn leather-bound volumes on it, but hardly a library - perhaps the trove is on an upper floor? A plain stone staircase spirals up the far wall, but the way is closed at the level of the ceiling with a trap door.

    After the formal courtesies, wherein the Sage asks Aurora where she studied with and under whom, he immediately jumps into the negotiations. Magic is not common in the Yeomanry, he says, and Highfell is an out of the way place - he seldom has the chance to add spells to his book, and is eager for this opportunity. The spells may be of little use to him in the time he has remaining, but he wishes to have them available to whichever sage inherits the Tower after him, for the good of the valley. He tells Aurora that he is a Conjurer, with an especial interest in transportation magic, so any novel spells of that nature that she has would be of great interest to him. He proposes several possibilities of exchange, but what they finally agree on is an even trade of spell levels, with them each paying for their own inks - he will use his own supplies and will sell Aurora the ink she will need at a fair price. They agree to the following exchange of five spell levels:

    Aurora provides:
    Identify first level, divination, ritual
    Detect Magic first level, divination
    Fireball third level, evocation

    The Sage provides:
    Rope Trick second level, transmutation
    Sending third level, evocation

    Since both spells she is receiving are of use to the party as a whole, Aurora trusts that she will be able to convince them to help her pay for the inks.

    Both Aurora and the Sage pass the day copying spells [5 levels = 10 hours of work and 250gp from each of them], with servants bringing them lunch and seeing to the fire. Occasionally they make polite conversation between pages. It is early evening, and Aurora has just finished her final copy, when there is the deep tolling of a bell from the courtyard. The sage looks up from his work, as yet unfinished. “Odd, they haven’t rung a dinner bell since…” His voice trails off as the tolling continues. “That’s no dinner bell - that’s the alarm bell!”

    Most of the party has already washed and changed for dinner, and is now milling about, waiting - it appears that the table will not be laid until Aurora and the Sage arrive from the Tower. At the tolling of the bell, soldiers and servants alike begin filling the courtyard, and then the soldiers ascend the walls. Soon the party joins them.

    Far down the hillside, out of bowshot of the keep walls and about halfway between the keep and Highfell Town, there is a large host of men. Willa and Tyrius estimate them to be about three dozen pikemen, two dozen heavy crossbowmen with large pavises, and a command unit of five cavalrymen. Babshapka is the only one with any hope of making out their devices at this distance. He tells them that the pavises are simple, consisting of a red-and-white pattern in quarters, with the red above and below, and the white left and right.

    There is only a small banner flown by the cavalry, and he takes it to be a black beast, perhaps a griffin, on a yellow field. One of the cavalrymen is in heavy armor, and his tabard, says Babshapka, bears the same black lion on a red field that the “knight” had when they fought along the Owl Stream.

    A few minutes later the Speaker arrives on the walls, knocking aside any soldiers not able to get out of his way quickly enough. He takes a long look at the company assembled below, then orders a sergeant nearby to send out messengers to ask the host their business in the valley. To the party, the Speaker says that it is time for dinner and that they are expected in the main hall. When Willa suggests that they would just as soon stay on the wall to see what happens, the Speaker’s tone turns commanding. “Let me make myself clear. I want you down from this wall before any of you are seen by whomever those men are. I have to arrange some things in the courtyard, but I expect you to be seated at table by the time I arrive.” He waves a hand at another officer nearby, and a squad of men forms, with the clear intention to remove the party from the walls if necessary. Willa nods at the others to come along, but as soon as the Speaker turns away, she whispers something to Barnabus.

    The party descends a spiral stair inside a short tower from the wall. With them spaced out, Barnabus is in the center and a complete turn away from the soldiers in front of and behind them. By the time the party reaches the courtyard, he is no longer among them. The party, sans Barnabus, passes by the Speaker giving orders in the courtyard on their way to the main hall.

    When the group of mounted men sallies forth, Barnabus slips out the gatehouse with them. Although they are moving at a gentle canter, he is running all-out and still losing ground. They have arrived at the host outside the walls, been admitted to parlay, and spoken with them for more than five minutes before he finally arrives within earshot, and they immediately turn and begin making their way back up the hill-slope. Barnabus has just enough time to recognize that the man in the lion tabard is indeed the knight who took Aurora’s book before he turns and begins laboring up the hill after the retreating horsemen. The gates open to admit the returning messengers, but close long before he reaches them.

    When the party reaches the table, they find Aurora and the Sage already seated, and a short time later the Speaker arrives. Servants bring in food. When Willa begins to ask about the people outside, the Speaker bids her be silent for the moment. Eventually one of the messengers who sallied forth arrives, bends and whispers in the Speaker’s ear. He is dismissed, and then the Speaker and the Sage have a brief, hushed conversation. Aurora leans close and listens surreptitiously, but they are speaking in Yeoman and she only catches a few words like ‘Highfell’, ‘Keoland’, and ‘Perrenland’.

    By this point the table is completely laid. The Speaker orders the servants to bring in more pitchers of wine, and then to quit the hall. Once the doors have been shut and they are alone, the Speaker addresses them. “The host below is a mercenary company from Perrenland. They have been hired by a knight of Keoland, a man who claims that he is here to arrest Aurora for crimes against his nation.”

    “Venerable Speaker,” replies Aurora hotly, “That man is no knight. We have met him before, and he is an impostor. Furthermore, even were he a knight, surely he has no authority in your lands.”

    The Speaker nods. “Impostor or not, that man has the gold to hire an entire mercenary company - he represents someone with power that is real enough. While Keoish law holds no sway here, Highfell and all the Little Hills border Keoland. Our mines do as much business with the Keoish as we do with our own people. I cannot afford to flout the desires of their King, or my people will suffer in one way or another. You are not Yeomen, and I will not risk a war for you - be it a war of arms or one of trade.”

    The Speaker pauses, to let the realization sink in among the party that regardless of the legitimacy of the knight, he has no intention of harboring or protecting them.

    “I intend to tell the knight that you have left the keep to explore the ruins up the valley. I call upon you to actually make my words true. Should you be willing to cooperate, the Sage has the means to transport you there this evening, which will give you nearly a day’s head start on those men. If you can be of further assistance to us, we may be able to send you even farther away. If you will agree to this, we can discuss the details in my chambers.” Aurora begins to question him, but he refuses to talk more on the matter in the hall.

    The party holds a hurried conversation, focused on their chances against the mercenary company. Tyrius tells them that Perrenland is a nation far to the north, famed for their exports of cheese and mercenaries. A Perrenland mercenary company is renowned for its discipline, and only the best companies serve this far afield. Thus, it is a near certainty that the force below is considerably stronger than the one they faced on the Owl Stream - albeit without the elven mage. It is quickly agreed that they will at least hear out the Speaker’s proposal as an alternative to fighting.

    When Aurora announces that they will indeed join the Speaker in his chambers, he smiles resolutely and bids them finish their meal first. “However,” he adds, “it will need to be all of you, and you seem to be missing your halfling…”

    “Not missing,” comes a voice from under the table, and Barnabus emerges, one hand holding a roast drumstick. “I’m afraid one of my stature is often not noticed, my lord, but I have been here all along, of course.”
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    Tue Oct 29, 2019 6:57 pm  

    Lol, Barnabus! 😁

    This knight reminds me of my use of Sir Bluto Sans Pite as a tormentor of neophite PCs until they gained enough skill and power to track him down and end his mischief under White Plume Mountain. 🙂

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    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Oct 29, 2019 9:57 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    This knight reminds me of my use of Sir Bluto Sans Pite as a tormentor of neophite PCs

    Certainly Aurora feels she is being persecuted.
    And Willa...hasn't let on that she is actually working with him. ;)
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    Wed Oct 30, 2019 12:25 pm  

    Kirt wrote:
    SirXaris wrote:
    This knight reminds me of my use of Sir Bluto Sans Pite as a tormentor of neophite PCs

    Certainly Aurora feels she is being persecuted.
    And Willa...hasn't let on that she is actually working with him. ;)

    As a reader, I am uncertain of the knight's true allegiance.

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    Wed Oct 30, 2019 3:09 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    As a reader, I am uncertain of the knight's true allegiance.

    Good! It is deliberately vague, from his strangely non-descript arms to his mysterious appearances and disappearances. Certainly, the elven prince and the Viscount of Salinmoor trusted him - but as Aurora contends, he could have been duping them. At a deeper level, he claims to be working on behalf of the King. Willa trusts the King but that is more on principle than anything else. Aurora distrusts the King, again on basic principle rather than through direct experience. So..."Sir Runnel"'s ultimate goals, motivations, and loyalty - that will be a long time in being revealed!
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    Tue Nov 05, 2019 8:26 am  
    Post 89: Know you this!

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers from module C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness. I did move the setting from Urnst to the Little Hills of the Yeomanry but otherwise changed little of the content.

    Post 89: Know you this!

    5 November, 570. Highfell - The Tower of the Speaker

    The Speaker leads the way to his private chamber, the party files in after him, and the Sage brings up the rear, closing the heavy wooden door behind him and making a few mystic gestures with his hand. It takes some doing to find enough chairs for them all, and the Speaker has to retrieve a pair from his bedchamber, but eventually they are all seated, with the party in a semi-circle around the pair of old men.

    Know you this,” begins the Sage in a booming voice the party has not yet heard from him, “in the fullness of my power, I was a wizard of no small ability. I was, as I have already told your enchantress, a conjurer, with an especial interest in transportation magic. I used my skill to help the mines of Highfell prosper - through lightening the loads of the beasts bearing ores, shortening the distances they traveled, removing water and dangerous gasses from the mines themselves, rescuing men trapped behind collapsed walls, and other practical magicks. From time to time I even transported whole cargoes directly to Nighford myself, when they were valuable enough. There was a time when I could have teleported your entire party to the ruins with a single spell.”

    Aurora draws in her breath audibly. (Later, after the meeting, she explains to the party that teleport is a spell of seventh level - and thus can only be performed by the most puissant wizards, those who have attained the thirteenth level of power or greater!)

    If the Sage hears her gasp, he does not give sign. “Now however, in my twilight years, using such powerful arcana would certainly imperil my health. Fortunately, even in my youth I possessed a modicum of good sense. I made many magic items to store my spells, so that I could call upon them when I was unprepared. I have found that using these is much less taxing to me than actually casting the spells myself. Since I have a finite supply, I do so only when it is of great benefit. I am satisfied with our exchange of spells and in order to avoid any conflicts with the knight outside, I am willing to use one of my devices to send you all to the ruins, so that in the morning when the Speaker tells the knight that you have already left for there it will be no falsehood, but you will have more than half a day’s head start on him.”

    Now the Speaker holds up his hand, and takes over. “However, the Sage and I have been conferring. We have waited quite some time for a group possessing your skills and talents to arrive, seemingly by chance, in Highfell, and we do not want this opportunity to pass fruitlessly. There is an item of great value within the ruins. Should you be willing to recover it for us, the Sage would grant you another teleportation: not just a half-day’s journey ahead of your pursuers - but to any destination in the world you desire.”

    “I though’ ye said ther ruins be empty - t’at no one never found nothin’ thar?” Willa asks skeptically.

    “Indeed,” agrees the Speaker. “If the ruins themselves once held anything of physical value, it has been plundered centuries ago. But the ruins still hold a secret known to the Sage. More I will not say unless and until you agree to do us this service.”

    Aurora considers. “Answer me this first,” she counters, “as a Sage who has studied the history of this region. A history book recently came into my possession. Ever since then we have been dogged and attacked by the false knight outside. Who do you think is behind this?”

    “That would depend on the history book,” replies the Sage vaguely.

    “The book tells the history of the Sheldomar Valley, of the Suel migrants before the founding of the nation of Keoland. And…” she pauses, trying to gain insight into their reactions, “the history it tells is not as flattering to the young nation as the ones you hear at the Keoish Court.”

    The Sage nods. “Know you of the Silent Ones?”

    “The Court Wizards of Keoland?”

    “Not courtly, no - they are a body apart, an order to themselves, though indeed beholden to the Crown, at least in name. And not Wizards - they are Sorcerers, an ancient inbred lot. They are uniformly Suelese, and mostly Neheli. They have an inordinate interest in ancient lore. It is merely conjecture, of course, but I would not be surprised if the knight outside was in service to them - for such a book would be among the things they covet.”

    Reading more in Aurora’s face than she can in his, the Sage continues. “More to the point, it is precisely that sorcerous body we wish to frustrate. The Speaker and I have long believed that the Silent Ones have designs on the item we are asking you to obtain. That they would dare send agents to our valley does not bode well. It is imperative that we recover this item before they do.”

    “Well, you have me so far,” says Aurora, not bothering to gauge the reaction of the others. “I’m willing to get this thing for you, whatever it is, so that we can leave that knight far behind, but we will need to know a lot more than you have told us up to now.”

    Taking Aurora’s statement as an agreement to their terms, the sage smiles grimly, then thunders at them: “Know you that in the elder days before the Invoked Devastation and the Rain of Colorless Fire, when Flan tribesmen were but newcomers to the land, there existed in our valley a great fortress called Inverness! The walls of this castle were said to be proof against enemies and all things magical or natural. Know you also that here was said to dwell the great wizard Galap-Dreidel at the height of his power and glory, and that he did lift the Castle Inverness from the very foundation of rock upon which it rested! Most grand and terrible of all Galap-Dreidel's work was the keep's great inner tower; for it was there that the wizard's most prized possession, an eldritch jewel known only as the "Soul-Gem", was said to rest. Legend says that it was like a great white diamond and that it glowed with the brilliance of the sun. In years long past it had fallen from the sky and landed in the Little Hills where Galap-Dreidel discovered it as it lay in the fires of its glory. Through magicks most arcane and knowledge forbidden to mortal men he did bend its power and shape the stone to his will. Stories say that the light of the gem dragged the very souls of men screaming from their mortal flesh and trapped them within its many facets. Galap-Dreidel, it was said, harnessed this power and used it against all those who opposed his will. They also say that he who controlled the gem could call forth the stolen souls of men and make them do his bidding. For this stone Galap-Dreidel raised up the great central tower and filled his castle with many horrible creatures and deadly traps and, using a great incantation, he did wrest the tower from the very fabric of time and set it apart so that those within would not be affected by the passage of years.
    Thus it was that his traps never faltered nor did his guardians age or need food. Townsfolk whispered that Galap-Dreidel would, at times, set a prisoner free in the tower merely for the sport of his beasts. Some legends tell that his power was so great that he even taught the gem to protect itself from those who would take it from him.

    But despite his great power there came a time that Galap-Dreidel did leave on a journey northeast, across the river Sheldomar, and did not return. At this time there came a great multitude of superstitious peoples from surrounding lands who laid siege to the castle and threw down the great tower. And it came to pass that despite this seeming victory over their feared former master the people did shun the area was said...that on fog-shrouded nights the great central tower of the Fortress Inverness could still be seen!”

    The Sage pauses to study each and every member of the party. “While the ruins themselves are empty, somewhere within them is the means to either summon forth the Ghost Tower or transport yourselves to it - this is the only explanation for those individuals who have disappeared while searching the ruins. However, what your group possesses and all previous explorers did not is, first, a means of escape from the Tower - the amulet I will provide you. And second, knowledge of what you are searching for - the Soul Gem itself, which is surely at the heart of the Tower.”

    The entire group sits in an uncomfortable silence for some time. Finally Tyrius clears his throat and inquires. “Begging your pardons, masters, but this wizard Galap-Dreidel and the Gem he fashioned appear quite evil.”

    “Indeed,” agrees the Sage. “And that is why we must not let it fall into the hands of the Silent Ones. They already have far too much power as it is.”

    “But what assurance do we have that once we obtain the Gem for you, if we do so, that you will not also use it for evil?”

    “Use it?” gasps the Sage. “Gods forbid! No, my good sir, our goal is to simply prevent those sorcerers from obtaining it. Once we have it, we will safely lock it away some place neither they, nor anyone else, will be able to access.”

    “And would you be willing to swear to that, while within a zone of holy truth provided by the grace of my god?”

    “We would,” answers the Speaker.

    Tyrius prepares himself and summons forth the Zone of Truth. Once inside, the Speaker relates that the Soul Gem is both powerful and dangerous, that they want to prevent the Silent Ones from recovering it, that they have no interest in using it themselves but only want to protect it, and that they are sincere in their desire for the party to recover it for them. At the end, Tyrius nods.

    “Well then,” says Aurora, looking at them all in turn, “it is settled. We are hunting a Ghost Tower. But first, I need to rest and prepare an entirely different complement of spells. It can’t be much later than eight bells right now - if we retire immediately, we can be rested and ready by four bells on the morrow. If you don’t let the knight into the keep until sunup, we will still have a half-day's head start on them.”

    The Sage and Speaker both agree, and the party immediately retires to their guest chambers.
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    Tue Nov 12, 2019 5:51 pm  
    Post 90: The Keep, outside and in

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers from module C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness.
    Numbers in (bold) refer to keyed areas in the module.

    DM's Note: I estimate Highfell to be at about 25.5N Latitude. On 6 November, sunrise should be around 6:37am.

    Post 90: The Keep, outside and in

    6 November, 570. Highfell Keep
    (4am) Long before sunrise the party assembles in a common room, and then proceeds to the stables. All of their gear is packed on a single mule; the other one will be left in the care of the Speaker. Tyrius explains the plan to Eddard in hushed tones while the destrier nods thoughtfully. The Speaker and Sage arrive, both clad in thick leathers and furs against the chill air. The Speaker dismisses the stable hands with a parting word for them to open the postern gate, but to leave it unmanned for a quarter hour, at his command.

    When he is sure there are no other eyes about, the Sage removes from under his robes a thick bronze amulet ornamented with jewels secured in heavy sockets. He whispers to the party that the amulet will return them to the keep when the center stud is pressed. It will work wherever they may be, even if the Ghost Tower itself exists on some other plane. He further warns them that only the persons holding the amulet, and all things touching them, will be returned - so that they will need to cluster together, join hands, or otherwise make sure they are all in contact before activating it. Even unconscious or lifeless bodies may be returned, so if one or more of them should fall in their quest for the Soul Gem, they must needs make sure the bodies are brought along as well - if they plan on reviving them.

    The Speaker hands Willa a folded piece of parchment. She opens it. In the Speaker’s own hand, affixed with his seal at the bottom, it says in the Common script “The bearer is hereby granted title to, and ownership of, any and all treasures (save only one gemstone previously agreed upon) personally removed from the ruins of Castle Inverness and its grounds.”

    The party gathers in a small circle, hands interlocked with one another, or intertwined in the manes of Eddard and the mule. The Sage makes gestures over the amulet, and the gems light up briefly, glowing colors in a rapidly-changing display. “It is set to take you to just outside the ruins, and the return set to my chambers,” he whispers. “Good luck and may all the gods smile upon you." He passes the amulet to Aurora and takes a step back. She presses the center gem.

    There is immediately a sickening feeling of being spun about at great speed in the air with nothing to support them. The dull browns of the pre-dawn stable whirl swiftly in the air about them until they can see only one another, and that with features long and distorted as if reflected in a polished metal urn. The amulet remains in the center, hovering up and down, as if at the center of a whirlpool, while all else revolves about it, the farther away the faster. The mule brays frantically and struggles against the grip of those holding its mane.

    Fortunately the giddy feeling lasts but a few seconds, and then they fall to the ground. The mule bucks and disappears off into the darkness. The scent of pine is about them and the dark sky above.

    (4:30am) The humans and halfling can see little. Those with darkvision relate that they are high on a hilltop, on a wide, sloping trail leading up to the ruins. Below them is a misty forest; above them loom the walls and towers of Inverness. The castle's four towers pierce the dark clouds above, its massive walls anchored deep in the living rock upon which they rest. It must have been potent forces, indeed, that brought this once proud castle to destruction. Far below them and to the south, some eight or ten miles down the valley, faint torchlight from the walls and towers of Highfell Keep, where they were seconds ago, is faintly visible.

    The party dusts themselves off and arranges their gear, while Eddard trots off to speak soothing words to the mule, eventually guiding him back to the group. Together they ascend the wide ramp of ancient stone and earth that leads to the front gate of the castle. The walls are 50' tall and 8' thick, with numerous large crumbling holes piercing them at various places. The four towers are each 150' tall - the tallest structures many of them have seen, outside of Castle Ravenloft. A large, rusty portcullis (1) blocks the 15' wide tunnel-like entrance.

    Thokk strains his massive muscles, but is unable to break through the portcullis without the aid of Willa. In the end, the ancient, rusted bars yield, their agonized screams of being severed echoing about the courtyard within.

    “Thokk not like this place,” muses the half-orc. “Dark magic make Thokk feel weak. Thokk kill this wizard dead.” With one bar broken, the rest prove easier, and Thokk soon has a hole wide enough for even Eddard to enter.

    (5am) Inside it is even darker than without, for the high walls block much of the night sky. The courtyard was once stone flagged, and here and there stone actually pokes through the millennia of dead plants and soil that have built up.

    Willa looks about. “We be wantin’ ter be long gone afore yon knight shows up, but we be wantin’ him ter believe ther Speaker t’at we war ‘ere. Methinks we should set up a false camp.” She adds that with centuries of Highfellers searching the ruins, there has to be an abandoned campfire about. The party splits up, and soon a small ring of trodden vegetation is found, with bare stone and ash in the center. Willa hobbles the mule, lays out some grain on the ground for him, and distributes most of the gear he was carrying among the party. Meanwhile others have found a door (3) in one of the corner towers.

    Leaving the mule at the “campsite,” the party congregates in front of the tower. On the way there, Aurora notes large glyphs and sigils carved into the base of the rock walls. She thinks they translate as symbols of strength and protection, and suggests they are why the walls and towers remain standing a thousand years after the place was built. Thokk spits and makes a sign to ward off magic. “Bahh,” he says, “you read them backwards. Bad writing is draining Thokk’s massive strength. This bad place.”
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    Tue Nov 19, 2019 11:54 am  
    Post 91: The First Tower (Southwest)

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers from module C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness.
    Numbers in (bold) refer to keyed areas in the module.

    For the "glyphs representing times and stasis", I gave the party copies of the following runes from the Guide to the World of Greyhawk: "Time", "Infinity / Endless", "Lifespan", and "Power".

    Post 91: The First Tower (Southwest)

    6 November, 570. Ruins of Inverness Castle near Highfell

    The symbols found along the courtyard walls also cover the large iron door to the tower. The stone surrounding the door is weather-beaten but solid; it is decorated with ancient scroll work and designs that Aurora believes are decorative, not magical. Barnabus first checks it for traps, then examines the lock, which is set into the very center of the door. The entire lock mechanism is rusted solid, and as such is unpickable. It will have to be forced open. Thokk throws his shoulder against the door, and curses in pain. He batters it a second and third time, his howls of frustration filling the courtyard and likely echoing down the hillside as well. Finally Tyrius pulls him away, and aims a mighty swing of Molly (his magic warhammer) directly at the locking mechanism, punching a hole halfway through to the other side of the rusting iron. With that, Barnabus is able to free the long bolts holding the door in place. Thokk wrenches the door back and out of its frame (though it was made to open in), snapping the failing hinges and tossing it with a great clang and clatter to the weedy courtyard.

    Babshapka asks why the door would be locked - wouldn’t defenders need access to the tower, were the keep under attack? Tyrius explains that it was most likely locked on both sides, inside and out. Castle defense, he continues, is about creating secure “compartments” of resistance. Should the courtyard fall to invaders, defenders could still fire at them from the safety of securely-held towers. Should assailants take one corner tower by an assault from the top of the wall, that would not grant them access to the central keep.

    The tower interior is as black as night, obscure even to those with darkvision. Tyrius calls upon Pelor to light his shield, then holds it in the open doorway. Behind the door is a large, open circular room with a wrought iron spiral staircase in the center of the chamber, leading down. In the far end of the chamber, worked into the wall, is a stairwell leading upward, but clogged with boulders, rubble, and rotting timbers.

    The party files into the tower. Larry pokes and pulls at the stone rubble and fallen wooden beams blocking the stairway up, then shakes his head. He says it is likely that while the outside shell of the tower persists, all of the interior floors above have collapsed and are blocking their way. If the secret access to the ghost tower lies in the upper portion of the tower, it will take them hours, if not a day, to clear the way, and the knight will be upon them by then. They might climb to the top of the walls, and from there up and into the likely hollow tower from above, but any attempt to ascend would furthermore risk collapsing the roof over this floor that is, for the moment, intact, and thus bury their access to the stairs going down.

    “Nay, we be not goin’ up when ther way down be clear,” says Willa. She sets a foot cautiously on the iron stair, then shifts her whole weight to it. It creaks and groans, but holds.

    “Well, I won’t be going down that stair,” says Eddard resolutely. “I wouldn’t trust it to my weight, even if I could make the corners. I will stand here and guard the doorway - you can explore below, confident that I have your backs.”

    “Just so,” replies Tyrius.

    “But none of this makes any sense,” objects Aurora. “The Suel brought ironwork to the Flaneass - the best the Flan had at the time was bronze, and that was not even universal. How could a wizard from an unknown pre-Migration civilization rule townsfolk who made doors and staircases in wrought iron without there being any historical record?”

    The others ignore her academic objections and move onto the staircase, leaving a full circle turn between each one of them to avoid concentrating their weight. The wrought iron staircase spirals down to a stone landing (4) in the center of a circular chamber 60' in diameter, which is dusty and filled with cobwebs. A 20' wide corridor of worked stone leads into the darkness, through a passage cut into the bedrock of the hilltop. Following it, the party turns a corner and finds the way blocked by an ancient wooden door, rotten with time.

    (5:30am) The room beyond the door is caked in a thick layer of dust, with here and there a cobweb-covered rusting iron helm poking through. Other low shapes are piles of rotting leather that could have once been armor or raw hides, so indistinguishable have the ravages of time made them. Another sagging door leads to a hallway beyond, and a smaller room off that has heaps and piles of rotting wood, perhaps the remains of boxes and crates.

    There seems to be nothing of interest at all in these dusty subterranean corridors until Thokk takes a step into the chamber beyond. From beneath him, there is the briefest of flashes from the floor. Aurora calls for everyone to freeze in place, while she moves forward in the marching order. Brushing away the dust from the floor, she finds a thin line etched completely across the hallway, wall to wall, and on the inside of the line carved glyphs representing time and stasis.

    Whatever magical effect that has been triggered is now done, so they proceed into the chamber beyond (7).

    The room is 50' square; its 20' high ceiling has collapsed in two places, leaving rubble, rotten timbers, and two piles of rocks (8' high) beneath the holes. A 10' wide passageway continues north from the opposite wall, visible in the narrow gap between the collapsed sections. As Babshapka slinks into the room to scout the rubble (he being lighter than Thokk), a massive creature climbs into view. It appears to have a leonine body, but is winged and heavily muscled. Whipping its tail over its head, long, wickedly sharp spikes fly forward and impale themselves in Babshapka. The creature then spreads its wings to their full extent, half charges and half glides down the face of the rubble pile, and launches itself at Babshapka with its massive jaws.

    The battle that follows is brief, as the party rushes into the room to confront the creature, and it is soon slain. Searching the piles of rubble afterword, with one eye toward potential ceiling collapse, the party finds curiously little sign of the creature: no scat, no acrid smell of cat urine. They do, however, come upon several skeletons — at least some of them are human — covered with dust. There are also various rusted suits of armor, rusted weapons, rotting pouches, and so forth. One of the skeletons is wearing a suit of chain mail, remarkable for the fact that it is not rusty, but rather it gleams brightly in the light of Tyrius’ shield. In a holey leather pouch are two intact glass vials filled with liquid, an ivory scroll case lies beneath one skeleton, and a flat piece of metal with a circle on one end partially covered by rocks is in one corner. Aurora finds the scroll case to have a piece of thick vellum with the spell rope trick on it, much to her chagrin (having traded some of her own spells for a copy of this from the Sage not yet a day ago).

    The metal piece is a blue-gray flat and rectangular bar six inches long, one inch wide, and a quarter inch thick with a two inch diameter circle on one end. The other end is slightly indented with a curve exactly matching the relief of the circle. The whole thing is smoother than glass but harder than steel. Aurora inspects it carefully, as its shape and size are indicative of a magic wand, but finds no runes or glyphs. She takes the metal rod and the scroll tube. The chain mail is packed away and Willa takes the vials.

    The passageway beyond the partially-collapsed room is immediately noted to be much cleaner than that which preceded. There is dust on the floor, to be sure, but it is a thin layer, and the few cobwebs are in the corners, not crossing the hall. Less obvious, but still noted by Larry, is that there is a slight uphill slant to the passage. It is barely perceptible as they walk, but one of Barnabus’ marbles let loose on the floor rolls smoothly back to the rubble room.

    (6am) After a number of twists and turns, they come upon another door - this one with the wood intact (not that that saves it from Thokk’s massive booted foot). After he kicks in the door with a great crash, they search the small room beyond, but find only a few empty pegs in the walls.

    After two more bends and twists they arrive at not a side door, but one which bars their way. Thokk opens the door and barely has time to catch a glimpse of the room beyond before a massive boulder, nine feet across and perfectly round, comes hurtling toward them from a steep ramp in the center of the room.

    Those in the second rank see Babshapka and Thokk attempt to leap into the room before they themselves turn and dash down the hall, there being no time to enter the room before the stone is upon them. There is the sound of a sickening crunch, and then the boulder is after them, rumbling and crashing as it strikes the stone walls. They lose time turning the corners, but so does the boulder, so that when they reach the first side room, most of them are able to enter. Larry is last and but a step ahead of the boulder. He attempts to leap through the doorway, but his rear foot is caught underneath the stone and then his whole body jerked back. Those in the room see him disappear beneath the great boulder, sparks flying as it grazes the wall.

    The rumbling, roaring sound diminishes in the distance, and they move back out into the hall. Larry’s body lies in a rapidly-expanding pool of blood, crushed and broken except for one arm, with the hand reaching through the door frame into the safety of the room. They check him quickly, but the back of his head has been caved in and he is long gone.

    Returning to the room from which the boulder came, they find an ill-looking Babshapka kneeling beside the body of Thokk. Thokk is sitting on the floor, his back to the door frame, legs crushed, rib cage stove in, and no light in his open eyes.

    “Tyrius, do something!” pleads Aurora, but the paladin shakes his head.

    “He is far beyond my meager powers,” the paladin says, but he kneels and places his hand on the half-orc’s chest notwithstanding. Tyrius closes his eyes and whispers a prayer to Pelor. [DM's note: One point of “lay on hands” used] At the gentle pressure of Tyrius' hand, the jagged edge of a splintered rib erupts through the pale green skin.

    Thokk inhales sharply, his smashed chest quivering. “Metal-man leave Thokk alone!” he commands. “Thokk is dead, smashed by stone while bravely leading party.”

    “Uhhh, Thokk? I don’t think you are dead, dear,” argues Aurora.

    “No, no. Thokk very dead. Stone crush life from Thokk’s massive limbs,” the half-orc insists. “Such was tragic demise of Thokk,” he sniffs sadly. Tyrius helps him to his feet nonetheless. As he stands, his form seems to shimmer and his mortal wounds fade away, until he is just Thokk, standing before them unharmed (except for the scratches he suffered from the creature in the rubble room).

    “An illusion?” gasps Aurora, then turns and dashes down the hall to Larry. Sufficient slapping and shaking of the crushed corpse of the dwarf dispels that illusion as well, and soon Larry is standing in the hall as if nothing had happened, the erstwhile blood-slick floor now just dusty stone again.

    After a few hearty but nervous laughs, the party assembles in the room with the ramp (8). When the last one through the door allows it to close behind them, a second boulder appears poised at the top of the ramp! The party carefully moves to the sides of the room and out the opposite door. Intrigued, Aurora is the last one to leave, and uses her mage hand to open the first door again. Instantly the boulder shoots down the ramp and through the open door. She can hear it crash against the walls, feel the tremors in the floor. It must be a powerful illusion indeed to covey sight, sound, and sensation! When she closes the door, a third boulder appears atop the ramp.

    (6:30am) Down a short hallway and around a turn, the party faces a curious sight. The 20' wide corridor ends in a gleaming wall (14) of blue-gray metal, smooth enough to reflect their forms as they approach. In the center of the wall, at about waist height, is a semi-square channel cut into the surface of the metal, eight inches on a side, one inch wide, and about one inch deep. There is a circular shape at each corner of the square.

    Aurora takes out the metal rod - it is a perfect fit, with the round end fitting into the corner circles of the cut channel, but nothing happens when she places it so. Not giving up so soon, she tries all four, no eight, possible arrangements. Each of them fits perfectly, like a lock and key, but to no effect. Then Babshapka tells her to flip the thing over, and she tries another eight combinations, but to no avail. Finally, she sighs. “This must be the key…” she muses. “Or maybe part of the key? Shall we try the other towers?”

    “Hold a minute,” orders Tyrius. He carefully examines the great metal wall. There are no hinges, and the edges are flush with the stone all the way around, with less than a hair’s breadth gap. He raps at it, pushes it. Finally he shrugs and the party starts back.

    (6:40am) Eddard greets the party at the top of the iron staircase. The rosy light of dawn fills the courtyard, though the sun has not cleared the high hills around them yet. It soon will. They can now see clearly all four towers of the castle, as well as a huge pile of collapsed stone in the center of the courtyard. Fully twenty feet high in the center, it consists of old but worked stones which range in size from pebbles to boulders six feet across.

    Now that the entire courtyard is visible, as well as the trail leading from the valley below up to the ruins, the party suggests that Eddard stand watch at the gatehouse. They are less concerned about anything sneaking up behind them in the tunnels, and more concerned about the arrival of the knight. The steed agrees amiably, but asks Tyrius to remove his stall blanket first, now that day is almost upon them and he will be in the sun.
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    Last edited by Kirt on Tue Nov 26, 2019 4:16 pm; edited 1 time in total

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    Fri Nov 22, 2019 7:11 pm  

    It has been an interesting start to the adventure in the Ghost Tower. I was terribly disappointed that Larry died, but Thokk is always a hoot. 😉😋

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    Master Greytalker

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    Sun Nov 24, 2019 1:21 pm  

    SirXaris wrote:
    I was terribly disappointed that Larry died, but Thokk is always a hoot.

    Fortunately, the reports of Larry's death were greatly exaggerated.
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    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Nov 26, 2019 4:27 pm  
    Post 92: The Second Tower (Southeast)

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers from module C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness.

    Numbers in (bold) refer to keyed areas in the module.

    Post 92: The Second Tower (Southeast)

    6 November, 570. Ruins of Inverness Castle, Highfell
    With Eddard standing watch, the party moves to the corner tower in the southeast. The same carven glyphs, the same rusted iron door are present. Thokk alone is insufficient to batter it down, but between him, Tyrius, and Willa it yields. The sounds they make are far less foreboding set against the backdrop of the dawn chorus of mountain birds than they were in the blackness of night.

    Inside, the round tower is nearly identical to the previous one - an iron spiral stair is unobstructed and leads downward into darkness, but the stone stair up is blocked by a different assortment of fallen rock and rotting wood. Without bothering to test the rubble the party heads down.

    This time, the underground base of the tower (4) yields to a long west-running passageway cut through the bedrock, as dusty and cobwebby as before. A single room to the side is empty but for a single copper piece.

    (7:20 am) When the party turns a corner, a large room is visible ahead through an open doorway. They already suspect that the magic runes on the floor in the other tower triggered some sort of temporal effect, releasing the winged lion creature from stasis. Under Aurora’s direction, Thokk waves his shield vigorously over the floor until the whole passageway is filled with clouds of dust, but the floor is visible. No runes are to be seen, so the party enters. Dust-covered and rusted shields line both walls, some flat on the floor and some propped against the walls. Rotten spear shafts and rusted spear heads are strewn about near the walls. Cleaning a few of the shields, the party finds them embossed with the prominent design of a single tower.

    Larry looks at the tower design for an inordinate amount of time - it is rare for the party to see him this deep in thought. Finally, he declares that the keyed room, the room they are seeking to enter, must be under the center of the courtyard - beneath whatever structure is collapsed there. When Willa asks him how he can know this, he takes her two maps, overlays them so that the towers above match the towers below, and presses them against Tyrius’ shield, so that the light shines faintly through the superimposed images. Indeed, if the scale is correct, the room they are seeking to access appears to be in the center of the courtyard.

    [DM's Note: Larry gains an Inspiration point]

    (7:30am) With nothing else of interest in the open chamber, the party moves into the corridor beyond. It travels north, turns a corner, and ends in an intact wooden door. A rotting wood door is along a side wall.

    (7:40am) The side room is empty, save for a single ceramic urn. Aurora uses mage hand to lift the lid, creating a minor cloud of dust and a soft whooshing noise as the seal is broken. The urn is empty inside, but around the bottom of the interior are salt stains. Babshapka suggests dropping the copper coin inside, but before that can happen Thokk lifts the urn up to inspect it, and the vessel crumbles into shards at the pressure of his hands.

    The presence of an intact door which blocks their advance clues the party that they may be transitioning to the “timeless” part of the ruins, and a quick search of the floor in front of it finds a similar line with glyphs as was outside the rubble room with the winged lion. The symbols, as before, are those of time and stasis. These glow briefly as the first party member crosses over.

    Now warned to possible danger, Thokk enters the room. As he crosses the threshold, an entire ten foot square section of the floor under him flashes, and there is a sizzling sound as a giant snake appears — out of thin air! — blocking the opposite door. It slides quickly over the stone floor and attacks Thokk. Venom drips from its huge fangs, but Thokk keeps his shield between himself and the serpent. As he maneuvers, however, he steps to the left of the door he entered and a different ten foot square section of floor lights up. This time a giant lizard appears in the room, attacking Thokk from behind. As Tyrius, Willa, and Barnabus enter the room more monsters appear - a giant spider, a strange giant armadillo-like creature with feathered antennae, and a hound of hell like those they fought before in the crypts of Ravenloft. The party dispatches these creatures almost as fast as they appear, although the fiery breath of the hellhound roasts Aurora’s familiar, Buckbeak the hawk.

    The final creature to appear is a curious large dog with cloven hooves instead of paws. Rather than attack, this fixes Thokk with its gaze, and the half-orc becomes convinced he needs to subdue the creature as his mount.

    “Don’t hurt dog! Dog is mine!” he bellows at the party. Ignoring him, Aurora sends a massive firebolt at the creature, burning it to death. Enraged, Thokk turns and charges at her, knocking her back against the wall of the hallway with a blow from his axe. Only Larry saves her from a fatal follow-up blow, as he throws himself at Thokk, taking his legs out from under him. By the time Thokk regains his feet he has come to his senses and leaves off his attack.

    At this point, floor squares in the room (5) continue to light up when the party crosses them, but no further monsters appear.

    (7:50am) After the monster-generating room, the hallway turns three times and ends in another door, but with a side door on the way. Both of the next two rooms are searched, but found to be empty.

    (8:10am) Beyond the second empty room is a short corridor opening upon the largest chamber they have found yet. Approaching cautiously, they find that glyphs have been etched completely around the door frame, rather than the ground in front of it. Peering inside, they see that the 90' x 90' room (6) has a 20' high ceiling; there is a 10' wide passage in the center of the west wall. Spread throughout the room are 16 bugbears without weapons, standing perfectly still; however, they do not appear to be statues, but live and hairy, albeit frozen. In the center of the north wall is a 10' long, 5' wide, 5' tall stone sarcophagus engraved with lettering.

    With one eye on the bugbears, the party discusses plans in the hallway. Aurora calculates the volume of a fireball in her head, and concludes that while it will be compressed by the ceiling and spread out further on the sides, its diameter will not fill the room or imperil blow-back into the hallway. Babshapka checks the ceiling of the room, and finding it to be carved from bedrock but not supported by timbers, agrees to the use of fireball. With the fighters blocking off the hall, the plan is to activate the bugbears, get them to bunch together, and then have Aurora cast her spell.

    Willa enters the room, and immediately four of the brutes turn and move toward her. She pulls back behind the threshold, and another four join their comrades. Aurora waits until they are clustered together as they gather at the doorway, then launches her fiery missile, detonating it about a third of the way across the room. Six of the moving bugbears go down, another two are shambling forward but still in flames. The force of the blast has not damaged any of the stationary ones, but it does seem to have activated several more. Feeling that the number left is now manageable, the party enters the room and engages in a general melee, not taking long to kill the ones remaining.

    The party gathers around the sarcophagus. The letters are unintelligible to anyone - not even their language of origin is recognized. Aurora begins a ritual casting of read languages while Thokk and Willa between them manage to lift off the heavy lid and carefully set it aside. There is no coffin inside - instead, the bottom of the sarcophagus holds hundreds of copper coins. Stirring them around with a pole brings several silver coins up to the surface. All of the coins are heaped to one side of the sarcophagus, and then pulled to the other side one at a time. The copper is left there, the silver pieces are pulled out and collected, more than a hundred all told. Along the way four gems are found as well as another bar of metal - this one identical to the first except for the fact that it is glowing!

    [DM’s Note: 600cp, 200sp, 4 gems, key. No coins taken. 4 gems taken by Tyrius]

    Aurora is still working on her ritual, but Babshapka fishes through her gear until the first bar is found, and finds now it, too, is glowing. As he holds both of them in his hands he feels an attraction between them, as a lodestone is attracted to metal, but stronger. He brings them together, ball-end to curved end, and there is a bright blue flash. When he can see again he finds that they are no longer glowing, but have fused together in a perfect right angle and such that no joining line is visible - they have become a single piece.

    Soon after this Aurora finishes her spell - she deciphers the lettering as saying: “Beware the death that will someday end."

    (8:30am) Leaving the great chamber, the party passes through a smaller chamber, then down a hall. After a brief search of a side room, they continue on until arriving at another metal wall. This one has the same four-sided indentation they take to be the lock. They try their new key eight different ways, to no effect. At this point they are tired and wounded enough to consider a rest. “I ain’t restin’ down ‘ere,” says Willa, “but up in ther open air.”

    Tyrius pauses and clears his thoughts, reaches out to find the mind of Eddard. The horse tells him that, “Well, the sun is up. The mule is thirsty. But I haven’t seen the knight.”

    (9am) The party congregates in the courtyard, just inside the gatehouse. Many wash and then bind their wounds. Some rest. Willa sees that the mule is watered. Aurora unpacks her brazier and begins casting the hour-long spell she will need to summon another familiar.

    Babshapka stands for a long time looking out of the gatehouse, down the valley. He can see Highfell Keep on its bluff, and the fields around it, but most of the way between there and here is obscured, behind ridges or on the pine-covered slopes. Without seeing the knight’s party actually leave the keep, they could be well on their way here and not visible until they were quite nearby.
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    Master Greytalker

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    Tue Dec 03, 2019 11:16 am  
    Post 93: The Third Tower (Northwest)

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers from module C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness.

    Numbers in (bold) refer to keyed areas in the module.

    Post 93: The Third Tower (Northwest)

    6 November, 570. Ruins of Inverness Castle

    (10:30am) The party, now including Charlotte the spider, forces entry to the third corner tower. Like the previous two, its upper stories have collapsed into rubble, but the way down an iron stairway is clear.

    The landing at the bottom (4) is as dusty and cobweb-filled as those previous, and opens onto a wide corridor leading to a door. The door itself is in good condition, and a brief inspection finds the telltale glyphs of time and stasis just outside.

    The room beyond (9) is 30' square, with the ceiling 10' high; a door is in the center of the opposite wall. In the center of the room is a three foot tall crystal pedestal with an eight foot diameter crystal ball on top of it. There are engravings on the pedestal.

    (10:40am) Entering the room, Aurora finds the engravings to be in the Suelese script. They are pronounceable, but not words that she actually recognizes. Moving around the sphere, she finds the same four words engraved on each of the pedestal’s four sides. Babshapka is close behind her, and he notes movement within the ball. Upon examining it more closely, he sees that there are four different (but unidentifiable) shapes moving around inside the crystal ball.

    Others move into the room and read the words to themselves. Babshapka is the first to note that the words appear to each person to be in their own language, for he sees the engraving to be in elven. Thokk and Larry, both illiterate, just see incomprehensible symbols.

    In each language, the words are pronounced:


    All of the party are in the room when Babshapka, deliberately testing an idea, asks the others, “Do you see the first word as Ixam?”

    At his pronunciation of the word, the floating figures in the sphere suddenly change direction, then there is a flash in the room itself and a huge, muscular ape with great canines appears. For several moments no one does anything, as Aurora gestures everyone to stand down, hoping that the creature might be friendly. Once its summoning daze has worn off, however, the brute bellows and charges, and the party is forced to put it down.

    As the ape lies dying, there is another flash from the sphere, and though the party crowds around, they still see only four shapes within - and the body of the ape is gone. A more careful inspection follows - the party notes that when they touch the sphere, the shapes moving within react by changing direction - not toward or away from the touch, necessarily, but they change the course of their drift, to be sure.

    Barnabus tries the door on the south wall. Though it appears to be a normal wooden door, he cannot open it, either through force or his tools. It appears impervious to anything he does to it. The crystal appears equally immovable from its position atop the pedestal.

    Babshapka and Larry peer intently into the sphere, and Babshapka says “Ixam” again. Ignoring the fight with the ape that appears, this time he confirms that when the creature appears, one of the floating shapes disappears from the globe, but when it is slain, the floating figure appears again.

    This is all well and mysterious, but many in the party now remember the knight and their need to move beyond the door. A few ideas are suggested, until Babshapka says, “Well, what about the second name? “Al-”

    “Don’t!” shouts Aurora.

    “-rastil,” finishes Babshapka. Into the room now appears an improbably large toad, larger than a war dog. It is dead white, with undertones of pale blue. This time, the party does not hesitate in attacking, but even as they rush forward, those in the front rank are hit by a wave of bitter cold.

    Though they had all emerged unscathed from the fights with the apes, by the end of this fight, several of them are now nursing wounds from frostbitten skin. The door is tried again, but still there is no way past, and still four shapes float within the crystal.

    “And if we say all four words?” asks Babshapka.

    “DON’T!” shouts Aurora immediately. And then, seeing that Babshapka is not going on, and realizing that she has no better ideas, continues, “At least until we are all ready.”

    The party arranges themselves around the room, spread out and covering all areas. Babshapka and Larry are still at the sphere, watching the figures. When everyone nods their agreement, Aurora gives assent to Babshapka, and he says all four words in rapid succession.

    In addition to the ape and toad, this time there appear both a minotaur with a great axe, and an owlbear, with three of the creatures in one corner of the room, near Babshapka.

    At the time all four creatures appear in the room, the figures in the crystal all disappear, and almost immediately the crystal begins to shrink - decreasing in size until it is less than a foot across and is rolling around in the curved depression at the top of the pedestal. Larry jumps up, grabs the ball, and attempts to smash it by hurtling it to the floor, but it bounces across the stone and rolls off.

    This fight is considerably more bloody than the previous ones. The ice toad’s cold affects several in the party, but fortunately seems to wound the other monsters as well. Willa takes two massive blows from the Minotaur’s axe. Her plate protects her from being cut in two, but she lies battered and unconscious on the floor. Larry uses his thorn whip to pull the owlbear to Tyrius, but when the creature dies it collapses on top of the paladin, pinning him to the floor. Eventually the party wins out, with the minotaur taking a truly massive amount of damage before it collapses. This time, all four bodies of the slain monsters remain in the room. When Tyrius is pulled out from under the owlbear, he is able to revive Willa, but many in the party remain wounded.

    Aurora recovers the crystal ball and places it carefully within her backpack. When Barnabus tries the door, he finds it now opens easily.

    (11:20am) The party makes their way into the hall, which has only a thin layer of dust on the floor and minimal cobwebs. There is a long corridor continuing south, with several doors leading off of it. Aurora reminds them again of the need to move quickly, before the knight and his forces arrive. She suggests they proceed to the end of the tunnel, and then work backwards if they do not find the key in the last room.

    Willa and Tyrius, however, insist on being more cautious, and not leaving anything behind them. When Thokk opens the first door and finds only an empty chamber with no exit, Willa and Tyrius enter to search more carefully while the rest of the party pushes ahead.

    (11:30 am) The main party continues down the hall, pausing only to verify that the next two rooms appear empty, before turning the corner into a larger chamber.

    (11:40am) Tyrius and Willa move down the hall toward the rest of the party, standing at the threshold of the open room. The room (10) is 30' x 50', the ceiling 20' high; a 10' wide passage continues from the center of the south wall. Four irregularly-shaped tunnels open into the room in the northeast, north, northwest, and southeast walls; each is roughly cut out of the rock and about eight feet tall. Between two tunnels, in the northwest corner of the room, is a large chest of iron, secured with a lock.

    Aurora sends Charlotte into the room. The spider crosses the floor, passes by the chest, and enters the tunnel to the north. The tunnel is huge to the spider, and it takes her some time to reach the back, which finally appears to dead-end. She does not see or feel anything about.

    By this point, the arrival of Tyrius in the corridor behind them (and with him his lighted shield) has brought a dim, shadowy light to the room - enough that Barnabus dares enter. He crosses the floor, and then begins to examine the chest from behind. At this point Charlotte and Larry feel through the floor the arrival of something large - most of them hear rocks falling and stone shifting in the tunnel to the south.

    Still hesitating in the open doorway, the party pushes themselves against the walls and attempts to hide as a creature emerges from the south tunnel and crosses the room. The creature is huge and bipedal, but with beetle-like mandibles and four eyes - two on the sides, and two on the front of its head. These eyes produce a faint red glow in the dim light.

    When the creature is in the center of the room, it turns to look upon the corridor. It obviously sees the party, but does not immediately react - rather, it turns to face them squarely, its two front eyes blinking in the light of Tyrius’ shield. Aurora, now returned from merging her consciousness with Charlotte, again urges the party to stand down and see what the creature wants.

    As it stands there, though, those in the front rank begin to see the front eyes glowing with a multitude of colors - not only reds, but purples and blues as well. Soon Thokk is staring at it slack-jawed, until his grip relaxes and his sword clatters to his feet. Only then do they realize that the creature is using some sort of gaze attack on them. At that point, they enter combat, but many of them are already transfixed, or worse, wandering off or even attacking one another. Larry casts a moonbeam, which does affect the creature, but also those trying to melee with it. By the time the creature is finally slain, Thokk and Tyrius are in a bad state and several others in the party have been wounded as well. They all agree that they cannot proceed much further.

    (11:50am) The lock on the chest is in good repair, and Barnabus soon has it open. The chest is filled with coins - hundreds each of gold and silver pieces. Dumping them all out, a third key is soon found, and, when brought in contact with the others, it fuses itself to make a three-sided piece.

    [DM Note: total 400sp and 700gp. Barnabus takes all gold coins, party leaves the silver]

    Tyrius has been speaking with Eddard telepathically, and when the party is ready to move he tells them that his steed has spotted the knight and all his entourage. They are more than an hour away, by the horse’s estimation, but they are on the road to the ruins and closing.

    The party agrees to quickly check the rest of this passageway and then return to the courtyard. The exit to the south turns a corner and then passes through an empty room.

    Not pausing to search any more than just checking for obvious signs of traps, they continue on. What follows is a long corridor which finally turns and ends in the reflective metal wall (14) they know well, complete with the four-sided “keyhole”. Aurora quickly works the key through its eight possible combinations, then they return briskly through the hallways and up into the courtyard.

    (12:10 pm) The noon-day sun beats down on them and the courtyard is abuzz with insects. Joining Eddard at the southern gate, they can indeed see the knight and his force coming up the road towards them, though still miles off. Their shining mail glints in the sun and their tabards stand out against the dull green of the pine trees. They are going at the walking speed of the infantrymen, thankfully.

    In a rapid conversation, they all agree that they need to rest before they are capable of facing either the last tower or the knight, but that they will not have enough time to rest before the knight arrives. They do have Aurora’s rope trick - but where to use it? It is quickly agreed that they will enter the last tower, but take every precaution to make it look like they have not entered, and use the rope trick once inside. With luck, the knight will waste time searching the three towers that have had their doors forcibly removed, allowing them to complete their rest and hopefully stay ahead of their pursuers on their way to finding the last key.
    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.&nbsp;
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    Tue Dec 10, 2019 2:54 pm  
    Post 94: The Fourth Tower (Northeast)

    DM's Note on Sources: This post contains spoilers from module C2: The Ghost Tower of Inverness.

    Numbers in (bold) refer to keyed areas in the module.

    Post 94: The Fourth Tower (Northeast)

    6 November, 570. Ruins of Inverness Castle

    Walking single file, Tyrius and Barnabus approach the last tower door. With the halfling’s guidance, the paladin manages to break the lock without harming the door or its hinges, and get the heavy iron portal open. One at a time, the party crosses the grassy courtyard and enters the final tower. The last to cross is Larry, who sweeps the area for tracks, obscuring footprints and bending back any trampled patches of grass. As the party proceeds down the iron staircase, Larry throws handfuls of pebbles from the collapsed stairs above across their passage, then uses his shield to whip up a great cloud of dust that will settle to the floor and cover the signs of their passing. Babshapka, before descending the stairs, casts alarm on the door.

    (12:30 pm) From the base of the tower (4), they proceed into the first abandoned room they find.

    Aurora begins a ritual casting of identify on the crystal ball she recovered, while Larry tends to the others’ wounds, including casting a cure light wounds spell. The party readies themselves for a short rest. At a certain point in her ritual, Aurora has to crush a pearl - the last 100gp pearl she had purchased (with party money) in Seaton. “Well, that’s a waste,” mumbles Barnabus. At the end of her spell, Aurora learns that she can use the crystal ball to cast a scrying spell - a spell more powerful than she could normally cast, even if she knew it! This will be very useful for keeping track of the knight - but first she needs to attune with the crystal ball, and that will take an hour.

    (12:40pm) Aurora casts her sending spell (learned from the Sage) for the first time, attempting to contact her mentor in Ulek. She must speak the words of the sending aloud, so all present hear her plainly say: “Found Chronicle of Secret Times - Strahd Zarovich. Book seized by Keoish forces. Conspiracy? Malhel not fled. Summoned evil in Dreadwood - Valadis. Self-destroyed. Fled to Yeomanry.” She seems to be waiting for a response, and a moment later, her face registers that she is hearing it - but it is only audible to her.

    Aurora’s lips move silently as she repeats the message to herself several times to memorize it. Then, she produces the scroll tube recovered from the manticore lair, unrolls the parchment, and reads the spell of rope trick.

    As Aurora chants the symbols on the ancient sheet of parchment, the ink figures liberate themselves from the page, one by one. Floating through the air, they arrange themselves in a vertical column in front of her, each one hovering an inch above the last as they build upward. When she says the last word on the page, the parchment turns to powder in her hands, while the last symbol flies to the top of the column. A second after it lands in place, the vertically floating symbols turn themselves into a normal looking hempen rope. Normal looking, that is, aside from the fact that it is floating in air, the bottom at Aurora’s waist and the top about a foot from the ceiling of the chamber.

    The rest of the party looks at it dubiously until Willa shrugs and grasps it in her gauntleted hands. As she pulls on it it stretches taut, as if tied off to something at the top. Willa shimmies up the rope and it bears her full weight plus armor. When she gets to the top, the others gasp - as soon as her head clears the top of the rope it disappears, as if it were going behind a screen, but it cannot be seen from any angle. Willa lowers herself and looks about curiously, then pulls herself up so that her head disappears again, followed by the rest of her body.

    One by one the other party members follow. What they experience is like passing through a trapdoor into some sort of attic chamber. The space at the top of the rope trick is bare and cylindrical, with gray walls and a ceiling made from a soft, resilient material of some sort, like a woven fiber basket. The portal to the space is a three foot diameter round hole in the center of the room, and those standing above it can see perfectly well down into the room they climbed out of, as if through a clear window. Sounds from “outside”, however, seem to be muffled.

    When Tyrius ascends he suddenly realizes that while inside the space, he cannot contact Eddard, but sticking his head down through the hole is enough to reestablish contact. The horse tells him, by the by, that the knight’s host is approaching up the trail to the keep, and is less than a mile off - he will need to leave the keep soon to avoid being seen.

    When Babshapka enters, he finds that he has lost his mental contact with his alarm spell, but that he can also find it again merely by sticking his head out the hole.

    Aurora is the last one up, and she pulls the rope up after her, so that anyone entering the room itself will see nothing amiss.

    Inside, the space is cramped - there is room for eight people standing or squatting, but there are six and a half of them (with Barnabus as the half), so only a few of them at a time can sit with their legs out or lie down completely. Willa makes sure that at least one of them with darkvision is always near the entrance hole. Still, they can remove their helms, set down their shields, drink from their skins, and otherwise relax - the mat-like floor is softer and warmer than cold stone. They pass an hour in short rest [and most of them spend all the hit dice they have remaining to heal].

    (1:45pm) The space inside the rope trick is lit with a suffuse, wan light, but after an hour it begins to dim and brighten in rapid succession. Aurora takes this as the signal to leave, and they all lower themselves quickly down the rope. Babshapka leaves behind a single coin. A few seconds after they all are out, the rope disappears, and a half-second after that the coin seems to fall from nowhere to the floor.

    They have barely had time to re-adjust their packs after the climb down when Babshapka hears the mental “ping” of his alarm spell, at the same time Larry holds his hand up