Note: This post contains spoilers for the module I6: Ravenloft.
Post 62: The Barge of Madam Eva
13 October, 570 - A Rhenee camp at the base of Tser Falls, Barovia
The party steps aboard the barge, then duck their heads to enter the covered portion of the vessel through a narrow doorway.
Within, all is dimly illuminated in pools of red light. A small, low table stands across from the doorway, covered in a black velvet cloth. Glints of light seem to flash from a crystal ball on the table as a hunched figure peers into its depths. She speaks. Her voice crackles like dry weeds. Her tone soars and falls like the wind outside. "At last you have arrived!" Her sudden cackling laughter bursts like mad lightning from her withered lips.
“Come in, come in, velcome, one and all,” she intones, speaking rapidly to each of them as they enter and squeeze in to make room for the others. “Thokk of the Mountains, mind your head on the cabin roof, dear. Tyrius, paladin of light, you are about to be sorely tested in this land of darkness, no? Aurora, close you are to vhat you seek, yes? So close! And your guard, Babshapka of the Silwervood, yes, will you find out vhy you must guard this voman? I think you vill, some day, but not here, no. Villa of Saltmarsh, you...vell, I had better not say in public, eh? Ireena, my condolences on your loss, child, yes, he vas a good man. Larry, ah yes, little Larry - ooh, vipe your feet before you come in, there’s a dear...but vhat is this? There are two missing, no? I cannot tell your fortunes vithout the whole group present! I cannot! Please, please to call them in, yes?”
Aurora, awed at the crone’s knowledge of their group, messages Shefak and Barnabus (who remained hidden outside), and soon they too squeeze into the cabin. “Now ve are all here, yes? Take hands, please, eweryone take hands - your fortunes are all joined, this is wery clear…” When everyone in the party, plus Ireena, has linked hands, Madam Eva produces a deck of cards, thin, painted wooden plaques, wrapped in a bright piece of silk. She bids them each in turn mix the cards, but refuses to touch them herself once they are out of the wrapping.
Once everyone has handled the cards, she motions for them to spread the cards out, face down, on the table with the crystal ball. Turning to Tyrius, she tells him that he must select the first card, and that the card “is a symbol of great power. It tells of a powerful force for good and protection against the forces of darkness. You vill need this if you are to triumph.”
Tyrius flips a card over, to reveal “Eldred, the Wizard of Warriors.”
Madam Eva gasps. “This is a wery bad sign. This is in the wery heart of darkness: his home, his source. It is his center and his life. It is the one place to which he must rreturn. Seek the symbol there, but bevare! The Varriors are a dark shadow of evil cast over that place. If you fight there, they will conspire against you!”
Next, Eva indicates that Aurora is to choose a card. When she has selected it, Eva says, “This card tells of history. Knowledge of the ancient may help you understand a foe.” When Aurora turns the card, she reveals “Morgan, the Baron of Druids.”
“Aha!” says Madam Eva. “The Baron is a crafty one, no? You should seek for a carefully hidden place of great vorldly vealth. I see a blazing fire protecting the place. The Druids sustain your strength here, but hold you from your wictory, taking more time than it otherwise vould. This is a good place to rest - but not to fight. Take care you are not caught there.”
Third, Eva calls upon Willa to choose a card. To guide her hand, Eva says “This is the object of your search! Ah! I see darkness and evil behind this card! It is a powerful man whose enemy is light and whose powers are beyond mortality!”
Suddenly Willa feels drawn to one particular card. She turns it over, showing “Basil, the King of DragonLords.”
Madam Eva nods knowingly. “Yes, always brooding on his power is that one. You vill find him on a king’s throne. The DragonLords are a very good influence there. If you fight him there, the powers of good will aid you.”
Fourth, Madam Eva encourages Thokk to choose a card. Before she can even say anything, he flips over “Gaff, the Fool of Warriors”.
Eva smiles. “This card is good for you, barbarian. It is a card of power and strength, the wictor’s card. It tells of a veapon of light, a veapon with a wengeance. It is in a place of tranquility, a harbor for the mighty and powerful. It is in a place of visdom, varmth...and despair. Great secrets are there. The Varriors cast their shadow over that place as well, for he is often there. Do not fight there if you can help it, but carry the veapon forth to engage him elsevhere.”
Finally, Eva looks upon Ireena pityingly. “Yes, child. You must choose this one.” Ireena hesitatingly puts her hand forth, hovering over the table. The light from the crystal ball fades and flares, and then she puts her hand down. Eva says in a low tone, almost whispering, “And here is the root card. Out of darkness and chaos, this card finds the reason and foundation for darkness and chaos. This card shows the purpose of all things. It is the key to life and death and else beyond.” Her hand trembling, Ireena flips the card over. It is “Aurelia, Princess of DragonLords.”
“Yes, yes,” says Madam Eva, almost to herself. “Of course, the Princess - the young voman not yet married, but surely betrothed, no?” Then, to Ireena and all the party, with a tone of insistence, “The darkness loves a light and desires it. Great subtle plans are in motion about you; plans that the dead may find varmth from the living!”
Madam Eva collapses back as if exhausted, and rests for several moments before speaking again. “There, now you have the fortunes of all of you, combined. That I provide for you, as I must - as the fates decree. Howewer, should you vish to know your personal fortune, that I can prowide to you indiwidually, for just five gold a person, no? Now you all leave my cabin a moment - but if you vish me to pierce the weil of your future, please rreturn one at a time.”
One by one the party exits the cabin on the boat, heads abuzz with strange new information. Many of them wish to know their fortunes, and even convince those who, at first, do not. One by one Madam Eva entertains them in her cabin, always starting the conversation with “Place the coins on the table, please. Ah, Lions I see! Good, good. Difficult to see is the future, alvays in motion - and yet, Madam Eva has the Gift - the Gift of Sight. Our fates are full of light and dark, all of us. Some folk - be they pure of intent or simply awaricious, look only at vhat they may gain. Others, those who are cautious or afeared, think only on awoiding loss. I can tell you one thing, just one thing my child, for in focusing on the one, the other slips avay - but you must choose, light or dark.”
When Aurora has had her fortune told, she lingers in the cabin, attempting several times to get Eva to reveal more information about Strahd. The woman steadfastly refuses. “No, no, Strahd is the Master of this Realm, and ve are all his guests. Vhat I told you before vas only vhat the fates decreed that I must, I had no choice there. But I vill not tell you anything about Strahd. Vhile I vish you success in your endeawor, your fate is already sealed. And should you fail, my people vill still be here, and Strahd vill still be here, and I must protect my people. I vill not abuse the trust he has shown me, nor allow my people to be punished for my ill manners.”
It has been at least an hour that the party has tarried in the camp of the Rhenee, and now they return up the road through the woods toward the fork. (c. 11am) As they walk, they speak of their private fortunes - some openly, some cryptically, some not at all.
“So, Aurora, tell us a’gin what fishin’ experdtion brought us ‘ere?” says Willa, with just a hint of menace.
“You know, fishing, the old elf told me…”
Willa interrupts sharply. “Aurora, in case ye hain’t noticed, we all be trapped in some nightmare world. We be fightin’ a devil an’ even if we run, the mists’ll kill us. I fer one would apperciate knowin’ just why we be ‘ere in ther firs' place - an' it ain’t fer fishin’!”
Aurora petulantly starts into her tale of fishing again, but by now Tyrius has become involved. He waves his hand for the party to stop walking - they are now nearly at the crest of the hill, on the road from the river back to the fork. He has the enchantress face him as he speaks.
“Aurora - you are being untruthful. You have led us here to a realm of great peril. We deserve to know why.”
“Ok, ok, I haven’t been entirely truthful with you, but it is a highly personal matter. The truth is, I am looking for my family history. Babshapka will attest to this,” she says as she gestures at the wood elf, who is even now scanning the trees on each side of them and ignoring the conversation. “I never knew my father…” Aurora pauses to let this phrase elicit sympathy for her, but the faces around her are unmoved. “Yes, well, I never knew my father, aside from the fact that he was an elf of some nobility. I have been researching elven noble families and family lines. I did this around Gradsul, and I was attempting to do it here. The old elf told me that there was a ruined city near here called Valadis, and that I might find information there that would help me. I told the story about fishing because I wanted to find Valadis and learn about my father. That is the truth.”
Tyrius stares at her, looking deep into her eyes for near half a minute after she is done talking. Then he says dryly, “I don’t believe you. You are still lying.”
“I don’t see why it matters,” says Aurora, loud and exasperated. She turns away.
Tyrius turns red and stretches forth his gauntleted hand to grab her and force her to look at him, but stops short before he touches her. His nobleman’s pride struggles with his vows of humility and selflessness. He takes a deep breath and walks around in front of her.
“It matters because we need the light of Pelor. Aurora, we are fighting a creature of darkness. He commands wolves and bats and, according to Thokk, he commands the dead. The only way any of us make it out of this place alive is by the grace of Pelor. I am not the most powerful fighter in this group, nor the most canny spellcaster. But the powers that Pelor grants me, to heal, to detect and repel evil, to bring light in the darkness, are our only chance of salvation.” Tyrius pauses to let his words sink in.
“Aurora, your power comes from your knowledge, but mine comes from my faith. If I break faith with my vows, if I forswear myself, the power of Pelor will desert me, and then we are all of us doomed. Pelor is a god of truth, and a god of justice. If I tolerate your lies for the sake of convenience, if I feign ignorance of your duplicity, I am not fulfilling my oaths as a paladin.”
[DM’s note: Tyrius’ Oath of Devotion requires him to enforce, in himself and to a lesser extent in others, the values of Honesty, Courage, Compassion, Honor, and Duty]
Cornered, Aurora sees no way out. “Fine,” she hisses. “I’m looking for information about the Malhel.”
“The who now?” says Willa, both trying and failing to keep the triumph out of her voice.
“The Malhel. They were one of the early houses of the Suel that fled the Invoked Devastation a millennium ago. The settled the Sheldomar Valley along with the Rhola and Neheli, founding Keoland. Unlike the other houses, they were evil. So the other houses drove them out. Supposedly they were defeated and exiled, never to be seen again. But I have found some information that maybe they settled here in the Dreadwood. For some reason some powerful people want this information to be secret, so it has been hard to learn what I need to know. I was hoping to find Valadis and learn more.”
Tyrius considers this. “So you tricked us into coming here to research an ancient, evil, Suel house?”
“Yes! But not because I want to take on their evil power or study their evil magic or something like that from the fables. It is just historical interest, but it appears to be a closely guarded secret, for reasons I don’t know. Yet. And,” she adds as an afterthought, “I had no idea this Barovia place existed and I had never heard of Strahd or the von Zaroviches before we came here. I am just as lost as any of us.”
Tyrius again regards her closely, this time for a full minute after she has finished speaking. “Fine,” he says at last. “I am satisfied.” He begins striding up the hill.
“Now hold on!” cries Aurora behind him. “As long as we are being so honest, as long as your god doesn’t allow secrets, what about you? You refused to tell us your fortune! Don’t you find that just a bit hypocritical? Well?” she demands.
Tyrius responds calmly. “My personal fortune concerns only myself - it cannot harm you. Neither have I demanded to know your fortune, as I presume it does not affect us. But suspecting that you deceived us all into coming to a realm of peril, for unknown reasons? That is not a private secret, that is a secret that affected us all, and that threatened us all. Your motivation in bringing us here was something that concerned us all. I assure you, I keep no such secrets, myself.”
Frustrated, Aurora is not about to give up. “What about Willa, then? What is she keeping from the party? Could it harm us? Not only won’t she tell us her fortune, but she has some kind of hidden agenda! I think she is a spy or something! Probably for the Viscount!”
Tyrius turns to Willa, arching one eyebrow. The dark woman shrugs broadly. “Fair’s fair. I’m an agent for the Crown, I admit. I’ve bin tryin’ ta figger out what Aurora’s bin up ta, is all.”
Tyrius nods, but gives no indication he is interested in hearing more.
Aurora is incensed. “Talk about your outside agenda! Keeping secrets! How can we trust her in the party! What are you going to do about her, Tyrius?”
“You heard her. She’s an agent of the Crown. If she works for the King of Keoland, she has a right to keep tabs on folk like you, what with your looking for secret knowledge in dark places. We should be glad the King has such agents and move on.”
“Aaaaagghhh!” Aurora roars in frustration, and stomps rapidly up the hill, faster than Tyrius can follow in his armor, forcing Babshapka to jog to catch up to her.
If Willa manages to find out what it is that Aurora seeks in the Dreadwood, she will gain a level.
[DM’s note; For fulfilling her “positive” fortune, Willa is now level 5]
It is many minutes later when the party stands again at the crossroads (F), with one road leading down to the village of Barovia and the other up into the mountains and thence to the castle of the devil. Here they pause and converse. Aurora is sullen, and does not speak.
They debate whether, knowing what Madam Eva has told them, they should march immediately upon the castle or retire to the village to wait out the day and night. It is late morning - the sun is nearing its highest point, though obscured by the thick, gray clouds. Some put forth that they should move against Strahd now, before he has a chance to learn that they have been aided by Madam Eva. Others argue that they may need all of a day in the castle - should they face Strahd at night, they are surely lost, and the hours between sunrise and noon may be what determines their fate. They say the party should hole up in the village one more night and leave at the morrow’s dawn. The first group contends that this is playing into Strahd’s hands, as once he knows where they are, he will surely attack again in the night. The debate goes back and forth for quite some time, with more daylight being wasted, until finally those who favor immediate attack concede.
The party then turns east along the road. They ask Ireena repeatedly for where they can fortify for the night. Is there not some stone basement, some safe room walled by stout timber? She stubbornly insists that the Burgomaster’s house is the most defensible site in the village, but that should the devil wish to assault them, nowhere in Barovia is safe - only the great holy symbol was able to protect her family, and now that is gone.
After a few hundred yards of walking, the party approaches a depression, where the woods grow closest to the road but then give way to the banks of the Ivlis River. Ahead of them, in the center of the road, are three huge wolves. The largest is on his haunches, while the others lie on the muddy stones. The party immediately halts, and the wolves don’t move, though they do stare intently at the group.
Barnabus and Babshapka retreat from the party, and then fade into the woods on either side of the road - the halfling to the north, the elf to the south. Thokk motions those who remain to fall back behind him, while he squats and begins chanting in orcish.
While they wait, the party discusses the meaning of this blockade.
“It is obvious he wants to drive us to his castle, and prevent us from returning to the village,” says Tyrius.
“Wha’ever he wants us to do, we should do the opp’site,” insists Larry.
“Unless he actually wants us to go to the village, but he knows that we will oppose whatever it looks like he wants, so he put the wolves there to make it seem like he didn’t want that…” suggests Shefak philosophically.
After ten minutes, Thokk strides toward the wolves, ready to talk to them through his totem. He can see the dark shade of Strahd hanging over them, and they grow more restless at his approach. Hackles raise, fur stands on end. Before he can speak, a hidden wolf breaks from the woods to the north, running full-speed at Ireena, and then the others rise and attack.
Ireena defends herself with her family’s sword, but the wolf savages her off-hand before it is slain. The party makes short work of the other three, and then bandages Ireena’s wound. They return to the village. Ireena wants to go directly to her home, but some in the party insist on stopping first at the house of Mad Mary, to Ireena and Willa’s chagrin.
They try the front door, but it is locked and barred from the inside. Barnabus easily scales the framing timbers of the house to the second story, though the incessant sound of weeping and wailing from within is disquieting.
DM's Note on the Fortunes of Ravenloft
I wanted to use the Fortunes of Ravenloft method given in the module to place the "quest items", with the draws of the players determining their locations. However, I felt that using a normal deck of cards would weaken the suspension of disbelief. Fortunately, I had on hand a set of cards from the Dragonmaster Game. These cards, beautifully illustrated by Bob Pepper, come in four suits (DragonLords, Druids, Warriors, Nomads) and eight ranks (King, Queen, Prince / Princess, Wizard, Duke, Count, Baron, Fool), and so could perfectly replace the cards needed for the Fortunes draws.
I decided that the most appropriate four of the party members should draw for the first four fortunes, as follows:
Tyrius, the Paladin, would draw for the location of the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind
Aurora, the historian, would draw for the location of Strahd's Diary. I had decided to place with the diary a copy of The Chronicle of Secret Times in order to further her secret subplot.
Willa, the party leader, would draw for the location of Strahd himself.
Thokk, the party warrior, would draw for the location of the hilt of the sunsword. Thokk already had the blade of the sunsword, which he had obtained from me planting it as part of Elmo's party's hoard (and see Post 36, Old Elmo's Hoard).
I had already decided the root card, Strahd's motivation, which was to win the love of Ireena. I had known this since our new player agreed to join the game as Ireena. I had planned to let her draw a card and then to read the description for the pre-chosen fortune regardless of the card's identity - but when she turned over the Princess, I got goosebumps. It was just too perfect.
As Madam Eva said above, that was the party's group fortune. I then let those who wished to return privately pay for their individual fortune. Observant readers will recall that in this game I am not tracking xp, but rather allowing the PC's to progress at "plot appropriate points," (and see Post 12, A DM's Aside) when they complete story goals. The last story goal was the successful completion of U3, which saw them all to fourth level. For those who wished to have their individual fortunes told, I explained that I had individual story goals for each of them, and that meeting their story goal before the end of the module would gain them a level. However, I also had negative story goals for each of them, and that if they completed their negative story goal in the module, they would lose a level. The menace of them doing the wrong thing and then losing a level definitely added to the "horror" flavor of the setting (especially considering that even undead monsters in 5e typically cannot cause permanent level loss). Finally, I explained that when Madam Eva said she could look to the light or dark, but that they would have to choose, it meant that I would reveal one story goal to them, but not both. I would, through Madam Eva, either tell them what they needed to do to gain a level, or lose a level, and they had to choose which one they wanted me to reveal. This provoked a great amount of hand-wringing as they tried to figure out which they wanted to know more, and then, once they knew their fortune, whether or not they wanted to reveal it to the other party members. Eventually, those that had their fortune told convinced those that had decided not to, to have it done, although not everyone has revealed their individual fortune to the party.
Private fortunes (Light) - (Willa, Aurora, Tyrius, Babshapka, Shefak)
Willa: It seems Willa is now a Knight of the Black Watch - or at least in their service. If she manages to find out what it is that Aurora seeks in the Dreadwood, she will gain a level.
Aurora: If Strahd is hundreds of years old - why not a thousand? If anyone knows about the Malhel, it would be he. There must be something in his castle that will tell her what she wants to know. If Aurora can discover clear information about the Malhel, she will gain a level.
Tyrius: When the demon Strahd is vanquished, Tyrius will know that he is truly a champion of the Light. If Strahd is forever destroyed, Tyrius will gain a level.
Babshapka: Nowhere is Babshapka’s service more likely to be put to the test than here. If Aurora makes it safely out of Barovia, whether Strahd is vanquished or not, Babshapka will gain a level.
Shefak: Strahd is hundreds of years old, and a powerful ruler. He must know something of Zuoken, and that information is likely to be in his castle. If Shefak can discover a clue about Zuoken’s location before leaving Barovia, she will gain a level.
Private fortunes (Dark): - (Larry, Barnabus, Thokk)
Larry: Larry does not fear Death, for it is a natural part of the cycle of Life. But to be trapped in Undeath is the worst perversion there is. If any of the party become undead, Larry will lose a level.
Barnabus: No treasure or story is worth dying for! If Barnabus dies while in Barovia, he will lose a level, even if he is later raised from the dead.
Thokk: The demon Strahd commands the spirits in Barovia - he even dares to command Thokk’s totem spirit! If Thokk loses a combat with wolves (he is knocked unconscious or flees), he will lose a level.
For the player of Ireena, I did not offer a light or dark fortune. Rather, I had Madam Eva tell her, in private, that there was no point in telling her fortune, for she had done it dozens of times before. When Ireena objected that she had never been to Madam Eva, Eva said perhaps not in this body, but still. Nevertheless, she said, things might be different this time - these adventurers had been brought to Barovia by fate, and perhaps they could finally change Ireena's fortune. Finally, I had her tell Ireena's player that the initial backstory I had told her - of her being the Burgomaster's daughter, was false - that the Burgomaster had actually found her in the woods, at the base of the pillar rock of the castle, when she had been a young girl, and adopted her. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
From his perch atop the second-story window ledge, Barnabus pries a few boards loose from the boarded-up window and drops lightly to a hallway within the house. A narrow staircase leads down; two doors lead off the hall, with the weeping coming quite obviously from one. He pries a few more boards free, then lowers a rope and other party members start ascending while Willa stays at the bottom and frets. “Really? We be doing t'is?”
Once inside, Tyrius calls forth the holy light of Pelor and leads the way into a bedroom. A woman lies collapsed on the floor, hugging an empty dress to her chest. She is pale and disheveled, but very much alive, and not a groaning spirit as some had suggested. At first her grey hair and sagging skin make her appear ancient, but as the party tries to rouse her they see that she is actually middle-aged but hard-worn with grief. Nothing they can do seems to make her respond - she only sobs and shakes and barely notes their presence. While the party is occupied with the woman, Barnabus is casing the room. It appears that this is not her bedroom - what few simple dresses there are, are styled for a young woman and cut for a fuller figure than hers. There are meager possessions - a set of combs and brushes, a child’s rag doll. Barnabus finds a board on the floor that has been removed from the bedroom window. Below, in a flower bed (though the flowers are all dry and dead), are footprints and a rope made from bed-sheets.
Finally Ireena comes into the room. “Mary,” she soothes, laying her hand on the woman’s head and mumbling a prayer. The woman pauses in her sobs and looks up, her eyes swimming in tears but briefly lucid. “Ireena? But oh, my Gertruda! The devil has Gertruda…” she gasps. Ireena leads her by the hand to her own bedroom and helps her to drink water. She collapses into a catatonic slumber in her own bed. The house is eerily quiet now that her sobbing has finally ceased. Tyrius collects food from the kitchen and places it beside her bed for when she wakes, praying for Pelor’s mercy on this poor woman. The party leaves, returning to the Burgomaster’s house.
Ismark has been busy, repairing the shattered back door, cleaning the bloodstains from the floors and the death-stains from the settee. The party sets a watch schedule designed to have everyone rested and ready by dawn.
Shortly after midnight there is another wolf attack, this one even more frantic than the first. Numerous swarms of bats accompany the wolves and there is much desperate fighting within the house, although none of the animals attack Larry. Larry is guarding the back door, and through it he can see the dark figure from the night before.
DM's Note:The following colored section was at the time known only to the player of Larry.
Although the figure speaks in whispers, Larry can hear his voice clearly. The man says he is glad Larry has come - there is a curse on the land, and he needs the help of a powerful druid to remove the curse. Larry immediately agrees to help, and the man is pleased, and Larry finds that he is happy that the man is pleased. The man says not to mention this meeting to the party. Sometime soon, he says, he will ask Larry to do something, to perform an action, that will help remove the curse from the land, but the magic is such that he cannot tell Larry until the precise moment. Larry says he understands, but that the party may want to fight with the man. The man says Larry should not be afraid, that the party cannot hurt him - Larry should play along, can even try to attack the man. Everything will be fine as long as Larry does what he says when it matters, to break the curse and free the land. The man fades back into the darkness.
Larry’s moonbeam proves highly effective against the attackers - Aurora’s web, not so much, perhaps inconveniencing the defenders more. Many of the party are wounded in the fight, and most have lost their rest. It is not until 9:30 the next morning, with the sun well up, that the party sets forth from the Burgomaster's house.
In the morning, there is a brief debate about whether the Kolyanas should accompany the party to the castle. Ireena is insistent that she go, but Aurora is suspicious. Tyrius proclaims that he cannot protect her unless she accompanies them. Ismark decides that he must stay in the village to lead the townsfolk and besides, they have only the one sword between them. The siblings embrace before the party leaves.
Babshapka searches around the house for tracks from the night before. He follows the wolves' prints to where they crossed the Ivlis River at the bridge outside of town. When Aurora remarks it odd that wolves would need to cross the narrow river at a bridge, Ireena shakes her head. “They trawel vith the devil. They can cross running vater, but he may not.”
After crossing the bridge themselves, the party walks for an hour along the dirt road. They pass unmolested by the site of the previous day’s battle with wolves, though the bodies no longer remain. If some of the party feel that there are eyes in the woods, the others reassure them that nothing is there. Indeed, after leaving the sounds of the village behind them, it is silent except for wind and the occasional bird call.
After the crossroads where one road leads to the Rhenee camp, the other road curves around a spur of the mountains and then up into the mountains themselves. The woods creep closer to the sides of the road until the tree branches overhang the road itself. In many places there is almost no visibility, while at other times the road hugs the edge of a slope too steep for trees and the vista opens to breathtaking views of the River Ivlis or the valley of Barovia below. The clouds above seem to darken the higher they climb.
After many twists and turns and steady climbs the road seems to be headed to a place suspended in air, where the mountains fall away on either side. Arriving, the party finds themselves on a ledge a thousand feet above the river. To their left, the Tser Falls plunge nearly the entire distance down into the valley below. Great plumes obscure the base of the falls and what must be a deafening roar below reaches them as a quiet murmur. The space across the gorge over the river is spanned by a massive, narrow, stone bridge, ancient in age and worn smooth with time.
The party pauses at the edge of the bridge, and Larry goes so far as to throw a handful of dirt on it before crossing, wondering if it is real. Willa snorts and strides past him, ignoring the giddiness they all feel as the wind buffets them and the ground spins beneath them as they cross.
Once over the bridge, the wind dies down and a thick fog emerges from the woods. As they continue up the fog-shrouded dirt road, dead leaves crackle along their track. The road eventually splits in two (I). One path continues to the northwest. The other, wider, branch leads east into the heart of the dense forest. Patches of cobblestone show up through the east road, telling that it was once great.
Ireena says she has not been here before, but that she believes the left-hand road leads to the western gates of Barovia (B) while the right-hand road continues on to the castle. Her explanation dies in her throat though, as she spots something at the crossroads, and a second later the entire party is silent.
(10:30am) To the right side of the fork stands a large carriage with two horses. Both horses are black as pitch. The horses snort violent puffs of steamy breath into the chill air. The carriage door swings open silently.
What follows is an intense debate among the party about whether to mount the carriage or not. Ireena insists that the devil knows they are coming - he is inviting them in, and there is nothing they can do now to surprise him. Willa stubbornly insists that she is not riding in that “death trap”. People approach the horses, then back away. Babshapka searches the carriage carefully, then mounts the driver’s bench and invites Aurora inside. Eventually the entire party climbs aboard, even Willa. The black wood of the coach is polished to a fine shine; the leather seats inside bespeak comfort and luxury.
As Willa pulls the carriage door closed behind her, the horses immediately strain at their harnesses and move forward down the road, their hooves clopping on the increasingly frequent cobblestones. Soon they are moving at a brisk pace. The woods flash by, difficult to see through the growing gloom. Though it is only mid-morning, it is hard not to feel as though night is coming as the sky blackens and occasional flashes of lightning pierce the darkness.
After passing through the craggy peaks of the Balinok Mountains, the road takes a sudden turn to the east and the startling awesome presence of Castle Ravenloft itself towers before them.
Having gone a scant half-mile along the road, the carriage comes to a stop just in front of twin guardhouses of turreted stone, broken from years of use and exposure. Beyond these, a 50-foot-wide precipice gapes between the Balinok cliffs and the walls of Ravenloft, a chasm of dizzying depth that disappears into the fog-shrouded distance far below.
The lowered drawbridge of old shorn-up wooden beams hangs precariously before the arched entrance to the courtyard. The chains of the drawbridge creak in the wind, their rust-eaten iron straining with the weight. From atop the high strong walls, stone gargoyles seem to stare down from their hollow sockets and grin hideously. A rotting wooden portcullis, green with growth, hangs in the entry tunnel. Beyond this, the main doors of Ravenloft stand open. A rich warm light spills from them into the courtyard. Torches flutter sadly in sconces on both sides of the open doors.
With the horses now still and unmoving, the party descends from the carriage as a light, dismal rain begins to fall. They cross the drawbridge one at a time. Under Tyrius’ weight, a wooden crossbeam breaks, and a dinner plate-sized chunk of the bridge is freed. The wood spirals into the depths below, disappearing into the fog. Tyrius hurries to cross the remainder of the bridge.
(10:45am) After the harrowing drawbridge, the party passes under the portcullis and out into the front courtyard (K1) of the castle, which is surrounded by tall stone walls. Thick, cold fog swirls around in the darkened space. Sporadic flashes of lightning lance the angry clouds overhead. Thunder pounds. Ahead, torch flames flutter in the wind on each side of the keep's open main doors. Warm light spills from those open doors into the courtyard. Doors in the gate towers on each side of the tunnel entrance are shut against the rain. A howling wind rushes through the courtyard. The dark towers of the keep loom above in the mists. Flickering lights shine from a short round tower on the southeast side of the keep.
Ireena stands transfixed for a moment, a strange look upon her face.
“What is it?” asks Tyrius, and her face clears.
“Oh, nothink. A strrange feelink, an old memory, nothink more.”
“I thought you said you have never been here,” asks Aurora suspiciously.
“Vell, I hawen’t, of course.”
The ornate massive doors of the keep hang open. Fluttering torches cast dim yellow flickers of light from the entry way. As the first in the party approach, a second set of doors suddenly swings open effortlessly and the sounds of organ music flow out. Overhead, in the entryway, four statues of dragons glare down, their eyes flickering in the torchlight. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
14 October, 570 - Barovia, at the entrance to Castle Ravenloft
The party passes quickly through the 20’ by 20’ entryway (K7), pausing only to make sure that the dragons are, indeed, statues. They continue into the room beyond, with the sound of the organ growing louder.
Cobwebs hang from dust-covered columns of the great hall beyond (K8), illuminated by torches fluttering in iron sconces. The dust and webs cast strange, moving shadows across the faces of stone gargoyles squatting motionlessly on the rim of the domed ceiling. Cracked and faded ceiling frescoes are covered by centuries of decay. Two doors of bronze stand closed to the east. To the north, a wide staircase climbs into darkness. All the while, sad and majestic organ tones float about them from a lit hallway to the south. The room itself is about forty feet across, and octagonal.
The party passes into the lit southern hallway (K9). Torchlight flutters against the walls of this vaulted hall. To the east, a dark and forbidding smaller hallway runs into darkness. Beside that opening, a suit of armor, oiled and glistening, stands at attention in a shallow alcove. To the west, large double doors hang slightly open, a steady bright light escaping through the opening. Swells of organ music come from behind the doors, spilling their melody of power and defeat into the hall.
At this point Barnabus, already hanging near the back of the party, retreats back to the north. Retrieving a torch from a wall sconce, he crosses the octagonal room and ascends the great staircase. The main party cautiously pushes open the doors ahead and enters a dining hall (K10).
(10:55am) The magnificent 40-foot-square room is brilliantly lit by three massive crystal chandeliers. Pillars of stone stand against dull white marble walls, supporting the ceiling. In the center of the room, a long, heavy table stands covered with a fine white satin cloth. The table is laden with delectable foods of every type: roasted beast basted in a savory sauce, roots and herbs of every taste, and sweet fruits and vegetables. Exactly nine places are set - apparently one for each party member, plus Ireena - with fine delicate china and silver. At each place there is a crystal goblet filled with an amber liquid whose delicate fragrance tantalizes the senses. At the center of the far west wall, between floor-to-ceiling length mirrors, stands a massive organ. Its pipes blare out a thunderous melody that offers in its tone greatness and despair. Seated before the keys, his back toward them, a single caped figure pounds the keys in raptured ecstasy. The figure suddenly stops and a deep silence falls over the dining hall. The figure slowly turns around.
All hands go to weapons, but the man makes no aggressive move, does not even stand. “I am the Count Strahd von Zarovich,” he says, “Velcome to Castle Ravenloft. Please, please be my guests and refresh yourselves.” He gestures to the laden table before them.
Thokk and Larry shrug and approach the table but do not sit. Larry grabs small potatoes with his hands, sniffs them, and begins eating. Thokk rips off a piece of the beast and savors the flesh, nodding appreciatively.
Aurora attempts to engage the count in conversation. “Von Zarovich..what an interesting family name! Suel, I’d wager. Is it the Malhel house?”
The count shakes his head ruefully. “No, the Malhel had destroyed themselves long before I conquered this valley and began my rule here.”
“And the city of Valadis?”
“Vas already in ruins when I arrived. Still, it is protected by the elves, and I do not mind that my land is in its shadow - it keeps things peaceful here, as they should be.”
The count looks again at the party. “Vill none of the rest of you accept my hospitality?” No one moves to sit at the table. “So be it!”
The count disappears with a mocking laugh. Instantly, a fierce, bone-chilling wind rises up and roars through the hall, putting out all the lights - from the chandeliers to the candles on the table to the torches in the hallway beyond. The party can hear the screech of ancient hinges and the solid thud of many heavy doors slamming shut, one after another, into the distance, from deep within the castle. They also hear the portcullis clang shut, and the tired groan of the aged drawbridge pulling up.
Meanwhile, Barnabus has ascended thirty feet and attained a landing 20 feet wide by 40 feet long at the top of the massive staircase (K19). Stone arches support a ceiling covered with frescoes, 20 feet overhead. The frescoes’ faded lines depict armored forces on horseback taking by force the stone mountain atop which Ravenloft stands. The faces of the characters in the fresco are scratched beyond recognition. Dust floats in the air here, making it difficult for him to see details. There is a staircase on each side of the 20-foot-wide south wall. There are two alcoves between the staircases. Light filtering through the dust shows two suits of armor covered with dark stains, one standing in each alcove. Each suit of armor holds a mace designed like a curved dragon head. Engraved words on the arches above the alcoves are scratched out. As Barnabus approaches the armor, he feels a draft and hears a great gust of wind from the castle below. A second later come the cries of the party for help, and for him. He turns and rushes down the stairs into the now-dark entry hall. It appears that all of the torches have been blown out, with only the one he carried to the landing above spared.
In the dining hall below the party stands in darkness. Wind whistles through the confines of the room. Crystal sings in the darkness as the great chandeliers rustle in the wind. The fragrance of food wafts its way to them. By the time Barnabus has reached them, Tyrius has called forth the holy light of Pelor. The count is nowhere to be seen.
Barnabus’ torch is used to re-light the candles on the table, and then Aurora mage hands a candle up to light the ones in the chandelier. As soon as the room is brightly lit, they begin to search it for any sign of the count or his exit point.
As Babshapka is looking under the organ bench, he sees an odd-looking panel at the base of the organ. It pries off easily, revealing a crawl space running under the organ and through the wall into a neighboring room that appears to be lit as well. Barnabus is dispatched through the tunnel.
(11:05am) Barnabus emerges in a 20 foot square chamber, but passages extend left and right. Standing up, he sees a dark shape looming above him, so he instinctively crouches and rolls, coming up again with weapons drawn. The shape has not moved, so he stands and examines it - it is actually a mannequin of a tall, dark figure in a flowing cape, suspended from the ceiling by a number of black cords. There are several mirrors in this room. Old archers' slits in the north and west walls are bricked up. There are no light sources in the room, but through the arched corridor to the south comes abundant torchlight.
As Barnabus stands, the rest of the party in the dining hall sees him appear back with them. He looks completely realistic - but they can pass their hands through him. Barnabus goes over to the wall, where a series of pulleys connect to the cords that suspend the figure. He lowers it, and suddenly in the dining hall there appears the “count”, floating in mid-air.
One by one the party crawls through to join Barnabus, and one-by one those remaining in the dining hall see their insubstantial images appear. When those that have passed through speak, a trick of acoustics makes it sound like the voices are coming from the area of the organ.
(11:15am) Some of the party explore the passageway to the south. It opens into a thirty-foot circle, the base of one of the corner towers of the castle (K12). A high domed ceiling caps the room. Frescoes, faded with age, adorn the ceiling, but are impossible to make out. Tall, thin arrow slits look out over the courtyard, and these are not bricked up. Torches blaze in wall sconces, and appear to be the source of the lights seen in this tower when the party entered the courtyard. The sound of rain is strong, and looking through the arrow slits they can see that the storm has worsened and the downpour outside makes it look nearly as black as night, although it should be approaching mid-day.
Around the corner lies a passageway deeper into the castle - a long, narrow corridor running east and west (K13). Cobwebs fill the hall and obstruct sight beyond a few feet. The party pauses to converse. They deduce that the real Strahd was running the mannequin, and speaking with them, but are not sure why whatever magical or visual trick that projects images into the dining hall did not work on him. Furthermore, if he was actually in the mirror room the whole time, they have found no means for him to leave besides this corridor - but from the look of the cobwebs, no one has passed this way recently. They spend some time searching both the tower and the mirror room for secret doors but do not find any, and finally decide to continue along the corridor. Their passage is immediately obvious, as they disturb the webs and leave new footprints on the dusty floor.
At the end of the hall is a spiral staircase of gray, dusty stones. Its steps provide access both up and down (K64).
The party ascends the corkscrew turns for several revolutions until it comes out onto the landing in a darkened hall similar to the one they left. The stairwell continues up, however, and they keep going, the noise of wind and rain growing continually louder. Finally they stand out upon the battlements of the castle itself, having passed through an archway but no door.
The air is filled with rain and lit by flashes of lightning. A wide walkway passes around most of the keep. To the right it flanks the walls of the main keep itself, while directly ahead it passes along the top of a curtain wall (K46).
Far below these parapets are the shining wet cobblestones of the courtyard. A few of them scout out along the parapet, passing three dark, leaded glass windows before reaching the tower at the front of the courtyard. Seeing no movement and nothing of interest on the battlements or in the courtyard below, they quickly return to the party and descend back down the stair.
They pass out into the hallway of the second floor. It is dark, dusty, and filled with cobwebs, just as the one below had been. They move cautiously along the hallway, still using Barnabus’ torch. They have passed along about half the length of the corridor when Babshapka spots odd stonework on the interior wall. After a few pokes and prods, he succeeds in opening a secret door, but hesitates before going in. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
(11:30am) Impatiently, Thokk thrusts Babshapka aside and enters the secret door. Immediately he feels the presence of a creature, even before he sees the dark man brooding on the throne. Tendrils of power clutch at his mind, dull his senses, urge him to comply. “GET OUT OF MY HEAD, DEMON!” roars the half-orc, and draws his sword as he charges the throne. [Thokk successfully saves vs. charm, and in response, rages]
Thokk is blind with rage, and only dimly notes how similar the figure is to that of the “count” in the dining hall below. The half-orc bounds up the dais and plunges his sword deep into the man’s chest - above the heart, but below the shoulder. The blade pierces flesh and embeds itself into the wooden back of the throne, impaling the man so that he cannot move.
Outside in the hall is chaos. Ireena is backing away from the opening, while most of the party mills about, each trying to give way to the others, none willing to enter. Finally Tyrius pushes his way to the front and shouts “By the Light of Pelor!” as he moves into the room. Divine radiance bursts forth from his holy symbol and fills the room. The man on the throne, who seemed to barely notice being pierced by the sword, winces as if in pain and with his free hand draws his cloak up over his face. His form wavers for a second, then collapses as he turns to a black vapor. The cloud passes swiftly through the room and retreats down a flight of stairs in the back.
With the man (Strahd?) fled, the rest of the party enters (K25). A large window fills the west wall. The immense room stands in chilly, brooding darkness. Hundreds of dust-thick cobwebs drape the room, hiding the ceiling from view. Directly across from the window are double doors in the east wall. Ornate door carvings are obscured by a thick layer of dust. Further south, a single door also opens along the east wall. At the far southern end of the hall, where the party clusters, a huge throne stands atop a raised platform. The back of the throne is turned to the room. Staircases at both ends of the north wall lead down - one of them being the exit taken by the cloud.
Still standing on the dais, Thokk puts a muddy booted foot on the rich upholstery of the throne to steady himself as he yanks his sword free. Holding it above his head he shouts to the party, “I killed Strahd! THOKK KILLED THE DEVIL!”
[DM's note: Thokk's player chose to have Madam Eva reveal his "negative fortune". He was unaware of his "positive fortune" until he completed it:
"Now here is a worthy opponent! If Thokk crushes Strahd, who will dare to stand against his rage? Thokk will gain a level if he is the one to land the blow that destroys Strahd."
Of course, Strahd was not destroyed here - when his attempt to charm Thokk failed, he chose to use his mistform and retreat. But because Thokk believed that he had killed Strahd, I decided to treat it as a fulfilled fortune and award him the level. Thokk is now level 5.]
Willa is silent, transfixed by the features of the room. Her eyes move between the throne and the faded wall frescoes, depicting lords and ladies from long ago. Finally, she mumbles the words spoken the day before by Madam Eva:
This is the object of your search. I see darkness and evil.
It is a powerful man whose enemy is light and whose powers are beyond mortality.
Always brooding on his power is that one. You vill find him on a king’s throne.
The Dragonlords are a very good influence there.
If you fight him there, the powers of good will aid you.
[DM’s Note: For finding the throne room, the place indicated in her group fortune, Willa has gained an Inspiration Point. She uses it to re-roll her recently-gained level 5 hit points]
Tyrius surveys the room. “Something is wrong here.”
“What’s that?” asks Aurora.
“This is obviously an audience chamber - I imagine petitioners enter from the floor below via the staircases. The dais is set to survey the room - but the throne is backwards. It should be facing the whole room, not be turned away from it, facing the wall we came through.”
“Unless,” says Ireena, and she moves around the dais to see the back of the throne. “Unless the light from that vindow falls into the room, and the devil on his throne vants to remain in darkness.”
“We must give thanks for surviving this encounter,” says Tyrius. “We must pray.” He strides over to the window. His divine light now gone, the room is dim. Wan daylight does penetrate the storm clouds and come in jagged shafts through the broken glass and iron frames of the window in the west wall. Tyrius kneels on the floor in the center of the patch of dim light and holds out his holy symbol. Ireena moves to his side, kneels and prays with him - her hand going to the symbol clasped around her neck.
“Yeah, well, don’t take too long,” says Willa. “We’ll be nearby. An’ Tyrius, while yer thankin’ the Sun God, ye might want t’ say a word o’ two t’ the Dragonlords, as well.” She runs her hand along one of the dusty wall frescoes on her way back to the secret door.
A few of the party stay in the room to watch over Tyrius and Ireena while their eyes are closed in prayer; the rest follow Willa back out into the hallway.
The hallway ends in a guard tower (K12) with a layout identical to the one directly beneath it. They poke around in the dust, then proceed to the next chamber, itself a replica of the mirror room below, but without the mirrors and mannequin. With an excellent field of view, it is obviously where archers used to defend the keep (K22). The castle courtyard is visible through narrow archers' slits that line the walls. After a brief search for secret doors, they return to the throne room.
(11:40am) Seeing that Tyrius is standing, Willa calls to him, “Any news from th’ Sun God?”
“As a matter of fact, there is,” he replies smugly, then thinks better of it and tries to adopt a modest countenance. “Merciful Pelor saw fit to tell me that the devil we face can be harmed by sunlight - actual, real sunlight - not the poor imitation I can call on at will. Producing such an effect is beyond my modest ability, but I have been given to understand that by acting in concert with Larry, if we both call upon Pelor together, we will have sufficient strength between us to produce true sunlight. That may be key to our defeat of the devil.”
Thokk snorts. “Pray all you want, sun-man. Thokk already defeated demon. All that remains is killing his servants and taking his women.” Ireena flushes and Tyrius moves between her and the half-orc.
(11:50am) After some more idle banter, the party arranges themselves outside of the single ornate wooden door. They carefully peer in (K30). Dusty scrolls and tomes line the walls of this room and are scattered across the floor. In the center of all this clutter stands a huge desk. A figure crouches atop a tall stool, scratching a seemingly endless scroll of paper with a dry quill pen. A rope hangs next to the creature from a hole in the ceiling. The party moves in rapidly to prevent the creature from pulling the rope, but after that they are friendly with him. He introduces himself as Lief Lipsage, accountant to the Count. He appears human, but incredibly withered and ancient. At one point they realize that his leg is chained to the desk, and he whispers that he displeased the count, once, and has been chained here since. The scrolls all around him are records of the count’s treasures, taxes, and tithes, money owed and accounts paid. The books are all on accounting procedure and valuing nonmonetary goods. Aurora makes sure there is no other kind of book or scroll among them. In doing so, she finds piles of coins under the scrolls, but no histories or spell books.
The party relies on Ireena to check his story, and she converses with him about how many eggs Barovia has to send to the castle and so forth, what the other nearby villages send, and such matters - she says that he seems honest and legitimate. He has no sense of how long he has been here, saying “many years” but the party thinks it must be decades at least. They ask if they should free him, but he grows worried about what the count will do and demurs. They show him some kindness, helping to tidy his desk, reaching things in the far corners of the room that his chain makes difficult for him to retrieve, etc. He repays them by offering them directions, at their request, to the study of the count - which he says is just through a hall and up a flight of stairs nearby. He even sketches them a map.
The party takes their leave of the accountant and tries the doors he suggested - the massive double-doors in the audience room.
(12 pm) The doors open into a quiet 10-foot-wide section of dark corridor from the east and west (K26). From both sides of the corridor, deep alcoves of darkness face each other with deathlike silence. Almost beyond sight, seeming to float within the alcoves' blackness, human figures can be made out.
Upon inspection, the figures are found to be human skeletons, but dead, not undead. They wear the rotten and faded liveries of army units or palace guards, but the colors and designs are none that Aurora recognizes. The uniforms produce an unsettling effect on Ireena, though, and she urges the party to keep moving. Lief’s sketch map shows a corridor continuing beyond the guard to the left, while in actuality it appears to dead-end in the alcove. As Thokk plays idly with the spear that impales the man upright, he activates a portal that opens into a hallway beyond, and Ireena is through the secret door immediately.
Many in the party are not done with the hallway, however. Thokk investigates the other skeleton, while others open the double-doors facing the way they entered. The 20-foot-wide hall beyond (K27) has a dark, vaulted ceiling, on which shadows seem to dance. A low moan rises and falls the length of the corridor, intoning sadness and despair. That seems enough to convince them to move on.
The short corridor beyond the secret door ends in a stone wall, but at the far end a staircase ascends to the left, and a door lies along the left-hand wall about halfway down. The party has a hushed conversation as they make their way to the stairs - some believe that the castle is traveling in time, or trapped in time, or has a strange temporal effect on its inhabitants. They are seeking some way to explain the ancient accountant, and the uniformed guards from another age.
Before they can mount the stairs, however, Barnabus decides to investigate the door. Inside (K32) is lit by candles, and stained, yellowed lace hangs neatly from eight canopied beds. The single lithe figure of a woman moves about the room, dusting the furniture. Her maid’s uniform is of an ancient style, but is tight-fitting and immodestly revealing. As the party enters the room they are immediately suspicious. The woman addresses them as her saviors, and begs to be rescued from forced servitude to the wicked Strahd. She says she is a daughter of Barovia, and even recognizes Ireena, while calling herself Helga.
The party plays along, agreeing to help her while all the while surrounding her. When Tyrius holds forth his holy symbol, she cringes in pain and reveals fangs in the place of teeth.
The party attacks her as one and soon dispatches her. Just to be sure, Tyrius has her body wrapped in lace from the beds and set afire. Her corpse burns far more hotly than that of a person would, and in the end only ash remains - no bones. Ireena says that a youth named Helga did disappear from Barovia - but that was twenty years or more ago, before Ireena was born, and she only knew of it from her father’s tales.
The party quickly searches the room. Although there is a woman’s toilette with wash basins, rouge, brushes, and so forth, Aurora finds it curious that nowhere in the chamber is a mirror, even a small hand-held one. They proceed up the stairs, with Willa berating them for the heavy smell of smoke that lingers in the hall and warning them against any more diversions. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
Both the original module and the 5e conversion that I used make it clear that Strahd should easily win any prolonged confrontation with the party. This is his land, and he should overpower them. If his goal was to kill them, that would be eventually accomplished, with little they could do about it.
The 5e conversion states that it was designed for a party of six characters of 5th level. My PC's were eight characters of 4th level, at the start of the module. Strahd has a CR of 13, meaning that four characters of 13th level should be able to beat him in a single combat without a significant chance of character death. At the level of the PC's, an encounter with Strahd is classed as "Deadly" - very likely that they would lose, and that many of them would die.
With this setup, the challenge for the DM is to have Strahd play with the PC's while he tries to get what he wants. The "Fortunes of Ravenloft" goals offer several possibilities. If Strahd wanted to simply kill the characters, he would - but instead, he wants something from them, and it is from this that the complicated plot of the module derrives. Ideally, the players should initially feel terrified of the possibility of fighting Strahd, eventually realize that he is not trying to kill them but to obtain something from them, and by the time they figure out what he is playing at, have assembled enough of the "Fortunes" that they actually stand a chance of surviving his machinations.
Of the several possibilities, the goal that I chose for Strahd was winning the love of Ireena. My initial plan for him involved him charming the party, having them attack Ireena, and then him coming to her defense, saving her from them, and thus winning her love.
One thing that I had not realized until after the module was underway was that this goal is decidely harder to accomplish in 5e than it would have been in 1e, given that a vampire's charm explicitly lasts only 24 hours even against a failed save. Strahd would have to charm enough of the party members in one day to execute his plan.
My particular party is numerous, reasonably combat-heavy, and can thus lay on a fair bit of damage against a single target. It was possible they might even be able to beat Strahd in the first stand up fight - be able to do enough damage to him to force his withdrawal before he eliminated any of them. The key to Strahd's superiority then was his ability to go to mist form at 0hp and his powerful regenerative capabilities. Even against parties that Strahd doesn't have a clear physical advantage over, he should be able to easily win any war of attrition by picking off party members one at a time, withdrawing and healing, and returning. In terms of Strahd's goal of beating the PC's when they attacked Ireena, I quickly realized that he was unlikely to be able to either charm them all in a single day or beat them all in a single fight. Thus his plan became one of charming enough of the right PC's so that "his side" could win a fight within the party, and then his being able to beat the weakened, winning side. That is, he intended to charm about half the party, have them attack Ireena and end up fighting the other half of the party who would defend her, have the charmed side barely win, have them resume their attack on Ireena, and only then would he come in to beat them and save her.
That was Strahd's goal. For the PC's to win against Strahd in the final combat, then, they would have to neutralize Strahd's two greatest advantages, his mist form and his regeneration. They already had the ability to do the first - Larry's moonbeam spell would force Strahd out of his mist form to his natural form - if Larry realized or remembered that was a feature of the spell, since he had never used it in that capacity before. For the second, I used a bit of DM fiat. The designed level of the module conversion was 5th, and the PC's were 4th. The two big power jumps in 5e that happen from 4th to 5th are that primary combat classes gain a second attack (not a big factor since the party was numerous) and that primary caster classes gain access to third level spells. In the case of Larry, this would mean access to the spell Daylight which, even if the party did not recover the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, would allow them to counter Strahd's regeneration. I honestly didn't think that they had a chance without this, so after their "defeat" of Strahd in the throne room, I allowed Pelor to grant the following ability to Tyrius - if he and Larry cooperated, they could together cast Daylight, at a cost of a second level spell slot from Larry and a first level slot from Tyrius for a total of three levels.
At this point in the module, Willa and Thokk had both met their individual "positive fortunes", so here are their Level 5 stats:
New abilities in bold.
Special Agent Willhemina Stoutley (Willa)
Fifth Level Fighter (Martial Archetype: Champion) / Human (mixed race, predominantly Flan) (Sailor)
Str 18 (+4), Dex 16 (+3), Con 12 (+1), Int 10 (0), Wis 9 (-1), Chr 9 (-1)
Skills: (Fighter): Insight, Survival (Sea and Coast), (Sailor): Athletics, Perception
Fighting Style: Great Weapon Fighting, Improved Critical, Extra Attack
Plate armor +2, greatsword, dagger
Potions of neutralize poison, healing x2, cure disease
Thokk of the Crystalmists (Thokk)
Fifth Level Barbarian / Half-orc (Outlander)
Str 18 (+4) Dex 14 (+2) Con 16 (+3) Int 5 (-2) Wis 13 (+1) Cha 12 (+1)
Skills: Athletics, Intimidation, Nature, Perception, Survival (mountains)
Primal Path: Totem Warrior (Wolf)
Unarmored defense, Shield+2, ring of protection +1, battle axe, hand axes, javelins
Extra Attack, Fast Movement _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
(12:10pm) The stairway is long and high, taking them at least forty or fifty feet up before turning and emerging in a stone hallway (K45). Long, low moans drift down from alcoves that line both walls of this long hall. The ceiling has fallen here, leaving rubble strewn across the floor. Overhead, the beams of the castle's roof are exposed, and the open sky can be seen above. Sporadic lightning from the clouds flashes into this hall, and the passage smells of damp wood. A graven statue stands within each of the ten alcoves. Shafts of light cross the statues' faces at obscure angles. Another sudden flash and crack of lightning reveals their faces formed in the shapes of terrified men and women. The passageway is free and clear, but Aurora insists there is some secret to be found here. She examines the statues, the alcoves, and even spends ten minutes casting a ritual detect magic, but learns little besides the fact that the clothes depicted on the statues are court fashions from hundreds of years ago. Finally she gives the party leave to continue on.
(12:30pm) After the alcoved hallway, the corridor turns and ends in a door. An archway, however, leads beyond into a big open space. Thokk investigates, and it turns out the space is the hollow interior of a huge tower. Before he can see any more than this, a squishing sound pierces the silence and he is thrown back against the tower wall, pinioned by a mass of sticky strands. The party rushes in to defend him, and eventually kills three giant spiders.
The monsters slain, they can examine the tower better (K20). A mosaic floor stretches about them into the darkness. A vast, empty tower shaft rises above. They cannot see clearly more than a few yards up, yet they feel the tower's cold expanse pressing down. A spiral staircase rises slowly into the darkness circling the open shaft. Another set of stairs leads down. Given the vast diameter of the tower and their guess as to their location, they believe it to be the northern tower - neither the greatest nor the tallest of the towers they saw from outside the keep, but large by any means. The sound of rain alerts them to the presence of an open doorway leading out to the castle battlements (K46). Thokk throws a spider over the edge of the hollow tower shaft and counts the seconds until he hears a sickening crunch, then tells the party it is a good hundred feet down.
(12:40pm) They leave the tower, retreat to the door, and listen. Beyond is the cracking sound of a fire.
Entering, they find a blazing hearth filling the room with rolling waves of red and amber light (K37). The walls are lined with ancient books and tomes, their leather covers well oiled and preserved through careful use - Aurora’s eyes go wide and even taciturn Shefak becomes animated. All is in order here. The stone floor is hidden beneath a luxurious rug of a deep-patterned weave. A large, low table sits in the center of the room, waxed and polished to a mirrored finish. Even the poker next to the blazing fireplace is polished. Large, overstuffed divans and couches stand in order about the room. Two luxurious chairs face the hearth. A huge painting hangs over the mantelpiece in a heavy, gilded frame. The rolling light of the fire illuminates the carefully rendered painting, which draws gasps from the party each in turn as they enter. It is an exact likeness of the Burgomaster's daughter, Ireena Kolyana. Though the painting is obviously centuries old, the likeness is unmistakable.
It is in a place of tranquility, a harbor for the mighty and powerful.
It is in a place of visdom, varmth...and despair.
Great secrets are there.
The Varriors cast their shadow over that place as well, for he is often there.
Looking about for the “veapon” Madam Eva foretold, several in the party note a sword hilt on the mantel of the fireplace, enclosed in a glass case. Thokk feels a tugging at his belt, and looks down, expecting to see Barnabus or Larry - but no one is there. He feels the tug again, urging him toward the fireplace. The others appear engrossed in the painting, though he doesn’t understand why.
Thokk walks carefully toward the fireplace, and now feels that it is his sword itself pulling on his belt. He unsheathes it, and it is all he can do to to hold it, straining as it is toward the hilt on the mantel. Thokk grabs the glass case and opens it, taking out the platinum hilt then tossing the case casually on the floor. It lands on the thick rug and does not break. The hilt of his own sword feels loose - and then actually falls off the blade, so that Thokk has to neatly catch the blade by the tang before it, too, drops. With a force he cannot resist, the new hilt flies to the blade and affixes itself as if newly-forged. A flash of light blinds everyone in the room.
When people can see again, deep golden runes are now clearly etched on the blade of Thokk’s sword where there were none before. Aurora reads them in Suelese - “Ik Soldancar”; “the sunsword.”
[DM’s note: Thokk gains an inspiration point for finding the sword, his Fortune of Ravenloft, which he will use for his level 5 hp rolls. The sunsword is a sword +1, +3 vs. undead. It glows in the presence of undead, and has additional, as yet unknown, powers against vampires.]
Aurora first examines the portrait - it is real, not a forgery to the best of her ability to tell. The faded paint, cracks in the gilt frame, and other features all indicate that it is centuries old - and yet the likeness to Ireena is unmistakable. The Barovian woman claims to have never seen it before, but she does appear unsettled. Tyrius uses his knowledge of the nobility to examine it - the clothes of the woman in the painting - they match the historical period of the statues they passed on the way here. And her jewelry, the arrangement of her hands, her look of expectancy - this is a bridal portrait, he says, commissioned by the groom or sometimes the bride’s family, a tradition among high nobles.
Ireena, upon seeing Thokk’s new sword, begins to weep openly, and stretches forth her hands to it, asking, then begging Thokk to be allowed to touch it. He is reluctant at first, but finds it hard to refuse the woman in front of the party. Eventually he agrees, and even though nothing seems to happen when she does so, he is still a bit spooked.
Aurora joins Shefak, who is already browsing texts as fast as she can. There are many dozens, perhaps a few hundred, volumes, all old and historically valuable. But none are what she is looking for - none are a history of early Keoland.
Willa tries to rush Aurora, reminding them all that both Madam Eva and Lief said that Strahd comes here often, but Aurora brushes her concerns away. Ireena says that even if the devil himself does not find them here, the fire is well-tended, and surely a servant will be along soon.
(12:50pm) Babshapka checks the doors while Barnabus searches the room for what might have been missed. One door leads to a stone stairway down (K83), another to a bedchamber, a third to a dining hall.
Barnabus is in front of the fire when he says “Aha!” and lifts the poker from the set of tools (shovel, tongs, etc.). With a whoosh from the flames and the sound of stone against stone, the back of the fireplace slides away, revealing quite a large space beyond. It is difficult to see through the flames, but there looks to be a chest along the far wall and perhaps a body slumped in the corner.
It seems clear that the only access to the revealed secret chamber is through the flames, which could easily damage anyone crossing, and the party briefly discusses putting them out. Ever helpful, Thokk turns toward the fire and starts lifting his loincloth, but Willa quickly swats it back down.
“Put yer bucket brigade away, ye daft orc,” she chides. “They’ll notice ther fire’s out as soon as they be walkin’ in ther door. An’ pick up affer yerself!” she hands him back the glass case he dropped on the floor and motions him to replace it on the mantel.
“Yes, evil advisor…” he mumbles.
Tyrius offers his shield as protection against the flames and half the party get ready to jump, which is not as hard as it sounds given the size of the fireplace and passageway beyond. Once inside (K38), they can see glinting through the smoke that wafts into the chamber, gold, silver, and copper coins lying scattered around a closed chest. The fittings on the chest tell of great workmanship. Attached to the east wall are two torch sconces. The southernmost sconce holds a torch with an intricate metal base. The other is empty. A skeleton of a man lies against the wall in broken plate armor. His right hand is on his throat while his left hand holds the matching torch from the empty sconce. What follows is an intense debate, conducted both within the chamber and through the flames, about whether the chest should be opened.
Aurora uses a charge from her wand of magic detection, but is not able to discern anything in the room save what the party already carries. She investigates the empty torch sconce and finds a curious socket at its base - an exact match for the end of the torch held in the skeleton’s hand. She ushers everyone back through the flames and into the study, then uses her mage hand to carefully take the torch from the skeleton’s grasp, move it through the air, and set it down in the empty sconce. With a sound of stone grating against stone, a second secret panel opens in the back of the secret treasure chamber. Thokk is the first one through, and peers down the new, dark passage (K39).
The ancient hall is choked with spider webs. Their dusty forms hide the very walls and ceiling. The webs are broken by a single cleared path down the center of the room.
The party is clearly desirous of proceeding down the hall, but also concerned that all of the secret accesses be left open behind them and they be discovered. On the other hand - what if the doors are closed, but then they find themselves trapped inside? After much discussion, it is decided that Shefak will remain in the study, protected by her invisibility ring, while the rest of the party proceeds through and then closes the doors behind them.
(1pm) Thokk leads the way down the hall, using the open path through the cobwebs. Tyrius calls for light in the area, and Babshapka looks for tracks, but by this point anything previously present has already been obscured by Thokk’s heavy tread. At the far end of the hall are a pair of bronze doors of highly ornate design.
Once the party is completely through, less Shefak, the monk tries replacing the poker in its stand and the back of the fireplace again closes. Aurora then uses her mage hand to lift the torch from its sconce and let it fall to the floor. That inner doorway closes as well. Aurora messages Shefak to reset the torch, and the monk takes out the poker, jumps the flames, and relocates the torch, opening the panel up again, then returns to the study.
Barnabus is at the far end of the hallway, has checked the bronze doors for traps and declared them clear - but is puzzled by a curious, faint, mechanical clicking sound coming from the other side. Tyrius is casting his light about the hallway, examining the walls and ceiling carefully. He notes the faint outlines of an access panel on the right wall, near where they came in.
(1:10pm) Aurora hangs near the back of the party, Babshapka and Larry with her. As the party studies the hall, she uses her mage hand to open the chest. Immediately great clouds of luminous green gas billow forth from the chest. Aurora immediately hurls the torch from the sconce, but as the stone panel slowly slides into place, the gas begins expanding into the hallway. Aurora feels incredibly drowsy, and it is all she can do to maintain consciousness. Next to her, Babshapka collapses. A second later, Willa does as well.
Tyrius collects the unconscious bodies while Barnabus and Larry check them - they have a pulse and are breathing, but they are not roused by shaking and slapping. Barnabus is guessing that they are both drugged into a comatose state, perhaps magically, but his knowledge of poisons is limited and not something he cares to discuss with the party. “They are fine for now, but will likely have to sleep this off. I don’t know how long,” he says.
Tyrius points Thokk at the doorway he has found, and the half-orc cuts quickly through the webs and opens the panel. There is a narrow landing (K31b), and then a large rectangular shaft (K31a).
Aurora examines her sleeping bodyguard, unimpressed with the party’s efforts to rouse him. Reasoning that a higher level of pain may spur him to awake, she removes her dagger from its sheath and makes a shallow incision in his forearm. Unfortunately she appears to have crossed an artery, and soon great spurts of blood are pulsing forth. She rummages in her bags for rags to staunch the flow.
Tyrius and Barnabus join Thokk on the ledge in front of the shaft. They notice great wooden screw mechanisms on the two short walls. The shaft smells of well-oiled wood. “This is some sort of service elevator,” reasons Tyrius. “We have a way out - we can’t be trapped in here - call for Shefak.”
[Note: Tyrius is awarded an inspiration point. He saves it for later use]
“Yes, well,” hesitates Aurora, fumbling with the rags for bleeding Babshapka. “Just let me check something first.”
At the opposite end of the hall, Ireena has been plunged into darkness since Tyrius and his light have gone through the secret portal. She is left guarding the unconscious Willa, but is feeling increasingly uneasy. She searches in Willa’s pack, drawing forth several vials before finding her lantern. With her own flint and steel she lights the wick, and the hallway fills with light. Ireena then hoods the lantern and examines the vials she drew forth. One has, in a delicate handwritten note, the words “neutralize poison” in Common. Ireena says a quick prayer and pours a quarter of it down Willa’s throat. The dark woman groans but does not stir. Ireena continues to administer the draught until Willa’s eyelids flutter and she sits up. “Thank the gods,” Ireena sighs.
Aurora is feeling around on the other side of the wall, not seeing, but using her mage hand to grope along the floor until she finds the torch. Setting it into the sconce, the wall panel again opens up. She still feels drowsy, but it appears that most of the glowing gas in the room has been drawn up the chimney. Certainly Shefak did not see any gas appear in the study.
(1:20pm) Aurora moves into the chamber with the skeleton and examines the open chest. At the bottom are three vials, their stoppers all removed but connected to a complicated mechanism for pulling out the stoppers when the chest lid was opened. It is otherwise empty. Aurora calls to Shefak to join them.
The monk returns the poker, then immediately leaps through the flames and the closing stone panel to join Aurora. Aurora moves into the hall, giving Shefak the space to replace the torch in the skeleton’s hand and, just in time, to squeeze through the second closing stone panel.
Willa and Ireena together rouse Babshapka with a third draught of the vial, leaving just one. The entire party again active, they leave the shaft for the moment and proceed to the bronze doors, open them and move beyond (K40).
Dusty cobwebs fill the area, their musty smell assaulting the senses and obscuring sight. Deep pools of darkness lie all about as the party attempts in vain to penetrate the spidery veils. A single path leads to the center of the room where a rope dangles from high above.
Once inside the room, the metallic clicking heard through the door becomes more recognizable as the creak and pop of moving exoskeleton. Almost certainly there are giant spiders in the dark webs above. Aurora tries the rope, but gently - pulling just hard enough to feel it yield, then pull back, as if counter-weighted by a bell. This whole chamber, the ceiling so remote as to be unseen, is likely a bell tower. Although just the center of the room is clear of webs, Thokk works his way along the walls, clearing the way for Barnabus to search. The halfling soon finds a secret door in the north wall.
(1:30pm) Through the door is a large octagonal chamber (K41). A large, well-polished wooden desk is in the center of the room, two leather-bound books upon it. Many chests line the walls of the room. Barnabus sets to work checking the chests while Aurora looks at the books. Both are written in Suel. One is titled “The Chronicle of Secret Times” by Uhas, the second simply titled “I, Strahd.” The pages of the second are yellowed, the writing faded from centuries - but it appears to be a personal diary of the Count! Curiously, Aurora appears more interested in the former volume.
(1:40pm) Once Barnabus has opened the chests (and checked for any other secret doors), the party realizes that the plundered riches of Strahd's secret horde lie before them. There is a chest each filled to brimming with copper, silver, gold, and platinum coins, a chest of gems and jewels, and a long case with a staff, sword, hammer, and mace.
This card tells of history.
Knowledge of the ancient may help you understand a foe.
You should seek for a carefully hidden place of great vorldly vealth.
I see a blazing fire protecting the place.
The Druids sustain your strength here, but hold you from your wictory,
taking more time than it otherwise vould.
This is a good place to rest - but not to fight.
Take care you are not caught there.
[DM’s Note: For finding the secret treasure room, the location of her Fortune of Ravenloft, Aurora has gained an Inspiration Point. She saves it for later use]
Aurora uses a charge from her wand of magic detection. The staff, sword, hammer, and mace all glow! Willa checks to make sure none of the gems or jewels do. Shefak takes the staff - a heavy, black ironwood thing that hums when she swings it. Ireena tests the balance of the sword, then buckles it to her belt. Tyrius hefts the hammer, gives it a few swings, and resolves to take it with him. Aurora packs the two books away carefully.
They shut the door and retreat back to the elevator shaft.
[DM's Note: I altered some of the treasures to account both for my party and the differences between 1e and 5e. I reduced the number of magic items, reduced their potency, changed one of the maces to a staff for Shefak and another to a hammer for Tyrius.] _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
Aurora is lowered down the elevator shaft on a rope. Some 40 feet down there is a landing, but the shaft itself continues farther than she can see. By rocking and swinging her body, she is able to move into the landing, which is full of intricate machinery. There are small passages between the gears and pulleys. The aroma of grease and well-oiled wood fills the chamber (K31).
(1:50pm) After taking quite some time to study the machinery, tracing all the gears and pulleys, Aurora believes that she can operate it. It is not as simple as “pull a lever to go up”. Rather, some independent, unseen power source is spinning a number of flywheels in the heart of the machinery. By carefully lowering matching gearing systems onto the flywheels, Aurora can set those gears spinning, and then transfer that motion through belts and crankshafts out to the wooden screws that line the shaft. But there are a number of gears, and Aurora is guessing that whatever elevator beneath is being lifted is heavy - so that she will need to start its motion in low gear, and shift to higher gears once it starts moving. Furthermore, she will need to keep the two screws spinning at equal speeds to avoid tipping the elevator, which may not be evenly balanced in terms of load and resistance on each screw. Finally, there is a whole different set of gears to move into place to have the screws spin in reverse and go down. All together it is the most complicated piece of machinery she has ever seen. Furthermore, she is an historian, not a gnome tinkerer. Still, after several minutes of study she feels reasonably confident, and begins to lower gears into place on the flywheels. To her delight, the wooden screws start turning - and in the correct direction.
The appearance of the elevator car behind her is sudden and surprisingly silent. By the time she has lifted the gears from the flywheels to stop it, the floor of the car is a foot above the level of her landing, and its ceiling has neatly sheared off the rope that connected her to the party above. The car is like a huge rectangular stone box with the two side walls missing. The end walls are mounted through the screws, and the floor and ceiling appear solid. Confident that it will hold her weight, she steps aboard, and finds a trapdoor in the ceiling, though she cannot reach it from inside the car.
She retreats to the control bank and starts the car moving again, all the way up the shaft to her companions. Their calls tell her to stop the car, but it is a few seconds before she can. Fortunately, the screws end early, meaning that the car cannot be pushed into the ceiling - it just rises, slips off-track, and falls to rise again, making the car jolt but not damaging anything. Those above note that anyone riding on the roof of the car would have certainly been crushed against the top of the shaft by tons of pressure, however.
Once everyone is aboard the car, Aurora brings it down to her level, again missing a flush landing by a few feet but accomplishing her goal. She gives lessons in operating the machinery to several of the party while Barnabus wanders the machinery aisles, eventually finding a secret door at the back of the landing. He peeks through, and the familiar hall beyond (K27) leads him to believe that they are back on the level of the throne room, and Lief the accountant.
Aurora sends the party down below in the car, keeping track of them with her message - until they have gone beyond her range without her realizing it! She brings them up again, and they work out a communication system, shining flashes of light through the now-open trap door in the roof. They are lowered again…
(2pm) After descending some hundred feet or so, the passengers signal her to stop the car. It stops about five feet above the floor at the bottom of the shaft. One car side opens upon a door, another upon a short hallway leading to a stone spiral staircase going both up and down.
As soon as the car comes to a halt, those within are set upon by three giant spiders, but make quick work of them. Aurora ties a rope securely to the railing of the machinery, and lowers herself down to the level of the party. The rope just reaches the roof of the car, and they help her through the trap door.
Thokk peers through the door into a hallway beyond (K62) while the party forms up. The hall stands in deadly silence. The low ceiling sags from heavy beams. A fog clings to the floor in thick patches, obscuring everything less than three feet above the floor. Thokk snorts in disgust and closes the door. Seeing the party waiting for him at the head of the stairs, he asks “Stairs up or stairs down?”
“Down,” replies Tyrius confidently. “We have the sword and the tome - we must recover the symbol before sundown, and if it is where Strahd rests as Madam Eva foretold, we should look as far below the castle as we can.”
Whistling merrily to himself, Thokk leads the way down the spiral staircase. He enjoyed the elly-vator ride, and doesn’t even bother to correct Tyrius about the fact that Strahd is dead, not resting. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
(2:10pm) The stairway down (K21) is lit by fluttering torches in iron sconces. A chilly wind rushes down the circling stairway, seeming to kill the very heat of the torches. The air grows colder and damper on every revolution of the stairs. They are deep beneath the surface, far from the light of the sun. The walls seem to close in on them and several in the party struggle for breath. Finally Thokk emerges into a long hallway, submerged under a layer of oily black water (K73).
The stairs descend into the black, still water that fills the arched hallway. The water's surface is like dark mirrored glass, disturbed only occasionally by the "thwick" of a drop falling from the ceiling. Twenty feet down the hallway, arched doorways lead downward 2 feet from each side of the hallway. In each arched doorway, an iron door stands closed and partially submerged. All is still except for a weak cry for help coming through the south door.
Thokk strides confidently down the hall, Shefak behind him. Suddenly there is an explosion of water, with foam and liquid spraying everywhere. In a second it clears - and Thokk is gone! Immediately Babshapka raises the hood on his cloak of the manta ray and dives into the water. It is just three feet deep and he easily skims along the floor of the hall, noting several places with vague outlines of trap doors. With Shefak's help, he pushes on the one nearest to where Thokk disappeared, and then he, too, is gone in a gout of watery spray, and then a slowly dissipating swirl of water.
Thokk has the sensation of falling, then comes to in a small stone cell (K75f). The fungus-laden ceiling hangs 3 feet above still, black water. The water is 5 feet deep, so that just Thokk’s head and shoulders protrude. Three walls are stone, the fourth is open but blocked by iron bars. Liquid drips from the hanging growth on the ceiling. Thokk peers out into the corridor and sees with his darkvision a number of other similar cells. He tries the bars, but they seem stout. Then, in the cell next to him (K75g), he hears a great splash and Babshapka calling for help, “I’m in a cell!”
Thokk is enraged - having killed the master of this castle, who dares keep him in a tiny cell? Stupid iron bars! Shouting a primordial cry, his immense muscles ripple as he strains at the iron bars, finally snapping one that is more rusted than solid. Using the freed bar as a lever, he pries open the bars on his cell, emerges, and opens Babshapka’s cell as well.
In the hall, those remaining in the party hear Thokk’s cries of wrath drowning out the weak calls from before. Larry casts spider climb on Barnabus, and the halfling moves along the walls to the southern door, quickly checks it for traps, then opens it. Thokk and Mantabshapka are at the end of the hall within, outside the last cell (K75a), staring at the prisoner inside.
All they can see of the man is his face and a mat of dark, greasy hair floating on the water. The man is just over five feet tall, and it is only by leaning back and straining his neck that can he keep his mouth out of the water. Every few minutes he manages a hoarse cry for help.
Thokk shrugs and uses his bar to pry open the bars of this cell as well. Mantabshapka helps the man out and up the stairs to the waiting party. While they crowd around him, Mantabshapka and Barnabus scout out the remaining traps in the floor of the corridor.
(2:20pm) The erstwhile prisoner’s clothing is rags, soaked and rotten, and his feet are bare. His hair and nails are long and unkempt, his frame emaciated.
He gives his name as Alexandru Petrinoff. He says he was a Barovian villager, a woodsman. Ireena recognizes the name and occupation, but not the face - though he looks much the worse for wear and could be Petrinoff if he was cleaned up and fed. Petrinoff disappeared from the village over a year ago, she says. He recognizes her as the daughter of the Burgomaster and says that he fears for her safety here in the castle of the devil.
He says that a year ago he was felling timber in the woods near the village. Near the end of the day his axe slipped - he lept out of the way and did not strike his foot, but he twisted his ankle. He was not hurt badly, but he could not limp back to the village before dark. As soon as the sun went down the wolves found him and treed him. At midnight Strahd came and claimed him. Strahd took him back to his castle and healed his ankle through dark arts, and then said that in return Petrinoff would have to serve as his coachman. He served Strahd for most of a year but was never allowed to return to the village or send word to his family. One night a short time ago the horses got spooked by a pack of wolves and the carriage was damaged. Strahd blamed him, struck him, and he was knocked out. He awoke in the cell the party found him in. He has been in the wet and dark since then - from a few weeks to as long as a month, but he has lost any sense of time. A hunchback man would come in from time to time with a lantern and bring him moldy bread and questionable meat and fresh water.
In his time serving Strahd, he came to know the carriage house and all the outbuildings of the castle. He was permitted on the main floor of the keep and knows that well, but he was not allowed beyond the main floor, up or down stairs.
He eagerly accepts the food and water the party gives him.
(2:30pm) Barnabus, using his spider climb, has begun edging into the larger room beyond the end of the hallway. Now Mantabshapka glides through the water into the room (K76) as well.
Dark, low shapes thrust up out of the still, brackish water that fills this room. The room is 50 feet square. The ceiling is 17 feet above the water, which is 3 feet deep. To the north, a large balcony (K77) stands 7 feet above the level of the water in the room. As Barnabus and Mantabshapka move in, they realize that the dark shapes in the room are racks, iron maidens, stocks, and other torture apparati. The skeletons of their last victims seem frozen in silent screams. The lower portions of them are underwater.
Bored of the conversation with Petrinoff, Thokk strides ahead down the corridor, sloshing through the water and just barely remembering where the other two said the floor traps were. As he enters the large torture chamber, he notes that his sword is now glowing blue.
A corpse rises up to face him slowly, its slime-gray arms clawing upward through the water. Mantabshapka sees many bodies drifting aimlessly on the surface or under the water, but as he watches, those nearest him animate, stand, and start to surround him. Barnabus calls for back-up and begins making his way to the balcony by the light from Thokk’s sword.
Now alerted, the party dashes through the watery hallway and into the torture chamber. When Tyrius sees the corpses, their hungry, active eyes, their long claws and fangs, he shouts a warning, “Ghouls! Ghouls in the dungeon! They can paralyze you!” More and more forms are rising through the murky water - Babshapka is now completely surrounded.
Ireena tosses Petrinoff her dagger and tells him to watch the staircase so that the party is not surprised from the rear, then she, too, draws her sword and charges down the hall.
Fully twelve ghouls now face the party, already clawing and biting at Thokk, Tyrius, and Babshapka. The elf casts a hunter’s mark, then dives into the water, flipping and rolling in an attempt to make it back to the ranks of his allies.
Tyrius calls upon the divine power of Pelor to drive away these unholy abominations. A great wave of light rolls forth from him. Half the ghouls cower and cringe, then turn and begin fleeing. Three of those remaining launch themselves at Tyrius, clawing desperately at his face.
Now that the party actually outnumbers the ghouls, the fight is brief. Several of the heroes are wounded, but no one is paralyzed, fortunately. By the end, the ghouls that fled from Tyrius are lined up against the far wall, clawing listlessly at the stone, and Barnabus and Larry have checked the ornate chairs on the balcony, looked behind a rotting curtain and located a door, and tied a rope to the railing to facilitate the party’s access.
Thokk strides over to where the ghouls are still trying unsuccessfully to flee, intent on destroying them. Tyrius warns that if they are damaged, they will no longer be driven away. Thokk shrugs unconcernedly, and Willa organizes the others to provide support - she doesn’t want the creatures left active behind them anyway. One at a time they are hacked to pieces, though the last one bears Willa under the water and she is pulled out by Tyrius.
The party climbs Barnabus’ rope to the balcony. The door behind the curtain is solid, though covered in mildew. The party are all tired and many are wounded. “We be unlikely t’ find a more defensible spot t’an t’is,” suggests Willa, “wit' a stout door on one side an’ water on t’other.”
Tyrius is hesitant, arguing that they need to push on and find Strahd’s resting place before dark.
Ireena says, “If ve do rest, I vould like to read the diary,” and that is all it takes to convince Tyrius. Torches are set in the empty sconces around the balcony and a temporary camp is made.
The party rests for an hour (2:40 to 3:40pm). Wounds are cleaned and bound, spells regained, prayers said. Aurora finds her history book fascinating, differing substantially from any other account she has read of the early Sheldomar - she believes that this volume may be a suppressed version that the rulers of Keoland do not want known [see post 70 - The Riddle of the Malhel IV].
Ireena spends the hour attempting to read “I, Strahd”. It is very slow going for her. The Suel used is archaic, and she is unsure of the meaning of many words. The letters themselves are barely legible in the torchlight. At the end of the hour her eyes are swimming, her head ringing, and her hands cold. She translates the first and last entries to the party:
I am The Ancient, I am The Land. My beginnings are lost in the darkness of the past. I was the warrior, I was good and just. I thundered across the land like the wrath of a just god, but the war years and the killing years wore down my soul as the wind wears stone into sand.
I now reside far below Ravenloft. I live among the dead and sleep beneath the very stones of this hollow castle of despair. I shall seal shut the walls of the stairs that none may disturb me.
Their hour of rest finished, the party extinguishes all the torches but one and packs up their camp. Thokk pulls open the door to the next room (K78) and light spills out, accompanied by the crackling sound of fire. The room is 30 feet square, rising to a 20-foot-tall flat ceiling. Gargoyle carvings smile, revealing their teeth, from high upon the walls, well lit by a brazier that burns fiercely in the center of the room. From their alcoves in the center of the east and west walls, two iron statues stand saluting with their weapons bared. Each statue has four arms, one with a shield, one with a sword, and the remaining two with their palms toward the ceiling over their heads. Their eyes seem to watch the party. High overhead, an hourglass with writing on its base hangs suspended above the brazier. All of its sand is in the upper portion, somehow refusing to run down into the bottom. In the center of the room next to the brazier is a golden chest. The room is scrupulously clean. A single door stands in the south wall (the one the party has opened) while three doors line the north wall. Thokk is about to stride into the room when Willa grabs his shoulder. “Wait!” she hisses. “Too much magic!”
Barnabus takes out his spyglass and the party examines the room by the light of the brazier. Aurora notes that for a fire that large, there is no smoke in the room, no ashes on the bare stone floor - it is almost certainly magical, and ever-burning. The statues are too large to be cast as single pieces of iron, but she doesn’t see any welds or joins - they are most likely magical constructs. The thought that they might animate is intimidating - huge and four arms each? The writing on the suspended hourglass is in Suel - she can make out:
In the palm of my hand...
on the side nearest them before it wraps around the edge out of sight. She ties a rope around her waist and ventures into the room, walking carefully around and trying not to touch anything. When she approaches the golden chest, Willa calls to her “Don’t open it! Don’t!”
Now able to see the full base of the hourglass, Aurora translates:
In the palm of my hand
Is the time left to thee
When it's consumed
Will the flame set you free!
“Palm o' me hand?” asks Larry. “What es in th' hands o' th' statues?” The statues tower over the party, and none of them can tell what they might have in their hands - but Aurora sends Buckbeak up for a quick tour of the room. There are small objects in each of the upheld palms! He perches on the head of a statue for a closer look; the west statue has a small red stone in its right hand and a blue stone in the left, while the east statue has a black stone in the right hand and an opaline one in the left.
At this point, the entire party ventures into the room. They find that the door is spring-loaded and would close shut with no one holding it, so they prop it open with one of the rotting wooden chairs from the balcony. Barnabus is interested in the chest, and takes out his magnifying lens (“Don’t touch it!” repeats Willa) and detects that there is an opening in the back, as well as the obvious one on the top.
(3:50pm) They decide to try the stones in the fire. Everyone but Buckbeak retreats from the room. Thokk, Aurora, and Willa are in the doorway. Aurora mage hands the black stone over the brazier, then drops it in. Immediately there is a flash as it is consumed, then the door in front of them begins to close with incredible force. The chair shatters into rotten splinters, knocking Willa to the ground. Thokk is holding the door but cannot resist its force. He grabs Aurora and yanks her roughly out of the path of the door, which then slams into its frame.
Inside the room, Buckbeak watches as the center door on the north wall opens briefly, revealing the base of a steep stairway, then closes again. The sand in the hourglass begins to run down, but slowly. Aurora climbs to her feet and has Buckbeak check the statues - the stones are still there, all of them, including the black stone.
One at a time they try the stones in the fire, until all their properties are known:
Black - north door in the center, steep stairs up
Opaline - north door in the east, spiral stairs up (K83)
Blue - north door in the west, steep stairs up
Red - south door
Each time all of the doors are closed, the hourglass starts - but the sands reset when the next stone is dropped, so they never have a chance to run fully to the bottom.
The party again enters the room. Tyrius is visibly upset, as all the options offered lead only up, but the party decides to try the spiral stairs. The opaline stone is again dropped. Barnabus is the first in the doorway, checking quickly to see if perhaps there is a secret door leading down, but he finds nothing and the others pass through. It takes several turns 'round to make room for them all. Aurora lingers, leaving Buckbeak in the room to see what happens at the end of the time. For five minutes the sand runs down until the top of the glass is empty. Then the statues come to life! They begin to stride about the room. Aurora doesn’t need to see through Buckbeak to know this - she can feel the floor shake under the weight of the massive, moving iron statues. At first they just circle the floor of the room aimlessly. Then one notes the presence of Buckbeak on the head of the other. Its huge sword slices through the air. In an explosion of feathers, Buckbeak is destroyed.
Having lost her familiar, Aurora makes a case to the party that they need to wait for ten minutes while she summons another - she has just enough supplies, and her portable brazier, to do so. Tyrius shakes his head. “We’re literally burning daylight. We must find this symbol before sunset.”
“It’s just ten minutes - and there are so many traps in this place, we need a scout,” says Aurora.
“I could read more,” adds Ireena.
Tyrius sighs and prays for patience.
The group camps on the stairs, just inside the door from the statue room. Aurora lights the coals in her brazier and begins a summoning ritual, while Ireena reads in the torchlight. Willa and Thokk go ahead, a few revolutions up, to act as a first line of defense.
Ireena finds passages that read:
The death she saw in me turned her from me. And so I came to hate death, my death. My hate is very strong; I would not be called "death" so soon.
I made a pact with death, a pact of blood. On the day of the wedding, I killed Sergei, my brother. My pact was sealed with his blood.
I found Tatyana weeping in the garden east of the Chapel. She fled from me. She would not let me explain, and a great anger swelled within me. She had to understand the pact I made for her.
I pursued her. Finally, in despair, she flung herself from the walls of Ravenloft and I watched everything I ever wanted fall from my grasp forever. It was a thousand feet through the mists. No trace of her was ever found. Not even I know her final fate.
Arrows from the castle guards pierced me to my soul, but I did not die. Nor did I live. I became undead, forever.
(4pm) Thokk and Willa hear the tread of feet on the stairs and the low murmur of conversation - people are approaching, and are making no effort to be quiet. And then - the noises are silenced. From behind them come the sounds of Aurora’s chanting - they must have been heard.
“We have to keep them from interrupting Aurora - just buy her time to finish her spell,” whispers Willa to Thokk. He nods sagely, and the two of them creep further up the stairs.
With his darkvision, Thokk sees a form come cautiously around the bend in the staircase shaft. He nudges Willa, who opens the hood of her lantern, flooding the darkness with light. Two swarthy men stand before them on the stairs, both dressed in colorful garb like the Rhennee from Madam Eva’s camp. Both have drawn short swords in hand, and one has a hard loaf of bread as well, the other a flask of liquid. The two men are blinded by the light, and Thokk easily shoves his way between them, turns around, grabs both by their collars, and lifts them off the steps so that they are dangling in the air.
“Drop yer swords!” commands Willa. “Ye can keep ther bread,” she chuckles.
One man’s sword clatters to the stone steps, the other carefully sheathes his. “Ve are serwents of the Master - you dare not harm us,” he says slowly.
Willa interrogates the men. Thokk shakes them whenever they hesitate in answering.
(4:10pm) The men say that they are from Madam Eva’s camp, and loyal to her. She has a “special arrangement” with the Count, which means that they sometimes have to visit the castle and run errands. Today, they have been asked to feed a prisoner in the dungeon, because Igor, his normal caretaker, is busy preparing dinner. The Master has many guests in the castle at the moment, and it will be a large meal.
Satisfied, Willa motions to Thokk to let the men down. He still walks behind them, one hand on each collar, as they go down the stairs to join the rest of the party. When the men see Ireena, they bow their heads in respect. One of them offers his condolences on “her recent loss”.
Aurora, finished with her spell, cleans up her brazier and proudly shows the party her new spider, “Charlotte”. She warns them not to squish it.
Ireena translates what she found in the tome to the party. At the mention of “Tatyana”, Shefak catches the two Rhennee men exchanging a nervous glance with one another. When questioned, they explain that the portrait in the study is of a Mistress Tatyana. They learned this when they were present and a clumsy maid knocked the portrait askew while dusting. Igor told the maid that if the Master found the portrait like that, she would pay dearly.
The party holds a hurried discussion - what are they to do with these men, and with Petrinoff? When asked whether they will return to their camp without telling Strahd anything, one of the men says, “Our instructions were to feed the prisoner. Ve cannot fail in our duty.” He hands Petrinoff the bread and the flask, then turns to the other man. “Ve have fed the prisoner.”
“Da. Let us leave the castle; our duty is done.”
“Would you be willing to take this man with you, to hide and protect him in your camp?” asks Aurora.
The Rhenee stare at Aurora as if she were a madwoman. “Harbor an escaped prisoner of the Count?” they ask. “No, that vould inwite the destruction of us all. You freed him, he is your responsibility now.”
“Where does this stair go - how will you leave?” asks Tyrius. The men tell him that the stair climbs all the way to the study (it is, in fact, the spiral stair which Willa saw the top of, when they were in the study). Tyrius scowls.
“One last thing before you go,” says Aurora. “You know how to pass the statues, yes?” The men nod. “Well, then, how do you open this door?”
With a look of even greater incredulity, one of the Rhenee walks up to the door, lifts the handle, and pulls. The door opens easily, then pulls itself closed when he lets go. Shaking their heads and muttering, the two men ascend the stairs from whence they came.
(4:30pm) The party passes easily into the statue room, then use the stone to take the middle door on the north wall. Now inside, they can see it leads up a steep but short flight of stairs between rough masonry walls, turns at a landing (K80), and continues down a dark corridor. The hall is relatively free of obstruction and there is little dust on the steps. A cool dampness seems to flow from within as a thick fog slowly swirls. The staircase is obscured in the mists. The wind within howls mournfully.
Aurora sends the party ahead to scout the landing while she and Babshapka hang back behind the door. With Babshapka holding the door open for her, Aurora mage hands the chest, opening the back compartment. Immediately a thick green gas billows forth. Caught in the updraft from the flaming brazier, it spreads quickly throughout the room. Babshapka closes the door before either one of them are overcome.
On the 10-foot-square landing, Barnabus searches for secret doors. The masonry walls abruptly end when the passage turns east and opens into a roughly hewn tunnel (K81). Its rough damp walls are barely discernible through thick fog. The tunnel passes through the rock-pillar of Ravenloft itself.
(4:40pm) Aurora uses her mage hand blind, fumbling about in the hallway to her west until she finds the door handle of the westernmost door on the north wall. She opens it into the room, feels the resistance of the spring-loaded hinges, tells Babshapka to count to 600 while she “airs the room out”. Above them, the party is growing restless on the landing. Aurora tells them to go ahead, but to go slowly. Barnabus moves cautiously down the hall, searching for traps.
(4:50pm) Aurora has Babshapka open the door to the statue room, expecting to find it clear - but it is still completely full of the green gas. From the looks of it, the gas is heavier than the air, and simply opening the door to the steep staircase up has done little to disperse it. Already the gas is expanding onto the stairwell with the duo and they are beginning to cough. Babshapka lets the door close, grabs the slumping Aurora, and hauls her up the stairs forcibly.
Now on the landing, Aurora rouses and tries to think through the problem. If she could open the far door, the one to the balcony on the south wall, perhaps she could disperse the gas since that leads to a lower space. But the room was at least thirty feet across, and from her side of the door to the outside of the south door beyond is outside the range of her mage hand.
“Are ye done yet?” demands Willa, interrupting Aurora’s thoughts, but doesn’t wait for her to answer. “While yer playin’ wit’ ther chest I told ye not t’ open, we be burnin’ DAYLIGHT.” Tyrius, too, harrumphs but says nothing. The party arranges itself in marching order, led by Willa and Thokk walking abreast, and starts down the corridor.
(5pm) About fifty feet east of the landing, Willa’s lantern shows that the corridor ends another fifty feet ahead. Although it is swirling with mists, she thinks she can make out a stone door on the far wall. She takes a few steps forward and squints, and Thokk steps up next to her. Suddenly the entire floor of the corridor slants sharply down and to the right under their feet. Willa and Thokk go tumbling, then sliding, down a chute. They try to brace themselves, but the walls of the chute are of polished black marble and provide no purchase whatsoever. Above them, Shefak has shoved one end of a rope into the hands of a dumbfounded Tyrius, grabbed the other end herself, and lept out on to the counter-weighted floor section to keep it from closing. Tyrius has just enough faculties to hold the rope and keep Shefak from sliding in; the monk apparently has just enough weight by herself to keep the trap door open.
At the end of the long chute, Thokk and Willa hit a wall that instantly gives way before them, then fall about ten feet into five feet of fetid water. Willa’s lantern goes out when it hits the water, but Thokk can see that they are in an iron-barred cell in a hallway of such cells, most likely the northern side of the dungeon he saw before but which they did not enter.
Thokk is incensed - he resolves to destroy as many of the bars as he can, starting with the cell they are in now. Willa hangs back, treading water in the dark, grateful that her magic plate armor is virtually weightless, while the barbarian goes on a rampage with broken iron bars flying, chips of stone skittering across the water, sweat and spittle coursing from him. Meanwhile, in the corridor above, Aurora at first tries to contact Willa with her message but fails, then convinces Tyrius to cause her spider Charlotte to glow, just in time for Larry to bind a rope about himself and tumble (not slide) down the chute. Larry lands in Willa’s cell and causes a wave that nearly sweeps her under, but his rope is not severed, merely compressed, when the trap door at the bottom of the chute closes behind him.
(5:10pm) With as many bars ripped out as Thokk could defeat in his rage, he and Willa now swim to the south door, and exit up the stairs into the hallway. Her lantern wick is soaked and will need drying out before she can re-light it, so she lights a torch. Willa steers Thokk clear of the floor traps, and together they enter the torture chamber, which now has twelve floating ghoul corpses moving in slow eddies about the room. They climb the balcony and open the door to the statue room, using the remaining chair to quickly prop it, then turn, run, and leap off the balcony into the water below as the green gas pours out behind them. They make it to the hallway exit ahead of the gas, where they pause and turn. The gas is indeed pouring over the balcony into the torture room, but dispersing in the much larger space until the air is just the faintest tinge of green. Satisfied, they return to the dungeon. Larry is using the rope to hold himself above the surface of the water, which is quite over his head.
(5:20pm) Willa, standing on Thokk’s shoulders, is able to feel the outline of the trap door in the wall, but has no means to open it. Shefak, however, has let herself down the chute using the rope, and is able to force the door open. All four of them then climb the rope up and out, first Willa, then Shefak, Thokk, and finally Larry. By the time they reach the top of the chute, the rest of the party have maneuvered themselves across the trap door in the floor to the other side of the hallway. With three of them dripping and shivering in the cold mist, they resume their march down the hallway, pausing only at the end for Barnabus to search the cold stone door for traps.
[DM's Note: Aurora's positive personal fortune: if she can discover clear information about the Malhel, she will gain a level.
Aurora is now 5th level. She uses her previously saved inspiration point on her hit point roll.
New abilities in bold.
Aurora of Tringlee
Fifth level wizard (School of Enchantment) / Half-elf (Sage)
Str 13 (+1) Dex 10 (0) Con 12 (+1) Int 18 (+4) Wis 8 (-1) Cha 18 (+4)
Languages Keolandish (S/W), Elven (S/W), Common (S/W), Ancient Suel (Written only), one open slot
Skills: Arcana, History, Investigation, Medicine, Performance, Persuasion
Staff, ring of protection+1 x2, scroll of protection from undead, wand of magic detection, wand of polymorph
Ability: Hypnotic Gaze
Cantrips: Prestidigitation, Fire Bolt, Mage Hand, Friends
First: Detect Magic, Mage Armor, Find Familiar, Magic Missile, Sleep, Comprehend Languages, Silent Image, Unseen Servant, Shield, Identify
Second: Magic Mouth, Invisibility, Web, Knock, Blur
Third: Fireball _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
Now Post 70: The Riddle of the Malhel IV Concurrent with Post 69: The Dungeons
The party rests for an hour (2:40 to 3:40pm). Wounds are cleaned and bound, spells regained, prayers said. Aurora finds her history book, The Chronicle of Secret Times by Uhas, fascinating, differing substantially from any other account she has read of the early Sheldomar - she believes that this volume may be a suppressed version that the rulers of Keoland do not want known.
Compared to the official history long studied by Aurora, the parts in blue are missing from this version, while parts in red are unique to this version.
c. SD 5096 (CY ‐420)
Arrival of the Suel Houses of Rhola and Neheli in the Sheldomar Valley
At the end of the 51st century of the Suel Dominion came migrations of Suel peoples different from their predecessors. These noble families had reluctantly quit their land after its destruction by the Rain of Colorless Fire. Led by the last Mage of Power, Slerotin, the famous Twelve Suel Tribes made their way across and beneath the Crystalmists and down into the basin beyond. Though few in number, they steadfastly aided one another under the direction of the mage and so survived the depredations of humanoids and the earlier, unanimously wicked, Suel migrants. The most important families were the Neheli and Rhola, but other Suel families came as well; the Zelrad, Malhel, Lizhal, Linth, and Secunforth. Upon the death of Slerotin, the tribes began feuding and soon scattered. After some time on the northern plains, the House of Rhola turned south. Some Rholan families settled along the Kewl and Sheldomar Rivers where they border the Silverwood, while others continued south until they reached the coast of the Azure Sea. Lesser families, such as the Zelrad and Malhel, continued a nomadic existence in the vast plains west of the Sheldomar River. The most powerful house, Neheli, traveled north across the prairie until it found the lands of civilized Flan and the former Suel migrants who had settled among them. The minor House of Linth settled in the Sheldomar Valley between the Rholan lands.
Settlement The first Suel migrants to the Sheldomar, those that arrived before the Twin Cataclysms, were corrupt, wily, and deferential. The Cruel Lord accepted them into the empire, allowing them to pass through the Flan lands and even to settle. The Suel founded cities in the Empire, such as Greyhawk City, the lost Suloise City of the Suss, Naer’s Well (Narwell) and Hard-by-the-Sea (Hardby). The Cruel Lord thought to use the firstcomer Suel and their seers as dupes in his growing plans to overthrow his absent Emperor, the Whispered One. The Suel, for their part, feigned loyalty to the Cruel Lord for a generation until they had become well established in the lands of the empire. Many then simply ignored his edicts, entering a state of passive rebellion.
As the post-Cataclysm Suel refugees arrived, In the land around the Rushmoors the Neheli came upon the southern margins of the Ykrathian Empire. This dreaded despotry dominated many Flan and Suel groups, but at that time some were in a state of open rebellion. The powerful Neheli quickly united the rebellious Suel, and with themselves as leaders then fought for independence from the “Cruel Lord,” who ruled the Empire as seneschal in the name of the Whispered One.
Since The Whispered One had not been seen for a generation, the Neheli assumed that the tales of the powerful sorcerous Emperor were merely Flan superstition. The Neheli quickly assumed leadership of the rebellious Suel and busily set about conquering the local Flan to establish a homeland for themselves. The Neheli massacres of Whispering priests quickly attracted the attention of the Whispered One, and he returned from his extra-planar journeys. As his power began to manifest in the Flanaess, the initially easy conquests of the Neheli turned into a bitter fight for survival. Fiends and abominations, hordes of Flan undead, and priests of increasingly powerful ability beset them. After several years of struggle the Neheli abandoned their stillborn northern homeland and retreated south to join their Rholan kinsmen in the lower Sheldomar,After several years of struggle, the Neheli were forced to abandon their erstwhile subjects and withdraw to the south. They rejoined their Rholan kinsmen in the now‐settled river valleys, or sheltered themselves along the border of the southern forest where the Sheldomar River cut through the plains. Ironically, the Ykrathian Empire would eventually fall by the hand of the Cruel Lord himself, when he would turn against his master.
After the victory over the Neheli, the Cruel Lord consolidated his hold on the Empire and brought the remaining Suel firmly under his control. He then dared to challenge his erstwhile master when the Whispered One was fully manifest in this world and thus vulnerable. As a result of this challenge, both perished, and the world was made brighter thereby.
The Flan of the Sheldomar Valley were of course initially hostile to the new invaders, but they soon learned that some of these Suel were not interested in conquest or pillage. It was not long before the exchange of goods and information was common. As trust grew, mutual defense alliances were struck, uniting these new Suel with the indigenous Flan, against the raiding bands of humanoids and the older, marauding Suel. These alliances became increasingly necessary as the warlike Oerid began to move south into the Sheldomar after the collapse of the Ykrathian Empire. Although friendly with the Flan, the Neheli and Rhola considered themselves a noble, civilized people, and viewed the dark‐skinned natives as primitives. At least in terms of technology and arcane magic, they were for the most part correct, and the Flan were much impressed with the strength and knowledge of these newcomers. Furthermore, while separate Flan bands were traditionally independent of one another, they all admired these powerful and friendly Suel. By virtue of their technological superiority, political cohesion, and horse‐borne mobility, the Neheli and Rhola quickly assumed the dominant role in local alliances with the Flan. Over the years, the Suel nobles evolved into the ruling overlords of many petty states with Flan and Suel subjects. The Flan, lacking any leaders of their own with intertribal political authority, were content to let the just and capable Suel assume this position of leadership. They were at the very least safer from the raids that had heretofore plagued them, and in many cases were genuinely better off under Suel administration.
In contrast to the Neheli and Rhola, the Zelrad, Malhel, and other Suel groups sought no alliances with the “inferior Flan savages.” Instead, they survived by continually raiding the Flan, the Oerid, and each other. The Nehelian and Rholan nobles soon came into contact with demi‐humans who were, like the Flan, initially surprised by the behavior of these Suel.
The Neheli and Rhola now tell the tale thusly: “The new rulers treated them not with the superstition of the Flan, the treachery of other Suel, nor the brutish demands of the Oerid, but with honesty, fairness, and respect. In most cases, trade and alliances of mutual assistance against humanoids came soon after contact. The many petty states created by the various Rhola and Neheli nobles in general did not fight among one another, but proved vigorous in the defense of their subjects against humanoids and the roving Suel and Oerid. Defeated opponents were driven off, and eventually the Zelrad and others were forced to depart the Sheldomar entirely. The Malhel, however, proved too powerful to displace. They continued their violent existence, but shifted their tactics. They would stage devastating raids on settlements near the Sheldomar River, and then retreat rapidly across the vast plains, out of range of reprisal”. They were the last of the wicked Suel to be driven from the Sheldomar Valley, and their final defeat marked the triumph of the good Suel states.
The real nobility of these events is questionable. The various Suel tribes fought amongst each other for dominance almost immediately upon entering the Flanaess. Many of the lesser tribes such as the Zelrad were driven out of the valley entirely, to settle elsewhere. The Rhola and Neheli went their separate ways, settling different stretches of the Sheldomar River. The Malhel, a small though powerfully sorcerous noble house, refused to give quarter to the other Suel houses or to depart the Sheldomar Valley as did the other lesser houses who disagreed with the Neheli and Rhola. After losing in the struggle against the larger Neheli, they were forced to withdraw to dread forest lands, there to plot their revenge. From their capital at Valadis, they summoned forth demons and sent them against the Silent Sorcerers of the Neheli. The Silent Ones responded in kind, with invisible stalkers, bound devils, and such. A sorcerous war of attrition went on for years, generally unseen by the common folk. Eventually the Malhel had wheedled from their bound demons the name of a Demon Lord so powerful that by summoning him they could insure the destruction of the Neheli. It is not known whether this was a ruse all along on the demons’ part, or whether the Malhel wizards simply lost control of such a powerful being. In any event, as soon as he was summoned he turned on them, slaughtering first his summoners, and then any other being he could find in the city of Valadis, and finally destroying much of the city before returning to the Abyss. The Silent Ones wasted no time in descending on the city and completing the extermination of the fleeing Malhel.
Since then, of course, collusion between the Silent Ones and the rulers of the Neheli have expunged all reference to this less than flattering episode in the official histories.
_________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
Note that the four-times-a-day random chance of encountering spies of Strahd was about to bring the Count himself to the party at 6pm!
Post 71: The Catacombs
14 October, 570 - Barovia, under Castle Ravenloft
(5:30pm) Cautiously opening the door, the party proceeds into a much larger space. Buried deep beneath the keep of Ravenloft, the arched ceiling sags over squat crypts, forming catacombs. A thick fog clings to the floor at knee height. Cobwebs hang limp in the musty air. Thick dust has settled over everything, filling the crypts' engravings, making it difficult to make out the names of those buried here. The black ceiling is moving.
“Now this is what we are looking for,” says Tyrius in grim satisfaction. His words echo deep into the recesses of the catacombs, and the bats overhead squeak and chirp in response.
Willa leads the way to the north wall, moving along the outer edge of the cavern, pausing at each crypt for Aurora to make out the Suel carvings with the names of the interred.
[Crypt 3] "The Lady Isolde Yunk (Isolde the Incredible). Purveyor of Antiques and Imports."
[Crypt 4] "Prince Aerial Du Plumette (Aerial the Heavy)"
[Crypt 5] "Artank Swilovich: Here interred and with great mourning courtesy of the Barovian Wine Distillers Brotherhood."
[Crypt 6] The name and epitaph on this crypt have been clawed off as if by some mad tormented beast.
While most of the party is looking at crypts, Ireena stands transfixed at a gap in the north wall protected by a portcullis. Willa is ready to move on, but the Barovian woman insists that they investigate. Barnabus checks the bars, finds no traps but no obvious means of raising it either, aside from simply lifting. They take time to grease the upper bars which will slide into dark recesses to minimize the noise, then Thokk pulls at it. It sticks and resists, but from centuries of disuse rather than any locking mechanism, and eventually they are able to lift it enough to pass under.
(5:40pm) They proceed down the stairs and into the crypt (K85). A peaceful stillness, a calm amid the storm, is felt here - this is the safest they have felt since entering the castle, and many of them sigh audibly. In the center of the tomb, a large white marble slab supports a fine coffin. The quiet room is 50 feet long north to south and 30 feet across. To the north, behind the intricately inlaid coffin, there are three alcoves. Beautifully carved statues of weeping angels stand in each alcove, as clean and lustrous as the day they were placed there.
The writing on the coffin indicates that it holds “Sergei Von Zarovich”.
“His brother,” whispers Ireena.
“The brother he killed,” adds Aurora. Willa takes some time to carefully dry and then light her lantern, and the group examines the room. It appears empty besides the coffin and statues.
(5:50pm) Barnabus says that the coffin lid is somehow stuck or closed fast, and Willa asks why he would even try to open it, but Ireena ignores them both and easily lifts the lid.
Inside are the skeletal remains of a man in armor, a faded tabard covering his form and an empty scabbard along his side, the leather sword belt having long since rotted away. Ireena places a hand gently on the breastplate of the armor, then collapses next to the marble slab and begins weeping uncontrollably. Tyrius motions everyone away from the coffin while he examines the contents more closely.
The armor appears as bright as the day it was forged. Tyrius whispers a prayer to Pelor, then lifts an arm cautiously. The mail clinks lightly, but there is no sign of resistance or rust. Surely this is magical - perhaps even holy.
“My lady?” queries Tyrius, and Ireena sniffs back tears. “I do not think it would be an offense to this fine man were you to use his armor. We need to do everything we can to protect you from the devil.”
Ireena rises and wipes her eyes. “It’s alright,” she says resolutely, “he vould vant me to haf it.” Carefully, respectfully, the pair of them begin to strip the armor off of the skeleton. Once it is all off, they put it onto Ireena. The quilted padding worn under the armor lies in rotting pieces over the skeleton, but Ireena’s thick cotton clothing will serve to protect her from the metal catching her skin. They can’t help but notice, as they adjust straps and buckles, that although the armor was sized for a large man, by the time it is fitted to Ireena it seems smaller, as if specifically forged for her. In the time it takes them to don the plate mail, Aurora has ritually cast detect magic and looked about the room.
(6pm) “I’m only reading the armor,” says the wizardess. “It is definitely magical - but how magical is it?” She swings her staff, hard, at Ireena’s torso. The Barovian woman gasps but draws her family sword, parries the staff blow, then holds the naked blade to Aurora’s throat.
“You vill not be doing that again,” she says, the menace clear in her voice.
“Alrighty t’en…” interjects Willa. “Time t’ get movin’.”
Almost as an afterthought, Ireena takes the scabbard from the coffin and hands it to Thokk. The colors and pattern of the embroidery work on it match perfectly the subdued gems on the hilt of his sword. He grins and tosses his old scabbard aside on the tomb floor.
The party moves up the stairs and into the catacombs, immediately feeling the dread chill. They explore a second row of crypts, then move south along the east wall.
[Crypt 8] "Duchess Dorfniya Dilisnya"
[Crypt 9] "Pidlwik (Fool of Dorfniya)"
[Crypt 10] "Sir Leanne Triksky (Sir Lee the Crusher). What sword did not, time's passage did."
[Crypt 11] "Tasha Petrovna, Healer of Kings. Light unto the West. Servant. Companion."
[Crypt 13] "King Intree Katsky (Katsky the Bright. King, Ruler, and Inventor)."
[Crypt 14] "Stahbal Indi-Bhak: Advisor to Endorvich from eastern lands. A truer friend no ruler ever had. Here lies his family in honor."
[Crypt 15] "KHAZAN: His word was power."
[Crypt 16] "Elsa Fallona"
[Crypt 17] "Sir Sedrik Spinwitovich (Admiral Spinwitovich). Confused though he was, he built the greatest naval force ever assembled in a land-locked country."
[Crypt 19] "Animus (Builder of the Keep). Thou standeth amidst the monument to his life."
[Crypt 20] "Sasha Ivliskova: Wife."
[Crypt 22] "Sir Erik Vonderbucks"
[Crypt 23] The opening stone is unmarked.
(6:10pm) In between the “Vonderbucks” and unmarked crypts, a staircase leads down. Below, there is an ethereal glow. Approaching, they see wide steps descending to a landing (K87) flanked by two alcoves. Within each alcove, standing the full 30-foot height of the ceiling, is a bronze statue holding a spear. A soft blue curtain of light flows between the two alcoves. Dimly visible on the other side of the light curtain are more descending stairs.
Aurora sends her spider familiar to investigate the curtain while the party cautiously descends the steps. Willa remains at the top of the stairs, shining her lantern light back into the catacombs behind them, listening intently. Is it her imagination, or are the bats becoming more active, their squeaks and chirps louder?
Aurora uses her mage hand to pull back the curtain. The tomb below rests in hushed silence. Great stained windows filling the eastern walls filter the dim evening light into this room. The room holds large wings on each side, out of the view of the staircase.
Willa thinks she sees shapes moving in the darkness. Then the shapes resolve - it is Strahd! He reaches out to her with his hand, but connects with her mind.
[Note: Conversations in color were known only to the players in question. Italics indicate Strahd's mental voice.
Willa, he asks, what is your loyalty to this motley group?
“Me loyalty is to meself,” she answers, “an’ t’ me king. T’is ther biggest group o’ fools t'at I hae ever shipped wit'.”
Willa, you know that Aurora is a threat to your king - and the book she took from my personal treasury is dangerous, too?
“I figur’d as much.”
Indeed. I can help you protect your king. You don’t have to change your plans - keep plotting my destruction, it makes no difference. But when I tell you something needs to be done, understand that it is to help you protect your king against the dangers that Aurora is unearthing.
Good - now bring me someone you trust.
“Shefak!” Willa hisses, for the monk is on the stairs just behind her. The monk approaches, then she, too, sees Strahd.
A Bakluni monk. Intriguing. It has been a long time indeed since I have seen one of your people.
“Did you know Zuoken?” asks Shefak directly.
Indeed I did. I will tell you all about him, in exchange for a favor when the time comes.
“I will not break my monastic vows, but otherwise I will do anything for information about him.”
Of course you will. For now, bring me the halfling.
Shefak goes back down the stairs.
“Barnabus,” she whispers. “Come and see if you can make this out.”
“Ah...no thanks,” says the halfling, and he disappears into the shadows behind Tyrius.
“What is going on up there?” asks the paladin.
“There is something moving in the dark,” says Willa, her voice level but with an intonation of concern.
Tyrius calls upon his faith, closes his eyes, then extends his senses out into the darkness around them, seeking meaning in this mire of chaos and evil. His face contorts. He says quietly, so that just those nearby him can hear, “Petrinoff is unrepentantly evil, and a werewolf. And there is a vampire nearby. Very nearby.”
From the darkness beyond Willa’s lantern light a shape emerges - the forbidding presence of Strahd. He hails the party, and then says to Tyrius, “Most perceptive, paladin. Indeed Petrinoff is a verevolf, and an evil one at that. I’m afraid his penchant for evil outmatched my stewardship of him.”
At the appearance of the count, the rescued prisoner Petrinoff has fallen to all fours and is groveling on the steps, mumbling, “Master...forgive me, Master…”
“Petrinoff - tell my guests vhy you were locked in that cell.”
“For my disobedience, Master.”
“Indeed, you disobeyed me vonce, and for that you were imprisoned. And yet, you are here, valking free. How can that be?”
“I disobeyed you again, Master. I got these people to free me.”
“I see. And vhat is the punishment for a second disobeyal?”
“Yes, yes it is.” Strahd turns from addressing Petrinoff back to Tyrius. “Paladin, your oaths commit you to upholding the law of the land, do they not?”
Sensing a trap, Tyrius answers carefully. “Within reason. If they are just laws, yes.”
“Vell now, I call upon you all to know that this man, Alexandru Petrinoff, did twice disobey me, Count Strahd von Zarovich, his lawful ruler and the master of Barovia. By his own admittance, the punishment for this is death. To you, paladin, I give the honor of executing the law of this land.”
Before Tyrius can respond, Petrinoff turns from groveling before Strahd and stands menacingly on the stairs facing Tyrius. His body is covered in course, disheveled fur. His teeth lengthen into fangs and his nails into claws, but he remains upright in a nightmare man-wolf form.
With a strangled cry, he leaps at Tyrius. The paladin brings his shield up in front of him and the creature’s claws and fangs fall upon the metal. In an instant he is surrounded by the party, who rain blows upon him as he struggles to get at Tyrius. Finally Larry, from behind Tyrius, shoots forth his thorn whip, wraps it around the creature’s neck, and jerks it down the stairs past Tyrius. As the creature passes him, Tyrius pivots and smashes his new hammer into the side of its head, staving in its skull. In a second, it lies on the steps in front of Larry, now slowly turning back into a dead man.
[DM’s note: By using his new hammer (from Strahd’s hoard) in combat, Tyrius realizes that it is a war hammer +2.]
“Vell done, paladin.” says the count. “Justice is served. And now, I must remind you, my guests, that you barely touched your lunch, you have been vandering the castle for hours, and dinner is avaiting you. Igor has been vorking all day to prepare your feast. Come, let us return to the banquet hall.”
Aurora comes up the steps, next to Willa, who is cleaning the werewolf blood from her sword and eyeing the count cautiously.
[Note: Aurora saw how Willa was looking into the darkness at the rear of the party, and now Strahd has appeared. Aurora suspects that Willa is charmed, and decides to try to charm her, herself, with her hypnotic gaze, to break Strahd's charm.
“Hey Willa,” Aurora says, but when the warrior looks at her, her eyes appear as swirling points of light.
“Aye, Aurora?” Willa responds, in a strangely husky voice. “Ye know, I’ve never noticed 'ow t'at dress brings out ther color in yer eyes.”
Barnabus is still nowhere to be seen. At the appearance of Strahd, Ireena has retreated down the stairs and past the curtain. Babshapka and Larry go with her, but upon crossing the threshold of the curtain they disappear - only to reappear a second later at the top of the stairs, even closer to the count.
“Uh, that dinner is an intriguing offer,” says Aurora, turning back to the count. “Could you ask us again? Actually, could you ask my friend Willa directly? She’s a bit reluctant to go.”
The count arches an eyebrow. Willa whispers, “Ye mean yer special friend, Aurora.”
Strahd looks directly at Willa, although she only has eyes for Aurora. “Of course, you are all inwited to dinner, but I vould be especially honored if you vould attend, Villa.”
Willa shakes her head, her eyes clearing. “Nay, I’ll not be dinin’ wit ther likes o’ ye, ye fanged freak!” she shouts at Strahd. Then she turns and clouts Aurora on the arm, “An’ what in the ‘ells be ye doing, ye spell-slinging hussy! Get out o’ me ‘ead!”
[I ruled that the dual charms acting on Willa did not conflict until they directly contradicted one another. Then, Willa was allowed new saves against both. She saved against Aurora’s but failed again and remained charmed by Strahd.]
Babshapka, seeing the light coming through the windows into the tomb below, shouts “Aha!” and pulls back the curtain. Wan daylight falls about halfway up the stairs, but is still far from the count’s feet.
The count stares for a moment at everyone in front of him. “You are all wery amusing peoples,” he says dryly. “But come, you may entertain me at dinner.”
Thokk was pleased with the killing of the werewolf, but he has rapidly grown tired of all the talking he does not understand. “Thokk kill you once already,” says the frustrated half-orc to Strahd. “But now you are un-killed. Maybe that why evil advisor says you are un-dead. Thokk make sure you are real dead this time.” Screaming in rage, he runs up the stairs. When he draws forth his sword it is glowing a brilliant blue - but when he strikes at Strahd, the entire blade erupts in flames.
[Note: in addition to its +3 against undead, Thokk now learns that the sunsword does an extra 10 points of damage per hit to vampires]
The count recoils at the sight of the sword. “That veapon...I thought I had destroyed it!” he cries, as Thokk lands blow upon blow on him. The fire has spread to his elegant black cape.
By now Willa is at Thokk’s side. “Nay Thokk, not now!” she yells in his ear. “I advise you t'at t'is not be ther time fer attack.”
Strahd whispers to Thokk: Thokk, warrior brother, you defeated me once by surprise, but now we meet in my crypts, where I have the advantage - how will we know who is stronger if I win here? Do not worry, soon I will tell you when to attack, when we meet on equal ground, and the victor then will KNOW he is truly great. Until then, listen to your advisor, it is not time for attack.
Thokk is already heaving and panting as he strikes at Strahd, but now he pauses and turns to Willa. “No?” he says almost mournfully, “not time for attack?” and his sword droops. Strahd makes no move to retaliate once Thokk’s guard is down.
“Nay, not now,” Willa repeats. She pulls Thokk gently away from the count.
“Excellent, excellent,” says the count, and he smiles broadly and clasps his hands together. “Now, can ve all come to dinner, please!”
Tyrius has been waiting for the others on the stairs to get behind him. Now the only ones between him and Strahd are Willa and Thokk. He holds forth his holy symbol and brandishes it. “By the Divine Light of Pelor, I banish you, devil! Get thee hence!” he shouts. Light streams forth. Strahd cowers, pulling the burned tatters of his cape up and in front of his face. Then he whirls, and disappears into the darkness of the catacombs.
(6:15pm) Tyrius arranges the party defensively on the stairs, then he goes down and passes through the curtain, to join Ireena in the tomb below. Babshapka had previously tried to go behind one of the statues to achieve the same effect. He was easily able to squeeze between the statue and the alcove wall, but when he crossed the plane of the curtain, he found himself again at the top of the stairs, despite not having touched the curtain itself.
A closed coffin stands on each side of the roughly 40-foot-square room. Tyrius reads the inscriptions out loud - one says “King Barov” and the other “Queen Ravenovia.”
“His parents,” mutters Ireena distractedly, while she looks out the windows at the dying light. There is perhaps half an hour left before sundown.
“His parents?” muses Tyrius. “Barov and Ravenovia...Barovia...perhaps he named this land after his parents when he conquered it.”
Tyrius utters a small prayer and carefully opens the coffins. Each holds a skeleton in once-rich robes, now rotted away. Both wear crowns - Barov has a jeweled sword (now rusted) while Ravenovia has an abundance of medallions and rings. Tyrius replaces the lids of the coffins, then looks about as best he can for any secret doors. Finally, Tyrius and Ireena return up the stairs to the party.
(6:25pm) “Ther brother on ther north wall, and ther parents in ther east,” says Willa. “My money says Strahd’s crypt be on ther south wall, across from ther tother one.”
The party makes their way cautiously through the dark catacombs. They move south, but along the east wall, reading the tomb inscriptions as they go.
[Crypt 27] There is no inscription on this crypt, and the door-stone is slightly ajar. From inside comes a clicking and scuttering noise, but whatever it is retreats from the light of Willa’s lantern into the dark recesses of the crypt.
[Crypt 28] "Ardent Pallette, Chef Delux"
[Crypt 29] "Ivan Ivanovich, Beloved of Anna Petrovna."
[Crypt 33] The stone door is blank. This crypt looks like it has never been used.
[Crypt 34] "King Dostron"
“King?” wonders Tyrius aloud. “This is not the first king this castle has buried under it, but Strahd is only a Count?”
Aurora suggests, “It may be that most of the people interred here, including the kings, were the natives of this valley before Strahd conquered it. He may have assumed the title of count after defeating the old king, if he did not take over the entire kingdom, but just a small part for himself.”
Willa hushes them both. “We ain’t 'ere fer a histry lesson! Ears sharp!”
They reach the southeast corner of the crypts and turn west along the south wall.
[Crypt 40] "Tatsaul Eris: Last of the line"
[Crypt 39] "Bucephalus, The Wonder Horse. May the flowers grow ever greener where he treads." This crypt has a larger door than all the rest.
[Crypt 38] "Americo Standardski (Inventor)"
Tyrius still has his divine sense running, and is reaching out into the chaos around him. He senses the presence of an Abyssal being in the crypt of Bucephalus, and three Infernal beings in that of Americo, and he warns his companions not to open these crypts. Tyrius does not feel any undead close by. In front of the party, to their left on the south wall, is a portcullis and a staircase down, much like the one to Sergei’s tomb. Tyrius feels that the staircase leads down to unholy ground. “We are getting close,” he whispers.
Willa and Thokk are in the lead as the party creeps forward, Willa’s lantern light casting a huge, crazy shadow of Thokk across the surfaces of the catacombs since she is several paces behind and backlighting him.
When Thokk sees the portcullis, he knows what to do - they will be wanting him to lift it, like the last one. He strides forward confidently, passes between the rock wall and the Infernal crypt, and suddenly stops in his tracks.
Slowly he turns back around to face the party. His face is ashen white - and human-like, bearing no trace of his orcish parentage. He seems smaller, shorter - as if his muscles have withered with death. His sword, gripped tightly in his hand, is glowing a brilliant blue.
Larry gasps - “Is Thokk undead?”
Tyrius shakes his head. “That thing’s undead, but it’s not Thokk - it’s a barrow wight...wearing all of Thokk’s gear.”
Not wanting to approach the wight, in case there was some sort of proximity trap, the party unloads on the creature from a distance. Babshapka shoots an arrow, then entangles it, while Aurora shoots firebolts. By the time Larry drags it to them with his thorn whip, the corpse collapses to the floor and Tyrius announces that the evil spirit inhabiting its body has fled. They recover all of Thokk’s gear, but still don’t know where he is.
Aurora and Barnabus examine the floor by the light of Willa’s lantern. They find runes engraved in the stone - barely visible, filled with centuries of dust. Working their way around possible entrances to what they presume to be Strahd’s crypt, they find them in two other locations. All possible accesses are magically protected.
[Crypt 37] "Gralmore Nimblenobs"
While the party ponders their next move, deep in the recesses of the catacombs, they hear Thokk’s distant voice booming, “Willa? Evil Advisor, where are you?”
Then comes the sound of footsteps - not just Thokk’s, though - he is being pursued. The party prepares an ambush, and quickly dispatches a second wight behind Thokk. Thokk is dressed in rotten rags that leave nothing to the imagination, and Willa is careful where she points the lantern.
Thokk tells them that he found himself lying down in a stone box. He lifted the lid off, and was in a room with more than two hands worth of stone boxes. He opened one, but there was a dead thing inside it, and he didn’t have his weapons. He opened the door of the room, but the dead thing followed him all the back here.
Willa shows him the runes, and warns him not to step on them while the party puzzles what to do next.
(6:35pm) Eventually they decide to test whether the runes are activated if they are not stepped on. Willa and Tyrius crouch, and Thokk vaults off their backs and through the air. He easily clears the runes on the floor, but when he lands on the stone beyond, he is no longer Thokk, but another wight - this one as naked as Thokk had been when he launched himself through. By the time the real Thokk has again returned to them, the party has killed this wight as well. Thokk, however, in throwing the stone lid off his tomb, has this time made enough noise to wake another two wights that followed him back to the party. By the time they are felled, the party has dispatched five of the creatures in all.
(6:45pm) Trying a different line of reasoning, the party decides that Tyrius was able to open Sergei’s coffin, and pass through the curtain to Barov and Ravenovia’s tombs, because of his holiness. Perhaps he will be able to bypass this trap as well. Tyrius strips off his armor and weapons, so as not to give any possible wight their benefits, until he is clad in his small clothes and bears only his holy symbol. He says a prayer to Pelor and steps over the runes.
The wight that then faces them carries the paladin’s symbol, but it does not appear to affect him. When Tyrius returns, not followed, he reports that the chamber he found himself in was larger on the inside than the outside, and that there were fully fifteen sarcophagi inside. Besides the one he opened, another five had their lids off. He was careful to be quiet and was not followed back.
(6:55pm) Again the party ponders - it is clear that the runes are moving the party to the wight’s tombs, and the wights here, but is there an inexhaustible supply of them? Dare they open the tombs at their source? Should they try to send a dead body over the runes? While they debate, Ireena is growing increasingly agitated. Finally she strides up to the runes herself. Tyrius lays his hand on her shoulder. “Do not risk yourself my lady - the time it would take for you to put your armor back on in itself is not worth it.” She shrugs off his hand and steps through - and now they face a wight clad in Sergei’s armor, while Ireena is trapped in a stone sarcophagus. Tyrius leaves the wight to the party while he returns to the source tomb to defend Ireena. She has been warned not to make noise - so which sarcophagus is she in? There are fifteen - Tyrius can sense that there are nine wights still in the sarcophagi, another are five empty - and a living being in the last. He eases the lid off the one with Ireena.
(7:05pm) As they make their way back to the party, Tyrius and Ireena note that the bats that crowd the ceiling are on the move. In ones and twos they are taking to wing. Most seem to be headed to the west. By the time they reach the party the catacombs are that much quieter.
Aurora, Tyrius, and Larry carefully ponder the runes on the floor while Willa helps Ireena back into her armor. Aurora now believes that the runes are transportational, but require an exchange to function. Any non-living thing, such as armor or weapons, passes through them unaffected. But any living thing is exchanged for an undead thing. With that in mind, and having heard from Tyrius that six of the sarcophagi were empty, corresponding to the six wights slain, Aurora is hopeful that if they kill all the wights, they can render the exchange property of the runes non-functional.
“So t'en we can walk t'rough ther runes an’ nay be affected?” asks Willa.
“Yes,” says Aurora confidently. “That, or slip out of existence,” she adds in a lowered voice.
“It be night by now and ‘is powers agrowin’,” says Willa dubiously. “‘ow long is it gonna take t' kill those blighters one at a time?”
“Or, we could face them all at once,” replies Aurora. “I still have my fireball.”
“And I have my moonbeam,” adds Larry.
Willa nods. “We do it careful and quiet, one at a time. But if they all start comin’ out, ye two can use the big spells.”
The party retreats from Strahd’s tomb to the the crypt of the wights (14).
Carefully they open each tomb one at a time, with one person on each end of the stone lid, and the other six of them falling upon the wight inside all at once. Things go well for the first five tombs, with the wights not even managing to stand up before they are dispatched. But on the sixth tomb, Thokk gets over-excited, and jerks up so hard that the stone lid upends and comes down on top of Larry. The noise made raises the other wights from their tombs so that the party is facing four at once. There are some tense moments as the wights claw at the party members, but they soon regain control, destroy the last of them, and pull the heavy stone lid off of Larry.
What no one has noticed is that Strahd himself is hiding in the tomb, watching them carefully. During the last fight, when they were all involved, Strahd locked eyes with Barnabus so that only the halfling knew that he was there. Strahd raised a finger to his lips, and Barnabus nodded before returning to the battle.
(7:20 pm) All the sarcophagi now opened and wights defeated, the party makes their way back through the crypts to the south. Barnabus, as his his want, follows just far enough to use the party’s light, but not so close he can be seen. Strahd silently moves up next to him.
You look like one who knows how the world works, my friend. I have a business proposition for you.
This whole expedition was Aurora’s idea - and now she has the book she came for. What about you? What are you getting out of this?
“So far, nothing.”
Exactly. Here is my offer - I will signal you when the time is right. Offer to trade me for the Barovian girl. I will refuse. Threaten to kill her - distract the paladin. You do not actually have to kill her, just make a convincing diversion. In return, I will let you leave these lands, and take as much treasure as you can carry with you.
“Sounds good to me.”
The party returns to the portcullised stairway entrance.
Before anyone can stop him, Thokk strides across the runes, reaches the portcullis, and lifts it up. The scream of rusty metal echoes through the catacombs. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
If you go back to Post 66, I outline my devious DM plan for charming half the party and then having the two sides fight over Ireena.
Strahd was able to charm Larry at midnight the day previous, and at this point he had just 6 hours of charm left. When Thokk resisted Strahd's charm in the throne room, I thought to myself, "There's no way Strahd's going to be able to charm half the party in 24 hours." The party typically keeps a tight formation, so I didn't anticipate a lot of chances to isolate one character at a time and charm them.
And then the party entered the catacombs just as a random roll brought Strahd there, and he was able to charm four of them in the span of an hour or so. It was a thing of beauty for a DM.
We played all of the Ravenloft sessions in the classroom of one of the players (a social studies teacher) after hours and on weekends. Any time Strahd had a chance to charm someone, I would say to the player, "Let's you and me go into the hall for a minute - and bring your dice." My players are used to having private conversations with the DM in the hall, but anytime I add "and bring your dice" they know it's not going to be good. Over the course of this session I got to take SO MANY of them into the hall and have them make charm saves. It was wonderful.
They were also very good sports and no one had any meta/table talk when they returned to the group - so they all knew if they had been charmed or not but didn't reveal the result to the others. Since Strahd had told those who were charmed to go ahead with their plans to destroy him, by the end of the session everyone was looking around the table trying to figure out who had been charmed and who had resisted. Wonderfully tense, wonderful Ravenloft flavor. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
Strahd has now charmed Larry, Willa, Shefak, Thokk, and Barnabus.
Tyrius and Aurora remain uncharmed, with Ireena.
Strahd is now just waiting for the right moment to unleash his plan - Barnabus will attack Ireena, an interparty conflict will develop, her defenders (Tyrius and Aurora) will lose, the depleted winners will attack her again, and Strahd will save her and win her love. _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
The party started this session at a great disadvantage, with five of them charmed and Strahd just waiting for the right moment to enact his plan of Barnabus attacking Ireena, and then most of the party being incapacitated in the ensuing intra-party conflict.
However, in this session they returned to their Scooby-Dooesque roots, with a comical chase scene and some amazingly lucky events. They are not out of the woods yet, but they certainly improved the odds for themselves.
Their first stroke of luck would happen in Strahd's tomb, where Willa would roll an incredible non-proficient Sleight of Hand check to spirit away the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind without Strahd noticing.
Their second lucky roll needs a bit of explanation. When the party found Strahd's diary, I used my hardback copy of I, Strahd (https://www.amazon.com/Strahd-Memoirs-Vampire-Ravenloft-Books/dp/1560766700/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=) as a physical prop. Into that book I had placed a few dozen little slips of paper like bookmarks. Every time the party had an hour in-game to read the Diary, I let them (Ireena or Aurora, the only ones who could read Suel) make a History check. A high enough roll let them pull out one (or more, if high enough) of the papers and read it, essentially at random since they did not know what was on each paper when they made the choice of which one to pull out.
Some of the papers were the actual lines from Strahd's diary given in the module. One was a line I planted about Strahd meeting Zuoken. The remainders were bits and pieces of the description of a greater vampire found in the 5e Monster Manual. Since none of the players actually knew any of the 5e stats and abilities of vampires, the information proved very illuminating. When they learned, for example, that vampires can regenerate 20 hp per round they realized they were in for a difficult fight.
As luck would have it, one of the papers they pulled out this session was the description of the vampire's charm ability. When the party members who were already charmed read that, I allowed the knowledge that Strahd might be charming them to grant them a one time chance to save again. They all failed, again, except Larry - who with his Wisdom bonus and proficiency in Wisdom saves had the best chance of any of them, 55%. Of any of them who could have broken free of the charm, Larry would be key - since by cooperating with Tyrius he could cast a sunlight spell.
Thus, they started the session with five charmed, three not, the sword, and the diary...but hey ended the session with four charmed, four not, the sword, the diary, the holy symbol, and the ability to create sunlight.
I'd say they went from a rather likely victory by Strahd to a toss-up, with no clear way to tell who would win - thanks to two lucky rolls and one lucky paper draw.
Post 73: The Heart of Darkness
14 October, 570 - Barovia, under Castle Ravenloft
Before anyone can stop him, Thokk strides across the runes, reaches the portcullis, and lifts it up. The scream of rusty metal echoes through the catacombs. They make their way down the stairs into Strahd’s tomb (K86).
A darkness clouds the room and the essence of evil permeates the very air, obvious to everyone. The smell of freshly turned earth is here. This room appears to be 50 feet long from east to west and 30 feet across. There are three empty alcoves in the south wall. Settled into the dirt on the floor lies a shining black coffin of finely waxed wood. The coffin's fittings are of brilliant brass. The lid is closed. In front of the coffin stands Strahd, welcoming them.
[This is a wery bad sign. This is in the wery heart of darkness: his home, his source. It is his center and his life. It is the one place to which he must rreturn. Seek the symbol there, but bevare! The Varriors are a dark shadow of evil cast over that place. If you fight there, they will conspire against you!
Strahd looks upon them with the countenance of one who is struggling to remain polite. “You are beginning to try my patience,” he says. “Come, it is time for dinner.”
Some of those in the front of the party have noticed a shiny object lying in the dirt of the floor, in a dark corner. Willa walks casually over to it without looking at it, bends down to tie her boot, and unseen by anyone in the room, palms what turns out to be a platinum medallion on a neck chain. Tyrius joins her, then kneels in the dirt to pray.
“Yes! Dinner!” booms Thokk. He seems now not to mind so much that Strahd has refused to stay dead, so long as he is offering them food.
“Good, good,” smiles the count. “Please to be goink back to the banquet hall now, the one vhere ve first met, yes?”
“Yes,” says Ireena. “I think it is dinner time.” She turns and whispers something to Shefak, who walks over to the others, then turns and shrugs.
Slowly the party retreats up the stairs, Willa and Tyrius the last to exit. When they are finally on the stairs, Strahd bids them halt. His face, pleased at their departure, now clouds. “Just vun moment - I believe vun of you may have taken somethink that is not belongink to you.”
The party members look at one another inquiringly, but no one says anything and they continue up the stairs.
Strahd, barely controlling his anger, booms “Who has the amulet?!”
Willa pulls the jeweled medallion from her boot. “This amulet?” she says, facing Strahd.
From behind her, Aurora grabs the medallion and attempts to jerk it from Willa’s grasp, taking her by surprise, but the warrior’s fingers tighten around it reflexively. Aurora trips on the stairs and collapses, desperately holding on to the surprisingly solid chain. As the full weight of the enchantress is added to the medallion, Willa drops it in surprise. Aurora scrambles to her feet, dashing up the stairs and squealing “Ruuuuun!”
Most of the party members flee up the stairs into the darkness of the catacombs. Willa and Tyrius, at the bottom, are the only ones with light sources. They lock shoulders and block off the stairway. Strahd draws his cloak up about him and moves past them easily, as if he was insubstantial, no more solid than an icy wind. He rounds the corner just behind the party, solidifies, and demands, “Give me the amulet!”
In the darkness, Barnabus “bumps” into Aurora. He comes away with the medallion in his hand, and Aurora holding the neck chain from his cloak but none the wiser. Strahd moves forward and grabs Aurora’s forearm in an irresistible grip, and she stops running. She messages “Thokk, let’s have a running contest.”
Willa and Tyrius dash up the stairs behind Strahd. When the light of Willa’s lantern falls upon Aurora, the cloak-chain in her hand is revealed. It is not clear whether it is Willa, Strahd, or Aurora who is the more surprised. “The amulet is not yours,” Strahd hisses menacingly without removing his vice-like grip. “Who is havink it?”
“Thokk, take the amulet and run to Sergei’s tomb!” calls Aurora, but the words are not even out of her mouth before Strahd disbelieves her. He releases his grip and she drops to the catacomb floor. Strahd turns, just in time to see Tyrius bowing so that Barnabus can drape the medallion around the paladin’s neck, so that it hangs on his chest next to his sunburst holy symbol. When Tyrius straightens, the light from his shield is reflected off of a large crystal in the medallion, and the reflections play across Strahd’s face, contorted with rage.
With a disgusted look, the count moves past Tyrius, returning to the stairway of his tomb. Tyrius and Barnabus exchange a triumphant glance with one another, then when Aurora stands up, the three of them join the rest of the party in running through the catacombs toward Sergei’s tomb.
[DM’s note: for recovering the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, Tyrius gains an Inspiration Point. He now has two saved.]
Thokk has put Larry on piggyback, and is pulling night-blind Shefak along with him through the dark catacombs, but still reaches the portcullis ahead of the rest. He guffaws happily and taunts them as they arrive, panting. “Haw, haw, slowpokes. No match for Thokk in running contest! Next time you all get head start.” Then, when all are assembled, he raises the portcullis for them and they file down the stairs into Sergei’s tomb, relieved at the calm it generates.
“'ey paly-din - ye still 'ave yer divine sense runnin'?” asks Willa.
“Yes,” says Tyrius, trying to catch his breath, “though my other holy powers are exhausted. Are we resting here?”
“Be we safe 'ere?”
Tyrius concentrates and expands his senses. “This is consecrated ground...but it will not stop Strahd. Maybe he would not be able to touch Sergei’s coffin, but he can still enter here. There is no way he could get into his parents’ tomb through the curtain of light - that would be the safest place to rest - except that many of you can’t enter there, either. Perhaps if you accepted The Way of Light…”
Willa snorts. “Ne’er mind t'at. Help me move t'at coffin in front of ther door.”
“What?” asks Tyrius.
“If’n Strahd can’t tech ther coffin, t'at be what we use t' block ther door.”
Ireena looks aghast. Tyrius says, quietly but firmly, “No.”
“Aright, aright, t'en - jus' ther lid - we can angle it t' cover most o' ther openin'…”
“NO!” Willa is silenced by both Tyrius and Ireena shouting in unison.
“Fine,” she huffs, “'tis only all our lives at stake, agin' ther honor o' some guy who’s been dead fer five hunnerd years. Thokk! Ye n’ me be gardin’ ther door.”
Thokk strides cheerfully back up the stairs to watch at the portcullis. “Advisor,” he whispers, not wanting to sound like he hasn’t been following along, “when we go to dinner?”
Aurora is examining the holy symbol now worn around the neck of Tyrius. It is an ancient platinum medallion. It is shaped like the sun, with a large crystal embedded in its center. Around the crystal are many holy symbols of light and truth. “Is that your family’s icon?” she asks Ireena.
“Yes, that is what kept us safe - that is what was stolen the night my father died.” As she says the word “stolen”, Ireena looks carefully at Tyrius.
“My lady, Pelor has already seen fit to tell me how to use this device,” answers Tyrius, unbidden. “I believe it will be the key to defeating the devil, but it must be used at precisely the right moment. With your permission, I will retain it until he is defeated, and then return it to you.”
Ireena nods. “Be it so.”
Tyrius retreats to the middle alcove, at the base of the statue of the weeping angel. He kneels in prayer, attempting to reclaim the divine power that could help him drive Strahd off again. Ireena, Larry, and Aurora move to a far corner of the room, with Ireena and Aurora reading Strahd’s journal by the light of Willa’s lantern. Babshapka, Shefak, and Barnabus rest at the bottom of the stairs, ready to support Thokk and Willa if necessary.
(7:30pm) They have not been resting even five minutes when Willa hears the scurrying patter of innumerable tiny feet. Then Thokk, with his darkvision, spots the rats - hundreds of rats - a living carpet of rats - moving like a great wave along the floor of the catacombs, straight at the portcullis. The wave crests and breaks, the rats entering the room through every gap in the bars. Willa gets her sword tangled in the bars of the portcullis, but Thokk, Babshapka, and Shefak dispatch the creatures right and left. Barnabus’ shortswords are a blur, killing dozens of rats faster than the eye can follow.
The swarm parts in the middle, and the two columns pass on either side of the marble slab with Sergei’s coffin. They merge again, uniting and then filling the cell wherein Tyrius kneels. His chanting grows louder, but he makes no move against them other than to lower his visor as he is covered in a layer of rats, each searching his scale armor frantically for some means of access. The party comes to his aid, one by one removing and killing the rats until none are left. In the entire encounter, the rats made no attempt to bite anyone other than Tyrius.
“Bet we coulda slowed ‘em down with a coffin lid” harrumphs Willa. She gathers torches and oil from several in the party, then builds a pyre just outside the portcullis. The oil-soaked wood is just waiting for a spark or touch of the torch she now keeps lit.
Larry casts some of his remaining healing spells in preparation for their short rest.
(8:40pm) The party rests for an hour, without further interruption. Aurora, Larry, and Tyrius have all recovered a few spells. Perhaps as importantly, with the aid of Larry and Ireena, Aurora has found two key passages in Strahd’s journal. The first forms part of the narrative, and includes a mention of both his parents and Sergei:
I called for my family, long unseated from their ancient thrones, and brought them here to settle in the castle Ravenloft. They came with a younger brother of mine, Sergei. He was handsome and youthful. I hated him for both.
The second passage includes a description of how Strahd learned to use the power of enchantment to control the minds of others. There is a description of what factors aid in control, and what might allow the victim to break free. Interestingly, it says that Strahd’s power lasts but a day before it needs to be renewed. It also, says Aurora, indicates that physical damage may help break the charm, and she recommends that anyone who the party suspects of being under Strahd’s influence be roughed up. Ireena looks concerned, remembering how Aurora attempted to wake Babshapka from his drugged sleep by knifing him. “Actually, vhat I believe it says is that if Strahd or those the wictim perceives to be his serwants cause the wictim harm, then he may break free - but there is no effect of damage in general.” Aurora re-reads the passage, and is forced to admit that Ireena is correct.
Larry, upon hearing this, seems agitated. He distances himself from the party and paces. When he returns to them, he says he has something important to tell them. He explains his meeting with Strahd the night before - how he thought he was helping to end a curse on the land, but was compelled to keep it secret. Upon now hearing how Strahd has the power of charm, he realized how strange it was that he was helping him, an undead creature. He believes that Strahd had him under a charm, but that he has just now broken free. This is unsettling news, and Aurora wonders out loud how many others in the party might be affected. Everyone else denies being under Strahd’s influence.
Tyrius says that they now have the tome, the sword, and the icon - everything that Madam Eva told them they needed to defeat the devil. Tyrius believes that they should return to the throne room, and place Ireena on the throne as the rightful ruler of Barovia. He believes that this will draw Strahd for the inevitable final confrontation. Aurora agrees, but says that they are not ready for this. While they are in reasonably good health, Thokk needs to rest before he can rage again, and all of them are short on spells. She proposes a long rest, a chance for them to even sleep or trance, so that they are in peak form when they face the count.
As calming as is the influence of Sergei’s tomb, none of them feel they can rest here long term. Strahd knows exactly where they are, and if he sent the rats, he can continue sending other things at them. They need a more secure place, and Madam Eva told them that Strahd’s secret treasury was a good place to rest. They agree to head there.
Willa spreads her cloak on the catacomb floor, and gathers up all her splintered, oil-soaked torches - she is taking her pyre with her.
Although some suggest exploring the western wall of the catacombs, they leave the way they came in. They notice for the first time that on this side, the door is disguised as the entrance to a crypt, and even bears an inscription:
[Crypt 1] "Spectre Ab-Centeer. She now walks that path of pain and torment. A gift to all who look upon her still.”
They travel quickly but carefully down the tunnel, crossing the trap in the floor without incident, and entering the statue room. A green haze is still in the air, but they do not seem affected by it. Thokk removes the moldy throne from where it held the southern door open and sets it back on the balcony, and Aurora mage hands the stone down that will let them open the door to the spiral staircase.
“You know,” says Aurora, “with the gas dispersed, it is now safe to open the chest…” Willa grabs her by the arm and drags her to the door.
(8:50 pm) The party ascends the spiral staircase, going up further than before. Larry estimates that they have gone up about 70 vertical feet and are perhaps at the level of the bottom of the elevator when the spiral stair turns into a short straight hallway (K83a), and then another spiral stair. All the stones in the walls and stairways are rough-hewn. Aurora insists that they stop on the landing here and look for secret doors. Willa begrudgingly allows them ten minutes, but nothing is found.
(9pm) The second stair leads up more than a hundred vertical feet, according to Larry, and ends in a door. From the other side comes the crackling sound of a fire - they are indeed back at the study. Knowing their way, they pass quickly through the fire, the secret treasure chamber, and into the dark hall. Here, the spider webs are in disarray, the dust on the flood is greatly disturbed, and there is even familiar fresh blood on the floor and a discarded pile of rags.
They pass through into the belfry - their tracks to the secret door are obvious. They pass into Strahd’s secret treasure room, which appears as it was before. Larry is the last one through, and takes pains to obscure their tracks in the dust and even pull some cobwebs from higher up down across the opening to the door.
Thokk, under Aurora’s direction, pounds some pitons into the stone floor on their side of the secret door so that it cannot be opened. His mighty blows echo through the chamber and presumably out into the hall. Willa and Tyrius move the heavy desk into place, further barricading the door, and then the party settles in to rest.
They cannot have been in the room five minutes when several of them note that Thokk’s sword is glowing. They draw weapons and prepare, just as three insubstantial forms pass through the stone walls of the room. They appear to be the ghostly outlines of palace guards. Ireena realizes with a sickening feeling that they are dressed in the same tabards as the skeletal guards impaled in the walls below.
As the party moves to engage them, one of the spirits drops back, and lifts his tabard to show a grisly chest wound. All of the party are repulsed, but Aurora and Willa are rooted to the spot, unable to act due to a supernatural fear. The blows of the party members pass right through the creatures, but do seem to blur them as they pass, disrupting their forms as though they were made of some sort of ethereal mist. Magic weapons, in particular, seem to perturb them more. One of the spirits sinks his transparent spear deep into the guts of Tyrius. The paladin takes no wound, but feels a chill and lethargy take over him and his face goes ashen. He staggers back to Ireena’s side. The others manage to avoid being hit and their attacks eventually dissipate two of the creatures. At this, Willa and Aurora rally and are able to engage the last one, disrupting it as well.
(9:10pm) The party hadn’t considered that creatures would be able to pass through walls to get at them, and their “secure resting space” now seems much less safe. Ireena explains that silver can be used to ward against evil. She scoops handfuls of silver coins out of one of the treasure chests, and the party joins her in putting them end to end, all around the base of the walls. Then, in the center of the room, she arranges more silver coins into a holy symbol of a sun, and Tyrius blesses it. Babshapka casts his alarm spell on the door, specifying that he will receive a mental alarm if anything as large as a rat comes within 20 feet of the door. Larry heals Tyrius from the ghosts. The party returns to their rest, including a meal; although Aurora and Ireena are intently working through Strahd’s diary.
(9:20pm-10:20pm) Over the course of the hour, Aurora and Ireena become increasingly excited as they decipher Strahd’s narrative.
With words she called me "brother," but when I looked into her eyes they reflected another name — "death." It was the death of the aged that she saw in me. She loved her youth and enjoyed it. But I had squandered mine.
I have often hunted for Tatyana. I have even felt her within my grasp, but she escapes. She taunts me! She taunts me! What will it take to bend her love to me?
They also scour the text for any signs of his weakness - and discover his extreme vulnerability to sunlight, and inability to cross running water. Aurora discusses spell strategy with Larry and Tyrius, and the latter two practice the combined prayer that will summon forth actual daylight.
Finally, Aurora shows Shefak this tantalizing journal entry:
The Bakluni called “Zuoken” passed through my realm when he was still mortal. He was able to fight off all of my servants, and his mind proved impenetrable to my charms - the only man ever to truly defeat me. Eventually he left, passing through the dark woods to the south.”
[DM's Note: Shefak's positive individual fortune: If Shefak can discover a clue about Zuoken’s location before leaving Barovia, she will gain a level. . Shefak is now at level 5] _________________ My campaigns are multilayered tapestries upon which I texture themes and subject matter which, quite frankly, would simply be too strong for your hobbyist gamer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
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)
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)
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. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
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.
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. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
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.
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.
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 this seemed like the most logical place for Shefak to depart.
Looking forward to a continuation of the saga.
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. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
Within the castle, I used http://movies-other.ambient-mixer.com/vampire-castle-at-night 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. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
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. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
Last edited by Kirt on Mon Aug 19, 2019 7:52 am; edited 1 time in total
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 is...gone...you 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
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:
(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. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
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. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
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. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
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…”
“YOU MAKE THOKK SO ANGRY!!! WHY YOU NOT STOP HER? NOW THOKK NEVER FIND HER, AND IT ALL YOUR FAULT!”
“Thokk, I am sorry, I did not know…”
“OH YOU THINK YOU STRONG AND YOU NOT FEAR WRATH OF THOKK! BUT THOKK SHOW YOU HE STRONGER AND SOON YOU BE SORRY YOU DRIVE WILLA AWAY!”
“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. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Mp7Ikko8SI
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