Remember what I said earlier in the week about all the wonderful, invigorating energy of a new campaign? Well, I am a lucky girl, because with the way things worked out, I got to start two new campaigns in one week. Our local chapter of D&D Adventurer’s League has started up the official new season with Curse of Strahd. People had been more excited than I’d ever seen them before for this season, because it’s set in Ravenloft, with one of the original Ravenloft module writers returning to work on this campaign. So this has been much anticipated for a very long time.
Beatrix, a wizard
Rosaline, a rogue
Chad, a cleric
The Demiplane of Dread
The Story So Far:
On a cold and dreary evening, the sky thick with fog, our adventurers find themselves in a warm and comforting tavern, like dozens they’ve seen before. It was in a small, no-name town, but the ale was plentiful and the talk was lively, and who could ask for more? But, as the door opened wide, letting in the chill air, the conversation suddenly drew to a halt.
A colorfully-dressed stranger entered, and made his way directly to the table where our party was seated. He drew a sealed letter from one of his pockets – the crest imprinted in the wax was not one they recognized. To their curiosity, it was addressed directly to them, identifying them by name. It beseeched their aid, though it was unspecific as to what help was needed. It also mentioned the great wealth possessed by their town, which would be offered to the adventurers if only they would come and help them.
The mysterious stranger said that they should travel a few hours up the road into the village of Barovia, where the letter originated. He also warned, however, that they should wait until sunrise, for who knew what lurked in the woods at night? Unable to resist the offer of great wealth, the party agreed to travel to Barovia first thing in the morning. The strange traveler dropped a bag of coins on the bar counter, called for a round on the house for everyone in the tavern, and promptly left.
Rosaline asked some of the other tavern patrons if they knew who this man was or if this was typical behavior for him. None of the patrons knew him specifically, but they did know that he was one of the Vistani – nomads, travelers, merchants, and entertainers who sometimes passed through town. They recognized him to be likely harmless, and if he delivered them a letter, it was likely exactly what he said it was. None of the people in the tavern had heard of Barovia, though it was apparently not too distant from their own town.
The group stayed at the tavern that evening, then stocked up on some basic supplies at first light. From there, they set off down the road the traveler had indicated, and walked into the fog. After a few hours of walking, they encountered a set of gates, standing alone in the woods. Each side was flanked by a headless statue, the heads having long since been broken or removed, lying on the ground at their feet. As they approached, the gates appeared to open themselves.
Rosaline immediately went on the alert, trying to see if there was anybody nearby who might’ve opened the gate. She found no one. Nor did Beatrix spot any magical mechanisms that might control the gate. It simply… opened. Proceeding very cautiously, they went through the gate. After they had passed, they could hear the gate close itself behind them once more. Again, a thorough search for either people or magic – again, nothing. Feeling unsettled, they continued on their path, with Rosaline keeping an eye and ear out for anything that might seem out of the ordinary.
After a little ways, she detected the scent of death and decay in the air. Rosaline instructed Beatrix and Chad to stay on the road while she investigated. About fifteen feet off the road, she found the body of a young man, a commoner who had quite clearly been mauled to death. It was also clear that he had been dead several days, judging from the crow talon marks on his flesh. In his fist, she found a sealed letter, bearing the same seal as the one they’d been given back at the tavern. She returned to her party with the letter in hand.
Reading it, it seemed like a different version of the one they’d first been given at the tavern. The same penmanship, the same general idea – but a much more detailed, and gruesome plea. The burgomaster spoke of his daughter Ireena, who had twice been bitten by the vampire Strahd. He implored them to come and save her from being his next victim, and to free them from the living nightmare their lives had been under his reign. Even more resolved than ever to figure out just what was going on, the party continued down the road.
They finally found their way to the village of Barovia, a clearly desolate – though still populated – settlement. Through the streets, they could hear a despondent wailing. Deciding to follow it, they found a boarded up house, the windows and doors barricaded. After their initial attempts to simply knock and receive an answer, Chad resorted to knocking in the door with his mace. On the second floor, they found their wailing woman. She explained that her poor, sheltered daughter Gertruda had been seduced by Count Strahd von Zarovich, and that surely she would never see her again. The party vowed to do their best to retrieve the missing girl.
After asking around town a bit, they quickly discovered that everyone immediately assumed the girl was a goner, if she was not already dead, though they would not elaborate as to her exact fate. They also all insisted that they go to the burgomaster’s mansion, again, for reasons that were not theirs to explain. Finally, they resigned themselves to do as they were asked, and they went to the large building the townsfolk indicated.
Ireena Kolyana greeted them at the door, though she would not open it. She feared they were servants of Strahd, and only allowed them inside once she was sufficiently convinced that they had no allegiance to the count. She explained her tragic situation: when the vampire count had become obsessed with her, he had come twice in the night to drink of her blood. Every night, her father the burgomaster had tried to protect her, and every night the… creatures came to besiege their house. After several weeks of this, her father’s heart could no longer stand the strain… he had passed away three days prior.
Ireena introduced them to her brother and pleaded with them to take her father’s body to the cemetery and give him proper burial rites. Chad the cleric immediately agreed to this, not wanting a body to lay desecrated in such a state. This immediately endeared the group to Ireena, who thanked them with all her heart. With the brother, Ismark, they brought the body across town to the small church and cemetery of Barovia. Immediately they could see that this building, while not abandoned, was in extremely poor repair and had not seen regular use in quite some time.
From the chapel, they could hear soft praying, a whispering and murmuring of hymns – and from the basement, they heard a desperate, inhuman cry. Deciding to delay dealing with… whatever the hell that was, they went to go talk to the disheveled looking priest who was praying in the chapel. He introduced himself as Donavich, and explained how his son, Doru, had been turned into a vampire spawn by Strahd in an ill-fated attack on the castle. Ever since, he had kept him imprisoned in the basement and prayed for the return of his humanity. He asked if the adventurers knew of any way to restore him; alas, they did not.
Together, they performed the last rites of Kolyan Indirovich and laid his body to rest. Ismark thanked them profusely, and Donavich asked if the adventurers were here about the whole Ireena situation. He explained that he thought they should take her to either the abbey in Krezk, or failing that, to the fortified town of Vallaki. In simple Barovia, they simply could not protect the girl, nor could they protect themselves if she was indeed turned into a vampire herself. The abbey would know what to do with her, and Vallaki could defend itself better than the village could.
Seeing that Vallaki was much closer to Barovia than Krezk was, the team proposed this team to Ireena. She was reluctant to go, but her main concern – that her father had been given a proper burial – had been handled, so she agreed to go with them. She explained that they owned a covered wagon, but no horses. In the morning, they could buy them, she offered. In the meantime, they would all spend the night in the burgomaster’s mansion – it was not safe to travel after dark, she insisted.
In the morning, rather than doing silly things like “spending money”, Rosaline went out to “acquire” a horse in a possibly less than legal fashion. She told Ireena that she bought the horse, Ireena believed her, and that was that. Off they went, no time for questions, gotta hit the road!
After an hour or so of travel, the eagle-eyed Rosaline spotted a trinket in the road. It was a birdcage, she saw on closer investigation. Beatrix observed that her owl familiar, Hedwig, was shying away from the cage and would not go any closer to it. She used Mage Hand to bring the cage closer so she could see, rather than approaching it and possibly setting off a trap. As she did, she saw it was full of the bones of dead birds – no sign of blood or struggle, just bones. Deciding that they all wanted absolutely nothing to do with whatever the hell this was, Chad used Sacred Flame to destroy the cage.
They continued on until they reached a crossroads – this being Barovia, of course the crossroads was marked with an empty gallows. The road signs indicated the way to the Tser Falls, Castle Ravenloft, and Vallaki. Choosing their path, they turned to continue onwards. As they did so, the sound of the gallows creaking behind them drew their attention. Turning to look, they saw that he previously empty gallows now held an apparition of a body. To Beatrix’s horror, she saw her own body hanging there, lifeless. The others simply saw an unfamiliar Barovian. As soon as one of them tried to touch the body, it melted into nothingness, fading from existence. Thoroughly spooked, they moved on as quickly as possible.
That night, they camped down with a traveling band of Vistani who invited them to share their fire. When the party asked questions about Strahd, they insisted that they visit their fortuneteller Madame Eva, the greatest of the Vistani seers. When they asked her to see the future of their quest, she laid out five cards from her tarokka deck before them. She revealed to them the locations of three artifacts that would assist in their fight against the devil Strahd (albeit in the most cryptic way possible). She also told them to be on the lookout for a certain person who would be key in their victory, as well as where they would finally face Strahd himself in their destined battle.
With possibly more answers than they had ever wanted and a lot of questions still to ask, the group joined the Vistani in their drinking and singing around the fire before camping down for the night.