This post contains spoilers for the Curse of Strahd campaign!
It is NOT for my players’ eyes!
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Don’t let this post fool or discourage you, Curse of Strahd is an excellent campaign, and I’m really having fun running it for my friends. And don’t let me complain either, I’m trying to merely sort out a very large chapter in the book, and make it slightly less daunting.
Vallaki is full of things for the adventurers to do, and there are a few major plot points and several major characters with which to interact. The other locations in Barovia are not nearly as full as this one. Our group spent 5 and 1/2 sessions in Vallaki (you can read my campaign diaries here).
When you Dungeon Master a pre-written campaign (or, hell, even your own), you’re not forced to follow everything by the letter of the book. You can adjust, you can choose to overlook certain portions, and focus on others.
So I’m going to list out EVERYTHING in the Vallaki chapter, and then I’m going to explain what I did, how I did things differently – and how it worked out PERFECTLY.
Vallaki is located in a large clearing in the forest south of a very large lake. It is surrounded by a wooden palisade, and has three gates to keep it enclosed. Guards patrol the palisade with pikes. Characters can try to sneak in or talk their way in. During the night, it’s incredibly difficult to convince the guards to open the gate, for fear of Strahd.
The major locations and their purposes are thus:
Arasek Stockyard. Rictavio the Bard’s carnival wagon rests here. Inside is his saber-toothed tiger, which is trained to attack Vistani on sight. The stockyard is run by Gunther and Yelena Arasek. They also run the general store there, selling inexpensive gear at 5x the price. There’s a secret compartment in the wagon containing items that are clues to Rictavio’s true identity.
The Coffin Maker’s Shop. Henrik van der Voort runs this shop. A man named Vasili von Holtz promised Henrik “good business” if he keeps boxes of vampire spawn in his shop. Now…what equates to “good business” for a coffin maker?
Blinsky Toys. Owned by the delightfully fun Gadof Blinsky, the “wizard of tiny wonders.” He builds creepy toys befitting the tone of Barovia. He also has possession of Rictavio’s monkey, Piccolo. He is forced to create dolls in the likeness of Ireena Kolyana for the brutal and cruel Izek Strazni.
The Town Square. This place is decorated for a celebration, in fact the Baron’s weekly festivals. Guards are removing the fliers of last week’s festival, and putting up fliers for this week’s festival. There are stocks with villagers imprisoned in them, wearing crudely made, plaster donkey heads to ridicule them.
St. Andral’s Church. A church for worshippers of the Morninglord, and watched over by Father Lucian Petrovich, Lady Baroness Lydia Petrovna’s older brother. He has with him Milivoj, a troubled young man, and an orphaned altar boy Yeska. Lucian is concerned about the recent disappearance of the bones of St. Andral, which once lay hidden beneath the church’s altar, and consecrated the grounds. Many Vallakians rely on this place for comfort and hope against the hopelessness of Barovia. The exciting “St. Andral’s Feast” event takes place here.
Blue Water Inn. Vallaki’s inn and tavern owned and operated by the Martikov family: Urwin, Danika, and their mischievous sons Brom and Bray. More of the Martikovs are found at the Wizard of Wines Winery further in the Barovia valley. They are all secretly wereravens of the Keepers of the Feather order, which fights against the darkness of Strahd, and can ally with the adventurers. They are concerned with the status of the Winery and their family there. Rictavio rents a room here, and Vallaki’s two wolf hunters – Szoldar Szoldarovich and Yevgeni Krushkin – can be found in the taproom often. Also frequenters of the inn’s bar are the Wachter brothers Nikolai and Karl.
Burgomaster’s Mansion. This is where the mad Baron Vargas Vallakovich lives with his family: Baroness Lydia Petrovna, and the Baronet Victor Vallakovich. It is also where the brutal Izek Strazni lives. There’s a lot going on here as well. Missing servants, preparations for this week’s festival, Izek’s doll collection, an imprisoned Vallaki commoner, a bridal gown that will become useful later in the campaign, a magic mirror, and the Baronet’s attempts to escape Barovia via teleportation circle. Victor could also be an (unlikely) ally to the party. And all that doesn’t even include the insane Baron and his two mastiffs.
Wachterhaus. The evil Lady Fiona Wachter lives here with her 3 children. The two brothers who like to spend time at the Blue Water Inn’s taproom (who could possibly become allies to the adventurers) Nikolai and Karl, her insane daughter Stella (who thinks she’s a cat), her spy and confidante Ernst Larnak, and her invisible pet imp, Majesto. Oh yeah, and the body of her late husband, which lies preserved in her bed. Further, Wachterhaus plays host to a cult, known as Lady Wachter’s “book club,” made up of Vallakians who believe that the worship of devils will bring about peace and happiness.
Vistani Camp. Located some distance outside of Vallaki, a lot is happening here as well. The Vistani leaders, brothers Arrigal and Luvash, are torturing a boy who was supposed to be watching Luvash’s daughter, Arabelle (she’s up at the lake north of Vallaki, about to be drowned by a desperate, misguided man). Further, the Vistani are out of wine, and want the adventurers to bring them more. Finally, a group of dusk elves reside in this camp, the last of their kind, thanks to Strahd. One of them is a potential ally to the adventurers, but he has an agenda of his own.
In addition to all these locations and NPCs, there are FOUR special events that take place in Vallaki: Festival of the Blazing Sun; Tyger, Tyger; Lady Wachter’s Wish; and St. Andral’s Feast. That is a LOT to handle, especially considering that adventurers are only in Vallaki to escort Ireena there to safety, and are now – probably – set on a collision course with Strahd. Though I will say this: Chris Perkins did a great job of interweaving all of these characters together, and really giving Vallaki a sense of history – of things that’ve happened here before the adventurers arrived. It’s pretty cool to behold.
Here’s what I feel like are the most important parts of Vallaki.
The Martikov Family and the Keepers of the Feather. Wine is a big plot point that keeps cropping up, and it’s especially important when you’re ready to get to Krezk. This means the party is eventually going to hit the Wizard of Wines Winery, which means the group should meet the Martikovs and start to become familiar with the ravens of Barovia.
The Baron and his festivals. He’s crazy, and it is very unlikely the party will get through Vallaki without meeting him. This means there’s a good possibility they’ll be forced to attend the Festival of the Blazing Sun, and that they’ll run into Izek at some point.
Rictavio. He is a big part of Strahd’s story, and has quite a fantastic – if tragic – story of his own, as Rudolph van Richten – legendary vampire hunter. Plus, his Vistani protégé Ezmerelda de Avenir is in Barovia as well, and I think she’s a great possible ally for the adventurers.
If you do anything else in Vallaki, I recommend at LEAST also including the above elements. Beyond that, it’s almost too much. Almost. I wanted to throw in a COUPLE more elements, so I prepped for the following.
I decided it would be more time-efficient (and add a sort of “ticking clock” to the Vallaki events) if I held BOTH the St. Andral’s Feast and the Festival of the Blazing Sun events on the same day. This helps in a couple of ways: you have ammunition for the townspeople to be even more upset at the Baron for holding a mandatory festival on a holy day, and it nearly forces the adventurers to be away from the church for a while, which allows you to try and plan it so they never complete the Feast quest, allowing some really bad (but AWESOME) things to happen.
Here’s how it went down.
The group arrives at sunset, and make their way into town. They are able to secure an audience with the Baron, who wants nothing to do with them this late. He’s quite rude, as the campaign book says he is. The group promises to return in the morning. They go to the Blue Water Inn, meet Urwin and Danika. They make friendly, eat, and buy rooms to stay in.
The next morning, they go see the Baron. AT THE SAME TIME, two new players are joining the campaign, and I have their characters wake up in the forest north of Vallaki, near the lake. They find the man trying to drown Arabelle and save her. They make their way to Vallaki, and secure the aid of the wolf hunters to escort them to the Vistani Camp outside of town. At the Burgomaster’s Mansion, the party agrees to perform during the Festival of the Blazing Sun when the party’s bard wants to do a “bard-off” against Rictavio. The Festival is THAT DAY, toward dusk.
Our cleric wanted to find the church (thank goodness!), and so they go and visit Father Lucian. He is very concerned about the missing bones, especially with St. Andral’s Feast approaching (again, that day), as the church will not be able to provide the same protection to people as it usually does. He fears Milivoj stole the bones. The group also briefly meets Yeska, the altar boy. The cleric finds and successfully questions Milivoj, discovering that the coffin maker, Henrik van der Voort, paid Milivoj to give him the bones.
The two new characters meet Luvash and Arrigal at the Vistani camp, and are welcomed as heroes when they reunite Arabelle with her father. They have no wine to celebrate, however, and ask they bring them more. They head back to Vallaki to ask the innkeepers for wine, and meet up with the main group. They decide to join forces.
At the coffin shop, they snoop around upstairs to find…VAMPIRE SPAWN!! Epic battle!! ANOTHER player joins the game, helping out during the fight at a crucial moment!! The scourge defeated, they learn that a man named Vasili told Henrik to get the bones and house the vampires. One of the characters (the only evil-aligned one) takes a vampire body by himself to the Town Square and exposes the defused threat, is taken to meet the Baron.
When the rest of the group leaves the shop, they are stopped (rather timely) by Lady Wachter and Ernst. She politely introduces herself, and expresses her distaste for the Baron. The group got to see the stocks in the Town Square already, so they agree. She invites the group to lunch at her place, playing the nice host.
Meanwhile, the evil character is being lauded by the Baron, saying he’s a hero. The Baron wishes to publicly commend him at the Festival, and offers him a well-paid position in his guard. Lady Wachter similarly enlists the help of the rest of the group to join in a planned coup to overthrow the Baron during the Festival.
By the way, the group secured the bones of St. Andral from the coffin maker’s shop, so me throwing Lady Wachter at them was the perfect distraction to keep the group from making it back to the church right away. Plus, it made it so they couldn’t take a long rest after the fight. Vallaki is so full of stuff to do, and I wanted to run them ragged through it as a strategy to keep them from doing too much. Besides, with these events now in motion, they were about to do plenty.
The main group makes it back to the inn and discusses their plan. The cleric wants nothing more than to get to the church. The others agree to get to the Town Square to get ready for the festival. Everyone in town is already headed to the Square. Guards block all the roads that don’t lead to the Square, so the cleric is having a hard time. The player fails all of his Persuasion rolls, and is forced to go to the festival. My plan to keep them from the church has succeeded. Very soon, it’s all gonna hit the fan.
At the Festival, the group meets up with Lady Wachter, and get into positions. The Baron does his thing, and officially titles the evil character as “The Hero of Vallaki.” The rest of the Baron’s festival goes as-written in the book – humiliatingly. That’s when Lady Wachter and her followers begin staging an attack on Vallaki, covered in dirt and fake blood. A chant starts echoing through the crowd, calling for the Baron to be removed. The main group joins in.
It gets tense. The evil Hero defends the Baron against the crowd. It’s about to come to blows…when a villager stumbles into the Square, actually covered in blood. There’s an attack at the church. The whole group goes running to the church. There, inside, stands Strahd von Zarovich upon the altar. This is their first meeting. A fruitless battle occurs, and Strahd escapes, after killing all the NPCs (Father Lucian and Yeska – I didn’t put Milivoj at the church for this…and that may come into play later in the campaign), and nearly killing the cleric.
The group, having STILL not rested since the vampire spawn battle, decides to rest at the inn– OH WAIT, they started a revolution. Better handle that first.
They go now to the Burgomaster’s Mansion, and find a mob gathered around it, led by Lady Wachter. The evil Hero steps up to guard the doors, and Lady Wachter throws a torch at the house, lighting it on fire. The evil Hero cuts down two villagers trying to subdue Lady Wachter before Izek joins the fight. The rest of the group fights Izek and the guards. The evil Hero, seeing he’s on the wrong side, flees Vallaki.
Two of the adventurers go into the burning mansion to find the Baron and his wife. On my side of the DM screen, I started a spin-down die at 10. They had 10 turns to get out of the mansion before it collapsed from the fire. They found the baroness, so one of the adventurers escorted her out. The other went into the attic and found the Baron attempting to get his son out. Things go bad. They run out of turns. The mansion collapses on them all.
The bard miraculously survives the collapse. The Baron and the Baronet do not. When Lady Baroness Lydia Petrovna then learns from the group that her brother, Father Lucian also just died? Oh…you should’ve been there.
Feeling utterly defeated – despite having killed Izek and helped to overthrow the crazy Baron – the group finally gets to rest at the inn.
Now that the Baron is out of the way, and the Baroness is completely grief-stricken, nothing stands in Lady Wachter’s way of taking Vallaki for herself. The party seems okay with this…but they do not yet know that she’s in league with Strahd.
With Victor dead, the group now only has Rictavio and the Martikovs as potential allies.
So, I included the Ireena dolls, but did not go too into Izek’s actual background with Ireena. Mainly because when the character found the dolls (each of the two times), they failed their rolls to realize its likeness to Ireena. Honestly, though, no harm done. There’s a benefit to the group uncovering the history between Izek and Ireena, but that benefit is mainly to show that there’s a great, extended history and lore to Barovia, that people have been here for a long time, and that certain NPCs are inexplicably tied together through their pasts.
The party never checked out Arasek Stockyard, so I threw the Tyler, Tyger event out the window. There’s nothing really they’re missing there. Besides, since the party never met up with Rictavio post-Vallaki, it’ll make for a cool reveal later in the campaign when Rictavio shows up with his tiger and helps them out at a crucial moment.
I modified the Lady Wachter’s Wish event to be that of her desire to overthrow the Baron and claim Vallaki for herself (and therefore Strahd). I felt that was much more compelling than having Ernst follow the group around.
A few plot points were lost or sacrificed in my planning stages, but the things that DID happen were amazing, and my players still talk about them. Plus, they’ve yet to see the FULL outcomes of their actions in this complicated town.
It was difficult to plan, but I looked at everything, and picked out the things I thought would make for the coolest moments, and formed a story around how to make all of them work and happen in the game. My players didn’t disappoint, and fell right into my traps– I mean, plans.
It went exactly how I wanted it to go. However, the fire, the collapsed mansion, the deaths of the Baron and Baronet, and the desertion of the evil Hero were all not part of my original plan. They all happened in the spur of the moment, completely improvised, and I think this way was much better than how I had it in my head, so that’s why I say it went perfectly. I’m so happy with my players, and I’m so proud of them.
Until next time – Well Met!