On most Sunday nights, a group of friends and I gather to play Dungeons & Dragons. This is the chronicle of their tale. (This post contains spoilers to “Curse of Strahd”)

The party – Khurz, Cairie, Vash, Raif, and Sly – are on their way to see Henrik van der Voort, the coffin maker of Vallaki. He allegedly goaded the church’s young groundskeep, Milivoj, into stealing the sacred bones of St. Andral from the church, and bringing them to him for some unknown reason.

The adventurers pass through Vallaki’s town square on their way. Here, the guards and villagefolk are putting up decorations for today’s Festival of the Blazing Sun – during which the group has agreed to perform. Vash is working on the song he is to sing. The mood turns dour, however, when they see Vallakians locked in the stockade, wearing crude, plaster donkey heads – some of these Vallakians are children.

Vash asks a guard what the meaning of this is, and is told that the Baron had these people arrested for “malicious unhappiness,” when they spoke out against the Baron’s festivals. At this point, the captain of the guard approaches – a large beast of a man, with a clearly noticeable demonically deformed right arm. This is Izek Strazni, and he tells the adventurers to move along. They do.

The horrifying image of the children locked in the stockade fresh in their minds, the group reaches the coffin maker’s shop and go inside. They easily find Henrik, corner him, and begin questioning him about the bones. Vash and Raif go off searching the shop together, and head upstairs. Cairie rolls such a great Intimidation roll that Henrik pees himself (Please, I want you to really imagine this: Cairie is an elf rogue, and she’s up in this guy’s face. Khurz the half-orc cleric stands looming behind her. Cairie is yelling in Henrik’s face, and thus the coffin maker uncontrollably relieves himself).

Henrik reveals, “They’re upstairs…” A beat as his line of sight flicks up toward the ceiling.

All of them.

The rest of the party joins Vash and Raif upstairs. They find a storage attic full of large boxes, and start inspecting them. At first they find nothing – junk. But Cairie finally opens a box full of packed dirt…AND A VAMPIRE BURSTS OUT! Vampire spawn burst out of three more boxes! Roll Initiative!

Even with five adventurers, it’s a tough fight. Vampire Spawn have a lot of HP, and their AC isn’t bad. Khurz is flanked by two, and he goes down in a couple rounds. The others manage to stay alive, somehow, and then a man comes running into the room! He draws a crossbow, aims, and fires a bolt at the vampires! He lowers the crossbow, then, and starts slinging spells across the room! A new player has joined the game.

Jeff plays half-elf sorcerer Rolen Erevan.

Some incredible teamwork during the fight finds Cairie Acid Splashing one of the vampires, and then Vash casting Tasha’s Hideous Laughter at it. The burning, smoking vampire falls to the floor with uncontrollable laughter. It’s a horrifying yet hilarious sight.

After the battle ends, and all the vampires are dead, Sly searches the place and finds St. Andral’s bones. Downstairs, they question Henrik further to discover that a man named Vasili told him he would have “good business” if he kept the boxes of vampires in the attic.

During this line of questioning, Raif grabs one of the vampire bodies and drags it outside by himself. He takes it, alone, to the town square, where he throws the creature’s carcass into the square’s fountain. The guards are on him in seconds as townspeople scream at the sight and flee. He convinces the guards and Izek that he had his companions just saved the town from a vampire infestation, and that he would like to speak with the Baron.

The guards comply, and take him to the Baron’s mansion.

Done at the coffin maker’s shop, the rest of the adventurers step outside. They are getting to know Rolen a little bit. He says he heard the sounds of battle from outside, and ran in to help. He knows of the devil Strahd already, and agrees to help them find a way to defeat him and free these lands.

They are interrupted by a woman behind them. This stern-looking, lavishly dressed woman expresses her dissatisfaction with the Baron’s methods, with which the party unanimously agrees – submitting the stockade situation as evidence. The woman wholeheartedly agrees with them, and invites them to lunch at her place. She says she is Lady Fiona Wachter, and she wishes to remove the dangerous, insane Baron from power in order to keep the town of Vallaki truly safe.

The party agrees, and begins to follow her to her house, Wachterhaus.

At the Baron’s mansion, Raif meets with the man, who seems absolutely shocked about the vampires in Henrik’s shop. He claims that Raif is a hero of Vallaki, and asks if Raif would mind accepting a commendation in front of the whole town during today’s Festival of the Blazing Sun. Raif agrees. The Baron then also asks if Raif would like to remain employed by the Baron as part of his personal guard – a paid position. Raif, again, agrees. The Baron pays him a bit up front, and asks Raif to meet him in the town square when the festival begins.

At Wachterhaus, the rest of the adventurers sit down to lunch as Lady Wachter explains the situation. The Baron is mad, insane. He believes that his weekly festivals, his “All Will Be Well!” mantra, and enforced happiness will keep the devil Strahd at bay. Lady Wachter understands the power that Strahd holds, and knows that this is not enough. She claims that herself and her fellow followers of Mother Night have the special power needed to keep Vallaki safe.

She has a plan to overthrow the Baron during the upcoming festival, and seeks the adventurers’ help. They are staging an attack on Vallaki during the festival, to make it look like people are bloody and terrified, to create disruption, to show – during a festival – that the Baron’s methods are not enough. She will then rally the people into a riot mob, and drive the Baron out of town. The peoples’ anger will already be at a high level, as today is also the holy holiday of St. Andral’s Feast. Everyone would rather be in church today to celebrate that instead of at the Baron’s useless festival. She knows the Baron did this on purpose, to force the people to come to his festival instead.

She leaves the room to allow the group to discuss and decide.

The adventurers are torn. Some of them are suspicious of Lady Wachter, but their anger with the Baron is greater. They ultimately decide, and inform Lady Wachter that they will help her remove the Baron from power during the festival. Vash the bard does ask for one thing in return, however – he wants the mounted bear head that lies in the Baron’s den.

WELL. I was not expecting that to happen! Raif, inadvertently, just set himself against all of his new companions by siding with the Baron for the upcoming festival. It was highly amusing watching his face as the rest of the group sided with Lady Wachter. That’s what I love about this game. I have a plan in place, the pieces that I set on the chessboard, and then my players freely move about it and interact with whatever they come across.

And it happened that my one evil character sided with the Baron, and all the others sided with Lady Wachter. I’m excited to tell you how it all went down, next time.

I have another player! Jeff is a lifelong friend of mine, and he was part of the small D&D 4e game that served as my very first time playing Dungeons & Dragons, so I was thrilled to be able to invite him to play. He’s playing a half-elf sorcerer character who comes from my homebrew world of Muluth! That being said, I should also mention that Raif also comes from Muluth! My players were so kind enough to agree to create a backstory using my own world, and I’m thrilled.

This was a big session, with combat and heavy role-playing and politics. I’m very proud of my players for navigating through it all very well. Their decisions here will have HUGE consequences for Vallaki in the near future.

Next time, the Festival of the Blazing Sun, and the rumblings of a revolution, in “Of Feasts and Festivals!”

Until then – Well Met!