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 adventurers – Khurz, Cairie, Vash, Rolen, and Sly – leave Wachterhaus after lunching and speaking with Lady Fiona Wachter. They have agreed to assist her in staging a coup against the mad Baron Vargas Vallakovich during his Festival of the Blazing Sun, happening moments from now.
Khurz, the half-orc cleric, said he’d meet everyone at the town square. First, he wanted to deliver the recovered bones of St. Andral to the church, as they had promised to do. Sly went to the Blue Water Inn to try and find Raif, but he was not there.
Throngs of people are already moving toward the town square, many softly grumbling about having to come here instead of the church on St. Andral’s Feast. Khurz, moving against the current, finds a line of guards standing in the street. They halt him and attempt to get him to go to the festival like everyone else. Khurz tries explaining himself without revealing his actual mission, and ends up bribing the guards with gold.
Unfortunately, his Persuasion rolls are abysmal, and the guards do not let him pass. Disheartened and not wanting to start a fight, Khurz heads to the town square.
In the square, the group fans out and tries to watch for Lady Wachter. A great wicker ball sits atop the fountain in the middle of the square. A stage is set up at the edge of the square, not far from the stockade. Vash heads for the stage, and finds a half-elf wearing foreign clothing. The half-elf man introduces himself as Rictavio, and he tries not to lament the fact that he and Vash are to have a “bard-off” as the Baron instructed – for he is very much not the musical type.
Nevertheless, Vash performed his song for the people in the square to great effect. Then, just as Rictavio was about to tell a story, a pathetic trumpeting sounded throughout the square.
A sad procession began, with a few guards marching in ahead of the Baron and his wife on horseback, followed by a single trumpeter trying and failing to play some kind of Barovian anthem, for sure.
Baron Vallakovich thanked Vash and Rictavio for entertaining the crowd, and went on to speak of the importance of keeping the darkness at bay, and – if they do that – that “All will be well!” He then addressed Raif, who approached the Baron’s horse, and said that they have heroes among them. He proclaims that Raif will be remaining within the Vallaki guard as a captain, and officially titles him as “The Hero of Vallaki,” for his services to the town.
Threatening rumbles of thunder overhead begin to hasten the Baron’s speech as he rambles on, clearly having no actual point to get across…but more that he tries to make sure Vallaki remembers how important he is. He orders the guards to oil up the wicker ball, and asks for a torch.
Khurz begins using Thaumaturgy to make the ground rumble and the thunder intensify. The Baron directs his uneasy horse toward the wicker ball, and – just as he reaches out to light it with his torch – it begins to rain, and his torch is doused.
The town square seems to hold its breath. Suddenly, one man – a guard, lets out a laugh. The Baron flies into a rage and orders that guard be arrested immediately. Izek starts marching toward the guard, but then Lady Wachter’s plan explodes into action.
Her people, her fellow followers of Mother Night, start running into the square from between the buildings, covered in mud and crushed grapes, screaming that there’s been an attack on the town. The gathered Vallakians, not needing much to go into a panic, become frightened and unstable.
Lady Wachter appears next to the group of adventurers, and tells them that this is the time. As her people run about screaming, she shouts out in an attempt to unite the Vallakians. She starts a chant – “Begone, Vallakovich!” The adventurers join her.
Soon, the entire crowd gathered in the town square is shouting, “Begone, Vallakovich,” and pushing in toward the Baron and his wife. Raif gathers the guard around them, and forms a pike wall to keep them safe. The other adventurers move forward through the crowd, toward the Baron and Raif.
As they reach the surrounded, frightened Baron, a man comes pushing through, screaming for help. It doesn’t take too high of an Insight check to tell he’s actually screaming…and that he’s also actually covered in blood. Khurz picks the man up and asks him what’s happening. The Vallakian says that there’s an attack at the church…that beasts and bats have broken in and are attacking. He begs for help.
Khurz and the others immediately take off toward the church. Raif gathers a contingent of 4 guards and also heads to the church. They all arrive at the same time, and find the doors to St. Andral’s Church thrown wide. The inside is covered with splashes of bright red, and the dead lie sprawled all over, some in pieces. It would seem that there were some devotees that could not obey the order that attendance at the Festival of the Blazing Sun was mandatory.
The adventurers head inside and find Father Lucien Petrovich cowering on the floor near the altar. They also see, standing atop the altar in regal clothing, Strahd von Zarovich himself. He clutches a terrified Yeska – the altar boy – in his claw-like hands.
Strahd greets the adventurers, overjoyed that he’s finally meeting them. Then he bares his fangs, and tears and devours Yeska’s throat. The adventurers leap into action!
Khurz jumps up onto the altar, engaging in melee with Strahd. Raif orders his guards forward, but they dare not, so he tells them to guard the door while he leaps over pews and throws his greatsword at Strahd. Rolen moves to the back of the church and conjures spells to fling at the vampire lord. Sly and Cairie use Khurz as a distraction to inflict sneak attack damage on him. Vash attempts to use his Bard spells on Strahd, but he does not seem to have the same amount of success he’s enjoyed thus far.
Wolves crash in through the church windows, and attack nearby adventurers. And, to the group’s dismay, all of their hits on Strahd seem to activate a pinkish-red barrier that surrounds him and, apparently, protects him. They press on anyway, and eventually find that the barrier is cracking. Strahd successfully grapples Khurz and bites him on the neck, draining half of his total HP. Then, with two swipes of his claws, drops the cleric to the floor.
Vash uses Cloud of Daggers, which shatters the barrier surrounding Strahd. The vampire lord moves out of the cloud, and disappears from sight.
The group goes to Khurz and tries to stabilize him. Then, they suddenly see Father Lucien’s throat rip open by some terrible, unseen force. He immediately starts bleeding out. Sly goes to the man, and attempts to stop the bleeding…when Strahd appears directly in front of him.
Sly freezes, and they stare at each other. Strahd’s shadow then shifts…and contacts Sly’s shadow. The two mix together, and Sly feels something inside him, something clawing and unpleasant. Strahd’s shadow then returns to normal, and Strahd himself becomes mist that flies out the window. Raif and his guards run out of the church and give chase.
The remaining adventurers attempt to stabilize Khurz, but it’s too late for Father Lucien and Yeska. Khurz wakes, and they all work to replace the bones of St. Andral in the hidden crypt behind the altar. Khurz attempts to re-sanctify the church, but it seems fruitless. Feeling weak and defeated, the group heads out and back toward the inn to get some rest.
Meanwhile, Raif and his guards pursue Strahd on foot. The mist flies through the streets before rocketing up toward an upstairs window of the Blue Water Inn. Raif and his guards head up the stairs and go inside. They carefully move across the landing above the taproom toward the doors to the rooms of the inn. As the guards back him up, Raif opens the door to the room the adventurers rented.
Inside, Gilrean – the elf monk who had missed out on the last day due to illness – awakens to find an intruder in her room. She demands an explanation, but Raif quiets her and says there’s a vampire somewhere in the inn. She quickly dresses and prepares herself.
Then, a black horse walks into the room through the wall – slightly incorporeal. Its eyes glow bright with an evil light. Its mane and hooves ablaze with hellish fire. Sitting atop the nightmare is Strahd. He reaches down, grabs Gilrean by the neck, and pulls her up onto his steed. Spurring the nightmare, Strahd crashes through the window and wall of the room, taking off into the night sky.
Undeterred, Raif throws himself out the window, and forms shadow-like wings so he can fly after Strahd…but the vampire’s nightmare is far too fast, and Raif loses them.
The other adventurers eventually arrive at the inn to discover the wall to their room destroyed, and Gilrean gone. Raif explains what happened, and how their friend is now in the clutches of Strahd.
No Players Beyond This Point!
This was an amazing night. I had so much fun running this session, even though there was so much for me to keep track of. I actually forgot a couple of details on the night – also because I was having a really rough weekend – and had to fill my players in the following week on some things that I had forgotten.
They finally met Strahd! See, he’s the type of villain that loves getting involved in the story. The book clearly states that he should show up multiple times during the party’s adventure to goad them or attack them, just to flee back to his castle, to toy with them and remind them how powerful he is.
It was like candy, watching my players’ eyes go wide when they saw Strahd in the church. As a DM, I live for these moments. I have a few more really good ones planned, too, so I can’t wait to see what happens then.
I combined the two “events” that can occur in Vallaki – the Festival of the Blazing Sun, and the St. Andral’s Feast – because I felt like it created additional tension within Vallaki, if the people were forced to attend another stupid festival instead of a holy holiday at their church of light and hope. It was just a matter of keeping the players away from the church so they couldn’t return St. Andral’s bones – which is supposed to stop the Feast event with Strahd from happening.
Though, as a DM, I could also make up some kind of b.s. about the bones no longer being any protection to the church if they had, thanks to Milivoj stealing them for Henrik van der Voort. So it didn’t have to be any great loss, and we still could’ve had a great event like we did.
Combining the events also added a sort of “ticking clock” for completing the bones quest, for it had to be done before the festival began, and they’re both on the same day.
Playing Strahd is, to put this bluntly, delicious. He’s such a great villain, and he’s so powerful. I love this guy. I love being this guy. He’s the kind of villain every actor would want to play in their career. He’s complicated underneath all the power and bravado. I’m excited to see how I get to develop him over the course of the campaign. It all depends on how much my players find or interact with him.
Finally, I wanted to explain what’s happening to Gilrean. Her player told me after the last session that she would not be able to join us for a while, for personal reasons. So, since I predicted the group leaving Vallaki in a couple sessions, I wanted to find out what should happen to Gilrean. Dawn and I worked out what would happen, and she agreed to let me have Strahd kidnap her on the day he attacks Vallaki.
Next week, “A Bloody Coup!”
Until then – Well Met!