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”)

When last we left the heroes, they had all-but-one joined Lady Wachter’s attempt to overthrow Baron Vargas Vallakovich from his position as burgomaster of Vallaki. Thanks to a fire set to the Baron’s mansion by Lady Wachter herself, the front of the manor has collapsed…with Vash the bard still inside it.

The collapse snuffs much of the fire, but the presence of smoldering wood and metal does not deter Cairie, Ireena, Ismark, and Rolen – who begin digging through the rubble to find their compatriot, while Lady Lydia Petrovna, the Baron’s wife, watches in worry.

They find a body – it is Baron Vallakovich. He is dead, a large burn wound in the center of his chest caused by the glyph of warding he broke. They carry his body over to the side of the mansion, allowing Lady Petrovna to weep over her loss.

The party continues to search…and they eventually find Vash’s lute, which was destroyed in the collapse. Vash isn’t far from the lute. They find him…and he’s alive! Though unconscious. They pull him from the wreckage and set him next to the unconscious Khurz. They stabilize him, but are unable to rouse him from unconsciousness.

Lady Petrovna stands up, tears cutting clean lines through the dirt and makeup on her face. She asks, “Where is my son?” And she lunges for the rubble, begins digging. The group helps her.

Sly, all this time, has made his way to Blinsky’s toy shop. He assumes his disguise – his alternate persona of Maude the antiques dealer – and heads inside. Maude inquires about the strange doll Sly found on Izek’s body. Blinsky reveals that Izek had been forcing him to make these dolls – one every week – without pay. They were all the same, never changing, and Izek never revealed why.

Maude tried to discover more, saying that she was Izek’s mother. However, Blinsky – and all of Vallaki – knows that Izek is an orphan whose parents died long ago. Becoming extremely defensive and no longer forthcoming with information, Blinsky basically asks Maude to leave. Maude pays Blinsky for the trouble Izek caused him, and does leave. Removing the disguise, Sly rejoins the adventurers as they continue to dig through the rubble of the manor.

Together, the group of them discovers the body of a young man, impaled through the chest by a sharp slab of wood. Lady Petrovna collapses into wails of anguish – her son, Victor Vallakovich, is dead. The adventurers feel awful, and express their condolences. They also inquire where they might go to receive any kind of healing in town. Lady Petrovna tearfully suggests her brother – Father Lucien Petrovich – at St. Andral’s Church.

The party breaks the bad news. Father Lucien is also dead. Lady Petrovna has nothing left in her, and nothing left of her family. In the course of one day, everything was taken from her. Rolen asks if there is anything they could do to help.

Lady Petrovna gives them an icy glare, and says, in a quiet rage, “You’ve done enough!”

With that, the party takes the unconscious Khurz and Vash back to the Blue Water Inn.

Meanwhile, Raif has left town via the west road. Once alone, and well outside the town limits, Raif is greeted by a disembodied voice. Strahd’s voice. Strahd says he is willing to grant Raif incredible power, if he will but perform one task for him. Raif insists he will not do anything to harm his allies. Strahd gives Raif a taste of the power he promises, magically boosting his physical strength, and requests that he kill the approaching figures.

Looking ahead, Raif does see two men coming toward Vallaki on the road. They are Yevgeni and Szoldar, the wolf hunters of Vallaki that assisted Raif and Sly in finding the Vistani Camp on the day they arrived in Barovia. Raif readies himself as they near. He lets the hunters pass him, then whirls around and attacks! With his greatsword, Raif nearly ends Szoldar in one powerful blow.

Yevgeni attacks back! Szoldar joins the fray, even wounded! Despite Strahd’s boon of strength, Raif is unable to fend off the two skilled hunters, and must flee for his life. Luckily, the hunters do not pursue, electing to hurry to Vallaki to seek aid for Szoldar’s devastating wound. Raif hears Strahd’s voice again…though, this time, the vampire lord is disappointed in what he thought was a brave, skilled warrior. Strahd takes back his boon, and leaves Raif to fend for himself. The fighter finds a tree in which to sleep for the night.

Back at the Blue Water Inn, the adventurers take their old room, and decide to try and sleep, despite the huge hole in the wall from Strahd. Before they even get comfortable, Urwin bangs on the door and nearly forces his way inside. He demands an explanation for everything that’s going on – the disturbance at the festival, the church, the attack on the inn, the coup, and the fire. The group offers what explanation they can, and promise to be on their way in the morning. Urwin understands, and begrudgingly lets them stay. As he leaves, Sly follows him downstairs. The two chat a little longer.

Yevgeni and Szoldar burst into the inn, shouting for help. Sly attempts to help them, but the hunters are wary of Sly, recognizing him as the halfling that traveled with Raif. Sly discovers what happened on the road, and promises he is not allied with Raif. The hunters allow Sly to help bandage Szoldar. Sly then devotes the night and the next morning to taking care of the wounded hunter, seeing to their needs, and bringing them food as they rest.

The next morning, the adventurers find that they cannot wake Khurz. He is alive, and breathing, but he will not wake up, no matter what they do. Vash wakes, and seems fine. With that on their mind, the party heads downstairs to a special breakfast prepared by Danika, Urwin’s wife. Rolen and Cairie head back to the Baron’s mansion by themselves to find Lady Wachter standing out front, surveying the scene.

They ask her who will lead Vallaki now. Lady Wachter says that the Lady Petrovna is in no condition to lead at this time, given her incredible loss, and that she will do her best to make sure that the transition of leadership to herself is as smooth as possible for the shaken Vallaki. Rolen and Cairie, satisfied, head back to the inn.

There, the group of adventurers decide it’s time to move on, especially at Ireena’s insistence. They must reach a place of safety where Strahd cannot so easily reach her. They decide that Krezk is the next place to try. Though she’s never been there, Ireena has heard that the village is surrounded by a sturdy wall at the edge of Barovia. The group needs a way to transport the still-unconscious Khurz. They soon find Urwin loading up a cart and wagon with provisions. Upon inquiring, they discover that Urwin has taken it upon himself to head to his family’s winery, since he has not heard from them, and the original two people he tasked with going there haven’t returned or sent any word (this was Raif and Sly, disguised as Maude).

The party offers to join him, in return for using the empty wagon to transport the unconscious Khurz. As plans are made, Urwin and Danika reveal that they are members of a secret society in Barovia called the Keepers of the Feather, and they work to maintain balance in the valley, and to keep Strahd’s darkness from spreading. Danika gives the party a palm-sized silver orb that she says can be used to call for help, which Sly takes.

Raif awakens the next morning and continues heading down the road. He eventually finds his way to the gate outside Krezk. The guards will not let him in, and fetch the burgomaster, Dmitri Krezkov. Dmitri refuses entry to Raif, and requests that he bring them more wine – for they have run out. Raif turns away and starts heading back.

The rest of the adventurers set off from Vallaki with Urwin in his wagon. While on the road, they remember that Rictavio the bard had requested to meet with them at the tower on the lake west of town. Urwin redirects the wagon up a dirt road. They arrive at Lake Baratok, where – out on a small island in the lake – a four-story stone tower stands. Urwin parks the wagon, and the adventurers cross the lake to the island via a manmade causeway.

On the island, the adventurers find not only this tower, but also a nicely-painted wooden covered traveling wagon, on the door of which hangs a sign that says, “KEEP OUT.” Ignoring the wagon at first, the party investigates the tower. The large iron door has no handles, but it does have a strange plaque, on which are several bizarre designs. Sly reaches out and touches the plaque, causing a great pillar of lightning to shoot off into the sky! The party is zapped by this lightning, and wounded from it. Rolen and Cairie, done with the tower, head back down the causeway to Urwin and his wagon.

Sly and Vash remain, determined to figure out the mystery of this tower. Plus, Vash is set on speaking to Rictavio about getting a replacement lute. While Vash tosses rocks at the tower to try to get the attention of whomever may be inside, Sly begins to investigate the nearby traveling wagon. While the halfling rogue does find some strange patterns in the wood planks on the underside of the wagon, he decides to pick the lock on the door.

Upon pulling open the door, Sly watches a string detach from the door…which causes a lit lantern to fall from the ceiling and crash on the floor…which ignites about a hundred flasks of alchemist’s fire set all over the inside of the wagon.

The wagon immediately explodes into a gigantic fireball, outright killing both Sly and Vash.

Holy mother, this was one of my favorite sessions to date. It was tense, and it was filled with a lot of drama, and some great role-playing moments. This session held a kind of “everything is going to crap” feel throughout the entire thing, and ended with a shocking bang – the deaths of two characters.  That, coupled with Gilrean’s disappearance, and the hand the party had in basically destroying Lady Petrovna’s life…it was really heavy.

I’m going to make this clear: I knew the wagon was trapped – of course – and I gave Jonathan every single chance to not open the door. I even gave him a second chance to take a look at the weirdness underneath the wagon – which was a secret trapdoor that allowed you to get inside safely. But he told me that, no, this is how Sly would act. He’s greedy and curious. Jonathan was okay that Sly bit the big one. But I still felt bad.

I’m not the kind of DM that relishes in killing off player characters. On the contrary, I enjoy watching these characters develop and grow. I like to watch them try to resolve personal conflicts and inner demons. When a character dies…that all ends. There’s no resolution. It’s sad to me. So the fact that Mark was just getting into the groove of his character, Vash, made the end of this session even harder for me. He was bummed about his slick bard being killed.

By the way, that explosion did 56 points of damage. Sly and Vash were already down some HP thanks to the lightning. So, yeah, outright dead.

Khurz remained unconscious after his long rest because Seth could not make it to the game, so he told me that maybe Khurz fell into a coma or something. Given what’s recently happened to the half-orc cleric, I felt that was an acceptable solution.

Things have started developing in an interesting way for Raif. Strahd seems to have taken an interest in the demonkin fighter. For Strahd’s boon, I had Jason – Raif’s player – increase Raif’s STRENGTH stat by 2, thereby increasing the modifier, so he would be stronger when facing the hunters. I’m excited to see if anything more comes of these events. I was very pleased to be able to bring Yevgeni and Szoldar back into the campaign. I don’t like using NPCs just once, and then throwing them away. I feel that’s unrealistic, especially in a smaller demi-plane like Barovia. Raif’s actions may have further consequences still.

Right now, after this game, the party is really mad at Rictavio – thinking he set a trap for the group. They’re talking about finding and killing him. Little do they know that the wagon isn’t Rictavio’s, and he had nothing to do with this. He’s not even at the tower.

Who’s wagon is it? How does the rest of the party react to the sudden deaths of Sly and Vash? Find out in next week’s post, “Ezmerelda’s Retreat.”

Until then – Well Met!