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”)

As the group prepares to leave Argynvostholt, gathered outside, Raif addresses everyone. He remarks on the teamwork that he observed upstairs, and how they all did very well against Vladimir Horngaard. This is what they need to be doing from now on – working together. He approaches Cairie, who had fled the fight initially but came back at the last second. Raif tells her that, if she ever runs away like that again, he’ll kill her himself.

With an about-face, Raif goes to get the wagon ready with Urwin, leaving the rest of the group in a sort of stunned silence. Ezmerelda, just absolutely done with the drama, mounts her horse and urges the rest of the group to get going. Everyone basically piles into Urwin’s wagon…except Rolen. He comes up to Ezmerelda and asks if he can ride with her. Since the wagon is pretty full, Ezmerelda allows this.

They head out. Where the road down the mountain rejoins the main road, Savid the dusk elf departs the group, making for the vistani camp outside of Vallaki. While on the long journey to the Wizard of Wines Winery, Khurz questions Urwin about the place, wanting to know about its history, its architecture, anything that could help. Urwin obliges.

The man tells Khurz that his family has owned and operated the winery as long as he can remember. He describes how the building is laid out and constructed, as well. He says it’s run by his father, Davian Martikov, but he hasn’t been back to the winery in a long time. When asked why, Urwin reveals that magic gems were used to infuse their wine with hope and light to combat the darkness of Barovia and of Strahd’s prevailing evil. Ten years ago, one of those gems went missing on a night when he was on watch. Davian blamed Urwin for it, and the two have been estranged ever since.

During the ride, Malis speaks with everyone in the wagon, getting to know them better, and explaining how she mysteriously arrived in Barovia – much like everyone else. As she speaks with everyone, she formulates a list in her mind of with whom she’d like to sleep based on their varying points of attractiveness.

Rolen speaks to Ezmerelda, wanting to know more about her. She reveals – after some prodding – that she is of vistani descent, but also that she no longer associates with them. She is now here in Barovia looking for her master, the famed vampire hunter Rudolph van Richten, who taught her how to hunt vampires. Rolen, with some effort, actually gets on Ezmerelda’s good side.

Raif, all this time, has been forming a weapon bond with the new greatsword he took from Horngaard’s corpse. He’s named it Vizhanik – which, in the tongue of his people, means “Dragonfang.”

Finally, the party arrives at the turnoff for the winery, and are ambushed!

A group of scarecrows comes out of the trees and attacks the party. The group works together very well here, and uses a lot of fire-based spells and good tactics to quickly dispatch the construct creatures. Then, an old man comes hobbling toward the wagon from up the road toward the winery. He looks haggard and weary, and leans on a crooked cane. Urwin addresses him as “Father.”

Davian greets the group. He has some words with his son – a very brief argument that drips with undertones of disappointment from Davian – before he makes a request of the party. For the past two weeks, horrible druids and their plant creatures have been harassing the Martikovs and the winery. Two days ago, they came en masse and forced the Martikovs to abandon the winery and flee to the forest. He asks that the adventurers get rid of the druids and save the winery.

Raif and Cairie agree to scout ahead to the winery and see what they can find out. Raif decides to take to the air, finally revealing to the rest of the group that he can fly. Some time after they leave, Y’shaarj and Ezmerelda decide to follow them and make sure they’re okay. Everyone else stays behind with Urwin, Davian, and the wagon.

At the winery, Cairie and Raif find locked doors and hear nothing from within. Cairie decides to scout around, while Raif finds an upstairs window through which he’d like to enter. He ties a rope to Vizhanik and tosses it at the window, finally breaking it. He tries to pull the sword to get it to stick against the window panes, but it comes through and lands at his feet. He gives up. Meanwhile, Cairie finds an open door that leads into a large room through the loading dock. She then leaves to reconnect with Raif and go tell the others.

While Y’shaarj and Ezmerelda head toward the winery, Ezmerelda notices something through the thick orchard of grape vines outside it. A large number of shapes are approaching through the vineyard. The two run ahead even faster to warn Cairie and Raif. Upon hearing this, the four of them run back down the path to the wagon and explain all that they saw. Davian fears this small army will destroy the vineyard and the winery, sending all of the people of Barovia into eternal despair. The group quickly forms a plan, as it begins to rain.

Khurz, Raif, Krossa, Malis, Cairie, Y’shaarj, Ezmerelda, Rolen, Ismark, and Ireena march in formation up the path. Khurz uses Thaumaturgy to lure the creatures out of the vineyard toward them and away from the winery. Over 30 blights walk out of the vineyard and start to approach the adventurers. The two groups square off in the rain.

That’s where the session ends. This was a lot of fun – I felt like this session had everything: background and info-dumping, character development, travel, combat, sneaking…all of that good stuff. A couple interesting things too…. Some spoilers for my players follow, so don’t read further if you’re one of my players!

Rolen deciding to get to know Ezmerelda was a really interesting decision to me. When I worked with Jeff on Rolen’s background, we decided that Rolen’s been in Barovia for much longer than the other characters. While everyone else had only just awoken there almost a week earlier, Rolen has been there for over a month. Thus, he’s learned some things already.

For example, he knows what the vistani truly are. Jeff has done a great job at portraying Rolen as somewhat suspicious of Ezmerelda ever since meeting her, because he does not trust the vistani. He made at least this much very clear to the other party members. So to have Rolen decide to ride with her threw me for a loop, and I didn’t know where he was going with this.

When Ezmerelda revealed that she is no longer associated with the vistani, and then Rolen and her kind-of-almost started flirting…I thought it was pretty great. I love it when my players do unexpected things like that, and really get into their characters.

I’m so excited with how this game is going. The Winery is almost the “mid-way point” of the whole Curse of Strahd adventure. Once you solve the winery, there’s sort of one more major thing that the party can do nearby, on Yester Hill (where the druids come from) – but that’s totally optional. From there, all that really remains is the village of Krezk and the finding of the Fortunes of Ravenloft – the mystical items that will help the party destroy Strahd.

Then it’s off to Castle Ravenloft…. There are other things to do in the campaign, a lot of optional locations and mysteries, but if you’re just following the main storyline, that’s it.

I have so many awesome surprises in store for my players. I can’t wait to see them unfold. While the group IRL has been somewhat fraught with conflicting schedules and even some in-fighting that almost tore the group apart, it’s been a really fun game, and I’ve really enjoyed running it for these spectacular people. I hope you’re enjoying reading about it.

In my next journal entry, tensions rise between certain characters, and the fight for the winery begins! “Reaping the Harvest” – don’t miss it!

Until next time – Well Met!