On 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”)
Malis, Y’shaarj, and Fletcher have infiltrated the insanely creepy East wing of the Abbey, and wandered upstairs where they were attacked by something they could not see!
Malis – the only one of the three adventurers in the room that has Darkvision – can tell that there are things in the many shadows of this abandoned hospital wing. She is hit next, and the terrifying creature sucks some of her strength away. Fletcher runs to the window to start prying boards off in order to let in more light to better help them see, though the shadows followed after him.
Malis detonates a fireball spell near the back ranks of their foes, destroying two of them and severely wounding the rest. Fletcher is able to slay two more, Malis and Y’shaarj finish off the others. Once everything calms down, they gather themselves, and Malis uses prestidigitation on the windows to clean them off as Fletcher finishes prying the boards from them.
The rest of the party, fed up with waiting for the Abbot in the courtyard, made their way upstairs in the East wing to find their compatriots. Together, they all finish exploring the increasingly creepy hospital wing, growing more and more certain that it is haunted.
Finally satisfied, the group makes their way back downstairs, but not before an exasperated Ezmerelda tries to usher them all outside on the upper floor, to the top of the curtain wall surrounding the courtyard – she has no desires to go back downstairs, where a darkened hallway of wailing screams awaits them.
Y’shaarj’s curiosity gets the better of him, though, as he heads toward the stairs, and that very hallway – the rest of the group following behind, deciding it’s best if he’s not alone. At the mouth of the hallway, Y’shaarj attempts to cast a spell, but is caught off guard by the sight of a lumbering, seven-foot tall flesh golem coming toward them.
Thinking fast – or perhaps failing to think completely – Y’shaarj throws a fireball down the hallway at the thing, enraging it. It comes charging at the group, who stand ready at the end of the hallway. Though, the fireball also blew off the closest two doors that were keeping a horde of mongrelfolk inside their rooms, and they come spilling out first, filling the small hallway and funneling at the adventurers with their daggers and various improvised weapons.
Fletcher, Rolen, Malis, and Krossa all do their best to keep the monstrous things at bay, but it was Y’shaarj – with one final fireball spell – that completely destroyed them all. Malis was beside herself with how awesome Y’shaarj did with his explosive spells, and could not stop clapping and complimenting him – that is, until her girl-crush Ezmerelda put her hand on Malis’s to stop her from clapping, shaking her head disapprovingly at all the unnecessary violence and poor decisions.
The group finally heads to the North wing, where the first mongrelfolk woman they met had gone to fetch the Abbot. Fletcher brings along the hand-truck with the wine barrel, which was left in the courtyard, and they all go inside to find the Abbot.
A very handsome looking young man in his early thirties stands at a long dining table, teaching a very pretty, alabaster-skinned woman the finer points of dining etiquette. As the woman curtsies awkwardly as a greeting to their guests, the Abbot applauds her efforts, so proud of her accomplishments.
Immediately, the group feels something is off here, and they engage the Abbot in conversation. They learn that he has figured out the key to freeing the Barovian valley and her people – Strahd’s love. He has created this woman to be his bride, so that he will finally find his love and break the curse on the land. This woman is the pinnacle of the Abbot’s accomplishments, which he has perfected over years of experimenting on the unfortunate Belview family – the results of which are over in the East wing, under the Abbot’s charge.
The Abbot tells the tale of the Belview family – how they came to the Abbey long ago afflicted with leprosy. St. Markovia herself and the Abbot cured them of their ailment (with the Abbot’s story of how long he’s been at the Abbey, and if he was originally there when the Belviews arrived, conflicting a little to Fletcher’s notice). But, apparently, the Belviews were not satisfied – feeling they were still imperfect, they asked for bestial enhancements – to fly like a bird, to see like a cat, to be as strong as a bear.
Intrigued, the Abbot had granted their requests and began working on these enhancements. He failed at first, until the Lord Strahd von Zarovich himself approached and assisted the Abbot in the completion these transformations – with the help of ancient knowledge. When the group asks about a library, the Abbot says they do not have one, that the Lord von Zarovich keeps all of the books to himself within his castle. However, he did bring the Abbot a book once, and said that it came from the Amber Temple here in the valley. There may be more ancient knowledge there still.
While the Abbot starts to show what “Vasilka,” the pale-skinned woman construct, can do, Y’shaarj invisibly begins sneaking through the North wing. Upstairs, he finds a table upon which lies the shape of a body underneath a black shroud, and a two-headed man playing beautiful music on a viol.
The man doesn’t notice Y’shaarj as he plays with all of his eyes closed, so Y’shaarj tries to “rescue” the prisoner under the shroud, only to find that it is him lying on the table…. He shakes himself and looks again. What’s actually on the table is an assortment of chopped up body parts. Y’shaarj quickly rejoins the group downstairs and telepathically informs Fletcher, only, what just happened.
Fletcher excuses himself with the still-invisible Y’shaarj, and they go outside to talk. Y’shaarj explains he just found the two-headed man of music that Madam Eva prophesied would be a potential ally to the group. Fletcher, familiar with Madam Eva, agrees to go and talk to the man. Y’shaarj rejoins the main group with the Abbot, while Fletcher hurries upstairs to meet the man.
Before Fletcher can walk inside, though, the music stops and he hears footsteps. Then, the loud bell of the Abbey rings out, followed by the deafening, pained cries of “FOOD!! FOOD!!” from the East wing. Fletcher goes inside and greets the two-headed man. It’s a tense meeting. Fletcher promises to help the man by ridding him of his hated chore: feeding the monsters in the East wing. In return, Fletcher asks the man if he can help them on their quest. The man – introducing himself as Clovin – agrees, but only if Fletcher brings him wine and meets him in the courtyard.
Fletcher runs to rejoin the group in time to hear the Abbot realize that there is something the party can help him with. In exchange for his healing and his services of the raise dead spell, they must find him a beautiful wedding dress befitting royalty. Of course, Vasilka is to be Strahd’s bride. Malis and Y’shaarj immediately start discussing dress options in order to stall for time, and end up convincing him to come outside into the courtyard to use nature as an inspiration for the dress’s design.
Out in the courtyard, the Abbot notices that the screams for “FOOD!!” are still coming from the East wing. He mentions that this is odd, as Clovin usually feeds them after ringing the bell. Something must be wrong, so the Abbot starts heading for the East wing.
Y’shaarj immediately stops him and offers to go instead, but the Abbot says they are his responsibility, and insists. Y’shaarj fails a deception check to convince the Abbot that he, too, is a servant of the Morninglord, and the Abbot continues on away from the group, bound to discover the burned bodies of the mongrelfolk and the flesh golem in the East wing.
To keep him from that discovery, and hoping to outright kill the Abbot, Malis shoots him in the back with a Firebolt…a rolls a natural 20. The Abbot stumbles a few feet, but catches himself firmly. Enraged, he spins around, his once-normal eyes now glowing bright blue!
“YOU DARE!!” he bellows, louder than anything else in the Abbey! His form shifts and swells, revealing a silver-skinned, muscular man, with a large golden mace, and huge, feathered wings. The Abbot is a Deva.
WOW! What a session! This was so much fun due to the party splitting up and trying to accomplish different things while meeting the Abbot. And all the combat! Two encounters in one session is hard to squeeze in!
It was very tense as the group knew something was off about the Abbot. I played him very earnest and forthright. He came right out with his plans, instead of trying to hide something. He knows exactly what he’s doing, and that it’s the only thing to save Barovia. Very fun NPC to play.
One of my favorite parts was watching most of the group squirm at the ridiculous awkwardness of the Abbot showing off Vasilka (“Now, which one is the salad fork? Yes! Very good!”) while Y’shaarj and Fletcher both have separate, very tense encounters with Clovin. It was a thrill, this might be my favorite session to run so far.
But…honestly…the BEST thing – not only about this session, but about DMing in general – is watching the horror fill my players’ faces as they realize the consequences of their actions. I’m certain that none of them knew what the Abbot really was when they met him, or when Malis decided to shoot him with a firebolt spell.
Sure, they knew he was something. They knew he wasn’t just a normal man. They were expecting something more. But none of them were expecting an angel.
I’m so excited for the next encounter. I have stuff cooked up that is going to turn this from very bad, to very worse.
Until then – Well Met!