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”)
While taking this moment within Fletcher’s small cottage in Krezk to rest and shore up for the next day, the party reads what small portion they can from the Tome of Strahd that Fletcher found in the windmill.
They discover a portion of Strahd’s history – how he championed a campaign through this valley centuries ago, and that he was a righteous and ferocious soldier. He settled here and brought his family. He fell in love with a woman named Tatyana, who only had eyes for Strahd’s youthful, attractive brother, Sergei.
Strahd, coming to fear his age and death, made a blood pact and killed his brother on the day the younger Sergei was to wed Tatyana. Strahd’s beloved fled from him as he pursued her, and she threw herself from the castle walls and fell a thousand feet into the mists below. The castle guards attempted to kill Strahd for his villainous deeds, but he then became something more, something powerful – vampyr.
The ancient book also detailed some of Strahd’s fears and weaknesses, yet also outlined his immense strength. It became clear to the adventurers that a simple stake to the heart is not enough to kill Strahd, and they needed to get a hold of the sword of sunlight in the drowned village.
First things first, however. The curse afflicting young Ilya, the son of Dmitri Krezkov, must be broken. They must find the powerful vampire hunter Rudolph van Richten, Ezmerelda’s mentor. They head out from Krezk in the early morning, and make their way east toward Lake Baratok.
There, half of the party stays behind while Fletcher, Ezmerelda, Rolen, and Cairie stealth their way across the manmade causeway to the small, marshy island on which the rickety tower stands. Rolen uses his sorcery to make himself, Cairie, and Fletcher all invisible. Ezmerelda had expressed her fear that the place is being watched by Strahd, now that the devil knows she was staying here.
However, when they reach the door to the tower, the invisibility fails, and Rolen cannot cast it again. Regardless, the party enters the tower and heads up to the top floor, where Ezmerelda had been staying, and van Richten before her. Here, Fletcher finds a suit of armor that activates when he speaks the name carved into the lintel above the tower’s door, “Khazan.” It then proceeds to follow his verbal commands.
While Ezmerelda tears the bed, pillow, and mattress apart in search of any clues she may have missed, Fletcher then finds a wooden chest containing a severed head, preserved in oils. Ezmerelda says it doesn’t know much, but that he was vistana, and brought van Richten to Barovia before her mentor killed him.
Meanwhile, Cairie finds something beneath the burned ashes within an iron stove in the room…pieces of paper, charred and difficult to read. Ezmerelda examines them and confirms they are from van Richten, further proving that her master is here in Barovia.
They find nothing else in the tower, and leave – the animated armor follows after Fletcher. The four rejoin their party waiting in the woods just past the lake, and they reveal what they found. Fletcher takes the papers Cairie found and reads them aloud.
He reads from the journal of Rudolph van Richten, and it tells a sorrowful tale of how a group of vistani brought one of their wounded to van Richten’s home decades ago – before his life of hunting monsters. He could not save the young man, and – for fear of the dark, vistani powers – he asked that they take whatever of his that they wanted to repay them. So they took his son, Erasmus.
Van Richten chased the vistani down, and found their camp, but it was too late. They had already sold Erasmus to a vampire lord named Baron Metus. Furious, van Richten slaughtered the vistani, and made it his personal quest of revenge to find and kill Baron Metus as well as any vistani that he could find.
When van Richten did finally find Baron Metus and his son, the boy had been changed into a vampire spawn. Erasmus pleaded to his father to end the suffering, the horror.
And so van Richten did…with a heavy heart, and a wooden stake through his chest.
Ezmerelda admits that it was her people, her camp, her family that took Erasmus. That sold the boy off. Her people that van Richten found…and murdered. She escaped notice, and, never having agreed with what her people did to van Richten, sought the man out and forced him to accept her as a protégé, to train her as a monster hunter.
Y’shaarj and Krossa wonder if the head could be useful, if only anyone knew how to speak with the dead. Clovin slowly raises his crab-claw left hand, admitting that he can speak with dead things sometimes. Y’shaarj looks to Ezmerelda and Fletcher, opining that it’s not too late to go back to the tower.
At that very moment, half of the group suddenly becomes aware of something around them, and a wolf leaps out of the tree line at Fletcher, who deftly dodges it, and hefts a handaxe into its skull! But it’s too late, the group is entirely surrounded by wolves!
They fight, and as Malis burns one to death with a fire bolt, she makes a run toward the lake so as not to be enclosed by the pack of wolves. But a humongous dire wolf leaps out and tries to tackle Malis to the ground. The rest of the party deftly take care of the pack, and turn their focus on the dire wolf…and they fell it quickly.
Y’shaarj says again, “it’s not too late to go back!” Ezmerelda, not wanting to return to the tower, begrudgingly agrees and accompanies Fletcher and Y’shaarj to the tower. Y’shaarj looks around the top floor as well, but finds nothing more than the others had.
Ezmerelda picks up the wooden chest and starts hefting it to the elevator system the tower uses, when Y’shaarj asks her why she’s bringing the chest. Ezmerelda merely stares at the crystalline wizard for a moment and gets on the elevator platform. On the ground floor, when Fletcher sees Ezmerelda with the whole chest, he also asks why she brought the chest and not just the head. She begins cursing him under her breath, but stops and heads for the tower door.
Back with the others again, Krossa – now in charge of the armor, which Fletcher named “Armando” – has the armor take the chest from Ezmerelda, asking why she brought the whole chest and not just the head. Ezmerelda immediately begins swearing in her native tongue and walks down the path back to the road by herself.
The others begin to follow, and try to get Clovin to use his magic to speak to the head. He hesitantly takes out the viol and begins playing it, but can only produce dissonance, and horrible sounds from it. He admits to usually being drunk when he plays, and asks if anyone has any wine. They all groan…for they do not. He had already finished the bottle Fletcher gave him back at the cottage.
The party decides to head toward Vallaki, in order to reach the vistani camp that lies just to the south of the town. There they hope to not only find wine for Clovin, but also the wounded elf that they seek – Savid.
Arriving at the outskirts of the clearing where the camp sits, Fletcher mentions it might not be a good idea to bring a chest with a vistani head inside it into a camp of vistani. The group agrees, and so Rolen, Malis, and Y’shaarj volunteer to go in by themselves to speak to the vistani leaders and to find Savid.
They go into the large vistani tent and meet Arrigal, the devilishly handsome vistani whom Sly and Raif had briefly met when they arrived at this camp with Arabelle, Arrigal’s niece. Luvash, the leader of the camp – and Arrigal’s brother – stands nearby, and lets Arrigal handle the interaction, surrounded by five other vistani.
Malis mentions that they are looking for Savid, who was wounded when they found him, and that they helped him. Arrigal motions outside, and leads them to one of the hovels that encircle the hill.
A dark-skinned man in a heavy cloak takes the three adventurers from Arrigal and over to the next hovel, where three cloaked and hooded figures stand, talking. One of them greets the adventurers, and Malis repeats herself, saying that they are looking for Savid – that they believe he can help them with their quest. Y’shaarj mentions that he found Savid in a wounded state at the haunted Argynvostholt, and helped him get to safety. The man then invites the three of them inside the hovel.
Inside, the man has the adventurers sit with him at his table. He admits that, due to Savid’s somewhat uselessness, he does not believe Savid can truly help them. He asks them what it is they need. Malis says they are looking for a holy symbol, and they were told by Madam Eva that a wounded elf would have it.
The man lowers his hood and pulls back his long, dark hair – revealing mutilated, scarred tissue where his ears used to be. He says perhaps it is he that they seek. He introduces himself as Kasimir, and tells a short story about how Strahd did this to him, and killed all of the female elves in Barovia because they refused to give him Kasimir’s sister, Patrina, and killed her to keep her safe from his power. He took her anyway, and she has been far beneath Strahd’s castle for hundreds of years.
Kasimir admits that he wishes to bring her back, even after centuries of being dead. He knows of a place in Barovia…a place of secrets, where he will surely find the answer. He cannot venture there alone, however, for he is not strong enough. He requests that the adventurers join him, and – in return – he will give them what they seek.
Malis says she does not know of any place “of secrets” in Barovia, but is ready to do what they can. Kasimir is not surprised, however, for few know of the Amber Temple. Malis and the others have heard of this. The Abbot had explained it as a place of ancient knowledge, Y’shaarj remembers.
They are all in accord. Malis also asks if he has any wine for their friend. Kasimir says he will see what he can do, and meet the adventurers out in the clearing.
Malis, Y’shaarj, and Rolen return to the rest of the group and reveal what just happened. Fletcher asks if Malis asked the vistani about removing curses, and Malis admits she forgot. Everyone seems ready, though – if perhaps a little bit anxious or apprehensive – about making the trek south into the freezing mountains toward the Amber Temple.
Another great session with my players! I’m really thrilled with how this is all going still. They’re sticking to their plan, which helps to push forward my plan for them. It’s all working out wonderfully.
This session featured a hilarious example of the “rule of 3” in comedy with Ezmerelda and the chest with the head in it. I was facepalming so hard as my savvy players caught on and kept picking on Ezmerelda for bringing the whole chest and not just the head – an idea that repulsed the vistana monster hunter.
I love that Y’shaarj was my unwitting accomplice here, too. I knew that I wanted to throw a small pack of wolves at the party – not the werewolves just yet – and I knew it was going to be at the tower. So when he literally said out loud, “it’s not too late to go back to the tower,” I thought to myself PERFECT. And had the wolves leap out and attack.
That player’s not one to miss a moment, however, and immediately said after the fight, “As I was saying, it’s not too late to go back.” Very funny.
But you know what? One session of successes is enough. They think they’re doing well, now. They think they’re getting more powerful. They think that things are starting to go their way. It’s time to end that.
It’s time to take them to the Amber Temple.
Come back next week for the continuation of the story in, “Ice and Fire.”
Until next time – Well Met!