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”)
The party leaves the vistani camp riding 5 horses that Kasimir was able to procure from the Arrigal and Luvash. The gray elf also brought two full wine skins, and hands those off to Fletcher. The veteran soldier gives Clovin the wine and asks if this is enough to keep him drunk enough to speak to the head in the box. The two-headed mongrelfolk man is unsure, but eager to find out.
Fletcher asks Kasimir, as they set out, if he knows of any way to cure the curse of lycanthropy. Somewhat alarmed, the elf asks if any of the party are afflicted, and Fletcher reassures him no, and fills him in on the situation in Krezk. Kasimir believes that if anyone in Barovia knows of a way to cure such an affliction it’s Madam Eva – for she knows all. Otherwise, perhaps some ancient secret within the Amber Temple could hold the key.
Since returning to Madam Eva’s camp means bringing themselves dangerously close to Castle Ravenloft, everyone votes they continue with their promise to help Kasimir get to the temple, and hope that they’ll find something there, or perhaps even find van Richten.
After some time riding on the road and drinking wine, Clovin tries striking up the viol – which is incredibly awkward to do while sitting on the horse behind Fletcher. He pokes and bumps the man with the instrument and its bow several times before getting settled. Y’shaarj steers his horse toward Fletcher’s, for Armando the animated suit of armor rides behind the Shardmind wizard holding the chest.
Armando opens the chest, revealing the vistana man’s preserved head within, and Clovin begins to play. It works, and Clovin casts speak with dead. He tells the others that he can now ask it several questions.
The party deliberates. Question number one: where is Rudolph van Richten?
The head responds, saying he does not know who that is.
This greatly puzzles the group, as Ezmerelda said it was her master who was keeping the box.
They ask it about healing werewolf attacks and their resulting afflictions.
The head isn’t sure of any one thing, but perhaps magic of some kind, or a wish could help.
Question three is who the head last spoke to, before them.
The head reveals that it was a half-elf man named Rictavio.
It suddenly clicks for Rolen and Cairie – the only two of the party that were in Vallaki and met Rictavio. He was the bard who had asked the party to meet him at the tower on the lake after the coup that saw the downfall of Baron Vallakovich.
And it was at that tower where they met Ezmerelda. Ezmerelda then confirms that Rudolph van Richten is a human man, not a half-elf. The group thinks perhaps he may be in disguise to avoid detection.
Question four is if the head knows Rictavio’s goal.
It responds that the half-elf seeks to kill all of the vistani, and to please warn them.
Their final question is who the head was when it was alive, and if it has any final requests.
The head says its name was Yan, and to please help his people, to save them from Rictavio.
The spell fades, and Armando closes the chest. Cairie and Rolen fill in the rest of the party on the events surrounding the coup in Vallaki – including their alliance with Lady Wachter, overthrowing Baron Vallakovich, meeting Rictavio and the “bard-off” he had with former party member Vash, and how Lady Wachter seemed best fit to run the town in place of the distraught Lady Petrovna, the Baron’s widow.
Krossa suddenly remembers the gravestone he saw at the Abbey, which bore the name “Petrovna.”
The party spends the rest of the day trekking southward, making their way through the Tsolenka Pass, until they need to camp for the night. Fletcher meticulously sets up trip-wire traps around their camp to notify them of intruders, and Krossa has Armando stand watch. Members of the party take watches through the night.
Krossa buries Yan’s head on the first watch. On the next watch, Malis finally – if awkwardly – comes out and asks Ezmerelda if they shared feelings for each other. Ezmerelda had to turn her down, however, because she let herself love once. That was how she lost her leg – and she indicates her metallic prosthetic – and that was also when she added werewolves to her list of hunted monsters.
Y’shaarj, not needing to sleep, spends his time researching how to imbue his crystalline quarterstaff with magical properties. Rolen and Kasimir spend their watch discussing the vistani – Rolen’s distrust of them and Kasimir’s absolute loyalty to them. The elf reveals that he took his surname, Velikov, after the vistana man that took he and his sister in so many centuries ago.
The next day, the group continues south on the pass into the frozen mountains. The temperature continues to drop by the minute as snow begins to fall steadier and steadier. They reach a black-stone wall that blocks the road, set into which is a gatehouse with a gated portcullis. Beyond the iron gate is a curtain of green flame. Further past the wall is a large guard tower.
Kasimir stops his horse in front of the gate, which noisily screeches open, seemingly of its own accord. The flames remain, blocking their path still. Kasimir asks if anyone can interrupt magic like this, otherwise their crossing will hurt very much.
Y’shaarj steps forward and casts dispel magic, which works to snuff the flames. Kasimir warns the group that they will return, and spurs his horse through the portcullis. The others follow quickly. The flames do indeed return, and the gate slides shut behind the party.
The party moves past the guard tower and eventually comes to a huge gorge, where the wind howls furiously and the snow whips around through the air. A ninety-foot long stone bridge spans the gorge. The party begins to cross when they spot a dark, cloaked figure mounted on a dark steed standing in the middle of the bridge. They stop.
Fletcher shouts into the raging wind, “Who are you?!!” Immediately, the being disintegrates into ashes and is lost in the wind. Frustrated, Fletcher chucks the head of a doll he found in the Abbey’s hospital wing, and it too disappears down into the gorge. It’s then that they all notice that it’s a ninety-foot drop into a very rapid river below.
The group continues across when some of them hear something strangely rhythmic in the chaotic sound of the wind. Perhaps…the slow flapping of wings? Fletcher tells Kasimir to RUN. The group spurs their horses forward just as a humongous roc comes into view, its wings blotting out the sky! It dives straight for them, and successfully grabs Y’shaarj off of his horse!
The roc begins to fly away with its catch, but Y’shaarj misty steps out of its talons and successfully reappears on the opposite cliffside. The rest of the party makes it across as the roc disappears into the gloom.
With no driver, and Armando not receiving any instruction, Y’shaarj’s spooked horse goes running down the road. Cairie and Krossa take off after it. Once Y’shaarj finished climbing back up to the road, he uses expeditious retreat to also run after his horse. The others run their horses to catch up.
After they all do, and Krossa has Armando stop the horse, Kasimir says it’s only a few more miles to the temple. A couple hours later, they arrive at the fifty-foot facade carved right into the stone mountain face. There only seems to be one entrance, so they take the horses inside.
Within the amber-glazed walls of the dark temple, it is just as cold as – if not colder than – it is outside. Cairie scouts ahead and finds a black marble balcony that overlooks a huge temple. So large is it, in fact, that the elf rogue cannot see to the other side.
The rest of the group dismounts and brings the five horses to the crumbled railing of the balcony to tie off the reins so that they can begin exploring. Suddenly, a bead of red light arcs over in their direction, coming from somewhere within the temple. It ignites among them into a massive, deadly fireball.
Everyone scatters. Kasimir is hit badly, so Fletcher and Krossa help him back toward the entryway with Ezmerelda. Clovin goes running off into a far corner by himself to try and hide.
Malis, Rolen, Y’shaarj, and Cairie all head toward a pair of open, amber doors at the other end of the balcony when the former three are all hit with chain lightning from across the darkened temple. Y’shaarj and Rolen go down, unconscious.
Fletcher instructs Krossa and Ezmerelda to go and pick up the fallen and take them through the double doors while he helps Kasimir. They all dash through the double doors, leaving Fletcher and Kasimir to hide behind the railing and the charred, now-dead five horses.
Their stealth check isn’t good enough, however, as a set of magic missiles curve over the carcasses and pummel Fletcher with force energy. He and Kasimir then get up and run through the doors, which Fletcher then closes.
After taking stock of their current situation, Fletcher realizes that they left Clovin out on the balcony. Nevertheless, the battle-hardened soldier goes to and successfully stabilizes Rolen. Y’shaarj, unfortunately, is of entirely strange and foreign makeup, being a shardmind. Krossa, the dwarf, gives it a shot and rolls a natural 20 on his medicine check, somehow using his intuition and knowledge of rocks and crystals, to successfully stabilize the wizard.
Fletcher checks out a dark hallway through another pair of open amber doors, sees nothing except for cracks in the black marble floor, and decides to close them as well. The only remaining feature of note in the room is a hole in the floor. Fletcher goes to carefully peer down through it and sees green, flickering light. He watches for a moment, and sees a skull float by wreathed in green flames.
He quietly tells the others what he saw, making sure to emphasize “quiet” to them all. Malis and Cairie both recognize the description Fletcher gives as a monster known as a flameskull.
Feeling somewhat trapped, and quite hurt – not having any idea of what was attacking them, the party decides to take some time to recuperate in this mostly closed-off room.
The party is now knee-deep in the Amber Temple! I’m so excited because this place has SO much potential! I really hope the party is able to make it a good way into it to discover the secrets it has to offer. I have some cool things planned for it as well.
Will they discover what was attacking them? Will they disturb the flameskulls? Will they succumb to the ancient horrors that this place contains? Will they find the sarcophagi? Will they meet an ancient mastermind that still wanders these halls?
We’ll find out more next time! However, please note that this group will be taking a couple of weeks off due to player absences AND that Sunday the 5th will be the second night of my two-day D&D Mega-Campaign that I’m currently planning! Stay tuned here for more details surrounding that!
Until then – Well Met!