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 human reveals himself to be Rudolph van Richten. The armored saber-toothed tiger saunters over to the man, joins his side. Ezmerelda quietly turns away from the group, and stares out over the canyon’s edge. Cairie, though, is furious. She goes to van Richten, and demands an explanation for why he sent them to the tower, where two of her friends were nearly killed by the tower’s own enchantments, and then actually killed by the wagon that exploded.

Van Richten explains that he is sorry for her loss, and did not mean for that to happen. He says that he did plan to meet them at the tower – for that is where he had been staying for a while – but the situation in Vallaki suddenly became complicated, and he had to remain.

The others want to know what van Richten is doing, why he was looking for them. He admits to hoping that he could use their help in taking down Strahd. He knows that he cannot do it alone, but he can share his knowledge with them and help them to succeed.

Malis walks over to Ezmerelda, asks how she is doing. Ezmerelda, however, does not want to speak about her feelings on being around van Richten again. The vistana woman does tell Malis that van Richten can be trusted, that he is not an evil man.

A thought does occur to her, though – it’s not within his character to travel with people. Malis correctly guesses it’s because of the curse van Richten believes himself to be under. Ezmerelda says if there is a curse, then the need is great enough for van Richten to ignore it in favor of working with others.

Fletcher approaches van Richten, and asks what the monster hunter knows about the curse of lycanthropy. The old man – a bit taken aback by Fletcher’s appearance – responds that he knows much, and asks if anyone is afflicted. The others say no, there is a boy in Krezk that needs help. They ask if van Richten would be able to help, and the old man says he could, most likely. He asks how long it’s been that the boy’s been cursed. They aren’t sure, but they don’t think it’s been long.

With that, the party continues heading down the mountain with van Richten and his tiger in tow. Once they reach the valley floor, they stop for a moment to briefly rest and get their bearings. Krezk is still a few hours away, and van Richten is hopeful that they will arrive by nightfall. Fletcher has a question for van Richten, however, and wants to know if the man can do anything about some of the evils that are afflicting him – namely the skeletal wings that had sprouted from his back.

Van Richten believes he can help, but asks if Fletcher has always been this way. Fletcher assures him this is new, and thanks to the Amber Temple. Van Richten focuses his abilities on Fletchers wings, and casts remove curse, touching the wings with a golden light coming from his palms. The wings crumble to ash and fall to the ground. This also cures Fletcher of his cravings for bones and grave dirt, for which he is grateful.

The group continues on, and eventually reach the crossroads that lead east to Vallaki, and west to Krezk. Kasimir wishes to part with the group and return to his home at the camp outside Vallaki, but the group is able to convince him to stay for a little longer while they check in at Krezk. So, together, they head west down the road.

Night comes just before the party reaches the walls of Krezk, and, despite their having been there before, the guard atop the wall immediately takes aim and questions their arrival. The adventurers say they brought help for the burgomaster’s son. One of the guards is sent off, possibly to notify the burgomaster of their arrival, and the party must wait for a response. Finally, they are let inside, and they make their way through the town toward the burgomaster’s house.

Upon reaching the house, Fletcher hides outside, not wanting to alarm his once-ally with his new, monstrous form. Similarly, Kasimir remains outside with Armando and Ezmerelda. Malis, Krossa, Cairie, and van Richten approach the door and knock. Anna Krezkov, the burgomaster’s wife, answers just as she did last time. She looks tired, worn. She invites them in after a moment of internal struggle.

Anna shows them to the back room, in which her son, Ilya, had been battling some infernal infection. However, Ilya no longer lies in the bed. In his place is Dmitri Krezkov, the burgomaster, slashed to ribbons. Van Richten immediately goes to him and begins inspecting him. Malis asks what happened, so Anna explains that the fever took Ilya, and he attacked his father. The party is too late. Ilya has joined the pack.

Malis and Cairie apologize for not returning in time. They ask van Richten if they need to concern themselves with Dmitri becoming one of them as well. Van Richten, having inspected the wounds, says no… there is no chance of Dmitri becoming anything ever again. They all realize, now, that Anna is the new burgomatron of Krezk. They ask if there is anything they can do to help. Can they still save her son, Ilya? Van Richten believes he can reverse the boy’s lycanthropy if they find him.

Anna, however, says no. Her son is gone. She tells the party to kill them all. To rid this valley of their bloodshed. To end this nightmare. She is fierce and she is strong. She has set her foot in the ground like a foundation of stone. The adventurers say they will do what they can.

Outside, Fletcher hears a distant scream…coming from somewhere in the town. He listens, and hears more commotion, punctuated with a howl. Fletcher calls the others outside, and they all begin moving through the town to find the source of the sound. They arrive at a shrine and pool at the northern tip of Krezk…where five wolves, and one very large wolf, appear on the road ahead of them.

Things have taken a turn for the worse in Krezk! The party could not save Ilya in time, and now the last remaining child of the Krezkov family is a werewolf, and has killed the burgomaster! Luckily, Anna remains unharmed, and was able to take up leadership of the town.

My players made a joke with me about this, saying they’re going around Barovia, removing the men in power and replacing them with women. And I laughed, saying that “they’re on to me,” though it is pretty cool how that is working out. The men in the campaign do seem to be losing their lives at an alarming rate.

I was hoping to be able to shelve my Kasimir NPC for a bit, but the players got him to come along with them some more – so I am still running a small handful of NPCs. It’s fine, because it’s necessary for the story – I really like having Ezmerelda around, after all.

Running van Richten is proving to be difficult in the performance aspect. See, I’m taking a cue from some classic portrayals of Abraham van Helsing, and using a German accent for van Richten. Unfortunately, I’m finding that the German dialect is leaking over to some of the more eastern European accents that I’m using for a lot of the Barovian natives. So my brain is getting confused. Still, my players mentioned their being impressed at my handling of all the NPCs, unprompted. So that was nice to hear.

Well, I was finally able to kick off the werewolf storyline to Curse of Strahd. We’ll see how long it lasts. I honestly wasn’t sure if I was going to get to this part or not. The location on the map is so remote to the rest of the valley that it seems totally optional (just like the Amber Temple). But I got the idea of changing the plot around for Ilya to serve the werewolf story from Chris Perkins and the Waffle Crew.

I made my own modifications to it – keeping Dmitri alive when they first arrived, and having them see Ilya struggling with the curse and using that as a sort of ticking clock to motivate them. And then I removed Dmitri from power and gave Anna the motivation to want all the werewolves dead.

A while back, closer to the start of this campaign, I wasn’t super impressed with Krezk as a location in the game. I thought it was boring, and the Abbey looked severely complicated and intimidating. Now, however, it’s become a cool place, and I like how the character of Anna is developing. I’m definitely trying to make a lot of the women in Curse of Strahd tougher and battle-ready, more like frontierwomen who would have to defend the homestead if their husbands fell ill or were killed or something. I feel like that’s very realistic to the location (unless they’re shells, of course).

Anyway, find out what happens next as the group faces down a small pack of wolves! We’re taking a week off from playing, and then we’ll be back again for “The Hunt Begins!”

Until then – Well Met!