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”)
After Strahd had fled, and Khurz had made sure everyone was stable and conscious with a ritual spell of healing, a silver-white orb appears, with wisps of energy coming off of it like steam, in the center the cemetery. Everyone stares as the orb expands and transforms into the shape and size of a large, silver dragon. It looks somewhat see-through, translucent like a spirit. It is Argynvost.
The spirit thanks the heroes, saying that he and the Order can finally rest from their eternal war against Strahd von Zarovich. The one last thing Argynvost’s spirit asks is if the adventurers can return his body to his crypt, and as a reward they would take with them the strength and spirit of the Order of the Silver Dragon.
The adventurers agree, and begin to daisy chain the bones from where they fell against the mansion wall over to the mausoleum at the other end of the cemetery. Once all the bones are picked up, they find on the ground where it had fallen beneath the skeleton, another of the pinecone-sized green gems that the Martikovs had lost from their winery. Cairie retrieves it and puts it in her pack. That’s two found of the three missing.
With all the bones back in the broken mausoleum, the ground begins to rumble. The adventurers gather in the cemetery outside to watch as small, spider-web cracks appear in the wall of the mansion in front of them, and then quickly travel up the single tower sitting atop the ancient structure. From the peak of the tower blasts a pure, white light up into the sky, briefly parting the clouds – before it sucks back down into the tower, and starts pulsing out through the windows at the top, much like a lighthouse.
Suddenly, all of the adventurers, and their allies that stand with them against Strahd, feel emboldened, and strengthened, in their crusade against the Dark Lord of Barovia. They feel more confident in the possibility of their success. They feel hope.
Khurz is keen to check out the light at the top of the tower personally, and starts to head inside. The others all follow, to find the figure of a gaunt man with long, white hair standing in the chapel at the rear of the mansion. The man bows to them, and reveals his sunken features, and says his name is Sir Godfrey Gwilym, and he is grateful to them all for the deeds they have just done. With that, he will finally be able to rest after so many centuries.
Sir Gwilym tells them that he is part of the Order, and that they all are free to stay the night within Argynvostholt, and that there are two rooms available upstairs. The adventurers all enthusiastically agree, and follow him up to the second floor, where he shows them their rooms. He then excuses himself and says that he will spend his last night within this realm with Vladimir.
As some people start to inspect the rooms, Khurz, Cairie, and Krossa head up the stairs further and into the tower, finally reaching its peak. Coming into the room, they have to shield their eyes to the blinding bright light that sits nestled up in the crook of the ceiling, pulsing and flashing out at regular intervals.
Khurz takes out the platinum holy symbol that they had found here after first defeating the knight revenant of the Order, Vladimir Horngaard, and he holds it up toward the light, feeling its growing warmth within his grasp. He says a simple prayer of thanks to the Morninglord for the strength that they feel from the light cast here, and then returns downstairs to the second floor rooms.
Everyone spends the night in the rooms, waking the next morning refreshed and hopeful for the day to come. As they discuss their next plans, they agree that they must finally return Kasimir to his home and promise to keep him from almost dying at every turn – to which he is thankful. Everyone then says it’s time to go to Berez to find the third fortune piece within the drowned village – and possibly face Baba Lysaga.
Also, they need to find a way to return the magic gem they found to the winery. They remember that Urwin should be back at the inn within Vallaki, and so they could give it to him and see if he can get it back to the winery faster using the Keepers of the Feather. It’s decided – they’re headed back to Vallaki.
As they leave the mansion, they find two columns of silvery orbs lined up out front at the bottom of the stairs, leading toward the large statue of the dragon in the center of the roundabout driveway in front of the mansion. The adventurers make their way downstairs, and watch as the orbs transform one by one into proud-looking soldiers, all dressed in shining, perfect armor. At the end of one column stands the spirit of Sir Gwilym. At the end of the other stands the spirit of Vladimir. .
All of them salute and bow together as the heroes walk past and move around the statue. They look back and watch the spirits all fade into nothing one by one. High above, they can still see the light shining brightly from the top of the mansion’s tower.
The adventurers return to the main road and head east, with talk of whether or not the sudden and surprising appearance of their once-thought-dead colleague Sly was meant as bait for a trap or if it was a warning that Strahd was up at Argynvost attempting something. Krossa and Khurz seem to be the only ones who believe the latter, and Fletcher bluntly states it was bait.
Before they reach the Luna River crossroad, they start hearing a howling cry coming from the woods not far north of their position. The crying out continues on and on, echoing into the sky and through the forest – as if something were in distress. The group decides to go investigate, so they go running through the trees off the road.
Krossa, Fletcher, and Khurz have no problem finding the source of the cries. They come to an area only slightly less dense with twisting trees, and find a boy in about his mid-teens, naked with his right leg caught in an animal trap. Malis immediately averts her eyes and turns away, but Khurz goes right up to him. Fletcher begins walking around the area, searching for anyone or anything else that might be nearby watching or coming for them.
As Khurz the half-orc approaches, the boy becomes even more frightened and tries to back away, but this pulls at his leg, which currently has large, metal teeth digging into it. He shouts out more in pain. Khurz slowly reaches out and pulls the trap apart so hard that the device breaks, no longer functional. He grabs the boy’s leg and casts cure wounds so that the holes close up entirely.
This seems to calm the boy somewhat, and Khurz asks him what he’s doing out here. Before the boy can answer, Fletcher returns to the group, having found nothing around them, and instantly recognizes the boy.
It’s Ilya Krezkov – son of Dmitri and Anna Krezkov – the one who the group had been trying to save from the curse of lycanthropy. With Fletcher’s truesight, he is able to see that Ilya is indeed a werewolf now, and he tells everyone as much. Fletcher then tells Ilya that his father is dead.
Ilya does not seem surprised, and admits to remembering something happening…like he did it, that’s why he ran, he was afraid to go back.
As Malis tries to tell Ilya that his mother would forgive him, Krossa openly says that Anna had told them, “that’s not my son anymore,” and Ilya looks heartbroken, breaks down into tears. Malis again, though, reassures Ilya that a mother who truly loves her son would be able to forgive him for that, and take him back… but to maybe wait for a couple days before returning home.
Fletcher asks Ilya what he’s doing in the woods. Ilya says he was trying to run, and hoping to seek help in Vallaki from Father Lucien and his friends, Yeska and Milivoj, who work for Lucien. Khurz tells the boy that Father Lucien and Yeska are dead, and Ilya resumes weeping from the overwhelming sense of despair that washes over him.
Fletcher says that Ilya can come with them to Vallaki and make sure he’s safe there, maybe with Urwin at the inn. He then says it’s under one condition – that their friend cast a spell on him to help him.
As Ilya agrees, Fletcher calls van Richten over. The old man understands, and places his hands on Ilya’s chest. He casts remove curse, and cures the boy of his lycanthropy, saying it is done. Malis approaches, still averting her eyes, and offers him a costume of hers from her pack. He takes the pants and pulls them on, then stands with the help of van Richten. He is surprised at how well his leg feels.
With that all done, the group returns to the main road and continues east toward Vallaki. As they get closer, van Richten tugs at his hat and changes his appearance back to that of the half-elf bard, Rictavio.
The group turns south at a turnoff in the road that leads to the vistani camp and the last home of the dusk elves of Barovia. Kasimir leads the way, and guides the adventurers back to his hovel at the base of the hill. Fletcher, van Richten, Ezmerelda, and Ilya all wait outside while they others follow Kasimir inside.
Kasimir heads to the back of the home, and pulls a false wood panel away from the wall next to the fireplace, and pulls out a small, pure silver statue, which he then hands to Malis. He tells her that it is magical in nature, and so she might want to spend some time with it to see if she can better understand its properties.
He thanks the adventurers for their help and for taking him to the temple, and apologizes for not giving them the icon earlier. He adds that, in all the centuries, after seeing so many heroes come through Barovia with the same quest to destroy Strahd, and seeing them all fail… he says, for the first time, he feels hope for them. He thinks they’re strong enough to actually defeat Strahd.
Malis thanks him for the icon, and wishes him luck with his mission to free his sister. He says he’ll see about having the vistani take him to Ravenloft to see Strahd, and then he’ll slip away once inside. Khurz recommends he wait a few days before trying that. Kasimir agrees, and then the adventurers head outside.
Meanwhile, while that conversation occurs, Fletcher notices that van Richten – who holds Ilya tightly within arm’s grasp – has his focus locked up on the tent and the barrel-topped wagons at the top of the hill, where the vistani live. Fletcher steps up close to van Richten’s face, attempting to draw his focus and keep him from staring so hatefully up at the camp. He reminds van Richten that they’re here for one, simple errand, and that it is not the time to act on old grudges. Van Richten says that his business is not Fletcher’s business, but Fletcher disagrees, if van Richten’s choices end up affecting him and his allies. They stare down, and van Richten eventually looks away off into the forest.
Reunited, the adventurers head back north up the trail to rejoin the road, and head toward Vallaki, moving on without Kasimir, but with Ilya now in tow. As they approach, Cairie and Khurz remember their first arrival to Vallaki, and how they had seen wolves’ heads mounted on spikes outside the palisade that protects the town, which were there as part of some demented festival the baron had just finished. The group gets closer to the palisade wall, and see that there are still spikes outside… but they don’t have wolf heads on them – they have human heads.
Van Richten attempts to shield Ilya from the gruesome sight, and the others reel in shock as well. They come even closer, and see that one of the heads sports the helmet of a Vallaki town guard; one is of a woman they don’t recognize; and the third is someone that Cairie and Khurz both recognize: Szoldar Szoldarovich, one of the wolf hunters that frequents the Blue Water Inn.
The gate to the town stands open, but there are no guards, and no guards patrolling the palisade that they can see – which everyone finds unusual. Malis does not want to go inside, but they all agree to go in just to run their two errands, and then get out. They do not want to deal with whatever is happening here apparently under Lady Wachter’s rule.
The party heads into town, and they immediately notice that the streets are empty – even more so than they had been before after the coup. Houses are boarded up, and there are no lights coming from inside. They reach St. Andral’s Church, and find it similarly boarded up – from the outside. There is no one around the building either.
They continue on, growing more and more disconcerted that the town feels still, quiet, and dead. They head for the Blue Water Inn, and find a large, four-and-a-half foot-tall makeshift barricade built around the building. Its windows are all boarded up, and it looks as though it’s taken light fire damage in the recent past.
Fletcher goes up over the barricade and searches around the building for a way in – a window that might be open – while Krossa and Malis use the silver orb that Urwin and Danika had given them to help them call on the Keepers of the Feather for aid. They tell the orb that they are outside the Blue Water Inn, and that they are trying to get inside. They also mention a few other points of progress they have recently made – like how they found one of the green gems, and got the icon of Ravenloft from Kasimir – anything to try to get them to respond and let them in. But they get no response. Granted, they’re not entirely sure how the orb works, just that they were told they could use it to call for aid.
Khurz, fed up with waiting, hops the barricade and goes to the door, and knocks loudly. He asks for Urwin. The half-orc hears the scrambling of motion on the other side, and the scrape of metal against wood. A voice calls, “Who goes there?” Khurz says it’s “Sir Khurz Whitescar.” The door rumbles as something heavy moves on the other side of it, and then the door is drawn wide, revealing a young man with long hair tied back, wearing what appears to be Vallaki guard armor, but it’s been modified and reshaped to fit his slightly smaller figure. It’s Milivoj, the groundskeeper for St. Andral’s Church.
Milivoj stares at Khurz, the cleric who so graciously helped him the last time they met. He quickly invites Khurz inside with a smile of shock and disbelief, and the rest of the party climbs over the barricade and follows in as well. Milivoj closes the inn doors and moves to place a large wooden plank across the door. Khurz lends his assistance, up-ending a table to also block the doors.
The adventurers look around the large, familiar taproom to find three Vallaki guards; a gruff and dirty man seated at a table, who doesn’t look directly at them; Urwin, standing behind the bar, bruised and looking like he hasn’t slept in days; and a familiar woman who walks purposefully toward the group. The woman has her hair tied up in a tight bun, and has traded her aristocratic gowns and robes out for a set of striking black leather armor, a bow on her back, and a quiver of arrows at her waist. Lady Petrovna greets the adventurers with a steely gaze, saying, “I see you’ve returned.”
Khurz is immediately humble before her, saying that he realizes something has happened since they left, and that if it truly is worse here now, then they are willing to help fix it – which is what Krossa had been saying all along, back when the rest of the group just wanted to get in and get out. Khurz asks what happened.
Lady Petrovna states that after Lady Wachter took power, she has seized nearly full control of the town, taking citizens into Wachterhaus everyday – people who never return. Instead, they’ve noticed an increase in these fierce, devilish creatures that now roam the streets, along with some of the Vallaki guard who stay loyal to Lady Wachter. Lady Petrovna says that there was rumor that Lady Wachter worshipped devils, and these creatures she controls now seem to confirm that theory.
Malis suggests that the people here at the inn are the resistance. Lady Petrovna nods, saying this is all that’s left, thanks to the adventurers helping Lady Wachter gain power over Vallaki in service to Strahd. This information shocks the group, having not known before that Lady Wachter was loyal to Strahd. Meanwhile, Milivoj and Ilya embrace, and Milivoj sits the boy down and goes to the kitchen. Krossa and Cairie go to the bar and help themselves to some wine.
Khurz speaks to Urwin, who doesn’t immediately respond, until Khurz mentions that Urwin’s father, Davian, lives again. Urwin seems like he could be happy with that news, but something else troubles him deeply – his family, his wife and sons, have gone missing. It happened some time before he returned from his travels with the party to the winery. Krossa asks him if he has the silver orb so that maybe they can use it to call on the Keepers of the Feather. Urwin says he doesn’t have the other orb… he’s not sure where it is.
Malis, Krossa, and Cairie now realize they’re not sure who could have been on the other end listening while they told the orb – thinking it would be Urwin – a lot of information about their journey thus far. However, Malis does her best to keep her spirits up and take advantage of the feeling of confidence she’s gained since their last encounter with Strahd and the Order of the Silver Dragon. She says that everything will be fine, and they will fix this, and she starts to speak in sing-song and even do a little jig.
A hand slams on a nearby table as the gruff-looking man leaps out of his seat and marches straight up to Malis, yelling that this is no time jokes or for celebration. Not while people they love are dying. Cairie and Khurz recognize this man as Yevgeni Krushkin, the other wolf trapper in Vallaki. Malis’s attitude immediately flips, and she lays into Yevgeni, saying that they’ve lost people too, and this is how she is staying sane in this horrible place. The two nearly come to blows, but the town guard hold Yevgeni back, and eventually go to sit him down.
Lady Petrovna says that Yevgeni has had a hard time since they killed Szoldar, and it is implied that the two shared more than just a friendship. Milivoj brings Ilya some soup from the kitchen. Khurz asks what the new creatures look like, which sparks an impromptu drawing contest between the three town guard and Milivoj as they debate over the sketches everyone attempts. Upon reviewing the drawings, Malis seems to think that the creatures – based on their physical features – could be devils of some sort.
This baffles Malis and Khurz, who both know first-hand that there is no escape from this realm, that Barovia is cut-off from anywhere else. So how is there a link to the Nine Hells? Perhaps it’s because Lady Wachter works for Strahd. The vistani can come and go with Strahd’s blessing, so maybe Lady Wachter can do similar.
Either way, they must find a way to take her down and stop her control of Vallaki. If they go to Wachterhaus, they can attempt to take her down, but they need to get in first somehow. Fletcher walks up to the table, and reveals his face and the deformities he gained from the Amber Temple, causing a reaction within the taproom. Fletcher says that he has the best chance of getting in, looking the way he does. Malis agrees, saying that her being a tiefling may also be of help. Van Richten approaches and tugs on his hat, changing his appearance into that of a Vallaki guard, and he says he can go with them too.
Now Fletcher says that they’d be foolish to assume this place is not being watched at all times, and so they need to figure out a way to show whoever is watching that the three of them are not on the same side as the resistance. He proposes the rest of them throw out the three that are going to try infiltrating Lady Wachter’s side.
Lady Petrovna says that the resistance has an empty house behind the inn that they can go to, from which they can clearly see Wachterhaus, so that if the three need help they can send up a signal that the resistance will notice and then come to their aid.
With the plan in place, Fletcher, Malis, and van Richten prepare to leave. The guards pull their weapons, Milivoj joins their sides, and Lady Petrovna draws her bow. They go to the doors and the resistance starts shouting and yelling at Fletcher, Malis, and van Richten, as they force them back through the doors outside. Malis hisses at them, and van Richten brandishes his sword. The three are eventually driven back to the barricade, which they climb over no problem. Everyone seems to perform very well, just in case anyone is watching, and so the three head off toward Wachterhaus.
And that’s where we stopped! The party has split up! And we all know how well that works out in Dungeons & Dragons, right? So two heroes and an NPC are heading to parley with Lady Wachter and discover what she’s up to, while the others are waiting and watching for a distress signal to come to the rescue should they need to.
We get our first look at the new Vallaki since the heroes originally left. I spent a lot of time prepping this place and all of the changes that will have taken place. There were LOTS of things that the party didn’t discover in this session because they didn’t explore. I’ll go more into detail on these changes in a later post, a follow-up to my popular Freakin’ Vallaki post, which outlines all the things you can do in this complicated location.
But I want to finish up my players’ run through the area this time before I post anything that details too much of what’s going on…just in case.
What will the characters find at Wachterhaus when they arrive? Will they be warmly welcomed? Or will it be as cold as the perpetual drizzle present throughout Barovia? What else awaits them there? I have some crazy surprises in store for them, so come find out next time – “Devils Dealt With!”
Until then, Well Met!