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 is separated. While Fletcher, Malis, and van Richten walk through town toward Wachterhaus, Cairie, Krossa, Khurz, and the rest of Lady Petrovna’s resistance silently and quickly move across the street from the Blue Water Inn to an abandoned-looking, two-story house so that they can watch Wachterhaus for the signal to come to their allies’ aid.
As the group attempting to infiltrate Lady Wachter’s cult head north up the main thoroughfare toward Lake Zarovich, they catch the attention of a large, hulking creature with horns and smoking eyes. It stomps toward them as two Vallaki guard come out from between buildings ahead to stop the three heroes.
Surrounded, Malis and Fletcher put up their hands while van Richten attempts to act as a guard, brandishing his sword at his two “prisoners.” The large creature stops behind van Richten. The guards tell them to halt and reveal who they are.
Fletcher and Malis say that they’re new in town, and were told by others to find Wachter and be with their “own kind.” Van Richten attempts to add to the lie by saying he found them and was bringing them to Lady Wachter, but the guards don’t buy it. They tell the heroes to follow them. As they start marching along, with the large, horned creature urging them forward, one of the guards takes van Richten’s sword and forces him along.
The guards take them right up to the sagging mansion, and lead them in through the front door and into the dining room. The two guards stand on either side of the three heroes that stand together in front of the long table, facing the parlor. The huge creature steps in and stands nearby.
Sitting on one of the plush couches in the parlor is Lady Wachter. Standing behind her is another of the hulking monsters. Lady Wachter gently swirls a dark liquid in her crystalline goblet as she smiles at the heroes. She asks who they are. Fletcher says they are just passing through, and that they came with a group of travelers that went to the Blue Water Inn. It was there that those who oppose Lady Wachter told them to leave, that they were not welcome, and should be with “their own kind.”
Lady Wachter continues to smile. She asks about Lady Petrovna’s attempt to unseat her, tries to gain any information they may have gleaned from their time at the inn. Fletcher says that no plans were discussed in front of them, and they were kicked out pretty quickly. Lady Wachter asks what she could possibly want with them.
Fletcher and Malis chuckle a bit, saying that they are very strong and capable fighters. They have overcome encounters that would leave others very dead. Lady Wachter asks for more information – what kind of encounters? Malis says, most recently, werewolves. Lady Wachter nods, saying that, yes, lycanthropy runs rampant through this valley – werewolves, wereravens.
Fletcher says he’s not currently aware of any wereravens, and hasn’t seen any. Lady Wachter says that, oh no, she’s taken care of most of them. She has her thumb squarely pressed onto the Keepers of the Feather. She asks if they would like to see. Fletcher agrees quickly, and Malis nods too. Lady Wachter takes a long drink, then sets her goblet down, and rises. She says, “come,” and turns toward a door in the wall behind her.
Lady Wachter leads the heroes, the two guards, and the two huge monsters through the ground floor of the house and into a closet, where she reveals a secret door that opens to a set of stone stairs descending beneath Wachterhaus. She heads down, and the others all follow.
They emerge in a dirt-floored cellar, which features a second stone staircase heading up to another door, and four plain cots set against another wall. Lady Wachter heads toward the cots, as does one of the monsters. She says, “this way,” and turns toward the wall. As she does, and the monster near her turns to watch her, van Richten places a hand on his chest, casting freedom of movement on himself, and makes a break for the second set of stairs!
Lady Wachter turns, shouting, “stop him!” The guards attempt to attack, throwing their spears, but miss. Van Richten successfully makes it to the top of the stairs and bursts through the door, emerging outside Wachterhaus onto the grass. He makes a break for the Blue Water Inn and the street behind it.
Lady Wachter points a long, hooked finger at Fletcher and Malis. “What is this?!” she demands. Fletcher shrugs, saying they never got his name, they don’t know who that is. He and Malis stick to the story they’ve already provided. Lady Wachter lowers her hand and smiles. She goes back to the wall, and reveals another hidden door, which opens up to a room glowing with flickering candlelight. She heads inside.
Within this secret room, four candelabras stand in each corner, lighting the room with their weak flames. Standing against three of the four walls are nine humans wearing hooded, ceremonial robes. They all face the center of the room, whereupon the floor of which is a pentagram inscribed in the stone. At each of the points of the symbol stands a wooden chair, and in each of the wooden chairs is two or three black ravens secured in place with chains.
But the main feature of the room that draws Fletcher’s and Malis’s eyes as they enter is the large, open portal that takes up almost the whole north wall of the room – through which is another place… a place of red skies, dark, scorched earth, and dread mountains in the distance. Smoke and embers float through the portal and into the room, and the area smells of brimstone.
Van Richten bursts into the abandoned house, causing everyone inside a sense of alarm as they go to see who came in. Van Richten, out of breath, tells them that they must hurry – there was no way or time to send the signal, and that the situation is bad. They must go now. With that, Lady Petrovna, Ezmerelda, Khurz, Cairie, Krossa, Milivoj, Yevgeni, and the three guards all leave and head to Wachterhaus.
Lady Wachter moves to stand in front of the portal, and turns to face the heroes as they’re brought inside. The two massive creatures come in as well, and flank the two heroes. Fletcher and Malis ask what that is, gesturing to the portal. Lady Wachter says it’s the reward for years of service, learning, and power. It was what allows her to create her servants – and she motions toward the huge creatures.
She then says that she has someone she wants the heroes to meet. They hear the tiny flapping of wings, but Malis sees nothing at first. Fletcher can see, though, thanks to his Truesight, that a tiny creature has flown into the room, and goes to land on Lady Wachter’s shoulder. It becomes visible again, revealing an imp. Lady Wachter says that this is Majesto, and he has been spying on the Blue Water Inn for weeks, telling her about everything that happens inside it. So she knows why the heroes have come to her.
Lady Wachter offers Fletcher and Malis a choice: either they become more of her lovely pets, or they go through the portal there to one of the Nine Hells. Fletcher uses his Amber Temple-granted ability to cast suggestion and tells one of the creatures to push Lady Wachter through the portal. But it fails. The creature exerts its inherent sin aura, and attempts to corrupt both Fletcher and Malis, but they both resist the effect. The monster that Fletcher then attempted to control unleashes its claw and tail attacks against him.
The battle begins. Fletcher moves immediately for Lady Wachter, taking a savage swipe across the back as the monster takes its opportunity attack. Fletcher attempts to shoulder-check Lady Wachter through the portal, but the woman is much stronger than she looks. She palms his shoulder and stops him dead in his tracks.
The monsters attack – one takes on Malis, who reacts with her Hellish rebuke, which has absolutely no effect. The other lumbers up behind Fletcher, making use of his distraction with Lady Wachter to tear into the man. Lady Wachter moves away from Fletcher and along the side wall.
The cavalry appears at the cellar door, and make it down the stairs in time to see all of this action begin. Cairie heads close to the door and fires a witch bolt at the monster attacking Malis. Krossa comes up to the doorway, sees the captured ravens, and attempts to free them with a thrown spear. It hits the chains, and glances off, clattering onto the floor. The ravens within those chains are hit with some kind of energy, and start cawing in distress. Krossa gives up on this, and tries to throw a second spear at the back of the monster attacking Fletcher, but fails completely, and impales another raven chained to another chair.
Ezmerelda, van Richten, Lady Petrovna, Milivoj, Khurz, and the guards all either miss with their attacks, or are unable to really attack due to the funnel effect the small doorway into the secret room creates. They all attempt to wait it out until they can do something.
The monster further claws into Malis, dealing huge amounts of damage to the tiefling. She is severely wounded, and feeling as though her life is in danger. She responds by casting cloudkill, and attempts to be careful with it, mentally designating allies near her. The giant fog cloud totally obscures the entire room, and some of the space outside of it in the cellar proper, engulfing both Cairie and Krossa.
Her allies, though designated as such, still take some of the poison damage caused by the cloud. Hidden within the spell, Malis moves away from the monster and tries to make her way toward Fletcher and a chair with some of the ravens on it at the north end of the room. Suddenly, all of the humans in the hooded robes fall to the floor dead from the poison.
Another thud hits the floor, causing Lady Wachter – from somewhere within the cloud – to start screaming in rage, hysterically crying out, “No! No!” over and over again.
Khurz runs into the cloud to the doorway in order to cast beacon of hope, and allows it to cover all of the creatures within the room, as well as in the cellar – since he is unable to determine who and how many within the room are his allies and who is not. He takes some poison damage, and then runs back out of the cloud into the cellar again. Cairie submits more damage with her witch bolt.
Fletcher also moves away from the creature attacking him, and uses his sword as a guiding stick. He finds his way to the corner of the room, walking into a candelabra, and then moves quickly along the other wall toward the door – at which point he runs straight into someone, who falls to the floor. Fletcher turns, and casts cone of cold blindly into the room.
Fletcher not only hits the monster that’s nearby, but he blasts Malis square in the face, who stands just in front of him, obscured by the fog. Malis falls unconscious, ending the cloudkill spell. Fletcher can now see the damage he’s done, and sees the person he ran into that fell to the floor was Lady Wachter. At her side lies Majesto the imp, dead.
With the cloud gone, the creature near the door moves up to Krossa and attempts to claw the dwarf to death. Krossa falls victim to its sin aura, and is affected by the sin of Wrath. Krossa feels compelled to fight the monster with all of his strength and with every inch of his abilities. Cairie continues to deal lots of damage with her witch bolt.
Lady Wachter stands up, casting telekinesis on Fletcher as she does. Her willpower wins over Fletchers strength, and she lifts Fletcher off of the ground a few inches. Then, whoom!, she throws him 30 feet through the portal into the Nine Hells, pinning him there on the burning ground. She then moves over to the unconscious form of Malis. She hits Malis while she’s down, auto-critting and delivering two failed death saves to the tiefling.
The heroes desperately continue to attempt to take down the creature standing in the doorway with Krossa, but their attacks are doing minimal damage against it. It looks bleak for the two allies stuck in the room.
That’s when a breeze catches the fickle flames of the candles in the room, snuffing many of them. And Beucephalus appears out of thin air within the room, five feet away from Lady Wachter and Malis, with Strahd von Zarovich sitting in his saddle. The monster regards Strahd, and attempts to charge him, but Strahd holds up a hand and charms it. He then tells the creature to leave, pointing at the portal. The monster obeys, and calmly walks through the portal.
Strahd dismounts as Lady Wachter bows her head to him, calling him, “sire.” Strahd waves his hand toward the southern half of the secret room, and a shimmer effect passes between him and the other monster, which charges at them only to collide with an invisible wall of force. Strahd is separated from the other heroes now.
He seems to reach for Malis, but takes Lady Wachter’s hand, helping her to her feet. He stares at her, bringing his face close to hers, and says, “I am the ruler here,” before grabbing her neck, and thrusting his open hand toward her face.
Strahd then blasts Lady Wachter with a continuous torrent of searing fire, not letting up until her face, her musculature, and then finally her entire head has burned off completely. Her telekinesis spell ends, freeing Fletcher, who gets up and starts running back toward the portal.
Strahd turns toward the others, and moves to get a good look through the doorway, still protected by his wall of force. He says, “Thank you for bringing this insurrection to my attention. I truly appreciate what you have done for me here. …Perhaps I have been wrong about you. Please join me at my home as my honored guests, and we will discuss your future in Barovia.”
Strahd moves back to his nightmare, mounts up, and vanishes into thin air. Fletcher just makes it back through the portal to watch – with his truesight, seeing into the Ethereal Plane – Strahd ride up into the “air” and off into the distance. The heroes are left stunned and uncertain.
And that’s a wrap for this session! This was incredibly fun to run for my players. As soon as the combat started in the cellar’s secret cult room, and they saw all the potential enemies around them, they were saying how this was going to epic, no matter how it went down. And Malis’s decision to use cloudkill on the ENTIRE room was a clinch move! It caused a massive amount of confusion for a couple rounds as nobody could see anything! But it saved her life…for a moment.
For Lady Wachter, I knew I wanted to pump up her abilities. I didn’t want to just use the priest statblock like the book says. I wanted her to have power, especially given what’s happened since she took control of Vallaki. So I found Sly Flourish’s custom vampire monster stats, and used the Vampire Bloodmage stats for Lady Wachter, pumping up her CR to 9 and giving her access to some crazy spells which worked out wonderfully in the fight – like telekinesis, which resulted in one of the best moments in the whole encounter.
And, yes, I opened a portal to the Nine Hells in Barovia. I thought it would be very interesting to offer my players “a way out” of the dark domain just to see if they would take it. I wanted that temptation there. Now that Wachter’s dead, though, that portal will probably close up right away. You’ll have to come back next time to find out.
As for the monstrous creatures? Those are a custom monster I created for the players’ return to Vallaki. I call them “weredevils.” I love the art that I found for them from Preston Law – I was concerned I wasn’t going to find anything “scary” enough. That one was perfect. My players were like, “I don’t wanna fight that!” when I showed them the picture.
Here’s a statblock for you, detailing their devastating sin aura ability:
Yes, they’re a bit strong and crazy, but that was the point. I wanted them to be near overpowering for the party to deal with. It was supposed to be an encounter that seemed almost hopeless. And it worked! I’m very happy with how it turned out. It had characters acting out of desperation, and barely clinging to life.
Watching their faces when Majesto showed up and Lady Wachter revealed that she knew their plan all along made me really happy too. When I mentioned the tiny flapping wings to them, I think they at first thought it was going to be Strahd in bat form. But their shock remained when they realized they’d been duped.
And then when Strahd ACTUALLY showed up, it was just a chorus of “no, no, no”s from my players. I love that this man still inspires fear in them, even at level 10. And the fact that he completely pwned one of the weredevils, threw up a wall of force, and then burned Lady Wachter’s HEAD off I think totally cemented the fact that this man is supremely powerful into my players’ heads.
They were left saying, “did Strahd just SAVE us?!”
Yes, yes he did, dear players.
What will happen next? Will they take the dark lord up on his offer? Will they travel to Castle Ravenloft? Or will they take their time and finish their other quests? What do they expect to happen within the walls of Strahd’s ancient home? Find out next time, in “Cryptic Discoveries!”
Until then – Well Met!