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”)
With Fletcher just making it back through the portal to the Nine Hells, the gateway collapses and disappears. The one remaining monster in the cellar room starts transforming… and reverts back to a human form, a Vallakian. He goes and cowers in the corner. Khurz comes over to Malis’s unconscious form and casts spare the dying to keep her from the brink of death. Then the Cleric of Torm sits and begins his ritual prayer of healing.
While Khurz focuses, the others start searching around. Fletcher tries to search Lady Wachter’s body, but his eyes focus on her gruesome burn wound – the decapitation by fire that Strahd performed on the evil woman. The old mercenary’s mind dwells on the immense power that Strahd must hold to do everything he has seen the ancient vampire do, and he backs away from the body.
Cairie searches Lady Wachter next, and finds a set of keys on a ring. As the group discusses what they want to do next, they mention a need to go to the drowned village of Berez to find a sword that they need to face Strahd. Krossa and Fletcher work together to break and pick the locks holding the ravens in chains on the five stools arranged in the room. Urwin comes into the room and starts checking on the weakened, lethargic ravens, and gently holds one that is bleeding.
Lady Petrovna approaches the group and also wonders aloud what their next step is, and when they’ll be leaving Vallaki. She expectantly holds out a hand toward Cairie, who is holding Lady Wachter’s keys. Cairie is reluctant to give them away, saying they’d like to search the house. Lady Petrovna would rather the group get out of town sooner than later – because the last time they upset the power structure, a lot of people died, including her family.
The party is understanding of Lady Petrovna’s position, but say that if there’s something powerful or useful here, they can use it in their fight against Strahd. Lady Petrovna plants her foot on this, and says that she does not share their confidence – she does not believe there exists such an item that could help them stand a chance against the Devil Strahd. She says they are not the first of their kind, coming through Barovia thinking they could make a difference. Malis says no, they aren’t the first, but they will be the last.
Lady Petrovna finally gives in, and tells the group to search the house if they like, but then she tells them to get out. The last time she saw their faces – Cairie’s and Khurz’s specifically – she lost her brother, her husband, and her son. She would like them gone. The party agrees. She starts heading out. Urwin has Yevgeni and Milivoj help carry armfuls of ravens, but it’s even too much for them to handle as they head up the stairs. Van Richten decides to go help them.
With Khurz’s ritual complete, and Malis back on her feet, they find a moment to tell the tiefling about being saved by Strahd, and the dark lord’s invite to Castle Ravenloft. They all agree that they should get themselves to Berez first to find the sword that Madam Eva said they needed to defeat Strahd. So, with Lady Petrovna’s temporary blessing, the party heads upstairs into Wachterhaus to explore.
On the ground floor, the party finds a wine store room, and a kitchen with a fully-stocked pantry. Krossa takes a bag of cured and salted sausage, while Fletcher marks each door they pass through with the name of the room they lead to. They then head upstairs. Upon reaching the landing and looking around, Cairie hears the sound of scratching at one of the doors, and picks out the one of the many doors making the noise.
Cairie uses Lady Wachter’s keys and opens the door. A young woman immediately scuttles away on all fours, jumps up onto the only piece of furniture in the room – a bed fitted with leather straps – and she hisses at Cairie and the others like a cat. She says, “Little Kitty doesn’t know you! Little Kitty doesn’t like the smell of you!”
At first, Cairie closes the door, not wanting to deal with whatever that is. But Khurz wants to know more, and see if they can help. Khurz and Krossa go inside and the girl seems to want nothing to do with them, hissing at them and jumping up onto the bed. Krossa breaks off a piece of the cured sausage he picked up and tosses it toward her. This seems to work a bit, and the girl comes up and eats the piece back on the bed. Krossa decides to leave the whole sausage for her as the group comes to realize that she truly thinks she’s a cat. They leave the room, close, and lock the door.
The group moves on to the next door, and use Lady Wachter’s keys to open it up. Inside, they find a lavish master bedroom. A stern-looking family portrait hangs above a dying fireplace. Upon walking inside the group immediately notices that the body of a man lies on the bed with copper pieces on his eyes. The man’s resemblance to the older fellow in the family portrait is unmissable. Khurz realizes that the dead man is under the effect of the gentle repose spell.
The group searches the room and they find an iron chest inside the closet. They bring it down and use Lady Wachter’s keys to open it up. Inside, they find bones. Ancient bones. It appears to be a full set, too. Khurz takes a look, and can tell they’re human, and likely male. He notices two more things: one is that there is a secret compartment in the lid which houses a frayed tabard bearing the crest of Ravenloft on it, and two is that the inside of the chest is lead-lined.
Khurz replaces the items and closes the chest, fearing that the lead was in there to perhaps keep someone like Strahd from knowing the whereabouts of its contents. Theories start flying through the group of adventurers as to who the bones could belong to. They guess Sergei, Strahd’s brother against whom he committed fratricide. They guess a member of the Wachter family. Khurz and Cairie then remember that the tabard was the same as that worn by some zombies that had attacked them while on the road the first time to Vallaki. They assume then that this was some servant of Ravenloft.
Fletcher hefts the chest up and carries it with him as they group continues on. They find a library full of cats. Khurz and Cairie count eight. Krossa attempts to get the cats to like him and let him pet them, but they all hiss and swat at him before running away. The group searches the library, and Cairie finds a secret door behind one of the bookcases. As she does this, Fletcher notices one of the cats has a small key attached to its collar. He fires an arrow and pierces the cat through the skull to the floor. He grabs the key and gives it to Cairie, who heads into the secret room.
Within this secret room, they find a chest containing a number of important documents. These include ancient deeds for land in Barovia given to the Wachter family; an unbound manuscript written by Lady Fiona Wachter called “Devils We Know,” which talks about how worshipping devils can bring about happiness and fruitfulness; a treatise by an individual named Devostas called “The Grimoire of Four Quarters;” and they also find a letter addressed to one of the Wachter family ancestors, thanking the family for their kindness and hospitality, written by one Vasili von Holtz.
Cairie recognizes this name. She remembers speaking to Henrik van der Voort, Vallaki’s coffin maker, and threatening him into revealing why he had Milivoj steal the bones from St. Andral’s Church. The cowardly man said that a man – Vasili von Holtz – promised him “good business” if he stole the bones and housed the boxes of vampire spawn in his store’s attic. Cairie recognizes the handwriting on the letter…. It’s Strahd’s. Now they know that Vasili is really Strahd.
Also contained in the chest are several hundred pieces of gold and electrum. The group takes all of this, and leaves the library. As they do, Fletcher is hit by a sudden realization: the portal to the Nine Hells was their way out of the dark domain of Barovia. They could have left – even if it meant braving the Hells to find another way home. Furious at himself for not thinking of this, Fletcher finds a nearby bedroom and starts destroying it out of anger.
After a few minutes, Krossa and Khurz calm the man down and they agree to get back to the Blue Water Inn to tell Lady Petrovna of their findings. They move together and return to the inn to find that a man is steadily removing pieces of the barricade that was blocking the way to the door. The party squeezes past and heads inside.
The taproom seems a bit warmer than last the group left it, as spirits are a little higher, and there is more talk amongst its residents. Each of the tables holds a makeshift nest, in which three to four ravens sit and recover. Urwin moves between them all and checks on them. Milivoj sits with Ilya. Yevgeni speaks with the guards. Lady Petrovna is having a conversation with van Richten. As the group approaches, Lady Petrovna turns to them expectantly, and asks them how it went.
The group admits that Lady Petrovna was right – they found nothing of use for their battle against Strahd. They do, however, show them all the documents they found. Upon mention of the Grimoire of Four Quarters, van Richten asks to see it, and seems very wary of the tome. He asks if they read it, and they admit to having skimmed it. He says that this is a very infamous, and powerful book, written by a heretic who was drawn and quartered for his practices, yet survived – hence the name of the book. He says that reading it is said to drive one mad. Van Richten surmises this must be a forgery if they were able to read it and remain sane.
Fletcher then puts down the iron chest from the master bedroom, and mentions the bones inside – as well as the remains of what they assume to be Lord Wachter. While van Richten examines the chest, Lady Petrovna states that Lord Wachter died some time ago – months, even. They group tells her about the young woman who thinks she’s a cat, and asks about the two boys in the family portrait. Lady Petrovna says those are Lady Wachter’s sons, Nicolai and Karl, who used to frequent the inn. She hasn’t seen them in some time either.
Van Richten opens the chest and sees the bones. Since everyone wants to know more about these, he casts speak with dead. Two orbs of orange light fill the skull’s eye sockets, and the jaw stretches and cracks into place.
They ask: who were you? The skull replies, “Leo Dilisnya, a soldier, and servant of Strahd von Zarovich within Castle Ravenloft.” They ask: how did you serve Strahd? Leo’s remains say that he and others loyal to the von Zarovich family were stationed at Castle Ravenloft after the war. The group asks: how did you die? The bones in the chest shift and say that he was hunted and killed by vampires under Strahd’s command as punishment for betraying him. Next, they ask: why did you betray Strahd? Leo’s skull states that he and several other soldiers of Ravenloft attacked and slew Strahd on the day of Sergei’s wedding to Tatyanna after Strahd killed his brother and his beloved threw herself from the castle.
This answer intrigues the group, and they debate on what their last question should be. At first, they want to ask how he killed Strahd – thinking it could provide some insight into their upcoming confrontation. But they quickly realize that this happened before Strahd became an immortal vampire, and that they killed him while he was still a mortal man. They discuss using the soldier’s knowledge of Castle Ravenloft to their advantage, and decide to ask – attempting to be specific about it – where is the secret entrance to Castle Ravenloft? After a moment, the bones reply, “After a 900-foot climb up the stone pillar, you will find windows into the crypts.” And then the spell fades.
They decide to stay the night at the Blue Water Inn and promise Lady Petrovna that they will leave Vallaki the next day. Lady Petrovna thanks them for their help in ridding Vallaki of Lady Wachter’s rule, but requests that they do not return again. She bids them farewell. The party then discusses what they’re going to do next. Are they going to accept Strahd’s offer to join him in Castle Ravenloft as guests? Or will they continue with their current quest given to them by Madam Eva? They all agree: screw Strahd – with Krossa adding jokingly that this means they’re going to be late for dinner. They rent two rooms – one for the women, and one for the men – and settle in for the night.
As Malis attempts to understand the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, which she got from Kasimir ((a retcon from what actually happened, since I accidentally had him give Malis the Icon of Ravenloft instead)), and so the sorceress sits with it for a couple hours…with nothing happening. She takes the symbol to Khurz, saying it doesn’t seem to work for her, and he might be able to get something out of it. She gives Khurz the holy symbol and goes back to her room.
Khurz, then, sits with the sun-shaped holy symbol and attempts to meditate with it. After about 30 minutes, he feels a great warmth on his face – as if the sun were shining on him. He opens his eyes and sees a humongous raven flying toward him. The raven’s form shifts into that of a beautiful woman in shining armor and large, black feathered wings. She approaches Khurz’s seated form, and reaches out to him with a clawed gauntlet. The woman places her hand on the holy symbol Khurz holds, and smiles. Khurz instantly knows exactly how the holy symbol works, and what it can do. He also knows that, for hundreds of years, it was used to seek out nests of vampires and destroy them. The image then fades, and Khurz comes out of his meditation to the sound of a knocking on his door.
Khurz mutters a quiet, “thank you,” to the figure he just encountered and puts the holy symbol around his neck with the other two (his holy symbol of Torm and the platinum sun symbol he got from Argynvostholt), then gets up and goes to the door.
Milivoj stands there, unarmored now, like Khurz, and asks if they can speak. Khurz moves aside and has Milivoj take a seat inside. Khurz closes the door and takes a seat across from the young man. Milivoj tells the half-orc that, every day, he carries the guilt over what he had done. He struggles with the knowledge that his actions led to Father Lucien and Yeska’s deaths. He wants to do more, he wants to fight back against the darkness in Barovia. Khurz tells him that that’s good, and that he should do just that. Milivoj, sensing that Khurz doesn’t follow, says that he wants to do that with the party of heroes.
Khurz tells Milivoj that he is brave and strong to want to fight back, and that’s a good thing. However, Khurz travels with companions who are much stronger than he is, and he died trying to defeat the evil that Milivoj wants to face. He went toe-to-toe with the devil, and died. He got very lucky in coming back, and now fears that he will never be strong enough to fulfill their goal. He tells Milivoj that the best way for him to fight the darkness is to be a beacon of hope for others around him, to be a shining light and an example, someone who will fight for justice and good. If he were to come with them, and then be killed, it would be an awful loss.
Finally, Khurz takes off his symbol of Torm and gives it to Milivoj, saying that he has the strength of character to lead others in the light of justice, and to root out evil and corruption around him. He says to use this symbol for that purpose. Milivoj hesitantly takes the symbol and thanks Khurz a thousand times for the generous gift. Milivoj agrees with Khurz, saying that – with most of the guard of Vallaki having opposed Lady Petrovna, and now that she wants to have them all detained – Vallaki could use someone like him to help rebuild and organize, and to keep the peace.
With new purpose in his step, Milivoj leaves Khurz for the night. Khurz takes a moment to try to reach out to Torm, knowing how this domain works and how the “outside” gods are unable to really peek through, in an attempt to reconnect with his deity. He feels something strange in this moment. Khurz feels not the familiar warmth that stayed with him at all times, the warmth that he carried as a flame of Torm’s will for all those years. Instead, he senses that warmth now within someone nearby in the Blue Water Inn. Khurz does feel within him a new warmth, a new kind of hope. With an understanding of what just transpired, Khurz tucks in for the night.
Not where I expected my players to go this session! In fact, I had just about fully prepared for the Berez encounter, because I legitimately expected them to go there next! But, instead, they decided to explore Wachterhaus. It was slightly disappointing, because I was so AMPED about them going to Berez and possibly facing Baba Lysaga, but that’s how it goes. You can never fully expect something to happen in a D&D game.
So, instead, I ran Wachterhaus for them, and it turned out to be somewhat interesting. The biggest reveal, of course, was of Leo Dilisnya, the former servant of Strahd and how Strahd originally died. It was also fun watching them freak out over who the bones could be from, and watching them interact with Lady Wachter’s insane daughter was fun.
But, honestly, the best part came from how Khurz interacted with Milivoj. It’s a great moment, because Khurz was incredibly kind and forgiving toward Milivoj when they first met the FIRST time they went through Vallaki, and discovered that Milivoj had a hand in removing St. Andral’s bones from the church – which did indeed lead to Father Lucien’s (Lady Petrovna’s brother) and Yeska’s deaths.
So I’ve been waiting for them to return to Vallaki, because I had made Milivoj into a bigger NPC character than he is in the book. Khurz had inspired the young man, and basically allowed him to militarize during Lady Wachter’s rule. So this is all turning out to be incredibly interesting. I can’t wait to see if this develops in any way further.
So, NOW we’re gearing up to head to Berez – finally! It’s been a long time since I’ve posted because we took almost a YEAR off of playing this game, but we’re finally back. We’re ready to go, ready to finish this game. We’re getting close. After Berez, there’s only one big place left to go, really. But we’ll see what happens. You never know – if this session proved anything, it’s that you never know.
Check back soon – possibly as early as next week – as the adventurers travel to Berez in “Into the Witch’s Bog!”
Until then — Well Met!