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 waking up the next day in Vallaki’s Blue Water Inn, Khurz finds Milivoj, who is strapping on his armor and getting ready to go. Khurz warns the young man about coming to Ravenloft, as it’ll be very dangerous, and ultimately says that he’s proud of the strong protector Milivoj has become. They go down to join the others over breakfast.
Malis sits drinking at the bar. Cairie, Krossa, Fletcher, and Ezmerelda share a long table in the taproom. The various patrons this morning steal silent glances at the party, and add to an air of anxiety and anticipation that hangs over the room like the thick fog that surrounds Barovia. Fletcher looks at the others and says that one of them should probably say something. Malis comes to the table, slightly intoxicated, and attempts to speak to the room, but suddenly feels she isn’t the one to do this. So Khurz stands up, and delivers a rousing speech, and proposes a toast for all in the taproom to share, and which earns a hearty, “Hear! Hear!” from Urwin.
Following this, Fletcher leaves the treasure chest he took from Baba Lysaga’s hut with Urwin at the bar, saying he’ll either come back for it, or else Urwin can have it. Then Fletcher asks Milivoj where he might find a sling in town. Milivoj suggests Blinsky’s Toys – which stuns the rest of the group to think that there’s a toymaker in a place such as Barovia (as none of them had gone there yet). Milivoj then leads the group to Blinsky’s Toys down the street.
Inside, they find all manner of creepy and disturbing toys – such as a miniature, musical merry-go-round that features snarling wolves chasing and eating children instead of prancing horses, and also an item that caught Malis’s attention: a ventriloquist’s dummy that was made to appear just like Strahd. Malis picks it up and uses it to mock Strahd. Fletcher promises to buy the dummy for Malis if she does that to Strahd’s face when they see him.
They go to try to pay for the doll and find no one behind the counter. Malis notices the very edge of a person’s curvy figure through a doorway in the back, and Cairie uses mage hand to poke the form, since it does not respond to their calls.
Poked, the figure sways slightly, and spins in place. Everyone gets a sinking feeling, and Fletcher hops the counter to go investigate. He finds a man dressed in a fool’s uniform hanging by a noose in the doorway – Blinsky. On a nearby desk, a paper with a handwritten note: “No hope.”
Fletcher cuts Blinsky’s body down and lays him on the bed in the room, then tells the others what he found. Fletcher searches the shop and does find a sling. The group then returns to the Blue Water Inn, where Milivoj seems ready to go with them. Malis tries to talk to him, though, and ends up convincing him to stay for the betterment of the others in Vallaki, maybe even planting the idea that he could become a priest here, and replace Father Lucien, who had ended up dying due to Milivoj’s actions.
With that, the group says their goodbyes. Urwin nods to them. Yevgeni salutes Malis. Milivoj watches them go, clutching his new holy symbol of Torm and muttering to himself. There’s a feeling that they won’t be seen again.
The party of six leaves Vallaki, and follows the road east and south, taking the fork that leads to the castle. It’s a long, twisty road that clings to the base of a mountain, before it gives way to the awesome and terrifying visage of Castle Ravenloft, looming ahead. They cross the lowered drawbridge and pass through the archway in the outer wall and into the castle courtyard.
They find the front doors standing open, a warm light spilling out from within. A drizzle begins to fall, and the sky looks as though the sun has set hours ago, even though that’s not the case. Looking high up above the doors, a large, circular, broken out window overlooks the courtyard, and Cairie and Fletcher both see a figure standing there, possibly looking down at them. The party enters the castle.
Together, they move through the entryway and into the great entry, the grand hall of Ravenloft. The sound of sorrowful organ music drifts through the air. They notice eight stone gargoyles set into the four large columns that occupy this room. Footsteps approach, and they notice the elvish man they had met before is now coming down a grand stairway of stone. He announces that his master is waiting for them.
As Rahadin nears them, they can hear the never-ending, anguished cries of pain and torturous agony that seem to surround Rahadin. The wails are there in the adventurers’ minds, not deafening, but ever-present, and more focused the closer they are to the elf.
Rahadin leads them down a south hall and into a huge, beautifully decorated dining room, where a feast awaits them and the sound of organ music fills the room. Beyond a long dining table, on which places have been set for the six of them, the party sees a caped figure playing a huge, floor-to-ceiling organ rapturously. Rahadin stands by the door as the party enters and slowly approaches. The music stops suddenly.
Strahd turns around to face the party, sitting on the organ’s bench. He speaks to them.
“I am happy that you have come at last. It has taken some time, but you have impressed me with your power and your tenacity. You alerted me to the Lady Wachter’s voracious acquisivity, you have upset long-standing structures of rule within my land, and you brought me my love. The power that you possess, I feel you could put to excellent use. But you would use it in a way…different than I am thinking.
“You no doubt have come to kill me, but you have not thought this through. You think that you can run a stake through me, or bathe me in sunlight, but what then? What after? You will leave? The Dark Powers that have trapped me here will not allow Barovia to be without a Dark Master. I am it’s Dark Master. I am over a millennia old, and Barovia is without time.
“Do you believe you are the first group of adventurers to enter my borders and conspire to slay me? Others have come before you. Few have lived, but I am always here. Eternal. Imprisoned within this plane of torment. You could try to kill me, but Barovia must have a master. None yet have been worthy to replace me. But you… you could rule in my stead.
“I believe it, for the first time since becoming what I am, that there is a way out for all of us. Take my place and rule Barovia as its new masters, and we can forego the pointless fighting that you have come here to deliver. None of you have to die, and I can finally be free.
“If you find you are doubting my words, let me assure you that I tell no lie. The Dark Powers hold their will over me, and I am not allowed to leave this place. If I could, wouldn’t I? And if you do not believe in the Dark Powers, then ask your ally.”
Strahd looks at Fletcher.
“He knows about them all. You have the gift within you, but you have not used it yet. Tell me, have you decided which of them you are going to betray to seize that final bit of tremendous power?” Strahd chuckles.
“So what do you say? My power, my seat, given freely to all of you, in exchange for freedom and life? …Life. Imagine all the lives you will save…. But please, do not give me your answer now. Think on it, and tell my servant, Rahadin when you have your answer.”
Strahd bows his head, and his form ripples and fades out into nothing, as if he were never really there.
Left with Rahadin, the group begins discussing. Could it be true? What are these Dark Powers? Is Strahd lying? Malis’s attention turns to Fletcher as she starts asking about the Amber Temple and the powers he got from there, and what all this about betraying them is. Fletcher responds, telling them everything he knows. He admits that he was told how to become like Strahd, a vampire, and that it involves betraying someone close to him, but he says decisively that he has chosen not to pursue that power.
They begin to question Rahadin, who tells them that indeed his master is patient, and will wait for them to make up their mind. Meanwhile they are guests in his home. They ask about the dinner, and Rahadin says it is for them. Fletcher’s truesight reveals nothing hinky about it, though they still refuse to partake. Malis even spills the amber wine out onto the white tablecloth in defiance.
They finally ask about the screams that seem to surround him. He smiles and says that they’re people he knew, and doesn’t offer much more than that, other than to say that they’re beautiful. The group finally decides, and tells Rahadin that they’re not going to take Strahd’s deal, though Fletcher admits to the group that – should they be in intense, dire need, Fletcher will agree to take the deal and rule over Barovia in order to save the others.
Rahadin has their answer, and so he goes to tell the master. He leaves the dining hall, and closes the doors. Just then, the party feels a huge gust of wind sweep through the room, snuffing all sources of light. They hear the screeches of ancient hinges as hundreds of doors slam shut, the portcullis out in the courtyard rattles shut, and the unmistakable sound of the drawbridge rising up. They are now trapped in the castle.
Fletcher goes to the organ and pulls out all the stops, banging on the keys and producing the loudest, most discordant sounds he possibly can. The end result is nothing, however, and nothing else about the organ strikes his fancy. With that, they decide to leave the room and begin exploring the castle.
Outside the dining hall, they find a spiral stairway that goes both up and down, but they decide to head back into the grand hall and attempt to check out the other set of doors that they saw. However, upon reaching the large, domed room, the eight stone gargoyles come to life, and swoop down to attack the group in the darkness!
Fletcher lights a torch and tosses it on the ground to give them some light, and then they all enter the fight. Fletcher spider-climbs up one of the columns, while Cairie goes to find cover behind another column. Malis, Ezmerelda, Krossa, and Khurz all go on the offense with spells and hammers. Ezmerelda uses a combination of magic missile and fire bolt, while Malis uses her own fire bolt, burning hands, hellish rebuke, and a few scorching rays.
Fletcher uses his combat expertise to fire arrows at the few gargoyles that fly about the room, sending them crashing to the ground so that the others can gang up on them. With Cairie and Fletcher also firing off their sneak attacks, and Khurz making proper use of his sacred flame cantrip, the party is able to overcome the gargoyles, with the final one exploding against the double-doors that the party seeks to go through.
They check the doors for traps, and then head on through, finding themselves in a long hallway full of statues that seem to watch them as they pass. The group reaches another set of double doors at the end of the hall and checks them for traps as well. They open the doors.
Before them lies a grand, though disheveled and disused chapel of Ravenloft. Smashed pews lie between the party and a large altar, upon which lie a body and a small statue bathed in a ray of light coming from the broken stained glass windows. Fletcher sneaks ahead to get a closer look at the body. Without touching anything, he looks over it – finding it to be a dead human man wearing armor and vestments (much like Khurz wears) bearing strange symbols. The statue on the altar appears to be silver, and is of a priest kneeling in supplication.
Fletcher returns to the party and informs them of what he found. He and a couple others go back to the altar to further inspect things. Fletcher rolls the body over and places it on the floor, where Malis can get a good look at the symbols. Her schooling informs her that they are the symbols of Asmodeus, and this man must have been a priest, or cleric of Asmodeus.
This sends Malis spiraling into her own thoughts – perhaps the demiplane of Barovia is close to the Nine Hells, which would explain Lady Wachter’s devilish pact, and how she was able to open a portal to there. Maybe that’s why the Dark Powers always need a Dark Master of Barovia, to keep Asmodeus from encroaching upon it and expanding his rule. Khurz takes the statue, and it feels as though it tingles in his grasp, as if electrically charged.
The party considers all that they have found, and wonder about Strahd’s offer. Fletcher reiterates his intention of taking the offer, should things go so badly. Malis begins to respect the man, given everything they’ve been through, despite recently telling him that she didn’t like him.
Holy cow it’s been a long time!! Man, so much has happened in just these last 4 months! A lot has changed! But we’re working things out, and my players are still just as eager to finish this campaign as I am! We’re all so excited to see what happens!
So now we’re here! We made it to Castle Ravenloft! It’s been a long time coming, but we did it! And the players have surprised me a lot thus far. I really like the story they’re weaving – sometimes without even knowing it. It’s wonderful. I have a great group.
What’s hugely tricky about this, now, is that – at almost any moment – Strahd can appear and they can have their final encounter. The BOSS fight of the whole campaign. It’s coming, and it’s coming soon, I think. He could be around any corner.
I told my players that Ravenloft is ROUGH. And it’s very difficult. It’s going to be a major challenge…and if characters, at this point, are outright killed? I told them I don’t yet know how I feel about bringing them back or starting new ones. It might, might be the end of the game for them. We’ll see if we get there, though.
I’m very excited to run this location – this massive, massive location – not only because of what the book offers, but because I have added a lot of things to it as well. This is going to be challenging, for both the players and for me as a DM.
Stick around for more content, coming soon, as we continue to finish up Curse of Strahd. Next time, “Familiar Faces!”
Until then, Well Met!