On Saturday 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 the party split, each part begins doing what they can to search for the others. Khurz, Krossa, Cairie, and Ezmerelda discover that one of the columns supporting the pathways of the catacombs beneath Ravenloft bears an engraving, which reads:
“We knew him only by his wealth.”
Puzzled, they continue through the tunnels. They find another column with an engraving, which reads:
“Pass not these portals ye foolish mortals.”
This one is clearly meant to be a warning, but perhaps for people going towards Strahd’s tomb rather than away from it, they figure. While admiring the engraving work on the stone, Krossa hears a faint moaning sound, which seems as though it’s coming from within the column.
Khurz and Krossa work together, and find a seam along the stone column. They discover a door. They open it up to find that it’s a kind of crypt, and a woman lies on the bier inside.
They take a closer look and find Danika Martikov, wife of Urwin, and part-owner of the Blue Water Inn in Vallaki. Relieved to find her alive, they rouse her and explain where they are. Ezmerelda volunteers to help carry her along. They wonder, briefly, if there are more of their allies in these catacombs, and if they should search every crypt. But, what then? Would they have a trail of vulnerable people walking with them through this dangerous place? And what if Strahd is able to turn those people against them? No, they should finish their task and come back to search, if they can. All together, they continue forward.
Elsewhere in the catacombs, Fletcher and Malis emerge from the tight, maze-like tunnels into a larger, open area. They can see a wide staircase spiraling upwards to their right, and in the distance to their left, a set of stairs leading downward towards a strange glow. Fletcher notices that one of the crypt slabs lies open, and he checks it. The slab reads:
“Ireena Kolyana: Wife.”
Fletcher takes a moment to read the other five crypts that face this open area. He finds one for “Artimus (Builder of the Keep),” one for “Sir Erik Vonderbucks,” one for another wife, “Sasha Ivliskova,” and one that reads “Krossa of Clan Hertug,” which catches Fletcher’s eye for a moment – as that’s the Krossa in their party.
As he moves toward the last of the five crypts, the other half of the party emerges from the tunnels and they reunite with him and Malis. Ezmerelda wears a look of absolute relief upon seeing Malis.
Fletcher points Krossa over to the crypt that’s supposedly his, and Ezmerelda offers an explanation – that maybe Strahd sees Krossa as a challenge to overcome, and would keep him as a trophy if he kills him. Khurz is interested in looking at the glow leading downstairs. He goes to find a landing blocked by a curtain of blue light stretching between two bronze statues that seem to be standing guard.
Khurz puts his hand up to the light, and lets his fingers pass through it, which gives them a warm, tingling feeling. The others come to see as well. Malis, Ezmerelda, Cairie, and Krossa all do the same, but they cannot push their fingers through – they feel a sort of magnetic resistance to their touch.
Khurz walks through with no problem, and feels that warm tingling all over him. He walks back through to the other side. Same effect. He asks if Krossa and Ezmerelda would do the same. They walk through, but instantly reappear where they were standing before, staring at the curtain of light. Khurz appears to be the only one who can pass through. Resigned to his task, Khurz lights a torch and heads down the rest of the stairs.
Here, he finds another tomb, but the feeling of oppressive evil is gone from here. There are two coffins in this tomb, and a wall of beautiful, but dirty, stained glass windows behind them. Khurz looks up and sees a golden mosaic on the high ceiling, shaped vaguely like the sun holy symbol he now wears.
He concentrates on the symbol for a moment, and thinks about the raven-winged woman that came to him in a vision at the Blue Water Inn. He suddenly feels a lifting of light and a feeling of hope, but hope that is tinged with sadness, a feeling of “there should have been a future.”
Khurz goes to one of the coffins and finds a name on the gold-plated plaque on the lid. It reads, “King Barov von Zarovich.” The other coffin reads “Queen Ravenovia van Roeyen.” Khurz opens the King’s coffin to find a lifesize wax effigy. He looks beneath it and finds the bottom of the coffin is false. He carefully removes the effigy and removes the bottom of the coffin, beneath which lie the king’s skeletal remains, and nothing else.
Khurz replaces the king’s likeness, and then goes to the Queen’s coffin, in which he finds her skeletal remains beneath a tattered shroud. No false bottom here, though. He closes the lid and then rejoins the rest of the party, describing what he saw.
Wanting to get back to his task, Fletcher goes to the last of the crypts that face the main aisle to find it says:
“Patrina Velikovna – Bride.”
The wording on this one is strange to everyone, why would some say “Wife,” and this one say “Bride?”
Krossa says maybe she died on their wedding day. And then it clicks for Malis: who was intended for Strahd, but died before they were married? Kasimir’s sister, who was murdered to keep her out of Strahd’s hand.
Krossa and Khurz open the crypt, and out flies a spectre, which unleashes an unholy, soul-splitting scream. Fletcher and Ezmerelda instantly drop to the bat-guano-covered floor, unconscious.
Patrina’s spirit attacks the group, swiping a bone-chillingly cold hand through Krossa and Malis, but the party eventually wins out, as Cairie slams a high-powered witch bolt into it. They spend a moment looting the coins stacked high in Patrina’s crypt, and Cairie and Malis find a spellbook inside, which Cairie keeps. Khurz heals both Fletcher and Ezmerelda, and Ezmerelda then points toward the spiral stair nearby. Everyone looks to find Escher standing there, smiling.
Escher is impressed, and he asks if they’re still to follow him. He promises Fletcher a hot bath, even, which convinces the rogue. They all follow Escher up the wide spiral stair, which goes up and up and up and up for several long minutes. Escher points out the one stop along the way: the chapel on the main floor.
When they get even higher in the tower, Escher steps out onto a roof that features a narrow bridge between the two towers of Ravenloft. In the pouring rain, he heads straight ahead to a stairwell leading down into the main tower. He motions to the view of the valley, which is still somewhat visible through the rain.
The others follow him down inside. He moves past a door on the first landing, warning the others to stay out of that room if they wish to be wise. As they pass, Cairie can hear distant laughter, like cackling.
At the next landing, they find an exquisite rug on the floor, and a portrait of Strahd when he was still alive. The eyes of the portrait seem to follow the characters as they move through a door and into a plush, warm lounge. Here, Escher dramatically throws himself onto the couch beneath the semicircular windows on one side of the room. Danika, Khurz, Malis, and Ezmerelda all sit as well on the various chairs and overstuffed couches within the lounge.
Escher points to the other door in the room, saying that there’s a room with a bed in there that they’re welcome to use for some rest, before they start asking him what they’re meant to do. Escher laments that he is concerned with Strahd’s behavior of late, that Strahd has been ignoring him in favor of his “new toy.” A woman that he came into possession of just a handful of days ago. The others seem to catch on that this is Ireena.
Malis, especially, provides emotional support for Escher, and the group bonds with him a little bit, commiserating and denouncing Strahd and his treatment of people. Escher feels somewhat comforted by this, and shares a bottle of wine with them, which Malis takes for herself. Fletcher reminds Escher about the bath comment, and so Escher leads him and Krossa – who volunteers to keep watch for Fletcher – downstairs.
They pass through an old, dust-filled dining room, which features an old, moldy cake in the middle of the table, and a harp in the corner of the room. In the next chamber, Escher points to where a bath has been prepared, and leaves them. Fletcher goes to the tub to find it filled with blood, and a water-logged arm dangles over the side.
Fletcher pulls up the arm and finds it attached to a male body, that of Vash the bard. As soon as they recognize him from the fight in the audience hall, the body disintegrates into thousands of cockroaches, which scatter and skitter everywhere. Krossa starts frantically stomping on them, while Fletcher brushes himself off. The door opens, and Escher reappears, asking if there’s anything wrong.
Fletcher tells him about the blood and the body, and the roaches, but Escher doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Fletcher looks back, and they’re all gone. The water in the tub is clear, steaming, and decorated with fragrant petals. Fletcher sighs, and says they’re good. Escher offers to get him wine, but Fletcher declines. Escher leaves. Fletcher bathes.
Afterward, Krossa and Fletcher find some fine clothes in the closet area behind the tub, and Fletcher outfits himself in some new clothes beneath his armor, a very nice cloak, and new boots. They then return to the party in the lounge.
Cairie, meanwhile, has investigated the bedchamber, and found that it sports not only a four-poster bed, but additional couches, and a closet that houses one black cloak on one of the many hooks inside. She returns to the group, saying that she doesn’t trust Escher – who has gone for some time now.
The party then takes turns keeping watch while the others rest. Khurz begins with Danika. Khurz tells her about Baba Lysaga taking her form, and how Urwin had been worried that she was missing. Even though Danika says she is looking forward to being with her family again, Khurz does not mention that her two sons are also missing still, according to what Baba Lysaga told them.
Danika then explains that some people born in Barovia do not have a soul, and that Barovians call them “husks.” There aren’t enough souls trapped in Barovia to accommodate everyone who is born, and so only a rare few are born with them. Danika says she is lucky that her two sons both have souls. Khurz still doesn’t mention their unknown status.
Krossa and Cairie take the next watch, and Krossa tells Cairie about the vision of Vash in the tub, and she surmises that it was either an illusion or they’re all going mad.
Malis and Ezmerelda take the final watch, which Malis starts by herself, because she finds that Ezmerelda is asleep on her shoulder. Beside herself with happiness, Malis cannot bring herself to wake her and ruin the moment, though she does by accident and wakes Ezmerelda anyway.
The two continue their discussion on Ezmerelda feeling as though she is stagnating in her own growth, seeing the others become so powerful around her. She feels like a liability still, but Malis says that she should be proud of all she has survived so far. The two grow closer through their talk, but Ezmerelda still cannot help but feel as though maybe – even if they do defeat Strahd – they still may never be able to leave Barovia.
So the party has escaped the catacombs of Ravenloft! No easy feat! I was happy with the details I was able to sprinkle in during this session. I was fully prepared to throw anything that they may lie in wait here, or any treasure they may have found. When they started talking about searching each of the crypts, I got really excited. Maybe there ARE more of their allies down there. Maybe there’s NOT. I won’t tell.
And they’re back with Escher. Can they trust him? Cairie sure doesn’t. What exactly does he want their help with? So far, he’s just complaining! Find out next time in, “The Fastest Way Down!”
Until then, Well Met!