Tobold's Blog
Monday, February 22, 2021
Curse of Strahd - Session 2

In the previous session the players formed their group by volunteering for a witch hunt, but the dying witch cursed them. As a result they were transported to the demi-plane of Barovia, ruled by the vampire Count Strahd von Zarovich, and the only way out is to kill the vampire.

This session starts with the players spending their first night in the village of Barovia. Gustav, Aëlis, and Bilros each eat a dream pastry before going to sleep, but Gustav resists the effect. Aëlis and Bilros fall asleep and have wonderful dreams, even getting some temporary hitpoints in the process. Gustav instead dreams of a sword, the blade of which appears to be pure sunlight, and decides to seek it out. (The sword is his hexblade patron.) Only Warryn didn't taste the dream pies, because he was very suspicious of the old lady who sold them, thinking that she is a witch.

The next morning the group sets out to accompany the daughter of the old Burgomaster of the village of Barovia, Ireena, to the town of Vallaki. Ireena was bitten once by Strahd, and wants to seek refuge at the church of St. Andral in Vallaki, further away from Castle Ravenloft. As this adventure has several opportunities to have NPCs joining the group, and I don't want to slow down combat, I decided that an NPC gives the aid action, advantage on one roll, to one random PC. But even that shortened version we ended up forgetting most rounds of combat.

Aëlis, having spent part of her childhood with the Vistani, had received a message from the Vistani to join them at their camp at Tser Pool, just outside of the village of Barovia. There the group meets the leader of that Vistani camp, Madame Eva, a fortune teller. She knows details about every member of the group, and offers to help them with a fortune telling. This is a classic part of the adventure since the first version in 1983: There is a real random element here. The location of three important artifacts, the identity of an ally, and the location of Strahd in the castle are determined by the cards, and will be different for every group playing the adventure. However, as discussed in a previous post, I did the random drawing before the session, to make sure that the locations fit with my idea of what I wanted to do in this campaign.

So the fortune telling gives the group the following information:
  • An item related to the history of Strahd is hidden in a windmill on top of a cliff.
  • A holy symbol of great hope is hidden with a dead woman in the marsh.
  • The sword of sunlight is hidden with a faceless god, deep in the mountains.
  • The ally is an entertaining man with a monkey. This man is more than he seems.
  • Strahd is in a secret place—a vault of temptation hidden behind a woman of great beauty. The evil waits atop his tower of treasure.
Now Gustav, who is a von Zarovich, has a book in which since he arrived in Barovia, a simple map of the land has appeared. 
From that map, at least the location of the windmill is known, and it happens to be on the way from Tser Pool to Vallaki. On the way the group first has to cross a bridge guarded by gargoyle statues. To scare them, I made a battlemap, and a handout showing the gargoyles. But in fact these are harmless statues, and nothing happens on crossing the bridge. :) It's a bit of a meta-move, because when there is a battle map, players often assume that there will be combat. I was trying to break that mold a bit. The group also traversed a second gate, like the one before the village of Barovia, but nothing happened there either.

So the group arrives at the road crossing from which they can see the windmill on the cliff. They wonder whether they should go there, so Aëlis does an Augury spell with her own set of Tarot cards, and draws the Death card. Clear sign from her goddess, Shar, that this wouldn't be a good idea. And of course with such a clear sign, the group decides to go to the windmill anyway. The windmill is surrounded by chicken coops, and a smell of dream pastries comes from the place. This is clearly connected to Morgantha, the old lady selling those dream pastries in the village of Barovia. In the village the group suspected Morgantha of being a witch (hag), as she said she is buying children from parents wanting to support their dream pastry habit. I told them that the dream pastries "taste like chicken", but the coops around the windmill seem to suggest that this is actually what's in them.

Gustav knocks on the door, and there is Morgantha with two other old ladies. Morgantha offers to sell them more dream pastries, and Gustav agrees, mostly as a distraction. Meanwhile both Warryn (via his owl familiar) and Aëlis (in raven form, she is a wereraven) try to find out what is going on in the upper floors of the windmill. Warryn sees cages, like the ones he was held in by a hag in the swamp as a child. Aëlis actually sees a child in one of them. So she comes back to the group, screaming that the three old ladies are witches, and that the group should kill them. Not very subtle, so combat ensues.

It turns out that the three old ladies are a coven of night hags. Not only are night hags more powerful than the swamp hag the group killed in the first session. But also by being a complete coven, the hags have access to spells as high as 6th level, which makes a coven far more powerful than the sum of its parts. Now several of the spells the hags have, like hold person, give the target a wisdom saving throw. And half of the group consists of gnomes, who have advantage on wisdom saves against magic. In the end the hags mostly rely on casting lightning bolts and magic missiles. Gustav and Aëlis die, while the two gnomes Warryn and Bilros manage to run away, with Ireena (mostly forgotten in the fight). The hags slit the throats of Gustav and Aëlis, and throw their bodies down the cliff. Not quite a TPK, but close. And between the warning from the Augury, and book Warryn has where he could have found the information of the danger a coven of hags, I consider that this was the group's own fault. A coven of night hags is challenge rating 7 each, and the group is just level 4 at this point.

Now Warryn and Bilros, with Ireena, continue towards Vallaki. But the road leads them past the bottom of the cliff with the corpses of Gustav and Aëlis. Warryn and Bilros want to loot the corpses and bury them there, but Ireena proposes to transport them to Vallaki and bury them in hallowed ground, so they don't come back as undead. Warryn has a Tenser's Floating Disc spell, so they load the corpses onto that. About an hour later, Gustav and Aëlis come back to life. While dead, they encountered the goddess Shar, who told them that even in death they can't escape Barovia. Normally a soul in Barovia is reborn, but due to their destiny, Shar is willing to bring them back to life with a "dark gift". So Gustav's eyes melt away, and he is now blind, but has blindsight up to 60 feet. Aëlis, as priestess of Shar, gets a free pass on her first death, but wakes up in hybrid wereraven form, revealing her lycantrophy to the group. On the positive side, the players can keep their characters, even after death or TPK; on the negative side, too many "dark gifts" will slowly turn them into horrible monsters.

Traveling onwards towards Vallaki, the group then comes upon a pack of wolves attacking a merchant. They kill the wolves (4 wolves, 3 dire wolves), and save the merchant, who introduces himself as Vasili von Holtz. Vasili is from Vallaki, and proposes to travel with the group there, and guide them through the town. So this is what they do, with the intervention of Ireena and Vasili getting the group past the guards at the town gate. Vasili leads the group first to the town square, where they see posters of festivals, that Baron Vargas Vallkovich holds every week. The baron thinks that only constant happiness will keep Strahd at bay, so participation to the festivals is mandatory, and critics end up in the stockade for punishment. Vasili then leads the group to the Blue Water Inn, and leaves them, telling them where his house is, and to keep in touch.

But the group first goes to the church of St. Andral, Ireena's goal. There they meet Father Lucian Petrovich, who is willing to let Ireena stay there. However, the bones of St. Andral, which protected the church, have recently been stolen. The group participates in the questioning of a choir boy, who intimidated by Gustav's missing eyes admits having told the location of the bones to the young gravedigger Milivoj. From Milivoj they then learn that he stole the bones at the request, and for payment from, Henrik van der Voort, the local coffin maker. But as it is late, they decide to first spend the night at the Blue Water Inn.

The inn is run by the family Martikov. Aëlis, who also has the name Martikov, has a striking resemblance to the woman behind the bar, suggesting that this is really her family. Warryn finally finds the time to look into his book about dark creatures, and finds the information about night hag covens. So the group thinks they could take the hags one by one, but now they also have a lot of other options of clues to pursue, about the town of Vallaki, or the stolen bones of St. Andral. At this point we end the session.


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