Strange Inheritance

Session 6: Vallaki

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Our heroes’ sleep was not quiet.

Tsora was again visited by dreams of strange symbols being carved into wood. This time, however, she could identify that the wood was a stake. Her dream then sent her soaring through the sky over a battlefield littered with burned buildings and crucified bodies, and banners bearing an old symbol that marked the Vistani from a time of intense persecution. Now the symbol seemed to be used to signify a rebellious triumph.

Senna dreamed of her old mentor, Raymond Frost. He seemed to move through an immense tower library, and as she finally closed the distance, she could see the book he was reading. It appeared to be the same book of children’s nursery rhymes that Sir Vincent left to Alston.

Ulrich dreamed about running through the woods, following a trail of blood. As he did so, the woods warped and darkened, red veins running through the trees. He ended his pursuit in a clearing, standing before the Red Woman. Her dress undulated and shifted between fabric and liquid blood. She told him that there is a shapechanger hiding in Vallaki, and he must find and slay it.

The party set off for Vallaki. Arriving at its gates, they perceived immediately that it was a much larger and more vibrant town than the village of Barovia. Despite this, the large entry gates appear solely ornamental, and there were no posted guards. Instead, the first denizen they encountered was a young well-dressed noble, thoroughly drunk.

He claimed to be heading off into the wood to rescue his brother, who got caught up with a bad crowd that meets in the woods. Sasha immediately noticed that he wore some valuable-looking cufflinks, and decided to move in for an easy steal. The drunk, whose name is evidently Karl Wachter, is all too happy to have Sasha in his personal space. She scored the cufflinks easily.

Karl was a little too forward in his inebriated state, and most of the party were content to let him wander off into the woods. Ulrich, however, could not let an innocent-if-gross-bystander wander off into the woods to die, so he explained that our heroes were there hunting monsters by decree of the mayor of Barovia. He offered to help rescue the brother, Nikolai Wachter, and asked Karl to share everything he knew. Unfortunately this provided little more information than they already had. There are a bunch of Vallaki teens obsessed with vampires, and they meet in secret in the woods. The party urged him to return home, since they were here to take care of the problem.

Moments later, however, Tsora heard an unnerving sound from within the woods—musical but discordant, the unmistakable droning of an accordion! Sasha tracks the sound and finds a tiny monkey in a tutu, playing a tiny accordion. She led it back to the group, and Tsora used her druidic magic to communicate.

They learned that the monkey’s name is Piccolo, and that he was playing to lure Karl deeper into the forest to see if the wolves would kill him. Apparently the wolves had red eyes under Strahd, normal eyes after he died, and now they have red eyes again. So Piccolo was conducting an experiment—in no small part because Karl had been cruel to him in the past.
Piccolo led our heroes to some of the Children of the Night camping sites, where they found evidence of revelry and bloody handprints that match the ones left in the church. They also found two upturned sites in the ground, from which sleeping vampires likely rose.
With no sign of Nikolai, the party decided to head back into town.

Sasha decided to find Karl again, both because he may have more info about his brother, and also because he likely has more valuables lying around. Meanwhile, the rest of the party explored the town.

Sasha’s efforts led her to the grandest home in town, the Burgomaster’s mansion. It turns out Karl is the son of the Burgomaster herself, Lady Fiona Wachter, whose path Sasha was none-too-happy to cross. Severe and formal, she brought Sasha to a drawing room where she met with the yet-still-drunker Karl. As things get increasingly eerie, Alston joined the party. Among the strange happenings were: occult books disguised as mundane books; a painting of Lady Wachter’s late husband, whose eyes followed Sasha around the room; and finally, a host of swirling insect-like points of movement that rippled through the walls.
Meanwhile Andrei found the charred remains of Vallaki’s church, as well as its former altar boy Yeska, who now maintains a small shrine not far away. He explained that Lady Wachter has always been hostile towards the church and has refused to authorize funds to rebuild it. Ulrich found a tiny rat-like dog, and uses his animistic barbarian skills to communicate with it. This mostly just confirmed what the party had already learned—Lady Wachter’s house has best scraps, but too scary, and the wolves have red eyes again.

Back at Wachterhaus, Nikolai finally arrived, beaten and bruised. The party rushed him off to the Blue Water Inn to interrogate him. He seemed to have had more than his fill of the Children of the Night, so he was willing to share what he knew—as long as the party swore to protect him from whatever attacked the group in the woods. He claims that an old woman approached their group, but out of nowhere she became something monstrous. He also shared that they know when and where to meet because Doru calls to them telepathically, and that they typically convene about once a month.

They also learned that the innkeeper at the Blue Water also owns the Blood on the Vine back in Barovia, and is the employer of Bethany. His name is Urwin Martikov.

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Session 5: Rest in Peace

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We open with what everyone hopes will be Sir Vincent’s last funeral. A more simple affair, burial and a short prayer by father Andrei. Laying Sir Vincent’s bones to rest imbues Barovia’s cemetery with a boon of the Raven Queen, consecrating it as holy ground.

Following this, our heroes meet with mayor Cyrus. He is grateful, and now more adamant than ever that the town needs a capable militia. Ulrich and the others offer their services in training such a militia, as well as protecting the town as best they can. In exchange, Cyrus grants them lodging at some of the abandoned houses in town.

As they begin to unwind and discuss their plans to pursue Strahd’s missing parts, a cry rings out from near the church. They rush over to find it has been vandalized, and addled old Father Donavich is crying for help. He tells them his son, Doru, has returned, and that he managed to corner him in the basement. The church has its many altars defaced, bloody handprints line the walls, and messages like “There are no gods here” appear written in blood.

The party creeps down into the basement where Doru was trapped as a vampire for many years. As they make their way to landing of the stone staircase, the door slams behind them. They hear the heavy iron bar slide into place from the other place and curse the seeming treachery of Donavich.

Exploring the basement, they find evidence of Doru’s long containment, as well as evidence of a more recent visit—Sister Agnieszka, who has been turned! She attacks, and as they fight, the spirits of townsfolk who had been “fed” to Doru during his captivity emerged and joined the fray.

The party managed to end Agnieszka’s torment, and as they stood victorious, they mounted the stairs to reckon with Donavich. Alston spies a crack in the door and magically misty-steps through it, unbarring from the other side. They find Donavich, who claims the door did that itself—quite possible, given the spectral influence down below. Nonetheless, they now realize the extent of his crimes. He kept his vampirized son locked down in the basement for years, and he sent many unsuspecting villagers to their deaths. Father Andrei rebukes him and turns him over to the mayor for judgment.

Andrei reconsecrates the Church of All Faiths in the name of the Raven Queen, which the town is generally pretty happy about, given her opposition to the undead.

With Agnieszka dead, the town’s many orphans at the Braeburn Orphanage are without an adult to guide them. Sasha and Senna check in, both to shepherd them toward Bethany at the inn, as well as to obtain intel on what happened at the church. They learn that Doru has formed a nascent cult, the “Children of the Night,” who worship Strahd’s legacy through Doru. Doru apparently has one of Strahd’s hands. Senna takes particular notice of Liszet, who says she knows the boy who Doru trusts most, Nikolai from the neighboring town of Vallaki.

The party sets their sights on Vallaki. But first, they need a good night’s sleep.

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Session 4: Pieces of the Puzzle

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After investigating the mayor’s house and finding that Cordelia has no memory of giving Bethany anything for wine—why would she help her rival?—the party concludes that something is amiss. Tsora attempted to recall the herbs she saw dropped into the wine in her dreams, and impressively was able to recognize them as Blacktongue Thistle, a semi-mythical herb that grows in the ethereal plane. Alston sensed that the barrier between the physical and ethereal planes was weaker in the mayor’s wine cellar, where the suspicious wine bottle had been removed. Obviously someone with magical power was arranging Bethany’s “crime.”

After some deliberation, they return to Sir Vincent’s hunting shack in the woods, only to find that it has been burned to cinders! Tsora transformed into a cat to sniff out the arsonists and followed a path through the forest.

Unfortunately, the trail faded. Fortunately, it landed them at the Tser Pool, where Madame Eva makes her camp. She gives them a Tarokka reading, revealing cards in response to their questions. The Enchanter: someone is clouding the minds of the denizens of Barovia, as our heroes suspected. The Artifact: this mysterious figure is searching for an item of great power. The Shepherd: Sir Vincent was killed because he was protecting something, perhaps a secret. Alston asked the final question: “what was Sir Vincent protecting?” The Hooded One: a shrouded body, deep within the earth. A dark, hidden place—the crypts of Castle Ravenloft.

With understandable reluctance, the group sets off for the abandoned castle.

They find it largely in ruins, the large entry door unlocked. They proceed into a spacious antechamber, where they are greeted by none other than Strahd himself. Or so it seemed, anyway, until it became clear that he was merely an illusion woven into the antechamber. The door into the castle proper, unlike the first door, was heavily barred from the inside. A frazzled voice from within lambasted them: “Get out! There’s nothing here for you, just as I told that woman and her beast!” Clearly the mysterious figure had been here too.

The party quickly surmised that this was Reginald Downsby, the steward to which Sir Vincent’s journals made reference. Tsora appeals to his love for Strahd, arguing that as a vistana, her people feel his loss as well. He demands that she prove her heritage, and she sings a traditional vistani song that is rarely shared with outsiders. This moves Downsby to tears, and he opens the door and leads them inside.

Downsby is reluctant to talk, but the party presses until he breaks. He says that he has holed up in the castle for fear of Rahadin’s return. Rahadin is the gray elf who was Strahd’s former steward, and Downsby believes he orchestrated Strahd’s death in collusion with a young woman named Lydia, with whom Strahd was infatuated.

He leads them down a long, long spiral staircase deep into the heart of the cliff that the castle rests upon. Deep down into the ancient family crypts, where he brought Strahd’s body. He reveals that Strahd’s body is… not perfectly preserved. His head and hands have been removed, and an unsettling purple ink has been painted in lines leading from the wounds to his chest, where a ghastly crater is all that remains of his heart. Someone stole his heart, head, and hands. The ink matched the eerie bottle that Sir Vincent left to Andrei.
Realizing he has revealed too much, especially after hearing Andrei talk about destroying the heart, Downsby offers to show them something else—but it turns out this is a ruse, and once upon the spiral staircase, he activates a trap that sends them sliding through a tunnel, out a waterway into the river.

They wash up, once again, at the Tser Pool. Not far onto the road, they come across an old vistani man and his granddaughter. They introduce themselves and Pyotr and Ana. Their caravan was attacked by a hooded woman and her undead servant—clearly the mysterious figure and Sir Vincent. The vistani pair had been fleeing the Southlands, where bad things were happening. They said that the vistani there had become militant, murdering and pillaging non-vistani communities and slaying anyone who spoke out against their new leader.

Ana said she heard the woman say Barovia would pay for wasting her time. This was our heroes’ cue to return as quickly as possible.

When they arrived, however, all was quiet. Too quiet—and Sir Vincent’s three paramours were all missing. They found the blacksmith out looking for his daughter, and they went back to his place to investigate. Her room looked like it hadn’t been slept in for weeks, and the pile of silver she claimed she was taking to have the smith forge into weapons was discarded in a corner.

They return for the third and final time to Sir Vincent’s hunting area in the woods, to find Bethany and Cordelia locked in a fight, rolling on the ground and pulling on each other’s hair. Breaking it up, it is clear that both of them have been mesmerized. At this point, Olivia reveals herself—more than that, she reveals her true nature: a succubus! She had been hunting Strahd’s heart and was trying to seduce its location out of Sir Vincent. When that failed and he started to suspect her, she arranged to have him killed. Now frustrated that her plans have come to naught, she attacks!

She reanimates the charred remains of the giant spider the party previously encountered, and it assists both her and Sir Vincent in battle. It was a tense fight, but the party was victorious. Alston claimed Sir Vincent’s sword as his own, and they headed back to town to explain everything and lay Sir Vincent to rest, again, hopefully for good this time.

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Session 3: An Old Friend Returns

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We open from Ulrich’s perspective on the end of last session, where he chased a mysterious red wolf into the forest, though he was the only one who could see it.

The wolf, to Ulrich’s eyes, was the biggest of the pack, and its fur was matted red with blood and open wounds. It lunged and he dodged, he lunged and it dodged. Back and forth until they had left the clearing. Suddenly, a cry for help rang out—the voice of Ulrich’s old shipmate Guppy. Ulrich and the wolf both sprinted in that direction, led by the sound, and then increasingly by a trail of blood and tattered red cloth. The wolf outpaced him, and eventually the trail led only to the forest’s edge, where he saw his friends heading back to town. The blood and cloth behind him had vanished.

They reconvene in the inn to review and discuss what they found. Olivia enters with a bundle of wood for stakes, and all the silver she could scrounge up around town. She says she’ll haveher father melt it down to silver some weapons. The group realizes that between Tsora’s dream and Sir Vincent’s journal, he almost certainly died by poisoning, and they believe Bethany may have had a hand in it.

They dispatch Sasha, aided by Alston’s magic and the group’s distraction, to snoop in Bethany’s private room in the inn. There, she discovered nothing incriminating, but instead a suicide note!

This revelation came shortly before Andrei heard a groaning outside. Swiftly, the tavern door burst open, revealing the zombified corpse of Mori Chéffeur! Soon the groans of the other zombies became clear to the group, as they squared off against waves of zombies trying to enter the tavern.

Overall, the battle went in our heroes’ favor, but as they wrapped up the last of the undead, Bethany gasped and opened a window in the back of the tavern. Instantly a whip flicked through the window and wrapped around her neck. At the other end, none other than Sir Vincent Montgomery—reanimated by some dark magic, with a hunched back and glowing green eyes. Tsora leapt through the window and saved Bethany, using her Vistani magic to bind Sir Vincent in place. At this, a hooded figure emerged as if from the ether and cast a hypnotic spell that broke Tsora’s concentration. The hooded figure and the wight fled into the forest.

As our heroes collected themselves, they turned to Bethany for answers. She immediately confessed that she killed Sir Vincent. She had been given an aphrodisiac and wine by Cordelia, and was specifically warned not to use too much, but she threw the whole thing in. She is wracked with guilt.

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Session 2: Into the Woods

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Our session began with the heroes asleep in the inn. Tsora’s dreams were haunted by a reverberating heartbeat, and a series of strange and fragmented imagery: strange symbols carved into a piece of wood, green eyes glowing in a nighttime forest, a dark herb dropped into mulling wine, and tears falling on Sir Vincent’s gravestone.

This dream, and the sleep of the others, was broken by a scream, which echoed out from the Svalich Woods.

Elsewhere and somewhat retroactively, our sixth hero, Alston, set off from his tower to attend Sir Vincent’s funeral. Unfortunately, everything that could go wrong for him that day did go wrong, including a horse with its shoes on backwards and a mysterious unmapped fork in the road. Confronted with uncharted territory, he made camp and slept for the night—until he was awoken by the scream, and the fork in the road was no longer there.

Everyone set out to find the source of the scream, and swiftly they came upon the body of Mori Cheffeur.

The young man had apparently been chased, and he had several abrasions including what appeared to be rope burn around his right ankle. Most conspicuous of all his injuries, however, was a massive gash in his back that seemed to have been afflicted with necrotic rot. The trees in the path of his flight were nocked with the frenzied slashes of a thin-bladed weapon.

Discussion with various townfolk revealed that Sir Vincent was hunting here, whether monsters or “the Stag” to which his love interests made reference. They also concluded that he must have moved his research notes into the Svalich Woods.

They set off into the woods, and after a time they found a secluded copse infested with spiders and wolves. The wolves surrounded them, including a massive red wolf that only Ulrich could see. He lunged at it, and chased it off into the woods.

That left the remainder of the party to square off with the pack, which they did by the skin of their teeth. A large spider that had made its home in a hunting stand up in the canopy descended, but they cleverly distracted it with tasty wolf corpses.

Using her misty step, Senna entered the hunting hut, and discovered Sir Vincent’s research notes, the magical black market logs Sasha stole for him, and a dowsing rod. She descended less-than-gracefully, and the party headed back to town.

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Session 1: Three Lovers and a Funeral

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Our heroes make their way to their fallen friend’s funeral by way of the Old Svalich Road, now reopened.

They each make the acquaintance of the Woman Carrying Water, who is suspicious and dismissive. They also meet young Evan Braeburn and the very mournful Bethany Innsmot, who appears to be wearing Sir Vincent’s medallion.

They are eventually led to the mayoral mansion, where Cordelia Black reads to them Sir Vincent’s last wishes, and entrusts each with an unusual item. Sasha received a wrought iron cage with a dead bird in it. The cage seems to attract other birds. Ulrich is given a mummified raven’s claw. Tsora receives a wooden hand. Andrei gets a bottle of purple-black ink that creates a nauseated, uneasy feeling in anyone who stares at it for long. Senna receives a lantern with a single black candle that burns green, and doesn’t burn down or blow out.

Further, Cordelia says, Sir Vincent’s will entrusts the group with his research notes and sword, so long as they are willing to carry on his research as a group. However, neither the sword nor the notes could be found.

As they wrap up the discussion, a decanter of wine falls seemingly on its own. Ulrich smells leather and cigars, tell-tale signs of Sir Vincent. He follows down a hall, where a painting falls of its own accord! Clearly something spooky is going on.

Later, at the actual funeral, Andrei meets Sister Agnieszka and poor Father Donavich. Discussing with Agnieszka, he learns of Donavich’s torment under Strahd and the situation with his son, Doru.

He also talks to Bethany, who reveals that Sir Vincent died not just suddenly but nearly instantly. Within the space of an hour, he became very ill and convulsed until he died. Our heroes suspect poison.

Agnieszka leads the funeral, until she is rudely interrupted by Mori Cheffeur, who yells out that Sir Vincent now can’t protect them from “that thing out there.” The party later learns that this refers to a mysterious creature that stalks the woods, known only as “the Hunched Man.” After chastising the teen, Agnieszka resumes the somber service…

That is, until all the candles suddenly blow out, and the room fills with a chill wind. The doors slam shut and bar themselves, and our heroes find that they are suddenly the only ones in the otherwise empty church.

Ulrich approached the altar and placed his hands on the urn that held Sir Vincent’s ashes, asking “Sir Vincent, are you there? We are here to help you!”

He smelled the familiar leather and cigars as a gravelly voice intoned “THIS IS NOT ME.” Ulrich felt the mummified raven claw curl in his hand.

The group began a prayer to the Raven Queen, which synced up with the prayer that was in progress at the funeral, and suddenly everything was back to normal.

After the funeral, Andrei stays and talks with the townsfolk, including one who takes a particular interest in him, Olivia Reid. She says she can tell he has overcome a great deal in his life, and she respects that. She also says she wanted Sir Vincent to train her, and she provides additional details about Doru.

Senna and Tsora, meanwhile, follow Mori Cheffeur to Sir Vincent’s dwelling. They surprise him as he peers into a window. He claims he wanted to find a weapon, since the town is newly without a defender. Senna uses her magic to misty step into the building and unlock the door, which TERRIFIES Mori. He runs into the woods screaming. In the room, they find simple decor, animal trophies, and dust that suggests books and notes had been here but were moved elsewhere.

Ulrich and Sasha, on the other hand, headed to the mayoral mansion. They investigated the basement wine cellar, where they found a crude altar with arcane symbols in a corner. Ulrich smashed it, but Sasha retained the parchment on which the symbols were inked. She showed this to Senna later, who concluded it was jibberish, the scrawlings of someone untrained.

That night, the group retired to the Blood on the Vine inn, where Tsora serenaded the party with a song in memory of Sir Vincent. At the end of the haunting tune, applause from the doorway startled everyone: it was Madame Eva! She complimented Tsora’s musical skill and invited her out for a walk.

On their walk, Madame Eva spoke: “I know you are an exile, no longer of our people. But I sense you will serve us still. I know what you seek. I have seen that you will find it in the company of those gathered in the tavern.”

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