Strange Inheritance

Session 10: Full Moon

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Ulrich had Martikov pinned, and his nature as a wereraven was revealed. Sensing that there may be more to the story, however, Alston blanketed the inn with a fog spell, preventing much of the group from harming Martikov. That did not include Ulrich, however, who pummeled the poor man into submission. Broken and battered, Martikov didn’t fight back. He merely scrambled to shield himself and beg for his life.

The party quickly realized that Martikov was no threat, despite being a werecreature. Ulrich grappled him while they interrogated him. He explained that, yes, he is a wereraven, just like his wife and children, whom he sent away when the old burgomaster was slain. Vallakovich had known their secret and kept them safe, but he was not confident that Wachter would offer the same refuge. He claimed to know nothing about the Red Woman, except that she appears in dreams when the moon is full and the desire to do harm rises. Wereravens consider her a demon, even though she seems to hold less sway over them than other lycanthropes.

As the discussion went on, the party heard a resonant howl from outside. Tsora and Andrei went out to find the source. Andrei cast light on an alleyway and revealed a wolf, snarling but very sick and weak. It was drooling and stumbling, clearly unwell. Tsora used her spells to speak with the animal, and learned that it had eaten some meat that was left near the forest’s edge, which tasted of “strange plants”—clearly it had been poisoned. She used her druidcraft to create autumn leaves, symbolic of the wolf’s favorite season, and gave it a somber but respectful send-off.

At this point, more howls rang out into the night. This time, however, they were joined by the sound of glass shattering as massive, hulking werewolves broke through the windows and doors of the inn. This led to a difficult battle. The werewolves hit hard, but the party’s ace in the hole was Tsora’s command of the moonbeam spell, which reverted them back to their non-lycanthropic forms. Curiously, however, those forms were not what was expected—first a dog, then a badger, then a pony, and at last finally a derelict human who appeared to have been living on the streets. Only this last one survived the fight. His name was Vladislav, and he claimed that the last thing he remembered was sleeping in an alleyway, dreaming he was being chased by bloody wolves.

They managed to get a bit more information from Martikov as the bloodshed ended. He explained that wereravens are generally more in control of themselves than other lycanthropes. However, the major organization of wereravens has forsaken him and his family for their ties to human society. This group, known ominously as “the Cabal,” at which name the party perked their ears, consider themselves superior to humans. They renounce human custom, believe that they are guided by pure logic, and pursue science and experimentation above all else.

With this new information on the shadowy organization that has come up a few times in their adventure thus far, the party decided to retire for the night. They persuaded Martikov to let them stay the night, as they patched up both him and his inn as much as possible. He agreed.

In the night, however, Alston awoke to a sound by his window. It was Piccolo the vengeful monkey! He roused Tsora so that she could use her magic to communicate, which she did. From Piccolo, they learned that the poisoned meat was being put out by an old vistani man. Tsora convinces Piccolo to come find her the next time he sees this man. And with that, they returned to bed.

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Session 9: With Friends Like These

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As the vampires came upon our heroes, it became clear that they were more teenagers, likely turned by Doru. Senna recognized one of them: the Braeburn orphan girl Lyszet, who first told them about the Children of the Night.

The party fought valiantly, and they generally had the upper hand against the nascent vampires, despite difficult terrain and dense trees. Ulrich, however, continued to see a clearing and moved through those trees as if they were curtains of bloody meat. To Ulrich’s eyes, the greatest threat was clearly the towering avian monstrosity that emerged into the clearing. Unfortunately he was the only one who could see it. It could see the others, however, and its beak and talons did very real damage even to those who disbelieved.

Ultimately, Ulrich triumphed over this bird monster. And as it fell, it melted into the shape of Urwin Martikov, the innkeeper back in Vallaki. However, then that form faded into dark, black liquid and seeped into the ground. Ulrich was then able to join his compatriots in fighting vampires. Unfortunately, Tsora’s magical ice storm awakened a dormant treant, who furiously demanded that everyone leave the forest. Using her knowledge of druidic, she was able to pacify him and assure him that they were on the same side. The treant came around and helped them smash the last of the vampires. He warned them, however, that there were many more in the forest. He could feel them emerging from the dirt, hungry and confused.

As the battle subsided, Ulrich saw the Red Woman at the edge of the clearing. She spoke to him. “You have seen Martikov’s true form. You must find him and put him down. You must save them.” She then faded from view, and in so doing, the vision of the clearing fell away. Ulrich saw the same woods as everyone else. Father Andrei also joined the crew, returning from his mission in Barovia. It seems the vampires had actually been fleeing from his Holy Symbol of Ravenkind.

Tired and confused, and more than a little suspicious of Ulrich’s alternate view of reality, the party headed back to the tower to sleep. And as happens so often in Ravenloft, some of them dreamed.

In her dreams, Tsora saw a young woman sewing a cold, dead hand onto her arm.

Alston heard his master, Darion Storm, whispering his name. Softly, then urgently. It woke him up, but the whisper continued into his waking. A strange light illuminated a portion of the basement wall, and the voice whispered from within. Alston painstakingly moved the debris and breaks that had been hoisted in front of what was actually a secret door. On the other side, much to his shock, he saw his own possessions. The books, the bag, and the horseshoes of the horse he originally tried to set off on to attend Sir Vincent’s funeral. There were signs of a struggle that suggested bad things for the fate of the horse. Most shockingly of all, however, was the fact that Euphrastes had written notes all throughout Alston’s books.

Alston stormed to the top of the tower and pounded on Euphrastes’ door. They launched into a frantic, high-energy argument. Euphrastes accused them of being spies sent by Darion Storm to disrupt his work, or perhaps sent by Dr. Von Lichtspriegl to confirm that Euphrastes was a failure. Alston accused Euphrastes of stealing his books, daring to mar them with notes, and killing his horse. “Your horse is fine,” Euphrastes said, gesturing towards Clevis. Alston’s eyes grew very wide. The argument dragged on.

As they argued, the rest of the party woke and began speaking with Clevis. He added the important details: Euphrastes thinks Von Lichtspriegl has abandoned him because he failed in his mission to acquire the head of Strahd and send it to his master. He did do that, mind you, but the head was missing its eyes.

They learned that it was acquired at a midnight black market hosted by a group of shadowy figures known as “the Cabal.” They entertained many bids higher than Euphrastes’, but when they asked his plans for the head and learned that it would be sent east beyond Bergovitsa, they instantly chose him. He bundled the head in a magically-sealed case by courier. He hasn’t seen it since, and Dr. Von Lichtspriegl has gone silent. With more than a little bitterness, Alston and the group decide they had better go. Ulrich was anxious to confront Urwin Martikov.

The way home was dotted with desperate young vampires, which the party easily put down as they went. Andrei confirmed that this fits what he learned in Barovia—that Doru has begun converting all of his followers into vampires. This poses a problem for the group, since it means killing Doru would create a chain reaction of new vampire lords empowered to create their own vampire spawn.

Arriving in Vallaki, the group stopped at Wachterhaus to see if Nikolai had returned. Unsurprisingly, he had not, and Lady Wachter expects the group to help retrieve him. Senna sets off for a bookstore, where she meets an old widow desperate to sell the last of her husband’s books so that she can die in peace. In her expedition, she also ran into Karl Wachter, drunk as usual. He hit on her, as usual. But he did do one unusual thing: he gave her a gift. “From my mother,” he said, horrifyingly. She opened the small box to reveal a pendant necklace inscribed with a symbol of Nyarlathotep, her dark patron. It also included a note that read “Be careful. Our kind are not welcome here.”

The rest of the party convened at the inn, where they attempted to grill Martikov. He suspected Ulrich was hitting on him, and professed to have a wife to whom he was quite devoted. Meanwhile, Tsora and (somewhat unexpectedly) the other party members arranged for a make-up performance. This worked for Ulrich, who wanted everyone distracted while he snuck into the innkeeper’s quarters under the cover of Alston’s invisibility spell.

The plan… basically worked. Ulrich and Sasha explored Martikov’s private room and found it very spartan. However, they did find several bits of incriminating evidence: a letter in mid-composition to his wife, raven feathers in his bed, and torn clothing and shackles in his closet. This was enough for Ulrich, who set out to the main floor to lay down his accusations.

Meanwhile, in singing the tales of their exploits thus far, Tsora made poetic mention of Ulrich’s visions of the Red Woman. Instantly, Martikov shooed the patrons outside and slammed the door shut. He demanded of the adventurers in a panicked voice, “what do you know of the Red Woman?!”

At that moment, Ulrich emerged from his invisibility and roared, “SHE WANTS YOU DEAD!!!”

He leapt at the innkeeper, who screamed as his skin shifted to black, his face became more beak-like, and feathers began to sprout from his arms.

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Session 8: An Unusual Ally

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Our heroes awoke in the dead of night, having been knocked unconscious by the power the mysterious old woman gave them.

Since they had already traveled most of the way to Berez, they continued on as the forest grew increasingly into swampland. Sasha and Tsora noticed, as walking gave way to wading, that their legs picked up a number of black leeches. Tsora shapeshifted into an alligator to be rid of the leeches and move more swiftly through the swamp.

As they came upon the ruins of the ancient city, Senna stood “guard” on the periphery—primarily to spend time invoking a new ritual to summon her familiar. The rest of the group explored the ruins of the city’s old central castle. The walls were substantially deteriorated, and even sank further into the swamp as Sasha jumped from fallen wall to fallen wall.

Inside one wall, they found old bones in iron shackles, but otherwise nothing of major interest. Tsora swam to the deepest part of the lake and found yet more bones, but some of these were fresh. Who was dumping bodies in this lake, they wondered?

Their inspection was interrupted by a surprise attack on Senna as she worked her magic. A leech-like betentacled creature struck out and pulled her under. The party began to square off against it, but Senna managed to blink away and cast a fear spell that sent it slithering off into the dark water.

They set off northwards, this time preferring the hills on the outskirts of the swamp. There, they ran into a massive creature, humanoid and somewhat misshapen, of indeterminate gender (though ‘he’ pronouns ended up being used), carrying a dead body to the lake. Surprisingly forthcoming, this creature identified himself as “Clevis,” and he admitted right away that he was bringing the body to the lake to dispose of it.

Immediately on guard, the party demanded to know why this person had been killed. Clevis explained that he had been hunting vampires with his master, a gnome whose name he can’t pronounce, and this one turned out not to be a vampire.

Alston perked up immediately at the existence of another gnome, and Clevis agreed to walk the party back to his master’s tower. Along the way, he asked if they possessed any magical items that his master could experiment on. Unsurprisingly, they were a little uneasy volunteering this information.

He led them back to his master’s tower, a humble and crumbling tower that nonetheless exuded some serious “mad science” vibes, with eerie green glows from windows and odd-colored smoke rising from the chimney. The tower’s master introduced himself as Euphrastes Bluntbrass, and he immediately assumed the party was sent by his master, Dr. Von Lichtspriegl. He was very disappointed that this was not the case, as he apparently hasn’t heard from his master in some time.

However, the revelation that the party carried magical weapons was enough to rejuvenate his excitable personality. He had been working on a complicated device that uses vampire blood to transfer the magical properties of one item to another. Timidly, the party offered Sasha’s dagger and rapier, and it worked! The dagger’s poisonous enchantment was moved to the rapier.

However, Euphrastes’ delight was tempered with yet more sadness, as they only possessed enough vampire blood to do it once. The party offered several suggestions for obtaining more blood, but Euphrastes simply sighed and explained that he had already tried everything … on the vampire in the tower basement.

Shocked and intrigued, the party demanded to see it, and Euphrastes was more than willing to show off his prize. In the tower basement, they found a young woman, very pale and seemingly starving, chained to a wall. Ulrich inspected her mouth—fangs, as expected—and at this she lunged forward weakly, clearly drained of all lifeforce. Tsora proposed an experiment: staking the vampire with the strange-runed stake she carved from the memory of her dreams. Euphrastes, in the name of science, was happy to let them try it.

At first, it seemed to do nothing more than paralyze the frail vampire. But as Tsora pulled it out in disappointment, the girl’s eyes snapped open, glowing a vibrant fiery green. She began babbling in a number of different languages. As she rotated into old Elvish, some of the party could make out the words: “IN THE HEART OF THE PRISON WHERE THE DEMONS SLEEP, THE DOOR WILL SLIDE OPEN.”

The party decided to bed down at the tower, as night had fallen and Alston was eager to study Euphrastes’ research (and get to know his new gnomish best friend better.) Ulrich decided to wander out into the woods for some fresh air.

There, he heard that inescapable anthem of Ravenloft: desperate screaming. He ran off in search of the source of the sound and found that he was too late. In a clearing, a body lay broken and bloody. It was a young male, and Ulrich felt compelled to investigate. In the boy’s pocket, he found a document that identified him as a sailor aboard Carolina Crowblack’s ship, the Drunken Gale—the very same ship that Ulrich once served.

Immediately, Ulrich scooped up the lifeless body and sprinted through the woods back to the tower. As he arrived, however, it became clear that all was not as it seemed. While Ulrich saw the lifeless body, the rest of the party saw a mangled deer carcass. Undeterred by this different view of reality, Ulrich set off back towards the clearing, and the party followed.

As they arrived, however, the discrepancies didn’t end. Where Ulrich saw a clearing, the rest of the party saw dense woods. They were convinced he was hallucinating until he walked right through one of the trees. From everyone else’s perspective, the wood blackened and ran red with blood, then parted like musculature as he moved through it. From Ulrich’s perspective, of course, there was no tree at all.

Alston and Senna sent their familiars into the air to scout. With their keen eyesight, the birds could see at least four figures approaching the area—vampires.

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Session 7: Promises, Promises

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As the party reviewed the information they’ve gathered so far in the Blue Water Inn, a messenger arrived from Barovia. It seemed the Children of Night had defaced the newly-reconsecrated church again. Father Andrei set off to handle that crisis, while the rest of the team remained in Vallaki.

They arranged for lodging at the Blue Water, including a deal where Tsora would perform for patrons in the evening in exchange for discounted room and board. Meanwhile, Alston reviewed his books and those he stole from Wachterhaus. He had Tsora try to transcribe the symbols from her dreams, and they each tried to carve a stake to match the dream. Alston ended up with something that was barely even a stake, but Tsora went into some sort of trance and created a nigh-perfect replica.

The party decided to call it a night, and they were visited by more dreams. Senna was back in Frost’s tower, but looking out the window revealed a murky swamp, and she could see glowing eyes beneath the water. Tsora saw more of the creation of the stake—now the symbols were being inked with an unsettling purple-black ink, just like the bottle Sir Vincent left to Andrei.

In the morning, the group decided to check out the burned ruin of the church. It was clear that there had been no effort to rebuild, and the fire happened years ago. Shortly after the death of Strahd. Ulrich, Sasha, and Alston heard something down below, and lowered themselves down into the ancient ossuary beneath the church.

Meanwhile, Tsora and Senna stayed up above. It was a fortunate decision, because while they stood guard, a red-eyed wolf approached. Calling on her druidic skills, Tsora communicated with it. The beast said it was watching them for its mistress, and that it obeys her because she has “the Hand.” The red energy then left its eyes, and it ran back into the woods.

Down below, the others found the source of the sounds—the muffled dying cries of a woman who appeared to have been eviscerated, having sought refuge in the church only to fall through the burned floorboards into the crypt below. She wore one of the ‘hand’ pendants that the Children of Night wear to mark themselves, and she was insistent that Doru would save her. Alston, acting as the most medically proficient person in the room, concluded that nobody was going to save her—she had only minutes to live. They managed to get a few details. She was with a group of other teens traveling through the Ruins of Berez to the south, when they came upon some strange statues and were then attacked. All she could get out about her attacker was “the claws…”

Alston knew Berez from his studies. Once the largest city in the area, it fell under Strahd’s displeasure. The vampire lord used his magic to flood the city and drown its inhabitants. Now, hundreds of years later, the ruins of the city rise out of murky swampland.

The party set off to the south, from forest to swamp. At one point they came upon a strange figure in the distance. As they approached, it became clear that it was simply a statue of an old woman. Senna set out to look for other statues, but found nothing until she turned to head back and found herself staring down a statue that was not there moments before. A defensive blast set a climactic battle in motion, as monstrous statues animated in turns and the party fought. Eventually they were victorious, and a spectral green image of the woman in the statues emerged from a pool.

The mysterious swamp woman said that she thought they were with the Children of Night, whom she hates for desecrating the remains of “her child, Strahd.” She also described herself as a “humble servant of Mother Night.” She offered the party a deal: a taste of formidable power in exchange for a promise to bring Strahd’s hand back to her.

While the party deliberated, Senna stepped forward and swore the pact. The witch took her word as binding for the entire group, and they all passed out. When they awoke, it was the middle of the night (they missed Tsora’s promised performance) and they could feel the effects of the old woman’s magic (they gained TWO levels.) But it was unclear what sort of force they had allied themselves with.

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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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