The old man falls silent after reciting the first chapter, lost in his thoughts. Pipe smoke curled about his aged features, brought back to focus as a glass of ruby-tinted wine was set beside him. He drinks deeply, before setting it down and leaning forward to continue his story, fire and light playing shadows about his features…
DM Footnotes to All:
Marvelous! Just marvelous my dear adventurers! You have survived a trying adventure, challenging by most any stick of measure. You have grown your characters, and some of them have started to change, and flesh out into something more, or even different.
And yet, you have just barely scratched the surface. You brushed against death with Ravenloft and it’s master, had came out the otherside with digits (mostly) intact. You have also come across some…hints, that there is more at work in the wide world here. Do with that what you will.
A word of caution however. You have earned great wealth and grand rewards, and rightly so, for your efforts. But do not let it go to your head (save, of course, if it would go to your characters!), for you have played it…safe. You have hardly explored the New World, barely ventured past the ‘civilized’ and well traveled coast. You might find your great wealth and power…insufficient should you stray too far. Likewise, playing it too safe may only deny you not only a challenge, but even broker enemies who grow jealous and covetous of your might and coin.
But of course, that’s half the fun! The dice are rolling, and the strings of plot and interested are there for you to find and draw on if you wish, so let us carry on.
(P.S. Strahd’s not dead ;D )
Herein below, contains a simple summary of all that has transpired up to this point since our last chapter update, without spoiling or meta-game information, for reference and refreshing memories in the future.
“When we last found our adventurers, they were left in the aftermath of the night assault on the Citadel of Soldral. In the aftermath, they had only extracted a name and the image of their former companion swiftly retreating on a ship north.
Tending to survivors as they saw no chance to immediately pursue, they eventually found themselves in conversation with the High Incantator of the Citadel. With the conversation and investigation, they discovered a book had been stolen from a hidden vault beneath the ground floor of the Citadel.
Comparing notes and copies revealed that the old elven ledger made a reference to an even older elven outpost, now little more than a few remaining moss-covered stones if the book was to be believed.
More disconcerting was the ruin’s location. To the north-west, past the dwarven city of Gonost, lay the forest of Mith Taure. The forest possessed a reputation, as the party quickly found out. Known also as the Grey Forest, perpetual mist swirled and clung to the trees, thick and dense, easy for one to get lost and never found.
Charged by the High Incantator himself to retrieve the book and seek justice on those who had attacked the church if possible, the party made preparations, sailing up in their new ship, a gift from Lord Eirnwright, dubbed by the party The Duck’s Demise. They also found themselves with a new addition to their party, Maximillian McCloud, a mage with a strong penchant for lightning. Travelling quickly up the coast and into the Sickle Bay, they had their first real experience with Gonost. The city was a marvel of engineering and strong dwarven culture, and apparently the wealthiest hub of, well, anything, that they had come across in their time here in the New World.
Taking a few days to supply and explore, the party ran into some interesting trouble, finding themselves afoul of one local street thug and his posse. While the party was confident their skill surpassed that of the lowlives…they elected to not stir up trouble with the urgency before them.
Not taking long to dally after that, they continued their waterborne journey upriver towards Mith Taure. Max proved his value when the ship came across river bandits lying await in ambush with ballista, hooks and chains to assault the ship with. One lightning bolt later, the ballista was little more than smoking splinters as the would-be robbers scattered, and the upriver journey continued on.
Finding the hunter at the edge of the misted woods that had been recommended to them, a bargain was struck for him to guide them through the treacherous trees to the ruins, in exchange for some magical items. The price seemed to be worth his expertise; the party found the crumbling ruins without much trouble, and began to explore.
Nothing seemed to warrant all the trouble to find a book to locate this small outpost…until a secret entrance was discovered underneath, and members of the assault on the church caught red-handed amid a small library of some sort. Stunned, the interlopers sprang to attack the party, while the one seemingly in charge snatched up a book and ran out of a back entrance!
While the party made short work of the thieves and murderers, a few escaped right after the leader into the mist-shrouded forest. Hot on their heels, the party lost them in the mist and fog, and were left to wander.
After what felt like nearly a day of wandering, the party could only come to the conclusion they were totally, utterly lost. They continued to stick together and do their best to navigate, but had little luck.
By chance, they happened upon an owl while they took a moment to rest, the only creature they’d seen in some time. By chance, one of the party asked questions of it, and while unresponsive, lifted and pointed a wing between two trees before flying off. With nothing better to go off of, they followed the ‘direction’ given by the owl…and found themselves stumbling out of the forest, onto a mud-slick road nearing dusk…and definitely not anywhere they recognized.
Following signs of cart tracks and footprints, they followed the road till they saw a dim light in the distance, and much to their relief, found the source of it to be a lamp, hanging outside The Weary Horse Inn. Glad to be out of the mist and woods before nightfall, they took food and ale while taking stock of where they were.
Their musings and planning were interrupted when a man came through the door, looked around and took stock of the room, before wandering over to them with what else, but a sealed letter. Not addressed to them, the man told them he was paid and instructed to give it to the first group of capable people he met, appraising the party to be such folk.
The letter, upon reading it, begged for aid from the Burgomaster of a village known as Barovia, for they were under siege from undead! While there was some concern, the party decided that would be their next course of action, although for each their own different reason.
The letter proved to be all too true once they managed to find their way past the wrought-iron gate standing in the way, opening on it’s own as if to welcome them in. Undead appeared as they walked to the entrance to the village, growing in number as they moved further in. It was a fight to get past crude barricades to the center of town, and just in time as a small swarm of zombies were fighting to feast on the survivors that had made the town square their seeming last stand.
After the undead had been vanquished and they had earned some breathing room, they talked to the survivors to find out what was going on. While grateful for their aid, the party got some strangle looks when they asked to see the Burgomaster, finding he seemed to have been dead for some time, hardly in a position to send a letter!
They also met a paladin, Ashlyn of the Lightbringers, an undead hunter seeking her missing companions. They also found out quite a bit more information about the area they had come to, very far from home indeed, having been brought to the dismal region of Ravenloft in the lands of Barovia. More unsettling was learning of the immediate lands…and it’s ruler.
The dreaded Castle Ravenloft and it’s master, Count Strahd von Zarovich, who had ruled the castle and the lands for over a thousand years, and by all accounts, a most powerful vampyr.
Seeing not much choice, they helped to fortify the town center and organize the remaining villagers before exploring the area and continuing their quest, seeking out the three men who had escaped them with the strange book, having fled to the castle by description and accounts.
They met more of the town’s prominent people; Ireena Kolyanna, the burgomaster’s daughter, Ismark the Lesser, son of the late burgomaster, who the group helped spur on into taking on the mantle of his late father. Arik, barkeep of Blood on the Vine Tavern. Bildrath, the hard, skinflint merchant who runs the remaining Mercantile shop with his dim but strong nephew Parriwimple.
The encounters and individuals they met before even setting foot into the castle were strange and intriguing, to name a few:
-The explorer learned of his people, the gypsy people known as the Vistani, led by their Madam Eva. She performed a fortune telling for them, giving them glimpses of hope and knowledge in the dark times they faced, telling them of a sword of light and a crimson amulet that would arm them in their struggle against Strahd, of his secret places of power, and where he could be found when they sought to strike at him in the final battle. The gypsy caravan was also quite happy to provide goods for sale…at a steep cost to the party’s coffers.
-They met a Knight of the Raven, Sir Urik, at the gallow-laced crossroads, fighting alongside him to defeat the murks and haunts possessing it, some of the party becoming initiated as fellow Raven Knights after seeing his might and bravery.
-A nameless monk, begging by the roadside intrigued them, and they showed compassion with food to him, an act he recognized in this downtrodden land. It proved to pay off in a good karmic fashion; stumbling later into the territory of werewolves, they instead allowed the party to come and go.
Alas, the dark lands were not kind; these encounters were glimpses of hope and light in the mist-shrouded region. They found the focus and wrath of the castle’s master shifting to bear on them. Attacks from his minions followed: Kavan the Grim, a savage vampire with the strength of ten men and the ferocity beyond that. Sasha Ivliskova, the lord’s mistress and her own minions. Varikov the Trapper, an insane dwarf and master hunter and trapper, stalking the party.
Over their time exploring and following the guidance of the gypsy woman’s fortunetelling, they recovered and reforged powerful relics: The Sunsword and the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind. More importantly, their discovery of the three Fanes that link and empower Count Strahd’s already monstrous strengths as lord of the realm.
The party managed to sever the vampyr’s ties to the Fanes, reassemble the Sundsword, and partially empower the Symbol before taking on Castle Ravenloft in earnest. Interestingly, they ran into an old ‘friend’…none other than Mallard! Deception let him escape from the party’s wrath again, but not without his promised aid, quite literally blowing the bridge and doors to the castle itself!
From there, they found the castle was steeped with tainted power, old wounds, and a long-storied, tragic history, right from the start. Strahd himself greeted them with a feast, food and drinks the like of so rich and resplendent a few of the hungry party couldn’t help themselves…till the count left, revealing he had slaughtered Ashlyn the paladin and fed her to them!
They made ‘friends’ with the crazed man-servant still tending to the castle (including finding and helping themselves to the private wine stock), and explored the hostile castle with ever increasing trepidation and corruption as they sought to fulfill their quest as well as complete the reading of the fortune cards.
Among their encounters, a truly bizarre moment that still has the party confounded was the paladin Fandromar, who in truth was puppeted and possessed by the shadow demon Lucian. In the vicious battle, one of the party was slain, and only moments later, the demon shrieked and simply…vanished. Splitting headaches rent the party, as conflicting memories sprang into place. They had fought someone, but at the same time…they hadn’t!
Not sure what this even might mean to them, they had no choice but to focus on their task at hand.
They explored wide and deep in the castle, discovering the hidden treasure vault the count possessed, the catacombs far below, containing a mix of traps, undead, entombed remains of renown people, a mysterious portal, and a secret tunnel out. Even darker perhaps, was the accidental discovery of an ancient, buried secret that even the master of the castle himself didn’t know about, a worn, primal stone slab in a natural cavern, over which was the desiccated body of an ancient primordial, a varvolfgar.
The party came and went from the castle several times, forced out of necessity to heal, eat and recover before plunging back in. During this time, the village suffered attacks from more undead, werewolves, and a swarm of bats from an angered Strahd, the lord personally visiting the village in broad daylight none-the-less to drive his point home!
But hard work, power, luck and perhaps, fate, were on the party’s side. Prepared and armed for a battle that still seemed foolhardy, they met Strahd and faced him headon, armed with weapons of light and power once held by the vampyr.
It was a bloody struggle, but it finally came to an end with the Sundsword plunging into his chest, leaving him slumped against wreckage of his castle’s finery. His wound opening and edges crumbling into dust, a veil seemed to lift from his eyes, looking at the party as if for the first time.
‘…deception…’ he croaked out to them. ‘My gaze…has been turned…held to look…elsewhere…’ he told them, body failing him. ‘The true enemy…lies…above…,’ he pointed, finger outstretched towards the window, pointed as if to the moon above.
‘But…I am still lord of this castle…I am Count…Strahd…VON…ZAROVICH….AND I…WILL NOT GO…QUIETLY!’ he roared with the last of his strength. Before the party had time to react, he brought his hands together, and the windows shattered, mist pouring out of everywhere and nowhere, sweeping the party up as everything vanished from view in the thick fog.
They felt as if they were flying and falling, tumbling for a great time, before suddenly landing with a painful thud on grassy ground. Gaining their bearings, they found they had been deposited none too gently on the edge of the forest, Mith Taure! Even stranger, though it had been many months since they had been inside the realm, just over a week had passed since they left their captain and ship on the river bank.
Left to mull over the details, they returned to Five Port, and to the Citadel of Soldral. They had succeeded in their venture; recovering a translated copy of the book taken from the elven outpost, which was turned over the the High Incantator to investigate, as it contained dark and disturbing references to an ancient, evil artifact, the Book of Vile Darkness.
Since their return, the brave adventurers have started to build a keep with their newfound wealth and writ of deed from Five Port. Taking time to recover as well, many of them went off for a time, taking personal journeys and quests to pursue their own ends and means.
Months followed, but finally all have reconvened in Five Port, and news is to be had! The High Incantator has sent word that he has information to share with them, though to their displeasure, the party has also discovered the construction on their keep has come to a screeching halt. What will the party do next?
Only time will tell…