Curse of Strahd (5e) Campaign Recaps - Session #2
The heroes were in the Rusty Goat tavern when a mysterious stranger entered, handed them a sealed letter, and told that his master needed their help in the nearby town of Barovia, west through the Svalich Woods. So off they went, seeking the wealth and treasures promised by the Burgomaster if they could ease the illness afflicting this wife, and with a druid, cleric and paladin in the party, they’re pretty confident in their healing acumen. The rogue just wants to steal shit. They entered the forest through some immense (beheaded) statues after traveling for hours on foot, and not far into the Svalich Woods they were attacked by a dire wolf the size of a grizzly bear. They climbed trees to escape it, pelting down with ranged attacks until they drove it off, and that’s where we pick up now.
The heroes shimmy down the trees, listening to the distant eerie howl of more wolves. They can’t tell how many, but if it is more dire wolves then they are in sore trouble. The fog is thick around them, they can’t see more than fifteen feet or so, the tree trunks abstract shapes looming in the shadows.
But then Zynmaris spots another wolf approaching through the gloom, lips peeled back in a terrifying snarl. It’s a normal sized wolf, but after nearly dying last time the firbolg druid decides to also scamper up the nearest tree. The human rogue Kaydon also climbs a nearby tree, and sees another wolf, and then the half elf paladin spots a third regular sized wolf, and brandishing his longsword, the paladin rushes it.
His blade rings true and beheads the wolf in a single swipe, hot blood spraying on the paladin’s armor and face. The druid and rogue in the tree manage to kill another wolf from up high, and finally the fat cleric dwarf manages to struggle to safety about twenty feet up (the trees have no limbs near the bottom, you have to climb up fairly high to find a perch).
There are other distant howls, but for now they’ve killed three wolves and didn’t suffer any damage. They climb down again and keep going west down the Svalich Road, but it’s not long before they smell the stench of rotten meat. It’s overpowering and nearby. The rogue is up ahead and he sees the body first, slumped against a tree not far from the road. It has been mangled by wolves, but they gather around and inspect the corpse closer. There is a bloody letter clutched in a hand, so they pry the stiff, dead fingers apart and look. The letter is sealed in red wax and has a prominent “B” as the insignia. The dead man is muddy and dressed in peasant’s clothes, but they don’t want to look too close given the graphic nature of his demise.
They open and read the letter. It is eerily similar to the first letter they read at the Rusty Goat, where Burgomaster Kolyan Indirovich begged them to come to Barovia and save “the love of his life” (assumed to be his wife) Ireena Kolyana from a dreadful illness that the local priests could not cure. Whereas the first letter – in a completely different handwriting mind you, and a different wax seal – seemed like an invitation and offer of wealth, this second letter is starkly a warning to stay away!
Hail thee of might and valor:
I, the Burgomaster of Barovia, send you honor—with despair.
My adopted daughter, the fair Ireena Kolyana, has been these past nights bitten by a vampyr. For over four hundred years, this creature has drained the life blood of my people. Now, my dear Ireena languishes and dies from an unholy wound caused by this vile beast. He has become too powerful to conquer.
So I say to you, give us up for dead and encircle this land with the symbols of good. Let holy men call upon their power that the devil may be contained within the walls of weeping Barovia. Leave our sorrows to our graves, and save the world from this evil fate of ours.
There is much wealth entrapped in this community. Return for your reward after we are all departed for a better life.
This second letter poses Ireena as the Burgomaster’s adopted daughter, not “the love of his life,” and details her affliction as one caused by a vampyr who has been preying on his community for over 400 years! Yes, although similar, the letters are also drastically different. Does the Burgomaster have two personalities? The heroes don’t know.
They keep going down the muddy road and finally leave the forest and see the sun is setting, although waxy and weak behind the clouds, as if afraid to come out. Darkness crawls across the fields and they finally see in the growing gloom distinct shadows that become the shapes of buildings, a village, and over the village on a 1000 foot tall pillar of black basalt looms an imposing, dreadful castle.
The town is silent under the moon. From the outside they see many of the buildings look boarded up and abandoned. Is this some kind of horrible vampire village of the dead? They don’t know and are rightfully terrified. Furthermore, only the human rogue Kaydon doesn’t have darkvision, so he had to do his thiefing with a hooded lantern. He elects to scout ahead first and see if there is a building they can get inside to rest until morning.
[DM Note – I have fog and dynamic lighting enabled on a 3D render of Barovia from Tabletop Simulator; only I can move the party token around, they tell me where they want to go and it slowly unveils new locations].
Well, they don’t actually want to walk briskly down the dark, foggy streets and attract unwanted attention. They have no idea what they’re getting into (all four players know nothing of the Ravenloft setting/story other than that Strahd is a vampire). They let the rogue sneak forward a bit, but the buildings all seem boarded up. And then he sees in the moonlight down a narrow alley two small humanoid figures standing hand in hand. They aren’t looking toward him, they’re looking down the main streets, and the rogue slides back. Nope, nope, nope, screw that.
He goes back to the first building but it is all boarded up and silent, so he stealthily pries some boards loose with a crowbar, and slips in, the half elf paladin not far behind. But in the light of the moon he sees four shadows standing silently in the dark, and the half-elf’s darkvision sees four dead things in shades of gray, but they haven’t noticed the intruders, as if they’re quietly waiting for activation and something to grab their attention.
The rogue slips quietly out. The paladin…does not. He trips on a board, and the dead things groan and turn toward him, and then begin shambling closer!
A javelin goes through an eye, rocking the zombie’s head back, but it still keeps coming. The real saving grace is when the druid casts Entangle in the small room, and vines erupt from the floor and entwine around rotted legs and limbs, holding them in place. The zombies are not strong enough to escape the vines, and a combination of ranged attacks and a few up close crushing blows turn their brains to splattered mush.
This is a tool shed chamber, so they quietly investigate the next room. They’re in a coffin maker’s shop, with coffins quietly resting all over this room. There is a single dead man on the floor who may or may not be the shopkeeper, they’re not sure, but he’s partially eaten. The coffins are all empty and fairly new construction, ready for use in a cemetery.
They start looking around the rest of the house but it is cold and empty, the only enemies were on the first floor. They board the door back and spend the night here (an Average Rest- Full HP, half HD, all spell slots, 1 level Exhaustion).
Morning arrives, not bright and sunny but diffused and gray, as if unhappy to be here. Clouds obscure the sky. They start heading down the main thoroughfare in a strangely quiet village, but at least it’s daylight now, when they spot two children sitting on the front stoop of a house a few hundred feet away. The rogue Kaydon recognizes them as the small figures from the night before. The group cautiously approaches, and the two children stand up, one a girl, one a boy, the girl much older, maybe twelve or thirteen. The boy is around six, clutching a toy, tears staining his face. They are…human, but slight and sickly and gray, and dressed in odd clothing.
The paladin uses his senses to detect undead but it reveals nothing.
The girl shushes the boy’s crying and she point to the house behind them. “Can you please help us? There’s a terrible monster in the basement. We’re so scared to go back inside! Please, I beg you, can you help me and by brother?”
The cleric asks who they are, and she answers Rose and Thorn Durst. They live here, but they haven’t seen their parents in a week. They’ve been eating whatever was left in the house. She answers questions as well as she can, confirming that a Burgomaster runs the town, and he has a beautiful daughter named Ireena Kolyana, although Rose has not seen her in some time. She begs for help again, and they ask what is the monster exactly, but she’s not seen it, only heard monstrous growling and thrashing in the basement.
Who lives in that castle over the village? “Oh the devil himself. Awful Strahd!”
“And baby Walter is in the attic! Oh, please can you save him oh please please?” She and the boy both seem genuinely terrified and desperate.
“Will you show us around town if we bring him back and kill the monster?” asks the party. Rose agrees, and will take them to the Burgomaster in his mansion.
Well, now they have a baby to save and some unnamed monster to kill. They tell the kids to wait in the abandoned house they commandeered the night before, but Rose says they will stay on the stoop here and wait for them to return. The front gate is iron and rusty and squeaks when it opens, but is otherwise unlocked. The front door is likewise unlocked, and they peer into a dark hallway framed with pictures of aristocratic Durst family members and the family heirloom, a shield of arms with a windmill on a red field.
The group slowly advances to the next room and looks into the main hall of the house. This is a NICE house too, with tall, polished ceilings, crystal chandeliers, a red marble staircase leading to the second floor, a big black marble fireplace with a longsword hanging over it with the crest of a windmill in the pommel. (Someone takes it I think). The walls are decorated with ornate patterns of vines, leaves, satyrs and nymphs, but looking closer, the druid also notices sinister skulls and serpents intertwined all through the walls.
Oh, and at some point I think the firbolg goes invisible and casts Detect Magic, so for the druid, a 10 minute concentration timer is set and he’s looking for magic stuff. Also, we did invisible completely WRONG and left it on, I didn’t read the description close enough, but it doesn’t change anything that happened.
Five closed doors lead out of the main hall, and they find an immaculately decorated dining room, another chandelier, the table set with exquisite crystal dishes and cups and silver utensils.
The wall paneling is carved with elegant images of deer among the trees, but they see twisted faces carved into the tree trunks and wolves lurking amid the carved foliage. Again, sinister images mixed with mundane. Red silk drapes cover the windows, and a tapestry depicting hunting dogs and horse-mounted aristocrats chasing after a wolf hangs from an iron rod bolted to the south wall.
They find a fully stocked kitchen and pantry and dumbwaiter, all of it well maintained and clean. But no basement door yet.
They start heading up the big red marbles staircase to the second floor, the firbolg druid first. They’re a little scared, although nothing bad has happened yet and they haven’t seen or heard a thing out of place.
The stairwell stops at a landing on the second floor but continues to spiral up to the third floor. Unlit oil lamps are mounted on the walls of this elegant hall. Hanging above the mantelpiece is a wood-framed portrait of the Durst family: Gustav and Elisabeth Durst with their two smiling children, Rose and Thorn. Cradled in the father’s arms is a swaddled baby, which the mother regards with a hint of scorn. Standing suits of armor flank wooden doors in the east and west walls. Each suit of armor clutches a spear and has a visored helm shaped like a wolf’s head. The doors are carved with dancing youths, although closer inspection reveals that the youths aren’t really dancing but fighting off swarms of bats! It is very odd to say the least.
A cold draft can be felt coming down the steps from the third floor.
They open the north door and find a large and impressive library. Red velvet drapes cover the windows of this room. An exquisite mahogany desk and a matching high-back chair face the entrance and the fireplace, above which hangs a framed picture of a windmill perched atop a rocky crag. Situated in corners of the room are two overstuffed chairs. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves line the south wall. A rolling wooden ladder allows one to more easily reach the high shelves.
The desk has several items resting atop it: an oil lamp, a jar of ink, a quill pen, a tinderbox, and a letter kit containing a red wax candle, four blank sheets of parchment, and a wooden seal bearing the Durst family’s insignia (a windmill). The desk drawer is empty except for an iron key. They take it.
The rogue starts searching the bookshelves, aided by the druid, and the cleric casts a Guidance cantrip on the rogue to aid his perception. The bookshelves hold hundreds of tomes covering a range of topics including history, warfare, and alchemy. There are also several shelves containing first-edition collected works of poetry and fiction. But although his search roll is terrible, and it takes longer than he wants, the rogue uncovers a book that clicks when pulled out and opens a secret door! If not for the assistance he wouldn’t have found it.
A small, dark hallway opens, no more than ten feet deep, and the sight within is startling.
A heavy wooden chest – partially open – stands on clawed iron feet at the back of the room. A skeleton clad in leather armor leans against the chest. The narrow hall is crammed on both sides with occult books that smell of mildew and evil. Now, nobody really wants to go in here. It looks like someone triggered a trap that killed him. They hit the skeleton with something, no movement, and finally the brave paladin Altmer goes in for a closer look.
Sure enough, three darts struck the would-be thief and killed him. The druid’s detect magic finds a slight aura of magic emanating from the chest. The paladin leaves and lets the rogue inspect the chest. The chest contains three blank books with black leather covers (worth 25 gp each), three spell scrolls (bless, protection from poison, and spiritual weapon), the deed to the house, the deed to a windmill, and a signed will. The will is signed by Gustav and Elisabeth Durst and bequeaths the house, the windmill, and all other family property to Rosavalda and Thornboldt Durst in the event of their parents’ deaths.
But crumpled in the dead man’s skeletal hand is another letter he pulled from the box, and the rogue pries it free and reads it out loud with the others. The seal is the same black seal they were delivered in Rusty Goat and same handwriting.
[Of note though, the druid has detect magic ticking away by the minute and he leaves the library and keeps searching the nearby area, and even starts heading up to the third floor. By the time we stop he has 3 minutes Detect Magic left].
The Secret Door Letter:
My most pathetic servant,
I am not a messiah sent to you by the Dark Powers
of this land. I have not come to lead you on a path to
immortality. However many souls you have bled on your
hidden altar, however many visitors you have tortured
in your dungeon, know that you are not the ones who
brought me to this beautiful land. You are but worms
writhing in my earth.
You say that you are cursed, your fortunes spent. You
abandoned love for madness, took solace in the bosom
of another woman, and sired a stillborn son. Cursed by
darkness? Of that I have no doubt. Save you from your
wretchedness? I think not. I much prefer you as you are.
Your dread lord and master, Strahd von Zarovich
The firbolg druid opens a door to a conservatory, replete with a harpsichord, an upright harp, dozen plush upholstered chairs for listening enjoyment, and a mantle over the fireplace with small ivory statues of dancers, although some are creepily just skeleton clad in clothes.
The last thing they find is an empty servant’s room with made beds. The druid starts heading upstairs, but the floor is creaking, and the décor begins to look far shabbier than downstairs. And that’s where we stopped.
About the author
I am a writer, artist and poet from North Carolina. I recently self published a children's/YA book called Harold and the Dreadful Dreams. You can learn more about it at my blog https://jmhauser.com, as well as other projects.