As the party emerged from the chapel’s undercroft, having laid Doru to rest, they were met with a sombre, but grateful, Father Donavich. His son was now at peace and would suffer no more. He relayed to the party the tale of small folk’s rebellion against Strahd, how they had marched up to Castle Ravenloft but none had returned. His thoughts then turned back to his duties, to the coffin in the graveyard containing the former Burgomaster, guarded by his children Ismark and Ireena while the party explored the church. They carried the coffin out to the Indirovich family crypt and bore it inside – the priest and the man’s children started the ceremony inside, accompanied by Xenia who added prayers and blessings of her own. The rest of the party remained outside, keeping watch. Although they were supposedly on hallowed ground, they were taking nothing for granted. Sensing a great evil near the graveyard’s entrance, Dagark and Idrim went to investigate only to find Strahd waiting for them. He beckoned them closer, and then used his monstrous powers to ensnare Dagark’s mind and put him under his control, making Dagark believe that Strahd was in fact a friend and trusted ally. At the sound of this commotion, Father Donavich left the crypt to attempt to banish Strahd, telling him that the grounds of the church were consecrated and that the vampire would be unable to cross the threshold of the graveyard. Strahd disabused the holy man of this notion, explaining that the dark powers of Barovia had desecrated the very earth they walked on. They would be safe in their churches and crypts, but nowhere else.
Strahd then proceeded to sweep through the graveyard, brushing off attacks from our party, until he arrived at the entrance of the crypt, beseeching Ireena to come with him – he could, he claimed, easily take her if he wanted to, but he wanted her to come with him of her own free will. The party continued to try their best to defend their new friends against the dark lord’s advances, while Dagark – charmed by the vampire – did his best to break up the melee. They managed to irritate the dark lord enough that he flew at Varus – delivering a grievous wound to the dwarf with his razor sharp claws. As he went in to strike again, Father Donavich threw himself in front of the vampire, taking the brunt of the killing blow meant for Varus. He fell to the ground, dead. Reunited with his son in whatever afterlife awaits the poor, tortured souls of Barovia. Destiny then unleashed a torrent of Magic Missiles at the vampire and he turned his rage on her – with two strikes of his claws, she lay on the floor unconscious. Now irritated and sensing that killing too many of her friends might not be the best way to win this fair Ireena’s heart, Strahd gave her a week to change her mind and come to him willingly – or her brother would die, her friends would die and he would take her by force. He left, freeing Dagark’s mind, and disappearing into the mist. Xenia emerged from the crypt, providing healing for those who needed it and bringing Destiny back from the brink of death, and she presided over the rest of the ceremony, laying Ireena and Ismark’s father to rest. The party then proceeded to bury the priest who had given up his life for them – albeit not before our rogueish (or perhaps pragmatic?) dwarf had emptied out his pockets to reveal a small amount of gold, and a couple of arcane scrolls.
They then decided to make haste for Tser Pool, to meet the Vistani Seer they had been told about – Madam Eva. As they approached the camp, there were scores of drunken revellers – Vistani living for the moment, and enjoying their lives as others in Barovia were unable to. The leader of the camp showed them over to Madam Eva’s tent, and they entered – full of expectancy. The Vistani Seer knew a lot about our party already, much to their surprise, and was able to give them a reading to help them in their quest to defeat Strahd. Although the Vistani are friends of the dark lord, and aid him where they can, Madam Eva – in her wisdom – accepted that the curse needed to be broken if this land were truly to be whole again, and she could no longer stand by and accept his cruelty. After the reading, Madam Eva grew tired and dismissed the party – the powers that worked through her to divine the future were extremely taxing on the elderly seer. As they gathered back round the fire to drink with the Vistani, and with Ireena and Ismark, they heard different rumours about the town of Vallaki – their next destination. The Vistani leader also informed them that The Wizards of Wine – a winery that distributes wine across the region, free of charge – had not been heard from for a while, which was a problem. With wine being the lifeblood of this realm, and the only thing keeping its inhabitants remotely sane. He promised a great reward if the party were able to restart distribution – although it was plain that the Vistani would not be the only interested party with regards to this wine.
He also told them a story – a story of the great wizard who led the small folk in revolt against Strahd last year, who battled with the Vampire on the bridge over the Tser Falls, only to be cast into the river and never seen again. Whether he had anything of value, or whether his body remained there – nobody knew. The Vistani stayed well away from that river – Strahd had cast many bodies over the falls during the revolt, and they were not quite as dead as the Vistani would like… Spurred on, our party decided to check out the bottom of the waterfall, to see if they could find any trace of the wizard who had fallen there. Destiny summoned her familiar, in the form of an arcane demonic salmon and it slipped in the river to see if there was anything of note to be found. After a short search, it discovered a short chain with a miniature chest attached, hanging from a rock. Rather than risk the waters and disturbing the corpses that littered the riverbed, Varus decided to conjure his Mage Hand Legerdemain, and proceeded to use it to search the riverbed, guided by Destiny’s familiar. They succeeded and pulled the chain out of the river, and Destiny – through her arcane training – identified it as a Secret Chest, an enchantment cast by a powerful wizard, to hide powerful magic items. Only openable by its owner.
The party carried on past the Tser Falls, Ismark and Ireena in tow, contemplating what the chest might mean or contain – until they suddenly found themselves approaching an old, decrepit windmill. The same windmill that Granny, the friendly pie-seller in the village of Barovia had mentioned previously. At the thought of those mouth-watering treats, they began to experience serious cravings and started to realise that perhaps the pies weren’t as beneficial as they had originally thought. The party fought their cravings to resist the urge to eat more, with Destiny failing and eating ‘just-one-more’ and Varus giving into his cravings wholeheartedly and taking the rest of the pies from the party. The adventurers’ suspicions were raised by the windmill, and Varus? Well his stomach was growling and his supply of pies was running short… there was only one thing for it – pay a visit to the Old Windmill.
As our heroes approached the dilapidated old windmill, the smell of freshly baked pies filled the air. A raven, perched outside the windmill, gave out a caw of warning to the party about the danger that lay ahead – but they spent quite some time trying to interpret just what the bird might want. Varus argued that the party shouldn’t waste their time, and they should get to Vallaki to fulfill their main objective – escorting Ireena and Ismark to safety – but everyone else was more interested in this curious raven.
After landing on Idrim’s glove and cawing at him, the raven eventually got tired that his warnings were going unheeded, and flew off to some standing stones, some distance away from the windmill. The party followed, and eventually Destiny realised it was a portent of danger – but what they hadn’t realised was that Varus had been intoxicated by the smell of fresh pies, and high-tailed it straight over to the windmill in order to get his fix.
After some chit chat with the woman he found tending the mill, Varus was promised some oven-fresh pies – and was left to wait while the mysterious woman brought out her wares. During this time, a few other members of the group joined Varus – and looking around the mill, they were troubled by the sight of what appeared to be human bones on the floor. They questioned the proprietor about the bones when she returned with a tray of fresh pies, and she immediately became agitated and requested that they leave. When the party refused, she transformed into a grotesque Night Hag, cackling out ‘SISTER, WE HAVE TROUBLE!’
A fight ensued, and the creatures – which should have proved deadly – were outfought by the party, who used their abilities in concert to slay the hag and her sister. They searched the rest of the floors and found a young girl cowering in a cage at the very top of the mill. Her name was Myrtle, and she told them the grim truth – this mill was known locally as The Old Bonegrinder, and the hags had been taking children and grinding them into pies for years now. Myrtle was from Vallaki and her parents had given her and her brother away to pay their debts to the hags. Unfortunately the heroes were too late to save her brother. They decided to take Myrtle – or ‘Little Snack’, as Varus had… affectionately… nicknamed her – with them to Vallaki, to either reunite her with her parents, or drop her at the town orphanage.
They set the evil Bonegrinder ablaze, and set off on the road to Vallaki. On the way, Ismark asked the party if they would refrain from revealing their true identities to the guards. They wanted to hide from Strahd and draw as little attention to themselves as possible. They toyed with a few alternative identities – Dobbie and Debbie, for example – and settled on Markiz and Maria – though the siblings seemed unimpressed with the party’s naming efforts.
On arrival at the gates, the party were insulted by the bigoted guards protecting the city from outsiders – but managed to keep their cool, and bargain their way into the city. After they were safely behind the city walls, Ismark presented the party with a sack of gold, as a reward for their help. Varus surreptitiously pocketed this and headed straight for the local tavern, while the rest of the party were stopped by a weary looking priest, who invited them into his church, and stated he had an urgent request to make…
We left our last session with the party approached by an elderly priest in desperate need of help – but we started this week with a dwarf in desperate need of ale. With Ismark’s gold pouch burning a hole in his pocket, Varus decided to head to the local hostelry – the Blue Water Inn. Ireena and Ismark accompanied him, hoping to find work and still trying to conceal their noble background and hide from Strahd. As they arrived outside of the inn, Varus caught sight of the town square – and some people in stocks – and he decided to investigate while Ismark and Ireena went inside. The stocks were populated by men, women and children – all wearing plaster donkey masks. Utilising his rogueish abilities, Varus stuck to the shadows and managed to sneak up and approach one of the prisoners. They told him they had been locked up for the crime of ‘malicious unhappiness’ – this could include not participating in the festivals, not being cheerful enough, or criticising the baron. Those who suggested that, in fact, all was not well in Vallaki were hauled off and never seen again.
While Varus secretly talked to the prisoner, he noticed a tall burly guardsman leading a troupe around the square, pasting up new posters for the Festival of the Blazing Sun over the old posters for the Festival of the Wolf’s Head – the Baron of Vallaki likes his festivals apparently. Varus pocketed one of the posters and headed back to the Blue Water where he met Urwin Martikov, the landlord. He filled in Varus on the goings on about town – the Baron was not well liked, but the only other family with the power to replace them were the Wachters, and they might simply be swapping out one evil for another. The Wachter boys were drinking in the bar at the time, so Urwin took Varus out back and stated his problem – even if the Baron was deposed, and the Wachters destroyed (they were far more evil in Urwin’s opinion) then the problem would be who would run the town? Urwin had the idea of a council, but the people in Vallaki – rightly or wrongly – put a lot of stock in noble blood and ancient families.
Not coming to any firm solutions, Urwin also mentioned the vineyard – Wizard of Wines – this is where all of the wine from Barovia was brewed, and it was one of the only things keeping the people going, but Urwin had not heard from them for some time. He revealed that his father ran the vineyard, but they had a bit of a… troublesome relationship. Urwin asked Varus if he and his friends would consider investigating. After this Varus kicked back in the taproom and enjoyed his Barovian ale – if enjoyed is the right word for someone who is used to spectacular Dwarven concoctions. The rest of the party talked to Father Lucien, who agreed to take in Myrtle and give her shelter for the night and then take her to the orphanage in the morning. He revealed that the reason the town has protection from Strahd was because of a powerful hallow spell that imbued the bones of a long dead Paladin, St Andral of Vallaki. The power of this enchantment prevented Strahd from entering the town boundaries – although it doesn’t stop his minions, which is why the gates were so closely guarded. However, the bones had very recently gone missing and the priest suspected his young grave digger, Milivoj, the only other person who knew about the bones and their secret. He suggested the party come back in the morning and talk to him – Lucien had made very little progress in getting through to him.
As a reward, Father Lucien offered them a ring, given to him by an old friend who fought alongside him many years ago. The ring was perfect for Idrim, imbuing his unarmed strikes with power and allowing him to charge the ring to release devastating strikes. Idrim managed to convince the priest that, actually, he should give him the ring IMMEDIATELY rather than waiting until the job was done, making very persuasive arguments. After this the party trouped off to the Blue Water to meet Varus, where they shared all they had heard and Varus regaled them with his own experiences. After a few drinks, they arranged rooms for the night and took a well-earned long rest – most of them in their beds, Varus in the taproom with his head on the table and an ale in his hand. But not everyone had a peaceful night’s rest. Dagark was plagued with dreams of the Spire of Glory, where he was anointed as a Paladin. A storm raged and the church was in ruins.
Heironeous spoke to Dagark, warning him about the path ahead, that he would need to grow stronger to survive. That Paladins are not made, they are forged. An avatar of pure lightning appeared in front of him, greatsword in hand, and battle commenced. Dagark fought valiantly against the creature, but was eventually bested. But Heironeous revealed that there were lessons to be learned, even in defeat. With this he marked Dagark as a Valkyr – a chosen avatar of Heironeous – and gifted him Valkyr’s Lance, a powerful lightning weapon. As he awoke from the dream, he uttered the command word, and the javelin appeared in his hand, much to his and Idrim’s surprise. The group then headed back over to the church to investigate St Andral’s tomb and talk to the young gravedigger. After some threats and persuasion, he admitted that he had taken the bones but that it didn’t matter because it was all a lot of superstitious rubbish and he had needed the money to provide for his younger brother and sister in the local orphanage. He had been told to steal the bones by the local coffinmaker, a man by the name of Henrik van der Voort, and had handed them over to him at his shop just yesterday. The party decided to head over straight away – after taking a quick shopping detour of course.
They visited Gadof Blinsky’s toy shop, remembering his name from their first night in Barovia – he had made that doll that Mad Mary’s daughter had left behind. There was nothing too spectacular in his shop except for some grotesque toys, but there was a doll which looked strikingly like Ireena. Blinksy explained that the doll was a custom request for the captain of the guard, Izek Stranzi, and that he would be in serious trouble if he didn’t have it ready when the captain arrived later that day. While this was going on Varus took the time to sneak into the backroom and located a doll by the name of Pidlwick II – and immediately decided to steal it. After a few quick manoeuvres, he was out of the shop without a sound… The party made their excuses and left, and a quick examination by the Paladin found the doll to be quite evil. It snubbed the Paladin and the Cleric, but hugged Varus’ leg and smiled a sickly sweet smile at him. It seemed Varus had made a new friend. They then made a vist to Quen’s Arcane Emporium to see if Destiny could get help opening up the ornate arcane chest they had found. Sylvaris Quen, a drow wizard, ran the shop and identified the item as a Secret Chest. It could be opened using the Knock spell, but the caster would have to modify the verbal and somatic components of the spell in order to bypass the additional security measures its owner had taken. For a princely sum, saving the party a lot of time, she helped Destiny decipher the various modifications, and a successful casting saw the chest pop open and another chest was summoned forth. Inside they found – among other things – some arcane bracers, as well as a magically sealed spellbook and a note written in strange runes. Now it was time to visit the coffinmaker.
The party visited the shop of Henrik Van Der Voort, the local Coffinmaker, in search of the Bones of St Andral – getting to know their new friend Pidlwick along the way. The clockwork boy seemed to have a great affinity for Varus, but didn’t seem to like the Paladin too much – going so far as to draw a crude picture of a stick man in plate mail hanging by the neck, with the word PALADIN scrawled underneath… When they arrived at the shop, the elderly craftsman was surly and rude towards the party, perhaps sensing that the game was up. He informed them that what they were searching for could be found upstairs and refused to say any more. Imagine the surprise when our heroes found not only the bones of St Andral, but a host of rabid vampire spawn… a battle ensued, and while it was fairly evenly matched at the start, soon more vampire spawn popped out from empty coffins, crates and other hiding places to join the fray, and our adventurers found themselves in trouble. Eventually, one of the vampires grabbed the bundle of bones, launching himself out of the window – and Idrim, being used to such acrobatics, launched himself after the vampire in order to give chase. Two other vampires followed him, and the party were left to deal with the remaining spawn in the upstairs of the shop. They eventually triumphed, and took off after their errant monk – with some not-so-elegant window jumping – to see what had happened. Varus and Pidlwick detained the shopkeeper, rendering him unconscious thanks to one of the tiny mechanical doll’s knockout darts – Pidlwick was left to guard the unconscious Van Der Voort.
The vampires made a beeline for a huge, imposing mansion over the other side of town, and managed to get inside before the party caught up with them. As they investigated the exterior, the lady of the manor – Fiona Wachter – emerged, conjuring an arcane shield over the property that barred anyone from entering, either by arcane means or brute force. She stated that the group had no hope of challenging her power, and that the ritual to remove the bones’ enchantment would soon be complete – leaving the party with a race against time to save Vallaki from Strahd’s clutches.
As the group pondered what to do, Varus (now seemingly armed with a rather unusual-looking arcane crossbow) went back for Pidlwick – only to find he had very merrily beheaded the unconscious shopkeeper. Varus crept into the street and affixed the head to an iron spike and managed to narrowly avoid being spotted by the town guard, led by Guard Captain Izek Stranzi. Back at the mansion, the party were pondering what to do when Urwin Martikov – owner of the Blue Water Inn – arrived, accompanied by Sylvaris Quen, the arcane merchant they had met very recently. He seemed surprised that the party would go after the Wachters without informing him, but revealed his Wareraven nature and lent his and Sylvaris’ strength to the group. Sylvaris believed that she could potentially breach the Wachters defences, and the party took a well-earned rest while she consulted her arcane tomes. After an hour or so, with little progress made, the party were interrupted by the sounds of a lute in the distance, as a wandering bard by the name of Piotr approached. He explained he had been sent by Madam Eva, who had divined that they would need some very specific help with their quest. He pulled an ornate Tarokka case from his sleeve, and selected a card which began to glow with pink arcane energy. He then whipped his hand back and threw the card through the air with uncanny aim, and arcane energy disintegrated the invisible wall of force before their very eyes, removing the barrier to entry. He agreed to join the party and aid them on their quest, as instructed by Madam Eva.
Thankfully the occupants inside did not seem to notice that the spell had ended, and the group took this opportunity to sneak round the rear of the mansion and infiltrate via the backdoor. They found themselves in a series of small cloakrooms in the servants quarters, but keen eyes noticed a secret door concealed behind cloaks and aprons, leading to a hidden basement… down the stairs, and through a trapdoor, they found themselves in a large root cellar with a dirt floor. Dagark and Idrim bounded across the floor, and found themselves set upon by several long-dead skeletons, hidden beneath the loose dirt. The party dispatched the skeletons with little problem – though not particularly quietly – and then set about searching the cellar. They found footprints which led up to a blank wall, and – suspecting a hidden door – prepared themselves for what they might find behind there. Dagark – ever the brave (or foolish?) Paladin entered first, and was greeted by the sight of a series of cultists performing a ritual, overseen by one of the vampires they had pursued earlier. A fight broke out, and Sylvaris expended some of her most powerful magic to thin out the crowd so that the party could focus on the vampire, wiping out the cultists with a vitriolic sphere of acid and stopping the ritual in its tracks. The party then did battle with the vampire – and it was quickly overwhelmed, with Varus dealing a grievous death blow from his Arcane Crossbow. Buoyed by the rescue of the bones, and the vanquishing of their foe, they felt emboldened and their power felt bolstered. They did some healing and dressed their various wounds before Martikov urged them to take the fight to the Wachters upstairs, claiming there would never be a better chance to remove this blight from Vallaki. But would the party heed his call?