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Tag: backstory

Chapter 16: The Amber Temple, Part 3
Leaving Evan behind to continue his experiments in the alchemist's lab, the heroes made their way along the upper west hall to the double doors at the end. Inside, they found a plain dining hall with a large table set with an enormous feast! They could smell roast meat, fresh vegetables, warm bread, piping hot gravy, and good, strong wine. Cira, Shokk, and Volta moved in as Verity, Caxius, and Kyne slowly examined the room. Cira saw a tarnished copper ewer on the table as Shokk dug in to the food, which tasted as delicious as it smelled. Cira quickly realized the food was but an illusion, as the wine did not cleanse her palate. Only the copper ewer was real. As she reached to grab for it, the food vanished. Eight specters, literal ghosts at feast. passed through the wall. With a raise of the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind, Cira blasted them all from existence.

Making their way downstairs, the heroes examined the two sets of double doors leading off the main hall by the great statue. The first set had been sundered, and only an empty hall with shattered weapons, crushed bones, and rent armor remained. As they entered, Shokk, Verity, and Volta were attacked by an invisible force. Poltergeists, legacies of long-forgotten adventurers, as it turned out were responsible, but enchanted steel and spells put a quick end to them all. In the second vault, the heroes found treasure - mounds of it - when the amber doors were breached by Shokk. He also found a beating from some invisible force, but Cira dispelled the enchantment and revealed a large, amber statue of an armored man with the head of a hawk. Despite the blows it rained down, the heroes fought back and shattered it to bits.


Vampire spawn awaited in the great vault. No doubt Strahd had been here, and prepared for any who sought to find his secrets.

Behind the statue, they found cracks in the wall that led into another large chamber. Volta, Verity, and Shokk began to squeeze their way through, and found a large vault with a black, marble floor and three enormous blocks of amber in niches. A half a dozen rotted crates were scattered about, and a gold marble stair with a black railing on the far end of the room spiraled upwards. The huge blocks were crude sarcophagi, but the trio found the room was inhabited. As Volta crossed by one of crates, it sundered from within - as did the rest! Vampires, all clad like adventurers from some far-off land, jumped on the heroes. Kyne slipped in the chamber, the Sunsword flashing with lighting-fast jabs. Caxius slipped in, blasting about with eldritch force, while Cira came behind, sunlight flashing forth from the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind. The sunlight, Volta's axe, and Shokk's blade did the heavy lifting, and soon the vampire spawn were all dust.

They examined the three amber blocks, and Kyne found they each contained vestiges as well. One offered the dark gift of the Vampyr, and Kyne had no doubt this is where Strahd had made his dark bargain centuries ago. He received another gift, from Zhudun, the Corpse Star, which enabled him to raise the dead - once - at the cost of appearing like one dead himself. With their curiosity satisfied, the heroes made their way up the stairs. They found a great library, lined with black marble bookcases. The books were all blank, but the arcane casters among the party realized they would reveal their text when the proper command words were spoken. They also found a pair of secret doors. One to the south led to steps that emerged on the floor of the main hall, behind the great statue.

The other led into a small, dusty chamber. But further examination revealed a second door leading west into an opulent bedchamber, albeit one that was dusty and festooned with cobwebs. A figure in rich but tattered robes stood there, and turned as the door opened. It was a skeleton, its eye sockets blazing with pinpoints of red light. A lich! "Who are you?" It asked in a puzzled voice, "and why are you here?" Caxius introduced them, to which it replied. "Ah, I am...well, I don't remember who I am." An amnesiac lich. Cira, feeling bold, cast a Greater Restoration spell from the scroll they had found earlier, and the undead wizard's memory was restored in full. He introduced himself as Exethanter, and said he was there learning knowledge. He knew the heroes were after it as well, and said there was one book in the library they did not need a password to read. A quick search turned it up - the Tome of Strahd! A quick read revealed much of the dark lord's history, and the heroes felt better prepared to face the vampire.


Exethanter was terrifying yet quite well-mannered for an undead wizard.

The lich revealed there was one more vault, which could be found off the second balcony above the great hall. The heroes made their way, finding a secret door at the rear of the small shrine there, and went downstairs to what appeared to be the far end of the collapsed hall to the east. A single vault was there, already open, with three amber sarcophagi in it. As Shokk entered, a figure appeared - a gray-skinned toad-like humanoid in armor carrying a wicked sword. A death slaad, Kyne realized! It was a tough foe, but the heroes cut it down swiftly. The vestiges trapped here offered great strength, resilience, and true sight, but most of the heroes declined their bargains.

Resting briefly, the heroes opted to leave the Amber Temple. As they made their way down to Tsolenka Pass, Kyne stumbled across a ring in the trail. Fascinated, he picked it up. It was gold, with the two-headed raven sigil in onyx as the stone. Putting it on, he was almost overwhelmed by a strange presence. Verity identified the ring, revealing it to be the component of a Magic Jar spell. It was none other than Strahd, attempting to possess him! He tossed the ring aside, but swore he heard a snarl of rage on the wind. Then, as the heroes neared the bridge across the pass, they heard the flap of wings in the dark, cloudy skies overhead....
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Prologue: An Invitation/Death House
A company of six stalwart adventurers sat in the River Shining Tavern in the town of Daggersford. They had been a scant few adventures together - fighting bandits along the Trade Way south, goblins in the Ardeep Forest, and even escorting a caravan north to Waterdeep. They had been fast friends since a young age, and planned to seek fortune, glory, and (for some) redemption, together for years yet to come.

There was Rundoki Wrathblade, a dwarven paladin of Tyr, seeking a measure of justice for himself and those he had wronged in the past. He and another rough youth, a pale human rogue of tainted blood named Kyne Darkblade, had come up together. Kyne had turned from darker pursuits to seeking down criminals for coin. Through Rundoki's religious studies he had met Cira Sundance, a young priestess of Lathander from the Morninglow Tower. She had been friends for quite some time with the bard and adventuress Tiberas Starkiller, a half-elven lass whose tales and songs thrilled patrons in Daggerford and beyond. They had made an unlikely friend in Volta, a young half-orc woman raised by woodcutters to the east of town. She had become a local hero after killing a group of bandits that had slain the granddaughter of Daggerford's ruler, Lady Morwen Daggerford. Despite her rough appearance, she loved her fancy long coat and would whittle toys for the local children. And the most unlikely friend was Evan Timers, nicknamed "the Pants-Plunderer," a gnome and would-be wizard, trickster, and scholar of sorts.


The River Shining Tavern was warm and cozy, but the night was dark...and full of terrors.

They discussed their next venture over cold ale and a warm fire as dark clouds and rain made for a cold night outside. A stranger came into the tavern, a dark-haired man dressed in bright silks under a traveler's cloak. Gold winked from a single earring and off rings on his fingers. He approached the group and offered them a sealed letter. "I have come seeking help for a small town, east of here, on the borders of the forest. You look like the sort that might find such work...attractive?" He spoke with a strange accent, though there was neither menace or pleading in his voice. "Leave on the morrow if you wish to reply," he said, "and follow the trail east into the woods. Coin will be offered for your help, among other rewards. I will take my leave of you, for the chill of the night is on me, and I have miles yet to go ere I rest." Evan was able to identify him as one of the Vistani, mysterious travelers and traders who appeared now and again along the Sword Coast, apparently from somewhere to the south.

With that, the group looked at the letter. It was a missive from the Burgomaster of a small town named Barovia, a town that none of the companions were familiar with. It said that a great evil had fallen on their town, and the burgomaster's own adopted daughter was imperiled by it - a vampire! It was decided. They would leave come the morning.

The heroes set out east, into the highlands and the Misty Forest beyond, following the trail the mysterious messenger had indicated. The morning fog had only thickened as they traveled, and by midday, they were lost. The heroes managed to find a new trail, one that appeared to head west, back to the coast. Volta tried to head east, cutting a trail of her own, but her breath seemed to be caught in her throat. The cold mist was choking her! It appeared there was no other way to go. As they traveled, the heroes realized the very forest around them had changed and the trail rose instead of fell. Evan surmised they had gone through a crossing - a place where the barrier between worlds was thin. They could have crossed into the Feywild...or the Shadowfell.

Following the path, Volta found a dead body off the side of the road. It was a man, badly mauled by wolves, and he carried a letter. This too was from the Burgomaster, one Kolyan Indirovich. But instead of pleading for his adopted daughter Ireena, he urged those who received the missive to call upon holy men and seal up the ways to his land. For it was cursed, and ruled by a vampire named Strahd von Zarovich. There was no other way now. Feeling trapped by the mist and the dark trees, the heroes nevertheless pressed on. They reached a pair of massive gates, marking the entry to this land. As they passed through the great iron portals flanked by headless statues, the gates slammed shut behind them, like the doom-laden toll of a great, black bell.


The gates of Barovia, which slammed behind the heroes like the door of a tomb shutting for the last time.

Making their way forward a few miles, the heroes came across tended fields under overcast skies and a small village. No doubt this was Barovia. Night was fast approaching, and as they thought to seek an inn, the group saw a pair of children in the road ahead. It was a girl of about 10 and a shy boy of about 8. She wore a fine, gray dress and a red cape, and the boy wore a hooded gray coat, both with silver stitching and lined with fine fur. The girl introduced herself as Rosavalda and the boy as her brother, Thornboldt. She also said that there was a monster in her house, and her parents were trapped in a very matter-of-fact manner. Volta, wasting no time with children apparently in danger, followed them back to a narrow four-story home that appeared to be in need of some repair.


"Mama and papa call us Rose and Thorn," the girl said, as the children led Volta and the rest to their house.

The heroes went in past the rusty gate and through the heavy wooden front doors, after no one responded to their knocking. The group made their way in through the foyer to a great hall, one with polished black marble floors, a massive hearth on one end, and on the other a rosy, marble staircase that spiraled upwards. Doors led to a kitchen and pantry, a dining hall, and a den complete with stuffed wolves and some functional crossbows in a locked cabinet. The walls were paneled with carved wood showing forest and pastoral scenes, some with disturbing things hidden in the designs. Seeing no way downstairs, the group tried to ask the children where their parents were...only to find Rose and Thorn had vanished!

Making their way upstairs, the group found a library and a conservatory on the second floor, along with servants' quarters. As Tiberias played the harpsichord she found and Kyne searched the conservatory, the rest investigated the library. Cira found a secret room - complete with books of dark, infernal lore and the skeleton of what had no doubt been a thief slouched over an open chest. As the cleric approached it, the skeleton animated and books flew off the shelves, attacking like a swarm of bats with razor-edged wings! Although Evan was left bloodied and hurt, the group managed to dispatch most of the books and the skeleton without too much injury.

Something was definitely amiss in the house. Some rooms appeared fresh; others overrun with cobwebs and dust. Making their way to the third floor, the group was attacked by a suit of plate armor mounted on a stand at the head of the stairs that animated and tried to kill them! It was quickly dispatched, and they found abandoned bedrooms and a dusty nursery. When Volta entered, seeing that the cradle was occupied by a suspicious bundle, a misty apparition appeared! It was a young woman, possibly a nursemaid, though her eyes were hollow and her face contorted with wrath. She was translucent and gave off a ghostly blue-white light. "Nooo!" She cried, "leave the child alooone!" This horrid specter attacked, and only with Cira's holy fire and Rundoki's sacred blade was the thing finally defeated, dispersing into a silvery mist with a wail. Volta had taken what she believed to be a baby to safety, only to find it was no more than a bundle of blankets.


The wail of the nursemaid's specter chilled them to the bone.

Further searches apparently angered something within the house, as while Volta and Evan found a secret panel in one bedroom, a sheet and a sword in the master bedroom attempted to murder Kyne and Tiberas, while Rundoki and Cira fought an animated broomstick! Dealing with these threats, the group went upstairs, finding a dusty, cobwebbed attic with a room full of furniture on one side, a few cramped bedrooms, and a door closed with a padlock. Kyne was able to slip the lock, and inside they found a room furnished for two children, complete with toys, a dollhouse fashioned as a replica of the house they were in...and the bones of a boy and girl of about 8 and 10. Rose and Thorn appeared, leaving no doubt as to their ghostly nature. "Don't leave us," they implored, but fear had gripped the hearts of the heroes. Rundoki tried to reason with the restless spirits, but as they attempted to possess some of the others, blades and spells were brought to bay. Tiberas was nearly slain, as a ghostly hand passed through the bard's heart, causing it to cease beating for a brief moment. But blades and spells dispersed the ghosts, and their remains were bound up in sheets and taken, with Rundoki, Cira, and Volta hoping they could be laid to rest.

Kyne searched the dollhouse and the toys, finding a strange label on them. "Is no Blinksy, is no fun!" The labels declared. The dollhouse was more interesting, as it showed a secret stair spiraling down from the attic to...something...below. He found a matching secret door in the room with the sheet-covered furnishings, and opened it. They followed a wooden spiral stair down, until it became stone, and then down further into a series of narrow, packed-earth tunnels braced with heavy wooden beams. A series of crypts lay beyond, and they found a pair of unoccupied ones, labeled "Rosavalda Durst" and "Thornboldt Durst." The children's remains were laid to rest with a prayer, and they reappeared briefly, waving goodbye silently (and sadly, it seemed) as they vanished into a silvery mist. Despite the dark and the terrors around them, the heroes felt uplifted for the briefest of moments. With their hearts eased and their nerves steeled, they continued to look for the monster under the house...

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Epic!