Journal Posts

Tag: introduction

Chapter 23: The Crypts of Castle Ravenloft
The heroes had returned to Barovia village following Kyne's betrayal in the dungeons beneath Castle Ravenloft. Ismark Kolyanovich had put them up for the night, and when dawn came, they decided on a course of action. The Sunsword had been lost to them, and with no other clues to go on, Evan came up with the suggestion that they visit Madam Eva and have their fortunes told once more. Lacking any other clear course, the rest of the group agreed. Shortly after breaking their fast the heroes made their way along the road out of town towards the Vistani encampment at Tser Pool. The Vistani had not moved on, and though they were initially wary, they remembered the heroes and greeted them cautiously but warmly. After an exchange of gifts, they were led to Madam Eva's tent.

"Welcome again," the old woman said as they entered. "You have come to have your fortunes told, yes? I will give you three answers. One for the question you came to ask, one for the question you did not come to ask, and one for the question you did not know to ask." Although confused, the heroes paid the price of one gold coin and Evan stepped forward to draw the cards. The gnome wizard drew the 6 of Glyphs - the Anarchist. "The treasure you seek is in a hall of bones on a table of bones." He next drew the Seer. "Your foe awaits you in a place of warmth, wisdom, and despair." Finally, Evan drew the Broken One. "A man of faith, whose sanity hangs by a thread. He will be your greatest ally...now. There is another with him you need. One eye, one hand." With that, she told them that the best repayment would be to give Strahd peace and lay him to rest at long last. The heroes thanked her and left, pondering her reading.


The heroes had questions, and Madam Eva had answers...

They came to the conclusion that the "hall of bones" could only be an ossuary, likely found beneath a cathedral or castle. As they had found nothing of the sort in the Amber Temple or the Abbey of St. Markovia, they realized it had to be beneath Castle Ravenloft. Second, they determined a place of warmth would have a hearth, and wisdom indicated books, and finally that place would also have to be in the castle. Thus, they would likely find Strahd in his study. Finally, the broken man of faith could only be Father Donavich, whose son Doru had become a vampire. They visited him at the church of the Morninglord in Barovia, and he agreed to accompany them to the castle when they were ready to confront Strahd. "Not for revenge. But for justice." And more importantly, there was one there with him, a man with dusky skin and pale hair. He wore a patch over one eye, and one hand was gloved with an archer's gauntlet. He was Zahar, an archer with a knack for magic, and a hunter of werewolves. Both Caxius and Shokk had met him what seemed like months ago when they set out from Daggerford to investigate werewolves in the Misty Forest. He'd been lost in the woods for days he'd said, only to find himself...here. With the duo vouching for him (and with him having nowhere else to go) Zahar decided fighting a vampire lord and finding a way out of this land sounded like productive uses of his time.

With that, the heroes made their way back up the road to the castle of Strahd von Zarovich. They ran into a group of hunters along the way, shortly after finding wolf tracks and a hidden bundle of clothes in the mud near the gallows at the Tser crossroads. This same group had suggested campsites to them in the past, and with a short detour, Volta determined it would be an excellent place to be ambushed. Werewolves, they surmised. Well, time to deal with them later.

The black coach was waiting for them as they reached the western Gates of Ravenloft. The mute driver gestured as the coach's doors opened. Without word, the heroes climbed in or clambered on the runners, and took the ride up to the castle. The coach clattered across the drawbridge and onto the cobbled courtyard. The doors of the castle stood open, the light of torches spilling out. The heroes made their way inside, past the entry hall, and to the spiral stair that down to the flooded dungeon far below. They made their through the torture chamber, up onto the balcony, and to the room with the strange, stone brazier.


The black coach awaited them. Strahd knew they were coming, and was seemingly unconcerned.

There were seven slots around it, and a verse detailing seven locales around the land. Seven stones, each a different color, rested in small depressions around the edge of the brazier. The large hourglass above was filled with black sand that did not run down to the bottom. Using his arcane talents, Evan identified the brazier as a teleportation device. One of the colored stones could be cast into the white flame burning without heat in its center. The flame would change color, the sand run down, and a teleportation circle open. After a minute, the circle would close and the stone roll back up to its starting position. They determined some of the likely locales - the Amber Temple, the Abbey of St. Markovia, the castle's highest tower - but declined to try any at the moment.

They turned their attention to the stairs leading up from this room, and took the middle path. It led to a fog-shrouded, narrow corridor with a pit trap that Shokk barely avoided falling down thanks to Volta's reflexes and strong grip. The polished marble shaft led down at an angle, likely back to the flooded dungeon Evan thought. Zahar made his way forward, carefully blocking the pit's lid closed with a spike after it reset. Edging down the narrow passage, the heroes found it ended in a blank stone door with no handle or hinge. Volta pushed it open, and discovered that they had exited into the crypts beneath the castle. Once again, fog crept up to their shins and they could feel the squish of filth beneath their boots. Thousands of bats clung to the ceiling overhead.

Without any other prospects, the heroes began to search the crypts. They passed a few by, opening the likely prospects. They found the crypt of Saint Markovia herself, where bones animated into a giant skeleton with long, bony claws and a handful of skeleton warriors. These foes were quickly smashed, and the only thing remaining was a decorated thighbone on the marble slab. A spirit, that of the blessed saint herself, appeared and bid them use her body as a weapon. The thighbone was magic, enchanted to strike like a mace that would disrupt the undead with its holy power. Verity took the weapon, and the bard had a determined look on her face.

Another crypt opened into a shaft that dropped 40 feet into a vault filled with coffins. The group descended, finding that the dozen plus coffins were occupied - by wights! But Verity's quick thinking led her to dazzle the wights with a hypnotic pattern of lights, giving Evan time enough to surround them with a wall of fire. The wights that weren't consumed by flame were cut down in swift order, their life-stealing touch no match for enchanted steel and silver arrows.

They went on, finding some minor treasures in one crypt, and a harness of wood, leather, and metal in another that appeared to be some sort of flying machine - along with a musket pistol, smoke powder, and plenty of silver bullets! Volta took the contraption, while Evan took the gun. They found another crypt, that of King Triosky, and a swarm of skeletal body parts flew out and attacked! Two skeletal warriors with four arms rose, as did the skeleton on the bier. It had a three-faced helm with three skulls beneath! This dreaded skull lord and his undead minions fought hard, and Volta nearly fell as several of the heroes were wounded badly. But Caxius used his magic wand to change one of the skeletal warriors into a bunny rabbit and absconded with the tiny beast! With these foes defeated, they found the skull lord's plate armor was enchanted to provide resistance to the cold touch of necrotic magic.


The Skull Lord, King Triosky, was not amused at being roused.

They made their way back to a small side chamber, blocked by a portcullis. Shokk was able to raise the gate, and they found a larger tomb with a coffin on a large, marble slab. Three statues stood in niches along the far wall - two angels flanking a young warrior in shining mail. This was the tomb of Strahd's brother, Sergei von Zarovich. His body was perfectly preserved in his coffin, and his shining half-plate looked new. Cira could tell it was theirs to take, that Sergei was at peace with Ireena's (or Tatyana's, as it were) passage beyond the misty borders of this dark land. This was a place of peace. The heroes chose to rest here for a short time, then press on to find the ossuary and take the Sunsword back...
Viewable by: Public
2 comments
Chapter 20: Dinner With the Count
After a restful night in Vallaki, the heroes opted to head to Krezk to meet with the Abbot of the Abbey of St. Markovia. Along the road, as the heavy rain turned into wet snow, they saw a skeletal horseman plodding down the trail. The clop and rattle of the bony horse, the jingle of his rusted mail - all mournful sounds they had heard before. They stood aside to let this mute horror, this sign of Strahd's merciless wrath, pass in peace. It was not to be. A cold light burned in the skull's empty eye-sockets and the figure brought up its rusted lance. A raspy voice echoed from the hollow skull. "I will have my sword!" It was Vladimir Horngaard, his spirit now possessing this undead thing!

The former commander of the Order of the Silver Dragon charged Shokk, whose armor narrowly turned aside the lance. In an instant, the group fell on the dead knight and his skeletal horse, and they both fell under a flurry of blows and shattering spells. "I will be back..." the voice cried hollowly, fading off into an eerie echo.


This skeletal rider was no harmless phantom.

The rest of the trail was clear, and the heroes headed straight to the abbey. They climbed up the old switchback trail that led out of the village and up to the cliff where the abbey stood. Otto Belview greeted them in his cheery yet mildly insane way, escorting them through the gates of the main building. The courtyard was quiet, and it appeared that his cousin had finally broken her chain and flown off. They had briefly conversed with one of the guards, and learned the bells of the abbey tolled at odd intervals, both day and night. As they were escorted into the main hall, they saw the Abbot there with his creation, Vasilika, and the simulacrum of the archmage Mordenkainen that Evan had created with magic wrought from a scroll found in the Amber Temple.

The Abbot greeted them, and they remarked on how fast Vasilika's education was progressing. The heroes told him of their difficulty with the night hag, Morgantha, and the Abbot was hard pressed to grant them any aid. He had been barred from the other realms, or so he said, and could do no more than offer them shelter. The simulacrum of Mordenkainen offered a solution. It had an enchantment that could grant the recipient true seeing, enough to see things not of this world. If the heroes could use this spell when one of their number fell into a nightmare, they could see the hag as she hovered near her victim. A charm to dispel magic would be enough to bring her forth. The charm around her neck, it explained, was the key to her power to fade into the ether. If that were taken, she would be vulnerable and could be slain.

The heroes agreed to stay the night, and enacted their plan. Cira waited patiently with the simulacrum as the others slept, and when Verity began to writhe and moan in the throes of a nightmare, she cast her spell. The hag appeared! With a furious snarl, she began to leap at Cira while she clutched for the small pendant around her neck. But Kyne was faster, and snatched it away. Morgantha howled with fury and unleashed her claws and spells, but she fell to Volta's axe and Shokk's sword. She was slain, and her body faded back into the nothing of dreams.


Morgantha had haunted their dreams for the last time.

Freed of her dogged haunting, the heroes thanked the Abbot come the morning and left. They opted to head back to Castle Ravenloft, taking advantage of what hours of daylight they had left. They arrived a few hours before sundown, in the midst of a storm. The black coach was waiting for them past the gates of Ravenloft, and the heroes chose to ride to the castle. The coach stopped in the courtyard, and they stepped out. The doors to the castle remained open, and the heroes entered cautiously. The foyer had four dragon statues, one perched in each corner, and the inner doors led to a vast, octagonal hall. Stairs to the north led up, a door to the east led back, and a hall to the south led to more stairs and another door. They could hear the thunderous, mournful tunes of an organ being played from behind that last set of doors.

A dusky-skinned elf with black hair wearing the rich garb of a castellan came down the stairs. "The master," he said in solemn tones, "is expecting you. He would like you to join him for dinner." Though Shokk and Cira prepared to walk off, Caxius turned with a smile and approached the double doors. Worrying for their friend, the rest of the group went with him. Beyond, there was a large dining hall, the huge table laid with a great feast. Across the room, playing the organ, was a dark-haired figure in black and red clothes. It was none other than Strahd von Zarovich himself. He turned as they entered.


Rahadin, the Count's chamberlain.

"Welcome, my friends. I am glad you accepted my invitation. Rahadin," he nodded to the elf, "you may leave us." With a nod, the elf closed the doors behind the heroes. Caxius and a couple of others dug into the feast, while Shokk, Cira, and Verity watched. "We do not need to be enemies," the Count exclaimed, "if fact, I can send you home, provided you agree to serve me for a time first." Questions came, suspicions were raised, and though Kyne felt the offer a fair one, the rest refused point-blank. "Foolish," Strahd chided. "Very foolish. You may stay the night to think on your refusal, but I warn the castle is not...safe." With a booming laugh from the vampire lord, the chandeliers overhead went out as a great rush of cold wind swept the dining hall. The tapers re-ignited, and Strahd was gone. The heroes could hear the doors of the castle booming shut. They might be trapped...


Verity wasn't sure if Strahd was playing a welcome...or a funeral dirge.

They began to explore the area, and found a secret panel behind the organ, which slid forward when one of the pedals was pressed. Shokk moved into a defensive redoubt behind, made his way to one of the castle's corner towers, and followed a cobweb-choked hall to a spiral stair leading up. The rest followed, and they climbed to a small room on the next floor. A white-haired balding man sat chained to a desk in a crowded room, ledgers, books, scrolls, and parchments cluttering every surface and the shelves behind him. He introduced himself as Lief Lipsiege, the count's accountant, and asked for naught save a bit of dinner. When Volta raised her axe to sever his chain, he misunderstood and shrieked with terror. A group of undead warriors and two undead sorcerers, all wights, entered from the stair up and wordlessly moved to attack the heroes. The battle was brief but intense, and the accountant unharmed. In gratitude, he gave them keys to the chests in the room and they took several hundred gold and silver coins and a strange book for themselves. There was another set of stairs that led up and out, the stairwell they had come up, which continued up, and another door that led deeper into the castle. Which way would they go...?
Viewable by: Public
1 comment
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...

Viewable by: Public
2 comments
Epic!