The game begins with our five would-be heroes showing up in the land of Barovia. The mists have brought them each here separately.
Hezekiah wakes up with a start. He shouldn’t be able to hear the howling of wolves inside an inn in the middle of Waterdeep. But he’s not in Waterdeep, he’s lying in the middle of a cobblestone street within in a small village. The architecture of the row houses is strange, and the towering pines of the dark woods to the north and west of the village look nothing like the weirwoods of the Sword Coast. He gains his bearings as he remembers his “dream” of the night before with a shudder. Seeing no sign of life in the village other than a single shaft of light coming from the open doorway of a large building in the square before him, he makes his way there.
For Devlin, waking up at all is a surprise. He was sure he was dead. The beast in the fog, whatever it was, had dealt him a mortal blow. But now, he’s coming to outside a small church in a village he’s never seen. A tired and worn-looking priest is asking him if he’s okay. Though he’s alive, he’s pretty fucking far from okay. His own lifeblood is still drying all down the front of his studded leather tunic. But strangely, there’s no wound in his neck, not even a scar to prove there had been one. The priest seems to be in a hurry to get back into the church, and directs Devlin south down the street to the village square where he may be able to find some answers at Barovia’s only tavern, the Blood of the Vine. On his way there, he spots only one other person on the street, Hezekiah, who he mistakes for a human child at first. After exchanging unpleasantries, Hezekiah disappears into the tavern and Devlin follows.
Meanwhile, Baron has been following the strange gypsy’s directions, traveling west along the road to reach Barovia. He comes upon large stone buttresses flanking an old iron gate. As he moves to inspect it, another human, also in chainmail steps out of the woods. It is Zivago. They speak for a moment, and then watch as the rusty gate creaks open without anyone touching it. Troubled, but intent on reaching his destination, Baron moves through the gate. Zivago turns to head the other way, but quickly turns back as the misty fog returns, growing so thick to the east that he can barely see the road beneath his feet. He follows Baron at a distance of about a quarter mile attempting to remain hidden, and doing a fine job of it for someone untrained in the arts of stealth, and wearing unmuffled chainmail armor.
Zib steps out of the mist and also finds himself along a muddy road in a pine forest. There’s the smell of something dead nearby in the woods, but seeing a large human in armor making his way toward him, he hides, and lets the man pass before following the traveler while remaining hidden, the dead thing forgotten. The bearded human doesn’t notice him, but then Zib fails to notice another armored human following the man from further back along the road. So as Baron reaches a northwesterly bend in the road and sees the road descend ahead, out of the forest and into a foggy valley toward a small village on the far side, he’s unaware that he has some shadows, which are also unaware of each other.
High Dexterity (Stealth) checks easily beat each other’s passive Perception. Baron doesn’t turn around, intent on making the village before the storm.
The three travelers take in the valley from their separate vantage points. On its far side, in the distance is a mountain range. Above the range, dark clouds brew, threatening to turn the overcast, gray day into night hours early. Between the approaching storm and the howling of wolves coming from the forest around them, his shadows decide to pick up the pace, and finally notice one another. Zib mistakenly believes that Zivago is stalking him, and starts to run. Zivago, seeing Zib running toward the traveler he met earlier, begins running too, and Baron turns to see what looks like a strange little gnome being chased by the fellow he ran into back at the gate.
After the three converge and it’s clear that no one has any ill intentions towards anyone else, they agree to make their way to the village together. The streets are eerily silent and deserted, and the only light comes from the open tavern door.
While this is going on, Devlin and Hezekiah are learning their first lessons in Barovian hospitality. A table of three women, looking out of place in brightly colored clothing, converse quietly among themselves, showing no interest in the newcomers.
Hezekiah, having entered the tavern a few moments before Devlin, is flat out ignored by the barkeep when he attempts to make conversation, but is invited to join the bar’s only other occupant, a male villager sitting alone at a table, drinking a glass of wine. Devlin doesn’t have much luck making small talk either, as the dour barkeep doesn’t even look up from washing a set of glasses, and cheerlessly intones “Wine…One copper a glass. One silver a pitcher.”
Devlin is invited to join their table by the villager, who offers to buy him a drink, calling the barkeep Arik, and remarking that it has been years since the village of Barovia has seen two strangers arrive on the same day. They begin chatting, and he introduces himself as Ismark, son of the Burgomaster, Kolyan Indirovich.
About this time, the other three player characters arrive, bringing the total number of new arrivals in town to five, just one shy of the total number of villagers encountered to this point. They then notice one of the women at the other table surreptitiously checking them out as Ismark invites them over, calling to Arik for a pair of pitchers.
They join the table and introductions are made. When asked if the town is empty, Ismark replies that the villagers are most likely all in their homes. They rarely venture outside. When asked why, he points off to the northwest and says “The devil in the castle is the reason. It is his town, his land, and he controls it with an iron fist.” When asked if the devil has a name, he replies in a low voice, “Strahd”, quickly hushing those who repeat it out loud with “Do not invoke the name of the devil unless you wish to attract his notice. His spies are everywhere”.
Meanwhile, Zib has broken out a banjo and begun to play a tune, hoping to garner a free meal and possibly board. Unfortunately, his fret work is off this day, and the chords come out harsh and discordant, earning a few sour looks, and no accolades from his audience.
Charisma (Performance) roll of 5. (no Entertainer background, so a check was in order, and due to his race and the xenophobia of most Barovians, I would have enforced disadvantage, but Paul’s initial roll was so low, there was no need.
As the travelers ask questions of Ismark, attempting to learn what they can of this strange place, they quickly realize that the others are all from familiar-sounding cities and towns along the Sword Coast or in the North of Faerun. Ismark claims to have heard of none of these places, but also to never have left Barovia. As someone asks why, the howling of wolves can be heard again in the distance, and Ismark again mentions the devil, Strahd as the reason that “No one leaves Barovia. No one ever leaves Barovia”.
Baron asks if Ismark knows the Burgomaster and is surprised to find out that Ismark is Kolyan’s son. However, when Baron shows Ismark the letter, he proclaims it a forgery. Even stranger, Ismark mentions that the Burgomaster HAD sent out a letter recently, but this was certainly not it. It’s not his father’s handwriting. But oddly enough, the contents of the letter are accurate. The “love of his life” referred to in the letter is actually the man’s adopted daughter and Ismark’s half sister, Ireena, who has attracted the attention of Strahd, and been bitten by him. Oh, yeah. The devil, Strahd, is a vampire. Ancient, and has ruled the land since anyone living can remember. The land is his, the mists are his, the people, his.
At this point, at least two of the characters make the connection between their strange arrival in the mists and Ismark’s last statement, convinced that somehow this Strahd has brought them here. Baron, focused on the letter, asks if Ismark can introduce him to the Burgomaster, to which Ismark replies that it’s not possible, the Burgomaster died earlier this week “of a broken heart”. The storm has reached the village and is raging outside, and Ismark readies to depart for home, suggesting the characters ask Arik to stay in the common room above the tavern for the night. Arik charges them each a silver piece. Those paying with gold receive an electrum piece and four silver for change, the electrum coin bearing the image of a man’s face with sharp features and a widow’s peak.
Ismark departs, promising to see them again soon, and the strangers in a strange land make their way upstairs to bed down for the night, uneasy in their environment, and unsettled by the thought that they may be at the mercies of a monster.