Yada, yada, yada, more spoilers ahead.
This session begins with a pair of new characters getting sucked into the mist and deposited in Barovia, although it happened so subtly, neither was aware of the change.
Cordelia, a cleric of the Raven Queen, is granted a vision from her deity, whose portfolio of Death makes her the perfect divine force to seek to oppose what’s going on in this strange little pocket between the planes. All she’s told is to travel this particular road, and not be surprised when she meets her prophesied aides. While their appearance and manner may be beneath the noble‘s usual station, they would be vital in her quest to put to rest something that should have died a normal death long ago.
Kristy has joined our table. An enthusiastic first-time player, we’re thrilled to have her. Unlike many new players, she’s got some experience observing (Critical Role), so is very quick to make use of spells and abilities another newbie might ignore out of analysis paralysis. Out of my random arrival spots for new characters entering the mist, she came up closest to the Village on the east side (inside the gates).
She arrives in the town square just minutes after Darien, a former soldier, turned sellsword, turned-adventuresome fighter.
Darien has followed the path of a group of Vistani who had drunk with him at the last town back, and offered adventure and excitement, and then ditched him in the dark of the night after a few days travel, just one night prior. He doesn’t catch up to them before he’s through an odd gate set into a pair of massive stone buttresses. The gate opens and closes on its own, letting him through.
Along with Kristy, Stanley is new this week. No stranger to the 3.5 edition of D&D and Pathfinder, he’s giving 5e a try, and I hope he finds the style of the gameplay to his liking. Between his and Kristy’s characters, they’re filling two gaps left by Baron’s departure, a front line heavily-armored weapon swinger, and divine spellcasting ability.
Maybe it’s a hangover, or simply a disregard for his own well-being, but Darien ignores the obvious enchantment at work. Catching up with those gypsies, or at least finding some sign of civilization before his provisions run out may be more important to him. He then smells something rotten, finds a partially-decomposed body just 15 feet from the road’s edge, hidden in some undergrowth. He finds a crumpled envelope in the man’s death grip fist. He begins to read it, then quickly stashes it, moving back to the path and continuing on his way as the howls of woods can be heard in multiple directions and getting closer.
He sees no actual wolves, as he hurries back along the road. Soon, he has entered a valley, and is approaching a village. He can now glance at the letter before heading into a square ahead.
They both find their way to the town square minutes apart, and enter the one place with any sign of life, the Blood of the Vine tavern. It is mid-morning, and some of the group which had met there the night before are waking up to find Baron gone. The pitchers of cheap wine have given some of them hangovers to power through, but such is a life of adventure, and its not often one has a few days as bad as the ones most of them have just suffered.
Darien and Cordelia enter the tavern. They each pay Arik the Bartender a copper piece for “Wine, one copper a glass.” and have a seat at the bar, as Zib, Zivago, and Devlin descend the stairs, also sitting at the bar. Both Cordelia and Zib inquire about breakfast (Gruel, 1 copper, Porridge, 1 silver) and both passing. There would be no “Try the Gruel!” table jokes, to which everyone was thankful.
Snarky banter is exchanged back and forth, and a bunch of insight checks determine that based on their limited sample set (Arik and each other), the newcomers, and those just meeting all “weren’t from around these parts”. In a bold move, Cordelia professes to be following a vision from her goddess, and then manages to own the sarcasm of the night award when she repeats her goddess’ words to the party, emphasizing the word “beneath” like only a noblewoman can. Zivago sniffs his armpits and heads outside to wash up at a well outside (and remove a bunch of two-day old dried blood, and is joined by Darien who asks the other heavily-armed former-soldier type for the lay of the land. Zivago doesn’t talk much but gives him a general idea of what’s going on. Devlin also joins them, washing even drier blood off his own tunic.
Zib is determined to find the Burgomaster’s house and resume conversation with Ismark to learn more of his story, and their surroundings. Hezekiah, who has come downstairs after pocketing Baron’s note and letter, and Devlin, who remembers waking up outside the day before and meeting the strange priest, are both in favor of heading to the church. Cordelia decides to join them to see what kind of gods are worshipped in this land, while Darien, recognizing the title Burgomaster from his own found letter will accompany Zivago and Zib to the south, in the direction they saw Ismark walk the night before.
Minutes later, Cordelia, Hezekiah, and Devlin hear muffled screams coming from inside, and somewhere beneath the church. Donavich answers their knock a few minutes later, and claims that he is “caring for a madman”. Pressed further in a diplomatic manner by Cordelia, and deceived by Hezekiah into thinking the halfling cared, Donavich admitted that it was his son, and that the poor lad had been bitten by Strahd after the last stranger in Barovia, a powerful wizard led a failed peasant uprising to the castle.
Now, Doru was cursed to everlasting undeath as a vampire! Hezekiah, claiming to have several alchemical remedies that “might be just the thing” to cure Doru’s condition, got Donavich to show them the trapdoor to the undercroft, and unlock the thick lock and chain barricading it.
Hezekiah and Cordelia descended hesitantly, while Devlin maintained overwatch with his bow and a readied arrow at the top of the stairs. Hezekiah was the first to see the vampire in the dim light seeping through the floorboards from candles above. Emaciated, the creature moaned about being hungry, oh so hungry as Hezekiah uttered the quick words of a Friends cantrip. The vampire would know his mood had been altered, but for a minute, he would be amenable to conversation, and confirmed Donavich’s story of the strange mage who assaulted the castle, but was beaten in a great magical duel, and disappeared from the fight. The others were slaughtered, but Doru was recognized as Donavich’s son, and drained by Strahd, turned into one of his spawn.
The minute was just about up as Hezekiah started back up the stairs. Cordelia, thinking this must be the undead she was sent to extinguish, but not knowing much about the creatures, decided to experiment with the radiant damage of her Sacred Flame cantrip. The damage was effective, but minimal, as Doru caught momentary flame, which doused itself an instant later, leaving smoking flesh, but no significant harm. Deciding discretion was wiser than remaining in the basement alone with the raging beast, she just beat Doru up the steps, while Devlin and Hezekiah threw the trapdoor shut, and an angry Donavich rechained it, before throwing them out of the church building.
Zib and Zivago, meanwhile, head south with Darien in tow, passing a townhouse from which wailing sobs emanate, and knock on the door of a big mansion that must be the burgomaster’s. Both notice the damage inflicted to the building’s exterior, and Zivago’s keen perception detects the tracks of both humans (booted and barefoot), and wolf paws in the yard. The windows have all been boarded over, and scorch marks and extinguished fires mark the walls. After some time, Ismark answers the door, and professes not to known them at all. He hadn’t been at the Blood of the Vine the night before. The party begins completing his answers for him, as they are nearly identical to those he gave the night before. Only his reaction to a comment about “the devil in the castle”, gets a response, as he belows “Strahd!” shaking his fist in the air and cursing in a local dialect. Zib and Zivago mention the note that an absent party member is carrying, and that it’s a forgery. Darien remains silent about the letter in his own pocket.
Zib asks how they could have met him but not the night before, and Ismark says it could have been one of Strahd’s spies, or perhaps the devil himself. Ismark agrees it is strange, and that if they are not agents of Strahd, then likely they are brought here for a reason. He would see this forged note they claimed to possess. They promised to return to him shortly and headed back to the town square early for an agreed rendezvous.
Hezekiah and Cordelia both talk Devlin out of following a small girl he spots down a side street to the east. Devlin retorts that it’s for the best, Cordelia now has a history of setting children on fire. Cordelia defends herself by reminding Devlin that said child was an unholy creature of darkness, and certainly of the age of consent before he was turned.
They meet the others as they both arrive nearly simultaneously back at the town square, and well ahead of the hour they had agreed upon. This time, they agree to stick together and visit the Burgomaster’s home again, and no one really thinks getting involved with children playing in otherwise empty streets is a good idea. As anticipated, Ismark confirms the letter which Baron had been carrying was a fake, but surprisingly, the one in Darien’s possession, which is revealed at this point, is not a forgery. The Burgomaster had sent it out a few days before he died. Darien reports that the courier was dead, to which a couple of characters remark on the initial bloody appearance of both Zivago and Devlin when they arrived in the village.
Ismark takes this all in, and asks what the characters expect from him. He’s not certain he can trust them, and he’s clear about that. However, his ire is up over Strahd’s attacks on his sister, and the related death of the Burgomaster, and he sees the characters as potential allies in his quest to protect his sister and kill Strahd. They’ll have to prove their loyalties and their worth.
Cordelia calls upon the Raven Queen to detect good and evil. She senses nothing supernatural within the Burgomaster’s home, but detects something undead in a building behind them, a small abandoned house. Ismark grabs his sword and agrees to watch their handling of it.
Zivago is first in the door of the house, disturbing a zombie-like creature which stumbles from a back room. A combat begins as two more start to descend the stairs from a second floor. As the party lays into them with spells, blades, and arrows, arms fall off the creatures, but continue to attack, legs are severed, but still the torsos crawl on, continuing their assault. Miraculously, none of the characters are scratched as they dispatch the three corpses, destroying enough of their form to end the necromantic magic animating them.
Ismark is suitably impressed, but states he would rather see them something which does some direct good for members of the village. The characters, particularly Hezekiah is offended that Ismark wants them to prove themselves, simply so Ismark will trust them to help him with some favor when it’s he should be proving himself to them. Now the talk returns to “helping strange little girls” and with some grumbles, the party heads back to where they spotted the little girl. Hezekiah has a feeling that he’d passed this little girl, and her creepily silent twin sister the day before, and is right.
In front of a well-kept, obviously expensive, tall house on the east side of the village, two little girls, roughly ten years of age, and dressed in identical gray dresses stand. They are identical in looks too, with the exception of their eyes. “Rose”, as she introduces herself, has light blue eyes, while her sister “Thorn”‘s eyes are steel gray. They need help. A monster in the basement must have their parents trapped, as they haven’t seen them in days, though they’ve heard the beast’s cries. Their mean nursemaid Katya has not let them outside to play, and refuses to let them go in the basement, which they don’t want to, anyway. They snuck out as she was feeding Walter, the baby. Oh, and don’t mind Thorn, she doesn’t talk anymore.
Creepy children are creepy, and Thorn won’t even acknowledge Hezekiah’s or Devlin’s attempts to engage her, much less respond to them. But the party is intrigued, and the two vertically challenged members of the party are quickly sizing the place up as they enter, noting marble, wood paneling, and other signs of wealth. Cordelia’s concetration on her Detect Good and Evil spell is waning, but still has some time, so she encourages the characters to hurry so she can get a good coverage over the building. She detects nothing unnatural, just yet.
I silently rule that Death House has the power to suppress such minor divination effects in its own vicinity. The other floors have not yet synced over to this timeline/dimension so there is nothing below to detect until the attic is discovered and then the cellar area manifests. Each floor, in effect, comes into existence when it is approached. A Schrodinger’s house if you will.
The party splits up quickly, after the kitchen and dining hall are not very interesting, though a couple of members do give the fine china a second glance. Cordelia and Hezekiah climb the stairs to floor two while Darien and the others quickly complete a sweep of floor one, ignoring one room toward the west-facing front of the house, and arriving on the second floor just as the others head upward again.
After a brief inspection of the landing and the second floor hall which contains four standing suits of armor holding spears at the ready, Cordelia climbs from the second to third floors with Hezekiah following.
Those lagging behind begin noticing oddities in the decor, and Devlin finding a secret door within a library to the east almost instantly, and it leads to a small room south of that with a skeleton sticking ass-first out of a chest. He inspects the skeleton, learning it had set off a poison needle trap in the chest very long ago, and loots the now-safe chest as Zib locates a key in the drawer of the office desk, and pockets some useful-looking writing supplies and a few empty books. The chest looted by Devlin contains some spell scrolls, a note from Strahd to someone who resided in the home, some empty books, and some personal papers including a pair of deeds and a last will and testament of the girls’ parents.
The west side of the floor contained a fairly uninteresting sitting room with a harpsichord and a mantle containing more creepy decorations as well as a portrait of the family, containing the two girls and apparently a baby being held by the father, but gazed at jealously by the mother.
Meanwhile, on the third level is a single suit of armor on a much-narrower landing with several doors off a hallway east, and doors to the north and west as well. A baby’s cries can be heard coming from the door to the west of the armor, but as Cordelia approaches the door, the armor animates, grabbing for her. She evades it, and it swings a heavy gauntlet at her, which she also dodges easily, letting out a bloodcurdling scream. Hezekiah hits it rather ineffectively with an eldritch blast as Cordelia’s scream summons the group who had just finished exploring the second floor.
The battle which followed was uneventful and anticlimactic, as the others rushed from where they were, and combined, they handily defeated the animated armor, landing blow after blow. After disengaging from the melee, Cordelia’s crossbow bolt ended up dealing the final blow after a furious exchange by the fighters, aided by Hezekiah’s eldritch magicks and a nice attempt with Zib’s rapier which deflects off the heavy armor.
Once it is felled, Cordelia leads the procession onward toward the baby’s cries, but lets Zivago open the west door and then a second door off the revealed bedroom’s north wall from which the cries continue to emanate. In their rush to get to the baby, they still manage to notice the general disrepair of the rooms on this floor when compared to the previous two. Within a nursery is a crib draped with a black shroud. The cries trail off as they approach it.
Everyone agrees it’s the duty of the Cleric of the death goddess to investigate further, and breaths are held as a swaddled, baby-shaped lump is revealed. Cordelia gingerly begins unwrapping the swaddling to discover…nothing! It’s simply an empty blanket, rolled up in the shape of a baby. A whispered voice from behind them in the bedroom calls “My babyyyyyyyyy!!!…”. Those nearest the voice’s point of origin look over their shoulder and see, in a mirror’s reflection, the ghostly shape of a young woman sit up in the bed behind them. They turn to look and no one is there, turn back to the mirror, and the image has disappeared.
Devlin, closest to the mirror, notices something odd about it and is able to expose a secret door by pushing the mirror into the wall, the entire wall swings inward and out of the way, exposing a cobweb-covered stairwell leading up to the attic. As the group peers up into the darkness of the attic, it’s time to end the session, so we fade to black.
The new characters receive 133 experience for their share of the night’s battles, while the original four characters receive 158 experience, which includes a small roleplaying bonus from the first session. Everyone’s done a great job with their professed flaws, bonds, and character traits, and I’m close to awarding out some inspiration, but will hold off until next session. They are about halfway to level 2 and will likely reach it early on in next week’s game.