Obligatory Curse Of Strahd spoiler alert. Huge Spoilers this week, so stop reading now if you’re playing a CoS campaign.
After taking a week off due to play unavailability, we picked up this week down a pair of fighters. It looks like Stanley and Perry are both dropping out of the campaign, leaving us with a party of four (five if we include Ireena, the NPC). Losing Zivago and Darian, we’re left with Hezekiah, the halfling warlock, Zib, the gnome bard, Cordelia, the human cleric of the Raven Queen, and Devlin, the half-elven beastmaster ranger with his new wolf companion, Driscoll. This is going to be a long write-up, as our 3 1/2 hour session was almost all role-play, with maybe a half dozen dice rolls all night. A lot of plot threads were introduced, and as predicted, the game world just “opened up” after tonight. For those interested in coverage of the side-adventure “The Beast of Graenseskov”, I’m probably two game sessions away from beginning to run it, so keep checking back.
We open with Devlin making his way to the Vistani camp. He hears again about the Vistani headman, Luvash’s missing daughter Arabelle. The two Vistani redshirts with him lead him to Luvash’s tent in the center of the camp, atop a large round earthen mound. He notices several well-kept draft horses and riding horses grazing inside the circle of wagons. None of the Vistani seem to bat an eye at the wolf.
Devlin is introduced to Luvash, a huge leather-clad man who was currently beating a half-naked teenager with a horsewhip. The man being whipped, Alexei, was supposed to be watching Arabelle during the time she went missing. As Luvash explains, “It’s what I pay him for.” Alexei agrees that he deserves every lashing. Some jokes about the DM pulling a D&D to B&D switcheroo are made. (OOC: Zib makes a dick joke. Hezekiah points out Zib seems to have a fondness for dick(s). Rest of party roll their eyes.)
Luvash’s brother, Arrigal, is also there, along with a handful of passed-out Vistani. Luvash offers Devlin a drink of wine, but commiserates that there supply is running low, and their usual shipment from the Wizard of Wines winery is late. But he’s got bigger things to worry about, with his daughter missing. He provides Devlin a description and promises him a reward of “The pick of one our tribe’s finest treasures” if he can find Arabelle and return her safely. The Vistani relate that they camp here, near the town, but outside it, because the Vistani are persecuted, blamed as horse-thieves and the type of people from which you need to hide your teenage daughter.
Devlin asks about the windmill, and Luvash warns him not go near it. The old shrews that live there are some sort of medieval drug pushers, selling “dream pastries”. One of his men got hooked on the things, even going so far as to steal from other members of the tribe, like a man possessed, in order to get more.
“Well what happened to him”, asks Devlin.
“We beat the devil out of him, he’s fine now”, Luvash replies. He points to a guy limping around outside.
“How long ago was that?”
“Oh, about a month. He’ll heal.”
“He’ll heal”, the bound and still bleeding Alexei parrots.
Meanwhile, Cordelia, Zib, and a catatonic, blissed-out Hezekiah (still high on dream pastry) stop at the general store to do some shopping, convert some sellable treasures into cold, hard gold, and otherwise get the lay of the land. Prices here are still 5x what they’d expect to spend, but Ireena mentions that it’s a closed market, almost never any imports other than what adventurers drawn to the land bring with them. All of the shops in town are generally second-hand goods stores when it comes to adventuring gear.
They move from there to find the inn, noticing a flock of ravens, the same flock that aided them against the vampire, Doru, flying into town. They recognize one particular raven with a bit of white on the side of its face. The ravens fly across town to perch in the eaves of a 2-story building, which is soon revealed to be, the Blue Water Inn! The heathen, Hezekiah tells Cordelia “This is in no way an omen of your god”. Ireena thinks it’s good luck.
The innkeeper introduces himself as Urwin Martikov, and the lady next to him as his wife and business partner, Danika Dorakova. Their boys, running along the balcony upstairs are Brom and Bray. Urwin’s got slicked-back black hair and a clean cropped black beard. A couple of their workers are hanging around in the common room, but no one seems to be doing any work. Also in the common room are a pair of teenage boys, dressed in upper class, but old and shabby clothing. Cordelia thinks no one would be caught dead wearing it in Waterdeep. Also, a well-dressed half-elf wearing a top-hat and spectacles sits alone at a table sipping a tea.
The party acquires a pair of private, two-bed rooms, and Zib later rents out the four-bed room for Hezekiah, wanting some privacy from the inebriated halfling. Ireena and Cordelia babysit Hezekiah, who briefly comes to his senses, before shoving another dream pastry into his mouth. Occasionally, he utters some complete nonsense that never-the-less is completely on-topic to the conversations going on around him.
Zib takes off before it gets dark, to find Blinsky’s toys. As he’s walking up the street, a small monkey dressed in a little vest and pink tu-tu runs up and hands him a business card. On one side it reads “Is No Fun, Is No Blinsky!” On the other, “Follow me to Blinsky’s House of Wonders”. The monkey runs ahead and stops before a storefront on the right side of the street. It waits for him to open the door, then scampers in the shop and onto the shoulder of the shopkeeper.
The shopkeeper turns toward the door and utters a well-rehearsed welcome which is part poetry, but mostly absolute cheese, but delivers it with such feeling that Zib completely buys it.
Zib pulls out the doll that Mad Mary gave him, and Gadof Blinsky, the toy maker, remembers his father making the doll and selling it to a little girl from Barovia village almost 35 years ago. Zib tells him that the little girl’s daughter is now missing, and provides the description of Gertruda that Mary had given him. Blinsky relates that she had been in his shop about 10 days before. She wanted a new doll, something to commemorate her betrothal. Something that reminded her of her betrothed…and her soon-to-be-husband looks a lot like this marionette which is based on the Count in the castle! Zib’s eye is drawn to the doll sitting on the counter beneath the marionette. It looks just like Ireena! Mind-blow, he asks Blinsky about that doll.
“Is special commission, private commission”. He looks a little worried.
Sliding 5gp across the counter, Zib convinces him to give up the name of the commissioner.
“Izek Strasni, the Baron’s sheriff. You’ll know him by the arm.” Blinsky also takes time to relate that the Baron, also the Burgomaster, in his infinite wisdom, had recently outlawed unhappiness and mandated happiness. Festivals were being thrown on an increasingly frequent basis, mandatory attendance…and children required.
On his way back to the Inn, Zib notices a couple of guards being supervised by a big guy with a massive, red-scaled devil’s arm. He figures that’s Izek. The guards are taking down posters for the last festival, the Wolf’s Head jamboree, and putting up new ones for the Festival of the Blazing Sun to be held in 10 days.
Meanwhile, Cordelia and Ireena are getting the same story about the Burgomaster’s recent decree (and the recent and upcoming festivals) from the Innkeeper. She also hears about poor Bluto, a local fisherman. The only local fisherman brave enough to risk the wolves of the forest to go fishing on Lake Zarovich each day, though he never catches anything. During the small talk, Urwin also motions to the two youths getting drunk in the common room. Those are the Wachter (he pronounces it Vahk-tur) boys. Their mother is Lady Fiona Wachter, a noble that doesn’t get along with the Burgomaster. They have a sister. Rumor has it, she’s crazy, and thinks she’s a cat.
Zib returns to the inn, and the party decides to invite the Wachter boys to play some cards. They recognize Ireena as the late Burgomaster of Barovia’s daughter and tell her she’s become a real hottie. “And your friend’s a real hottie, too”, the older one winks at Cordelia. The girls quickly dominate three hands of three-dragon ante, and the boys are 8 gp poorer, having bet double or nothing on the third hand.
The drunken young men ramble on about their mother, the idiot Baron (they don’t care who hears them), and other assorted topics, before Nikolai, the older, says he’ll just earn his winnings back from his brother, if Karl fails to go through with their dare. The party seems interested, but they shut up about it. Later, Zib pulls them aside and after telling him how “cool it is that he’s a gnome” (they first mistook him for a halfling), confide that they wanted to get a good look at the strange half elf’s carnival wagon, so they were going to sneak away to the stockyard before going home to get a look at it. Zib offers to make it worth their while if they come back and tell him what they find.
Rictavio is in the corner, so after the boys leave, Zib makes his way over there, while Cordelia and Ireena go talk to a couple of new arrivals, some Wolf hunters who don’t seem too talkative or friendly but are willing to put up with a few questions from a pair of ladies.
Cordelia mentions the attack by wolves (with a vampire) on the party’s way to Vallaki, and they reply, “Need any wolves killed?”
She explains they already killed the wolves (and a vampire), except for the friendly wolf that befriended the party ranger.
“Need that one killed, then?” asked the one hunter.
She quickly realizes these guys aren’t very helpful unless wolves need killing. The men do say they hope she kept the pelts, as the Baron’s men will pay well for each pelt returned. She snaps her fingers.
Meanwhile, Zib and Rictavio begin playing a dance of words. Rictavio seems to confide in Zib, in a very roundabout way that he’s not a big fan of the Baron’s new decree, but that such absurdities can all be traced back to the true cancer in the land, living in the castle. He also mentions points out that no one seems interested in working for, or even attending the carnival he’s trying to get started. As a man who makes his living as an entertainer, he considers himself part capitalist, but also an altruist, and would like to bring “real happiness” to the people of the region.
As one performer to another, he questions Zib frankly about what he feels is the best course of action in a situation like the one they find themselves, stating that he trusts Zib and his friends more than any resident of Barovia, since he’s obviously an outsider but keeps good company. Rictavio knows Ireena’s family by reputation as “some of the few good ones”. Neither man nor gnome is willing to be the first to put all his cards on the table, so they go their separate ways.
The characters retire for the evening, Zib napping lightly until he is awakened by the Wachter brothers tossing rocks at his window from the street below. They look like they’ve seen a ghost, and quickly scale the outside of the building and into Zib’s open window. As Zib shuts the window, he hears what sounds like a huge cat’s roar from somewhere on the east side of town. A few seconds later, there are cries from watchmen.
The brothers relate the tale of their trip to the stockyard. They went to the back door of the wagon, but something inside was alive, and rocked the wagon back and forth before bursting through the back door. It was an armored tiger with fangs three feet long! They ran off, not waiting around to see where the tiger was going. Unfortunately they didn’t get a good look inside the wagon, as the tiger scared them both sober, and they got the hell out of there.
Zib thanks them for the information, and offers to let them stay in his room until just before dawn. It probably wouldn’t be good to be caught on the streets with a tiger out, and the two troublemakers are obviously scared to go back out.
They leave just before dawn, asking Zib to come visit their house when he had time. Shortly thereafter, the rest of the folks in the Inn wake up to a loud banging on the door of the common room below. A loud voice is heard questioning the innkeeper, and shortly thereafter, one of the Martikov boys is knocking on the door to request that all guests come down to the common room. As Hezekiah comes to, he doesn’t recognize the room he’s in, but apparently, he’s eaten all of the dream pastries he bought, and all he can really think about is going to buy more. Cordelia corners him in the hall, casting lesser restoration on him. Hezekiah realizes the pastries had some sort of magical hold on him, but he’s a halfling, so part of him still wants more of them. He does wonder for the first time, what these things are made of…pure awesomeness, he’s sure! The dream world of the pastry trip was a lot cooler a place than Barovia.
Izek is there with some guards, and he’s asking questions about the tiger on the loose in town. It has so far evaded the watch and everyone in town is afraid for their lives. Zib and Hezekiah notices Izek’s eyes widen briefly when Ireena appears on the stairwell. He tries to play it off, but Hezekiah starts confronting him in a very teasing manner…
“I don’t know anything about a tiger, but I do know something…you are obviously in love with this girl!”, pointing at Ireena.
“Arrest him. The charge is malicious unhappiness, he’s making me unhappy”, Izek orders his guards.
Hezekiah looks ready to resist, so I have the party roll initiative. Cordelia wins the roll, and manages to defuse the situation with a quickly-cast calm emotions spell. With the smaller group, and no big dumb fighters left, I’m playing a bit loose and allowing inspiration to be used much like Action points, so I allow Kristy to burn Cordelia’s inspiration to give Izek disadvantage on his save after stating he will make it. I roll again, and his 5 is much lower than Cordelia’s spell save DC of 13. The situation defused, they quickly change the topic after assuring Izek that no one knows anything about any tiger. Zib just shakes his head, content to let Cordelia and Hezekiah handle the talking, for now.
Izek suggests strongly that the party present themselves to the Burgomaster at his mansion later that day. Baron Vallakovich doesn’t like armed strangers he doesn’t know in his town, so they should introduce themselves ASAP after the tiger crisis has been resolved.
After he leaves, Cordelia and Ireena look at each other. “Well that wasn’t creepy”, Ireena understates.
Rictavio is seen sneaking down the stairs as Izek starts questioning the wolf hunters. Zib creates a distraction “Is that the tiger you’re looking for”, and pointing out the window on the other side of the Inn. The guards and Izek run over, but don’t see it out the window.
“Damn, it just went that way. Can I help you hunt it down?”, Zib offers, as Rictavio makes his way out the door.
“No, stay put, we’ll go find it”, Izek mutters and ushers his men out and down the street the opposite direction from the way Rictavio heads. Hezekiah waits a minute, and then leaves the inn, going the way Rictavio departed. He follows the man back to the stockyard, where Rictavio checks the back of his wagon, and then checks a secret compartment in the front of it. Hezekiah’s too short to see what it contains. Seeming satisfied that only the tiger is missing, Rictavio turns to the halfling, expecting some questions.
“Why do you have a tiger?”
“I’m not a carnival master. It’s the Vistani’s fault my wife and son were killed. I’ve trained the tiger to kill Vistani. They are Strahd’s spies and lackeys, and I intend to do something about them. My name is not Rictavio”, he announces, dramatically.
“My name, is Dr. Rudolph van Richten, the famed vampire hunter. And I am here to kill Strahd von Zarovich”.
The grognards at my table cheer as the other players look confused.
Hezekiah assures Van Richten that their paths are aligned, and brings up Madam Eva’s reading that “The man who is not what he seems” will have something they need in his carnival wagon. Van Richten, mind-blown, says “It is true. I have the Tome of Strahd, the count’s own journal, and have been studying it these past months. Once I’ve found my tiger, I’ll be heading to a tower west of here. Seek me out there, and I’ll pass the Tome to you.” Zib writes a quick note for Van Richten to give Don’t trust the Vistani, tell your friend.” He scratches a rough map in the dirt before heading off to look for his tiger.
Hezekiah returns to the inn and relates this information to the rest of the party (minus Devlin who’s still outside the town). Zib has heard other bards tell tales of Van Richten. His fame is such that it has reached even the bards of the Forgotten Realms, no doubt told by some lucky escapee of the mists.
Devlin wakes up, in the forest, clothes torn and ripped, but not bloody this time, at least. His wolf, Driscoll is asleep by his side, but rises well as Devlin gets up. Confused, he realizes he’s not far from Vallaki’s east gate. He commands Driscoll to go wait at the Vistani camp, and the wolf gets his meaning and heads off into the woods. He makes his way to the just-opening gate.
Back at the inn, van Richten returns to hurriedly pack his remaining things. He’s found the tiger and gotten it securely back in the wagon with no one getting hurt, and now he hopes to break out before anyone tracks the tiger down. Standing at the door out, he hands Hezekiah a wrapped book, The Tome of Strahd! He’s changed his mind, he doesn’t want the book to fall into the wrong hands if he’s caught, and he trust the party to catch up with him at the tower in a few days, or no more than a couple of weeks, if they need to let the heat die down.
As he’s leaving, both Hezekiah and Zib note a strange, dumpy-looking man heading down the street toward the north gate of town with a suspicious-looking tied sack under his arm. Another townsperson greets him by name (Bluto) and asks him what’s in the sack.
“Bait for the fishes” he answers as he keeps walking, head down.
Hezekiah runs out to distract the man, who ignores him as he continues his lurching, half-stumble toward the gate. Zib comes up from behind and cuts a slice in the sack, and long dark hair tied in a pony tail drapes out, attached to the gagged head of a small girl. Hezekiah casts a friends spell, hoping to get the man interested in talking enough to stop moving, and successfully persuades Bluto to tell him about his bait.
“The fish, they stopped coming. So I grabbed a magic Vistani girl. I sacrifice her to the fish gods of the lake, and the fish will come back”.
Zib one ups Hezekiah, casting a suggestion that Bluto doesn’t need this bait, and he should just go fishing without it. The weak-willed drunkard accepts this, drops the girl on the ground, and keeps walking out of the gate. He’ll be a little upset about the little peoples’ enchantment magic, but not until Zib’s wears off, and since the suggestion included fishing, they’d have all day to get the girl to safety.
Devlin comes into town and finds the inn just as Zib and Hezekiah are returning with the now-freed young girl, who has introduced herself as a Vistani “princess”, Arabelle. She doesn’t know why the bad man took her, but he hit her on the head as she wandered in the woods outside the town and had kept her at his house the night before putting her in the sack and leaving for the lake this morning. If the two hadn’t seen him, she would likely be sinking into the lake by now.
Devlin recognizes the girl from her description and the munchkins tell him, Ireena, and Cordelia how they went about freeing her. The party agrees that she should be returned to the Vistani as soon as possible, and Devlin is warned about what Van Richten said about the Vistani. They agree it’s best to get the reward for the girl’s return before any tiger attack might happen. Devlin and Zib would return Arabelle to her father. If the Vistani are Strahd’s spies, it won’t hurt to have a little pull with one of their leaders. Meanwhile, Cordelia and Ireena wanted to check out the local church, while Hezekiah decides to lay low in the inn for a while.
Luvosh is ecstastic to have his little girl back. He asks who took his little girl, and the two evasively reply “Some simpleton from town”. He asks the man’s name, but the two pretend they don’t know it. Luvosh turns to some Vistani and says “Find this man”.
He now offers them the reward, as he calls his brother over to one of the wagons. They fiddle with, and then unlock a pair of locks on the back door, and open it to reveal several chests and other containers. Choosing from among a large chest of electrum, a smaller chest of gold, a valuable jewelry box with some random inexpensive jewelry and a fine crystal vial with an unknown potion inside, a large wooden “throne” bedecked with semi-precious stones and gold trim, a fine rug, and a plain wooden box (“Ignore that one, those are the fake potions we sell the rubes, and as of today, you are no longer rubes”), the two conferred and chose the jewelry box.
Arrigal and Luvosh shut the wagon, locking both locks and then fiddling with them again, before Arrigal leaves the camp, and Luvosh thanks the two, again. He promises to look after Driscoll while Devlin is in Vallaki, and will “Try to track down some rabbit stew for your fine wolf”. Oh, and if you happen upon any wine, let us know. Our regular shipment from the Wizard of Wines is late this month.
We end the session as Hezekiah studies the Tome of Strahd at the Blue Water Inn, while Ireena and Cordelia are making their way to the church in Vallaki. The innkeep mentions that his wine shipment from the Wizard of Wines is late, and offers a reward if Hezekiah and his friends can go out there and retrieve it. If they’re unable to, he’ll offer a smaller amount if they can at least determine what’s causing the delay and relay the information back to him. He provides Hezekiah with directions.