We are down to three adventurers, Zib, the gnome bard of lore, Cordelia, human-ish noble woman, and cleric of the Raven Queen, and Devlin, the mysterious half-elven beastmaster ranger. They are joined by an NPC Ireena, the noble adopted daughter of the former Burgomaster of Barovia village, and Strahd’s current unwilling “love interest”.
We open the session where we left off. It is mid-morning, and Ireena and Cordelia walking toward the church. Devlin, his wolf Driscoll, and Zib are returning to Vallaki from the Vistani camp outside town. Hezekiah was going back to the inn to secret away the Tome of Strahd. Ireena and Cordelia see a fenced-in graveyard in the church yard, clumps of mist rising from the ground around the graves. A young man with a dark countenance is leaning on a shovel, staring at the ladies as they approach the steps to the church doors.
Inside, it is quiet. At the front of the nave, a robed man stands with his back to them, wiping down the altar. From a side room, a young boy emerges, and calls out
“Father Lucian, my chores are done. Can I go out and play with my friends?”
The kindly-looking priest turns, addressing the boy.
“Good boy, Yeska. Go play now, but be sure to be back before dark.”
The boy runs out of the church with a big smile on his face, one of the only sincere smiles the party has seen since arriving in Vallaki. Ah, the innocence of youth!
The priest introduces himself as Father Lucian Petrovich. He knows Ireena by reputation, and greets Cordelia with the respect due a follower of a different faith. They chat for a bit, and he mentions that morning is the quiet time here at the church. He holds nightly services overnight, usually fairly well-attended, as some of the townsfolk seek refuge within the church as darkness falls.
He goes on to tell them a bit of the history of the church, Saint Andral’s. The sacred bones of the church’s namesake, Saint Andral, had long been buried in a crypt beneath the church’s altar, but a few days ago, someone broke into it and stole the bones. He suspects the youth, Milivoj, the groundskeeper and gravedigger, but the boy has dark moods, and he fears a confrontation. Without the bones, he fears the church is no more of a sanctuary than anyplace else in this cursed land.
That’s nice, but the party has an appointment with the Burgomaster, so after Ireena says some prayers for the soul of her departed father, she and Cordelia leave to return to the Inn and rendezvous with Devlin and Zib. They go to look for Hezekiah, and he’s not in his room, though his pack is there, and the Tome of Strahd is on the bed next to it. They wait a couple of hours, but Hezekiah doesn’t return.
The party, down another fellow, heads to the Burgomaster’s mansion to present themselves. As they are making their way toward the front door, it opens, and Izek Strasni and four town guards emerge. Izek says “You heard the Baron. Let’s get these posters put up around town”. As he passes the parchment to one of his men, Zib and Devlin get a quick glimpse. It’s a poorly-drawn caricature of a half-elf, with long pointed ears and a top hat.
WANTED: For public endangerment, possession of a wild beast within the town walls, and causing malicious unhappiness, Rictavio the Villain. Last seen driving a carnival wagon. Reward: 50 electrum coins, alive or dead.
One of the guards holds the door for the party and smiles exaggeratedly at them. “All is well, strangers. Be happy!”
They enter the front room, and see a wide stairway leading upstairs to their right, and a narrow hallway leading down the length of the first floor of the house, doors on either side and one at the end. Bundles of twigs line the hallway and are stacked in the front room, clearly meant for the wicker sun to be lit at the festival next week.
As they call out a greeting, a woman comes out of a door down the hall to the left. Clearly the Baron’s wife by her dress and manner, she greets them. She introduces them to “her good friends” who have dropped by for tea. Entering the dining room, the party sees eight women digging into plates of sandwiches and cakes, and sipping down tea as fast as they can. They give quick waves to the party before tearing back into the food.
The Baroness Lydia escorts them into a room across the hall, where they are soon joined by the Baron. Introductions are made by Ireena, who has met the Baron on several occasions before while visiting with her father and brother. Baron Vargas Vallakovich is pleased to meet the characters, especially the noble Cordelia. When the Wolf’s Head Jamboree festival is brought up, the Baron proclaims it a smashing success, and invites them to attend the Festival of the Blazing Sun if they are still in town.
Cordelia inquires about the Baron’s son, Baronet Victor, and is told the boy is probably upstairs in the attic. Cordelia earns an elbow from Ireena by intimating that Ireena was asking after Victor, and would like to visit him. The Baron, with a sly grin, offers to show them the way. He leads them upstairs and down and around the long upstairs hall, into his master bedroom. There in the ceiling is a trapdoor leading up to the attic. Pulling it down reveals narrow wooden stairs set into the door and leading up into a dusty room.
“Boy, you have visitors! Come down here!”, calls the Baron at the top of his lungs.
From the other side of the attic, and muffled by more than one door comes the reply “Leave me alone, I’m busy!”
“Oh, it’s fine, go right up. His room up there is through the main attic.”
Cordelia and Ireena ascend the stairs, while Zib nudes Devlin, who reaches into his pack, producing the deed to the windmill he retrieved from the Durst house at the beginning of the adventure.
“I believe this property falls under your domain, as we passed it a few miles away on our way here. Is this a legitimate deed?”, Zib asks the Baron.
“Ah, yes. The Old Bonegrinder”, says the Baron. “That witch, Morgantha and her daughters have been squatting there for some time if I’m not mistaken. The bearer of this would certainly be on the side of the law were he to evict them from the place. And so much the better!”
That settled, Zib and Devlin ascend to the attic and through the first door, where Cordelia and Ireena are standing on the far side of a room used for storage, knocking on a door with a skull carved into it, and a sign hanging from the knob which reads “All is NOT WELL”. After some hemming and hawing, the Baronet is persuaded to open the door when Cordelia mentions that “there are two hot women out here waiting to talk to you”.
As they enter, they notice the young man sitting on a stool with a book in his lap. He barely looks up, obviously focused on studying the tome. Around the room, the animated skeletons of six cats prowl around, ignoring the party. What are first mistaken for three small children stand in a corner, but on closer inspection they turn out to be life-like wooden dolls, dressed in children’s clothes. “Those are my pupils, they are being punished”, the crazy Baronet decrees. “Ivan, eyes to the wall!”
“Why won’t it work. What’s wrong with the damn thing”, Victor whines. He motions to a magical circle inscribed in the floor and then makes a rude gesture at the book he’s studying.
Zib uses his knowledge of things arcane, and realizes that the “teleportation circle” which Victor has drawn is imperfect, and will cause an effect much like a human-sized mousetrap of force energy if activated, likely snuffing the life of anything sent through it.
“Uh, that thing’s not right.”, Zib tells him. “It’ll likely kill anyone who tries to use it.”
“Oh that explains it”.
“Wait, how many times have you tried using this thing, and on what.” Devlin questions.
“Oh, two times. On…the cats”, he motions to the creepy undead cat skeletons.
Surprisingly, no one in the party asks to make any kind of insight check at this news.
“Well, we’re glad Ireena got to see you, aren’t we? But we should be going”, Cordelia goes. This guy is definitely not marriage material for Ireena. She hopes Ismark isn’t too upset.
The party makes its way out of the attic quickly, hearing the door shut and latch behind them. The Baron is nowhere to be seen as they descend back into his bedroom, so they take the time to peak around the other doors on this end of the hall, seeing a fitting room complete with an old wedding gown draped on a wooden bust and a large mirror. The next door holds a washroom, complete with clawed tub. Cordelia steals a piece of soap, saying “What, did you see the prices they’re charging for soap in these stores?”
They head back down the hallway and around the corner to another door. It opens to a loud bark, and they’ve found the Baron’s library. He sits behind a desk flanked by two huge mastiffs, slavering and drooling. “Oh, you’re visit is over. You may see yourselves out” he says. They shut the door, taking a moment to peak through the keyhole of a locked door across the hall from his. Devlin’s darkvision pierces the darkness, and he sees that the room is full of dolls, all of which look like Ireena!
This is brought up to Ireena, who had already learned from Zib that Izek had been special ordering dolls that bore an uncanny resemblance to her from the toymaker, Blinsky. “Let’s get out of here”, she shivers.
As they’re coming down the stairs, the door opens, Izek has returned. Zib calls out a greeting, and then follows it with “Oh, Blinsky told me to tell you your order is ready to be picked up.” Izek gives him a dark look as he shoulders past them. Listening intently, they hear the sound of a key in a lock and a door opening and shutting. Apparently, Izek lives here with the Burgomaster/Baron and family, which clears up any confusion about who might be ordering the dolls. Ireena quickens her pace out the door.
The party decides to return to Blinsky’s, as the rest of them haven’t yet met the man. Again, the little, vested, tutu-wearing monkey approaches them on the street with a card in his hand, but when he recognizes Zib, he puts the card back in the vest pocket and chatters, hopping back to Blinsky’s door. They enter and Blinsky goes through his welcome speech, then welcomes Zib back. He offers them his latest creation, a small toy gallows playset, complete with hanged man and a button, which when pushed, opens a trap door causing the man to dangle from the twine “rope” around his neck.
Zib begins to mention that he may have inadvertently let it slip to Izek, but the words aren’t even out of his mouth when they hear commotion on the street in front of the store. Izek marches up the street, his fiend’s arm raised with a plume of devil’s flame rising from it. Curious townsfolk along with a few guards follow him at a distance. The party takes off out the back door of Blinsky’s shop, leaving the man confused, just as Izek hurls the flame, setting the front of the building on fire.
“Seize him! Malicious unhappiness! To the stocks!” Izek shrieks as they run down the alley behind the shop. They hear Blinsky protesting as his building begins to burn. The little monkey runs out the door of the shop. Zib turns, holds out his arm, and the monkey scrambles up it onto his shoulder. They turn to leave, but the monkey takes a chunk out of Zib’s ear with a fierce bite before leaping off his shoulder and running back the other way. It pauses halfway down the alley, and squats, but runs off as Zib reaches into the back of his own pants saying “Oh no, I can play that game too, monkey!” and squinting with exertion.
From there, they head nearby to the smith, one Kasto Nostova, to try to sell a suit of half plate which they’ve been carrying around since the Durst house. He says he can repair armor, but no one in town has the money to buy such a fine suit, other than maybe the Araseks, owners of the stockyard and general store. Cordelia buys a few daggers, but passes on a rapier which looks serviceable, but entirely normal.
The Arasek’s buy the half plate, and from there, the party asks directions to the Wachter house, as Zib would like to pay the brothers’ mother a visit as they suggested. Everyone gets a chuckle at Chris Perkins’ imagery of a house which hates itself after falling into disrepair and dilapidation.
A servant of some sort, an older gentleman, opens the door here, and everyone recognizes his face as one they’ve seen multiple times around town. He ushers them through a dining area and into the attached parlor where they are greeted by Lady Fiona Wachter, a fashionable woman of middle age. She sizes them up quickly, and falls into boasting about how long the Wachter family has been aligned with the von Zaroviches, to which Zib replies “Isn’t there only one of him?”
Immediately recognizing the well-armed party as adventurers, Lady Wachter begins recruiting them to her cause. She seeks to replace the Baron as Burgomaster, as he’s clearly insane and unfit to rule. “Better to serve the devil than that madman!” She points out that her book club, made up of nearly a quarter of the townsfolk by now, are all behind the idea of a change in leadership.
“We take recruitment very seriously”
“The only thing standing in our way is Izek Strasni.” If he were to, exit the picture, the Lady would be ready to step in and seize control from the Baron and his men.
The party learns that she’d offer 100 gold coins to anyone who could make the Izek problem go away. They promise to think on it and make their way out, as they’re kind of creeped out by this woman’s casual attempt to hire them for assassination. Granted, Izek is a complete creep and monster from what they’ve seen. Zib writes a note to the Vistani camp leader, Luvash, telling him that “Izek Strasni ordered the simpleton to kidnap your little girl”. He finds little Yeska playing in the street, and pays him a whole gold coin(!) to deliver it to Luvash, telling him that “a hooded man” gave it to him to deliver. Unsure of what will come of this, they retire to the inn, making plans to check out the Wizard of Wines Winery the next day.
Morning comes, and they set off for the winery. Shortly after leaving town, Devlin’s wolf, Driscoll starts growling at something in the tree line. They spot a trio of dire wolves attempting to encircle them, and the wolves charge as they’re spotted. Driscoll intercepts one, bringing it to its knees with a fierce snap at its hindquarters, and preventing it from reaching Devlin.
Another wolf charges Cordelia and worries her arm, but she retaliates with her warhammer. Zibb viciously mocks the prone wolf, and shamed at its lineage, the wolf still manages to rise and retaliate on Driscoll, dropping the pet’s health by over half in one fierce bite. A return attack by the wolf companion and an arrow from Devlin drop the beast for good, while Cordelia lays a damaging inflict wounds spell on the wolf engaged with her. The final wolf approaches Devlin and connects for some damage, but cannot bring him off of his feet.
Focused attacks on this second beast whittle it down, though it fights on to death while the third wolf continues attacking Devlin to little effect. Soon, all three wolves are defeated, and the party moves on down the road, traveling for nearly an hour before reaching the second bridge and finding the path south which is supposed to lead them to the winery. Looking north down the river, they can see a tower climbing out of the fog, clearly the tower Rictavio/van Richten mentioned to them. We finish the session as they decide to stop there after checking out the winery, and before returning to Vallaki.
They turn south, and begin traversing the narrow path leading to the Wizard of Wines.