Spoiler warnings again this week. Wizard of Wines Winery, specifically, and Curse of Strahd metaplot as well. While looking for art for this week’s blog post, I came across this track which fit the mood of the session perfectly. A little gothic, a little psychedelic. https://poisonedwine.bandcamp.com/track/dystopian-trance
After a couple of sessions meeting the major players in Vallaki, and the living legend Dr. Rudolph van Richten, my players are loving the sandbox. This campaign keeps serving up information which manifests as dangly little “hooks” that they can choose to ignore, or not, at their leisure. They’re also doing a great job of following their own goals and motivations, as well as going “off script” in unexpected, yet awesome ways.
Last session, Zib had possibly set in motion a chain of events in Vallaki which could spark some big change in that town going forward when he anonymously sent the Vistani a note implicating Izek Strasni in the kidnapping of Luvosh’s daughter. Lady Wachter had told the party that if Izek were out of the way, then her “book club” would easily be able to seize power and she could bring a more enlightened style of rulership to the Burgomaster’s seat.
But we’ll have to wait until next week to find out what went down back in the VK, because we were on the road this week, heading toward the Wizard of Wines Winery. They stopped along the road for a long rest (a day camp!) at the end of last session after the fight with the dire wolves. So it was early evening, daylight fading fast by the time they reached the winery.
The party travels down a side road off the main road, which quickly turns into a muddy path as a light drizzle begins to fall. Another path splits off to the west, descending into a valley. As they break the treeline, a meadow sprawls before them. On its far side, lies the 2-story stone winery. A path winds up to it between massive fields of grape vines, leading to a loading dock next to the winery’s attached stable.
To the north, in front of a stand of trees, a cloaked figure stands, beckoning them. As they approach, more figures step from the treeline, careful to show upraised palms and no weapons, though cowled and cloaked. The eldest threw back his hood and introduced himself as Davian Martikov. The others, were his family, including his two sons, his adult daughter her husband, and four children, and a close family associate, Kokhed, a tall and powerfully-built man with a maul strapped to his back, with shaggy black hair, and a black beard with a stripe of white hair along one cheek.
Davian explains that he owns the winery, and two days earlier, his family had been forced to flee from it when a large group of plant creatures, led by a trio of wild-looking humans, attacked. The humans had moss and twigs woven in their hair, were dressed in ragged robes, had dreadlocked hair, and were definitely unwashed. Their plant creatures were infesting the vineyard, and seemed to be controlled by the leader of the three humans who was carrying a gnarled staff. Zib remarked that it seemed a fine evening to kill some hippies.
Kokhed introduces himself as a close friend of the Martikovs, and that he mysteriously knows of the characters by reputation. As enemies of Strahd’s minions, he already considers them friends. He is willing to join them and serve as a guide around Barovia if they will help take back the winery. The Martikovs are late getting out their latest shipments, and the people of the nearby towns depend on this wine to add a bit of happiness to their lives. Already having two different groups (the Martikovs of Vallaki and the Vistani outside Vallaki) offering rewards if they get the wine flowing again, they quickly accept.
Kokhed sketches out a rough map of the winery in the dirt. He’s not sure where the hippies are, just that they went inside and no one’s seen them come out since. As they approach the building, he warns them that the fields are thick with the plant beasts, and sure enough, the withering grape vines begin shaking, their brown leaves parting as six groups of five vaguely humanoid plant-creatures covered in spiky growths emerge. The closest groups are about one hundred feet from the building, the others another hundred feet away from those.
The players lights torches, deciding to make a stand at the corner of the building near the stables. Cordelia is the first to act, and shoots a crossbow bolt that streaks off nowhere near the targeted group. Devlin shoots an arrow, felling the lead creature in the other close group, and orders the wolf, Driscoll to guard Zib. Zib readies his hand crossbow, Ireena takes cover at the corner of the winery stables, and Kokhed shudders, transforming into a massive man-raven, still clutching his maul in his now feathery arms. The down on his stomach covers well-defined, protruding abdominal muscles. He caws loudly, and a conspiracy of ravens perched on the roof of the winery separates into two swarms and begins to harry the needle blights.
The two lead groups of blights close in from opposing directions, and Cordelia is struck three times, once critically, by a volley of needles from the first group, nearly dropping her. The other group fires into Driscoll, Devlin, and Kokhed. Zib opens up with the big guns, casting shatter and a sonic boom echos off the surrounding hillside. Two of the lead group of blights crumble, and two others are seriously injured. Cordelia’s having no luck with sacred flame, as my saving throw rolls get hot.
Devlin, Driscoll, and Ireena engage the other lead group, while Cordelia, Zib, and Kokhed finish off the first. The third and fourth groups of blights move into range, but are engaged by the raven swarms, and some healing is tossed around, keeping Cordelia and Driscoll in the fight.
The party retreats to the loading dock just in time to run into a female human, one of the three “hippies”, coming out. She casts a hold person at the first target she sees, the cleric, Cordelia, who easily makes the Wisdom save. Zib retaliates with a sleep spell cast at level 2, and rolls one greater than her current hit points. She gets ganked in a single round as Kokhed finishes her off, splitting her head open like a melon. They run inside, barring the door behind them.
Ascending from a circular stairwell in front of them, another “hippie” arrives in time to see his ally fall, but runs back down the stairs and out of sight.
The party catches their breath, then gives chase, into a dark wine cellar. Their torches illuminating the room they are in, but leaving the far room in shadow. Cordelia casts a nimbus of light which brightens the area a bit, and the party can make out more plant creatures in the next room, with the druid about sixty feet away at the far end of the cellar.
Ranged attacks are exchanged, and Ireena moves up to take cover. Kokhed flies into a rage, flapping his wings to cross the over the heads of the needle blights, landing in front of the man, but misses his strike. The druid grins evilly, chanting, gesturing with some mistletoe, Kokhed fails a Wisdom save, and is frozen in place! His blights turn and tear into the barbarian wereraven, only his supernatural resistances keeping him from being killed outright. I rolled 42 damage between the four advantage-to-hit/auto-crit-damage claw attacks, but his resistance dropped this to 21. Kokhed remained paralyzed but still conscious (and raging) with 4 hit points remaining.
The rest of the party focuses on the blights while Zib runs into the next room and around the wine rack, avoiding the blights to engage the druid in melee, and firing off a healing word on Kokhed. The druid laughs at Zib, chants a word in druidic, which caused his cudgel to glow brightly, and says “Now, the bird-man dies!”, as he swings the shillelagh at Kokhed. The ineffectual blow bounces off Kokhed’s rock-hard bird abs.
Another druid, this one carrying a gnarled tree-branch staff arrives down the stairs behind the party. He chants, and a thunderwave ripples across the room, shattering wine bottles, and injuring Driscoll, Devlin, and Cordelia. Cordelia is knocked back toward the center of the cellar while the others resist. On his next turn, the other druid casts the same thing, but both Zib and Kokhed make their saves, taking minimal damage. More bottles burst, sending wine everywhere.
Cordelia makes out the sound of shattering wood as the rest of the blights from outside have breached the barred door. Driscoll bites deeply into the druid with the staff, knocking him prone, while the others mop up the remaining blights in the cellar. The druid with the shillelagh swings at Kokhed again, this time missing critically with a dread natural 1. Again the shillelagh bounces off Kokhed’s rock-hard bird abs, but this time, he loses his grip (a second natural 1 on a Dexterity check to maintain his grip on the weapon), and the shillelagh rebounds from the barbarian’s muscles, knocking the druid hard in the forehead, its enchantment dealing maximum damage and dropping him.
The druid with the staff stands back up, unleashing another thunderwave, but again, both Driscoll and Devlin save. He doesn’t last the round, not getting a chance to activate his vampiric staff, and Devlin picks up the staff, attempts to break the staff over his knee, but fails. He tosses it toward Kokhed, who is finally released from the hold person spell, but critically fails his roll, and the staff bounces about 20 feet away, landing at the wolf’s feet. Devlin commands Driscoll to “fetch the stick”, making the Animal Handling check easily, and points to Kokhed. The wolf obeys, running the staff over to the barbarian, who manages to break the staff on his second attempt, just as a horde of blights descend into the cellar from both stairwells. There is a bright flash and a pulse of energy tears through the building, and the blights instantly fall, inanimate.
Everyone catches their breath and is disappointed to find no loot on the druids or the remains of the plant creatures. The Martikovs arrive to reclaim the winery having seen the blights remaining in the vineyard’s fields fall. They thank the party and invite them to stay the night. They find an empty gourd flask on the ground near one of the wine vats, and while Cordelia doesn’t recognize the remaining dregs of the foul substance that it once contained, poison is the most logical assumption. She notes that this vat smells “off”, and makes a mental note to prepare purify food and drink the next morning to restore it.
They are brought into the family’s confidence, and Davian tells them of some lost “seeds”, magical gems which until recently were planted in the fields and caused the vines to grow in this normally inhospitable climate. The gems were stolen, likely by the druids and one of their allies, and without their magic, the fields are already starting to go barren. While he knows it was asking a lot, if the party comes across them in their travels, he would be eternally grateful if they could return them.
Also, he gives the party 3 moss agate gemstones, and asks if they will accompany his daughter and her husband on their wine delivery the next day. They will be traveling to the village of Krezk, then over to Vallaki to drop off wine for the Inn, as well as the Vistani camp. There are two already-promised rewards waiting at the end of that journey, and the party quickly accepts. But first, this night there will be a celebration and a feast, and he provides the party with a pair of bottles of Red Dragon Crush, and six bottles of Purple Grapemash No. 3.
The party settles in for a much-needed long rest, experience is awarded, and Kokhed and Ireena level to 4th, catching up temporarily with the PCs. In typical Curse of Strahd fashion, the encounter site was one massive pitched battle, with highly memorable moments, if not so epic in scope compared some of the other storylines.
Reminder to myself and the players…when Cordelia purifies the wine in that poisoned vat, that particular batch is going to be released as a special edition, bottled in her honor, under the name “Raven Queen Red”. Davian Martikov will make sure you get a few samples.