As always, Curse of Strahd spoilers abound in this recap. Zib’s player, Paul, couldn’t make it tonight, so the usually loquacious bard didn’t have a whole lot to say, but I’m sure he’ll make up for that next week after reading this recap.
Play begins as the players wake up after spending the night at the Wizard of Wines winery along with Kokhed, their new wereraven companion and the Martikov family. Cordelia prepares her spells for the day and then purifies the wine vat which had been poisoned, leaving a tasty wine within. The Martikovs feed them breakfast and then Stefania and her husband Dag prepare the draft horses and wagon for the wine deliveries as the players stow their belongings and prepare to set off for the village of Krezk.
The journey to Krezk is uneventful, and around mid-morning they climb the hill to the gates of the walled village. They can see the Abbey of Saint Markovia on the hillside high above the village. When the guards see that it’s the wine delivery, they quickly call the Burgomaster who graciously accepts Krezk’s allotment of wine.
They make some small talk with the villagers and learn some back history of the abbey. The abbey is named for Saint Markovia, a follower of the Morninglord who led a revolt against Strahd a couple of hundred years ago. Predictably, she and her followers stormed the castle and were never heard from again. The abbey had been abandoned until, a little over one hundred years ago, the abbot showed up. He took residence, watches over the village of Krezk, but has a hands-off managerial style, letting the burgomaster run things. He demands wine, possibly to keep his new followers occupied. Nothing else is said about those…
The party climbs the narrow path up the steep hillside. As they reach the first switch-back, Cordelia notices Ireena staring off to the northwest, where a small shimmering pond of water lies just inside the village wall. Ireena says she feels strangely drawn to it, and could swear she heard a familiar voice calling her name.
Ignoring it for the moment, they reach the top of the hill and the abbey’s walls loom above them. A bell stands outside the closed gate. They ring it, and two cloaked, hunched figures, neither one reaching five feet in height, come out of one of the gate houses.
“Wiiiiine! Wiiiiine!” the one barks. He’s deformed and monstrous, a beardless dwarf covered in patches of donkey flesh, with a wolf’s ear, a human ear, a wolf’s snout and fangs, the legs of a great cat, and the tail of a donkey. He’s speaking common but can barely be understood, he is friendly and enthusiastic, though.
His companion is even more hideous, partly scaled like a lizard, partly furred like a wolf, with cat paws and opposable thumbs, and apparently female. He calls her Zygfrek, and sends her off to tell the abbot the wine has arrived, as he ushers the party inside the walls. They’re a little freaked out, but the creatures don’t seem violent, so they accompany him through the outer walls and through the inner doors to the courtyard, after passing a graveyard to their south and seeing a walled garden at the north end of the abbey grounds. Devlin looks for signs of open or fresh graves, but doesn’t see any.
Within the courtyard, they’re surrounded by small buildings which resemble chicken coops, but are padlocked on the outside. A well stands in the center, and a bat-winged humanoid with a spider’s mandibles for a mouth is chittering crazily while tethered to a rope in one corner, apparently to prevent it from flying away.
Devlin, seeking to make small talk, asks their guide, who has introduced himself as Otto, about the abbot.
“He’s a genius, and a great man. He is responsible for giving us these wonderful forms. It’s greater than I ever dreamed it would be”, is Otto’s garbled response. Insight rolls indicate no deception or magical compulsion, while this guy might be a little “off”, he is legitimately the abbot’s #1 fan.
There’s screaming coming from within the coops, but Otto shouts at them “Shut up! Shut up! It’s not dinner time yet!”
“It’s the mad ones”, he apologizes. “The process doesn’t go perfectly for everyone. But, these magnificent forms are a blessing, and worth the risk.”
The party is looking at Stefania and Dag, but the two of them are taking this in stride. They look a bit repulsed, but this isn’t their first delivery to the abbey, and it’s always gone okay before.
Before long, the abbot steps out. He’s a young, extremely attractive man with a beatific aura, and apparently he hasn’t aged a day since his arrival over a century before. He thanks them for bringing the wine, and invites them to bring it inside the great hall. Inside, a kettle boils over a fire, a long table is set for dinner, and a woman in a torn and disheveled red dress stands near it. He tenderly reaches over and takes her hand, introducing her as Vasilka.
She makes some noise in her throat, but appears incapable of speech. Looking at her closely, both Devlin and Cordelia notice that her powdered skin appears stitched together in places. The abbot, seeing their reaction, explains that Vasilka is his greatest creation, meant to be a bride for Strahd. By giving the devil his heart’s desire, he hopes to heal the land of Barovia. He just needs a proper wedding gown.
The party knows that Ireena is what Strahd desires, but diplomatically keep hush about that. They agree to look for a wedding gown (Zib has seen one in the Burgomaster’s mansion in Vallaki), and make an excuse to leave. On the way out, Cordelia sees the abbot’s shadow on the wall, and the silhouette has large feathered wings rising up over its shoulders.
As they descend back into the village proper, the party tells Stefania, Kokhed, and Dag that they will meet them at the gate. They walk north to the pond Ireena saw. Near its shore stands an old gazebo which looks like a good wind will knock it over. An old, wooden statue of a bare-chested man with its arms outstretched as though waiting to be embraced faces the pond from the center of the structure.
Ireena reaches the pool’s edge, and an image appears in the sparkling blue water: a handsome youth of kind and noble visage. His eyes are sad, but suddenly light up with joy.
“Tatyana!”, he says. “It has been so long! Come, my love. Let us be together at last.”
Ireena gasps and puts a hand on her heart. “My beloved, Sergei! In life, you were a prince and a man of faith. We were to be married so long ago. Hsa this blessed pool called your spirit to me?” She reaches her hand toward’s the water’s surface, as a hand of water rises toward her.
Cordelia grabs Ireena and pulls her backward, away from the pool.
“No, let me go!”, Ireena screams.
“Wait, no, it’s some kind of trap”, Cordelia tries to explain.
“You don’t understand, I’m meant to be with him. I’ve always meant to be with him! I am…was…Tatyana. His betrothed. He is my prince, my beloved Sergei!” Ireena struggles to free herself, but it is too late. The pool’s surface returns to normal, and the vision of Sergei is gone.
“Nooooooo! Sergei!”, Ireena screams, inconsolable.
The wind begins to blow from the east, the direction of Castle Ravenloft. Seemingly from nowhere, a storm rushes in, and a downpour begins. Lightning strikes the nearby gazebo, shattering it, and setting the remains of the statue on fire. Demonic laughter echoes over the mountains to the east.
“Muahahahaha. She! Is! Mine!”, Strahd’s voice booms across the lands.
Confused and somber, the party, a nearly suicidal Ireena in tow, returns to the gate for the journey back toward Vallaki.
As they reach the bridge over the Raven river, a raven descends from the sky, transforming into a naked young man. Covering his junk out of modesty in the presence of human women, he calls Kokhed over, engages in a moment of conversation, then turns back into a raven and flies east.
“We’ve found one of the seeds stolen from the vineyards. The Baba, Lysaga, holds it in the ruins of Berez. She is a powerful witch, and those druids are obviously her allies. They must hold the second.”
“Where do they come from, do you know”, asks Devlin.
“They attacked from the south. There are ruins there, atop Yester Hill. They must reside there.”
That information in hand, they finish the escort mission without further encounters in the wilderness. It’s approaching evening as they near the Vistani camp, they can smell smoke in the air, and see multiple plumes rising from within the town of Vallaki. Buildings are burning!
The Vistani are overjoyed to see them, though there is a tension in the air. Almost all of the dusk elves and Vistani are on watch around the camp and hovels. Luvash and his brother, Arrigal come out and oversee the unloading of their allotment of wine. Luvash rubs at a bandage on his neck. Devlin asks what’s going on in Vallaki, and Luvash replies with a chuckle.
“I heard Izek Strasni had a little accident last night.”
“What kind of accident.”
“The permanent kind. After that, there was some kind of fight. They’re killing each other in there.”
“The townspeople. None of our business, we’re just staying alert to make sure it doesn’t spill over out here.”
Luvash and Arrigal open their treasure wagon and Luvash counts out several gold coins into a small sack, tossing it to Devlin.
“For the wine. We will celebrate tonight. Will you stay?”
They would love to, but they have one more delivery, and are anxious to see what’s going on in the town. The Vistani offer to keep Devlin’s wolf, Driscoll for the night, and Devlin asks them not to get the wolf drunk on ale.
“Of course not…we have wine now! Much better than ale!”
As they are leaving the camp, a middle-aged dusk elf approaches them.
“Heroes, may I speak with you?”
He introduces himself as Kasimir Velikov, leader of the elves. He has heard about the outsiders’ exploits, and wonders if they might assist him. His dead sister, Patrina Velikovna’s spirit languishes in the crypts beneath Castle Ravenloft. A powerful archmage in life, she opposed Strahd and was killed within the castle. Now, she speaks to him in his dreams, seeking a way to be freed from her torment. He has heard that the abbot at Saint Markovia’s holds the power to restore the dead to life, and if they could retrieve her remains, they could acquire a powerful ally against Strahd.
Cordelia, priestess of the Raven Queen doesn’t like the sound of this. She says that they will be happy to put the elf woman’s spirit to rest, but bringing her back to life would be altering the natural order of things. He counters that were it not for the undead monster in the castle cutting her down before her time, Patrina would only now be approaching middle age as an elf. And he doesn’t believe that it’s possible for her spirit to move on from here. She has been dead for hundreds of years, but her spirit still lingers in this cursed land. They promise to take it under consideration. He is not happy with the answer.
Leaving the camp, they circle around and approach the eastern gate of Vallaki. The plaque which once proclaimed the town’s name has been defaced, and next to it hangs a temporary wooden sign, possibly scrawled in drying blood, which reads “Wachterton”. Guarding the gate are four humans wearing robes and bronze devil-faced masks over their armor. They carry glaives, and silently open the gate, motioning the wagon and its entourage into the town.
“Uh, hi. Are you the same guards that were here the other day?”
“We are one. We serve at Her pleasure.”
Things have obviously changed in Vallaki, but maybe not for the better.
As they make their way toward the Blue Water Inn, they pass the burnt out remains of the general store. From deeper in the town, smoke rises from the block where the burgomaster’s mansion stood. They do notice the church still stands on the far side of town. They pass more groups of the robed and masked guards in the streets, but whatever fighting happened here appears to be over.
The inn is closed and locked, but when Stefania knocks, the Martikovs answer, and quickly usher everyone in, after hurriedly unloading the last of the wine. After the door is secured, they fill the party in on recent events.
The evening before, masked intruders assassinated Izek Strasni in the street near the Burgomaster’s mansion. Then, in the predawn hours, the masked cultists took to the streets, slaying those loyal to the baron, before storming the baron’s mansion. The baron and his family were dragged from the building as it was put to the torch. They were brought to a hastily-constructed gallows in the town square and summarily hanged.
Lady Wachter has assumed control of the town, and renamed it Wachterton. Some of her cultists have used the chaos to settle a few scores, as some of the casualties had no particular loyalties to the baron.
A moment later there is a loud knock at the door. Four masked cultists flank an unmasked man the party recognizes as one of Lady Wachter’s retainers. He greets the party and tells them that the Lady looks forward to seeing them in the morning at Wachter house. She has their reward. Oh, and both Nikolai and Karl Wachter are wondering how long the inn will be closed. They’re growing anxious to return to their favorite table in the common room. He and the masked cultists depart after Urwin promises to reopen the next day.
The mood is somber over an evening meal shared with the extended Martikov family. Urwin is happy to see Kokhed, his niece, and her husband, and asks Kokhed, “So, they know?” Kokhed nods, the party knows the secret of the Keepers of the Feather. They stand united against Strahd.
Cordelia offers to pay for the big room which sleeps four, but Urwin assures her that her coin is not needed. She, Devlin, Zib, and a still distraught Ireena bed down there for the night, posting a watch. She takes the first watch, and Zib the second, both of which pass uneventfully. Shortly after Devlin’s watch starts, Ireena, restless, rises from her bed and approaches the window, opening it and complaining that the room is too stuffy. Devlin chides her gently, closing the window. Cordelia, woken by the commotion tries to get Ireena to go back to bed, but Ireena resists.
Devlin looks out the window, and with his darkvision, sees a man hovering there in the air. The man’s eyes glow, seemingly looking into Devlin’s soul, and Devlin fails a Wisdom saving throw, charmed by Strahd!
“Open the window, dear friend”, Strahd suggests reasonably.
Devlin opens the window, and suddenly two swarms of bats enter the room, attacking Zib and Cordelia.
“Invite me in, it’s a bit cold out.”
Devlin is cranky from lack of sleep, and a little perturbed at the commotion his buddy’s pet bats are causing. There was no need to attack his other friends.
“No. I’m tired, come back in the morning.”
Cordelia begins fighting the bats, and Zib backs into the hallway, crying out to alert the rest of the Inn to the attack and casting a shatter spell which does as much damage to the wall as it does to the bat swarm. Strahd casts a polymorph spell at Cordelia, which she resists. The second swarm moves to attack her as well. She retaliates by calling on the Raven Queen to bring forth a nimbus of light, surrounding herself with true sunlight which bathes the room, and shining out the window onto Strahd. His skin begins to smoke and blister.
Strahd changes tactics, catching Ireena’s eye with his gaze. Another failed saving throw, and Ireena is charmed!
“Come, Ireena, let us be off from this place. Devlin, stand aside.”
Ireena rushes to the window, leaping out and into Strahd’s arm as Cordelia and Zib can only stare in horror. Cordelia focuses the light around her into her hand, hurling it at the vampire, who raises a palm, intoning a single word of arcane power. A shield of force deflects the beam of sunlight, which flashes out, leaving the room in darkness once more.
Strahd quickly descends to the ground where a black horse with flaming hooves and glowing red eyes, a nightmare, awaits. As one swarm of bats is destroyed and the other driven off, he and Ireena climb onto the infernal steed and it takes flight, quickly disappearing out of sight. Ireena is lost!
Cordelia is furious at Devlin, but Devlin just doesn’t get what the big deal is.
“When do you think Ireena will be back? You think she’s going to stay out ALL NIGHT with him?”
Cordelia attempts a sacred flame cantrip to burn some righteous sense into Devlin, but he makes his Dexterity save.
She then attempts a hold person on him, but again, he saves.
Kokhed grapples Devlin from behind, but the slippery ranger wriggles out of the hold.
Zib then casts suggestion, telling Devlin to “Let him grab you, it’s for your own good”, and again Devlin’s near-perfect iron will resists the effect.
All told, it takes four wereravens, Cordelia, and Zib to get Devlin restrained and tied to the bed before he can cause any further trouble.
“A vampire’s charm is limited in duration, he should be fine in a day or so. Until then, we’d better keep him tied up here with the blinds drawn”, advises Urwin.
As Cordelia lays in a fetal position on her bed, she receives a taunting sending from Strahd.
Hello, Priestess. It was good seeing you again. Ireena is with me, where she belongs. Come to dinner at the castle. Yours truly, Strahd.
She sends a reply.
This isn’t over. My goddess will end your evil, soon. Hurt Ireena, and you will pay! See you soon, asshole. You’re not as good looking…
“…as your brother”, she finishes, but unfortunately the last bit of the message is cut off as the sending expires.
It’s nearing morning, so Danika begins making breakfast for everyone. The meal is even more somber than the previous evening’s supper. Just after first light, there’s another knock on the door. A messenger from the Graenseskov has arrived on a horse. He asks for Ireena and is told she’s not available. Recognizing the description of the other party members, he entrusts a letter, sealed with the Burgomaster of Barovia’s crest, to them. It’s from Ismark. As they open it, we end the session.