CoS Interlude 1: The Ferals

 

Night fell over the lands of Barovia, first over the Graenseskov, the thick mountain pines blocking the last motes of light passing over the horizon, then Barova village, as the shadow of the castle above grew across the valley, to the mountain passes, and then finally Vallaki and the west.

As Strahd peered into the scrying surface, he watched the last of the werewolves limp away from the tower, leaving the dead and dying members of her pack to the cursed doctor, the Vistana, and their newly-arrived allies.  He wore the anger on his face but for a second, and then his usual mask of stoic indifference was back.

Strahd closed his eyes, reaching out his consciousness to seek out a particular group of minds, somewhere within his domain.  He found them just where he had previously bound them.  With the flick of a mental switch, he released them, and then disconnected the connection, gazing up at the painting of Tatyana, and knowing that she slept safely under guard just a few rooms away.

cf49613db110c956f4f72a56f6dd041a

 

Across the land, lean, twisted humanoid shapes clawed their way out of shallow graves in remote places, far from the towns where the living huddled in fear of things that hunt in the night, things like the ferals.

As Strahd turned to leave the study, his eyes never took in the gleaming sword hilt softly glowing on the mantle, one that he had sought to destroy for centuries.  It was as if the thing existed in a place and time just slightly outside his awareness.

Advertisements

CoS Sessions 12 and 13 – Werewolves at the Gate

werewolftemple

After a short session last week, I waited until after this week to have enough for this report.  With the defeat of the hags, the party searched the windmill, locating their treasure stash on the third floor which consisted of a driftglobe, a potion of healing, and some pieces of cheap jewelry.  Their ill-gotten gains from the pastry business consisted of several gold coins and semi-precious gemstones which were hidden in the barrel of sludge found in the first floor kitchen.  Rose, Thorn, and the other two children were all from Barovia, so the group decided to head there.

They encountered Strahd’s carriage at the turn-off to the castle and it appeared to be waiting for them.  Devlin looked inside and found a note inviting them all to dinner.  He penned a quick reply declining the invitation due to short notice and asking for a rain check, and pocketed the note, waiting for the right time to tell the party about it.  Perhaps after they aren’t lugging around four children.  The coach’s door shuts on its own and the horses gallop up the narrow cliff-side road toward the castle.

They next made a stop by the Tser Pool encampment where they had met Madam Eva almost a week before. The player characters were each given an opportunity to meet with Madam Eva separately to ask any personal questions and get answers from Eva’s Tarokka deck.  Each had several solid questions that they asked, and while the answers were not always clear, they provided solid nudges in certain directions.  I don’t remember all the questions and answers, but Devlin’s player Sarah did an awesome job of recording them all in her game notes, so I’ll see if I can’t borrow them to type them up as a separate post.

Before Devlin left, he asked if there was anything they could do to repay the assistance she had provided.  She declined at first, sticking to her motto of “No favors asked, no aid accepted.”, but after pulling a card from her deck which she did not reveal, she changed her mind.  “Return here tomorrow on your way back to the west, and I may have a request of you.  I do not bind you to any service, I may simply ask a favor you are free to decline.”

The characters with four children in tow continued back to Barovia, reaching it just before nightfall.  They returned to the home of the other children, a brother and sister, and found their mother, going through withdrawals from dream pastries.  Cordelia cast lesser restoration on the woman which seemed to ease her pain significantly.  The woman cried over her husband having convinced her to trade their children to Morgantha for a basketful of pastries which they had binged on until they were gone.  She promises the children that it will never happen again.  Daddy is gone and won’t be coming back. Momma pushed the oven on his head.

Not ready to leave kids in the care of a murderess and former addict, Cordelia drags the woman and her kids to Donavich at the church.  Donavich speaks with the woman and is moved by the story she tells him.  He then states that she should get her children back, and agrees to check in with the household multiple times a day and help them through this troubled time.  He’s back to shepherding his flock in the village!  This is agreeable to Cordelia and crew, so they leave the reunited family

They make their way across town to the townhome of Bildrath’s sister.  She is overjoyed to see the kids and horrified that the once-friendly Hezekiah would betray everyone’s trust as he did.  She promises not to let them go off alone with anyone.  She’ll make sure her son, the stock-boy Perriwimple, keeps an eye on them when he’s not working.  This doesn’t reassure any of the party, but they have a vampire to eventually defeat and several more wrongs to right, or treasures to plunder, or damsels to save, or towns to overthrow…they have a lot of unfulfilled goals.

The first goal is sleep, and they do so in the common room at the Blood of the Vine.  The night passes uneventfully, their first night back in the shadow of the castle far above atop the pillar stone of Ravenloft.  We end session 12 at this point and pick up session 13 in the morning.

In the morning they pack up and depart quickly after Cordelia leaves the majority of Ireena’s belongings in Donavich’s safekeeping.  She takes Ireena’s sword and her healer’s kits with her.  (they’re doing Ireena no good while she’s in the castle)

They again take the shortcut by the Tser Pool and Devlin meets Madam Eva outside her tent, waiting.

“There is a stone mansion somewhere to the west where once a silver dragon made its home.  It is now a haunted and troubled place.  If you encounter it in your travels, you can share with me any books or other writings you find there.”

She requests no promises, this is simply a favor they are free to pursue or not.  That told, they travel toward the windmill, where Madam Eva has hinted that they may have missed something in their search…when asked about the location of the third missing gem from the winery fields, her cards showed that they had recently been very near it, but failed to spot it.

They head back toward the mill when they again pass the turn-off to the castle.  The coach is back and again, its door waits open.  Zib wants to go to the castle, but is held back by Cordelia, who distrusts his motives.  Devlin checks and Strahd has penned a reply to his note from the previous day.  It apologizes for not being able to reschedule for the time being, there is a wedding being planned.  He promises them an invitation to the wedding once the betrothal is official.  Devlin slips back out of the carriage and agrees with Cordelia that they’d rather go to the castle when Strahd isn’t there, if such a thing can be arranged.

They return to the Old Bonegrinder which is soon to be renamed as the Durst sisters are now the owners of it.  Part of Barovia property law states that in order to prove ownership of a building, beyond having an official deed signed by the Count, the owners must be capable of defending the property from those who would take it by force.

Searching the upper level of the windmill, they find a small bird’s nest tucked up in the eaves of the attic where the drive wheel gears turn the main shaft.  In it is a small blue stone which pulses faintly with dim blue light.  Kokhed confirms that it is the first “seed” that was stolen, Zib wants to see it, but Devlin tosses it to Kokhed for safekeeping.

They decide to head to the tower on the lake where they are to meet Van Richten.  Kokhed will split off to fly the seed back to the Martikovs at the winery before meeting them at the tower.  They pass by Wachterton, where new signage has been procured and hung (no more scratched out “Vallaki”).  The elf and Vistani camp is subdued, and Driscoll the wolf eyes the camp longingly, apparently wanting some of the wine the Vistani had been feeding him when wolf-sitting for Devlin.

They take a shortcut on a game trail which travels around the north side of a wooded peak instead of the main road which would take them around the south.  This gets them to the turn-off to the tower quicker, and they reach a treeline sloping downward to green grass shores alongside a mist-shrouded lake.  A straight grass causeway led from the shore directly to an island about a hundred feet off the lakes shore.  On the island was a single stone tower.  Parked beneath it were two wagons, one they recognized as Rictavio’s carnival wagon, the other a closed-top barrel wagon.  They spotted some work horses grazing freely along the woodline just to their south.

Around the tower, loped several wolves and an equal number of two-legged figures which looked fur-covered.  They hid in the woods and observed.  From across the lake, one of the figures called up to the tower “Give us the girl, old man. She killed my mate and now I claim her life as tribute for the pack in return.”

The only answer from the tower is a loud explosion as a bright flash appears in one of the arrow slots on the fourth floor.  The large werewolf who had been speaking recoils as if struck by something.  His companions take cover behind the wagons while their wolves creep under some scaffolding on the building’s side.

The siege continues while the party waits for Kokhed’s return.  As the sun sets, the werewolves and their wolves howl.  In the darkness, they begin circling the tower again. There is no answering fire from the tower.

Just after twilight, Kokhed descends on a mighty flap of wings.  He has delivered the gem and has seen the evil rival lycanthropes.  He cannot carry a silver weapon, so he will have to rely on his beak or some other means of damaging the werewolves.  Cordelia has a silver dagger, Zib a silver short sword, but Devlin has no silver arrows or weapon.

They begin to implement a half-formed plan before it’s formed.  Zib casts invisibility on himself as Devlin orders Driscoll to guard Zib.  Invisible, Zib creeps up the causeway stealthily, while Driscoll stalks at a distance behind him.  Neither are noticed by the wolves or werewolves.  Zib empties out flasks of lamp oil, saturating a 10×10 section of ground before creeping forward onto the island, about 30 feet from the apparent werewolf pack leader.

A lot happens at once.  The party begins a stealthy approach up the causeway after Devlin casts pass without trace on the group.  Some of the werewolves catch the scent of Kokhed, who was not so stealthy, even with a +10 modifier to the roll.  The leader catches a closer scent, that of the invisible Zib, orders his pack to attack those on the causeway, and begins to home in on Zib with his nose, striding back and forth before coming to a stop directly in front of Zib.  He swats out with his claws, miraculously catching an invisible, dodging, Zib across the forehead with a lucky shot despite the disadvantage.  Zib backs away, making a stealth check and the pack leader loses his scent momentarily.

There are more sharp thunder-like cracks from the tower, and the werewolf leading the charge down the causeway stumbles as it is struck twice by something none of the party sees.  Something else is hurled from another arrow slit on the fourth floor, and explodes in a radius around its impact near the werewolf packleader who is singed, but manages to dodge the brunt of the blast.  Devlin shoots an arrow at the center werewolf in the pack which charges them, and thorns sprout from its shaft, showering its target and the werewolves around it with thorns and dealing some damage in the process.

As luck would have it, the five werewolves dash action causes them to bunch up and end their turn directly in the oil-saturated area.  Cordelia prays to the Raven Queen as she hopes that a sacred flame burns hot enough to ignite oil.  The Queen’s favor is with her, and the white flame misses her target, but strikes the ground next to it solidly, the white flash giving way to dull blue and orange flames and a rising wave of heat.  The fur of the werewolves catches fire.  Four of them peel off into the lake while the one struck by the unseen attacks from the tower continues forward in a rage, on fire.

Driscoll has readied for this and leaps forward seizing the werewolf by the throat. Unfortunately, his teeth are incapable of penetrating the magical hide of the werewolf, and it shakes him off as it lashes out at Cordelia, sinking its fangs into her shoulder.  She rolls pretty high on her Constitution save, and sighs in relief.  She responds by drawing her silver dagger, striking and connecting for damage, though the werewolf doesn’t appear to weaken any from the blow.

The wolves which had been hiding under the scaffolding run toward the causeway to join their werewolf masters, but two are cut down from more unseen attacks from the tower, again accompanied by thunderous claps and bright flashes.  Of the other four, Zib drops the front two and injures the back two as he appears uttering the words of a shatter spell. Another projectile is hurled from an arrow slit, exploding and taking out the remaining two wolves.

A voice calls down from the tower top, “My wagon, under the seat, arrows and bolts.” Devlin makes a leap over the burning section of causeway which is already beginning to burn out, and just makes it to the corner of the near wagon.  Hoping this is the right one, he flips up the seat, revealing a cubby sporting a quiver of arrows, a case of bolts, and other goodies.  He snatches an arrow from the quicker and begins drawing the string as he turns to fire, noticing the head of the arrow gleams silver in the moonlight.  Two arrows fired in quick succession strike the burning, pissed-off, shot-up werewolf who finally drops from the abuse.

The werewolf packleader has loped out into the water to bypass the burning section and this turn closes with Cordelia and Driscoll the wolf. Kokhed swoops down on one of the werewolves in the lake, raging, and grappling his foe, forcing it beneath the lake’s surface. They struggle for position, with Kokhed coming up on top and keeping his opponent from surfacing to breathe.

Cordelia has been attacked to within a few hit points of dropping, and Zib has sustained a bit of damage.  With the loss of their wolves, the werewolves’ fortunes change quickly.

Cordelia lands inflict wounds on one of the other werewolves who charged her, then again the following turn on the pack leader. Devlin’s shots are deadly accurate, and he adds a hunter’s mark to the packleader for extra damage. Two more werewolves are downed, and as the leader howls and retreats, one more cracking boom from the tower causes the back of his head to explode, sending his lifeless form falling to the ground.

One of the remaining werewolves is captured, and the final werewolf flees, and Van Richten opens the tower door and ushering the party inside. He takes a moment to explain the trap mechanisms guarding the tower entry in case it becomes important later. They stop to gather up the belongings of the werewolves, still lying where they had originally changed, and then carry the unconscious werewolf, now changed back to human form inside.

There they are ushered over to strange elevator.  Four sets of chains connect to a pulley system somewhere far above which lifts a platform.  Four clay statues, animated golems come to life to pull the chains, raising the platform toward the top of the tower.  They pass two mostly-rotted and destroyed levels before reaching the solid, but musty fourth floor.  It’s obvious someone has been living here, and from across the room comes a woman with Vistani-like features.  Van Richten introduces her as his protege, Ezmeralda, and with introductions made, we end the session.