After an uneasy sleep, the party decides to go after the second gem stolen from the winery. They decide to stop by the Wizard of Wines, to have lunch with the rest of the Martikov clan before climbing Yester Hill to the south. Two painted savages step out of the woods as they approach the turn-off to the winery, heading south toward the hill.
After lunch, the party continues to the hill, finding a large circular wall of stacked stones atop it. Two pathways circle lower on the hill, and stone cairns are spaced evenly around them.
Devlin hears someone calling to him from one of the nearby cairns. The voice says “Long have I waited for one who is worthy. My bow hungers for blood. Retrieve it, and rule these mountains in my stead, just like the mighty warriors from the early days of the Whispering Wall.” He digs at the rocks, exposing the skeleton of a long-dead barbarian chief. A longbow made from the horns of some great bovine beast is clutched in one hand. Loose around its skull is a simple silver circlet.
Devlin grasps the bow, and immediately intuits its abilities. Once attuned, it will provide an outstanding bonus to hit and damage (+2), and whenever an arrow it shoots reduces a target to 0 health, Devlin will gain 2d6 temporary hit points. After the magical item drought of the early part of this campaign, the items earned in these last two sessions will really come in handy. Cordelia is sure the bow is cursed and that Devlin will be taken over by some evil spirit sooner or later. No gifts come without a price within the lands of Barovia.
They enter the ring of stones, and find the earth within soured. Dead grass has been trampled by countless feet, and a 30 ft tall wood and wicker effigy of a fanged man (Strahd) stands along one wall. Directly across from the opening they entered is another which leads to a copse of dead trees some distance away.
Cordelia gets a torch from Devlin, lighting it and walking toward the wicker Strahd, intent on setting it ablaze. As she gets close to it, there is the clatter of stones from all around them, and six druids and six painted berserkers burst forth from the rock wall surrounding them.
A fierce battle breaks out, with the druids attempting to control the party with hold person and entangle spells.
Cordelia hurls one of the gems from her necklace at the effigy, catching a pair of druids in the blast, frying them instantly. The effigy is set ablaze.
Esmerelda is entangled, but even motionless and at disadvantage to attacks, her shots are devastating. Devlin’s hunters mark and new bow are a vicious combo, taking out druids left and right.
Kokhed charges at a druid, but gets caught between two berserkers, paralyzed by the druid’s hold person. The berserkers all attack recklessly, striking with great accuracy, but opening themselves up to counterattacks.
Zib casts suggestion, telling one of the berserkers that Devlin is the reincarnation of their tribal leader. He has the bow and must be protected against these other traitors! The barbarian’s eyes glaze over and he cuts into a nearby friend.
The extremely one-sided battle starts turning the other direction when Cordelia missed attack rolls with guiding bolt after guiding bolt. Kokhed is on the other side of the circle from the rest of the party, and after three rounds of automatic crits from the berserkers, finally saves against the hold effect and manages to go into a frenzied rage. However, he has already taken too much damage, and after a single round of attacks, falls to the attacks of his foes.
Zib launched several shatter spells, which turn the tide, but finally loses his concentration on the suggestion when a druid got close enough to land a thunderwave on the tightly-packed party.
Unconscious, Kokhed is struck by the one remaining berserker standing over him, failing two death saves automatically with the auto-crit he takes, and putting him one away from death. No one can get in range to heal him! As the party cuts down the last of the berserkers, Kokhed rolls his last death save…an 8! Kokhed is dead!
Cordelia has a plan! Revivify! But wait…revivify requires diamonds as a material component…diamonds the party does not have! She doesn’t have gentle repose prepared, so Kokhed will go gentle unto that great night.
The effigy has fallen apart and burned itself out, and amongst the coals and ash lies a pristine green gemstone. Scooping it and Kokhed’s body up, the party returns to the Winery. They give the Martikovs the gem, and leave Kokhed with them to allow the wereravens to bury him according to their customs. The Martikovs curse Strahd and his minions, and tell the party they can likely make the winery work with just the two gems for now.
The PCs and Esmerelda head back to Van Richten’s tower in case the good doctor has already returned with Ismark, but he has not. There, they bed down for the night. In the AM, the sounds of an approaching wagon wakes them, and there is the good doctor Van Richten with Ismark in tow.
After Ismark is brought up to speed on recent goings on, Cordelia outlines her plan to get into the castle and retrieve the symbol and weapon which Madam Eva foretold in the reading way back in session 5:
This second card tells of a powerful force for good & protection. A holy symbol of great hope.
(9 of coins / Miser)
Seek out a fortress inside the fortress. In a place hidden behind fire you will find what you seek.
This third card is the position of power and strength; it tells of a weapon of vengeance, a blade of sunlight.
(8 of Stars / Necromancer)
Within the castle, a woman hangs above a roaring fire. Find her and you will find the treasure.
Cordelia’s thought is to enter the castle in two groups. The first would include her and Ismark. They would seek an audience with Strahd and Cordelia would admit defeat, and act like she just wants to go home after the wedding. They would attempt to keep Strahd distracted, while the others, known as the “stealth” group, would use Esmerelda’s previous scouting of the castle to locate the two rooms containing the artifacts and retrieve them. If time permitted, they would look for the skull of Argynvost and retrieve it as well, hoping that its return would cause the undead revenant knights to ally with them against Strahd. With the weapons safely in their possession and the knights on their side, they can plan to attack during the wedding.
Ismark is against this plan, as any delay would cost them freeing Ireena, which he feels should be the focus of any delve into the castle. He is also concerned that splitting their forces would allow Strahd to divide and conquer them at their leisure. Devlin agrees that the party should go into the castle at full strength and as a unified force.
Cordelia emphasizes that no one who has tried a “frontal assault” on the castle has been successful. They argue about frontal assaults versus utilizing stealth to scout ahead a room or so, but maintaining party cohesion as a single group. As a whole, they end up agreeing that the items should be the first priority, as they would make surviving any encounter with Strahd or his minions much more likely. They are worried, rightly, that Ireena will be well-guarded, but Ismark is adamant that rescuing his sister before her transformation into Strahd’s vampire bride be included in the plan.
Cordelia has another plan, if all else fails. If she can get close to Ireena, she will kill her. Knowing Strahd wants to possess her above all else, she can barter her ability to raise the dead for Strahd leaving them alone (until they are ready to face him). She doesn’t mention this to the NPCs for good reason.
With most of the day remaining, and knowing the castle is four hours away, the party loads up in both Van Richten’s and Esmerelda’s wagons and begins the journey from the tower to the castle, ending the session.