Session 17: Into the Castle

We’ve made it to the castle!  Cordelia’s player, Kristy, was absent this week due to an approaching hurricane (it missed us), but Paul was back to personify Zib.  Barbara, a player in another campaign which I play in took up my offer to join us and run one of the NPCs (thereby lightening my burden), and chose the gunslinging Ezmerelda.

The party sets off for the castle in the two horse-drawn wagons owned by Van Richten and Ezmerelda.  Ezmerelda takes this time to recount her last visit to the castle.

I entered the castle through the front doors, which were closed but not locked.  The entry hall was square, with a vaulted ceiling.  Four statues of dragons seemed to stare down on me as I crossed to the double doors leading deeper into the castle.

The next room was a great entryway, octagonal, with 4 columns propping up a high, domed ceiling.  Eight leering, fiendish gargoyle statues stared down from niches around the dome. Bronzed double doors blocked further progress east, and a huge stairwell climbed to the north before curving up and to the west.  To the south was a dark, open hall with a short passage leading east to a circular stairwell leading up and down.  On the west side of this hall was a closed door, light spilling out from beneath it.  I avoided this room.

I cracked one of the bronze double doors open, and the meager light shone into a long hallway shrouded in darkness.  In the gloom I could make out statues flanking the hallway down its length.  Fearing stumbling over a trap in the dark, and unwilling to give away my position with a light source, I closed the door without entering.

I decided to take the short hallway off of the southern hall east and up the circular stairs to the next level.  The stairs continued up, but I stopped at the first landing.  West of the landing was a door which led into a lit office of some sort.  Books, scrolls, and ledgers were scattered everywhere, and a large black desk dominated the room.  Four locked and bound chests drew my attention, but was I set my lockpicks to the first, I heard footsteps coming down the stairs behind me, so I quickly passed into the next room, shutting the door behind me.

I believe the third floor of the keep is occupied, as that is where the footsteps of whoever entered the office behind me had originated.  Unlike the undead, whose footfalls on the tiled floor of the audience hall were nearly silent, this individual had no inherent stealth, so I think it likely it was human, or another similar race.

I found myself in a large audience hall.  A single throne-like chair stood atop a raised dais to the south, while dim light entered from a huge broken window frame opening to the courtyard to the west.  On the north side of the hall, twin stairs set 20 feet apart lead downward.  Double doors on the north side of the east wall stood closed.  I tied my rope to the base of the frame, letting it out the window to have a quick escape ready should I be detected.  I could hear the sound of a chair being dragged across the floor behind the desk, and someone sitting down.  

My attention distracted, I almost missed the sound of the doors on the northeast side of the hall opening, but as the temperature in the room dropped, my eyes fell upon four armored figures slinking into the room, a blaze of infernal fire in their undead eyes.  Wordlessly, they sniffed the air, and their gazes turned in my direction.  Though my invisibility held, I had no doubt they could sense me.  The odds were not in my favor, so I quickly ran to the window, the creatures pursuing the sounds of my steps.  I shimmied down the rope, back into the courtyard.  Looking up, I could see their silhouettes at the open window, peering down, but they did not pursue me.


I ran across the courtyard, beneath the gatehouse and over the drawbridge, not stopping until I was well down the road to where I had left my wagon.  

After a brief stop at Strahd’s coach to read a wedding invitation for two days hence at dusk and addressed to Cordelia (and friends), they continue up the road to the castle, halting the horses about a quarter mile from the gatehouse and drawbridge.

They continue on foot, crossing the bridge while avoiding a suspicious looking slimy section in the center of the gatehouse ceiling.  Entering the castle courtyard, they can see the tracks of multiple sets of wagon wheels leading around to the left side of the central keep and through an open gateway in an inner wall extending out from the castle itself.  The castle’s massive front doors are open and torchlight spills out into the dreary courtyard.

Zib casts invisibility on himself and creeps up to the open gate, looks in, and sees some villagers from Wachterton unloading boxes of goods from a cart and nervously disappearing out of site, possibly through a door around the side of the castle.  Apparently, wedding arrangements are underway.  A large number of zombies dressed in Strahd’s livery stand in a large semicircle around this side yard, watching over the delivery.

He reports back to the party and then checks the other side, finding a similar wall, this time with a closed and barred gate.

The party argues for a bit over the best course of action.  Zib’s invisibility has a good amount of time left, and Van Richten can provide Ezmerelda with invisibility through his alchemical abilities, so the two of them creep in the front door to scout ahead.  Devlin, also capable of stealth goes with them but lags a bit behind, while Ismark, Cordelia, the good doctor, and Driscoll the wolf bring up the rear.

Four statues of dragons, each the size of a man stand upon platforms set near the top of  the entry hall’s walls.  Their eyes gleam and glimmer in the torch light.  Ignoring them, the stealthy group checks the inner doors for traps, and then cracks them open.  The next chamber is the huge octagonal hall with pillars and gargoyles.  A wide, great stairwell leads up to the north before turning 90 degrees to the west and climbing further.  To the south, a hall extends, with a narrower hallway off its east wall.  Large double doors in the west wall lie closed, but bright light escapes in the crack between the doors and floor.

This place appears deserted, so the rest of the party is waved forward.  They make plans to breach the double doors, weapons at the ready, and stumble into a richly-appointed fest hall.  Hundreds of candles are lit in the chandelier above the table.  The table is set with delicious-looking food and drink, and a well-dressed figure sits at a huge pipe organ at the far end of the room, facing away from them.  He plays some harsh chords on the organ, and turns to greet them.  It’s Strahd!

“Welcome, my friends.  You are a bit early for the wedding.  It is of no worry, though.  As you can see, you’ve been expected.  Please, enjoy my hospitality.  Eat.  Drink.”

The food smells delicious, but no one seems to have much of an appetite.  The visible party members question Strahd about Ireena, but his answer is evasive, stating simply that she is resting in her chambers.  After about a minute, he vanishes.  They question if he was ever really there.  Zib and Devlin admire the crystal goblets and fine silverware, and take the opportunity to fill their packs.

They decide to hurry up and explore.  As they reenter the main hall, Cordelia sees a vision of a white raven fly through the room, disappearing through the double doors leading farther into the castle toward the east.  The others fear it’s a trap and head up the great stairwell, instead.  It leads up to a wide landing with two stairwells leading up back to the south.  Between the stairs are a pair of suits of armor, both clutching large maces in their gauntleted fists.

Devlin and Zib notice something odd about the floor in front of the armor.  Zib looks around for something to test it with, and runs back down to the dining hall, picking up the roast pig and returning with it.  He hurls the platter onto the suspicious floor in front of one of the suits of armor, and the armor surges forward on some sort of mechanism, its mace slamming into the pig, sending roast pork flying everywhere.  Devlin catches the apple which flies from the animal’s mouth.

They skirt around the outside of the room and ascend the westmost stair, finding themselves at the north end of the great audience chamber Ezmerelda had visisted from the other direction.  Ezmerelda and Devlin hear the sounds of light footfalls coming from a set of double doors to the east and warn the party in time to set up an ambush.

Two vampire spawn enter the room, and are cut down where they stand by a massed volley of magic, alchemy, and arrows.

Ezmerelda points out the door leading to the office she was in before, and Zib wants to check it out.  They enter, finding a thin, bookish-looking human sitting behind the great desk, furiously scribbling in a ledger.  A rope dangles from a hole in the ceiling within reach of his arm. He looks up, apparently annoyed at the interruption.

Zib bluffs him into believing that Zib is there at “the master’s request” in order to check the books, especially the treasury figures. The accountant, Lief, is annoyed because Strahd doesn’t tell him where all the treasures are, but he assures Zib all is in order.  Zib asks about “the sword and the symbol”, and Lief says Strahd still hasn’t found the sword, and it’s almost like the sword doesn’t want Strahd to find it.  The symbol is safe in the treasury.  Zib tells him he wants to check on it, and Lief says “make sure you put out the fire first before you go through the secret door.”

Zib notices the four chests in the room and asks for the key to open them.  Lief tells him he’s forgotten where he put it, but then remembers, and tosses it to Zib.  As the gnome is busy opening the chests, Van Richten hurls an alchemical flask at Lief, which bursts, covering him in quick-burning flames which consume the accountant where he sits.  The doctor says he saw Lief reaching for the rope, obviously intending to sound some kind of alarm.  No one else noticed this.

Two of the chests are crammed full of copper pennies and those are ignored for the other two, partially full of gold and platinum, respectively.  Out come the packs, and in goes the coin.  At the bottom of the chest of platinum, he finds a book which purports to grant the reader great health and fortitude if read.  The party searches the room for other wealth, but finds nothing but ledger upon ledger full of figures.

They leave the office through the other door, reaching a circular stair leading up and down. They climb to the next landing and then through a door opening west into another dining room.  This one is full of cobwebs, and a moldy wedding cake, centuries old stands on a table.  A large harp sits in one corner, while a well-polished lute, remarkably free of dust lies on a windowsill.  Zib inspects it, and identifies it as one of the legendary instruments of the bards, a doss lute.

The wedding cake has a single figure of a bride atop it, and the tiny miniature looks a lot like Ireena.

A door leads north from this room, and perception checks are made, but no one hears anything coming from within.  They open the door, and see a comfortable lounge.  A wooden table and leather-backed chairs lies in the center of the room, occupied by a dusky-looking elf and a pair of vampire spawns.  Bookshelves and comfy divans line the walls.  A fire burns in a huge hearth to the east, above which a large portrait is mounted on the wall.  The portrait seems to be lit by a soft white light coming from something on the mantle.  Double doors in the west wall are closed.

The elf speaks.  “I am Rahadin, the master’s chamberlain.  He’s been expecting you to try to rescue her.  I am hear to ensure you fail.”  With that, he and the undead leap up.

Zib hurls a fireball into the center of the room, scorching the table, chairs, and carpet, but leaving the shelves of books unharmed.  Van Richten follows this by hurling an alchemical device that booms, creating a shockwave which cracks the table in half.  Cordelia sends a spiritual weapon dancing after Rahadin, and the enemies close as the party backs out of the doorway and back into the dining room.

Rahadin charges Zib, and as he nears the party, they can hear a cacophony of screams of terror within their heads, the restless souls of those killed by this dark elf over the centuries.  This sound builds to a crescendo, and those near him begin to bleed from their noses from the psychic damage inflicted.  Rahadin swipes at Zib three times with his scimitar, but the dice come up 2, 1, 1, shy of the 3 needed to hit Zib’s 13 AC!

The vampire spawn are dropped by Ismark, Devlin, Van Richten, and Cordelia, while the spiritual weapon, Esmerelda, and Zib work on Rahadin.  Finding himself surrounded and alone, heavily damaged, the elf misty steps to the other side of the room, fleeing down the circular stairs from which the party arrived.

Wasting no time, they head into the study and approach the mantle.  Devlin reaches up and pulls a sword hilt off the mantle.  It’s shedding a soft light, but doesn’t look very impressive.  He passes it to Zib, same thing.  Zib hands it off to Ismark, and suddenly, a blade of pure light springs from the hilt.  This must be the legendary sunsword!

As they are examining the blade, one of the double doors open, and a slim figure steps into the room.  It’s a young girl, somewhere in her teenage years, and dressed in a fine gown. Her eyes speak to a certain innocence, or perhaps naivete, not usually found in the denizens of Barovia.

gertruda

“Did you just beat up Rahadin?  Good.  I hate him.  He scares me.”

Zib has a feeling he knows who this girl is.  “Gertruda?”

She looks confused.  “How do you know my name.”

He pulls out her doll, given to him by her mother almost a week before.  “I believe this belongs to you.”

She grabs the doll, all smiles.  “At least I’ll have one friend here.  I thought the count loved me, but ever since SHE got here, I’m nothing to him…just her maid!”

“Where’s Ireena?”

“If I tell you, will you take her away from here?  If she’s gone, I’m sure he’ll love me again.”

“Sure, sure, where’s she at.”

“She’s right in there”, pointing to the double doors.  With that, she exits out of a door in the north wall, closing it behind her.

Before opening the doors, Zib remembers Lief’s advice, and starts yanking logs out of the fireplace, smothering the flames with water and ruining the already-singed carpet.  Searching the interior, he finds a secret door, but there does not appear to be a latch.  They search behind the painting, around the walls, and finally, the poker in front of the fireplace, which opens the door when pulled.

Behind the door is a room with a large chest.  Two torch sconces are on the far wall, one empty, the torch it once held in the grip of the skeletal remains of some poor schmuck who now lies draped over the chest.  Lots of copper and silver coins are scattered on the floor.  Devlin returns the torch to the sconce, which opens yet another secret door on the far wall between the two sconces.  They ignore the chest and peer inside.

A dark hallway is draped with giant spider webs.  A narrow path leads through them, ending at a door at the end of the hall.  They light the webs, waiting for them to burn, and then make their way to the door.

Zib opens it, peering inside.  More webs fill the chamber, climbing up the walls and concealing the ceiling somewhere far overhead.  A single rope hangs down between the webs into the middle of the room.  Zib’s darkvision and keen perception detects the shape of giant spiders clinging to the webs above, and he casts a fireball upward.  The webs burn, the spiders char, and the burned webbing reveals a concealed door in the north wall.

After searching the door for traps, they crack it open and find an octagonal room.  Its center is dominated by a 20 ft wide, 20 ft tall fortress of metal.  A door of some dark metal is set in its center, and many narrow arrow slits are the only other apparent means of entry.  They have found the “fortress within the fortress”foretold by Madam Eva’s reading.

We end the session there.