After a hiatus due to the birth of my son (and heir to my RPG collection!) we’re back!
Dread was the name of the game of this session. The stark, bleakness of Barovia had grown tenfold since the discovery of Fiona’s dark plot and I wanted to lean on this. Vallaki was already an unwelcoming, oppressive town but my intent was to turn the volume up on it’s unwelcoming nature. The town itself had seemingly turned on the heroes, not the townsfolk or the NPC’s they encountered but the actual town. The buildings seemed to loom over them, the shadows seemed to be darker, the air colder. It was as if the structure of the town itself had risen up to thwart the players’ actions.
I started the session with a pre-recorded intro that posed the question “Will Vallaki be saved, or will it fall?” In what turned out to be a very roleplay centric session we ended the night with the answer to that question resting on a battle that will push the group to it’s absolute limits.
But let’s rewind a bit, what actually happened?
What did the bartender say to Jack as he entered the tavern?
Jack Dagger, the gift that keeps giving.
Well, the group left the Wachterhaus after the discovery of Fiona’s dark plot with heavy hearts. The festival was taking place in the morning and the group had mere hours to try and stop her from summoning an other-planar being to wreak havoc in her rise to power. The first port of call then? Well obviously in the final dark hours of this story’s climax what better place to start than with the local toymaker, Blinsky?
Binksy is an odd chap with a heavy slant into the macabre. His toys are dolls of executioners and grave diggers, marionette puppets of headless horsemen and ghouls. Clockwork horrors and the stuff of nightmares but the man has a friendly disposition and happy-go-lucky attitude and was more than willing to help answer the group’s questions thanks to a few extraordinary persuasion rolls by our resident celestial, Vertiginius.
After discovering the dolls of Ireena in Izek’s bedroom, that was the first question the players had on their minds and Blinsky told them that he had been threatened by Izek to create them. He had even followed Izek once, as Izek watched over Ireena from afar Blinsky realised the dolls were based on the mysterious daughter of the Burgomaster in the neighboring village of Barovia. The second discovery made in the toy shop was that the music box which Zook had clung to his entire life had an exact duplicate sat in Blinsky’s display cabinet. The cabinet housed antique toys created by Blinsky’s mentor years prior, supposedly one-offs. What could it all mean?!
Next up was a visit to the Blue Water Inn where Rictavio was spotted earlier stabling his horse. The tavern was abuzz with life but the toll of the last few days was evident on Urwin who didn’t seem to be his usual self. Preoccupied and unfocused. However, the group were rewarded for their work at the winery as Danika gave them a handful of healing potions and it was Rictavio who ended up approaching them.
After a short discussion they discovered that he was infact posing as a circus master and despite having seen Jack’s performances he was actually Rupert Van Richten, famed vampire hunter. A plot was made to get his tiger, Matilda out of town that evening to save it from being set upon the townsfolk at the hands of Nikolai and Karl Wachter during the festival. The group were then going to reconvene with Van Richten at an abandoned tower to the west of town.
After a brief run in with Henrik the coffin maker who confirmed his dealings with “antique collector” Vasili Von Holtz, the group decided to split up into pairs and each investigate a different lead. Van Richten had already explained that Holtz was Strahd’s human disguise and given the possible implications of the bones being missing I was surprised when the group decided not to visit the church. Curious.
First up was a visit to Vargas. The group informed the man of Fiona’s intent after speaking with his deranged wife and despite Izek’s clear concern, Vargas brushed the news off and was clearly focused purely on tomorrow’s festival. This didn’t stop Izek making his own plans as the group later found him storming out of the Wachterhaus. A quick detect thoughts spell on the man had him unwillingly reveal that the house was empty. A rage burned deep within Izek that nobody needed any amount of magic to pick up on. Strange then, it was the noble Samurai of the group who then stoked that fire by revealing that they knew everything about the dolls. I sure hope that doesn’t come back to hurt anybody.
Jack and Vert entered the Wachterhaus, Rhogar and Grom made their way to the stockyard to meet with Van Richten and Zook and D’Lyla spent the evening in the tavern… “keeping watch“… of course!
The Wachterhaus felt heavy and foreboding as the unlikely pair made their way through the empty rooms. Anything of any value had been removed and only the bare minimum now remained. It was upstairs that the duo made their discovery as Jack and Vert found a chest concealed in the fireplace of the master bedroom. Lined with lead to keep out any would-be scryers the chest contained a set of old bones labelled “THE BETRAYER, LEO DILISNYA” prompting further investigation another time.
Grom and Rhogar arrived at the stockyard to find a shocked and worried Van Richten – Matilda, the sabre-toothed tiger had gone missing. A quick search of the area revealed that a wagon had been backed up to the circus cart and the beast had been transferred across. After consulting with the guards at the gate they passed on the information that Van Richten himself left the town earlier. Obviously some sort of illusion brought upon by the Wachter family but this again provoked a response from Rhogar the Samurai. The “noble” warrior took a swing at Van Ricthen forcing him to draw his sword in response. As things grew heated it fell on Grom to play peacemaker but the Samurai is at an ever increased rate taking steps to becoming a Ronin. Perhaps an intervention ought to take place regarding his recent unpredictable behaviour.
Back at the tavern, Zook and D’Lyla had the most relaxing evening of the group. Chatting idly to Danika revealed that many people want to see Urwin as the Burgomaster of the town but due to family lineage and such it’s never something that’s going to happen. Rhogar arrived shortly after to explain that Grom had taken off with Van Richten to discover the fate of Matilda. After some searching they tracked the wagon to a small river crossing before it seemingly disappeared into thin air. Using his druidic wisdom anf knowledge of beasts, Grom detected something avian was definitely the cause of the wagons disappearance. Something big enough to carry off a wagon housing a large tiger could only mean one thing… Van Richten uttered the word the moment Grom thought it. Roc.
Van Richten carried on toward his tower as Grom headed back to meet the others in Vallaki. Meanwhile D’Lyla, Zook and Rhogar headed to the Wachterhaus as Jack and Vertiginus made their way into the daunting Wachterhaus basement. With every step telling them to turn back the group found some form of presence in the subterranean dwelling that featured a blood stained stone altar and unholy symbol painted in blood on the floor. Vert cast a fireball which ignited the area and the sense of dread seemed to fade but not before Vert himself was seemingly touched by it. A deep and unwavering whispering heard in his mind was impossible for him to block out causing him to rake his own face with his fingernails in despair. After deciding to call it a night, the group, along with the returning Grom bedded down at the Blue Water Inn and awaited tomorrow’s festival with a sense of cold fear.
The night wasn’t as peaceful as they’d hoped though as they awoke in a strange, unfamiliar town in a strange and unfamiliar building. The dream sequence was something I was apprehensive to run. I think anything that mixes alternate realities with a sprinkling of time travel has the potential of being a huge clusterfuck but this worked out well and the discovery of a small moment of Izek’s childhood really shed some light on the man’s personality. The day he and his family left his childhood home was a day thwart with emotional and physical turmoil and the group were privy to it all. The twist before they woke up? Ireena is Izek’s sister. Dun, dun, dunnn!
The morning rolled around and the group were in such a restless sleep that none of them gained the benefit of a long rest. Mechanically speaking this puts them on a real back foot when it comes to any combats that might spring up in the day ahead.
It was Zook who woke first to find the window of the room was wide open, the cold air blowing across his face he stirred in his bed to find Strahd or perhaps an apparition of Strahd looming over D’Lyla’s sleeping body. His fangs at the ready he hissed menacingly at Zook before transforming into a swirl of smoke and disappearing out of the window.
As the others awoke Zook hurriedly relayed this information but it was too late to do anything about it. They had overslept. The festival was underway and the townsfolk were gathered outside as Vargas put on a speech.
The group, or some of them at least made their way onto the stage and after delivering a speech Zook took the torch to light the wicker ball which had been made purely for this moment. At that instant however, a hooded figure in the crowd dropped their hood and began spouting a monologue filled with hatred and dripping with revenge. Fiona Wachter was here and she wasn’t alone as other hooded figures began to lay waste to innocent bystanders, taking them out with swift stabs from concealed daggers. The crowd was in a frenzy of panic as they tried to run but Fiona continued, her speech rousing a great storm cloud of swirling magic above.
Izek stepped forward to do something, anything, to put an end to this but his eyes turned to two pits of burning ember and it was clear his mind was no longer his own. An instant later and a flash of fire blasted out from his monstrous arm toward the only father he’d ever really known. Vargas was powerless to do anything as a ball of fire engulfed him, setting him ablaze. His unhinged wife, Lydia in her wedding dress screamed in anguish as Vargas flailed wildly and their son, Victor looked on in horror as his dad stumbled onto the kerosene soaked wicker ball and died in a blazing inferno on what was meant to be his father’s greatest festival. An ironic twist for the Festival of the Blazing sun.
The game ended with a scene where a half dozen hooded figures were slaying innocent townsfolk in a panicked and almost riotous crowd of screaming people. Fiona, now levitating above the swathe of people continued her tirade against the town, it’s people and the adventurer’s whilst a crackling swirl of black clouds hangs above everyone. All this and Strahd is potentially hiding in the shadows. Did I mention the group didn’t get a long rest?
All in all, a good session with some top-notch roleplay which I think it’s safe to say we sometimes shy away from. Everyone had a moment in the spotlight this session and in what was a complete 180 from the last game in terms of the combat/roleplay balance it played out brilliantly. I can’t wait to see where things go next!