Stood on the decrepit, cobbled street of this strange town the group braced as Strahd lunged toward them. With eyes closed shut and their arms up for protection, they felt the patter of a hundred tiny feet against them as Strahd transformed himself into a swarm of bats and made straight for the imposing castle in the distance.
The house the group had just emerged from had been reduced to naught more than a pile of rubble behind them. If they didn’t know different they’d be hard pressed to tell a house ever stood on the now vacant lot nestled between two tall, dark, looming buildings.
Surveying their new surroundings and trying to establish a sense of calm, the group made a foray to the local tavern following the metallic cry of it’s rusted sign blowing in the wind to collect their thoughts. The Blood on the Vine tavern was barely any more inviting than the house they’d just emerged from. Snarled looks from the locals and the vacant, nonchalant expression of the barman befell them. A true local bar for local people.
Trying his luck at a game of chance, Zook found himself bested by a local and the others in the group didn’t fare any better with the other patrons either. A group of women laughed off any advances with sinister glee and the barman barely spoke more than a word. It was the stranger in the corner that gave them their first warm words of Barovia as he watched their attempts to make small-talk before inviting them to join him.
The stranger swiftly introduced himself as Ismark Kolyanovich, son of the now late Burgomaster, Kolyan. Taking this opportunity of knowing a mutual name the group plundered Ismark for information on the letter they had received, where they were and what the situation here was. Questioned that were probably best left unanswered as they swiftly learned disturbing tales of Strahd’s numerous acts against Ismark’s sister, Ireena.
Ismark regaled them with dark and twisted tales about Strahd, Barovia and the town’s beyond before asking for their help to protect his sister and transport his father’s remains to the church. Detecting the desperation in his voice the group agreed and Ismark escorted them to his home, the Burgomasters mansion. The mansion was the largest building in the town but it too had fallen prey to age, weather and disrepair. It was almost as if this whole town, buildings included had fallen into a deep depression. Numerous animal tracks lead to and from the mansions front doors, the iron gates had been knocked from their hinges and pressed into the soft, dark dirt and the windows were now boarded up with offcuts of wood. Ismark informed them that all of this was either Strand’s doing or then trying to stop Strahd gaining entry.
Finding Ireena barricaded within and dressed in her father’s oversized armour the group finalised a plan to carry Kolyan’s casket along the main stretch of road to the church whilst keeping Ireena hidden amongst their number. The fear here was if Strahd had come for her before, she’d be easy pickings in the openness of the town’s streets. With their eyes and wits about them, the group made the sombre walk to the church atop the hill expecting an ambush at any moment. An ambush that thankfully never arrived.
Arriving at the church didn’t instill much hope to the party. The building had fallen into the same level of disrepair as everywhere else. Black scorch marks covered the front doors and walls surrounding them and the roof had caved in in places giving way to the night sky.
After some deliberation on behalf of the church priest, the sound of footsteps grew louder as he approached the doors from the inside. Reluctant at first to grant them entry Father Donavich, as he was named, recalled how good a friend the late Burgomaster was to him and allowed the group to bring the body in for burial in the morning.
It was apparent from the outset that the father had perhaps been imbibing a little too heavily on the ceremonial wines from the cellar, but the group were reluctant to pass up lodgings on hallowed ground for the night and put up with his drunkenness. He told the party the sad tale of his on, Doru who was shunned by the villagers for his romance with another man but in a bid to in their favour the young couple set out to Castle Ravenloft to confront Strahd alone. The pair never returned but the vandalism to the church was suddenly understood by all.
It was when the father went to fetch some blankets for the group that they realised something was amiss, the distant sound of crying and calling out echoed through the empty walls and the father was quick to dismiss this as wind and creaking wood.
As the group investigated they discovered a sealed cellar hatch shut tight with a padlock. The father considered his options and with some reluctance opened the hatch for the group to follow the sound of crying below. The group descended into the dark below with an overwhelming sense of trepidation but with the last of them in the cellar the father called out to his son and slammed the lid shut, locking the group in the cellar.
The sound of chains and shackles banging against one another echoed through the darkness, Vertiginus cast an illumination spell to reveal the church catacombs but more horrifying than the skills that made up the walls was a gaunt young man with extended fangs hanging from the ceiling, making his way toward the group with a rabid hunger set upon his face.
Forced to defend themselves the group fended off the abomination that was once Doru while Father Donovich recited prayers to Lathander above. With a killing blow close at hand, Rhogar took no chances and swung his blade true for Doru’s neck – taking his head off in the process. A joined effort helped the group break through from their subterranean tomb and they confronted the father who thought he was doing what was best, trying to keep his son alive long enough until his prayers were answered and Doru was cured. Falling into a fit of despair, Father Donovich ordered the group to leave his church and bury the body of the Burgomaster themselves. The group obliged with this request and solemnly put the body of Kolyan to rest in the church grounds.
Throughout the brief ceremony, Ireena was distracted by something and as lightning ricocheted across the sky the group was certain they saw the figure of a man stood beneath a nearby tree. Ireena, seemingly mesmerised wandered ever closer toward it shrugging off the attempts of the group until they were finally able to lasso her with a rope. As lightning flashed once more the figure snarled, bearing long fangs and pale skin – Strahd. Within an instant, he was gone.
Deeming Barovia rightfully unsafe the group decided to head back to the Burgomaster’s mansion where they spent the night, agreeing to head off to the nearby town of Vallaki in the morning with Ireena in tow. As the group departed the town they happened upon an elderly women and her wooden cart, Ismark explained that she would sell the locals a delicacy known as a ‘Dream Pastry’ but these delacices were thwart with superstition and rumour and he’d never attempted to try one. It was said that the ingredients forced those who consumed them to enter a comatose, dream-like state where they were oblivious to their surroundings. One of the key reasons they were so popular amongst Barovian natives. As the group tried to approach the woman they noted that she had a young boy in tow and was eager to not make their acquaintance. Giving chase, the woman proved to be surprisingly nimble for her advanced years and she soon lost the group through back streets and alleyways.
The journey to Vallaki wasn’t without note. A gallows near a river showed the party an image of Zook hanging from a rope which soon turned to dust the moment they approached. A dead body held a mysterious leather bound black book in one of it’s pockets and a road made of teeth lead down a path to a broken down windmill. with Vallaki in sight the day was drawing to an end but the group faced one final obstacle – getting in.
The wooden palisade surrounding the town was adorned with severed wolf heads in light of their recent festival – the Wolf’s Head Jamboree. The guards however were anything but jovial though with some silver lined words the group were able to convince them to give them entry and made their way toward the famed Blue Water Inn – an establishment that was recommended by Ismark and said to be run by friends of his family. Ireena would surely be safe there.
As they made they way through the snaking streets of the town the group stumbled upon an array of stocks which held a dozen men, women and children prisoner for various crimes but alarming most were cited as being “Persistent Unhappiness.” With Jack starting an impromptu knife-throwing act D’Lyla set to work picking the locks of the stocks and freeing the prisoners using Jack’s performance as suitable distraction from the guards. With the prisoners freed the group zig-zagged through the gathering crowd and disappeared into the Blue Water Inn without too many prying eyes following them.