The New Blood: Curse of Strahd

CoS Session 1: Rose and Thorn

A quick trip the Gur encampment had produced amazing results. A 5-copper novel, about some nonsense involving a flying castle full of dragon cultists vs the typical hero-types, had a map tucked in among the pages. The trinket peddler didn’t even notice map and sold the book for a pittance with the real prize folded neatly within. Once away from the caravans the prize was inspected; it was a legitimate map of dwarven make with the familiar Dethek runes in need of translation. Mt. Hotenow was clearly visible as was old Neverwinter from back before the spellplague of the previous century. The map seemed to show a series of caverns or tunnels east of Helm’s Hold that led to a dwarven cache of some sort. Perhaps a war vault or buriel chamber for an ancient king. No matter what lay at the end of the trail there were bound to be dwarven-made treasures ripe for the taking.

A party was assembled and the standard share contract was signed for all members. One share each of treasure or goods split from the sum total. Buriel costs – in the rare case of a mishap – would be subtracted from the total before shares were distributed. Wills were written and dropped off at local temples or with family members and the new commissioned adventuring party set off into the wildnerness. Unfortunately, less than a full days hike from Neverwinter did the entire endeavor go sideways.

Spring fogs were common. The mornings especially were well known for the thick haze before the suns warmth burned them away. This fog though, dense and blinding, was unlike anything they had ever seen. It muffled the background noises of the forest, dampened the smells of wildnerness, and seemed to choke their campfire to a sputtering ember. Then when finally the pre-dawn light gave them some relief they noticed their environs were no longer the same. Where majestic old-growth trees of the Neverwinter Wood had towered over their camp now there were only gray, gnarled. leafless skeletal mockeries of trees. The crunching leaf-covered forest-floor seemed more like a vision of late fall, not early spring. The smell of rot and damp moss promised a long season of heavy rains and decay. The worst thing though was the trail they had been following was no where in sight and wolves prowled at the edges of their meager firelight. The group agreed it would be best not to stay in one place and wait for the wolves to muster the courage to attack.

The group lit torches, kept close, and picked a direction and moved. Less than an hour later they stumbled onto a gravel trail with a crooked sign marking the way to an unfamiliar named village – Barovia. Finally having an option of where to go they struck out for the village hoping to find help. Instead, they found a sleepy and rustic community notable only for the lack of life in the early hours of the morning. The overcast sky gave no hint of what hour it was and no hearth seemed to be lit judging by the chimneys of town. The cobblestone roads were empty and not even the familiar barking of neighborhood dogs or the crow of the cock broke the uneasy silence. The first sound they heard in the small village was a sob – a sob belonging to a particularly frightened little boy with his face buried in his sister’s coat. The sobbing boy was probably around 7 and clutched both his sisters coat and a stuffed doll stitched to look like a soldier. The doll even had a little cloth sword stitched into its fingerless hands. His sister had the sort of severe expression one only sees on a big sister, full of bossy bluster, but not yet possessing the tell-tale signs of womanhood.

The girl, when questioned by the armed strangers, didn’t hesitate to share her story. There was a monster in her house. It was yowling in the basement and she and her brother were not going back in there until it was dealt with. Her parents had gone to deal with the monster but had not returned. Her name was Rosavalda Durnst and her brother was Thornboldt, Rose and Thorn for short.

Being decent people the party agreed to search the house for any “yowling monster” and find their parents. The house itself wasn’t in great repair and the further the party investigated the more foreboding it seemed. Pastoral images held dark and twisted designs and a crawling tension seemed to permeate every room. Finally, the house pushed back against the explorers and animated armor and brooms rushed to kill the meddling guests. Then in the attic, the true horror began.

A spectral nurse maid attempted to drain the life forces of the party while protecting an empty crib. Her body was found tucked in a chest and wrapped in a bloody bed-sheet. The door to the children’s room was locked from the outside and within the bones of Rose and Thorn were found moldering on the floor. Their apparitions appeared and told a tragic tale of being locked within by their parents to protect them from the monster. They then starved to death waiting on their parents return. Clues led to the discovery of a subbasement dungeon beneath the house and strange cult activities held within. Not wanting to be alone again the ghost children possessed two members of the party and led the search for their parents.

The dungeons were also similarly haunted as the rest of the house above. A malevolent chanting could be heard from somewhere in the darkness and the corridors were plagued with the living dead. Signs of cannibalism were found along with other corruptive rights held by the long-since-dead cult. As the group explored the chanting grew louder and the undead more persistent in killing the invaders of their unholy sanctum. The true nature of the house was becoming evident room by room but the source of those echoing dark words had yet to be found.

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Tasting Blood

This band of adventurers is an interesting lot, with what feels like a few good souls. They have not failed to rise to the aid of what must be a poor family in dire need. The feel of dread in this wretched house is as thick as that putrid fog outside the balcony and has only multiplied after the loss of the monk Fredrick. Seeing this horrific scene, my little shadow thorn has attempted to shrink further away like he is hiding in his sisters skirts. Thorn’s fear has conjured a sour memory, as if I am back at the orphanage after being savagely beaten by a large group of boys and getting punched in the nose for the last time. The taste of blood on my tongue only spurs me to fight harder and protect the rest of my little band. My apologies to the monk that could have been a great friend; my failure in my inability to save him will only strengthen the resolve of myself and my companions.

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Progress

“Dammit woman leave me alone!” The disheveled dwarf yelled, flailing his hand as if to swat a fly.
He sat alone turning over the map he had saved from his sinking ship. Trying to decipher the familiar runes and the riddles they spelled out, Nerrik spoke to himself, only stopping on occasion to argue, still with himself, but in an entirely separate stream of conversation.
Seemingly starting to make progress he hunched over further and began hurriedly scrawling on a piece of parchment to the map’s side.
“Ha ha! Look at tha…dammit, I told ye ta leave me alone!” His face went from pure joy to utter annoyance in an instant, and he dropped what he was doing, pushing the table away from him he stood and turned his attention forward as if he were having a normal argument with a person rather than an empty space.
“I told ye, I’ll get ta it!”
Quiet…
“As soon as I’m done with this!” he motioned towards the map, obviously having lost any progress he had just made with it.

“‘tid be done sooner if ye’d just leave me be woman!”

“I already told ye, I don’t know how ta say yer damn name”

“Ha”…“naleh”…“nali”…“Ce—cela”…“nil. Ya damn elves with yer artsy words, I cannot say yer name woman!” Nerrik said, frustrated and defeated

“Alright!” he threw up his hands, “Then can I call ye Hani?”

“Ay, I’m sorry” he said, his voice noticeably calmer he paused, closing his eyes his face relaxed. It was several moments before he again adopted a normal posture, looking again as if he belonged in his present surroundings. He looked towards the map again, “Now can I get back to it, so I can get on with what ye want?” This time he was legitimately asking for permission rather than being dismissive.

“Thank ye Hani”

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Like a blood fountain

This damnable day kept getting better, the inability of my dwarf friend to fix the, well at this point let’s call it scraps of metal that was once plate mail. Followed by the stalking and attack of the largest wolves I believe anyone of us has ever seen, oh then there was the vampire. Now this vampire Doru, well the one that called him that is probably worm food by now. Doru was a hard bugger to fight, his bite made me feel like a fleshy blood bagpipe with all the draining and fillin by Nerrik. The wash of darkness followed by the rush of blood and life back into my veins was a bittersweet feeling and one that I have never felt in my semi long life. I feel as if a small piece of me has been taken as I watched Doru explode into millions of tiny blood droplets and burn away.

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Crows and Wine

The Card Reader had a lot of riddles and a little information, everybody here wants somethin’, we’ve been pulled in every direction, but getting out is no more possible than getting a good night’s rest, seems to me a bed for a few nights is the best answer for both problems. We don’t have much coin, and a wolf-steak doesn’t sound like something easily topped around here, all it’ll take is a trip to the winery.

The family talked about druids, and curses, but the blights ran us into the winery. Twigs, and branches littered the floor, hiding the blights that filled the room, we struggled to fight them back, but the ravens had no problems tearing them apart. The birds never made a hostile move toward any of us, even after the druid fell, I can’t help but think we walked into the middle of something bigger than a druid who hates grapes.

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CoS Session 2: The Villages

The party found themselves surrounded by cold malevolent shades. The dwarf, Nerrik, now possessed by Rose Durst went missing with the body of the Durst matriarch. He was the torch in the darkness with a holy light to push back the shadows. Without him the shadows pressed in and drained the strength of the others. Drawing them into their chilling embrace.

Then it was over.

Soon after the party found themselves alive and walking the streets of Barovia. Each had been the recipient of a unique Dark Gift that had saved them. They remembered nothing of death or afterlife and couldn’t fathom how they had escaped. The sorcerer Faen bore the wounds of immolation, his skin a tapestry of blisters and seeping wounds. The thief Duggan pulled his cloak down to cover his new half-dozen ears, each pointed and long aligned on the side of his head. Petr, the warrior, felt his stomach quiver in hunger but the thought of his rations filled him with disgust. On the early morning breeze he could smell the familiar stench of offal and it made his mouth water. And lastly, Nerrik the priest felt the eyes of many spectres upon him. The restless dead watched him intently and pressed into to whisper their dark thoughts into his hear. The only vestige from the fear was the cold grasp of a young girls hand in his, Rosavilda Durst.

The group was finally able to explore the village of Barovia and get a feel for the inhabitants. Most were sallow and withdrawn peasants in threadbare clothing. They did not laugh nor smile and seemed near lifeless as they slouched about their business. A few others though had life to them. The pie peddler Morgantha dealt in dream pastries that would ease the burdens of a troubled mind and seemed quite mad. Mad Mary wept in her house over the loss of her young daughter Grunelda. The priest Donavich who kept his vampire-spawn son secured in the basement of his church while he sought a cure for his blight, and Imarsk the Lesser who needed the aid of heroes.

Imarsk was son of the local Burgomaster. His adopted sister, Ireena, had become the target of the Devil Strahd and twice been visited by the vampire. Imarsk wanted her protected so they could flee Barovia for the walled village of Vallaki. Ireena would not leave until her father’s body was laid to rest which proved a harrowing ordeal as church was besieged by dire wolves during the night and the priest Donavich murdered by his own son.

The short trip to Valliki took the party past a Vistani camp where the mysterious crone, Madame Eva, gave them a on-the-house reading from her Tarokka deck. She mentioned three treasures needed to face the Devil Strahd. One found at the top of a wizard’s tower, one near a scarecrow in a snowy field, and another pertaining to the vistani where a missing girl would be the key. She told them they would face Strahd alone and he would meet them seated upon his throne.

With her reading still weighing on their minds they finished the trek to Valliki and found a town very different from the Village of Barovia. The Burgomaster of Valliki seemed to have a fondness for frivolous festivals with one being held almost weekly. His cries of “All will be well!” was almost a mocking insult from the townsfolk to rue their lots in life. Ireena and Imarsk were delivered to the man for safe-keeping away from the view of Castle Ravenloft.

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Sticks and more Sticks

Reaching the wizards of the wine winery, we knew from the cloud of dust building out of the grapevines this was not to be an easy clearing of vermin from the storage closets. Attempting to shore up the winery before the inevitable battle was a short lived and sadly ill-advised plan, for only one small door was able to be barred. Upon turning around, I was met by a small sea of bristling twigs with fists and feet, not exactly scary, but still slightly unnerving. Growling, I attempted to distract as many of these things as possible, while my companions tried to take down as many from range upon the second floor. Swipe after swipe against my armor and multiple new scratches on my shield I felled a stick beast every few seconds, but my attempted diversion only took a meager few of the growing hoard of bush devils. My compatriots appeared to be well in the throes of battle with what seemed an endless throng of these damn sticker beasts. The rain of sticks was a good sign of how my partners were doing upstairs. A warm feeling of bliss and an ease of the soul came over me like nothing could cause me harm, it also seemed as if the twigs things felt I am not worth the effort as my armor and great girth were beyond what their meager claws could breach. Again I tried to snarl and draw in the demon shrubberies, holding my ground and eventually attempting to move upwards to assist my fellows, as the fight upstairs gave the impression it had turned badly quickly. Upon reaching the stairs a new quarry had found my eye, multiple druids apparently unafraid seem to be nearing me. These twisted individuals having wronged the poor folks of the Wizards of the Wine and will feel the pain they have caused through the head of my hammer.

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The Cards

The beasts here aren’t like the ones I remember from Ness’s story books; they’re stronger, stranger, and they’re toying with us. This place; Barovia, it wants us alive and it aims to make sure we know our place. When Heni came and pulled me back my throat was bleedin’; I don’t suppose I had enough blood in my body ta keep my heart beatin’, it was a time before I could so much as stand, but whatever’s here is stronger, bringin’ us back to our feet before breath can so much as hit our lungs, and it isn’t just me. One of us is missin’ his skin, another one’s got the ears of a bat…well, three bats. Petr seems fine, but he smells a bit ripe.

Whatever ride we’re on I want off. We’re bein’ pulled in every direction; everybody here needs somethin’, but it seems ta me that our best chance of gettin’ out is followin’ the old card reader’s hints.

Wizard Tax Collector
Missionary
Darklord Beast

Wizard – This card tells of history. Knowledge of the ancient will help you better undersand your enemy
Look for a wizard’s tower on a lake. Let the Wizard’s name and servant guide you to that which you seek.

Tax Collector – This card tells of a powerful force for good and protection, a holy symbol of great hope.
The Vistani have what you seek. A missing child holds the key to the treasure’s release.

Missionary – This is a card of power and strength. It tells of a weapon of vengeance: a sword of sunlight.
I see a garden dusted with snow, watched over by a scarecrow with a sackcloth grin. Look not to the garden but to the guardian.

Darklord – This card sheds light on one who will help you greatly in the battle against darkness.
Ah, the worst of all truths: You must face the evil of this land alone!

Beast – Your enemy is a creature of darkness, whose powers are beyond mortality. This card will lead you to him!
The beast sits on his dark throne.

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Among the Spirits

I fell through me damned chair last night. Got out of bed and made my way over to the table to look at my map. When I say I fell through the chair I don’t mean that I broke it, though it wouldn’t be the first time, no, I mean I passed right through it. If it weren’t enough before with all of the damn spirits, Rose, and Heni, it seems that dyin’ 3 or so times is enough to send through to the other side.

I don’t suppose that I’m a ghost myself now, at this point I’m not sure what ya’d call me, but it doesn’t seems like anybody knows, and it only happens after dark. Heni says it’s another curse of the darkness here, but it doesn’t seem to scare her.

“Keep on your path and the darkness will be of little consequence” she says, I don’t what the hell it means, but it eases whatever worries came over me after passing through the bedroom door instead of opening it.

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A break with feathers

These strange vistani and possibly our good deeds might have finally lead us into a boon. After saving a drowning girl from a creep of a fisherfolk, slitting his throat must be one of their punishments, we got a great talisman that the tortured cleric now wears about his neck. The raven folk seem like the good guys in this strange and dark land, Strahd is a ruthless leader with even crueler underlings, even the one’s that pretend to be oh his side enjoy pressing their thumb down on the small folk. Here’s to hopping we can catch a few more breaks to leave this dusky place with all of our limbs and minds intact.

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