Curse of Strahd

Background and History
Notes from Session 0

Our story starts in the city of Tengou, a city largely dominated by merchant houses seeking to secure their routes. While not the largest, House Bronzeflame is one of the more respected of these houses, due to the honor it has traditionally displayed.

Like most merchant houses, Bronzeflame maintains a standing body of guards, both traditional and elite. Also, like most houses, it has occasional needs that are not appropriately addressed by the skills and availability of these guards, which it supplements with temporary agents, usually drawn from the ranks of skilled mercenaries in the area. Those who prove trustworthy, loyal, and competent may find themselves with regular employment. Some even become closely enough associated with the House that it becomes difficult to tell where the interests of the House end and those of its retainers end. While this group is officially recognized by House Bronzeflame, it is informally organized and individuals are rarely publicly acknowledged. Indeed, most members are not even informed, privately, that they are considered to be part of this trusted circle. It is simply apparent to those who pay attention. 

This paramilitary group is traditionally known as the Pearl Blades and the current leader is the eldest scion of House Bronzeflame, Ryota Bronzeflame, who displays all the honorable and duty-bound nature one would expect from such a position of authority. In recent years, however, people of taken to calling it the Pearl Court because Ryota's brother, Ryko, a dynamic individual and potent sorcerer, has been called on by his sister to help out with some functions that require his abilities. Ryko's love of life prompted many more… social… gatherings at the Laughing Dragon. Even though those included could not all be part of the Pearl Blades, the appellation stuck and Ryko is occasionally referred to as the Minister of the Pearl Court, much to Ryota's consternation.

During a solo outing that she thought would be relatively safe, Ryota was ambushed by a pack of goblins. Fortunately for her, Karina, a young tracker, had been following the goblins. Before anyone else could react, Karina had fired arrows into the two goblins closest to Ryota, killing them and scaring off the rest. Karina then helped Ryota to finish her task and returned to Tengou with her. When she was younger, Karina's clan had come from the northern steppes on business unknown to her, but she became separated from them and left behind. Being a foreigner, she was not readily accepted by the locals and she learned to fend for herself and live off the land, rather than turn to less savory trades. Despite her youth, Karina quickly won Ryota's trust and has become one of her preferred agents.

Dorn was the eldest son of a renowned weapon and armor smith in a distant city, but Dorn saw too many men who relied on these possessions in lieu of skill go to their deaths. He resolved to learn a better way and eventually found a master who taught him skill without relying on outside instruments. When his training came to the point where empty forms no longer suffice and he set out to test his mettle. He wandered, taking what work he could until he found a job being offered by a woman who carried one of the last great blades he had worked on with his father, when his father's craft was at its height. This woman, Ryota, appears to be honorable and possess a keen mind, but it remains to be seen whether she trusts the blade or hones her own skill. So far, she has found regular and interesting work for Dorn and the two have started to develop a mutual respect.

In preparation for a particularly difficult, deep trek into the wilderness, Karina made contact with Fox, a reclusive man of the wilds, to enlist his aid. Fox found the companions of that day to be more tolerable — and tolerant — than expected. He began to visit Tengou with ever increasing frequency to get news on happenings beyond his "territory" that may impact him. He also found it wise to have allies on which he could call. Truth be told, both Dorn and, especially, Ryko are willing to engage in pleasant metaphysical conversations after a couple glasses of wine.

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Into the Mists
Starting out

It all started with a party. Ryko was holding court at the Laughing Dragon.

As the evening wore on, Dorn stepped outside for a breath of fresh air. Instead of the brisk, refreshingly clear night he expected, he found himself surrounded by a dense fog that blocked all vision beyond a few feet away and almost seemed to stick to his flesh. He went back inside to get Fox to inspect it. He was engaged in a spirited discussion with Ryko, with Karina and Ryota standing nearby in their own conversation.

When the five stepped into the night, the silence that greeted them was almost complete. The noise from inside was quieted even before the door finished closing. The fog even hid all trace of the glow from the lamp across the street. They stepped into the road, their footfalls muted, so see at what point the light would become visible. They had crossed almost all the way to where the lantern should hang before realizing that they were moving across damp earth, rather than the flagstones that made up the city street. Turning back, they sought out the tavern, to no avail. Even Karina had lost all sense of direction and was unable to find the tracks they had just left. 

Eventually, the fog cleared enough the cold glow of the moon visible, even if the orb itself was not. The Blades could see, now, that they were standing on a road running through a heavy, dark forest. Inspecting their surroundings, they discovered flowers that none of them recognized — not even Karina, who had ranged further than the others.

Without any other real option, they began to walk along the road. After a mile or so, they came to a great wall set with an ancient, damaged gate. Passing through this gate felt significant in a way the five could not quite articulate, but shortly after passing through, they found evidence of wolves attacking a man on the road and dragging him away, except that the wolf prints were huge — many times the size of any wolf they'd ever seen. As they discussed their options, they heard a wolf howl in the distance and decided they need to find shelter, soon.

The woods stretched on for another mile, or so, breaking into poorly maintained farmland, with almost as many weeds as choked, irregular crops. Yet another mile, and they came to a town. Much like the farmland, the town was poorly maintained and looked as though the live had been bled from it. As they approached town, they could faintly hear a woman's wailing and sobbing in the distance. They entered the town, with Ryota hoping to at least find an inn where they could assess the situation.

They passed a series of sad, battered houses, uncertain about which were in use, until they came upon two forlorn children standing outside what must have once been a fine mansion. When asked, the children said they were outside because of the monster inside and asked if the travelers would save their baby brother, in the attic. There was little discussion about whether to save the baby. As the five approached the front door, they could feel the fog tightening around them, again, in an almost sentient embrace.

Climbing the stairs in the main hall, the group found that the first two floors were in pristine condition; well-lit and clean. Upon reaching the third floor, however, it was found to be filled with dust and cobwebs, with no sign of any use in years, if not decades. At this point, Ryko expressed concern that things were very much not as they seemed and the group started debating whether to continue to investigate the attic or to step back and be more cautious.

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Death House
Exploring the Durst house

After a brief discussion, they finished their climb to the attic and began to look around. The first door they checked was to a bedroom with two beds, toys, a dollhouse, other furnishings, and the skeletons of two children. Clearly, these were the skeletons of the children who greeted them, outside — obviously now ghosts. The dollhouse also appeared to be an exact model of the house in which they currently stood. The entire scene was eerie enough that no one stepped foot into the room. This approached remained as they checked the other rooms in the attic. Ryota stepped, briefly, into the entryway of a spare bedroom, but all other rooms were observed exclusively from the doorway.

After the attic, the group began working their way down, back to the main floor. As they did so, they became bolder — they entered rooms on the third floor, but did not open most dressers, boxes, and the like. What they did find was a well furnished nanny's room and a nursery off that. When Ryota attempted to enter the nursery, an apparition appeared behind the group and attacked them. They were able to dispatch it quickly, allowing them to investigate the nursery. Within the crib lay a swaddled bundle, but when the swaddling was pulled back, it was empty. Also on the third floor was a master suite in which little of interest was discovered — but an animated suit of armor attacked them on their way across the hall.

On the second floor, they found the servants' quarters, a music room, and a library. At first, it seemed that there was nothing of interest, but then Ryko found a secret door hidden by a bookshelf. The walls of the room beyond were lined with books of occult rituals and lore which, upon examination, proved to be almost entirely false. The contents of the half-open chest within were much more interesting, however. A skeleton, slumped partially in the chest, held a letter in its hand which read:

My most pathetic servant,

I am not a messiah sent to you by the Dark Powers of this land. I have not come to lead you on a path to immortality. However many souls you have bled on your hidden altar, however many visitors you have tortured in your dungeon, know that you are not the ones who brought me to this beautiful land. You are but worms writhing in my earth.

You say that you are cursed, your fortunes spent. You abandoned love for madness, took solace in the bosom of another woman, and sired a stillborn son. Cursed by darkness? Of that I have no doubt. Save you from your wretchedness? I think not. I much prefer you as you are.

Your dread lord and master,

Strahd von Zarovich

The chest, itself, held the deeds to the house and a windmill, as well as several scrolls and books. A will found in the chest bequeathing the house, windmill, and other family property to Rosavalda and Thornboldt Durst and signed by Gustav and Elisabeth Durst.

The kitchen and dining room on the first floor held little of interest. The den, however, contained a small armory of hunting weapons, as well as taxidermied animals and rich furnishings.

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Under Death House
Because it's totally OK to put the basement door in the attic

The Blades went outside, to look for an external entrance to the basement. They did not find one, but made another discovery: the fog appeared to be aggressive and hostile to them. When they left the house, it began to close in around them. Though they did not try to pass through, their throats began to burn by the time they reentered the house with the belief that they needed to resolve something before they would be safe to leave.

With a change in focus, they found a "dead space" in the walls of the first floor, large enough for a small room, but could not find an entry. There was a similar dead space on the second and third floors. When they reached the attic, a door was apparent in a storage area. Behind the door, decrepit wooden stairs lead down, far below the house. These stairs ended in narrow, earthen tunnels that carried the sound of distant, indistinct chanting.

As they explored the catacombs beneath the house, they found a strange mix of tombs and living areas, with empty tombs for the children only a few steps from a dining hall. There was also a room with a statue of a gaunt man held in obvious reverence. When the statue was touched, animated shadows sprung from the corners to attack. The group was also attacked by ghouls in a hallway.

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Dark Rituals

After several more fights with undead creatures, the Blades regrouped to one of the upper rooms to regain their strength.

Following the sound of the chanting (“He is the Ancient. He is the Land.”) took them to a sublevel under the crypts. Here, they found a reliquary of sorts, with a variety of odd trinkets in displays around the walls. Beyond the reliquary, the found a prison and a fane that had been partially submerged under water. Though a portcullis blocked the way to the fane, they were able find a secret door from the prison area.

The fane was filled with knee-deep water, save for the raised walkway along the edges of the room and a dais in the middle. One side of the room, opposite the entry portcullis, a cleft hollow held a pile of water-soaked, decaying debris. As soon as Ryota stepped into the room, the chanting fell silent The rest of the group followed her into the room, with Karina, Ryko, and Fox guarding from the walkway while Ryota and Dorn checked the room.

When Ryota stepped onto the dais, dark apparitions appeared along the room’s ledges. These robed figures did not attack any of the adventurers, instead beginning a new chant of, “One must die! One must die! One must die!” The indication was clear that they were demanding a sacrifice from the group.

Ryota refused, stepping from the dais. As she did so, the chanting changed, again, to “”/wikis/Lorghoth%20the%20Decayer/new" class=“create-wiki-page-link”>Lorghoth the Decayer, we awaken thee!" several times. The pile of decaying matter rose up to a massive, marginally humanoid shape and emerged from its lair to new chants of, “The end comes! Death, be praised!”

Though they had planned to retreat to the prison area in the hopes that the narrow space would be to their advantage, Lorghoth was able to engulf Ryota, prompting a full assault. Eventually, they defeated the monstrosity, at which point the cultists vanished, taking their chanting with them.

A healing potion and some magic saw Ryota back on her feet and ready to leave this house of death. When they reached the living area, though, they discovered that the house, itself, had turned actively against them. The entire edifice showed the weight of centuries, with rotting walls, thick dust, crumbling furniture, and crawling with vermin. Though the interior walls were wrecked to the point of being able to see through, the crumbling plaster of the outer walls showed brickwork that would rival a castle for strength and, where the doors had been were now openings filled with whirling blades.

After breaking through many of the house’s walls and covered with dirty claw and bite marks from the rats, the Blades emerged into the street and the dim, but clear light of day.

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Exploring the town

After escaping from Death House, the Blades made their way through town. After a short walk, they came to the Blood of the Vine tavern. There, they met Ismark the Lesser, the son of the burgomaster. Ismark was a gregarious young man who greeted the newcomers warmly. The only other occupants of the tavern were the barkeep and the owners – three women belonging to a group Ismark referred to as the Vistani.

Ismark sized up the group over a warm meal, then asked a for their help with a couple matters. The first was to help bury his father, Kolyan Indirovich, who died a few days before. Due to circumstances around his death, the other townsfolk would not get involved. The old burgomaster died as a result of an attack on his home by Strahd von Zorovich, in which Strahd sought to abduct Kolyan’s daughter, and Ismark’s sister, Ireena Kolyana. Which was the core of the second matter; Ismark requested help in escorting lreena to another, more fortified town where she would be safer from Strahd. This town, Vallaki, was just one day’s travel from the town of Barovia.

As there was no inn in the town of Barovia, Ismark invited the Blades to stay with him, at the burgomaster’s manor. The next day, they carried the makeshift coffin to the church north of town. There, they met Father Donavich, the local priest, who conducted the interment ceremony. He recommended taking lreena to the Abbey of Saint Markovia, in Krezk, instead of simply taking her to Vallaki. This is where they resolved to take her and they left that same day.

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The Trip to Krezk
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