Ravenloft: Beyond the Veil

Manse of the Dragon's Bane (Continued)
Entry 10 (26 Flocktime, CY 575)

26 Flocktime, CY 575 (Cont.)

After resting in the chapel, we proceeded to explore the remains of the manse, which was hauntingly empty. In the churchyard, we discovered a mausoleum and tower, and looking up, I noted a man with blonde hair observing us. Outside the mausoleum we noted gargoyles in the shape of dragons, the name “Argynvost” inscribed upon its door, with the following epitaph:

Argynvost, Lord of Argynvostholt, and founder of the Order of the Silver Dragon

We began to make our way through the place, attempting to find our way to the tower and the mysterious figure observing our actions. Through the kitchen, which had been thoroughly wrecked and left in a shambles we found a curtain to a lower tower with rotted and ruined beds, but no stairs. A doorway led to a hallway with a portcullis at the center, beyond which was a round room filled with dusty and disheveled furniture. It appeared to be a parlor, with a mural of silver dragons painted on the walls.

A door leading out of this room led to a wood-paneled den which had been ransacked and contained a sarcophagus with an effigy of a queen. In this room, we were shocked, when out of the hearth leaped a fiery spectre of a dragon! As we stood, weapons drawn in shock, it spake thus:

“My knights have fallen into darkness! Save them if you can. Show them the light that they have lost.”

It then faded back into the fireplace and nothingness.

It was at this time that Adren discovered a secret door leading to the keep’s distillery. The barrels, once full of doubtless excellent wine, had all rotted, the interior liquid growing sour and turning to vinegar over the decades or centuries—we still know not how long—it had sat untended.

A flash of motion caught my eye and I chased it down, eventually encountering a weak and wounded elf, dark of skin and hair, hiding among the barrels. We managed to calm him and made introductions. His name was Savid and he’d been hiding here for some time, having angered the Devil Strahd and having had a run-in with the undead guards in the chapel.

Savid is a member of a race native to this world known as “dusk elves,” who as near as I can make are similar to the wood elves of Oerth. He sought only to return to the Vistani camp outside of Vallaki with whom he lived, but was grateful for the healing we provided him, and regaled us with what he knew of the place.

It seems that Argynvost himself was a silver dragon who led a noble life as a human being, and sheltered refugees, including members of Savid’s own people when Strahd turned his wrath upon them. Eventually, Argynvost himself stood against Strahd’s forces and joined the increasingly long list of Strahd’s enemies who met their end at the hands of the Devil and his minions. Since then this place has fallen into ruin, a haunted and corrupt reminder of the hope it once offered travelers.

Savid informed us that the subtle magic we noted on the dragon statue in the front was once a trap for unwelcome travelers, which would blast the dragon’s cold-air breath weapon at intruders. The trap, however, has since grown weak, and cannot do harm. We escorted the elf to the front door and bid him farewell.

I must admit, I find my own hope dwindling. If so many mighty heroes have stood against this demon made flesh and failed, what hope have our small band? I suppose, should we fail then at least we have failed doing what is right, and that is as much as any hero could ask.

We continued our journey to the main hall, which had as its centerpiece a lavish, grand staircase with two balconies. At the center of the split stair hung a tapestry depicting a handsome nobleman in silver armor, who appeared much as the man we’d seen watching us in the tower—I had begun to suspect this to be the spirit of Argynvost. We made our way upstairs, where we discovered four pedestals, three of which bore busts of noble countenance. The fourth had been knocked over and the bust shattered into shards.

Suddenly, a winged shadow passed over us with a hiss, causing us once again to spin, our weapons drawn, but we saw nothing overhead. We called out to Lord Argynvost, but received no response.

As we walked, I had another bone chilling experience as it seems this land has targeted me in an effort to tear down my good spirits and will. Beneath a black cloth upon a pedestal, I discovered my own dead and severed head! After a moment, the vision passed, however, and the head was a mere bust that bore a passing resemblance to me.

At this moment, another fiery dragon spectre (or was it the same one?) emerged from a bedroom and flew down the hall. We followed it, dashing from room to room, until it flew into the throne in a huge room on the third floor, and vanished.

Upon the throne sat a gaunt, armored figure who admonished us to leave its presence. No amount of parlay could convince the creature that we meant no harm, were not foes, or that Strahd was anything but an indestructible plague on the land and, at length, we left the knight to his despair rather than battle that which should hot have been an enemy.

We made our way at last into the room at the top of the tower where we’d seen the blonde figure. In that room we saw a gigantic bed and a torn painting fallen from the wall. Using his magic, Davlin repaired the painting, at which time the spectral form of a massive silver dragon filled the room and addressed us, begging us to restore that which had been lost, to bring hope back to his memory by finding his skull, which “lay in an enemy fortress, displayed in a place of ill omen,” and returning it home.

The vision faded back into the painting, and we, too, faded from this place, after vowing to do all we could to return the dragon’s skull.

Thus it is that we made our way back to Vallaki, and I complete the record of this day’s events as I retire for the evening.

Until the morrow,

Alexianthalus Moonwhisper

Manse of the Dragon's Bane
Entry 9 (26 Flocktime, CY 575)

26 Flocktime, CY 575

We set out from Vallaki to explore the mysterious mansion called Argynvostholt, a mouthful of a name even amongst those that fill my own tales of legend, adventure and terror. It is said, apparently, that long ago a dragon died here, and that the mansion has been abandoned ever since. I have been unable to uncover any more about the area, but I must remember to ask von Richten about the history of the place the next time we encounter him.

Reaching the manse did not take long—a couple of hours walk only scant miles from Vallaki, we saw the broken battlements of the ancient structure, of which about a third was collapsed in the rear. A dark tower rose above the structure and as we gazed upon it from afar, there was a crack of thunder and the cryptic and blood-chilling howl of wolves.

We made our way up an overgrown road to the mansion, which had a circular drive path before it, doubtless a “drop off” point for carriages who once brought noble visitors to meet and dine with the lost hosts of this manor. Behind the structure, beyond the tragically collapsed area, we encountered a courtyard with a ten-foot high statue of a dragon sitting upon an equally tall pedestal. The whole was extremely impressive, not the least when Davlin detected an aura of evocation magic abut it.

After a bit of debate, I moved forward to examine the statue, but we could not divine the source of the magic itself, or any effects the statue might have on the surrounding area (or vice versa). It was suggested that perhaps the magic was leftover from the statue being a real dragon that had turned to stone, but as anyone versed in arcane matters is aware, that would reveal an aura of transmutation, rather than evocation.

We investigated a burned-out stable, where we had to contend with nine giant spiders. We handled the vermin easily and moved on to explore the house, making our way in through the ruined portion.

We quickly discovered the whole had a draconic motif in the decor—the dining room, for example, was adorned with a massive twenty-foot long banquet table whose legs were in the shape of dragon legs, and whose chairs sported the wings of the noble creatures. Above, a crystal chandelier gave off a soft glow, apparently the result of a permanent light spell cast the gods only know how long ago. Within alcoves of the dining area were statues of knights whose armor was designed in dragon motif.

Water trickled in from cracks in the walls, a sad testament to nature’s reclaiming of the place.

We noted doors to a chapel on our right, with doors to the main hall on our left, and an entry to the kitchen directly across. We opted to explore the chapel.

Inside the chapel, which was large, well-appointed and dedicated to the Morning Lord, with a U-shaped balcony, a barred door on the left, and elegant stained glass windows, we were surprised to find ourselves in the midst of a strange fog. Squinting through the mist, we could see what appeared to be three knights praying at the altar.

I stepped forward and hailed them, only for them to turn, red-glowing eyes and drawn, pallid skin revealing their undead nature, and they attacked. Thinking them to perhaps be some strange servants of the Morning Lord and thus champions of light, I attempted to parlay, but my companions were having none of it.

Stefan attempted to turn them, only for the effort to fail horribly, our foes laughing at his presumption while the fell upon him with a fury. Cymrick and Adren strode into the fray and the battle was joined. Myra adopted her customary bestial form, and I joined my companions in the bloody throes of battle, my swords spinning and thirsty even as my heart sank but a little.

A difficult and deadly battle it was, indeed, for our foes would not be so easily vanquished as many we have faced thus far. We did, however, eventually put down our foes, and I felt my heart sink a bit, for I still feel as though somehow we’ve done this place wrong. Indeed they were undead, but is not everything in this dark and heavy place turned upside down and backwards? Is it not possible that here, some undead are free-willed servants of the light?

We sit and take our brief rest here to gather ourselves before continuing to explore, and I ponder this fact as I write these words. But more on that later. It’s time to continue our exploration and see what other fell secrets this Manse of the Dragon’s Bane holds for us…

Fall of the Dark Druids
Entry 8 (25 Flocktime - 26 Flocktime, CY 575)

25 Flocktime, CY 575

So it was that we awoke this morning with new resolve, determined to fulfill our obligations to the Wizard of Wines and hopefully return another of his magical Seeds. We had intelligence regarding the location of the dark cult of druids, and set out determined to put an end to their foul machinations.

En route, we stopped to speak to the Martikov family and check in on them. They are doing well and working to rebuild their business. They helped us to resupply and we departed once more, following the trail of the druids until, around mid-day, the heavy and oppressive canopy opened up to what appeared to be an ancient burial ground — a number of mounds scattered around a massive central mound, which was raised in several levels, each with a road-like platform separating it from the level above.

Atop the mound was a circle of stones forming what appeared the remains of an ancient druidic menhir or henge. We detected movement atop the mound, but before we could move forward, Adren spotted what appeared to be a dark warrior astride a gigantic black horse, whose eyes blazed red, with fire belching from its hooves where the struck the ground. The sight was bone-chilling, but it seemed uninterested in us, and after a short period, departed.

At this moment a thunderstrike rang across the clearing, and we noted the activity atop the mound increasing. A wall of mist arose around the area, enclosing us in its clutches. Without wasting any further time we made our way up the mound, where we witnessed a ritual in progress that froze the blood in our veins. Six druids and six barbaric wild-men were engaged in the worship of an enormous, gnarled and twisted tree.

Without delay, Myra, calling upon nature’s wrath against these corrupt abominations, summoned a wave of thunder that laid waste to our enemies, then launched herself into the fray, assuming her customary form of a great grizzly. She tore into the druids with a fury that only a priestess watching the corruption of her faith could know. We joined the fray, only moments too late, as the tree took on humanoid form and sprang to life, the very gem we sought burning within its breast. It strode into the forest, its foul intent something we could only imagine.

Adren and I gave chase while our companions engaged the druids and wild men. My roguish companion had a stroke of genius and loaded his cloak with five flasks of alchemist’s fire, which he launched at the tree, setting it brightly ablaze. I followed suit, just as Cymrick entered the fray, tearing into the blazing monstrosity and bringing it low with the martial skill upon which I’ve come to rely so many times during our acquaintance.

The battle was over, and the bodies of our corrupt and fell foes lay scattered about. The strangeness of our day was not to end here, however; as we discussed our next move, noble Stefan spotted through the mist a white fortress rising high over a walled city. The vision then faded from view, as Myra heard a voice guiding her to a broken cairn, in which she found a dark, magical spear that called to her. She claimed it as her own.

We gathered the magical gem from the breast of the tree-thing, and returned it to the Wizard of Wines, to their gratitude, and have now settled in to spend the night with our new friends.

26 Flocktime, CY 575

A somewhat sad day today, as we bid farewell to another friend and another enchanting beauty. We returned to the tower to bid Ezmerelda farewell and give her our thanks for her aid. We have resolved to continue to unravel the puzzle of the tarokka reading we received from Madame Eva.

Our beautiful Vistani benefactor gave some insight into our reading, informing us that there is much hidden wealth among the families of Vallaki, which is oft accompanied with the madness that arises in family lines formed of generations of questionable marriages. She also hinted that there was, across the lake from that town, a mad mage who was rumored to once have faced Strahd and survived.

So it was that we returned to Vallaki to seek information about the mad mage. There, we met our friend Rictavio once more, and now strongly suspect that he is, in fact, the van Richten whom Ezmerelda seeks; he is, however, reluctant to admit this, so we dropped some hints about the Vistani woman and let the matter drop.

“Van” Rictavio helped us a long a bit further, informing us that he once looked up the Mad Mage, and could give us a general location where he might reside. We dined with him, thanked him for his help and information, and set off for Mt. Bartok, across the lake from the town.

Upon climbing the mountain, we found ourselves high amongst the dark clouds, where we encountered a fearless, huge elk which turned into a human before our eyes, with a long grey beard and raw power crackling in his gaze.

He invited us to his home, and as we had been warned, was quite mad, though not in a threatening way. His mind wandered to times long past, to other places and worlds. Imagine our surprise when we discovered that this “Mad Mage” was, in fact, the legendary and lost wizard from Greyhawk, Mordenkanien!

It was both an honor and deeply saddening to meet this great hero, now laid low from his own challenge against Strahd. Indeed, if such a great mage as Mordenkanien cannot defeat the devil of this land, how can we? Still, we will soldier on.

He gave us a few pieces of advice. To Myra, he said use the spear sparingly, as it is a valuable tool, but has a deeply corrupting nature. To Davlin, he said to return before we head for our final battle against Strahd, and he may have some incantations to help, though these, he feels are just beyond the skill of our own wizard at this time.

Thus it was that we have returned to Vallaki to pass the night, and tomorrow we will travel to the next of our many leads: the location of the haunted mansion where it is rumored that a dragon died long ago—the place known as Argynvostholt.

The Tower of Khazan
Entry 7 (23 Flocktime cont. - 24 Flocktime, CY 575)

23 Flocktime, Addendum:

A haunting development! As we were turning in to take our rest for the night, and just as I finished my prior entry, there was an unexpected visitor at our host’s door. It seemed that the Abbot himself—the mysterious figure who rarely emerges from that scream-haunted edifice—had come to pay his respects for the Burgomaster’s son, and to our shock, offered to raise the boy from the dead, claiming, “The Gods of LIght would see your bloodline restored.”

Naturally, given the general tenor of this realm, and all that we had learned of the abbot and abbey since arriving, we were skeptical of this offer. It took some effort, but in the end we convinced our host to at least sleep on the offer so as not to make any rash decisions.

Consulting with our noble cleric Stefan revealed that it is possible to perform such a resurrection without violating the natural order of things, though he was as skeptical as the rest of us, given the rarity of such a ritual. He determined to be present when the resurrection was performed and we all agreed that if what returned did not seem in every way to be the Burgomaster’s son returned, we would destroy the thing, whatever the cost.

24 Flocktime, CY 575

This morning we awoke and our host determined that he would go through with the resurrection, but agreed to have Stefan there and take his council if anything seemed untoward about the ritual. We had a few hours before meeting the abbot, which was fortuitous as Stefan was also called upon to sit in upon a birth.

He later informed us that the child was dead quiet upon its birth, though in good health otherwise. This lack of crying, the midwife claimed, meant that the child was born without a soul, a claim which Stefan found ludicrous, but the midwife insisted was common (there are, she said, many people without souls in this land). We found this proclamation to be not only dark, but foolhardy—after all, the soul is by its nature the very spark of life; the gods do not permit true life without one.

it was thus with distaste in his mouth and heart from this rank amateur that Stefan returned to us and oversaw the abbot’s resurrection of B. Krezkov’s boy, which to our astonishment seemed to go without the slightest complication and was, as they say on the streets of the Greyhawk thieves’ quarter, “on the up and up.”

Following this strange juxtaposition of omens both good and ill, we set out for the next stage of our quest: To the tower!

We decided, given the completion of our mission to protect Ireena (may the gods bless her soul wherever it may be), to continue seeking the artifacts prophesied in our reading from the Vistani Shuvani Madame Eva. The nearby wizard’s tower that we had seen on our travels seemed the next logical place to explore, and we set out this morning on the next leg of our journey.

The trip to the tower went largely without incident—a pleasant change of pace in this black world—and at length we found ourselves facing a causeway spanning a mist-covered lake, leading to a tall but decrepit tower spanning at least four score feet into the sky. Its upper layers were surrounded by a crumbling scaffold, apparently once erected to repair old damage. The place seemed abandoned from a distance.

As we crossed the causeway, we discovered that in fact we were not the first to visit this tower in recent days. A colorful wagon spattered with mud was situated before the tower. The wagon was in good repair and of recent use, purple in color with gold trim and red drapes covering tombstone-shaped windows from the inside. Lanterns adorned each corner. The immediate impression we shared was that of the Vistani wagons we had encountered in camps earlier in our journeys. At the rear door of the wagon, which was secured with an iron padlock, hung a sign reading “KEEP OUT.”

A brief discussion ensued, during which we decided it would be in everyone’s best interests if we took a look inside. After all, who knew where we would find the artifact we sought? Adren and I gave the doorway a thorough examination, discovering that not only was it locked, it was booby trapped. We managed to circumvent the trap and enter. The wagon had been rigged with 101 flasks of alchemist’s fire, designed to explosively destroy all within if someone entered without permission.

Fortunately, we are that good. To send a message to that end, each of us took a few flasks for our future use, while leaving enough to reset the trap for our kind host.

We noted that the decor inside the wagon spoke of a woman’s touch. The sword we sought was not within, though we found several items of interest, among which were a number of pages from the journal of a monster hunter, who had inadvertently caused his entire family to become victim of a “baleful Vistani curse,” and be sold into the clutches of a vampire named Baron Metus. The poor man, through his own folly, had not only seen his son sold to a vampire, but later had to destroy the boy, who himself had been turned. The story made our hearts heavy, and I cannot help but wonder if such a dark fate awaits any who attempt to do the work of heroes in this realm.

Having read the journal pages, we replaced them and took our leave. Aside from the few vials of explosives we took, we left the wagon untouched and reset trap and lock.

After circling the tower, we set upon a strange puzzle set into the iron door—a bizarre symbol featuring what appeared to be intersecting lines and stick figures posed with varying arm positions; the name “KHAZUN” was emblazoned above. It was Adren who set upon the idea of simply mimicking the postures of the stick figures, and the door’s mechanisms gave way with clicking and grinding, allowing us entry into the foreboding place.

Once inside, we found ourselves in a large chamber with statues surrounding platforms at one side. We examined the room carefully, and noble Davlin set upon the idea that the platforms were magical lifts powered by the animated statues. All it took was stepping on the platforms and issuing the command to “Go!” and we began our ascent.

The majority of the tower was barren, with each floor looking much like those below, but when we reached the fourth level, we discovered what appeared to be a private chamber with a bed, stove, desk and chair, and trunk. A suit of armor stood along one wall. The chest gave off a lavender aroma but upon investigation, contained nothing of true value…save a rotting, severed head! We chose to leave this decidedly unpleasant discovery where we’d found it.

We eventually lit upon the idea of using Khazan’s name, which animated the armor! Upon commanding it to take us to the sword, it began removing bricks from the wall, unveiling a secret compartment inside containing a platinum sword hilt and guard, but no blade. We gifted the sword hilt to our mighty warrior, Cymrick, who will attune to it this eventide to hopefully discover any mystical properties it might have.

We then ordered the armor to re-conceal the compartment, and made our way outside, where we discovered a lovely Vistani woman approaching the tower on horseback across the causeway. She was badly wounded, and we stepped forward to offer her aid. I gave her a healing potion we had in our stores, and Stefan tended to her wounds until she felt well enough to tell us her tale.

The young woman had the bearing of a warrior, and carried the scars of one to boot; her right leg was in fact an artificial replacement. She introduced herself as Ezmerelda D’Avenir, the owner of the wagon we had discovered. Lady D’Avenir has a keen eye as well as a strong sword arm—she noticed immediately that we had bypassed and re-secured her traps and locks, but thankfully, she held no grudge against us.

We discussed the tower further, and Ezmerelda informed us that she, too, had found the head in the trunk and thought it best to leave it be. She has been using the tower as a base of operations to seek her mentor, a great scholar of the dark arts and creatures of this demiplane named Rudoph Von Richten, who it seems has gone missing and whose journal pages we had earlier found. This tower, it seems, was the last known residence of Von Richten.

Lady D’Avenir has also taken what opportunities she could to strike out against our mutual enemy, the Devil Strahd. It was, in fact, from his very castle that Lady D’Avenir had recently fled with her wounds. Intrigued, we asked her to tell us what she knew of Strahd, and this is the story she told:

Once, many long generations ago, there was a great warlord named Barov von Zarovich, who with his bride Ravenovia sired two boys: Strahd and Sergei. As the two grew, Strahd became a mighty warlord, bloodthirsty and warmongering, while Sergei grew to a young man of noble bearing and honorable nature, favored of their mother.

Ever seeking to win his parents’ favor, Strahd invaded and conquered an entire valley, slaughtering those living there with wanton fury. This valley he named Barovia after his father, and within he built the Castle Ravenloft, named for his mother. Still his parents favored Sergei, and even upon their death Strahd continued his competition. It is said that Ravenovia is buried somewhere beneath the castle itself.

Feeling that his work was not done, Strahd made a deal with the dark powers of the Shadowfell to gain immortality that he might continue his bloodthirsty campaigns of conquest. The Dark Powers, however, would only grant this request with a murderous sacrifice upon Strahd’s part.

Strahd did not have to wait long for his opportunity. It so happened that a young woman named Tatiana came to live in the valley, and Strahd fell madly in love with her, but she in turn loved Sergei with all her heart. Strahd, driven mad with jealousy, played the part of the good brother until the couple’s wedding night, whereupon he murdered Sergei, thinking this to be the sacrifice that would seal his pact.

It was not to be, however; when she discovered Sergei’s murder, Tatiana’s heart broke, as did her mind, and despite Strahd’s every effort to stop her, to bring her back from the brink, the girl threw herself from the high parapets of Castle Ravenloft, her body disappearing into the misty chasms below.

At this moment, the guards turned on Strahd, cornered and shot him…but it was for naught. It was Tatiana’s death that sealed Strahd’s pact and he had become immortal, a powerful vampire driven by rage and anguish, and he slaughtered his own guards and palace staff. As the dark vampire lord slaked his hell-spawned thirsts for the first time, the mists rose, surrounding the castle and spreading over the entire valley. When the mists subsided, the entire realm of Barovia had come here, to this Demiplane of Dread, trapping both Strahd and its inhabitants within forever.

The Lady D’Avenir has yet to tell us her whole story, how she came to be in Von Richten’s tutelage, and what became of her tribe, who she told us are no more. In return for her tale, I entertained our host with tales of our own exploits, whereupon she offered to allow us to remain in the tower with her, and use it as a base of operations for our own excursions. We agreed, and determined that our next move was to exterminate the foul, perverted false druids who had descended upon the Wizard of Wines.

It has been yet another eventful day, though mercifully one without placing our lives in mortal peril from the claws and teeth of some unnatural beast. It is, thus, with a sigh of some relief that I take my rest this night, wondering once more what the future will bring…


“We may be heroes, but we’re also vagrants. Pick the lock.” – Alex to Adren

“Rogue the trunk, elf the walls and Greyhawk the room.” – Adren

“You’re a bad priest!”
“I thought that was obvious by now!”
“When Eberron sends immigrants, they’re not sending us their best!”
-Alex, Stefan and Adren

(Re: Cymrick attuning to the sword)
“What exactly does, ‘attuning’ to the hilt, mean?” – Davlin
“Does he have to do something naughty to it?” – Stefan
“Ew, he’s going to stick his tongue all over it!” – Adren
“Just a little tongue. But not porno tongue. Respectful tongue. Church tongue!” – Alex
“Oh, my gods, I’ve got to get out of here.” – Myra

A Chemical Wedding
Entry 6 (23 Flocktime, CY 575)

Entry 6: 23 Flocktime, CY 575

We have succeeded in our quest, though in a way we never considered, and my heart is heavy even as it rejoices. At least one pure soul in this dark realm has found happiness and light, and I rejoice to Boccob and Pelor that this is the case, but yet, I feel a sense loss, something my companions must not see, as they take such pleasure in making light of my feelings. But isn’t it a bard’s duty to taste life in all its wonders and sorrows, to feel things more deeply than other beings? Isn’t that why we are who we are?

I digress, however.

After an arduous and exhausting climb we made it to Krezk. The guards called out in greeting and inquired our business. We responded with our need to speak to the monks in the monastery and they responded by bringing us to the attention of the Burgomaster, which we found somewhat puzzling—and not a bit distressing, if I’m to be honest.

I feel sorrow for the people of this vast kingdom that they live in a place so mistrustful of visitors. Certainly there are such places on Oerth as well, but none that seem as far reaching or intensely paranoid as those in this kingdom of Barovia. As one might expect, we were asked to prove our good intentions before entering (though it may just be they needed help and felt if they simply asked us, we might not give it—either way, how sad to live in such a state!)

Burgomaster Dimitri Krezkov spoke with us and asked us, before entering, to prove our quality by investigating a series of missed deliveries from the Wizard of Wines. We agreed, after a brief parlay in which we convinced B. Krezkov to agree to put Ireena up in his home and keep her safe until we returned. It was not an ideal arrangement, leaving her in the care of someone we did not know, but once more we encountered people in need of aid and could not turn from them. Besides that, this was the place we had been led to believe our lovely charge would be kept safe, and that meant success in our mission.

So it was that we left Ireena in the care of Krezkov, and made our way to the winery. As we approached through the forest, I was hailed by a figure cloaked and cowled, deeper in the forest. Cautiously, my companions and I approached, having now become quite accustomed to the dangers of this land’s forests.

The figure led us deeper under the thick canopy to a modest campsite, where huddled around a small campfire, no fewer than seven other figures, their own cloaks pulled tightly against the wet chill in the air. Our new guide pulled his cloak down to reveal a wizened face, and introduced himself as Davian Mortikov, the proprietor of the Wizard of Wines Winery. The others we met were his family: his eldest son Adrian, younger son Elvir, his daughter Stefania, her husband Dag Tomescu and their children Claudiu, Martin and Viggo (twins) and Yolanda.

The family bade us to sit, and informed us that we had been walking into a dangerous trap. Davian began his tale:

For centuries, the Wizard of Wines has been delivering the best of wine from the highest quality grapes and berries to the surrounding lands. This was made possible by magical seeds—gemstones, in fact, which were buried beneath the soil allowing and encouraging the growth of three very unique varieties of grapes that produced the finest wines ever tasted.

Now, the clan had been driven from their winery and home, the victim of a vile curse or targeting by corrupt creatures that befoul nature itself. Their Seeds have all been stolen, their livelihood destroyed, and their home occupied. It has been ten years since the first and second Seed were stolen; the first has been lost to time, but the second was carried off by walking scarecrows from the now-haunted and abandoned ghost town of Berez.

For the past decade the family has managed to continue their operations using the third Seed, but now, a few days ago, a cult of evil druids, werebeasts and their foul creatures of blight descended upon the winery, drove the family out, and stole their third Seed. From out of the forests they came, pillaging, destroying and bringing to bear all the powers of evil, darkness and decay, such that a simple family of artisans had no means to stand against them. For nearly a week the family had huddled in the forests, scrounging for what food they could and desperately seeking a solution. The children were malnourished and starving, the family in clear need of aid and succor, and then we came, as angels from the dark.

Upon hearing their tale, we vowed to do what we could to restore the family and their operations, and informed them of the concern of the fine folk of Krezk. Indeed, upon hearing that a dark sect of druids were behind this, Myra was among the first to announce her intent to destroy this foul corruption of all she held dear. The family told us that, if it was still there, we were welcome to take a shipment back to Krezk from their stores, should we regain them their home.

Thus it was that Adren and I moved as silent shadows to investigate the winery. Surrounding the building we discovered six groups, each containing five of these foul creatures of blighted vegetation shambling around as though on guard. They appeared as shuffling, hunched humanoids, but the stench of rotting plant matter was strong and they were clearly beings of pure, black corruption.

Using our unique skills, Adren and I managed to infiltrate the winery itself, where within we found a wild-looking druid pouring some sort of blackened, brackish syrup into the vats of wine, spoiling them for drink. We also caught sight of a small creature comprised of twigs, skittering in and among the shadows. From here we constructed a strategy.

The two of us would position ourselves to attack the druid, while our companions stormed the building, running through the groups of blight creatures like a gauntlet rather than trying to face all thirty of them.

The plan succeeded; the moment we heard our companions slam and lock the door of the winery, barring the blight creatures on the outside, Adren and I made our presence known and skewered the evil druid like a wild boar. At this moment, our companions entered the room and a score of those twig-things swarmed from the shadows. Calling upon the light of my faerie fire spell, I illuminated them in the dim light, and Stefan called down the blessings of his deity upon us. Myra assumed the form of a great brown bear, and Davlin unleashed a bolt of fire into the creatures while Cymric hewed through them like so much chaff and wheat.

Four more druids made their presence known and the battle was joined, and two gigantic blighted creatures comprised of vines arose as one of the druids brandished a horrible, twisted black staff, announcing “Nature bows to my whim, for I wield the vampire’s staff!”

Such a declaration proved unfortunate for him, as it marked him our primary target. He did not last long against the fury of our swords and spells. When he fell, so did the vine blights, and then one by one the rest of the foul beasts were cut down before our righteous fury. We emerged little the worse for wear, and victorious, to the gratitude of the Martikov clan.

It was Davian himself who told us the tale of that wicked staff, called Ghoulfius, a weapon named for the species of tree, which grows in a place called Nightfang Spire, and from whose wood the staff had been hewn. The staff was once used as a tool of light to destroy an ancient vampire. In vengeance, the spirit of fiend infused and corrupted the staff, giving its wielder the ability to call upon these degenerate creatures of blight.

We destroyed the staff, thus removing yet another stain of darkness from this land, and loaded up the missing shipment from the Martikov stores. The remaining Seed was saved and while the group had much to do, to clear out their befouled batch of wine, they were confident they would be able to resume business once more.

We returned to town to the cheers of the residents—being hailed as heroes is becoming rather commonplace for us here, and while it is gratifying to the ego, it is disheartening that this land is in such dire need of heroes to celebrate.

We reunited with B. Krezkov and were heartened to find Ireena in good health and in better spirits. Our full day was not to end yet, however; a few hours later our beautiful young charge began to hear a voice calling to her—a voice she insisted was not the Devil Strahd. She followed it, with us close at her heels, until she came to a quiet pool at the center of town. There, within the pool, we all saw the vision of a handsome, noble young man who called her Tatyana.

To our astonishment and hers, Ireena recognized the man and remembered him as though from a past life. “Sergei!” she said. “My prince, Man of Faith, has called to my spirit!”

Before we could react, she stepped into the pool, met by the vision of this Sergei, and embraced him. My heart both soared and broke at the same time as I watched the two fade into the light, bathed in the ecstasy that only arises from two soulmates long separated, reunited at last.

Since nothing seems to end happily in this bleak place, that was when things turned dark. A deafening clap of thunder resounded through the village as a bright streak of blue lightning impacted the pool, knocking all of us from our feet. A booming voice sounded from the clouds as a dark visage appeared before us, shouting, “She is mine!”

Our blood chilled upon the realization that we had all now been marked by the Devil Strahd for rescuing young Ireena (Tatyana?), we withdrew back to the Burgomaster’s home, where he filled us in on the events that had rocked this particular small village.

It turns out that the insular residents here never leave, and subsist on trade, including their monthly shipments of wine from the Martikovs. The Burgomater himself lost his 14-year-old son to a mysterious illness recently, and their shrine to the Morning Lord had been destroyed.

He informed us that taking Ireena to the abbey may not have resulted in the best end to our quest, and regaled us of a story regarding the abbot—a woman named Markovia—who once stormed Castle Ravenloft itself and failed. It was then that the Mists came and drove some folks in town mad, turning them into cannibalistic horrors that reigned terror upon the town. This was centuries ago.

The current abbot is over 100 years old, has not aged a day, doesn’t talk much and only emerges from the abbey to visit the destroyed shrine. The town pays the abbey tribute in wine and is largely left alone. There are whispers that in truth the abbot is a servant of Strahd, or possibly Strahd himself (the latter is something we currently dismiss, as if it were the Devil Strahd, would he not have already moved to destroy us in light of rescuing Tatyana from his clutches?)

Bells are heard from there at odd hours, and inhuman screams from there split the night. Nobody ever visits the place.

Thus it was that we retired for the night. As I pen this entry and prepare to take my sleep, it occurs to me that we have no preset purpose here, now. No quest to fulfill, but we are heroes in a world that seems utterly lacking in those with the courage to do right. We have also been marked as enemies by the dark lord of this land, and must be on our guard to face his black retribution.

Indeed, while we have no marked quest, our mission and purpose seems clear. The gods have brought us to this realm to stand as beacons of light against this encroaching darkness, and even if I must go on alone, I will not rest until this world sees its first sunrise in the gods only knows how many centuries.

When You Stare at the Darkness
Entries 3-5 (20-22 Flocktime, CY 575)

Entry 3: 21 Flocktime, CY 575

I begin to feel like we truly have a purpose here: to act as champions for a land beset by darkness that is in dire need of heroes to bring hope and light to their world.

Last night, mercifully, passed without incident, and upon the morn we took breakfast with our new acquaintance Rictavio. Noticing that the morale of the people seemed somewhat down, I regaled the crowd with a tale of St. Cuthbert and his battle with a great ancient dragon, standing alone to protect a village who had lost all hope. The message was that with hope and determination, even a single man can stand against great evil and find divinity within himself. The crowd was heartened, and my tale earned us free lodgings from the innkeep.

After breakfast we decided to explore the town a bit, and Brother Stefan expressed an interest in finding the local temple. It turned out to be easy enough to find, a large but simple structure dedicated to the Morning Lord, a deity who seems to have much in common with the sun gods from both Oerth and Stefan’s world of Eberron. While there we met the local friar, Father Lucian Petrovich, who informed us of a tragedy that had happened recently. It seems that the bones of a great Saint, relics which sanctify and protect the church and town, were stolen recently, and he feared the consequences should the townsfolk find out. We promised to see what we could turn up.

The investigation was a convoluted web of humanity’s inability to keep secrets and vulnerability to corruption and fear. We made our way through an orphan (Yeska) to the church’s groundskeeper (Hendrick), who in turn told the local coffin-maker. This coffin-maker paid Hendrick to steal the bones.

We tracked down the coffin-maker, who refused to answer the door of his home until we threatened him with legal repercussions, at which point he allowed us inside and admitted that he had the bones upstairs. He guided us through the home, a process that our entire group agreed was all too easy, into a room where the bones lay. He then explained that a stranger had arrived at his home recently, introducing himself as “Sergei,” and asked for several of his friends to be put up for the evening. Without understanding why, the coffin-maker agreed and invited them in, at which point they held him hostage for days. They were, he said, monsters who planned to attack the church and needed the relics removed to allow them entrance.

At this point his “guests” made their presence known: vampires! Another great battle took place during which everyone acquitted themselves admirably. It took all of our wiles (and not a little use from sunlight streaming in through the windows) to defeat our foes, but we emerged once more victorious, and closer as a unit as a result. The bones were returned and Father Lucian expressed his eternal gratitude. We then returned to the inn where we once more had dinner with Rictavio and were introduced to a friend of his, the toymaker Blinski who specialized in wooden nesting dolls. Once more I sang for our supper and we turned in for the night, after agreeing to check out “our” abandoned mill the next day in hopes of discovering part of the prophecy of the cards.

Entry 4: 21 Flocktime, CY 575

What an eventful day! Once more we have done our part to beat back the darkness that seems to plague this entire land.

This morning we took the time to visit Blinksi’s. I was, admittedly somewhat disturbed at the morbidity of his toys, but Adren purchased a ventriloquist dummy that had been constructed to look disturbingly like the Devil Strahd, lord of this land. We also discovered a doll that looked startlingly like our charge, the lovely Ireena. When we inquired about the toys, Blinski told us that a man named Izek Strani instructs him on which toys to make, a cryptic answer at best.

Following our visit to this odd little toy shop, we finally, after ensuring that Ireena was secure, made our way to the old mill, whose deed Adren held. It was a rickety structure with dirty windows on the second floor, where the remains of a collapsed catwalk hung from the sides of the building. We walked around to inspect the place, and found no windows on the first floor, but a raven seemed very put out at our presence, its cawing evoking the very sounds of the dead themselves, sending chills up our spines.

We discovered an active chicken coop, and noted the smell of baking, indicating that someone was occupying the place. To our surprise, the door was unlocked and we entered into a kitchen where there seemed to be pastries baking in the oven, their pleasant aroma combined with an awful smell that we discovered was wafting from an awful, green, brackish liquid filling a barrel in the corner.

Adric and I quietly made our way upstairs, where an old woman in a bloodstained apron swept the floor and called up a stairwell to someone above. We snuck back downstairs and investigated the kitchen quickly. We found three jars of substances that Davlin informed us were magical, these were labeled “Youth” (a golden liquid), “Laughter” (a red liquid), and “Mother’s Milk” (a green opaque fluid).

Myra took the form of a mouse at this point and made her way upstairs, as the old woman came down and asked us if we had come to buy pastries. Choosing not to reveal our hand as owners of the mill, we inquired about the pastries, which she told us were “Dream Pastries” that “Soothe the senses and help people to escape.” Again, so as not to raise suspicions, we purchased a dozen (which we had no intention of consuming), and took our leave.

We camped outside and waited. Not long after, Myra returned to inform us that upstairs were two ugly younger woman—daughters of the old woman—who were torturing two children in cages! Our path forward seemed clear, especially when the old woman left for town, bearing a wagon full of her goods behind her.

We entered and sneaked our way to the third floor, where the two daughters “played” their horrible games with the children, and attacked. Myra, our intrepid druid, took the form of a raccoon, her size allowing her to handily sneak past and the animal’s dexterous hands allowing her to undo the latches on the children’s cages while we distracted the two daughters.

Our shock and disgust were not to be ended yet, however—the daughters revealed their true form as hideous, demonic hags and brought their hellish powers to bear against us. Relying upon magic from the arcane blasts of Davlin to my own clouds of daggers, and Adren’s skill at striking vulnerable spots on enemies using my silver sword, and Myra’s shifting from raccoon to dire wolf, we managed to defeat the evil women and rescue the two children, a 7-year-old boy named Freek and his 5-year-old sister, Myrtle.

We explored the place to discover that the active ingredients in the pastries included flour made from human bones, and recipe books explaining that they were in fact magically addictive—the old woman was peddling harmful hallucinogenics to the townfolk. We resolved to shut down her little business for good.

We did, however, find the holy symbol predicted in our prophecy! It is a symbol in the shape of the sun, made from platinum with a blood-red crystal set in the center. Brother Stefan took charge of the icon.

We then hid outside, waiting for the old hag to return, and when she did we spiked the door of the mill shut to trap her within, and set the building ablaze. Her awful screams echoed throughout the valley and back to whatever Hell from whence she came. Thus satisfied that good had been served, we made our way back to the town. As it turned out, Ireena was familiar with Freek and Myrtle, both of whom were from Barovia and had been in danger of being “sold” to Strahd by their father. As such, they had no desire to return to Barovia. Seeing the children lightened Ireena’s spirits somewhat, and she worked with us to arrange for a place for the children to be looked after in town.

At dinner we gathered some more information about the surrounding environs in hope of exploring more of our prophecy after guiding Ireena to her destination. We discovered a few more facts about the town. It seemed that the burgomaster was insistent on forcing constant festivals and celebrations upon the people, which were morbid in both their theme and frequency, and that only one citizen stood up to him, a woman named Lady Fiona Watcher, who may or may not have ties to the Von Zarovich family.

We also garnered several potential leads from the surrounding area:

  1. The nearby lake was once the home of a mad mage who used to skulk around the northern shore. He was known as the Mad Mage of Mt. Baratok, and he hasn’t been seen in some time. It is possible that there may be a home or tower there worth exploring.
  2. A drunkard fisherman is the only one who ever bothers to use the lake. He never catches fish, but has a large boat. His name is Bluto Kroarov.
  3. There is an abandoned village south of town named Berez. It is whispered the burgomaster of the town offended Strahd, which somehow resulted in there no longer being a single soul left.
  4. To the Southwest of the town there is another Vistani camp.
  5. To the west is a haunted mansion named Argynvostholt that may be worth exploring. It is rumored that a dragon died there long ago.

With that information, we took our rest, and are preparing to leave for Krezk tomorrow morning.

Entry 5: 23 Flocktime, CY 575

We left Vallaki at dawn after a light breakfast, choosing to be as inconspicuous as possible and take the west gate. Ten minutes out of town we saw the southern path leading to the Vistani camp, which we noted for future reference and continued on across the Luna River via a bridge, when we came to another crossroads two miles from town. I kept a mask of morale up, but I find that every time I approach a crossroads now, I cannot get the image of myself, hanging from a gallows, out of my mind. I held back the chill, however, as we examined the sign post which guided the way to Krezk and the Tsolenka Pass (straight), to Lake Bartok (right) and to Berez (the abandoned village to the Southeast). Ireena was now no longer familiar with the terrain, as she had never been this far from Barovia.

Another 2 or 2-and-a-half miles on we came to a road leading south, with no signpost. Beyond this we came to a fork in the road, where a sign pointed to Krezk over a stone bridge, Vallaki back the way we came, and to the southwest to the Wizard of Wines, a winery whose name we recognized from the libations served at the Inn in Vallaki. We resolved to visit his winery upon our return.

Astonishingly, Myra noted that the river opens up into a lake to the Northeast, upon which stood a high tower—just like that predicted in our tarokka reading! Taking careful note of this, we continued on another 2 or 3 miles to Krezk, a village set into a valley at the base of a crescent-shaped hill, with the abbey at the precipice. Our goal, and, it seems, our time with Ireena, was coming to a conclusion.

I admit to being somewhat smitten with our charge, and my heart is saddened at seeing her go, though I pray to whatever gods may be listening that she finds safety and guardianship here from the evil forces that seem bent upon escorting her into shadow. May our paths cross again one day during brighter times, and may we get the chance to know one another in whatever manner the gods wish.

Of Moons and Mists
Entries 2-4 (Date: 17-19 Flocktime, CY 575)

Entry 2: 17 Flocktime, CY 575

It occurs to me upon only this, my second entry, that I might learn the calendar of this strange realm and begin dating these journals with the proper dates for this place, though on some level it helps to ground me, keeping track of the passing of days on Oerth. If indeed time even passes the same here as on my world.

This realm, this Barovia, weighs on me even as I try hard to maintain a positive outlook on events. After all, someone must work to keep spirits high in the face of this oppressive place where the sun never seems to rise through the constant gray clouds that blanket the sky. Indeed, one resident informed us that it has at very least been many years since anyone in this place has seen the sun.

In any case, certainly our druidic companion Myra seems to have a demeanor that matches the overall dour mood of this “demiplane,” as Adren calls it. Whether she was always this way or the place has soured her I know not, but I am determined it shall not have such an effect upon me.

Thoughts on the nature of the place aside, I turn back to the events that fate has chosen for our motley band.

We found ourselves standing once more in the streets of Barovia, the place we came to call the “murder house” closed to us once more. The light (such as it was) was fading and we made a point to locate an inn where we could pass the night in safety.

I spent several years eking out an existence on the back streets and alleyways of the Free City and thus know the ways that cities work. Even in a realm not so oppressed by the tangible forces of death and despair that hang heavy here, the streets are not a secure place to sleep. It also means, however, that I am almost always able to find a necessary resource.

Thus I led the group unerringly towards the town center, where ahead of us a sign swung creaking in the night displaying a grape vine and the words, “Blood of the Vine,” though the “of” had been scratched out and replaced with “on.” As we approached the inn, however, a keening cry split the wind to our right, and being the sort who are unwilling to let a despairing soul go unaided, we investigated.

We came upon a neglected home which had been boarded up. The weeping sounded from within, and when there was no answer to our knock, we made our way inside, where upstairs we found a middle-aged woman named Mary, weeping because her teenaged daughter, Gertruda, who she’d kept locked away for most of her life, had escaped into the Barovian night.

My heart went out to the woman as she poured out her tale: she had kept her daughter locked away to protect her, supposedly from the attentions of the mad noble Strahd who rules over this land, and, she claimed, has a penchant for spiriting away the young women of the village. We let her pour out her story, and then, before taking our leave, promised to keep an eye out for her daughter, for which she seemed eminently grateful. We agreed amongst ourselves, however, to simply deliver the message to the young woman that her mother was worried, and not to force a girl to return to such an untenable situation as being held under lock and key.

We continued on to the Blood on the Vine Inn.

Upon entering the Blood on the Vine, we noted the usual motley crew of tavern denizens, the majority of whom seemed as grim as the land around. There was one gentleman, however, who sat in the corner and smiled at us as we walked in, waving us over to him. He introduced himself as Ismark Kolyanovich, son of the town Burgomaster Kolyan, whose dual letters we carried with us. He was able to discern which of the two (the warning to travelers to stay away) was genuine. This left us with a strange mystery—who, then, would have penned the other letter, begging travelers for aid?

Alas, any insight was not to be forthcoming, as along with the revelation came the sad news of the Burgomaster’s demise a few days past. Ismark informed us that his father lay in state at their home, as he had been unable to gather any stout backs and hearts to bear him to his final rest. We gladly volunteered our services.

Ismark paid for our meal and guided us to his home, a surprisingly worn and dilapidated manse that had been recently marred and scarred with signs of hard battle—there were burns, scorch marks, hideous gouges that Myra was able to identify as the claws of some beast or another. Many windows were shattered and planked over. The grass was trampled, the lawn and gardens unkempt and uprooted.

“It looks,” Adren observed, “like a siege.”

“You would not be mistaken,” Ismark replied, and bade us enter as he rapped on the door and called out the name, “Ireena.”

We heard multiple locks disengage from within, and the door swung open to give us our first breathtaking vision of the lovely Ireena Kolyanovich, who we learned was Ismark’s adopted sister. I kissed her hand, and it seemed as though she was not used to proper social niceties, but she was polite and welcomed us into her home. My companions also introduced themselves, though they were a bit less formal in their approach.

The first thing that struck me as I entered the place was the holy symbols. Though they were of gods foreign to this follower of Boccob, St. Cuthbert and Pelor, they clearly meant something to these folks, as the home was practically covered floor-to-ceiling with them in every room. Were it not for his bearing and demeanor, I almost would’ve thought Ismark a priest, there were so many deific marks herein.

Stefan inquired about the deities, and we learned that the gods who the locals revere are the Morning Lord and the Night Mother, though most of the populace believe the gods to have abandoned them centuries ago, and sent “the Devil Strahd” to punish them for their sins. The more I hear of this Strahd character, the less I like him.

Kolyan lay in state in the great hall of the manor, and after we paid brief respects, Ismark filled us in on what had happened. It seems that indeed a mighty siege took place against this structure. For weeks, they have been attacked by wolves, demons and other creatures of the night, throwing all of their hellish powers against the home, which stood strong against the onslaught.

Unfortunately, it was all too much for the poor Burgomaster, who held out as long as he could, but three nights past his heart gave out and he made his final journey to rest with the gods of this land. Astonishingly, with Kolyan’s death, the attacks ceased—as though that was the plan all along.

Ismark then dropped another vial of alchemist’s fire upon us: the reason the attacks began in the first place was that Kolyan had refused to hand Ireena over to become victim to the foul delights of the Devil Strahd, who was responsible for sending these horrors against the family. It now fell upon Ismark, both as good brother and acting Burgomaster, to protect his sister.

He begged of us that, after helping to bury his father, we escort Ireena to the fortified town of Vallaki, across Lake Zarovich to the northwest. There, he claimed, she would be better defended against the depredations of Strahd. Readily, we agreed.

Entry 3: 18 Flocktime, CY 575

We took our rest and the next morning, bore Kolyan’s body to a ramshackle, run-down church atop a hill at the local cemetery. Like the manor house, the church had been subject to attacks from claw and flame. Inside, the temple was much as those on Oerth, quiet and lit with the soft orange glow of candlelight. We could hear quiet prayer in the distance.

Then, suddenly, a scream tore through the air that curdled our blood, chilled our bones and made every hair stand on end. It was of a ululatory form that no human vocal cords I have ever experienced could utter, and yet nor was it completely bestial. It was the cry of someone, or something, caught between worlds, between man and beast…between living and dead. To the last, we froze in place until the wailing passed, and the place fell silent once more, save the quiet prayer in the distance.

We approached the sanctuary, where a rotund priest that Ismark identified as Donovich was huddled, the source of the quiet prayers. Another spine-scraping cry erupted from the floor boards below, this time speaking words we understood, but which were no less chilling for the comprehension:

“Father,” the voice wailed, “I’m hungry!”

“So what’s with your starving son downstairs?” I asked pointedly.

“I’ve kept Doru there since the day he changed,” the priest answered.

“Uh-huh. And how long, exactly,” Adren asked, “has your son been an unholy abomination?”

“Not very long,” came the foreboding answer. Brother Donovich then switched into business mode, voicing his presumption that we brought Kolyan for burial, and offering his thanks to us for helping Ismark. He enquired as to whether we had also been asked to escort Ireena to Vallaki, and we responded that indeed we had, and would guard her with our lives.

“For that, we are grateful,” Brother Donovich said. “Another option you may consider is the abbey at Krezk, past Vallaki. It has the advantage of being even more distant from Barovia, and of surrounding Ireena with clerics who are quite capable of defending her from the degradations of Strahd.”

We thanked him for the information and told him we would take it under advisement.

We asked about possible inns or way stations en route to Vallaki, having established it as a couple of days out from the city, and Donovich advised us that there was a camp near a small lake called “Tser,” where a people called “Vistani” made a home. From his descriptions, these Vistani sound a great deal like certain groups of traveling nomads that pepper Oerth in parts of the Flaeness. If so, I judged them like to be mystics and seers, but tricksters and grifters as well.

We buried the burgomaster and convinced Ismark that it would be in his and the town’s best interest for him to remain behind. He was, after all, the acting burgomaster, now, and having him stay would enable us to keep up the pretense that Ireena was still here. We then slipped out of town via a southwestern route, and made our way through the forest.

As if events had not been strange and mysterious thus far, we came to a crossroads, where even on Oerth it is known that the walls between worlds are thin, and encountered several things: a gallows with a frayed rope, swinging as though in a breeze though the air was as still as a statue; a graveyard full of poor, unmarked headstones—known as a “potters field” on our world; and a signpost with signs pointing to Barovia, from where we came, to something called Tser Pool to the Northwest, and to Ravenloft/Vallaki in the Southwest. Indeed, off in the distance we could see the castle itself, silhouetted in the moonlight and lightning. I admit, while I have seen my share of fortifications, my skin crawled at the sight of those sinister ramparts.

As we stood, I suddenly saw a body swinging from the gallows, which had not been there before. It turned its dead eyes to meet mine, and I swear by Pelor that the thing bore my own face. My companions, though somewhat disturbed by the appearance of the body, insisted that it bore no resemblance to me, and was simply a rotting corpse that we had overlooked. I challenge you, dear reader, to explain how someone could view a gallows and fail to notice a body hanging from it, but thus was the truth to which my companions clung. For me, the experience was nothing short of sanity-rocking, and even now, several days later, I find myself unable to calm down.

After I calmed, we chose the route to Tser Pool, to visit with the Vistani and hopefully take our rest. A few hours passed and we found ourselves traversing a winding road marked with deep wagon ruts that descended into a valley, beneath a stone bridge far overhead that we judged to be the road to Vallaki. We came to a pool along a river where a gathering of brightly colored tents and wagons was scattered. Music that was simultaneously mournful and joyful at once filtered through the camp, from a group of performers within.

We made our way over, where I produced my lute and pipes, and joined in the song. The Vistani, impressed, invited us to exchange stories, whereupon I regaled them with our adventures thus far as you have already read. They, in turn, told us the following story:

“Once, long ago, a great sorcerer came to this land, it was said to lift up the people and challenge the Devil Strahd in his very home. Over a course of weeks, the mage gathered together an army of the people, rising their fury and indigence at the treatment they had suffered under the demonic lord, and together they marched upon the castle.

There, however, at the very gates of Castle Ravenloft itself, the courage of the army failed when Strahd appeared and showed his power, and to the last, they fled before his might, leaving only the wizard standing to face the dark lord. They fought a mighty battle of weapons and sorcery both great and dark, but in the end, Strahd prevailed, hurling the wizard over 1,000 feet to dash his body against the rocks at the foot of the cliff.

I must say, our own story was more heartening.

We were offered an audience with Madame Eva, who we were given to understand was the leader of this group, or at least a very respected elder (the title they used was “Shuvani”), and accepted both out of curiosity and out of obligation to present ourselves to their elder or leader.

Eva was welcoming and kind, and offered to read our fate in the cards. Long a fan of divination, I at least was eager to learn of what the past, present and future held for us as a group. My companions agreed as well, and she laid out five cards representing History, Protective Forces, Power and Strength, a force of aid, and the Enemy himself. Our results were as follows:

The Card Representing History: The 5 of Coins, the Guildsman. This card showed Eva a darkened room, full of bottles, the tomb of a guild member.

The Card Representing a Force for Good and Protection, a Holy Symbol of Great Hope: The 7 of Glyphs, the Charlatan. Eva saw a lonely mill on a precipice and told us to seek the treasure that lies within.

The Card of Power and Strength, of a Weapon of Vengeance, the Sword of Sunlight: the 10 of Stars, the Master of Stars (the Wizard). She saw a wizard’s tower on a lake. We were advised to “let the wizard’s name and servant guide you to what you seek.”

The Card that Sheds Light on a Great Helper in the Battle against Darkness. The Hero. Eva advised us to search for a troubled man surrounded by wealth and madness. His home is his prison.

The Card that Shows the Enemy, a Creature of Darkness, of Power beyond the Mortal Realms. This Leads to Him. The Raven. To find answers we should seek the Mother’s Tomb.

Thus it was that we passed the night in safety among the lively and mysterious Vistani of Barovia.

Entry 4: 19 Flocktime, CY 575

We left the Vistani this morning and followed the winding valley road to another crossroads, where signs pointed to the camp itself, from whence we’d came, and to both Castle Ravenloft and to Vallaki. We made for the latter.

As we approached Vallaki, yet another mysterious gate in the road opened before us. It was Adren who suggested an uncomfortable feeling that these gates may in fact be scrying devices for the demonic lord of this land. At this suggestion, we chose to pass around the gate rather than through it.

We found ourselves traveling even deeper into the strange valley to the northwest along a winding, twisting road, and noted an old stone windmill to the west, which hearkened back to our card reading. I marked it for later exploration. At length we came upon a walled town along the shoreline of the lake and approached the iron gates. The town, chillingly, was surrounded by pikes on which were stuck wolf heads in varying states of decay.

I advised our druidic companion only half-jokingly that assuming a lupine shape might not be in her best interest here, and we hailed the guards who at first were not eager to allow travelers in after the city had been closed for the night. I managed to talk our way in by invoking the gods of the land, and swearing upon them that our mission was righteous, and that we merely sought shelter from the wilds for the night.

The town struck me as much more like what I was used to on the streets and alleys of Oerth, though it still featured similar strange architecture as did the Barovian village we’d left two nights hence. Again, calling upon my skills as a former city rat, I led my compatriots unerringly through the maze of streets to an inn whose sign featured a blue waterfall, and we entered a large, well-outfitted and welcoming taproom where we found a table.

I arranged with the innkeep for us to share two rooms—one for the women and Stefan, and one for the rest of us. I must admit, the prospect of not being near Ireena is not pleasant for me, but as a gentleman and her sworn guardian I understand her desire to remain separate. I only pray that our devotee of the gods is as honorable as I believe him to be.

I then set up and played a few songs to entertain the patrons and lighten the mood.

Before long, Ireena excused herself and headed to take her evening’s rest. Stefan accompanied her, citing his need to engage in his nightly prayer, as well as a desire to sit sentinel with her.

As we took our meal, a man approached us who introduced himself as Rictavio. He had a fine and noble bearing and wore well the cares of his age. We invited him to please, take his meal with us, and discovered that he, too, was brought here from another far-off world, long ago. He is a sort of showman, looking for traveling performers to join his troupe. He has heard of the places from where we all hail, which is both heartening and disturbing at the same time.

We ate, exchanged pleasantries, and Rictavio excused himself. We discussed our next plan and decided that before we moved on to Krezk, we would take a few days’ respite in Vallaki and possibly explore the mill, whose resemblance to our card reading was too strong a lure to ignore. We then headed to take our own rest, wondering what promise tomorrow holds in this strange and dark realm, and if we would ever again set eyes upon our own native shores…

Adventure at Last!
Entry 1 (Date: 14 Flocktime, CY 575)

Adventure at Last!

I, Alexianthalus Moonwhisper, commit this record of the adventures my companions and I share to paper that our legend be remembered and rediscovered through the ages. These are the true accounts of the perils, dangers, and heroism we shared together, individuals from as far apart as folk could possibly be, coming together in time of need to serve a far greater purpose.

It began a scant few nights ago…

For too long, my noble companions, Cymrick the fighter and Davlin the mage, and I have traveled the lands of the Flaeness, seeking true adventure as befits the heroes we believe we can be, but all too often have ended up singing in bars for coin, and fighting our way out. Now, it seems, the gods have finally chosen us for a greater destiny.

We had signed on with a caravan to escort some valuables to the Free City, when we were overtaken by an awful storm. Separated from our caravan due to a landslide, we aided a farmer who had become stuck in the mud, and he agreed to put us up in his homestead until the storm passed, when we could move on and catch up with the caravan later. Alas, this was not to be as strange events befell us from this moment forward.

First, we made the acquaintance of a man named Stefan, who quite literally fell out of thin air, insisting that he had been battling pirates on some sort of airborne ship, a phenomenon that in all of Oerth we’d never heard. He in turn claimed to be from a place called Eberron, and had never even heard of the Free City of Greyhawk, which we found incredulous at best. We were then attacked by wolves—near-rabid and mangy mongrels who we quickly dispatched with the aid of another newcomer, named Adren, an exceptionally (bordering on unnaturally) handsome man (if I do say so myself) with somewhat ethereal features, who hails from a city called Sigil, another locale with which we were singularly unfamiliar.

Alas, in the battle the farmer’s life was lost and as Stefan, apparently a cleric, made arrangements for laying the body to rest, we got to know our new companions a bit and Adren hypothesized that none of us were any longer in our home worlds, but had been transported via unknown means to another plane.

Enter the final member of our group, a distinctly unpleasant and exceptionally unfriendly druid by the name of Myra who fell in with us after having been likewise trapped in this plane (“Demiplane,” as she named it, somewhere in the Ethereal) for some time. Myra was possessed of a note, apparently from the burgomaster of the place, warning all newcomers away from a nearby settlement, detailing the biting of his daughter Ireena Kolyana by a vampire and admonishing all comers to leave the town, Barovia, alone, that the evil was too great to overcome. We, of course, decided to investigate.

Our sardonic new guide led us to the small town via a strange gate that opened on its own through some strange magic as we approached. The gate had no fence or wall attached, and seemed set either to welcome or frighten—perhaps both. On a dead body nearby we found another note, also apparently from the local Burgomaster, begging for assistance and detailing the same tale as the first, of the affliction by great evil of his beloved, Ireena Kolyana, and begging for aid in battling this darkness.

The town we entered was of astonishing and eerie architecture of a kind I had never before seen; well-built multi-story stone structures with peaks, angles and high gables—each with its own highly artistic but aesthetically ominous visage. We made to find an inn to bed down for the night when we came upon a child weeping in the streets. He claimed that monsters had his parents in his home and begged us to come to his aid. A vague sense of foreboding tugged at the corners of my consciousness as we followed the child, encountering his sister at the entrance of one of these strange homesteads.

The children refused to enter and indeed vanished as we took our first few steps into the place, cementing our fears that something dark overshadowed this dwelling. Even worse, the door slammed behind us and could not be opened by any power we had at our disposal. We commenced to explore, finding very little on the ground floor save for a well-made longsword which was claimed (for now) by Cymrick and a deed to an old windmill, which Adren claimed. Upstairs we encountered the decayed bodies of two children, and paintings of the kids we had encountered as well as what we deemed to be their parents. A battle with a ghostly “nanny” of sorts and the discovery of letters and journals detailing horrific acts added further to the mystery of the spirits we had encountered herein. Among these discoveries was a journal from what appeared to be the lord of this realm, a noble named Strahd who it seemed had been worshipped or at least highly revered by the owners, admonishing them for the sins they had committed and cursing them to live with the fate that they had brought down upon their own family. There were mentions of a misunderstanding regarding bestowed immortality, so this Strahd was at least viewed as a mage of great power, if not something darker.

Following our investigation of the upper floors, we again encountered our ghostly children, who it seemed had died imprisoned in their own bedroom. They bade us once again to destroy the monster in the basement, and unveiled a hidden staircase leading into the bowels of the place. Having determined that the home was abandoned and the family dead, we felt this might be a good place to temporarily set up shop, and descended into the darkness to ascertain that there were no other immediate threats to be removed…

In the basement we found ourselves in a family crypt, which sent shivers up my spine. In the Flaeness no one would bury their dead beneath their own home. The idea is, at best, unnatural. After investigating the crypts and fending off a small swarm of centipedes, we discovered our druidic companion’s ability to transform herself into animals and become a fearsome warrior in the process.

The chambers through which we made our way led into some sort of dark and twisted temple. A strange, rhythmic chanting whose words or direction we could not at first make out reverberated through the chambers. As we delved deeper, tracking the strange intonations I was reminded, to my horror, of the images from the cursed Book of Eibon which are forever burned into my brain. I admit, for all my brevity, the cold tendrils of fear tugged at the corners of my consciousness. I retreated, as I oft do, into my defense mechanism of spinning tales from related incidents from the folk tales, myths and legends of my people. Other creatures spewed forth from the pits of Hell that accosted us included a serpent-like being with a beak and four tentacles surrounding its head, and a number of ravenous undead ghouls.

At length we came to a central chamber with a large wooden statue of a handsome nobleman holding in his hand a smoky crystal orb. The orb and statue were mundane, according to our great wizard and mighty druid, but its central position combined with the chanting, which we could now make out as “I am ancient, I am the land,” repeated over and over, led us to deduce that this figure must be the mysterious Strahd.

The chanting we eventually traced to a central chamber, filled waist-high with water, at the center of which stood a dais on which there was a sacrificial alter. The chanters were revealed to be phantoms, whose intonations now changed, demanding the death of one of us, as we faced their dark master, a creature comprised of refuse and rotting, fetid plant matter. Though not without difficulty, we emerged victorious, sending the monster screaming back to the pits of Hell from whence it was spawned, and fled the domicile, whose very doors, windows, walls and fireplaces had turned against us. And yet still with bravery, tenacity and heroism we plied our unique abilities to escape the hellish place alive and mostly intact. Indeed, I daresay after a hefty flagon or four and a strong night’s rest, we shall all be right as rain once more.

We then found ourselves once more on the streets of the Village we assume to be Barovia, a new group of companions from disparate worlds who have learned to fight and trust together, seeking our next challenge in this dark land which is clearly in need of heroes. May Pelor and St. Cuthbert, Boccob, Lydia and Olidammara, and whatever gods my new companions hold dear, smile upon us as we make our way into the murky future!

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5. Write your first Adventure Log post

The adventure log is where you list the sessions and adventures your party has been on, but for now, we suggest doing a very light “story so far” post. Just give a brief overview of what the party has done up to this point. After each future session, create a new post detailing that night’s adventures.

One final tip: Don’t stress about making your Obsidian Portal campaign look perfect. Instead, just make it work for you and your group. If everyone is having fun, then you’re using Obsidian Portal exactly as it was designed, even if your adventure log isn’t always up to date or your characters don’t all have portrait pictures.

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