This tome was compiled by Strahd over the years, keeping track of Gloomwrought, through the reports of his messengers. This was the place he reckoned would be his first stop when he escaped from the Demi-Plane of Dread’s clutches.
Allows for 3 rerolls when seeking out lore or understanding people embroiled in power struggles on the streets of Gloomwrought or finding people or Powers in the City of Midnight. Describe how Strahd’s writings on his messengers’ reports explaianed this aspect of Gloomwrought.
This tome was written by the infamous Frog-kin Arch-Mage, concerning being a cross-planar conqueror.
Allows for 3 re-rolls when you are seeking out planar lore or understanding beings who are attempting to conquer the planes.
This tome was written by the famous monster-hunter who has killed monsters in many domains of Ravenloft. This tome was procured by Strahd so that he could better do battle with Azalin Rex.
Allows for 3 re-rolls when you are seeking lore concerning liches, demi-liches, necromancers on the path to lich-dom or their catspaws and servants.
In which the Sigil Six throw a rocking party, talk to a deity, set an angel right, make a Wish, convert a werewolf, offer wise counsel to a Flesh Golem regarding anger, take a lost friend’s remembrances, take up a saint’s femur as a weapon and don the Knight of the Black Rose’s breastplate.
Rahadin and the remaining vampires left the Domain. None are sure where they went.
With Strahd’s curse off the land, the angel realized that it had been out of the Morning Lord’s gaze and if that was a test it failed. The players found them healing the mongrel-folk until one refused to be turned back. “Fuck you. I want you to see what you did. I want you to feel that you did this to someone for no good reason.”
Kuru asked the angel to meditate with him. While meditating, Kuru had a holy vision of the Morning Lord, who asked him what he planned to ask of the angel and when Kuru said he was going to get him to defeat what evil remained, the Sun God agreed. The Morning Lord looked at Kuru’s as-yet-un-Identified short sword and said, “There is only one left. Now there are two.” Kuru came out of the meditation with a deep fully body sunburn and the angel complied with his request, humbled that the Morning Lord spoke to this Hobbit Thief.
The B Team returned from fighting Baba (Lysaga) Lasagna. One of the Drow and the Dwarven Priest of the Portal God died in the battle. Also, don’t accidentally call an evil and powerful NPC Baba Lasagna; it doesn’t matter what you say after that, they are forever Baba Lasagna after that. Trundle took up the priest’s ring with many keys holy symbol to bring back to Sigil.
The Frankenlady approached Failed Soldier, who is now in the Flesh Golem also made by the angel. She named herself Dusk and confessed that she had great anger towards her Creator. Failed Soldier suggested she find a group of people like the Sigil Six and respected her feelings. Their discussions about VERY human things is so lovely.
The group was concerned with the cycle of souls and rebirth that was a mess in Ravenloft and was still a mess. The angel suggested to Failed Soldier that the Trinity that had created the Domains of Dread were very powerful. “Strahd was but a plaything to them.”
Hellewyn spoke with Emil, the werewolf they freed from Strahd’s dungeons, made sure he was taking leadership of the wolves. “They call you the Moon Queen,” Emil told her. He said that they would hunt for a time before migrating from these cursed lands and agreed to contact her should he do so. She asked that he look to the Moon for guidance, “Even though she can’t respond to you here; she does hear you.” Emil was moved.
Kuru’s sword, Identified by Bugwump, was a Luck Blade and it had not 1 but 2 wishes. Circumspect and full of self-control as he is, Kuru made a wish 7 minutes after learning this. He wished that if any of the Sigil Six should die, that time would go back and give them a chance to live. Cosmic tumblers clicked into place and a being told him that his friend still might die (we discussed the rules). One Wish remains.
Failed Soldier talked with the last of the Ulmist Inquisitors, giving them the Holy Symbol of Ravenkind and the last of the Ulmist order gave Failed Soldier a letter of introduction to any in the Ulmist order and the Femur of St. Markovia.
Jusko got a garish (and awesome) tattoo of a broken heart with a flaming sword through it. He got a pedicure and got drunk at the big party that broke out. He staggered into Castle Ravenloft and thrust his sword through Strahd’s coffin and said something like, “We won.” When he woke up he was in an alcove with a steel breast plate, enameled black with a black rose on it. He took it – Bugwump identified it as a +1 breastplate, one can turn a single attack vampiric if one is using a Superiority Die. Once they have done this and accrued more hit points than they currently have (we keep track of the hit point tally when they do it) new fell powers will open.
Kuru, drunk from the party, went into the Bag of Holding to confront the Bagman, who had been big as an ogre since they got to Ravenloft. The Bagman admitted that Strahd approached him and asked him to betray them but he had not done so. He asked Kuru to drop the bag in the Mists and free him. Kuru realized the Bagman was evil and refused and got away.
He gave the bag to the angel, who burned it with a touch. And so a tiny Demi-Plane of Dread was decimated.
Next week we head into the Mists, into the Shadowfell…
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Some post-Curse of Strahd thoughts as me and my friends prepare to depart Ravenloft after spending 14 deliciously horrific Thursday evenings there.
Sometimes the time for talking is done and the only response that makes sense is to kick toxic masculinity in its parasitic teeth. Sometimes that toxic masculinity is named Strahd and is a vampire who believes he owns a woman because of his feelings. Fuck his feelings.
The other take-away is that prisons don’t work and they damage the communities they claim to protect. True for Ravenloft, true for any world.
But then at the end of the adventure is this:
Nope. Me and my friends didn’t spend 14 Thursday evenings for that paragraph to render all that horror, derring-do and fun meaningless. Strahd was killed by Hellewynn, an Elf Barbarian sworn to a Moon Goddess. She was wielding the Sunsword that belonged to Strahd’s brother, Sergei. While in Barovia she picked up lycanthropy and wrestled both a werewolf and Strahd himself (he chipped his tooth on her armor).
The book is ours now; not because I bought it but because we played it and the words shared among friends at the table are bigger than any and all words written.
That said, someone made Ravenloft, someone is behind this evil demi-planar prison complex. Osybus, Shami-Amourae and Tenebrous, the architects who made Ravenloft, have a lot to answer for. You can’t just kick middle-management’s teeth in and call it a day. What else is high level play for?
I did not feel like going through the treasure in Castle Ravenloft and tallying it up after the Sigil Six killed Strahd. So, I wrote up the below houserule to use as the players make their way through the Demi-Plane of Dread’s mists, into the Shadowfell (random encounter tables are brewing) and eventually to Gloomwrought (tempted to write the factions up Blades in the Dark/Doskvol style) spending loot fresh out of Barovia. Inspired very much by Burning Wheel’s resources.
NOTE: Will I ever play a fantasy RPG and not take some inspiration from Burning Wheel? Probably not.
I imagine we might clip the coins into halves and quarters if needed. We’ll see. If they ever take a dragon’s hoard, I’ll write something similar up but with a touch different flavor (and probably more slots to burn).
Will this somehow link to my unfinished resources system or will that wait until I have Project Ampersand (NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH ANY NONSENSE THE nu-TSR fools are brewing) into some kind of playable format? Time will tell.
Helewynn ran outside the tower, where the group had entered and saw Strahd’s Nightmare Steed, still unable to see him. She jumped on a pterodactyl and titled with him once, doing brutal damage to him with the Sunsword but Strahd did brutal damage with his hands and a Blight spell. When the group arrived, the Nightmare took Strahd into the ethereal.
The plan was to lure Strahd into the room where he had a teleportation brazier and teleport everyone, including Strahd, to a killing field they had set up in the Abbey of St. Markovia’s courtyard.
The group ran down the tower’s steps into the crypts and started looting his ancestor’s tombs (finding a cloak and a sword). Rahadin found Bugwump alone and did some brutal damage to him, dropping him to 0 hit points right in front of Trundle, who was standing by the secret door from the crypts to the hallway that led to the teleportation room.
The group dropped Rahadin down to 1 hit point, nearly killing Strahd’s Red Right Hand but she misty-stepped and got away.
There was a cool moment where Bugwump went down and Kuru used Mage Hand to get a healing potion to his comrade but the way A described it was really nifty. He described running towards them, tossing the potion to his Mage Hand and the magical hand zipping to pour a potion down his friend’s throat. He made a simple casting of a spell feel like an action movie. It was cool.
Strahd arrived, invisible, and asked the group to fall to their knees and beg for mercy; they did not and began to run for the secret door that led to the hallway that led to the teleportation room. Strahd threw 2 fireballs that really decimated the group. Failed Soldier and Jusko fell but were brought up to single digit hit points.
The group was huddled in the teleportation room and Strahd entered, walking through the door. The group was ragged. He asked them to make their way through the mists to the Shadowfell and tell Sigil of his mercy. Hellewynn grabbed him and pulled him into the teleportation area but not before he gutted her with his hands.
The group was on the precipice. The killing field they had prepared and it gave them advantage on that first round. They did a brutal amount of damage to Strahd and Strahd, in turn, dropped Jusko and nearly dropped Bugwump. Failed Soldier used a cool spell to take negative damage and brought Helewynn up to 40-something hit points.
Sun Sword in hand, Helewynn killed Strahd and in the sunlight of this magic blade, he could not turn to mist. The clouds party and for the first time the Sigil Six could see the blue sky.
Jusko, once he was healed, picked up Strahd’s signet ring, knowing that it would have great meaning to his family, proof that he had killed the vampire who had feated on his kin. He offered it to Helewynn, who pushed his hand away, wanting him to have it.
Next session the Sigil Six is planning to head into the Shadowfell, through the mist, and make their way to Gloomwrought. Or as Trundle said, “Fuck the Lady of Pain. Let’s take our sweet-ass time getting back to Sigil.”
We had to talk out the plan a bit, make sure we were all on the same page – agreeing on what the B-Team would do while the Sigil Six assaulted Strahd in Castle Ravenloft. It was important and didn’t get tedious, as can happen with planning.
The scenes before the attack were tense. Folks are assuming that someone is going to die. The group’s motto was coined, “Sigil Six Setting Shit Straight.” Love it.
Jusko talked to the Angel known as The Prophet and got him to agree to answer prayers should the B-Team ask the Shadow-Gods who made Ravenloft for aid. I love how creeped out everyone is by the Angel.
Failed Soldier talked to the Franken-lady the Prophet made to marry Strahd about naming one’s self when one is created rather than born.
Mushroom Wine, held from their days in the Maze, was imbibed and toasts were made.
Also the group set up the Abbey of Markovia as a killing ground covered in flammable oil and holy water, hoping to teleport Strahd into it.
The plan was to land on the spires of Castle Ravenloft, which, as fate would have it, was RIGHT NEAR their initial target, the Crystal Heart. It was a lucky break but I liked it. After a brutal first round of doing damage to the heart while dodging animated halbreds and the tower itself trying to throw them to their deaths off the stairs I rolled 1d4. Strahd would arrive himself in 3 rounds. He did so invisible.
Failed Soldier and Trundle both fell but were saved by comrades. The DC 10 Dex Save versus being thrown off the stairs was a nice tension in the battle. The heart was nearly destroyed when Strahd arrived and scooped up the heart in his cloak. Jusko then did damage to Strahd with his vorpal blade, not knowing what or who he was hitting.
Vampire Spawn spider-climbed from the tower’s top. Bugwump did some quick math and realized the inner circle of the tower was perfectly fireball sized. BOOM.
Kuru put his Gem of True Seeing over his eye and saw Strahd, glaring at Jusko with hate, Crystal Heart behind his cloak. In another action the Devil Strahd would have moved through the tower wall and been outside to safety. Kuru took aim with his Lightning Bolt Wand and hit, destroying the heart. Drew offered the awesome nickname, Kuru Heartbreaker.
Next week we begin right there, crystal heart destroyed, vampire spawn climbing down – still warm from Bugwump’s fireball and Strahd walking through a wall to the tower outside…
NOTE: A few days later and I wanted to add two notes.
Note #1: One of the gamers in the group is new to gaming; this is their first campaign. We all chipped in dice and a dice bag and sent it in the mail and they opened it when the combat began in the tower. It was really lovely.
Note #2: The Heart Tower was my favorite encounter that I ran pretty close to as-written. The Dex Saves not to fall off the stairs as the tower swayed, the floating halbreds, it was a fun encounter.
Last week, while the Sigil Six spoke with the angel known as The Prophet the B-Team watched the holy knight, Lady Baleron, leave Ravenloft with the ghost of her lover, Serge, through a pool at a holy shrine. Strahd knows this and is irate.
3 Vampire Spawn and 3 Witches drew the team out of the abbey. The team defeated them with arcane fire, steel, cunning and holy sunlight. When the last vampire surrendered and admitted that there would be more teams, Jusko beheaded him and everyone ran to find the B-Team (they were eating soup at the Abbey).
There were some close calls. Trundle probably saved Kuru’s life with his shield and Failed Soldier nearly fell (1HP left…).
The Franken-lady the angel has made to betroth Strahd and end this conflict through love, approached Bugwump after seeing him throwing arcane fire during the battle. This led to one of those amazing D&D moments, where a Frog-kin Wizard tried to explain how biological folk are made.
The Franken-lady (she needs to name herself) is trying to figure out where to go next, what she owes the angel who created her.
Kuru talked to the angel while it made a new body for Failed Soldier. The Angel explained that they didn’t think Strahd was so far gone that love couldn’t save him. Kuru wasn’t turned around but he came away with more respect for the Morning Lord than he had.
Jusko trained the villagers so that they could defend themselves.
Next week we begin our final approach upon Castle Ravenloft…
We are picturing it like the helicopter approach in the beginning of Predator.
Jusko returns, new allies from the B&E into Castle Ravenloft join the group. The B-Team has some strength now (but is still the cause for many jokes.
The Drow caution Lady Belora not to repeat her story (of being Tatyanna reborn) unless she is in a space blocking Strahd’s scrying eye. I explain that the Drow are used to operating under fear of scrying in their political House feuds.
Jusko dreams of Strahd, who asks to enter his ancestral home in the dreamlands. They spar and look forward to the time when they will meet in battle. “I am still intrigued but soon I will become irate and you will not like it.”
They are putting together Strahd’s weaknesses and learned of his Crystal Heart but not where he keeps it. Trundle is working on his amber box, in which he hopes to trap Strahd’s mist form. They know they want folks to run, if needed, with the teleportation stones they stole but the rest of the plan remains mirky.
Trundle listens to Damius tell him old Vistani tales. A few names come up in the old tales of the Vistani escaping from shadowy places: Osybus, Shami-Amourae and Tenebrous. The group considers what they have to offer the Shadow Lords who made Ravenloft in a bargain of some kind.
Bugwump contacts The Forgotten One, the evil archmage who inhabits the staff he got in the Tomb of Annihilation. The Forgotten One says that his power will work against Strahd but it is now easier for the staff to take over Bugwump; his Charisma save of 20 to not be possessed by the Forgotten One will now be at a Disadvantage should he use the staff’s charges.
The Forgotten One suggests that Bugwump is merely a Clone of the original Arch-Mage, a way to avoid the Lady of Pain’s sentence into the Maze. Bugwump is a bit rattled… (I’ve been waiting to drop that theory for MONTHS).
They arrive in, hear the Burgomaster Krezkov’s sad tale, having just lost his child to a disease; Jusko awkwardly drops gold into the man’s hand. Then they go into the Abbey, where they can hear someone playing violin.
Inside is The Prophet (the Abbot in the book, if you are a Curse of Strahd fan following along at home) who is trying to teach a Flesh Golem how to dance. It doesn’t take long for the group to hear the angel’s plan to reform Strahd through love; it is a bad plan. The angel believes the Flesh Golem is a perfect human. The Frankengal is awkward and frightened.
Kuru sees the angel’s terrifying true form (Biblical sphere with a thousand eyes and countless wings) with the Gem of True seeing. The mongrel-person violinist skulks away.
The Prophet agrees to make Failed Soldier a new, perfect body…
They had left the B-Team (a Ranger and his Huntress wife, a Cleric of Portals, a young Vistani lad, a werewolf, a Drow assassin, a Drow fighter, and their Chultan Ranger guide – and the Dire Wolves who follow Helewynn about) out in the village where they got up to shenanigans. As I thought about the map of the town and what they could get up to, I knew what was going to happen and I laughed to myself.
As they were talking to the Prophet, the clouds grew darker and a storm closed in. Lightning struck nearby and thunder seemed to hold Strahd’s own voice; the Drow Assassin charged in, “You won’t believe what just happened…”
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Istebin, Monk, last of the Ulmist Inquisitors, who has died trying to kill Strahd countless times and can barely remember his homeland.
Gadaar, Druid, branded and tongueless for betraying his evil Druidic Order, realizing that this world is not right and needs fixing.
Had a bit of a warm-up fight with some thugs from the castle. Jusko and Aldjo were there to find Aldjo’s wife but the thugs in Castle Ravenloft livery were putting up a notice that she had been arrested for sedition. I was going to make this first fight against Vampire Spawn but I didn’t want it to run that long and didn’t want to kill the entire party by accident. I was second-guessing myself a bunch tonight.
The player characters decimated them and got to be cool and feel out these new characters. I stand by the decision.
I used to hand NPC roles to players whose characters weren’t involved in the scene when I played Ars Magica in college. I forgot what a delight it could be. The way the players unveiled their secrets and their presentation was amazing and they made very different choices than I did. It was a nice change of pace.
Jusko asked the group to a nearby hill to get out of the village and discuss their options. Lady Baleron remembered a secret entrance into the crypts, leading to Strahd’s parents’ tomb. In they went…
Tense dungeon-crawling and marking traps with chalk. They made their way through a secret tunnel, Jusko saved Aldjo from falling into a chute trap. They made their way into a room with an arcane teleportation device. Lady Baleron rolled so well on her Wisdom check that I said she had helped install this device. They knew how it worked and stole all of the stones.
From the Observation Deck, down into the torture chamber and through the hall. Finally…the dungeon…
They could hear Strahd talking to Aldjo’s wife, Barushka. “Do you think they will come and try to save you?”
“No, they are an Outlands Expedition Team; they’re professionals. They are gathering allies to come here and put you down.”
“I hope so. Saving you would be so boring and predictable. I am flattered to have Sigil’s attention. We’ll see…”
Some chatter with Emil about werewolf stuff and he turned to mist. They couldn’t see any other way for him to leave the room. I asked them what they were going to do in case he left down the hallway they were standing in.
Lady Baleron used Divine Sense to make sure they were clear. Usually, this would be no big deal, just a small detail but it ended up changing the adventure entirely.
I was considering having Barushka betray the group. I knew that she and Aldjo had bonded over both having children who were lost somewhere in the Demi-Plane of Dread’s Domains. Perhaps Strahd offered to find her lost child. But if she had decided to do that, wouldn’t the Paladin notice the evil? I didn’t mention that Barushka was evil.
Or is Barushka not evil until she actually DOES it?
I decided that it wasn’t cool to penalize Lady Baleron for playing smart and looking around for undead and evil. Barushak considered it but at the last instant, she decided not to do it.
Maybe it is more interesting that she was tempted and didn’t do it. We’ll see.
Despite the lack of a final twist, it was a fun, tense night.
Having freed the imprisoned werewolf, Emil, they made their way out of the crypts. Lady Baleron, Aldjo and Barushka used the teleportation device to get to the Amber Temple and would meet up with the rest of the team later.
Brother Estabin used Shadow Arts and they got out quietly.
Running big dungeons is not, nor has it ever been, my strong suit. I need to break the rest of Castle Ravenloft into bite-sized pieces so I can DM navigating it better. Still. it was a fun, tense night with lots of great rolls and players spending everything they had to keep from failing a roll that could get them found.
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I have seen it in a thousand reddit posts on DM’s Academy. “The bridge spanning the chasm is broken but one of the players has wings. What do I do so the flying player can’t be cool for a moment?”
Toss aside your plan and let the player with wings be cool.
The werewolves and their wolves were sprinting after the distant camp where a pair of Drow, a pterodactyl and Damius, a young Vistani Mist-Walker guide awaited.
Bugwump and Jusko jumped on their Chultan guide’s pterodactyl to get there first. Helewynn ordered her Dire Wolf pack to allow her friends to ride them (Persuasion 18) to the camp.
Lots of talking and chatter during the trip. The table was in a chipper mood tonight; it was nice.
Helewynn’s player, B, is new to D&D; this is their first game. B always comes up with amazing plans and thinks outside the box in combat. Helewynn rarely ever just hits someone without a cool description or a strategic move that changes the course of the battle. It is amazing.
B had discussed trying to get Bugwump to use fire magic to melt down Helewynn’s silver chainmail to coat their werewolf’s claws in silver. There was no time but it is an awesome idea. Never stop thinking outside the box, B.
Jusko asks to be dropped right in the hedge-gap, where the pack will have enter the camp. Bugwump casts Haste upon him, “As no wizard has ever done before; I cast Haste on the fighter.”
The pack Alpha, Kiril Stoyanovich, the one Helewynn’s Wolf Spirit told her she would likely die if she attempted to defeat in battle for pack supremacy, reached Jusko first. Jusko tapped his helm visor down with the pommel of his vorpal sword and got his shield ready.
And so ended Kiril Stoyanovich, Barovian Pack’s Alpha, who believed Mother Night had blessed and ordained Strahd with all of the Night’s Power.
I rolled a Wisdom Save for the rest of the pack. What did I roll?
You can guess. Hell, you already know.
The remaining werewolves ran; Jusko kicked their late alpha’s head at them and slashed at one in a burst of arcane speed.
The borders are closed. They can’t mist-walk their way out. They consider getting to a border and seeing if Kuru’s magic-cutting knife can cut through. Damius, the other Mist-Walker, asks if the knife is a mighty artifact; it is not.
Helewynn talked to the Sunsword, who appeared as Strahd’s brother, Sergei von Zarovich. The sword suggested luring Strahd outside the castle with his beloved or the Book of Strahd, either one would inspire a wrathful pursuit.
“If you plan to run into the Mists, leave me here for a warrior who will confront the Devil Strahd, so I can do what I was made to do…” The sword also said that Jusko’s vorpal blade had killed more people than 100 Strahd’s…
The group debates inside Bugwump’s Leomund’s Tiny Hut. Rahadin approaches with an invitation from Strahd. Jusko tries to get her to lash out but she does not.
Lots of jokes about Strahd’s proofreader being out of town or dead or the Olde Barovian spelling of boundary. I joined in. It was funny as hell.
They are not taking Strahd up on his invitation.
The other Outlands Expedition Team has been dubbed, The B Team. Their Ranger, Aldjo, married a woman he met in the village of Barovia. The debate was whether or not to go get her or head northwest and find the Prophet (the re-named Abbot if you are following at home). Adjo insisted that they go northwest and Jusko realized the ranger thought she was already dead.
The game ended with Jusko and Aldjo jumping on a Jusko’s pterodactyl, lovingly named, Stupid Dragon, and heading for Barovia while Kuru followed along yelling, “BUT YOU’LL NEED STEALTH AND I’M THE STEALTHY ONE!”
Hence the title of our next game…
Next Session: Into the Devil’s Lair
Two players will be out of town so three players will be playing NPC’s as Jusko heads into the shadow of the Castle Ravenloft…
“But Judd,” you say, “this is a horror game and everyone was laughing…isn’t that a problem?”
No, not at all. We don’t play characters with punny names and goof around all night but laughter is part of the game. I would even argue that laughter is a natural result of tension and this game has been dark for weeks. Not saying that we’ve never laughed in past weeks but this session felt like a release valve. If you want to hear more about pterodactyls in Ravenloft, I talk about it on my podcast, Daydreaming about Dragons.