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.
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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Most of the team met when the Lady of Pain sentenced them into the Maze, a kind of otherworld prison sideways to Sigil. The group was in there for 15 years until the Lady of Pain pulled them out and asked them to serve Sigil as an Outlands Expedition Team, defending imbalances in the Outlands. The team is ambivalent about their mysterious and otherworldly patron.
Helewynn joined a game or two later, an elf (Eldadrin) who serves a moon goddess.
A human fighter sent to the Maze for banditry and murdering his squire; he was guilty as charged. Nowadays he’s a glorious jumble of honor, bravery and love for his friends.
DM’s Notes: Hajek was the family name of Drew’s character in our old Burning Wheel game; it is a nice tip of the hat. The Hajek family is burning there in the background.
Some of my favorite of Drew’s decisions is when he uses Hajek to highlight the greatness of the other characters.
Bugwump is a crotchety, frog-kin wizard. When the campaign began, it seemed like he had been put into the Maze for petty reasons but then John mentioned that Bugwump had been an Arch-mage with an eye towards deity-hood and conquest who had his powers stripped when he was sent Maze-ward. It was suggested to Bugwump that perhaps he is only a clone of the powerful Arch-Mage he remembers and that thought still haunts him.
John does cool stuff in making Bugwump’s magic very amphibian and unique through his descriptions.
A Dwarf Ranger who makes arcane carvings out of wood, eschewing his stone and iron heritage. The Holdfast where he was raised was besieged by Abyssal forces, a detail I haven’t delved into nearly enough. Trundle took up the holy symbol of a Dwarven priest of portals and became a Mist-Walker while in Barovia.
DM’s Notes: Trundle isn’t a power-house in combat but Teo boxes clever with him and he often pulls out the wild card that ends up saving the team.
A Halfling Rogue (Arcane Trickster) who took the fall for a heist gone wrong. Sometimes Kuru has lots of heart and other times he ends a problem with a ruthless backstab before it can escalate. The town where he was raised was a kind of ninja-enclave.
While in Barovia Kuru earned the nickname, Kuru Heartbreaker, after destroying Strahd’s crystal heart artifact with a Wand of Lightning Bolts.
DM’s Notes: In every group there’s that one character who will jump on a dragon’s head to try to get at the dangerous beast’s eyes. Kuru is that character; Anthony is that player.
Elf (Eladrin) Barbarian, a holy warrior sworn to a Moon Goddess with her own strong ideas about honor. Her rage in combat will become stuff of legend and her comrades benefit from her totemic Wolf powers. While in Ravenloft, Helewynn became a werewolf, an honored caste of soldier among the Moon Goddess’ people. The werewolves, wolves and dire wolves of Barovia refer to her as the Queen of the Moon.
DM’s Notes: B is new to D&D and makes great outside-the-box combat decisions that are always interesting and fun. When I ask B a question about Helewynn’s thoughts on a topic, the response is always delightful.
Failed Soldier (Floldier)
Corpseflea Grave Cleric who is currently inhabiting the body of a dead thief deity. This is a heritage we brought with us from Five Torches Deep before shifting over to 5e. Failed Soldier has taken his name from the last body he inhabited and has helped refugees from a dead world mourn the death of their home. Failed Soldier inhabited the body of a dead God of Thieves from a dying world, giving the Sigil 6 access to the Godroads; now he inhabits a flesh golem made for him by a lost angel in Ravenloft.
DM’s Notes: All of these characters are delightful surprising thanks to the wonderful player choices but Failed Soldier is a particularly odd one. Not only because he’s a mote of consciousness who can inhabit corpses but because J players them with complicated soul.
The team found a pack of 6 werewolves surrounding Adjo, a Human Ranger, who was on a clifftop, shooting silver arrows down on them.
Bugwump spit lava at them. Jusko and Helewyn engaged the pack alpha and their second. Jusko and Trundle dealt with the rest at the cliff. In the end, the were wolves did very little damage.
Helewyn, wearing silver armor, wrestled the alpha to the ground and the rest of the pack fled (2 other members of the pack were already slain). Those engaged in melee took their opportunity attacks. Kuru sheathed his blade and said, “Make better life choices,” as the werewolves fled.
Helewyn had a bunch invested in this fight. Where she’s from, serving a moon goddess on a lunar temple, werewolves are special operations teams. Seeing a pack dedicated to Strahd was unnerving. Her wrestling the alpha to the ground was the turning point of the fight and was SO bad-ass.
She was bitten. “Is she cursed now?”
“Maybe there’s a save?”
“We’ll roll the save when the moon next rises…”
Trundle noticed that the dead leader had a tattoo of a black moon, upon which a night goddess of some kind was offering a crown to Strahd.
“Drew, Jusko can see something on Adjo that lets him know that he has no intention of leaving Ravenloft with the rest of his team. What is it he sees?”
“He has a traditional Barovian wedding ring on, with a black piece of marble with a sliver of white on it, representing hope in darkness.”
Kuru levelled up, Jusko is the only member of the team still at 4th level.
They tracked the two remaining members of the lost Expedition Team. Teo rolled a 10 on Trundle’s Nature roll (with advantage for Adjo’s help), so they caught up to them in time to see them enter the Amber Temple…
The Outlands Expedition Team goes through a portal in an abandoned side-street of Sigil into Ravenwatch, a monastery in Ravenloft, the Demi-Plane of Dread, being used as a chapterhouse by the Ulmist Inquisitors. The Outlands Expedition Team’s mission is to retrieve any living members of the last team to attempt this mission and stop Strahd from breaking free of Ravenloft.
The Godroads have been their ace in the hole and their research to find out if the Godroads reach into the Demi-Plane of Dread was inconclusive. They found a vague mention of it in Jusko’s great-great aunt’s diary: “No prayers seem to reach this fell place.”
Speaking of Jusko, his family abandoned his ancestral home. Turns out someone (psst, it is Jusko who did it) wrote the family name on a young world and the family has left to live there, as it is their birthright. I’ve been sitting on that detail for months; it was nice to finally have a good reason to share it.
Another bit of lore they dug up, talking to Jusko’s dead great-grandfather, is that Strahd had a wizard counselor who became a lich and left Barovia to rule a domain of his own in the Demi-Plane of Dread. If anyone might know a way out of Ravenloft, it’d be Azalin Rex…
The portal is locked on the Sigil-side by a Githyanki psionicist who blocks it with a telekinetic wall. As they enter into Ravenwatch’s cellar, Strahd’s attack begins. Swarms of bats and rats cover the floor and ceiling.
Bugwump thunderwaves the swarms back, clearing the path for Failed Soldier and Hellewyn to take the fight to the stairs, where heavily armored vampire spawn are attacking with zombies on chains like hounds. They feel Strahd’s fell presence move by them at great speed but do not see him.
In a moment of the battle in which Bugwump thunderwaves the vampire spawn and their zombies, Hellewyn sees a moon-elf, of similar lineage to her own, fighting on Strahd’s side at the top of the steps.
Jusko stayed in the room with the portal, seeing himself as the link between the split party. As Strahd passes, he welcomes his cousin, Jusko Hajek, to Barovia. Jusko, vorpal sword in hand, beckons Strahd to come closer. Strahd recognizes the ancient blade and declines. “We will talk under more hospitable circumstances. Welcome to Barovia.” Jusko feels Strahd move away.
Kuru and Trundle use oil and fire to clear the swarms, trying to get to a secret armory. The inquisitor is killed by Strahd, who plunges his hands into his chest cavity and opens him up like a can of beans. Kuru’s failed Perception check tells him that the Inquisitor is dead; there is no saving him.
I forgot to look at the map I keyed weeks ago and the notes I made for that map. *sigh*
Still, it was a fun start. We ended in the midst of the battle and will begin there next week.
I did a few things with the Facebook group to get some details and flesh some things out. I made a poll with a bunch of masks for characters to wear during the festival. Some chose from the choices, others made up their own.
And I asked questions to get into the spirit of heading to the Demi-Plane of Dread.
Jusko – Your family’s ancestral lands neighbored ancient Barovia. What was the Hajek family’s relationship to the cursed von Zarovich clan?
Helewyn – How do you (or your Goddess) feel about lycanthropes who change shape with the full moon?
Kuru – What do you remember of the nomadic Vistani people who would stay for a season near the shire you where you were raised and trade with your family?
Trundle – What was Trundle’s first brush with the darker parts of the forest, where sun never penetrates the canopy and fell beasts hunt the weak?
Bugwump – What had you uncovered about the Demi-Plane of Dread when you were an Arch-Mage?
Failed Soldier – What does your religion’s parables say about the First Vampire, Strahd, a great warrior whose fell deeds drew the attention of fell powers?
Not everyone answers but the answers I get I use. It led to a good discussion about the Vistani and not wanting to punch down in our depiction of them. Those who didn’t answer in type I’ll ask “face to face” over Zoom at the next game; I forgot to do so tonight.
Basic, ask questions and use the answers stuff but having a digital home for the game makes asking the questions easy.
Trundle got into the spirit of things, wearing a Devil mask and doing a public carving celebrating their last adventure, carving a triptych of hobbits upon dinosaurs out of a piece of wood the size of an elephant.
Anthony described Kuru wearing a kind of rosary beads that Vistani would recognize. I told him that in Barovia the gods are Mother Night and the Morning Lord. Perhaps the beads are Mother Night’s stars. He met an old woman and had his fortune read. I dropped some game details as per the module.
Kuru specifically asked about allies, which is part of the fortune telling in the book. I offered a few – a Mad Mage near Mount Bartok, an undead knight in his old order’s keep and the people they would meet upon arriving, could be allies, if any survived. “Your arrival will be covered in blood. I doubt any will survive.”
Bugwump took what the woman said very seriously, having known about the Demi-Plane of Dread from his Arch-Mage days. He sought out an arcane historian and learned that Strahd was the First Vampire and is a capable wizard in his own right. He also learned that Strahd seeks out Tatyanna because she is a capable Planar Arcanist who could help him escape his prison.
Kuru visited the tenement building the Vistani were staying with in Sigil and learned that *DUN DUN DUN* /dramatic music Mother Eva had been dead for a week! He had been visited by her spirit. It was a nice way to wrap up a low-key game.
I’m looking forward to getting into Ravenloft just as Autumn approaches. Our next game isn’t for 2 weeks, a friend at the table pointed out that we’d be heading to Ravenloft as Halloween approaches, which is fun.
The team shamed the Red Wizards into dealing with every other puzzle room. They dealt with a room with anti-gravity and a whirling death fan. Two of the Red Wizards died and when the anti-gravity ended it rained death down on their friends. Kuru the Halfling Rogue subtly mage-handed the magic items on the dead wizards; it was a good haul.
Having smart NPCs handle 2 of the puzzle rooms was a fun way to speed it up. I made some rolls on their behalf to see how they did. My disdain of some parts of this adventure were made known to my friends.
Then they jumped into the room with the Godling and the Soulmonger, the engine that Acererak was using to make his own death god. The Soulmonger was held up by Adamantine struts. Cut down one strut and the engine falls into the lava below. I secretly hoped that Jusko’s vorpal sword would cut down a strut.
They dog-piled the Godling. I forgot lots of stuff in the room that would’ve made he fight harder. It was still fun, still felt epic.
Before they entered the final room, Trundle the Dwarf Ranger did the math on the nearest Godroad; it was a hundred yards from the opening of the dungeon back the way they came.
While everyone else was killing the Demi-Lich’s Godling, Trundle was poking around the balconies and found a portal to an altar. And there was a doorway to a Godroad. They had an exit plan. Nice work.
At one point Bugwump the Frog-kin Wizard made a HUGE Arcana check on the Godling and realized that Acererak would arrive within a few rounds of them killing it due to a spell on it. I rolled a d4 when the Godling died. 3 rounds.
Jusko the Human Fighter, Helewyn the Elf Barbarian and Failed Soldier the Corpse-flea Grave Cleric were doing their best on the struts but not having much luck. Then Jusko talked to his word and beseeched it to do its old head-lopping job (what Drew said was way cooler). Nat 20. Boo-ya.
They ran out the fading door to the Godroads just as Acererak arrived, screaming in frustration. – mission accomplished.
They earned a boatload of levels on the Bingo Board. 7 levels to be divvied up among the party.
We’ll do some fun downtime during Sigil’s carnivale/Mardi Gras-style mask party holiday. I’m going to make up funky carousing rules based on what mask they choose to wear.
Then we’re off to the Demi-Plane of Dread, where a neighboring Outlands Expedition Team went on a mission and went missing.
The group is flying south, following the souls of their first guides, found out to be Zhent spies, being sucked southward by the Soulmonger, Acererak’s creation. A gnome with tech gear allows them to track the spirits.
Activate Indiana Jones travel-red-line!
They are flying on pterodactyls, their guide is a merchant prince’s sister, Tefnek. I rolled a herd of pegasi and so she followed them to a safe valley.
“Pegasi are a safe bet; I like to follow them to find a good place to camp for the night. This valley is solid – a pack of t-rexes cover the southern entrance and some ancient ward I didn’t see on the way in must cover the north.
“In a few days we’ll reach The Heart of Ubtao, a holy site of floating earth where priests once went to have visions. It might be an auspicious place to keep tracking the path the souls are taking.”
The Lady of Pain expends most of her energies making sure no one attempts to gain power within Sigil. She has spies and allies in the Outlands and beyond, making sure the planes do not become imbalanced in a way that could spill out across creation and endanger her home – the City of Doors, where gods are banned from entry.
The Outlands Expedition Teams were put together as a way to counter those imbalances and forge friends between Sigil to the planes. When the teams return to Sigil, they sit in a forum, held in a plaza near the community where they live and discuss the outcome of the mission. This allows the community to interrogate the teams their taxed gold supports and allows the varied
Teams are called upon to think outside the box and adapt their approach based on the mission-at-hand but often, an approach rises to the surface.
Mazers | A team brought out of the Labyrinth, serving the rest of their sentence in service to the city that imprisoned them.
Spies and Diplomats | Sometimes a more subtle and nuanced approach is necessary.
Watchdogs | Other times you have to cut off the arm to save the body.
Scouts | Some places are so dangerous all the team can do is look, assess and report back.
Scholars and Librarians | The planes, its inhabitants and the way they evolve need to be catalogued.
Mercantile Opportunists | Others see the planar scales as nothing but a way to make some gold.
As long as you find your way back to Sigil, you can live a modest lifestyle for free. Your housing is paid for by the city and no one in the City of Doors would force an Expeditioner to pay for a meal or a cup of tea.
In Sigil, if you make a CHA check to find someone, you always roll with Advantage. You are well known in the City of Doors. This Advantage also applies on a mission if the city officials have had time to put assets in place to support the team.
Before a mission, city officials will ask anyone who has lived near or studied the forces at work. The team will have access to people who have on-the-ground knowledge of the forces causing or effected by the imbalance.
Specialty gear can be asked for to help support a mission. Time is often of the the utmost importance but Sigil is a good place to find things.
The City of Doors has doorways to everywhere and anywhere if you know the right key that opens the right portal. It might take some doing but if an Expeditioner needs to get somewhere, they should be able to get there or somewhere near it if they are willing to get the right elements necessary to make the key the portal demands.
City Clerk | Official, a bit cold and businesslike but also staking their career on this team’s success or failure.
Retired Expeditioner | Someone who once went out and get things done in the trenches; often opinionated on the best approach for a given mission.
Faction Leader | A philosopher who wants to see their faction’s point of view reflected across the planes.
Labyrinth Priest | A minotaur priest who worships the labryinth, an idea that our choices ring out across the planes and sustain reality.
Box | A Rogue Modron, still dedicated to order and setting the planes just so.
Cynic | They have been in Sigil too long and only see the problems, none of the beauty. Will likely be adopting a doomful philosophy.
Those who try to find a pattern to find the best paths of life and fate that make for a successful Expeditioner or what blend of people from what backgrounds makes for a good team have come up with nothing concrete just yet. Still, factions will argue about it in cafes and taverns all over Sigil.
Basher | Folk Hero, Knight, Marine, Mercenary Veteran, Soldier