Session XIII – TripAdvisor: Abyssal

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Guest DM this week Steve Chaffee (Edinburgh). PCs: Aife (Lucy), Baccarat (Thom), Eliza Doolittle (Patrick), Girth Greatcraic (Archie).

Dramatis Personae:
Aife; Human Paladin of Morrigan, aspected to war, death, and feminism; cursed with alopecia.
Baccarat; Elf Rogue, aggressively friendly gender-neutral herald of the Abyssal; hostage to the Vistani? [All Trip Advisor ratings written in Abyssal]
Eliza Doolittle; Gnome Wizard, really really cold hands, but a warm heart (probably?); cursed with painfully evident puncture wounds on neck.
Girth Greatcraic; Halfling Rogue, herald to Larry, owner of a brewery, devoted son; cursed to bleed from the eyes.
After scampering around Kasdall Hold’s tavern, Aife, Baccarat, and Eliza were asked by Jarvik to deliver a message to a band of roving gypsies to break camp and be on their way by morning. Their raucous evenings and bizarre behavior was aggravating the townspeople of Kasdall Hold. A dense fog surrounded the town and obscured any line of sight between the Vistani wagon encampment and the town. Upon arrival, the heroes were met with bright braziers of fire, dancing Vistani, and mead aplenty. Spotting the head of authority of the Vistani caravan, a man named Stanimir, they approached him. Surprisingly, he had no intention of being a problem, and promised to be gone in the morning and invited them to enjoy a tale he was about to tell.
Seated around a fire, he told them of the prince who the Vistani healed from a mortal wound years ago. In exchange for their help, he gave them blessings; but of late has been cursed. Inexplicably naming each of the characters, the Vistana elder told them that he had been sent to fetch them, and asked whether they would be willing to help end the curse on the prince. Agreeing, they stayed the night with the Vistani, only to wake up left behind and enswirled by the fog in the morning. (Baccarat, “Trip Advisor Rating for Vistani Gypsies: 1/5”)
After gathering their wits, they wandered after the tracks of the wagons for hours, eventually coming upon old, rusted gates which opening magically to their approach. A short distance beyond, they found an encampment of more permanent nature, belonging to the very Vistani who left them behind. But it was undue to any ill-will on their part–the Vistani wanted the heroes to be rested. It was at this camp, overlooking the Tser pool, that they found also Girth Greatcraic–who had spent the night with the Vistani, no doubt in negotiation to expand his trade influence. Girth himself overheard a story about a failed rebellion led a year ago by a wizard against the cursed prince of Ravenloft Castle, ruler of the country of Barovia on whose outskirts the Tser pool rested. The wizard was presumed dead, and the rebellion crushed.
The Vistani urged them to meet their leader, Madam Eva, and elderly crone whose tent smelled of incense and tea-leaves. Herself knowledgable about each of the characters, Eva asked Elisa for the tarokka deck she had stolen from the Vistani camp the night prior. Eva then offered to do a reading for them, which would aid their quest to lift the curse from the prince. Using the wooden cards of the tarokka deck, Eva indicated the following:
 
6 of Coins, the Beggar: “A wounded elf has what you need; he will part with the treasure to see his dark dreams fulfilled.”
 1 of Swords, the Avenger: “A corruped paladin in a dragon’s house has a light in the dark.” and
2 of Coins, the Philanthopist: “Look to a place where sickness and madness are bred. Where children once cried, the treasure lies still.”
Each would aid the characters with items to end the curse. She continued her reading, revealing
The Broken One “A man, whose mind is broken but spells are strong”. Eva paused in the reading a moment here. The last card would indicate where they will always find the cursed prince, once they have steeled themselves to end the curse.
The Mists: “The tarokka deck cannot see where evil lurks. The mists obscure all!”
Returning the tarokka deck, Eva offered the services of the her Vistani to take them to the small town of Barovia, where the heroes would undoubtably find something to occupy their time.
************
Barovia was a broken town; the buildings were old, with a number of claw marks and patched up windows. The native Barovians uniformly wore threadbare clothing stitched by their own hand, with a color scheme of marked cold contrast to the warm and bright Vistani. (Baccarat, “Trip Advisor Rating for town of Barovia: 2/5”) Assembling in the local tavern, they met Ismark the lesser, son of the recently deceased burgomaster. Ismark told them how his sister Ireena had been twice attacked and bitten by the vampire who roamed the region with impunity. Strahd was a monster, and Ismark enlisted their help to escort his sister to the town Vallaki, on the western side of Barovia. Upon agreeing, Ismark left with them to the burgomaster’s house wherein was found Ireena. But she would refuse to leave until her father was buried–and the sun had already set.
A knock at the door, answered by Baccarat, revealed an alluring man who asked to come inside from the cold. Charmed by his demeanor, Baccarat moved to open the door, but was quickly and efficiently glassed by Girth. It soon became apparent that Strahd Von Zarovich, Lord of Ravenloft Castle himself, stood on the other side of the door, and must not be allowed in. They spent a fearful night in the house, waiting for the sunlight. The following morning, the buried the burgomaster at dawn. Ireena and Ismark went on to secure a cart, while the heroes stopped by the church. Greeted by Darovich the priest, they quickly came to realize he was hiding something.
His son Doru, who had been turned into a vampire spawn in the rebellion a year prior, was locked in the basement. Knowing threat ‘Doru’ posed to the town, they knew he had to be killed. Girth distracted the priest while the rest descended to the inky darkness of the undercroft. Doru, starved and hungry, immediately attacked them. The ensuing fight was long–Doru was more resistant than anything they had encountered, but seemed to quail at the octarine radience Aife’s Morrigan-blessed longsword gave off, and the bright light of Girth’s celestially radiant dagger. Eliza tried to fend off Doru but was bitten–it is unclear yet whether that will have an ill effects. Eliza fumbled once over her spells, and remembered too late that cold and necrotic magic lay near to each other; she had accidently conjured up a score of skeletal hands and arms in the midst of the fight.
Girth had been forced to knock the priest unconscious before joining the fight. They left him so as they disposed of Doru’s corpse, removed his head, stuffed it with garlic, and buried him. (Baccarat, “Trip Advisor Rating for Barovia Church: 4/5”) Whistling a cheerful tune, they left the town of Barovia with Ismark and Ireena shortly after.
************
Vallaki was a town in preparation for a party. Old, worn garlands hung limply from the buildings as signs upon signs littered the street announcing the WOLF’S HEAD CELEBRATION later that week. The despondant townsfolk were not enthused at the idea of an additional celebration. Apparently these had been bi-monthly for some time now. (“Trip Advisor Rating 2/5, for police-state policies”) The stockade the town square was full of those charged with “aggressive unhappiness” by the local burgomaster. The heroes delivered Ireena to the local church, which was rumored to be protected by an ancient relic.
Aife was not fooled; there was no relic in the church anymore. The priest confirmed it, but asked them to look into it quietly, for fear of disrupting the townsfolk. He suspected a young man, whom the church hired as a gravedigger. While enormous and strong, it was also evident that the man was developmentally arrested. He had sold the bones to the local coffin-maker in order to pay for food for his sister.
Upon challenging the coffin-maker in his shop, they quickly learned that he had taken the bones in order to keep a greater secret contained. Six vampire spawn, like Doru who they had fought in Barovia’s church undercroft, were quiescent in barrels in the back of the shop. They were inexplicably there–even the coffin-maker had no idea how they appeared or their motives for doing so, other than to feed. He would be happy to return the bones–if the heroes helped dispose of the vampire spawn.
The local tavern of Vallaki was in need of a resupply, they knew. So they offered to exchange their services to collect the resupply from the local winery, in exchange for using the cart ‘with no questions asked’. Unsure, the owner sent his wife along with them as insurance. Back at the coffin-maker’s, she watched on curiously as the heroes loaded six utterly unassuming barrels with the utmost care and caution. And gasped as one barrel plunked hard onto the cart. Yet, the heroes safely loaded the six vampire spawn, safely ensconced in their separate barrels. Their plan was to drop the barrels, one by one, off into some falls to the north, and swing back to the winery upon their return. But night was falling, and fast.
************
Aife’s spectral steed spell conjured a skeletal and undead horse–quite unexpected! But off they went. They were so close to the falls when barbarian berserkers attacked their cart, having popped up from the mud and mire of the road. But time was precious–Aife decided to leave the berserkers behind, kicking her steed into a gallop. They raced off the half a mile further to the cliff face.
The wagon, crew, vampires, and all, went careening off toward the falls. But the ferocity of the cart’s motion, and the setting sun, meant that the vampires began waking up!
With 240 feet to go, the heroes fought to stand their ground as more and more vampires woke up. Baccarat soaked the rear end of the wagon in oil, and Girth ignited it all with the last gulp of his dragon-breath potion. On, on the wagon sped toward the cliff, controlled by Aife as Baccarat, Girth, and Eliza fended off the vampires. Baccarat was the first to fall, knocked nearly unconcious by one vampire attack alone. The wagon shook violently as Aife briefly lost control, sending Eliza and the wounded Baccarat off. Before falling into complete unconciousness, Baccarat scratched into the mud: “Trip Advisor: 5/5, FLAMING WAGON OF VAMPIRES TO BE SENT OFF A CLIFF”.
Girth stood his ground for as long as possible, keeping the vampires off of Aife. But, ultimately, even Girth had to choose life over valour. Somersaulting over the incinerating wagon, Girth landed on the tail end just long enough to distract the vampires one last time. Another jolt, curtesy of Aife’s wagon-handling, gave Girth the bump he needed to stick the landing of the coolest damn acrobatics you’ve ever seen.
Leaving Aife, riding a spectral horse which was pulling a wagon full of six immolating vampires, to complete the task of disposal.
She heard and felt their claws scratching and screeching off her armor and shield as the horse closed the distance to the cliff–she jumped onto her horse and likewise sprang as high as she could up, hoping desperately to avoid falling off the cliff herself. At the apex of her leap, she felt the divine power of Morrigan, goddess of battle, death, and ravens fill her such as she had never felt before. Channeling the divine might of her dread patron, octarine ethereal raven wings sprang from her back and pulled her to safety. Meanwhile, the same display of divine might abjured the vampires, sending them shrieking away from Aife–directly over the cliff with the wagon. The party watched as the running water burned the vampire spawn like acid, killing each and all.
They walked the rest of the way to the winery, though not before the wife of the brewer told them her secret. She belonged to the Keepers of the Feather, an order of wereravens in Barovia dedicated to observing, collecting intelligence, and hopefully ending the threat of Strahd von Zarovich. Witnessing their disposal of the vampires, she indicated to them that she would speak on their behalf to the Keepers, and they would aid as they are able.
**************
At the winery, they met with more Vistani, and brokered a deal to deliver the resupply and ride with them back to Barovia.
Later that day, they found themselves at the Tser encampment again. The Vistani had a potion which would take them back through the fog to their homes–but demanded a steep price. Unwilling to pay, the heroes seemed stuck in the dark and dismal region. Until Baccarat, without clear motive, decided to stay behind. But the Vistani were not totally pleased withh the arrangement. To finalize the deal, three Vistani cursed the heroes who would be leaving–marking them for all as having been to Strahd’s realm.
Girth began bleeding from the eyes; Aife stricken by alopecia, and Eliza’s bite from Doru intensified so as to take over most of her neck with it’s dark ichor discoloration.
Madam Eva, before they left, allowed them to search a wagon for some spoils. Mostly they found gold and jewelry and gems, but Baccarat, again strangely, gave his loot to Eliza. It was a standard, worn and tattered, from a campaign in the distant past. It bore an unfamiliar crest, and Eliza’s arcane knowledge could only identify that the standard was enchanted with subtle and old abjuration magics.
The heroes said goodbye, and were left to wander the fog on the outskirts of Barovia until they returned home.
Baccarat however, was well pleased with the arrangment to stay in Barovia. None left or entered this pocket dimension without the approval of Strahd himself, Baccarat knew. What was a prison for the Barovians was a safehouse for Baccarat.

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