Tonight saw the restart of the Curse of Strahd game. Sadly we were a player down as Jag (aka Roscoe Tosscobble) has had to stand down as he's just become a dad.
The party is newly minted at third level and finds itself missing a rogue or a cleric, which presents some interesting challenges going forward as they enter Barovia.
Our dramatis personae:
Ser Alys de Rouge (a half-orc Fighter with a soldier background, currently the leader of the town militia of Daggerford), played by Tom (Guvnor). Lawful Neutral
Kelwarin (Kel) (a half-elf Sorceror flush with the powers of wild magic, an outlander), played by Graham (First Age). Chaotic Good.
Gaddock Teeg (a halfling wizard and former prizefighter), played by Alex (Doggetay), Neutral Good
Ser Adon of House Starbright (a half-orc Paladin, from a knightly background, with two human retainers and a priest), played by Paul (dr_mitch). Lawful Good.
We'd made a couple of decisions to simplify things. Paul opted to leave Sir Adon's retainers behind for now as they'd hardly featured in season one. We didn't actually say where we'd left them behind so we have some flexibility left. I had Roscoe disappear overnight leaving a note that he would catch up on them. I mentioned to the party that, during the party after the slaying of the Beast of Graenseskov, they had noticed Roscoe meditating on his amber amulet. This actually has a link into Barovia, and in my mind (and pre-planning), Roscoe has gone ahead, drawn on by the glow within the device. Those of you who know the campaign may well realise that this may not be a good thing. However, it gives us an easy route to reintroduce the character should Jag return.
7th November (apparently).
The party work gingerly after a night of celebrations. Ruzina, the illegitimate daughter of the Boyar, was elected to take over from her father, despite Ser Alys' misgivings. They prepared to go further into Barovia, uncertain whether they had succeeded in their mission to rescue the missing children and slay the werewolves through the death of the Beast of Graenseskov. Their motivations were varied, but there was certainly an element of wanting to find out whether Count Strahd was as evil as they thought, and also the chance to find a way out through the mists. The Vistani were clear that no-one could leave Barovia through the mists should the Devil Strahd not wish it and having read his letter,...
Boyar Borje Volchykrov, I am displeased with the death of my servant at the hand of your visitors and you bear full responsibility. However, the interlopers have my attention and interest. Do what you can to send them to me. Do not fail me again. Strahd.
...they were certain that he wouldn't want them to leave just yet. Before they left, they were approached by Iancu Silvertongue, a Vistani trader, who asked them to be on the lookout for his brother, Iulian, who had been missing for nearly a year after running off with his sweetheart, Lady Molot Kosti, to travel to the town of Vallaki. Apparently, she originally came from beyond the mists from Nova Vaasa, and was "an exceptionally tall raven-haired beauty".
They also established that the people further into Barovia believed that Strahd was a punishment for their ancestor's sins and that the realm had existed for at least several hundred years before Graenseskov was absorbed two centuries before. This meant that Strahd was potentially over five centuries old, and that Barovia was still evolving and growing. There were three main settlements; the village of Barovia, which nestled underneath the crag with Castle Ravenloft, the town of Vallaki and the fortified village of Krezk, where the Abbey of a local saint was located. The other location of note is the Wizard of Vines Vineyard, whose vintages are supplied freely within Barovia, and traded through the mists by the Vistani.
Ruzina Graenseskov gave the party a letter of introduction to Kolyan Indirovich, the Burgomaster of the village of Barovia, bringing the grave news of the death of Cvetlana, the Boyar's daughter, to the Worgs controlled by the Hag, Pretty Kolchya, which the party released. Of course, the party haven't told the people of Graenseskov that they were responsible for that particular incident. The Burgomaster's son, Ismark the Lesser, was engaged to marry Cvetlana in the spring. The envelope with the letter carries the ring which Ismark had given Cvetlana as a commitment to their future.
By mid-morning, they all felt well enough to travel and started north-east along the Old Svalich Road. The mists lay in the woods and every now and again the howl of a wolf was heard. After about an hour, they heard the clip-clop of a horse and cart and spied another traveller coming out of the mists, the opposite way along the road. They stepped to one side but ended up in conversation. The wagon was driven by an older man, wrapped up well against the weather with a fur-lined hood. He introduced himself as Wolter Ulbricht, a merchant bringing wines to Graenseskov and the Vistani to trade onwards. His wagon was full of wine barrels. He asked about the road ahead and revealed that he knew the Boyar was dead. The party were suspicious about his motives and nature, but relaxed slightly after Ser Adon could not detect evil. However, there was a strange absence in what he did detect, which left the Paladin on his guard. The party introduced themselves as 'Sven', 'Tarovitch', 'Ser Odo' and 'Ser Alice' to be safe.
Travelling on, they broke for a lunch of bacon in the early afternoon. There was a strange stench of death and four creatures stumbled out of the mist, some twisted form of zombie. Gaddock immediately entrapped the relentless evil in a web from a spell, and the rest of the party laid in with arrows, fire-bolts and eventually hand to hand combat to defeat the creatures. Finishing their meal at the abandoned fireplace which they had stopped out, they found an oilskin wrapped drawing under a stone on the hearth. This showed each of them the imaginary friend they had known as a child. The image didn't change as far as they could see, but even when they looked at it at the same time, the image was different for each of them.
They travelled on and eventually came to the massive gates of Barovia, straddling the valley the road was on. As they approached, the iron gates inset in the stone wall swung open towards them with a screeching noise. As the group debated what to do, the mists roiled out from the opening, and a skeletal horse and rider, glowing ethereally came galloping out towards them. Quickly, Ser Alys drew her weapon, ready to send and defend the group while Kelwarin called down lightning from the clouds above, creating a spectacular strike on the rider which veered to the side and went straight up the valley walls and away. Suddenly there was a huge rumble of thunder and another huge strike of lightning arced down into Barovia beyond the gates, lighting the skies as it struck the peaks of a castle on a craggy outcrop ahead. All was still, and then the party released that the rider had dropped a book, with the title 'A record of my dreams'. When it was opened, the character [edit later as I can't remember who it was] could see a record of the last dream they had had, in their own handwriting.
Dusting themselves off, they travelled through the gates, which predictably closed behind them and the mists soon made them disappear behind. After another hour, Ser Alys smelt the stench of death, somewhat different to the zombies. Exploring, she found a body of a commoner in the undergrowth beyond the road, obviously savaged by wild animals and clutching an envelope. The letter was from Kolyan Indirovich, warning that his land was beset by a vampyr and that it threatened his daughter's life. He asked the recipient of the letter to ward the gates with holy symbols and leave the people to their fate to contain the evil. When they had all passed on, the riches of Barovia would be available to all .
The party headed on and soon saw the River Ivilis to the south, and the village of Barovia to the west. There was a large area cleared of forest, but it still lapped around with mountains to the north and south. Looming above the clearing was a large crag with a castle upon it, the one which had answered Kelwarin's lightning strike from his witch bolt. Castle Ravenloft, the House of Strahd, they presumed as they set off towards the village.
Game on 9 September 2020, write up 12th September 2020
 This is in the letter in the core text; it's a murder-hobo come-on if I ever saw one!
We're off again, and although my D&D and Roll20 skills were somewhat rusty, we had a fun game and it started well. There are layers of complexity building here because of the previous scenario. We learnt two useful Roll20 tips.
(1) If you are GM and control-long click, you can draw the player's attention to a point on the map.
(2) If you're measuring a distance, and click Q, you can add waypoints.
Now we're into Strahd's realm proper, it suddenly seems darker and more dangerous, but perhaps I'm foreshadowing myself. I expect the party will spend one or two sessions around the village of Barovia before pressing onwards. I'm deliberately suppressing the map of the realm with the fog of war effect in Roll20; I'll only show it properly once they reach a high place during the day.
If there are errors in the write-up, then they're mine. I usually do it straight after the game, but unfortunately, I received a call to tell me my mother had died ten minutes after we finished. The game remains a high point for me from the day.
Curse of Strahd will return on Wednesday 23rd September 2020.