DISCLAIMER: The text and audio featured in this post contains SPOILERS to the ‘Curse of Strahd’ Dungeons & Dragons Adventure Campaign. Details of the content are used without permission of Wizards of the Coast who is the publisher and copy write owner of the adventure. This post is intended to chronicle the adventure of the players of the campaign that I am running. No profit from this content is pursued or intended.
The Party Members
The party awoke, and the mystery of their whereabouts unfolded. Skills and magics were immediately deployed to gain some sense of orientation. Keen eyes, arcane queries and gut senses were all tested. It was clear that they had physically moved. And yet, no one had experienced any sensation of motion or magic since the night before.
Filandrea was perhaps the most disturbed. For upon scouting the perimeter she discovered a road. There were no roads to her knowledge anywhere in her challenging patrol route. The land around her reclusive community was only suited for travel via switchback foot-trails or by mounted flight from ride-trained Giant Raptors. No vehicle ever went in “her” lands.
And yet, there it was. A single road heading ‘away’ in two directions a few yards from the makeshift encampment. After a few moments, the others joined her to ponder this discovery and make plans as to how to treat it. No other strangeness manifested. Once everyone accounted for their belongings, and they were convinced nothing or no one had gone missing, they proceeded.
Nuerque proposed, based on some of his survival instincts, which direction might be which. The party set onto the road, heading ‘west’. The idea being that it may be a way back to the way they came. Perhaps the misty air from the night before had somehow managed to make them lose their bearing. Either way, since it was a road, there was bound to be a destination.
The morning mist was now less persistent and yet still confusing. While it let some form of sunlight through, there was no seeing of an actual sun. The road and the trees lining either side of the way both emerged and faded out just a few yards in both directions. They knew they were moving, but it was hard to tell how far and how fast. After some time, they even began leaving marks along the way to try to prove they were not moving in a loop. However, no signs of their trace were come upon again. So forward progress must be being made.
After what felt like hours, a large stone wall and gateway emerged from the mists in front of them. The obstruction by the mist made this discovery rather sudden and unexpected. The stone wall was some fifty feet high with a heavy iron gated passage set into it, and it now traversed the road. On each side of the gateway opening, massive stone sculptures of armored guards stood as sentries. Rather weak ones, it would seem, for the heads of these figures lay at their own feet, surrounded by weeds and overgrowth.
Ward, the human wizard, set foot towards the gates first. As he approached, as expected by most of the party, the gates opened by themselves. Filandrea voiced her concern that this should not be the way they continue. She knew that the cursed town of Midian must be nearby. And yet, Ward proceeded. Vir, the High Elven Paladin, galloped forward to get ahead of Ward, intending to protect the Wizard from any unseen threat.
And with that, the party committed to continuing onto the road beyond. Given the kind of mystery that had persisted all day, no one was surprised when the gates loudly closed behind them, without any evidence that anyone manned them. Vir confirmed just so that they knew for sure, that the gate did not reopen again when tested from this side. It would seem their only choice was to move forward.
Some variety in the direction of the road and its surroundings finally proved they were making progress. Whether this was an improvement remained questionable, as the tree line broke open to a high grass clearing. Now, even more, mist obstructed the view, creating an eerie ‘nowhere’ around them. Filandrea caught the scent of death in the air. Not the smell of a new kill, but of something old and rotted and long dead.
Ward noticed his companion Tyron was fidgeting with his belt pouch nervously. The scribe’s facial expressions contorted between discomfort and indecision. Apparently, an internal battle of some kind was occurring within the young human’s mind. The wizard took it upon himself to express assurances of comfort and positivity on their shared situation to the fretful youth, though they appeared wasted.
Soon, the party came upon a village. As the gated wall before it, buildings and streets revealed themselves remarkably close to them without notice. They walked their horses into the streets looking for some sign of villagers. The buildings were of exceptional construction and had multiple floors, and they showed signs of old age. Some had dulled paint and others dirty or broken windows. Many of the buildings were boarded up. Others seemed abandoned.
As the party turned down a side street, they came across a pair of human children crouched in the middle of the road. A very young boy was on the ground, crying and clutching a stuffed toy. Over him, a slightly older girl was cooing comforting words to him. Vir proudly approached the children, kneeling down in his plated armor to speak at their level.
“What troubles you?”, he asked.
The girl looked up to face the paladin; the boy only glanced, still wrapped over his toy.
“There is a monster in our house!” the girl said, unflinchingly. Her worried eyes contained no hope.
“What kind of monster is it?”, asked Vir.
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen it. We only hear it sometimes.”, the girl answered.
Markas, the halfling Bard, got the attention of the small boy while the girl was talking to Vir. He began to tell a happy tale that he knew, which only seemed to distract the boy at times.
“Well, what does it sound like?”, Vir pressed. The girl cringed at the very notion of trying to evoke the sound she feared.
Meanwhile, Ward turned his arcane skill to the assessment of the area. They had stopped in front of a four-story house, with a small gated porch protruding from the weary, looming exterior. The houses on either side appeared to be in poor repair. Whoever lived inside must be keeping the place up. There were no magics detectable in its vicinity . . . however . . .
Vir noticed at nearly the same moment that something was not right with these children. He quietly appealed to his god Correlon to reveal any unnatural threat there may be and was surprised to discover the “children” themselves to putting off a mystical aura. Keeping his reactions to himself, he shot warning glances to his other party members, but not before Ward could shout out.
“ILLUSIONS!” Ward cried. And as he spoke, the children vanished. Which was a pity, since Markas felt he was on the verge of getting through to the little boy. The beginnings of a smile had begun to form on the child’s face, but then he was gone.
Nuerque and Filandrea had also been taking stock, but they noticed something else. The ever persistent mists that had contained this party along their road the last few hours now seemed to be pressing in even closer. Houses and features that were once visible just a few yards away were now beginning to fade into obscurity.
“We need to go, guys. “ Nuerque insisted, though it was not clear to where. The only route that remained visible led to the doorstep of the illusionary children’s house.
“Clearly this is a trap!” Ward announced, and he cast a bolt of flame in the direction of the house, hoping to catch it afire. The magical fire did catch on a bit of tall weeds along the house foundation, but misty clouds from the rear of the property spilled forth and seemed to douse the flames.
“Well, if it is a trap, I’m not walking in through the front door!” remarked Markas. He recruited Vir to get a boost into one of the exterior windows of the second floor, to no avail. Meanwhile, the mists closed in further. When the encroaching fog was mere feet away, the party decided to secure their horses as quick as they could. Then they piled in through the unlocked front door. As the last of them entered, they lost sight of their mounts. The doorstep now fully engulfed in a whiteout of light.
There was not much room for all of them in the receiving room, it being a mere ten by thirty space. Another set of oaken double doors gave way to a large foyer, where the group could stretch out a bit. The hall was dark. Ward created some dancing light for his benefit. He and Markas had no way to see in even partial darkness, while the rest of the party could make due with their enhanced sight.
The foyer itself appeared stately. The wood paneling of the room showed master craftsmanship, depicting a forested glade with woodland animals. At the north end of this hall, a mantle above an unlit fireplace held an ornate longsword, the visage of a Windmill cameoed into the hilt. A similar device of a Windmill hung in the entryway, emblazoned onto a shield. There did not seem to be anyone about within the hall; no one answered a call for attending. It was not long before Ward offered up the sword as a keepsake, as no one seemed to be around to claim it. Vir balked at the disturbing of another’s apparent possessions, but could not challenge that anyone might object.
Door by door, the party searched for any sign of inhabitants. Each room, while in immaculate order, contained no trace of people. The Den at the front of the house had accommodations for a comfortable sitting, including a fresh cask of wine. On the walls were mounted three prize wolf heads, each frozen in a snarling glare. Beneath them were cabinets, one locked (magically opened by the eager Wizard) and another unsecured. The locked cabinet contained a variety of crossbows and bolts, the other contained means to serve and enjoy the contents of the cask, something Markas HAD to taste, his reasoning being they might be there awhile, and it was just going to age otherwise.
Ward discovered a closet off the Main hall full of black, medium-sized cloaks hanging inside. The shelf above contained a single top hat.
The Dining Room was fully set for an elegant dinner and yet vacant of any food. The Kitchen was also in perfect order, and the larder had copious amounts of bland tasting foodstuffs.
While the party took this opportunity to restock their mess kits, Markas discovered a dumbwaiter door and even tested whether he could fit inside. It was not a comfortable fit, but he could not convince anyone to work the device for him. He was confident he could bypass any traps that lay ahead if they hoisted him up a floor, but group reasoning weighed against his adventurous spirit. Almost in defiance, Markas raised the now empty dumbwaiter up to the next floor himself as a backup escape plan.
The Main Hall also contained a sweeping staircase. Happy that they had not passed up any rooms there, the group ascended. On the second floor, they discovered another full hall, with doors leading away on either side. Several suits of armor in a wolf motif also stood along the walls, unmoving and vacant. The main feature of this area was an oversized painting of a family; a man holding a swaddled baby, a woman standing close to him with a look of scorn directed his way, and slightly in front of them two children, a young girl, and even younger boy. It was the visage of the illusionary children the party had encountered outside. Only in this instance the children were unmoving and staring blankly ahead, not regarding either parental figure.
The party began investigating the rooms on this floor. The first door sat at the very top of the staircase and revealed what must have been a servants quarters. The dumbwaiter from the kitchen let out into this room and appeared to give access to the next floor above as well. Nuerque examined the servants closet only to reveal some neatly cleaned uniforms. The party moved on to the double doors across the hall to find a Conservatory. Tall, draped windows looked out of the house and should have offered a view of the street below, but only rewarded a mist-covered whiteness instead. In one corner there was a harpsichord and ample space to dance in the rest of the room. Which was clearly the purpose of this space, as indicated by the macabre figurines arranged on the mantle. Once again, no evidence of any inhabitants was detected.
The last set of doors opened up to a Library. A desk and chair were placed facing the entryway, and the shelves of books were so tall that a rolling ladder was affixed to provide access to them all. Ward and Markas began scouring the book spines and titles, each with their need to sate their drive for knowledge for their skills and crafts. Vir searched the desktop and drawers and came up with an Iron Key. Nuerque triggered a hidden latch in the bookshelves and revealed a secret room behind the bookcase.
Older and finer books lined the interior of the secret room, their contents of a more sinister nature. The titles on the tomes indicated arcane bits of knowledge and ritual preparations, potentially of some infernal craft. At the end of the small room, a chest lay half-opened with the upper half of an armored skeleton hanging out of it. The leather armor of the skeleton was pierced by three large darts as if the victim had sprung an old trap. In its outward hand lay some documents, which Vir scooped up to inspect.
Some of the documents were regarding the deed to a house, presumably, the one they currently occupied. Another, to a family owned windmill. There was also a Will, leaving all assets to the Durst family children, Rosavalda and Thornbolt. The documents signed by one Gustav and an Elisabeth Durst. There was also a letter, which Vir read aloud for all to hear:
My most pathetic servant,
I am not a messiah sent to you by the Dark Powers of this land. I have not come to lead you on a path to immortality. However many souls you have bled on your hidden altar. However many visitors you have tortured in your dungeon, know that you are not the ones who brought me to this beautiful land. You are but worms writhing in my earth.
You say that you are cursed, your fortunes spent. You abandoned love for madness, took solace in the bosom of another woman and sired a stillborn son. Cursed by Darkness? Of that, I have no doubt. Save you from your wretchedness? I think not. I much prefer you as you are.
Your dread lord and master,
Strahd von Zarovich
The group decided that Tyron should keep track of the documents since he had the proper provisions to keep them. Should any heirs be located then, delivery of these papers would go to them. Tyron agreed to steward the documents and stowed them away in his other notes.
With all the rooms on that floor revealed, the party made its way once more the next floor. As soon as Vir made it to the third-floor landing, he was set upon by an empty suit of armor. The construct sprung to life and made an attempt to cleave at Vir, but only managed to scrape him. Vir fought back slashing a gap into the empty suit. Quickly the others topped the staircase to join the fray. Within moments, the armor took such a beating that it lay broken, useless and more importantly motionless on the floor.
The noise of the battle must have stirred something in another room, for just moments after the victory a door opened from behind Ward, and the face of a stranger popped out. Immediately and in some disbelief, Ward poked the stranger with a finger to test if he was real.
“Hey, stop it.” The stranger said.
“Who are you?” Ward asked.
The door opened further, and two half-elves stepped forth. The male dressed in chainmail with a giant hammer at his side, the female in wizard’s robes.
“I am Karuth, and this is Willow. What happened here now?”
Vir explained the happenings to Karuth. Meanwhile, Markas offered some upgrades to the story to make it sound more valiant than Vir described. Vir returned the query as to what reason the newcomers seemed to be hiding in a storage closet.
Karuth replied with a description of how they found themselves in this land which was very similar to the recent travels of the party. They, too, discovered the children in the street but did not know about their illusionary nature. They, too, searched the house for inhabitants and the reported terror, but on this floor came into contact with a Spectre of sorts that was so terrible that it forced them to retreat into the store room. They were not sure how long they had been there, but they were certain it couldn’t be more than overnight.
Karuth also explained that the spirit was just beyond the door to the room adjacent, but it was decided by the group to save that room for last. The party entered into a master bedroom instead which contained a balcony and a sitting alcove, where once again the dumbwaiter door stood in service. The group took this opportunity to rest, even though the new adventures had just done so. And though enough time passed for the darkness of night to settle in, it never did. The whiteout beyond the windows remained though the hours passed.
When everyone was feeling rested, they headed to face the dread spirit. The group prepared themselves outside the Nursery doors. Vir and Karuth took the point and threw to door open. Within, an apparition of a woman was pacing the room. The ghostly figure wore the clothes of a nursemaid, and her demeanor seemed to be one of impatient anxiety. She paid no attention to the invasion of the room, seemingly consumed with worry.
Beyond the spirit stood a bed still made. At the far end of the left side of the room a fireplace gapped, unlit. A fine layer of cobwebs coated the flat surfaces including the bed. To the immediate right was a closed door and beyond that door a set of stained glass balcony doors. The bedroom was eerily undisturbed for the amount the nursemaid was moving around.
The group decided to go on the assault and began sending a flurry of distance attacks at the spirit. Ward led with an enveloping arc of lightning that seemed to hold the nursemaid at bay. Markas waited for an opportunity to see how the creature would react to the assault. Nuerque positioned Willow and Tyron away from direct harm. Vir extended his senses, focusing on the undead threat to seek out a defensive weakness. Karuth called on divine power to scorch the phantom, but in the chaos of the volley missed his target. When Filandrea threw her darts at the unnatural form, they passed through the air it occupied with barely noticeable effect.
The nursemaid entity, held tightly by Ward’s lightning, rose up into the air. Her demeanor swiftly changed from anxious to enraged. The facial features of the creature shifted from an ordinary woman to something of a spectral beast, her eyes afire and mouth growing larger than should be possible. She attempted to reach out to Ward but was incapable of discerning his location through the constant energy wrapping around her. Just then, Markas taunted the entity with a magical slew of enchanted insults which appeared to throw additional disorientation around her.
Ward continued to try to hold the spirit at bay with his lightning energy, which seemed to be working even if not to the intensity he was used to. Markas unleashed another volley of magical mockery, its effect undeterminable in the chaos. Nuerque decided to change tactics with a direct assault of magic force bolts. The nursemaid reeled in pain. It was the first actual reaction from the assault since the attack began. Vir finally took a swing at the wraith, his longsword making some quasi-physical contact with a reduced effect. Karuth’s blessed war hammer made full contact with the ghost. The slam pushed her farther back into the room. Because of this Filandrea had to switch to a melee attack with her bare hands. She struck at the air the spirit occupied, feeling both a cold sensation pressing against her flesh as well as some sense of a presence her martial-trained strike would expect.
The specter gained the feeling of being overwhelmed and changed its focus from the wizard to the half-elf sorcerer, who had done more damage in one magical strike than anyone else. She was now much closer to him and quickly overcame him with a lunge. In a blink of an eye, she drained the very life essence from his body, and he collapsed to the ground. He was lifeless in a matter of seconds.
Willow found the force within her to send a volley magical energy bolts at the floating horror. And with a final push of concentrated will, Ward extended the continued lightning around the nursemaid until her ethereal form seemed to vibrate and then dissipate altogether.
There was darkness. Nothing to see. Nothing to hear. No sense of air but also no suffering.
Nuerque quickly became aware that he was no longer within the physical realm. He tried to inspect his arms and body, but none were to be found. Just as a tinge of panic might arise in one’s mind, there was a dull light in the middle distance. Something moved. Something muscular and serpentine. He felt a sense that this something was growing near, and yet he still could not see.
Reptilian eyes of silver appeared in front of his. Large feline pupils stared into Nuerque’s soul. Electric static filled the half-elf’s senses and a guttural voice filled with power said,
The party descended upon Nuerque’s body with medical kits and healing words. It was not long before life was quickly restored to the deceased sorcerer. He sputtered a new breath and blinked at the new brightness of the room.
The spirit was gone, and the party stood down. Tyron, on the other hand, was petrified in fear. A wet spot soiled his trousers, and he had to be taken to the water closet to be settled down and cleaned up. For now, the evil threat had been banished, and the party turned its collective mind on what to do next.
Ward looked out the window and wondered. “What exactly are we running from?” he said aloud. “What does this unnatural fog do, besides blind us?” He stepped into the adjoining room, a small nursery. Inside was another window, latched closed. Ward announced, “I will test these conditions in the name of my craft!” He prepared to open the window. Markas ran to him and said, ”At the first sign of trouble, we’ll pull you away!” Ward agreed, then opened the window and slipped his robed arm outside.
For a moment, there was no reaction. Ward watched, taking note of any lasting effect. When none came, he had an idea.
“AAAAHHH, MY ARM!” he cried. He backed up quickly, his arm showing signs of color change. His muscles tensed, and his fingers curled inward. The party backed away quickly, unsure how to react to the horrible consequences. Ward held his acting for a moment longer, but it gave way to his laughter, as he dispelled the illusion he had cast upon himself. His arm returned to its natural hue, and he gibbed the others for their gullibility.
Ward shut the window and turned around. That was when he noticed the baby bassinet. A black cloth draped the top making it impossible to see within. Ward stepped closer, using his staff to separate the veils. He gently poked the contents within. The end of the pole met with a soft form that seemed bundled tight.
Filandrea stepped into the room. “What is going on here? Is that necessary?” Ward withdrew his staff from the veils. “I was just making sure all the possible threats had been vanquished.” he excused. And they left the room.
“But I am still not satisfied the mists outside are any real threat!” Ward continued. “Who will join me outside to check on the mounts?” Ward, Filandrea, Karuth, and Willow descended the stairs again, heading outside. Vir accompanied, his plan to stay on the doorstep in case any doors wanted to dictate admission. Markas instead made his way to the balcony doors, stepping outside to find out if he could see the party emerge outside. That left Nuerque to examine the room as he recovered his energy.
The mists were as thick as soup outside. With only a few steps, it was easy to lose sight of the door and even the house. Markas called down from above, but he could barely be heard. Ward called back with similar results. Markas tossed a bit of something down to see if they could tell he had, but he never heard it land. Meanwhile, Ward heard something hit the ground a few feet away, not knowing what it was.
After a few moments, there seemed to be a sense of weariness settle on all those who remained outside. As if the weight of all the consequences of their day just started to settle in. It was unnatural and sudden, and they all agreed to make their way back inside. No trace of the horses was detected.
Meanwhile, in the nursemaid’s bedroom, Nuerque was examining a full sized mirror set into the wall across the bed. He touched the glass surfaces and was surprised by a click sound. The mirror receded and rolled to the right, sliding behind the wall. “Guys!” he called, and quickly the party assembled again.
Vir once again stepped to the fore. Off to the right of the cobwebbed passageway another staircase began. It rose half a flight, then turned left around a corner. Another half a flight ended with a single door. Beyond that door lay the attic. Directly across the doorway, another small fixed window overlooked a tiled roof overhang. To the left, the attic opened to a hall with doors in various locations. One door was locked with a padlock hanging from a latch hook. It was decided to save that room for later. The door beyond that one led to a spare and empty bedroom which contained a rocking chair and night stand along the spare single bed. More dust and cobwebs choked this space.
Across the narrow hall from the bedroom door was the door to a storeroom. Inside this large room, some furniture pieces were covered with dusty white sheets. Remnants of odd house dressings, mirrors, and even a mannequin stood as though time had stopped around them. The party spread out into the room to investigate the contents.
Filandrea was the first to discover the body. Or, what appeared to be a discarded murder victim. Brown and mottled stains latticed the bedsheet covering. Ward uncovered one end to reveal the mortal visage of the nursemaid herself. Her face contorted in what must have been an agonizing death. It was agreed that later all these bodily remains must be gathered up and give proper service to aid in the rest of their spirits.
In another part of the room, Willow opened a compartment door to reveal a spiral staircase leading down again.
TO BE CONTINUED . . .