SPOILERS BELOW for The Beast of Graenseskov
The party, a fourth session at Level 2. And no, they aren't levelling up until they complete some story milestones!
At the end of the last session, we left the party camped in a clearing about a half mile from the burnt out Gingerbread House of the Hag, Pretty Kolchya. The hag had flown overhead, promising vengeance. The party had rescued Narsden, an adventurer who had unsuccessfully tried to raid Castle Ravenloft deeper in Barovia and then foolishly tried to rob Pretty Kolchya's house. She had discovered him and placed him in a force cage to slow cook in the fires of hell for 199 days in her oven. They also rescued Anya Stojanovic, a young girl who was too much in shock to tell them more than their name. Before they had entered the cottage, the party had struck a pact to free the three Worg Omen Bearers who had agreed not to harm children any more if they were released, something which will come back to haunt them.
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. Roscoe Tosscobble (a halfling Cleric of Life, a follower of Diancecht, god of medicine and healing, former hermit and companion of Ser Adon), played by Jag (Jagusti). Lawful 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.
The morning of 5th November dawned cold and crisp with a light dusting of snow, and the party woke to the smell of burnt gingerbread. They had a slow start, and then headed back to Volchykrov Manor, somewhat concerned about the reception that they would get for the previous day's escapade of killing the vampire Koslov. All the same, they were buoyed up from finding the ritual used to cast the curse that created the Beast of Graenseskov.
As they came out of the woods, they saw smoke rising from the centre of the town. They weren't challenged and soon discovered that the Worgs had attacked the town the previous evening, bursting into the main hall in the manor and tearing the Boyar's twenty-six year old daughter, Cvetlana, apart in front of everyone. Her brother, Ser Cedomir had led his Hounds in a desperate attack, eventually killing all three of the Worgs as they tried to escape using the Cold Iron Axe that had been created to slay the Hag, Laegetha. During the fight, a lantern had been knocked over, burning part of the house. The slain Worgs were being burnt on a bonfire.
Seeking to comfort the maid servant who was gingerly collecting the body parts, Roscoe realised that the arm and hand of Cvetlana had turned to a green colour and the nails had changed to iron. Kel and he realised that this could be the Hag, or even the daughter of the Hag. The people of Volchykrov were in denial; they either said that she changed 'as the breath of the beasts' fell upon her or that her flesh was poisoned and corrupted as she was bitten. No-one wanted to face the fact that she could be something else.
Cross words were exchanged with Ser Cedomir, who was grieving over the loss of his sister, and it was decided that it would be sensible to seek more advice from Father Fiofan and return Anya to her family, who maintained and operated the sleighs used by the town. There was a heartwarming reunion with the girl's Aunt and Uncle, and it was that point that the party learned that her mother had been with her when she was taken by the Hag. The family had suffered yet more when all three of her cousins were slain whilst hunting the beast.
Further advice was sought from Merje, the Druid who worked with the Halan Witches. By this point, the party had worked out that the only fixed time for an attack by the Beast was during the Boyar's birthday Feast Day two weeks before when Lubomir was attacked. They realised they could look for the alibis of all the key participants in the ritual (those who had been party to the execution of Laegetha) and see where they don't add up to find the Beast. Merje then admitted that he wasn't present and had been at the Halan stone circle carrying out a ritual to bless the Boyar. He could point to alibis with those he saw before or after, but no one else was around at the time of the attack. However, the party decided they could take him at face value after they saw his hatred of the Hags when they told him about Cvetlana's fate. Merje offered to help them in any way to stop the beast and the Hag.
Father Fiofan was the next person consulted. The dwarf interpreted that the ritual would require the previous actions to be reversed to break it. That would mean the Boyar, his angry son Cedomir, Merje, Fiofan and Ruzina would need to come together to reenact the ritual. They worked out the Boyar would need to replace the Hag, but be shown mercy when the axe fell to strike. There was a brief discussion about staking Narsden out as bait, but this was soon rejected. Fiofan revealed that the Boyar was preventing his father's promises being carried out; he had been assured that his memories would be unclouded after years of faithful service by using a spell and the commitment had not been met. There was mistrust between the two of them.
The party headed to see the Boyar, who was in mourning in the hall. Kel launched into an impassioned speech about the need to act together to break the curse and completely convinced the Boyar (25/22 rolling with advantage) and he agreed. They then found Ser Cedomir to do the same. He was close to blind drunk, but Ser Adon sobered him with laying on of hands. Kel was extremely persuasive again, as Gaddock had foreseen in a dream. He agreed to carry out the ritual, almost eagerly.
A journey was now needed to the south-east, to the Vistani encampment to gain Ruzina's help. As the sun set, they arrived at the camp, full of bright lights and music. Ser Adon convinced the guards to take them to see the Raunie, the Matriarch. She bargained with him, insisting that her elder sister and Ruzina's mother's ashes be returned from the Boyar's possession if they wanted to talk to the blacksmith. They agreed to do this, but then Ser Adon launched into a passionate speech about protecting the ordinary people like the Vistani and the non-nobles of Graenseskov. The Raunie warmed to him and agreed to let him see Ruzina now so long as he gave his word to find her sister's ashes or body and return them. She revealed that the Boyar was Ruzina's father, but she had not been told. She then read the Taroka cards for Adon, revealing that the Beast was seeking power and would act cold heartedly to gain it (The Dictator).
Ruzina joined them, and she agreed to help. The party then enjoyed the fire, some fireworks, music, dancing and good food before turning in a caravan just beside the corral with the stolen horses they noticed earlier.
GM Notes: I was a little rushed for this session as work has been somewhat challenging, but I really enjoyed where it went. There's a significant chance that we will wrap up this first season of the campaign as planned next session. I had been wondering exactly how the players would re-engage with the plot, and we ended up with a very talky investigatory session which seemed to work well. All the characters had a chance to contribute and it was fun that Tom could join us from Vienna towards the end of the session. I still find the scenario poorly organised.
Curse of Strahd will return on 3rd March 2020 (the Revelation convention has extended the time between sessions).
11 February 2020