Having dropped the fair Ireena off with Father Lucian at the church of St. Andral, our brave party set off west to find the Wizard of Wines. This particular session started off calm, gained a tinge of unsettling horror, and then delved into the comedic.
As the party went to leave the town of Vallaki they learned a little bit more about its people and the area. First of all, they asked about the banners and posters they’d seen, advertising both the Wolf’s Head Jamboree and the Festival of the Blazing Sun. Learning of the weekly festivals ordered by the Baron, with their mandatory attendance policies. While odd, the party mostly dismissed this as another example of the strangeness of this place, which was only compounded by the oddly strained smiles they saw on everyone’s faces.
Moments later they noticed the stockades, and more importantly the misshapen creatures locked in them. A small group of men, women, and children, all with distorted bestial features. Some with pig snouts, webbed hands, donkey ears, or the talons of birds. When they attempted to speak with the creatures they were stopped by the guards and informed that the prisoners were being punished for refusing to leave Vallaki. Their misshapen forms were abominations which were not allowed in the city.
Of course being the people they are, the party decided to teach the guard a lesson by temporarily giving him such features. An illusion that caused a bit of a ruckus and soon brought the Baron’s seneschal Izek upon the party. While the party didn’t find him particularly frightening, the villagers and guards were obviously terrified of the man. His face covered in scars, and his right hand encased in a black barbed gauntlet.
Izek obviously held great power, and it was hard to say if the fear the villagers had was for him, or for the Baron he represented. But he now knows the party’s faces, and he appears to be a man with a dislike of strangers. No doubt our heroes will encounter him again at some point.
The party was tempted to free the beastmen, but decided that it wasn’t worth the risk of angering the town, not to mention the fact that the beastmen themselves appeared quite mad. Still, this encounter gave them knowledge of a nearby Abbey that might provide aid and more insight into the town in which they’ve left Ireena.
Their travels once they left the village were fairly benign. Making their way west along the Old Svalich road towards the winery without major issue. Just before they reached it, however, they were attacked.
Grape vines stretched out from the fields and tore the Paladin from his seat upon the wagon, hurling him to the ground while two massive scarecrows lurched onto the road to assault the party. The scarecrows proved surprisingly effective, while their claws did minimal damage, the fear they caused hindered the party and allowed them to strike several times before the group could properly respond. Meanwhile, the vines continued to strike, dragging the warlock in amongst the vines and thus limiting the group’s firepower. But eventually, fire both divine and magical proved the end of the straw-filled monstrosities. Turning them into smouldering heaps of vegetation. This prompted the hidden druid controlling the vines to strike hard with an earth tremor. Which very nearly killed both the Warlock and Chimer, the groups feathered rogue. Though at the cost of revealing him to the party and thus to their retaliation. The battle was quick and bloody, which I greatly prefer when running an RPG. While I enjoy tactics to a point, combat should be used to move the story along or punctuate a threat. Which is why I avoid random encounters. This one, for instance, was designed as a hook related to information the party was soon to receive from another source.
As one would guess, the party prevailed, striking the druid down and quickly binding him up so that they could question him. And this is where the comedy began.
It must be explained, that our paladin is not the norm. He is not a shining example of Tyr’s might in golden armor full of self-righteous piety. No, he is a redneck, with somewhat tarnished armor, a love of ale and women, and just a bit of greed. And he holds grudges in a way that would surprise even his god.
Having been thrown from the wagon by the vines and made to feel fear by the scarecrows, he felt it was important that they punish the druid, and perhaps humiliate him a bit. The druid in question was a ragged fellow in a torn cloak, with a brand upon his face and they quickly learned he was a worshiper of Strahd. His brand matched a sigil of Strahd in tarnished bronze that he wore around his neck. And which he seemed particularly protective of, attempting to keep it from the party despite the fact that both his hands and feet were bound.
Our Paladin ripped this amulet from his neck and proceeded to taunt him with it. Declaring all of the horrible things he would do to deface the holy symbol. Including a threat to cleanse it with his own holy urine. He proceeded to unbuckle his belt and prepared to enact this cruel taunt. Naturally, this enraged the druid, who thanks to poorly tied knots, and a natural 20, was able to break free and lay one solid punch, directly into our Paladin’s now unarmored groin.
He fell like a great oak, crashing to the ground with a groan, and dropping the sigil, which the druid scooped up and then clutched to his chest as he attempted to crawl away. The warlock then attempted to stop him and was tripped up for his effort, falling to the ground himself and becoming entangled with the Paladin, who himself was somewhat tangled in his own loosened pants. While the Kenku and Knight laughed, the druid continued to crawl towards the relative safety of the wine fields, slowly, like an inchworm. Our Paladin rose to his feet in a rage, and without bothering to pull up his pants drew his axe and with a mighty blow severed the druids head. His pants becoming stained by the quickly pooling blood.
The party then took a short rest to recover, lick their wounds, and settle themselves. Then finished their trek to the Wizard of Wines winery. The owner, Davian Martikov, did not provide a particularly warm greeting, especially once he realized they had been sent by his son Urwin. But, he did offer them the wine they had come for.
Remembering the prophecy of Madam Ava they asked Davian of the Wizard of Wines, and learned some of the family history. Of the mage who started the winery centuries before, and of the three magic gems that protected it. Three gems stolen over time, with the most recent one taken while Urwin was meant to be protecting the vineyard. Davian told them where he suspected two of the gems lay, one with the Druids of Yester Hill, the other in the clutched of Baba Lysaga, a great hag of the woods. Thinking these gems might be the aid promised by Madam Eva’s cards, the party prepared to hunt them down.
One downside of playing D&D as an adult is time. Like most groups, we can go several weeks between sessions, which means subtle details get forgotten. I have given the party a journal to keep notes in, but it is up to them to determine what they feel is important. And I of course am keeping this blog which gives the general flow and allows me to touch on some of the subtle things that might be important for them to remember.
It should be interesting to see what the party remembers in our next session, as they head south to Yester Hill.