Cast of Characters:
Mordecai, a Cleric-6: Adam
Forlorn, an Elf-5 (1): Bo
Mister Moore, Magic User-6: Mike
Shy, a Fighter-6 (3): JR
Leonidas the Paladin-5: Nogal
Digit, the Elf Thief-6: Z
Konstantine, Magic User-4: Smitty
Phat Kobra, a Dwarf-5
Grumble the Smug, Halfling-5 (3)
AD&D 1E, I6 Ravenloft
We had some new characters join this week! Smitty came early and rolled up a magic user, since the group was low on artillery; all of the player characters are 5th and 6th level, so I'm letting new player characters come in at 4th level. (Speaking of which, that's a great idea for a poll - "When new players join the game, what level do you start them?") The new guys include Konstantine, Smitty's level 4 Magic User, and a pair of henchman - Boris, a Druid, and Gregor, a Ranger.
Konstantine lived in a mountain village just beyond the valley; now that the curse was lifted, the vampires were straying into the surrounding mountains as well, and a child was snatched from his village. He came to Barovia with a pair of compatriots looking for revenge; after Mordecai made a rousing speech in the village square that he wouldn't come down out of the castle until all the vampires were dead, Konstantine offered his services and became the latest member of BK Inc., the group's adventuring company.
Supplies were gathered, and Forlorn succumbed to the siren song of the Deck of Many Things. There, in a quiet alley, he secretly pulled it out, shuffled the cards, and chose to take two of them. The first one was… The Flames. (The DM shuffled the physical deck back up, and gave it to the player to cut and draw again). The second card was also… The Flames. Then the Deck disappeared.
Somewhere in the world, a terrible rivalry has been born, as Forlorn either has two nasty enemies, or one really really bad one. I'll leave that for a future chapter; what fun for the DM.
In the early afternoon, the group returned to the castle. After Mordecai's "rousing" speech that either they'd all die, or the vampires would be destroyed, it was appropriate for the henchman to make gut checks (morale rolls), but no on chose to cash out and leave. At the castle, the group followed their normal plan of climbing the wall of the inner keep to enter via the second floor. Leonidas detected evil from within the room; the group cut down the dark curtains blocking the way in, to see a roomful of zombies. Note: zombies aren't evil, so the players missed an important clue; they pressed into the room to engage the zombies. Once the heavy fighters were committed, the two vampires clinging to the rafters as bats dropped down near Mordecai for a quick attack; their goal was to drain the cleric and split in gaseous form - a surgical strike. The sun was low in the western sky (on the far side of the castle) so there was no risk of direct sunlight streaming into the room.
The characters were furious as the two vampires went gaseous and departed the combat; once Mordecai was knocked down a little in experience, they wouldn't have to fear his Turn Undead ability in future skirmishes, and now time is on their side. The characters quickly destroyed the shambling zombies. (The lead vampire, Top-Hat Man, doesn't actually know the characters can Detect Evil; for him, it appears that Leonidas can tell whenever there's undead around, so the vampires herded the zombies into the room to create some interference and "noise". It totally worked for him.)
Nonplussed, the characters headed back down to the crypts, carefully made their way back to the Iron Golem room, and tested their theory of the Paladin's Protection from Evil vs the golems. The golems were hedged out by the holy power, and the players discovered the golems were programmed to attack only for 5 rounds, then retreat. They had effectively outsmarted the death trap.
A lot of game time was spent figuring out all the workings of the magic obstacles in the room; there was a magic brazier, special gems being carried by the golems, a trapped chest, a magic hourglass. They experimented enough to figure it all out, but there was a funny moment with the chest. They picked the lock, but still managed to set off a sleeping gas trap on the large brass chest, despite using a Find Traps spell to learn the chest was trapped. Three of the characters became long term hindrances as they sunk into drug-induced comas, forcing the group to build improvised stretchers and devote manpower to hauling them.
The good news is, in the chest they found… a Deck of Many Things! Deck number two. The other item was a clerical scroll with Dispel Evil and Flame Strike. After the way they used Dispel Evil to nuke Strahd, I'm pretty sure they'll rename Dispel Evil as "Kill the Top-Hat Man". He deserves it.
They ended the night with some additional exploration. Beyond the golem room were a pair of thrones on a balcony overlooking a dim chamber down below, filled with murky water. The theater of pain. Chains and hooks hung from the vaulted ceiling, and various torture devices thrust up from the filthy water. Leonidas detected vague evil from all over the room, perhaps lurking just beneath the water, and it seemed that any time the characters weren't directly looking in the room, there was a quick splash or the sound of something sloshing in the water. They saw ripples and disturbances wherever the splash was heard. It was enough to unnerve them and they chose to pass.
Besides, they knew this sunken area probably hooked up with some jail cells they discovered a few weeks ago through a slide trap, and they knew a dozen Wights were lurking in the area; that's all they needed, to be attacked by Wights hiding beneath the water.
Another door out of the golem room led to a long line of stairs that went up to a higher basement or dungeon level; the stairs ended in a stone façade, but a search by the demihumans uncovered a secret door mechanism. But Leonidas cautioned them about opening it; even through the stone door, a palpable, demonic evil radiated from within the room, some chaotic spawn from the Abyss itself. Not willing to tussle with a demon, they chose to call it a night and made their way out of the crypts, up to the second floor study that granted access to Strahd's old treasure vault, where they set up a defensible camp and prepare for the long night.
See you next time!